With the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others at the hands of police, there’s been an increased interest and circulation of books by and about Black people (which I hope leads to year-round diverse reading, but it’s a good start!). Most of the lists I’ve seen have been non-fiction anti-racist texts, which are incredibly important, but there’s also a wealth of graphic novels by and about Black people that I feel also deserve some love and attention. Not only are graphic novels inclusive of different kinds of literacy, they also encourage reluctant and second language learners in reading and teach empathy through both words and images.
Without further ado, here’s a list of books that are written and/or drawn by Black creators and feature Black people and issues at the center of their stories. This is by no means a comprehensive list- I did my best to find as many applicable titles as I could, but I will do my best to add to it as needed. This list spans middle grade all the way through adult, and includes graphic novel adaptations of novels, nonfiction graphic novels/memoirs, and fiction graphic novels.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander & Dawud Anyabwile
Kwame Alexander’s New York Times bestseller and Newbery Medal–winning The Crossover is vividly brought to life as a graphic novel with stunning illustrations by star talent Dawud Anyabwile.
“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. ’Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood—he’s got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it’s all on the line.
See the Bell family in a whole new light through Dawud Anyabwile’s dynamic illustrations as the brothers’ winning season unfolds, and the world as they know it begins to change.
Baaaad Muthaz by Bill Campbell, Damian Duffy, & David Brame
These women are truly baaaad. They’re rough. They’re ready. They’re space pirates. They’re a James Brown cover band. They are the BAAAAAD MUTHAZ … Follow Afro Desia, Cali Vera, Alley Bastard, Candy Ass, Katana Jade, and Snake on their madcap cosmic adventures as they funk up the galaxy in search of the almighty booty!
New Kid by Jerry Craft
Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.
As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?
Angola Janga & Run for It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought for Their Freedom by Marcelo D’Salete
An independent kingdom of runaway slaves founded in the late 16th century, Angola Janga was a beacon of freedom in a land plagued with oppression. In stark black ink and chiaroscuro panel compositions, D’Salete brings history to life; the painful stories of fugitive slaves on the run, the brutal raids by Portuguese colonists, and the tense power struggles within this precarious kingdom. At turns heartbreaking and empowering, Angola Janga sheds light on a long-overlooked moment of resistance against oppression.
Run for It—a starkly stunning graphic novel by internationally acclaimed illustrator Marcelo d’Salete—is one of the first literary and artistic efforts to confront Brazil’s hidden history of slavery. Seen through the eyes of its victims, Run for It tells of ordinary slaves who rebel against their masters. Run for It’s vivid illustrations and magical realism engage the reader’s poetic imagination through stories of individual suffering caused by the horrors of slavery.
Originally published in Brazil—where it was nominated for three of the country’s most prestigious comics awards—Run for It has awed readers worldwide. These intense tales offer a tragic and gripping portrait of one of history’s darkest corners. It’s hard to look away.
BTTM FDRS by Ezra Claytan Daniels & Ben Passmore
Once a thriving working class neighborhood on Chicago’s south side, the “Bottomyards” is now the definition of urban blight. When an aspiring fashion designer named Darla and her image-obsessed friend, Cynthia, descend upon the neighborhood in search of cheap rent, they soon discover something far more seductive and sinister lurking behind the walls of their new home. Like a cross between Jordan Peele’s Get Out and John Carpenter’s The Thing, Daniels and Passmore’s BTTM FDRS (pronounced “bottomfeeders”) offers a vision of horror that is gross and gory in all the right ways. At turns funny, scary, and thought provoking, it unflinchingly confronts the monsters—both metaphoric and real—that are displacing cultures in urban neighborhoods today.
Hot Comb by Ebony Flowers
Hot Comb offers a poignant glimpse into black women’s lives and coming-of-age stories as seen across a crowded, ammonia-scented hair salon while ladies gossip and bond over the burn. The titular “Hot Comb” is about a young girl’s first perm—a doomed ploy to look cool and stop seeming “too white” in the all-black neighborhood her family has just moved into. In “Virgin Hair,” taunts of “tender-headed” sting as much as the perm itself. “My Lil Sister Lena” shows the stress of being the only black player on a white softball team. Lena’s hair is the team curio, an object to be touched, a subject to be discussed and debated at the will of her teammates, leading Lena to develop an anxiety disorder of pulling her own hair out. Throughout Hot Comb, Ebony Flowers re-creates classic magazine ads idealizing women’s need for hair relaxers and products. “Change your hair form to fit your life form” and “Kinks and Koils Forever” call customers from the page.
Realizations about race, class, and the imperfections of identity swirl through these stories and ads, which are by turns sweet, insightful, and heartbreaking. Flowers began drawing comics while earning her Ph.D., and her early mastery of sequential storytelling is nothing short of sublime. Hot Comb is a propitious display of talent from a new cartoonist who has already made her mark.
Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence & Strange Fruit series by Joel Christian Gill
Fights is the visceral and deeply affecting memoir of artist/author Joel Christian Gill, chronicling his youth and coming of age as a Black child in a chaotic landscape of rough city streets and foreboding backwoods.
Propelled into a world filled with uncertainty and desperation, young Joel is pushed toward using violence to solve his problems by everything and everyone around him. But fighting doesn’t always yield the best results for a confused and sensitive kid who yearns for a better, more fulfilling life than the one he was born into, as Joel learns in a series of brutal conflicts that eventually lead him to question everything he has learned about what it truly means to fight for one’s life.
Strange Fruit, Volume I is a collection of stories from African American history that exemplifies success in the face of great adversity. This unique graphic anthology offers historical and cultural commentary on nine uncelebrated heroes whose stories are not often found in history books. Among the stories included are: Henry “Box” Brown, who escaped from slavery by mailing himself to Philadelphia; Alexander Crummel and the Noyes Academy, the first integrated school in America, established in the 1830s; Marshall “Major” Taylor, a.k.a. the Black Cyclone, the first black champion in any sport; and Bass Reeves, the most successful lawman in the Old West. Written and illustrated by Joel Christian Gill, the diverse art beautifully captures the spirit of each remarkable individual and opens a window into an important part of American history.
Like all legends, people fade away, but not before leaving an incredible legacy. Strange Fruit, Volume II: More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History is a collection of stories from early African American history that represent the oddity of success in the face of great adversity. Each of the eight illustrated chapters chronicles an uncelebrated African American hero or event. Joel Christian Gill offers historical and cultural commentary on heroes whose stories are not often found in history books, such as Cathay Williams, the only known female Buffalo Soldier, and Eugene Bullard, a fighter pilot who flew for France during World War I. These beautifully illustrated stories offer a refreshing look at remarkable African Americans.
Victor LaValle’s Destroyer by Victor LaValle & Dietrich Smith
The legacy of Frankenstein’s monster collides with the sociopolitical tensions of the present-day United States.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein beseeched his creator for love and companionship, but in 2017, the monster has long discarded any notions of peace or inclusion. He has become the Destroyer, his only goal to eliminate the scourge of humanity from the planet. In this goal, he initially finds a willing partner in Dr. Baker, a descendant of the Frankenstein family who has lost her teenage son after an encounter with the police. While two scientists, Percy and Byron, initially believe they’re brought to protect Dr. Baker from the monster, they soon realize they may have to protect the world from the monster and Dr. Baker’s wrath.
March series by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell
March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.
Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1950s comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics, in three books, bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations
I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, & John Jennings
Alfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.
When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.
Topside by J.N. Monk & Harry Bogosian
A wild outer-space fantasy about fixing your mistakes and the friends you meet along the way.
When Jo, a headstrong maintenance technician, makes an error that destabilizes her planet’s core, she only knows one way to fix things: leaving her underground home for a trip to the planet’s dangerous, unruly surface. Soon she’s wandering through deserts, riding on the back of giant beasts, and cutting deals with con artists and bounty hunters. Meanwhile, agents of the core are in hot pursuit. J. N. Monk and Harry Bogosian (co-creators of the web-comic StarHammer) present a wild outer-space fantasy about fixing your mistakes and the friends you meet along the way.
Monster by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims & Dawud Anyabwile
Monster is a multi-award-winning, provocative coming-of-age story about Steve Harmon, a teenager awaiting trial for a murder and robbery. As Steve acclimates to juvenile detention and goes to trial, he envisions the ordeal as a movie. Monster was the first-ever Michael L. Printz Award recipient, an ALA Best Book, a Coretta Scott King Honor selection, and a National Book Award finalist.
Now Monster has been adapted into a graphic novel by Guy Sims, with stunning black-and-white art from Dawud Anyabwile, Guy’s brother.
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri & Randy DuBurke
Eleven-year old Roger is trying to make sense of his classmate Robert “Yummy” Sandifer’s death, but first he has to make sense of Yummy’s life. Yummy could be as tough as a pit bull sometimes. Other times he was as sweet as the sugary treats he loved to eat. Was Yummy some sort of monster, or just another kid? As Roger searches for the truth, he finds more and more questions. How did Yummy end up in so much trouble? Did he really kill someone? And why do all the answers seem to lead back to a gang-the same gang to which Roger’s older brother belongs? Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty is a compelling graphic dramatization based on events that occurred in Chicago in 1994. This gritty exploration of youth gang life will force readers to question their own understandings of good and bad, right and wrong.
LaGuardia by Nnedi Okorafor & Tana Ford
Set in an alternative world where aliens have come to Earth and integrated with society, LaGuardia revolves around a pregnant Nigerian-American doctor, Future Nwafor Chukwuebuka, who has just returned to NYC under mysterious conditions. After smuggling an illegal alien plant named “Letme Live” through LaGuardia International and Interstellar Airport’s customs and security, she arrives at her grandmother’s tenement, the New Hope Apartments in the South Bronx.
There, she and Letme become part of a growing population of mostly African and shape-shifting alien immigrants, battling against interrogation, discrimination and travel bans, as they try to make it in a new land. But, as the birth of her child nears, Future begins to change. What dark secret is she hiding?
Black by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, & Jamal Igle
In a world that already hates and fears them – what if only Black people had superpowers. After miraculously surviving being gunned down by police, a young man learns that he is part of the biggest lie in history. Now he must decide whether it’s safer to keep it a secret or if the truth will set him free.
Black AF by Kwanza Osajyefo, Tim Smith 3, & Jennifer Johnson
Can a black woman be America’s first superhero?
Eli Franklin is a 15-year-old girl living in rural Montana – and she just happens to be the most powerful person on the planet. In the aftermath of the world learning that only black people have superpowers, Eli makes her debut as the superhero Good Girl, on a mission to help people and quell the fear of empowered blacks. When a super-terrorist threatens to take away everything Eli has worked toward, will donning a patriotic costume be enough for her to find acceptance?
Sports is Hell by Ben Passmore
Some wars are for religion and some are for political belief, but this one is for football.
After her city wins the Super Bowl for the first time, Tea is separated from her friend during a riot and joins a small clique fighting its way through armed groups of football fanatics to met a star receiver that just might end the civil war or become the city’s new oppressive leader.
Big Black: Stand at Attica by Frank “Big Black” Smith, Jared Reinmuth, & Ameziane
FOUR DAYS IN 1971 CHANGED THE COURSE OF AMERICAN HISTORY. THIS IS THE TRUE STORY FROM THE MAN AT THE CENTER OF IT ALL.
In the summer of 1971, the New York’s Attica State Prison is a symbol of everything broken in America – abused prisoners, rampant racism and a blind eye turned towards the injustices perpetrated on the powerless. But when the guards at Attica overreact to a minor incident, the prisoners decide they’ve had enough – and revolt against their jailers, taking them hostage and making demands for humane conditions. Frank “Big Black” Smith finds himself at the center of this uprising, struggling to protect hostages, prisoners and negotiators alike. But when the only avenue for justice seems to be negotiating with ambitious Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Big Black soon discovers there may be no hope in finding a peaceful resolution for the prisoners in Attica.
(H)afrocentric by Juliana “Jewels” Smith & Ronald Nelson
This unflinching visual and literary tour-de-force tackles the most pressing issues of the day—including racism, patriarchy, gentrification, police violence, and the housing crisis—with humor and biting satire.
When gentrification strikes the neighborhood surrounding Ronald Reagan University, Naima Pepper recruits a group of disgruntled undergrads of color to launch the first and only anti-gentrification social networking site, mydiaspora.com. The motley crew is poised to fight back against expensive avocado toast, muted Prius cars, exorbitant rent, and cultural appropriation. Whether Naima and the gang are transforming social media, leading protests, fighting rent hikes, or working as “Racial Translators,” the students at Ronald Reagan University combine their technically savvy and Black Millennial sensibilities with their individual backgrounds, goals, and aspirations.
Bitter Root series by David F. Walker, Chuck Brown, & Sanford Green
Once known as the greatest monster hunters of all time, the Sangerye family specialized in curing the souls of those infected by hate, but those days are fading. A terrible tragedy has claimed most of the family, leaving the surviving cousins split between curing monsters and killing them. Now, with a new breed of monster loose on the streets of Harlem, the Sangerye family must come together, or watch the human race fall to untold evil.
Are your favorite graphic novels by Black creators featuring Black experiences missing from this list? Please put them in the comments below- I would love to add to this list and to my TBR!
Until next time…