Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel

Written by Aaron McGruder and  Reginald Hudlin
Illustrated by Kyle Baker 
Crown Publishers, July 2004 
The Locale:
East Saint Louis, Illinois is a small city of about 35,000 people of whom nearly 98% are African American. Originally an island in the Mississippi River, it was a favorite site for river pirates to stash their swag as well as a choice location for gentlemen’s duels, not being under the legal authority of either Illinois or Missouri. The Army Corps of engineers dammed the east side of the island early in the 20th century, joining it to Illinois as part of a flood plain project. It is one of the most impoverished cities in America.
The Premise
So, in an imaginary presidential election in the year 2000, the votes of nearly 1000 residents of East Saint Louis are not counted, those people having been expunged from the rolls when falsely believed to be felons. In this imaginary presidential election, an imaginary Texas Governor defeats an imaginary Vice President by 157 votes.
The imaginary Supreme Court reviews the case and concludes, yes, the people of East Saint Louis were illegally disenfranchised but a re-vote might change the outcome and destabilize the electoral count and be contested in congress and blabbity-blah and so “Tough noogies, East Saint Louis.”
East Saint Louis opts to secede from the United States.
The Story
Well, then what might happen? What will the people who are involved do? The politicians, the capitalists, the thugs and gangstahs? Well, obviously, they all press for control of the tiny new country. Even the decision to secede was the product of political coercion, with a fairly honest mayor balancing his suspicions of the fast money coming in with the judgment of history.
But wait -- meanwhile, in another part of the country, the White House is in a tizzy, and wants to do something, even if they don’t know what. The new President has a couple of colored folk in his administration to counsel him, and the imaginary Dick Cheney and the imaginary Colin Powell and the imaginary Condoleeza Rice all have opinions on how to batter, punish, remove, and destroy this threat to … to what? To the legitimacy of those people even being in power.
This is the classical structure for a potentially brilliant work – take a single situation, give it a logical twist (“Won’t count our votes? Fuck you, then.”), let the tale tell itself using the knowledge and experience of the authors, and play it to the end. (If the situation is one we know from actual life, one in which none of us knew what to do about it, even better.) If the creators are up to the job, it can be a work of power and magic. They are.  
Brilliant, cogent, relevant, entertaining, and all around adjectival. You'll like it.
Aaron McGruder is the creator of the amazing daily comic strip, Boondocks, and the recent anthology of The Right to Be Hostile: The Boondocks Treasury
Reginald Hudlin wrote and/or directed such movies as House Party, BoomerangBebe’s Kids, The Ladies' ManServing Sara, and the announced TV version of Boondocks.  He grew up in East Saint Louis.
Kyle Baker has done a number of graphic novels, including Why I Hate Saturn and The Cowboy Wally Show.

(As is often the case, my thanks to Jack Rems at Dark Carnival Bookstore for handing me the book and saying “You'll like this.” I do.)


eXTReMe Tracker