Pulp Nonfiction

B lack History Month is over, but black history isn’t—especially inside Yale’s 32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery, where, for three more days, some 65 objects give black voices from the past 90 years renewed volume. 

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And reverb. The 65, placed neatly around 32 Edgewood’s echoing modernist space, are elements of Black Pulp!, an exhibit curated by William Villalongo and Mark Gibson that ends this Friday. Displayed items range from the Jim Crow era through the civil rights era to the post-civil rights era, across rare posters, books, journals, newspapers and comics, plus contemporary visual art expressions.

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One of the exhibit’s plainest and funniest expressions, even amidst the shame it lampoons, is a draft letter Dwayne McDuffie, then a Marvel Comics editor, wrote in 1989—a mock proposal for a new comic book. Noting that a quarter of all black superheroes throughout Marvel’s 1989 editions had “skateboard-based super-powers,” he pitched Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers as “a new series that will fully exploit this trend.” Not only would the black main characters be tethered to skateboards—regarded by many as symbols of youth menace, of course—but they would also satisfy other absurd black character tropes McDuffie had observed. The characters would wear only “circa-1974 clothing,” employ only “bizarre speech patterns” and need both a “smart white friend to help them [get out of] trouble” and “an attractive, white female friend to calm them down…”

“Have I made my point?” is how the draft ended. Really, he was making a bunch of points. And as surely as those points were eventually, if quietly, made to their intended audience among Marvel higher-ups, they’re now being made more loudly, to a broad New Haven audience, and in 64 other ways to boot.

Black Pulp! at 32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery
32 Edgewood Ave, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sun 12-6pm through March 11
(203) 432-2600

Written and photographed by Dan Mims.

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Dan has worked for a couple of major media companies, but he likes Daily Nutmeg best. As DN’s editor, he writes, photographs, edits and otherwise shepherds ideas into fully realized feature stories.

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