April 16th, 2011


Birth of a Nation: a Comic Novel -- Aaron McGruder, Reginald Hudlin, & Kyle Baker

Birth of a Nation: a Comic Novel
by Aaron McGruder, Reginald Hudlin, & Kyle Baker
Crown Publishing, Hardcover, 144 pages, July 2004

if this were a movie (as Hudlin and McGruder originally intended), it'd be the most entertaining Hollywood movie I've seen since 1977; and maybe now someone will make a movie in which East St Louis comix,kyle baker secedes from the Union and renames itself Blackland and prints up currency featuring the likenesses of MLK, Malcolm X, James Brown, and Will Smith (!?) -- I didn't expect to elect a black president in '08, either. It's about time somebody made a "comic novel" -- they call it that on the cover, none of this "graphic novel" shit -- about poor people that is both truthful and not about losing. (Disclosure: I've never read The Autobiography of Malcolm X; but if anybody ever adapts it into comix, it ought to be these guys, and I'll be first in line to devour it.) Maybe something like this can work only in cartoon form, where dirt, crime, blood, and property destruction can be rendered into brightly-coloured abstraction, and where it is only right and natural to project our own consciousnesses into simplified avatars. Maybe if we see Denzel Washington playing Mayor Fred Fredericks, the illusion -- that a destroyed, forgotten chocolate city can take on the United States of America and win -- disintegrates. It'd be like expecting The Wire to have a happy ending: absurd. Birth of a Nation is absurd, but it carries us along anyhow because it acknowledges all of the human frailty and evil that make real-world revolution seem impossible, and introduces into the mix an element of good luck that falls just short of unbelievable. What if ...... the revolution were partially financed by a black billionaire? What if ........... a large-scale, viable alternative fuel source were developed by ... a good guy, somebody sympathetic to the cause? I reckon this is the sort of thinking that keeps people buying lottery tickets, but ... what if? People get lucky all the time, perfect storms happen all the time. What if this one time, everything lines up right for this one town that's been downtrodden and unlucky for its entire history?comix,kyle baker

The drawings are handled capably by Kyle Baker, who has a gift for distilling faces and body language into highly-concentrated emotional forms. And he's a funny guy. I'll complain about the limitations of his caption-below-panel M.O. -- it messes up the flow and gives his pages an unappealing storyboard-ness -- but he's worked in this style for decades, and it's hard to care too much when the final result is triumphant. comix,kyle baker Does he hate word balloons? Google only knows.

When I picked this book up, I expected to have a few laughs at the expense of The Man -- check! -- but didn't expect to be thrilled by the possibility of a new race- and class-driven Civil War, of bloodshed, of martyrdom, and of new beginnings. What if ... we had big luck ... and big courage?

-- MZA

comix,kyle baker