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Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History

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This book spotlights over 100 comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels to feature black characters from all over the world over the last century, and the result is a fascinating journey to, if not enlightenment, then at least away from the horrendous caricatures of yore. The book begins with the habitually appalling images of blacks as ignorant 'coons' in the earliest This book spotlights over 100 comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels to feature black characters from all over the world over the last century, and the result is a fascinating journey to, if not enlightenment, then at least away from the horrendous caricatures of yore. The book begins with the habitually appalling images of blacks as ignorant 'coons' in the earliest syndicated strips (Happy Hooligan, Moon Mullins, and The Katzenjammer Kids); continues with the almost-quaint colonialist images of the often-suppressed Tintin book Tintin in the Congo and such ambiguous figures as Mandrake the Magicians noble savage assistant Lothar in the 30s (not to mention Torchy Brown, the first syndicated black character), moving on to such oddities as the offensive Ebony character in Will Eisners otherwise classic The Spirit from the 40's and 50's. We then continue into the often earnest attempts at 60's integration in such strips as Peanuts (and comic books such as Fantastic Four), as well as the first wave of black strips like Wee Pals, juxtaposed with the shocking satire of underground comics such as R. Crumbs incendiary Angefood McSpade. Also investigated is the increased use of blacks in super-hero comic books as well as syndicated strips. Black Images in the Comics wraps up from the 80's to now, with the increased visibility of blacks, often in works actually produced by blacks, all the way to the South African strip Madam & Eve, Aaron McGruders pointed daily The Boondocks, and more including over a dozen new entries added to the out-of-print hardcover edition. Each strip, comic, or graphic novel is spotlighted via a compact but instructive 200-word essay and a representative illustration. The book is augmented by a context-setting introduction, an extensive source list and bibliography, and a foreword by Charles R. Johnson, the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and winner of the National Book Award for his 1990 novel Middle Passage.


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This book spotlights over 100 comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels to feature black characters from all over the world over the last century, and the result is a fascinating journey to, if not enlightenment, then at least away from the horrendous caricatures of yore. The book begins with the habitually appalling images of blacks as ignorant 'coons' in the earliest This book spotlights over 100 comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels to feature black characters from all over the world over the last century, and the result is a fascinating journey to, if not enlightenment, then at least away from the horrendous caricatures of yore. The book begins with the habitually appalling images of blacks as ignorant 'coons' in the earliest syndicated strips (Happy Hooligan, Moon Mullins, and The Katzenjammer Kids); continues with the almost-quaint colonialist images of the often-suppressed Tintin book Tintin in the Congo and such ambiguous figures as Mandrake the Magicians noble savage assistant Lothar in the 30s (not to mention Torchy Brown, the first syndicated black character), moving on to such oddities as the offensive Ebony character in Will Eisners otherwise classic The Spirit from the 40's and 50's. We then continue into the often earnest attempts at 60's integration in such strips as Peanuts (and comic books such as Fantastic Four), as well as the first wave of black strips like Wee Pals, juxtaposed with the shocking satire of underground comics such as R. Crumbs incendiary Angefood McSpade. Also investigated is the increased use of blacks in super-hero comic books as well as syndicated strips. Black Images in the Comics wraps up from the 80's to now, with the increased visibility of blacks, often in works actually produced by blacks, all the way to the South African strip Madam & Eve, Aaron McGruders pointed daily The Boondocks, and more including over a dozen new entries added to the out-of-print hardcover edition. Each strip, comic, or graphic novel is spotlighted via a compact but instructive 200-word essay and a representative illustration. The book is augmented by a context-setting introduction, an extensive source list and bibliography, and a foreword by Charles R. Johnson, the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and winner of the National Book Award for his 1990 novel Middle Passage.

30 review for Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Ruel

    This small volume presents an overview of black images in the comics, with the focus primarily on U.S.-based work. Not surprisingly, the images are often disconcerting, disturbing, and offensive. I appreciated the foreword by Charles Johnson, who offers counterpoints to the book's commentary. For example, while there is no doubt about R. Crumb's talent, his portrayal of black people is racist, plain and simple. I liked that Johnson called out author Fredrik Stromberg and other critics for swooni This small volume presents an overview of black images in the comics, with the focus primarily on U.S.-based work. Not surprisingly, the images are often disconcerting, disturbing, and offensive. I appreciated the foreword by Charles Johnson, who offers counterpoints to the book's commentary. For example, while there is no doubt about R. Crumb's talent, his portrayal of black people is racist, plain and simple. I liked that Johnson called out author Fredrik Stromberg and other critics for swooning over Crumb. As for the book, it's an uneven affair. The task is Herculean, no doubt; to try to distill a few hundred years of racist imagery into a small book is a no-win situation. Any time an image was noteworthy (for example, an early comic of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse travelling to a land of “savages”), the next page featured a new image and text. There are a lot of works referenced that warrant further exploration, but, due to the scope of this book, they fail to receive the attention they deserve. This is a good start, however incomplete, for a discussion of black images in comics. I believe that fewer images and more in-depth commentary on the history and contemporary setting for each image would have been more effective as well as more thought-provoking. As it is, Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History is a decent overview of a topic that demands a closer look.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Natlyn

    It is what it claims to be and nothing more. A collection of single panels from comics/sequential art around the world that depict black people. It does not pretend to develop a thesis or forward an agenda. However, it does show that no matter the country almost all depictions of blacks began as extreme caricatures, sometimes completely at odds with the style of how white characters were drawn within the same comics. Also of interest is when black images began being drawn by black creators. Alth It is what it claims to be and nothing more. A collection of single panels from comics/sequential art around the world that depict black people. It does not pretend to develop a thesis or forward an agenda. However, it does show that no matter the country almost all depictions of blacks began as extreme caricatures, sometimes completely at odds with the style of how white characters were drawn within the same comics. Also of interest is when black images began being drawn by black creators. Although I found it enjoyable and sometimes enlightening, it is a small, lightweight book in more than its physicality. But that's all it claims to be. On a totally personal note, I remember as a child having to be told that what I perceived as large areas of 5 o'clock shadow on the black characters was supposed to be their lips. I recalled being quite annoyed and put out that apparently lips were all whites could see about how black people look. Honestly, I still don't understand how that particular drawing cliché at all conveys lips.

  3. 4 out of 5

    aconcisehistory

    if you’re looking for a place to start, this offers a brief global chronology of black images in comics but the author voice is decidedly apologist which made it hard to rally myself to finish reading it — the tone is so fucking wack. charles johnson’s intro is def worth reading first.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Gasmask Dandy

    A strong scholarly resource.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Michael P.

    Not a lot of substance in this book by authorial choice, but it is a good platform for future investigation.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sally Sugarman

    This is an excellent book. It was written by a Swedish man and he looks at comic books over two centuries and quite a few countries, although not surprisingly, the greater number of comics are from the United States. He did not want to use cartoons, but images that were from comics. He has one panel on a page and one page of text to go with each image. He does not repeat the comics so when a comic such as The Phantom makes changes over time that reflect the changing times he only writes about th This is an excellent book. It was written by a Swedish man and he looks at comic books over two centuries and quite a few countries, although not surprisingly, the greater number of comics are from the United States. He did not want to use cartoons, but images that were from comics. He has one panel on a page and one page of text to go with each image. He does not repeat the comics so when a comic such as The Phantom makes changes over time that reflect the changing times he only writes about that, but does not show any images. France and Belgium have a number. Japan has fewer since they have little experience with blacks other than from American comic books. There are a few comics from Africa, particularly South Africa. He has some Muslim comics. He says some forms of the Muslim religion allow images. There are some from Sweden and Great Britain. He says the European countries currently have problems with their guilt about their colonialism. He talks about the types of characters in American comics, such as the native, the tom, the mammy, the pickaninny, the coon, the tragic mulatto, and the buck. He talked about the superheroes and how much Marvel had done in this regard that other comic books had not. He pointed out that Mickey Mouse was originally black until he became less so. George Herriman of Krazy Kat was black. Many of the artists early on hid their blackness. He shows the evolution and the impact of the civil rights movement although many of the comic books with black heroes, did not last long. He talked about those who were teaching black history through comic books. There is a great deal of useful information that can be put into one page. What is important is the cumulative picture that emerges. He always works to connect the image with the context both in terms of the particular historical period and the specific country

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kelvin

    Daaaaaaammmmmmn! The history of African and African American images extant in graphic narrative history is....a tad under-repsentational and biased, no? OR: It's nice to see that every dark face in a comic book doesn't belong to an unjustly persecuted ex-convict with a heart of gold and a severely underrated intellect possessing awesome powers that they struggle to control in judicious application and exercise while they fight DA MAN to a political and existential standstill. Just most of the Am Daaaaaaammmmmmn! The history of African and African American images extant in graphic narrative history is....a tad under-repsentational and biased, no? OR: It's nice to see that every dark face in a comic book doesn't belong to an unjustly persecuted ex-convict with a heart of gold and a severely underrated intellect possessing awesome powers that they struggle to control in judicious application and exercise while they fight DA MAN to a political and existential standstill. Just most of the American ones. deep sigh

  8. 4 out of 5

    Evan Cass

    4 1/2 stars. A visual tour of Black representation in comix from the mid 1800s to 2010, w examples from nearly every year. Stromberg's micro-essays efficiently provide context, educate, and suggest avenues for further research. For an updated edition by a celebrated publisher, though, the handful of typos is inexcusable. 4 1/2 stars. A visual tour of Black representation in comix from the mid 1800s to 2010, w examples from nearly every year. Stromberg's micro-essays efficiently provide context, educate, and suggest avenues for further research. For an updated edition by a celebrated publisher, though, the handful of typos is inexcusable.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Dawn

    Very interesting. I always noticed the prejudice in comics but I guess I never considered that it had gone back so far. Still a good read.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kellie

    This book was fascinating. I couldn't stop turning the pages. This book was fascinating. I couldn't stop turning the pages.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chris Koch

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jaehee Lauren Park

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pierre Bennu

  14. 4 out of 5

    Remy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Katie

  16. 4 out of 5

    Manintheboat

  17. 5 out of 5

    Lianna Bessette

  18. 4 out of 5

    Vincent

  19. 5 out of 5

    Shalimar West

  20. 4 out of 5

    Lucinda Powell

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bryan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Westman

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  24. 5 out of 5

    Karl

  25. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

  26. 5 out of 5

    Qooze

  27. 5 out of 5

    zynphull

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jenn

  30. 4 out of 5

    Alex

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