Chicago is one of the great cities for comics with a rich history dating back to the dawn of the comic strip supported by world-class newspapers. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago honors this tradition with Chicago Comics: 1960s to Now (June 19-October 3, 2021), curated by Dan Nadel. In the process, Nadel also edited a book that focuses on Black cartoonists entitled, It’s Life As I See It: Black Cartoonists in Chicago, 1940 – 1980, published by New York Review Comics. The title of the book comes from a gag panel cartoon by the cartoonist, and National Book Award-winning novelist, Charles Johnson. And the actual cartoon dates back to a collection of Charles Johnson cartoons, Black Humor, published in 1970, when Johnson was only 22 years-old. The two books document where Black cartoonists have been and point to a persistent struggle to rise upward. Discussion of the facts can only help to chart a course for the future—and it’s essential to look at all sides.
Tag Archives: Racism
Elegy for Mary Turner: An Illustrated Account of a Lynching. Rachel Marie-Crane Williams. Verso Books. 2021. 80pp. $17.46
“In this particular historical moment when young Black people are engaged in a renewed struggle against state violence, Mary Turner’s story resonates. She insists that we #SayHerName too.”
The phrase, “Seeing is believing,” is apt when thinking about the killing of George Floyd. It echoes lynching in America, done in plain sight, the perpetrators confident there would be little to no consequences. But these heinous acts were seen nonetheless, witnessed and documented. Rachel Marie-Crane Williams, an artist and teacher, has created a visual testament to one of the most horrific of lynchings: on May 20, 1918, in Valdosta, Georgia, Mary Turner, 8 months pregnant, was brutally murdered, set on fire, her live baby pulled out and stomped to death. The mob then shot at Mary Turner’s corpse hundreds of time. Mary Turner was lynched because she dared to object to the lynching of her husband, Hayes, the day before.
A work like this achieves not only the goal of informing but also of haunting the reader. These images, not meant to shock but to testify, will stay with you. The full-color art and collage work names those who were killed, identifies the killers, and evokes the landscape in which the NAACP investigated the crimes when the state would not. In the big scheme, these lynchings occurred only yesterday. A book like this one brings home that fact.
Williams chronicles all the events related to a series of lynchings which included Mary Turner. It all began as a quarrel between Hampton Smith, a plantation owner, and Sidney Johnson, a modern-day slave working indefinitely for Smith who had an ongoing scheme of paying off jail fines in return for indentured servitude. The quarrel became heated. Smith beat Johnson. Subsequently, Johnson returned and ended up shooting Smith and his wife. He killed Smith. And he nearly killed his wife. She was pregnant at the time. This incident triggered a lynching spree, between May 17 to 24, 1918, of any Blacks in the surrounding Brooks and Lowndes counties. This resulted in a mob killing 10 men, one woman, Mary Turner, and her baby.
C. Tyrone Forehand (great-grandnephew of Hayes and Mary Turner) provides a postscript. There you will find vivid chilling details like this:
“Rufus Morrison was only ten years old when he was hiding in a cornfield along Ryalls Road in the town of Barney and witnessed Mary Turner’s execution. The memory of a frightened and bewildered woman was forever etched in his mind as he saw the mob tie a rope to her ankles and hoist her upside down from a tree. They taunted and jeered a terrified Mary as they began to roast her alive. One of the members of the mob took a swig of moonshine from a jug and spat it on her as another dared him to slit open her abdomen where her unborn child was oblivious to the fate which was about to befall it.”
The fact is that “seeing is believing” but it’s reading the facts that will give you an deeper picture.
There’s not a moment to lose. I’m getting fired up and ready to go sell some books. Hey there, friends, consider getting a copy of Max in America: Into the Land of Trump, available at Amazon or ask me directly or go to my blog’s store. I’d love to know what you think and don’t be shy about reviewing it at Amazon too! But don’t just take my word for it. Check out what author Stacey E. Bryan has to say over at her blog…
Here is one family’s unique experience with the Vietnam War byway of the diplomatic corps: Such a Lovely Little War, written and drawn by Marcelino Truong, published by Arsenal Pulp Press. As a cartoonist and writer, I’m attracted to the more idiosyncratic works in comics and this led me to the work of Marcelino Truong.
These deeply personal comics resonate the most with me. Add to it the fact that the author is dealing with being bi-racial, and feeling out of place, and that gets my genuine attention. Truong’s mother, Yvette, is French and his father, Khánh, is Vietnamese. It is circa 1961 and the family has left Washington, D.C, the home they’ve known. Khánh, as cultural attaché at the Vietnamese embassy, has been called back to Saigon where he will become the personal interpreter to the new president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem . Thus, our narrative unfolds. It’s quite a perspective, one that is up close and encased in a bubble, in step with the cheeky title to this graphic memoir.
Truong’s story is triggered by a need to come clean with as many facts as possible. The Vietnam War is many things. One boy’s adventure is another boy’s horror. A boy safely tucked within the circles of affairs of state will witness one thing. A boy who is part of a family in the killing fields will witness another thing. Obviously, little Marco and his brother Domi have got a lot to learn if they’re thrilled to see napalm bombs on the wings of a plane upon their family’s arrival in Vietnam. Of course, Marco and his family are in for an education. Truong goes to great lengths to lay out as many pertinent details as possible, the sort of details that can get lost in, well, the fog of war. This is a story of relative safety, even at the most privileged levels, slipping away. It’s up to everyone to know when to jump before reaching that boiling point.
Truong’s work is another exquisite example of the auteur cartoonist. As I’ve said many times, it is the auteur cartoonist who meets the full definition of a cartoonist: the creator who does it all: the writing, drawing, and even coloring when applicable. These are the three main roles, along with editing and layout, that are often taken up by a creative team. It’s fascinating to study work where you have one creator basically calling all the shots. It can result in a work that weaves together script and art to an uncanny level. It is a tradition favored in indie circles in the States and even more ingrained in Europe. You can even take this auteur profile one step further and say it involves creating work by hand, as opposed to digital, as much as possible. A lot of artist-cartoonists, with Truong being a leading example, prefer to engage with their comics within a painter-cartoonist mindset. You’ll find here in Truong’s art that you can break it down into a series of watercolors, a complex network of watercolors. Truong does an exceptional job of modulating his use of color. This is a delicate balance, a shifting between duo-tone to full color, whatever fits best. It all adds up and enhances the immersive quality of Truong’s exceptional memoir.
And there is a sequel. If you’re inspired to pursue further, then you will want to read Saigon Calling: London 1963-75. The irony is as front and center on the cover as it could be as you have the main characters strolling down a crosswalk, ala Beatles, with a napalm blast in the background.
Karen Green, curator of comics at Columbia, provides a most effective forward to the new graphic novel, The Invisible Empire: Madge Oberholtzer and the Unmasking of the Ku Klux Klan. Green begins with a quote from the first premier of the People’s Republic of China. In an interview from the early 1970s, Zhou Enlai was asked for his thoughts on the French Revolution. His response: “Too early to tell.” That anecdote will stick with readers as they navigate through a book with an eerie relevance. The Invisible Empire is written by Micky Neilson and Todd Warger, illustrated by Marc Bostel, and published by Insight Comics.
History is a settling down of seemingly disparate, raw and random events. Patterns emerge. Connections and conclusions are made over time. Sometimes, the facts are so undeniable as to smack you across the face. And then the passage of time covers them up, one layer of distraction and denial upon another. And so it is with what happened across the United States in the 1920s with a reinvented Ku Klux Klan. In the big scheme of things, you may have blinked and not noticed but that Robert E. Lee statue at the forefront of the Charlottesville tragedy in 2017 was a statue erected in 1924, at the height of the white supremacy hysteria. The story in this graphic novel focuses on events from the 1920s Ku Klux Klan in the north, specifically Indiana. A culture of hatred and violence had taken hold until a particular event broke the fever. It wasn’t until a local corrupt official was indicted with murder that citizens woke up and took back their state from the KKK and subsequently knocked it off its pedestal across the country.
That local corrupt official was D.C. Stephenson. It’s remarkable that there is no specific mention anywhere in this graphic novel of Stephenson’s title in Indiana government. But, in fact, he had no specific title beyond, perhaps, wheeler-dealer. In today’s parlance, he’d be thought of as a political operative in the same vein as Karl Rove or Steve Bannon, once known as “Trump’s brain.” Stephenson was similarly well connected, on intimate terms with Pres. Harding and Pres. Coolidge. In this graphic novel, the reader connects the dots, following Stephenson on his way to becoming a KKK Grand Wizard, and finding he was far from alone in his embrace of white supremacy.
The trigger for change is Madge Oberholtzer, the young white woman that Stephenson raped and murdered, an event that would subsequently inspire a backlash against the KKK. The most compelling scenes in this book are devoted to simply providing some room for Madge to go about her life. Left alone to make up her own mind, she befriends a young black man, despite her segregated upbringing. Amid all the machinations depicted between Stephenson and his cronies, it is refreshing to see what a life not cut short might have been like for Madge Oberholtzer. And while it sometimes seems impossible to imagine a world free of hate, it is these upbeat moments of peace that can free the mind and encourage hope. Indeed, this book ends with an appropriate mix of defiant hope and resolve.
The Invisible Empire: Madge Oberholtzer and the Unmasking of the Ku Klux Klan is a 112-page hardcover, available as of September 17, 2019. For more details and how to purchase, visit Insight Comics right here.
Do you find yourself flooded by Trumpworld only to wish you could zone it all out? That frenzied state of distraction is exactly what the Donald is aiming for. Spike Lee’s new film, BlacKkKlansman, aims to give us clarity and put things in perspective.
Anyone familiar with Spike Lee’s work appreciates its integrity. 1989’s Do The Right Thing deftly confronts American race relations. That is a powerful movie. Lee brings that same energy and intelligence to 2018’s BlacKkKlansman. As a cartoonist, I often wonder about how the comics medium, in all its varied forms, can best address the current Trump crisis. I think Jim Carrey’s cartoony paintings, with their raw quality, have a much greater impact than perhaps most professional editorial cartoons. As for anything remotely falling under the “graphic novel” category, I’d have to give a lot of credit to John Oliver’s parody of Mike Pence’s Bunny Book. That said, whatever the art form, it is the measured response that ultimately wins the heart and soul of the viewer.
Spike Lee has certainly given careful consideration. Based upon a true story, Lee’s main character is a young and idealistic African American man conflicted by serving his local police force and serving his community at an activist level. The narrative masterfully weaves in the 400-year-old American racial experience: past, present (1972), and future (2018). There are those moments when everything comes to such fine point, especially after the newly-minted undercover detective Ron Stallworth (John David Washington) has gotten settled into his job. One fellow officer talks with him about how white supremacists are steadily going mainstream and it will eventually lead to the White House. Ron shakes his head in great disbelief.
It is Ron’s job, which he carved out for himself, to infiltrate the local chapter of the Colorado Springs Ku Klux Klan. He is obviously in need of help since his phone conversations quickly lead to an invitation to meet in person. That’s where a second Ron Stallworth (Adam Driver), in the flesh and Jewish no less, comes in. And the KKK connection just keeps getting complicated, not to mention dangerous. Soon, the original Ron Stallworth is on the phone establishing quite a friendly relationship with the young KKK Grand Wizard David Duke (Topher Grace). Lee continues to thoughtfully and gracefully connect the dots, as painful as they are–without a heavy hand. And it is that cumulative effect that adds up to the most powerful film I’ve seen this year. The final moments bring us to our present with a fiery defiance and a remembrance of Heather Heyer, may she “Rest in Power.”
Spike Lee delivers a good dose of reality that can stir the soul. We don’t do this much anymore (maybe for Star Wars and superhero movies) but this film will have you in the mood to clap at the end. This movie got me good and I was clapping. I even yelled out that folks can applaud. I did it in that communal spirit that many of us in Seattle respond to. Well, not only in Seattle. And, like a chain reaction, people did applaud. It didn’t last very long since, as I say, we really don’t applaud movies anymore. But it did happen all the same, even if momentarily. We Americans need to respond to the current American crisis every chance we get. BlacKkKlansman responds to that very real need. It’s a start and it will, no doubt, inspire others to do much more, like voting.
Can you think of a winning caption for the above cartoon? Details follow.
When this cartoonist decides to put on a Captain America costume, he knows it will get complicated. New York based cartoonist Vishavjit Singh has set out to open the hearts of his fellow citizens and it looks like he’s gaining ground.
If you live in the Seattle area, you will want to especially take notice of a caption contest for Singh’s new art show, “Wham! Bam! Pow!” at the Wing Luke Museum! Email your caption for the cartoon at the top of this post to firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to win a $50 gift card to GoPoke, a pair of general admission tickets to the Wing Luke Museum, and a framed drawing of this comic from cartoonist Vishavjit Singh with your winning caption.
Vishavjit Singh began drawing cartoons in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: as a Sikh American with a turban and beard, he had become the target of a toxic mix of fear, anxiety and ignorance. Vishavjit set out to challenge the label of the ‘other’ placed upon him (and many others of Sikh, South Asian, Muslim, and/or Middle Eastern extraction) by illustrating stories capturing the joys and predicaments of Sikh American life. His simple imagery and gentle humor often come with an edge that pierces stereotypes, prompts self-reflection, and promotes action.
In 2012, horrified by the deadly attack on a Sikh Gurudwara (house of worship) in Wisconsin, Vishavjit decided the world needed a superhero who fights bigotry and hate in our midst. Wham! Bam! Pow! follows Vishavjit’s journey as he explores America’s inspiring, contradictory values and discovers the heroic power of compassion.
Don’t miss “Wham! Bam! Pow!” from May 4th to February 24th, 2019.
Now on display at The Wing.
You could spend a lifetime finding ways to improve yourself and the lives of your fellow humans. You can do it all by yourself, without the help of workshops or committees. But, when it comes to institutions (government, media, assorted nonprofits and such) it can end up being all the more challenging, and rather clumsy. So, now we have the venerable publication which has presided over countless households and subsequently found in countless yard sales, National Geographic, founded way back in 1888. No surprise here that something going that far back would have some skeletons in its closet–the number one of which is rampant racism.
Today, in some of the what would seem to be the most progressive of neighborhoods, the racism has been dialed down to the most discrete of passive-aggressive levels. Oh, it’s there alright but it’s not talked about unless in some very pretentious public forum where everyone rolls up their sleeves to seriously tackle a subject they would rather not discuss. That said, the latest issue of National Geographic, with its biracial fraternal twins on the cover “daring” you to revisit the issue of race, is the perfect conversation starter for one of these particularly dowdy gatherings which all too often consists of white people who are at a loss as to how to engage with people outside their own race. These sort of gatherings take place all over the country. I’ve end up seeing for myself what they’re like in Seattle. They are well-intentioned, I guess. I came away with an overall feeling that people want to be heard and they want to come across as positive, intelligent, and “progressive.” But they are also prone to rationalizing their behavior as beyond their control, or even blaming The Other, that other group of races that seem beyond reach.
Just consider the above remarks from one of these community outreach gatherings. Feedback, like these typical remarks, was documented onto Post-It notes: “When I see black people walking towards me on the street, I’m not afraid but I also don’t think they like me.” And this one: “I know it’s not right, but every time I see a black person in my neighborhood (Fremont) I ask myself why they’re here.” Everyone earnestly discusses these sort of comments while also discussing an appropriate prop for the evening, in this case, “What Does It Mean to Be White? Developing White Racial Literacy” by Robin DiAngelo, an expert on, get this, Whiteness Studies. You can’t make this stuff up.
National Geographic is world-famous for presenting The Other: decade upon decade of presenting people from other places, from other races, as exotic creatures. The cover of the April 2018 issue of National Geographic attempts to do good but, in fact, is right back to playing with The Other dynamic. Maybe this time any perceived bad is outweighed by any perceived good. In fact, there is a whole issue here devoted to confronting the issue of race and how the magazine has dealt with it over its long history. That is worth a lot of credit. Maybe I’ll check it out at my public library. Yeah, the library is another place I remember National Geographic from. I don’t know that this publication is truly resonating with Millennials or if it even matters. The magazine will know, I presume, when it’s time to just wrap it all up. For now, it is wrestling with its legacy–and that’s nice to see. National Geographic has a few irons in the fire. It’s on cable, right? I guess it’s one step forward and one step back–but they seem to be making an effort.
Visit National Geographic right here.
As we here in the States, along with the rest of the world, continue to deal with the orange menace, it’s good to gain strength from our friends across the pond. One thing that the creators of the graphic novel, SCOTLAND YARDIE, want you to know is that things are bad all over. Bobby Joseph and Joseph Samuels provide some dark humor for these hard times. This is a provocative work, set in south London, with a smart and gritty vibe.
No doubt, Bobby Joseph (script) and Joseph Samuels (art) make no bones about their dismay with the current (and ongoing) state of affairs. With such clownish characters in the media, and in government (gasp), stoking the fires of hatred, racism, and xenophobia with such intensity as we have not seen before in recent memory, any form of satire can be cathartic. In this case, we have a plot involving the Brixton Metropolitan Police in need of some diversity. Enter Scotland Yardie, a ganja smoking, no-nonsense “bad bwoy” cop who breaks all the rules to enforce his own harsh sense of justice. This is, by turns, a very silly comic (think Monty Python, for starters) and, ultimately, an eye-opening and worthwhile read.
This comic’s writer, Bobby Joseph, is considered to be the voice of urban UK comic books. He is credited as the creator of the cult comic classics Skank Magazine and Black Eye. He has written satirical pieces for Vice.com, Loaded Magazine, The Voice newspaper, BBC1’s Lenny in Pieces and Radio 4. He is credited on the BBC website as instrumental in featuring some of the “first comics by black creators featuring black characters.”
This comic’s artist, Joseph Samuels, is credited as one of the most popular comic artists to grace the pages of Skank Magazine and Black Eye. He is the co-creator of the popular Afro Kid comic strip on Vice.com.
SCOTLAND YARDIE is a 100-page, full color, graphic novel, published by Knockabout. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Knockabout right here.