Comic book historian works to preserve black history

6:23 PM, Feb 21, 2014   |    comments
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DENVER - Professor William Foster III may not look like a comic book hero. But, he is a hero for comic books.

"I love super heroes and the battle for truth and justice and equality and fairness and I think that's what drew me," Foster said.

Foster is a nationally known comic book historian from Connecticut. He spent time in Denver to talk about an exhibit at the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library in Denver called "Changing Image of Blacks in Comics."

"All comic characters are stereotypes," Foster said. "It's where we start."

Foster says comic books are more than just entertainment aimed at kids. He says it can be a look into the psychology of the times.

"You can trace almost by decades how our progress in this country has changed over time," Foster said.

The comics of the 1930s and 1940s displayed caricatures, he says.

"Where black people were being portrayed as superstitious people with real big lips and fright-wig hair, holding a shield and spear," Foster said. "I never get mad at history. It was what it was."

In the 1960s and 1970s, African-Americans finally started to take more prominent roles in comic books with release of stories such as "Lobo", "Black Panther", and "Black Lightning."

Foster says comic books are such an important part of history because they helped shaped the minds of young readers over time.

"So, it's really kind of important that you see yourself as a positive role model," Foster said. "Cause that's what we are. That's how we learn. We learn by stories."

He is a hero for comic books because he is trying to preserve a history that is being lost. A lot of the pioneers in African-American comic books are disappearing. Many of them were destroyed or never distributed.

"Stacks of those books came back to the publisher. No one would ever put them on the shelves," Foster said.

So, he is creating his own historic collection and contributes to efforts around the country to keep some of the "underground" comic books from becoming extinct. And, he says that movement is growing.

"The 'V' of people behind me has gotten much larger," Foster said. "So, I'm not the only one anymore."

The exhibit at the Blair-Caldwell Library in the Five Points area of Denver is free to the public. It will run through February 28. Foster says preserving history is preserving the truth.

"Whatever story someone tells becomes the truth. No, there were no Black comics, that becomes the truth. Nobody in the Black community wanted it, why would we do it?" Foster said. "That's not the truth."

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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