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The Best Graphic Novels by Black Authors

Since comic books have taken over virtually every screen in North America, the medium has started to be taken more seriously. Other, more mature works grew more celebrated, and the graphic novel has finally been recognized as an art form. Graphic novels have also been recognized for their educational value, with research showing students approach the material more analytically. 

Nevertheless, like all industries, until the recent past, it’s been dominated by white, male authors. Following the publication of Will Eisner’s, A Contract with God in 1978, the most famous graphic artists were Frank Miller (Sin City and 300) and Alan Moore (Watchmen and V for Vendetta).

In more recent years, the industry has become more welcoming to authors of colour. Here are some of the best graphic novels by Black authors. 

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubriere  

This lively little slice-of-life demonstrates the unique storytelling graphic novels offer. In the semi-autobiographical story, Abouet shows us the world of Aya, a bubbly young girl with dreams of working in medicine. Though the stakes get slightly raised during a pregnancy scare, part of Aya’s charm is the warm atmosphere it manages to sustain as Aya, and her friends explore the Yopougon neighbourhood of Cote d’Ivoire. It’s the kind of work whose authenticity is never in doubt. 

Bessie Stringfield: Tales of the Talented Tenth, No. 2 by Joel Christian Gill

Bessie Stringfield is the kind of American hero who deserves a movie adaptation, but Gill’s fantastic work will serve just fine for now. Stringfield was the first Black woman to be inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. While riding a motorcycle may not seem like much, she rode it through the Jim Crow South, having to contend with every restriction law on the books. It’s a powerful story; the paneled storytelling only adds to the impact. 

Bayou by Jeremy Love

Jeremy Love’s frightening and fantastical Bayou tells the story of Lee, the young daughter of a Black sharecropper, searching for her missing friend who has been taken by the minions of an evil being known as Bog. With the town accusing her father of the kidnapping, Lee knows that finding the truth is the only way to keep her father from being lynched. Love embraces both African folklore and the blues to weave a beautiful blend of horror and history. 

The Girl Who Married a Skull: And Other African Stories by C. Spike Trotman, Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald, and Taneka Stotts.

If you haven’t heard many African folktales, you’re missing out on some of the most inventive, original stories ever told. Old legends, such as the crocodiles who voted on whether or not to devour the man who had saved one of their lives, or a skull borrowing other body parts to pass himself off as a person again, are re-told and re-invented by some of the finest artists in the industry in this treasure trove of history and culture.

Kenny Hedges | Contributing Writer

Winter 2023

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