Visualizing Black Leadership: The African-American Civil Rights Struggle in Two Contemporary Graphic Novels


  • Stefano Bosco



American literature, graphic novels


Over the last few decades, the genre of the graphic novel has known an unprecedented diffusion as a viable aesthetic form through which its creators can vehicle cultural and political discourses. Especially in the hands of artists belonging to social and racial minorities, the medium has displayed a crucial potential for undermining the master narratives of the dominant (i.e. white) culture, whose traditions of textual and visual representation contributed to the normalization of oppression and exclusion. As they did for other genres of the white American tradition, black artists have recently started to employ graphic narratives so as to question biased views on the African  American past, along with the legacy of racialized images through which blacks have been portrayed. Strictly connected to such concern with history and its re-formulation in a predominantly visual medium, there is also an involvement in personal or (auto-)biographical narratives where the self becomes the prism through which one approaches the events and collective experiences defining a particular historical moment. In the case of African-American representations, this biographical element takes up a special resonance for its recalling the tradition of the slave narratives—a genre which was in an already problematic relationship with the ideological uses of white American life-writing. What I am going to explore here is the declination of African-American historical biography within the form of the graphic novel; I will do so by considering two works that thematize black experience during the Civil Rights Movement in different ways and with different purposes—the graphic memoir March, by African American Congressman John Lewis, and the graphic biography King by Afro-Canadian artist Ho Che Anderson.


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