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5 minutes with Dr. Qiana Whitted, comic book author and UofSC professor

“EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest” is the latest book by Dr. Qiana Whitted, director of the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina.
“EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest” is the latest book by Dr. Qiana Whitted, director of the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. Submitted

There isn’t enough time in the day to go through all the accolades of Dr. Qiana Whitted.

She is a graduate of Hampton and Yale universities and is the director of the African American Studies Program at the University of South Carolina. Oh, and let’s not forget that she’s a published author. Her latest book, “EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest” is out now.

Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

A. I am a professor of English and African American Studies at the University of South Carolina and I’m the director of the USC African American Studies Program. Black literary and cultural studies are the main areas on my research and teaching, with a special interest in comics and graphic novels.

Q. What is your latest book about?

A. My book, “EC Comics: Race, Shock, and Social Protest,” focuses on a controversial comic book publisher that is widely remembered for producing horror, crime, and science-fiction comics in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Alongside the shock and gore of comics like “Tales from the Crypt” and “Weird Fantasy,” EC writers and artists also produced a profoundly influential type of story to directly engage the problems that Americans faced during the early Cold War and civil-rights eras. They jokingly called these the “preachies,” but the stories ended up attracting a lot of attention from readers at the time.

My book examines how these social-protest comic books draw upon elements of EC’s signature genres to confront racial prejudice, religious intolerance, anticommunist rhetoric, and other forms of social discrimination.

Q. What’s the appeal to writing in comics form that traditional writing prose doesn’t offer?

A. Comics are simply a different form of storytelling and although the medium has a visual and aesthetic component that prose may not offer, these boundaries are crossed all the time, even in the period that I discuss in my book.

As an example, I often point to the antiracist EC story “The Guilty” that appeared in an issue of Shock SuspenStories in 1952, the same year that Ralph Ellison’s novel “Invisible Man” was published. EC readers were mostly (but not exclusively) young white boys and teenagers, while Ellison’s book would have attracted older readers, more African Americans. And yet both cultural products speak to one another, share readerships, and convey similar messages about the rights unfairly denied to black people during Segregation in ways that have not been fully explored.

Q. What’s next for you?

A. I recently began working as the editor of Inks: The Journal of the Comics Studies Society, so much of my focus at the moment is on helping other scholars in comics studies get their work published. I also really enjoyed writing the backmatter essay for issue No. 4 of the comic book series, “Bitter Root,” by Columbia’s own Sanford Greene and Chuck Brown.

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