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Darrin Bell, a renowned cartoonist and 2019 recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, released his graphic memoir “The Talk” on June 6th. Throughout 352 pages, Bell recounts his own personal experiences with racism and expresses the importance of Black families having conversations about racism to prepare their children for the harsh realities of the world.
Bell explained that his motivation for creating “The Talk” stemmed from the tragic murder of George Floyd. Although he had initially been working on a different book, a profound conversation with his editor prompted him to create a work that would speak to this prevailing issue.
During a Q&A with Shelf Awareness Bell explained that he felt compelled to release the book at a time when racial discourse occupied the national spotlight, recognizing the limited duration of time in which the subject would be at the forefront of white Americans’ attention.
Launching “The Talk” with Darrin Bell
Bell drew inspiration for ‘The Talk’ through introspection on his first conversations about racism with his mother at the tender age of six, and its lasting impact on his perspective as a father, prompting him to address the subject with his son.
Bell shared that through brainstorming with his editor regarding the book’s topic he said to her, “I was six when my mom gave me the talk, and my son is six now and I’m having to deal with whether I think he’s ready for it,” to which she responded, “That’s the book.”
Aware that his son would inevitably confront the harsh realities of racism, Bell sought to arm him with the knowledge and understanding necessary to face such challenges head-on.
Initially, he grappled with providing his son honest answers about incidents of racism he inquired about. “I told him the most optimistic thing, which is that maybe this push for justice is finally going to stick, and what I didn’t tell him was that I was thinking of all the times when it didn’t stick,” Bell revealed.
Gary Trudeau, the creator of the Doonesbury comic strip, commended Bell for his ability to provide an invaluable perspective through his book.
“Bell is the Ta-Nehisi Coates of comics, an indispensable explainer of how it feels to grow up in a world that repeatedly treats you as other. The talk with my white sons boiled down to ‘Be kind.’ It’s hard to overstate the distance between that admonition and ‘Stay alive’,” Trudeau said.
Reliving trauma to share triumph
Bell shared that every scene in the book is his favorite. He explained that the first draft of “The Talk” spanned 640 pages and to decrease the page count he kept only his most exceptional work. Drawing and writing about many of the book’s events proved challenging for Bell, as it forced him to relive traumatic moments from his past.
Throughout the memoir, Bell incorporates various illustrations of vicious dogs. He revealed that his first traumatic experience involved being stalked by dogs, and he believed that incorporating them in the book served as a powerful metaphor for the emotional turmoil he endured.
“The feeling I had when those dogs were stalking me was the exact same feeling I had when I was faced with authorities when I would run into the police, and when teachers would come down on me,” Bell shared.
For Bell, the chapter in which he met his wife offered a much-needed sense of solace.
“I was going through all of these incidents that I had spent my whole life trying not to remember. So when I made it through all that dark and traumatic material and made it to the chapter with my wife it felt as if I was falling in love with her all over again,” Bell said.
Ultimately, Darrin Bell aims to convey a multi-layered message to his readers. He hopes that non-Black readers, as well as those struggling to empathize with the Black community, can utilize his book as a means of stepping into his shoes.
He hopes to empower Black parents who may feel hesitant about discussing racism with their children by offering them courage through his book. Bell revealed that his father struggled to share his experiences and avoided having ‘the talk’.
Now, as a father himself, Bell understands the challenges of approaching such conversations. “He probably looked at me and saw this little kid who was still innocent, and still believed in magic and still believed that the whole world loved him. And he didn’t want to take away any of that innocence,” Bell explains.
Additionally, Bell aspires for his book to validate the experiences of children who can relate to him. He acknowledges that people often dispute accusations of racism, offering alternative explanations to dismiss or downplay these situations. With his memoir, Bell aims to provide children with comfort, assuring them that their experiences are real and not merely figments of their imagination.