On -isms: The Blacker the Ink Review

By | Thursday, August 20, 2015 Leave a Comment
The Blacker the Ink
For the past few weeks, off and on, I've been reading The Blacker the Ink, a collection of essays on "Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art." That is, it's an examination of Black identity in comics as a whole; it looks at how various characters are portrayed and how they're perceived, as well as looking at Black creators and the impact they've had on the industry. Further, it's not just comic books, but also comic strips. It covers essentially anything that deals with Black identity as it shows up in/around comics.

The book is comprised of fifteen essays, each one examining a small portion of Blackness in comics. Sometimes focusing on an individual story. The topics range from the classic "Judgement Day" story from EC to Jeremy Love's Bayou that debuted on the web. There's a piece on precisely how Aaron McGruder learned about and incorporated Black Nationalism into The Boondocks, and another on the visual evolution of Luke Cage and how those changes reflect both the creators' approach to the character and how audiences receive them.

The essays are all written from a scholarly perspective, well researched and documented. Despite that, though, they were by and large very accessible, and not loaded with heavy "scholar speak" that professional journals frequently use. I did find the essays that were about books and stories I hadn't read a tad more difficult to parse, due to my unfamiliarity with the material, but I found there were enough examples of the comic stories themselves to get what the author was trying to illustrate. But I felt I got more out of the essays when I was more knowledgeable about the subject.

Which strikes me as an interesting point. In theory, if I'm starting from a knowledge-base of zero, I should have more to learn than if I'm reading about topics with which I'm already familiar. But instead I found I was getting more and deeper insights when I had already studied the books myself. I'm not sure if that speaks to the thought the authors put into their work, or a complete lack of thought I put into reading the pieces they were talking about.

In any case, I found myself learning a great deal about Black identity in general, both how it's presented and how it's interpreted. The same type of approach, I'm sure, could have been done with film or television or whatever, but that this book covered comics meant that I found myself more engaged with the material and more appreciative of what I missed in reading all the comics I have so far. I'm hoping now I can tackle some of the books I'm unfamiliar with better eyes, and get a deeper appreciation of what I'm reading the first time through. I'd call that well worth it!

(Full disclosure: I know one of the editors and two of the essayists; however, I've never discussed the contents of the book with any them.)
Newer Post Older Post Home