It’s a small thing, but I’ve been hearing from black colleagues about the importance of using your platform – whatever that is – to help fight racial injustice, and Comic Book Herald is simply the best way I can do that. So the only work I’ll be releasing this week is a guide to my favorite black comic book creators and comics that can help expand understanding of black Americans’ experience.
Putting my money where my mouth is, every month I donate at least 10% of Comic Book Herald earnings to various charities, and this month all proceeds will benefit the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and Chicago Community Bond (including all proceeds that may arise from affiliate links or ads in this post). I would encourage you to consider donations, or to see some options via this guide from Barack Obama.
Below you’ll find a list of the works and creators that bring the much needed perspective of black voices to comics. Inevitably, there are many many more positive examples, and I’d love to hear about them in the comments if you’re so inclined to share. I also saw a really good thread amplifying black voices in comics from writer Gail Simone, and I’d encourage you to give that a read as well.
We can’t solve racism and police killings by reading comics. Don’t mistake this for a substitute. Hopefully supporting black artists is another way to support among the thousands of necessary steps America needs to take.
Black lives matter. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Essential Reads on Racism by Black Comics Creators
Congressman John Lewis’ first-hand account of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, with co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell. Absolutely essential, both in comics and American history.
Written by Kwanza Osajyefo with art by Jamal Igle, Black is a creative vision of a world where only African-Americans have superpowers. The quick logline is essentially what if all the X-Men were black? Black is smart, razor-sharp and very easy to pick up for readers more familiar with traditional superhero universes.
This ongoing Image Comics work from David F. Walker, Charles Brown, and Sanford Greene turns racism into literal monsters, and tells the story of an all-black cast tackling these monsters in the south of the 1920s. It’s one of my favorite comics of 2019, and easily one of the most vital works being released in comic shops in 2020.
From Chicago’s Ezra Claytan Daniels and artist Ben Passmore, this incredible Fantagraphics graphic novel was released last summer and definitely merits more attention. A fictional depiction of Chicago’s south side, BTTM FDRS imagines gentrification as a horror given form. Daniels and Passmore craft a lived-in exploration of the south side at times poignant, funny, scathing and hard to put down.
Victor Lavalle is a well known author of novels (the non graphic kind) such as The Ballad of Black Tom and The Changeling. Alongside Dietrich Smith, published by BOOM Studios, Lavalle’s Destroyer comic offers a modern extension of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, with a core focus on the justified rage of a black mother who lost her young son to a police killing. It’s a gripping, action-packed, at times heart-breaking application of the iconic monster story.
David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson’s historical graphic novel is an essential dive into the nuance and depth of America’s Black Panther Party. Personally, I had a very limited understanding of what the Black Panthers actually did, with my perception of the party shrouded mostly in vague ideas of militancy and violence. Which, as I read this graphic novel, is also exactly the intent of then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and the government’s cointelpro operations destabilizing and diminishing the party at every turn.
The reality and horror of racism’s legacy rarely hits harder than witnessing the torture of Frank “Big Black” Smith in the aftermath of 1971’s Attica prison uprising. It’s a stomach-churning history, told with tremendous skill and heart through interviews with “Big Black,” by Jared Reinmuth and art by Ameziane.
The history and the telling reminds me a great deal of Derf Backderf’s Kent State: Four Dead in Ohio, finding the emotional center of appalling national state-perpetuated violence and murder during early 70’s Nixon.
Recommended Comics by Black Creators
My expectations for After the Rain were absolutely blown away, as this adaptation of a Nnedi Okorafor short story is an exceptional graphic novel, kicking off the incredibly promising Megascope line of comics curated by John Jennings.
For more, check out my conversation with John Jennings on After the Rain.
Farmhand by Rob Guillory
One of my favorite comics of the last few years, Guillory follows up his long run on Chew with the story of a black family and their role in a mysterious, possibly alien sci-fi body-parts farm.
Gay is a well known author, and has also written a Black Panther miniseries for Marvel. Her recent work for TKO Studios about Black Women as the ultimate thieves of Chicago (think DC’s Catwoman but with a family legacy) is a recommended read.
Excellence by Khary Randolph & Brandon Thomas
A secret order of Black Magicians comes to light in this ongoing comic published by Image.
Spike Trotman is a much needed voice in comics, as a creator and activist in Chicago. If you like the work, check out Iron Circus Comics for more.
Check Please by Ngozi Ukazu
For more on Ukazu’s work, I’d recommend the recent Off Panel interview.
Vita Ayala is one of the most talented up and coming creators in comics, with books like Submerged from Vault, The Wilds from Black Mask Studios, and the announced Children of the Atom from Marvel.
Big 2 (Marvel & DC) Comics by Black Creators
Due to the reality of Marvel & DC’s historically minimal levels of representation, I was tempted to leave the publishers out entirely. There’s a danger of giving them too much credit for bare minimum levels of contribution. Both publishers should be held accountable for improving their hiring at both the creative, editorial, and administrative levels moving forward.
Nonetheless, I don’t want to take away from the amazing work of talented black creators who’ve contributed to these shared universes, and ultimately reached significantly wider audiences doing so.
Chuck F. Walker and Ramon Villalobos teamed up for an all too brief six issues about black vigilante Nighthawk responding to the dark legacy of violence in Chicago. It’s remarkably cogent for a book ostensibly tied to Marvel’s Squadron Supreme, and deals with racism, police brutality, and the gentrification of Chicago fairly head-on.
Collects: Truth: Red, White and Black #1 to #7
Rereading Truth by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker in 2021, I’m honestly astonished that Marvel Comics released this work in 2003. Compared to the rest of the Marvel canon, Truth is a remarkably unflinching look at the “real” first Captain America, Isiah Bradley, an African-American man and product of grotesque military experimentation meant to bring to mind the real-world Tuskegee experiments. The work has substantially more in common with David F. Walker & Sanford Greene’s Bitter Root than anything in Captain America in the era.
I remember reading this early in my comics reading experience, and feeling badly unprepared for Baker’s blend of superhero action and political cartoon caricatures, not to mention woefully ignorant of the real world history such as ‘The Red Summer.” The more I educate myself about America’s history with race, though, the more impressed I am by Morales and Baker’s Truth, and how much it manages to cover in seven issues.
I’m a big fan of author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ work on Black Panther (with initial art by Brian Stelfreeze), but his current position as Marvel’s 2020 writer of Captain America is extremely significant as well. Giving their biggest characters/properties to black writers is a huge next step for Marvel and DC, and Coates on Captain America is the most prominent current example I’m aware of that shows the value of that move towards talented additional perspectives.
Christopher Priest is one of the most interesting black writers in the history of contemporary comics, getting his start as a writer and editor with Marvel back in the 1980s (even writing the fascinating original graphic novel Spider-Man vs Wolverine). Priest’s “Marvel Knights” era take on Black Panther is highly recommended, as is his more recent work with DC Comics on Deathstroke, particularly the issue “Chicago” which directly addresses issues of gun violence in the city.
The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage – The Works of Denys Cowan
Denys Cowan is one of the most prominent black creators in comics, with an incredible career that includes a long run with writer Denny O’Neil on The Question, co-founding Milestone Comics, and most recently returning to The Question with Jeff Lemire and Bill Sienkiewicz as part of DC’s Black Label.
“Far Sector” is written by fantasy author N.K. Jemisin (The Broken Earth Trilogy) and artist Jamal Campbell. The “Young Animal” imprint work stars a new Green Lantern, Jo Mullein, a black woman policing a compelling and unsettling alien society. This is an ongoing project, about halfway completed at time of publication.
2020 Eisner Nominations
The “Eisners” are comics biggest annual awards, and while this comes with all the trappings of award spectacles in other mediums, it’s frequently an interesting blend of creative works in comics. Since the list of nominees was released on June 4, 2020, I was particularly interested in exploring which selections came from black writers, artists, colorists, letterers, and frankly any other category included.
Below you’ll find the list of Eisner nominations for black artists in comics (if you do see any omissions, please let me know and I’m happy to update), hopefully providing more works to support. Two of the selections are also included in my earlier picks above, but I wanted to include here again to acknowledge their nominations.
- “Hot Comb,” by Ebony Flowers, in Hot Comb (Drawn & Quarterly)
- Bitter Root, by David Walker, Chuck Brown, and Sanford Greene (Image)
- Naomi by Brian Michael Bendis, David Walker, and Jamal Campbell (DC)
- Akissi: More Tales of Mischief, by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin (Flying Eye/Nobrow)
- New Kid, by Jerry Craft (Quill Tree/HarperCollins)
- BTTM FDRS, by Ezra Claytan Daniels and Ben Passmore (Fantagraphics)
- LaGuardia, by Nnedi Okorafor and Tana Ford (Berger Books/Dark Horse)
- Deron Bennett (“Best Lettering”), Batgirl, Green Arrow, Justice League, Martian Manhunter (DC); Canto (IDW); Assassin Nation, Excellence (Skybound/Image); To Drink and To Eat, vol. 1 (Lion Forge); Resonant (Vault)
- EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest, by Qiana Whitted (Rutgers University Press)