"Black Comix" Comes to Valley

Valley College is hosting a comic and graphic art exhibit throughout February to explore black representation in mainstream culture.

By Gabriel Arizon and Erick Lopez, Staff Writers

Valley College is celebrating Black History Month by displaying 40 images of comic and graphic art that explores black racial representation in mainstream culture and politics.

When asked for what kind of response he was expecting, co-curator Dr. Adilifu Nama said, "I think for me, expecting people who don't normally think of comic book art as art. To see people grapple with that idea."

The "Black Comix: The Politics and Pleasures of Black Representation" Art Exhibition displays 40 images within the Art Building from the book "Black Comix Returns," a collection of art and essays celebrating African American independent comic art and culture by some of the best writers and illustrators in the field. The book was put together by John Jennings, New York Times bestselling comic book creator and co-curator of the exhibit, and Dr. Damian Duffy, a Glyph Comics award-winning New York Times bestselling graphic novelist.

The book comes as a follow-up to their previous work in 2010, "Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture." A Kickstarter campaign launched in early 2017 for "Black Comix Returns," receiving $26,931 in donations before getting a publisher.

The exhibit came about when Valley College Art Professor Phung Huynh reached out to Dr. Nama, who in turn contacted Jennings. With the release of "Black Comix Returns" on the horizon, he saw it as a good opportunity to promote the book and its art.

"I think everyone needs to see themselves reflected in this culture," said Jennings. "I think a lot of times when people are in smaller spaces, they don't see the breadth of what's out there."

"They're calming, like the art contains movement that flows freely," says Valley College student Alexandria. "They show what's out there in the world through the lens of the artist."

On Feb. 8, Valley held the opening reception for the exhibit and a panel that consisted of Jennings, Nama, Duffy, screenwriter and cartoonist Tony Puryear, animator and designer Shawna Mills, and comic creator Jason Reeves. The panel discussed the politics of bringing their images and visions into a setting that has historically marginalized people of color and women.

"I always think about prior to around 2001, 2002, it was just known in American comics that girls don't read comics," Duffy said. "And then they started translating manga, and I was like oh, girls just don't read your comics."

"We can't just show black folk, people of color, just downtrodden," Dr. Nama said. "Sometimes by showing black people just smiling is actually a political act."

When asked how they deal with negative feedback to their art, such as making the viewer uncomfortable, Puryear responded, "You just gotta be better than that, you gotta be more imaginative. That's the challenge. That's the fun."

As the panel was asked how they respond to remarks that their works are not salable due to their characters not matching certain tropes, Reeves said, "I personally don't deal with it. I've been focusing on making different spaces for us."

Mills recounted a pitch she made during her time at Cartoon Network, saying, "I remember having the character's hair kinda nappy-ish, just kinda similar to what the main character's hair is now, and I ended up changing it because it didn't look marketable. That's what I was told."

"Black Comix Returns" released on Feb. 7 for $30 and will receive a wider release on Feb. 20. The exhibit will be open in the Art Gallery on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays between 11-2. It will run until Mar. 8.