Comics as a medium has historically been frequently targeted by the forces of censorship. One of the reasons often posited as to why this is the case is that comics have a remarkable ability to communicate ideas, and as such have the capacity to challenge power with a speed that few other mediums can. Essentially, they are vilified because they are feared by authority and because they can open our minds to the lived experiences of others with an undeniable empathy and clarity. The Black Man’s Guide to Getting Pulled Over is a sterling example of this; a comic that will resonate with marginalised voices while proving a sobering read for those of us who live in the centre of the Venn Diagram of privilege.
Written by Johnny Parker II and illustrated by Felipe Horas, The Black Man’s Guide to Getting Pulled Over begins with a scene-setting intro: a night out with friends, chatting with buddies, enjoying the company of that special someone, a romantic moment, and then a drive home alone immersed in the euphoria of time well spent. The perfect evening right up until the protagonist is pulled over by the police and must undergo the oppression of being stopped simply for being Black.
Parker’s approach here mixes the obvious but potent social commentary with bleak humour and an unsettling line in biting visual metaphor. A sequence of the dos and don’ts for Black drivers as the policeman approaches the vehicle is profoundly disquieting in its emphasis on the stark and potentially fatal realities of what should be a routine occurrence. While a one-page, narration-heavy monologue on not displaying anger even when it’s overwhelming in its justified intensity is certainly one of the most powerful images I have read in comics this year; a perfect moment of creative alchemy between writer and artist that radiates the emotion of the moment in a way that only comics can.
Indeed, Parker and Horas’s collaboration here is near symbiotic in its relationship; visuals shifting from the deeply poignant to the starkly comedic (a cutaway to a ‘Wheel of Fortune’-style gameshow giving excuses for stopping Black motorists for example) as the situation demands. The Black Man’s Guide to Getting Pulled Over takes us beyond the moment though. It’s not just an account of social injustice; it’s a call for change, a rallying cry for activism and community action, and an encouragement to work towards making a difference. This is the kind of comics material that it’s vital to promote and amplify if we, too, are to play a role in the fight for positive change. Frighteningly relevant and a must-read offering from Microcosm Publishing.
Johnny Parker II (W), Felipe Horas (A), Scott Ludwig (L), Shawn Atkins (CA), Kayla Ruffin (CC) • Microcosm Publishing, $4.95
Review by Andy Oliver