Having a bad hair day is tough enough. Imagine if your hair was also a racial battleground.
Growing up, that’s the reality for Ebony Flowers, creator of Hot Comb from Montreal graphic-novel publishers Drawn and Quarterly.
As the first story in this collection opens, Ebony’s family is living in a trailer park. “My mother thought my brother, sister and I were acting too white,” she tells the reader right off the bat. And so begin years of battles, some acted out in the confines of the hair salon.
What I love about Hot Comb is not only the confessional style Flowers employs, but also how unafraid she is to acknowledge her influences. You, too, may find her loose lines reminiscent of Lynda Barry’s work.
And as far as I’m concerned, we all need more influencing by Lynda Barry. She can do no wrong.
“I wanted my hair to flip and move and shine like the black women in the magazines and on TV,” Flowers narrates. Her hair role model: Tatyana Ali, who has fantasy hair. Unfortunately, it’s not to be for Ebony.
Even making seemingly innocuous moves, she can’t win: “Stop tucking your hair behind your ears like some white girl,” her mother chides after Ebony’s her first perm.
The other stories in Hot Comb cover the same territory. In one piece, Ebony’s sister, Lena, is the only black player on a girl’s softball team. Lena immediately notices a tension: “They weren’t mean, but they weren’t exactly nice, either,” she says of her white teammates.
She becomes more uncomfortable when her fellow players become obsessed with her hair. “Let me touch,” says when the team goes swimming. “I just made a cute little afro!” another yells while pulling on Lena’s curls.
I’m not even going to pretend that I understand all the nuances of racial hair politics. However, if you’re looking for a summer read that will give you something to chew on, Hot Comb will make you laugh and think.