“Black Mane” is the Xeric Award winning semi-autobiographical graphic novel by new cartoonist Michael LaRiccia. It’s an especially interesting and thoughtful book, exploring topics such as racism, the perils of interracial love, and the insulting and jerky nature of many men. While the comic sometimes feels a bit crammed with complex scenes and sometimes confusing rendering, it also shines with LaRiccia’s passion for the material and insightful views of his topics.
Basically this comic follows the creator through his life as he encounters some often horrible but interesting scenes. The book opens with LaRiccia getting in a fender bender accident with a man who flies off in a rage both at the accident and at his idea that Michael is Arab. It’s a quick scene that only takes up two pages of action, but LaRiccia’s reactions to the incidents take much longer. Readers see Michael discuss the incident with his girlfriend Mary Ann and we see the pair’s different perceptions of Michael’s actions. Should he have fought back? The pair disagree on that point. Later, Michael drifts to sleep and has a two-page nightmare about the event.
This incident is an example of why this is such a wonderful book. The attack isn’t wrapped up in a quick moment, and action and violence have consequences for Michael and Mary Ann. Michael even dreams about the incident. This helps it feel real, like it impacts Michael and those who are close to him.
One aspect of the book I especially enjoyed were the vignettes that show other peoples’ lives. Whether it’s the classic scene of the girlfriend forgiving an abusive boyfriend or the detailed story of an attempted date rape of a girl Michael meets in passing, readers get a nice feel for the complex world that LaRiccia lives and works in. It’s a semi-respectable neighborhood, but there’s still a lot of drama there.
The “Black Mane” of the title is basically LaRiccia’s imaginary alter ego, a character who reacts to all the indignities around him with passionate rage. Just as most of us rage in anger to ourselves about the things that make us angry, the “Black Mane” is his internal temper tantrum, the “hulk” inside of him who rages. It’s a clever construct, one that any reader can empathize with.
This isn’t a perfect book. LaRiccia’s art is still quite rough, and his storytelling is often awkward. I was also annoyed with the pages that were drawn sideways – they really knocked me out of the rhythm of the book. Still, it’s better to be passionate but unsure of oneself than be slick but shallow.
“Black Mane” is the work of a committed and passionate creator, who does a wonderful job of baring his soul for his readers. At times it’s not the easiest comic to get through, but LaRiccia’s intelligence and integrity make this a book worth seeking out.