January 25, 2023By Christine Pasalo Norland

Where I'm Coming From, Then and Now

Barbara Brandon-Croft made history in 1991 with the mainstream syndication of Where I'm Coming From, her comic strip that ran until 2005 and centers the friendships, conversations, and interests of nine diverse, fictional Black women.


In signing with Universal Press Syndicate, Brandon-Croft became the first Black woman cartoonist to be published in the mainstream press. The comic strip reached national and international audiences: At its height, Where I'm Coming From appeared in newspapers in over 60 U.S. cities as well as in publications in Jamaica and South Africa.


Brandon-Croft's achievement also made her and her father, the late cartoonist Brumsic Brandon, Jr., the first father and daughter cartoonists in history to not only be nationally syndicated in the mainstream press, but to be published through different mainstream syndicates: Brandon, Jr.'s comic strip Luther was first syndicated by Newsday Specials, followed by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.


It's been 30 years since Brandon-Croft's comic strips have been collected in a book available to the world. I had a chance to read the forthcoming book published by Drawn & Quarterly. Here's why I think Where I'm Coming From is a must-have for your TBR and collector's shelf.

Photo of Barbara Brandon-Croft, next to close-up photo of the book title on the book cover.

LEFT: THE ARTIST BARBARA BRANDON-CROFT. RIGHT: TITLE AND BYLINE AS IT APPEARS ON THE COVER OF THE NEW COLLECTED WORKS.

1. OVER 275 WORKS ARE FEATURED, INCLUDING RECENT COMICS NEVER-BEFORE PUBLISHED IN PRINT.


The first seven pages of the book feature 14 comics strips, (re)acquainting us with the comic strip's cast—Cheryl, Nicole, Jackie, Lydia, Judy, Alisha, Lekesia, Monica, and Sonyabefore we hit the book's title page. For readers eager to get to the comics before any introductions or forewords, it's a wonderfully generous way to open the collection.


Overall, the book includes:

  • 260+ strips from the comic's syndicated run;

  • doodles by Brandon-Croft exploring different facial expressions, hairstyles, and angles of talking heads;

  • an early version of Where I'm Coming From as originally pitched to Marie Brown in 1983 for the start-up magazine Elan; and,

  • 16 of the 40+ comics that Brandon-Croft self-published on her official Facebook and Instagram feeds between 2016–2022.

2. THE COMICS ARE STILL RELEVANT.


You will catch yourself nodding, laughing out loud, and wanting to immediately share selections with others around you because, even though most of Where I'm Coming From was originally created during the 1990s, the commentary still hits. We know someone like Jackie, who is perpetually in an on-again/off-again relationship with the same person. Many of us can relate to the microaggressions Lekesia experiences at work. We were (or still are) Nicole, who struggles to balance having a good time with managing time and funds. Those of us who are parents or caretakers know the devotion and need for a break exemplified in Lydia.


"I think I'm a Cheryl sun, a Judy moon, and Lekesia rising," says nonbinary cartoonist Bianca Xunise in their blurb listed on the book's back cover. "Whoever you identify with, Brandon-Croft knows how to build characters that have such realness they feel like people you know. The topics are so candid and timeless it feels impossible that many of these stories were written over thirty years ago."

3. BRANDON-CROFT'S PITCH LETTER TO THE SYNDICATES IS FIRE.


Four archived letters are shared in the book, one of which is the pitch letter Brandon-Croft sent with press kits to a number of syndicate editors between 1989–1990 after having published in the Detroit Free Press from June 11, 1989. And what a letter!


"I'm sure you'll agree, the integration of the comic pages was long in coming," wrote Brandon-Croft after introducing Where I'm Coming From as a "weekly comic strip featuring Black women and created by a Black woman." We should all write pitch and cover letters as clear and uncoded.


At the time Brandon-Croft began pitching syndicates, it had been 100 years since the first newspaper cartoons were published by Joseph Pulitzer in his newspaper The New World, and 33 years since the last edition of Jackie Ormes' Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger was published in the Pittsburgh Courier, a notable Black newspaper. Yes, it was past due for mainstream newspapers to make room for a comic strip highlighting Black women by a Black woman.


"It's the '90s and I'm optimistic," wrote Brandon-Croft towards the end of the letter before stating that she hoped "racial and sexual attitudes have matured to a point" where gatekeepers of the mainstream press "recognize the need for social commentary from the Black female perspective."


Kudos to Lee Salem, Editorial Director at the Universal Press Syndicate in 1990, for recognizing that Brandon-Croft was right and for giving her the space to create without compromise.

4. REBECCA WANZO EXPLAINS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WHERE I'M COMING FROM IN HER CONTRIBUTED ESSAY "SYNDICATED SISTERHOOD."


A professor of the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, Wanzo does us a service by explaining the historical context of Where I'm Coming From in art, media, and culture, and the importance of it being created by Brandon-Croft.


Wanzo frames the impact of Brandon-Croft illustrating a cast of Black women who are, as she writes, "by no means a homogenous group" during a period that also gave us such television shows as Living Single and such books and films as Waiting to Exhale. To provide added context, Wanzo calls on the wider history of Black comics originally published in the Black press as well as the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s to make the valid case that Where I'm Coming From deserves equal consideration in discourses of Black art.


Give me more comics collections that include essays like Wanzo's. Such contributions give us immediate access to a deeper appreciation of the work in our hands.

5. WE HEAR FROM BRANDON-CROFT HERSELF.


Included are two essays from the history-making Brooklyn, New York, native: One titled "Where I'm Coming From" that's republished from the December 1992 issue of Cartoonist Profiles, and the other titled "Where I'm Coming From Now" written for this book.


Through her own words and personal photos, we learn how and where Brandon-Croft originally worked out her ideas for the comic strip in 1981, how it was at the encouragement of her father in 1988 that she considered publishing the cartoon in the Detroit Free Press, how some syndicates in 1990 cited the existence of Cathy by cartoonist Cathy Guisewite as their reason to pass on Where I'm Coming From, what she moved onto after syndication ended in 2005, how meeting curator Tara Nakashima Donahue reminded her that Where I'm Coming From still resonates, and how the 2016 election compelled Brandon-Croft to start cartooning again.


"All the fear, rage, disbelief was bubbling up inside of me," writes Brandon-Croft in "Where I'm Coming From Now" about why she came back to cartooning in 2016. "I had to get it out."


Since then, Brandon-Croft has occasionally taken to Facebook and Instagram to post a new cartoon in response to a current event that moves her to create (her most recent cartoon was posted on October 30, 2022 in the lead up to the mid-term elections). It's a feat for the self-proclaimed "technophobe," but a welcome one.


"It's not healthy keeping so much locked inside," she writes.


• • •


Where I'm Coming From by Barbara Brandon-Croft releases on February 6, 2023 from Drawn & Quarterly.


Tune in to the Drawn & Quarterly Instagram account on February 7, 2023 at 12:00 p.m. EST for "At Home with Barbara Brandon-Croft," an Instagram Live conversation with Barbara Brandon-Croft. To attend the free event, follow Drawn & Quarterly (@drawnandquarterly) on Instagram, and tap on their profile photo when it shows they've gone live.

Photo of the book Where I'm Coming From on a dark table. The book cover is in tones of black, white, yellow, and red.

WHERE I'M COMING FROM BY BARBARA BRANDON-CROFT. PUBLISHED BY DRAWN & QUARTERLY. AVAILABLE FEBRUARY 6, 2023.

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TAGS: ART NEWS, HISTORY

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