Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White is an autobiographical graphic novel written by Lila Quintero Weaver. It was published and is distributed by the University of Alabama Press.

Summary: The book serves as both an autobiography and as a brief second hand account of a tragic event that occurred in 1965 in Marion, Alabama. Lila Quintero moves from Argentina to Marion as a result of her father’s work as a religious figure and language academic. Much of the stories about her life have to do with how other races are treated and the stumbles her younger family members had while adapting to life in the United State’s bible belt. The Quinteros have a unique and privileged position for racial minorities in Marion, as most of the white locals are completely ignorant about the family’s origin and race, and thus, the family doesn’t experience much prejudice while in Marion, as they are for the most part written off as white. In 1965, Lila’s father witnesses a police-incited riot during a Southern Christian Leadership Conference march, which results in the injuries of several innocents and the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson. Much of Lila’s teen years are spent in the company of rights activists and anti-racists. Her academic aspirations escape her in her late teens and she marries young, but as an adult she returns to college and graduated from the same institution that I did for my undergrad, the University of Alabama’s New College.

Visuals: Weaver illustrates the book almost entirely in graphite, which is an approach that I want to take to a novel at some point in my life. The way one draws and sees a face becomes a fitting methodological metaphor for mingling into and understanding other cultures on a social level. Weaver also tries out a number of different ways of doling out information in her illustrations; sometimes including full page spreads of maps or lessons about how to draw. Buildings and humans are drawn in a nearly photo-realistic style. The quality of illustrations isn’t top notch enough to be considered convincing photo-realism, but a book this length could never have been finished if it had.

Themes: Many of the more interesting things about Lila’s young life is her early involvement in the more left leaning and anti-racist groups of people in high school. Namely, she gets a reputation as a “nigger-lover” and in her heart-felt defense of her convictions, some of that moralistic pride goes to her head. She is eventually humbled out of the more haughty and overbearing aspects of her personality through more interaction with her own peer group. The lesson sticks pretty well and is one that well meaning equal rights advocates and overly-helpful types all have to learn eventually: that we can’t solve everything and that while institutional oppression can be fought dead on, interpersonal issues between individuals are far more complicated and our interference is not always going to be appreciated or needed.

Overall: I’ve been looking forward to reading this book because it was written by someone from my local area and I went to undergrad with one of the author’s daughters. I’m glad to say that I wasn’t disappointed in the slightest and that the often times frank recounting of experiences with both racism and in this unique case, ignorance about race, was enlightening, as I’ll never experience the same things.

Darkroom on Amazon

Darkroom: A Memoir in Black and White