Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books

Yoe Bks. Dec. 2020. 240p. ISBN 9781684055869. $34.99. GRAPHIC NOVELS
Comics historian Quattro (author of the blog The Comics Detective) writes a monograph about 18 largely unknown Black artists who drew for the early comic book industry during the 1930s–50s, whose work spanned from kiddy comedies to romance and horror dramas. Among Quattro’s subjects are a descendant of a man enslaved by George Washington, a painter featured in the National Portrait Gallery, a winner of ALA’s Coretta Scott King Award, an Olympic medals designer, and a pardoned Sing Sing inmate. Some of these men had always loved comics, but most just needed to make money—often to support fine art careers that brought recognition but little remuneration. Some worked for Black causes through cartoons, posters, “Negro Heroes” series, and the groundbreaking 1947 comics anthology All-Negro Comics, endorsed by Eleanor Roosevelt. Most had formal art training, gravitated to Harlem, and entered the field during World War II. For while discrimination and Jim Crow laws limited Black employment opportunities at the time, the exceptions were positions that opened up when white artists were drafted. Quattro writes that because these Black artists worked mainly in comics studios, their race was unknown to most readers and even publishers.
VERDICT Abounding in lavish color reproductions from historical comic books, Quattro’s exhaustive research allows glimpses into the challenges, roadblocks, and successes that Black comics illustrators experienced. A compelling eye-opener about boundary-breaking stories behind the stories, and winner of a 2021 Eisner Award.
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