Earlier this month, BOOM! Studios released “Strange Fruit” #1, the first issue of a miniseries by J.G. Jones and Mark Waid set in 1927 Mississippi exploring the racism of the time, along with fantasy elements. Shortly upon release, the issue drew criticism online, primarily centered on questioning the appropriateness of Jones and Waid — two white creators — tackling the subject of racism against the Black population.
In an interview with CBR TV conducted earlier this month at Comic-Con International in San Diego, Waid responded to the controversy, emphasizing that, for him, listening is more important than commenting at this point.
“We’re in a social media era where there are so many people who didn’t have a voice for a long, long time, and suddenly they have a voice,” Waid said. “And they’re eager to use it, and that is awesome… What I say about this is not what’s important. What’s important is what other people who don’t have the privilege that I have want to say. That’s what’s important, and I have to listen. And I would be lying to you if I said it’s easy, but I’m willing to try.”
On July 8, the same day “Strange Fruit” #1 was released, a review on Women Write About Comics titled “The White Privilege, White Audacity, and White Priorities of ‘Strange Fruit’ #1” wrote that the comic “never should have been made.” “There is too long a history of white people writing stories about racism and blackness, too long a history of white people shaping these tales to their own purposes, too long a history of white people writing about what they genuinely cannot understand,” J. A. Micheline wrote. Additionally, the name of the series itself has received criticism, as “Strange Fruit” is the title of a famous protest song against racism and specifically lynching, written by Abel Meeropol and made famous by Billie Holiday in 1939.
Late last week, Micheline wrote further on the subject on ComicsAlliance, writing, “It’s black people who suffer when white readers think that racism is only enacted a certain way.”
Among the criticisms include the final page of the first issue, depicting the (Black and superhuman) alien at the focal point of the series wrapped in a Confederate flag. Waid responded to that story point specifically, writing, “He’s kind of in a sense [wrapping himself in it], or is he kinda wiping his butt with it? That’s more of that. He’s not adopting it as his superhero costume, no. It is in point of fact a big middle finger to the white guys who are carrying, the Klan guys who are carrying that flag.”
Skepticism surrounded “Strange Fruit” — the weight behind the title itself and questions on the ability of Jones and Waid to credibly tell such a story — since the series was first announced earlier this year. In a February interview with CBR, Waid said, “it’s a fair point and a responsibility that we do not take moderately or without careful consideration and some measure of peer review. We’ll have more to say about this as the release date nears, I’m sure — although, ultimately, the story itself will have to stand or fall on its own, and we are not being the least bit flippant when we say that, we’re grateful to those who have chosen to give us the benefit of the doubt for now.”