The first thing anyone says when you mention a comic book (When you’re Black) is, “What? The Boondocks?” The reach of McGruder’s iconic long running comic strip, his ability to analyze the political nature of America with a keen eye on how this country interacts with Black America is basically the only thing most people know about Black Comics. Mind you that there is always a more detailed history available in art when Blacks are concerned, but a little google/bing will make this clearer. For the sake of discussion however, I’m making this an easy comparison for everyone and saying I picked up a comic strip collection in November. It was not a graphic novel, but a collection of comic strips from an online cartoonist/writer named Michael Archie. The collection can be found on Perfect Man Designs and like the Boondocks it is political and poignant.
Comic strips are the perfect tool for usurping authority in America; just like comedy. A comic strip is not threatening. The simple colors and shades, the soft lines and curves belay complex discussions. It’s like the approach of Richard Pryor once he came back from Africa, or the current tone of Chris Rock’s letter and statements to America on race, certain things can be said straightforward when there is a comedic tone or a cartoon attached to it. Does this lesson the power of the message? No.
I think there is a certain amount of genius in the power of the comic strip. Archie’s Work Force: Volume 1 is a collection of the strips he posts on Facebook and on his site. I discovered his work while supporting the Black Owned Business Collective on Facebook. I began checking out the comic strips when I liked the page. The comics would pop up at relevant times and I’d chuckle a bit and kind of shake my head in agreement. One in particular titled No Escape, was compelling simply because it speaks towards the unfortunate position most people are in. A girl lies in bed sick. The phone rings. It’s her employer asking her to come in to work. She explains that she’s sick. The employer states that she needs to bring in a Dr.s’ note. She explains that she doesn’t have health insurance, but she will be in. It’s a tragic and subtle use of the comic strip to underscore the serious problem when employers don’t pay enough to provide health care and will work you to death. Archie juxtaposes the darkness with moments of hilarity that are just as enlightening. His character Hannibal is the moral compass in many of the strips. The weedsmoking philosopher coaxes you in with his calm demeanor and then smacks you in the face with rhetoric that is sharp and demonstrative.
Like with any book that I come across I have to give the lowpoints. The writing could be a bit stronger in places. What tends to happen is the depth of the topic is so heavy that the power of the comic is reduced because the message is being screamed at you. The collection also falters because the casual reader who doesn’t know that it is not a book/graphic novel, can pick the book up and get a little frustrated looking for plot points and things to connect the characters together in a story. These items are small overall, but had to be pointed out.
Overall, it’s inspiring to see Black writers working in alternative mediums and producing important work. Archie’s Work Force is an ode to a generation who has yet to find their place in society and is wandering aimlessly sharing wack music and fighting videos online. It is a call to arms… a manifesto that is questioning where you stand on important issues in the Black community and in America. The honest nature of the strips overwhelms any shortcomings in the collection simply because it is needed and important. I recommend first liking the Work Force Comics Facebook page and spending some time checking out Michael Archie’s work. Then I suggest you visit his website and support the brother not because he is Black, but because he is working on his art and creating important messages to stimulate conversation and conversation can lead to movements.