Outside the Long Box: Birth of a Nation

Review by Guest Author Richard Wright (Black Comic Lords)

Every now and then a body of work comes along and gives you all the feels and laughs. One such work can be found in the graphic comic novel, Birth of a Nation written by Aaron McGruder and Reginald Hudlin and illustrated by Kyle Baker. This book was published by Three Rivers Press in 2004.

You may ask why review a graphic novel that is nearly 20 years old? Given the days and times we live in, picking up a graphic novel that is relative today as it was when it was first released, allows one to reflect on how times have changed as well as how some things have not changed.


Starting from the Bottom

Birth of Nation is written in a humorous and satirical perspective. Reginald Hudlin writes in the introduction about his growing up in East St. Louis. This serves as the inspiration and background for the story itself. The story is very humorous in tone but delves into some serious issues like poverty, politics, voter suppression, and Black Nationalism.

The story focuses on one fearless brother, Mayor Fred Fredericks. He is a leader in the community who does not just talk the talk but walks the walk. He is a hands-on type leader who wants what is best for his community. He communicates the importance of voting in an election only to find himself unable to vote due to him being listed as a felon. Others find out the same thing and cannot vote either. As a result, the election was lost by a few votes. Tactics like entire voter roles being purged is nothing new. However, for Mayor Fredericks, he cannot stomach the system that has denied rights to its citizens. In response to these shenanigans, he goes radical and calls for secession from the United States.

What begins in a laugh turns into an honest to goodness shift in mindset for all the people. Please bear in mind that Hudlin and McGruder weave biting humor throughout this story. This is not for kids. You will also laugh out loud at some of the dialogue.

The newly emancipated country is lovingly called Blackland and its national anthem is a take on the old sitcom Good Times. As funny as the story is, you will find yourself rooting for this little nation.


Good Times

In pursuing real freedom, Mayor Fredericks puts the United States on notice. The newly emancipated country is lovingly called Blackland and its national anthem is a take on the old sitcom Good Times. As funny as the story is, you will find yourself rooting for this little nation. Mayor Fredericks takes the bull by the horns and really tries to create a place of pride and love in Blackland.

However, like all great ideas there are warts. Blackland has to deal with the same issues any nation may have dealt with like resources. Blackland also is forced to work with the local gangster, Roscoe. Say what you want but Roscoe is effective. In fact, he became Blackland’s first military leader. As the fledgling country fights to survive, it is becoming difficult for the U.S. to not take this succession seriously.


The U.S. sends in agents to sow seeds of discord and some of their initial allies become foes; Showing that politics does make for strange bedfellows. In short, Blackland, for all its inspiring ideas, deals with similar crises they faced as part of the U.S. The difference however is being able to observe a small group of people dedicated to self determination. They persevere, they hold on because they believe in Blackland. 

Kyle Baker’s art in this graphic novel is beautiful. The style is drawn in a cartoon fashion which in essence causes the observer to see these blocks of art for what they are. The novel itself does not use quote bubbles which gives it a mature feel. You read the words below and see the impressions of the art in the faces of the characters. The story moves at a good pace and the art is not dominated by a deluge of words. Each block communicates clearly and does not lean on the written word to explain itself. Kyle Baker does a great job expressing humor visually which makes this graphic novel a masterpiece. You want this book in your library and collection. 

– Richard J Wright

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