News about the premier academic journal devoted to all aspects of cartooning and comics -- the International Journal of Comic Art (ISSN 1531-6793) published and edited by John Lent.

Monday, September 18, 2023

MSU hires Comics Studies Librarian Jason Larsen

Since August 14th, Jason Larsen has been the Comics Studies Librarian at the largest comic book collection in the world. While getting his library degree, he interned at MSU. The Library is currently working on a renovation which will see the collection moved out of the basement. Larsen was  at University of Illinois where he studied under Mara Thacker, (who is building a Southeast Asian collection at that library, although she just began a year-long sabbatical).

Randy Scott, the founding and guiding force behind the collection, retired in 2022 after 49 years in the position.  Scott made MSU a major force in comic studies, expanding on the foothold that Russell Nye had built with a popular culture collection. The collection focused on American and European works as well as South American and is by far the largest most publicly available collection in the United States. During that time he established the Reading Room Index, an attempt to describe material in more detail than the standard library catalog, so you could decide what to look at before getting to the library. The RRI has not been updated since his departure.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Book review: Marvel Comics in the 1970s: The World inside Your Head by Eliot Borenstein

 by CT Lim

Marvel Comics in the 1970s: The World inside Your Head. Eliot Borenstein. Cornell University Press, 2023. 267 pages, $23.95.

Do we really need another book on Marvel Comics? Hot on the heels of Douglas Wolk's monumental All of the Marvels (2021) comes a book about lesser discussed Marvel comics of the 1970s - focusing on the literary efforts of Steve Englehart (Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel, Captain America, the Avengers), Doug Moench (Deathlok, Werewolf by Night, Master of Kung Fu), Marv Wolfman (Tomb of Dracula), Don McGregor (Killraven, Luke Cage, Black Panther) and Steve Gerber (Man-Thing, Omega the Unknown, Howard the Duck). I am definitely more of a Marvel zombie than I thought, and I was intrigued enough to volunteer to review this book.

There are several questions to answer:

·         Why would Eliot Borenstein, a Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University, write a book about Marvel comics in the 1970s and what is the connection between that and his own discipline of Russian and Slavic studies?

·         How does this book compare to or complement Wolk's All of the Marvels?

·         Is Borenstein convincing in his arguments?

First, Borenstein has been teaching an annual general education course on graphic novels at New York University since 2007. As he explained in his preface about his 'secret origins.' the 1970s was the decade he discovered comics. But more importantly, in Marvel comics, he found a reflection of the concerns that occupied his teenage mind. As he explained, "Marvel was filled with characters who narrated their experience, second-guessing themselves. They got me out of my head by getting into theirs, which in turn helped me explore my own head better." In that sense, Borenstein pointed out Dostoyevsky was inevitable. While the fate of Rodion Raskolnikov now matters to him as much as the fate of Jean Grey, Borenstein never stopped being a comic fan nor forgot about the inner worlds and turmoil of Shang-Chi, T'Challa and Howard the Duck. (Borenstein also acknowledged the model provided by Jose Alaniz, another Slavist and fellow comics scholar, who also blurbed the book.)

It took some decades to reconcile the two worlds of Pushkin and the Punisher and to avoid incursions of having two parallel universes colliding and destroying one of them (apologies to Jonathan Hickman). Borenstein managed to construct a Battleworld (more apologies to Jim Shooter) where his two worlds coexist in his serialized blog on Marvel comics in the 1970s. This book is an extension and expansion of that - it is like the Ant-Man entering the body of the Vision to save him in Avengers #93 (drawn by Neal Adams, cover date Nov. 1971) but presented in the deluxe over-sized artist's edition format. But unlike superheroes, when we go deep into inner worlds, it is not just to save others. It is to save ourselves.

As for the comparisons with All of the Marvels, Borenstein acknowledges it as a book with "many points in common" especially Wolk's deep dive into The Master of Kung Fu, but the two approaches are very different. Borenstein made it very clear that his book is firmly planted in a crucial yet understudied decade that marks a turning point in the artistic development of the comics medium. To me, both complement each other. After reading Wolk's take on the Black Panther, you can easily pick up the Penguin classics Marvel collection with its valuable foreword and introduction by Nnedi Okorafor and Qiana J. Whittted respectively. And then move into Borenstein's chapter on Don McGregor's tortured romantic individualism and suffering black bodies.

For my third question, I must say Borenstein, makes a compelling case of the world inside your head created by the above-mentioned Marvel writers. This underscores the intentionality of these writers in focusing on creating an internal world of subjectivity for their readers. The action and violence in these Marvel comics mirror the inner (conflicted? confused?) state of the heroes and villains. I would like to linger on Borenstein's choice of phrase, "your head." It could be "our heads" but he chose yours. But this “yours” is not just the readers, but the fictional characters of Captain America, Captain Marvel and the Man-Thing as well. As Borenstein said, "I felt more like myself when I was able to sink into the minds of others." Is it a form of escapism? Or a way to figure out ourselves when we see some of our internal selves mirrored in the inner worlds of a Marvel comic?

As for the chapters, I enjoyed the Introduction the most - where Borenstein made the case for a 1990s Vertigo title, Enigma as the best Marvel comic of the 1970s. I won't go into the details as it is quite delightful to follow Borenstein's arguments when he made his case. I would just add that writer Peter Milligan's explorations into "your heads" began much earlier in his 2000 AD days when he wrote a wonderful strip, Hewligan's Haircut, drawn by the mercurial Jamie Hewlett.

You may ask what's new about these 1970s writers' approach. Didn't Stan Lee in the 1960s put forth the "drama of the visible self?" Spider-Man will talk through his problems (via internal and external monologue) while fighting Doctor Octopus. Borenstein explained: "If Lee's plots provided the opportunity to learn about his characters' inner lives, the 1970s writers often came close to prioritizing interiority over plot itself."

This goes back my own first encounters with Marvel comics in the 1970s. Having read The Beano and The Dandy British weeklies, some DC, and also Chinese comics, one of the first Marvel comic I laid my hands on was, of all things, Man-Thing #22 (cover date Oct 1975). I can't remember how I got it, but it was the most bizarre thing I had read when it landed in my hands. It starts with writer Steve Gerber writing to editor Len Wein about why he cannot continue to write the Man-Thing anymore and it just becomes more metafictional and internal from there. My curiosity about Borenstein's book probably stems from this primary reading experience.

If there is a weak chapter, it is the coda of Chris Claremont’s rise in the popular Uncanny X-Men comics of the late 1970s and 1980s. After making his argument of the complex inner worlds created by writers like Steve Gerber, Borenstein's concluding line leaves much hanging: "Claremont, his collaborators, and his heirs found that presenting their heroes as superficially complex open books was a recipe for success." He argued that Claremont's X-Men invites readers into the heroes' minds while making the process of identification effortless. I feel more elaboration and examples are needed. What led to the 'decline' of writers like Steve Englehart (who went on to write a memorable Batman run at DC as well as the Justice League of America - how does that compare to his Avengers?) and the rise of Claremont, whose interiority was not that of Gerber or Moench or Wolfman? What happen to these writers when they left Marvel and the 1970s receded into the past? Did they leave interiority behind? For example, did Wolfman follow the success of the superficiality of Claremont for his Teen Titans series in the 1980s? For that, one would have to look for answers in recent books like The Other 1980s: Reframing Comics' Crucial Decade which has chapters on Moench and Gerber, and also Steve Gerber: Conversations. It is unfortunate the Kickstarter of Moench's Aztec Ace has gone off rails with money collected and the backers not receiving their copies. Some of these comics can be reprinted and reevaluated - Gerber's Phantom Zone stories for DC, Gerber's return to Howard the Duck in She-Hulk, and McGregor's Sabre.

Borenstein states that Claremont's approach was a much more commercially appealing formula that combined the prolixity of McGregor with the declarative tradition of Stan Lee. This deserves fuller exploration. I, for one, would like to understand the rise of Claremont studies, as seen in The Claremont Run on Twitter at and now also collected as a book, The Claremont Run: Subverting Gender in the X-Men by J. Andrew Deman (University of Texas Press, 2023).

Nonetheless, this book is an excellent read for the Marvel fan and a worthy contribution to comics studies of serialized American superhero comic books of the 1970s. Long may the 70s run. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Table of Contents for Vol. 25, No. 1 Spring/Summer 2023

The e-version of this is now available; if you're a subscriber or want to purchase the single issue, email "John A. Lent" <> The print edition should be shipping in a few weeks.

IJOCA Vol. 25, No. 1 Spring/Summer 2023

Comics and Propaganda: World War II

Ester Hotová


The Modern Imaginaire in Cao Hanmei’s The Golden Lotus

Xiutang Li


Chatting with 1/6: A Graphic Novel Writer Alan Jenkins about Insurrections and Threats to Democracy

Mike Rhode


In Favor of Happy Endings: An Interview with Bane Kerac

Darko Macan


Japanese Jesus: The Humanity of Jesus in Hikaru Nakamura’s Saint Young Men

Daniel D. Clark


Cartooning the Inverse Zoo: The Forgotten Comic Art of Kurt Wiese

Aaron Humphrey


“Here Is a Man Who Would Not Take It”: The Contemporary Revival of the Newspaper Comic Strip

The Outbursts of Everett True 1905-1927

Richard A. Voeltz


“Do I Really Need Color in This Story?” An Interview with Reinhard Kleist

Mark David Nevins


Sabaibukei: Critiquing Capitalism in the Death Game Genre

Joseph Christopher Schaub


“What’s Funny about AIDS?”: How Howard Cruse’s “Wendel” Confronted a Crisis

Cassia Hayward-Fitch


War, Gender, and Diaspora in Clément Baloup’s Memoires de Viet Kieu

Mattia Arioli


The Boom of Female Comics in the 21st Century in Brazil

Daniela dos Santos Domingues Marino

Natania Aparecida da Silva Nogueira


Flash Gordon, Blake and Mortimer’s American Uncle Chapter #1: What Is a Superhero?

Éric Dubois


Cartoonist Ambassador of Hope: Nigar Nazar of Pakistan

John A. Lent


Texas Jack Kent: A Comic Storyteller in San Antonio

Paul V. Allen


Basohmics: Reviving Basohli Art Through Modern Indian Comics 

Aditi Magotra and Varsha Singh


Sanctioned Satire: Political Cartoons from China Daily

Linn A. Christiansen


A Chat with Chad Bilyeu of Amsterdam

Mike Rhode


The Duality of Manga in the Work of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi

Freya Terryn


“The Rebirth of Angus Og”

Laurence Grove


Karimata 1890: Silent Comic with Nusantara Concept

Iwan Zahar


Maurice Horn: a Memorial

Kim A. Munson


An Essay

From Material to Meaning: Implications of Challenges to Young Adult Graphic Novels

Jason DeHart


Not All Heroes Need Museums: Brussels’ Marc Sleen Museum Closes

Wim Lockefeer


Quadrinhopédia, a Brazilian Comics Biographical Dictionary Database

Lucio Luiz


Demystifying The U Ray, the Better to Rewrite the Origin Myth of “Blake and Mortimer”

Éric Dubois


Lianhe Zaobao’s 100th Anniversary Cartoon Exhibition and the Role of Comics in Asia in 2023

Lim Cheng Tju


Book Reviews

Michel Matly. El cómic sobre la guerra civil, by Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste, p. 542.

Chesya Burke. Hero Me Not: The Containment of the Most Powerful Black, Female Superhero, by Stephanie Burt, p. 561.

Miguel Ferguson and Anne Timmons. Brigadistas! Am American Anti-Fascist in the Spanish Civil War, by Héctor Fernández L’Hoeste, p. 566.

John. A. Lent. Asian Political Cartoons, by Matt Wuerker, p. 579.

Michelle Ann Abate. Blockheads, Beagles, and Sweet Babboos: New

Perspectives on Charles M. Schulz’s “Peanuts,” by Chris York, p. 581.

Edward Sorel. Profusely Illustrated, A Memoir, by John A. Lent, p. 584.

Simon Grennan, Roger Sabin, and Julian Waite. Marie Duval: Maverick Victorian Cartoonist, by Lizzy Walker, p. 588.

Simon Appleford. Drawing Liberalism: Herblock’s Political Cartoons in Postwar America, by Christina M. Knopf, p. 593.

Jimmy Kugler and Michael Kugler. Into the Jungle! A Boy’s Comic Strip History of World War II, by James Willetts, p. 597.

Heike Bauer, Andrea Greenbaum, and Sarah Lightman, eds. Jewish Women in Comics: Bodies and Borders, by John A. Lent, p. 600.

António Antunes. Angeli: 50 anos de humor, Bárbara Reis, José António Lima, and António Antunes. Cartoons do ano 2022, by John A. Lent, p. 602.

Michael Rhode and John A. Lent. Comics Research Bibliography 2022 E-book Edition, by Michael Rhode, p. 605.

Michael Rhode. The Wonder of Sound and Vision: Film, TV & Other Media Adaptations of Comics (2022 Edition), by Michael Rhode, p. 607.

Michael Rhode. Public Radio and Voice of America on Comics & Cartoons: A Bibliography (2023 Edition), by Michael Rhode, p. 608.

Compleating Cul de Sac 2nd Edition Available in Print by Michael Rhode, p. 609.

Exhibition Reviews

Laurie Anne Agnese

Michael Rhode


Letters to the Editor



Michael Hill


Tuesday, September 5, 2023

Book Review: Desegregating Comics: Debating Blackness in the Golden Age of American Comics, edited by Qiana Whitted

Reviewed by Michael Kobre

Desegregating Comics: Debating Blackness in the Golden Age of American Comics, edited by Qiana Whitted. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2023. 358 pp. ISBN: 9781978825017. U.S. $34.95.


            Taken together, the critical essays in Desgregating Comics: Debating Blackness in the Golden Age of American Comics tell a history of American comics that many of us don’t know or, at best, only know in part. As the collection’s editor Qiana Whitted points out in her introduction, “the earliest and most prolific decades of the comics industry also correspond with the Jim Crow era” (6). Consequently, like pretty much everything else in American life, comics pages too were places where borders (both literal and figurative) were regularly policed and sometimes subverted, where equal opportunity was constricted and mostly denied, and where struggles were fought all the time over representation and images of blackness. As Whitted goes on to say, our understanding of this convergence between comics history and Jim Crow America raises important questions “about access, ideology, and the politics of interracial contact, both in the panels and in the production of comics” (6).

            In exploring this history and taking on these questions, Desegregating Comics ranges widely. Some chapters examine the work of well-known creators like George Herriman, Will Eisner, and Matt Baker. Some discuss the early comics work of Black painters and muralists like Romare Bearden and Al Hollingsworth, whose achievements in the visual arts were, as the authors here argue, shaped at least in part by their work as cartoonists at the beginning of their careers. Many chapters highlight the importance of the Black press, notably the comics section of The Pittsburgh Courier and the paper’s vibrant print culture. Other chapters examine characters who are obscure to us now, such as Neil Knight, a Buck Rogers-like space adventurer fighting colonialism on other planets in The Courier’s comics section; Lobo, a Black cowboy in a typically short-lived series (for titles with Black characters, that is) published by Dell in 1965; and The Voodoo Man, a Fox Feature Syndicate series in which the villainous title character was invested with a rare sense of agency for Black characters in the 1940s in stories created by whites. Whitted’s chapter details both the rare achievement of All-Negro Comics #1, published in 1947, “the first comic book to be to be written, illustrated, and published by and about African Americans in the United States” (182), and the all-too-familiar disappointment of its lost second issue, in the face of resistance to the title from white vendors, distributors, and retailers —a fate reprised in another chapter on the truncated run of Fawcett’s Negro Romance comic in 1950, which lasted for only three issues of original content. Still other chapters focus on Black readers, trying to imagine their responses to comics and their reading habits, in one instance detailing how a group of students from Harlem went to the offices of Fawcett Comics to protest Captain Marvel’s minstrel show sidekick, Steamboat. “This is not the Negro race, but your one-and-a-half million readers will think it so,” they told Fawcett’s executive editor (214).

            That issue of representation opens some of the first chapters of Desegregating Comics. Ian Gordon and Andrew Kunka respectively look at the use of racist stereotypes in the cartoons of Rosie O’Neil, one of the first women cartoonists whose work was published regularly in the humor magazine Puck from 1897-1905, and in Will Eisner’s character Ebony White, the minstrel show sidekick to the title character in The Spirit. Gordon’s chapter, which describes O’Neil’s use of “the sort of typographies found in minstrelsy, the bumpkins Tambo and Bones, the dandy Zip Coon, and so on” (27), effectively begins the collection by pointing to the long history of the kind of stereotypes that would routinely appear later in works of white cartoonists like Eisner, who, at the height of his acclaim, would struggle again and again to explain or justify his creation of Ebony. Kunka’s essay scours Eisner’s varied and often defensive responses to criticism of Ebony. Of Eisner’s claim that he was just following the popular conventions of his time—a defense repeated by many other white creators—Kunka argues that “such defenses stand in curious contrast to Eisner’s claim to an important historical role as an innovator and experimenter in the comics form: on the one hand, he actively pushes against many comics traditions and connections; on the other hand, he stands helpless in the face of another” (63).

            Yet most of Desegregating Comics focuses on the work of Black creators pushing back against these stereotypes and the racist power structure of American life that they helped to sustain and justify. In Nicholas Sammond’s chapter on Krazy Kat and in Chris Gavaler and Monalisa Earle’s formal analysis of Matt Baker’s art on Fox Feature Syndicate’s Phantom Lady, for instance, the authors examine ways that Black cartoonists slyly challenged and subverted that power structure. As Sammond suggests, Herriman in Krazy Kat—particularly in the strip’s “playful, polysemous, and allusive” language (45)—appropriates tropes and techniques from the tradition of minstrelsy. Yet like such Black minstrel show performers as Bert Williams who used their blackface masks for their own subversive art, Herriman, a Black man passing as white for most of his life, “borrowed freely from, and reimagined, white fantasies of Black speech to deform and destabilize language and meaning in Coconino County” (48). In so doing, Sammond argues, Herriman also used the unstable landscape of Coconino County and Krazy’s ever-shifting gender formations as “a useful metaphor for a life lived in passing,” creating in his pages a world that rejected the rigid racial binary his society was built around (41). In a comparable fashion, Gavaler and Earle suggest that Matt Baker, “the most successful Black artist in midcentury U.S. Comics” (95), used what Joseph Witek has called a “high baroque” layout style with complicated designs that disrupt the reader’s movement across the page to subtly express Baker’s own “protest against his racial relationship to the midcentury comics industry” (98). In particular, they note the subversive quality of the way Baker’s layouts routinely broke panel borders in order to extend a character’s body—notably the long legs of The Phantom Lady—into another panel. These page designs would offer the white boys or young men reading the comic an opportunity to let their eyes linger over the legs or torso of The Phantom Lady in a way that would be dangerous for a Black man like Baker, hiding behind the pseudonym of the strip’s supposed creator Gregory Page and complicating the operation of the male gaze even more by his own sexuality as a gay man. As Gavaler and Earle note, the very act of seeming to look at a white woman with desire was enough to get Emmett Till murdered in the very same year that Baker’s “good girl” art was condemned on the Senate floor during a hearing on comics and juvenile delinquency.

            Many chapters though discuss the more explicit resistance to the Jim Crow era in the comics, columns, and editorial cartoons in the Black press. As Julian Chambliss writes in his chapter on the Neil Knight comic strip, “Black newspapers offered an essential space for extending the visual language around blackness and the vision provided to African Americans about their place in the visual culture of the United States. In particular, the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the largest Black newspapers, which claimed over a million coast-to-coast readers by the 1940s, was a crucial space for offering an alternative vision of blackness” (284). So Neil Knight, introduced in the Courier’s new color comics section in 1950, evolved from the adventures of Black air ace in its first four years into a science fiction strip with Knight as a space explorer, who in one signature storyline defends a helpless planet of aliens whose skin “is presented in green and brown hues” against the colonialist aggression of another alien empire (290). This “intersection of speculative practice and liberation” (290) helps define Neil Knight, Chambliss argues, “as the earliest example of Afrofuturism in newspaper comic strips” (293). In other strips too, like the single-panel gag strip Patty Jo ‘n’ Ginger and the romance strip Torchy in Heartbeats, both by Jackie Ormes, the first Black woman cartoonist, Eli Boonin-Vail finds not only politically-tinged jokes and storylines, but “a complex and playful relationship with Black middle-class ideas of gender and respectability” that also extends into Ormes’ own early column writing and other women’s columns in the Courier (152). Examining the editorial cartoons in the Courier and other Black newspapers, Rebecca Wanzo analyzes the early work of Black artists like Romare Bearden to show how their mature styles reflect their work in comics—as Bearden’s cartoons, for instance, manifest “representational practices that gesture to the universal and an embrace of nonrealist aesthetics” in his later work (82). Delineating these connections, for Wanzo, is a way “to push against artistic silos that limit the frameworks through which we interpret Black liberatory aesthetic practice” (82). Yet the commitment of a newspaper like the Courier to promote a kind of respectability politics within the Black community could be problematic too. As Mona Beauchamp-Byrd shows in her chapter, Kandy, a romance strip created in 1955 by Al Hollingsworth, featured a protagonist whose “racially indeterminate [features and skin tone] and/or white-passing ‘Good Girl’ figure” reflected “a colorism that was actively present in African American media” (229).

            Yet many important chapters of the history that Desegregating Comics brings to life are haunted by counterstories that attempt to fill gaps in existing evidence or scholarship—as in Carol Tilley’s effort to imagine the comics reading experiences of Black youth by analyzing three photographs, including the photo of the bed with a handful of comics strewn across it that Emmett Till was taken from on the night of his murder—and by what the poet Kevin Young has called “shadow books.” In Young’s massive critical attempt at a field theory of Black culture, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, he describes the concept of “a shadow book”: “a book that we don’t have, but know of, a book that may haunt the very book we have in our hands” (11). In The Grey Album, Young identifies three kinds of shadow books: ones that were never written or completed, like Ralph Ellison’s second novel; ones with “removed” meanings, which gesture toward unspoken ideas, “the secret book just behind the others, its meaning never to be fully revealed” (12); and a third kind, the lost shadow book, “at once the rarest and most common—written and now gone” (13), like Phillis Wheatley’s second book of poetry and, as Whitted argues in her chapter of Desegregating Comics, the unpublished second issue of All-Negro Comics.  In characterizing All-Negro Comics #2 as a lost shadow book, Whitted cites comics historian Tom Christopher’s assertion that the issue had been planned and that at least some of its art had been completed; its fate, Whitted suggests, “offers a disruptive counterhistory of the comic book industry’s Golden Age of success” (184). Though All-Negro Comics #1 was filled with promises of future issues and further installments of individual stories, its creator and publisher Orrin Cromwell Evans suddenly found that no one would sell him the newsprint he needed to publish a second issue. As Whitted writes, “its haunting absence echoes all the unrealized comic books of the era that attempted to underscore Black lives, that became ensnared in the power differentials behind comic book production, distribution, and sales” (184). For that matter, other shadow books too, representing each kind that Young conceptualizes, also haunt Desegregating Comics. There are the unwritten and undrawn comics that might have been produced if Negro Romance and Lobo hadn’t both been abruptly cancelled, and there are the “removed” meanings that Sammond finds in Krazy Kat and that Gavaler and Earle see in Matt Baker’s baroque page designs. As Young writes, in a passage quoted by Whitted too, “In some crucial ways, the lost shadow book is the book that blackness writes every day. The book that memory, time, accident, and the more active forms of oppression prevent from being read” (14).

            Ultimately, the counterhistory of American comics that Desegregating Comics presents is panoramic, with connections that abound across chapters. As previously noted, for instance, multiple chapters detail the importance of the Pittsburgh Courier and other Black newspapers. But lives and careers of important creators intersect across the book as well, like the comics artist Al Hollingsworth, whose work is the subject of two separate chapters. Hollingsworth worked alongside Matt Baker in the comic book industry and may have been one of the artists on Negro Romance; his comic strip Kandy replaced Jackie Ormes’ Torchy in Heartbeats in the Courier; and later in his life, in his career as a celebrated painter, he joined the Black art collective Spiral co-founded by Romare Bearden. Yet the most difficult and heartbreaking connections across chapters involve the murder of Emmett Till. In her effort to imagine a counterstory inspired by the photo of Till’s bed on the night of his murder, Carol Tilly cites a neighbor’s comment in a Chicago Defender article two weeks after Till’s murder that his enjoyment of comics never included “any dirty ones or nasty pictures,” a comment that was, in the context of popular condemnations of comics in the 1950s, a way of asserting Till’s fundamental innocence and good character in the midst of what Tilley calls “the precarities of both comics and Black boyhood” (172). Elsewhere in Desegregating Comics, we witness the outrage that Till’s death inspired in the Black community when Eli Boonin-Vail cites a Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger cartoon by Jackie Ormes that appeared “on a page where ten of the twelve letters to the editor decry the acquittal of Emmett Till’s slayers the previous week,” in which little Patty-Jo tells her sister angrily, “I don’t want to seem touchy on the subject … but that new little white tea-kettle just whistled at me!” (143). In Gavaler and Earl’s reading of Matt Baker’s art too, we’re reminded of the potentially fatal consequences of a Black man sexualizing a white woman in Jim Crow America. Citing Frederic Wertham’s and a Senate subcommittee’s condemnation of one of Baker’s Phantom Lady covers, Gavaler and Earle ask, “How would Till’s murderers respond to Baker’s cover image knowing that [in Wertham’s words] its ‘sexual stimulation by combining “headlights” with a sadist’s dream of tying up a woman’ was a Black man’s?” (115).  

            Not every chapter of Desegregating Comics is equally revelatory and powerful, and occasionally its authors get bogged down in what, to this reader at least, felt like too much plot summary—although, to be fair, such summary may be necessary to recreate a lost work like a story in Negro Romance. But the cumulative effect of the collection’s panoramic perspective forces us to reconsider what comics fans have sentimentally called the Golden Age of comics, not simply as a halcyon period when a new form burst into popular culture, but as a site of conflict—again, like so much else in American life—where the country’s racial divide was enacted, reinforced, and challenged too. And this quality makes Desegregating Comics not only an important book for any serious student of comics history, but a timely one as well. At a moment in American life when political and cultural forces are actively working to restrict what can and can’t be said about America’s racial history—like the Oklahoma school superintendent who said of the 1921 Tulsa massacre, "Let's not tie it to the skin color and say that the skin color determined that" (Qtd. in Khaled)—Desegregating Comics offers a sweeping and nuanced exploration of how the country’s troubled racial history played out on comics pages too.



Khaled, Fatma. “Oklahoma Superintendent Denies Race Caused Tulsa Massacre.” Newsweek, July 7, 2023,

Young, Kevin. The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness. Graywolf Press, 2012.