A Different Kind of Hero: The Culture of Black Comix

Growing up, I always found the few Black faces in superhero comic books fascinating, like rare birds. Luke Cage, aka, Power Man, bristled with attitude like Shaft on steroids. Black Lightning bolted through the air with an electrified Afro. The Falcon soared beside Captain America as a dark sidekick. Each of these heroes personified stereotypes as they tried to transcend them as heroic role models. Today, a whole new generation of cartoonists has drawn a new generation of Black heroes. Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture collects the artistry and ambitions of these artists hoping to express the essence of their culture while finding a place in the medium itself with a different kind of hero.


“From third grade to seventh I collected Marvel and swore by them,” admits Dawud Anyabwile, creator of Brotherman. “In seventh grade I recognized the disproportionate amount of black heroes to non-black in their books and also realized how stereotypical they were and tossed my books in the fireplace.” Brotherman and other African-American heroes take on villains in the form of racism, classism, sexism, and poverty. “African-American heroes can be a conscience of sorts for comics,” argues Stacey Robinson, creator of Abraham the Young Lion. “Our heroes don’t wear masks. Why? Simply put, our heroes represent realistic ideals. Justice, freedom and equality don’t wear masks.” The passion for social justice behind many of these heroes shines through in the art, which flies off of the page with a boundless energy and thirst for social justice not found in even the biggest mainstream heroes of the big comic companies. Duffy and Jennings examine the thinking behind these heroes and profile deeper thinkers such as William H. Foster, III, and the African-American academics known collectively as “Critical Front.” When the “Critical Front” academics take on personae such as Anthroman and Mad Law Professor, you get a sense of how this is serious play (or fun philosophy) in action.

Duffy and Jennings present the artists in alphabetical order, which seems the most democratic thing to do. All of these artists stand together as a multifaceted, diverse snapshot of the intersection of such forces as hip hop and manga in the artwork and writing of African-American independent comics. For the most part, the images are allowed to speak for themselves, but extra attention is given to standout figures, such as Anyabwile of Brotherman fame and Richard Tyler, II (aka, Uraeus), creator of Jaycen Wise, an immortal traveler “charged with the lofty responsibility of battling the forces of ignorance and darkness, to ensure the eternal preservation of knowledge, truth and light.” You’ll find yourself flipping back and forth throughout the book, lingering over different images every time. For someone unfamiliar with the realm of African-American independent comics, Black Comics opens up a whole new world of heroic possibility.

“The good news is we are here, and we are growing,” artist Turtel Onli, “the father of the Black Age of Comics,” announces. With their own conventions and even a museum of Black superheroes, Black comics are, indeed, present and increasingly accounted for by the Black audience they primarily serve. The next step, which Black Comix should help happen, will be to rise even further into the consciousness of mainstream America. Only then will Brotherman, Jaycen Wise, and others battle the injustice they were created to fight against at its source.

 [Many thanks to Mark Batty Publisher for providing me with a review copy of Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ Black Comix: African American Independent Comics, Art and Culture.]

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

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  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
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Is this why time speeds up as we age?

We take fewer mental pictures per second.

Photo by Djim Loic on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
  • Recent memories run in our brains like sped-up old movies.
  • In childhood, we capture images in our memory much more quickly.
  • The complexities of grownup neural pathways are no match for the direct routes of young brains.
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Scientists study tattooed corpses, find pigment in lymph nodes

It turns out, that tattoo ink can travel throughout your body and settle in lymph nodes.

17th August 1973: An American tattoo artist working on a client's shoulder. (Photo by F. Roy Kemp/BIPs/Getty Images)
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In the slightly macabre experiment to find out where tattoo ink travels to in the body, French and German researchers recently used synchrotron X-ray fluorescence in four "inked" human cadavers — as well as one without. The results of their 2017 study? Some of the tattoo ink apparently settled in lymph nodes.


Image from the study.

As the authors explain in the study — they hail from Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment — it would have been unethical to test this on live animals since those creatures would not be able to give permission to be tattooed.

Because of the prevalence of tattoos these days, the researchers wanted to find out if the ink could be harmful in some way.

"The increasing prevalence of tattoos provoked safety concerns with respect to particle distribution and effects inside the human body," they write.

It works like this: Since lymph nodes filter lymph, which is the fluid that carries white blood cells throughout the body in an effort to fight infections that are encountered, that is where some of the ink particles collect.

Image by authors of the study.

Titanium dioxide appears to be the thing that travels. It's a white tattoo ink pigment that's mixed with other colors all the time to control shades.

The study's authors will keep working on this in the meantime.

“In future experiments we will also look into the pigment and heavy metal burden of other, more distant internal organs and tissues in order to track any possible bio-distribution of tattoo ink ingredients throughout the body. The outcome of these investigations not only will be helpful in the assessment of the health risks associated with tattooing but also in the judgment of other exposures such as, e.g., the entrance of TiO2 nanoparticles present in cosmetics at the site of damaged skin."

Climate change melts Mount Everest's ice, exposing dead bodies of past climbers

Melting ice is turning up bodies on Mt. Everest. This isn't as shocking as you'd think.

Image source: Wikimedia commons
Surprising Science
  • Mt. Everest is the final resting place of about 200 climbers who never made it down.
  • Recent glacial melting, caused by global warming, has made many of the bodies previously hidden by ice and snow visible again.
  • While many bodies are quite visible and well known, others are renowned for being lost for decades.

The bodies that remain in view are often used as waypoints for the living. Some of them are well-known markers that have earned nicknames.

For instance, the image above is of "Green Boots," the unidentified corpse named for its neon footwear. Widely believed to be the body of Tsewang Paljor, the remains are well known as a guide point for passing mountaineers. Perhaps it is too well known, as the climber David Sharp died next to Green Boots while dozens of people walked past him- many presuming he was the famous corpse.

A large area below the summit has earned the discordant nickname "rainbow valley" for being filled with the bright and colorfully dressed corpses of maintainers who never made it back down. The sight of a frozen hand or foot sticking out of the snow is so common that Tshering Pandey Bhote, vice president of Nepal National Mountain Guides Association claimed: "most climbers are mentally prepared to come across such a sight."

Other bodies are famous for not having been found yet. Sandy Irvine, the partner of George Mallory, may have been one of the first two people to reach the summit of Everest a full thirty years before Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay did it. Since they never made it back down, nobody knows just how close to the top they made it.

Mallory's frozen body was found by chance in the nineties without the Kodak cameras he brought up to record the climb with. It has been speculated that Irvine might have them and Kodak says they could still develop the film if the cameras turn up. Circumstantial evidence suggests that they died on the way back down from the summit, Mallory had his goggles off and a photo of his wife he said he'd put at the peak wasn't in his coat. If Irving is found with that camera, history books might need rewriting.

As Everest's glaciers melt its morbid history comes into clearer view. Will the melting cause old bodies to become new landmarks? Will Sandy Irvine be found? Only time will tell.

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