Anarchic Strains in the Comics of Ronald Wimberly and Keith Knight
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Anarchic Strains in the Comics of Ronald Wimberly and Keith Knight

The stasis—this is our hypothesis—takes place neither in the oikos nor in the polis, neither in the family nor in the city; rather, it constitutes a zone of indifference between the unpolitical space of the family and the political space of the city. In transgressing this threshold, the oikos is politicized; conversely, the polis is "economised," that is, it is reduced to an oikos. This means that in the system of Greek politics civil war functions as a threshold of politicisation and depoliticisation, through which the house is exceeded in the city and the city is de-politicized in the family.

Giorgio Agamben, Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm 12 (italics original)

Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke reminded his listeners of an assumed relation between blackness and a "bad" kind of anarchy in a speech given at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland Ohio on July 18, 2016. Although a black man, Clarke's rhetorical objective seems to have been racial caricature, equating Black Lives Matter advocates and the protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and Baton Rouge to "a collapse of the social order." Clarke opined that "many of the actions of the Occupy movement and Black Lives Matter transcends peaceful protest and violates the code of conduct we rely on—I call it anarchy" (qtd. in Crockett). At least since the mayhem pictured during the climax of D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation, anarchy has been imagined as a hobgoblin of racial disorder within the white imaginary. The speculations of some political speakers have not ceased to encircle Griffith's wagons. To them, every black person with the authority to assert his or her own value, or worse, the value of his or her fellows, may at any wrong moment become Giorgio Agamben's homo sacer or sacrificial man, public enemy number one, or just another target. From some historical points of view, it is open season on black life in America and it has always been, or so it would seem if one were to observe only the memes posted by Black and Red Anarchist on Facebook. Similar messages may be found in anti-racist (and to some extent anti-state) comics by African American artists. [End Page 110]

The following essay explores representations of blackness in comics that operate as a type of anti-authoritarianism. Comics by artists such as Ronald Wimberly and Keith Knight produce and moderate practices of counter-knowledge, making such acts integral to their cultural work. Moreover, as these author-artists tend to alter state-instantiated forms of racial seeing and knowing, they usher forth new models of governmentality and relationality as well. These models would make the RNC speaker Sheriff Clarke irate to consider, assuming they would be possible for him to conceptualize.

More specifically, I will show that Wimberly and Knight differently employ aesthetics that may loosely be categorized as anarchist so as to expose the complex intersections of racialized subjection, visuality, and state power. For Wimberly, apprehensions of gentrification foster a rich fantasy-work of heroes intimately connected to their urban environments and communities. Poetic, whimsical, and acutely materialist, Wimberly's comics teem with characters who either band together against oppression or who must learn to do so often by developing a sensitivity for the ways in which gender, race, sexuality, and regional affiliation impact power relations. Similarly, Keith Knight's satirical single-panel comics, (th)ink, has been using the materials of caricature to archive and denounce racial bias in police shootings for the past two decades.

Neither Wimberly nor Knight are anarchists in the usual sense and any skepticism aroused by their addition to that imaginary class of the anarchist artist further suggests how racial inclusion ("What might be anarchist about their work?") is already a critical position, one that reveals the anarchist as part of an unmarked but predominantly white political movement that leaves everyone else with too much of that "bad" kind of anarchy Sheriff Clarke condemns. In "Post Colonial Anarchism," Roger White puts the issue more forcefully: "At this stage, anarchists, autonomists, abolitionists and anti-authoritarians...


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