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From Eastport, a Superhero is Born

Screenwriter Rodney Barnes hits the comic shelves with Falcon #1

Screenwriter Rodney Barnes prepares for an awards show with comedian Regina Hall. Barnes grew up in Eastport before moving to L.A. He returns home October 11 to unveil his new comic book, Falcon #1.
     When Rodney Barnes hung out at the Eastport corner drugstore reading comic books, he could dream of becoming the mind behind a comics superhero.
     He was a hard-working kid. “I think I washed dishes in every restaurant in town,” he says. “I also shucked oysters, crabbed and worked the concessions at Navy stadium.”
     But in off hours, he was one of four musketeers united by their love of comic books. “Back then, it was DC comics about Tarzan, Superman and Batman,” John ‘Bumper’ Moyer — one of the quartet of best friends — told me. “We loved reading and talking about it later.”
     “That was a much simpler time,” Barnes says. “Eastport was racially mixed, but all of the kids hung out together, no matter who you were,” he says. 
     Pip Moyer and Zastrow Simms helped make it so. They were the masters of keeping kids busy.
     “They would gather 40 or 50 kids and walk us to the Naval Academy to watch movies,” Barnes recalls. “We got to watch action heroes like Christopher Lee. They always had activities lined up for us. It’s tougher for kids now.” 
Home-Town Success
     As Barnes sat crosslegged on the drugstore floor, reading comic after comic, he projected himself into their pages. He created stories — except what was a kid like him thinking?
     “I had always wanted to be a writer but never believed I could do it,” he says.
     When Annapolis High School teacher Jay Silverberg praised his papers, the dream came closer. At Howard University, Barnes studied radio, TV and film, concentrating on becoming a screenwriter.
     He stayed in the D.C. area, taking on any film work he could find. Working on Forrest Gump as a production assistant, he made contacts. Then, on Major Payne, he and Damon Wayans clicked. Wayans brought Barnes into his next movie, Bulletproof.
     “Damon became a mentor to me and convinced me to move to L.A. in 1995, to pursue my dreams,” Barnes says.
     The first eight months, he lived out of his car, “a lowly production assistant by day and a writer by night.” He nearly went home.
     His break came when Wayans gave him one day’s work as a punch-up writer, adding power to a dull script. That one day turned into 20 years.
     Over those years, the kid from Eastport has been head writer and executive producer of The Boondocks, producer and writer for Wayans’ My Wife and Kids, and co-executive producer and writer for Everybody Hates Chris, with Chris Rock. 
     He’s earned nominations and won top honors from the big names in entertainment, including the Peabody Awards, American Film Institute, Writers Guild of America, BET Comedy Awards and the NAACP Image Awards.
Full Circle
     This year Barnes returned to his first love, writing Birth of a Patriot for Marvel Comics. Now, for the debut of Falcon #1, Barnes returns home, reuniting with childhood friend Bumper Moyer. 
     He’s in town one day, Wednesday, October 11. You can meet him and get his autograph on your copy of Falcon #1 at Moyer’s Twilite Zone Comics in Glen Burnie, 11am-1pm, or at Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Eastport, 7-9pm.
     In between, he’ll be reprising the role Pip and Zastrow played in his life, talking to the kids at the Boys and Girls Club of Annapolis.
     Like his mentors, he says, “I want to give back to my hometown.”
     It’s just one day. But as Barnes discovered, anything can happen in one day.