The graphic novel adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred that I wrote/lettered and John Jennings drew will be released by Abrams ComicArts on January 10, 2017 (available for pre-order now). In recognition of that momentous occasion, I’m writing 31 blog posts about the path from novel to graphic novel. This is 31 Days Of Kindred.
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Ashley’s Sack & Hagar’s Bible
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Scrolling through facebook this morning, taking in my daily dosage of soul poison–a mix of political outrage, brazen injustice, and George Micheal, R.I.P.–I came across a story about one of the artifacts on display at the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, an “unbleached cotton sack featur[ing] an embroidered text recounting the slave sale of a nine-year-old girl named Ashley and the gift of the sack by her mother” (Auslander, 2016).
That article I linked to recounts how researcher Mark Auslander tracked down the origins of the artifact, and just how in depth and difficult that task proved to be.
Butler did a great deal of research on slavery for Kindred. She said that she actually needed to tone down the actual terror and violence endemic of the era she was writing about, which, if you’ve ever read even a little of the many oral histories from former slaves, is not surprising. Even in a novel that sets out to make you feel what it was like to be alive at the time, the full truth is still too painful.
Butler did her research in the mid-70s, Auslander did his in the past year, but the fact that so much of the detailed information of slavery is so far from public knowledge is frightening. In Kindred, prior to time travelling, Dana’s knowledge of her family is limited to names on a family tree written in the front of a Bible by Dana’s great-grandmother Hagar. Ashley’s sack reminded me of that, a small bit of written history sneaked through the cultural historical annihilation perpetrated along with the physical and psychological abuse of forced servitude.
I think it’s difficult to really appreciate the full breadth and depth of that trauma, especially from 200 years later. Which, I suppose, is very much the point of Kindred. Encouraging a greater appreciation of all the destructive effects of America’s racist history. And present.