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Black (Comics) History Month

There is a growing and welcome sub-genre of comics history that deals with African American cartoonists and the work they have produced. Below, some books off the shelf dealing with the subject.

Invisible Men by Ken Quattro is the most recent of the books about Black cartoonists. This deals with the Golden Age of comic books when publicizing the African ancestry of cartoonists was not fashionable – thus ‘invisible’ men. Cal Massey, Matt Baker, Al Hollingsworth, E. C. Stoner, Adolphe Barreaux, Ezra Jackson, and Gene Bilbrew are among the more famous; Ken adds a dozen more lesser known artists. Chapter biographies are followed by pages of comic book samples showcasing their talents. Looking forward to a second volume of ‘Silver Age’ cartoonists like Grass Green, Tom Feelings, Billy Graham, et. al.

 

Pioneering Cartoonists of Color by Tim Jackson is an outstanding history of cartoonists working for Black-owned newspapers. While histories of Black newspapers could be found the comic strip and editorial cartoonists had been largely ignored until this fascinating book. A chronological history from The Civil War to The Civil Rights Era, when Black cartoonists began to establish a presence in White-owned newspapers and syndicates.
Highly recommended.

 

Encyclopedia of Black Comics by Sheena C. Howard takes the Invisible Men and Pioneering Cartoonists of Color, shuffles them together and then adds creators up to modern times (2017), including webcomic cartoonists. Encyclopedic is the word here as hundreds(?) of cartoonists are given a profile page, sometimes two. The more notable like E. Simms Campbell, Ollie Harrington, Morrie Turner, and Jackie Ormes are given a half dozen pages. This, too, is begging for a second volume for the hundreds not included; e.g., Kyle Baker, Cory Thomas, Kevin Banks, and, of course, Tom Feelings.

 

Speaking of Jackie Ormes…

Jackie Ormes, The First African American Woman Cartoonist by Nancy Goldstein is a biography of a cartoonist finally getting the recognition she deserves. This book is full of pictures and comics (44 pages of annotated Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger panels) running through the finally revealed life of Ms. Ormes. A template for future biographies to follow.

 

Krazy: George Herriman, A Life in Black and White by Michael Tisserand is the ultimate George Herriman biography. Much has been written of the most famous cartoonist of color over the years, but until you read this tome (550 pages) you don’t know Garge. I have been known to skip a page or two while reading biographies, not here. Detailing his life, his career, and his comics there is no boring part of George Herriman or this book.

The Tisserand book reproduces panels here and there but you’ll have to get some Herriman comic books to follow up. Fortunately there are plenty to choose from, I still have a fondness for Patrick McDonnell’s Krazy collection, which was my first.

 

The Content of Our Caricature: African American Comic Art and Political Belonging by Rebecca Wanzo is a scholarly look at the political use of people of color in editorial cartoons, comics, and comic books by Black and White cartoonists through U. S. history.

“Revealing the long aesthetic tradition of African American cartoonists who have made use of racist caricature as a black diasporic art practice, Rebecca Wanzo demonstrates how these artists have resisted histories of visual imperialism and their legacies…Wanzo explores the works of artists such as Sam Milai, Larry Fuller, Richard “Grass” Green, Brumsic Brandon Jr., Jennifer Cruté, Aaron McGruder, Kyle Baker, Ollie Harrington, and George Herriman, all of whom negotiate and navigate this troublesome history of caricature.”

Community Comments

#1 Derald K Porter
February/1/2021
@ 8:58 pm

One of my favorites is Keith Knight, of The K Chronicles, (Th)ink, and The Knight Life. Well worth the time and effort to read up on him. And he’s a hockey fan so doubly cool for me.

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