From Aya to Zapt!: 24 Graphic Novels for African American History Month

The past year has left tweens and teens with many more quality comics that increasingly depict engaging African American main characters. Plus, we have our Main Man himself, Mr. President, the comics geek–turned–comics hero. Forthcoming from Eureka: a Graphic Classics anthology featuring adaptations of short stories by African American authors. Forthcoming from TV star Rashida Jones via Oni Press: a spy thriller titled Frenemy of the State. Stay tuned!


 

Bliss, Harry (text & illus.). Luke on the Loose. TOON Bks. 2009. 32p. ISBN 978-1-935179-00-9. pap. $12.95. F
Little Luke’s enjoying a day in the park with dad, but when dad gets into that boring daddy talk with adults, Luke sees all those pigeons—and wouldn’t it be fun to catch one? Off he tears on a wild bird chase, leaving a frantic daddy far behind. Galloping merrily through traffic, pedestrians, and sidewalk cafés, then across the Brooklyn Bridge, he finally joins his prey on a rooftop, where he falls asleep and is rescued by the fire department. The delightful drawings offer chuckles for all ages. Look for cameos by Olive Oyl and other classic characters in the background.

Tweens and Up

Davis, Eleanor (text & illus.). The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook. Bloomsbury. 2009. 160p. ISBN 978-1-59990-142-8. pap. $18.99. F
Ultranerd Julian Calendar hopes he can hide his supersmarts at his new junior high so he can fit in, but then he meets Ben and Greta, two closet brainiacs like himself. The trio forms a secret club with a high-tech hideaway to design goofy and inventive gadgets, all rendered in wildly detailed art. Then an evil scientist grabs their inventions to pull off a midnight heist. Can they foil his plot? The feisty Greta is African American.

Denton, Shannon & Keith Giffen (text) & Armand Villavert (illus.). Zapt! Vol. 1. Tokyopop. 2006. 96p. ISBN 978-1-59816-588-3. pap. $5.99. F
Average kid Armand Jones just can’t get a break from the bullies and schoolwork. Suddenly, he’s zapped into the ranks of the Pan-Galactic Order of Police (POOP). With his techie Pandekian sidekick, he strikes a bargain with space pirates to make it alive through POOP’s entrance exam. Now he’s got to rescue a classmate who turns out to be a galactic princess in mufti. There are several more volumes in the series.

Nelson Mandela Foundation (text) & Umlando Wezithome (illus.). Nelson Mandela: The Authorized Comic Book. Norton. 2009. 208p. index. ISBN 978-0-393-33646-7. $29.95. BIOG
Nobelist Mandela, who fought to end apartheid and became the first president of South Africa to gain power through a multiracial election, is the subject of at least four graphic biographies. This one is the longest and most up-to-date, bears the stamp of approval from the Nelson Mandela Foundation, and features a foreword by Mandela himself, who quips, “You know that you are really famous the day that you discover that you have become a comic character.”

Nykko (text) & Bannister (illus.). The ElseWhere Chronicles. Bk. 1: The Shadow Door. 46p. 2009. ISBN 978-0-7613-3963-2.
Bk. 2: The Shadow Spies. ISBN 978-0-7613-4460-5.
Bk. 3: The Master of Shadows. ISBN 978-0-7613-4461-2.
ea. vol: Graphic Universe. 2009. 48p. tr. from French by Karol Klio Burrell. pap. $6.95. F
Not your average haunted house, Grandpa Gabe’s place harbors a passageway to a dimension of shadows and secrets. When Max and Rebecca become trapped in the world behind the Shadow Door, they must search for a safe way home while Noah and Theo work on a rescue. Rebecca is African American. These three volumes complete one story, but the series continues with Volume 4 this year.

O’Donnell, Liam (text) & Michael Deas (illus.). Media Meltdown: A Graphic Guide Adventure. Orca. 2009. 64p. ISBN 978-1-55469-065-7. pap. $9.95. F
The “Graphic Guide” series stars a rotating multiethnic cast of kids in action-based adventures, with nonfiction content relating to how-to skills and social change. In this volume, Pema, Bounce, and Jagroop set out to expose an unscrupulous land developer and discover that the media’s ideas of “truth” can be more flexible than they imagined. Bounce is African American.

Robbins, Trina (text) & Ken Steacy (illus.). Bessie Coleman: Daring Stunt Pilot. Capstone. (Graphic Biography). 2007. 32p. ISBN 978-0-7368-6851-8. $19.99. BIOG
Born to a poor family in Texas, Bessie leaves her struggling family to find a job as a manicurist in Chicago. But her dream is to fly, and so she travels to France to train as a pilot in a country with fewer restrictions on women—and African Americans. A number of other biographies in this Capstone series focus on prominent African Americans, including Booker T. Washington and Matthew Henson.

Sumerak, Marc (text) & Carlos Barberi & Scott Hepburn (illus). Ororo: Before the Storm. Marvel. 2005. 96p. ISBN 978-0-7851-1819-0. pap. $6.99. F
The orphaned Ororo runs with a group of Cairo street urchins specializing in petty thievery under the tutelage of a crafty but benevolent master. Then a mysterious white-suited thug hires the kids for a tomb robbery job, supposedly to recover a “priceless artifact” for delivery into museum care. Actually, White Suit wants to use the mystical opal to achieve immortality and vast power for himself. But Ororo has powers of her own, as the tomb statues unexpectedly reveal to her. (Ororo grows up to become Storm, a member of the X-Men superhero team.)

Teens and Up

David, Mark & Mike Davis. Blokhedz. Vol. 1. Pocket: S. & S. 2007. 112p. ISBN 978-1-4352-2874-0. $21.95. F
In this inner-city supernatural adventure, gifted teen rapper Blak must discover his true self and his superpowers. On one side beckons shady rap-and-drug broker Bloko and the fly lifestyle; on the other, the spirit of Blak’s wiser older brother, plus his homeys, seeress Rosetta, and maybe-girlfriend Essence—herself no mean rhymer. This fresh, skillful take on the coming-of-age theme features vivid characters, an intense story line, and vibrantly moody and glowing colors. Unfortunately, no subsequent volumes have appeared. A YALSA pick. (See LJ‘s original review.)

Love, Jeremy (text) & Patrick Morgan (illus.). Bayou. Vol. 1. DC. 2009. 160p. ISBN 978-1-4012-2382-3. pap. $16.99. F
When the sheriff hauls in Lee’s sharecropper daddy for a murder he didn’t commit, Lee’s only hope to rescue both her daddy and her girlfriend is the swamp giant, Bayou. Love’s Southern gothic magical realism is enhanced by Morgan’s lush color work. Bayou swept the 2009 Glyph Awards, and its blend of history, racial issues, beautifully drawn fantasy, and appealing story will attract fans in high school and public libraries. A YALSA pick and multiple award winner. See also Love’s horror-tinged murder mystery Shadow Rock, for tweens and up. (See LJ‘s original review.)

McGuffie, Dwayne & Robert L. Washington (text) & John Paul Leon (illus.). Static Shock. Vol. 1: Rebirth of the Cool. DC. 2009. 192p. ISBN 978-1-4012-2262-8. pap. $19.99. F
A teen given superpowers by mutagen-enhanced tear gas released in a gang war, Virgin Hawkins must balance fighting villains and bullies as the electrically powered hero Static navigates the usual teen concerns: schoolwork, pocket money, parental priorities—and, of course, romance and sex. Static was one of the minority superheroes introduced by DC’s imprint Milestone Media between 1993 and 1997; Static Shock ran as an animated series on the Cartoon Network in 2001. This volume collects the first four issues of the original “Milestone” series, plus a four-issue miniseries published when the TV show became popular.

Older Teens and Up

Abouet, Marguerite (text) & Clement Oubrerie (illus.). Aya. Vol. 3: The Secrets Come Out. Drawn & Quarterly. 2009. 132p. ISBN 978-1-897299-79-1. $19.95. F
Further machinations and intrigues come to light in this third installment of the irresistible “Aya” series about small-town life in the Côte d’Ivoire. With much of the story focusing on a Miss Yop City beauty pageant, the level-headed Aya helps family and friends with their problems while allowing them to find their own way. Aya’s setting and detail conjure the appeal of a different place and time, whereas the characters resonate in the universality of their hopes. The series has won a number of awards. (See LJ‘s original reviews of Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.)

Powers, Mark (text) & Chris Lie (illus.). Drafted: One Hundred Days. Devil’s Due. 2009. 48p. ISBN NA. pap. $5.99. F
In the “Drafted” series, attacking aliens have been repelled for the time being, and now America is in shambles. This special one-shot double-sized comic book stars Barack Obama as a former Senator whose promising career was dashed by the invasion. Leading a small construction unit, he is tasked with rebuilding in a freezing and wrecked Chicago…and, owing to an injury, he is mute.

Sizer, Paul. Moped Army. Fiery Studios. 2006. 144p. ISBN 978-0-9768565-4-2. pap. $12.95. F
In a dystopia of the future, high school senior Simone abandons her rich background and nastyass boyfriend to throw in with the Moped Army, an engaging group of misfits who patrol the grimier neighborhoods of the Lower City. This YALSA pick coming-of-age story draws on environmentalist and class conflict concerns.

Adults

Miller, Frank (text) & Dave Gibbons (illus.). The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century. Dark Horse. 2009. 600p. ISBN 978-1-59307-654-2. $99.95. F
This alternate-future sf drama collects several miniseries and a number of one-shots since 1990 about Martha Washington, a formerly ghettoized black woman who joins a U.S. paramilitary peacekeeping force to fight corruption and injustice and become a legendary hero of the 21st century. A sweeping, violent, and impressive epic from comics megastars Miller (Sin City; Batman: The Dark Knight Returns) and Gibbons (Watchmen).

Van Peebles, Melvin (text) & Caktuz Tree (illus.). Confessions of an Ex-Doofus-IchyFooted Mutha. Akashic. 2009. 72p. ISBN 978-1-933354-86-6. pap. $17.95. F
The multiaccomplished Van Peebles, known for his breakthrough classic of underground film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, creates a mostly fictional tale about a wandering everyman. “Doofus” hitchhikes away from home to save his mom the food bill, lands in Manhattan and joins the Merchant Marine, puts in slavery time for an African warlord, and makes it back years later to reunite with main squeeze, Rita. The many lesser squeezes along the way include a love-struck gorilla and a rest home of golden agers thankful for occasional visiting sailors. The free-floating narrative wanders from blues lyrics and comics to illustrated text and occasional photos from the film of the same name. Picaresque and entertaining, with the bawdry handled lightly.

Forthcoming for Tweens/Teens and Up   

aker, Kyle. BAM! The 44th President: A Graphic Novel. HarperCollins. May 2010. 160p. ISBN 978-0-06-170657-8. pap. $12. BIOG
Baker swore to put a different spin on Barack Obama in this biography. Talking it up at a convention, he painted the Prez as a family man who figured he’d get more time with his wife and daughters in the White House than as a senator always on the road. Whatever—this is sure to be one fab seller.

Black History Leaders. Bluewater. Feb. 2010. 96p. ISBN 978-1-61623-923-7. pap. $15.99. BIOG
These brief biographies spotlighting Barack Obama, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and Oprah Winfrey have been rereleased as a set in honor of Black History Month. All are compellingly written, although the brevity leaves many questions unanswered as well as points underdeveloped. Nonetheless, and despite art of varying quality (the Obama title is best here), these will be quite effective at teasing young people into the larger world of public affairs and the media. Originally part of Bluewater’s two ongoing comic book series “Female Force” and “Political Power,” all come with one-page bibliographies of print and web resources; Winfrey’s also includes video resources.

Hama, Larry (text) & Christopher Schons (illus.). Barack the Barbarian. Vol. 1: Quest for the Treasure of Stimuli. Devil’s Due. Jan. 2010. 144p. ISBN 978-1-934692-79-0. pap. $18.99. HUMOR
Sounds gosh-awful, doesn’t it? But this well-written satire of the Obama-McCain campaign was recommended by the African American staff at my local comics shop. The Barbarian joins forces with Manny the Fixer (Biden) and warrior queen Hilaria to climb the Elephant Tower and unseat the despots at the top, while the Old Warrior (McCain) and Red Sarah seek the same prize. Don’t miss the costumes.

Simmons, Alex (text) & Fernando Ruiz (illus.). Archie & Friends, All-Stars. Vol. 3: The Cartoon Life of Chuck Clayton. Archie Comics. Mar. 2010. 96p. ISBN 978-1-879794-48-1. pap. $9.95. F
Teen cartoonist Chuck signs on to lead a kids’ after-school program about making comics. As his teaching skills improve, he takes on more classes and helps pull together a Riverdale High project to revamp a dilapidated playground. The new playground features a mural designed by one of the kids he’s been teaching, and the project becomes the subject of a student-produced community service video. An entertaining model for youthful volunteerism enhanced with comics how-to’s. Writer Simmons is the founder of the annual Kid’s Comic-Con in the Bronx, NY.

Forthcoming for Older Teens and Up

Anderson, Ho Che (text & illus.). King: The Special Edition. rev. ed. Fantagraphics. Feb. 2010. 288p. ISBN 978-1-60699-310-1. $34.99. BIOG
With more than ten years’ research, a wide array of graphic styles, and an ear for dialog, Anderson re-creates the life of Martin Luther King, bringing to life both the man and the civil rights movement. This special edition includes substantial “extras” about the preparation and background of the work. Widely acknowledged as a masterpiece, this award-winning biography invokes King’s flaws, tragedies, and triumphs.

Forthcoming for Adults

Von Eeden, Trevor (text & illus.) with George Freeman & Don Hillsman II. The Original Johnson. Vol. 1. IDW. Feb. 2010. 128p. ISBN 978-1-60010-638-5. pap. $19.99. BIOG
Several films and numerous songs have paid tribute to Jack Johnson, the powerhouse boxer who in 1908 became the first African American heavyweight champion of the world. Von Eeden’s biography skimps on none of the man’s courage or flamboyance in flouting the racism and social conventions of his time. As a fearless international celebrity, notes Von Eeden, Johnson set the gold standard for black manhood and loved white women. Volume 2 completes the story in May. Installments may be read online at ComicMix.com.

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Martha Cornog About Martha Cornog

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).

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