MSU virtual exhibit explores Afrofuturist comic books


The Michigan State University Museum has launched a new virtual exhibit that you can enjoy free from home. “Beyond the Black Panther: Visions of Afrofuturism in American Comics,” curated by MSU English Professor Julian Chambliss, the Val Berryman Curator of History at the MSU Museum, takes its viewers on a deep dive into the world of Black comics and their overarching themes — ranging from aesthetics, feminism, metaphysics and community.

Afrofuturism is a term coined by culture writer Mark Dery in his 1994 essay “Black to the Future.” Comic books that are categorized under the Afrofuturism subgenre stand out by taking typical science fiction tropes, such as otherworldly advanced technology and utopia-like societies, and centralizing them around Black characters and narratives. The most famous example, “Black Panther,” was created in 1966 by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee and received a film adaption in 2018 that was one of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s biggest blockbusters.

Curator Chambliss explains that one of the most important aspects of Afrofuturism is its rejection of European standards of beauty. Afrofuturist comics are recognized to utilize forms, shapes and textures directly linked to African culture in order “to create envision worlds that embrace an inclusive vision of bodies, fashion and architecture.”

The exhibit doesn’t spend too much of its time on “Black Panther,” which aims to expose people to lesser-known afrofuturist comic publications, such as “Brotherman,” “Is’Nana” and “Kid Code,” that also have compelling characters and tell important Black stories. The MSU Museum’s website also launched an expansive companion piece that breaks down the central categories of themes of the exhibit.

“This exhibit is an important effort to help contextualize contemporary dialogue about Afrofuturism through comics,” said Chambliss about the exhibit. “Building on the MSU Museum educational role, the exhibit engages the viewers to consider how comics make ideas intrinsic to Afrofuturism available to the public. My hope is that this exhibit sparks a journey of discovery for the visitor. We could not cover everything in this small exhibit, but I hope people enjoy and want to learn more.”


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