News

Christian Cooper, Central Park Birder, Has A New Graphic Novel Out About Racism

In Cooper’s comic “It’s A Bird,” published by DC Comics, he tells the story of a Black teen birder named Jules.

Christian Cooper wrote a graphic novel featuring Jules, a Black teen birder, some of whose experiences are loosely based on those of the author. | DC Comics
Christian Cooper wrote a graphic novel featuring Jules, a Black teen birder, some of whose experiences are loosely based on those of the author. | DC Comics

Christian Cooper, the Black birder whose recording of a white woman calling the police on him in Central Park went viral, has written a graphic novel partially inspired by the experience. The white woman, Amy Cooper (no relation), called police after Cooper asked her to leash her dog in compliance with park rules; she told the dispatcher that “an African-American man is threatening my life.” 

The encounter in May became a flashpoint in a summer defined by protests against systemic racism and police brutality in the U.S., and a pandemic that has disproportionately killed Black people.

In Cooper’s novel “It’s A Bird,” published by DC Comics, he tells the story of a Black teen birder named Jules who is seen in illustrations by Alitha E. Martinez toting a pair of binoculars. Cooper, 57, received a pair of binoculars from his own late father, who was a civil rights activist and Korean War Veteran, the Washington Post reported.

The book, which is available free online and in select stores as of Wednesday, was inked by Mark Morales and colored by Emilio Lopez. It is the first installment of a “Represent!” series by DC that will “showcase and introduce creators traditionally underrepresented in the mainstream comic book medium,” executive editor Marie Javins said in a statement. More stories from other creators are expected in 2021.

For Cooper, a former Marvel Comics editor, it’s also a return of sorts to a form he reportedly hasn’t practiced in 20 years and a meditation on contemporary news events. 

The book includes images of Black Americans who died at the hands of police — including George Floyd, who was killed in Minneapolis on May 25, the same day as Cooper’s viral park encounter. The references span decades, from Breonna Taylor, who was killed in Louisville this March in her own home, to Amadou Diallo, who was killed by 41 bullets that plainclothes New York City officers shot in the 1990s.

“I really appreciated it when [DC Comics] came to me and said do you want to do this comic, because I did have something to say,” Cooper told The Washington Post. “It’s interesting how it slips into maybe this space in the DC Universe that isn’t normally occupied. It is a very magical-realist tale. There is something fantastical that happens in the course of the story. But it’s not capes. It’s not superheroes.”

Since the incident in Central Park, Amy Cooper has lost her job, been charged with filing a false police report, and become known as a “Karen” online. Her stunt was viewed by many as “one of the most malicious and deliberate performances of victimization I have ever seen,” as The Cut’s Adrienne Green put it.

As for Cooper, he told the New York Times that he still hasn’t heard from Amy, months later — and he doesn’t want to. He has repeatedly said in interviews that he won’t participate in any prosecution.

“It has never stopped being about the birds for me,” Cooper told The Times. “From the beginning that confrontation had nothing to do with race. It became about race when she made it about race.”

In the book’s panels, Jules sets out into greener spaces, where white people express that he isn’t welcome, flashing to tragic scenes of police violence against Floyd, Taylor, and Diallo. The final page is a herculean work of art, with Jules clutching his binoculars and gazing at a scene of the winged deceased. “Up in the sky!” the text reads. “In memoriam.”