Visionary Graphic Narratives: Celebrate Black History Month and Beyond with These Essential Comics

This year’s meaty list of new graphic novels and nonfiction introduces 29 captivating titles.
As black comics from the past gain visibility with two new historical reference books (see Sheena C. Howard’s Encyclopedia of Black Comics and Tim Jackson’s Pioneering Cartoonists of Color below), a healthy growth continues in recent graphic novels and nonfiction. This year’s meaty list introduces 29 captivating titles. Kudos for Lion Forge Comics, established to put out “titles that reflect the diversity of our world in the characters, the creators, and the Lion Forge team.” Edited by Milestone Media veteran Joseph Illidge, the company’s Catalyst Prime imprint focuses on diverse superheroes appearing first in digital comics. Some of these series should be in print collections in time for next year’s roundup. Also coming soon: a new twist on the Frankenstein monster involving a police brutality incident: Victor LaValle and Dietrich Smith's Victor LaValle’s Destroyer. And with just one issue so far available through Comixology, David Crownson's Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer offers a fresh take on antislavery heroism. Interesting websites noted this year include Black Nerd Problems and Black Girl Nerds for reviews and commentary, and Comic Republic, a Nigerian comics start-up focusing on superhero adventures available free online. Finally, belated hurrahs for Congressman John Lewis and artists Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell's March trilogy (LJ 7/13; Xpress Reviews, 1/23/15; LJ 11/15/16), which late last year became the first graphic novel to win the National Book Award.


starred review starAbdul-Jabbar, Kareem & Raymond Obstfeld (text) & Josh Cassara (illus.). Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook. Titan. Sept. 2017. 128p. ISBN 9781785853005. pap. $16.99. MYS

It’s Victorian London, and the British Museum collapses in an explosion caused by mysterious inventions. Forced by Queen Victoria to defuse the threat and steal the blueprints for the devices, playboy Mycroft Holmes signs on as reluctant good guy, picking up dirty-handed accomplices en route. NBA superstar author Abdul-Jabbar cleverly crafts Mycroft as a brilliant scoundrel more interesting than Sherlock, who meets his match in fearless bounty hunter Lark Adler. Steampunk-inspired art with rugged, gleaming coloring. (LJ 6/1/17)

Bendis, Brian Michael (text) & Stefano Caselli (illus.). Invincible Iron Man: Ironheart. Vol. 1: Riri Williams. Marvel. Jul. 2017. 136p. ISBN 9781302906719. $24.99. SUPERHERO

When 15-year-old Riri loses her stepdad and best friend in a street shooting, the young supergenius flies off to fight evil in a superpowered suit of armor she built in the family garage. Now, Iron Man’s Tony Stark just happens to be in a coma, and Riri finds herself in his gig being coached by a snarky “advanced artificial intelligence construct” of Tony himself. Riri sparkles with snarky charm, while cooking up brilliant battle strategies. Excellent art and coloring, and ­Bendis is on-point with his script.

Butler, Octavia E. & Damian Duffy (text) & John Jennings (illus.). Kindred. ComicArts: Abrams. Jan. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781419709470. $24.95. SF

As adapted from Butler’s iconic novel, Dana is unwillingly wrenched from 1976 back to 1815 and must blend into plantation life as the “slave” of her white husband, Kevin. Here, Dana meets the plantation owner’s spoiled son, who rapes his slave-concubine Alice to produce Dana’s own ancestors. Butler claimed that her novel sanitized life under slavery, but Dana witnesses and experiences miseries aplenty. Indeed, Dana and Kevin are both changed by the forced culture shock. The 1976 episodes appear in sedate two-toned images, the dystopian plantation society in jarring strong colors. (LJ 4/1/17)

Coates, Ta-Nehisi & Yona Harvey (text) & Butch Guice (illus.). Black Panther & the Crew: We Are the Streets. Marvel. Oct. 2017. 136p. ISBN 9781302908324. pap. $17.99. SUPERHERO

When the mysterious death of a Harlem, NY, activist sets off community unrest plus hyped-up police violence, Misty Knight and her supercolleagues must sleuth out whether it was murder and by whom. Working together, Misty with the Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, and Manifold soon learn that a covert terrorist group is pulling the strings, seeking to coopt the community’s justified anger and turn it to their own purposes.

Craft, Jerry. Mama’s Boyz: In Living Color! Mama’s Boyz Inc. ( Mar. 2017. 89p. ISBN 9780979613289. $10. HUMOR

The Mama’s Boyz all-ages syndicated strip continues with these warmhearted vignettes about widowed Pauline Porter, a bookstore owner raising teen sons Tyrell and Yusuf. This fourth collection continues Craft’s synthesis of social issues with humor and includes a foreword from Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse), plus tips on how to draw.

starred review starD’Salete, Marcelo. Run for It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom. Fantagraphics. Oct. 2017. 180p. tr. from Portuguese by Andrea Rosenberg. bibliog. ISBN 9781683960492. $24.99. HISTORICAL FICTION

Four brutal, tragic stories focus on Africans enslaved in Brazil who fought for their freedom while under Portuguese colonization. Lovers Valu and Nanu escape only through suicide. Calu knifes the slave-owner’s son after his mother “the mistress” throws Calu’s newborn down a well. Ganzo heads a slave rebellion, but the only survivor is the slave who betrayed them. In the sole successful effort, Damaio leads other villagers in burning the homes of the Portuguese slavers preying on them. Angular high-contrast, black-and-white art hypes the horror and heroism, playing the lush island foliage against dank shadows. (LJ 12/17)

starred review starFletcher, Brendan & others. Motor Crush. Vol. 1. Image. Jun. 2017. 136p. ISBN 9781534301894. pap. $9.99. Sf

American adrenaline meets Battle Angel Alita in this gleaming drama about motorbike racers. The sassy and bold Domino Swift competes in legal and extralegal competitions that pit overhyped celebrity riders against one another, on bikes souped up with a contraband accelerant dubbed “Crush.” But Dom confronts a mystery: her own body requires the dangerous Crush drug to live normally. Why is her adopted father hiding her heritage, and who are her mysterious pursuers? Brilliantly colored visuals create Dom’s world as glam-hipster with an anime vibe. (LJ 11/1/17; an LJ 2017 Best Graphic Novel)

Gay, Roxane & Ta-Nehisi Coates (text) & Alitha W. Martinez & Roberto Poggi (illus.). Black Panther: World of Wakanda. Marvel. June 2017. 144p. ISBN 9781302906504. pap. $17.99. SUPERHERO

In the first book in the new "Black Panther" series, Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet (Xpress Reviews 10/28/16), we met lovers Ayo and Aneka, warrior women of King T’Challa’s elite guard who go rogue. This prequel introduces the pair as young recruits when they first fall for each other and confront the competing pulls of love vs. duty to the kingdom. Additional stories from Yona Harvey and Rembert Browne explore backstory about Zenzi, a Wakanda revolutionary leader, and Kevin “Kasper” Cole, an NYPD officer working with T’Challa who’s about to get a career reboot. Gleaming, fluid art; teens through adults.

starred review starGillman, Melanie. As the Crow Flies. Iron Circus. Nov. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781945820069. pap. $30. F

Faced with a week of backpacking at a Christian feminist camp for girls, 13-year-old Charlie isn’t enthused. Charlie—born Charlotte—doesn’t feel like a regular girl nor is even sure she’s a believer. She certainly isn’t white like the other campers. Not alone in her gender variance, she and her well-meaning but blinkered fellow campers come to learn that behind assumptions about both past and present are far more complex realities. Gillman’s superb work with colored pencils gives a richness and dimensionality to Charlie’s coming of age. (SLJ 11/17)

Jennings, John. Blue Hand Mojo: Hard Times Road. Rosarium. Mar. 2017. 102p. ISBN 9780990319146. pap. $14.95. HORROR

Soul-trafficking tales don’t get much better than Jennings’s inventive tangle of Frank “Half Dead” Johnson’s deals with Dark Powers—i.e., the Devil, of course, but also a spirit-goddess of the Black Imagination known as the Noir. Sorcery, hoodoo, and a ravenous golem all portend evil times for Frank, but the man wants to help his friends and has the Right on his side as well as his own powerful magic. This 1930s Southern gothic pulp sports dramatic blocky art—which works well in black and white, although touches of blue and red would have loaded in more visceral punch. Mature readers.

Jones, J.G. (text & art) & Mark Waid (text). Strange Fruit. BOOM! Studios. May 2017. 128p. ISBN 9781608868728. $24.99. SF

Borrowing the title from a song about lynching sung by Billie Holiday, Jones and Waid present a morality tale in which a giant, superpowered black-looking man from outer space saves a rural town from the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The story has drawn controversy for stereotyping and has been perceived as showing more a white than black perspective. However, Jones’s painted art is stunning for sense of realism filtered through memory, comparable to Alex Ross’s art in the superhero series Marvels. Mature readers.

Lansdale, Joe R. (text) & Sam Glanzman & others (illus.). Red Range: A Wild Western Adventure. IDW. Jun. 2017. 112p. ISBN 978163140994. $19.99. WESTERN

In this hyperviolent, gleeful pulp, the Klan killed Rufus Range’s family—and he’s out for revenge as a vigilante dubbed Red Mask. Originally released in 1999, the now full-color story flaunts the nastiest dirty laundry that 19th-century racism offered. But Rufus and his younger sidekick are smarter, more skillful, and more humane than their enemies, whose incompetence becomes morbidly funny. Look for a surprise sf twist. For fans of Django Unchained; mature readers. (Xpress Reviews 8/4/17)

Longino, Jay (text) & Caanan White & Diego Rodriguez (illus.). Son of Shaolin. Bk. 1: The Beginning. Image. Sept. 2017. 120p. ISBN 9781534303232. pap. $16.99. ACTION/ADVENTURE

Street artist Kyrie isn’t interested in some cheesy offer to fulfill his destiny as descendent of a Shaolin Elder and save the free world. But when the mysterious Master Fong reveals that Kyrie’s father was the good guy vigilante of Harlem, NY, who was killed by an enemy fighter bent on destruction of the West, Kyrie accepts the challenge. Yet Fong is not what he seems—and Kyrie must choose his own way. Rodriguez’s colors imbue the settings from seedy hotels to Harlem sewers with moody, glowing ambiance. (LJ 12/17)

starred review starMedina, Tony (text) & Stacey Robinson & John Jennings (illus.). I Am Alfonso Jones. Tu: Lee & Low. Oct. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781620142639. pap. $18.95. F

Alfonso’s playing Hamlet’s ghost-father in his school’s hip-hop version of the play while hoping for a second role as Danetta’s boyfriend. But buying his first suit, he becomes a real ghost when a police officer mistakes a coat hanger for a weapon and shoots him. In the afterlife, he awakens in a subway train among other ghosts, who share their own experiences with police brutality. A gut-punching trip into a Black Lives Matter story, with black-and-white art. Teacher’s guide available. (Xpress Reviews 11/3/17)

Nicholas, Jamar. Leon: Protector of the Playground. Kids Love Comics. Aug. 2017. 144p. ISBN 9780999276709. pap. $19.95. SUPERHERO

It’s back to school for Leon, superhero-in-residence at Guillaume Elementary School. First his superhero mom (aka Miss Magnificent) pushes him into new school clothes. Then comes the usual rivalry with pushy hall monitor Clementine and her toadies and the evil schemes of the Steeple-Fingered Villains. But when Leon’s dark matter cube that he brought for show-and-tell sucks up an ice sculpture bust of himself made by a fan, the pint-sized hero must work with Clementine to sort out the mess. Themes of teamwork and antibullying underlie the engaging goofiness. Tweens up.

Pryor, Shawn & Giulie Speziani (text) & Penny Candy Studios (illus.). Cash + Carrie. Bk. 1: Sleuth 101. Action Lab. Nov. 2016. 72p. ISBN 9781632292070. pap. $9.99. MYS

The Danville Junior High mascot has disappeared, a perfect case for middle school gumshoes Dallas Cash and Inez Carrie. But then the goat reappears like magic or voodoo—but maybe that’s what it is! Cash is the tecchie, and Carrie—who’s captain of the wrestling team—is the savvy heavy in these lighthearted detective vignettes. A friendly ghost, a narcoleptic teacher, and a talkative junior fanboy join the diverse supporting cast. Plus, an amusing mock-up of the Mason Middle Messenger school newspaper rounds out the collection. Perfect for middle schoolers, and adults will enjoy reading it with the kids.

Sacco, Kevin. Josephine. SLG. Aug. 2017. 132p. ISBN 9781593622862. pap. $12.95. Biographical fiction

In this lyrical yet chilling peek into our nation’s recent past, a mature white man recalls his 1960s childhood in care of Josephine, his family’s black housekeeper. With Josephine, the boy believes that people are friendly and life seems safe. But racial disparities and exploitation appear, at first subtly, and then explode in a devastating climax. Working in nostalgic grayscale sketchwork, Sacco composed the story as homage to his own childhood caretakers, although much of the plot is fiction. ­Mature readers. (LJ 11/1/17)

Smith, Juliana “Jewels” (text) & Ronald Nelson & Mike Hampton (illus.). (H)afrocentric. Vols. 1–4. PM. Sept. 2017. 136p. ISBN 9781629634487. pap. $20. F

Biracial and Afrocentric, Naima yearns for revolution amid Eurocentric fellow students at Ronald Reagan University. She decides to fight gentrification and escalating rents by creating the social networking site In a second story, she tries an internship as a “racial interpreter,” caught between frankness and accommodation. Inspired partly by Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks, Smith supplies a feminist perspective about Millennials of color squeezed between cultures, with energetic black-and-white ­drawings. (LJ 9/1/17) & Benjamin Jackendoff (text) & Damion Scott (illus.). Black Eyed Peas Present: Masters of the Sun; The Zombie Chronicles. Marvel. Aug. 2017. 120p. ISBN 9781302910846. pap. $24.99. HORROR

Rapper Zulu-X takes the L.A. stage as a powerful performer bent on furthering black art and music. But around him people are hooked on Z-drop, a new drug run by rival gangs, the Crips and Bloods. As users start turning into zombies, unlikely alliances develop. Fortunately, mystical gurus Master Sun and Emeriti help the rapper, club owner Lady Nix, and fellow rapper Guapo to fight the scourge. This exuberant yarn infuses colorful hip-hop graphics into a complex action-adventure with diverse characters cooperating to save humanity from a ruthless despot. Mature readers.

Williams, Marcus (text & illus.) & Greg Burnham (text). Tuskegee Heirs: Flames of Destiny. No. 1 & 2. ( 2016–17. 29p. $19.99. ACTION/ADVENTURE

It’s 2096, and Slip, Genesis, Ayanna, Omar, and Able are practice-flying their rehabbed P-51 Mustangs (historically flown by the famed African American Tuskegee Airmen during World War II), zapping flying target spheres. Suddenly real enemies attack, but these teen heroes are up to it. And now they’re flying hypermodernistic fighter planes, one transformed into a mecha piloted by ally Senator Shields. The threat turns out to be a race of villains planning to destroy Earth’s civilization. Two single issues are available of this Glyph Award winner, featuring zesty color art.


starred review starBagge, Peter. Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story. Drawn & Quarterly. Feb. 2017. 104p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781770462694. $21.95. BIOG

Meet Zora Neale Hurston: anthropologist who worked with Franz Boas, folklorist and collector of down-home speech and stories with Alan Lomax, novelist (Their Eyes Were Watching God), essayist and playwright, eccentric intellectual, life of the party, and exotic fashionista. Bagge bends manic, rubbery characters around Hurston’s chutzpah for a warts-and-roses portrait of this fascinating woman who stirred up controversy in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. (LJ 4/1/17)

starred review starBocquet, José-Luis (text) & Catel Muller (illus.). Josephine Baker. SelfMadeHero. May 2017. 496p. bibliog. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin & Mercedes Claire Gilliom. ISBN 9781910593295. pap. $27.95. BIOG

Sassy Josephine Baker clowned her way through her St. Louis childhood to become one of the first black stars of the world stage. Infamous originally for her Folies-Bergère act wearing only a skirt of (fake) bananas, she possessed a fresh and sexy charm that infused her half century of dancing and singing in her adopted country of France and many elsewheres. She entertained troops during World War II and spied for the Allies, adopted 12 children, and crusaded for black equality. Muller’s high-contrast, black-and-white inks finesse an exuberant realism. (LJ 6/1/17)

Moore, Dan Méndez. Six Days in Cincinnati: A Graphic Account of the Riots That Shook the Nation a Decade Before Black Lives Matter. 2d ed. Microcosm. (Comix Journalism). Jun. 2017. 96p. ISBN 9781621068006. pap. $11.95. HIST

In 2001, Cincinnati police attempting to arrest a nonviolent offender shot and killed the unarmed teen, the culmination of years of alleged police brutality. Soon peaceful protests escalated into the first large-scale 20th-century U.S. riot. Moore participated in the protests and later interviewed other protestors, community leaders, and bystanders. His raw black-and-white drawings lend a “from the barricades” feel. (Xpress Reviews 4/14/17)

starred review starPassmore, Ben. Your Black Friend. Silver Sprocket. 2016. 11p. ISBN 9781945509032. pap. $5. sociology Passmore aims to alert white readers about how some of their (usually) well-meaning communications come across to that “black friend” of theirs. He especially addresses the emotional discomfort around race that can sidetrack encounters. Drawn from his own experiences and friends’ accounts, these vignettes add direct yet gentle commentary addressed to blacks as well as whites and delivered with humor to defuse some of the tensions likely in personal conversations. Buy multiple copies. Watch for Passmore’s forthcoming Your Black Friend and Other Strangers.

Sampayo, Carlos (text) & José Muñoz (illus.). Billie Holiday. NBM. May 2017. 80p. tr. from French by Katy MacRae & others. ISBN 9781681120935. $19.99. BIOG

From the plaintive “Lover Man” to the antilynching “Strange Fruit,” jazz singer Billie Holiday lived the songs she sang—and worse. Her acclaimed talent persisted through violence and exploitation from her menfolk plus drinking, drugging, and discrimination. This biography offers glaring flashes of Holiday’s songs and life more than the details, with Muñoz’s high-contrast, black-and-white panels immersing audiences in an overwhelming strung-out reality. Mature readers. (LJ 7/17)

starred review starTisserand, Michael. Krazy: George Herriman; A Life in Black and White. Harper. 2016. 560p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780061732997. $35. BIOG

The brilliant and wacky Krazy Kat comic strip ran in American newspapers from 1913 to 1944 and influenced numerous comics luminaries, including Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Charles Schulz (Peanuts). The creator was New Orleans native George Herriman, who hid his race for most of his life. This Eisner-winning biography draws on historical research, interviews, and analysis to understand and pay homage to this visionary of graphic narrative. (LJ 11/15/16)

Titeux, Sybille (text) & Amazing Améziane (illus.). Muhammad Ali. Dark Horse. 2016. 128p. tr. from French by Nicole Seguin-Morris. ISBN 9781506703183. $19.99. BIOG

A canny Louisville, KY, police officer guided 12-year-old Cassius Clay toward boxing when the kid wanted to whup the thief who stole his bike. One of the greatest and most popular fighters in history, Ali (who changed his name upon converting to Islam) also fought against discrimination and the Vietnam War, becoming a symbol of black activism as well as success. This stellar account brings the details of Ali’s life, fights, and legacy into clear focus, complete with a diagram of his boxing technique. Photo-realistic art with tan/red emphasis; tweens and up.

about comics

Howard, Sheena C. Encyclopedia of Black Comics. Fulcrum. Sept. 2017. 280p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781682751015. pap. $23.95. COMICS STUDIES

This impressive reference pulls together key information on more than 100 of the many U.S. women and men of African descent involved with comics since the early 20th century: inkers, illustrators, artists, writers, editors, historians, founders of comic-cons, website creators, archivists, and academics. Lavish illustrations, some in color, give glimpses of the collective talent noted in the listings. With a foreword by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and an afterword by writer Christopher Priest.

Jackson, Tim. Pioneering Cartoonists of Color. Univ. Pr. of Mississippi. Apr. 2017. 128p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781496804853. pap. $35. COMICS STUDIES

Editorial cartoonist Jackson over several decades tracked down little-known information about newspaper and magazine comics from black creators. Covering 1800s cartoons in black newspapers though 1968 (when equal-status black characters turned up in mainstream press comic strips), his eye-opening account introduces the men and women who created more than 70 comic strips plus editorial cartoons and illustrations for articles. A final chapter addresses trends since 1970. Especially relevant for media studies and cultural history.

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Also, Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor (vols 1-4) is amazing!

Posted : Feb 27, 2018 10:43



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