James Spooner, film director of the documentary Afro-Punk, brings the late 80s punk scene to life in this memoir with evocative black-and-white art.

Spanning a year’s time, Spooner shares a pivotal year in high school he spent with his single mom in Apple Valley, California. They were returning after years away, and bi-racial James is wary of his new school, but hoping his old childhood friends will welcome him back. He shares the minutia of teen life, including all the stops and starts of friendship, teen crushes and the discovery of one’s identity. Spooner is a skater and fond of hard rock but begins to look into punk life, typically associated with white kids. But a new Black friend, who fronts a band, inspires him to delve into punk rock. But this new identity comes with a cost, as he runs afoul of a white supremacy group and struggles to connect with his white mother.

The black-and-white art is expressive, with a real effort to capture the essence of the era. At times, the line work can be imprecise, with some distortion of facial features, but you can tell Spooner was trying to capture accurate likenesses. Some full-page spreads showcase the bleak desert, somewhat of a metaphor for his life at the time. The story was overly long, with some uneven pacing, but the unique art matched the DIY aesthetic that is part of punk life. The story did make me reminisce about my own life, as I too grew up in the 80s/90s and a few of my acquaintances went punk in late high school. As a straight-laced athlete, I never understood the appeal, but now I appreciate why it might have spoken to them.

This memoir of growth, isolation, and racism is a love letter to the friends that helped buffer Spooner through his most difficult times and to the internal strength it took to become the artist and activist he is today. I advocated for it to be in the Top 10 of 2022 Best Graphic Novels for Adults Reading List when I was on the committee last year, and was glad when it was chosen!

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