The Contrast in Medium

Early in my comparison of Nat Turner, the graphic novel by Kyle Baker, and “The Confessions of Nat Turner, The Leader of the Late Insurrection in Southampton, VA,” the historic testimony, I realized a contrast in authenticity between the historic document and the graphic novel. Even though both items have the same intent, to retell the events, the graphic novel’s format makes it less believable. The artist’s creative license and personal influence seeps through the pages and colors the events with his imagination, but the historic testimony is simple letters on a page. No interpretation is given, no illustrations are used to provide examples, and no heroic context is expressed in the testimony.  The Clerk, Edmund J. Lee, even provides an articulate introduction defending the authenticity of his report, stating that he will “publish them, with little or no variation, from his [Turner’s] own words” (4). Exempting the “little” for clerical errors and edits for clarity, the work should be considered the most accurate interpretation from Turner’s perspective. However, it should not be confused with a historic record of the events. Turner’s confessions are circumspect at best; Lee even comments on this point by saying “If Nat’s statements can be relied on” when he is discussing the possible value to the confessions. The authenticity of the record should not be in doubt, but the words of Turner may be questionable. When he says “I heard a voice” and “the Spirit appeared to me” (9-10) is reminds me of other killers who believed their actions were directed by a higher power. I also question the truth of his words when he relates the details of each murder, as he was only able to kill a few people as his sword was too blunt and the others in his group were too efficient in their work. Most of this is accounted for in Baker’s graphic novel, even the scenes from page 15-16, which seem to be lacking in literary detail, are covered by Baker’s illustrations of the soldier’s confrontation with Turner’s group.  The main point I find to be disconcerting with Baker’s illustration is the depiction of a heroic, superhuman, struggle of the murderers against the soldiers. The account on page 16 gives little details about the fight, but Baker’s illustrations add details not present in the testimony. It is the addition of actions and emotions which makes Baker’s graphic novel questionable when compared to the true testimony.

Side note: the photographs taken on location of Turner’s Rebellion elicit a strong sense of nostalgia. It is hard to look at them an imagine all of the atrocities that occurred in these peaceful scenes. I did not get the same sense from the Baker’s illustrations, possibly because he included people in his illustrations where most of the photographs were only of the landscape and empty buildings. Turner’s bible, open on the stump of a tree, is a particularly imposing image, as the book’s content was the impetus to his rebellion.