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Walker's Bookshelf

Black History Month Week 3: Graphic Novels

For Black History Month Week 3, we are featuring graphic novels that explore the life of prominent black and/or African American figures.

For Black History Month Week 3, we are featuring graphic novels that explore the life of prominent black and/or African American figures.

Josephine Baker
by Jose-Louis Bocquet

Sassy and exuberant, Josephine Baker , born Freda Josephine  McDonald (1906–75), clowned her way through her St. Louis childhood to become one of the first black stars on the world stage. Infamous originally for her Folies Bergère cabaret act wearing only a skirt of (fake) bananas, her fresh and alluring charm infused her half-century of dancing and singing in her adopted country of France and many other places. Pablo Picasso, Charles de Gaulle, Martin Luther King (who introduced a speech by Baker  at the 1963 March on Washington), Grace Kelly, and Fidel Castro all admired her. She entertained troops during World War II and spied for the Allies, adopted 12 children, and crusaded for civil rights. Bocquet (with Muller, Kiki de Montparnasse) does Baker’s  complicated life justice in both appeal and detail. A lengthy chronology anchors key milestones and a massive biographical appendix provides background about important people in the entertainer’s life. Muller’s high-contrast, black-and-white inks finesse a mostly realistic whimsy and is especially good at rendering people recognizably in few lines. VERDICT Highly enjoyable, this is a wonderful work. For teens and up; some minor nudity.—MC –Martha Cornog (Reviewed 06/01/2017) (Library Journal, vol 142, issue 10, p84)

Muhammad Ali
by Sybille Titeux de la Croix

A canny Louisville, KY, police officer guided 12-year-old Cassius Clay toward boxing when the kid wanted to whup the thief who stole his bike. One of the greatest and most popular fighters in history, Ali  (who changed his name upon converting to Islam) also fought against discrimination and the Vietnam War, becoming a symbol of black activism as well as success. This stellar account brings the details of Ali’s  life, fights, and legacy into clear focus, complete with a diagram of his boxing technique. Photo-realistic art with tan/red emphasis; tweens and up. –Martha Cornog (Reviewed 01/01/2018) (Library Journal, vol 143, issue 1, p87)

The Life of Frederick Douglass
by David Walker

The story of Frederick Douglass (d. 1895), from his birth into slavery to his celebration by dignitaries around the world, is brought to readers in this spectacular graphic novel from author Walker (Luke Cage; War for the Planet of the Apes) and illustrators Smyth and Marissa Louise. Brief chapter interludes titled “Lessons” provide context for Douglass’s experiences and reference specific writings, depicting a long and often times heartrending journey in a way that is respectful and realistic. Walker states in the introduction that he aimed to have Douglass “narrate” the book  himself by using his subject’s published works to guide the narrative voice. A range of traditional multipaneled and fully illustrated pages rendered in vivid color reveal the depth and intricacies of each scene. A comprehensive bibliography and index assist in locating references to specific people or places discussed throughout. VERDICT This thoughtfully crafted portrait will delight and inform, regardless of readers’ prior knowledge of Douglass’s life and legacy. [See Prepub Alert, 7/16/18; Martha Cornog’s “Diverse Voices and Viewpoints: Must-Have Graphic Novels for Black History Month and Beyond,” ow.ly/RfLy30mE7Nt] –Tom Batten (Reviewed 12/01/2018) (Library Journal, vol 143, issue 20, p65)

Fire!!: The Zora Neale Hurston Story
by Peter Bagge

Meet Zora Neale Hurston (1891–1960): anthropologist who worked with Franz Boas, folklore collector with Alan Lomax, novelist (Their Eyes Were Watching God), essayist, playwright, eccentric intellectual, life of the party, and adventurous fashionista. With friends and enemies black and white, Hurston faced criminal charges, poverty, ill health, and fickle associates (e.g., poet Langston Hughes) who didn’t always stand up for her. Bagge (Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story) bends his manic, rubbery characters around Hurston’s chutzpah for a warts-and-roses portrait of this woman who stirred up controversy both within and outside of the Harlem Renaissance. Hurston insisted on reproducing black speech idiomatically as she heard it, and Bagge follows her lead. (FIRE!! was a 1926 magazine “devoted to younger Negro artists,” including Hurston.) Hurston shouldered her way up through multiple glass ceilings, and here Bagge captures her zest, humor, frustration, brain power, and accomplishments. VERDICT Current and future fans of Hurston plus anyone interested in American literary history will be entertained as well as enlightened. (See interview with Bagge on p. 69.)—MC –Martha Cornog (Reviewed 04/01/2017) (Library Journal, vol 142, issue 6, p66)