Tuesday, June 7, 2016
June 7, 2016: AmericanStudies Beach Reads: Coates’ Black Panther
[For this year’s installment of my annual Beach Reads series, I wanted to highlight books I’m looking forward to checking out. That means I’ll have less to say about them, of course—but I hope you’ll share your thoughts on these and/or your own Beach Read recommendations for a crowd-sourced weekend post that’ll go great with suntan lotion and iced beverages!]
The comic book that’s gonna make me return to the genre after decades away.
When I was around 10 I was a voracious comic book reader; I believe Superboy and Justice League of America were my favorites (perhaps also G.I. Joe, if that counts), but I had a ton of other titles as well. It was never a sole or central reading interest—even within the sub-genre of illustrated literature, I was at that age at least as interested in Tintin, Asterix, and (most shamefully from my current perspective) Garfield the cat as I was in comic books—and I don’t recall frequenting the comic book store to find the newest issues. But while those details might mean I don’t have the bonafides to call myself a true once or future fan, I can and would argue that comics were a formative genre through which this young AmericanStudier came to understand many elements of storytelling and world-building.
By middle school I had carried my interest in those elements over to the genres of fantasy and science fiction, and a good deal of my adolescent pleasure reading would focus on them, to the exclusion of comics. When I worked in book stores during and just after my time in college, I realized how much the world of comic books had passed me by, how little I recognized even the series with which I had grown up, much less the plethora of new series that had entered the scene. (Or, just as likely, which had long been around but with which I had in my limited knowledge not been familiar.) As I’ve moved into my professional career, it’s only been when a particular book I was teaching demanded it—looking at superhero comics to help contextualize Watchmen, trying to read up on at least a fraction of the comics references in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—that I’ve even dipped my toes into the comprehensive ocean that is 21st century comic books.
Well, that’s all about to change, and the motivation is one that I share with many, many other AmericanStudiers and readers. The great Ta-Nehisi Coates, about whom I’ve written plenty in this space already, is two issues into his run with Black Panther, one of those long-running comic books about which I know far too little. The reviews have been uniformly positive, the sales have been off the charts, and, thanks at least in part to Coates’ successes, Ryan Coogler’s upcoming Black Panther film keeps adding amazing actors to its roster. Quite simply, it sounds like every fan of good storytelling needs to check out Coates’ work here (along with that of his collaborator/illustrator Brian Stelfreeze), and I’m excited to make a long overdue return to the world of comic books in the process.
Next prospective Beach Read tomorrow,
PS. Thoughts on this book? Other Beach Reads you’d share?