Blog Post 7: Lines, Words, Photos

Hi everyone,

Hope you’ve had a good weekend. Our first day with Baker’s Nat Turner on Friday left us with all sorts of questions about text, lines and type on the page, the complexities of narration, and the complexities of authorship, history, and autobiography, to name just a few things. Our reading for Wednesday takes us further into the part of the text that focuses on Turner in particular, and also incorporates more of Turner’s own(?) Confessions. So for this second blog post you might think further about how Baker’s images relate to these textual moments, or how they might relate to the archival images we’re also looking at for Wednesday. But what to write about here is ultimately up to you, as long as you ground your thinking in some close analysis of the text.

Reminder: your response should go in the comments section for this post — click the “Leave a Comment” link at the top of the post. It should be at least 250 words, and is due by midnight on Tuesday, October 18th. After class on Monday, you should return to this  thread and post a response to one classmate’s post by class time Friday the 21st. If you have any questions, let me know via email.

32 thoughts on “Blog Post 7: Lines, Words, Photos

  1. It is quite profound how much happens in this book with a limited amount of words. Some of the scenes I had to look at more than once, and for longer periods of time since I couldn’t always interpret what was happening in the images. However, most of them happened to be quite gruesome and painful to look at.

    There were many components throughout this section of the book I found interesting, one of them being his religious beliefs. What was interesting is that Nat Turner clearly attributes his acquired education to aiding him in leading a rebellion, but he also puts an even heavier emphasis on faith. It is quite astonishing, but admirable that he even managed to have faith during such terrible times, let alone rely on it to lead him and guide him.

    Another aspect that was difficult to digest was the shock factor that came right after his speaking about his education and his faith. This carefully drawn graphic narrative that it wasn’t just these things that helped get him to where he was, but the gruesome and violent actions he had to take in order to free himself and others. What was especially painful to understand about this, was the reality of the divide between white people and African Americans because of white man’s cruelty. The moment this was especially prominent was after the first family Nat and his group killed, they realized they forgot about the infant in the crib. For a moment they hesitated, but as soon as Nat remembered what the slave owners had done to their children, they decided to go back and kill the baby. It was such a harsh dose of reality to see how far the violence and division of skin color really went because of one group’s racism and what it all led to.

    It was also unnerving looking through all the archived photos, being that it made this story much more of a reality for me. I think sometimes while reading these graphic narratives is that I can forget how real the images on the pages were, and how these were events that actually occurred. These were REAL farms, with REAL slaves being held against their will, with REAL slave owners. Seeing the photos had definitely brought it more to life for me, as well as make it much more necessarily difficult to read and remember all the lives that were abused because of one group’s prejudice.

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    • I definitely agree with you when you bring up the shock factor the reader faces when in the story. Going from the courageous moments of Nat when he teaches himself to read, and heavily relying on his faith for comfort in his unfortunate world to leading a massacre of white slave owners is definitely a change in context to say the least. While I can comprehend the revenge these slaves want to dish out to their masters, it is still unsettling to see any amount of men, women and children being brutally murder. And, not only are the slaves getting their revenge, but their doing it in the most gruesome way as possible. A little ironic considering what they’ve endured.

      The specific scene when the slaves go back to murder the infant in the crib is definitely a panel in the book that stuck with me as well. It is an unsettling reality to be reminded of and how cruel the divide was between whites and blacks. And the real pictures from these times and events made it an even creepier reality.

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  2. I want to discuss the importance of place and setting, and how these are visually represented in Baker’s Nat Turner. While reading, I noticed that Baker uses what Scott McCloud would call “aspect-to-aspect” transition, in which the transitions between panels bypass time and focuses instead on different aspects of a place, idea, or mood (McCloud, 72). Baker utilizes this transition technique frequently in Nat Turner; panels all on the same page are often chronologically unrelated, but instead follow a “wandering eye” to different aspects of the environment to help readers understand the setting and its impact on the story. According to McCloud, these types of panel transitions are fairly rare in Western comics, likely because of our obsession with action and our aversion to inaction. Yet, these transitions are very prominent in Nat Turner. Part of the reason may have to do with the importance of place in the story. Baker never has to tell us that the first part of Chapter 1 (titled “Home”) takes place in a country in Africa, and he doesn’t need to tell us that the rest takes place in the United States; not only do readers already know this, but it’s also well established with these aspect-to-aspect shots. By showing us, for example, a ship on the sea, Turner’s mother in chains lying on a cramped wooden bench, a crying just-born baby lying on the wooden floor, and large, menacing sharks under the water, all on the same page, Baker sets up both the mood and more logistical details of the setting.

    The archival images were unnerving to look at, at least for me personally, and I think that, once again, it has to do with the importance of place and setting in this story. To look at real images of where this uprising occurred and where so much blood was spilled reminds you that, at least to our knowledge based on The Confessions of Nat Turner and other records, all these events really did occur. It is both where Turner’s life as a slave occurred and his (short) life as a rebellion leader occurred; it is where men and women worked for “masters”, and where they killed said masters. Seeing where it occurred, and subsequently knowing where it occurred, makes you reflect on the setting of the story and how Baker establishes it through his drawings.

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    • Ella,
      I’m glad you brought up the topic of “aspect-to-aspect” transition, because it is yet another factor of Baker’s graphic narrative that differs from the previous graphic narratives we have read this semester. In this most recent reading “aspect-to-aspect” transition was heavily used, to the point where I personally became overwhelmed. The amount of text from “The Confessions of Nat Turner” became more sparse and in between these texts, Baker illustrates the many different perspectives that are omitted from “The Confessions of Nat Turner”. For example, on pages 164 and 165 Baker illustrates what might have happened while Nat Turner is waiting for some of his men as they go to Mr Parker’s for what they say is to gather more people. On Page 164, Turner’s men are drawn holding guns at the slaves who are still present at Mr. Parker’s, while other men lay drinking on the ground. On the top section of 165 an anxious imagining of drunken chaos is shown behind a close-up of Nat Turners face, while the bottom section of the page shows the ominous silhouettes of armed men on horseback, presumably white. All of what is shown on these two pages is occurring simultaneously and it is hard to distinguish a clear narrative. Furthermore, it is hard to place these images within “The Confessions of Nat Turner”, because they describe so much more than what the narrative contains and it is questionable whether they show a truthful depiction of the specific event in history.

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    • I completely agree with Ella’s point that Baker emphasizes setting. I think this makes sense because his text relies so heavily on background research and prior knowledge of the event that he does not have first hand experience with. Rather than being able to portray the mood the way Maus does, with Vladek’s stories and diagrams, or the way I Saw It does with a first hand account, Baker must draw from historical representations, not to different from the photographs we looked at. I think he emphasizes this drawn knowledge through his use of several types of setting shots which establish the place and time. At the top of a new segment that is in a new place, he often has an oval establishing panel that tells the reader where we are. This way, he can give himself more freedom in the expressions and more interpretive aspects. If the reader feels secured within a time and place, and they believe that time and place, they are more likely to believe other aspects of the story. In this way, Baker brings in outside information to make his own interpretation blend more with the more factual information he is providing in the form of Nat Turner’s confessions.

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  3. What I found most striking about this chapter was the moral and ethical implications in the way Nat Turner conducted his rebellion. I know this statement in and of itself is controversial however, I can’t help but think twice about the murdering of the infant on page 121. Are these men justified in their rebellion? Yes. But do they have immunity to the fact that they killed children who had no part in the construction of slavery? Maybe. For I suppose Turner’s argument would be that the slave owners took away their children so why should they not experience the same pain or why should the slave owners be granted the liberty of having their bloodlines move forward? Yet, I thought Nat Turner, being the pious man that he was, would conduct a more “righteous” rebellion. For instance one would think that someone who read the Bible so intently would spare the children and be conscious of not stooping to the level of the slave owners. Additionally, I felt as though the looting of the homes after the murders (pg. 128) trivialized their cause as well. Not saying that they weren’t justified in taking such liberties for God knows the plantation owners could not afford much of what they owned sans slaves. While I am really in no place to judge the “morality” of this rebellion, these two aspects of it make it come across as more of a killing spree rather than a rebellion with a concrete statement. But perhaps they were not looking to make such a statement; perhaps they were simply on a bloody quest to reclaim the human dignity that had been so brutally stripped from them through the oppression of slavery. One can see this on the faces of the men on page 124 as they march to the next home after having killed their first family; their heads are held high, they appear confident, one can tell that they feel as though they have a purpose. On an unrelated note I am honestly not sure how the photographs from the archive contribute to my understanding of this book. However, I suppose the photos substantiated the illustrations and reminded me that this was a real moment in history.

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    • You bring up some very valid points. When such horror like the Slave Trade takes place, and then a violent pushback happens – is there a line that can’t be crossed? If not, how can one side be justified yet not the other? Your comment definitely got me thinking about the grey areas of revenge and what is excusable vs. what is not, given the circumstances. I very much understand what you are saying about if one bloodline was deemed “unworthy” of continuing, then it’s only fair if that applies to the other side. However, it seems almost barbaric to decide that fate for an infant. Can one truly say that the cruelty of the rebellions is fair because it matched the cruelty of slave owners? I don’t think so but it’s a complex question that requires careful thought.

      I do agree with you though that when I think of brave leaders in history that have led rebellions, I expect it to be more of a “righteous” one. Perhaps that is unrealistic on my parents because it romanticizes the notion of what took place too much. I also agree that I am in no position to actually judge the morality of what took place but you provide comments that are definitely important to consider.

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    • I agree that these two chapters definitely make you think twice about the rebellion and the killing of the infant scene because on one hand, we know where he was coming from and had adequate reasons to do what he did but on the other hand, he claimed to be a religious righteous man, yet he took an infant’s life. However, like you said, perhaps he was reclaiming the human dignity that he lost and especially a man who knew from the day that he was born that he was meant for something more, and that God had an important mission for him. Thus, this calling led to his rebellion and he would do whatever it takes even if it meant to put humanity behind. To me, I see why he killed that infant because of the saying an eye for an eye and this rebellion was certainly an act of revenge. Having said that, it was also very difficult to see the images of the slaughter or “killing spree” as you called it and to realise that yes this rebellion was horrific but can we really blame them for what happened?

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  4. I want to focus on the style of image and text, which we discussed considerably last class; however, this past reading seemed to complicated my opinion on matter. Last class we categorized two main styles of drawing; an expressive charcoal style that is more frequently used and a style that imitates old photography and the printing press, which is used sparingly on pages 15 and 33. Additionally, the font of the text was described as western and seemed out of place within the narrative. The the recent reading included many instances where the style of the text and drawings interested me; however, I will choose three specific moments to talk about here.
    On the second page of the second chapter, Education, there is text that represents the sound of a drum. In the previous chapter, all the sound effect text had been paired with either man-made and/or western inventions such as the gunshots on page 22 and the dollar bill sign on page 35. in chapter two the sound effects are paired with an African drum, which has been hidden from the white plantation owners. The western style text clashes with the sound of the African drum, which at first I though the man was playing in order to reconnect with his culture, that he had forcefully been stripped of. However, once I looked at the notes in the back of the book, I found out that drums where used to send secret messages to other plantations. this made the text style even more out of place to me, but maybe that was the purpose of the style.
    This chapter also includes the first spoken text in the narrative on page 82, where Nat Turner’s son (if I have interpreted the images correctly) shouts out ” Run, daddy!” after coming to the painful conclusion in the previous page that his father has run off during the night. This moment seems to break the tension that has been building up throughout the previous silent chapter and the young boy loudly expresses his emotion with seemingly no fear of punishment; his connection to his family possibly overpowers that fear. Once again the style of text did not sit well with me when compared to the boy’s emotional shout.
    The last instance of style change in this reading, that greatly interested me was on pg 111, where the bottom image shows Nat Turner communicating his plans to his four trusted partners. The style of this image made it seem like it was a historical woodcut document and I immediately tried find out if it was or if Kyle Baker was trying to emulate that style. I then looked through the archive and was disappointed not to find this image there either. The images in the archive provide a more solid foundation and setting for the Baker’s narrative; however, they do not convey as much emotion. If I had seen these pictures without the context of Baker’s book or Nat Turner’s confession, I would not have paid them much attention.

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    • I totally agree with everything you said. As well, I agree with your observations of style. It definitely shifts, and it does not necessarily correlate between the woodcuts, charcoal and the western. The font also is separate, the confessions are a different text than the sounds. Also some sounds are symbols, some are words. The font is also different in that list of all of the people murdered, and at the end of the book. Although this work does not have a lot of text, they are still categorized.
      I liked your observation of the drum turning clashing with western text. It shows a symbolism of oppression between cultures, not only an oppression based off of skin color. Not only did Nat Turner live through a period of being enslaved, but also had to witness the loss of culture as well. He was forced to be westernized as well as enslaved. On pages 206-207 Baker reports that Nat Turner was viewed as prophetic. Maybe that has something to do with the shifting styles as well, Nat Turner does not have a clear sense of time, claiming to be able to see before his birth. Maybe Baker is trying to capture some of Nat Turner’s personality in his work through artistic style.

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  5. As Nat Turner’s account was introduced into the narrative, I noticed a sort of ebb and flow in terms of how closely the text matched the illustrations. There were instances in which the illustrations appeared to be supplementary in terms of the overarching narrative, and there were points when I got the same sense from the text as well, despite it being the “real” documentation of the events. Then there were, of course, moments in which text and image coincided perfectly. I wonder, if the two consistently matched, could Nat Turner still be considered a graphic novel? Wouldn’t an illustrated Confessions of Nat Turner be considered a picture book? I’m interested in discussing the differences between these two frameworks with regard to subject matter and public reception. Are picture books also a means by which “adult” genres like the trauma narrative are explored, if perhaps to a lesser extent? If so, to what degree have THEY been denounced as a medium which does not fall into the category of “serious literature?” Do picture books perhaps fall under the umbrella of comics, seeing as though, in many cases, they feature sequential art?

    Aside from considering the relationship between text and image and the questions it raised about format/medium, I was struck by the extreme variations in how time was represented through illustration in Nat Turner. Noting the fluctuating width of the gutters, I searched for a pattern between this and the “passage” of time from panel to panel/page to page, but was unable to identify one. I am interested in hearing about anyone else’s opinions on the relationship between these two elements.

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    • You ask some really interesting questions and raise some important points here, Magden. It is certainly noteworthy that, especially as we get into the later part of the book, where Turner’s Confessions are featured much more often, that the relationship between words and images in the narrative makes a dramatic shift. There are long periods when images hold absolute primacy, and other moments in which drawings take a backseat to lengthy chunks of text. The early wordless succession of (nearly only) images is striking in its ambiguity and its newness; piecing together a story without words is not something that readers, and even comics readers, are particularly used to. In the later sections of Nat Turner, as you have pointed out, there are times when the book begins to feel like an illustrated history with supplemental drawings rather than a graphic narrative or comic book. It is difficult to determine, though, how far this tendency towards image supplementation would have to go in order for the work to be labeled a “picture book” or an “illustrated history.” I suppose that the book would have to feature explicitly less sequential narrative art and much more text, so that looking solely at the images would not allow for an understanding of the narrative without reading the coinciding words. As for the reputation, capacity, and subject matter/audience diversity of picture books, they are not only typically associated with children, but almost necessarily so. The picture book is so closely related to associations with children that I do not believe most adult authors would be comfortable employing that term. It is certainly worth asking, though, about the relationship between comics and picture books, since the lines are so frequently blurred. However, I do believe that even if the text and drawings in Nat Turner coincided consistently, I would still be skeptical of ripping the “graphic novel” label away from it.
      So, my question is: Do you think Baker could be consciously playing with and exploring multiple mediums here? I often get the sense that he is asking, “What does it mean to illustrate history?” by representing it so diversely in the pages of his book. Interestingly, there are moments in which the work seems to recall the styles and conventions of “high art”, so to speak, and moments it specifically reminds the reader that it is a comic book. The earlier conventions Baker uses, such as the campy “boom” sound effects or the word balloons, seem to be there to serve as a particular reminder of Nat Turner’s status as a comic book. There are other times, however, when we are steered away from comic book conventions and towards those used by illustrated histories. Baker certainly blurs the boundaries here between illustrated history and graphic narrative/comic book, as well as between high and low art, by the very nature of his beautifully evocative drawings and their unique relationships to text and to each other. This speaks, of course, to the power and range of the comics medium as a mode of serious storytelling.

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  6. I find it interesting that this particular book is where we examine outside sources, namely historical documents and photographs. As we read a comic that is derived directly from a historical account, it makes sense. But Maus also recounts the history of the Holocaust, and I Saw It tells the story of an atomic bombing survivor. So I wish to pursue why specifically Nat Turner warrants additional historical examination.
    The first reason could be because the book is a second-hand account. Kyle Baker was not present for the events of Turner’s rebellion, nor did he learn about them from someone who was. The story he has chosen to retell took place almost two centuries prior, and even though his illustrations are narrated by excerpts from Nat Turner’s Confessions, reading larger sections of the document, as well as seeing photographs of the locations mentioned in the story, provide a kind of confirmation as to the validity of the story. I do not mean to say that Kyle Baker is an unreliable author, simply that having the photographs and the full Confessions conveys a reality from which we as readers are otherwise removed.
    The second reason as to the importance of additional materials could be to analyze the choice of illustrating a historical event, and by extension retelling it in the form of a comic book. The photographs of the victims’ houses in a way confirm the occurrence of these events, but they also lack the emotional weight of Baker’s drawings. It is harder for us as readers to visualize the murders from just a photograph of the site, whereas having just the illustration could be too removed from historical reality. Having both to examine, side by side, combines the visceral nature of the illustrations with the raw fact of the photographs, creating a reading experience more engaging than either of the documents could separately.

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    • Ben, you bring up some very interesting points about Baker as a reliable author. When reading this portion of the text I found myself questioning multiple times how I as the reader am being influenced by Baker’s account of this story. I wonder how much of Baker’s own biases affected his illustrations and his recounting of this tale? Baker does reveal his torn opinion on the rebellion by including the names of those white families who were murdered on page 179. Despite the fact that these families kept slaves and in doing so perpetuated slavery Baker deemed them worthy of names and worthy enough to have their names live on in this text. However it is clear that Baker has a conflicted opinion of Nat Turner. This can be seen in the contrast between pages 186-187. Page 186 has a predominately light colored background and depicts Nat Turner being hanged. While the opposing page 187 reads “Triumph” against an all black background. I’m assuming this page set up was no accident. I am aware that triumph is the name of the following chapter but to have these two images juxtaposed is striking. Is it suggesting that the killing of Nat Turner was a triumph or that Turner being a divine figure and moving to the afterlife is a triumph? I bring up his divine presence because it appears on page 186 that the body of Nat Turner is being summoned by a celestial light.

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  7. I did sense an apparent shift between this part and the last. The work has reached the time of slaves on plantations, Nat Turner has been born. I did feel as though the images were moving quickly, which gave me the sense that time was moving quickly. It seemed like a sudden jump between Nat Turner as a child to Nat Turner as an adult. The previous pages moved quickly as well, but I also felt that it gave us more information. Of course that is ironic because that is the part as we discussed the Kyle Baker and Nat Turner probably knew the least about.
    We discussed photography in class, or the use of photography style illustration (I actually did not see the horses as photographs, I still think that they could have been drawn) so I want to try to make a connection between photo-realism and photographs in the context of Nat Turner. Looking at the actual photographed scenes made me notice how similar they were to the illustrations. Kyle Baker did have accuracy in his work. The photographs themselves served to really paint a picture in my head, and made it more real. It is like when you read a book and then watch the movie, and you start to picture the actor/actress as the main character in the book. I feel that now I will start to contextualize the illustrations with the photographs. I prefer Kyle Baker’s illustrations though. They really express a pain and emotion that photographs can not capture. I identify with the exaggerated emotions because they help me understand. It is difficult to identify with someone like Nat Turner, so this work helps me achieve a goal that photography can not.

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  8. There was an astonishing amount of story that was told mostly through images in the second chunk we had to read of Nat Turner. While there was much more textual narrative than the first chapter, it is still majority pictures. As many have mentioned, it is still surprising how much you are able to get from these charcoal almost messy images. I personally found the beginnings panels when Nat was a boy and the parts about his father a little confusing, forcing me to spend more time on these panels, but the story became more clear as you read on. What I would like to focus on is the strong presence of religion throughout the reading assigned.

    Initially starting this book, I was given no incline that religion was going to play such a prominent role in this narrative. I find it comforting reading about how Nat was able to find an escape through religion and through the bible. I also find it extremely refreshing to see Nat majorly teach himself how to read and write simply by reading through the bible. Personally, having read many parts of the bible myself, it was so incredibly apparent to me that Nat tends to speak in the language used throughout the bible. I found this very interesting. This type of language is very formal, not something you would expect from a black slave, but this is how Nat learned to read and to write, so this was how he spoke. I could imagine some may find it hard to comprehend the quotes from Nat as they get a little confusing using this old language but I was immediately able to comprehend it. It really spoke to me seeing him relying on his religion so much because I can really relate to that myself. I can see him falling back on God and the readings in the bible and allowing them to give him strength to lead this gruesome, but necessary, rebellion. Nat does seem very godlike to me through his quotes and his actions. I admire his strength and his ability to be a leader, just as Jesus Christ was. There were so many aspects of Nat’s life that were so similar to Jesus. For example the part when he disappears into the forrest for 30 days and returns alive and well after the spirits have spoke to him; similarly compared to when Jesus survived in the desert for a similar but longer timeline. I am even more intrigued by this story now that religion has such a strong presence and I look forward to seeing how else is sculpts Nat’s journey to freedom.

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  9. I would like to analyze the significant difference between the two pictures on page 111, as I think that this difference says a lot about Nat Turner’s revolution as a whole. I think Kyle Baker’s stylistic choices in the book function as a type of silent prose that a reader who is paying attention can easily decode. For example, I think that the juxtaposition of these two pictures, which are very different stylistically, show the evolution of thought that the slaves and Nat Turner went through as they planned out how they were going to capture their own freedom. In the first panel it is very difficult to discern what exactly is going on. The only obvious features of this picture are a pig roasting on a spit, a jug of alcohol, a foot, and a fire. These aspects of the image, paired with how messy and unrefined the picture as a whole is, symbolize how primitive these people’s thoughts were and how they were only focused on the real, physical world. These people’s only cares were how to survive and how food, alcohol, and fire would allow their bodies to continue existing. Their focus was on bodily things and “things of this world,” not the “Kingdom of Heaven” and intellectual concepts like freedom and autonomy (96).
    The second picture, however, is the complete opposite of the one that precedes it. This picture is fairly photorealistic. It looks like a renaissance painting. The people in it look like they are having an important discussion. To my eyes, Nat is posed like Socrates in the painting The Death of Socrates. In both images the men are pointing to something away from themselves, seemingly saying, “Look over there: that is the important thing. That is where we should be focusing our attention.” Socrates is pointing upwards to higher intellectual thought, heaven, the idea of God, etc. Nat is pointing away from himself and his friends to the outside where Whites are holding their freedom for ransom. In this picture, the people in it are concerned with more than their physical bodies. They are concerned for their freedom, their immortal soul, and probably the “Kingdom of Heaven”, all of which are intellectual concepts that do not have anything to do with the physical world. In this picture, Baker is showing that the slaves have evolved their thinking away from being centered on fuzzy animal instincts, like eating, and towards clear intellectual thoughts, like freedom.
    Therefore, the difference between these two pictures highlights how Nat Turner’s rebellion agitated the minds of the slaves into a force that was violently obsessed with freedom. They had graduated from a people simply interested in extending their existence to a people who needed more than just physical sustenance to survive. Their souls needed freedom, and it was Nat Turner who woke this hunger in them.

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  10. I was very interested in identifying the different transitions between panels. I at first thought most of the panels were aspect-to-aspect, because they convey a mood. For instance, the sequence on page 107 seemed to do just that; it painted a picture of a plantation as the “wandering eye” sees the house, and the slave chopping wood. It really seemed to establish a single entity of the plantation. However, the more I look at it, the more it seems like a subject-to-subject transition instead. I think the fact that the panels are missing words automatically drove me to assume that they were establishing a sense of place. After all, most aspect-to-aspect transitions intend to portray a single entity with time standing still. This would inherently make the scene silent if everything was in place and the sequence of panels didn’t matter. However, this section on page 107 does seem to have a necessary sequence. We do need to know first that this slave is on a particular plantation to get a sense of place. We need the panel of the slave picking up the axe before the panel where he brings it down upon the log. The absence of words does not always signify the absence of guiding structure, which I think is a major structural point Kyle Baker means to make.
    I was also interested in the authorial ownership over this story. Much like the judge from Nat Turner’s confessions, it seems Kyle Baker means to draw our eyes in subtle ways. For instance, the same sequence on page 107 continues on the next page with the slave noticing the boy and then smiling towards the child. The slave is depicted with a lighter complexion due to the sun. Later on page 124, we return to the same plantation on page 107. We can tell from the same establishing panel of the house on the plantation. The boy and slave meet again but this time the slave beheads the boy. This time the slave’s complexion is harsh and dark. His leg in panel 3 of 124 is extremely dark. Without words Kyle Baker shows a change in this character physically and morally. It forced me to consider the morality of killing a child vs. a life of slavery and horrible atrocities. I think it was interesting to see that even though there are no “guiding” and “strict” words like in Nat Turner’s confessions, a story can be still guide us towards questions and themes pictorially.

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    • I agreed with you that these passages are important for multiple reasons; firstly, as you discussed, they exemplify Baker’s ability to narrative events with only illustrations. This is something that sets Nat Turner apart from the other comics we have read, and here you have chosen two sequences that demonstrate this best.
      I am also interested in the issue you have raised concerning the manner in which the characters are depicted, particularly regarding the visibility of their skin color. Your discussion of the slave’s lighter shading on page 108 resonates with me especially because during my first reading, I failed to notice that this person was black. This brings up an interesting issue about race within the illustrations, and how Baker chooses to depict his figures. Baker’s decision to color this particular character in a darker tone when he murders the child seems risky to me, because this may lead readers to the erroneous assumption that Baker means to imply that darker people are capable of greater violence. This is a topic I would like to examine further in class, as the depiction of race within a recounting of events surrounding racial violence is both delicate and of paramount importance.

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  11. Reading Nat Turner provoked a lot of conflicting emotions because while the rebellion was clearly a result of anger and frustration black people felt towards the oppression of slavery, which was completely understandable, the drawings of the riot and his confession were so brutally realistic and honest that it was to some extent hard to digest. On page 120, Nat Turner hesitated whether his men should take an infant’s life or not, but his hatred for white men soon decided the fate of that infant. It showed the level of resentment and eagerness of revenge that it did not matter who they were killing as long as they were white. Again, in his confession, the tone was unremorseful such as “he was dispatched by repeated blows on the head; there was no other white person in the family.” (126), and “the murder of this family, five in number, was the work of a moment.” (117). The way he described these events was said with satisfaction and appeared to be a big achievement.
    Stylistically speaking, the images of his whole master’s family murdered were harshly drawn, the lines were rough and overall a gruesome depiction of the murder. In comparison to the scene on page 67, where a black man was beaten to death for playing the drum, I am still uncertain as to why the style of drawing was significantly different. Nonetheless, the drawings for this scene were way more soft and smooth looking, even though it was still a horrifying scene.

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    • I had a similar experience reading Nat Turner, as the morality of any one of the events described in the graphic narrative was questionable at best. Baker’s stylistic choices in depicting blood, detached limbs, and gruesome vengeful faces all share the potential to stir an unease in the reader, but I believe this to be purposeful. The intensity of Turner’s eyes on page 119 combined with the haunting image of an axe raised over a baby’s crib is striking, and exemplifies the level at which these men thirsted for revenge or atonement. The gory nature of the illustrations paired with the arguably unremorseful tone of Turner’s confessions leaves readers hesitant.
      The factual history of the insurrection lead by Nat Turner is bloody in a way a that most sources likely cannot depict; a review on the back cover of the book praised “Baker’s suspenseful and violent work documents the slave trade atrocities as no textbook can, with an emotional power approaching that of Maus.” The only way to capture a painful, raw history is through painful, raw drawings.
      Furthermore, I also was intrigued by the composition for one of the pages featuring a dead body. Page 186 is the still image of a hanged corpse, but it is arguably one of the more beautiful illustrations. Specifically, the use of lighting to create a solemn and almost angelic glow; how does this validate the notion that Turner was spiritual or prophet like, and what are the implications of the very different artistic tones and renditions of murder?

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  12. One aspect of Nat Turner that I found particularly notable was the composition of each page. Unlike some comics, including Maus and Watchmen, there is a great deal of variation in the sizes and arrangements of panels, gutters, and text in Nat Turner. For example, on page 60 there are 4 rectangular panels, separated by gutters of uniform size. On page 61, however, there are 3 panels, one of which is circular and “overlaps” another, and there is much more negative space on the page. The layout of each page varies frequently–every spread is presented in a different way, or so it seems. Occasionally, as on page 92, the page is even dominated by text, though in other places it is used very sparingly–there is little dialogue within the panels, and even that is often limited to symbols. In other places, such as on page 95, there are multiple small panels which imply the passage of time with simple depictions of different moon phases.
    In some instances these formatting choices seem to reflect archived photographs. On page 74, for instance, the topmost panel is presented as an oval, which reminds me of old photographs framed with a piece of mat-board cut in an oval such as those at my great grandmother’s house (the oval panel reappears on page 101, this time as a portrait). I do not believe that Kyle baker wanted to present the whole of Nat Turner as a collection of photographic and written documents, as there are countless instances of moments outside of the known documents within the graphic narrative. However, I do think that he wished to implicitly reference the photographic documents that do exist in connection with Nat Turner and the uprising.

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    • I also noticed the variation in page layout. I’ve been trying to pinpoint the choices that went into panel composition, because it’s clear that a lot of thought went into it. Were they arranged to help guide the reader’s eye, or perhaps to give focus to “moments” that Baker judged as more important or significant to the narrative. You mentioned page 61 here, and I was drawn to it too. The ovular panel seemed extraneous, as we don’t need to know that the man looked over his shoulder in order to figure out what is happening on this page. However, I also noticed that the other two panels were more noticeably action-focused (man takes drum out of the bushes and plays it), while the ovular panel was more reactionary (pauses to make sure there’s no one watching him, maybe because he heard a noise). Looking through the rest of the book, I noticed a trend of having panels featuring character’s reactions to things were the smallest ones on the page (examples include 62, 31, and 90). I’m not arguing that this was the case on every single page, of course, but it occurs more often than not. I’m curious as to why this might be the case in a book that seems to be aimed at capturing the emotional as opposed to factual side of the events it portrays. As for your reference to photography in the narrative, I am reminded of something I pointed out a while ago in class, which was that the book had some collage-like elements, including the cover (which features a photograph of the moon, what seems to be some sort of old-timey print of a sword, and a simplistically drawn hand). I too wonder about why Baker chose to include the photographs he did.

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    • I was also interested in these composition choices. I’d like to add that Baker tends to place important, pivotal moments of the story on its own page. An example is on page 135 when the slave beheads the young boy who lived on his plantation, or when that same slave is killed brutally by many men on page 178, or when Nat Turner seems to come to peace with death on page 194. I think Baker devotes pages to single images as a way of controlling our time with an image. I think we are meant to pause in these moments and think about the morality of killing children or feel an introspective moment like Nat facing death. Furthermore, pages like 151 and 152, which bombard us with acts of violence and brutality, seem frantic because of the cluttered composition. I’m not sure of the sequential order of the images or the significance of the composition (especially that axe on 152), but it does seem like Baker is more interested here in presenting the general feeling of revenge and murder.

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  13. In this week’s reading, I was intrigued by the use of biblical imagery and analogies. The importance the bible and believing in God was very clear throughout section II, education. Kyle baker chose to present the section on education with a silhouetted image of a boy praying. He shows how important religion was to the slaves and to Nat Turner through this image and through other images of the bible and praying in this section. For Nat Turner, it gave him something to believe in, but it also gave him power because through the bible he learned how to read.

    On page 105, the Bible is presented as powerful because it is in the center of the panel, and we are looking up at it. In the confesssions of Nat Turner on the page 104, Nat explains how he was chosen by God, saying, “Christ had laid down the yoke He had borne for the sins of men, and that I should take it on and fight against the Serpent.” Nat is explaining his own extremely religious experience using very biblical language and analogies. The bible in this case is seen as an omnipotent power. For Nat Turner the bible is the difference between slavery and freedom. If he learns to read and becomes religious, he can be the savior of his people just like Christ.

    On page 110, Nat Turner says in the confessions, “I should arise and prepare myself, and slay my enemies with their own weapons.” What he is saying here is that the master’s weapon is being educated and keeping the slaves from becoming educated. Again, Nat Turner is emphasizing the link between religion and education and Freedom. Turner believes that if he can learn to read and write and become educated, he can use those tools to overthrow the slave owners. Throughout this section, the artwork depicts Nat Turner as a biblical savior, and shows the bible and religious imagery as essential to the heroism of Turner.

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  14. One of the key concerns of Kyle Baker’s graphic narrative must be Nat Turner’s legacy. Especially as the book ventures into increasingly personal ground, readers are pushed to ask: how should Nat Turner be remembered? There is obviously controversy surrounding the Turner Rebellion and the man who led it, and Baker’s narrative intimately explores the line between murderer and savior. Though the narrative does represent the brutality of slavery, depicting whippings and instances of mental cruelty, the book does not shy away from illustrating the brutality of Turner’s insurrection. At the same time, the book’s combination of raw, visceral images and confessional text serve to emphasize Turner’s profound devoutness and the divine influence of his murderous actions.
    Even as Turner’s explanations in the Confessions text describe and explain the murders, Baker accompanies Turner’s account with graphic drawings of bloody axes, dismembered corpses, and severed heads. Such shocking images of violence suggest a murderous killing spree that seems disjointed with the piety and reverence Turner displays in earlier scenes. When Turner escapes and is called upon by the Holy Spirit to return to the service of his master, he obeys. When the spirit commands him to turn upon the white men and their families, he obeys. The role of the divine in the text both illustrates and complicates the motivations of Turner, who, though intelligent and rebellious, is also dutiful and servile. There is a complex and challenging relationship between the often emotionally gut-wrenching images of life in slavery and the violent, horrific images of slaughter and pure rage. Kyle Baker’s Nat Turner is not a slave (no pun intended) to one side of the historical narrative, but challenges the reader and complicates the conflicting character of Nat Turner, ultimately demonstrating the complexity of historical representation.

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    • I think your point about how Nat Turner is both servile and rebellious is really interesting. When I first read the quote where he talked about returning to his master because the Holy Spirit wanted him to return to service, I thought it meant something slightly different. I thought that he meant that the HS wanted him to return because his desire to escape was selfish and too focused on “the things of this world” (96). However I now realize, after you pointed it out, that he was apparently returning because he thought the HS wanted the ‘natural order’ of the slave-master relationship to be remade. But at the same time, I feel like this idea completely contradicts Nat’s personality. He rebelled fiercely in becoming literate, he urged his father on when he was running away from his masters, he himself ran away from his masters, and then he started a bloody slave rebellion. It makes me wonder… is Nat Turner lying here? Because Nat didn’t technically write down these confessions himself, isn’t it possible that the white judge who transcribed them doctored them a bit (or a lot)? Even if he didn’t doctor them, isn’t it also possible and maybe even likely that Nat Turner said this to the white judge because he knew that anything else he said would be changed eventually? I think that it is more likely that Nat did not actually come back because he thought the HS wanted him to restore the slave-master relationship but because he felt guilty about leaving his family and friends in the situation they were in. He did, after all, start the rebellion right after he came back. If he truly thought that God wanted him to stay a slave, he would not have murdered his white masters and tried to save his loved ones from slavery. I don’t think he would have died for a cause that went against his deeply religious beliefs.

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    • EB,
      I really loved your points about Baker’s narrative exploring the line between murderer and savior, and I feel like this is further explored in the third part of the book. We continue to see very gruesome images of the rebels killing white families; Baker does not sugarcoat the brutal methods of Turner’s rebels. One must reflect on Baker’s intentions and purposes of not shying away from violence performed on both sides of this rebellion. Is he simply illustrating as it (was believed to have) happened, or is he trying to make a more specific point about either side by showing us this level of violence that often renders us, as readers, unable to look away, having instead to confront it directly?

      Regardless of any point Baker may be trying to get across, the graphic violence as well as the themes of religion and prophecy certainly contribute to the controversy of Baker’s rebellion at the time.

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    • I think that you make a good point in indicating Nat Turner’s legacy as one of the biggest concerns of the work. In the very beginning on the page facing the title page there is an image of two eyes and a book in the darkness, which I initially thought referred to Turner and learning to read in secret. However, at the end of Nat Turner on page 200 we see a young black person secret away a copy of “The Confessions of Nat Turner.” This alludes to the fact that slaves didn’t stop rebelling against slavery after Nat Turner, and that he in fact set an important precedence. This also, I believe, alludes to young black people in the future picking up Baker’s Nat Turner in order to educate themselves about events that have remained obscure in textbooks. I think this is particularly relevant to Turner’s legacy in connection with Chapter IV, Triumph. The image facing the title page of this chapter (pages 186, 187) is one of Turner being hanged, yet Baker is asking readers to question if he was ever truly defeated, or if he was triumphant. On page 189, Thomas R. Gray asks Nat Turner, “Do you not find yourself mistaken now?” to which he replies, “Was not Christ crucified?” This response indicates that Turner has not given up on his vision and believes that even if he will be hanged, he will be a martyr for his cause. In his eyes, the reader might reasonably assume, what he managed to accomplish, even though it was violent and horrific, was a just triumph.

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  15. Nat Turner’s religion clearly plays a huge role in his life and the events that marked it, but this role becomes even clearer when you consider the specific Bible stories that had the largest influence on him. On pages 86 and 87, a young Nat Turner reads from the Bible. From the illustrations on these pages, it is apparent that he is reading from the book of Exodus, in which Moses frees the Israelites from slavery at the hands of the Pharaoh. It is not difficult to see why Baker chose to include images pertaining to this story when addressing Turner’s early religious education. Much of Nat Turner’s life directly mirrors that of Moses, and it is clear that he finds great inspiration in this biblical figure with whom he can so closely relate.

    The two panels on page 86 contain images of Israelite slaves in chains being whipped by a cruel overseer as they are made to work. Just as the Moses’ people were forced into labor by the Egyptians, so too were Nat’s people forced into labor by White plantation owners. On panel 2 of the following page, a young Nat excitedly reads of Moses’ parting of the Red Sea to let all the Israelite slaves pass to freedom. After Nat reads of these feats, he begins to further model himself after Moses, striving to become a prophet whose eventual role is to free his people from the bonds of slavery (a role that is encouraged by those around him). However, the more controversial aspects of Turner’s rebellion may also have roots in the Bible. In the Old Testament, there are struggles between the people of God and their enemies that involve violence perpetrated by both sides. Sometimes, as in the case of Exodus, this violence is even perpetrated against children (God sends the Holy Spirit to kill all firstborn sons in an attempt to persuade the Pharaoh to release the Israelites). Although it is often unsavory to think about this violence, if Nat Turner modeled his sense of morality from the Old Testament of the Bible, then it is possible that his thinking around these stories led him to the belief that casualties are justified in struggles of a divine or godly nature.

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  16. The life and situation of Nat Turner escalates further in this section of the text. Baker retains the potent and intense art style and subject matter, now relying more heavily on the words (or, words as filtered by white law officials) of Nat Turner to illustrate his story. Wherein the earlier chapters relied on context clues and a level of fictionalized history, Baker is now able to directly reference a historical account to the best of his ability, and it shows in the images. While the reader is still left with a responsibility to understand and follow the skips in time and action within the narrative, the text creates a more linear recount. I found the spread consuming pages 102 and 103 to be a particularly noteworthy blend of image and text from Nat Turner’s Confessions. Baker depicts such raw and powerful emotion in these two pages; it is the righteous image of a man rebelling against the forces that keep him. Turner’s Confessions paint him as a spiritual man, and these two pages are a display of that faith. I’m very interested in the ways that spirituality intersects with violence. Is Turner an “ends justify the means” sort of man in spite of or as a result of his faith in a higher power? The excerpt read for Wednesday’s class calls upon readers to question ethics quite often; Baker constructs a much uncensored, brutal recreation of the horrors of slavery. By using a dark, gritty art style paired with a rather straightforward interpretation of the events in Nat Turner’s confessions, Baker creates a narrative that is succinct in both content and tone. Above all else, it looks and feels real.

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    • I agree with what you said here about the relationship between text and image. While the text provides the “actual account” of what happened in Turner’s revolt, the images provide the raw emotional context. Together they create a vivid, intense, and multi-dimensional picture of Nat Turner’s life. I also found pages 102 and 103 interesting in terms of the way the text interacts with the illustration. The text itself deviates (in my opinion) from what we see in the rest of the book. While Nat Turner’s confession prior to this moment was more direct and, at times, clinical, these pages read more like a sermon than anything else and are highly poetic.

      It is not surprising to me that Nat Turner uses this sort of language when describing his revelation, or when he speaks about “white spirits and black spirits engaged in battle” (pg 102), as these elements are all very much present in the Bible. Many times throughout the Bible, important biblical figures (especially prophets) are delivered prophetic, divine knowledge from God, and it is not uncommon for these prophecies to pertain to war. Additionally, the language used in these verses can be very heavy in intensity and symbolic imagery, as we see with this part of Turner’s confession. The drawing used to accompany the text on these paged does, in my opinion, a very good job of matching this intensity with it’s two-page depiction of Nat Turner shouting up at the sky with his fists to the air, while dark storm clouds, pouring rain, and bold flashes of lightning surround him.

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