Authors Meet Critics

Keeping It Unreal: Black Queer Fantasy and Superhero Comics

Presented on October 14, 2022 as part of the Social Science Matrix Authors Meet Critics series, this panel focused on the book Keeping It Unreal: Black Queer Fantasy and Superhero Comics (NYU Press, 2022), by Darieck Scott, Professor of African American Studies at UC Berkeley.

Professor Scott was joined in conversation by Ula Taylor, Professor & 1960 Chair of Undergraduate Education in the UC Berkeley Department of African-American Studies and African Diaspora; and Scott Bukatman, Professor of Film and Media Studies in the Stanford University Department of Art & Art History. The panel was moderated by Greg Niemeyer, Professor of Media Innovation, Toban Fellow, Director of the Art Practice Graduate Program at UC Berkeley.

This event was co-sponsored by the Department of African American Studies and the Berkeley Center for New Media.

About the Book

Darieck Scott
Professor Darieck Scott

Characters like Black Panther, Storm, Luke Cage, Miles Morales, and Black Lightning are part of a growing cohort of black superheroes on TV and in film. Though comic books are often derided as naïve and childish, these larger-than-life superheroes demonstrate how this genre can serve as the catalyst for engaging the Black radical imagination.

Keeping It Unreal: Comics and Black Queer Fantasy is an exploration of how fantasies of Black power and triumph fashion theoretical, political, and aesthetic challenges to—and respite from—white supremacy and anti-Blackness. It examines representations of Blackness in fantasy-infused genres: superhero comic books, erotic comics, fantasy and science-fiction genre literature, as well as contemporary literary “realist” fiction centering fantastic conceits.

Darieck Scott offers a rich meditation on the relationship between fantasy and reality, and between the imagination and being, as he weaves his personal recollections of his encounters with superhero comics with interpretive readings of figures like the Black Panther and Blade, as well as theorists such as Frantz Fanon, Eve Sedgwick, Leo Bersani, Saidiya Hartman, and Gore Vidal.

Keeping It Unreal represents an in-depth theoretical consideration of the intersections of superhero comics, Blackness, and queerness, and draws on a variety of fields of inquiry. Reading new life into Afrofuturist traditions and fantasy genres, Scott seeks to rescue the role of fantasy and the fantastic to challenge, revoke, and expand our assumptions about what is normal, real, and markedly human.

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