Desegregating Comics: Debating Race in Early American Comic Books

Date: 8 July 2019
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: UVA Special Collections
Lecturer: Qiana Whitted - Professor of English and African American Studies, University of South Carolina

This lecture takes a closer look at debates over the representations of blackness in American comics produced during the first half of the twentieth century in order to argue for a more racially complex narrative and aesthetic landscape. While racist caricature remained popular and profitable through the industry’s Golden Age in the 1940s and early 1950s, the dissenting voices of African American readers and the experimental efforts of artists, writers, and editors invite a reconsideration of the medium’s impact. This discussion will consider the role that race and difference played in persistent accusations about the so-called harm that comic books could cause to young consumers. The industry countered with their own claims about the way comics could advocate for social justice during the early Cold War and Civil Rights eras. Central to the lecture will be research drawn from Professor Whitted’s recent book EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest, which explores the creative strategies that a well-known 1950s publishing company used to confront racial prejudice, religious intolerance, anticommunist rhetoric, and other forms of discrimination through controversial horror, crime, and science fiction comic books.