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Stateside Podcast: Trailblazing cartoonist Barbara Brandon-Croft

Barbara Brandon-Croft wearing a black turtleneck with a lightbox on her lap, and surrounded by several posters of her comics.
Gioncarlo Valentine

Think back to what first got you reading the news. Sure, some of you might say it was an excellent investigative report or a piece of breathtaking photojournalism. But for many — especially from a certain generation — it was the newspaper comic strips.

In June 1989, The Detroit Free Press debuted a strip that would go on to make history. “Where I’m Coming From” was created by Barbara Brandon-Croft and ran until 2005. Her weekly quips featured nine Black women during a time when the funnies mostly featured white characters created by white artists.

“I’m kind of proud that I had a cast of comic strip characters that were Black women that weren't caricatures,” Brandon-Croft said. “They were actually based on real women and talking real talk.”

Courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly

She was the first Black woman cartoonist to reach national syndication in mainstream papers. And while her comics reached a mainstream audience, she didn’t shy away from difficult topics. One of her comics, published a decade before the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting, featured a character contemplating how she would pay for a bullet proof vest for her preschool-aged child.

“I would go heavy,” Brandon-Croft recalled. “Sometimes I think people would laugh at things that I said, you know, and sometimes, I think it just encouraged people to think about what was going on in the world.”

Brandon-Croft was recently tasked with sifting through the archives of the comic strip for her new book Where I’m Coming From. It’s the first retrospective collection of her work.

“If you look back over your work, you kind of cringe at some things. I was actually surprised, pleasantly surprised, that I liked a lot of what I had done before, [and] surprised and not so surprised that a lot of it was still relevant.”

Courtesy of Drawn & Quarterly

Listen to the full interview with Barbara Brandon-Croft on the Stateside Podcast. You can also catch her Thursday, March 27th at Source Booksellers in Detroit.

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Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Public in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the summer of 2020.