“We need diverse books. We need to make them, buy them, read them, review them, talk about them,” award-winning cartoonist Gene Luen Yang told GalleyCat in describing his support for a social media campaign to diversify the publishing world. “Our world is colorful, so our books should be too.” This summer, Yang teamed up with Sonny Liew to release a new graphic novel called “The Shadow Hero,” based on a character named the Green Turtle who was first introduced by in the 1940s by pioneering Chinese-American cartoonist Chu Hing. The Green Turtle has since been dubbed the first Asian-American superhero by fans and prompted colorful dedications from artists across the genre. “Shadow Hero” is Yang’s third book; his last one, 2011”s “Boxers and Saints” was nominated for a National Book Award. His “American Born Chinese” came out in 2006. Yang is one of a handful of working cartoonists whose work about identity has blown up in recent years. He suspects that at least part of the reason can be found in America’s changing racial demographics. “I think [identity] is something we all deal with now,” he told Colorlines over the phone. “I think that most of us have had some sort of experience when we’ve been some sort of minority for whatever reasons. It’s difficult to grow up now in a mono-ethnic culture. People are now realizing that identity is something you have to actively construct when you get older.”
Outside of the heavily marketed superhero comics from Marvel and DC, graphic novels are, sadly, as bad in the diversity department as other sectors of the publishing industry. While people of color make up 30 percent of America’s population, only 10percent of children’s books — which categorizes graphic novels — contain multicultural content, according to an infographic from Lee and Lows. But, according to Yang, that’s quickly changing. “The kinds of stories that are being in told have grown by leaps and bounds since I was a kid growing up in the ’80s,” he says.Here are a handful of graphic novels that deal with some aspect of racial justice, whether it’s an individual identity or a community coming to terms with itself.