PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Comics

Nat Turner #1

Ryan Paul

Baker forces the reader to confront these terrible images and leaves no room to distance oneself from the pain his characters experience.

Nat Turner #1

Publisher: Kyle Baker Publishing
Contributors: Kyle Baker (Artist)
Price: $3.00
Writer: Kyle Baker
Item Type: Comic
Length: 48
Publication Date: 2005-07
Amazon

The Proper Response to Violence

Kyle Baker is probably best known as a talented cartoonist specializing in the humorous and often veering toward an almost caricature-ish sensibility in his art. However, he has also displayed a willingness to take on more serious issues, such as his stint as artist on Truth: Red, White, and Black. This Marvel mini-series, which met with mixed reviews and much controversy, told the story of the "first" Captain America. According to this story, the Captain America we all know, Steve Rogers, was not the first American soldier to receive the super-soldier serum; instead, in a reference to the shameful Tuskegee Experiment, the serum was first tested on African-Americans. Perhaps working on that storyline inspired Baker to continue exploring racial issues in America, a subject he has tackled in the four-part miniseries Nat Turner.

For those unfamiliar with pre-Civil War U.S. History, Nat Turner was a slave who organized a violent rebellion in Virginia in 1831. Though it only lasted two days and eventually resulted in Turner's capture, trial, and death by hanging, the rebellion sent a shockwave through the slaveholding society. Virginia even came close to abolishing slavery, but ultimately the immediate after-effects of the rebellion were a severe curtailing of the rights of free blacks and widespread lynching of free and enslaved blacks.

Turner himself is missing entirely from this first issue. It focuses instead on events entirely before his birth: the raid on his mother's village by other Africans in the employ of slave traders; the capture of Turner's mother and others and their horrendous voyage to America; and the shocking resolve of one woman in protecting her family from slavery in an event, apparently witnessed by Turner's mother and retold by him, that recalls Toni Morrison's celebrated Beloved.

Baker here sets the stage for Turner's rebellion by depicting some of the horrors inflicted upon slaves. Rather than trying to give an all-encompassing description, he focuses on a few moments, and presents them up-close: haggling over money, branding, death in the hold of a slave ship. Baker forces the reader to confront these terrible images and leaves no room to distance oneself from the pain his characters experience. His most effective strategy is his almost complete lack of any sort of verbal narrative. Apart from two small excerpts, one from a slaver's diary, the other from Turner's confessions, there's no actual dialogue or description in the entire comic. Describing the slave trade seems limp and weak, like an academic gloss over a human cancer; but actually showing it carries an emotional force that cannot be denied. When I was in school, the famous image of the slave ship plans showing the slaves packed in with maximum "efficiency" really brought home the reality of the slave trade; the small black figures, dehumanized and presented as commodities, exposed the truth of the slave trade better than any written passage could. Baker's comic carries the same strength, but conversely by showing the tortured humans and the tortured humanity affected by the trade.

The most difficult aspect of this story is the violence. Nat Turner is regarded as a hero, and rightly so. He fought against an unjust and violent system, a system that murdered many Africans, including many in Turner's own family. Despite this, however, one should always ask about the proper response to such violence. Turner's own response directly caused the death of many whites, slaveholders and their families. Many of these people were probably murderers and rapists, but were there any that we might consider "innocent"? Children too young to understand the unfeeling economic system that fed them? Even those who were guilty of horrendous crimes, did they deserve death? The desperate mother of this issue and Toni Morrison's Sethe, they also responded to the violence of slavery with violence of their own; were they justified? And when the end result of Turner's rebellion was primarily more death and suffering for enslaved blacks, can it be said that he made the right decision?

The African slave trade was one of the worst, if not the worst, crimes against humanity in recorded history, and justice always has the recourse to violence. But this is not the story of a grand movement of humans against evil. This is a story about individuals pushed to the brink of their humanity and must respond in kind. Perhaps Turner had no choice but to fight back, and in any case, he should be honored for his fight, as Baker seems set to do in this series. But maybe the important questions to be asked about this man and this moment in history are how such violence, on all sides, comes about, and how it can be avoided in the future.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.