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Professor’s New Book Shows Early Comics Fighting for Social Justice

Qiana Whitted’s Study of EC Comics Focuses on Long-Overlooked “Preachies” in the 1950s

Today’s readers are accustomed to comics on diverse historical and cultural topics, from U.S. race relations to Holocaust memoirs and government committee reports. Qiana Whitted, Professor of English and African American Studies, reminds us of the long history of comics tackling social justice concerns in her exciting new book EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest, published in 2019 from Rutgers University Press.

This superb study of EC Comics, a press more familiar to readers, as she notes, for its gothic stories, also published “the preachies”: 1950s issues that addressed the goals and challenges of the civil rights movement, as well as fought against religious prejudice, in lessons often taught through a science fiction lens. EC’s “The Slave Ship,” as Whitted analyzes, rewrites the historical Zong slave massacre by having aliens come to earth to kidnap a crew of murderous white slave traders. She compares the dramatic “Judgment Day!” comic, featuring an African American astronaut from a now-unified earth who denounces segregation on an android planet, to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. “EC,” she concludes, prompted “every reader to act as an accomplice in the struggle for civil rights,” proving “that even the most disposable ephemera of American popular culture can have a lasting impact.”

With 24 color illustrations, this book is of interest to readers and archivists passionate about exploring new sociocultural aspects of comics after World War II. Among its reviewers, Susan Kirtley praises the book’s “powerful argument for the decisive role the company and its comics played in combating social injustices of the day while advocating for a better, more inclusive society in the future.” Ben Saunders writes that this “well-written study confirms and complicates EC’s reputation as the most aesthetically ambitious and politically daring comic book company of the twentieth-century,” concluding that Whitted’s scholarship “should be considered essential reading for anyone with an investment in modern popular culture.”

See the full link to the Rutgers’ press page:

and Preach Jacobs’s interview with Dr. Whitted in The State:

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.