Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice

Tommie Smith is the subject of one of the most iconic images from the Civil Rights Era, of two black men holding gloved fists high in a Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics. In Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice, Smith tells his story behind that moment. The graphic memoir, co-written with Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile gives an account of Smith’s life leading to the Olympics, his choice to make the political statement, and the aftermath.

The book opens with a race, specifically the 200 meter sprint finals.  Despite a sharp pain in his thighs and a whirlwind of thoughts, Smith leaps at the sound of the starter pistol. We then immediately flashback to his childhood, 1949 in Texas. Throughout the next few chapters, Smith flashes back and forth between the story of his childhood and school years in the segregated South with his iconic race at the ‘68 Olympics.

Smith and Barnes juxtapose his pain and resiliency during the race with the harsh realities of living and growing as a Black boy surrounded by racial injustices. His parents were sharecroppers who were hardworking and kind, but treated in a way that was obviously cruel and unfair, even through the eyes of a young Smith. He talks about the ways he perceived these inequities, and the moment when he first came to the understanding that this was all about race. In college, Smith begins to realize that his voice matters. It is with that knowledge that he makes the decision to run in the Olympics and raise his fist to the sky. The last chapter details the trajectory of his life in the aftermath. Unfortunately, it felt rushed and included details that were not relevant to the theme of sports and the Civil Rights Movement. I also wish that the parallels with the 200 meter race and his life extended further into the story. However, these are small imperfections in an otherwise fascinating book from an important voice from history.

Anyabwile’s illustrations in gray, black, and white, are filled with texture, movement and emotion. Throughout the book, the illustrations add depth to the story. Much of the emotion and drama comes through in the backgrounds with textures, shadows or expansive black. Anyabwile also did a notable job capturing Smith’s growth from child to adult, sublely adjusting looks and style as time goes on.

At pivotal moments in Smith’s life, Anyabwile steps away from Smith’s story to illustrate more striking images reflecting the reality for Black people in America. When Smith’s family eventually moves to Southern California in hopes for a better life, the very next page features a haunting two page spread with a mother and her young children screaming in pain. In the background a Black man hangs from a tree next to a burning cross. Other images include references to such events as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing and Martin Luther King’s Assassnation. Smith came of age at the dawn of the Civil Rights era, as he was finding himself and his place in the world, these moments and realities helped to shape who he became. Anyabwile deftly illustrates these pages. They are awash with black and expand beyond the panels typical of most pages in the book. These events are monumental and his illustrations reflect their importance.

Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice is a notable addition to the graphic memoir genre. It is a definite purchase for my high school collection. Tommie Smith is an important voice from the Civil Rights Movement and I think this book will appeal to a broad range of readers.

Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice
By Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes
Art by Dawud Anyabwile
W. W. Norton & Company, 2022
ISBN: 9781324003908

Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  African-American, Black,  Character Representation: African-American, Black,

How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality

With every year, truth seems to become more and more subjective. At least that is what many forces want us all to think. In issue after issue, we are driven apart by obfuscation and subterfuge. It’s hard to imagine how we can come together to exist in the same reality sometimes. Author Samuel Spitale believes he knows how to reclaim our reality with his book How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality

This hybrid comic and non-fiction book looks at propaganda and bias. It is lengthy and detailed. Spitale tells story after story that illustrates how humans seek to reduce complexity and how our brains can fail to recognize certain facts. These blind spots allow us to be manipulated by marketers and public relations companies. He cites a wide variety of interesting research including Daniel Kahneman and his work on human error. The illustrations by Allan Whincup effectively break down some of the more complex ideas into understandable parts. The comics are more on the cartoony side than realistic and that helps when tackling such an intense subject. Graphs, pie charts, and topical quotes spoken by cartoon politicians and economists help relay the information.

The book spends a lot of time on the history of propaganda as well as U.S. political history. It rings true for the most part, but occasionally becomes a left wing polemic. The chapter on what to do about this substantial problem is slight on workable solutions, so readers may be disappointed considering what the title of the book is. Spitale is still describing the problems right up until the conclusion. Previous works on similar topics, like Unrig, had specific proposals and examples of solutions that are being tried around the country. This book could have used more of that.

The publisher states this book is an “illustrated guide.” That is more accurate than calling it a graphic novel. This is a dense book with lots of text. There are illustrations on most every page, but they are not sequential art. This book belongs in an adult nonfiction collection. Only the most interested teens are going to stick with this to the end. This is certainly an important topic, but I wonder, if they had fully committed to telling a story with pictures would the work be more accessible to a larger audience?

How to Win the War on Truth: An Illustrated Guide to How Mistruths Are Sold, Why They Stick, and How to Reclaim Reality
By Samuel Spitale
Art by Allan Whincup
Quirk, 2022
ISBN: 9781683693086

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)

We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration

It begins with a knock on the door from the FBI. Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a silent invasion permeated the United States, targeting Japanese American citizens as enemy aliens.

On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was passed, uprooting nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps. We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration, written by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, with artwork by Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, chronicles the bold exploits of three intrepid Japanese Americans who challenged the constitutionality of the executive order during their internment.

This epic story begins with a montage of three incidents: An ominous rapping on the door of twenty-two-year-old Jim Akutsu, a civil engineering student living with his parents in Seattle, disrupts their peaceful evening. FBI agents are on the move to round up Japanese Americans into relocation camps. High school graduate Hiroshi Kashiwagi, nineteen, gets pulled over by a cop for staying out past curfew one night in central California. Upon closer inspection, the cop labels him a “Jap spy.” Twenty-one-year-old Mitsuye “Mitzi” Endo, a typist for a state agency in California, receives a letter one day threatening dismissal from her job on the grounds of purported affiliations with the Japanese community and thus, holding allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. This interconnected trio of stories sets the stage for the harrowing events in the Pacific Northwest impacting Japanese Americans subjected to the camps without due process. There they will be tested for their loyalty to the US government.

Meticulously researched and intricately narrated, each story unfolds from the point of view of the internees as well as the US government officials. At Camp Minidoka, Akutsu refuses the draft to serve in the army, for he believes the so-called loyalty questionnaire from the Selective Service to be a ploy to incriminate himself. Signing this oath of allegiance would equate to confessing to a nonexistent allegiance to Japan even though he was already a natural-born American citizen. Kashiwagi refuses to sign the loyalty oath altogether while in Tule Lake, testing the limits of his rights as an American. In Topaz, Mitzi Endo foregoes an opportunity to leave the camp in a strategic move to serve as a witness in a lawsuit against the US government for having imprisoned people based solely on race. Through defiant acts in the form of draft resistance, hunger strikes, and prosecuting lawsuits, the trio stood their ground to uphold their unalienable rights as American citizens.

The narrative flow of each character’s experiences unfolds fluidly, juxtaposing Sasaki’s abstracted and expressionist style of Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s story alongside Ishikawa’s more solidly rendered character designs of Jim Akutsu and Mitzi Endo. Historical documents contextualize the plot with startling and compelling authenticity. Typewritten memos to war relocation authorities, racial profiling signs, front page newspaper headlines, reenactments of speeches and discussions amongst US government officials—these visual details merge seamlessly to create a historical account of the socio-political milieu on the US home front during World War II.

On the eightieth anniversary of Executive Order 9066, We Hereby Refuse adds a critical chapter to the annals of US history and complements all library collections. This graphic novel tackles themes of racism, assimilation, survival, and resilience, centering on the lived experiences of Japanese Americans and their tenacious stand to test the integrity of the American justice system. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told and retold for future generations lest history repeats itself.

We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration
By Frank Abe, Tamiko Nimura,  ,
Art by Ross Ishikawa, Matt Sasaki,
Chin Music Press Inc., 2021
ISBN: 9781634059763

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Japanese-American,  Character Representation: Japanese-American,

Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay: A Graphic Novel

If you’ve ever had a disagreement about history, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It was a different time.” On its face, this is a factual statement—people in the past didn’t share our values, and understanding their worldviews requires patience and curiosity.

Yet “it was a different time” is often hauled out to excuse bad behavior—as if all people in the past shared the same mindset, rendering them constitutionally incapable of recognizing cruelty or unfairness. David Lester’s Prophet Against Slavery debunks this commonplace with the true story of an early Quaker activist who articulated a moral case against slavery decades before the emergence of the white abolitionist movement.

Adapted from Marcus Rediker’s 2017 book The Fearless Benjamin Lay: The Quaker Dwarf Who Became the First Revolutionary Abolitionist, Lester’s graphic biography depicts the life of the little-known Lay, who protested slavery at a time when it was neither politically expedient nor socially acceptable to do so. Born in Britain in 1682 and radicalized against slavery during a stint in Barbados, Lay migrated with his wife Sarah to Philadelphia in 1731. Incensed that enslavement was practiced by Philadelphia’s Quaker elite, Lay made it his business to call out Quaker hypocrisy around the institution of slavery.

Benjamin Lay’s activism debunks a second misconception: that protest through direct action was an invention of the twentieth century. In the opening scene of the book, Lay strides into a Quaker meeting, proclaims the evils of slavery, and plunges a sword into a book titled HORRORS OF SLAVERY, spewing fake blood (pokeberry juice) everywhere. Unsurprisingly, a tussle ensues. Born with dwarfism and a curved spine, Lay’s physical difference was probably a factor in the solidarity he felt with other disadvantaged people, while his egalitarian philosophy emerged from his Quaker faith and an early life at sea. His forceful speech and public protests were forever getting him kicked out of Quaker meetings, and later life found him living in a cave outside Pennsylvania, adopting a vegan diet and spinning his own clothing out of flax.

Lester’s grayscale art has a hand-drawn quality that owes something to both old-fashioned printmaking and zine culture—lively and not overly refined, it suits the biography of a man whose politics were fundamentally punk rock. The artist is careful not to caricature Benjamin and Sarah’s dwarfism, and images of the enslaved in shackles—and in one painful image, completing an act of suicide—are sensitively rendered.

Yet wordless images depicting the barbarity of slavery point to a structural problem underlying this book: this story is about slavery, but Black voices are missing from the narrative. Was Lay speaking to enslaved Africans as well as speaking for them? The text is vague: Lay refers to his “dear friend Cudjo,” and states “I have talked with a great many Africans,” but we don’t see these conversations on the page. I counted just one line of dialogue spoken by a character of African descent.

There are obvious reasons that Lay, a white man, would be unable to form meaningful relationships with Black Philadelphians. By the end of the 18th century, Philadelphia would be known for its sizable free Black community, but this was not the case in 1731. Yet I would have liked this book to show more curiosity about the absence of Black voices from the primary sources documenting Lay’s life. We can and should wonder: what was it like to be an enslaved African in 18th-century Philadelphia? What might enslaved onlookers have made of Lay’s theatrical protests and the Quaker elites’ ruthless response?

In Lester’s telling, Quaker attitudes around slavery had begun to shift by the time of Lay’s death in 1759. This, too, is a narrative I would have liked to see Prophet Against Slavery develop more fully—the story of how Benjamin Lay was remembered and then forgotten, and his lasting impact on Quaker political philosophy. Social movements are propelled by communities as well as individuals, and I was sorry that the tight focus on the biographical details of Lay’s life didn’t leave more room for this kind of big-picture analysis.

Despite these caveats, this book is a solid introduction to Benjamin Lay’s remarkable life. It will be of interest to older students and adult readers and is suitable for library collections that emphasize the history of slavery, Quakers, and radical politics.

Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay: A Graphic Novel Vol.
By David Lester
Beacon Press, 2021
ISBN: 9780807081792

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Canadian,  ,  Character Representation: British-American, Disability, Protestant ,

Run, Book One

When sharing revolutionary stories from history, the telling often stops with the victory. Run, by the late Representative John Lewis, does not. It is 1965, the Voting Rights Act has been signed into federal law, and the organizers of the Civil Rights Movement begin to navigate the next steps.

Run, Book One is the first volume in a sequel series to the acclaimed graphic novel memoir series, March. Both series share the history of the civil rights movement through the memories of John Lewis, written in collaboration with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by L. Fury and Nate Powell. The March series ended with the signing of the Voting Rights Act, and Run explores the changing philosophies of civil rights activists and continued voter suppression in the following 2 years.

Run was published posthumously. Representative John Lewis passed during the summer of 2020, however, he worked diligently with Aydin, Fury and Powell in the years preceding his death to tell this story. They conducted extensive research through interviews, newspapers, photographs, and primary source documents, to tell this story to the best of their ability, while still staying true to the memories of John Lewis.

While the March trilogy focused on the extensive organizational needs of the powerful civil rights movement. Run tells the next part of the story. Under the shadow of the Watt’s rebellion and turmoil about the Vietnam war, the activists in the Civil Rights movement, struggle to find consensus among diverging philosophies.  Voting rights have been secured by federal law, but the fight for equal rights is far from over. And to complicate matters, America has instituted the draft to fight for “freedoms” in Vietnam. A move that feels hypocritical and disingenuous to the civil rights activists who are still desperately fighting for freedoms at home. John Lewis and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) connect the struggle in Vietnam to a larger struggle of oppressed people across the world. Their stance about the war is denounced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League.

Ideologies and philosophies start to collide behind the scenes. Rifts that began before Selma and the Voting Right Act, start to take center stage, especially between Lewis and Stokey Carmichael, who follows Lewis as the chairman for SNCC. Black activists angry with the lack of progress, start to question the dedication to nonviolent action. Lewis struggles to find his place in the evolving movement.

Run is still honest about the hard work of organizers, giving credit to many individuals behind the scenes making change. The back matter also includes an extensive list with brief biographies of the many activists mentioned in the story.

The story is just as compelling as their work in March, in part thanks to the illustrations of Fury and Powell. In the “From the Artists” note in the back matter, they discuss the difficult path of navigating emotion, horror, and historic truths through illustration. They used many photos from the events as reference for their illustrations. They also researched fashion of different generations in the mid-60s, the cars made in the 50s and 60s that might be on the roads, and even studied the shape and style of road signs. This extensive focus on accuracy paired with deep shadows and explosions of ink in moments of great emotion and violence, adjusting text and font based on the message and form of speech or song, and creative use of panes made for a compelling read.

Run, Book One is essentially a story about the inner workings of civil rights organizations and the ways outside events and movements sent ripples through the activists. It tells an incredibly important story that is often forgotten or overlooked. I highly recommend the book for any young adult or adult graphic novel collection, and look forward to the rest of the series.

Run, Book One Vol. 1
By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
Art by  L. Fury, Nate Powell
Abrams, 2021
ISBN: 9781419730696

Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Black,  Character Representation: Black,