Since I missed last week’s class, I decided to do a Tracing Project of Nat Turner. I happened to choose the top image on page 54 where the slave overthrows the infant overboard and the white man has a grip on the baby’s wrist. I contrasted this page with the image on the bottom of page 121 where the slave, Will, is holding an ax over the infant in the cradle. In both of these images, as the silent accomplice I gained my own closure by interpreting the actions taken place in those images. Based on my own prior knowledge, I interpreted the first image as the white man, holding the infant’s wrist on the slave ship as trying to hold on to power. I noticed, as I drew, the chains on the slave, which I had not noticed before. Even though the slave had chains around him he was still in power, because he had what the white men needed. What I found interested was the fact that when I was first tracing the face of the slave on the ship, it looked completely different than the face in the book. The face I drew looked at peace and somewhat relieved. Perhaps I viewed the scene as the slave being relieved by letting go of the baby and in doing so releasing the baby from a horrid future. The second image, again as a silent accomplice, I saw the ax being drawn, but it was up to me as a reader to decide what happened next. I noticed the innocent fingers of both infants (from both of the images). Those tiny hands and tiny fingers moved me emotionally more after tracing them than just looking at the picture initially. Here, the ax represented power and control to me. McCloud states that in learning to read comics we all learned to perceive time spatially, for in the world of comics time and space are one and the same (page 100). Since in comics, according to McCloud, there is no conversion chart, the sequence of these two images move us through many decades in time. The two panels I chose appear to be what McCloud calls the aspect-to-aspect transition, which “bypasses time for the most part and sets a wandering eye on different aspects of a place, idea or mood”. (Page 72) I found the Tracing Project very interesting, because I began to notice little details that became significant in my understanding and I began to have a deeper appreciation of Nat Turner.
I read Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner again after reading Thomas R. Gray’s The Confessions of Nat Turner (1831). I had to reread it, because I had more questions to be answered. There are many differences in the two texts: the authors’ point of views, tones, purpose, and their presentation of the text. Baker approached Nat turner completely differently than Gray. Baker’s purpose was to portray Nat Turner from a slave’s perspective – Nat Turner’s own perspective. He gave much more detailed information about the history of slavery to set the stage for the day of the resurrection. His tone was neutral, but more biased towards Nat Turner. Baker’s notes on page 204 about the image on page 196 paints a completely different picture than Gray’s, “Onlookers were reportedly unsettled by the fact that Turner did not die kicking and suffering as hanged men usually do. He simply rose into the air, breathing his last, peacefully without twitching a muscle.” He portrayed Nat Turner as a man with conviction and strength of mind. This is more evident when Baker states, “How does a weaker minority dominate a physically superior majority? In my research I learned that this is accomplished by destroying the slaves mind. More effective than whips and guns was the simple act of outlawing the teaching of slaves to read or to write.” (Page 7) Baker’s audience is today’s readers that view slavery as inhumane and completely immoral.
Gray painted a different picture of Nat Turner – as a coward and a fanatic – on page 19, “As to his being a coward, his reason as given for not resisting Mr. Phipps, shews the decision of his character. When he saw Mr. Phipps present his gun, he said he knew it was impossible for him to escape as the woods were full of men; he therefore thought it was better to surrender, and trust to fortune for his escape. He is a complete fanatic, or plays his part most admirably.” Gray’s audience was the people in 1831. Gray never went into what happened to Nat Turner after he was hung, but Baker states that “Turner’s body was skinned and beheaded.” (Page 204) This goes to show that Baker was trying to portray the white men as savages as Gray tries to portray the slaves as savages. Never once did Gray made any remarks about the atrocities slaves, like Nat Turner, faced that could force them to such violence. Why? They did not view slavery as immoral or inhumane.
I found The Confessions of Nat Turner to be more informative of the event due to the detailed account of the events in words. Even though the images of Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner provoked many different emotions and conjured up my own interpretation of the events based on my own background knowledge and biases, the words of Thomas R. Gray took me back to the time November of 1831. I felt like I was present with them in the dungeon as Nat Turner confessed. What confused me were the images in Nat Turner and the text split up within those images throughout the book. Another confusing part was the beginning of Nat Turner about slavery itself. I had too many questions that could not be answered in Nat Turner due to lack of specifics and my own confusion. I found those answers in Gray’s account, because there were no pictures. I could create and visualize my own pictures in my head as I read. Gray gave more feedback on the aftermath of the insurrection. Gray listed the names of the slaves brought before the court of Southampton and their sentences. That was not listed in Baker’s. Gray also went into detail about the victims that survived with the help of other slaves and the little girl (Miss. Whitehead’s daughter) who was saved by her teacher. I was moved by Gray’s account of Miss. Whitehead’s little girl that survived, “She remained on her hiding place till just before the arrival of a party, who were in pursuit of the murderers, when she came down and fled to a swamp, where, a mere child as she was, with the horrors of the late scene before her, she lay concealed until the next day, when seeing a party go up to the house, she came up, and on being asked how she escaped, replied with the utmost simplicity, ‘ The Lord helped her’.” (Page 20) Here is a great contrast between what Nat Turner views as the Lord and what the little girl views as the Lord. At the end, I still don’t think it’s all black and white – there has to be some shades of gray!