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They're drawn to Philly

East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention meets here this weekend

"What we can imagine, we can often create. What we can imagine ourselves as, we can often become."

So philosophizes Yumy Odom, founder of the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, which is coming to Philadelphia this weekend for its sixth annual meeting. His words encapsulate the purpose of this annual confab of the African-American comic industry.

Dwayne McDuffie, prolific comic writer and creator of the "Static Shock" animated series, will be the featured speaker at this year's convention. He describes it as "a great opportunity for black creators of comics - be they self-publishers or those who work for one of the larger companies - to get together and trade war stories."

The ECBACC starts tonight with a reception at the African American Museum in Philadelphia that includes a "Chat and Chew," a welcome by Maurice Waters, director of this year's event, and the presentation of the Glyph Awards honoring the best African-American comics and their creators.

Tomorrow, the ECBACC moves to Temple University's Anderson Hall, 1114 Berks St. There will panel discussions and professional workshops. Besides McDuffie, writer/artist Kyle Baker ("Plastic Man") and Taimak, star of the film "The Last Dragon," will be among those celebrities whom attendees can meet.

McDuffie is thrilled to be in Philadelphia. "It's a show I've always wanted to do and my schedule just worked out this year," he said. McDuffie currently writes Marvel's "Fantastic Four" title, which recently replaced team staples Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman with African-American icons Black Panther and Storm. Some see that as a risky move by Marvel since next month's "Fantastic Four" movie sequel features the traditional cast, making cross promotion between movie and comic more difficult.

But McDuffie dismisses those concerns. "It's not a chance at all," he said, "because the lineup has changed many times and there are thousands of comics and trades people can get if they are interested in reading the classic lineup. But this is a chance to spark some interest in some people who will be intrigued by the new lineup."

McDuffie also just wrapped up DC's "Firestorm" series, which was canceled after 35 issues and generated controversy by replacing the original Firestorm, Ronnie Raymond, with Jason Rusch, an African-American teen.

"It's not really a black and white issue," said McDuffie. "Way more than nine out of 10 new books fail and new characters or revamped characters generally don't make it. The only difference is a black character is less likely to get a second or third chance.

"DC used the tools they had to draw attention to the book and it was extremely well done for most of its run. People just didn't buy it.

"So you have to continue to put out quality material and find a way to get it in the hands of people who will buy it," McDuffie concluded. "It's not easy, or it would have been done by now. It takes time, but there are ways we can achieve that, and that's what this convention is about." *

East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention, opening reception 6:30-8:30 tonight, African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch St.; convention 9:30 a.m.-7 p.m. tomorrow, Temple University's Anderson Hall, 1114 Berks St. Jerome Maida will participate in an ECBACC panel discussion tomorrow afternoon with McDuffie and Baker. Admission $10, under 16 free. Info: 215-204-1993,