Can a Comic Book Contain the Drama and Heat of Activism?

Walker dramatizes key scenes, such as an early dust-up between an Oakland police officer and a car packed with four gun-toting Panthers. When the officer asks for Newton’s phone number, he tersely answers, “Five,” referring to the Fifth Amendment. When firearms are discovered in the car, the tension ratchets up. A stickler for gun laws, Newton cites his constitutional right to bear arms, explaining that his piece is unloaded “because it is illegal to carry a loaded rifle in a car”; stepping out of the vehicle, he loads it. “Not a single shot was fired, and no one was injured,” Walker writes. “But war had been declared.”

When the text boxes start piling up, though, the tone can dry out: “Having made a name for themselves in Oakland, the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense was asked by Eldridge Cleaver and the RAM-affiliated Black Panther Party of Northern California to help provide security for Betty Shabazz, the widow of Malcolm X.” Fortunately, as an artist Anderson is just as good at rendering static shots as he is at depicting action, and his gift for warm, uncluttered portraiture lionizes familiar figures. In an early sequence, he depicts 31 slain civil rights activists, their names largely lost to us. Most of them are smiling, yet all are shaded, heartbreakingly, in a ghostly blue. Though each panel is just 1.5 inches by 2.25 inches, the depth of emotion could fill an entire page.

A mixture of bravery and dread hangs over much of the book. For all the party’s talk of guns, they are only shown being discharged toward the end. Fred Hampton, who had joined the Chicago branch of the Panthers at the end of 1968, found himself the national spokesman the following year, fixing him on the F.B.I.’s radar. Walker and Anderson depict his murder by plainclothes policemen without showing any gore. Their machine guns fire 31 times across 19 orderly, crimson-tinged panels, the sound of each shot (“BLAM”) obscuring the terrified dialogue of the eight other Panthers in the house at the time. It’s a turning point in the group’s history, chillingly rendered.

The only scene of political resistance in Jim Terry’s memoir, COME HOME, INDIO (Street Noise, 234 pp., $16.99), appears at the end, as the cartoonist travels with his sister and a friend to join the Standing Rock protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The son of a Native (Ho-Chunk) mother and an Irish-American jazz musician father, who divorced when he was young, Terry grew up in the Midwest, bouncing between two worlds. His devotion to Standing Rock is sincere, but he doesn’t have the instant moment of connection that he was hoping for. He worries that it isn’t his place — that he’ll somehow be seen as an impostor.