African Americans in Comics
Three times a year, the editors of the Oxford African American Studies Center provide insights into black history and culture, showing ways in which the past and present interact by offering specially commissioned featured essays, photographic essays, and a selected list of articles that will further guide the reader. The latest Focus On article looks at African Americans in comic book history.
In 1937, cartoonist Jackie Ormes introduced Torchy Brown to readers of the Pittsburgh Courier in "Dixie to Harlem," the first comic strip by a black woman about a black woman. By then, George "Greek" Herriman's "Krazy Kat" had been running in William Randolph Hearst's New York Evening Journal for two decades, and it had become common practice for black newspapers to reserve precious inches for cartoons by art-school graduates like Wilbert Holloway's "Sunny Boy Sam," which ran in the Courier until Holloway's death in 1969, Jay Jackson's "As Others See It," for the Chicago Defender, and Oliver Harrington, whose "Dark Laughter" appeared in New York's Amsterdam News. Meanwhile, E. Simms Campbell reached beyond the African American press, placing cartoons in Esquire, The New Yorker, and Playboy, and the dominant medium of the genre shifted from the funny pages to the comic book, a nascent industry whose color line was broken the same year as baseball's by Orrin Evans's All Negro Comics in 1947. Since then, comic books have become a source of inspiration for Hollywood blockbusters, generating billions of dollars at the box office as well as communities of fans eager to engage with their superheroes outside the confines of the panel or screen. In this photo essay, Vincent Haddad (Central State University) provides readers with a survey of contemporary black comics from Miles Morales and Wakanda to cosplay and Black Lives Matter.
Featured image courtesy of VCU Libraries Comic Arts Collection, Special Collections Archive, James Branch Cabell Library, Virginia Commonwealth University, via Flickr.
View photo essay
The following entries have been selected to help guide readers who want to understand more about the history of African Americans in the comic book industry.
(Access to the following articles is available only to subscribers.)
Links to Digital Materials
- And All Our Past Decades Have Seen Revolutions
- Black Panther Is Not the Movie We Deserve
- Black Panther and the Politics of Black Heroism
- The Future Is Black and Female
- The Long History of Black Officers Reforming Policing From Within
- Dwayne McDuffie and Milestone Media's Impact on the Superhero Genre
- Milestone Comics Short
- Cosplaying and Otherness
- Anti-Blackness in the Convention and Cosplay Community
- The Radical Democracy of the Movement for Black Lives
- Can Superheroes Be Woke?
- Michael Brown Spent Last Weeks Grappling With Problems and Promise
- Brown, Jeffrey A. Black Superheroes, Milestone Comics, and Their Fans. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001.
- carrington, andré. "Desiring Blackness: A Queer Orientation to Marvel's Black Panther, 1998‒2016." American Literature 90.2 (2018): 221‒250.
- Goldstein, Nancy. Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008.
- Howard, Sheena C. Encyclopedia of Black Comics. Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 2017.
- Howard, Sheena C. and Ronald L. Jackson III. Black Comics: The Politics of Race and Representation. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.
- Jennings, John, and Damian Duffy. Black Comix Returns. St. Louis: The Lion Forge, 2018.
- Jennings, John, and Frances Gateward. The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2015.
- Nama, Adilifu. Super Black: American Pop Culture and Black Superheroes. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011.
- Singer, Marc. "'Black Skins' and White Masks: Comic Books and the Secret of Race." African American Review 36.1 (2002): 107‒119.
- Whaley, Deborah Elizabeth. Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2016.