Writer: Peter Calloway
Illustrator: Georges Jeanty
WHAT IS IT?
During Prohibition-era Chicago, a talented Black doctor hindered by racism seeks alternate, perilous income-earning methods in this historical thriller.
Combine the pre-antibiotics, early 1900s time period plot of the short-lived HBO show The Knick with the gangster aspects of Boardwalk Empire.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
In an early 1930s Chicago reeling from the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the Depression, Black med-school graduate Nathaniel Calloway has all the credentials to enter the medical field. Unfortunately, one minor issue prevents Nat from receiving a bank loan or employment as a doctor; the color of his skin.
Opening with a flashback vignette about the animal kingdom's desperation for food and survival, writer Peter Calloway uses this motif to biographically relate the true story of his grandfather, Nat Calloway. Manipulation and corruption lie inside the seedy underbelly of an impoverished, racially segregated Chicago in 1931. Turned away at every corner for an outside factor he can't control, what will Black doctor Nat do to merely survive?
Peter Calloway relates his grandfather's experience with unfiltered and unbiased honesty. Sure, Calloway may be taking necessary liberties to explain minor details and exact conversations, but the comic paints Nat as both undeserving of his situation, yet a flawed individual who knows the consequences of his actions.
Eisner award-winning artist Georges Jeanty uses wobbly, soft inks with a lack of solid lines. Readers feel like they're walking right alongside a moment in time with Nat, remembering important faces and forgetting the exact appearance of individuals in a crowd in wide-pan panels.
Colorist Juancho! (Juan Ignacio Vélez) washes the comic in a gritty, watercolor look that sumptuously distinguishes that 1930s-era ambiance.
Sound effect and gentle lettering work is phenomenally supplied by Charles Pritchett. Particularly, the domineering, interconnected SFX running across the tops of each panel in the shootout forcefully depicts the horror of the diegetic moment.
Faces and large groups of people often appear slightly out of focus and murky while the narration is framed as a personal story being recalled by 1970s Nat. The looseness of Jeanty's lines reflects how memory can fragment and fade over time.
Readers visually witness an older Nat dying of cancer, obviously cognizant of the mental and physical repercussions of his lifestyle choices. This plot device strengthens the story's emotional crux of portraying Nat as a poverty-stricken man impeded by racism.
When Nat enters the hotel, panels of thriving, upper-class people appear brightly lit, and Nat's vividly green overcoat signifies his thematic divergence from the grimy Chicago streets.
Pritchett's setting text are reminiscent of superimposed text in a film. His time indicators align with the retro, cinematic atmosphere of the artwork.
Shadow Doctor feels personal in a comforting way, despite the uncomfortable narrative. It's like we are sitting in that 1970s hospital room, listening to a harsh legacy story about the formative years of Nat's tumultuous life.
The gradual build-up to the final reveal is powerfully executed.
The dialogue is full of resonant moments, but this quote captures the catalytic moment of Nat's character arc in Shadow Doctor #1: "It wasn't personal. No, no, God no, not personal. It was only the color of my skin."
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
There're a few instances of repeated panels with only slight deviations that could have been tackled more ambitiously. The dramatic effect in these panels are somewhat present through the repetition, but do not quite succeed in matching the narrative tone.
A couple times, the coloring isn't natural to the time period. Most noticeably, the 1930s hospital scene comes off as uncharacteristically bright when a more dismal palette would have been expected to convey the tone.
Content Warning: Language is used as a narrative reflection of the racist time period.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
American history is its own horror story, but whitewashing the narrative has overshadowed much of its truth. Shadow Doctor #1 subverts that narrative and entrenches readers in an often glossed-over part of the Depression-era North. Racism and segregation still permeated Chicago in the 1930s, as evidenced by Nat Calloway's savagely personal experience.
Shadow Doctor #1 teaches an unhinged history lesson about a Black doctor suffering from prejudice, driven to the wolves' den. Readers will be submerged in character-driven action during this compelling drama based on true events.
This audacious and authentic comic about race, class, and identity promises to deliver an engrossing take on life in Gangster-era Chicago. You'll finish reading Shadow Doctor #1 and immediately crave the next issue of Nat's heartbreaking story.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Gotham City Sirens Vol. 2 by Peter Calloway & Andres Guinaldo
The Last Space Race by Peter Calloway & Alexandre Shibao
Black Cotton by Brian Hawkins, Patrick Foreman, & Marco Perugini
If you like the art:
The American Way by John Ridley & Georges Jeanty
Gambit: Thieves' World by John Layman, Jai Nitz, Jeorges Jeanty, & Roger Robinson
Scout's Honor by David Pepose & Luca Casalanguida
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Peter Calloway – Writer (@PeteCalloway)
Multitalented: He is a television, movie, and comic writer, and has produced several television shows. Famously, he wrote teleplays for American Gods, Legion, and Marvel's Cloak and Dagger.
Prolific: Writer for many indie comics and DC Comics titles like Batman, Gotham City Sirens and Joker's Asylum.
Lives in Los Angeles, California.
Georges Jeanty – Illustrator (@KabaLounge)
Prolific: He is a comic book illustrator known for his work at DC Comics, Marvel, and titles like The American Way and its sequel series.
Award Winner: Popularly known for his work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight from Dark Horse comics. The acclaimed series received an Eisner Award nomination for Best New Series, a GLAAD Media Award, and was featured on The New York Times Graphic Books Best Seller List.
Raised in Miami Beach, Florida and currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Juancho! (Juan Ignacio Vélez) – Colorist
He is a comic book colorist and illustrator, and a graduate of Kubert School.
He has worked as a colorist across the globe, his talents appearing in titles like Batman Detective Comics #19 and AfterShock title, Animosity.
Outlander: Born in Bogotá, Colombia and currently resides in Barcelona, Spain.
Charles Pritchett – Letterer & Backmatter Designer
He has lettered comics for major companies like Image, IDW, and Top Shelf.
His lettering skills appear in several AfterShock Comics titles, like Oberon, Dead Day, Relay, and Shock.
Outlander: Born and raised in Canada.
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