Cover Image: Keeping It Unreal

Keeping It Unreal

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As a french reader, it was a very revealing reading. France has a severe tendancy to minimise racism, whatever the media so I was happy to read the essay, noticing the flaws in my general culture and at last, being more aware of such things. Thanks for that.
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In general, this was thought provoking and an interesting topic. However, the writing is SO academic and chunky that it felt like a chore to get through, which is unfortunate. Set your expectations with this: if you want an academic exploration, you will probably get on well with this book. However, it's not going to be a success with every reader due to its accessibility.
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Right up front I would say that I found this very thought provoking and useful to read, but it may not be for every reader due to the academic nature of the writing, it is not aimed at a popular audience. I think it is well worth a look if you have any personal interest in the topics.

Because it is on the academic side, the introduction is a lot to chew through, framing what Scott is setting out to do with this work. I found it posed many questions for us, primarily circling around the idea that in the boundless world of fantasy, authors imagination is still incredibly limited to reflect what is in the realm of realism to them. In many cases this means ideas subverting existing power structures of race or sexuality is not even part of the fantasy, it is too unreal. Le Guin's Omelas is brought up as a Utopia that didn't go far enough, and the discussion here brought to my mind something I heard Vandana Singh say, that we need to "decolonize the imagination" - this work and what it sets out to do is very in harmony with that idea. The claim is effective at telling us narratives of black power and triumph have been too fantastical even for fantasy.

Part one takes a deep dive into a specific depiction of blackness in comics, through analysis and historical context surrounding an early cover image of the character Nubia alongside Wonder Woman. Covering a lot of ground in terms of interpretation of a single image, I was fascinated at the insights. The author gets across how we have to read with this eye for the messages in the minutiae, but I just lack that eye for it, pointing out details I would have glossed right past or seen as unimportant. 

Part two was a little less successful for me, taking on the broad topic of whether black superheroes can be realized. Scott hits some strong points discussing the fact that in general strong black men are depicted as criminal (or in reality criminalized), so runs through comics with the early introduction of black superheroes that are depicted falling into racial stereotypes. This lost me a bit, because at one point a comparison to Hulk vs Luke Cage is made in the negative, but Hulk is a hero of the same period, while saying more or less we don't have a black equivalent to the earlier Superman. Unfortunately, that ground is never covered, I found myself looking for the author to really engage with or analyze that point (that for me would have been stronger) of the lengthy absence of black superheroes altogether in the time of Superman & sociopolitical drivers of change, but never really does. Instead this part seems to be more focused on critique of the creators and artists who were responsible for these depictions when black superheroes were finally introduced to the world of comics. 

The final part on depictions of black queer power in pornographic superhero comics is very clearly a passion for Scott, it is much more readable and the tone quite animated. It's a topic I didn't expect or have particular interest in before this, but really found I got a lot from reading about it because of how the author talked  in such an engaging way. In many ways the depictions here aren't just satirizing of superhero comics, they use well trod conventions of the superhero genre in order to subvert the limits to provoke those preconceived notions of the unreal. 

Through the book there were points that didn't really land for me, and times where (as a non-academic) the argument being made was constructed without citations, so while I agreed with claim on personal opinion it didn't feel it was substantiated fully. But, for the most part that's not too relevant as a lay reader. I thought the layout and content was fantastic, really well polished, and including quite a few comic panels illustrating the discussion. All around I found it was an evocative and thoughtful read that I took even more away from than I'd expected.
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This book is an example of the kind of academic writing I love. Aesthetically, the author'a prose is well put together, dense with satisfying word choices and packed with references to all sorts of creative works.
There are also well-selected extracts from comics which augment the points made in the prose.
Comics are celebrated as a space for imagining different worlds, and acknowledging the brilliance of black, queer characters in our own world.
Having seen Brian Stelfreeze discuss how he created art to honour the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates for Black Panther, and having participated in discussions at ComicCons about Queer representation in comics, I appreciate these important strands being brought together.
There are artists and authors creating this important work and it's only right someone should take stock of what is being created, and theorising on its significance.
The analysis is clearly situated within the political context of post-Obama backlash, during Trump's presidency surrounded by 'latter-day Nazis'.
Comics are presented as a 'survival guide', a way to find 'happiness and justice'.
And in a way, haven't they always fulfilled this role for some of us?
Keeping it Unreal contains Scott's suggestions and celebrations of comics that can play a part in the survival and the justice-seeking of of those of us who aren't always represented in mainstream comics. 

Review copy supplied by NetGalley
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My thanks to NetGalley and the NYU Press for an advanced copy of this book on media and cultural studies, and of course comics. 

To some the words Steele, Falcon, Static Shock, Icon and Miles Morales as just a series of either names or words strung together. To others, including those who remain underrepresented , these are not just heroes, but Superheroes, who have saved the Earth countless times, characters that look like them, act like them, when written well, and characters they can try to emulate. Which is a rarity for many people, one media still has a problem with.

In Keeping It Unreal: Black Queer Fantasy and Superhero Comics, Darieck Scott explores these characters and others, sharing stories of his own interactions and feelings on them, explaining their fictional histories and creations and what these characters can mean to a community that is ignored. Other genres are also studied, fantasy, science fiction, and how their message is received by the mainstream.

The writing is more academic as are some of the sources, not your usual comics study that relies more on Wizard's World and Comic's Buyer's Guide for sourcing. The mix of personal, along with interesting art and quotes from people well outside of the comic world make for a sometimes challenging, but ultimately interesting work. I would add if you enjoy this I recommend Ken Quatto's book from last year, Invisible Men: Black Artists of the Golden Age of Comics, which as the subtitle states is about black artists whose contributions have largely been ignored. This is an interesting new field of studies for the comic medium, and this book is a good place to start.
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An excellent read.  I thoroughly enjoyed this story.  I would recommend this book.
I received this from Netgalley as an ARC for an honest review.
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This was such a great read but it is dense and more of an academic lense than every day reading. The information and context it provides adds perspective to both commonly known and rather unknown characters throughout comic history and how marginalized identities have survived and sometimes thrived between the pages.
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The art was amazing. It read differently then I expected but I enjoyed it. More information later when I gather my thoughts.
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Net Galley ARC Educator 550974

This read like a discourse on Black Love, sexuality and power. It is more of a dissertation. There is fantastic art on some of the pages and a wealth of knowledge and research as well. I'd be interested in seeing an actual comic from the author.
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