Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture

Black Comix

To bring more attention to the “overlooked … artists and writers of the vibrant African American independent comics community”, authors John Jennings and Damian Duffy have assembled the coffee table book Black Comix: African American Independent Comics Art and Culture. Instead of looking backwards, Black Comix focuses on the present and future, highlighting those creators that are less well-known than they’d like.

The foreword, by Keith Knight (The K Chronicles, Knight Life), provides a personal reflection that sets the stage. America’s still-existing discomfort with black cartoonists, making this book a political as well as artistic statement, is the context behind the selection and presentation of creators who will be unfamiliar to most comic readers.

Black Comix

The meat of the book is an alphabetical gallery, where each artist gets a small paragraph of text (often generic or otherwise not particularly informative) and two to four pages to show a handful of pieces. Unfortunate for a book about comics, these art samples are many times single images, pinups and the like, which give no sense of the creator’s storytelling ability or often, subject matter. (In the case of artists like Eric Battle, who’ve worked for Marvel and DC, there are probably licensing restrictions preventing reprints of some of the work.) Also, the website references for each artist are all lumped together on the very back page of the book, providing no easy way to find out more about those profiled. There’s very minimal text, with no information about where to find the material shown or, in many cases, where the artist is working now.

Interspersed are longer essays (a page or two). Some of these include the story of Brotherman, the influence of manga (like black comics, it makes “a connection with alternative American markets and nontraditional readers”) and hip hop (street graffiti, alter egos, sampling and remixing), what happened to Tribe, the Museum of Black Superheroes, several black comic conventions, and the use of humor and satire. I was hungry for more text, but that’s not what this book is. Instead, it’s an upscale picture book for the well-off to display as a statement. If I was more art-oriented, I might have found the image-heavy presentation more attractive.

Because it purposefully covers contemporary material, the book may become less useful as time passes. (We’ve all known of well-meaning creators with a splashy launch that disappear quickly.) I’d love to see a companion volume that was more historical. I misunderstood the book’s purpose, hoping it would serve as a sampler to find new comics to read, and it doesn’t work as such. Even if you see something you’d like to buy or know more about, you’re going to need the internet to find out what it was and where and when it was published.

Duffy and Jennings were interviewed about the book and black comic history at the GQ pop culture blog. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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