Years in the making, Shadow Doctor #1 kicks off the true story of writer Peter Calloway’s grandfather, Nathaniel Calloway, a Black man who graduated from medical school in the early 1930’s. Unable to get work at any Chicago hospitals because he was Black, and unable to secure a loan from a bank to start his own practice because he was Black, he turned to another source of money in Prohibition-era Chicago: the Mafia, run by none other than Al Capone.
Comics are never, and should never, be full of superheroes. Sure, there’s great superhero stories out there – and I love my share of superhero comics – but comics have so much more to offer than that. Case in point, Shadow Doctor #1 published by Aftershock Comics, written by Peter Calloway featuring art by Georges Jeanty, colours by Mark Chirallo and letters by Charles Pritchett. The story itself is based on the true story of Calloway’s grandfather, a black doctor unable to work in 1930’s Chicago because of his skin colour – let that sink in for a moment, because in an age where we’re crying out for doctors (at least in my neck of the woods) having one unable to work because of their skin colour should be unfathomable – but we’re not really that far removed from this reality. It was only ninety years ago that Doctor Nathaniel Calloway was unable to find work – a lifetime, yes, but we all know that the 30’s wasn’t when things changed.
And so it’s against this backdrop of the Great Depression in prohibition era Chicago that a man who wants to use what he’s gone to school for to earn a living – something that is probably far too real for many of us.
Calloway the author tells his grandfather’s story with an unfiltered honesty; despite there clearly being a love and respect for his grandfather, the writer doesn’t shy away from the choices that Nathanial Calloway made – although we only see the tip of the iceberg in the first issue, and by not doing so he creates a bond of truth with the reader in that his grandfather’s story is very believable (how much is truth and how much is fiction is something I wonder based solely on the “based on a true story” disclaimer at the beginning of the comic – I’m inclined to believe that some of the more minor details are fictionalized such as conversations, but that the essence of the comic is true).
Shadow Doctor #1 has an artistic presentation that somehow gives off a 30’s vibe whilst also looking almost like a water colour painting. The art style is absolutely perfect for the comic’s story. It looks like an old timey comic without feeling dated because Jeanty’s layouts and his panel structure juxtapose the art with a youthful energy; the combination of the old and fresh is far from jarring and pulls you right into the story’s time period better than any constant reference in the text ever could.
In another case of picking up a comic based solely on the title, I went from having no idea what to expect to finding what I’m sure is going to become a story I can’t wait to read for the third time in a few months. Shadow Doctor #1 is a really good book in every way; the art, the story… everything about the comic is remarkably engaging, and I’m excited to learn more about Nat Calloway. Aftershock have included four additional pages about the titular doctor, allowing you to get to know the man he was, even if just a little. It’s a brilliant addition to a comic that’s well worth your time.
If you’re still on the fence about this book, then I wanted to end with this line from the writer taken from the preview text “On the one hand, his story represents the promise of America. On the other hand, it shows the worst of it.”
Story: Peter Calloway Art: Georges Jeanty
Colorist: Mark Chirallo Letterer: Charles Pritchett
Story: 9.5 Art: 9.5 Overall: 9.5 Recommendation: Buy
Aftershock provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review