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Imagine Otherwise: Rebecca Wanzo on Visibility and African American Comics

Imagine Otherwise: Rebecca Wanzo on Visibility and African American Comics

March 5, 2020
Rebecca Wanzo wearing a black blazer and black and orange glasses

What role have Black cartoonists played in the history of superheroes, weekend newspaper funnies, and graphic biographies? How have they harnessed the visual power of the comic form to speak back to racist stereotypes and claim space for themselves and their communities?

My guest for this episode, Rebecca Wanzo, argues that Black cartoonists in both mainstream and underground comics have tackled these questions since the very beginning of the medium. She also suggests that they’ve done so by reworking some of the most troubling visual tropes shaping Black representation in the United States.

In episode 106 of Imagine Otherwise, I interviews gender and African American studies scholar Rebecca Wanzo about how and why Black cartoonists have turned to caricature to resist racist stereotypes, the many ways progressive movements have used visual culture to create social change, how faculty and staff can meet the challenges of doing interdisciplinary work on university campuses, and why teaching students how to see the world differently is how Rebecca imagines otherwise.

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You can also read the transcript and show notes on the Ideas on Fire website, which have links to Rebecca’s work and all the concepts, people, and events we discuss on the show (great for teaching!).

Guest: Rebecca Wanzo

Rebecca Wanzo is an associate professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

She is the author of the books The Suffering Will Not Be Televised: African American Women and Sentimental Political Storytelling (SUNY Press, 2009), and The Content of Our Caricature: African American Comic Art and Political Belonging (NYU Press, 2020).

Her research interests include African American literature and culture, critical race theory, feminist theory, the history of popular fiction in the United States, cultural studies, theories of affect, and graphic storytelling.

In addition to her numerous publications in scholarly journal articles, art exhibition catalogs, and edited collections, Rebecca has also written for CNN, the LA Review of Books, Huffington Post, The Conversation, and Bitch Planet.

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