Mapping the Black Comic Imaginary: Letters from "The Hitching Post"

I presented a paper entitled “Mapping the Black Comic Imaginary: The Gunhawks, Black Goliath, and Racial Retrenchment in Marvel Comics” at 2019 Comics Studies Society meeting at Ryerson University on July 26th. In this paper, which spins out of my ongoing work cataloging black superheroes, I examined Reno Jones and Kid Cassidy: The Gunhawks! published by Marvel Comics in 1972. In approaching this project, I was drawn to the “conservative” narratives I saw structured in this series. Gunhawks ran from October 1972 to October 1973. The premise offered two protagonists, Reno Jones, an African-American born into slavery and Kid Cassidy the son of his master. In the premise, Jones grows up on a Georgia plantation, “raise like a son” to the master. Educated alongside the master’s own son. Indeed, so strong is his loyalty he stays on the plantation at the outbreak of the Civil War. He even goes so far as to join the Confederacy after his master is killed by Union soldier and his childhood sweetheart is “stolen” by Yankees.

Clearly, the premise of the series is ripe for examination. I got great feedback and now I hope I can find the time to make revisions for publication. As is always my hope, I consider how I can apply some digital methodology to thinking about this comic. I hit upon the idea of mapping the letters from “The Hitching Post” the letter column from the comic. There is much that can be gained from close reading of fan letters in comic studies, but one element of this comic is how the narrative of racial reconciliation being articulate here is playing to the reading public. Here, I map the location of the letters from The Hitching Post. The writers include their address and that allowed me to create this map. I have chosen segment from each reader that indicate sentiment found within.

The letter column was small, usually two to three letters and address where not always included. Of course, it is likely more letters were sent in, but they chose the “best” for publication. As you can see, there is a pattern that emerges when you examine these letters on a map.

Can you see it?

Mapping

On the way to creating my Digital History class I've thought about what kinds of critical inquiry makes the most sense in history course.  While  Digital History is a work in progress, I've decided mapping is one the most effective tools for students to embark upon. I've made this judgement through a bit of experimentation using open source information like the Negro Year Book available in Google Books.  Google Map Engine Lite provides a pretty flexible tool. As you can see from this old test map, playing around with specific layers to provide information can create unique maps.