East of West #9: The Black Experience Done Right
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 Chew, Saga 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.
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.