« Weeks 6-7: Art Spiegelman, Maus | Main | Week 9: Alison Bechdel, Fun Home »

March 18, 2010



Did the class talk about Inglorious Basterds at all w/r/t this? They have similar impulses, putting what are usually noble victims into violent, morally questionable roles. (I also heard Baker talk about this comic, he mentioned Amistad, and how he was disappointed the slave revolters at the beginning of the movie weren't the protagonists)

That pulpy anger and joy is what I liked so much about both the movie and the comic; there is clearly something strange about seeing a hulking black man chopping off a cherubic white child's head, and that is enough. The comic doesn't go on to detail the backlash of violence against slaves after Turner was executed , or dull 'Defiance' speachifying about being better than the enemy and the importance of survival over revenge, that's another comic.

Baker also talked about being amused by reactions from people who liked the first half of the comic, where black children were killed, but were disgusted during the second half when white children were killed. I'm certain he could have predicted that response, and I think Baker's refusal to have someone in the comic make a 'yes, the anger is justified, but on the other hand,' argument is what gives the comic its power.


Certainly there are plenty of trite or pompous or patronizing ways to talk about the dubious morality of Turner's revolt, but those aren't the only ways to grapple with it. "Better than Amistad" isn't quite good enough for me, and I'm not sure that refusing to confront the issue is all that much better.

Baker made some of the same comments to us, including the one about people who liked the first half but were appalled by the second. Which sets up a false comparison, by the way--does anyone think the people who liked the early issues liked them because black people were getting enslaved, tortured, and killed? Or was it because those issues struck all the expected moralistic postures about black people getting enslaved, tortured, and killed? And since that moralism disappears when the white kids start getting dismembered--although the sanctification of Turner does not--maybe those reactions are consistent. Maybe Baker's anecdote proves more than it's supposed to.

Now, I thought the book got better when the killings mounted and the pulp imagery intensified, especially in that album/collage in Book III. But as I looked back on those pages while I wrote this post, I realized that sequence was also a brilliant means of disguising one of Turner's most shocking acts, the slaughter of a school of ten children. The book refuses to evaluate Turner's worst actions but it's willing to minimize them. That gives the comic something, but I wouldn't call it power and I wouldn't point fingers at people who were disgusted by it.


'I wouldn't point fingers at people who were disgusted by it.' I think you're referring to Baker, but fair enough. And you're right about the burial of the school massacre, I didn't remember that.

On the other hand, Baker doesn't hide the fact that Turner chased down and murdered children, and emphasizing the heroic and downplaying the ugliness is important for the comic's anger. If he had, making more of the dead children and less of the climactic battle, or having someone with a more objective POV get disgusted, whatever, people would be less uncomfortable and the comic would be less interesting.

That they are, and that Baker is obtuse about what the scanned drawing means ('I'm just being objective, that's how people at the time would have drawn it, how come you're so angry when you're fine with seeing black children killed' - a question I agree really misrepresents the criticisms, although I still think it's funny) textually as well as in person is what I like best about the comic.

(and so I'm not a total troll, I'm really enjoying this blog's return, including this essay)


"I think you're referring to Baker..."

Yeah, that's who I meant.

As for the comic's anger... righteous black anger is just as much a cliche as pious white liberal moralism when it comes to works that tackle race. Not that anger is all that's there, but I don't buy it as a justification for the comic's creative decisions. If anything, I'd say it compounds the problems that come with romanticizing Turner.

Thanks for your comments, Isaac.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 03/2004