Over the past couple of years, I have really started to dive into comics and graphic novels. Initially, I would just look through the local library to find books on the shelf. Here, I found texts such as Southern Bastards, Scalped, Bayou, I Am Alfonso Jones, and more. Since then, I have started looking at these texts more, especially series such as Black Panther and Deathlok. These inquiries have led me to think about how I would construct a course on comics and race. Below, you will find a syllabi I put together just such a course. It is, of course, not all encompassing, but I think it is a start. What would add to this syllabus? Let me know in the comments below.
Like any medium, comics and graphic novels engage within a broad cultural conversation linking intellectual traditions and engaging in important social conversations that like canonical texts illuminate the milieu in which they originally appeared and communicate to us across generations. Valerie Babb argues, “Graphic novels present a useful site for examining how images are engaged to expand considerations of race and culture. Their dialectic tension between text and picture generates new spaces for articulating myriad black cultural experiences by making them hypervisible.” The “dialectical tension” that exists between text and image exists within broader intellectual traditions as well that stretch back across generations. Whether it is Dennis O’Neil quoting Wayne Booth in Green Lantern/Green Arrow or Dwayne McDuffie quoting W.E.B. DuBois in Deathlok, comics and graphic novels engage readers in literary conversations through the use of texts and images.
As they work with literary traditions, comics and graphic novels as serve as spaces where artists and readers can engage with contemporary social issues.
Responding to a reader in the mid-1960s after the introduction of the Black Panther, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comment on the importance of comics as a space to discuss social issues. They write, “Perhaps a comic mag isn’t the proper place for this type of discussion–and yet, there’s a chance that these pages, which are widely perused by thinking readers throughout the world, are possibly one of the best places of all! ‘Nuff said!” In this manner, comics and graphic novels provide examinations of race and identity through their commentary on contemporary issues and linkage to intellectual traditions.
This course will explore the ways that authors represent race in a variety of comics and graphic novels from the 1940s through the present. While we will look at different texts, we will focus on several iterations of the Black Panther, the King of the African nation of Wakanda who debuted in Fantastic Four #52. As well, we will focus on the representation of Black characters as well within a Black intellectual tradition. We will consider how comics and graphic novels inform the ways in which social issues are represented. How do comics and graphic novels depict race and ethnicity? How do comics and graphic novels counter racial stereotypes or reinforce them? How do these texts work within literary traditions to explore issues of race and identity? These are just some of the questions we will explore over the course of this semester.
Baker, Kyle. Nat Turner. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2008.
Marvel Masterworks: Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, Volume 1. New York: Marvel Comics, 2015.
Jennings, John Ira and Damian Duffy. Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation. New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2017.
Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby. Fantastic Four No. 52-No. 53. New York: Marvel Comics, 1966.
McDuffie, Dwayne. Deathlok No. 1-No. 5 “The Souls of Cyber-Folk.” New York: Marvel Comics, 1991.
McGregor, Don. Jungle Action Featuring Black Panther No. 19-No. 24. New York: Marvel Comics, 1976.
Moore, Alan. Saga of The Swamp Thing, Book 3. New York: DC Comics, 2010.
Ormes, Jackie Zelda. Selections from Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger.
Priest, Christopher. Black Panther: The Complete Collection. Vol. 1. Marvel Comics, 2015.
Babb, Valerie. “The Black Graphic Novel.” A History of the African American Novel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. 293-310.
carrington, andré m. “The Whiteness of Science Fiction and the Speculative Fiction of Blackness.”Speculative Blackness: The Future of Race in Science Fictions. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016. 1-29.
Chambliss, Julian. “An Archetype or a Token? The Challenge of the Black Panther.” Marvel Comics into Film: Essays on Adaptations Since the 1940s. Eds. Matthew J. McEniry, Robert Moses Peaslee, and Robert G. Weiner. Jefferson, NC: McFrland and Company, Inc., 189-198.
Francis, Consuela. “Drawing the Unspeakable: Kyle Baker’s Slave Narrative.”
Comics and the U.S. South. Eds. Brannon Costello and Qiana J. Whitted. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. 113-137.
Nama, Adilifu. “Birth of the Cool.” Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes. Austin: University of Texas Press, 36-66.
Phillips, Nickie D. and Staci Strobl. “‘Aren’t there any brown people in this world?’: Race, Ethnicity, and Crime Fighting.” Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way. New York: New York University Press, 169-196.
Riverea, Lysa. “Appropriate(d) Cyborgs: Disaporic Identities in Dwayne McDuffie’s Deathlok Comic Book Series. MELUS 32.3 (Fall 2007): 103-127.
Terry, David Taft. “Imagining a Strange New World: Racial Integration and Social Justice Advocacy in Marvel Comics, 1966-1980.” Soul Thieves: The Appropriation and Misrepresentation of African American Popular Culture. Eds. Tamara Lizete Brown and Baruti N. Kopano. New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2014. 151-199.
Whaley, Deborah. “Re-Inking the Nation: Jackie Ormes’s Black Cultural Front Comics.” Black Women in Sequence: Re-Inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016. 28-66.
Whitted, Qiana J. “Of Slaves and Other Swamp Things: Black Southern History as Comic Book Horror.” Comics and the U.S. South. Eds. Brannon Costello and Qiana J. Whitted. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2012. 187-213.
Note: This course could examine more texts such as Jason Aaron’s Scalped or Marjane Satrapi’s Persopolis. However, I chose to focus specifically on the representation of African American characters because of the breadth of texts and the recent work I have been conducting. In the comments, please let me know what texts you would add to a broader course on race in comics.
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