With Further Ado #141: Discussing “Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books”

At Ithaca College, I teach a business course called Hidden Entrepreneurs. In this class, we explore and dissect entrepreneurial lessons from the lives and activities of non-traditional entrepreneurs.  These are the folks who are NOT on Shark Tank. These people are the often unrecognized entrepreneurs who nonetheless “make it happen.” Their stories are amazing, and there is so much to be learned from studying them.

Author Ken Quattro has done me one better in his brilliant new book, Invisible Men: The Trailblazing Black Artists of Comic Books. This new book details the lives and careers of black comic book creators.  Some are astonishing, some are heartbreaking, and they are non-traditional artists.  Their stories, for the most part, have been forgotten in the mists of time. So, it’s all the more important that historian Quattro, a real life comic book detective, has hunted down all the information and connected all the dots.

Quattro has done this all in a fun, engaging book. The stories of these artists’ trials and tribulations are almost all more interesting than the short comic stories included in this volume.   It shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, though. His The Comics Detective site is brilliant and always informative.

I knew a little bit about artist Matt Baker before reading this book and enjoyed the opportunity to learn more. Most of the others I didn’t know anything about. Many of the artists, like Owen Charles Middleton, led tragic lives. It’s discouraging to think of the obstacles that a guy like Middleton faced and inspiring to learn how he overcame, in some ways, these obstacles.

Art by Matt Baker

By telling the stories of these “invisible men”, Quattro offers readers a ringside seat to learn from the history and struggles of black people in America. For example, in the (tragic) chapter on Adolphus Barreaux Griphon, I learned about the “submarine negroes”, people who would be on the lookout for African Americans trying to pass as white and turn them in. It is hard to fathom the cruelty of the times so often.

Art by A.C, Hollingsworth

I’ve enjoyed – and written about – the recent Stan Lee biographies in this column:  Kirby and Lee: Stuf’ Said! by John Morrow,  A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee by Danny Fingeroth, and True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman.   The most recent book still seems to be stirring up controversy. In a way, I wish all my fellow comic history fans would read Invisible Men in order that might find some issues to really get outraged about.

I taught a chapter of this book in my ITHACON class. The students seemed to really like it, as I was sure they would. In today’s world, where an actor like Robert Downey, Jr. can earn millions playing comic book character onscreen, it’s debilitating,  but important, to learn about struggles that black comic creators faced throughout pop-culture history.

Another winner from YOE Books! and IDW Publishing. Highly recommended.