A formative coming-of-age graphic memoir by the creator of Afro-punk: a young man’s immersive reckoning with identity, racism, clumsy teen love and belonging in an isolated California desert, and a search for salvation and community through punk.
Apple Valley, California, in the late eighties, a thirsty, miserable desert.
Teenage James Spooner hates that he and his mom are back in town after years away. The one silver lining—new school, new you, right? But the few Black kids at school seem to be gangbanging, and the other kids fall on a spectrum of micro-aggressors to future Neo-Nazis. Mixed race, acutely aware of his Blackness, James doesn't know where he fits until he meets Ty, a young Black punk who introduces him to the school outsiders—skaters, unhappy young rebels, caught up in the punk groundswell sweeping the country.
A haircut, a few Sex Pistols, Misfits and Black Flag records later: suddenly, James has friends, romantic prospects, and knows the difference between a bass and a guitar. But this desolate landscape hides brutal, building undercurrents: a classmate overdoses, a friend must prove himself to his white supremacist brother and the local Aryan brotherhood through a show of violence. Everything and everyone are set to collide at one of the year's biggest shows in town...
Weaving in the Black roots of punk rock and a vivid interlude in the thriving eighties DIY scene in New York's East Village, this is the memoir of a budding punk, artist, and activist.
Spooner, the filmmaker behind the Afro-Punk documentary and festivals, debuts with a graphic memoir as abrasive and revelatory as his chosen music. Against a setting of the 1990s-era desolate desert landscape of Apple Valley, Calif., Spooner replays key notes of his adolescence. His predominantly poor and white hometown simmers with hostility: bikers throw insults and skinheads infiltrate the scene, targeting the multiracial friendship circle with whom he forges his punk identity and sound. But he's empowered by learning that "Rock 'n' roll is a Black American Legacy. Punk rock is Black music." He's also desperate for a girlfriend the fact that his crushes are always already taken gets hilariously drawn, with the word boyfriend literally falling from the top of the page and demolishing him. He's forthright about the fraught relationship with his devoted but sometimes clueless white mother, his absent Black father (a St. Lucian former champion bodybuilder aka "Mr. America to everyone but your son"), as well as realizing his own light-skinned privilege in relation to other Black friends. Lyrics from influential songs (such as "White Minority" by Black Flag) spring from panels in dynamic word balloons, punctuating emotional scenes; the story culminates in dual tragedies and Spooner's escape from the dust. The realistic, digitally drawn art is loose-lined, matching the urgency of the soundtrack. Much like Ghost World, this grabbing, angsty coming-of-age tale offers a sidewalk view of a creative subculture. It's also a poignant ode to the power of music to fill voids left by family and circumstance, with provocations thrumming on race and identity that sound out like a smashed guitar.