American comics is a hybrid medium, marrying text and images to tell a narrative. However, within the pages of most American comic narratives is another narrative form -- the advertisement. Michael Ray Charles believes that the concept of blackness as we know it “was linked to early marketing practices, early advertising” (qtd. in “Advertising and Art: Michael Ray Charles”). That is, the advertisements of centuries pass -- ads selling pancake mix or human slaves -- defined what it means to be racially Black today. Comics are an arena where these two concepts meet. The selling of a mass consumer product within a product displaying and dissecting identity is seen in Green Lantern: Mosaic #1.
Throughout the comic, John Stewart is shown less fighting space aliens than himself. Visually, this is seen in such imagery as page 20 (see Fig. 6), where the inside of John Stewart’s being is shown. Beneath his Black skin and masculine build lies, among other images, his heart has John himself crucified. A Black man is in the position of Jesus, and his Blackness comes not from the outside, but from within his very heart. John Stewart reaffirms his identity even as he is crucified for it. He sees himself not physically as black, but spiritually, raising the question of what makes a person Black and how blackness is experienced.
Mosaic #1 shows W.E.B. DuBois’s theory of double consciousness. The reader is visually shown how John sees himself through the eyes of others. John Stewart is deconstructing his identity within the panels of the comic. Outside of those panels, the advertisements within the comic tell the reader who this character is -- a commodity.
In Fig. 3, a full-page advertisement for basketball player cards is on the left of a full-page comic panel. The ad has a (Black male) basketball player in red doing a layaway. His body language -- legs forming a triangular negative space, one arm with a relaxed hand facing downwards while the other is stretched upward -- is a mirror reflection of John Stewart’s pose as he raises his fist in an act of power, green light emanating around him in glory. The two figures face one another as if deliberately meant to play on one another. If so, does that mean the ad’s tagline of “Good Things Come in Small Packages” applies to John? Is the reader supposed to be reminded that this powerful Black man does not exist -- that John Stewart is but a small package of a man? The struggle of his soul is underplayed when the ad draws attention to John’s physicality, a place Blacks are often visually placed (Johnson 10). In Fig. 7, beside the stunning image of John Stewart’s inner being from Fig. 6 is an ad with the tagline “This kid is having an identity crisis.” Can John Stewart’s struggle be summarized so flippantly? Is that the takeaway the reader is supposed to make, or one the advertisement gives? Lastly, Fig. 8 contains an advertisement for a model rocket. Apparently, the rocket is “Easy to Build…” -- does the same hold true for John Stewart? Is a person so easily built? The comic art would seem to say so. The images of rocket shooting off is analogous to John Stewart flying skyward, pink lines trailing behind him to show his ascent. John’s body mirrors the object on sale. He serves the same purpose as the rocket -- to be consumed after purchase.Clearly, the placement of these ads creates a metatextual narrative and distract from the narrative of a Black man exploring his identity. The reader is pulled out of the story of this character to see him for the product he is a part of. Such a narrative is a rarity for the time: Kerry Marshall James says when explaining his reasoning for creating his “Rythm Mastr” series that “the market has somehow never been able to sustain a set of black super heroes [sic.] in a way that could capture the imagination” (Art21, “‘Rythm Mastr’: Kerry Marshall James”). It would seem that DC Comics editorial believed this to be true; hence their cancelling of the series. Jones and Hamner confirmed in seperate interviews that DC editorial cancelled the series prematurely at issue 18 despite sales being stronger than the Green Lantern comics starring the white Lanterns (Andrew NDB; Offenberger). John Stewart’s existential crisis of self -- both as a Black man and a human -- is sold short. The character is objectified and with him is identity as a Black man.
Penciler: Hamner, Cully.
Inker: Panosian, Dan.
Cover Artist: Stelfreeze, Brian.
- Art21. “Advertising and Art: Michael Ray Charles.” Art21, PBS, https://art21.org/read/michael-ray-charles-advertising-and-art/.
- Johnson, Charles. “Foreword.” Black Images in the Comics: A Visual History, by Frederik Strömberg, Fantagraphics, 2003, pp. 6-19.
- Art21. “‘Rythm Mastr’: Kerry Marshall James.” Art21, PBS, https://art21.org/read/kerry-james-marshall-rythm-mastr/.
- Andrew NDB. “Interview with Gerard Jones, 07.20.09.” The Green Lantern Corps Message Board, 20 July 2009, www.thegreenlanterncorps.com/forum/showthread.php?t=8719.
- Offenberger, Rik. “Getting DOWN with Cully Hamner.” Getting DOWN with Cully Hamner: Interviews & Features Archive - Comics Bulletin, Internet Archive, 4 Aug. 2009, web.archive.org/web/20090804112217/http://www.comicsbulletin.com/features/112569591736650.htm.
Fig. 2: 26.0 x 16.7 cm
Fig. 3: 26.4 x 33.0 cm
Fig. 4: 26.0 x 16.7 cm
Fig. 5: 9.2 x 16.7 cm
Fig. 6: 26.0 x 16.7 cm
Fig. 7: 26.4 x 33.0 cm
Fig. 8: 26.4 x 33.0 cm
Fig. 9: 26.0 x 16.7 cm