Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pitch Black: A Graphic Novel

Just by chance, since it was sitting on the front hall table and checked out by someone else in my household, I picked up a slim, powerful book that shook me up. It told a story sparely and artfully, simply and subtly. It had a message that sunk in gradually. This was the graphic novel, or short story, Pitch Black by Youme Landowne and Anthony Horton. Perhaps because of the pictures it is classified as a teen or children's book.



It is the powerful true story of a woman artist who meets and befriends a homeless man, also an artist and of similar age, and the story of his life and how he began living in the subway tunnels of New York City. The subtitle, shown on the title page, is "DON'T BE SKERD."

Assumptions are questioned. As you might expect of a city, it contains an explosion of printed matter: street signs, billboards, store signs, warnings, and paper ephemera, all fitly rendered in black and white. Instead of simply repeating what they see, they use each sign as a catalyst for commentary: a "no parking sign" says "ever"; a "no standing" sign says "find an alternate." You have to be alert and willing and interested in searching for these. "Uptown train on downtown tracks" is another. A poster with a face and just "Diallo" reminds us of the shooting of Amadou Diallo by NY police. The woman and man meet at a sign: "Buy Your Self: at participating stores."

On the train when he asks to see her art and she shows him he says, "Hey. This is a black person." She answers, "Yup." It's a strong, nearly wordless moment. Since she is white, he is confused. 

The book only takes a few minutes to read, but leaves an impression for days. It welcomes us in and shines the light on homelessness, friendship, and injustice. And hope, too. It is a call to action, to activist action. First we reveal the problem. Then we spread the word. Next we look for ways of getting the power so we can make changes. We've had womens' marches and political rallies which heighten our awareness of certain situations. The marches by the high school students against gun violence is probably the closest to aiming at power; they are not just marching, but are asking for changes in the laws, very specific demands. 

Pitch Black is a rally in a quieter way (Landowne, in an interview says that it became "softer" as she wrote it). It is asking us to look around, pay attention, question the structure of how we treat people who are homeless, examine the "services" we provide that don't really serve, and how we treat people of color. These are hard problems, still pressing. In the end, the book is "Dedicated to LOVE." 

Be kind to someone and that kindness radiates outward as they may feel inclined to be kind to someone after. Translate that kindness into the society we want to live in by voting for those who believe we are responsible for each other. The ultimate power is in the vote.

Pitch Black was published by Cinco Puntos Press and the description and more information of the press and story is here. You can read more about Horton at the press here and a 2012 NYTimes article/obituary is here.

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