The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library
Any discussion of African Americans in comics would be incomplete without Black Panther. Although Christopher Priest’s series is also essential reading (especially for fans of the hero’s portrayal in the recent movies), superstar author Ta-Nehisi Coates’ fast-paced, insightful writing pairs excellently with one of the great Black artists of the last quarter century: Brian Stelfreeze. With a resume that includes both Marvel and DC (including some of the most impressive, iconic Batman covers of the 1990s), Stelfreeze has superhero credentials few can touch.
Drawing on a rich history of zines and independent cartooning, Ben Passmore takes a subtle approach to racism, demonstrating how even those who are well-meaning often perpetuate stereotypes.
In this Ebony Flowers graphic novel, a hair salon provides the setting for varied stories about what is perhaps an unexpected site of frustration for many black women: their hair. Through the lenses of different women, Flowers shows the anxiety, self-consciousness, and empowerment that can center around something as mundane as one’s hair
A high-concept tale about warring gangs on a distant prison planet, artist Erika Alexander presents the reader with a future that is too often unseen in science fiction: a future that is diverse.
The first Black woman ever hired by Image Comics, Tee Franklin tells a story of the forbidden love between two Black women who meet as teenagers, are driven apart, then reunited decades later as grandmothers. Both heartbreaking and hopeful, Franklin imparts humanity into characters portrayed from a queer, Black perspective.
Set in 1980s Brooklyn, Ronald Wemberly’s Prince of Cats is a loose retelling of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. A so-called “remix” of the classic work, Wemberly weaves Shakespearean verse into a celebration of hip hop, disco, new wave, and street art that sets him apart from anyone else in an increasingly diverse comics landscape
Riri Williams is just like every other 15-year old-- she just happens to be a super genius who created her own suit of Iron Man armor. If you liked what G. Willow Wilson did for young Muslim girls in the pages of the critically acclaimed Ms. Marvel, then Ironheart might be your new favorite superheroine.
If one were pressed to find a singular work that has legitimized Black voices in comics and graphic novels in a big, mainstream, and literary way, the March trilogy would certainly have to be among the top contenders. Both award-winning and bestselling, March captures the Civil Rights Movement from the perspective of one of its most prominent figures (and co-author of the book), Congressman John Lewis. An achievement of artistry, storytelling, and social relevance, March is a must-read even for those hesitant to pick up a comic.
After Alfonso Jones is killed by an off-duty police officer, the Black teenager finds himself in a subway car full of other victims of police brutality. A comic that makes difficult issues accessible for young readers, I Am Alfonso Jones nonetheless addresses the complexity of institutionalized violence toward Black males and demonstrates how contemporary struggles have historical roots.
Have the other comics so far felt too conventional? Perhaps Upgrade Soul is the book for you. An elderly couple undergoes an experimental procedure to rejuvenate their bodies, but things take an unexpected turn when it results in disfigured yet intellectually superior duplicates of them. An eccentric work that is as visually-striking as it is thought-provoking, Daniels raises major questions about aging, science, and what shapes our identity.
A collection of comic strips based on author Keith Knight’s life, this sizable omnibus finds humor in life’s frustrations. With a career that includes work for both MAD Magazine and ESPN, this cartoonist presents the silly side of visual storytelling.
While her brother, the Black Panther, may be a famous king and warrior, as one of the smartest characters in the Marvel Universe, Shuri is certainly no pushover. Multi-award-winning Afrofuturist author Nnedi Okorafor takes us on a wild adventure in this series as Shuri searches for her missing brother. If you loved her portrayal in the Black Panther and Avengers films, this comic is a must-read.
In a world filled with hatred and prejudice, what if the only people with superpowers were Black? After a teenager survives a shooting by the police, he learns that he is part of a small group who possess extraordinary abilities-- a secret that has been kept for centuries. A response to the lack of diversity in comics, Osajyefo’s Black is as much a love letter to the medium as a call to action against real world racism.
Bitter Root Vol. 1: Family Business
By David F. Walker and Chuck Brown (authors), Sanford Greene (artist)
A comic about the struggles of a family that hunts monsters during the Harlem Renaissance, Bitter Root’s intriguing premise is brought to life by an impressive all-Black creative team. Having already proven themselves in the realm of superheroes with their criminally short-lived Power Man and Iron Fist, David F. Walker and Sanford Greene’s Eisner Award winning comic shows what the pair can do with even more creative freedom.
Icon: A Hero’s Welcome
By Dwayne McDuffie
As one of the great writers of the medium, the late Dwayne McDuffie is a name that transcends merely Black comics. A prolific creator, McDuffie’s influence can be seen in some of the most loved superhero comics of the last 40 years, and perhaps on a wider scale, cartoons such as Justice League Unlimited, Static Shock, and Teen Titans. As significantly, he co-founded Milestone Media in an attempt to bring greater representation to comics. While Static and Hardware are amazing Black heroes in their own right, Icon is a great starting point for those who want to see a different approach to classic superhero tropes.
Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books
By Ken Quattro
A fascinating look at some of the unsung heroes of comics’ Golden Age, Invisible Men delves into the lives and work of Black creators who were behind-the-scenes. With examples from World War II era Black magazines and newspapers, Ken Quattro provides a treasure trove of rare and unreleased art from artists whose recognition is long overdue. Whether your interest is historical, cultural, or artistic, this impressive account will have something to spark your interest.
White scripts and Black Supermen: Black masculinities in comic books
By Jonathan Gayles (director)
Not an actual comic, but rather a documentary that tackles one of the most complicated (and often problematic) aspects of comic books since their inception: the portrayal of Black males. With commentary from both scholars and comic book creators (including Dwayne McDuffie), White Scripts and Black Supermen puts some of the most recognizable Black characters under the microscope, such as Black Panther, Black Lightning, Luke Cage, and the Green Lantern, John Stewart.