A special preview event happening tomorrow night of the London Cartoon Museum's new exhibition BLACK: The Story of Tobias Taitt – a special exhibition exploring the story and world of Black – an unflinching but uplifting graphic memoir by Tobias Taitt and Anthony Smith. The graphic novel adaptation from Soaring Penguin Press tells Tobais' story through from the care homes of 1970s Britain, to prison, to discovering a passion for literature and turning his life around. As well as an in-person event I am hoping to attend, the museum will also be holding a free online panel event, discussing the themes and topics of the graphic novel, available on Zoom. It's free but attendees will have to register and runs at 7pm BST, 2pm EST and 11am PST. It will feature Tobias Taitt, the author of BLACK, Anthony Smith, the cartoonist and illustrator of BLACK, Dal Babu (OBE) – former chief superintendent of the Metropolitan police, Don John – Founder of Black History Month, Southampton, Mykaell S Riley – founder of the British Roots Reggae group, Steel Pulse and Principal Investigator on the first major Arts and Humanities Research Council award for black British music at Westminster University.
Black is a new graphic novel by Tobias Taitt and Anthony Smith from publisher Soaring Penguin Press, adapting Taitt's autobiographical story "Black Bastard" as a second-generation British Windrush immigrant- something that's increasingly in the news given the recent UK government policies in action.
The "Windrush generation" is the name given to the immigration of the Caribbean to the United Kingdom after the Second World War, encouraged by the British government to fill shortages in the work market. The British Nationality Act gave Citizenship of the UK and Colonies to all people living in the United Kingdom and its colonies, and the right of entry and settlement in the UK. Many West Indians especially were attracted by better prospects in what was often referred to as the mother country.
The ship HMT Empire Windrush brought a group of 802 migrants to the port of Tilbury, near London, on 22 June 1948. An advertisement had appeared in Jamaican newspapers offering cheap transport on the ship for anybody who wanted to come and work in the United Kingdom. Many former servicemen took this opportunity to return to Britain with the hopes of rejoining the RAF, while others decided to make the journey just to see what England was like. Many intended to stay in Britain for no more than a few years and a number did return to the Caribbean, but the majority remained to settle permanently. The arrival of the passengers has become an important landmark in the history of modern Britain, and the image of West Indians filing off the ship's gangplank has come to symbolise the beginning of modern British multicultural society.
Committees set up to look into the issues of such immigration, in an attempt to curb it, instead reported that no restrictions were required as there was plenty of work in post-war Britain, and industries such as British Rail, the National Health Service, and public transport recruited almost exclusively from Jamaica and Barbados. However, many new arrivals were to endure prejudice, intolerance, and racism from sectors of white British society, with employment and housing denied to them on the basis of race. Trade unions would often not help African-Caribbean workers and some pubs, clubs, dance halls and churches would bar black people from entering. However, an entire generation of Britons with African-Caribbean heritage now exist, contributing to British society in every field. So, in recent years, when the UK Government began a crackdown on those who came to Britain but did not have proof of their resident status, it caused a scandal that is still happening right now – another plane deporting people who were young children when they first came from Jamaica to Britain had to be stopped after protests were made.
Taitt's experiences as his mother tried, and failed, to build a better life for them in Britain speaks of systemic failures and personal hardships which are often overlooked. This new 128-page graphic novel is printed in black and white, reflecting the stark communication of Taitt's story, experiences as a young teenager falling in love and into a life of crime illustrating Taitt's complicated relationship with his own past. Smith's art brings out nuance and empathy in a story where there are no easy answers or trite solutions, including one particular scene with Taitt as a child reading the Captain Britain comic book while wearing the free Union Jack mask.
Black is the second autobiography Soaring Penguin Press has funded following on from the success of Ilana Zeffren's Urban Tails earlier in 2021.