As I mentioned in my post about Wiscon, I was lucky enough to be on a Diversity in Comics panel there this year. Our moderator asked us to explain how we got into comics. I could not tell that story without lauding the first book in this post, Incognegro. Since I read it, I’ve kept my eye out for more comics that tell stories about race, social change and justice, and all the good and bad that goes with our world’s history on those issues. Here are some of my favorites.
Incognegro: A Graphic Mystery by Mat Johnson with art by Warren Pleece. Lettered by Clem Robins.
Incognegro drew me back to comics after several years when nothing interested me. The story is intense beyond words. It’s a mystery, a crime and detective story, and a reminder of the deep horror of how African-Americans have been treated throughout U.S. history. It’s set in the 1930s. Zane Pinchback is an African-American reporter who has skin light enough to “pass” for white, working in New York. He travels to Mississippi when his brother is accused of murdering a white woman. Johnson was inspired by the real life stories of Walter White, executive secretary of the NAACP, who made similar trips to investigate lynchings.
For those interested in crime or mystery stories or American history, this is a must-read. It’s violent, but not without purpose. Johnson is an award-winning writer and writing professor, and he handles this story beautifully. Pleece’s art looks appropriate to the setting without appearing dated. They’re both exceptionally talented, and I’ve enjoyed following their work on other projects after I read this.
Next up, Saucer Country by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Jimmy Braxton, and Goran Sudžuka with colors by Giulia Brusco, Lee Loughridge, and Chris Peter. Sal Cipriano did the letters. (That’s just for book 1. I think other artists may have helped out on book 2, but the series as a whole maintains good overall artistic integrity.)
The nation’s first Latina governor, Arcadia Alvarado, is running for President. She’s a liberal, a woman of color, and she’s divorced, so getting to the Oval Office is going to be a hard fight. And then in addition to her political aspirations, she believes she’s been abducted by aliens who represent a threat to Earth, and the Presidency is her best chance for discovering the truth about them and eliminating that threat.
There is so much commentary in this book about the race, gender, and political factors involved in Alvarado’s run for higher office. Politics junkies, this one’s for you, even if you could care less about little grey alien thingies.
Now we have Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology edited by Jeff Yang, Parry Shen, Keith Chow, and Jerry Ma.
I was SO EXCITED after reading this that I talked poor Jeff Yang’s ear off after a panel he did at SXSW. “Thanks for the book, it was fantastic!” is what I should have said. Instead I had fangirl talking attack. Sorry dude!
And they did. Yay! I am not always a big fan of anthologies but for this one, I am overdue for going through the book again so I can follow up on all the creators whose work I fell in love with. Because I did. Follow them on Twitter, buy their stuff, send them cupcakes. Whatever works. There were a number of short stories here that I would have bought immediately if they were ongoing series. Shattered, the sequel, had a hard act to follow, but I found a good number of new-to-me creators to love there as well.
Right State by Mat Johnson. Art by Andrea Mutti, gray tones by Dimitri Fogolin, letters by Pat Brosseau.
YES, that’s two Mat Johnson books in one post. I can’t help it! He’s that good! Political militias planning an assassination! Ex Special Forces agent now conservative media pundit going undercover with the militias to stop it despite sympathizing with their cause! Double crosses, shifting allegiances, and nothing has an easy answer. (Despite what the Amazon reviewers seem to think.)
This is an unlettered page, but it almost doesn’t need words. I love how Mutti feels free to continually change page layouts to help tell the story. And I love how creepy this book is. The politics and race issues are a big part of it, but the suspense and thriller aspects are just as strong.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang with colors by Lark Pien.
Three interconnected stories about being who you are, and how painfully hard that can be – especially when stereotypes chase you everywhere you go. This is the comic to read if you don’t believe comics can be serious literature, because that’s only one of the many stereotypes it blows away. Amazing book!
We recommended this in our post about non-superhero comics for older kids and young adults, but C-Man and I bought it for ourselves after reading the library’s copy. It’s that good.
March by Representative John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell.
March is a trilogy covering the life and work of Representative John Lewis, a pioneer in the Civil Rights movement. This series has gotten a lot of attention, and sparked renewed interest in civil rights – an area where we still need work in the U.S.! The book jacket for the first volume says it’s “rooted in Lewis’ personal story” and that’s true. It starts with him, with his life and contributions, but it tells a much bigger story. The first volume felt a little like background to me, but the storytelling in the second volume really started to pop. You wouldn’t fully appreciate it without the lessons from the first volume, so props to Rep. Lewis and co-author Aydin for knowing how to bring the reader to the right place. The story of the Civil Rights movement they share doesn’t just recount historical events, but opens a window into how social change movements and personalities shape each other. Powell is such a talented artist that I had forgotten the art was black, white, and grayscale until I started flipping through again. That says a lot about how powerfully he depicted the events! A must-read.
And that’s the list of our favorite graphic novels and comics about race and social justice! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends!