VENUE: 25 O’CLOCK BREWING CO: 208 W Griggs St, Urbana, IL 61801

James Spooner is an accomplished tattoo artist, illustrator, and filmmaker. He directed the seminal documentary Afro-Punk. Spooner is also the co-founder of the Afro-punk Festival. Spooner’s work has appeared in NPR, Vice, The Village Voice, The New Yorker, Vibe, Fader, MTV, NBC News, and Variety. He is an ongoing guest curator for the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, and previously programmed for the Brooklyn Academy of Music.


A Memoir by James Spooner

From James Spooner, the creator of Afro-Punk, comes a stunning graphic memoir of his coming-of-age in a miserable desert town in California in the early 1990s: THE HIGH DESERT (Harper; on sale May 17, 2022; $26.00, 368 pages; ISBN 978-0-358-65911-2). THE HIGH DESERT is the story of a young man’s immersive reckoning with identity, racism, clumsy teen love, and belonging—and the story of a search for salvation and community through punk.

Teenage James Spooner hates that he and his mom are back in the Apple Valley, California town after years away. The one silver lining—new school, new you, right? But the few Black kids at school seem to be gangbanging, and the other kids fall on a spectrum of microagressors 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, THE HIGH DESERT is an engaging and moving graphic memoir of a budding punk, artist, and activist.