Books We Love: Pitch Black

Happy Tuesday everyone,

Today’s post is about a book I picked up last week from the shelves of Behind the Book:

Pitch Black Cover

I read through Pitch Black last week on my train ride home. Awestruck and in dismay, I’ve wondered ever since what it means to live ostracized from the rest of society, alone and in the dark. Pitch Black answers this as it tells the story of the two authors’ – Anthony Horton and Youme Landowne– uncanny friendship.  Landowne, a Brooklyn-based artist, met Horton, a street artist and member of the underground “mole” community, on the platform of a subway stop one day. Both admiring the same piece of art, Horton asked Landowne if she was an artist. “Isn’t everyone?” she replied. From there the two struck up conversation and spent an entire afternoon on the train.

Riding Subway

After inquiring over both his art ability, and life in the tunnels, Horton took Landowne to his underground home, where he spent his time creating murals of people he’d met in his journey, of isolation, and of himself. Upon viewing his art, she asked if he’d like to collaborate with her in sharing his story, thus leading to the creation of Pitch Black.

Depicted through tone appropriate B&W illustrations, Pitch Black is a graphic novel showcasing Horton’s life. From his parents’ abandonment, to the tragic flaws of the social service system, to his eventual dissent into the tunnels, these illustrations coupled with their tiny blocks of dialogue show with haunting substance the ways in which people become lost to society.

I was asked by two nearby passengers what the graphics were telling. Inching closer, the three of us flipped through the images until we reached our perspective stops, a contemplative quietness lingering between us.

There is something raw about each of the graphics in this book. Knowing that each represent Horton’s actual life adds a touch of humanity, and a continuous nagging in the back of your mind that forces you to think about those living in the shadows of society.

He shares, in what is ultimately the most beautiful graphic in the book, the rules of living underground:

Anthony Horton
These depictions leave you feeling shaken, if not squirmy. But that, I think, is the point of his story. While Horton cannot force us to understand what we as the reader have not lived, he and Landowne do a great job of painting us a picture to this lifestyle. The dialogue short and crisp, the story illustrations speak for themselves and tell with remarkable clarity and sadness of what it means to be truly in “pitch black.”

Behind the Book reached out to Landowne last year and brought her to an Eighth Grade classroom at IS 76. Using Horton’s murals for inspiration and his style as a model, students created Black & White poster-sized graphics with their own life rules. At the end of the program, Landowne had the students stand in a circle, silently holding up their artwork, and take three minutes to observe the work of their peers. Initially giggly and unsure, the class eventually quieted as they began to absorb the significance of each other’s art, allowing this project’s meaning to really sink in. Below are a few photos from one of the days Landowne visited the classroom:

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     P1000106

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(Landowne, pictured to the left, along with Behind the Book teaching artist Sara Reynolds, to the right)

A great source of inspiration to the students in classroom IS 76, Behind the Book was happy to work with Landowne, and looks forward to finding other authors with her knack for self-expression. For more information on our programs, feel free to check out our website at www.BehindtheBook.org.

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