Posted in A Professor's Thoughts..., Feature Spotlight

Chicago Humanities Festival Feature Q&A: “Dr. Grace D. Gipson’s Favorite Comic Book Characters”*

So your girl got a chance to share a few of her comic book faves with the Chicago Humanities Festival! Always love the chance to geek out and share!! Check it out below!!

*Original Post Feature from the Chicago Humanities Festival

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In May 2021 Black future feminist and pop culture scholar Dr. Grace D. Gipson was joined at Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) by Bianca Xunise (Say Her Name) for a conversation about the past and future of comics.

After the program, we spoke to Dr. Gipson about some of her favorite comic book series, characters, and authors.

CHF: In your CHF program, you mentioned comic books and characters (like Dark Horse’s Martha Washington, who grew up in Chicago). Can you talk a little bit more about the history and significance of some of your favorite series, characters, and authors?

1) Storm (X-Men, Marvel Comics)

Gipson: When it comes to selecting my favorite comic book characters, I have a pretty solid line-up. While my introduction into comics was through the funny papers, there would be one character that truly drew me into the genre: Marvel Comics’s Storm from the X-Men.

As a Black woman who not only served as a leader of the X-Men, but also a goddess that controlled the weather elements, Storm as a fictional character provided an example of progressive representation and a fantastical escape.

Her presence in the comic book world made a significant impression on me as a young, Black girl from the Midwest. I was able to see myself, at the center and not on the fringes, within this popular medium that had been dominated primarily by white and male characters. Storm also opened the door for me to discover more Black female characters, as well as Black female comic book writers and artists.

2) Martha Washington (Dark Horse Comics)

Gipson: Another character who would have a significant impact on me personally and professionally is that of Dark Horse Comics’s Martha Washington. Created in the early 1990s, Martha Washington resonated with me in a very close way, considering her character was based in Chicago, IL. As a Champaign, IL native her story literally and figuratively felt close to home.

Martha Washington’s narrative as explored through The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century comic book series sought to showcase a “regular” relatable character that, despite her circumstances, becomes a heroine for her local community and ultimately the world.

Set in the urban space of the Cabrini-Green projects, Martha Washington’s beginnings (which are told in the first issue Give Me Liberty) explore, from a dystopian perspective, a current and relevant story of public housing, crime, poverty, Black youth, adulthood, womanhood, and even patriotism. Uniquely, her story offers a rare opportunity to explore American patriotism from a Black woman’s point of view. This is especially noteworthy considering the lack of Black female leads in comics, during the 1990s.

When it comes to comics, one can never underestimate the power of a diverse story and the impact it can have on all types of readers. These next two characters not only contribute diverse storylines but also have the impact of reaching a young audience. When looking at the landscape of comic book characters, most of them are adults, so it is refreshing to see a Black female youth presence.

3) Raquel “Rocket” Ervin (Milestone Comics)

Gipson: Raquel “Rocket” Ervin from Milestone Comics (a Black publishing company) is one of the earliest examples of a Black teen character that I have encountered. Also, Rocket’s storyline is one of the first comics to deal with complex and practical issues such as teen pregnancy, balancing motherhood, Black mentorship, and community access. And it was done in a way that avoided stereotypes, while providing hope.

As a character influenced by notable figures like Toni Morrison and W.E.B. Du Bois, Rocket provides an existing reality and a story of dedication and perseverance. Although she is deemed as a superhero, for Rocket her true superpower and strength is her ability to inspire.

4) RiRi “Ironheart” Williams (Marvel Comics)

Gipson: Another character that humanizes the Black girl experience is that of Marvel Comics RiRi “Ironheart” Williams. Through RiRi/Ironheart, as a fictional character, she personifies what it means to be a young, gifted, Black teen in today’s society. Her character also shares another look into the STEM world by encouraging Black girls to embrace one’s giftedness and intelligence.

This is a comic that I wish existed when I was a teenager, but nonetheless grateful that young Black girls and the world are able to appreciate it now. What is also significant about the Ironheart story is that it is written by a Black woman and Chicago-native, Eve L. Ewing, this is key as most stories in past comic book history have been written and drawn by white men (thankfully there is a growing landscape of representation).

To know that I am represented on the page and behind the panel inspires and further confirms that Black women and girls deserve to take up space in this popular medium. Ultimately, both Rocket and Ironheart are perfect examples of how comics can rewrite the script regarding Black girlhood and the importance of why “Representation Matters!!”

5) Torchy Brown (created by Jackie Ormes)

Gipson: Lastly, I felt it was important to not just recognize the importance of some of my favorite characters, but also one of my favorite writers/artists. Before there was even a Storm, Martha Washington, Rocket, or Ironheart there was a Black female lead named Torchy Brown created by cartoonist and writer Jackie Ormes. Similar to the Martha Washington character, Jackie Ormes legacy and work would find a home in Chicago.

As the first Black female cartoonist, Ormes was instrumental in resetting the standard in cartooning and comic strips. She did this by creating her own lane of telling stories that primarily featured Black voices, while also challenging the stereotypes and caricatures often presented in mainstream press. With readers from coast-to-coast, Ormes used her comic strip series and panels to discuss unapologetic commentary on such issues as racism, labor and taxes, U.S. Foreign policy, violence against women, unfair housing, segregated schools, and environmental injustice. She was able to use her talents to not only inform but also showcase (while entertain), in full color, the existence of intelligent, stylish and fashionable Black characters (particularly Black women). With Chicago as an honorary character, much of Ormes cartoon and comic strip work mirrored her real life as she was a community advocate and mentor, fundraiser, and trendsetter.

(Snapshot of a few of my faves!! Image Credit: Grace D. Gipson)

To check out the full feature, see here!!

Posted in A Professor's Thoughts...

A Professor’s Thoughts: “I Made It! First Year Down…A lifetime to go!!”

So as of last week Tuesday, I officially made it through my first year on the tenure-track at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA), [ALL GRADES ARE IN] and what a roller coaster ride!! As we all know this was an “interesting” time to be a student, parent, and teacher as it relates to the academic world. And this year was one I will never forget! For example, as noted above this was my first year on the tenure-track, which means not only did I start a new job in these unique circumstances, but I also moved to a whole new state and city in the middle of a pandemic! Many have asked, how have I coped and managed the move during these time? Well my answer to that is…I really did not have a choice, you kind of have to ride the wave or it will take you out. Needless to say, I have had a great deal of support professionally and personally, so that has made this transition a lot easier to navigate (Thank goodness for my many villages!!). Also, the fact that I am in a place that I am loving and doing what I love makes this roller coaster ride a fun one!

Now mind you, I have been teaching pretty much since I was in my doctoral program, so thankfully this academic year was not my first rodeo. However, it was my first experience with teaching full-time virtually. For many people like me, their places of sanctuary were quickly transformed into places of work and everything that came with it. I must admit, teaching virtually this academic year further confirmed that my preference for learning and teaching will ALWAYS be physically in the classroom. Not being in the classroom, physically, made me miss a lot things that I truly value. The presence of the students, literally seeing their faces, the interactions, the energy that permeates in a room, actually going into my office and seeing other faculty and staff, meeting other colleagues for coffee/tea, participating in on-campus activities, and so much more. During and after this school year, I would be more in tune with the long and short-term effects of teaching and learning in a virtual space. For some it worked, others not so much…This past year I witnessed not only students struggling, but faculty and staff as well. To be expected to essentially turn “water into fine wine” within days and weeks was quite the feat. Now in a way we accomplished what was asked of us, but that is not to say we did not come out without some bruises and wounds. I have come to realize that it is ok, and necessary, to acknowledge the stressful moments, but it is what you do to move past the stress that also counts. Lots of lessons learned! All in all, we survived and in many ways thrived!

Part of moving forward for me was participating in my first commencement post-PhD graduation, and recognizing our students in the Department of African American Studies! Seeing the excitement as our students proudly wore their cap and gowns get recognized and cross the finish line was a moment I will never forget and always cherish (You can see a snap shot below)!!

(Top image- 2021 VCU African American Studies undergraduates; Bottom images-Dr. G reading/recognizing our AFAM students during the commencement ceremony for VCU College of Humanities)

So what’s next for Dr. G??!! Well for the first time in 5 years I will not be teaching in the summer. It took a minute to digest that I would not be teaching this summer, but I will say that I do have this sense of relief. In past years, it just became a part of my norm/routine, but as priorities change so does the routine. So, instead of teaching I will be in the archives full-time starting next month in Chicago! I was fortunate to receive a summer fellowship through the Black Metropolis Research Consortium (BMRC), where I will be able to dive into the crates and examine the presence and importance (past and present) of Black female creatives and characters in comics and cartoons specifically within Chicago. I am really excited to have this opportunity, as it will play a huge role in my upcoming book project.

Evening Chicago Skyline

And after spending some time in the Chi’ I will come back to Richmond and tackle the archives on my own campus (VCU) and dive into the Comic Arts Collection! Let’s just say it will definitely be a productive summer, and I am very excited to get to work!

Giant Size X-Men #1 (1975) Photo courtesy of VCU Libraries

In addition to the work, you gotta make sure you get a chance to leisurely play a little bit! And with certain places returning back to some sense of normalcy, I will definitely continue exploring my new city (and other cities) while also squeezing in some R&R. Some of that R&R will be me getting my read on!! And I already have a few books that I cannot wait to read (a few you can find on my monthly book recommendations list). My balcony is going to get a lot of attention!!

Plus, this summer is going to be all about discovery and re-discovery. As I quickly approach ’40’ in a few months, I am continuing to learn more and more about myself (professionally and personally). The summer is a perfect time to recharge, recalibrate, and rejuvenate!!

Now that the school year is finished, what is on your agenda? How will you spend your time this summer?

~Dr. G

Posted in On The Radar

On The Radar-Upcoming Event

As I close out the Spring semester, I wanted to make sure I shared this upcoming event:

May 20th, 2021 (8pm/ET)Art Design Chicago Now Program/Terra Foundation for American Art presents, “The Past and Future of Comics”

Art by Bianca Xunise

The future of comic books belongs to Black women. In many cases drawing on Afrofuturism to tell their own stories, Black women comic book artists and writers are redefining the genre and innovating new ways to think about identity, race, and gender. Join Black future feminist and pop culture scholar Dr. Grace D. Gipson and Chicago cartoonist Bianca Xunise (Say Her Name) for a conversation about the history and future of comic books in Chicago and the real superheroes of the genre: Black women authors and illustrators, and their protagonists.

This program is free to all with registration. Registered guests will receive the link to watch via email in advance of the premiere. The event will premiere on YouTube on May 20th at 7pm/CT (8 pm/ET).

To register click here!!

Posted in Conversations with Beloved & Kindred

Conversations with Beloved & Kindred-Episode 5

Like clockwork, I’m ready for ya!! Just in case you missed it on yesterday, you can catch Thursday’s episode of Conversations with Beloved and Kindred here! And as I said to you before, these two episode definitely hit deep to the core! There is much to process and this is ONLY the beginning!!

The remaining episodes are sure to take us on even deeper dives through Lovecraft Country!!

Check it out below:

And on next time we will travel across the pond over to London to discuss the 2020 Netflix horror, thriller film His House, directed by Remi Weekes.

His House from Netflix Films

See you next time!