Comics Newsletter

From Upset to Zealous: Comics Representing Emotions for Comics A-Z

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I’ve had a lot of time to think lately. Like many of you, I’m not a huge fan of too much mental downtime, and as this whole shelter-in-place thing has stretched into its second month I’ve felt an increasing need to fill some of the empty spots between my ears. I’ve done so, at least in part, my giving myself little challenges that feel productive, if only to me. I’ve improved my bread baking skills. I’ve taken on knitting projects for which I had to learn new stitches. I made my first soufflé. I wrote a horror novella.

Some of these challenges have gone well. Some have been less successful (why does this lace pattern scarf suddenly have 107 stitches? I don’t…damn it). As I was contemplating the sum total the other day, however, I realized I hadn’t yet done any sort of comics challenge.

And thus Comics A–Z was born.

I’m going to pick a topic and then I’m going to find y’all a book for (hopefully) every letter of the alphabet under that general umbrella. Don’t worry, I’m not going to inundate you with 26 recommendations at once; we’ll go with 4–6 per post.

This post is going to wrap up EMOTIONS! Alas, “X” and “Y” seem to be lacking but if you think of any, shout them out on Twitter @BookRiot and I’ll add them as bonus items to the next A-Z post.

March: Book One coverU: Upset

Are you upset right now? Good. You should be. I am. I’m upset at myself for having allowed my conscience to fall prey to the illusion that our nation had made real progress toward equality. I’m upset that we haven’t. I’m upset and disgusted that the work of so many brave people has been wasted and discarded, that they marched, risking their lives, only for us to end up back here, not again but still, because so many citizens of our nation hate actively and openly and because so many of us sat idle because we thought, somehow, that the work was done.

We owe the people who came before us a debt for laying the groundwork for this second revolution. We owe it to them to remember. Which is why if you are upset, and again, you should be, you should pick up a copy of Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s March, a three volume graphic history of the Civil Rights movement (and winner of an Eisner Award, a Coretta Scott King Honor Book, and the first graphic history to win a Robert F. Kennedy Book Award). Read it for yourself. Share it with your kids. Tell everyone you know about it. The more we study history, the more aware we are that it isn’t our past; it’s our present and it will be our future if we don’t stand up and make a hell of a lot of noise.

V: Vigilant

When nasty magic and a new crime syndicate invade Harlem, who can the citizens turn to for help if the police don’t give a damn (and they don’t)? The Heroes for Hire, of course. David F. Walker, Sanford Green, and Flaviano Flaviano get the band back together in Power Man and Iron Fist. It isn’t only the neighborhood and his reckless partner Luke Cage is looking out for, though: he has a family to consider, including wife Jessica, to whom he made a promise he was done with that crazy dangerous superhero life, and daughter Danielle, for whom he wants to be around as she grows up. Plus that tendency he has toward a potty mouth.

W: Wrathful

Though T’Challa sees Zenzi as a dangerous enemy of the state in Roxanne Gay, Yona Harvey, Alitha Martinez, and Afua Richardson’s World of Wakanda, many see her as a revolutionary and freedom fighter. Using her empathic powers to incite riots and rebellion, Zenzi refuses to bow to Wakanda’s monarchy, her rage at the damage it has wrought threatening to expose secrets T’Challa would much rather remain in the shadows.

Z: Zealous

In Myisha Haynes’s webcomic The Substitutes, a trio of roommates acquires Magical Weapons of Destiny. Magical Weapons of Destiny that are supposed to belong to The Knight, The Mage, and The Engineer, not Freddie, Emilio, and Bianca.


The exchange does a pretty thorough job of screwing up the previously perfect lives of the paragon trio and changes the roommate’s lives forever. Of course, you have to be pretty enthusiastic about a quest to take it on, especially if it was never intended to be yours.

And there you have it. Comics and Emotions A–Z. A fascinating, if sometimes odd, journey through stories with pictures and the feelings they provoke not only in their characters, but in us,  the readers, taking the stories in through our eyeholes and kicking them around in our brains. Next up, I’m thinking we’ll look at Heroes A–Z. Don’t worry, they won’t all wear capes and tights. And I’ll do my best to stay away from boob windows whenever possible…