7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #714: Featuring James Otis Smith

h1 October 25th, 2020 by jules


Black Heroes of the Wild West: Featuring Stagecoach Mary, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons, released by Toon Graphics last month, is the first book that James Otis Smith has both written and illustrated. It’s a book that shines a light on Stagecoach Mary, Bass Reeves, and Bob Lemmons—in three separate sets of comics. But there’s also a good deal of additional information provided, particularly in the book’s detailed backmatter. It all adds up to a book that gives readers a perspective on U.S. history that is not often seen and spotlights Black figures in history that have been routinely overlooked. The caption for the painting A Dash for the Timber (1889), which is included in the book’s introduction, says it all: ” … [R]enowned painter of the West Frederic S. Remington shows cowboys as a group of white men. In fact, a large number were Mexican or Native American, and as many as one-third were African American.”

The introduction is written by Caldecott Medalist Kadir Nelson: “It’s time that we hear every American’s story: from every background and creed, we’ve all worked together to weave the grand tapestry of America.” This is followed by the first chapter, all about Mary Fields, aka “Stagecoach Mary.” The heart-stopping, adventurous first two spreads of this comic are the best possible way to kick things off. Smith uses light and shadow to dramatic effect. In this comic, which follows Mary through the years (her adult years), readers leran her fascinating story.



Chapter two focuses on Bass Reeves, and the pace changes in a signficant way. Here, we see merely one small snapshot of Reeves’s life, one arrest he made and the clever way in which he worked. The final chapter on Bob Lemmons takes a particular focus on the unusual (and more humane, comparatively speaking) way he corraled a herd of mustangs.

Smith’s comics are dominated throughout by an earth-toned palette, and he manages to capture the humanity of each subject, while at the same time giving the entire book the “hero” vibe promised in the title. (Stagecoach Mary holds her own against a pack of wolves; Bass Reeves rides his horse off into the sunset, two captured criminals on the horse at his side; and a young Bob Lemmons corrals—”BADUM, BADUM, BADUM”—some mustangs.)

The detailed historical backmatter includes information about the ways in which the cowboy lifestyle has been glamorized in Hollywood and how it was much more diverse than the stereotypes we have traditionally seen; the Mexican origins of cowboys; cattle drives and railroads; how barbed wire brought an end to the Old West era; Native Americans and Black Indians; and much, much more. The book includes photographs (you will see some below), paintings from the 1800s, a timeline, and a bibliography for further reading.

Here are some more spreads from the book. …


(Click image to see spread from which it comes)



“She took on all the men’s jobs,
but her great passion was attending to the kids.”

(Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety)



Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety



“If we can’t beat him at cards, we’ll see how it goes with guns.”
(Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety)



“My name is Deputy US Marshal Bass Reeves. …”
(Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety)



“So if Bob Lemmons wanted to corral a herd …
all that he had to do … was to become a horse.”

(Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety)



“Bob was just as attentive at night as by day. …”
(Two images above: Click either one to see spread in its entirety)


The book’s introduction, written by Kadir Nelson
(Click to enlarge)


A backmatter spread
(Click to enlarge)


(Click cover to enlarge)


Here is the September 2020 chat between Betsy Bird and James Otis Smith:



BLACK HEROES OF THE WILD WEST. Copyright © 2020 by James Otis Smith & TOON Books. All images here reproduced by permission of the publisher, TOON Books, an imprint of RAW Junior, LLC., New York, NY.

Note for any new readers: 7-Imp’s 7 Kicks is a weekly meeting ground for taking some time to reflect on Seven(ish) Exceptionally Fabulous, Beautiful, Interesting, Hilarious, or Otherwise Positive Noteworthy Things from the past week, whether book-related or not, that happened to you. New kickers are always welcome.

* * * Jules’s Kicks * * *

1) Walks.

2) Still enjoying the virtual celebration of the 2020 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards.

3) The theremin is 100 years old this year. See “Clair de Lune,” performed by Grégoire Blanc and Orane Donnadieu:



4) Seeing anti-racist work in action.

5) Plans to see the Cheekwood Chihuly exhibit at night.

6) Nearly done with one of the two classes I’m taking this semester.

7) Keeping up with work this week.

What are YOUR kicks this week?

7 comments to “7-Imp’s 7 Kicks #714: Featuring James Otis Smith”

  1. I am so happy to see this book published. It is so needed in schools. I’ve always found the little known stories more interesting. The graphic format is going to be a hit with many readers.
    Jules, walks and Chihuly! And classes, I love that.
    My kicks:
    1. Yosemite. The fist day was gorgeous, second day the smoke arrived from the California fires still at play.
    2. A California black bear in a meadow.
    3. Overnight with daughter and grands.
    4. Meet up with writing friends over Zoom.
    5. Great convo with oldest grand.
    6. Returning home. (love travel, love returning)
    7. The crisp fall air.
    Have a great week.

  2. Good afternoon, Imps!

    Congrats, James Otis Smith! Thank you for sharing your work with us.

    Jules: Theremins are magic. I’m glad that folks are continuing to create and celebrate virtually. Have fun with your classes!

    Jone: Hello to the bear – and your relatives, of course!

    My kicks from the past week:
    1) Good work
    2) Results
    3) Responses
    4) Rest
    5) Reminders
    6) Pacing myself
    7) Okay

  3. This book is amazing. I love the way it combines the illustrations with photographs and maps to tell these important stories. History that we need more of in our schools.

    Jules – yay for walks and keeping up with work during these strange days. I share your joy of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards as I was thrilled to see that Ashley Bryan’s INFINITE HOPE won in the non-fiction category. That book was a favorite of mine this year.

    Jone – how lucky to see a black bear! Loved your photos of Yosemite. We’ve definitely taken that sharp turn into colder fall weather.

    Little Willow – hooray for Rest and Results!

    My kicks this week:
    1) Read “The King of Crows” by Libba Bray, the last book in the Diviners series and really enjoyed it. It was comforting to journey with familiar characters.
    2) First trip to a salon since pre-pandemic – all safety precautions observed – and it felt so good to get my hair
    professionally done. Didn’t realize how much I needed that mental health boost.
    3) Got some much-needed home improvements/repairs done. Another mood booster.
    4) Baked chocolate muffins and gave them to friends and neighbors.
    5) Did slate card canvassing in my neighborhood yesterday. Fun to chat with people excited to tell me that they’d voted, or that they would be voting that day.
    6) Seeing all the incredible Halloween decorations in the neighborhood – some really elaborate and scary decorations are out there.
    7) Getting letters in the mail from pen pals.
    7.5) Daisy being sweeter and more cuddly than usual because of the colder weather.

    Have a great week imps!

  4. Jone, WOW, still smoke from the fires! …. I’m glad you had a good trip and a good week with family.

    LW: I got a theremin for Christmas last year and still haven’t learned it. BUT I WILL! Rest. Pacing yourself. Good reminders.

    Rachel, I love the interview with Ashley that Roger did. Have to laugh about the audio going out. … And I saw your photo on social media. LOVE THE HAIR! (Mine hasn’t been this long since high school, and I gotta get it trimmed. I have total pandemic hair.) Love that fifth kick. Hugs to Daisy, as always.

    Have a good week, you all!

  5. So fun to be here, even if I am a day late. I just ordered this book to read. The first I heard about Bass Reeves was when I read the 2006 Gary Paulsen book about him. Gary Paulsen is always ahead of the times. A mention about Sally Hemings in his book Nightjohn, I think, sent me on a quest to learn everything I could about her. She was missing from every US textbook I read in school.

    Jules: Walks, Claire de Lune and classes you are taking are huge pluses.
    Jone: I have loved seeing all your travel photos. And I agree returning home is the best.
    Little Willow: Pacing yourself is simply wonderful, but never easy.
    Rachel: The baked chocolate muffins sound like delicious comfort food. To give them away is generous and kind.

    My kicks:
    1. Dahlias still blooming
    2. Hydrangea leaves on one variety as gorgeous shades of purple
    3. Hooting owls at night
    4. Huge line of geese in a V
    5. Found courage to let people into my home to help with a too many mice inside problem
    6. Mulan provides humor
    7. Mulan keeps me safe

    Have a super week everyone.

  6. The nephews are getting older, so choosing books for them that are both fun and educational isn’t harder exactly, just shifting… but these stories in graphic format fit the bill and look amazing!!

  7. Margie: Love these mostly outdoor kicks. I can see the dahlias in my head. Hugs to Mulan, as always.

    Tanita: If you get it, hope they like it!

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