The East Coast Black Age of Comics Convention is one of my favorite
comics events. Earlier this year, I made my third visit to the con
and had a wonderful time. I wrote about it here..
I condensed those three blog entries into the opening segment of my
“Tony’s Tips” column for Comics Buyer’s Guide #1681. The rest of
that issue’s column featured reviews of some comics I had bought at
With three Glyph wins to its credit and a “Best Writer” nomination
for Geoffrey Canada, Fist Stick Knife Gun: A Personal History of
Violence [Beacon Press; $14] was the first book I bought at ECBACC.
Adapted by Jamar Nicholas, this graphic novel is a true account of
Canada’s boyhood in the South Bronx. Raised by his single mother,
Canada began to learn the “rules” of the street when he was only 4
years old. The lessons were often brutal, but the rules united the
children of the block. You knew what you could/should do and what
you couldn’t/shouldn’t do. Still, the rules that could keep a kid
relatively safe could go south very quickly when guns were added to
the neighborhood climate.
Canada and Nicholas do more than tell an authentic story of life in
the South Bronx. They also successful convey the true emotions of
the residents: the fear, the friendship, the support, and even the
pride. At the end of the day, their tale is a plea to “study war
Certainly, Canada has lived his adult life following that goal. He
is the president and CEO of the Harlem’s Children Zone, a nonprofit
community-based organization which the New York Times hails as “one
of the most ambitious social experiments of our time.” He himself
has been called an authentic New York hero and an angel from God.
That last bit of praise came from Oprah Winfrey, who surely knows
something of angels.
In telling Canada’s story so vividly, Nicholas more than earned his
Rising Star award. The drawings are fluid, the expressions right
on the money. I can’t wait to see what Nicholas does next. In the
meantime, check out Fist Stick Knife Gun. A graphic novel of this
quality should have received a lot more coverage than it got from
a comics press clearly overly concerned about Hollywood movies and
Afrodisiac by Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca [Adhouse Books; $14.95] is
a dangerously brilliant combination of social satire and good old
comics nostalgia. It was nominated for five Glyph Awards: Story of
the Year, Best Writer, Best Artist, Best Male Character, and Best
A hero of multiple origins, each found in the 1970s Marvel Comics-
style recap at the start of each story, the Afrodisiac is a super-
pimp who takes on villains while taking care of business with his
stable of high-class ladies of the evening. The pop culture gags
are hilariously on target and the book’s several stories are told
in a creditable pastiche of those 1970s Marvel comics. I felt like
I was watching my past through a fun house mirror.
Delightful in its fondness for and skewing of Black exploitation
movies and other pop culture signposts, Afrodisiac brings a lot of
smiles and more than a few out-loud guffaws. I loved it.
Jerry Craft’s Mama’s Boyz: The Big Picture [Mama’s Boyz Ink; $9.95]
is the third collection of his weekly comic strip. Distributed by
King Features Syndicate, the strip follows the lives of single mom
Pauline and her teenage sons Tyrell and Yusuf. The reprinted strips
are charming and very funny, but this collections places them into
a “bigger” story filled with excellent advice for teen readers and
neat between-the-strips asides from Craft.
Craft’s characters are likeable and visually compelling. Extras in
the book include lessons on how to draw comics and a glimpse into
the cartoonist’s childhood. I confess I was pleasantly surprised
to learn that my short-lived Black Goliath series for Marvel made
quite an impact on Craft. As I learn every day, and especially at
events like ECBACC, one never knows how far the ripples might reach
when you place your stories into the sea.
Mama’s Boyz: The Big Picture is great for readers of all ages. I’d
call it a must-have for school and public libraries.
Ray Billingsley’s “Curtis” is also syndicated by King Features as
a daily/Sunday comic strip. Curtis is an 11-year-old boy living in
the inner city with his parents and his kid brother. Billingsley
was across the aisle from me at ECBACC and, as a fan of the strip,
it was a pleasure to meet him and too buy his first self-published
collections of the strip: A Boy Named Curtis [$16.95] and Living on
Sponge Cake [$16.95].
Curtis comes from a long tradition of good kids who still manage to
get into all sorts of trouble due to their individual outlooks on
life. School, girls, his parents, and the neighborhood bullies are
all mysteries Curtis is solving day by day. The strip is edgy but
still suitable for all ages.
One of the most compelling ongoing subplots involves Curtis trying
to get his dad to stop smoking. It’s a very serious subject, but
Billingsley handles it with humor.
Billingsley also offers fun change-ups with Curtis daydreams that
involve the mighty “Supercaptaincoolman” and the occasional “real”
adventures that border on fantasy and science fiction. The latter
stories usually involve Gunk, Curtis’ best friend. Gunk hails from
the fictional Flyspeck Island, can talk with animals, and possess
knowledge of strange island science that Curtis usually manages to
misuse in some way.
Since none of my local newspapers carry “Curtis” - even one “Black”
comic strip seems too much for some of them - I read the strip at:
www.seattlepi.com/comics-and-games/fun/Curtis. I think you’ll get
a kick out of Billingsley’s strip and these books.
I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.
© 2011 Tony Isabella
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