Local illustrator talks about his work on ‘The Black Panther Party’ graphic novel

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Describing a complex and under-represented part of history is no easy task, especially when it is a story that you feel deeply connected to.

Yet the fine Clifton Park illustrator and artist Marcus Kwame Anderson did just that with “The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History”.

Written by David F. Walker and illustrated by Anderson, it details the complex and often distorted history of the party, which was founded in 1966 in Oakland, California.

The original intention was to help protect black citizens from police brutality, although its goals broadened from there.

Anderson, a native of Jamaica who grew up in the Capital Region, has been a professional illustrator since the early 2000s. His love for comics and illustration began at an early age and some of his favorite series were ” Avengers “and X-Men. “

“I think I was attracted [to comics] because . . . it’s the perfect marriage of literature and the visual arts, ”said Anderson. “I loved reading prose and novels anyway, so it wasn’t too complicated. When I read comics I felt like I got everything I pulled from the prose books and even a little bonus because there were cool illustrations.

Previously, he illustrated comics like “Snow Daze” and “Cash & Carrie”. Released earlier this year, “The Black Panther Party” was his first graphic novel with a major publisher and it was important to work on it.

“It’s history, but it’s also a living history. There are still people who were there and so in many ways I felt an added responsibility to try to be as specific as possible, ”said Anderson.

He and Walker did a lot of research to write and illustrate the book, and they took a “warts and everything” approach to the story, not shying away from the less positive aspects of party history. In the graphic novel, they offer biographical sketches of key people involved in the party, even people they don’t necessarily admire, like Eldridge Cleaver, who became the party’s information minister.

“. . . Part of the problem we were trying to fix is ​​that a lot of people don’t know much about the Panthers anyway and a lot of the really negative ideas and connotations that have just been exposed in the air, intentionally. or not. , permeated the average person’s lack of information and context, ”Anderson said. “Some of the ideas that they were scary and the people who wanted to take over the country, those ideas really took over more than anything else. So there was a little course correction that we were trying to make, but we were also honest.

They started work on the book in the summer of 2019 and continued until the summer of 2020, amid the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality.

“Probably the biggest [challenge] is that emotionally heavy because you’re dealing with the idea that even though the Panthers weren’t perfect ,. . . what they were fighting for and working for was really positive. It was basically the idea that black people deserve and need dignity, food, clothing and shelter and the same opportunity as everyone else, ”Anderson said.

These ideas were spelled out in the party’s Ten Point Platform, published shortly after the party was founded and reproduced in full in “The Black Panther Party”.

“. . . these ten points, if you read it, they could be talking about 2021. Obviously, today’s movements are different. Black Lives Matter isn’t exactly the same as the Black Panther movement, but there is definitely connective tissue, ”Anderson said. “The biggest connective tissue is that circumstances haven’t changed enough. I think it may be reductive to say that they haven’t changed but they haven’t changed enough.

Working on the project as people like George Floyd and others were killed at the hands of police last summer has made some of the most painful parts of party history even more relevant.

“We are dealing with this story which is all too familiar; it’s not even like a distant story or something that I feel distant from, ”Anderson said. “Even while I was making the book, the story didn’t stop and black people were still dying.”

Since the book’s release, Anderson has received positive reviews and comments. Publishers Weekly called it a “nuanced” and “accessible” story. “Artist Kwame Anderson skillfully balances text and imagery, and even the most wordy sections feel spacious, while he lends a cinematic visual rhythm to the many passionate interactions between activists and police,” review.

However, for Anderson, some of the most rewarding feedback has come from teachers, some of whom say they have started using the book in their classrooms. As a teacher himself at Living Resources in Saratoga Springs, that’s great news.

“The reception has been very positive and I’m very honored for it because I felt lucky enough to even be a part of it,” said Anderson.

On Saturday, starting at 1 p.m., he’ll be at the Open Door bookstore for a book signing.

Throughout late winter and early spring he and Walker have given numerous talks and virtual artist events, but Saturday will be the first in-person event he can host to celebrate the book’s publication. .

For those who wish to read “The Black Panther Party,” Anderson recommends diving into it with an open mind.

“Get ready to learn new things that you haven’t been exposed to and after that look for new information beyond our book. It’s definitely not the end of what I think people should learn, ”Anderson said.

For more information on signing up, visit opendoor-bookstore.com. To learn more about Anderson, visit marcuskwame.com.

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