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James Sturm and Satchel Paige - An Interview

Interview by Scott Tingley, April 27, 2007.

The Graphic Novel you hold in your hand tells a bit of the story of Satchel Paige and the men of the Negro Leagues. It tells the story of what this game meant to the men who played it and to the people who watched it. For many of the black men who played, baseball was the great American dream made real. Satchel Paige was one of those men, a great athlete and pioneer, who helped to make the ball parks of America level playing fields for everyone . Gerald Early from the introduction to Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow

Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow is the new graphic novel by James Sturm, author of The Golem's Mighty Swing - named "Best Comic 2001" by Time Magazine , and Fantastic Four: Unstable Molecules, for which he won an Eisner.

Comics in the Classroom – Scott: Thank you for joining us Mr. Sturm.  Your new Graphic Novel is called Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow .  Tell us a bit about it and the title.

James Sturm: The book is as much about Jim Crow as it is about Satchel Paige. Paige was an elusive subject and the more research I conducted the less sure I was about him. Baseball invites mythmaking and Paige was a master at mythologizing himself. I finally determined that what was true or false was less interesting than the profound effect his stature had on America during Jim Crow. In an era where black men were mutilated for looking at a white man or any other number of minor offenses, to have someone like Paige, the highest paid athlete in the world, who, to a large degree, lived life on his own terms, is nothing short of astounding.

CitC:  What was your main goal in writing this book?  Were you trying to tell the story of Paige or the story of oppression?  You really can't have one without the other in this book. 

JS: No you cannot. There are a lot of truly superb athletes, but few that transcend the sport. I suppose my main goal was to not only try to create a loose portrait of Paige but what also show what he meant to blacks in the south during Jim Crow years

CitC:  This is your second Graphic Novel about baseball.  Why have you returned to this subject matter?

JS : I didn't intend to. It was due to the insistence of then Hyperion editor Brenda Bowen. She thought highly of The Golem's Mighty Swing and wanted The Center for Cartoon Studies to produce a series of biographical graphic novels. Part of that deal had to include me writing the Paige book.

CitC:  I knew bits and pieces of the story of Paige already, but I was really surprised when I read that he was playing professionally into his 60s.  I immediately thought of him as the baseball Gordie Howe (he played professional hockey until he was 51).  How could he have kept playing so long?

JS: In his prime he had a wicked fastball, but he also developed into a real crafty pitcher--- changing arm angles, speeds, all kinds of breaking balls. I can't explain how he pitched so long— he was a physical anomaly!

CitC:  It says on the back cover that your book is for ages "10 and up".  I agree in a way, because I would have no problem giving this to my children when they are that age - after we talk about the context of the story and the history behind it, etc.  However, in a climate where some schools are banning books like To Kill A Mockingbird because of the ‘N' word, are you worried that your inclusion of the word (it is yelled once at Paige during a game) might keep your book out of some classrooms school libraries?  I see that there is a teacher's guide for it, so this must be something that you want for the book.

JS: The use of the ‘N' word certainly wasn't calculated for any other reason than I felt the narrative demanded it. I hope it doesn't keep it out of libraries but that's something is outside of my control.

CitC:  I hope it doesn't. I know I will be recommending it to High School teachers.

I thought the “Panel Discussions” at the end of the book were a nice touch.  Very informative.  Thank you for your time and good luck with the book this December.

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