Sunday , May 26 2024

Graphic Novel Review: ‘Blackward’ by Lawrence Lindell from Drawn+Quarterly

Blackward by Lawrence Lindell, published by Drawn and Quarterly, presents a narrative that is brutally real in all its facets: the empowering support of friends, the pain of bigotry at any intensity, and the energizing hope that can well up from our passions. In addition to its clear themes of pride and protest, Blackward is a timely, of-the-moment creation in a world where people face trolls online as well as IRL. Mental health is a major component, woven into the story to show what characters must to do survive and overcome to thrive in a society that seems to want only to reject them.

The Section

Blackward follows the adventures of “The Section,” so the tight-knit group of pals seeking to make their own place in the world call themselves. Longtime friends relying on one another for support, love, and energy, The Section are banned from the local community center after an argument about pronouns with a “hotep king” turns violent with a white frequently-self-announced ally pushes all the blame on them despite misinterpretations and insults. The four pick themselves up with a bit of self-care and then seek to build their own community through the local bookstore, leading to a project to host a Black zine fest and showcase local talents. As more and more hate mounts, so do the genuine allies who pull together to prove that the world can be a good place if we make it so.

Great Characters

The characters in Blackward stand out as its greatest component. Though “queer” is a widely general term, too often stories have only one character attempting to represent an enormously varied community. Here, Lindell shows unique faces, all queer, but all in their own ways. Lika is gentle, Lala is ferocious, Amor is quick-quipped, and Tony loves to skateboard. The story carries naturally with each character acting and reacting in the scenes just as one might expect from any group of friends hanging out to tease and care for one another. All characters act in their own ways, whether Lika cheerfully trying to explain or Lala screaming and shaking a fist. The dialogue is rich even in the use of distinctive voices on text messaging between the characters.

Compelling Story

While Lindell’s compelling storytelling in Blackward is engaging, so is the draw of the graphic novel’s art. The book begins with several pages of parallel panels, four vertical shots of The Section’s homes, bedrooms, and routines as they wake up and clean up for the start of the day. The comparisons among the characters give a wealth of characterization as well as introductions, showing their strengths and struggles before the four even have a scene together. From there, the story runs with loud action and takes breathers for emotional processing of tumultuous events. Lindell loads the panels with jokes in the backgrounds and clever slogans on t-shirts and posters, giving readers’ eyes a feast and something fresh every time they reread.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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