Book Review: The Black Mage by Daniel Barnes & DJ Kirkland (2019)

Tuesday, October 29th, 2019

Surprisingly fun for a comic book about racism and the KKK.

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through NetGalley. Trigger warning for depictions of racism.)

When teenager Tom Token is accepted into the historically all-white boarding school St. Ivory Academy as part of its “Magical Minority Initiative,” he’s understandably skeptical. Sure, the facilities are state of the art, and the education can’t be beat, but at what cost? His melanin-challenged classmates assail him with aggressions both micro and – in the case of the Headmaster’s rich jock son Bryce – physical. Tom’s pet bird, Jim the crow, is even injured in the crossfire (though happily not beyond magical repair).

But race relations at St. Ivory are far worse than Tom could imagine (or maybe not: the Headmaster’s robe bears a suspicious resemblance to a KKK hood). When he receives an anonymous tip that he’s not the first black mage to walk St. Ivory’s halls, Tom embarks on a journey to find out what happened to his predecessors. With the help of the ghosts of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass, and do-gooder fellow classmate/student liaison Lindsay Whitehorn, can Tom get justice for the other black mages sacrificed to keep St. Ivory afloat – or will he, too, be fed to the racist machine?

The synopsis describes The Black Mage as “The School for Good and Evil meets Dread Nation,” but I got a ton of Harry Potter vibes. I half expected Barnes to swap the race of one of the more minor characters halfway through the narrative, a la Lavender Brown. It just feels right, given Barnes’s sense of humor (and I mean that in the most awesome way possible).

Some readers will undoubtedly describe the book’s racial politics as heavy-handed – and the references are pretty numerous and not terribly subtle – but I think it’s done in a clever and engaging way: rather cheeky with a “I said what I said” kind of energy. The comic is remarkably fun for a book about racial violence, which I suspect is the point: disarm your audience with charming artwork, plucky sidekicks, and a plethora of pop culture references so that they absorb the message before they can say “Riddikulus!”.

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

PETA, the KKK and the AKC

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

Just for the record – and because it’s starting to feel like all-PETA, all the time around here, Dog help us all – this shit is so unbelievably uncool:

NEW YORK – “Is this really the KKK?” somebody asked the woman in the white robe and the pointy hat.

Crowds gawked at a table set up outside Madison Square Garden on Monday afternoon, where People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals was protesting the start of the Westminster Kennel Club show. PETA contends that the American Kennel Club promotes pure-breeding of dogs that is harmful to their health.

“Welcome AKC Members,” read a banner hanging from the table — with AKC crossed out and KKK written above it. Two PETA protesters dressed as Ku Klux Klan members, while other volunteers handed out brochures that read: “The KKK and the AKC: BFF?” […]

Most passers-by seemed more puzzled than offended, though those who didn’t stop walked away thinking they really had seen the KKK. The most common reaction was to pull out a cell phone and start snapping photos.

I wasn’t going to mention this latest offense – I’m so, so sick of talking about PETA – but it landed on one of the larger feminist blogs today, so meh. Lest I be branded a shill for PETA (zomg, I defend them on occasion!), perhaps I’d better weigh in.

While I think the comparison that PETA’s making is a valid one – namely, that the AKC is akin to the KKK inasmuch as the two fetishize a “pure,” “master,” genetically superior strain of beings (be it “race” or “breed”), going to unconscionable lengths to achieve this racist/breedist dream – certainly they can do so without parading around NYC in sheets and hoods, no?

Not only is the Klan gear unnecessary for their analogy (the comparison works quite well without it, methinks), it’s also distracting from the message – the controversy lands on NBC, yes, but the discussion becomes more about PETA’s racism than the AKC’s destructive policies.

Most importantly, by donning a potent, contemporary symbol of racism, PETA (yet again) demonstrates their complete lack of sensitivity and concern for marginalized groups other than non-human animals. While I don’t expect them to join in marches for the Jena 6 or crusade for better public housing for the urban poor – after all, they are an animal rights group – I do expect them to refrain from engaging in other “isms,” including racism. Gleefully foisting such an infamous, lasting symbol of hatred upon the public, some of whom may be traumatized by the experience (because of both the collective, ancestral and individual, first-hand experience with this hatred) is inexcusable. It’s racist, plain and simple. And any attempts to justify this behavior with appeals to the “oppression Olympics” (e.g., “but animals have it worse!”) or by claiming that the ends somehow justify the means (“at least they got us talking about it”) are privileged at best.

(More below the fold…)