The first page, of the escape is just a snapshot prologue of the escape, which we will revisit in more detail later.
Now the story turns back 23 years, starting with a Bible verse:
There will be Bible verses peppered throughout the novel. Robert Smalls was a church-goer from childhood, and there are several verses in the Bible that speak about slavery. This one from Colossians Chapter 4, Verse 1 has a degree of relevance to the section of the novel that will follow.
The next page admittedly isn’t a pleasant one. It is a recently hanged man.
I knew when I started this project that I researching, writing, and drawing it would take me to some unpleasant places. Here is maybe the first graphic unpleasantness. I did some basic research on hanging and its effects on the body and… it wasn’t nice at all (so be advised before you click on that link).
I haven’t included him just for some sort of shock value; his appearance here is based on historical accounts of the scene that will follow.
Please know that while the novel will include some quite graphic imagery from time to time, it is not my intention to glorify them nor attempt to elicit cheap shock responses, but also that I don’t want to shy away from some of the more horrific aspects that are part of the story I am telling.
The things Robert Smalls saw and experienced helped shape him into the man he became and shaped the world he lived him and I think that it is important for me to include them for what they were.
Having said that I am not aiming for shock value or glorification of gruesomeness, I am also using a visual medium to try to tell a story in an involving and interesting way. It is true that I did not have to use a close-up to depict a hanged man here. I could have used a much longer distance take, had him in silhouette, or conveyed the presence of a hanged man in some other less graphic way. As a creative choice though, this is involving and unpleasant and I think a reader should feel that to understand that seeing this sort of thing close-up was part of daily life for some people back then and there. Also, I am striving for a juxtaposition of this as a backdrop to the scene that will follow.
I hope that I am making the right choices here and striking the right balance when it comes to graphic imagery. Please do let me know if you think I have been insensitive or have the balance wrong.
In terms of drawing him, it was a pretty straightforward process. I knew I wanted a close-up of the hanged man for the reasons I’ve mentioned above, so it was a case of drawing him from some reference photos.
These pages and all other completed pages of the graphic novel can be found on the homepage. I will add all new pages as I complete them so check back often.