Graphic Tales

Joel Christian Gill reveals uncelebrated but important pieces of black history in his graphic novel "Strange Fruit, Volume 1"

Black History Month was established in America in 1970 to spotlight the contributions of African Americans and thereby desegregate our nation’s past. It has helped to add such names as Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman to the schools, but Joel Christian Gill, the artist and author of “Strange Fruit, Volume 1” [$23.95 from Fulcrum Publishing], wants you to look deeper.

With whimsy and intensity, his graphic novel reveals nine tales of courage and pluck in the face of adversity (and all too often, rampant, unchecked bigotry) that you’ve probably never heard of, but that you won’t quickly forget.

Two of his stories take place in NH: a saga of America’s first stage magician, Richard Potter, and the troubling tale of the nation’s first integrated school, the Noyes Academy. Founded in Canaan in 1835 by local abolitionists, the academy gleamed as a beacon of human dignity until the forces of racism rallied and literally dragged the school building into a swamp where it sank, along with the hopes of its students and teachers.

Perhaps the most intriguing story in Gill’s book tells of Bass Reeves, a deputy marshall from the Indian Territories in the 1890s. Gill makes a convincing case that this little-known black lawman was the model for the Lone Ranger of radio and TV fame.

Gill teaches art at the NH Institute of Art in Manchester, and, hopefully, he’s also at work on volume two of his fascinating collection.

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