Friday, October 28, 2011

 The Original Johnson vol 1

I'm always on the lookout for more comics by Black creators.  I enjoy comics period, but as a relatively outspoken Black guy, I sort of feel obligated to do my best to support Black creators.

Not only is The Original Johnson about Jack Johnson, but it's written and illustrated by Trevor Von Eeden a creator who's been in the industry for three decades and worked on basically every major character.

The Original Johnson is also quite good.

Confession time; Jack Johnson wasn't on my radar until the PBS documentary Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson aired.  I watched it and was captivated by it's chronicling of Jack Johnson's life.  It was also tragic and got me quite riled up.

The Original Johnson  begins with an intro be editor Mike Gold who goes into detail about Trevor Von Eeden and their relationship, in addition to going over some basic facts about Johnson and the creation of the graphic novel.

The book begins with a prologue.  The first page of the graphic novel boldly proclaims that Johnson was "the first psychologically free black man in American History."  The next page offers up a rough one page biography.

From there Von Eeden sets the stage by painting a graphic portrait about what life was like at the turn of the previous century.  In a two page spread Von Eeden depicts the horrors of the trans Atlantic slave trade, slavery, lynching and the KKK.  It's a powerful sequence.

We first meet Johnson at eight years old, on the receiving end of a beating from neighborhood kids.  His mother is tired of seeing her son coming home beaten, so she beats him down in a bit of tough love.

From there we move on to Jack's travels and experiences.  We see a ten man Battle Royale that he wins.  We see his first trip to New York and how it almost begins in tragedy.  We see lynchings.  We also see some of Johnson's various sexual conquests.

The book ends with Johnson triumphant, which sets up the fall in volume II.

This is obviously a passion project for Von Eeden.  You can see the detail he went into in terms of the biographical research.  He writes in the jargon of the time, which takes a second to get used to, but really sets the mood.

The book is also graphically truthful.  The beatings are brutal.  The lynchings are horrific.  And the language is quite frank.  There are a ton of N-bombs dropped and dropped in a way that boils the blood.  There's also nudity.

That said, it's a powerful book about a worthy subject that not nearly enough people know about.  This book should be required reading.  Seriously, I can't recommend this book enough.

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