Men like Mike seem to be hard to find. He’s intelligent, has goals, is sensitive to the needs of others and aware of a numerous issues of social injustice. Because of all this, he gets frustrated and, at times, downright mad. He wants nothing more than to live and let live yet finds himself steeped in a world of racism and sexism that permeates his everyday life.
Michael LaRiccia delivers a semi-nonfiction tour de force of life for the socially aware yet somewhat powerless male who cannot reconcile his existence with his more macho and reckless counterparts. The final product, Black Mane, reads like The Incredible Hulk meets The Secret Life of Walter Mitty with a social equality twist to top it off. As Mike goes about his business of going to work, hanging with friends, and working on his own graphic novel, he continually comes face to face with racism as others confuse him for being Muslim and Latino. His dark Mediterranean features render him a minority and second-class citizen, prone to being insulted, ignored or considered suspect. His idle daydreams reveal the black-maned lion within him that wants to roar against the injustice forced upon him and others.
This theme follows along with his thoughts on relationships between men and women. While he works with force to be caring and considerate to his girlfriend, Annmarie, he feels deeply disturbed by the constant dehumanization of other women by their partners. Whether it’s public insult, threats of violence, or implications of dominance and assault, Mike feels the rage to fight back with each passing incident.
On many levels, darkness thematically permeates this story. In particular, most panels of this graphic novel are outlined in black instead of the typical white. LaRiccia defaults to a stark and stifling black wherever possible between the panels and with the background. The mood brings readers directly into Mike’s head as he battles the demons within himself. LaRicccia’s talents as a printmaker shine through in his use, placement, and design of text within the story. Using a variety of styles and designs without overdoing it, he manipulates the text cunningly so that its depiction delivers an added momentum to the story. However, he does overuse the positioning of panels across the longer side of a page, thereby requiring the reader to turn the graphic novel sideways to continue the story. The graphic novel also contains a fair share of extras in the form of earlier drawings and shorts that helped LaRiccia flesh out Black Mane.
In the end, LaRiccia produces a provoking and thoughtful graphic novel that requires its readers to think about the world beyond their four walls. With his main character, Mike, he provides us with an “Everyman” to understand, allowing readers to internalize Mike’s life and ultimately his rage against the injustice that surrounds us.