What is an African American Comic?
Originally posted at The Hooded Utilitarian.
When Philadelphia journalist Orrin C. Evans published what would become the first and only issue of All-Negro Comics in 1947, he boasted that the comic book showcased original stories about black life and adventure with African and African American characters in positions of authority, strength, and trendy style. The comic’s commitment to wholesome, affirming images of black people was underscored by the fact that its artists, too, were African American. Evans even included a photograph of himself inside the cover, thereby confirming the extent to which the comic earned the “all” Negro distinction.
By the mid-1950s, readers of black-owned newspapers had become accustomed to seeing the work of black comics creators like Chester Commodore and Jackie Ormes included among the reprints of syndicated comics. When the daily edition of the Chicago Defender failed to include black comic strips, readers wrote to complain:
This question, posed in March 1956, may sound all too familiar. Nevertheless, much has changed since the 1950s. So much so that “African American Comics” could easily constitute a category of its own (and not just as a display during Black History Month). But exactly what kinds of comics would fall under this designation? Would it only include publications that follow the All-Negro Comics model where black writers, artists, and editors can claim “every brush stroke and pen line” of the final product, or should the term be expanded to any comic about African Americans? Should the stories reflect particular ideological investments? Be recognized by a specialized community of readers and critics?
Interview with Michael Chaney
Brannon Costello and I were interviewed about our collection, Comics and the U.S. South, by Dartmouth professor Michael Chaney on his blog. I am a deep admirer of Michael's scholarship on comics and literary studies, as well as his poetry and art. (He does it all!) We really appreciate him taking the time to ask about our book and to give us space to reflect on how we got started studying comics.
An archive of my online writing on comics, literature, and culture. (Illustration above by Seth!)