Catching Up on Spring Reads: Comics and Books

Part of my goal is to support independent artists, particularly black women artists. Every once in a while I’ll include others whose work has touched me in some way. This go around I am looking at four black women whose work I have enjoyed recently. Please check out these works.

Avy Jetter – Comic Book Creator of Nuthin’ Good Ever Happens at 4 a.m.
I first heard of Jetter a few weeks ago I think from the Black Comix Art Festival. I found Jetter’s work on Etsy and decided to check out her self-published comic book. After ordering the comic, I realized there were actually three in the series, but I decided to give the first one a go and see what her work was about.

There are many things I enjoyed about Nuthin’ Good Ever Happens at 4 a.m. All the characters appear to be black, primarily teens living in mostly less than ideal circumstances: Dray, Chan, David and Zee. They have various hobbies including gaming and drugs but some of them also work. However, in the first installment of the comic, they all realize something strange is happening in their Oakland neighborhood and see people eating other people. They all end up escaping to a locked storeroom of a corner store contemplating their next move.

Another thing I like is Jetter’s illustration. The first installment of the series is completely black and white. This works very well considering the zombie subject matter. Furthermore, the cover of the second installment is in color but the rest is in black and white. The third installment is completely in color and has a glossier look, but Jetter’s illustrations remain gritty and in keeping with the story. Her style looks like a pen sketching that evolved into a Michaelangelo mural by the time she was done. In between character sketches and plot, she shows you Oakland in her unique style.

I won’t go into detail about the rest of the story because I don’t want to give away spoilers. However, you really should get all three installments of the comic when you check it out. I should also note that each installment is dated 2012, 2013 and 2014, meaning Jetter has only been able to release one installment per year. But this must mean that the good news is she’ll release another this year, so keep a look out.

Jayde Brooks – Author of Daughter of Gods and Shadows
Note: This is the review I posted on Goodreads.
Like much of my Twitter feed, I first became interested in this book after seeing the cover. Much to my surprise, I won an advanced copy from a Goodreads giveaway. Overall, I really enjoyed this fantasy novel that includes practically every creature of myth we have ever grown up with.

Admittedly, it took me a while to get into Daughter of Gods and Shadows. There are so many characters with multiple names that is it difficult to keep track of them at times. Furthermore, it appears I received an advanced copy that still had some editing errors that left me confused for a while. However, once I got back into the story, I began to enjoy the it again.

It focuses on Eden Moore, a young woman who has been told all her life that she is the reincarnation of an ancient entity meant to save the world from a powerful demon. Of course, Eden is reluctant to fulfill the prophecy and only comes to terms with her destiny when she realizes she must survive in a world suddenly turned chaotic when the Ancients bring havoc and destruction in their wake.

I enjoyed the book because I tend to like showdowns between good and evil. At times it’s difficult to tell which side is which, another factor I liked. Also, while the book takes place in the US, mostly NYC, the chaos extends worldwide. Brooks builds an already familiar world and populates it with Ancients who have adapted and blended in when they are not displaying their superhuman abilities, so I think it’s safe to call the book urban fantasy.

While the large array of Ancients makes it difficult to navigate at first, eventually the reader can follow the ones who matter and watch how they all relate to each other. Even those who avoid urban fantasy may find this one worth a read.

You can find an interview with author Jayde Brooks at Graveyard Shift Sisters.

Laina Dawes – Author of What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal
I’d heard about Dawes’ book since it was released in December 2012 and kept it on my wish list until I was able to get a copy last year. I read it a couple of months ago and I must say it was worth every rave review it got. Dawes’ story is personal, but it is also an exploration into the larger subculture of heavy metal and the black women who find themselves as outsiders within outsiders.

Dawes’ approach is autobiographical. She inserts herself into the story in a way forbidden by academia, which honestly makes academic work suffer much of the time. She is open about her experience and found that she shares much of it with other black women looking for their place in the heavy metal scene. She talks to artists and fans of the music.

One of the things I appreciated most about Dawes’ work is her exploration of why those of us who find ourselves drawn to things and spaces not made “for us” continue to seek out a space. Do we keep trying to get in to the ones that in many ways make us feel unsafe and uncomfortable or do we find ways to create our own spaces? Furthermore, how do we negotiate race and gender when we are confronted with those who do not openly show their hostilities to our presence?

I also appreciated Dawes’ discussion of being “the only one” in heavy metal spaces. I recently wrote about the special snowflake syndrome and how we sometimes hold this a badge of pride. Definitely the heavy metal scene is no different. Learning to embrace our skinfolk who may also at times feel alone despite whatever acceptance they think they have from white peers can go a long way toward helping us create a thriving heavy metal scene for ourselves.

What Are You Doing Here? is the type of work I’ve always wanted to do when I write about women who work outside the genres of R&B and rap (or other “black” music genres). While it is specifically about heavy metal (and to an extent hard rock and punk), much of Dawes’ observations relate to various subcultures whether they are geek spaces, music spaces or other communities tied by a common interest. Of course there are questions left unanswered beyond the scope of Dawes’ intentions, but she nevertheless provides us with a good starting point.

Nisi Shawl* and Rebecca Holden Editors of Strange Matings: Science Fiction, Feminism, African American Voices and Octavia E. Butler
When I first picked up Kindred years ago, I had no idea of the impact Octavia Butler had on science fiction and her fans. All I know is Kindred became my all-time favorite book and I obsessed over it for days after reading it. Finally having the opportunity to pick up Strange Matings during WisCon in 2014 was quite the pleasure and reading the book was just as enjoyable as getting to know Butler herself.

Strange Matings meets that area that often does not find it’s place in academic writing: the personal meets the political and the essays show how the two are always intertwined. Many of the writers in this anthology had personal ties to Butler and share their reflections of her. They make Butler three-dimensional for those of us who never had the privilege of seeing her in person.

They also shed new light upon Butler’s work for those who are familiar with it as well as those who do not understand the full extent of her impact on the world(s) of speculative fiction. They find common themes in Butler’s work and discuss the ways she opened science fiction to new possibilities that addressed intersections of race, gender, class and other marginalizations in complex ways.

The book is organized mostly chronologically with writers looking at different phases of Butler’s work. This is a very good way for new readers to familiarize themselves with Butler’s bibliography, especially regarding the chronology of her multiple book series. The organization also shows an evolution of Butler’s work, making the reader aware of the issues that concerned her and eventually made their way into her work.

Yet, the chronology itself is disrupted with pieces including excerpts from interviews, poetry inspired by and dedicated to Butler and personal essays telling the reader how Butler personally affected them. Such a disruption perfectly compliments Butler’s own work.

Even those who do not consider themselves fans of sci-fi or speculative fiction will find the value of Strange Matings. It addresses many of the questions speculative fiction brings forth. For instance, if we do not find representation of ourselves in speculative genres, what does that say about how we are seen by dominant forces now? The writers in this anthology continue the work Butler started when she was the only black woman represented in the genre while beautifully paying homage to her legacy.

*Note: Nisi Shawl is also the author of the incredible short story collection Filter House.