Bobby Joseph becomes first person of colour appointed UK comics laureate

The comic book author and graphic novelist Bobby Joseph has become the first person of colour to be appointed the UK’s comics laureate.

Joseph, who was one of the first authors to create a British comic with black characters, was appointed to the role at the Lakes international comic art festival (LICAF) in Bowness-on-Windermere in the Lake District on Saturday.

He is the fifth person to hold the post, which was created in 2014 to raise awareness of the impact comics can have on increasing literacy and creativity. One of the laureate’s key focuses is to increase the acceptance of comics as a tool for learning in schools and libraries.

Joseph, 51, who grew up in south London, told the Guardian he hoped to spend his two-year stint tackling the lack of diversity in the comics industry.

“This award is a huge achievement. I am very honoured to get it. That said, one of the key things I want to do is change things with regards to diversity, representation and the unheard voices of comics. This is my main focus. There is no point being in this role unless I am able to help others,” he said.

“If we look at the history of representation in comics, there has always been negative portrayals of people of colour. This is mainly down to the stories not being written by people of colour, but instead, stereotypes that have been pushed as the narrative of black and Asian communities. It is time to change that. It is time to control the narrative, and let people tell their stories, whatever they may be.”

Joseph created the first black satirical comic book, Skank, published in 1994, which featured the south London locations of Peckham, Brixton and Lewisham. He published its sequel, Black Eye, in the early 2000s and went on to co-create the graphic novel Scotland Yardie, based on a character from Skank.

Joseph, who has been involved in promoting comic artists from diverse backgrounds since the 90s, believes funding is important to support the next generation. “Where are the opportunities for the voices of tomorrow? We need to start making programmes to show that voices of diversity matter,” he said. “I love comics. I love this industry, but I worry that if there are no avenues for all voices then it will become an insular industry.”

Julie Tait, the director of LICAF, said the organisation was delighted that Joseph was taking on the role.

“The comics laureate has been and continues to be a vital role for the comics art form. It isn’t just a title. It’s part and parcel of our wider objectives as a festival, to reach out to new audiences and raise the profile and the understanding of the importance of comics for education, inspiration and literacy,” she said.