- Posted by Johanna on January 4, 2009 at 9:04 am
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin; art by Kyle Baker
- PUBLISHER: Crown Books; $14.95 US
With the United States about to inaugurate its first African-American President, what better time to check out a political satire from three leading African-American creators? Birth of a Nation is written by Aaron McGruder (The Boondocks) and Reginald Hudlin (Black Panther) with art by Kyle Baker (Why I Hate Saturn).
When black voters in East St. Louis go to the polls, they discover that they’ve all been tagged felons and aren’t allowed to vote. The shenanigans result in an idiot Texas governor illegitimately becoming President. Although the Supreme Court says injustice was done, they refuse to correct it, leading the Mayor to secede his city from the union. The government has failed them, whether on the huge scale of disenfranchisement or with small things, like not picking up the garbage.
Starting a new nation comes with all kind of questions, big and tiny. There’s funding to be figured out, plus things like a country name, a flag, and an anthem. People love the idea of a scrappy underdog, but when it comes to day-to-day living, they still have to eat. Looking at how decisions get made shows the reader why we have the kind of bread-and-circus political system we do. Along the way, other targets of satire include consumerism, cultural appropriation, and ultimately, whether to do what’s right or what’s comfortable.
As events escalate — the baby nation risks actually becoming a threat to the US because of electronic money transfers, and a native East St. Louis Air Force officer, tired of military racism, steals a fighter jet and defects — battles are fought both in the media and literally, with a planned invasion. Unfortunately, the blockbuster special effects ending doesn’t really address all the questions raised by the premise, but it certainly ends things with a bang.
Hudlin’s introduction, about growing up in East St. Louis, provides important context. His list of events that are outrageous but true in the city’s history put this comic about political corruption in a new light. Baker’s caricature-like illustrations, heavy on character closeups in vibrant colors, are accompanied by dialogue underneath the rectangular panels. The storyboard-like presentation both speaks to the project’s original gestation as a movie script and makes for easy reading for those put off by word balloons. It’s not very good comics, but the thought-provoking comedy speaks to some of our biggest hopes and fears.