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The Student: Lucifer's Garden of Verses 3    by Lance Tooks order for
by Lance Tooks
Order:  USA  Can
ComicsLit, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Cultural appropriation, particularly for the purpose of consumerism generates a significant undercurrent of tension within our society. Gangsta rap about murder and life in the ghetto never feels more wrong than when heard blaring from the car a white teenager's parents bought him, as he pulls in to his suburban cul de sac. The laissez faire of capitalism means those things that symbolize culture and identity can be materialized and ultimately consumed by those who seek to possess it.

Why the lesson on the perniciousness of cultural disempowerment? It's something to consider when flipping through the pages of The Student (Or Nude Descending a Staircase ... Head First) because, within this short graphic novel, Lance Tooks draws pretty intense and even shocking pictures as well as words. He makes bold statements about how racism and cultural appropriation of black culture, as well as the black male body, permeates numerous niches of our society.

The main character, Andree Baldwin, a black artist finds himself selling his soul for an actual career after having a failing exhibit and a horrid review from Acquanetta Scapinelli - an art critic turned white she-devil, for it is she who offers up the contract to Baldwin. What ensues is Baldwin's descent. As he becomes more popular, he separates from his roots and his identity. As he comes to terms with who he is becoming, he must decide if he can change and if the she-devil will let him out of his deal.

The art within the graphic novel provokes readers. Save for a single page, it uses gray as a background color. The gray of course could connect to a great many ideas within the story. Also, the color white is used quite sparingly, thereby creating probably one of the first black and gray graphic novels to be drawn. Tooks' panels, in their open borderless environment, work well throughout the story, though occasionally a sequence of discussion can be hard to follow. The dialogue bubbles also grab attention, as the text of what is being said rarely stays within the lines. Though most of the characters and objects are drawn into the story, on a few occasions, pictures are integrated into the panel. Tooks' depiction of Baldwin, often in a half-naked body, can prove most challenging as the use of coloring implies that his skin color changes.

Some readers will have great trouble reading this graphic novel. Tooks goes to great lengths to engage the reader with a tense discussion of a topic that not everyone can cope with or understand. Rather than depict a cliché story about race relations that can be seen on an after-school special or in some Hollywood movie, Tooks takes the high road and shows that race relations has many more layers to it than we are often willing to admit.

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