Years before he wrote his National Book Award–winning novel Middle Passage, Charles Johnson created these sidesplitting and subversive gag comics about Black life in America, now collected for the first time in nearly half a century.
Before Charles Johnson found fame as a novelist and won the National Book Award for Middle Passage in 1991, he was a cartoonist, and a very good one.
Taught via mail correspondence course by the comics editor Lawrence Lariar, mentored by the New Yorker cartoonist Charles Barsotti, and inspired by the call of poet Amiri Baraka to celebrate and depict Black life in America, Johnson crafted some of the fiercest and funniest cartoons of the twentieth century.
Reimagining the gag comic as a powerful and incendiary tool, Johnson tackled America’s mid-century afflictions—segregation, inner-city poverty, police brutality, and white supremacy—by craftily subverting stale gag tropes. He populated them with bullet-dodging Black Panthers, doubt-filled Klansmen, militant babies, self-serving politicians, and complacent suburban liberals.
This collection, Johnson’s first in nearly fifty years, brings together work from across his career: college newspaper gags, selections from his books Black Humor and Half-Past Nation Time, his unpublished manuscript Lumps in the Melting Pot, and uncollected pieces. Taken together, this volume reveals Johnson as long overdue for appreciation as a cartoonist of the first order.