The White Privilege, White Audacity, and White Priorities of STRANGE FRUIT #1

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Strange Fruit #1 | BOOM Studios (July 2015)Strange Fruit #1
J.G. Jones and Mark Waid (Authors), J.G. Jones (Artist), Deron Bennett (Letterer)
BOOM! Studios  (July 2015)

(This review contains some spoilers)

Writing about Strange Fruit #1 has been a long time coming. It has been on my very-reluctant radar since it was announced on February 20th — Dwayne McDuffie’s birthday. For readers who are unaware, Dwayne McDuffie was one of the most prominent black comics writers and, arguably, one of the most prominent black activists working within the industry. He is one of the few faces that looks like mine whose work specifically aimed to promote other faces like mine in the comics — on the page and off it — and for that alone, he represents a lot.

And his birthday was the day BOOM! Studios elected to announce that two white men would be writing and drawing a title about the racist South called Strange Fruit.

Before I go on, I know, already, that there will be people who would like me to “just stick to the comic” or maybe even “stay in my lane” — despite the fact that this, if anything, is my entire superhighway. After all, I’m promising you a review here, and I’m talking about the announcement of the comic? What gives? You just want to know whether it’s good or not, whether you should buy it, right?

However, that’s a question in two parts: “Is it good?” is a different question from “Should I buy it?” I’m going to answer both throughout this, but my general thesis is this–Strange Fruit #1 could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made.

Okay. Now that I’ve got that out of the way and people can either rage quit or tweet about my obvious bias in regards to this comic and their creators – Super looking forward to a white person calling me racist, by the way. First person who sees it, screencap and send pics – I can elaborate a little further on whether the work is good and whether you should buy it.

Now, beyond the fact that the comic was announced on a day honoring who is likely the most prominent black comics creator, it is also mentioned – both in the initial release and the solicit, that this work is a “deeply personal passion project” for creators Mark Waid and J.G. Jones III.

To which I have to say, “Excuse me?”

No, seriously, stop a second and look at this constellation of events. This comic, announced on Dwayne McDuffie’s birthday, about racism in the South by two white men is being marketed as a “deeply personal passion project.” Do I need to go into why I have some questions about why a story about racism is deeply personal to white people? Do I need to explain why I think that marketing choice was tone-deaf and perhaps even toeing the line into disrespect? Do I need to air my concerns about what that indicates about who this book is being marketed to and why I suspect it is not people who look like me? 

The next argument might be that I can’t lay this at the feet of the creators because they can’t be responsible for the way their PR team has decided to put their work forward, but this is a pretty weak claim considering creator-owned comics tend to mean that the creators approve how and when their work is shown to the public. It gets even weaker when you know that neither Waid nor Jones is new to this game, or even that Waid had a brief stint as Editor-in-Chief of BOOM! itself. However, the coup de grâce is when you read the quotes from the CBR interview that likely lead to that line in the solicit, which I have excerpted here:

JONES: So why do this story? Why not do something easier and more comfortable? Because this is a passion project for me. It’s a chance to use fiction to take a look at some hard truths — things that I have been chewing on since I was a youngster, and that we have not finished working through yet in this country.

WAID: …That kind of world-building is an incomparable experience, and the opportunity on top of that to write a character piece with the power of history behind it, folding in the stories that my grandparents and my great-grandparents told me about the South back in the day, to hear and weigh those voices again as an adult — that’s what makes this one so personal.​

I haven’t even got to the actual content of the comic but these two quotes are exemplary of what I am going to be saying about it and why I felt the way I did before I even started reading. The reason why this comic was, amongst other things, A Bad Idea is because two white men are writing and drawing this book about racism and they have already decided that it is about them.

So, with all that in mind, let us talk about the comic proper — starting with the title.

For those who don’t know, “Strange Fruit” is the title of a song protesting American racism and, particularly, the lynching of blacks, and was made famous by black singer Billie Holiday in 1939. The lyrics to the song are haunting and speak of this strange fruit — that is, black bodies — that swing in the southern breeze. And they are the kind of lyrics that are, as a decades-long symbol of both protest and mourning, dare I say, deeply personal.

Some will be eager to point out that the lyrics of “Strange Fruit” were originally written by a white Jewish man, Abel Meeropol. I will be equally eager to contend not just that Jewish people, at the least, have their own personal history with slavery, but also that the first time “Strange Fruit” was actually recorded as a song, Meeropol made sure to have a black singer, Laura Duncan, perform it. This choice has significance which I will touch on later, along with the contemporary use of white words for black pain.

With the knowledge of this song’s significance to Black Americans, we are once again in territory that is tone-deaf at best, disrespectful at worst, and, to say the least audacious because honestly, how dare you? I am genuinely taken aback at the presumptuousness it takes to, as a white man, decide that it’s probably cool for you to name your comic after a song that has meant so much to a people who have suffered and are suffering under your legacy and power, a song that viscerally depicts this physical suffering. I mean, no wonder white men like writing superheroes so much — obviously the feeling that they can do anything they want makes perfect sense to them.

Now, let us open the comic.

Strange Fruit #1

The art is gorgeous and most panels are the kind of thing you could easily imagine framed all their own. The choice to paint is an interesting one and, for me at least, evokes Norman Rockwell’s well-known illustrations Saturday Evening Post. That’s a kind of jarring association, when Rockwell’s focus was on idyllic American life while the material Jones is depicting is anything but.

I also think that the word bubbles and lettering do not mesh at all with Jones’ painted art. The margins surrounding the text are a bit too large and started to give off a sort of scanlation kind of feel — like the real text is in another language and I’m seeing a dub, so to speak. The flatness of the bubble would integrate just fine with a comic done in a more traditional style, but it’s really not working against paintings. It looks like they’ve been slapped on top and don’t quite belong. What’s more, the lettering itself is also a bit too close to Comic Sans than I’m fully comfortable with.

Still, the panel layouts are visually stimulating and there is quite a lot to like in this regard. I always enjoy art that breaks into the panel gutters to convey active movement, though this is a semi-common technique, and we have the usual use of one action bridging several panels of different focus  to create the sense of motion — an old trick that I also confess satisfies me every time. However, Jones also adds some interesting round inset panels, which you don’t see very often, and has one page in particular that I thought was stunning, though it still needs some unpacking.

This page features the naked body of the alien — one whose physical appearance is that of a black man — holding a tree trunk, with panels done in diagonal on either side of him, with the actual alien being used as a panel border. (I’m also appreciative of the pattern at the bottom of his foot, a subtle narrative communication of him being non-human.) It’s one of the more thrilling page layouts that I’ve ever seen — but it comes with some things.

This scene is our first engagement with this alien, who, for the rest of this piece I will designate as black male, as that is how he will be read both in-universe and out of it. This black male alien is superhuman and he does not speak, or perhaps has not spoken yet but the narrative suggests that he does not or cannot. He is attacked by Klansmen who are attempting to lynch him and the other black male character whose name might be Sonny (I’m not sure as it might just be how whites are referring to him) and our alien responds with an impressive show of strength. So, our knowledge of this alien is that he’s a black man, he’s superhumanly strong, and he does not speak — and this is kind of a problem.

You see, there is a long history of stereotyping black men as being physically aggressive and displaying them as intimidating physical forces, often to the level of being superhuman. That narrative is often given in parallel with white intelligence, presenting the brutish black of preternatural strength with one hand and the smart white of great intellect with the other even when placed in exactly the same environment. Comedians Key and Peele do a great job of delineating how this coded racism has found its way into, for example, sports commentary. This depiction of the superhuman black has led to dire consequences for a number of black youth in America, to name a few: Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice. White police feel so threatened by black men, fear their purported strength, aggression, and animalistic tendencies, that they believe themselves justified when gunning them down in cold blood.

Of course, there’s the argument that, in this case, the character in question is genuinely superhuman. The alien isn’t a stereotype because it’s actually true, right? But here’s the problem: He does not speak. He does not show any capability of speaking. He has not shown any level of intelligence beyond sentience, any goals, any desires, any anything. For all intents and purposes, he could have been an animal. Sure, maybe he’s going to speak in the next issue, but I have no reason to think that he will given the way the character has been presented in this first issue. So, instead of presenting a subversion of a stereotype, the creators have managed to create the ultrastereotype by making the physicality of incredibly strong (and nameless) black man who cannot or does not speak the push of this splash page, and ultimately, his current identity.

Beyond the science fiction element, the plot is relatively by the numbers. The town is racist, we know this because white people use the word “nigger” and the Klan chases down a black man. There isn’t much about it that’s deep or nuanced, and that’s always hard to nail in a first issue, but Waid and Jones had to know that someone was going to ask them “Why you?” and “Why you on this comic?” — so I’m wondering why they didn’t answer that up front. It’s a basic set-up that didn’t evoke any resonating emotion from me at all. This might be because very few of the characters are named, or because there is (as yet) no single protagonist to relate to, but on the whole,  I think it’s because I have seen almost all of these scenes before. Even the alien element does not read as either remarkable or fresh.

And then, of course, we get to where the meat is — the racial elements.

Strange Fruit #1

I was hardly surprised to find that for every white person who says something racist, there is always either (a) a white person to tell the other white person that they’re wrong or (b) a black person to say nothing and show no resistance. (b) happens only once, while (a) happens pretty much throughout the work. It’s a perspective common to stories of racism written by whites — in order to make white audiences comfortable, white creators (of any medium) frequently show that “not all whites” were pro-slavery or racist. It is simply inconceivable to write a story in which every white person is racist, because, in their minds, how could that possibly be true? You set the Klan up, the obvious racists, just to knock them down with white saviors, to remind readers/audiences that whites are still good people and knew better and wanted to help.

I was also similarly unsurprised to find that Strange Fruit #1 fails the Black Bechdel Test. Yes, there is more than one black person in it. However, none of them speak to each other until the very last scene. And, naturally, in that very last scene where the two black men are finally having a conversation — or where one is talking at the other — they have a conversation about white people. Because, let’s all be real for a second here, one thing is consistent about the way this comic has been marketed, titled, drawn, and written: it is all about white people. And nothing makes that clearer than the last page.

Strange Fruit #1

After the alien runs off the Klansmen, Sonny, the human black man, notes that white people aren’t going to like it very much if the alien runs around naked. He looks for something to cover up the alien and finds the Confederate Flag. The last page shows our superhuman black alien in a heroic pose with the Confederate Flag wrapped around his waist, as Sonny says, “Them white folks really ain’t gonna like that.”

I am dead serious. And I am furious.

Waid, Jones, and BOOM! Editorial decided that it was just fine to pose a strong. heroic black man with a Confederate Flag for clothing — as dressed by another black man.

Really.

And you want to know why? Because Waid and Jones spent a lot of time considering what white folks are or aren’t going to like without once stopping to think about what black folks really ain’t gonna like.

This is why this comic never should have been made. Not because there were missteps, not because Waid and Jones didn’t mean well, and not because white people should never write about black people at all. 

This comic should never have been made because there is too long a history of white people writing stories about racism and blackness, too long a history of white people shaping these tales to their own purposes, too long a history of white people writing about what they genuinely cannot understand. And above all, too long of a history of white people, particularly men, being able to do this. Not even a perfect, eleven out of ten comic would have justified the continued erasure of black voices.

If these gentlemen were so committed to telling a story about anti-black racism, then they would have brought a black writer or black artist onto the team, as Abel Meeropol did with Laura Duncan. They would have made black voices telling black stories a priority.

If these gentlemen were so committed to handling this respectfully and responsibly, then they would have decided not to co-opt a title that is clearly a part of the black struggle and is already being used by a black comics creator for a separate project that explores black history.

And if BOOM! Studios really intends on pushing comics forward, I have a number of questions about how this project continues that initiative when it is yet another example of white men writing about a marginalized people’s struggle.

So, your first question: is the comic good? Not particularly, no matter which way you look at it. The art is the best feature, but it doesn’t make up for unoriginal storytelling or any of the things I have listed above.

And your second question: should I buy it? That’s ultimately up to you, but know this: giving money to this project and contributing to its success signifies to the industry (and your peers) that you are absolutely fine with oppressors continuing to control the narrative of the oppressed. In my view, the stakes are much too high for that. For too long have white people defined what my pain is, how it should be displayed, and what stories involving it should look like. And for too long has the end result of that been the dehumanizing and devaluing of faces like mine.

Because whatever Waid or Jones would like you to think Strange Fruit means — all I see is blood on the leaves.

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About Author

J. A. Micheline

JAM's been reading comics since she was 8. As a critic, she focuses on race and gender issues. She also writes prose fiction, comics, and the occasional angry tweet before bedtime. Find her on Twitter at @elevenafter.

148 Comments

  1. Wonderfully thorough piece. Not that you needed any more thoughts to blend in, but I also thought it was a troubling choice for the alien to arrive naked, as there has been a pervasive history of White over-sexualization of the Black male body, from mandingos to Mapplethorpe. That choice, which feels very arbitrary, is yet another symptom of some POV issues.

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      Definitely agree! Also just tying into the uncivilized nature of the black man and how civilization is coded with clothing. It all goes towards making the black male seem like a savage.

    • This (nakedness) didn’t bother me as much as other things – just seemed like an allusion to Terminator films, where everyone arrives naked. The play on the Black Bull stereotype, and the ‘noble savage’ primitivism, though, are definitely in play, and I would certainly have suggested a compact, clothed, articulate, technology-carrying alien ‘black man’ instead of this looming, sexualized, near-monster.

  2. As a white male comics creator, I just wanted to thank you for providing your perspective on this.

    I was especially interested in your direct response to the work itself, and appreciate that you divided your thoughts into two sections.

    Much food for thought.

  3. Al Rosenberg
    Al Rosenberg on

    The art is stunning.

    And that’s it. The rest of this is horrifying.
    The desire to prove that white people are inherently, or mostly good by using a black narrative is absolutely despicable.
    Not that this is a black narrative, it’s a white narrative about black people, as you’ve very eloquently pointed out.

    This had so much potential, and they handed it to two white dudes. I’m just … unsurprised and thoroughly disappointed.

    Thank you for your amazing piece!

  4. I agree with most of what you’ve written here, with one important deviation; racism in this context HAS to be about white people as well as black people, otherwise there is no responsibility or impetus for white people to participate in its eradication.

    Having said that, what you’ve described in this comic book is not the participation we need.

  5. Ginnis Tonik
    Ginnis Tonik on

    JA, you have a tremendous talent for powerfully and clearly making arguments that need to be made. I admire not just what you are saying, but your skill in saying it.

  6. Dan Roensch on

    I couldn’t slow-clap this article loud enough. That ending shot in the book was appalling. I’m seriously rethinking picking up any more BOOM! books. How was this even pitched knowing who, and what, the talents were and given a green light?! Wow.

  7. Thank you for such an insightful, passionate, and professional breakdown of the issue. You said what I was feeling after reading it, only with more eloquence and a more level head.

  8. Thanks you so much for clearly expressing how deeply problematic this project is. Anything less that what you’ve expressed is an understatement. My hope is that increased awareness of what content about race created exclusively by Whites (regardless of intention) really does to the advancement of race relations will inspire more creative and productive content by Black and White creators alike.

  9. That scene with the Confederate flag seems anachronistic to me. At the time this book was set, the Confederate flag was not yet the symbol it is today. It didn’t become the defining emblem of Southernness until the Civil Rights era. At the time this book was set, to the extent it was even recognized, it would have been seen as a not particularly significant piece of Confederate iconography. I’m skeptical that the most white folks would even care which flag he was desecrating, let alone that a black man would be enough of a Civil War history buff to recognize the flag and anticipate a hostile reaction from white folks.

    • Devan Smith on

      what are you talking about? the symbol only changed for White people who refused to confront what the flag represents.

      Matter of fact, the only groups that are actually using that flag the right way are the KKK, and the Aryan Nation groups.

      • He’s definitely referring to a cgpgrey video that just went up. The flag now known as the confederate flag is actually a variation on its navy’s battle flag. It was coopted by white powers during the civil rights movements to keep black people from being uppity. People at the time of the civil war would not have even recognised the flag, unless they were military or navy

        • And this is where people need to stop getting their history from cgpgrey. That’s a battle flag for a northern Virginia unit designed by a white supremacist who outright stated it was made for the purpose of representing the power of the white man.

  10. A thought-provoking piece. As a fan of Mark Waid, I had been apprehensive about this series since I first heard about it — and now I feel as though all of my anxieties have been substantiated.

    There is one point which I cannot concede without insisting on a certain degree of nuance, however:

    “That’s a kind of jarring association, when Rockwell’s focus was on idyllic American life while the material Jones is depicting is anything but.”

    While it is undeniable that Rockwell is best known for idealizing white America, his art is more complex — and more political — than we give him credit for. Pop History Dig has an article which provides background on the subject, so I’ll just leave it here for the consideration of interested parties:

    http://www.pophistorydig.com/topics/tag/norman-rockwell-and-race/

  11. That was an excellent dismantling of a project that should not exist. Also a stark contrast to the 5star review of the issue on cbr.

  12. Michael Akerman on

    This is an excellent tear-down of this comic, and I certainly agree it should never have existed. It is, frankly, arrogant and offensive for a white person to pretend to be capable of telling the story of racism, especially by trying to include the perspective of black people experiencing it. The execution of it, from this review, sounds completely clumsy, too, with an awful hook for the story.

    It’s interesting to me, though, that you (Ms. Micheline, I mean) seem amazed that a white person might feel that the story of racism is deeply personal to him. Certainly it could be! White people are the perpetrators, the villains, in the continuing story of racism, and we have to reconcile that villainy with who we think we are and who we think we want to be. Many of us feel guilty over what white people have inflicted, and we have no way to truly repair what our ancestors and relatives have done, but we are able to (and should) explore it, as long as we do so honestly.

    I would have loved to see what this comic could have been if it had, instead, been a collaboration exploring this thoroughly with both perspectives, not to humanize the villains, but because the villains WERE (and are) humans, and it’s also a disservice to make a comic that makes them cartoonish caricatures, which it sounds like this comic does by providing “white saviors” to make it so not all white people are racist. The full story of racism is a complicated tapestry of the experiences and upbringing of the oppressed, in all their forms, and the experiences and upbringing of the oppressors, in all their forms.

    • Claire Napier
      Claire Napier on

      I think you could read over the section where J. A. discusses her qualms with the “deeply personal” description again. There might be more there for you to chew on than you’ve realised!

      • I also paused over the ‘deeply personal’ passage. For me, as a white Southerner raised from the late 50s on, having to cope with being raised a racist, and with living in a racist society, is deeply, deeply personal — it pisses me off, and it makes me cry, and it confuses me at times. BUT I think the larger point is that my feelings, and the feelings of white people in general about race and racism, though they are real and important, don’t belong at the CENTER of the discussion any more (never did, really). A big part of our healing as ‘whites who care’ or whatever requires that we shut up and listen. ‘Racism hurts me too’ — that’s true — but the reality I see is that my feelings are fairly marginal to the central stories.

  13. Solid review–great dissection and historical perspectives…this comic definitely lands squarely in the “white negro” literary category…(without the elegance of Faulkner I guess)

    I think you are right that this shouldn’t have been written.

    A few little things on Waid–from what I’ve read this was Jones’ baby and Waid jumped on to help and artist that is his friend. Also a majority of the supporting characters in his Flash run were non-white characters…he just happens to write a ton of big books featuring all white heroes but he does usually tend to intro many minority characters in his books…

    *for what it’s worth*

  14. Excellent description and analysis of an unnecessary book. It appears to contain a veritable rogues gallery of all the ways comic books go wrong, and now we can officially add “dealing with race” to that list.
    Thanks for this great article.

  15. While I agree with a good chunk of your review, I have to call out one thing as borderline preposterous: “Strange Fruit #1 could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made.”

    Seriously?

    I mean, really, where does *that* take us? Is there some vetting process we as creative people shall now have to undergo to make sure the project we have in mind carries “approval”? I find that attitude to be more than a bit reprehensible, actually. You may not like the final result, but you do not get to say it never should have been done in the first place. That is not your call. Critique it all you wish, six ways to Sunday if you want, but to say it never should have existed is… astounding. Honestly, I shudder to think what, given the chance, you would have said about something like “Desert Peach”, a long-running comic about a bunch of lovable Nazis in Africa whose commandant was a screaming queen. It’s a hysterical read, but I gather it would not pass muster because (1) it was created by a woman who never served a day in any military and (2) Nazis as a bunch of fun-loving frat boys???? Heavens, we cant have that!!!

    Yes, the creators of this made some major mis-steps. I will not dispute that for one moment. The last panel made me laugh more than cringe, but that was just my reaction as someone who isnt American and finds the sheer surrealistic audacity of that image more confounding than its politics. But for you, Ms. Critic, to decry, as stridently as possible, that it never should have existed is beyond belief. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go back to work on my own art — and I dont plan on asking anyone for approval of its existence, thank you very much.

    • Claire Napier
      Claire Napier on

      P.S. don’t attempt to humiliate a writer by referring to them as “Ms Critic”. Especially, don’t attempt to undermine a black woman’s confidence in this way. Get out and stay out.

      • I”m sorry, did oyu actually read her “critique”? Or did you skim the first few lines? She took almost positive glee in humiliating two guys she doesnt know for having the temerity to produce something she thinks they have absolutely no right to produce. If her confidence is so shattered by my referreal to her as “Ms Critic”, then I”m afraid that’s not my problem but hers, especially in light of the virtual slag she did on this work. And do not presume to say whether I can stay or go. That is not your decision either. If you have nothing of substance to add to the conversation, then perhaps you are the one who should be leaving. Thank you and try your best to have a nice day.

          • Cool Lester Smooth on

            Really? Then telling someone to “shove it” rather than attempting to intelligently engage with their critique really isn’t a good look for your site, is it?

            (Of course, claiming that some people don’t have the right to make art, solely based on their identity, isn’t a good look, either, but that ship sailed with the article.)

          • Claire Napier
            Claire Napier on

            You know what’s not a good look for our site? Randos thinking they can come here and make a mess without getting told they’re full of shit. I have no obligation to “attempt” intelligent engagement; telling somebody just bringing trouble to shove it, in fact, is pretty damn intelligent.

          • No one is saying that anyone doesn’t have the right to make art.

            We’re saying anyone doesn’t have the right to make art FREE FROM CRITICISM.

            And maybe think and consult before you do a thing. Which is not the same thing as “don’t do a thing.”

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      While I agree with the first phrase of your comment, considering I said it, I have to call out this entire comment as over the line preposterous.

      I mean, where does it take us? Is there a vetting process that you considered putting this comment through before actually posting it on the site? I find your attitude to be more than a bit reprehensible, actually. You may not like the final result, but you do not get to say whether I can say that this comic should never have been made. Critique it all you wish, six ways to Sunday if you want, but to say I should never have said it should never have existed is just…astounding. Honestly, I shudder to think what, given the chance, you would have said if you actually thought about the intense hypocrisy laden in every single sentence in this comment, allowing me to mock it as thoroughly as I am currently doing. I mean, it was definitely a hysterical read, but I gather that wasn’t your intent since (a) you seem to take yourself incredibly seriously and (b) you actually think anyone on this green earth cares what you think I can’t say???? Heavens!!!!

      Yes, you did agree with me for the phrase corresponding to this one as well, I will not dispute that for one moment. I will dispute that anyone cares about what you think about the last panel, surrealism, or even audacity since you had the gall to come into this article with this half-assed rhetoric. Oops, that was off-form. But for you, Mr. Nobody, to use Ms. Critic in a way that borders on coded racism given that it’s pretty much almost calling me uppity, to decry as stridently as possible that my piece should never have been written is beyond belief.

      Now if you’ll excuse me, go fuck yourself.

      • Madam, with all due respect, your command of the language, as evidenced by this one reply, is embarrassingly poor. You might want to work on that.

        As for the rest of your “response”, such as it is, I gather no one should really give a gosh be darn about your critique either. Contrary to popular belief, the comic book in quesston will probably be around a lot longer than your “assessment” about who does and does not have the “right” to create such things.

        And oh dear, I called you something that must be “coded racism”. Right. Got it. Please allow me to insert an extended eye roll here. I daresay people can find racial slights everywhere they look if they try hard enough. But the bottom line remains: no, madam, you did not get to say who can and cannot create this or anything else for that matter. It is not your call. If you cant handle that… well, tough. Deal with it. Life is hard sometimes.

        Looking at your rather simple-minded last statement, I’d recommend doing the same, but it would not doubt be a waste of a pretty piss-poor fuck. Have a nice day.

        • Ardo Omer

          She can’t dictate who can or can’t create just like creators can’t dictate how people will or won’t respond to their work. You made this about the creators’ feelings and that’s where you have it all wrong. Please refrain from commenting further. We’ve gotten the gist of what you’re saying.

        • Claire Napier
          Claire Napier on

          LOL @ u coming back on a different IP after I banned you, just to cry about politeness in a pass-agg style!

      • You may not like the Comic, but saying it “supports oppressors” is absurd. People like you seem to love censorship, and if no one could write or discuss anything unless they personally experienced it the shelves of the libraries would be empty. As far as the “Sexualization of the black male body,” that’s just plain dumb. All comic books have hyper-sexual bodies. See you at the next book burning rally.

        • Megan Purdy

          “people like you”
          “all comic books have hyper-sexual bodies”
          “book burning”

          Are you a person or an actual bingo card of stock arguments?

    • Wendy Browne

      The vetting process creative people should be undertaking is called common sense, and, when deciding what kind of story to tell about a group of marginalized people who have been trying to tell their own stories for a long time but are continually silenced or worse, the process is called respect and empathy. Context. Also a good concept to consider. Especially when comparing a sastirical comic to a serious one that grounds itself in historical events

      • Maybe they’re too busy not caring what other people think and too busy being different from normal popular jock and cheerleader squares to want to do something as mundane as using common sense?

  16. I found that this article existed before I read the comic. I decided to wait on your article and gave the issue an initial once over first. I noted my opinions. I thought the creators had done a good job and had taken a bold approach to the subject of racism, history, and speculative storytelling. And having satisfied myself on my review, I then read your article. For context, let’s point out that I am not a black person. And I do not consider myself to be racist, though your article (as it called out and analysed the problems with the first issue) made me realize — I agree with you. And worse, I had not found ANY of those issues on my own. Your analysis is thorough. It is frank and honest. I am glad I read the comic first, and then your article second because not only did I experience a valid argument, but I also got to identify racism in my own ignorance to the privileged (the creator’s and mine) and it helps me understand how and why the problem continues to persist. Thank you for writing this.

    • Wendy Browne

      That was an excellent approach to both the subject and this review, Stace. We are all subject to bias and privilege in so many ways without intent or realization. The key is what we do when we dig a little deeper and find these issues within ourselves.

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      This is the most meaningful response I could ever have received from writing this piece. Thank you so very much.

    • Right on, Stace. And the layered process of imagining comic, making comic, hearing about comic, reading comic, making (your) review, reading JAM’s review, self-examination, responding to comic and review that went into your comment makes me glad that this (deeply stereotyed and pretty stupid in my opinion) comic WAS written.

      JAM — I agree that this comic (as it stands) “should not have been written” – but it’s only possible to say that, and make some important points about the context, because it WAS written. So … sheesh. What a world. What a world.

  17. To make an argument that a white person cannot possibly tell a story about a black person scares me. With such obvious, unabashed vitriol towards white people I bet if you could you would enslave white people so they would know what it feels like. Let go of the hate and try and love.

    • Wendy Browne

      “This is why this comic never should have been made. Not because there were missteps, not because Waid and Jones didn’t mean well, and not because white people should never write about black people at all.”

      Copying this here since you seem to have missed where it appeared twice within the article.

    • Megan Purdy

      Your response to this article is NOT motivated by love. Stop issuing prescriptions until you’ve taken your own medicine.

  18. Excellent response and critique. I very much appreciate this article, it’s sticking with me. A sure sign of its impact. One note though: Prior restraint makes this article and discussion not possible. Should the comic have been made? Yes. Should you have written your response? Yes. Should we all be civilly discussing this? Yes.

    Thanks again. I’m adding this site to my regular reading schedule!

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      I appreciate your compliments (and am glad you find the site to your liking), but I don’t think it makes sense to say that the mistake should have happened. Part of my critique is that it is part of a long history of these events occurring. This is only the most recent instance – all the complaints I have made here have been made a thousand times over in regards to other material. We didn’t need this book and it doesn’t need to exist just to prompt discussion or teach people things. As I said: the stakes are much too high.

      • Your review made me realise how ignorant I am of this kind of unintentional racism or marginalising or co-opting and it connected with me in the same way I feel about intentional and unintentional sexism in comics. I haven’t read Strange Fruit but in all honesty I probably wasn’t going to because I have no desire to read Mark Waid… not because I don’t like his work but because the little work I have read hasn’t persuaded me to hunt down more of his writing. I just wanted to say that I started off feeling a bit prickly towards your point of view (the only way I can accurately describe why is via the feminist ‘not-all-men’ slant, where I wasn’t aware I was ‘not-all-menning’ whilst reading your article. Possibly also feeling that a white guy can write about racism if he knows about it – perhaps Waid just doesn’t know enough or maybe the way he writes about it is heavy-handed) and by the end I was opened up to how oblivious I am and how cringeworthy it must make you feel every time you see it. I thought the image of the character with the flag wrapped around him was really off anyway, and I’m hoping that, even if I hadn’t read your review and perhaps even if I saw it out of context, it would similarly make me shudder with the insincerity and wide-of-the-markedness of it. Your comment here (hopefully mine will appear under yours):

        “I don’t think it makes sense to say that the mistake should have happened. Part of my critique is that it is part of a long history of these events occurring. This is only the most recent instance – all the complaints I have made here have been made a thousand times over in regards to other material. We didn’t need this book and it doesn’t need to exist just to prompt discussion or teach people things. As I said: the stakes are much too high.”

        struck a chord in me possibly more than the review itself. I often think an argument/discussion is always worth having, in order that the issue is highlighted further, or in order that it’s kept fresh/alive and prompts people to think, but I think you’re saying that really Strange Fruit was so off-base that to be honest it would have been better for it not to have been made in the first place. There’s better discussion and more on-point discussion going on out there, even if there’s not enough, and this comic is regressive and doesn’t add to the discussion in any meaningful way. As you say: the stakes are too high.

        Anyway, just wanted to say really glad I found the article and I’ve never been to your website before, but I’ll come back now. Also: that guy Joey was a dick! Red herring arguments dressed up in formal language.

  19. Got pointed here from the comment thread on Oliver Sava’s weekly “Big Issues” column, where he mentions his dissatisfaction with Strange Fruit in passing during a review of Archie 1. Pleased I followed the link. I wasn’t planning to read Strange Fruit in the first place because of my own concerns about cultural appropriation. And was really, really disheartened to hear and see how bad it is.

    What’s more, the overall reception online so far has been positive. It’s as if just trying to write about racism is enough to warrant praise. Makes me glad to know that some critics are able to think instead of react (something I appreciate that much following the demise of The Dissolve, which approached movies the way you approached this comic).

  20. Liked your piece. I agree with most if not all of your critiques. Like some others here, I do feel like your article is implying that white people never have the right to write about black stories, which is something I’m not completely comfortable with. The creators of this comic, you could argue, shouldn’t have the right, because it seems obvious that they didn’t put the care, thoughtfulness, and respect into the work that is necessary when writing something so difficult and so sensitive.

    But still, I wouldn’t go so far as saying that white people, in general, never have the right to do so. There is definitely a good point that black people (and other minorities) having their stories and voices taken away from them, and this is one example in a long list of them. And that’s why when you start a project like this, it raises a lot of eyebrows. I believe that black people have the right to tell their stories, but I think that white people have a right to tell stories too.

    These types of stories, with the history of racism, cultural appropriation, and cultural theft, are very precarious. It has to be handled the right way. And the margin of error is very high. And at the end of the day, if there’s a black creator who wants to tell a story like this and white creator who wants to (and let’s be honest, I’m positive there are black creators out there who could have told a similar story), it makes sense to explore the black person’s story and their perspective.

    Anyway, I think I’m going in circles. I agree with many things in your piece. Thanks for writing it! Just not 100% there with you about whether this story should have had a chance to be written, or if white writers should get a chance to try to tell this type of story. But this is something I’ll have to think more about.

      • I feel like J.A.’s position is a little hard to discern in this piece. She certainly says what you are saying at some points. But she also says this:

        “Strange Fruit #1 could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made.”

        “This comic should never have been made because there is too long a history of white people writing stories about racism and blackness, too long a history of white people shaping these tales to their own purposes, too long a history of white people writing about what they genuinely cannot understand. And above all, too long of a history of white people, particularly men, being able to do this.”

        And I’ll repeat this line for emphasis.

        “a history of white people writing about what they genuinely cannot understand”

        These passages make it sound (to me) like no white author would have been acceptable. So I’m not quite sure what J.A.’s actual position is. This history , I completely agree with, but does that disqualify EVERY white person to try to write this story? Maybe. I admit, I believe on some level that white people can’t understand 100% what the black experience is. No matter how much anyone tries to. Still, would someone who gets it 90% right, should he be discouraged from sharing a creative story about black people or about racism? If white people can’t also work at these issues from their own perspective, I think it makes it more difficult to foster an understanding of the history and experience.

        I do agree that this particular book was done really horribly. And I would think that a book about American racism written by two white men would probably fail 99.9% of the time. But I’m not willing to go so far to say that it could never be done. If their whiteness completely disqualifies them from writing this type of story, what’s the point of criticism of the work at all? It erases the need to even read or try to understand the book, because it’s been automatically determined to be bad.

        I totally agree that writing a book like this is “a bad idea.” But the fact that it is legitimately bad should determine whether it should have been created, I think. Not just the fact that it was a bad idea.

        On the name, I TOTALLY agree. When I saw this comic book, it made my stomach churn a little bit. I just knew it was going to be bad. What a stupid choice. Even when Kanye, a black man, sampled Strange Fruit on his last album, on a song about sex no less, it was a little out there. The song was great though! And people eventually let it stand on its own. Or they tried to rationalize his choice to sample it, trying to tie the subject matter to the racism and the black body, which was a stretch at times. Mark Waid isn’t stupid. He had to have known what this name means to people, and the history behind it. I can’t understand why he would think it was a good idea.

        • J. A. Micheline
          J. A. Micheline on

          You’re correct: my position is indeed that any white author on a comic of this topic – specifically, the topic of racism – would be a mistake. We have had lifetimes on lifetimes of white people approaching this topic from their perspective and making racism about themselves and regurgitating what they perceive racism to be as a result of what other white people have said. Until the black perspective on anti-blackness is heard, valued, and prioritized, I think it is appropriate for white creators to recognize that further contributions would simply add to that burden and either take a step back or use their role to amplify black voices.

          • Well said. There’s nothing in your response that I can really disagree with. I tried to form a reply, but defending the right of white people to tell other people’s stories, and to expect their white perspectives to be validated, is pretty indefensible. Thanks for replying and clarifying your position.

          • Waid’s mistake, as far as I understand it, is to have excluded Black voices from a story about Black experience. You have already addressed this to some extent in certain of the comments, but aren’t there circumstances when privileged writers can (or even must) write the stories of marginalized groups? It is one thing to instrumentalize Black suffering, but it is another to use one’s voice to champion the cause of the oppressed by telling their story.

            I have to believe that, had Mr.Waid used his considerable talent as part of a collaboration with Black activists, academics, writers, and artists, he would have come up with something nuanced, possibly even subversive.

            As a queer man, I am grateful towards straight writers who bother to inform themselves on LGBT+ issues in order to come up with nuanced, lifelike representations (they are few and far between). I know the LGBT+ experience isn’t the same as the Black experience, but I don’t understand why the politics of representation should have to be so different with regards to works by allies. (Not that Mr. Waid can be considered an ally in this specific case…)

          • J. A. Micheline
            J. A. Micheline on

            As I said, I think the history of this is just too long and too damaging for this pattern to continue at all. I think I’ve responded to all of what you’re saying in my comment back to reader ‘JB’ down the page. Also possibly check out my comment to reader ‘Will.’ Please let me know if you feel if I haven’t & I’ll be happy to elaborate further if my response was unclear.

          • Thank you very much.

            I guess I don’t agree with you on that particular point, but I wouldn’t write a bombastic screed in response because I respect your opinion and its basis in lived experience.

            (We can do it, Internetz! We *can* have civilized discourse. Also: congratulations to all and sundry for coping with trollish, bullying randos.)

        • Wendy Browne

          It’s not J.A.’s place to determine what can and can’t be published, but it is her right to decide she’s had enough of this, and rightly so, for the reasons she has stated. Does she believe that white people should never ever tell such stories? I don’t think that’s her point, since she cites several examples, including the song, Strange Fruit, itself, where a white person handed over the reigns. It only takes common sense, respect, and empathy to make that decision. But the better decision still is to step back and realize that yes, a white person can write these stories, but should they? Black people have been trying to tell these stories for a long, long time. Instead of Mark Waid and the like stepping up and saying YES I CAN TOTALLY DO THIS, they need to step back and understand what it means to be an ally and let those long silenced voices be heard. The fact that a book called Strange Fruit already exists that tells these stories, but this new comic is using the title now? That doesn’t tell me that this new book is supportive of the issue. Instead, it trounces all over it with an appalling level of arrogance.

    • Claire Napier
      Claire Napier on

      Something that a lot of people commenting on or about this article seem to miss is that J.A. doesn’t have the power to deny white people the ability to write (or even publish, or even profit from) any story at all. No matter how many times she, or anyone, says “white people SHOULD NOT DO THIS”, nobody actually gets the pen taken out of their hand by nanny. It’s a perfectly reasonable rhetorical device, actually, to say “people who are able to do this thing, should definitely not do this thing”. It doesn’t have magic lockdown ability– it just makes the reader think.

  21. Where is the line when it comes to white authors writing about anti-black racism? Jones and Waid’s Strange Fruit seems to have crossed many lines, but what about a book that is about other things but features black characters and in some scenes acknowledges that they face racism (depending on the time/setting of the book)? I think Al Ewing & Greg Land’s Mighty Avengers run, for example, was strengthened when it acknowledged that reality, though the comic was first and foremost a superhero adventure & character book and not a grand attempt at dissecting racism in the modern day.

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      I think it’s one thing to address racism as part of a bigger work, like, say, an Avengers run and another to write a narrative that is largely driven by exploring racism. Racism can and should be addressed by white writers in those contexts – carefully and with feedback from PoC. In fact, it’s my dream to see white writers thinking critically about how race might impact their stories even if race isn’t the focus. But it’s a different matter entirely when it comes to stories ABOUT racism, if you take my meaning.

      • Ms. Micheline, et.al.,
        Very good writing—both in the treatise & your commentaries. Though I love past & recent work by Messrs. Waid & Jones, I’ve avoided “Strange Fruit” for the reasons stated herein. That cited as fact, I’m not writing to endorse or dispute what you’ve said about your article’s focal point specifically or the wider, more prescient situation raised by “Strange Fruit’s” creation.

        I hope that my observations reinforce much of what the article’s writer has stated without excluding people from writing varied stories—& by clearly saying why one must know their stuff before speaking beyond their own experience.

        I don’t out of hand think that not being “X” means you can’t write/create about “X.” If a man truly respects & receives genuine input from the women around himself, he may well be able to give a female character a true voice. But I do think it’s more difficult for White males to honestly look at & write from a perspective outside their own.
        As a participant in Brandon Easton’s documentary from 2014, “Brave New Souls” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3714596/, this subject was discussed. To truly write/create outside one’s self, one must be that “fly on the wall.”

        Having been such an insect, I found it easy when I wrote a noir piece, centered around a White anti-hero & set in 1920s Chicago. (I am not White, an anti-hero & I did not live in Prohibition Chicago.) When creating “The Roach” (not named for or by me), I realized that the story would likely be compelling &, as its African American creator, that I wanted Black characters contributing to the narrative.

        Nor did I want shallow or hollow characters—or storylines inconsistent with the mini-series’ true setting.

        (Please pardon me. I know that Messrs. Waid & Jones’ story is the point, not my mini-series. I’m returning to talk of your article.)

        The idea that people can write outside of themselves is a fact. That folks making this endeavor MUST seek to genuinely speak with voices outside themselves is equally a fact—even for unquestionably talented people such a “Strange Fruit’s” creators.

        I’m lucky that my own efforts in this regard were acknowledged by critiques & by winning the inaugural Glyph “Rising Star” Award. Additionally, receiving this award from a made-by-&-about African Americans organization such as ECBACC/Glyph Awards for a B&W, noir period piece about a White anti-hero underscores that the African American audience is—& has always been—open to more than “Black” stories. (Links below are being provided mainly to verify my claims above.)

        • Wikipedia designation of the Glyph Award for The Roach: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glyph_Comics_Awards#2006_Glyph_Comics_Awards_winners
        • Mike Hamersky, a highly respected comics blogger/reviewer, called The Roach the best mini-series of 2009 throughout the entire comic book industry:  http://www.facebook.com/michael.d.hamersky/posts/455608107792628 
        • An archived review of The Roach (only the first 3 issues had been published) by Tony Isabella: http://www.worldfamouscomics.com/tony/back20060918.shtml

        I don’t want to discourage Waid, Jones or anyone else from “putting on new skin.” You (an in general “you”) may well come up with a truly groundbreaking narrative. But to do so, I can’t be me & I must inhabit the mind, heart, ears, eyes, etc.—if only temporarily—of my principals. In the same way that I can’t touch on a powerful subject outside of my personal experience, sexism, for example, without acknowledging & introspecting the social gauntlet that women run. Doing so won’t deplete my ample supply of testosterone. But it will make my narrative more honest.

        (As an addendum: Mark Waid & Dwayne McDuffie were good friends. I won’t even try to guess what Dwayne’s reaction to “Strange Fruit” may have been. I could NEVER do so. But I’d like to think that if Dwayne were still with us, Mr. Waid may have used him as a valuable sounding board. They had mutual respect for each other, as men & as writers. Doing so may have tightened his narrative’s focus & voice.)

  22. As someone who isn’t black or white i appreciate your view on the issue (for me it was a parody of the explotation and blaxplotation that used to appear in comics when i first read it). The thing that motivates me to write this is that i find a little irresponsable that at some point of your essay you propel the present critic into the future of the comic that we still don’t know and establish it as an absolute as prescribing something that we can’t yet know.

    Whether it’s true or not, even if we can see a 100% of certainty, i don’t think we can prescribe what will happen with the comic and the characteristic of the protagonist that will never speak or how it will develop. In doing so we are stripping the potential of the comic or expresion we are analyzing. I mean, what if it was just the first part of Mrs. Dalloway or a Room of one own? If we prescribe it based on the first 20 pages we are ignoring how it riffs on the normative and society established tropes (At this point, i have to clarify i’m taking in general and not just this review). I know we still don’t have the rest of the issues on our hands but that doesn’t mean we can prescribe. We analyze and dissect with what we have and even if you use outside contexts for this it’s relative and not absolute.

    It’s just one thing i think you should consider since it reflects negatively in what is otherwise a valid and commendable lecture on a comic.

    Of course, i may be biased. I think back and back then i didn’t have a problem with the Image compilation of Día de muertos.

  23. Wow.

    First of all, I’d like to thank for writing this. This was a perspective I really, really needed to see and it’s a much better take on the book than I’d come up with on my own. Other than the beautiful art, this book felt “off” to me but I struggled with explaining exactly why (which probably says more about me than I’d prefer to admit).

    I’ll probably link this at some point because this is by a wide margin the best thing I’ve read about this book.

  24. I went through a range of different emotional reactions after reading this article and the comments that follow. At first I felt upset that you were so upset by this story and sensed that there was some underlying anger in your response to the story and how it was presented and marketed. I’m glad you got angry because it’s only when we get issues like this out in the open that we can start to deal with them. I was surprised that I started to get an idea of how this story impacted you in the replies to some of the comments. Another pleasant surprise was that there were actually commenters that could disagree on one point or another but still support the overall point of the review. It was nice to see people disagree without disregarding the whole review as a rant.
    Lastly, I was saddened by what the review and your points in the review mean to me. I am an old fat bald white gay man. I have struggled most of my adult life with bringing the stories in my mind to the page. For all intents and purposes, I am no better than the creators of “Strange Fruit”. I have benefited from white privilege more times than I am sure I realize. I actually found this review through Tumbler and a women in comics blog that I follow. That post that referenced this review talked about how white male creators have been the voice of comics for too long. And I agree that there needs to be more diversity in creators, characters and stories. I have revised some of my ideas to be more diverse because I had for the longest time followed the model of what was already present in the medium. But where does that leave me? That’s not meant to be an entitled question like I am owed something, but a query in whether there is a place for my voice anymore.
    I have lived in the south all my life. I know the animosity that is felt by whites towards blacks because I grew up in the home of a racist. I have felt on a few occasions the animosity that black people have towards me. I like to think I am more accepting than my parents, but maybe I am no better. I know there is a lot of anger on all sides of the issue and that only when we start to talk about it will we start to solve it.
    I honestly feel lost because I don’t know what to do to make things right. I think there are a lot of white people that feel the same way. We take advantage of our privilege either consciously or unconsciously because it is easy. And I think other white people would agree with me when I say I wish I could do something to make it right, but I don’t know what.
    But thank J.A. for writing this article and giving me so much to think and reflect on. You have every right to your opinion and you don’t need me or anyone else to tell you that. I appreciate the time that you took to construct this review and to give us all something to think about.

    • Claire Napier
      Claire Napier on

      Hi Jason! We believe in you. You care a lot, and you listen, so there’s every chance you’ll find a way to benefit the world with your stories.

      Honestly, I think your feelings of helplessness are a result of aiming too high. You can’t make things right; you can avoid making things worse, you can help plough the ground for betterment, and you can do your full best to help the world do better by people it’s wronged.

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      Hey Jason, thanks for writing this. I definitely don’t think this means that there’s no place for you or that you shouldn’t write anything, because I bet there’s a lot you have to say about a lot of different topics and a lot of things to give. I’m being very specific about axes of privilege and, as I said to readers Will & JB: it would be my dream if white writers thought critically about how race might impact storylines that aren’t specifically about race/racism–but I think it is appropriate for white creators to recognize that further contributions to the white perspective on racism would add to the historical burden and, as a result, either take a step back from that particular topic or use their role to amplify black voices.

    • Claire Napier
      Claire Napier on

      So you listen to Gene Luen Yang telling readers to step out of themselves, but then you don’t listen to J.A and comment anyway?

    • Cherokee Seebalack

      “We have to allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, including cultural mistakes, in our first drafts. I believe it’s okay to get cultural details wrong in your first draft. It’s okay if stereotypes emerge. It just means that your experience is limited, that you’re human.

      Just make sure you iron them out before the final draft. Make sure you do your homework. Make sure your early readers include people who are a part of the culture you’re writing about. Make sure your editor has the insider knowledge to help you out. If they don’t, consider hiring a freelance editor who does.”

      Dunno if you missed that part of his speech or??

  25. I’m normally willing to buy any comic Mark Waid writes, but after reading this, it’s a definite pass. Very disappointed.

    On a brighter note, congrats on winning that microgrant! This is an amazing piece of writing and I’m really happy it’s getting so much recognition!

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      Thanks a lot, David! I was really surprised & am very grateful. In the end, though, it’s my hope that this spurs some genuine discussion in the community and prompts BOOM! to reconcile this with their Push Comics Forward initiative.

  26. I bought this thing. I preordered it on the promise of a Waid book, which I usually like, with painted art, which I am usually a fan of, from BOOM!, who are consistently quite good. Not being a music expert or historian (I of course know SOME things, fear not), I didn’t place the title with anything like that until I read this article, and I was disgruntled even beyond what I’d already heard about the book before buying it and then kept in mind while reading it.

    This thing…this…

    To all above, I am sorry I bought this. I will not be purchasing another issue. I want more paint, but not at this cost. Mr. Waid? Wth?

    …any good advice on what to do with my issue? I’m certainly not KEEPING it.

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      Haha, I’m afraid I can’t help you on that score. There are a lot of reasons to keep it, a lot of reasons to give it away, and a lot of reasons to sell it to someone else. Maybe decide what outcome from those choices aligns best with your conscience.

  27. Aaron Kashtan on

    I read this review before I read the comic. Now that I have read the comic, I pretty much agree with the review, and here is my reaction (incidentally, I am a white man):

    I know Mark Waid and J.G. Jones meant well, but to them, the story of a black man in 1927 is just a story. It’s not part of their lives. They themselves are not suffering present-day harm as a result of what was done to their ancestors during and before and after 1927. Their personal stake in this story is less than if they were African-American. For them, the things that happened in 1927 are just material for entertainment.

    That doesn’t mean they can’t tell a story about African-Americans in 1927 — of course they can, it’s a free country. But if they are going to tell such a story, they have a moral obligation to treat it with seriousness and to recognize that it’s not *their* story. And so far they haven’t done that. They’ve treated this story as a piece of entertainment.

  28. Being a white male, I know I have a bundle of build-in social privileges that make me unable to grasp the reality of what it means to be non-white and/or female, and being gay makes me very aware of what if feels like to have well-meaning people talk out of their asses about experiences they are really not equiped to comprehend.

    I was planning on checking out Strange Fruit, as I’m a fan of both creators, but have reconsidered the idea after reading this (excellent) critique. What a throroughly great review! Not only is it informative and really, really insightful, it was a powerful, enjoyable read, and so well articulated.

    Appropriation and erasure are things every author should be really on the lookout for if they ever try to create work that speaks of the experience of any marginalized group the author is not a part of.

      • “Strange Fruit #1 could literally have been comics’ Second Coming of the Messiah and I would still think it shouldn’t have been made.”

        How is J.A. Micheline being in any way reasonable here? She hated this comic before even reading a word of it.

          • I did. But that’s irrelevant to what I said. My point is that she wrote off the comic before even reading it, based solely on the creative team. And here she admitted that even if it had’ve turned out to be the best comic she’d ever read, she still would not have supported it. And that, to me, is just shameful. It’s a biased attitude that, quite frankly, goes against everything she’s attempting to defend here – an attitude that is not at all worth the sort of recognition and praise she’s receiving.

          • J. A. Micheline
            J. A. Micheline on

            I’ll say what I said to reader JB: We have had lifetimes on lifetimes of white people approaching this topic from their perspective and making racism about themselves and regurgitating what they perceive racism to be as a result of what other white people have said. Until the black perspective on anti-blackness is heard, valued, and prioritized, I think it is appropriate for white creators to recognize that further contributions would simply add to that burden and either take a step back or use their role to amplify black voices.

          • Ginnis Tonik
            Ginnis Tonik on

            No, it’s not irrelevant at all even if it’s irrelevant to what YOU said. It is not irrelevant to J.A.’s larger argument. Commentator Thomas Hewlett (right below) sums up this point nicely:

            “I find it ironic how many people showed up in these comments angry about your saying (as they understood it) that white people can’t write black stories but with nothing to say about the actual content of the comic or your critique of it. Perhaps they didn’t read that line about the writers making a story of racism about themselves…”

          • J.A.: How can any white writer seek to amplify black voices if black readers dismiss their work before it even has a chance to be heard?

          • J. A. Micheline
            J. A. Micheline on

            If the white writer is determined to write a story about anti-black racism, they could decide to take the project on with a black co-writer or a black artist.

          • With regards to this particular project, I do agree with you there. That would have been a good first step I think.

            I do appreciate the attempts made by the article’s writer to engage with and challenge those who comment on this post. For the most part, however, it seems there is a sort of unwelcoming club here that is not willing to hear the opinions of any others. (Ironic, no?) So, alright, you guys can have your little club. I’ll go away.

  29. Great piece, Ms Micheline! Thanks for speaking up about this.

    It’s pretty obvious this was not a well thought through decision on the part of the comic’s creators and studio. That in itself is telling. Why is this degree of obliviousness acceptable in the industry? Why the default to lazy writing and easy tropes? It’s not like they’re writing about a culture lost to history millennia ago – it’s 1927 and firsthand oral histories can be accessed in seconds! If you’re going to do this, do your homework.

    I find it ironic how many people showed up in these comments angry about your saying (as they understood it) that white people can’t write black stories but with nothing to say about the actual content of the comic or your critique of it. Perhaps they didn’t read that line about the writers making a story of racism about themselves…

    I also think their question misses the point. White people write about black stories all the time, but good writers pull it off because they make it about representation of black voices and not appropriation of black voices. In fact, in 1984 John Sayles wrote and directed a story about a mute alien – who looks like a black man! – crash landing in New York. It’s called “Brother From Another Planet” and it handles this exact story without relying on stereotypes, “not all whites”, easy villains, or robbing black characters of their agency and humanity. The Brother’s muteness is itself used a sly and subtle tool to talk about POC voices and lack thereof. Sayles was training his camera on black stories but wasn’t try to tell them on behalf of black people.

    Maybe someone should have handed these guys a copy before they started writing.

    • “If you’re going to do this, do your homework.”

      Indeed. I think that should be one of the criteria to distinguish legitimate representation from demeaning appropriation.

  30. “The choice to paint is an interesting one and, for me at least, evokes Norman Rockwell’s well-known illustrations Saturday Evening Post. That’s a kind of jarring association, when Rockwell’s focus was on idyllic American life while the material Jones is depicting is anything but.”

    My instinctive reaction here is that jarring isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The art style of Maus, for example, is not what one would necessarily expect in a comic about the Holocaust, but it works. A savage critique of monarchy in Spain painted in the style of Velazquez or a volume of anti-fascist poetry in the style of Ezra Pound might prove highly effective if well-executed. But the “well-executed” part is probably the most important factor.

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      Wholeheartedly agree. I actually think it was a good choice by Jones–stark contrast between style and content is one of the best ways to get readers to feel discomfort, which I’d guess could be what he’s going for here. Racial violence painted in an idyllic way could be a great way to illustrate the hypocrisy of the narrative. Not a negative thing at all.

  31. Thank you for this enlightening critique, as I am a white male who keeps trying to further understand perspectives outside my own. This review made me uncomfortable, but it also engaged me in a way that I was able to confront those feelings as to why I was uncomfortable in the first place; genuinely, thank you.

    The only suggestion I might offer is an addendum to the article where you further clarify the viewpoint that people in the comments seem to keep tripping over (myself included), which is the bit about who should and should not write about a topic. I don’t believe your writing is at fault in the slightest, in fact it often cuts right to the heart of the matter clearly, but I think in the instance of that particular idea not everyone got it (though clearly many did). I understood what you were saying much better once I read your responses in the comments. Just a thought, but otherwise, excellent work!

  32. Christina Marie on

    Sheltered white girl, here. I did not read Strange Fruit (not usually a comic book girl), so this is the first I’ve ever heard of this.

    When I started the review, I honestly thought, “Oh, that’s got to be an overreaction.” Seriously, what I saw was two white guys trying to come to terms with the horrible things their ancestors did.

    As I continued the article, I realized that if they really wanted to do that, they should have had it be more from the white person’s perspective. Because you’re right. There’s no way that me, a white woman, can 100% understand an African American’s perspective, anymore than a man can understand a woman’s perspective (and believe me, I’ve tried making them see). If these authors wanted to come to terms with what their ancestors did (and I say “their” instead of “mine,” because the earliest mine ever showed up was WWI, and we all stayed in the North away from that sh!t), then they should’ve had it be more from the White’s point of view, to try to get at the why of the matter (and yeah, not have there be another White character trying to teach the racist in every scene). Failing that, definitely get an African American on the team. Or at least run it by one with an offensive scale on 1 to 10 (I’m guessing this would’ve ranked around 7 or 8, given all the comments I’ve seen).

    Anyway, to end a super long post (sorry), I can see why this comic idea appealed to these authors, and I can see why it appeals to a White audience, as few of us will find it offensive. Now, I can also see why it’s insulting and some proper steps to avoid that.

    Thanks for the post! Sorry mine’s so long.

  33. Megan Purdy

    We have officially had enough “WHADYA MEAN WHITE PEOPLE CAN’T-” comments on this article. Any more gas lighting, passive aggressiveness, mansplaining, or sad sack white privilege protecting is getting deleted. Move along.

  34. A. McClintock on

    I’m chiming in way late, but I just wanted to say that this is one of the best pieces of comics analysis that I have ever read. Thank you for your voice, thank you for what you said, and please, by the Pancreator, KEEP WRITING things like this.

  35. This is such a helpful, insightful review, thank you. It’s a shame because I love that cover so much and was curious about this book. Boom! can be very wonderful and forward-pushing but also very frustrating and puzzling at the same time. I had no idea this was a weird sic-fi thing. I had assumed it was straight up historical genre. I remember reading some sort of bleeding cool article about this problem with the creators and how this similar concept was pitched years ago by Dwayne McDuffie or something to that effect? I can’t remember now. But it’s so embarrassing. You would think that someone who’s achieved all that McDuffie has achieved would have more traction and many doors open for them in the comics industry, yet it’s not so.

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      Glad you enjoyed the work and that it was helpful to you. Just so things are clear, I read the BC article you’re talking about and it wasn’t McDuffie (who died unexpectedly in 2011)–it was a different black creator.

  36. first-time reader, first-time commenter.

    really glad i came across this article and this website. i want to read more of what women write about comics. i know a lot about the latter, but still very little about the former, so i think this is a good site for me.

    at least i hope it’s a good site for me. after seeing how dissenters are treated, not so sure.

    to the very first person disagreeing with some of the article, a site editor’s response is, and i quote, “Shove it, Joey!”? i really can’t fathom how an editor wouldn’t realize how undermining and deconstructive it is, especially in regards to an article that couldn’t be more relevant and provocative (take it easy, i mean provocative in a good way), to refer to someone with a dissenting opinion as a “rando” who is making “a mess”, and even go on to say that they (again, this is a self-proclaimed editor of the site), “have no obligation to ‘attempt’ intelligent engagement”.

    and then another person to show significant resistance to the piece is met by the same editor with, and i quote, “What? Go away!” simply unbelievable. i was very moved by the article but then deeply disappointed in the attitude of some of the staff/contributors toward opinions that opposed the article’s message. even the author of the piece went as far as to say “go fuck yourself” to the dissenting commenter.

    it’s confounding to me that a site would publish such an insightful and important piece and then not be able to handle differing opinions in a mature and professional manner.

    • Claire Napier
      Claire Napier on

      Try fathoming how undermining and destructive it is for comments like Joey’s, or like those that are regularly seen on other comics commentary sites, to just sit happily, rudely, getting the last word in on a post full of vulnerability and underdog bravery.

      It’s confounding to ME that you’re willing to come to a women’s site and say “I know little about women. …Here’s how you’re wrong, women”.

      If you want to learn, learn.

      • Closed-minded Claire strikes again. For once, you’re right. It IS undermining and destructive for rude comments to get the last word in on a post full of vulnerability and underdog bravery. Unfortunately, the example of such behavior is in your own posts. If you disagree with the content, then try actually showing where the points are without merit, as opposed to ad hominem attacks upon those whose posts you disagree with.

  37. I read the first issues of Strange Fruit and honestly I can’t wait for the second. My friend here in Phiadelphia, an owner of one of the few black owned comicbook shops in the states alerted me to this comic. He’s friends with the artist whom I got to meet first hand in the shop, along with looking at these gorgeous panels.

    I’m black, female, an artist and a fan of unusual, underground and indie comics. I have to state my race and gender because this feels like a page in which those sorta details matter over the content of a comic.

    You know what I see in Strange Fruit, something new, different and with tons of potential. Who cares if two white men started this story or if two black men started this story, so far it’s intriguing. The art is amazing and in the last few pages we get introduced to an Alien, in the form of a black man in 1927 Mississippi! Rarely will any person write a story during that time period, this is why I remain open-minded to such a story.

    Also no one mentioned the pages with the Woman with a Shot Gun.
    AND we only got the Alien in the last pages, who knows if he will actually speak or not.
    Not like the title of this comic is “Brother from Another Planet”

    So personally, I encourage anyone of an open-minded nature to check out this comic before letting a “review” decided. Or at least flip through the pages in a shop if you can find it, it’s selling fast.

    ALSO a fascinating fact about the alien, he’s not modeled after anyone. His features are made up 😀
    And Sonny is modeled after one of the owners of the comic shop here in Philadelphia.

    • Do come back to let us know how the rest of the series turns out. Unless it turns up at my library or in a garage sale (and BOOM books, even the good ones, rarely do), I’m certainly not sticking around.

      • Idella Spann on

        I don’t know if I can do that. I think sometimes I’m better off not letting people know about good things. That way I get all the Special Editions and First Picks.

        I’m surprised I haven’t been deleted for having a forward thinking opinion as that is the way of the internet now.

        Meeting the artist, having an interest in this sort of history and talking to my bud at the comic book shop about this book does give me an advantage to be more open about it before the store even gets started. The amount of analysis for this “review” is ridiculous. Even pointing out it’s a story written and drawn by two white men, so what?

        The first comic just introduces you to the time, setting, scene, issues at hand, and a start to the mystery.

  38. Jake Omstead on

    I am an average white male. Since I was 10 years old, two of my biggest mentors in life have been Malcolm X and Che Guevara, obviously two men of color. I didn’t grow up with an admiration just for anyone based on skin color, but the way they lived their lives. My two sisters are adopted, one being African American, and the other being a Caribbean American. I grew up in a small town with plenty of racism, and often the n-word being used to describe my family. If tomorrow I decided I wanted to write a story for the people in my hometown to illustrate the effect it had on two small young women (after consulting and checking with them first,) I would do it. And no one could stop me. Sure, I am a young priveleged male in this country. I will totally admit to that. But no one should tell anyone what to write and what not to write, especially when the values they are presenting are positive. You wrote a beautiful review, you have great language, and I admire your courage to challenge a book. But this kind mentality has to stop. We are human beings who want to write stories about important things to us. Mark is one of the greatest writers of all time. I will defend that to my grave.

    • Claire Napier
      Claire Napier on

      Jake, you should read your comment over a few times, and think about your use of language and the expression of entitlement and power.

  39. This point may have been addressed earlier, but, it seems to bear repeating. Why is it that when a white male writer attempts to write a white character, we call for more diversity, yet when they attempt to write to another demographic, we are quick to decry the slightest misstep. Is Token Diversity more acceptable than honest attempts? True, there are some apparent missteps, but it is still unknown whether these will be addressed later in the tale. One has to wonder, Would a minority writer be vilified as much over this opening chapter, without seeing where it goes?

    • Claire Napier
      Claire Napier on

      This point may have been addressed earlier, but, it seems to bear repeating: WORRY SOMEWHERE ELSE.

      • It’s so heartwarming to see that a variety of opinions, and a reasonable discourse are encouraged here, just as long as you agree with the author unreservedly. I thought that the purpose of this forum was to have an intelligent discussion of the issues and concerns, but, as Claire seems eager to point out, it’s more important to baa in agreement. I was always taught that racism and discrimination breed in ignorance, and Claire has been kind enough to prove that point.

          • why all the hostility and just telling people to leave the forum when they don’t agree? nobody is being rude or belligerent in their comments, we’re just trying to have a discussion.
            and i don’t understand how me saying that it’s very problematic for a website to start a discussion and then be seemingly unwilling to have one translate to “here’s how you’re wrong, women”? the only thing i think is wrong is telling someone to shove it rather than arguing against their point in a mature way. and then he was banned from the site? i do want to learn. but what am i supposed to learn from your strategy of telling people who are trying to have a civil discussion to buzz off instead of telling them why you think they’re wrong? i know there’s no stopping people from using the anonymity of the internet to speak to others in ways that would never be acceptable in person, but especially as one of the site’s editors, i really wish you would try to address others in a serious and respectful way, like most commenters are trying to do. i’m not trying to attack you personally, i’m just very frustrated by the unwarranted animosity and lack of civil engagement.

          • Claire Napier
            Claire Napier on

            What are you supposed to learn? I’m not here to teach you. Just learn whatever you can get. Be open.

    • Desiree Rodriguez

      What can a white writer add to a conversation on systematic racism and oppression? I think that should be the question here. Nowhere in JA’s review does she explicitly state no white writers shouldn’t write stories featuring character of color, or other minority characters. The fact is that here, in this specific comic, two white men clearly didn’t understand the intricacies of what it was like to be black and face racism.
      I’ve read through the comment board, and it appears as though white readers are viewing this review and JA’s words as an attack on their person, or on the personship of the two white creators of Strange Fruit themselves. It’s not, and by making the conversation about hurt white feelings, you’re derailing the conversation – which is about racism and the lack of creators of color having a mainstream voice on the very real discrimination they face every day at least here in the US where I’m from – from an important topic to one about protecting the feelings of white creators and white people.
      Fact of the matter is, without due research and with the huge gap between the amount of white male creators in the mainstream comic industry, this first issue was riddled with problems that are directly connected to the creators white privilege. They simply didn’t do the research into what it is like to be a black person in America, the first issue wasn’t so much about black people facing racism, but how they – as white men – felt about racism. A story we’ve already seen in many incarnations over many decades. So it’s not simply that they were white, it’s that their whiteness is connected to their privilege which disabled them to write a complex, and respectful story about black people facing racism in the south.
      Which is why we need more diversity behind the scenes, not simply on page. It’s similar to what occurred in the recent Justice League 3000 with Guy Gardener or the recent Airboy #2 . A couple of cis white man tried to write about the struggles of trans women, or attempted to include trans women in their story. But did so without doing any research into what trans women go through, the struggles they face, the discrimination they undergo, etc. This leads to enforcing dangerous and harmful media stereotypes that affect how real life people view these other very real people in our day-to-day lives.
      Strange Fruit showcased a distinct lack of understand, research, and empathy towards the real life struggles of Black Americans, that was due in part to the creators own privilege as white men. That is not to say that white men shouldn’t ever write characters of color, but that the inclusion of more diverse voices behind the scenes of the comic industry is needed. Not just as writers, or artists, but as editors, PR, CEOs, etc. We need more diverse voices to look at our media so that these things don’t continue to happen. So that someone at the table can say, “hey this isn’t okay, we need to bring someone in to help correct it,” or “you need to do more research this perpetrates a really harmful stereotype” etc.
      But derailing the conversation into “so white men can’t do what now?” doesn’t help anyone, it only exacerbates and hinders the overall conversation and the progression towards equality within the industry.

  40. i am open to any arguments made in this discussion. what i have trouble being open to is the continued failure to address commenters’ concerns about why you keep dismissing people and telling them to leave when they post honest arguments? i feel like we’ve brought up some legitimate complaints to the handling of this forum and none of them have been meaningfully addressed, which is frustrating.
    for example, in your last response to my post, an obviously rhetorical question was met with a literal and pretty vague answer instead of actually responding to a single one of my questions. i really liked the article and i admire your site for bringing these kinds of difficult discussions to light, but a discussion about an issue as crucial and penetrating as this one shouldn’t be started if there’s going to be zero tolerance for any and all dissent. name-calling and unnecessary hostility are absolutely detrimental to this kind of dialogue, especially from the administrators of the site in which the dialogue is taking place. i would appreciate a response that actually addresses these specific concerns directly and honestly.

    • J. A. Micheline
      J. A. Micheline on

      Chris, an honest argument is different from a good one. With the exception of one particularly hypocritical moron, I’ve replied to anyone who has shown either polite disagreement or misunderstanding of my points. You can look through the comments and see that for yourself; the entire section isn’t made up of people who agree with me. And not every comment that disagrees has received such treatment. You can see there’s another commenter here who even goes as far as to give the word “review” in scare quotes to indicate how little she thinks of my piece–but no one has mocked her, because she’s been respectful and none of her disagreement is rooted in privilege or poor arguments. She met the artist, likes the comic, and thinks readers should have a more open mind. I disagree, but I can’t fault her for what she’s said or the way in which she’s said it. The zero tolerance policy comes in towards basic and bad (regardless of their honesty) arguments that completely miss the point. The one that was most recently met with Claire’s vitriol was a guy who decided to make the basic and bad argument of “Why do white people always get grassed up on this and not minorities?” Not all arguments are created equal – especially ones predicated on a (willful or otherwise) misunderstanding of either institutionalized racism or the points made in my piece. While Claire could (a) sit this man down and explain to him what structural power is or (b) find out his address and post him a book on critical race theory, she opted for (c), which is to meet a basic and bad argument with a basic and bad response. Yeah, she could just leave it, but why should she? Treating basic & bad arguments with the same seriousness as real, actual differences of opinion based on appropriate reading comprehension and full understanding of the issues at hand only lends power to the basic and bad. Basic, bad, (and rude) arguments aren’t welcome in this space, regardless of their honesty, well-meaning-ness, or kindness. If someone disagrees with the content and have a way to share that which isn’t steeped in some kind of privilege or privileged understanding of the issues, they are welcome to do so here. If not, well, Claire has a whole bookmark full of gifs.

  41. White males in comics have a fear of giving a fictitious black man substantial power or create an authentic character not tied to an established white character. I find your piece reflects my own sentiment. I will read the work, but I will not purchase it. Honestly, I believe white writers can write excellent black male characters if they take the time view that character as he or she would a white character.

    If I read this article through the lens of a white person, I might say some of the comments made by the writer of the article to be overreacting. Sadly, I know that the black male body is an instrument of incredible violent and sexual power in the minds of many people. Mark Waid knows so much about comic book history, but did not take the time research his American history enhance the quality of his writing is disappointing.

  42. I am a long-time fan of mainstream superhero comic books (and sequential art in general) who also happens to be a light-skinned, blue-eyed, cysgendered homosexual Puerto Rican male. The reason I just mentioned all of that is because I have tried for the longest time to be aware of how my identity shapes my place in the world. I know that, in modern US society, some aspects of my identity have provided me with unearned privilege and social advantages (male, cysgendered, light-skinned/blue-eyed) while other aspects have acted as disadvantages (homosexual, Puerto Rican). I also have to say that I am sick and tired of mainstream superhero comic books’—which is the platform through which I’m familiar with the works of Waid and Jones— being always about white heterosexist male voices and for white heterosexist male readers. I tremendously enjoyed your review/critique/assessment of “Strange Fruit.” I absolutely get your point, and I am saddened that the only thing many readers seemed to take away from your insights was, “White people should only write about white people.” That’s a quite reductive, simplistic reading of your intelligently-constructed piece. I don’t know if you gals remember Monica Rambeau’s origins. The character also known as Captain Marvel/Pulsar/Photon/Spectrum happened to be a black woman and was created by two white men (Roger Stern and John Romita). She has always been my #1 favorite comic book character simply because she was a powerful example of a fictional black woman who not only avoided easy clichés and stereotypical portrayals, but became a highly-respected member of the Avengers. She even lead the team for a long time even during a period when Captain America, that deified paragon of white American masculinity was a member of the team. Can you imagine? Steve Rogers, Mr. All-American Caucasian Boy Scout taking orders from a smartly-written, powerful, intelligent, gorgeous (and always drawn as dark-skinned!! YAY!) black woman? Sadly, she’s been criminally underused for many years. I certainly have no problem with writers’ writing characters that don’t reflect their own POVs, but in the case of Monica Rambeau, there’s a huge canvas and a big palette inherent in superhero stories that allows for diverse povs to converge and enrich each other. Slavery and racism, on the other hand, is sharply delineated and defined by blood-and-pain-laced memories and a history of systemic attempts at invisibilizing the people who still deal with the effects of slavery and racism. It’s unfortunate that Waid and Jones weren’t able to see the bigger picture here. Anyway, thanks for fighting the good fight. I just discovered your site (this very morning), and I’m a huge fan already! LOVE.

    • TOMÁS O. I have all those Avengers issues and the Spider-man annual heralding her first appearance. Stop me if you think I’m going to deep. Her costume is a photo negative of Captain Mar-Vell who died of cancer in The Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel. I stress the word negative. Ultimately she would be unfit to wear the name. And. she still falls under the category of a legacy character. Also, Spider-man slaps her in The Amazing Spider-Man annual #16. Even as a child, I did not like that depiction. I mean, I rarely see Spider-man slap anyone, but if he does, it usually is a woman. Monica is one of the most power Avengers ever and she gets slapped. She made the Hulk scream. She made Zeus know he’s not the only one who can throw a mean thunderbolt. I guess black power is nothing when it comes up against the star of the show. Your thoughts.

      • Hi, COBOL!
        Yes, I am aware of all you mention, and I prefer to disregard it those unsavory, undignified scenarios that Marvel came up with for Monica. More than anything, Monica is a character with so much potentia!! It pains me to see how she tends to be misused (or outright ignored). I remember how writers usually alleged that she was too powerful to use effectively, but to them I say, “Well, so is Superman, Wonder Woman, and Thor…get creative and use Monica too!” To be honest with you, I prefer to ignore the whole “Captain Marvel” thing because, to me, she’s way too awesome to be perceived as a so-called legacy character. I do hate the fact that Marvel keeps on changing her name so somebody else (usually white) can have it. Ugh. And the Spider-Man thing…I hate it too, but just like DC’s Batman, Spidey can beat anyone by virtue of being the company’s cash cow. I don’t like it, but that’s how the Big Two publishers work. 🙁 I lost track of the recent iteration of Mighty Avengers, which featured a predominantly non-white cast, so I don’t know if she’s still active. I also have issues with how artists have given her straight hair and whitewashed features as of late. All in all, a great character that could be one of Marvel’s premiere heroines, but sadly, is not. I hope that someone at Marvel Films loves her and decides to give her a spot in any of the upcoming Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy sequels.

        • I do agree with you. Despite the examples I mentioned, I still love this character. I think she could have been worked into the Black Panther movie as a potential wife to T’Challa since Storm is at Fox. The name changing issue is art imitating life.

          I think to solve this problem is to have more people of color working outside of the Big Two producing cogent stories that people will want to read. There is no desire to be innovative at Marvel or DC when they practically own the market. We can’t make them change until they see talent elsewhere making money without them.

          I would love to write Monica in an ongoing series. I think she would be better than Cyborg. After all, she is a former police officer. Based on the comic, she was apparently a good one. Thanks for your thoughts.

  43. Ohh hell. I started reading this and it just got worse and worse as I went along. I think it’s wonderfully apropos about the lettering, really, in a way I can’t quite articulate. I don’t want to say it’s a scanlation of reality, because I haven’t seen the images, but the idea that they’re stuffing reassuring, ‘hey now don’t be racist’ sentiments into the mouths of white people who would realistically be saying nothing of the kind, even if they actually were thinking it, which most of them damn well weren’t.

    And now, some reactions as I read:
    man, you COULD have a non-speaking superhuman black alien be presented in a non-cringey way
    i’d like, emphasize his mortal fear, and maybe have him somehow empathically reach out to the other guy
    some sense of communion and ‘this is a fellow innocent who has a mother and i have to save him and this is so scary and horrible and RRRRAAAAAAWWWRRRRR’
    like, make the audience SO RELIEVED he can do that, and then immediately have him do something gentle and clever, like apply modern-style CPR to the other guy, or heal him with some tiny piece of advanced tech
    ‘he CAN be a dangerous animal, but fuckers drove him to it.’

    o dear
    black bechdel failure
    jesus fuck
    no
    what
    it’s called strange fruit, it has to pass. there’s a law somewhere

    re: the stars and bars to cover that terrifying black nakedness
    o fucking hell
    o fucking hell no
    you know, black people didn’t cotton to grown men running around naked, either

  44. J.A., thank you for a smart, thoughtful, and incisive critique. From the moment I heard this comic announced, with the title “Strange Fruit,” I had a deep sense of foreboding. Then I heard “alien black man in Jim Crow South,” and got an even worse feeling. Being told that this was basically an African-American take on “Red Son” didn’t do much to reassure me. I believe Jones and Said are well-intentioned, but that’s not enough to have greenlit the project.

    I would add one further observation to your very good critique: making the protagonist speechless doesn’t only render him less than sentient. It literally takes away his voice as a black person. They have literally removed the black voice from their comic. It is an extremely telling choice.

    • “…making the protagonist speechless doesn’t only render him less than sentient. It literally takes away his voice as a black person. They have literally removed the black voice from their comic.”

      EXCELLENT observation!

  45. Right on the money, J.A.

    Luke Cage* type writing at its finest….>sigh<….

    *(the comic book series where a black man, imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit
    gains powers, and says "Sweet Christmas!" when the going got rough; in other words,
    a comic book about a black male convict created and written by white persons who had
    no idea at all about what it really meant to be a black male convict living in a white racist society. And, not caring, because, "it's just comics"… as long as the book sold.)

    For my money, they should have done a comic on La'Shanda Jones, first black helo pilot in the Coast Guard, but maybe that's just me being too black, again…heh…
    Might even find some other black women aviators..
    ..all the way back to Willa Brown…Bessie Coleman..

    But, I digress….gettin' too old for this…

  46. One more thing….
    This comic is not written for People of Color. As I read the reviews, this came home clear to me, loudly and clearly. This is not for black people; rather, this is for the white males who make up the comic market in the US.

    And teh fanboys, as evidenced here, really don’t like hard truths and ugly reality…
    That’s why they read comic books….Oops! Did I say that out loud?

    Cheerio

  47. Chavez tyler on

    Reading Strange Fruit 1 -3 was a great experience for me. As a black male from Mississppi pursuing my master’s degree I appreciate the historical setting and for the creation of a superman like black character in this time period. Yes, I am aware of the Magical Negro trope but what if I think I’m magical? And for me, Sonny and the Visitor are foils. Both represent aspects of who I am. I appreciate the writers using their privilege to ultimately tell a human story from the perspective of the black experience. Through the writing of the character’s you can definitely tell they know more about the white experience through the amount of verbiage assigned but ultimately, maybe this comic is trying humanize my blackness to whites. Anyways, I appreciate it and don’t think anyone should feel stifled in their artistic voice along as the work reflects some truth. And I think it does… It’s one of the best comics/ stories I’ve read Ina a while.

  48. I want to say stuff, but LOL, I want to say a LOT of stuff — when my main point is that it’s time (and long past) for the voices of people of color to hold the CENTER in discussions of racism and race, and I’m (mostly) not a POC. (Race being a cultural not a biological identity, I’m partly black by cultural input — part American Indian by ‘blood’ — but all white by ascribed social status.)

    So I’ll just profess my (literary) love for JAM, and then ask why the f’ck didn’t these successful white artists use their pull (not necessarily the same as their ‘privilege’ — but maybe …) to involve some artists of color in the project?

    My proposed answer — because Waid’s characters, white and black, are (to my mind at least) intensely stereotyped and stupid, and no good writer or artist of color should or would have worked on this story as it is now.

    By the by, Jones’s painting style here does not much resemble Rockwell’s stiff and fussy Americana, but does suggest (in its sinuosity and energy) a conscious reference to (as homage if not actual appropriation?) the work of Harlem Renaissance artists.

    And I’ll mention Rockwell’s own painting ‘The Problem We All Live With’ — http://www.scottmcd.net/artanalysis/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Rockwell-Large.jpg – which strikes me as a MUCH better statement about racism by a white artist, especially coming from 1964, than the comic Strange Fruit.

    So I’ll say it this way: Yes, white folks CAN write (and paint) about race and racism — but they need to do it at least 10 times BETTER than yer average writer of color (seems fair to me…) or STFU and get out of the middle of the road, and let people tell their OWN stories. And if white writers/artists are in a position to publish work focused on race, get some non-white talent involved — just out of respect, people!

    Peace, love, and soul — Charlie

    And P.S. I DO like Led Zeppelin’s version of Memphis Minnie’s ‘If It Keeps On Raining’ (written about the 1927 floods)– ‘Cryin’ won’t help ya, prayin’ won’t do ya no good’. Also like Ben Harper’s take on the LZ version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVTgZ4NU-UA

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