28 Graphic Novels to Celebrate African American History Month | Graphic Novels Short Takes

From Diapers to Steampunk

“If you have a Black kid on the cover [of a book],” says Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Walter Dean Myers, “Black kids will pick it up faster.” (The Atlantic Wire) Indeed, Sheli Hay reports from the Haverford Township Library (PA), “To a younger Spider-Man fan, I was able to introduce Miles Morales. His face was ecstatic when I gave him the trades and he saw that, like him, Miles was biracial. I love working with comics.” From the Eisner-nominated tween-friendly Princeless (see review below) up to the more adult Life with Archie series in which Kevin Keller marries Dr. Clay Walker (trade collection not announced yet), 2012 has been a good year for African Americans in comics. The titles below are waiting to be picked up, so give your patrons a hand!


Beard, George & Harold Hutchins (text) & Dav Pilkey (illus.). Super Diaper Baby. Vol. 2. Scholastic.(Invasion of the Potty Snatchers). 2011. 192p. ISBN 9780545175333. pap. $5.99. HUMOR
This spin-off of the wildly popular “Captain Underpants” series introduces a newborn superhero, inadvertently powerized upon falling into a container of “super power juice” stolen from Captain Underpants by the evil Deputy Dangerous. Created by the incorrigible and fictional fourth graders who supposedly drew Captain Underpants, these stories drip with bathroom humor, amusingly bad puns, misspellings, and good natured silliness.

Beauregard, Lynda (text) & Der-Shing Helmer (illus.). In Search of the Fog Zombie: A Mystery About Matter. Graphic Universe. (Summer Camp Science Mysteries). 2012. 48p. ISBN 9780761385448. pap. $6.95. F/SCIENCE
There’s a rumor at Camp Dakota about the fog zombie since when the thick fog comes from off the lake, people hear noises like footsteps and moaning. But there’s a scientific explanation, too, campers figure out when a hip counselor drops clues they can solve. Back matter includes experiments, definitions, and science facts. There are quite a few more books in the series. Tweens up.

Béka (text) & Crip (illus.). Dance Class. Vol. 3: African Folk Dance Fever. Papercutz. 2012. 48p. tr. from French by Joe Johnson. ISBN 9781597073639. $10.99. F
Originally published in France, this enjoyable, lighthearted series stars three energetic wannabe ballerinas: blond Julie, Alia with dark hair and skin, and rounder redhead Lucie. The three friends take dance classes, go to school, flirt with boys in dance class and at school, and deal with individual problems—like Lucie’s divorced parents who compete to be “best” at whatever they do for her. This volume introduces the dancers to an ethnic dance style with new instructor Fatou, backed up by dreadlocked drummer Sam. The format, a collection of one and two-page mini-stories with punch-lines at the end, makes for starting anywhere reading. The kids display a variety of styles and body types.

Brown, Bruce & Lizzy Brown (text) & Eduardo Savid (illus.). Mwumba. Arcana. 2011. 46p. ISBN 9781897548035. pap. $7.95. F
Kids reluctantly facing a new addition to the family can sympathize with bouncy Cassandra, the one and only Princess of the Mwumban jungle who throws a fit when a small and smelly invader turns up and attracts the friendship of all her monkey pals. The unwelcome monster is breaking Mwumban law that decrees all attention belongs to the Princess—and is also eating vegetables instead of smashing them off a cliff! It takes a rousing game of playing pirates plus intervention from the monkeys to convince Cassandra to accept the newcomer.

Champlin, Susan (text) & Stan Mack (illus.). Fight for Freedom. Bloomsbury. (Cartoon Chronicles of America). 2012. 128p. ISBN 9781599900148. $16.99. F/HIST
The struggles of the Civil War and emancipation come through in this fictional story of Annabelle, the feisty daughter of a plantation owner, and Sam, the courageous son of the slave woman who helped raise her. With Annabelle’s help, Sam escapes to look for his father, who has been taken off to labor on the rail lines supporting Confederate offensives. Meanwhile, Annabelle must help run the plantation after her own father dies, providing medical care for soldiers from both sides. A prologue and epilogue explain distinguish fact from fiction in this historical graphic novel. Maps are also included.

Croall, Marie P. (text) & Ray Lago (illus.). Marwe: Into the Land of the Dead; An East African Legend. Graphic Universe. (Graphic Myths & Legends.) 2009. 48p. ISBN 9780822585145. pap. $8.95. F
Marwe and her family live in a village near Mount Kilimanjaro. She and her brother are responsible for keeping the bean crop free of predatory monkeys, but when the children take a break, the monkeys ravage the field. Now afraid to go home, Marwe investigates a dark underwater splotch in the nearby lake and is pulled down into the Land of the Dead where she is welcomed as a special guest by the Old Woman. But she nonetheless chooses to do chores and help her new friends as she grows to womanhood over several years. Now mature enough to face her family, she returns home with instructions from the Old Woman to marry a man named Sawoye. Indeed, she does find happiness with Sawoye, a kind and loving man with a scarred face.

Karwowski, Chris (text) & Steve Young (illus.). WordGirl: Coalition of Malice. BOOM! Studios. 2011. 64p. ISBN 9781608866786. pap. $7.99. F
An alien with superhero strength and a huge vocabulary, WordGirl and her monkey sidekick end up on Earth after their spaceship crash-lands. Under the secret identity of fifth-grader Becky Botsforth, she fights evil villains while introducing new vocabulary words. There are at least three more WordGirl graphic novels plus a PBS children’s TV series.

Lemke, Donald B. (text) & Tod Smith & Al Milgrom (illus.). Investigating the Scientific Method with Max Axiom, Super Scientist. Capstone. (Graphic Library: Graphic Science). 2008. 32p. ISBN 9781429617604. pap. $7.95. SCIENCE
Max Axiom is a supercool superhero scientist who can travel through time, shrink to atom-size, and slip on sunglasses that give him x-ray vision. All these talents let him present detailed views of science in a solid and engaging way. Sidebars and backmatter provide a glossary, interesting facts, cameos of famous people, bibliography, and links to websites. Dozens of Max Axiom books cover topics from magnetism to earthquakes, genes to the digestive system. In this one, which won Learning Magazine’s 2008 Teachers’ Choice Award for Children’s Books, Max shows readers how he solves four scientific problems, starting with choosing the best materials for building levees against flood waters. Some of the titles are available in Spanish.

Marsh, Robert (text) & Tom Percival (illus.). Monster and Me. Stone Arch. (Graphic Sparks). 2009. 33p. ISBN 9781434215895. $16.99. F
Big, loveable Dwight is twelve-year-old Gabby’s pet monster—so loveable he’s tapped to star in her class’s annual Christmas play. Problem is Dwight speaks only monster, not English. Looks like Gabby has her work cut out for her. Three more books star Dwight and Gabby.

Nickel, Scott (text) & Andy J. Smith (illus.). Billions of Bats: A Buzz Beaker Brainstorm. Stone Arch. (Graphic Sparks). 2007. 40p. ISBN 9781598894080. pap. $4.95. F
Buzz Beaker is a kid inventor who loves science, but sometimes his gadgets backfire. And sometimes he helps save the day when other students and adults get into science-related trouble. This time, his genius classmate Sarah wants to demonstrate her new cosmic copy machine to the school, but instead of making one copy of Mindy’s pet bat, Sarah gets lots and lots and lots of them. Sarah and Buzz have to work together to figure out what to do. There are numerous Buzz Beaker titles, some comics, some illustrated text.

Nickel, Scott (text) & Steve Harpster (illus.). The Boy Who Burped Too Much. Stone Arch. (Graphic Sparks). 2006. 40p. ISBN 9781598890372. pap. $16.99. F
Bobby burps loudly just about everywhere, which bothers other people more than it bothers him. But he has to control his burping if he wants to do well in the upcoming spelling bee. Fortunately, his grandfather can give him some help.

Nickel, Scott (text) & Matt Luxich (illus.). Invasion of the Gym Class Zombies. Stone Arch. (Graphic Sparks). 2008. 40p. ISBN 9781434205032. pap. $4.95. F
Poor Trevor. His new teacher has turned the gym class into a zombie-like, radio-controlled jock arena. It’s up to Trevor to figure out how to get the class back to normal. In several other books, Trevor must foil more zombies that turn up unexpectedly.

O’Connor, George. Ker-splash! S. & S. 2010. 40p. ISBN 9781442421967. pap. $19.99. F
Two kids playing on the beach are told to stay out of the water, so for kicks they sabotage a little brother’s beach toy. But then a bully bothers the duo. Realizing how sabotage felt to the younger kid, the boy and girl apologize and then enlist the third child in besting the bully. Real-time panels alternate with panels depicting the kids as their superhero alter egos: Incredible American Eagle, Amazing Bug Lady, and Manphibian. The same cast stars in O’Connor’s Kapow! (2007).

Parent, Dan (text) & Bill Galvan (illus.). The Archies & Josie and the Pussycats. Archie Comics. (Archie & Friends All-Stars). 2011. 112p. ISBN 9781879794610. pap. $9.95. F
Riverdale High boasts two teen bands: The Archies, headed by Archie Andrews, and Josie and the Pussycats, headed by Josie McCoy. A joint multi-city tour featuring both bands leads Archie and Josie’s bandmate Valerie Smith to fall for each other. Naturally, rivalries and revenge schemes from various frenemies complicate their relationship. Not a permanent resolution of the Archie-Veronica-Betty triangle, this latest romance explores an alternate narrative for these characters similar to the Archie Marries Veronica / Archie Marries Betty plot arcs already appearing. The Valerie story continues with a four-issue miniseries in which Archie and Valerie marry and have a musically talented daughter. Tweens up.

Random, Candice (text) & Zachary Trover (illus.). The Lifesaving Adventure of Sam Deal, Shipwreck Rescuer. Graphic Universe. (History’s Kid Heroes). 2011. 31p. adapt. by Amanda Doering Tourville. ISBN 9780761361961. pap. $8.95. F/HIST
From 1880 to 1947, Pea Island, North Carolina held the only coastal lifesaving station on the Outer Banks that was staffed by African Americans. Random, Tourville, and Trover dramatize the real rescue of the E.S. Newman in 1896, as assisted by the fictional 10-year-old Sam who aspires to be a “surfman” (lifesaving crew member) when he grows up. Back matter includes historical context and further reading.

Whitley, Jeremy (text) & M. Goodwin (illus.). Save Yourself. Action Lab Comics. (Princeless. Bk. 1.). 2012. 116p. ISBN 9781450798945. pap. $14.95. F
Despite her best-laid plans, teenaged Princess Adrienne ends up locked in a tower just like her sisters, waiting for a prince to kill her guardian dragon and rescue her. Then she finds a sword under the bed and recruits Sparky the dragon to help her save herself—and then to save her sisters. Nominated for an Eisner last year, this delightful series will see book 2 in July.

Williams, Jarrett. The Lunar Boy. Bk. 1. LuLu Pr. 2006. 328p. ISBN 9781847289438. pap. $19.94. F (Order from lulu.com.)
School bullies love picking on Vincent Scottwood, a bookish first grader who loves to draw. Then one night out of his sketchbook comes Lunar Boy, a Vincent-drawn superhero, who pulls both of them through a portal into the whimsical world of Vincego. Epic adventures follow in the style of videogames, complete with plenty of combat and oddball monsters. Williams’ exuberant and sprawling black-and-white art shows manga influences, suggesting a wacky Sailor Moon that would appeal to young boys. A second volume is available.


Abouet, Marguerite (text) & Clément Oubrerie (illus.). Aya: Love in Yop City. Drawn & Quarterly. 2013. 384p. tr. from French by Helge Dascher. ISBN 9781770460928. pap. $24.95. F
The first three volumes of the Austenesque soap opera of Aya’s Ivory Coast youth have been praised by Library Journal (vol. 1 [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6401099.html]; vol. 2 [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6625520.html]; vol. 3 [http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6713282.html]). An older Aya must deal with a lecherous professor as well as support her friends as they move into adulthood. This omnibus collects three all-new stories from the original French series and includes plenty of back matter: history, recipes, slang, and street sketches.

Brode, Douglas (text) & Joe Orsak (illus.). Yellow Rose of Texas: The Myth of Emily Morgan. McFarland. 2010. 135p. ISBN 9780786445202. pap. $17.99. F
Emily Morgan, also known as Emily West, was a real woman of part African American descent who was involved in the Texas war for independence. Legend has it that she played a role in helping Sam Houston capture Mexican president Santa Anna at the Battle of San Jacinto—this graphic novel fleshes out the legend into a heroic love story between Morgan and Erastus “Deaf” Smith. As described in the introduction, the historically detailed background includes some deliberate modifications. Orsak provides lovely and realistic color art. No nudity, but plot content refers substance use, attempted rape, and battlefield liaisons.

Harris, Dwayne. John Henry: The Steam Age. Arcana. (Steampunk Originals). 2012. 129p. ISBN 9781927424643. pap. $14.95. F
John Henry has been one of our culture’s early superheroes, even if he dies heroically at the end of his mythic battle with the steam drill. In this gleaming steampunk spin-off, the big man does not die but slips into a four-year coma while the maker of the steam drill and his metal minions take over the country. Finally regaining consciousness, John adds his good hammer to the rebels’ cause (of course), reuniting with his family along the way. Visual delights include a huge mecha-robot driven by villain Tiberius Rand from his perch in an overstuffed armchair replacing the robot’s head. Discreet beneath-the-sheets encounters and a few allusions to prostitution and baby-making.

Hutchins, Corey & David Axe (text) & Blue Delliquanti (illus.). The Accidental Candidate: The Rise and Fall of Alvin Greene. McFarland. 2012. 120p. ISBN 9780786474295. pap. $17.99. BIOG/POL SCI
Alvin Greene was a complete unknown when he won the 2010 South Carolina Democratic primary to challenge the Republican incumbent for the U.S. Senate. An unemployed African American veteran, he ran a minimal campaign, had no credentials, and had no online presence. He had also been forced out of the Army and was facing a federal pornography charge. So it was hardly surprising that Republican incumbent Jim DeMint swept the polls that November and kept his Senate seat. How did Greene win the primary in the first place? Hutchins and Axe do not provide definitive answers but lay out this odd story as a sympathetic study in character, initiative, and local politics. Black and white semi-realistic line art.

Johnson, Mat (text) & Andrea Mutti (illus.). Right State. Vertigo. 2012. 144p. ISBN 9781401229436. $24.99. F
The second African American U.S. President is campaigning for reelection while facing threats from an expanding citizen militia movement. In an eleventh hour attempt to sleuth out a suspected assassination plot, a Muslim FBI agent recruits a conservative newscaster and ex-Special Forces commando to go mole into the movement, he being a revered spokesman for veterans whose sympathies run pro-militia already. Conflicting loyalties complicate matters for the newscaster, as do the grimy, nail-biting challenges involved in spying on the very human would-be (perhaps) assassins. This political thriller features realistic sepia-toned art. Older teens and adults.

Lewis, John & Andrew Aydin (text) & Nate Powell (illus.). March. Bk. 1. Top Shelf. Aug. 2013. 128p. ISBN 9781603093002. pap. $14.95. MEMOIR/HIST
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) took part in the historic 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches. This three-volume memoir brings to life his half-century struggle for civil rights, spanning the days from segregation to the nation’s electing a two-term African American President. Eisner-winner Powell (Swallow Me Whole; The Silence of Our Friends) provides vivid and moody black-and-white art. This is apparently the first time a sitting member of Congress has authored a graphic novel.

Mariscal, Javier (illus.) & Fernando Trueba (text). Chico & Rita. SelfMadeHero. 2011. 216p. adapt. by Marcello Quintanilha. tr. from Spanish by Howard Curtis. ISBN 9781906838294. $24.95. F
Set in 1940s Cuba and New York City, this story started out as an animated feature film about a piano player and a singer, and was nominated for an academy award. Both Cubans of African descent, the would-be lovers must deal with discrimination, exploitation, romantic rivals, and geo-cultural boundaries in order to pursue their art and each other. Their charming and poignant romance is drawn with lovely bande dessinée-style color art in a simple, loose style. Nudity and sex make this one for older teens up.

Nitz, Jai & Alex Ross (text) & Wilson Tortosa (illus.). Bring the Thunder. Vol. 1. Dynamite. 2011. 112p. ISBN 9781606901632. pap. $16.99. F
Mortally wounded after defending himself and his para-rescue jumper team from an Afghani sharpshooter, Combat Rescue Officer Wayne Russell happens on a strange weapon and fires it. He finds himself naked, no longer human, and back in his home town. In fact, both Russell and his Afghani enemy have been turned into beings of pure sound, with amazing powers. Russell manages to find his family and uses his skills against local gang members, but the military soon ships him back to Afghanistan to take out that sharpshooter, who is now using his own skills against American troops. Realistic color art with striking combat sequences gives this graphic novel a unique glow.

Wimberly, Ron. The Prince of Cats. Vertigo. 2012. 144p. ISBN 9781401220686. $16.99. F
Romeo is only a supporting player in this vibrant hip-hop drama based on Shakespeare and set in 1980s Brooklyn. Now Juliet’s cousin Tybalt holds center stage, with a slashing samurai sword as his claw. Wimberly’s high-saturated color marries inventive writing creating a winning blend of street-talk and hip-hop rhythms of Shakespearean elegance in iambic pentameter. Older teens up due to violence, nudity, implied sex, and street language.


Black Comics: Politics of Race and Representation. Bloomsbury Academic. March 2013. 224p. ed. by Sheena C. Howard & Ronald L. Jackson. ISBN 9781441135285. pap. $32.95. GRAPHIC ARTS
This edited analytic collection looks historically at the work of Black cartoonists as well as the portrayal of African Americans in comics by a variety of creators. 14 contributions touch on comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, American-authored manga-style stories, and political cartoons, highlighting their unique and collective cultural impact.

Multicultural Comics: From Zap to Blue Beetle. Univ. of Texas Pr. 2011. 271p. ed. by Frederick Luis Aldama. ISBN 9780292737433. pap. $25. GRAPHIC ARTS
Considering race and ethnicity in comics from a broader perspective, 13 chapters address cartooning across diverse traditions, including Latino, Native American, Filipino, African American, Asian, and continental Indian. A final chapter covers conducting research in multicultural comics and finding resources.

For More Graphic Novels Short Takes:

2012: http://reviews.libraryjournal.com/2012/01/collection-development/stories-beyond-black-and-white-25-graphic-novels-for-african-american-history-month/

2011: http://www.libraryjournal.com/lj/newslettersnewsletterbucketbooksmack/888719-439/short_takes_27_graphic_novels.html.csp

2010: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6713282.html

2009: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6637203.html


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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).