There are few moments in American History that shine quite as brightly as the Harlem Renaissance. In one New York City neighborhood, the greatest artists of a generation gathered, created, and despite the perils of segregated America, these visionaries set the course for what we know now as American Culture. So, it only makes sense to use the distinctly American art form of comic books to explore that period. From Image Comics, Bitter Root Vol 1, written by David F. Walker and Chuck Brown, with art by Sanford Greene, color art by Rico Renzi and Sanford Greene, and lettering by Clayton Cowles, explores the Harlem Renaissance through fantasy, monsters, and commentary on the world then and now.
On the dark streets of Harlem, Demons roam the night. Known as “Jinoo,” these monsters were once human. But poisoned by hatred, greed, or some other evil, their souls were infected by an ancient darkness. Bodies warped to match their twisted hearts, the Jinoo seek only to maim and devour. Luckily for the people of Harlem, the Jinoo aren’t alone out there, because wherever you find monsters, you’ll find Protectors.
In Harlem, the night belongs to the Sangeryes. A family of Monster Hunters, the Sangeryes have fought back against the Jinoo for generations, curing those who’ve lost their souls to hate with the power of the Fiif’no root. When a new evil emerges to threaten Harlem, the Sangerye family must band together to save the souls of an entire city, without losing their own in the process.
Bitter Root Vol 1. has got to be the easiest recommendation I’ve made all year, and I have read a LOT of great comics. Even from a strictly visual basis, Bitter Root Vol 1 stuns. Greene and Renzi’s color work is marvelous, each scene depicted with beautifully eerie highlights set against hard shadow. Greene’s character designs suffuse each of the Sangerye Family with enough personality to support their own books, while his bold and stylish panelwork compliment every scene.
Whether you call it conjurepunk, deconstructed lovecraft, or ethnographic horror, Bitter Root Vol 1 joins the emerging trend of creators revisiting classic weird fiction through a POC lens. With the most popular example of this movement, Matt Ruff’s novel Lovecraft Country, heading to HBO later this year, showcasing that diversity in horror is more prominent than ever before. So it should should come as no surprise that the book has a lot to say, and what it says is music to my ears.
With its historical setting, Bitter Root Vol 1. tackles American racism head on. It’s not by a vampire’s curse or a zombie’s sudden bite that the Jinoo lose their humanity. It’s by giving into hate that people’s souls are poisoned, each act of terror driving the infection deeper.
The metaphor couldn’t be more on the nose, but Bitter Root Vol 1. executes it with deft hands. By giving racism a physical form, the book allows its cast of heroes to strike back. I don’t know about you, but that’s a power fantasy I needed in my life.
As an added bonus, Bitter Root Vol 1. also contains a host of essays in addition to issues #1-#5. These informative articles range in topic from the works of Zora Neale Hurston to the rise of of the “EthnoGothic.” Each essay builds upon the ideas presented in Bitter Root Vol 1. and together they present a daring new perspective on a much loved genre.
Bitter Root Vol 1 is a must own for any lover of the Macabre. Fearless and brimming with style, this book more than earns its place on your pull list. Check it out!
Bitter Root Vol.1
Bitter Root Vol 1 is a must own for any lover of the Macabre. Fearless and brimming with style, this book more than earns its place on your pull list.