BLACK. PUNK. NOWHERE.
Scene: Apple Valley, California, in the eighties, a thirsty, miserable desert.
Teenage James Spooner hates that he and his mom are back in town after years away. The one silver lining—new school, new you, right? But the few Black kids at school seem to be gang-banging, and the other kids fall on a spectrum of micro-aggressors to future Neo-Nazis. Mixed race, acutely aware of his Blackness, James doesn't know where he fits until he meets Ty, a young Black punk who introduces him to the school outsiders—skaters, unhappy young rebels, caught up in the punk groundswell sweeping the country.
A haircut, a few Sex Pistols, Misfits and Black Flag records later: suddenly, James has friends, romantic prospects, and knows the difference between a bass and a guitar. But this desolate landscape hides brutal, building undercurrents: a classmate overdoses, a friend must prove himself to his white supremacist brother and the local Aryan brotherhood through a show of violence. Everything and everyone are set to collide at one of the year's biggest shows in town...
Weaving in the Black roots of punk rock and a vivid interlude in the thriving eighties DIY and punk scene in New York's East Village, this is the memoir of a budding punk, artist, and activist.
LISTEN WHILE YOU READ
Like most coming-of-age books, 'The High Desert' is the saga of a square peg. What differentiates Spooner’s memoir is its bold confrontation of race.
Much like Ghost World, this grabbing, angsty coming-of-age tale offers a sidewalk view of a creative subculture. It’s also a poignant ode to the power of music to fill voids left by family and circumstance, with provocations thrumming on race and identity that sound out like a smashed guitar.
A sometimes bitter and brittle, always heartfelt memoir of growing up as a Black punk rocker in rural California. Spooner is a discerning student of his own past and the movement he joined. A lively, inspirational tale that will point young readers toward art, music, and resistance of their own. (full review)
There’s something so recognizable in The High Desert…I suspect in a way we were all there at one time in our lives, navigating and negotiating as we figured out just who the fuck we were and who
was with us. I loved this book.
- IAN MACKAYE - Minor Threat / Fugazi
n his new memoir, we learn about the major pitfalls and minor triumphs that put Spooner on the path to realize his dream of an all Black mosh pit. Beautifully written and illustrated ‘The High Desert’ is a must-have for every music fan. After I finished reading it I kept wishing a 2nd, 3rd and 4th volume would magically appear so it didn’t have to end.
- KATHLEEN HANNA - Bikini Kill / Le Tigre
Deeply relatable...it is genuinely therapeutic to read about James Spooner’s experiences: being in proximity to white supremacy, the exceptions that are made in small town, USA, and how quickly
violence can escalate. Man oh man. The High Desert hits so deep.
- KIMYA DAWSON, Moldy Peaches
Punk is James Spooner’s salvation as he comes of age in a racist world, but punk culture is also a microcosm of that world. The path to reconciliation—with himself, his parents, his peers—is navigated with exquisite nuance and compassion. A beautifully drawn story.
- ALISON BECHDEL, author of Fun Home
This beautifully paced graphic memoir illustrates the struggle and joy of finding self-acceptance and community on the fringes. It perfectly captures the innocence, camaraderie, and trauma of being a punk of color in the late eighties and early nineties. I couldn’t look away.
- MariNAOMI, author and illustrator of Losing the Girl
James Spooner captures an often overlooked, West Coast slice of modern American culture and subculture. Misfits, nerds, social outcasts and rebels: Mr. Spooner has delivered a well needed roadmap for future generations of kids that don’t quite fit in, especially kids of color.
- NORWOOD, Fishbone
A masterful debut that's just as captivating as it is inspiring. Spooner paints a world that's irresistible and harrowing, and fills it with the kind of honesty that defines every great graphic memoir.
- EZRA CLAYTON DANIELS, author of BTTM FDRS
A coming of age tale of the very precarious faultlines of growing up an outsider amongst outsiders: The High Desert is an American tale of race, politics, counter-culture, and the tender and personal story of Black adolescence rarely told.
- BRONTEZ PURNELL, author of 100 Boyfriends
In each panel of The High Desert, James Spooner delivers magic between his art and his words, mixing the intense passions of youth with the hindsight of the wise. Gorgeously drawn, brutally honest, and as emotionally raw as your favorite punk song.
- DAWNIE WALTON, author of The Final Revival of Opal & Nev
This reminds me of how punk can pull us out of a pit, give us legs to dance on, and words to scream with our dumb drunk beautiful friends. This already feels like a classic.
- BEN PASSMORE, author of BTTM FDRS and Your Black Friend