East of West #9: The Black Experience Done Right

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Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Art: Nick Dragotta
Colors: Frank Martin
Publisher: Image Comics

People of color are underrepresented and misrepresented in comics (we should all know that by now). However, there are some creators who do diversity right. (Quick shout-out to the creators of ChewSaga and Nowhere Men, to name a few.) This issue of East of West took it a step further and not only had an issue full of black folk, but it gave them depth and realism.

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East of West is a crock-pot that’s brewing an oncoming apocalypse and each issue is an ingredient. Because of this, there isn’t much progression in the story, just more world expansion and history lessons. The newest ingredient is the black Kingdom of New Orleans. This is where Jonathan Hickman does the black experience justice.

Too many black characters in comics are what I like to call “happenstance black”. Their blackness has little or nothing to do with the character’s personality. They are the token black character. Don’t get me wrong, just because a character is black doesn’t mean everything about that character should do with race and racism. But it cannot be ignored either.

The King of New Orleans mentions that the other nations call blacks “oilmen, like it was a slur”. This was a smart way to add an aspect of racial realism. Even the last name of Jonathan Freeman gives the reader more insight into this family and their core values. But these are not simply race-related plot devices just for the sake of it, they blend effortlessly with the story.

East of West shows us that it’s possible to incorporate the black experience into a comic in a genuine way… if you give a damn.

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My Pull List: East of West- The Promise #4

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East of West: The Promise was exciting from panel to panel. I had to tell myself to slow down because I was so exited my eyes were jumping all over the page like a happy puppy not sure where to focus! Nick Dragotta blew me away once again with his art, especially the panels where The Raven and The Wolf transformed. How cool was that?! And we can’t forget about Frank Martin’s stunning coloring, which makes the world and characters blend and pop at the same time.

EoW definitely has some of my favorite character design in a series so far. Death and his black and white crew are the most remarkable. I’m pretty obsessed with The Raven. I also noticed in the scene when Death was kissing Xiaolian, his skin was black, and not the white skin we see now. It makes me think he’s been through some sort of rebirth (that probably has to do with her). Can’t wait to see what that’s all about. He went all Gandalf on us!

The scenes at the House of Mao were definitely the most exciting parts of the issue. When Death knocks on your door, you know sh*t’s about to go down! Not only was there a huge battle going on, but Jonathan Hickman still managed to weave in important dialogue about the story’s mythology. It was a bit of sensory overload, but I didn’t mind.

We get to see Famine, War and Conquest from a different point of view, too. Their tough demeanor falters during the scenes with Mister Chamberlain. You would assume the last thing you want is three-fourths of the Horsemen of Apocalypse angry with you, but Chamberlain told them who was boss, and his name is Death. Actually, I take that back, Xiaolian is the real boss. I mean she’s the one who conquered Death. He fell in love with her. And I hear he’s been around for quiet a while so that must mean something.

This issue showed me that East of West is the story of what happens when Death falls in love.