In 1976, Jungle Action Featuring the Black Panther #19, the story begins with Monica visiting her sister Angela’s grave, on a visit home to Georgia. As she walks, narration from her point of view recalls a memory of her and Angela playing outside one summer in the 1950s when she refused to share a soda with her sister, remarking that they “did not have the same childhood as James Baldwin or Eldridge Cleaver. [Their] bitterness did not come till much later . . .” When T’Challa saves her from an attack orchestrated by a group of men dressed in hooded white cloaks, the Black Panther believes there is more to the story of her sister’s death.
At first glance, readers may believe T’Challa is faced with the real Ku Klux Klan, but there are key differences—the outfits are the wrong color, and, foregrounded in the interior cover of this issue, there is a Black man in this group, which we eventually learn is called “The Dragon’s Circle.” Nevertheless, this group is equally dangerous, perpetuating hate crimes like throwing a brick through the Lynne’s home just after Monica’s father warns T’Challa that asking questions is a surefire way to cause more pain.
There is a history here, tied to the Lynne’s family, to their home in Georgia. Even though Black Panther’s context is a fictionalized Wakanda, he and others around him, including some of the artists and writers who have worked on his stories, are beholden to histories of Black Americans. And here, Monica Lynne was our window into this world: one not wholly characterized by race-based violence, but one of family and legacy, memory and land as well.
I found that I couldn’t leave my program when these stories existed—both the stories of the Lynnes, a Black Southern family much like my own, and that of the real-life Graham family. Monica Lynne, along with her family, brings a familiarity to a marvelous fantasy of Wakanda and made me feel as if I too had a story to contribute to such a legacy. And that feeling is affirmed when I know Billy Graham and his family’s story have now become part of the history of Wakanda. I wanted to hear these stories, and I was honored that anyone trusted me enough to tell them.
I never did a formal academic piece on Billy Graham’s art or Monica Lynne’s family story. I wrote a term paper on my findings and the start of a conference paper, but nothing else. It was, in part, a result of the pandemic and a result of trying to find a dissertation project I felt confident I could be consistent with for the next several years.
The experience of learning from Graham’s granddaughter and thinking through Monica Lynne’s presence in Black Panther comics shifted my priorities, though not in the way I might have imagined. I didn’t pursue that project, but afterward, I didn’t leave. I stayed in graduate school and finished and defended my dissertation on my own terms. My project centered on Black women and girls in new media fantasy narratives, and I tried to imagine scholarship that connected the intersections of technology and the magic in girlhood. I explored how Black girls use digital tools to decide who they are and then tell others about the selves they have created.
The Black women and girls in and around academia who created, collaborated on, and curated these stories rejuvenated me. It gave me the strength to refocus, and finish.
Monica Lynne’s presence in the Black Panther comics I was studying led me to ask different questions. She helped me begin to think through what Black American women’s relationship was to fantasy as a genre, in superhero comics and in other types of media, affirming that there was indeed a place for us. Discovering the family behind the illustrator who helped bring her to life guided me to think about Black women not only as characters but also as creators and curators of this work. Together, these women, one fictitious and one real, illuminated a story that had deep roots and beckoned me to search deeper.
Ravynn K. Stringfield is an American Studies Ph.D. candidate at William & Mary. Her research centers Black women and girls in new media fantasy narratives. She is also a blogger, essayist and novelist. Ravynn's work has been featured in Catapult, ZORA, Shondaland, Voyage YA Journal and midnight & indigo. For more about her, visit her website, ravynnkstringfield.com, or follow her on Twitter: @RavynnKaMia.