by Ebony Flowers. Drawn & Quarterly, June 2019. 184 p. ill. ISBN 9781770463486, $21.95.

Reviewed June 2020
Lora Farrell, Catalog & Digital Services Librarian, Jannes Library, Kansas City Art Institute

hot comb coverRona Jaffe Foundation Award recipient Ebony Flowers brings us eight short stories connecting on the theme of the Black experience and hair. The stories, intimate and relatable, bring the reader into the world of the characters. Flowers’ stories, part fiction, part personal experience, read like memories from childhood. In the first story, a fifth grade girl has succeeded in talking her mom into letting her get a relaxer on her hair. Her mother resists and is emotionally torn about the experience, while reminiscing with the stylist, both an old friend and like family. Music plays in the background of several of the stories, lyrics and notes winding their way through, panel to panel. The connections in the stories reveal love, affection, heartache and pain while the characters experience life’s agonies, including ridicule.

Flowers’ book explores different points of view of life as a Black person. In another story, a visiting artist is working at an elementary school and interacting with the students. One student in particular stares at the artist's afro. Flowers reveals the artist’s subjective reaction of rage mixed with empathy as he tries to engage with the girl. The last story includes three college friends in the final days of a visit to their friend in Angola. The women prepare for a day at Cabo Ledo beach in Luanda.

Flowers acknowledges writer and cartoonist Lynda Barry as an influence. Their works are personal, using seemingly autobiographical writing and drawings. The illustrations in Hot Comb are in black-and-white and have a gestural quality. The unrestrained lines are whimsical. Hand-drawn ads for Black hair care products appear between the stories. The naïve style lends itself well to the fantasy pushed by advertisers – the unrealistic pressure of manufactured beauty.

The book includes occasional strong language, which may be inappropriate for children. Flowers provides multiple points of view spanning several generations and backgrounds of Black men and women, making Hot Comb an asset in collections serving diverse audiences, as well as academic programs related to creative writing, women’s studies, and comics created by women.