Black HistoryEducationExclusive Interviews

Jim Crow Comics Brings Awareness to Segregation, Black History

Usually when you see something wrong, you question it; that’s what I want my readers to do. Not your average crow, Jim Crow pushes and then kicks the envelope,” Shabazz, founder of Jim Crow states. “I use the name Jim Crow in a satirical sense, because good comedy is honest.”

Shabazz’s goal in creating The Jim Crow Comic Series is to not only inform readers, but entertain them. The series reacts to the overall segregations we face due to the hate, differences and similarities that perpetuate various modern day stereotypes. Oftentimes, current events are incorporated into Jim’s universe because relatability is important when telling a joke. Shabazz believes that being astute to racial injustice is not enough to combat its continued existence, nor is division due to ignorance and fear. He hopes that what were once laws to keep us apart can now be used as reactive patterns to unify and create progressive dialogue.

I recently interviewed Shabazz for Purposely Awakened and knew that he would be a great highlight for Black History Month. Check out the interview below: 

Please tell myself and the readers about yourself and your comic book.

My fascination to draw as a child began as a family tradition more than a hobby. Being able to provide precise visual interpretations for friends and family was my way of easily gaining acceptance, which was essential to being a child in a military family.

During my childhood, I practiced my craft, homing in on what I loved most about art: the challenge of replicating the various styles of others. However, as I matured, I came to the realization that in order to be a distinct artist I must have my own signature style. It was during that time I began redirecting the purpose of my art to be a voice for people who didn’t have one. Always referring back to figure drawing and sketching, I continue to perfect my style by studying Renaissance art, early animated cartoons, conventional comic strips, and human anatomy, certain that there are still secrets to be found in the art of storytelling.

What inspired you to write your own comic strip?

Usually when you see something wrong, you question it; that’s what I want my readers to do. I created the character Jim Crow (a crow named Jim) to not just push the envelope, but kick it as well. I use the name Jim Crow in a satirical sense because to me good comedy is supposed to be brutally honest. The goal of this comic series is to not only inform readers, but entertain.

The Jim Crow comic series reacts to the overall segregations we face due to the hate, differences, and similarities that perpetuate various modern-day stereotypes. Oftentimes, current events (Black lives matter, Police Brutality, Black girl magic, being woke, Gentrification, etc.) are incorporated into Jim’s universe, because relatability is important when telling my jokes. It is my belief that being astute to racial injustice is not enough to combat its continued existence, nor is division due to ignorance and fear. It’s my intent that what were once laws to keep us apart can now be used as reactive patterns to unify and create progressive dialogue.    

How did you come up with the ironic name Jim Crow Comic?

It was actually a bet in college that I wouldn’t create a comic strip named Jim Crow because of the controversy it may bring. Not only did I create Jim Crow Comics but my whole exit show (presenting your best work in a gallery setting to graduate) was racially charged. I called it, “The Harlem Renaissance: Reborn.” This was at a time when I wasn’t respectably “woke” but I was on the right track with my art direction. 

Jim Crow was initially inspired by the duality of the American narrative: The Jim Crow Laws of 1877, and the Harlem Renaissance of the early twentieth century. The audacity and existence of the former, coupled with the independence and opportunity the latter afforded African Americans to cultivate and embrace Black culture, has served as a powerful medium to address current issues. Through the comic’s evolution, I’ve used the influences of pop art to grab the viewers’ eye, while making a parody of the nuances of race and culture. Mixing current sequential storytelling with the comedic tones of some of the most successful Black comedians (i.e. Richard Pryor, Chris Rock, Dave Chappelle), I believe I’ve created a body of work that is enjoyable, but seeks to educate.

What influenced you to tackle the controversial issues most adults are afraid to converse about in public? 

The urgency of it. “Small talk” is wasteful to me. I understand it’s place, but with the issues of today we don’t have time to be cordial or “step on eggshells” in any conversation about our survival.

What ideas and feelings do you want people to get and take from your comic?

For my people I want them to feel a sense of pride that Black representation exists and a sense of awareness for all who read my work.  

Do you believe your comics are helping to shine a light on social issues? How?

No, I feel our current society is so saturated with hate and drained by incessant reminders of our level of helplessness no one want to laugh, let alone smile. Despite the obstacles I encounter when sharing my thoughts, I feel what I do is necessary or maybe it’s an addiction I can’t shake.

Do you think any topic will ever be too big or controversial for Jim to tackle?

Not really, but I try to keep my topics catered/themed towards the purpose this comic was created. 

Would you ever consider turning Jim Crow Comic into a cartoon like the Boondocks?

Yes, I think a lot of my comic strips would be better interpreted through animation. The range is limitless and allows the writing to explore comedic writing techniques not suited for just three to four comic strip panels.

Can we look forward to a new upcoming collection for the comic?

Yes, I’m working on the 3rd installment now. It should be done by fall/winter of this year. It’s a working title, but I’m really feeling’ the title Mockingbird.

What words of wisdom can you offer to the next millennial generation of artist, illustrators and writers?

As we live and breathe, we are visual interpreters…better yet, the visual historians of our time. We aren’t followers. We are observers with purpose. A society without the arts is like a flavorless feast, dare I say a religion with no god. What’s the point? I’ve seen the acts of visual gods, creators…turning something into nothing. Creating from thin air like magicians only to make it look so effortless and natural, but all artists know how long it took to reach that point of expertise. Have faith in your crafted instincts to guide you to breakthroughs for the doubtful to see. I want to challenge you to believe in what you see before it’s tangible. If one doesn’t believe in one’s visions, there can be no room for aspiration; only the mechanical acts of mundane tasks drawn out day to day.

I’ve seen, know people of the like and it upsets me of all the wasted time that could have been directed towards a higher purpose. We are the visionaries that society clings to. We create, we decide, we produce what is to be marked in history as a definition of who we were, what we felt and what it was all for. It’s not just a talent; it’s a responsibility to our time to do what we were designed to become.

We share a rich, artistic history that surpasses race, religion, gender, status and I strongly advise all of you to know where you artistically came from. Society has us to believe that what we do is a luxury, a want, not a necessity. How wrong they are, but it is up to every last one of us to educate the ignorant as to why they should hold their tongues. 

It is up to you to create with authority, it is up to you to command a presence of perfection; it is up to you to show society you’ve paid your dues in a multitude of failed attempts in the efforts of refining your voice. You’ve earned the attention and time of the world with the hours you’ve dedicated to being effective with your freedom of speech. You’ve spent years refining what your skill wants to say, even still, society is full of voices and even more ears to persuade, so make sure you have something worth listening to.

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