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The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art (2015)

Contribution by Blair Davis

Davis: The Blacker the Ink
When many think of comic books the first thing that comes to mind are caped crusaders and spandex-wearing super-heroes. Perhaps, inevitably, these images are of white men (and more rarely, women). It was not until the 1970s that African American superheroes such as Luke Cage, Blade, and others emerged. But as this exciting new collection reveals, these superhero comics are only one small component in a wealth of representations of black characters within comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels over the past century. 
The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics & Sequential Art is the first book to explore not only the diverse range of black characters in comics, but also the multitude of ways that black artists, writers, and publishers have made a mark on the industry. Organized thematically into “panels” in tribute to sequential art published in the funny pages of newspapers, the fifteen original essays take us on a journey that reaches from the African American newspaper comics of the 1930s to the Francophone graphic novels of the 2000s. Even as it demonstrates the wide spectrum of images of African Americans in comics and sequential art, the collection also identifies common character types and themes running through everything from the strip The Boondocks to the graphic novel Nat Turner. 
Though it does not shy away from examining the legacy of racial stereotypes in comics and racial biases in the industry, The Blacker the Ink also offers inspiring stories of trailblazing African American artists and writers. Whether you are a diehard comic book fan or a casual reader of the funny pages, these essays will give you a new appreciation for how black characters and creators have brought a vibrant splash of color to the world of comics.  

Blair Davis contributed the article, “Bare Chests, Silver Tiaras, and Removable Afros: The Visual Design of Black Comic Book Superheroes”. The collection’s introduction says that “Davis’s keen and sharp-eyes analysis of black superheroes sets aside issues of characterization and narrative in favor of examining visual design, a somewhat neglected element of comics scholarship. Davis focuses on the visual elements that have proven common in the design of black superheroes, how those particular elements function as signs that have larger symbolic meaning. Luke Cage, Black Lightning, Storm, Vixen, and Cyborg are the objects of his focus, with some particularly significant teasing out of underlying meanings in the way female characters are costumed.”

Professor Davis teaches in Media and Cinema Studies.​