Raeghan Buchanan unearths ‘The Secret History of Black Punk’

The Columbus artist’s new comic, which turns a deserved spotlight on pioneering Black musicians, is due in February from indie publisher Silver Sprocket.
Raeghan Buchanan
Raeghan BuchananCourtesy the artist

Raeghan Buchanan said she was at a personal low in early 2022, struggling with depression and uncertain about what she wanted to do next with her life.

In those times, she talked almost daily with best friend Miski Dee Rodriguez of the band City Mouse, who served as an emotional anchor at a time the musician and artist felt hopelessly adrift.

“I was just like, ‘What am I doing?’ and she was trying to hype me up, telling me, ‘What you do is important!’ ‘What? Draw some pictures?’” Buchanan said in a mid-January interview. “And then she was like, ‘Why don’t you put something out?’ And I was like, ‘Miski, you can't just put something out."

But Rodriguez persisted, telling Buchanan that if she finished compiling her drawings in book form, picking up on a project Buchanan had started in earnest in 2018, she would facilitate an introduction with Avi Ehrlich of Silver Sprocket, an independent comics publisher and record label based in San Francisco. “And so, I did that,” Buchanan said. “And they were interested.”

Now, in February, Silver Sprocket will release The Secret History of Black Punk: Record Zero, the first in a planned series from Buchanan shining a light on the pioneering Black musicians whose legacies have too often gone uncredited. The project lands at a perfect nexus for Buchanan, combining her passions for art and music, as well as her desire to examine untold stories – a characteristic long entwined in her DNA that she credited as a driving force behind her ongoing “POCtober” collaboration with fellow artist Frank Lawson in which the two place a needed focus on Black musicians.

“With Pure Hell, the information that actually exists is all over the place,” Buchanan said of the legendary Philadelphia crew, often credited as America’s first Black punk band and featured prominently in Record Zero. “Then there are also places where they were there, but they’re still absent. You can find [concert] posters … and it’ll list the New York Dolls, Jayne County and whatever other bands, and [Pure Hell] was there and played that show, but they’re not on the flier. They’re literally written out of that history.”

"The Secret History of Black Punk"
"The Secret History of Black Punk"Courtesy Raeghan Buchanan

Buchanan’s journey to Record Zero has coincided with her continued growth and self-acceptance as an artist, an evolution she credited in part to the rich community of Black artists in Columbus, who have encouraged and welcomed her work absent conditions.

Bryan Moss … has always had my back when I wanted to do something, and he has a real easy way of being the opposite of those people who are like, ‘Don’t jump off the ledge,’” said Buchanan, who also named the likes of artist Richard Duarte Brown and poet, cultural critic and Streetlight Guild founder Scott Woods as constant sources of support and inspiration. “[Moss] would be like, ‘Actually, it’s not a ledge. This is all you need. We’ll do this. Then I’ll take you over here to do this, where I can introduce you to this person.’ And then it starts to feel [possible], and it’s not like jumping off a ledge. … You almost feel like Dumbo with the feather, a little bit.”

One early breakthrough arrived when Moss invited Buchanan to collaborate on illustrations for The Eightfold Path, inking sessions that took place in the East Side home of the late Aminah Robinson, an iconic artist who still serves as connective tissue between a range of Black artists in the city. “I walk in, and he’s nonchalantly like, ‘Oh, have a seat. Here’s a piece of paper. Here are some pencils. Why don’t you do this.’ … And I kind of got disarmed really quickly,” she said. “Somebody was respecting me right away, like, ‘I know you can do this.’”

Buchanan said her artwork is influenced by comic books and early punk rock concert poster inked by artists like Raymond Pettibone, utilizing a unique, labor-intensive crosshatch style that she said she developed from a “misunderstanding” of the proper technique, and which used to earn her the scorn of instructors in school. Generally, Buchanan depicts her subjects in a more serious light, which she traced in part to her own more stoic nature. “A lot of [artists] choose to capture celebration or joyousness or whatever, but I was always an intense kid,” she said. “As an adult, I try to be less intense, but it’s still my personality.”

For Buchanan, the process of creating a portrait actually begins long before she picks up a pen. She’ll spend hours online researching a subject and engaging more deeply with their work – listening to albums, reading essays or watching films – aiming to gain a fuller understanding of the person to better capture them on the page.

“When you’re doing portraits, you’re staring at a person’s face for a long time. And this weird thing happens where you feel like you’re getting, not closer to them, but you’re invading their persona somehow, just because you’re concentrating so hard,” she said. “And I do think the more you concentrate on that person, the more you realize those little things they would like to see portrayed.”

Buchanan described the intensity often contained within her portraits as central to her creative process, noting that she can’t even listen to music when she’s drawing, because she finds the outside noise too distracting.

“People will laugh and say you don’t have to do art so intensely that people know you’ve suffered. But my art is definitely like, you know I’ve suffered, and like my back is going to be bad,” she said, breaking into laughter. “But, yeah, the more you’re surrounding yourself with all of the things that have to do with this person, the more tuned in you are. I mean, they’re just portraits, but I like to get really intense with it.”

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