“Tales of the Talented Tenth” is a graphic novel series that focuses on the adventures of amazing African Americans in action. With vivid and whimsical art, author and illustrator Joel Christian Gill presents these graphic novels not merely as an adventure tale, but the history of previously disenfranchised peoples.
For generations, American comics held a lowbrow reputation stemming from its roots in mass culture. In the latter half of the 20th century, popular culture won greater acceptance, and comics slowly evolved. In the 1960s, as cartoonists began creating comics for mature audiences, and the term “Ninth Art” was coined, as comics began to attract public and academic attention as an art form.
“A lot of people say that comics is the ‘Ninth Art’ because you can do things and tell stories in comics that you can’t necessarily do when your showing a movie or writing a novel,” said Gill. “In a lot of ways it tricks people into learning things ... it is a good way — and unique way — to get people information.
The cultural underground gave birth to the alternative comics movement in the 1980s and its mature, often experimental content in non-superhero genres. Gill utilizes the medium as a way and a way to discuss African Americans, social justice and a shared history.
Comics aren’t just a genre; they are actually just a medium. We are now in the last 10-15 years, just starting to catch up with comics being a way to tell different kinds of stories.”
Gill is helping Americans (and others) catch up with a portion of its unheralded history with “Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History” (Fulcrum Publishing) and “Bass Reeves: Tales of the Talented Tenth” (Fulcrum Publishing; $25.95). In addition to his duties as associate dean of student affairs at the New Hampshire Institute of Art and member of The Boston Comics Roundtable, Gill is on a national tour for Black History Month giving talks about the marginalization of minority people’s history entitled “28 Days Are Not Enough.”
“Black history is fundamentally American history,” explained Gill. “These stories of people doing these amazing things don’t happen in Canada, don’t happen in Europe. These specific stories that I am telling are quintessential American stories. And, when you take that and you apply it to the 28-day period that we always talk about, then you get my rallying cry, which is ‘28 Days Are Not Enough.’
I’ve been trying to start a Twitter movement #28daysarenotenough where I’m going to talk about Black History 365 days out of the year. When Black history was expanded from Negro History Week to Black History Month, it looked as if we were finally getting our due, but what is our due when it’s only 28 days? What is it when we finally separate our history out from all the other histories of the world? When we separate LGBTQI, Latino history or women’s history, specifically in America, because these histories are from the people who built America. In America, class has for a long time been built on race, so the different color of your skin meant you were a different class, and those are the people who built America. Who fought and died for America more than the enslaved people of the United States? People who risked everything just so they could make their own choices? And so, when you take that and look at it, 28 days aren’t enough to talk about that.”
Gill’s graphic novel series is a tool with which to discuss African Americans, social justice and a shared history. “The reason why my stories are obscure is because we only spend 28 days on history,” continued Gill. “By accepting that our history, Black history, is a part of American history we will stop that idea that this is the ‘other,’ like there are people in America that have a separate history. If we can do that, what we can do is start to understand what Black people have been able to do and that Black people are the American mythos — we are the original boot-strapping Americans. We are the people that pulled ourselves up in the face of institutional racism and made a way for ourselves. When I think about freedom, I think about my family members who were enslaved and fought their way out of it; who survived in the face of those things. I think it is important, because I think our shared history — Black people, white people, all brown people, everybody — this is our culture. This is our history.”
Joel Christian Gill will be among the illustrators and authors featured at the 23rd Annual African American Children’s Book Fair on Saturday, Feb. 7 from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. at the gymnasium of the Community College of Philadelphia, 17th & Spring Garden streets. For more information regarding this free event, visit theafricanamericanchildrensbookproject.org or call (215) 878-BOOK.