Comics as we know it is wide and fractured. There’s Direct Market comics, bookstore comics, webcomics, indie comics, manga, Eurocomics, and several more subcultures. I’m curious about what working under the broad umbrella of “comics” is like for creators, publishers, critics, academics, and more. Over the course of this month, I’m going to interview several people whose work, position, or goals I find interesting and attempt to paint a picture of what “comics” means today.
For the month of February, I’m taking over the Inkstuds podcast in order to introduce Inkstuds Spotlight, a focused look at what it means to be in comics. A comprehensive look isn’t my goal. My goal is to show you several different slices of life in comics, as the people I’m interviewing this month play a wide variety of roles in comics.
A bit of context before we begin: Inkstuds is a comics podcast founded and hosted by Robin McConnell. It’s focused largely on indie and underground cartoonists, and now that it’s 500 episodes deep, exists as a great resource for finding out not just more about comics, but about the lives of cartoonists. ComicsAlliance is one of the most important news outlets in comics. I’m biased, having written for CA for a few years, but the staff has a voice and variety of interests that still can’t be matched. With their powers combined, I’m hoping we can reach a wide slice of the comics readership.
Today, I’m talking to Qiana Whitted, Associate Professor of English and African American Studies, academic, and contributor to The Hooded Utilitarian. Professor Whitted has spent quite some time writing about representations of race in popular culture and examining the history of comics, having authored or edited several books, articles, and presentations on the subject. Comics being a part of a college curriculum or being examined in scholarly journals are increasingly common occurrences as the profile of comics rises, but the valuable insights that often come from these places has a hard time reaching the general public. I spoke with Professor Whitted about comics history, little-discussed aspects of Fredric Wertham’s life, studying comics, and placing comics into a greater context.
0:00: Whitted discusses her history with comics, teaching comics to a college class, the various obligations she faces when discussing works, the story of the EC Comic Judgment Day, the long history of black readership, and Fredric Wertham interviewing poor black children in Harlem for research purposes.
10:00: Getting an opportunity to look at Wertham’s research, Wertham opening the LaFargue clinic in Harlem to service and examine young black children, focusing on race & ’50s comics, researching the comics Richard Wright occasionally talked about as a way of examining black readership, the formation of All-Negro Comics in 1947 by Orrin C. Evans, working on blog posts that are relevant to her book-in-progress, and being a panelist.
20:00: Working at Hooded Utilitarian, Brian Cremins, her co-editor on Comics in the South Brannon Costello, having a community of professors to work alongside and discuss projects with, the tenor of the conversation around race and comics, fans agitating for change in comics over the years, her personal reading habits, a brief digression about Deputy Mayor Dave Wylie from Brian K Vaughan & Tony Harris’s Ex Machina, and the Black Panther stories written by Christopher Priest.
30:00: Adilifu Nama’s Super Black and his research into progressive and complex images of african-american superheroes, the caveats you must include when talking about black comics history, the way she approaches teaching comics versus teaching anything else, the various works Whitted has enjoyed teaching in the past, convincing students of the value of comics, the collection of essays in Comics in the South and the vast spectrum they covered, contextualizing the follies of a black Bucky in ’80s Marvel comics, trying to be more accessible in her writing, asking questions that are interesting, people liking to see arguing online, and letting your moment pass.
–Fredric Wertham on Wikipedia
–Brannon Costello on a variety of Black Panther comics
–Tom Spurgeon in conversation with Brian Cremins
–Black Comics: Politics of Race & Representation, edited by Sheena C. Howard & Ronald L. Jackson II
–Multicultural Comics, edited by Frederick Luis Aldama
–Black Superheroes, Milestone Comics, and Their Fans, by Jeffrey A. Brown
–Her posts on the PencilPanelPage blog at The Hooded Utilitarian
–Comics and the U.S. South, edited by Qiana Whitted and Brannon Costello, from University Press of Mississippi