cover image The Talk

The Talk

Darrin Bell. Holt, $29.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-80514-0

Pulitzer Prize–winning cartoonist Bell, known for his syndicated strip Candorville, delivers an unflinching debut graphic memoir that balances gravity, vulnerability, and humor in relaying his life as a Black man and parent. When he was a child in 1981, a terrifying standoff with a pair of Dobermans left an indelible imprint that became a metaphor for future racist interactions. Later, after Bell’s white mother prohibited him from playing outside with a water gun, she attempted “the talk,” a conversation between Black parents and their children about living while Black. She cautioned, “White people won’t see you or treat you the way they do little white boys.” When he sneaked out the toy regardless, it resulted in a tense encounter with a police officer who seemed to morph into the dogs. (The episode is drawn to evoke the memory of Tamir Rice, who is listed along with other names in a haunting dedication page memorial.) Indeed, racism pervaded Bell’s life into adulthood: he was bullied, surveilled, and falsely accused of delinquency and plagiarism. His career as a cartoonist is a through line, from childhood drawing to his professional impact that garnered hate mail and swayed public opinion with sometimes devastating consequences. Reckoning with his identity during an ongoing history of racialized violence, Bell recounts how his father’s inability to give “the talk” still haunts him and takes on greater significance when Bell’s own son asks about George Floyd. The narrative, drawn awash in a blue hue, artfully interweaves sepia flashbacks and artifacts of 1980s pop culture (from Mr. Potato Head to Star Trek) highlighted with flashes of color. This emotionally striking work is sure to leave a lasting mark. Agent: Daniel Lazar, Writers House. (June)