My Introduction to Graphic Novels

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My Introduction to Graphic Novels

Shamefully, I have to admit that I read my first graphic novel two months ago. I wrote them off as childish and because of my ignorance I have missed out on great books over the years.

As with most of the books I read, I look for characters that I see myself in: characters that are beautiful, smart, responsible and passionate about the world around them. What makes it extra special for me is finding these qualities in Black people across the African diaspora. Surprisingly, finding graphic novels with such specific criteria was not hard to find in our catalog.  

Shuri 1, The Search for Black Panther by Nnedi Okorafor
I am a huge Marvel fan and by extension a Black Panther fan. Written by the Nigerian-American author Nnedi Okorafor, Shuri is set after Black Panther is sent into space and later goes missing. Shuri is tasked with finding him while toiling over whether or not to take up the mantle of Black Panther once again. I am a fan of Okorafor's other works, and she did not disappoint in Shuri. I am always wary of authenticity when the media depicts Africa because 99% of the time they get it wrong -- but thankfully, Okorafor did us justice. I really liked how the ancestors were portrayed, as many African people believe that our ancestors play an active role in our lives and by extension our communities; it was nice to see that aspect of our culture represented here.
 
Black Panther: World of Wakanda by Roxanne Gay with Ta-Nehisi Coates
Ayo and Aneka are two members of the highly selective and esteemed Dora Milaje who happen to fall in love with one another. Their personal love for one another does not even come close to their love of Wakanda and their people. World of Wakanda has been my favorite Black Panther comic so far. In some African countries homosexuality is illegal, and across the continent attitudes about the LGBTQIA community are negative and at times actively dangerous, so to see these two strong women openly loving each other and their love being seen as natural instead of an exception is remarkable. If only the world could be like Wakanda in this regard. 
 
Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet
Now THIS probably will go down as my all-time favorite graphic novel. In Côte d'Ivoire, West Africa is 19 year-old Aya, a young, levelheaded, and vibrant woman whose friends and family are in constant need of her wisdom in the bustling Yop City. Illustration plays a huge part in bringing this dynamic city and its entertaining people to life. The writing had me laughing, pulled at my heart strings and kept me struggling to keep up with the drama! I found the Ivorian expressions and sayings to be the highlight of the text because honestly, how can you write a book set in Africa without having any of the local language included? Overall, it is so refreshing to read about African people living their lives happy and full of laughter. Despite this book being called Aya it is more about everyone looking out for one another in their community which is something practiced all over Africa. 

Akissi: Tales of Mischief by Abouet & Sapin
The younger sister of Aya, Akissi is a boisterous young girl who finds herself getting in and out of trouble whether it is by herself, with her brothers and his friends, or with her pet monkey. Akissi is terribly cute and very funny. It is similar to Aya in the way that her community plays an active role in her everyday shenanigans.
 
Incognegro by Mat Johnson
Set in the early 1900s in Harlem, New York is investigative journalist Zane Pinchback. Zane is a light skinned black man who is able to pass as a white man. He uses this privilege to go undercover or “incognegro” and investigate lynchings and other unjust acts against African American people all over the country. While this is a work of fiction, it is true that some light skinned African Americans who were able to pass as white did so in order to gain a leg up in this racist society where everything was set up for them to fail.