I was recently told by a graphic novelist that comic books and graphic novels differ only in how they are marketed, that they are basically the same art form. And thinking back to my youth where during camping trips I read lots of comic books not intended to be humorous, I remember a somber, almost menacing narration throughout. This book has the same, a dark narration that calmly delineates the terrors of Jim Crow life in the south from the perspective of a girl from Argentina.
Lila’s experience as an immigrant is paralleled with the chaos of inequities she observes in the southern racial caste system. (FYI, it contains repeated use of the word “nigger,” and southern whites are presented in a rather cliched manner.) Her experiences are probably familiar to any older American reader who has immigrant parents or grandparents. (For example, she is embarrassed that her parents insist on speaking Spanish in public.) She is spared the label of Black in a land where racial lines are strictly drawn; however, because she is Hispanic in an era that precedes that ethnic label, she and her family are considered negligible, not threatening but not part of either culture in Alabama.
My closest pedagogical friend, Kathleen Herold, who teaches high school English, has found that both girls and boys like memoir–both reading and writing them. To my surprise many librarians I know are invested in graphic novels. Thus Darkroom (a reference to Lila’s father’s photography) may be quite useful in a classroom. Its historical scope is wide, addressing such disparate issues as Jim Crow and the peopling of the New World by Asians migrating across the Bering Straits. It is also useful in understanding the technique of non-linear storytelling.
The illustrations are quite realistic, mostly detailed, shaded pencil graphics, interspersed with simple outlines drawings.
Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White is written and illustrated by Lila Quintero Weaver and is published by the University of Alabama Press. It is 250 pages long (but a quick read, very inviting for reluctant readers).