Review: The Black Panther Party: A Graphic Novel History, by David F. Walker and Marcus Kwame Anderson

In the afterword to this book, author David F. Walker provides a rather nuanced view of the Black Panthers, and correctly sums it all up by saying that the conditions that gave birth to the Panthers remain in force today in America. This is a gorgeously illustrated book that tries to tell the story of this uniquely Black American political movement without falling into the trap of demonising or mythologising the Panthers. To a degree, it succeeds — but only to a degree. One of the most moving parts of the book is a scene that runs for several pages, which depicts an imagined encounter between Panther founder Huey P. Newton and a white police officer. The officer has stopped the car in which Newton is sitting with three other Panthers. The Panthers are armed. Newton speaks for them, asserting their right to state only their names and also their right to bear arms. It is a very tense scene, and it ends with the police backing down. In the wake of all that has happened since, the seemingly unending killing of unarmed and innocent Black men and women by white police officers in the half century since that happened, one cannot help but feel sympathy for Newton. But having said that, one also cannot avoid noticing not only the Panthers’ glorification of violence but also their sympathy for some of the most murderous regimes of the twentieth century. The book includes an illustration of the Black Panther newspaper with an article by North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung. The Panthers’ combination of violent criminality with Stalinist politics proved to be toxic. In the end they were destroyed by the FBI and police, as the book points out on several occasions. But the Panthers would almost certainly have destroyed themselves in the end.