William Foster III MALS ’86 turns passion into purpose with comics

[William Foster III MALS'86]William Foster III MALS '86 loved comics from an early age, but noticed that they were often missing something. In this interview with The County Times, William discusses growing up without African Americans in his favorite comic books, and how that turned into an academic interest and shaped his career.

Mr. Foster, now a professor of English at Naugatuck Valley Community College, is black, and when he was growing up black characters were rarely depicted in comic books—and then never in a leading role.

“Comic books were my guilty pleasure. They were my Saturday routine because I always went to the movies and I could buy comics right in front of the theater. Over time I realized that you didn’t see African Americans in comic books,” he said last week as he sat in the dining room of his home in Middletown. “You only saw African Americans in public service ads or maybe as the aggressors in an African jungle in grass skirts—the imagery was never very positive.”

Professor Foster earned a B.A. from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and a master’s degree from Wesleyan University in Middletown. He became a poet, essayist, playwright and editorialist, writing 15 books and 10 plays. His interest in comic books, which had flagged during his college years, revived in the 1980s and now his interest became more academic. As he started collecting comics again, he looked specifically for black characters.

As his focus became more scholarly—and as his collection grew—he began to share his research, taking his collection to schools and libraries, conferences and comic book conventions. Soon he was writing articles and giving speeches.

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Image: from article, c/o William Foster III

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