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#69 [Sep. 26th, 2008|02:04 pm]

100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)

#69 NAT TURNER – Kyle Baker
(Image/Kyle Baker Publications)

“I looked on him and my blood curdled in my veins.”

Kyle Baker’s comic book tells the story of Nat Turner, leader of the largest slave rebellion in America's antebellum south. Baker traces the story back to Africa, beginning with the capture of Turner’s mother and the gruelling experience of the Middle Passage, telling the grim tale of six months spent crammed into an overcrowded, leaky, rat-infested boat almost entirely without words. Baker’s cartooning background serves him well and he composes striking images by capturing exactly the right moment whether it’s a chain tightening around a neck or a body contrasted against the sky as it’s carelessly flung overboard.

Nat Turner is an uncomfortable read, as a book about slavery should be, but it’s not just about the evils of the slave trade. The armed rebellion Turner leads is examined every bit as unflinchingly. Turner is an intelligent and charismatic man whose wife and child are taken away from him, but he’s also a religious zealot and a baby-killer. The looks of bloodlust on the faces of whites watching a hanging are mirrors of the faces of gleeful black rebels putting on dead men’s fancy clothes.

Most of the book’s text is taken from the transcript of Turner’s confession, running outside the panels as a commentary and confirmation. When speech balloons do appear, they have added potency because of how sparingly he uses them. Baker’s version of events leaves a lot unsaid, but all it takes to condemn is a look.