ADDRESSES: Agent—Posro Media, LLC, P.O. Box 2197, Princeton, NJ 08543.
CAREER: Graphic artist, illustrator. Worked for Dow Jones, East Brunswick, NJ; Posro Komics (now Posro Media, LLC), illustrator, 1991–.
Contributor of illustrations to the comic book series MC Squared: A Man with a Serious Game Plan and illustrator of the strip "The Griots."
SIDELIGHTS: Elihu Bey is a graphic artist and illustrator who first found work in that field when news that a position had opened reached him through his cartooning teacher. Bey jumped on it and was hired by Roland Laird, Willie Brown, and Taneshia Nash of Posro Komics, at the time one of just a few such black-owned companies in the country. The group created a comic series called MC Squared: A Man with a Serious Game Plan, about a Harlem barber and computer hacker, and "The Griots," a strip about a black newspaper family, which they self-syndicated to black newspapers. The Griots consist of parents Mar-cus and Monique and their children, Malika and Marvis. A New York Times contributor wrote that "the strip is full of witty lines, but also contains insights and black history and culture—a griot, in fact, is an African storyteller…. Mr. Bey, twenty-two, said black comic artists traditionally have drawn white characters or, at best, black superhero stereotypes. 'I want my drawings to convey emotion and spirituality,' he said. 'I want to portray black people as they really are.'"
The struggling young business suffered a major catastrophe when the home of Laird and Nash was destroyed in a gas explosion in 1993, four months after they married, resulting in the loss of all of their creative work and records. The next year, they were approached to do a graphic history of African Americans and had their book proposal ready soon after. They chose to publish with W.W. Norton, the second-highest bidder, because Norton agreed to do a hardcover version. Bey was recruited to illustrate the book, a job complicated by the fact that the writing and fact checking had to be completed before he could go to work. He managed to finish the project, including the penciling, inking, and lettering, in four months.
Still I Rise: A Cartoon History of African Americans portrays the struggles, dreams, and achievements of black Americans from 1618 to 1995. The title is taken from a poem by Maya Angelou. In Library Journal Stephen Weiner said the book "offers nuggets of little-known information on the impact of African Americans on American history."
Bey explains that the first African Americans to come to America were not slaves, but successful indentured servants and artisans who quickly bought out their contracts and those of others. This sparked resentment among the white population, servant and master alike. Contracts of blacks were illegally lengthened and buyouts prohibited, causing some blacks to flee. When they were caught, their contracts were extended indefinitely, essentially marking the beginning of slavery. By 1677, slavery was official in all of the colonies. During the American Revolution the British offered slaves freedom for fighting and the Americans followed suit but slavery did not officially end with the war. When teh Dred Scott decision ruled that no slave could ever be free, escaped slaves and free blacks alike were kidnaped and returned to slavery.
Before its publication, the book was scrutinized for historical accuracy by Professors Nell Irvin Painter of Princeton University and Earl Lewis of the University of Michigan. Bey's volume includes black leaders and historical figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Madame C.J. Walker, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King. Also showcased are less well-known figures, including first female bank president Maggie Lena Walker, Benjamin Banneker, builder of the first striking clock made entirely with American-made parts, and Granville T. Woods, inventor of the third rail incorporated into subway systems.
A reviewer for Rational Magic online wrote that "touches of whimsy are plentiful, and Bey is very good at making even the background characters look like individuals. Although his people tend to be cartoony, he can draw them with great detail and accuracy when he desires." The reviewer said that "this is a fascinating book, jam-packed with information, yet presented in such a way that the story flows along smoothly, with little of the choppiness or 'episodicness' that often pervades such efforts."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Brown Alumni, May, 1998, Torri Still, review of Still I Rise: A Cartoon History of African Americans.
Library Journal, February 1, 1998, Stephen Weiner, review of Still I Rise, p. 83.
New York Times, July 12, 1993, "At Posro Komics, hip hop heroes battle stereotypes."
Rational Magic, http://www.rationalmagic.com/ (June 24, 2006), review of Still I Rise.