Nat’s Voices

Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner is an interesting, exciting, and somewhat disturbing read; an examplary graphic novel (Fun Fact:  Werthams’s studies on childhood delinquancy and comic books was conducted largely in harlem; a predominantly african american readership.  Also a Fun Fact:  Matt Baker was one of the first African American illustrators working in comics, including the art for the world’s first graphic novel, he even has the same last name as Kyle Baker).

I found it very fortunate that we started this class off with viewings and discussions focused on Gods’ Man because there where several similarities with it to Nat Turner.  Both feature a predominantly black and white color scheme and most of the narrative (or rather all in Gods’ Mans case) is conveyed entirely through image, not wordcraft.  The use of the written word is an innovative, and sometimes extraneous, feature of Nat Turner.  There is very, very few spoken dialogue by the characters within the piece, and their doesn’t need to be.  Baker is such a master of his craft that he is able to illustrate the scenes with clarity, and confusion, and although there are many images where the faces are rendered in a nearly flat, heavily shadowed manner, whenever you absolutely need to see an expression or thought occuring, it’s there for you to see.  The text itself does provide an intimate access to Mr. Turner’s thoughts and recollections.  Had they not been there than perhaps the entire extent of his religious influances would not have been revealed nor would the inquisitive nature of Nat been properly explored, this was a boy who tried to make experiments out of dirt afterall.  I feel that the narration, coming from Nat himself serves more to validate the happenings of the book as being history, and less so a companion to the action unfolding on the pictures.

Except for the rebellion itself that is.  We had a minimally textual novel for the majority of the work and then again at the very end, but during the majority of the bloody rebellion we have text.  Is this to convey the chaotic nature of the scene?  Was Kyle Baker simply not comfortable illustrating in vivid details the terrible deeds the rebellion did?  I would argue against the latter sentence because he illustrated the boy being decapitated by Wil.  Rather I feel he uses the historical evidence to give a clear picture of what was happening and instead keeps the images for only the most prescient, telling acts of violence.  At the time of Nat Turner’s publication there was  trend in both cinema and comics known as “gore-porn” where the extreme acts of violence (e.g. Hack/Slash in comics, Hostel in film) where the draw and by avoiding excessive displays of violence he forces Nat Turner to be appreciated outside of that trend.  It also, perhaps, displays a desire that images alone couldn’t fulfil the narrative needs of the rebellion. 

And finally I find it interesting that his mother is such a prominent character in the first half, far more representative of the family unit than Nat’s own family was.  Their tenure in this novel was brief, never allowing us to feel for them as individual characters.  Is this a critique on the unreliable nature of domesticity within slavedom or a necessity of craft to keep the space needed in the narrative to a minimum?

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