The Ugly Side of Comics, Part One: Uncle Tom's Revenge - Bleeding Cool

The Ugly Side of Comics, Part One: Uncle Tom’s Revenge by Michael Davis

Posted by August 25, 2018 Comment

Michael Davis writes:

Back in the day 434 Beach 58st apt 8B Far Rockaway:

My mother lay on the floor bleeding from a gash in her head.

My sister Sharon all of 12 years old tears streaming from her eyes hands covering her mouth trying to mute the sobs she couldn’t help making was bent over listening to my mother’s faint voice.

Blood slowly but steadily flowing from her wound my mother spoke to my sister “Sharon, this is important, ask for an ambulance, not the police.”

“Not the police.”

Sharon ran to the kitchen where the phone was. My mother looked at me and smiled. I smiled back while I played with my brand-new Tonka truck I was eight years old it was Christmas Eve.

Then her concentration shifted to the man who stood at the doorway, who had done this to her by smashing the die-cast metal toy I played with against her head.

My father.

Back in the day Long Island City Queens My Aunt Janie’s apartment:

From the moment I heard such a school existed, I HAD to go there.

My cousin was telling me about the High School of Art and Design (A&D).

I remembered being fixated on two things; you did art all day, and the school had elevators.

I HAD to go to that school. I was eight and had to wait years but when old enough I would apply get in and become a comic book artist!


I applied and failed.

So that happened.

I learned later Ms. Frazier, the teacher who oversaw the room I took the test in did not tolerate any dumb shit. Guess who was full of dumb shit that day?

As a result, I was crushed beyond belief when the letter arrived telling me I was not getting in. I’m dead serious when I say that was the biggest disappointment of my life. As a comparison when Milestone 2.0 announced their return without me that hurt me deeply but compared to the massive heart attack of failing the A&D test Milestone was a paper cut.

I was determined to take the test for admission to A&D in the 11th grade.


The odds were stacked way against me only three of twenty-five who applied for the 11th grade would pass. The requirements were much more stringent because the foundation years would be missed. That meant you had to be good enough to come in pick a major and work at the level of students who had a one or two year start on you.

I spent a year doing whatever my cousin told me. I ‘worked’ in his studio spending my paycheck (10 bucks) on art supplies spending the rest of my weekends doing art at home.

I had to get into Art & Design because I had to become a comic book artist.

Back in the day 434 Beach 58st apt 8B Far Rockaway:

My mother convinced my father to leave. He was lit (drunk) as always, but his anger had dwindled at the realization he split my mother’s skull, and people were coming. I continued to play with the truck my mother continued to smile at me then I remembered the other gift from my father, COMICS!

I stood up stepped over my mom went to my room and woke up.

I had this recurring nightmare every few years from eight years old to twelve when they stopped.

Back in the day 105 Duane Street Tribeca NY:

The nightmare returned in my thirties. Like a reissued movie playing for a limited time, I had the same sickening dream for seven straight days. My mind created the vision of my father coming over drunk on Christmas Eve forcing his way in when my mother refused him entry and slamming the metal truck against my mother’s head. After seven days they ceased.

Ultimately, I had to talk to somebody about it, so I called my mom. She listened to me dodge the subject for a bit before she figured out what I was trying to say. In a voice I’ve only heard once before when she told me my sister was dead she revealed my nightmare was very very real.

I had repressed the memory.

No one but my mother could have convinced me that repressed memory was real I thought it was serious bullshit.

“Thank god for your comic books.” At the time my mother said those words I gave them no thought. The realization of what my stepfather (yeah after that day STEPFATHER) did so heavy on my mind I could think of nothing else.

My mother told me I spent the day she was attacked reading comics sleeping and drawing. When the paramedics arrived, my mother refused to go to the hospital. The paramedics bandaged my mother’s head gave my sister instructions not to let her go to sleep some painkillers and got the fuck out of dodge with a quickness. They were in the hood and were white.

Later at my aunt’s house for Christmas dinner, my cousin told me about Art & Design, and my career path was set.

“Thank god for your comic books.” When sitting down to write this series those words underscored for me the importance of comics in my life.

Those once 10 cents now damn near 10-dollar publications of characters stories and universes have done much more for me than provide entertainment. They babysat educated comforted and on one Christmas eve protected me.

Comics in truth is one of the very few things in my life that make me happy.

My mother told my sister and me to regularly think of three reasons we were glad to be alive. Perhaps she foresaw my sister’s murder and my eventual depression because she insisted we couldn’t just be content with living we had to be happy doing so while we were.

As a kid my three were easy:

  1. Comics
  2. Toys
  3. Summer

When I entered A&D…oh did you doubt me? YES, I GOT IN!

  1. A&D
  2. Art
  3. Comics

When I left A&D:

  1. Sex
  2. More sex
  3. Comics… (but really sex)

When I entered undergrad at Pratt Institute, I’d matured

  1. Jean (my mom. Yeah, I called her by her first name. It’s a Black thing)
  2. Sharon
  3. My future career in comics

Today Los Angeles:

I hit every vital goal I set out for myself to become a comic book artist. I’ve had some mishaps along the way many of which I am responsible for. But when I screw up, I own it. If wrong I admit it.

An eight-year-old latchkey kid from the projects knowing with certainty what I wanted to do isn’t rare. Poor Black kids dream just like rich white kids. However, the odds those dreams turn into reality are extraordinarily rare.

Uncle Tom rare.

Most people think that being an Uncle Tom is an insult. It’s rare you find someone who knows the truth about Uncle Tom.

Truth is Tom was a noble character.

The Jim Crow leaders of the day created a shameful narrative that changed Tom’s noble role in literature to a deplorable one. People to this day hold fast to that belief.

Like Tom shameful untrue narratives about many abound in the comics field. There’s a false narrative that has been used for years to try and marginalize me.

For over twenty years I’ve tried the high road. I’ve asked those who keep the narrative alive to leave it alone. The response has been to double down on the lies and exclusion and continue to try and kill my career. I’m far from the only one in comics to receive that treatment.

Comic books helped save my life. I’m as sure of that as I am of my name I asked those in ‘power’ to leave the misrepresentation of my character brand and name alone.

They wouldn’t.

My life has not been easy that’s not a complaint that’s a fact. It’s also a fact I’ve done some notable work in the industry. I have a right to walk my path without liars fucking with me. Why do they? I know but it’s about time everyone knew.

Clearly the high road has led to nowhere. No matter how many times I politely request their discriminatory practices stop politely ask them to leave my reputation alone they won’t.

Chazz Palminteri in the film A Bronx Tale politely told a gang of bikers they had entered a private club and just as politely told them had to leave. The bikers did what bikers do, not give a f-ck.

Then this happened:

NEXT WEEK: The Ugly Side of Comics: Part 2 Now You Can’t Leave.

About Rich Johnston

Chief writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. Father of two. Comic book clairvoyant. Political cartoonist.

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(Last Updated August 26, 2018 3:42 pm )

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