Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Reads You Review: COLORS IN BLACK #1

DARK HORSE COMICS – @DarkHorseComics

SCRIPT: J.R. Lamb, Scott Tolson
ART: Scott Tolson, Christopher Schenck
COLORS: Scott Tolson, Greg Simanson, Christopher Schenck
LETTERS: Erik Bell, Greg Simanson
COVER: Scott Tolson
32pp, Color, $2.95 U.S., $4.15 CAN (March 1995)

Colors in Black was a four-issue comic book miniseries published by Dark Horse Comics in 1995.  The series’ covers bore a “Comics by Spike” logo because Colors in Black was published “in cooperation” with Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks, the production company started by the Emmy-winning and Oscar-nominated filmmaker, Spike Lee.

In an afterword to the first issue, the goal of Colors in Black is described as “to promote dialogue between the various ingredients of American’s melting pot, which we hope will result in a better understanding of each other in the long run.”  I don’t know if the series reached that goal (especially in light of the Jena Six, Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin, etc).  I don’t know anyone else who read it, although I knew people who were aware of the series, so I can’t ask that “better understanding” question.

Colors in Black #1 offers four short comics stories, with writer and artist Scott Tolson being the guiding force behind most of the material in this first issue.  The opening piece is “The Introduction (an’ Shit) or The Bad Rap Song,” written by J.R. Lamb and drawn by Scott Tolson.  Four characters break the fourth wall and speak directly to the reader about the black experience.

It is a fun read because all four characters have such distinctive points of view about being black, African-American, or a person of color, but it can also be jarring.  I don’t know if this is the best way to open the series, as this introduction does not necessarily reflect the other stories.  On the other hand, “The Introduction (an’ Shit)” does let the reader know that this comic book has little to do with a typical “black experience” or with presenting a monolithic viewpoint.

There are two stories in this first issue that deserve to be called powerful.  The first is “The Life That Jack Built” (by Scott Tolson with Greg Simanson), which personifies how material wealth and the quest for a highly-materialistic version of the American dream have a dark side.  The words and pictures work in tandem and separately; this makes the story’s themes and, of course, message, work in a way that that isn’t so much aggressive as it is victorious.

Tolson offers another powerful story, “Passion Play.”  This story juxtaposes an “angry” young black man with a white scholar’s interpretation of an angry young black man and his explanation of why they are angry.  The story impressively pits theory against reality, and the art and graphical storytelling is expressionistic in a way that leaves everything up to the interpretation of the reader.

I think Colors in Black #1 is not about preaching to the reader, but rather allowing the reader to think and to engage.  That isn’t the usual in American comic books, which generally feed readers material they digest as entertainment, sometimes merely for the sake of escapism.

Colors in Black #1 can also be seen as being essentially an alternative comic book similar to the kind that Fantagraphics Books or Drawn & Quarterly would have published at the time Colors in Black was first released.  Of course, the exception is that North American alt-comix publishers were not publishing black alt-comix.


Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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