from graphic novel guest blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:
The well constructed anthology not only offers readers an opportunity to find multiple voices, views and styles within a single pair of covers, but also directs the reader’s attention to similarities, differences, developing tropes and legacies arising from the variety. Tom Pomplun’s long running series of “Graphic Classics” typically provides richly rewarding explorations of both the writers and the cartoonists he pulls together in any single topical volume. Even at that, African-American Classics, number 22 in the series, is especially fine. Poems included are maintained as the authors wrote them, while the short stories have undergone necessary adaptation so that the book can hold more than a few and the text and images composed by current artists are both sized to show clear detail.
So, what’s inside? Florence Lewis Bentley’s 1921 story about brotherly love and racist hate before and during the Great War –replete with explosions and a lynching in Georgia; Charles W. Chesnutt’s 1899 trickster tale of the bewitched vineyard and the buyer who goes along with the trick; the Paul Lawrence Dunbar poem, from the same year, that gave Maya Angelou the title for her first autobiographical book. And then, on the visual side, there’s co-editor Lance Tooks working in a style reminiscent of lithographs; Arie Monroe’s big-eyed cartoony people with their super springy legs; Jeremy Love’s small, finely detailed, and unpanelled illustrations. In all, there are 23 pieces of literature, with nearly that number of artists providing their imagistic creativity to the unfolding plots, kaleidoscope of moods, and salient historical realities in which each fiction or poem was bathed by both the writer and the original readers of these works.
Taken as a whole, the anthology shows why these particular writers are classics, how their expressions of fictional or metaphoric narratives bring history to life, and the role visual expansion can play in making an abridged text feel full and complete.
Adult/High School–In a long running series of high-quality, high-concept adaptations, this volume is a standout. Twenty-three short stories and poems authored by African Americans writing from the end of the 19th century through the Great Depression have been carefully and sensitively adapted in text and retold in sequential art. Among the authors are Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, W. E. B. Du Bois, Paul Dunbar, and Langston Hughes; the others included are equally well known both in American literary history and as insightful social political writers. The bevy of cartoon artists who worked on these–one artist and his or her interpretive envisioning per literary piece–include some well known, such as Lance Tooks, Kyle Baker and Kenji. Colorists and artists alike provide uniformly sound and genuine visions of the tales being told while providing readers with a range of styles and moods. To keep each piece within the limits of a dozen pages, longer short stories have been abridged but without losing the sense of the writer’s voice. Subject matter includes enemies meeting on a World War I battlefield in France, a Northern Black man ignoring Southern segregation laws, a fantastic murder story, verses on ethnic identity, and fablelike lessons on the results of poor morals. Vastly superior to many anthologies, and more accessible than many textbooks of literary history, this book will charm casual readers as well as students and teachers who can see its role as a study supplement.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA