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Dr. Qiana Whitted publishes new collection on race and comics

“Desegregating Comics” unearths the hidden history of Black contributions to the comics industry

Professor Qiana Whitted is an award-winning scholar and leading researcher in the lively, increasingly popular academic field of comics studies. Her most recent editorial project, Desegregating Comics:  Debating Blackness in the Golden Age of American Comics (Rutgers University Press, 2023), turns a critical interdisciplinary eye on the intersection of African American Studies and the literary criticism of comics and related forms of imaginative writing.

Desegregating Comics collects 15 essays about representations of Blackness in U.S. comics from the 1930s to the 1950s, treating not just the racial content of those comics, but how the books were written and published, and even how they were received. An innovative and important contribution that reveals a more complex history than has been understood, Whitted’s book is notable not just for the range and interest of its individual essays, but also for how the collection as a whole renovates the critical understanding of this key period in the American comic industry and its role in popular culture and American life. In an interview about the book, Whitted explained, “There were always Black readers and others who said, ‘This is not right, these kinds of caricatures don’t represent us, and comics can be better without them….’ They loved comics and continued to do so even when the stories disappointed them.”  She hopes her research shows how “African Americans and people of other races have always been a part of the industry.” 

Whitted has been leading the way in South Carolina and beyond for the serious study of comics. Her 2019 monograph, EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest (also from Rutgers), won the 2020 Eisner Award for Best Academic Scholarly Work from Comic-Con International. She chaired the International Comic Arts Forum from 2017-2023, edits Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, and participates in a system-wide working group at USC sponsored by the Humanities Collaborative that brings together scholars from around the state who are interested in teaching and researching comics. Whitted’s teaching and scholarship mutually inform and inflect one another: she has developed and taught such popular courses as “Introduction to Comics Studies,” “Graphic Memoir,” and “Race, Gender, and Graphic Novels.” 

Praise for Desegregating Comics has been lavish:

“Only someone living in a cave wouldn't see how thoroughly comics permeate American culture. But even those knowledgeable about graphic arts may not be aware of how comics mirror this nation's often tortured racial history. And even fewer people know about the pioneering Black artists who worked to challenge and change racist stereotypes. What that means is that the groundbreaking essays in Desegregating Comics are essential contributions to an exciting, relatively new field of long-overdue scholarship.”

    • Charles Johnson, National Book Award-winning author of Middle Passage

"Desegregating Comics is essential reading for those seeking a more complex and revisionist history of the Black image in comics in the first half of the twentieth century. It includes leading voices in media, literature, gender, and Black studies who unearth the collaborative efforts in the industry to reshape visual and narrative renderings of spectacular blackness and speculations of blackness."

      • Deborah Elizabeth Whaley, author of Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels, and Anime

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.