Diverse Voices & Viewpoints: Must-Have Graphic Novels for Black History Month and Beyond

With the January debut of Ryan Coogler’s multi-award-winning film Black Panther powering a burst of new Marvel Comics series about King T’Challa and his country of Wakanda and Congressman John Lewis’s Run, Bk. 1, forthcoming in 2019, a new wave of graphic novels arrives featuring compelling stories and indelible characters for everyone to enjoy.

With the January debut of Ryan Coogler’s multi-award-winning film Black Panther powering a burst of new Marvel Comics series about King T’Challa and his country of Wakanda—including Black Panther: Shuri–the Deadliest of the Species, Black Panther: Long Live the King, and Rise of the Black Panther—and Congressman John Lewis’s Run, Bk. 1, forthcoming in 2019, a new wave of graphic novels arrives featuring compelling stories and indelible characters for everyone to enjoy.

Shuri, T’Challa’s techno-genius sister, will get her own titular series next spring alongside Ta-Nehisi Coates et al.'s Black Panther, Vol. 2: Avengers of the New World. Moreover, reprints of books in the series from the 1960s and 1970s are pouring out in meaty collections.

Overall, Marvel boasts the greatest number of black superhero series, including Black Panther; Invincible Iron Man: Iron Heart; Luke Cage; Power Man and Iron Fist; and Spider-Man: Miles Morales. Note also Shadowman and Quantum & Woody from Valiant, plus DC's Black Lightning and Cyborg, and Noble from Lion Forge.

Black Panther has legitimized whatever we’ve been doing in all facets,” declared comics writer David F. Walker at Keystone Comic Con in Philadelphia this past September. Both superhero and nonsuperhero stories have drawn energy from not only T’Challa’s popularity but also the rise of African American geek culture. Websites to check out for trends include Black Girl Nerds, Nerds of Color, and The Blerd Girl. These 27 offerings are not to be missed.

redstarAbouet, Marguerite (text) & Mathieu Sapin (illus.). Akissi: Tales of Mischief. Flying Eye: Nobrow. May 2018. 188p. tr. from French by Judith Taboy & Marie Bédrune. ISBN 9781911171478. pap. $14.95. HUMOR
Akissi: Feline Invasion introduced the mischievous little girl from Côte d’Ivoire. This longer work collects those seven stories plus 14 more featuring the plucky Akissi, who gobbles up communion at church, wets her brother’s blanket when he won’t walk her to the outhouse at night, and eats rotten food that gives her tapeworms. Abouet’s ("Aya" series) childlike, bright-color art charms with plenty of gross-out humor plus bonus content with recipes and a how-to for African braiding. Grades 1–4. (SLJ 5/16/18)

Alagbé, Yvan. Yellow Negroes and Other Imaginary Creatures. NYRC. Apr. 2018. 120p. tr. from French by Donald Nicholson-Smith. ISBN 9781681371764. pap. $22.95. Rated: Mature. F
With poetic, elliptical text and stark, impressionistic black-and-white art, French cartoonist Alagbé reveals the toxic legacy of European colonialism upon individuals and families. Siblings Martine and Alain, undocumented Beninese immigrants in Paris, first exploit then reject the fawning attentions of a former military man now ostracized for killing protestors. A concluding piece comments on recent migrants and their unwelcome reception, including those in the United States impacted by President Trump’s recent policies. (Xpress Reviews 2/9/18)

redstarArmstrong, Robb. Fearless: A Cartoonist's Guide to Life. Reader’s Digest. 2016. 240p. illus. index. ISBN 9781621452874. $24.99. Rated: Teen+. MEMOIR
Creator of the warm-hearted, award-winning comic strip JumpStart, syndicated in more than 300 newspapers in eight countries, Armstrong grew up one of five kids in challenging circumstances and overcoming many obstacles. This lively account relates his experience—making friends saved him many times—and includes lessons for succeeding at life and learning to draw. Tweens and up.

Atkins, Ace (text) & Marco Finnegan & Troy Peteri (illus.). Crossroad Blues: A Nick Travers Graphic Novel. Image. May 2018. 144p. ISBN 9781534306486. pap. $14.99. Rated: Mature. MYS/THRILLER
It’s 1993. Nick Travers, a quarterback–turned–blues historian, sets off to track down a missing music history professor. The trail leads through the blues joints of rural Mississippi, since the lost academic was hot on the scent of the late legendary bluesman Robert Johnson and his recordings from the 1930s. In adapting the 1998 Atkins novel, Finnegan’s raw black-and-greyscale art does the story more than justice. (Xpress Reviews 6/22/18)

Bessora (text) & Barroux (illus.). Alpha: Abidjan to Paris. Bellevue Literary. May 2018. 128p. tr. from French by Sarah Ardizzone. ISBN 9781942658405. $24.99. Rated: Mature. F
Alpha and several other Africans hire a rickety minibus to sneak them from Côte d’Ivoire toward Algeria in order to cross the Mediterranean for a better life in Europe. But lack of water, police beatings, diseases and drownings lie ahead. Bessora lays forth the devastation suffered by memorable characters who draw empathy, admiration, and chuckles. Barroux’s spare, marker-based art style suggests an immigrant’s graphic diary. (LJ 6/1/18)

redstarBlack Comix Returns. Lion Forge. Feb. 2018. 200p. ed. by Damian Duffy & John Jennings. ISBN 9781942367376. $29.99. comics
In 2010, Eisner Award–winning creators Jennings and Duffy published a meaty collection of art and essays spotlighting African American comics and creators. This sumptuous sequel introduces new perspectives as well as refreshes the record of those profiled earlier to showcase nearly 90 artists, a half-dozen background essays, and a directory of black comics conventions. Jennings will head Abrams’s new imprint Megascope, which debuts its first title in fall 2019.

redstarCarlin, John (text) & Oriol Malet (illus.). Mandela and t he General. Plough. Nov. 2018. 112p. ISBN 9780874868203. pap. $19.95. Rated: Teen+. HIST/BIOG
Released from prison in 1990, Nelson Mandela unites the black people of South Africa against Dutch-mandated apartheid, aiming to integrate peacefully both government and culture. But under the leadership of decorated Gen. Constand Viljoen, a coalition of white Afrikaners resists to the death. How Mandela talked the general away from race war toward peaceful collaboration makes a fascinating parable with relevance to today’s polarized politics. This outstanding case study in the power of empathy to defuse conflict is drawn in realistic narrow-line black and white with bright colored accents. Tweens up. (LJ 11/1/18)

Colfer, Eoin & Andrew Donkin (text) & Giovanni Rigano (illus.). Illegal. Jabberwocky: Sourcebooks. Aug. 2018. 144p. ISBN 9781492665823. pap. $14.99. Rated: Teen. F
The youngest of three Ghanaian orphans, little Ebo takes off after sister Sisi and brother Kwame when they flee for Europe, reuniting with Kwame while crossing the brutal Sahara northward, the more dangerous passage across the Mediterranean ahead. Having interviewed refugees and people working with immigrant charities, Colfer and Donkin, who, with Rigano, collaborated on the Artemis Fowl graphic novels, present a harrowing tale conveyed in naturalistic, richly colored detailed vistas. Tweens and teens.

redstarDaoudi, Youssef. Monk! Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution. First Second. Sept. 2018. 352p. bibliog. ISBN 9781626724341. $32.50. Rated: Teens+. MUSIC/BIOG
Through the 1940s–60s, Thelonious Monk’s revolutionary jazz piano introduced new complexities to improvisation with an original staccato delivery and freewheeling dissonance he called making the “right mistakes.” Baroness Pannonica (“Nica”) Rothschild, an heiress who embraced the arts, became a life-long supporter of Monk and other musicians. In superb pen-and-ink drawings, Daoudi recaps their affection and, with striking pictorial metaphors, conveys Monk’s inventive music and contagious passion. (LJ 11/1/18)

ELEMENTS: Fire—a Comic Anthology by Creators of Color! Beyond Pr. 2017. 272p. ed. by Taneka Stotts & Shing Yin Khor. ISBN 9780998282800. pap. $25. SPECULATIVE FICTION
These speculative fiction vignettes all incorporate fire and appear in black-and-white art with scarlet touches, from Deshan Tennekoon and Isuri Merenchi Hewage’s scrabbly desert Samaritan to JY Yang and Yasmin Liang’s elegantly outlined “burner of sins” who bends rules for a transgender friend. Beautiful, entertaining work for all ages.

Ennis, Garth (text) & Simon Coleby (illus.). Dreaming Eagles. Aftershock. 2016. 160p. ISBN 9781935002949. $29.99. Rated: Teen+. HISTORICAL FICTION
Bloodied and sporting a black eye from confronting a racist, Lee tries to convince his dad that participation in the Martin Luther King march was worthwhile. Reggie, however, remains disapproving of this dangerous example of black people “stirring up trouble” until his wife convinces him to tell Lee about the challenges he faced as a Tuskegee Airman during World War II. After a long conversation, the two men reach an understanding. Reggie’s heartbreaking story will do much to educate readers about bigotry and disparities in expectations and treatment, foreshadowing today’s Black Lives Matter concerns.

Franklin, Tee (text) & Jenn St-Onge & Joy San (illus.). Bingo Love. Inclusive: Image. Feb. 2018. 88p. ISBN 9781534307506. pap. $9.99. Rated: Teen+. LGBT ROMANCE
Long before legalized gay marriage, 13-year-old Hazel helps new kid Mari get acquainted at school, and the girls become best friends. Later, the bond develops into love, but their horrified families force a separation. As grandmothers 50 years later, they meet by chance over Bingo and everything changes. Drawn with curvy charm, this romantic tale stands out for its cross-gen characters. Teens and adults. (LJ 2/1/18)

Gill, Joel Christian. Strange Fruit. Vol. 2: More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History. Fulcrum. Feb. 2018. 112p. bibliog. ISBN 9781938486579. pap. $19.95. Rated: Teen+. BIOG
Blind Tom Wiggins, a musical prodigy with autism; Eugene Bullard, the first black fighter pilot; Cathay Williams, who hid her gender to fight in the Civil War as the only known female “Buffalo soldier”; and five more extraordinary individuals star in this second engaging story collection about lesser-known African American heroes of past centuries. Simple, dramatic color art with maps and contextual details. Tweens and up. (Xpress Reviews 4/6/18)

Hill, Bryan (text) & N. Stephen Harris (illus.). Wild Storm: Michael Cray. Vol. 1. DC. Jul. 2018. 160p. ISBN 9781401281052. pap. $22.99. Rated: Teen+. SUPERHERO
All elite assassin Michael Cray wants to do is take down people deserving of death, and now the mysterious International Operations organization steps in to challenge him with targets. Cray battles them all successfully but then learns that his superpowers come from an alien intelligence inside his head that’s slowly killing him. Readers will recognize the villains as twisted versions of classic DC superheroes, adding to the intrigue.

Johnson, Mat (text) & Warren Pleece (illus.). Incognegro: Renaissance. Berger: Dark Horse. Oct. 2018. 128p. ISBN 9781506705637. $19.99. Rated: Teen+. MYS
New Holland Herald cub reporter Zane Pinchback gets the scoop of his life when a gay writer ends up dead at an interracial soirée. To investigate, he learns to pass as white but finds that the suspects aren’t who they seem either. Set during the Harlem Renaissance, this story features tight plotting, zinger dialog, and dead-on social commentary for adults and teens. (See also Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery, Xpress Reviews 2/9/18.)

Knight, Keith. Go East, Young Fam! The Seventh K Chronicles Compendium. www.kchronicles.com. 2016. 128p. ISBN 9780978805333. pap. $17.95. POLITICS
Knight, Keith. Make America Hate Again: A (Th)ink Anthology. www.kchronicles.com. 2016. 128p. ISBN 9780978805326. pap. $16. POLITICS
Knight, Keith. The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Behind: A Knight Life Collection. www.kchronicles.com. 2017. 144p. ISBN 9780978805333. pap. $19.99. Rated: Teen+. HUMOR
A one-man comics machine, Knight keeps three strips going in print and online. His weekly autobiotopical K Chronicles leaves no fool unskewered, with dead-on sociopolitical commentary, while (Th)ink offers weekly editorial cartoon–style single panels. The syndicated Knight Life delivers a daily sitcom take—mostly outlandish—on his own family’s dramas, coyly incorporating more social commentary through clever storytelling. In addition to these addictive, irreverent collections, also consider the author's police brutality–themed They Shoot Black People, Don’t They? Teens and adults.

Larson, Hope & Jackie Ball (text) & Elle Power (illus.). Goldie Vance. Vol. 4. BOOM! Box. May 2018. 112p. ISBN 9781684151400. pap. $14.99. Rated: Teen+. MYS
In the tradition of Nancy Drew, Marigold “Goldie” Vance solves mysteries as a sideline to parking cars at the resort hotel managed by her dad. By this volume, the feisty teen has graduated to assistant to the hotel’s security chief and has a gorgeous girlfriend: DJ Diane Kimura. But there’s no time for romance when a Russian spy reappears, interfering with the resort’s music festival. Set in an alternate 1960s with civil rights already won, the series features an interethnic cast, relationship friction productively resolved, and cliff-hanger action. A film is in production. Tweens up.

Maroon Comix: Origins and Destinies. PM. Sept. 2018. 72p. ed. by Quincy Saul. bibliog. ISBN 9781629635712. pap. $15.95. Rated: Teen+. HIST
Throughout the centuries when slavery was legal in the United States, thousands of enslaved people escaped their owners and formed hidden settlements in forests, mountains, and swamps. They became known as maroons. Similarly, in South America and the Caribbean, escaped slaves made lives within their own, new communities. This black-and-white anthology pulls together accounts of the past and elaborates on how recent urban groups such as Chicago’s Freedom Square reflect the maroon heritage. The concluding plea for “mosaic” and “alloy” cultures invites a more inclusive, peaceful world future. A final “Maroon Library” collects an extensive range of bibliographic resources. Tweens up. (LJ 9/1/18)

Mercado, Yehudi. Sci-Fu. Bk 1: Kick It Off. Oni. 2018. 144p. ISBN 9781620104729. pap. $7.95. Rated: Teens+. SF
Wax is just trying to impress his crush with his mix-master beats. Indeed, the teen DJ rocks his Brooklyn neighborhood. Unfortunately, he’s inadvertently summoned King Chug Chug, a giant robot from the planet Discopia who challenges Wax to a Sci-Fu battle. Sci-Fu is a martial art using sound waves, and Kabuki Snowman turns up to train the neophyte. But Snowman has a secret. Wax’s supporters include his crush Pirate Polly, crafty little sister D, rapper and best friend Cooky P, and Uncle Rashaad. A winning mashup of hip-hop, sf, kung-fu, and young love in glowing, swirly colors.  (SLJ 3/18)

Osajyefo, Kwanza (text) & Jennifer Johnson (illus.). Black [AF]: America's Sweetheart. Black Mask. Feb. 2018. 84p. ISBN 9781628751918. pap. $9.99. Rated: Teen+. SUPERHERO
In Black, Osajyefo debuted a universe in which only black people have superpowers. Immediately factions spring up among both blacks and whites that attempt to harness these abilities for different purposes. To benefit a single race only? To help society? As a military tool of the state? Admiration, hate, and fear sweep the country. This new story introduces superpowered teen Eli Franklin, caught among the different parties, her heritage, and her own loyalties. A third story about human trafficking, Black [AF]: Widows and Orphans, is still being released as single issues. All make fine discussion-starters for teens and adults.

Passmore, Ben. Your Black Friend and Other Strangers. Silver Sprocket. Apr. 2018. 112p. ISBN 9781945509209. $20. Rated: Mature. SOCIOLOGY
It’s okay to fail, says Passmore, but “we just have to learn to fail upward.” The award-winning titular story lays out hopes, miscommunications, and contradictions common in black-white relationships, not omitting static within black-black conversations. Other targets of this culturally charged satire include white supremacy, activism, Confederate monuments, free speech, pronouns, and punk reparations. Dense, loose-limbed drawings in lush color or black and white.

Ridley, John (text) & Georges Jeanty & others (illus.). The American Way. Vol. 2: Those Above and Those Below. Vertigo. Apr. 2018. 144p. ISBN 9781401278359. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401284039. Rated: Mature. SUPERHERO
The first volume of this gritty, realistic series (reprinted last year in a tenth-anniversary edition), set in the 1960s, revealed the fate gone awry of a federal Civil Defense Corps for superheroes. Now it’s the 1970s, and superheroes Jason Fisher (“The New American”), Missy Devereaux (“Ole Miss”), and several others pursue conflicting agendas for serving community and country. (Xpress Reviews 5/17/18)

Stassen, J.P. Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda. rev. ed. First Second. Nov. 2018. 96p. ISBN 9781596431034. $19.99. Rated: Teen+. HISTORICAL FICTION
Rwandan teen Deogratias is in love with Benina. Around them, however, French troops and Belgian clergy prey on the local women, who trade sex for money and favors. Then Rwanda’s president is killed, and his fellow Hutus attack their assumed rivals, the Tutsi—including Benina. The horrified Deogratias is forced to cooperate in Benina’s murder, losing his mind afterward. This wrenching, award-winning story, originally published in 2006, personalizes the 1994 Rwandan genocide in somber, shadowy art in which eyes gleam white with fear. This revised edition supplies a new introduction with historical perspective.

Taylor, Whit. Ghost Stories. Rosarium. 2018. 120p. ISBN 9780996769297. pap. $17.95. Rated: Teen+. GRAPHIC NOVELS
A ghostly trio tells Taylor she can spend the day with three dead idols of her choice. She begins with Charles Darwin, then Joseph Campbell, and a surprise individual she feels compelled to meet again. The middle story follows changes in her family as symbolized by domestic designs, and the final, fictional piece concerns two creative teen friends who grow apart. Simple, colorful marker drawings feature especially skillful facial expressions. Teens and adults. (Xpress Reviews 3/9/18)

redstarWalker, David F. (text) & Damon Smyth (illus.). The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom. Ten Speed: Crown. Jan. 2019. 192p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780399581441. pap. $19.99. Rated: Teen+. BIOG
National icon of the abolitionist movement, persuasive orator and author of three autobiographies, escaped slave whose former master apologized on his death bed, tireless crusader for civil rights for both women and men, hobnobber with presidents, Frederick Douglass stands as tall as the Statue of Liberty in our nation’s history. This engrossing account draws on Douglass’s words and includes brief background essays, character cameos, and source list.

Author Image
Martha Cornog

Philadelphia-based Martha Cornog writes about/reviews graphic novels for LJ. She met her own boyfriend online

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