STRANGE FRUIT by J.G. Jones and Mark Waid
STRANGE FRUIT. Written , illustrated by J.G. Jones ; lettering by Deron Bennett ; foreword by Elvis Mitchell (2017, BOOM! Studios HC ; collects STRANGE FRUIT #1-4).
STRANGE FRUIT is set in the fictional town of Chatterlee during the Great Mississippi River Flood of 1927, immortalized in Blues songs like “When The Levee Breaks.” As desperate whites use Jim Crow laws to press-gang Blacks into shoring up the levee, racial animus explodes, eating away the plantation system from the inside as the burst levees wiped a big chunk of that system from the face of the Earth.
Then an extraterrestrial, a titanic Black man, falls from the sky.
This title has been controversial ever since STRANGE FRUIT #1 hit the stands in July 2015, sparking intense political debates. Given the space constraints here, I could never adequately address the issues debated, although I will point out that STRANGE FRUIT is Black history at least insofar as the Great Flood of 1927 affected hundreds of thousands of African-Americans. In any case, Elvis Mitchell’s brilliant foreword takes on all of the issues decisively.
Besides, I prefer to review comics titles AS comics titles, to evaluate the writing and art in them – and STRANGE FRUIT is good comics.
The story is compelling and fast-paced, and the characters are mostly well-developed ; dialogue is also particularly strong. Still and all, the best part about STRANGE FRUIT is the art, fully painted in watercolors. Some critics have drawn comparisons with Norman Rockwell, if Rockwell were depicting America’s faults and not its strengths, and I can’t disagree – the look and feel of Jones’ work here IS Rockwellian, and it has the same careful draftsmanship / attention to detail. However, Rockwell’s work often has a posed, static look, whereas in STRANGE FRUIT everything is in motion.
For this reason, the frame composition in STRANGE FRUIT is highly sophisticated, e.g., in the complex character blocking, especially in the crowd scenes. The layout is pleasing to the eye, facilitating the dynamic energy of both art and story. Production design is a strong point, particularly in character design and backgrounds – in the latter case, Jones succeeds in establishing a strong sense of place. The book itself is an oversized hardcover, allowing readers to pore over the title’s artistic detail. The book design and, especially, the printing are both also very well done – I’m no Luddite, and I read a lot of e-books, but the graphic medium is different. There’s nothing quite like ink on paper, and so STRANGE FRUIT is one of those books that you have to hold in your hands to appreciate fully.
Taking all of this together, I would recommend STRANGE FRUIT to more intellectually mature comics readers, i.e., comics readers who can appreciate historical fiction. Moreover, I would recommend this title to anyone who reads comics for the art in them, for the art in this book is not to be missed. I can even see the usefulness of the book in sparking classroom discussions ; more generally, the subject matter of STRANGE FRUIT will interest people of all ages, even those who haven’t read a comic since adolescence. This is as it should be : 1927 wasn’t that long ago, and Mississippi in 1927 is not so different from America in 2018 as some would like to pretend.
Thanks to the Seattle Public Library, for providing me with the print edition of STRANGE FRUIT reviewed here.
If you liked this review, please check out the rest of my stuff here at Outright Geekery.
Check out this gallery from the series – it’ll tell you more about the art in STRANGE FRUIT than mere words can.