Review: The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art

In today’s political climate it feels like we rarely see each other as humans. It is mostly what political megalomaniacs tend to spin is what we each other as, labels and often lies.

This is even more distressing in communities of color, as the disparity in conviction rates has perpetuated a false narrative of black on black crime and that myth that people who grow up in these communities, have a choice.

Growing up in these communities myself, I know this not true, as the lack of choices is what leads many to the choices they make. Many of these choices are rarely ever ideal.

It is a lifetime of indiscernibility as Ralph Ellison wrote in the Invisible Man:

I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.

This is what was wrong with Matt Groening’s argument surrounding South Asians’ issue with the Apu character, is that he refused to see the problem. His privilege gave him blinders that would otherwise come full on a creator of color.  This void all people of color carry, is something we barely show to our non POC acquaintances, but it is there. Even more difficult is the burden as well as journey most creators of color face, how their work is most often misunderstood, how they rarely receive the same accolades as their white counterparts. This is why Dr. Francis Gateward and John Jennings chose to illuminate those creators in The Blacker The Ink about those stories that made the comics world what it is, but rarely gets told, when it comes to creators of a more sepia tone.

In “The Introduction” the editors recount how it was for them to grow up as children, being interested in comics and not seeing themselves reflected in the comics they enjoyed. In the chapter entitled “No Sweat”, Daniel Yezbick dissects how the Comics Code changed a well-intentioned progressive story because of unfair targeting at EC Comics. In “Sex in Yop City”, Sally McWilliams talks about the first attempt to produce a graphic novel about modern Africa, and how the politics of racial fragility prevented the book from reaching the masses it intended to. In “A Post colony in Pieces”, the reader is treated to how the lessons in Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks can be seen throughout Joshua Dysart’s run In Unknown Soldier. In “Fashion in Funny Papers”, Nancy Goldstein attempts to give prolific Jackie Ormes, the justice she richly deserved. In “Graphic Remix”, Coleman and Youmans chronicle the stratospheric rise of the Boondocks as not only as comic strip and cartoon but also as a cultural touchstone. In “American Truths”, Conseula Francis examines the 2002 comic, “Truth: Red, White & Black”, which tells the story of the first men to get the Captain America’s powers before him. In “Drawn into Dialogue”, Andre Carrington, uncovers the story behind Milestone’s Icon and one of its most controversial stories, which is considered relevant today but revolutionary at the time. In “Critical Afrofuturism”, Reynaldo Anderson tells about some fo the first comics to feature” Afrofuturism”, as one of the first books was Ramzez: Prince of Panet Heru. In “Bare Chests, Silver Tiaras and Removable Afros”, Blair Davis, uncovers the evolving look of black superheroes through the whole history of comic books. In “Daddy Cool”, Kinohi Nishikawa tells the story of how Donald Goines gave the world, he first graphic novel about street life from a black perspective. In “The Tragic Bluescomic”, Qianna Whitted talks about Stager Lee, and its long hard road to publication. In “Provocation Through Polyphony”, Craig Fischer gives a behind the scenes look of how Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner came to be. In “Performance Geography”, Hershini  Bhana Young, they dissect Jeremy Love’s Bayou. In “A Secret History of Miscegenation”, James Ziegler, gives readers a look at Jimmy Corrigan and how the main character’s adoption of a black child, gave readers pause. In the final story, “It’s A Hero?”, Rebecca Wanzo, examines society’s lack of empathy and refusal to see a hero of color, has led to generations of children of color struggling with identity and self-empowerment.

Overall, a groundbreaking work that neither preaches or purely entertains but educates and stokes the fire of readers everywhere to dig into these comic books.  Each essay/story gives readers much needed insight into these pioneers and under read classics. The rose of each story is both intriguing and illuminating. Altogether, a much-needed book which tells a part of the story, but does it very well, as the story continues to today.

Essayists: Daniel Yezbick, Sally McWilliams, Patrick F Walter, Nancy Goldstein, Robin R.Means Coleman, William Lafi Youmans, Conseula Francis, Andre Carrington, Reynaldo Anderson, Blair Davis, Kinohi Nishikawa, Qianna Whitted, Crag Fischer, Hershini  Bhana Young, James Ziegler, and Rebecca Wanzo
Editors: John Jennings and Professor Frances Gateward
Essay: 10 Prose: 9.0 Overall: 9.4 Recommendation: Buy