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Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Due for release in February, this exhaustively researched (and exhausting) volume written by Roland Laird and Taneshia Nash Laird recounts the story of black people in the United States from the year 1619 up through the election of Barack Obama, and it's a compelling (if dense) read for those unfamiliar with the minutia of black travails on these hallowed shores. Sure, there are triumphs to offer counterpoint to the many tragedies in the three-hundred-plus-years of slavery, inequality and general awfulness inflicted upon blacks in America, but the whole subject is such a downer that 240 solid pages of it can be rather hard to take in such a concentrated dose. But unlike many other books dealing with this incendiary period, this work addresses the fact that blacks can be our own worst enemy, specifically illustrated in examples where we were complicit in making the perpetuation of the chattel slavery system possible by informing on our own when insurrection or escape was in the offing. (Oddly, there's no mention of the Africans who willingly sold their countrymen to Western slavers and did so for generations, getting rich in the process).

As stated, the text is rather comprehensive and would definitely be worth a read for those not up on the real-life epic, but the entire book is graced with some of the most amateurish artwork I've ever seen. According to his cover bio, artist Elihu "Adolfo" Bey is an Atlanta-based freelance illustrator and comics artist who has provided work for "album covers and CD booklets for top-selling recording artists, and if that's true I'm genuinely amazed. The book's cover art is somewhat passable, but the work found between the covers is on a sub-junior high school level of competence and displays only the most rudimentary implementation of basic visual storytelling techniques. The layouts are haphazard and poorly thought out, with the figures' hands and heads often cut off, and the figures themselves display a need for the artist to take some life drawing classes. I'm not saying any of this to be mean, but rather to express my disbelief at a work that has the potential to have crossover appeal and impart knowledge of an important segment of our collective history getting pole-axed by sub-par visuals that trivialize the text. Parts of the book bear so little visual gravitas that it comes off as a "black man's struggle" coloring book, and that's a damned shame when the whole package is considered. That said, I advise the curious to look elsewhere for information on the subject.


Roland Laird said...


Thanks for your review of our book. I agree that Still I Rise has crossover potential when it's released on February 3. In fact, I expect it has the potential to introduce African American history and sequential art to those who may have never picked up a black history book or comic book before.

There are, however, a couple of places where you and I disagree about the book:

Africans enslaving Africans was not mentioned because none of the book takes place in Africa. Had we begun the book on African shores, that may have been mentioned, but I think you understand that African History deserves its own book.

As the writer, I appreciate your candor, but do think your issue with the art is your opinion, not fact. What is a fact is that Eli (with whom we have an 18 year relationship) has been hired to create album art, most notably all of the packaging including the comic insert for Ed Lover and Dr. Dre's CD "Back Up Off Me". Also, while working with our company, then known as Posro Komics, in the early 90s he had his worked featured on MTV's hip hop show Yo! MTV Raps. Personally, I think the artwork in Still I Rise eyecatching and enhances the story and furthermore I agree with one record label art director who described Eli's work as "effortless".

Roland Laird
CEO, Posro Media
Author, Still I Rise A Graphic History of African Americans

Bunche said...

Eli's credentials are not in question, and when it comes to my assessment of his art I make it as a person who taught cartooning, worked as an artist in advertizing and worked in comics professionally for thirteen years. I stand by my critique and, for the record, I showed the book to several friends and former colleagues in the the business and every single one of them shared my opinion regarding the art. I understand that you have a working relationship with Eli, but sometimes when we're too close to something we can't see it for what it is. I have not seen any of Eli's album art or other work, so for all I know it could be a whole other animal than what's seen in STILL I RISE.