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Strange Fruit: A Graphic Book, by Joel Christian Gill.

April 28, 2014

Strange Fruit, Volume I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, A Graphic Book, by Joel Christian Gill.   Fulcrum Publishing (2014), Paperback, 176 pages

An engaging graphic book about ten little known African American men from the past which could easily have been much better.

This is a book that will probably appeal to many readers, especially in school libraries. It will give them a taste of what black men have achieved in our history and what they have sometimes had to endure. The title is taken from a famous Billie Holiday song about lynching, although the book is more about pride than pain.

Joel Gill is a talented artist and his graphics for this book are often impressive. I particularly liked his images of Henry Box Brown in the box which he used to escape slavery and the crows, Jim Crows, that attacked some of the characters. I got a bit tired of all the birth scenes, however, and title pages seemed overcrowded. Here and there are errors; the cactus and mesas that Gill introduced into his account of the deputy marshal would simply not be found in Indian Territory, today’s eastern Oklahoma.

The bibliography at the end of the book lists where the information in it was found.  It didn’t resolve my questions about its accuracy, however. Gill stresses that several of the men were “the first” to do impressive things; the first stage magician and the chess master. Who was the first of something is usually impossible to determine.  How does Gill or the source he cites know that someone wasn’t earlier? Almost any other claim of significance would be better than this dubious one.

Another big flaw in this book was the failure to have any stories about black women. It would have easy enough to find African American women as “uncelebrated” and as significant as the men that are included. All those involved in the publication of the book should be ashamed to be so blatantly sexist.

Overall I support this kind of book. Gill is talented and will go far. I only hope that if additional volumes are published, they address the problems I have raised.

Thanks to Fulcrum Publishing for providing me with an ebook to review.   I am sure that it would be even more impressive, and easier to read, in hard copy.  Although the cover stated that there was a foreward by Henry Louis Gates, it was not included in the version I received.

One Comment leave one →
  1. aartichapati permalink
    April 29, 2014 9:51 pm

    Oh, I know just what you mean here. Applaud the sentiment but deride the execution. And agreed about the book missing ANY stories about Black women. Hopefully those are in volume 2, exclusively?

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