Friday, March 20, 2015

The Color of The Canon

As in other areas of artistic and literary endeavor, African-American illustrators and graphic novelists have labored under a variety of different burdens -- the question of having to "represent," the market's perception that strips and graphic works about black folks would only be read by black folks (and therefore be less commercially viable), along with the expectation that the themes and subjects of their output ought necessarily to deal with the history of African-American struggle rather than other kinds of subjects.

Some artists, as a result, have taken up a strategy of resistance, among them Milton Knight, adapter of Hurston's "Poker!" here, who calls himself America's Last Untamed Cartoonist. He names as influences decades of cartoonists and animators, among them Will EisnerBob Clampett, the Fleischer Studios (Popeye and Betty Boop), and even Chinese woodblock art. As an African-American illustrating a 1931 African-American text with a jazz-age style, he seems a perfect choice.

Seth Tobocman, adapter of Frederick Douglass's "Message from Mount Misery," which refers to the name of the plantation where Douglass was sent to be tortured (and which is now owned, ironically enough, by Donald Rumsfeld), is white. Still, his radical politics -- among his books are You Don't Have to Fuck People Over to Survive and Disaster and Resistance -- resonate with those of Douglass, who once compared those who wanted progress without struggle to "Men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the roar of its mighty waters."

So how do each of these adaptations play out, not only with the contents of their respective texts, but with the way they've adapted them to contemporary readers? Your thoughts below.


  1. I thought both adaptations were interestingly illustrated. I'm not exactly sure but in some of the illustrations done by Tobocman show a colored man in a white man's position. I wasn't sure if that's what he meant to do with the shading of his characters but that's what I pulled from a couple pages. I thought his intention was to be ironic with the illustrations but I'm not sure.
    After reading Knight's background, it makes since why his characters are similar to those in the Popeye comics. Even if I didn't know his background the way the characters were illustrated just reminded me of the old cartoons on tv from Disney.

  2. I believe that the illustrations went well with the story. The way it was written seemed humorous to me, so it made sense that the drawings would also be the same way. It reminded me of an old cartoon, which went along with the time period the story takes place during. Certain aspects made me see this, such as the cigarette hanging out of the characters mouth who was talking at the same time or the way the characters faces were drawn, looking more like animal faces than those of humans. I could imagine watching this graphic adaptation as a cartoon, especially because of the scene that was portrayed. The "poker game" was very often shown in cartoons especially during the 1900's, so it had a familiar feeling to it. Overall, I think the graphics went well with the story.

  3. Both adaptations were pretty good. In my opinion, I liked the illustrations and general message of Seth Tobocman’s adaptation of Frederick Douglass’s “Message from Mount Misery”. Although the illustrations are drawn like sketches and lack detail, they really do emphasize what Douglass was trying to get at. “Poker!” by Hurston and adapted by Milton Knight however, I feel could have been depicted a bit better. Both end with deaths one was from a fight, and one was from standing up for what they believed in. They have adapted these classics to contemporary readers by making the illustrations powerful enough to back up the main text’s point. While “Poker!” I personally felt was sloppy and could have been drawn better, it still conveyed the message of changing your ways or else you can be “damned to hell”. “A Message from Mount Misery” was just drawn better and the illustrations helped emphasize the point of sticking up for what you believe in. It also represented how change is not going to come unless there is a change within man himself; that’s why I liked this one better; I believe the message is stronger and can generally connect with people on a more personal level.

  4. I enjoyed both adaptions but I liked The Message from Mount Misery the best.
    Frederick Douglas went through to hell get where he got and he realized every slave was going through hell and that every one of them can be where he was. He discusses power and how gaining power is something important. My favorite quote is “A man who will not fight for himself, when he has the means of doing so, is not worth being fought for by others.”

    A powerful illustration in the adaption is the part when it begins to say “This world in which we live is very polite” in which Tobocman illustrates the horrors the world is going through still. He is saying this oppressive behavior isn’t quite dead as it should be. I feel like the end to oppression is not where it should be either. Today, oppression is seen in many places, not just onto colored people, but also to everyone. Everyone is blaming everyone for their own wrongs, and the notion of equality is slowing dying. Tobocman’s illustrations are still, and will be, relevant for today’s world.

    While Tobocman drew the horrors faced with the color on canon, I feel Milton Knights adaption of Poker! by Zora Neale Hurston brings a lighter side. It shows what people of color can do, and they are just as talented and human as any other color of people. Poker! is a very funny play and some of the lines are really clever. “God send me this pistol and I’m goin’ to send him a man!” There is a saying “the stage is colorblind,” which goes with casting for dramatic shows, and the same should go with writing. Color of skin is irrelevant to works of art and to those who disagree are ignorant. The appreciation of art is colorblind, the love for people is colorblind, the world needs to be colorblind. Once the world is, I truly believe all in the world will be right.

    I really like the feel to Poker! I enjoy it’s illustrated like it should be an old television cartoon show.

  5. These stories are meant to convey a particular message to its readers; however, the ‘Poker’ short gets caught up with all the bells and whistles and the message is almost missed. ‘Poker’ is drawn in an animated format with exaggerated faces/bodies/hands, but not to the extent that it doesn’t look human. If the artist decided the character’s face is to be chubby, then the face was made a tad bit bigger than necessary and vice versa for thin faces. Even without any lines of motion/movement/time there is a lot going on at once time. To fully analyze most of the frames it requires a thorough look. Overall, the message to not gamble and live a life deemed full of sin would kill a person was ultimately portrayed. One sort of wishes the artist allowed color to wash into the frames like the red of the blood to send a more dramatic message. Even the use of scattered colors could’ve focused the eyes towards key elements…

    ‘Message from Mount Misery’ had no qualms in depicting its message: blacks had to rise up and take action to become free. With this adaptation, I honestly believe the illustrations aren’t as important as the actual text. While reading it, I had to remind myself that the page as a whole was my assignment. I enjoyed the message from the text more. Learning about slavery in school, and watching movies which depict the lifestyle of a slave like “12 Years a Slave” and “Django Unchained”, etc..The text and background information provided enough of a mental picture that the actual artwork set on the page was overlooked.

  6. I was captured by both adaptations this week. I really found it intriguing how both were finished in black and white. By doing so, the reader may not have an initial bias towards either piece, and is left to discover the underlying meanings.
    However, both pieces are portrayed in two different ways.
    With 'Poker', the artwork has a caricature-like essence and a jazz feel. The facial
    Expressions are very dramatic, going hand in hand with the literature. I did not however like how the moral of the story played out. I feel as if the author took the subject lightly, and added a more comical edge to the piece.
    With 'Message from Mount Misery' the underlying meaning of this piece is in no way hidden. The artwork is very bold, which seems to only magnify what the author is trying to portray:slavery.
    Looking at these two pieces, it is evident that each author has a different opinion as well as way of thinking towards this particular subject. One displays a comical feel, while the other does not beat around the bush so to speak.
    I did however enjoy comparing both pieces.

  7. Adaptations like these are raw and empowering. Both adaptations give a different look inside society and how evil some people have come, and that we need change ahead. My personal favorite was Seth Tobocman’s adaptation of Frederick Douglass’s “Message from Mount Misery”. This graphical adaptation is drawn beautifully and symbolizes such a great message. The positive and negative spaces and the flip flop of black and white coloring embody the text and empower the illustrations (give them meaning). The art and style brings out the violence at the time very well and portrays society in a way that people can relate too. Tobocman's illustrations are very to the point and forceful through his drawings which makes passing along the message very easy. I found this piece to be very moving, personal, and empowering unlike “Poker!” by Hurston and adapted by Milton Knight. This adaptation seemed very silly and humerus and almost made me upset that such a serious matter was taken so lightly. There are about two frames in which we see the deaths of people that actually captivate a meaning but the rest of the graphics and text were very wishy-washy and distracting. I did, however, enjoy the illustrations as art, I found them to be very well drawn and again enjoyed the black and white composition; I just felt as if it lacked that empowering and strong aspect that Seth Tobocman’s adaptation of Frederick Douglass’s “Message from Mount Misery” gave to us. Overall, I enjoyed both adaptations this week.

  8. I like the drawings the most in this particular story. I feel like it went perfectly with the story line and explained everything spot on. The facial expressions and how the body were positions really added to the story. The pictures caught my attention the most since it was like a cartoon drawing and it was done in a very attractive way. - Brandon Men

  9. Prior to this reading assignment I was unfamiliar with both of these stories. I enjoyed the artwork in both of the stories and thought that they matched the style and story line. I love being able to follow along with a new story with illustrations side by side with the text.
    The style in both of these stories are very, very different. Poker's artwork definitely belongs to the story Poker and Message from Mount Misery's artwork definitely belongs in its story. I guess what I am trying to say is that if you were to switch the artwork styles within these stories, they would send different messages, not the messages they were intended to put forward.
    Both of these adaptations are definitely made to put forth a powerful message. I think they both did, but I did enjoy Message from Mount Misery more. It seemed more realistic and historic to me which I really liked.

  10. For the Poker reading, I did enjoy the illustrations. They definitely had a more cartoon-ish feeling to them which i felt was appropriate to the story. I thought that Knight conveyed the emotions of the characters perfectly, as you could really see the expression in the faces. Mount Misery is a adaptation i found interesting. It was clear to see the harsh lines and boldness of the art representing a more deep and intense subject. The subject is slavery and I think Tobocman portrayed his thoughts well through the rough sketches.

  11. The artwork in "The Message from Mount Misery" is interesting. It seems to be very dark and bold, but does not have too many details. I guess it does capture the darkness of the story as it is about a serious topic. The placement of text in accordance with the illustrations help tell the story and make it flow. I feel like the illustrations work for this adaptation and definitely help portray it.
    The illustrations in "Poker!" seem goofy and cartoonish. The artwork in this adaptation also helps tell this story. It definitely fits the story and what it's about. On a side note, the "E's" in this text are oddly written in this type of font. If the style of artwork from each adaptation were to be switched, both stories would get lost in translation. The artwork specific to each adaptation helps tell the story and their messages.

  12. The art from "The Message from Mount Misery" emphasizes a lot of the powerful words such as “power” in order to give emotion to the story. Slavery was a very dark stage in American history and I found that the art work was perfect for this. Some of the drawings were so basic that it made me think if the artist wanted us to believe a slave was the one drawing. The other story of “Poker” had very cartoonish drawings. It made me think back to the looney tune days with the artwork. I found the way the characters spoke interesting as well, however I could not understand it very well. I think that if this was to be made into a cartoon it would have sounded a lot better.

    Bryant Ayala

  13. "Maintaining a humor comic in the independent market is no easy task for its creator. No matter how 'independent' the market pretends to be, it still remains a slave to the trends and tastes of the big fellas," is a statement on Milton Knights website. The quote does represent Milton's adaptation of Poker. Its unique drawings expresses comical body language and facial expressions which contributes greatly to the comprehension of the story. I dont usually enjoy black and white comics, but this was different. I thought the length of the adaptation was actually perfect also. The guns/cards placements were creative too. The artwork in "The Message from Mount Misery" as others said illustrated a dark adaptation. The word "power" is presented and is echoed in the conscious meaning of the adaptation. Its meaning is deep and a sensitive topic at that, which the artist illustrates to a high degree.

    Nathan Silva

  14. “The Message from Mount Misery” had a very serious subject and I believe Tobocman used a style that appropriately displayed this. Tobocman’s adaptation was done in black and white, which fit perfectly with the subject of slavery. The use of black and white provided the adaptation with a serious tone that helped to convey the message of the story as opposed to take away from it. I also found it effective that none of the people portrayed really had distinguishable facial features. It made each person seem equal. “Poker” is also adapted in a style that fits well with its subject. It is created in a cartoon like style that is effective in conveying the humor of the story. This story is also done in black and white and fits well with the old school setting of this particular poker game.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. The art from "The Message from Mount Misery" brings forth so many powerful images that allow the reader to experience the emotions felt in the story. During this age in time slavery was in America and with these images the story was so much more comprehendible. The art itself was so simple yet so powerful. It was cartoonish yet it made me think back and see that it was as if a slave actually was the one illustrating the art due to the known fact that many slaves could not write however it was possible for them to draw.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.