JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Comic books have become hot again thanks to the successes of NBC’s ‘Heroes,’ the Spider-Man films and the revived Superman and Batman franchises.
A new exhibit at Jackson State University offers a glimpse into the another world of the comics, a much different one than the Gotham Cities of imaginary heroes and villains.
The exhibition ‘Other Heroes: African-American comics, creators, characters and archetypes’ focuses on topics such as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and racial stereotypes.
‘The show really wants to focus on racial representations through that particular medium,’ said John Jennings, co-curator of the exhibit, which runs through the end of June at the historically black university. He curated the exhibit with comic book partner Damien Duffy. Jennings said he is talking to other universities about having the exhibit tour.
Some images have been taken out of the comic setting, enlarged and mounted on gallery walls in the university’s art building. More than 50 artists contributed to the exhibit including some selections by Denys Cowan, artist for ‘Hardware,’ which depicts a man who turns high-tech vigilante to stop his employer, who has links to organized crime and drugs.
‘I think people are going to be surprised at the mastery of the storytelling,’ said Jennings, who describes the works as anti-mainstream and trying to break misconceptions.
‘It is how we see ourselves as African-Americans through the medium and also how others see the ‘idea of blackness’ through that medium. I think it is really the first time a show has really tried to capture that,’ he said.
Jennings, 36, who taught previously at Jackson State, is now an assistant professor of graphic design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Lealan Swanson, associate professor of art at Jackson State, said her students have been amazed by the presentation. Swanson predicts some will start creating their own graphic novels.
‘These comics aren’t just for entertainment and just pumped up bodies or just physically superheroes, they are a way to tell stories and give morals,’ Swanson said.
Dan Yezbick, who teaches media arts at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, Wash., noted the increase of courses in the art of comic books. He established the first undergraduate surveys of American comic art at the University of Illinois and Peninsula College.
While the most well-known black comic strip, ‘The Boondocks’ has gained national attention as part of The Cartoon Network’s ‘Adult Swim’ lineup, Yezbick said that black characters and black creators are still marginalized.
‘Most of the mainstream stuff is still big white men in tights or some overly sexed heroines in skimpy outfits,’ he said.
Jennings has worked with Duffy on various comics, including ‘Day 8’ based on a poem by fellow Jackson State alum Deborah Grison. The poem, ‘No Ark,’ is about a New Orleans man who decided to ride out Hurricane Katrina in his home. The collaboration shows the man, Mr. Jenkins, spending days on his roof, nearing death.
‘Day 8’ is vying for several awards at the second annual Glyph Comic Awards honoring the best in black comics and creators. The awards will be handed out at the East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention at Temple University in Philadelphia May 18-19.
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