Black History Month: A Look at Graphic Novels

Cover gallery of graphic novels with words Graphic Novels for Black History Month

As you probably already know, in February the US celebrates Black History Month. To be clear, this month is not just about promoting prominent Black figures throughout history. I mean, history is history, right? We should strive to include Black narratives year round from all economic, cultural, and historical perspectives. We can see that if we do not put in this effort to elaborate on these non-traditional excerpts from our history, we are bound to repeat these cycles of oppression over and over again. We can see examples of this when comparing the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s and the Black Lives Matter movement that has gained legendary momentum through social media and grassroots organizing over the last 10 years. So instead of just celebrating Black history, I want to honor the agency, resiliency, and joy brought forth by all Black folks.

What you may not know or realize is just how traditionally white the graphic novel/comic book space has been. You can even see this through the history of the iconic Black Panther, who made his comic debut in 1966, but wasn’t written by a black author until 1998 when Christopher Priest revolutionized the character. While modern-day comics may not be as blatantly racist as they have been in the past (shout out to Ta-Nehisi Coates and the Black Panther fandom, we see you!), there’s still a lot left to be desired. A research group from the University of South Carolina conducted a content analysis of race, gender, and class amongst American comic books. They found, “data shows that black characters are still disproportionately portrayed as lower class and possessing less agency [i.e. character’s ability to act intentionally as an protagonist or aggressor] than white characters” (Facciani et al., 2015). Oof. Now we can’t keep walking around like we’re woke saying it’s *current year* and racism is dead, can we? So today I’m going to grace your screen with a list of excellent graphic novels that highlight authentic Black characters, are written or collaborated on by Black creators, and celebrate Black lives. Enjoy! Also, shameless plug, if you are interested in this content and you have even just a tiny ounce of creativity within you (I think we all do!) please mark your calendars for this year’s upcoming Graphic Novel Making Contest - coming this summer!

 

Read Gritty Graphic Novels: Highlighting Black Resilience

New Kid, book cover

New Kid Jerry Craft

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself? -Publisher's Description

Fights, book cover

Fights Joel Christian Gill

Propelled into a world filled with uncertainty and desperation, young Joel is pushed toward using violence to solve his problems by everything and everyone around him. But fighting doesn’t always yield the best results for a confused and sensitive kid who yearns for a better, more fulfilling life than the one he was born into, as Joel learns in a series of brutal conflicts that eventually lead him to question everything he has learned about what it truly means to fight for one’s life. -Publisher's Description

Concrete Park, book cover

Concrete Park Tony Puryear

A troubled young outcast from Earth awakens on a distant desert planet that’s gripped by gang war. Will the exiles of Scare City destroy each other or create something surprising, beautiful, and new? -Publisher's Description

Kindred, book cover

Kindred Damian Duffy

Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him. -Publisher's Description

Monster, book cover

Monster Guy A. Sims

This graphic novel is an adaptation of the multi-award winning book of the same title. This is a provocative coming-of-age story about Steve Harmon, a teenager awaiting trial for a murder and robbery. To acclimate to juvenile detention and going to trial, Steve envisions the ordeal as a movie by writing a film script as he tries to come to terms with the course his life has taken. -Publisher's Description

Excellence: Kill the Past, book cover

Excellence: Kill the Past Brandon Thomas

Spencer Dales was born into a world of magic. His father belongs to the Aegis, a secret society of black magicians ordered by their unseen masters to better the lives of others-of higher potential-but never themselves. Now it's time for Spencer to follow in his father's footsteps, but all he sees is a broken system in need of someone with the wand and the will to change it. But in this fight for a better future...who will stand beside him? -Publisher's Description

 

Read Joyful and Playful: Highlighting Black Agency and Joy

Akissi: Tales of Mischief, book cover

Akissi: Tales of Mischief Marguerite Abouet

Poor Akissi! The neighborhood cats are trying to steal her fish, her little monkey Boubou almost ends up in a frying pan, and she’s nothing but a pest to her older brother Fofana. But Akissi is a true adventurer, and nothing scares her away from hilarious escapades in her modern African city. -Publisher's Description

Goldie Vance, book cover

Goldie Vance Hope Larson

Sixteen-year-old Marigold “Goldie” Vance lives at a Florida resort with her dad, who manages the place, and dreams to one day become the hotel’s in-house detective. When Walter, the current detective, encounters a case he can’t crack, he agrees to mentor Goldie in exchange for her help solving the mystery utilizing her smarts, random skills, and connections with the hotel staff and various folks in town. -Publisher's Description

The Girl Who Married a Skull, and Other African Stories, book cover

The Girl Who Married a Skull, and Other African Stories Kate Ashwin

Have you heard the one about the skull who borrowed body parts to pass himself off as a complete human so he could trick the village beauty into marriage? Well, what about when Frog and Snake's daughters had a play date? Okay, okay. But surely you've heard the story about the crocodiles who held a vote on whether or not to eat a man that had saved one of their lives? NO? Wow. Have we got some stories for you. -Publisher's Description

Prince of Cats, book cover

Prince of Cats Ronald Wimberly

A hip-hop retelling of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet that focuses on Tybalt (derisively referred to as "the Prince of Cats") and his Capulet crew as they do battle nightly with the hated Montagues. Set in a Blade Runner-esque version of Brooklyn, PRINCE OF CATS is a mix of urban melodrama, samurai action and classic Shakespearean theater...all written in Iambic Pentameter! -Publisher's Description

Note This title is available through LINK+.

Bingo Love, book cover

Bingo Love Tee Franklin

When Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray met at church bingo in 1963, it was love at first sight. Forced apart by their families and society, Hazel and Mari both married young men and had families. Decades later, now in their mid-’60s, Hazel and Mari reunite again at a church bingo hall. Realizing their love for each other is still alive, what these grandmothers do next takes absolute strength and courage. -Publisher's Description

Hot Comb, book cover

Hot Comb Ebony Flowers

Hot Comb offers a poignant glimpse into black women’s lives and coming of age stories as seen across a crowded, ammonia-scented hair salon. The titular story “Hot Comb” is about a young girl’s first perm - a doomed ploy to look cool and to stop seeming “too white” in the all-black neighborhood her family has just moved to. Realizations about race, class, and the imperfections of identity swirl through these stories, which are by turns sweet, insightful, and heartbreaking. -Publisher's Description

FTL, Y'all!, book cover

FTL, Y'all! Amanda Lefrenais

Six months from now, detailed schematics anonymously uploaded to the Internet will describe, with absolute precision, how to build a faster-than-light engine for $200 in easily-available parts. Space travel will be instantly—and chaotically—democratized. The entire cosmos is suddenly within reach of all humankind, without organization, authority, or limitation. -Publisher's Description

 

Read History: Black Stories in Historical Context

March: Book One, book cover

March: Book One John Lewis

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis' personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. -Publisher's Description

The Harlem Hellfighters, book cover

The Harlem Hellfighters Max Brooks

In 1919, the 369th infantry regiment marched home triumphantly from World War I. They had spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never losing a foot of ground to the enemy, or a man to capture, and winning countless decorations. Though they returned as heroes, this African American unit faced tremendous discrimination, even from their own government. The Harlem Hellfighters, as the Germans called them, fought courageously on--and off--the battlefield to make Europe, and America, safe for democracy. -Publisher's Description

Incognegro, book cover

Incognegro Mat Johnson

In the early 20th century, when lynchings were commonplace in the American South, a few brave reporters - light-skinned African-Americans - risked their lives to expose the truth. This undercover work was known as 'going incognegro'. Zane Pinchback's latest case hits close to home: his brother has been arrested for murder. -Publisher's Description

The Silence of Our Friends, book cover

The Silence of Our Friends Mark Long

In 1960s Texas, a white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood and a black family from its poorest ward cross Houston's color line, overcoming humiliation, degradation, and violence to win the freedom of five black college students unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman. -Publishers Description

Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story, book cover

Fire!! The Zora Neale Hurston Story Peter Bagge

Hurston challenged the norms of what was expected of an African American woman in early 20th century society. The fifth of eight kids from a Baptist family in Alabama, Hurston’s writing prowess blossomed at Howard University, and then Barnard College, where she was the sole black student. She arrived in NYC at the height of the Harlem Renaissance and quickly found herself surrounded by peers such as Langston Hughes and Wallace Thurman.

Hurston went on to become a noted folklorist and critically acclaimed novelist, including her most provocative work Their Eyes Were Watching God. Despite these landmark achievements, personal tragedies and shifting political winds in the midcentury rendered her almost forgotten by the end of her life. With admiration and respect, Bagge reconstructs her vivid life in resounding full-color. -Publishers Description

Abbott, book cover

Abbott Saladin Ahmed

While investigating police brutality and corruption in 1970s Detroit, journalist Elena Abbott uncovers supernatural forces being controlled by a secret society of the city’s elite.

In the uncertain social and political climate of 1972 Detroit, hard-nosed, chain-smoking tabloid reporter Elena Abbott investigates a series of grisly crimes that the police have ignored. Crimes she knows to be the work of dark occult forces. Forces that took her husband from her. Forces she has sworn to destroy. -Publisher's Description

 

For further reading, head over to this previous blog that highlights Black Superheroes.

Source:

Facciani, M., Warren, P., & Vendemia, J. (2015). A Content-Analysis of Race, Gender, and Class in American Comic Books. Race, Gender & Class, 22(3-4), 216-226. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.jstor.org/stable/26505357

Blog by AmeriCorps VISTA Julianna Black

Blog Category
Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
Graphic Novels

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