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Comics/Graphic Novels

Read Harder: Black-and-White Comics

Rachel Manwill

Staff Writer

Rachel Manwill is an editor, writer, and professional nomad. Twice a year, she runs the #24in48 readathon, during which she does almost no reading. She's always looking for an excuse to recommend a book, whether you ask her for one or not. When she's not ranting about comma usage for her day job as a corporate editor, she's usually got an audiobook in her ears and a puppy in her lap. Blog: A Home Between Pages Twitter: @rachelmanwill

Now that you’ve had a chance to dig through the 2016 Read Harder challenge, it’s time to start flushing out the more difficult tasks and add some comics to your Pull List.

Black-and-white comics are a dying breed of art within the graphic genre. Coloring has gone (mostly) digital and because of that, the resulting high-def books are even more striking and easy to consume, both in print and digital format. But black-and-whites take on special significance in the world of digital color. The line art and the story have more heavy lifting to do to carry the book, so a truly successful black-and-white comic is one in which the reader never even misses the color.

Artists who choose to create black-and-whites often utilize the starkness that comes without other colors to emphasize the mood of the book.

mausA perfect example of that is Maus by Art Speigelman, the classic Holocaust narrative, depicting Nazis as cats and Jews as mice. The austere nature of the art reflects the same spartan and stark atmosphere during the Holocaust that Speigelman is trying to capture.

The fear and hopelessness that the Mice feel is felt much more acutely via the unadorned pages. It’s a transformative reading experience, particularly if you’re paying attention to the art. And if you haven’t read it yet, Read Harder is a perfect excuse to put it on your list.



Yo! Miss by Lisa Wilde is an autobiographical comic about Wilde’s experience teaching in a NYC school where every student is considered at-risk, having been kicked out of or transferred from other high schools. Her powerful art is reminiscent of Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoirs in its use of revelatory line drawings to convey a sense of emotion.


Shortcomings by Adrian Tomine is another great example of how black-and-white art enhances the story. An examination of interpersonal relationships, Tomine’s falling-out-of-love story focuses on the back-and-forth between people and the black-and-white art seems to serve as a metaphor for how far away the individuals in a couple can grow. His use of shadow and light, via the black-and-white, is another way of demonstrating the growing fissure in a relationship.

And because Tomine’s characters wrestle with what it means to be Asian, there’s another side to the artist’s choice not to use color within the book.


For an entire genre of black-and-whites, manga is the place to go. Rather than the exception, as with many other comic genres, black-and-white art is the rule. One of my favorite manga series is Attack on Titan by Hajime Isayama. In classic post-apocalyptic tradition, Isayama imagines a world where giant humanoids, called Titans, have attacked the planet, consuming mankind completely. The population that is left on Earth live behind 100-foot walls in a city that they hope will protect them – until an even bigger Titan shows up. It’s a rollicking sci-fi romp and, while the art has traditional action imagery, the spare black-and-white line drawings convey an underlying sense of desperation by the citizens that are left behind.

Another great manga option is A Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori, which tells the story of a 19th century Silk Road woman who is to marry a twelve-year-old boy, eight years her junior. The story itself is delicate, but Mori creates elaborate drawings of the landscape, costumes and environs to create a rich narrative package.

What are some of your favorite black and white comics?