Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Review: STRANGE FRUIT #1
BOOM! Studios – @boomstudios
[This review was originally posted on Patreon.]
WRITERS: J.G. Jones and Mark Waid
ARTIST: J.G. Jones
LETTERS: Deron Bennett
COVER: J.G. Jones
24pp, Colors, $3.99 U.S. (July 2015)
Suggested for mature readers
Strange Fruit is a new four-issue comic book miniseries from comics creators, Mark Waid (Daredevil; Kingdom Come) and J.G. Jones (Wanted; Y: The Last Man). According to publicity released by publisher BOOM! Studios, Strange Fruit is “a deeply personal passion project” and is a “provocative examination of the heroic myth confronting the themes of racism, cultural legacy, and human nature through a literary lens, drawing from Southern folklore and tradition.”
Strange Fruit #1 opens in Chatterlee, Mississippi, April 1927, during what would become known as the “Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.” The Mississippi River is rising, threatening to break open the levees and destroy Chatterlee, after already washed away the “God-fearing” town of Seeley. The race to shore up the levees is also threatening to break open the racial and social divisions of Chatterlee and the surrounding area. Into this roiling situation, a mysterious Black man falls from the sky.
Strange Fruit was already a controversial comic book months before its release. I imagine that it will draw ire from people who were perturbed by Quentin Tarantino's 2012, Oscar-winning film, Django Unchained. Fiction like Tarantino's film and Strange Fruit draw controversy because of their subject matter and because of the settings of their narratives. Another reason such works are controversial is because African-American critics see them as cheap entertainment and violent melodramas that exploit the troubled and painful history of Black folks in America.
To be fair to J.G. Jones and Mark Waid, anything set in the racist, police state that was the Deep South in the 1920s (and 30s, and 40s and 50s and 60s...) is bound to court controversy. Also, Waid was born in 1962 in Alabama, so he spent his childhood in the vicinity of the troubled times of the Civil Rights movement. [I don't know when Jones was born.] Actually, I give Jones and Waid credit for depicting how Whites treated Black locals during the Great Flood (to say nothing of other natural disasters).
A well-known comic book artist once criticized members of his message board for using the term “boy scout” in a derogatory way. He said that “decent people” knew that the Boy Scouts organization was a good thing. I started to inform him (but didn't) about the story that during the Great Flood, some “decent people” in Mississippi had Boy Scouts point rifles at Black locals, who had been forced to fill sand bags to protect from a breach of the levee, in order to assure that they would keep working.
You see, many Black people had little or nothing, in the way of property, to lose during the Great Flood if a levee broke along the Mississippi River and washed away a town. White land and property owners and businessman had everything to lose, and thus, treated Blacks like slaves who were expected to save business they probably weren't even allowed to patronize. This also happened when fire threatened fields planted with crops, as was the case in early 20th century Louisiana when Whites used murder and violence to intimidate Black locals into fighting the fire.
Jones (who was born in my home state of Louisiana) and Waid are merely digging in the dirt of their birthplaces using myth and Southern folklore and tradition to examine their birthright. That birthright is the human stain of the legacy of racism, slavery, a failed Reconstruction, Jim Crow, segregation, the police state, and extreme violence.
As for reading this series, I'm in. Thank you, Mr. Jones and Mr. Waid. I hope that Strange Fruit is the first of many such comic book series. Maybe, comic book publishing companies, which are owned and operated by White people, will even have the vision to publish such material when it is created by African-Americans. In my review of a future issue of Strange Fruit, I will praise J.G. Jones' utterly beautiful painted art to the high heavens.
Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux
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