The Silence of Our Friends

The Silence of Our Friends

Graphic Novel - 2012
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As the civil rights struggle heats up in Texas, two families-one white, one black-find common ground.

This semi-autobiographical tale is set in 1967 Texas, against the backdrop of the fight for civil rights. A white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood in the suburbs and a black family from its poorest ward cross Houston''s color line, overcoming humiliation, degradation, and violence to win the freedom of five black college students unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman.

The Silence of Our Friends follows events through the point of view of young Mark Long, whose father is a reporter covering the story. Semi-fictionalized, this story has its roots solidly in very real events. With art from the brilliant Nate Powell ( Swallow Me Whole ) bringing the tale to heart-wrenching life, The Silence of Our Friends is a new and important entry in the body of civil rights literature.

The Silence of Our Friends Author Q&A

How much of this book''s story is based on real events?

Mark Long: Creating a book like this one required us to find a balance between factual accuracy and emotional authenticity. Some details as well as names have been changed for storytelling purposes. But the facts are that in 1967 Texas Southern University students began a boycott of classes after the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was banned from campus, and on May 17th they staged a sit down protest on Wheeler Avenue over conditions at the nearby city garbage dump. The protest evolved into an police riot that night when an undercover officer was shot and over 200 officers responded by pouring rifle and machinegun fire into the men''s dormitory. The police later stormed the dormitory and arrested 489 students after a policeman was shot and killed. All but 5 of the students were released the next day. They came to be called the "TSU Five" and were charged with the murder of the slain officer. Only one of the students stood trial in Victoria Texas due to publicity in Houston. His trial ended with the dismissal of all charges against the five when it was discovered that the officer was shot accidentally by another officer.

With the civil rights struggle as a backdrop to the story, how did you balance a contemporary perspective on race with the reality of race issues at the time?

Nate Powell: While visualizing and adapting Mark''s largely autobiographical work on the story, I found myself calling on my own experiences as a kid in Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas in the 1980''s. Though the story takes place in a specific historical framework, many of the attitudes, details, atmospheric elements, and anecdotes were extremely familiar to me -- sometimes too familiar. As the pages progressed, the twenty years between our Southern childhood experiences didn''t seem like much of a difference at all, which was certainly disturbing at times.

There were frequent case-by-case conversations about accurate depictions of racism, the privilege of authorship, and inherent charge carried by racism''s role in the book. Generally speaking, we determined that this was in many ways a brutal story but a very accurate one, and respecting the very real violence carried by certain words and actions allowed us to give them their ugly space in the narrative, for better or for worse.

Is much knowledge of the civil rights movement required?

Mark Long: Everything that pushes the narrative forward is contained within the story''s pages, and a lot of the civil rights and struggle-related content is specific to Houston in 1967-68. It definitely covers what readers might need to know without having expertise on the civil rights movement. Having said that, however, I think readers are rewarded throughout the book as characters are offered windows through which they witness a much more massive social upheaval, framed within the last fewmonths of Dr. Martin Luther King''s too-short life.

There''s no easy way to categorize this book, how would you describe it?

Mark Long: I''d say it''s a culture''s own coming-of-age tale. By that, I mean it''s first and foremost an exploration of shifting boundaries: towns and neighborhoods, friends and families, customs and attitudes all on the threshold of massive (and ongoing) change. The boundaries themselves take on lives of their own at times. In a more traditional sense, it''s also equal parts a story centering on two families'' internal relationships as they find themselves in each other''s orbit, struggle narrative, friendship-betrayal tale, and courtroom drama.

Why choose to tell this story in a graphic format?

Nate Powell: As the story''s climax is dependent on sorting through multiple points of view, it''s appropriate that comics are ideal medium by which to tell a tale with so many lenses. The book offers a pretty intimate view of the world through main characters'' points of view, but bringing the narrative even closer through Mark''s eyes and balancing them all without judgment highlight the strengths of comics storytelling.

Publisher: New York : First Second, c2012
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9781596436183
Characteristics: 198 p. ; 22 cm
Additional Contributors: Demonakos, Jim 1977-


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Apr 23, 2018

The Silence of Our Friends feels like volume 2.5 of John Lewis’ March, mostly owing to Nate Powell’s artwork, who also did the artwork for March. It’s set in the 1960’s in Texas and surrounds a student protest turned riot, where five black students were unjustly charged with killing a police officer. This is a semi-autobiographical exploration of the author’s father’s time as a white reporter, investigating race relations in the area.

If you want to read March vol 2 (and volume 3), do that before you read this because it gives a lot more context to the organisations at the time (such as the SNCC) and other people and movements. Because of course, John Lewis was there in the thick of it. In the second volume of March, he often will introduce a character and then do a few panels explaining who they are, what they stand for, whether they’re radical or not and where they come from and this really helps to inform the rest of the panels, which I think Mark Long’s comic lacked a little bit.

There is some disability representation in there — one of the little girls, Julie, is blind, and I loved seeing her come to life on the page.

I enjoyed the novel overall and found it really easy to read, though unfortunately it did lack a lot of emotional intensity for me. Mark Long’s family is white, which is a factor that he cannot change, of course, but it meant that a lot of the racial violence occurring in his street was happening on either sides of his family. The part I really loved reading was the trial — it was very emotionally tense and compelling and I wish there had been more of it.

Loved Nate Powell’s artwork.

Dec 04, 2013

I found the book interesting for the well-told story and also for the beautiful black and white drawings. I picked the book because I'm interested in stories about civil rights struggles in the 1960s, and it might be a good starting point for anyone who has yet to learn about it. Thanks to the staff at the Main library for putting it on display, that is how I found it!

mondaysomeday Sep 24, 2013

This story is primarily about a white family, and has really enlightening details into events in Houston during the Civil Rights Movement. Yet the author said in an interview that his one regret was that he had "not been able to find Larry [an African American leader] or his children." I wasn't surprised to read that after I finished the book: their perspective is lacking and their lives obviously quite fictionalized.

red_alligator_2472 Jul 04, 2013


sit_walk Feb 25, 2013

While I appreciate what wfbranch says below, this is still an engaging and enlightening read. It's always good to be reminded of the civil rights struggle, not so long ago, and its implications for present day North American society.

wfbranch Aug 18, 2012

As a white person, I question the honesty in the author's portayal of a white character as having been somewhat heroic, but I do know that there were at least some whites who indeed did the right thing during the Civil Rights movement. I know that the artist has also written some of his own books and intend to find some of them.


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red_eagle_336 Jul 09, 2012

red_eagle_336 thinks this title is suitable for 13 years and over


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