John Jennings, cartoonist, designer, and graphic novelist, joined writer Damian Duffy to transform Octavia Butler’s science-fiction classic “Kindred” into a graphic novel. That is the Institute of Contemporary Art’s selection for its annual reading program, ICA Reads. Jennings, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, is on a fellowship at Harvard University for the semester. He and Duffy will speak about the book at the ICA at 7 p.m. on May 4.
BOOKS: What are you reading?
JENNINGS: I’m into writing horror short stories so right now I’m reading “Ghost Summer” by the African-American writer Tananarive Due. It’s an anthology of short stories that are based in this town in Florida where strange things are happening. I’m also reading Stephen King’s “The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.” I’ve also been reading comic books too, like “Harrow County” by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook and “The Black Monday Murders” by Jonathan Hickman and Tomm Coker. Hickman also wrote “East of West.”
BOOKS: How did you get interested in horror fiction originally?
JENNINGS: First thing I ever read was Edgar Allan Poe. My mom was an English major, so she had collections of horror and sci-fi. In some ways it comforts me because it reminds me of my mom. As a kid, I also read Greek, Egyptian, and Norse mythology. Then when I saw “The Mighty Thor,’’ to me, it was like the stuff I was already reading.
BOOKS: Which are your favorite Poe works?
JENNINGS: My favorite poem is “Eldorado,” which I have committed to memory. As far as stories there are so many that are so good. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is such a classic. It talks about how guilt gets the best of you and how unnatural it is to hurt each other.
BOOKS: Are there any other horror novelists you wish were better known?
JENNINGS: Due definitely. She is phenomenal. She and her husband, Stephen Barnes, are my favorite writers. Brandon Massey does some great horror pieces.
BOOKS: What would you recommend to an adult reader new to comic books?
JENNINGS: The obvious choice is “Maus” by Art Spiegelman. Once I was seeing this young lady who’d not read comics before, and I gave her copy of “The Locksmith” by Terrance Grave and Silvio Db. It blew her mind. Another is “Why I Hate Saturn” by Kyle Baker, which is a wonderful graphic novel, and anything by Darwyn Cooke, such as his adaptations of the Parker novels by Richard Stark.
BOOKS: What other books would you like to see made into graphic novels?
JENNINGS: I wonder if it makes more sense to just create new graphic novels. I don’t like graphic novels being considered a gateway into reading books. Having said that, I would love to see “Who Fears Death” by Nnedi Okorafor made into a graphic novel. That book totally displaces what we think of as science fiction because it’s set in post apocalyptic sub-Saharan Africa. A lot of time we think of a dystopian world as a very homogenous space. So the idea of a black person living in that kind of fictional future is a radical idea.
BOOKS: Do you read biographies of comic artists?
‘I don’t like graphic novels being considered a gateway into reading books.’
JENNINGS: I need to do more of that. There’s a new one by Michael Tisserand about George Herriman, who drew Krazy Kat. It’s about being a man of color but passing for white. The last one I read was Nancy Goldstein’s biography of Jackie Ormes, the first black comic artist to be syndicated. I did read Charles Hatfield’s “Hand of Fire” about Jack Kirby. I liked it a lot, but it was more about Hatfield’s aesthetics.
BOOKS: Do you think comic books get enough respect as literature?
JENNINGS: Probably not. Due to some of the weird history around comics in our country people still think of them as being for kids or for people who are not that smart or as a way to trick people into reading real books. It’s a disservice to the medium. We have this shortsighted view of what reading is.