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UCR Prof On Creating Social Change Through Comics And Graphic Novels


Black Panther and Into The Spider-verse brought comics about people of color to the big screen this year.  But a UCR professor says this kind of attention is exciting, but overdue.  KVCR's Isel Cuapio has more.

Black Panther and Into the Spiderverse brought comics about people of color to the big screen this year. But a UCR professor says this kind of attention is exciting but overdue.

I spoke with John Jennings, who’s the editor of a comics publishing line called Megascope which focuses on highlighting comics by artists of color. The imprint will include lots of genres, including Afrofuturism — which explores the experiences of black people through science fiction. We talked about why representation is so important and what he’s doing to make the industry more inclusive.

Isel: So why is it important for more representation and inclusions of artists of color, specifically in graphic novels and comics?

John: Everyone who participates in society deserves to see themselves reflected in that society. There are a lot of people from various backgrounds who love science fiction and fantasy but are always like,  ‘I wish that I could see myself in that future, it's very powerful to see yourself in a future.

Isel : This broad category of speculative fiction, it almost seems like the perfect genre in which people of color or underrepresented groups can tell their stories, stories that are often seen as "othered".

John: I think it's interesting when you look at dystopian fictions, or post apocalyptic fiction. And one side, it's horrific, but on the other side, when you see those particular systems fall away , our humanity is kind of exposed.  

Isel : Let's talk about the name of the imprint, Megascope. what is the name referencing and why is it so fitting for the imprint?

Two scholars Adrian Brown and Britt Rusert, were going through W. E. B. Du bois’s work and they came across a science fiction story and the piece is called “The Princess Steel” written in 1909. And in it, he uses this device called a megascope, which is a device that can see in other dimensions. I thought it would be a great name for an imprint for how it's used in his story as a framing mechanism, but also the idea at looking at other possibilities, and that the story was discovered that had been waiting for us to find it, these hidden histories.

Isel: It's black history month,and I would like to know what are some of your graphic novel recommendations that we should be add to our reading list for the month?

John: Besides “Kindred”, our graphic novel adaptation, you should probably check out now the new “Showtime at the Apollo” book, and I would also look at the “Thelonious Monk

graphic novel. There's also a graphic novel about Josephine Baker from Self-made hero that is pretty great.

Isel: John, as an academic and now curator of a publishing line, how do you hope to continue increasing diversity and inclusion in this space and produce comics that truly are for everyone?

Keep doing what I'm doing, right now we're in a very interesting moment, where afrofuturism and black speculative culture have become mainstream. The work I've been doing has been on all fronts..creating spaces where black artists and people of color can create these types of narratives and independently, and creating art myself.

John Jennings is a celebrated designer, curator, illustrator and cartoonist. His creative and academic work centers around intersectional narratives regarding identity politics and popular media. Jennings provided the illustrations for the graphic novel of Octavia Butler’s “Kindred”and is now working on the graphic novel adaptation for “Parable of the Sower.”


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