I have a hidden talent: I am rather gifted at randomly finding historical graphic novels about/written by Black people.
This is the third of it’s kind that I’ve happened upon in the last few months, and it’s amazing.
Turns out, Eureka Productions produces a series of “Graphic Classics” that adapts, you guessed it, classics into a graphic novel format. While I have mixed feelings about the concept overall, African-American Classics is my best find to date. It combines my love of comics, literature and my favorite figures of Black history. The volume includes twenty three stories and poems by early African-American authors. Each piece is beautifully illustrated by a variety of artists, in a plethora of art forms, from comic to abstract to realism.
I was struck by how each artist managed to perfectly match the tone of the piece with their art. “Becky,” a solemn poem by Jean Toomer, is illustrated by Randy DuBurke, and shows us realistic images of an isolated hut, occupied only by Becky and her two Negro sons. The panels give the reader a sense of loneliness; the long shadows of the trees in the forest and the lone figure of Becky stepping along a wooded path communicate how total her exile is, in a way that the words alone cannot convey.
Stan Shaw illustrates Langston Hughes’ “The Negro” in beautiful images, created with simple, curving strokes, shades of indigo and white. The contrast works well with the sentiment of Hughes’ poem, the juxtaposition of the depth of the color of Black people’s skin with the bright legacy which we have created, proving that we can be both the sun and moon all at once.
“The Bronze Legacy (To a Brown Boy)” by Effie Lee Newsome and the respective image by Keith Mallett is a portrait I would love to hang in my house some day. The words and image remind me of the strength and beauty of our culture, the grace of our present, the hope of our future and the intricate web of thin strands that create our history.African-American Classics should be a Black house hold necessity. Even for me, an avid reader and consumer of African-American literature, the collection is full of pieces that I was not familiar with, but fell in love with as easily as I fell in love with “Phenomenal Woman.” It not only introduces you to literature of the greats, such as Langston Hughes, Zora Neal Hurston, W.E.B. DuBois, Claude McKay, but it enriches ones understanding of “early African-American literature.” It exposes the reader to a number of talented writers: James Weldon Johnson, Florence Lewis Bentley, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Leila Amos Pendleton and more. It teaches the complexities of Black history, but the art that came out of the struggle.
If the art is beautiful, the stories that inspired the pieces are nothing short of amazing. My favorites included “Lex Talionis” by Robert W. Bagnall, a short story about a Black man who turns to science to avenge a wrong; “Shalmanezeer” by Frances E. W. Harper, an allegory about man’s tendency to give in to temptation; and “Danse Africaine,” a poem by Langston Hughes, which reminds me to love my own heartbeat. “Sanctum 777 N.S.D.C.O.U Meets Cleopatra” is a Black spin on a classic tale, “De Cunjah Man” a chilling ghost story and “Buyers of Dreams” another meditation on what is important in life.
I’ve been known to reread a book or two (or hundreds) in my day. Especially the ones that mean the most to me. I think I’ve found another book that I’ll be reading for much of my life.