Because a large segment of the comic book industry and its customers recognize Kyle Baker for his humor comics, it is easy to forget that he is a master storyteller whose work is marks him as a true dramatists more than as a practitioner of any one particular genre, such as comedy, superheroes, or fantasy. Also, so many commentators on comics as business and/or art spend time trying to define terms like sequential art, graphic novel, and comics. Isn’t the phrase word and pictures enough? I like “illustrated narrative,” but I discovered a comic that dismisses that term so much so that I just decided to enjoy it and examine how it works.
Coming across the first issue of Kyle Baker’s self-published four-issue mini-series, NAT TURNER, I’m reminded simply of the power of comics to tell stories. Here, Baker does not use words in the form of dialogue, captions, or sound effects. Mostly he uses pictures and a sprinkle of symbols here and there, but it’s more than enough to tell a rich story. Just with picture, what Baker does literally amounts to a novel’s worth of prose.
In simply drawn and beautiful pictures, Baker shows Africans living in their village. He shows other Africans hunting them in order to sell them as captives to Europeans. He shows us how the Europeans strip the captives of both their dignity and their clothes, how Europeans brand them, and later throw them in the holds (along with hundreds of other African captives) of ocean going ships.
What makes Nat Turner stand out as an exceptional work is the efficient and powerful use of visual language. Baker even takes the few word balloons in this first issue and transforms them into art balloons. It’s efficient because sometimes one picture can communicate what it would take three or more panels to do. This is powerful work because it hits viscerally on both an intellectual and emotional level, so in a sense, the visual narrative tells a story and makes the reader understand and feel the fictional environments and relate physically and emotionally with the characters.
I can’t ask for more than a comic that appeals on so many levels to me. Plus, the author/publisher gives us 48 pages for three bucks! A+