Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Ole Miss Alumnus Says Comics Can Teach Journalists Life Lessons

By Mary Boyte

Journalism student

Photo courtesy jesseholland.com

The projector displays a picture. A handful of plucky journalism students smile at the camera. One of them is Jesse Holland, now an accomplished journalist and author. 

The picture is of The Daily Mississippian staff in 1994. A new group of journalism students sit in the Overby Auditorium and gaze at it, hoping to follow a path similar to Holland’s.

Holland’s voice comes through the speaker.

“My roots at Ole Miss go deep.”

Holland shares his journey. 

He was the first African American to cover the Supreme Court full-time for the “Associated Press.”

He is the author of “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther”?

He is a professor at the George Washington University. 

But first, he was a little boy with an intense love of comic books, living on a family farm just outside of Holly Springs. 

Holland brought his passion for comic books onto the Ole Miss campus in the late ’80s.

Almost every Wednesday, he could be found driving to Memphis to be the first in line for the new comic books released at 1 p.m.

As editor of The Daily Mississippian, he started a comic strip called “Hippie and the Black Guy.”

The strip was a commentary on race relations Holland observed on campus. He noticed two main groups left out of Greek life: Hippies and black guys. “The Hippie and the Black Guy” comic strip was his way to express this disconnect in a way that would not have been possible on a more formal platform. 

“We poked fun at everyone we could find,” he said. 

The strip ran for five years, even after Holland graduated. 

Holland still considers it to be the best thing he’s ever done. He often jokes about getting back together with his co-writers and create a “Hippie and the Black Guy” revival.

His obsession with comic books followed him into his budding journalism career. 

He got a serious job working as a reporter for the Associated Press, but comic books always sat forefront in his mind. 

In 2016, he had an opportunity to fulfill every comic book enthusiast’s dream.

Holland was approached by Marvel to write a book detailing the background of the Black Panther to coincide with its new movie. 

He wrote two books based on the comic. The first was “Black Panther: Who is the Black Panther?” It details the life of the Black Panther, mostly from Holland’s own knowledge of the character. 

A glowing review of the novel states, “When Ta-Nahesi Coates finishes his run on the current Black Panther comic, maybe Marvel should hire Jesse Holland to continue the adventures of King T’Challa. He’d be in good hands.”

Afterward, Holland worked with other comic book enthusiasts to edit an anthology novel, “Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda”.

Holland wants to spread a message. Comic books aren’t just for kids. They can teach us lessons, especially journalists. 

“You can learn lessons from them. You can teach lessons through them,” Holland said. 

He points back to two superheroes who everyone knows: Spiderman and Superman.

Both of these superheroes play the role of journalist in their alter-ego daily lives. 

These mighty men are not always the best journalists. In fact, they continually violate the journalism code of ethics, Holland said. 

Peter Parker got his position at the Daily Bugle by staging pictures of himself as Spiderman. He even used photoshop to edit the photos. 

Clark Kent writes stories for the Daily Planet about Superman, never revealing his compromised relationship with the superhero. 

Both superheroes get fired for their indiscretions. 

Holland claims that young journalists can take lessons from the mistakes of Peter Parker and Clark Kent. 

“Journalism ethics are real, and they have to be honored,” Holland said. “As journalists, we have nothing other than our good names. And once we lose those good names as journalists, you are then no longer useful to any news organization.”

He now writes two comic strips for “D.C. Comics.” One is centered on Clark Kent as he battles deadlines and other real-world issues that journalists deal with daily. 

The other is called “Heritage.” It details Holland’s childhood on a Mississippi farm. 

Decades later, that comic book-obsessed farm boy is the star of his own strip. 

He encourages students to share his love of comics and the lessons they teach.