cover image W.E.B. Du Bois Souls of Black Folk: A Graphic Interpretation

W.E.B. Du Bois Souls of Black Folk: A Graphic Interpretation

W.E.B. Du Bois and Paul Peart-Smith, edited by Paul Buhle and Herb Boyd. Rutgers Univ, $19.95 trade paper (180p) ISBN 978-1-978824-65-2

“Hear my cry, O God the reader; vouchsafe that this my book fall not stillborn into the world wilderness,” cries visionary scholar Du Bois (1868–1963) in lament. Cartoonist Peart-Smith (Horrible Histories) answers with an uneven nine-chapter graphic adaptation of Du Bois’s influential literary text. In “Of Our Spiritual Strivings,” undefined faces haunt Du Bois’s recollection of his boyhood and the “problem of the color line.” In “Of the Meaning of Progress,” sepia-lacquered scenes of barefoot schoolchildren and farm labor underscore the tension between opportunity and strife for post-Reconstruction-era Black Americans. The lithograph-like drawings, awash in earth tones, while reflective of painful circumstances, also suffer from muddied details and literal thematic translations that inconsistently elevate the original text. “Of the Coming of John” benefits most from the vivid retelling of John Jones, a young Black boy who leaves southeastern Georgia for a better education up north and returns an embittered man. The art amplifies the horror of John’s tragic life—wide eyes and gritted teeth denote terror and pain. More detailed linework is employed for historical figures, such as Booker T. Washington. With varying degrees of success, this adaptation enlivens while condensing an important historical work, which, while not quite expanding on the original, will make its dense arguments accessible for a new generations. (Apr.)