An auspicious debut examining the culture of hair from the Rona Jaffe Foundation award-winning cartoonist
Hot Comb offers a poignant glimpse into Black women’s lives and coming of age stories as seen across a crowded, ammonia-scented hair salon while ladies gossip and bond over the burn. The titular story “Hot Comb” is about a young girl’s first perm—a doomed ploy to look cool and to stop seeming “too white” in the all-black neighborhood her family has just moved to. In “Virgin Hair” taunts of “tender-headed” sting as much as the perm itself. It’s a scenario that repeats fifteen years later as an adult when, tired of the maintenance, Flowers shaves her head only to be hurled new put-downs. The story “My Lil Sister Lena” traces the stress resulting from being the only black player on a white softball team. Her hair is the team curio, an object to touched, a subject to be discussed and debated at the will of her teammates, leading Lena to develop an anxiety disorder of pulling her own hair out. Among the series of cultural touchpoints that make you both laugh and cry, Flowers recreates classic magazine ads idealizing women’s needs for hair relaxers and product. “Change your hair form to fit your life form” and “Kinks and Koils Forever” call customers from the page.
Realizations about race, class, and the imperfections of identity swirl through Flowers’ stories and ads, which are by turns sweet, insightful, and heartbreaking. Flowers began drawing comics while earning her PhD, and her early mastery of sequential storytelling is nothing short of sublime.