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Carina's Comic Corner: Celebrate Black History Month

Comics are a rebellious medium and are often used as protest literature, so it only makes sense to utilize them as an agent of change. February marks Black History Month, and with that, a collection of comics centering on Black identity. However, it is not just enough to use comics to highlight marginalized identities, we must also show the ways that we can dismantle racism and other means of systemic oppression. Through comics, authors and illustrators can break down heavy topics in digestible form: sprawling illustrations, poignantly sparse text, pops of saturation and color against a world painted gray. Read on for some titles that celebrate Blackness beyond simple recognition, but for its ability to rise up in the face of adversity and violence. 

March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illus. Nate Powell (Top Shelf Productions)

While U.S. Representative John Lewis passed away in 2020, his story presented in March remains a timeless and important piece of comic history. The trilogy of autobiographical texts span from his childhood in rural Alabama, spanning through his involvement with the Freedom Riders and marching in Selma for the Civil Rights movement. This series does not glamorize the experiences of Black activists in the 50s and 60s and highlights some relatively heinous and heartbreaking events, like the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing and suppression of Black votership in that time period, but the message remains important. To tell a real story like this in comic form is to make it accessible to a variety of audiences, and the organization of Lewis’ story into three separate books lets the reader know that this is an ongoing journey. 

Your Black Friend and Other Strangers by Ben Passmore (Silver Sprocket)

Ben Passmore’s collection of vignettes on Black identity is a striking, political, and at times humorous assortment. In Your Black Friend and Other Strangers, Passmore uses a vibrant palate and saturated scenes in juxtaposition to the darker subject matter, a subversive choice when telling stories about gentrification, racism, and incarceration. It’s not all doom and gloom though--Passmore also writes stories on the perils of online dating, street art in his native New Orleans, and other silly vignettes that help to create balance. There is a certain level of satire that lies on the surface of Your Black Friend and Other Strangers, but at its core is a deep relatability and vulnerability. These are Passmore’s real experiences and he presents them with an explosion of color that will truly draw a reader in. 

Encyclopedia of Black Comics ed. Sheena Howard (Chicago Review Press)

Sheena Howard’s edited collection Encyclopedia of Black Comics deviates from the memoir style of the aforementioned graphic novels. Rather, this book serves as a chronology of Black people in the comics industry. Howard demonstrates that Black comic culture has many working parts. While we get the stories of illustrators, inkers, editors, and other physical creators of comics, we also get a taste of the external voices: comic historians, archivists, academics, and creators that celebrate comics media. This book celebrates all of the folks who help the comic industry flourish, and readers will get a taste of many different styles and perspectives. It’s definitely more of a primer of notable voices than a heavy-duty academic text, but that’s just what makes it more marketable to a wider audience of comic veterans and newbies alike.  

Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers (Drawn and Quarterly)

I feel that most people who grew up as girls can recall the experience of getting your first process at a hair salon: perms, relaxers, dye jobs. In Hot Comb, Ebony Flowers crafts short stories centering around hair and salons. The microcosm of a beauty shop keeps each narrative tight and controlled, demonstrating the ways that a Black girl’s hair can shape how she’s perceived by the world. Flowers’ simplistic black and white illustrations evoke a sense of tenderness and childhood whimsy, seeing the world in absolutes from the perspectives of the young women the stories follow. There is a certain charm that comes from a less refined style, and Hot Comb captures grit and glamour side-by-side in a tender portrayal of Black womanhood.

Looking for reviews on upcoming releases? Maybe commentary on a specific title? Just want to find something new to read? Stay tuned for biweekly themed posts, standalone reviews of new titles before they’re published, and more!

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