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The Trailblazing Comic about Black Women by a Black Woman

The Trailblazing Comic about Black Women by a Black Woman

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In 1991, Barbara Brandon-Croft became the first Black woman with a nationally syndicated comic strip in the mainstream press with Where I’m Coming From. It was picked up by Universal Press Syndicate and ran until 2005. Now, this ground-breaking comic strip about Black women’s perspectives is being published into a book to celebrate Brandon-Croft’s historic achievements.

Barbara Brandon-Croft hails from Long Island, New York and is the daughter of mid-century cartoonist Brumsic Brandon Jr., creator of Luther, the second nationally syndicated comic strip to feature a Black lead. As a child, she understood that art-making can be a political act and the power of the comic strip as art.

Barbara Brandon-Croft

Where I’m Coming From centers nine Black women — a tribe of friends — speaking their truths to each other about relationships and work as well as police brutality, abortion, racist microaggressions, and single motherhood. The colorful cast of characters — Cheryl, Nicole, Jackie, Lydia, Judy, Alisha, Lekesia, Monica, and Sonya — challenge the monolithic representation of Black womanhood that we often see.

The comic strip represents Black women with varied expressions, hair styles, skin tones, and tones of voice, relaying everyday life and unfiltered social commentary. For example, feminist Lekesia points out racial bias and sex scandals in the military, wisecracking: “I think this country needs to change its recruitment slogan to Uncle Sam wants you…to behave!” No topic is off-limits to this sisterhood, from education to dating woes to workplace inequality to voting. The unashamed sarcasm and upbeat playfulness are infectious, while the cast is carefully distinguished with a flip of a hand or a pointed gaze.

The strips are mostly dialogue, with them talking to each other on the phone or in person or directly to the reader. At time, they’re talking to men on the phone, but the men are always “off screen,” like the adults in Peanuts. The dialogue is sharply written, and even though these strips were all published in the 1990s, a lot of the subject matter is (sadly) still fresh and relevant today. 

One of the characters, Monica, is fair-skinned, hazel-eyed, and often mistaken for white. That is, until she opens her mouth. It’s something that she used to hate but has grown to appreciate. She loves to point out the humor in the kind of irony her racially ambiguous looks provide.

Monica made me think of the book Passing and Clare’s excitement at being able to pass as white. She enjoyed the benefits and perks that came to her because of it, although aware of her true identity. In one particular strip, Monica shares that she has started to research her roots: “And with the fair skin, auburn hair, and green eyes I have, I’m living proof that the founding members of this nation…fathered far more than this country.”

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What I loved about Where I’m Coming From is how Brandon-Croft provides updates to these colorful characters and what they would say about things that are currently happening.

Cheryl, the loud-mouthed, sharp-tongue, 100 percent honest friend, lets us know that she received a text from “Karen-on-the-job” that says: “OMG! Cannot believe you wore a BLM shirt on a Zoom! You’re begging to be cancelled. Cancel culture is real!” Cheryl responds: “Pah-Leez! We were born cancelled. Talk to me once we’ve been picked up!”

Alisha, the Pollyanna of the group, shares the hope she felt watching Amanda Gorman perform at President Biden’s inauguration. Lydia, the only mom in the group, offers her take on the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

The conversations between the women serve both to present them as funny and thoughtful human beings, while also exploring complex issues that Black women navigate through.

Brandon-Croft’s work is important to the culture. Her funny comic strips resonate as much today as they did more than 30 years ago. They provide us with a cross-section look at the failings of education, healthcare, and the justice system. A new generation will now be able to discover this essential work.

Black women have a specific way of talking with one another. Our speech is unique, as we confer about Blackness and womanhood. Over the years, books, film, and television shows have called attention to how Black women speak to each other, often marked by the Black vernacular. What I appreciate about Brandon-Croft’s comic strip is how she celebrates Black women in all of our glory. We can be sarcastic, emotional, single mothers, activists, the woman whose life revolves around a man, and everything in between. She lets us know that we don’t need permission to be who we are. More importantly, she lets us know that who we are is just fine.

Where I’m Coming From provides readers with insight into how Black women view and move through the world. Brandon-Croft uses these cartoon heads to push against how Black women, in turn, are viewed. The legacy of this comic is that many of the issues she explores demonstrate — for better or worse — that the past is not totally past. We have this rich collection of work that explores the intimacy and community between Black women.

I recommend this trailblazing comic with 5 out of 5 stars. Where I’m Coming From is available on Amazon.

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