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Roxane Gay’s Graphic Novel ‘The Banks’: Sexy, Slick with a Dash of Cool

Roxane Gay’s Graphic Novel ‘The Banks’: Sexy, Slick with a Dash of Cool

Thankfully, stories centering Black women are on the rise, and it’s about time. 

The Banks is an alluring graphic novel about a heist conceived and executed by three generations of Black women determined to control their destiny. The story begins in Evanston, Illinois, in 1972 with Clara and Melvin, an attractive Black couple who happen to be on a date stealing gold bars from a suburban safe. The story jumps forward in time to Celia, Clara, and Melvin’s daughter, all grown up and living her best life as a talented investment banker with her eye on a promotion. Then the narrative glides back to Clara’s arrival in Chicago in the early 1970s with just one suitcase to her name and the happy ignorance of youth that allows the impossible to manifest into reality. 

Clara’s journey to becoming a master thief unfolds in a few frames. When we get to know Celia in the present, we see her excelling at her firm but getting passed over yet again for a promotion at a job where she puts in the one hundred fifty percent required by talented Black women but gets nothing but thank-you’s in return. Celia manages money for corporate crooks who underestimate her talent, and she is ready to settle the score. Roxane Gay tells a familiar story of survival not often seen beyond the tales told by elders in Black families around kitchen tables, family reunions, and cookouts. 

According to Deadline, Roxane Gay is adapting The Banks into a TV series, which is the perfect next iteration for this story. The artwork in the graphic novel is impressive. Ming Doyle is a wildly talented artist who captures the majesty of the Banks women beautifully. Each character is drawn with such realism that they could just walk off the page. Ming Doyle’s art draws you in. 

Three generations of Banks women appear in The Banks, and we see the family traits drawn in each woman. Their strength is not only shown by their grit and determination; we see their power and vulnerability in the ways their bodies are drawn. I especially loved Grandma Cora or, as Ceilia calls her, “Yaya.” Cora’s relaxed pixie cut hair is silvery gray, but this grandmother is still an active cat burglar. She’s got muscles and curves you don’t ever see portrayed on Black women of a certain age. Cora is a formidable woman you do not want to mess with, and I am here for her one hundred percent.

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The graphic novel’s cover art is the same green we see on American money. Throughout the book, colorist Jordie Bellaire creates the perfect shades to set the tone and background for the story. The Banks feels like film noir in still life. Sultry is a word that kept coming up in my mind as my eyes devoured each panel. Each chapter ends with a blank page textured gunmetal black as if the scene were ending with a fade to black. That effect allows the reader to breathe and let the action of the previous act settle in before moving on to the next scene. That kind of care endeared this work of art to me even more.  

Roxane Gay’s storytelling is superb. The story hits you immediately and draws you in from the first panel. Gay reflects the reality that for many, access to the American dream is only possible by working outside the system to make enough money to get your children educated so that they can work so-called “legitimate” jobs with status. 

Like many Black women, Cora and Clara have had their men taken away from them by the system, forcing them to make it on their own. You’ve got to have some serious skills to steal large amounts of money from white folks for two generations, have enough money to own property, and send your daughter to a prestigious college. The heartbreaking nuance of The Banks is that after all of Cora and Clara’s efforts in the corporate world, Celia’s options are limited because of the color of her skin and her gender and there is little she can do about it.

Each character is fully fleshed out. The Banks women have talents and flaws, and it’s lovely to see that each of them has love relationships. Celia’s boyfriend is a co-worker who adores her, Clara’s partner is super sweet and supports her, and Cora has her gentleman caller who comes in to add a little spice just when the story needs it. The scenes of intimacy are gorgeous and downright spicy. Love that.  

Roxane Gay has created a thrilling, witty, and suspenseful world. If you’re looking for a great ride, check out The Banks. You won’t be disappointed.

The Banks is written by Roxane Gay, with art by Ming Doyle and colorist Jordie Bellaire by TKO Studios.

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