Graphic novels depicting actual events can be incredibly successful or dismal failures. In the case of The Silence of Our Friends, happily, the former is true. This semi-autobiographical story of the race tensions and riots in 1968 Houston deals with events largely unknown or forgotten. In the months before the demonstrations in and around Texas Southern University began, co-author Mark Long’s father had moved his family from San Antonio to Houston. Jack Long’s career was that of an on-the-scene reporter for a local TV station’s news department. To get a more accurate perspective of the situation, Jack Long befriended an African-American man, Larry Thompson and both families tentatively got to know each other. As the movement grew more heated, a deadly riot broke out on campus and both Jack Long and Larry Thompson found themselves in the middle of a murder trial. A well-known quote of Martin Luther King, Jr. is the source of the work’s title: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
A great benefit to the format of the graphic novel is retelling a story of this nature in a new, evocative manner. Eisner-Award winner Nate Powell’s flowing line drawings capture the era, and add to the storyline. In particular, Long’s recollections of his family’s internal issues are captured in the images if not directly confronted in the text. The words pull no punches with the overt racist attitudes of the day, including uncomfortable language. This book is highly recommended to readers interested in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s and those who are looking to better understand the value of the graphic format.