I have been asked some variation of the following question more times than I can count: “Which comics or graphic novels would you recommend that are by people of color, or address people of color in a holistic way, and also books for people who may not ever read a comic or graphic novel?” This is a very hard question as there is just so much out there that is great. There are books that I have taught in my classes that are neck and neck with the books I’ve bought as gifts for people who I am trying to convert to our four-color ways. While the below list is in no way comprehensive, they are my go-to books for whenever I’m asked the question. Please feel free to add your own picks.
In no particular order, here are my choices for the books that meet the aforementioned criteria. The only restriction I placed on myself was that the story had to be self-contained. So this eliminates gems like Concrete Park, Kid Code, Lowriders in Space, and a host of others.
Filled with politics, mythology, and magic, Cairo was such a refreshing read. Wilson is a monster writer. Her ability to weave the secular and the religious, the mundane and the mystical is nothing short of astonishing. Perker’s line work is some of he best I’ve seen in a black and white book. The city of Cairo comes alive in a way that color might have disrupted the beauty. The story follows six people, some friends and some newly introduced to the group, as they attempt to track down a magical hookah that is home to a powerful djinn. Cop it here.
Bias alert! Ellis is one of my all time favorite writers. Both Transmetropolitan and Planetary are books that kept me interested in comics when my interest was waning. Set “100 years in the future,” Nathan Kane (a brother!) is a UN weapons inspector who is tasked with investigating the happenings on Europa. When he arrives, everything he knows about both weapons and warfare pale in comparison to what he is confronted with. It is science fiction adventure in the best of interpretations. While the idea of finding a warmongering alien race in suspended animation is fanciful, the science of the story is treated with respect — what we’ve come to expect from Ellis. I’ve always been a big fan of Sprouse’s work. He has a (overly used descriptor, I know) cinematic style that elevates the 2-D nature of his pencils into a nearly 3-D realm. There is a fight scene in a corridor involving artificial gravity and hand-launched harpoons that is breathtaking. That this hasn’t been adapted to film is criminal. Here, I’ll help you: Idris Elba as Kane. Directed by Duncan Jones. Scored by Tricky. You’re welcome. Cop it here.
Prince of Cats
by Ron Wimberly
The energy and braggadocio of hip-hop coupled with the detailed examination of the human condition as only Shakespeare can do, all focused on Tybalt, the most intriguing character in Romeo and Juliet? All in iambic pentameter, written and illustrated by Ron Wimberly who did that too ill MF Grimm book? Stop reading this now and cop it. It is out of print, so you will have to crate dig. One of my favorite books of the last decade. Easily.
Pedro & Me
by Judd Winick
Bias alert! I like very little of Winick’s superhero work. I love Barry Ween, but his superhero writing left me wanting a whole lot more. But Pedro is one of the most fascinating love stories I have ever read. Those of us of a certain age remember losing Pedro Zamora to AIDS. Winick and Zamora were housemates on the San Francisco season of MTV’s groundbreaking reality television show, The Real World. This book is Winick’s autobiographical story of how he became friends with, and ultimately lost Pedro Zamora. The amount of love, care, and dedication in this book — I’d be hard pressed to name a more suitable tribute to a friend. I have taught this book on four different occasions as a prime example of how the biography is never really about us. Cop it here.
American Born Chinese
Never has there been a book that has perfectly captured the rocky road that is being a person of color in the United States. While this is a work of fiction, it is one of the most honest and heartfelt books I’ve come across. It is a great precursor to Eddie Huang’s 2003 memoir Fresh of the Boat — you may have heard that there is a hilarious television show based off Huang’s book. For me, the strongest part of the book is how he represents and details how the influences of ancestral and adopted cultures are kilns in which we are forged. Essential reading. I’ve taught this in my transculturalim class on three occasions. Cop it here.