COMICS AND EMMETT TILL
Comics began telling the difficult story of Emmett Till’s murder within weeks of his funeral. In her essay, Qiana Whitted examines representations of Till in editorial cartoons and newspaper comic strips from the 1950s as well as in more recent graphic novels, including: King: A Comics Biography, Stuck Rubber Baby, Bayou, Darkroom: A Memoir in Black & White, and March: Book One. She argues that the startling invocations of Till in comics illustrate the racial and gendered socialization of children during the Civil Rights era in ways that underscore how black male youth are denied the social protections of childhood. Through the comics medium, these stories are also able to reference his life and death in ways that pay special attention to the pictures that were circulated in the aftermath of the 1955 incident. Whitted carefully considers what the visual rhetoric of race, childhood, and sexuality signify in comics about Till, whether he is pictured as a defiant adolescent, a victimized corpse, or simply a name whispered in warning.
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Qiana Whitted is Associate Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina. A graduate of Hampton University with a PhD from Yale, her research focuses on African-American literary and cultural studies as well as American comic books. She is the author of the book, “A God of Justice?”: The Problem of Evil in Twentieth-Century Black Literature and co-editor of the collection, Comics and the U.S. South. She has published essays about race, genre, and comics that focus on historical figures such as Nat Turner, Stagger Lee, and Emmett Till. She can be found on the web: http://www.qianawhitted.com and on Twitter: @QianaWhitted.