Writer: Ebony Flowers / Artist: Ebony Flowers / Drawn & Quarterly
I can never get enough of reading the works of Black women and their unique relationships to their hair. When I can find such narratives in comic form, I’m hyped as seen by my love for reading about slice-of-life like depictions of wash days and other stories embracing their biracial roots. So of course, when I heard word about Hot Comb I was intrigued and rightfully so.
Hot Comb is a series of short stories collected in book form that center Black girls and women that all ultimately use hair was entry points to give social commentary on how the culture of hair shapes our lives. Each story lends an ear to so many relatable moments yet keeps the focus on women and the world that they live using a lens of Blackness. There everything under the sun: celebrations, coming of age stories, sad reflections, and instances of adulthood awkwardness collected here. From moments of a little Black girl putting on her grand mama’s wig and dancing it out to oldies to men insisting that they love Black women but use their hair as baselines for a joke, there’s a lot to read, love, roll your eyes over and process. What’s not absent is the thread of recognizing how trauma and emotional labor weave themselves in several stories that ring true.
I was stoked when looking at the art as it carried a heavy Lynda Barry influence, so the book itself as a whole carried me back to my childhood in more ways than one. Her wonderful and weird stories paired with art that some other kids didn’t find beautiful but I personally loved–filled a storytelling niche in me I didn’t know existed that I needed. It is at the end of the book in the acknowledgments that I discover that Barry is mentioned, and I later learn that she taught Flowers–back in 2012 in a “What It Is, Shifting the Manual Image” class that proved to be transformative. Flowers mentions that the class itself and Barry’s role as mentor influenced much of her work that was to come including that as a Ph.D. student, and an educator..
Flowers’ art style bares influence yet blossoms in its own and comes alive on the page, I especially adore her lovingly illustrated one-page “ads” for Black hair products that praise and flatter in all the best ways in between the stories in the book. Her charming art may look a bit rough in certain sequences, yet it is so charming–facial expressions and grand gestures like dancing and movement shine the brightest.
The attention to detail when illustrating hair, Black hair, is appreciated from bangs to braids to first-time perms to two strand twists. It is a joy to see Black hair on the page, drawn by a Black woman, and executed in stories about Black girls and Black women. Reading these stories made me grateful that Ebony Flowers, writer, artist and creator was recognized and received the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award that identifies and supports women writers of exceptional talent early in their careers.
Hot Comb is several things all at once: book with enough childhood stories to possibly be considered coming of age, a collection of short stories, a graphic novel, a memoir, a debut book, an ode to Black hair and the women it belongs to. The book ends on a joyful note, of a small group of Black women caught in a moment of playfulness, of friends enjoying the company of each other and being away from the pressures of a world that can make them feel small at times. I love that the stories that take from inside the beauty shop/parlor for the first time to moments on the subway when Non-Black women invade your space and demand answers about your hair and what you cover it with.
There’s a wealth of moments that can only be equated to Blackness and the culture that comes with it as a Black girl who grew up into a Black woman, I cherish this collection of such moments. A lasting question of who is this book for which I can answer quoting the author, “Black women. I created the stories & drew the comics for black women like my mother, sister, aunts & friends – all who raised me up.” Hot Comb isn’t a book you should ignore if you want to read more work by Black women. Especially if you love comics. Period.
My book #HotComb, published by @DandQ, is available today. It’s about black hair. And also family, motherhood, and growing up (and parody hair-product ads!). I want to tell you why I created these comics and why these stories matter. Here’s a thread. /1 https://t.co/iEGfmPJshh
— Dr. Ebony Flowers (Kalir) (@ebonydraws) June 18, 2019
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Repost from @carebearsonfire on Instagram: “I received a copy of Ebony Flowers’ Hot Comb, from @drawnandquarterly to review for @bnplit ! It’s a memoir about black hair and growing up—but also the Debut graphic novel from the Rona Jaffe Foundation Award Winning Cartoonist. There’s laughs, tears, white women Who touch the hair of black girls and this wonderful Lynda Barry Influenced artwork which certainly brings me back to my childhood in more ways than one. Had to pull out my favorite head wraps from @shopfeline for these hopefully bookstagram worthy pics! ??♀️ #ebonyflowers #hotcomb #blackhair #blackwomenareeverything