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Nat Turner Paperback – June 1, 2008
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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From School Library Journal
Grade 10 Up—Originally self-published in four installments, Nat Turner follows the dark legacy of the Virginia slave rebellion and subsequent murders of at least 55 white slave owners and their families in 1831. Baker presents a cinematic reel that integrates beautiful sepia-toned panels, newspaper headlines in period font, photographs, and historical texts; most heavily drawn from is the recorded Confessions of Nat Turner. The book begins with the brutal capture, mistreatment, and direct and indirect murder of native Africans by white fortune seekers, with disturbing detail such as the sharks following slave ships for the plentiful corpses thrown overboard. These images, as described by a young Turner to his astonished first-generation relatives, were apparently some of the first in a number of "visions" that the staunchly religious man experienced throughout his short life. Turner is presented as a fiercely intelligent, angry, yet steadfast individual whose potential was dashed in an era of hate and inhumanity. Those characteristics are mirrored in the actions of the slaves' rebellion, in illustrations that are not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach. The ideas brought forth here are sure to ignite debate and discussion, and this book would be a most interesting companion to other studies of antebellum history such as Edward P. Jones's The Known World (HarperCollins, 2003).—Shannon Peterson, Kitsap Regional Library, WA
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The illustrations for Baker's Nat Turner wordlessly illustrate the original 1831 Confessions which appears as text set in the graphic novel. The words of the original Confessions and Baker's graphic narrative enhance each other, creating a most powerful document for understanding Turner's life and motivation. Originally self published as a four part series, Nat Turner sold out two printings and won several prizes in 2006, including an Eisner Award for best reality-based work. Since 2008 it has been published as a single volume through a commercial press.
Part One is called "Home" and tells the story prior to that covered in Gray's Confessions of Nat Turner of Nat's mother being captured in Africa by slavers, transported to the coast, and put onto a slave ship to America where she is sold as a slave. Part Two is called "Education" and tells the remarkable story of Nat, a gifted child with mysterious powers, who can read, who is deeply spiritual, and starts to receive visions and messages. At the same time, he is witness to the brutality of human slavery all around him and as it effects him and his parents, wife and children. After his wife and children are sold away from him, his visions take a dark turn where he sees white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle and blood flowing in streams. He is told to be prepared to receive a sign to begin his fight against the Serpent. The first sign of a solar eclipse marks the beginning of Part Three - Freedom in which Nat starts to tell a select group of close associates of his visions and they make plans for the rebellion. The Great Barbados hurricane of August 1831, which turned the Sun blue as far north as Virginia was to Nat Turner, the sign he had been waiting for to begin the slaughter. He and his four allies went into houses in the dark of night, killing all the whites, taking their weapons and horses, and recruiting followers from their slaves. Before they were eventually stopped, there were about 60 armed freed slaves following him and over 55 dead whites in their trail. Part Four - Triumph details Turner's last days.
I had read Gray's book The Confessions of Nat Turner prior to reading Baker's graphic novel, and I find the combination of the hauntingly expressive images with the simple straightforward text an exceedingly effective manner to present Nat Turner's life and activities to a modern audience. The story is compelling to me because I live just two hours from the site of the rebellion, and slave conditions would have been the same here as they were for Nat Turner in Virginia. Baker has made the story one that I will never forget. At the end of the book is a Bibliography of further readings and a Teacher's Guide that would make this a powerful classroom instructional tool.