Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture

by Damian Duffy, John Jennings, and Keith Knight (Mark Batty Publisher)

In his brief introduction to Black Comix, Keith Knight points out—hilariously—that cats tend to get better representation in the newspaper’s funny pages than black people do. This big, lush anthology, full of an impressive array of work by some 50 African-American comics artists, seeks to remedy that.

The other identifier in the book’s title is “independent,” defined beautifully by editor Damian Duffy as encompassing any number of things — all things, really, from creation to publishing, distribution, and promotion. “No small word, ‘independent,’” he writes.

And it’s true, the diversity of the work in this collection is impressive, even surprising. Each artist is given at least two pages to showcase his or her work. Several get more play than that, like Dawud Anyabwile, whose bombastic, colorful, graffiti-influenced characters blast across several pages. Anyabwile also gives an interview about his smart-superhero comic Brotherman and the company he started with his brothers, Big City Comics. His DIY story is inspiring enough to spur any budding artist into action.

But turn the page and you’ve got quiet, black-and-white line drawings and funny-papers one-liners by Lana Andrade, “a cartoonist that paints.” Then there’s Jerry Craft, one of the nation’s few syndicated African-American cartoonists, whose strip Mama’s Boyz does domestic humor and black issues in a warm, sweet manner. In fact many of the artists represented in these pages are high-profile, working for the major comics publishers or other huge media outlets, but, writes Duffy, the thing they have in common is an ongoing devotion to their own work.

There are as many real-looking people in this book as there are muscle- and cleavage-popping heros, and comics industry veterans sit alongside up-and-comers. (Be sure to check out twentysomething Leilani Hickerson, author of the lush, manga-inspired My Hafu.) Don’t forget the really wild stuff that can flourish in the comix underground, like Left-Handed Sophie, a ‘70s-looking albino voodoo queen, drawn by Phonzie Davis with true indie humor and style. Other standouts include Frances Liddell’s Grey No 1, whose beautiful, muted pieces look like storyboards for an epic movie, and Kenjji Marshall’s seriously bad-ass “WitchDoctor” and “Itako” drawings.

The anthology is broken into sections, ranging from hip-hop’s influence on the art to the so-called Black Age of comics, a term coined by Turtel Onli to refer to a distinct black movement happening in the industry. Several short interviews touch on the formation of ONYXCON, a fan convention dedicated to black comics, the Museum of Black Superheroes website, and other mind-opening resources. Cheers to Duffy and Jennings for making this comprehensive encyclopedia/anthology/celebration – it’s as fun and lively as it is important.

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