The Beat caught up with the writer and illustrator of the new graphic novel.
In the nonfiction graphic novel Who Sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott?: Rosa Parks by Insha Fitzpatrick and Abelle Hayford, with colors by Hanna Schroy, which is available now at your local comic shop and/or public library, readers of all ages can find a nuanced and informative examination of the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the important role that Rosa Parks played in the watershed event.
To find out more about Who Sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott?: Rosa Parks, The Beat caught up with Fitzpatrick and Hayford over email. We asked all about researching Parks and the Boycott, what it was like to see an excerpt of the title included as an issue among 2021’s Free Comic Book Day offerings, and to ask all about both horror movies and #DrawingWhileBlack!
AVERY KAPLAN: How did you come to be involved with Who Sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott?: Rosa Parks?
INSHA FITZPATRICK: The awesome people from Who HQ reached out and asked if I wanted to be involved. Of course, you’re absolutely not going to turn down Who HQ, so I met my editor (forever grateful to her), and we got started making some magic!
ABELLE HAYFORD: When I was a kid I used to always read the original Who Was? series, so when Who HQ reached out I was both excited and nervous; it was the first graphic novel I ever worked on, and it was about Rosa Parks of all people! However, I’m extremely grateful I got the chance to work on this project with such a talented writer like Insha, who made it easier.
KAPLAN: While most people are familiar with the basics of the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, this graphic novel digs deeper into the details. Is there any particular detail in the story that you think readers will be especially surprised to learn?
FITZPATRICK: I think people will be surprised about just how many people were involved with the Boycott. Rosa lit the spark, and she’s a massive part of why the Boycott was set into motion, but it was amazing to see how the community rallied around her. I think people will be surprised to learn about the efforts of a community coming together, and lesser-known but still incredible Black people working together to create change, like E.D. Nixon, Chapter Leader of the NAACP, and the members of the Montgomery Improvement Association!
HAYFORD: I was also surprised how history doesn’t emphasize Rosa Park’s support network, especially her mother Leona and husband Raymond (who our story opens on). I think when we often look at historical figures, we take an individualist perspective to celebrate them as much as possible. However, I think Who Sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott truly emphasizes that it’s okay to rely on your loved ones and community for support and guidance.
KAPLAN: When my spouse was working Free Comic Book Day in 2021, he noticed that a lot of teachers were asking about this series! Did you see this FCBD edition of your comic? Have you heard anything from educators about the response to this comic yet?
FITZPATRICK: Oh wow, that’s so lovely to hear! I did! I went to Free Comic Book Day and had to pretend I wasn’t going to cry at any moment in line. Many of my friends are librarians, and they’ve been getting great positive feedback from the kids about Rosa that hits the heart.
HAYFORD: I’m so honored that teachers and students are excited to read the series! It was my first time being a part of FCBD, so I was super nervous about the reception with all the other talent on display. On the day though, I had a lot of people mention they saw the book at their local stores and libraries, which is such a huge honor!
KAPLAN: How did you approach adapting this important historical story into a script for a graphic narrative? Were there any key sources or moments for your research?
FITZPATRICK: A TON of research. More research than I thought I could read. I knew I wanted to cover Rosa’s arrest but also knew that there was so much else waiting to be discovered. With the help of my fantastic editor, we knew we wanted to approach this narrative from Rosa’s perspective. What was this like for her? What could she have been feeling? Two critical resources for my research were Rosa Parks’ book itself, Rosa Parks: My Story and Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman – stunning books that add new layers to the Boycott.
KAPLAN: I notice that this graphic novel tackles the events surrounding Rosa Parks from a more legal perspective than some accounts of the event. Was this an intentional decision? Why is it important to understand the practical legalities regarding the Montgomery Bus Boycott?
FITZPATRICK: When I first got started, I knew that I wanted to cover Rosa’s arrest and the community efforts around the Boycott. However, the legal proceedings didn’t play in my mind until I dove deeper into the research. I wanted people to understand how a spark from an idea has to go through so much to get accomplished. The legal proceedings are heavy for Rosa, the community, and everyone involved. I think showing that step-by-step, from her getting out of jail to her courtroom scenes into getting a brand new bill passed, is so essential for educating the next generation of changemakers. I think it’s also important to highlight that sometimes injustice can lead to justice with enough community effort.
KAPLAN: Insha, can you tell us about a spooky movie you saw recently that you enjoyed? What is one of your all-time favorite spooky movies?
FITZPATRICK: That’s a good question! It’s not a movie, but recently I finished binge-watching (for the second time) Yellowjackets on Showtime. If you’re into outstanding character evolution, eerie storytelling, a killer soundtrack, and an insane premise that will knock your head off, I highly recommend it!
As for my all-time favorite spooky movie, I can’t just choose one! That’s like picking your favorite kid! I could talk about Peeping Tom, Psycho, and Midsommar all day; I even have tattoos of them, so those are my all-time favorites!
KAPLAN: What was it like depicting important historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks? Did you have a particular source you used as a basis?
HAYFORD: Getting the chance to depict both iconic historical figures was both an honor and an intimidating experience. While a graphic novel involves a more simplified and cartoonish style than photo-realism, you still have to make everyone distinguishable to the average reader. I constantly looked at references, and did character studies, in order to achieve that distinction.
KAPLAN: How does drawing nonfiction people compare with drawing fictional characters (if there is a substantive difference)?
HAYFORD: I think drawing nonfictional characters is definitely more of a challenge. You have to make sure you accurately depict them without losing your stylization. However it is always so rewarding when someone looks at a portrait you drew and says, ”Hey, I recognize that person!”
KAPLAN: Abelle, can you tell us a little bit about the viral #DrawingWhileBlack hashtag you organized? What was that experience like?
HAYFORD: Yes! When I started #DrawingWhileBlack in 2017, I wanted to highlight the amazing work made by black folks around the world, and give them the flowers they truly deserve. I also wanted to provide resources and community in hopes of getting more artists to find work and invest in their practice. This led to the creation of the #DrawingWhileBlack Directory in 2019, and a Grant Program In 2022!
#DrawingWhileBlack is not only a way to find new talent, but for black artists to connect with other artists as well! I have met such amazing friends and colleagues who I’m excited to work with in the future.
KAPLAN: Is there anything else you’d like me to include?
FITZPATRICK: If you haven’t already, check out the rest of the Who HQ graphic novels! They’re so beautiful, and the teams are phenomenal.
HAYFORD: Yes, please check out the rest of the series! It’s so cool seeing each talented team bring their unique perspective to each historical figure. They’re all amazing and it’s been an honor to work with Insha and the rest of the Who HQ team!
Have you had a chance to check out Who Sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott?: Rosa Parks, or any of the other Who HQ graphic novels? The Beat wants to hear from you! Let us know, either here in the comment section or over on social media @comicsbeat.
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