How Barbara Brandon-Croft broke barriers for Black women in comics
A new retrospective of Brandon-Croft’s work has been released through the publisher Drawn & Quarterly
Before Barbara Brandon-Croft, there were very few Black cartoonists — let alone Black women — to have a nationally-syndicated comic strip in the mainstream press.
Her groundbreaking series Where I'm Coming From (1989 to 2005) brought a Black woman's perspective to North American newspapers by focusing on the lives of nine Black women who talked about everything from relationships, to microaggressions, to police brutality.
In 1991, she became the first Black woman to have her comic strip picked up by a major national syndicate. Brandon-Croft is also a part of a dynasty of trailblazing cartoonists — her father, Brumsic Brandon Jr., created Luther, the second mainstream American comic strip to feature a Black protagonist.
"I was asked to do [Where I'm Coming From] for a Black woman's magazine, it was an up-and-coming magazine that looked to rival Essence at the time," Brandon-Croft said in an interview on Q with Tom Power.
"The editor-in-chief there was like, 'You have a sense of humour, you draw.' I'd only seen my dad draw all my life, so I had a real-life role model right there in my house, you know. So when I was asked to come up with something, I said I could do it…. I was like, 'You know what? I think I'm going to have characters speak directly to the reader.'"
The cartoonist said her choice to depict her characters as talking heads was a way of opposing how women in comics are often "summed up with their body parts."
"The idea not to include the body was encouraging readers to look at them in their face, talk to them," she told Power. "They've got minds in those heads. They've got thoughts, you know."
While Brandon-Croft received many positive responses from readers, particularly from other Black women, some people misunderstood her work.
"I was accused of being anti-white and anti-male," she said. "And I found that, very often, they didn't even read the strip. Just by virtue of seeing Black women on the page [they] got some kind of visceral response, like, 'Oh, no, we can't have that!' So those were to be expected. My dad got similar letters when, you know, he did his thing 30 years before me. So that wasn't a surprise."
Now, a new retrospective of Brandon-Croft's work has been released through the publisher Drawn & Quarterly, which has introduced her comics to a whole new audience.
"I had somebody tell me that their daughter, 13 years old, read the strip and said, 'Wow, this is really good mom! This is something I like,'" she said. "So this is a 13 year old in 2023 seeing that my stuff kind of resonated with her…. I'm just happy that there's another opportunity for another generation to take a look at what I was doing."
The full interview with Barbara Brandon-Croft is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
Interview produced by Vanessa Greco.