More than likely, educators looking to incorporate sequential art in their study of the Civil Rights Movement are familiar with the pedagogical and literary value of non-fiction narratives, like those found in the March series and King: A Comics Biography of MLK, Jr. However, there will always be that group of students who do not enjoy reading non-fiction narratives. During CBLDF’s Teaching Tough Topics webinar last October, Tony Weaver, Jr., CEO and Founder of Weird Enough Productions, encouraged educators to bridge the gap for students who are reluctant to read non-fiction titles, like March and King, by incorporating fiction titles with similar themes. Here’s a clip of his suggestions:
Because fiction provides a safe space to explore complex social issues, such as identity, race, inequality, and injustice, including fiction titles in your broader study of the Civil Rights Movement is a great idea for all learners. Therefore, we’ve expanded on Weaver’s suggestions and developed a list of graphic novels that will help you examine MLK Jr.’s legacy. Incorporating one or more of the following titles into your study of the Civil Rights Movement can provide opportunities for students to reflect on the ways in which the complex issues associated with this time in American history are still relevant in today’s society.
Titles for Learners who Enjoy Realistic Fiction
Incognegro by Mat Johnson & Warren Pleece
This tenth anniversary edition of the acclaimed and fearless graphic novel features enhanced toned art, an afterword by Mat Johnson, character sketches, and other additional material.
In the early 20th Century, when lynchings were commonplace throughout the American South, a few courageous reporters from the North risked their lives to expose these atrocities. They were African-American men who, due to their light skin color, could “pass” among the white folks. They called this dangerous assignment going “incognegro.”
Zane Pinchback, a reporter for the New York-based New Holland Herald, is sent to investigate the arrest of his own brother, charged with the brutal murder of a white woman in Mississippi. With a lynch mob already swarming, Zane must stay “incognegro” long enough to uncover the truth behind the murder in order to save his brother — and himself. Suspenseful, unsettling and relevant, Incognegro is a tense graphic novel of shifting identities, forbidden passions, and secrets that run far deeper than skin color.
I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacy Robinson, & John Jennings
Alfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.
When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.
In the first graphic novel for young readers to focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, as in Hamlet, the dead shall speak—and the living yield even more surprises.
Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, Guy A. Sims, & Dawud Anyabwile
Monster is a multi-award-winning, provocative coming-of-age story about Steve Harmon, a teenager awaiting trial for a murder and robbery. As Steve acclimates to juvenile detention and goes to trial, he envisions how his ordeal would play out on the big screen.
Guy A. Sims, the acclaimed author of the Brotherman series of comic books, collaborated with his brother, the illustrator Dawud Anyabwile, in this thrilling black-and-white graphic novel adaption of Monster.
Monster was the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award recipient, an ALA Best Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor selection, and a National Book Award finalist. Monster is also now a major motion picture called All Rise starring Jennifer Hudson, Kelvin Harrison, Jr., Nas, and A$AP Rocky.
Fans of Monster and of the work of Walter Dean Myers—and even kids who think they don’t like to read—will devour this graphic adaptation.
Titles for Learners who Enjoy Speculative Fiction
Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation by Octavia E. Butler, Damien Duffy, & John Jennings
More than 35 years after its release, Kindred continues to draw in new readers with its deep exploration of the violence and loss of humanity caused by slavery in the United States, and its complex and lasting impact on the present day. Adapted by celebrated academics and comics artists Damian Duffy and John Jennings, this graphic novel powerfully renders Butler’s mysterious and moving story, which spans racial and gender divides in the antebellum South through the 20th century.
Butler’s most celebrated, critically acclaimed work tells the story of Dana, a young black woman who is suddenly and inexplicably transported from her home in 1970s California to the pre–Civil War South. As she time-travels between worlds, one in which she is a free woman and one where she is part of her own complicated familial history on a southern plantation, she becomes frighteningly entangled in the lives of Rufus, a conflicted white slaveholder and one of Dana’s own ancestors, and the many people who are enslaved by him.
Held up as an essential work in feminist, science-fiction, and fantasy genres, and a cornerstone of the Afrofuturism movement, there are over 500,000 copies of Kindred in print. The intersectionality of race, history, and the treatment of women addressed within the original work remain critical topics in contemporary dialogue, both in the classroom and in the public sphere.
Frightening, compelling, and richly imagined, Kindred offers an unflinching look at our complicated social history, transformed by the graphic novel format into a visually stunning work for a new generation of readers.
Bitter Root by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, & Sanford Greene
In the 1920s, the Harlem Renaissance is in full swing, and only the Sangerye Family can save New York—and the world—from the supernatural forces threatening to destroy humanity. But the once-great family of monster hunters has been torn apart by tragedies and conflicting moral codes. The Sangerye Family must heal the wounds of the past and move beyond their differences… or sit back and watch a force of unimaginable evil ravage the human race.
BTTMFDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore
Once a thriving working-class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the “Bottomyards” is now the definition of urban blight. When an aspiring fashion designer and her image-obsessed BFF descend upon the hood in search of cheap rent, they discover something far more seductive… and deadly.
Gentrification and body horror collide in this brutal satire from the award-winning creators of Upgrade Soul and Your Black Friend.