by Jonathan W. Gray

About Jonathan W. Gray

Jonathan W. Gray is Associate Professor of English at the CUNY Graduate Center and John Jay College. His first book, Civil Rights in the White Literary Imagination, traces the white literary responses to the period between the Brown case and the death of Martin Luther King Jr. His forthcoming project, Illustrating the Race, investigates how the twin understandings of illustration—the creative act of depiction and the political act of bringing forth for public consideration—function in the representation of African Americans in comics and graphic narratives published since 1966.


As comic book writer Ta-Nehisi Coates remarked in 2015, “Race is the child of racism, not the father. And the process of [representing] ‘the people’ has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy” (7). Coates’s observation foregrounds the ideologies that led to the construction of a racial caste system in Western society, one that established whiteness as the normative and unmarked default with blackness serving as its often deviant obverse (with other racialized groups falling somewhere in between these two poles). Any examination of racial representation in US comics must keep this history in mind, as US culture in general—and comics in particular—continues to be shaped by the racial classifications that support and sustain white supremacy. Further, since the rise of comic books depended on twentieth-century modes of mass production and distribution, racial representation in the medium often served to (re)inscribe and disseminate contemporaneous understandings of racial hierarchy via its display and consumption in the marketplace.