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Cosmic Awareness

Today on the site, comics scholar Michael Tisserand tells the little-known but important story of Eugene Majied, the Nation of Islam cartoonist who inspired Muhammad Ali, and, in the process, changed history.

For Muhammad Ali, it was the right comic at the right time. As Chicago writer Jonathan Eig recounts in his acclaimed biography Ali: A Life, the young boxer, then named Cassius Clay, was standing outside a skating rink in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, when a member of the Nation of Islam approached him with a copy of the newspaper Muhammad Speaks.

The man who sold him the newspaper — “a black brother dressed in a black Mohair suit, white shirt and a black bow,” as Ali later remembered him — hoped to convince Ali to go to a meeting. Said Ali: “But I had no intention of going to any meeting. But I did buy the Muhammad Speaks paper. And [one] thing in the paper [made] me keep the paper, and that was a cartoon.”

Not just any cartoon. In the list of cartoons and comics that changed history — think Benjamin Franklin’s "Join, Or Die" or Thomas Nast’s “Boss” Tweed caricatures — the four-panel comic "How We 'Lost' Our Language" in the December, 1961, issue of Muhammad Speaks is certainly more modest and lesser known. Yet its influence has been widely felt. By introducing Ali to the Nation of Islam, it not only helped shape the future of sports. It also changed the wider culture when Ali emerged as an outspoken political figure who championed black rights and protested American military involvement in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—News. The New York Times is on the Nancy "controversy" case.

Olivia Jaimes is a pseudonym, and the cartoonist requested the email interview for fear that a conversation might reveal clues to her identity. “I’m a pretty private person and I want to be insulated from the whole ‘Big Thing’ that a classic comic strip is,” she wrote. “The pseudonym lets me do that, and I’m really grateful for it.”

It may have been a wise move. The transition from Guy Gilchrist, the previous cartoonist, has not been met quietly.

The nominees for the 2018 Glyph Awards have been announced.

—Interviews & Profiles. Over at LARB, Alex Dueben talks to the novelist and comics writer Mat Johnson.

I’d fallen in love with the novel. One of the reasons was because the novel was cheaper. For two dollars I could buy a brand-new comic book, or for the same two bucks I could go to the used bookstore that was in Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philly and I could pick up a novel that I would read for two weeks. The novel was easier to carry around. Girls didn’t look at me funny. I became a writer and a novelist and got my MFA at Columbia. I had one book that didn’t do particularly well, either commercially or critically. The second one did worse. I hit a dead end with that.

David Hyde was a former publicist at Vintage who was now working at Vertigo. I knew him and he knew about my love of comics. He said, you should come over and pitch. It seems so obvious now, but at the time there was far less collaboration going on between literary fiction and comic books. I was a Columbia MFA so it felt like I was a classically trained ballerina who was stripping out by the airport on the weekends. Comics have changed a lot in the American imagination. What we thought about comics then was superhero stories, and now superhero stories are primarily film and our understanding of the graphic novel exists in a way that it didn’t before. At the time it felt really crazy. The job I have right now I’ve had for 10 years and when I interviewed for the job, I had on my resume that my comics were coming out and they said, that’s just a crazy thing you’re doing on the side, right? That’s not what you’re really doing?

Fumettologica interviews Frank Santoro.

I do not use a computer. I do not know how to use Photoshop. Why teach the machine how to do my job? Everything is analog. I draw on conventional office paper and use conventional office supplies essentially. Pentel rolling writers which were the first rollerball pen. Alex Toth told me to use that pen. And I use color pencils and markers. Mostly Berol Prismacolor brand. As Art Spigelman says “it is more like writing” in that sense if one uses “dry” media. One of my jobs as a young man was to be an assistant to oil painters and I enjoy not having to have a separate studio in which to make art. Cartoonists are lucky that we can be relatively clean in that way. I do use the airbrush. That’s fun. But it is water based. I use the airbrush mostly for background paintings that I am hired to do by Dash Shaw. But I also did a Silver Surfer story for Marvel with the airbrush. The airbrush is fun because it is like drawing with colored air. And it is water based paint.


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