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Graphic Accounts of Violence: Visualizing Slavery in American Comics

By Irenae A. Aigbedion

In the ever-expanding visual archive of slavery, comics present a new perspective from which readers can participate in the unearthing and redressing of the abuse that sustained the West. My aim in this article is not only to diversify the academic conversation surrounding comics in general, broadening the definition of “American” comics, but also to understand the ways that comics scholarship and visual studies can help us to understand the history and culture of slavery throughout the Americas. Two recently published graphic novels underpin the present endeavor: Marcelo D’Salete’s Cumbe (Brazil, 2014) and Damian Duffy and John Jennings’ Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation (US, 2017).[1] These comics seek to illuminate the traces of slavery in the present day and to address the gaps in the historical archive of slavery. What stories can comics tell, and what traumas can they address? What can this medium do that forms such as the novel cannot? Like Sarah Henzi in her work on First Nations comics in Canada, I am interested in the ways in which “alternative, subversive forms of storytelling—such as the comic book and the graphic novel—are ‘a necessary antidote to the conventional history of the Americas’” (24). Comics present a way to engage with gaps in Brazil’s archive of slavery as well reimagine slavery in the US—where audiences that have been oversaturated with films, novels, and art about slavery.[2]

I argue that because of their transdisciplinary, intergenerational, intercultural, and metalinguistic nature (as outlined by Henzi), both Cumbe and Kindred: GNA, along with other similar graphic narratives, have the potential to reignite discussions about race and slavery outside of the academy and throughout the Americas. These comics challenge traditional depictions of slavery in painting, photography, and even contemporary film, and present an alternative to traditional slave narratives. Cumbe and Kindred: GNA in particular allow us to reimagine a history of black suffering in ways that avoid the fetishizing tropes, the seeming obsession with the suffering, victimized, and powerless black body, commonly taken up in artistic representations of slavery that focus on backs scarred by whips, of black bodies hanging from trees, of eyes bulging from a dying person’s head, of naked women bleeding and turned to face the viewer, of slaves slowly shuffling in the coffle, of endless labor in vast fields. Comics such as these also allow readers to imagine histories that have been erased and to challenge our own reliance on written testimony as the means by which knowledge travels through generations. In the absence of slave narratives from Brazil, D’Salete relies on historiography about slavery in colonial Brazil to imagine and create the context in which his protagonists operate. Against the backdrop of the slave narrative tradition in the US, Kindred (in both its forms) challenges our reliance on written documents and asks us to consider what goes unsaid in history. These graphic novels control the way we view and process explicit scenes of violence and, to a greater extent in Cumbe, redirect our gaze from such exhibitions.

The “scenes” to which I refer fall into the category of what Saidiya Hartman calls “scenes of subjection” in the construction of the identity of the enslaved person. For Hartman, these scenes are the essential or fundamental moments that define the slave and are the means by which they are both marked as and made into slaves. Considering the most iconic example, punishment by whipping, Hartman claims, “[the scene of subjection] is the terrible spectacle [that] dramatizes the origin of the subject and demonstrates that to be a slave is to be under the brutal power and authority of another” (3). What happens, then, when such scenes are reworked or averted altogether? With the absence of explicit scenes of subjection in Cumbe, D’Salete not only underscores the multiple ways in which slave identity is constructed but, more importantly, suggests that the protagonists are not defined only or even primarily by their status as slaves. If not defined as slaves, then these characters are able to act upon the world and become agents in the making of their own history. Refusing to represent the “primal scene” (Hartman 3) of whipping, Cumbe turns our attention instead to the horror and violence hidden in the everyday interactions that sustained slavery. The narrative focuses on the quotidian, unspoken violence taking place “off screen”—within the gutters of the comic and at the literal margins of the world drawn on the pages. Kindred: GNA, by contrast, spends a significant amount of time rendering whipping scenes clearly for readers; they are almost unbearable in their intensity. Images of blood, of naked and broken bodies, of faces twisted in pain rendered in Jennings’ rough style and highly saturated color scheme drown the reader in a deluge of violence that washes over panel after panel and ripples throughout the comic. The framing and constantly shifting angles used to render the whipping scenes extend our engagement with the body’s brutal destruction on the page and prompt me to ask: how are we meant to position ourselves as readers of this comic? Like Hartman, I am interested in the facility and frequency with which such scenes of subjection are reproduced and the reasoning behind such reproduction. Though the questions that drive her work are ones that could be used to interrogate the comics medium in general, they are especially salient in relation to Kindred: GNA and similar comics about slavery:

“Are we witnesses who confirm the truth of what happened in the face of the world-destroying capacities of pain, the distortions of torture, the sheer unrepresentability of terror, and the repression of the dominant accounts? Or are we voyeurs fascinated with and repelled by exhibitions of terror and sufferance? What does the exposure of the violated body yield?” (3).

Rather than allowing the reader to slip into a voyeuristic position, however, Kindred: GNA draws the reader into the narrative and into histories of violence through its use of formal elements in the comics medium.

Before doing close analysis of the comics themselves, it is necessary to consider why such research is relevant at this moment in time. As is the case in the United States, public discourse in Brazil has yet to fully acknowledge the lingering effects of the colonial era and to subvert the structures set in place when European settlers first encountered the Americas; only in 2003 did a federal law make the study of Afro-Brazilian History and Culture mandatory in the national education system (De Paula and Guimarães 437). Nonetheless, as slavery similarly laid the foundations for race relations in the US and Brazil, there have been significant efforts made to compare the systems of slavery in both nations. Contemporary studies of abolition in the Western Hemisphere highlight the distinct practices that both determined racialization in the 20th century and continue to impact the way that race is perceived and represented legally and visually. Public discourse towards slavery and discrimination in Brazil has often played off the fact that, unlike in the US, legalized segregation did not follow abolition. Instead of something like Jim Crow or South Africa’s apartheid, what emerged in Brazil was “racial democracy:” a discourse suggesting that since abolition in 1888, there has been no racially motivated discrimination against non-white people in Brazil. Moreover, since Brazil did not suffer from an organized system of racially based segregation, and instead had historically encouraged miscegenation, race relations in Brazil were inherently less fraught than in the US. In Brazil, there are numerous official and unofficial labels used to identify ethnoracial heritage; each label comes with its own connotations and can blur distinctions between one racial category and another. Brazilian census options such as pardo (brown) and preto (black) join the list of colloquial terms like mulatto (mixed black and white ancestry), moreno (an ambiguous term that implies some type of racial mixing), and negro (black) to account for visible differences in skin color.[3] This range of expression encourages fluid self-representation of race in informal contexts, whereas in the US, hypodescent legally established rigid racial distinctions whose effects can still be felt today.. “One drop of black blood”[4] rendered a person black regardless of how pale his/her skin was; there was no consideration for chromatic variants in US racial categories. “Mixed race” and “biracial” have gained traction as popular alternative racial categorizations to more accurately represent an individual’s racial ancestry, but not until 2000 did the US census provide an option to officially identify with more than one race (Parker, et. al. “Multiracial”).

Despite these ostensible differences, the current results of enacting racial democracy in Brazil and segregation in the US are quite similar. There has been a concerted effort at state and local levels to achieve reform of race relations with mixed results. By 2014, when Cumbe was first published, Brazil had undergone a rapid transformation in its racial politics. Instead of denying the impact of race and holding Brazil up as a racially mixed nation, a model for places like the US, the federal government acknowledged that the country was indeed racist.[5] The admission of national racism posed a fundamental challenge to the way Brazil has historically portrayed itself as a harmonious blend of African, indigenous, and European cultures and forced a very necessary conversation about race to begin. While legislative measures continue to expand, however, they have only compounded racial problems, as the criteria for evaluating race have remained unclear. Attempts to clarify uncertainties about the racial quotas used in job hiring, for example, have led to many outrageous situations that draw us back to 19th– and early 20th-century discourses of scientific racism. For example:

“The Department of Education in Para, Brazil’s blackest state, attempted to fulfill [a 2016] decree with a checklist, which leaked to the press. Among the criteria to be scored: Is the job candidate’s nose short, wide and flat? How thick are their lips? Are their gums sufficiently purple? What about their lower jaw? Does it protrude forward? Candidates were awarded points per item, like “hair type” and “skull shape.” In response to the leaked test, one college professor from the state wrote on Facebook, “We’re going back to the slave trade. During job interviews they’re gonna stick their hands in our mouth to inspect our teeth” (De Oliveira, “New Problem”).

That universities and public sector offices are using visual signifiers of race to comply with federal law is unsettling and jarring. The emphasis on the visuality of race shows that there are expected markers of blackness that persist in the public imaginary; these markers, how they came to be, and the purpose that they serve must be interrogated in order to make any systemic changes that do not generate more problems than solutions.

Race has become hypervisible in Brazil while the US is simultaneously experiencing whiplash in the sudden shift from the discourse of post raciality to aggravated racial tensions following the 2016 presidential election. Published in 2017, Kindred: GNA enters at a moment when social movements such as #BlackLivesMatter are advocating for reform to end state-sanctioned violence against black communities. As social and news media and the new presidency encourages US citizens to revive a past that never was, it seems fitting to return to an analysis of slavery. Both Kindred: GNA and Cumbe have appeared at a time when their respective nations are witnessing the fallout from changes in public discourse about race and highlight the fact that unpacking and undoing the lasting damage of slavery is a process that is nowhere near completion.

Among the many images of Brazilian slavery, the work of French painter Jean-Baptiste Debret is often cited as illustrative of the brutality and mundane aspects of colonial life and seen as essential to the documentation of daily life in 19th-century Brazil. Debret traveled to Brazil in March 1816 as part of the French Artistic Mission, a group of artists and architects who, with the patronage of the Portuguese king Dom João VI, intended to establish a school of the arts in Rio de Janeiro, the temporary residence of the Portuguese court in exile and soon-to-be capital of the empire. Though often commissioned by the royal family to paint their portraits and to commemorate important occasions, Debret found himself drawn to both indigenous life and the spectacle of black slavery in Brazil. After returning to France in 1831, Debret published his magnum opus, A Picturesque and Historic Voyage to Brazil, or the Sojourn of a French Artist in Brazil (Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Brésil, ou Séjour d’un Artiste Français au Brésil), a collection of engravings based on his watercolors and sketches. Though he is now renowned for the watercolors and engravings of Brazilian life that form the basis of his artistic study, the book did not sell well and Debret died in poverty in 1848.

One of Debret’s most iconic images, (and one of the most common visual citations of Brazilian slavery) is The Execution of the Punishment of the Whip (see fig. 1). The image is a depiction of a black slave being publicly whipped at the stocks in broad daylight while other slaves wait in line for a similar punishment. In the watercolor version of the image, a vibrant yellow suffuses the scene, suggesting a daytime encounter. Slaves were beaten in daylight for everyone to see—an essential means of keeping slaves in line and obedient. Being able to witness the overseer punish the rebellious slave encouraged slaves to self-police to avoid physical pain. Moreover, being beaten in an open square added public humiliation onto the physical damage, scarring the slave emotionally as well as physically.

Fig 1: The Execution of the Punishment of the Whip. 1816-1831, Brazil.

What is most striking about this image is perhaps the lack of choice that saturates the scene. In the center of the image is the slave, bound in five different places to the stock; his pants are pulled down and pool at his ankles, exposing his buttocks and the back of his legs to the whip and to the audience. His blood flows freely down his legs and has spattered on his pants and the stones on the ground; the vibrant red stands out against all of the softened colors in the image and fixes our attention to the slave’s body. He cannot edge away from the assault, nor can he cover himself to shield his body from our gaze. He can, however, look into the face of the man who is tasked with executing punishment. This man is also a slave. Though he has more freedom of movement than the man strapped to the pole, this overseer is similarly restrained. The bulky chain that runs the length of his leg is connected to two thick manacles, one at his waist and one on his ankle. We can imagine that if he should decide to run, the weight of the bonds would undoubtedly prevent any successful escape, and even if he were lucky enough to evade his pursuers, the loud clanging of the chain, fastened by a lock at his hip, would give him away in any place he tried to hide. On the floor next to him lie cats of four and six tails and two single tail whips; if one tool should break during a particularly harsh session, a replacement is within reach. The man in the white shirt—closer to the foreground of the image—looks down forlornly at the various weapons, one of which will soon be used on him and the rest of the dismayed chain gang members bound to him by manacles and ropes fastened around their necks. Again, there is no possibility of escape; if one person decides to run, he must bring three willing or unwilling participants with him. To prevent the possibility of this happening, however, two soldiers stand guard behind the prisoners. If one decides to run, it would be reasonable for the soldiers to kill all of them. The figures in the background, though blurred, are all likely meant to be of Afro-Brazilian descent. This would not be uncommon in cities like Rio de Janeiro, where many slaves could and did manage to buy their freedom. However, slavery continued to weigh on their communities; this image suggests that the punishment was carried out in an area where many Afro-Brazilians were known to converge, reminding them of the horrors they may have suffered and the potential punishment that awaited them if they aided a runaway or rebellious slave. Another, more indistinct soldier is depicted in the background right of the image, suggesting that the state’s authority hems in black bodies and supports the system of slavery on all sides. Finally, the two men lying on the ground with bloodstained shirts covering their backsides are presumably slaves who have already been beaten. They were either left there because the severity of their wounds paralyzed them or, more diabolically, the officials forced them to remain to listen to the next victim’s screams and watch the blood and skin fly from that victim’s body. It is important then, that the entire image centers on the bare, bleeding, and bound black body. It serves as the axis for the image and as the axis for the institution of slavery.

Though Debret is known for other key images of slaves that present more idyllic episodes of Brazilian life, it is images such as these—which zero in on the suffering black body—that run through the visual culture of slavery in Brazil. In a comparative study of the visual cultures of slavery in Brazil and North America, Marcus Wood points out that even as the abolitionist movement gained traction in Brazil, “The fetishistic focus upon the physical brutalization of the slave body continued to saturate the popular processions and performances of the abolitionists. …[A]bolitionist showmen…developed a theatre of cruelty around the celebration of the abused slave body” (5). This type of depiction, a morbid celebration of suffering, would never be far from the minds of audiences viewing artistic renditions of slavery. Thus, when D’Salete claims today, “To build a new visualization of black people is to subvert the old image of the black in Brazilian history” (qtd. in Mallonee, “Portrait”), he appears to be directly speaking to this artistic tradition. He wants neither to reproduce the images of Afro-Brazilians in pain for an audience to consume, nor to continue the tradition of depicting blacks solely as victims, as this type of work has come to normalize and perpetuate systems of race-based oppression. Though such explicit representation of black suffering were meant to, and sometimes did, shock audiences from indifference to action for abolition, the continued use of such images (like The Execution of the Punishment of the Whip) feeds into the relegation of black lives to a state of abject suffering. It is the contemporary moment that demands a rethinking of the imaginary that forms part of black identity in the visual arts.

D’Salete, born in São Paulo and currently working as an illustrator and professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), is keenly aware of and explores this need for social redress and reimagination throughout his works. After publishing his early works in numerous Brazilian and international magazines such as Quadreca (Brazil), Stripburger (Slovenia), and Suda Mery K! (Argentina), D’Salete published his first book-length graphic narrative, Notie Luz, in 2008. Similarly to CumbeNoite Luz is a collection of stories connected by an overarching theme—in this case, the problems of urban culture and the racism faced by his protagonists. His later works, Encruzilhada (2011) and Angola Janga (2017), also take up the legacy and experiences of Afro-Brazilians in Brazil while engaging with themes of urban life, social conflicts, discrimination, racism, and slavery (Wrobel 104). Graphic narratives such as Cumbe allow for interventions that demand, as Henzi claims, “a necessary change in world-view, a reflection on the direct link to a past of colonialism, and the undeniable connection to a contemporaneity of imperialism” (24). D’Salete’s Cumbe, a collection of four stories about slavery focusing on acts of rebellion, calls into question the strategies used to address the legacies of slavery in Brazil and further complicates inter-American literature on slavery and race. Cumbe functions as a countervisual tool, in Nicholas Mirzoeff’s terminology, or a tool meant to decouple the naturalized link between authority, established structures of power, and the media outlets (such as photography and film for Mirzoeff) which produce images that maintain the status quo.[6]

In contrast to Debret’s depiction of a public flogging, D’Salete offers us the images of the events surrounding a public whipping as remembered by one of the slaves who witnessed it (see fig. 2). This is a page taken from “Cumbe,” the third story in and the namesake of the collection. The story covers the preparations that a group of slaves make for an ultimately failed slave revolt.

Fig 2: Ganzo’s Flashback, Cumbe 104.

This flashback belongs to Ganzo, one of the main characters in this tale. Just before the flashback starts, he comes face to face with an unnamed overseer from his plantation. Ganzo refuses to believe that the overseer is there because he genuinely wants to participate in the revolt and accuses the man of being a traitor. Turning to this page, we see Ganzo’s memory of watching the overseer, a slave himself, participate in a public flogging. Ganzo emerges from an alleyway, a jet-black figure naked save for his cloth underwear. In the next panel, a close up of his face tightened in resentment, we can see thin scars on his shoulders and left bicep, scars perhaps earned in a whipping of his own. The next panel presents a sight now familiar to us: a slave tied to a post with his arms above his head and his back facing the viewer. His face is turned away from us and is pointed towards Ganzo, who is once again a small jet-black figure in the distance. The scars on the slave’s back suggest that he has been whipped multiple times already, yet because of the black and white color scheme, we are unable to tell which scars are fresh and which are old. Indistinct authority figures dot the background of the next two panels, reminding us of the soldiers of Debret’s painting and of the impossibility of escape. Surrounded on all sides by the manifestations of the power of their oppressors, the enslaved men and women on this plantation, like Debret’s overseer in the town square, have no choice but to participate in the institution that dehumanizes them. Again, the public nature of the beating serves as both humiliation for the victim and a warning for any other slave. The use of black and white in the graphic novel is significant: D’Salete hardly ever fully shades in black slaves as black and white masters as white. Tones of the “other” can be found on the face of any given subject; for example, the dark black ink that fills in most of the slave master’s neck and part of his face is the same as the ink that partially colors Ganzo and the overseer’s faces. This is not to suggest that all either party had to do was see themselves in the other and there would have been harmony; such a view is too naïve. However, D’Salete’s monochrome art, which uses the contrast of black and white to create characters and settings, suggests that in this depraved symbiosis of slavery, both parties shape and sustain the other. The black ink reshapes the white page, while the white page outlines the space in which the ink can function.

What is significantly different between the Debret and D’Salete’s images is the rendering of the slave bodies and the amount of the body that is shown. In D’Salete’s image, we know that the slave is shirtless, but the borders of the panel cut off his hands and the rest of his body at the waist, which are fixed in place over his head. The viewers are prevented from consuming his whole body, as they are allowed and encouraged to do in Debret’s watercolors and engravings. Moreover, the focus of the page is not on the whipping itself; in fact, D’Salete places the whipped body in a smaller panel off to the left of the page. Instead, the emotional focus of this page is the master’s invitation to the overseer to participate in the violence. The overseer’s complicity in the cycle of violence is what is emphasized on the page while the slave body, so prominently displayed in Debret’s image, is covered.

Even as we come to realize the overseer’s role, we notice that he is unlike the man aggressively meting out the punishment in the Execution painting, depicted with a glare and his whip raised over his head. D’Salete’s overseer, in contrast, is not completely comfortable in his role. His hand hesitates before taking hold of the whip, and, as he holds it limply and incorrectly in front of his body, a frustrated expression appears on his face. His inner conflict—to beat another slave or not—is clear. Though the page is bookended by panels of Ganzo’s mounting anger and is nested within his hostility towards the man in the present, it actually reveals more about the overseer than Ganzo realizes. All of this information is conveyed wordlessly; we understand the story based on the facial expressions, the movements highlighted, and the use of the panels to guide our eyes across and down the page. This not only adds more dramatic weight to the already tense moment (a flashback nested within a confrontation at knife point) but also underscores the idea that stories can be told without words.

In “Calunga,” the first story in the collection, D’Salete revisits another image favored by Debret: sugar cane and its laborers. In Debret’s work, sugar and sugar cane were recurring visual themes; Marcus Wood points out that Debret heavily incorporated sugar into his aesthetic, producing highly detailed watercolor studies of sugar cane itself (64). Debret’s fascination with sugar is not uncommon. Many writers and artists who take slavery as their topic devote significant attention to the intense violence that went into the production of sugar; it was common knowledge that slaves who worked on sugar cane plantations were likely to have shorter life spans and suffer more acutely from the difficulty of their labor.[7] Debret’s watercolor, Engenho manual que faz caldo de cana (Manual Mill for the Production of Sugar Cane Juice) (see fig. 3) is a detailed rendition of Afro-Brazilians laboring to produce sugar cane juice in a house in one of the main squares in Rio de Janeiro (Wood 64).

Fig 3: Portable Sugar Mill, Brazil, 1816-1831.

Unlike the public whipping painting lithograph, the black body is not the central axis of the painting; instead the sugar mill is the central figure governing the directions of the bodies depicted within the image. Two muscular men, stripped to the waist, strain against the wooden bar atop the mill in order to turn the cylinders that press the stripped cane into juice. Two more men sit on opposite sides of the cylinders, feeding sugar cane through the gaps to be pressed into the liquid that runs down the machine and is collected in the basin at the feet of the man sitting with his back to us. This is dangerous work made aesthetically pleasing; if the men manipulating the sugar cane are not careful, their hands could easily be trapped and crushed between the cylinders. We should note that unlike many other images of sugar mills and slavery, it is difficult to visually determine the legal status of the four men (are they slaves or freed laborers?) and, moreover, the men are not depicted as ornamentation or mere background for the mill. Because they are not presented in such a manner, the painting highlights the ever-present need for human labor amidst a steadily mechanizing era. The mills and presses which refined raw materials would not have operated without slave labor. Debret’s foregrounding of slaves at work prevents their labor from becoming invisible, preserving the connection between workers, means of production, and product. In addition to preserving these connections, the image also puts on display the tedium of risky, back-breaking, daily labor.

From the image, we get the sense that the men’s labor is repetitive and monotonous, circling around the same point to the same end; the bundle of sugar cane leaning on the bench in the right-hand corner of the image suggests that the men will be laboring for some time yet. The pace of their lives is governed by the turning cogs in the machine; they can go no faster than the sugar mill will allow. The vibrancy of the colors of the clothes and skin in the painted version of the image momentarily distracts the viewer from the slow drudgery of the scene on display; a quick glance might suggest a lively scene of people at work, but of course, the longer we stare at the image, the more the repetitive, slow nature of the labor strikes us. Wood argues that the one man whose face we can see blindly stares out of the image; “…in terms of mental engagement, he is elsewhere…It seems slavery has destroyed his capacity to see feelingly…” (67). Though it is somewhat difficult to determine the expression on the man’s face, it is fair to read their facial expressions as a gesture towards the possible boredom this repetitious labor would have inspired. Being trapped on the same unchanging path would be enough to force anyone to mentally “check out.”

Rather than reconstructing this scene of workers at the mill, however, D’Salete instead focuses on the machinery itself. D’Salete focuses on a much larger mill than the one featured in Debret and almost entirely removes the human element from it (see fig. 4).

Fig 4: Sugar Mill, from “Calunga,” Cumbe 15.

In the top panel, we see a view of the top of the machine. We can see the top of the mill connected to both the core of the machine where the crushing cylinders are located and to a large upright wheel. Presumably by turning the upright wheel, a person will engage the large gear that will turn the internal cylinder and enable the press to work. The image is largely composed of straight lines and sharp angles; there is no room for anything pliant in this rigid mini-factory. A few bundles of what appear to be sticks lie against the walls in the background; in the bottom panel, a zoomed-in image of the first, we realize that the bundles are made of stalks of sugar cane. There is only one human figure on the entire page; this figure may be the titular character, Calunga, who was seen carrying a bundle of sugar cane towards the mill on the previous page. We cannot be sure, however, as his back is turned to us and lacks the scars that would easily identify him. Perhaps this confusion is an intentional move on D’Salete’s part; this could be a visual demonstration of the perceived fungibility of slaves.[8] We cannot identify the body, meaning that any or all slaves on the plantation could have been put into this position in front of the enormous mill. Since only one slave is partially visible in the panel, we must consider where the rest are; given the amount of sugar cane present and the artistic tradition of depicting multiple slaves at work in sugar mills, it is surprising that there is only one person working in this panel. Instead, the mill dominates the panel; the downward-facing spokes of the main gear give the mill a monstrous quality, as if the spokes were teeth waiting to sink into the lone slave working below them.

The monotony suggested by the turning wheels (which are, as in Debret’s work, the structuring principle of the image and of the slaves’ lives) is tinged with the possibility of crippling violence. The slave, miniscule in comparison to the press, is feeding tall cane stalks into the press to create the juice; the cylinders seem large enough to crush his entire body if he is not careful. Whereas Debret brings the body to the forefront, D’Salete partially obscures the slave body from view in his image, preventing viewers from grasping the entirety of the laboring body. By blocking off or partially obscuring the bodies of slaves throughout the graphic novel, D’Salete does not diminish the import of the slaves or dismiss them from history; rather, he avoids playing into the trope of displaying the suffering body to be pitied, fetishized, and consumed. By not calling attention to the slave’s broken or otherwise subjected body, D’Salete, like Hartman, reminds us “of the ease with which such scenes are usually reiterated, the casualness with which they are circulated, and the consequences of this routine display of the slave’s ravaged body” (Hartman 3). Many contemporary viewers (more so in the US than Brazil) have been inundated with views of slavery; thus, the shock effect of seeing an abused body has diminished for some viewers, and the sight of abuse has become an expected commonplace.

D’Salete’s work faces the challenge inherent in antislavery works: how to give expression to the brutality and torture slaves experienced without, as Hartman astutely summarizes, “exacerbating the indifference to suffering that is the consequence of the benumbing spectacle or contend with the narcissistic identification that obliterates the other or the prurience that too often is the response to such displays” (Hartman 4). Essentially, what are the ways in which the traumas of slavery can be addressed without perpetuating the growing indifference to such narratives, without indulging in spectacle, or without displacing the slave through sympathetic identification? By partially effacing the body or erasing other slaves from the frame, D’Salete forces his readers to actively seek out the characters; after all, readers of a graphic novel want to know where the characters have gone to in order to continue the story. We cannot overlook or forget them; their absence prompts us to find their presence. In our search for the characters, we are also made to look at and ultimately look for new things. The decision not to reproduce the scene of punishment via the whip is one that asks us to take into consideration what else is important to focus on in research about slavery. What else should we consider apart from the visual and narrative commonplaces of whipping, subjection, and emancipation?

One possible answer lies in the quotidian nature of the narratives D’Salete tells. His narratives are not uplifting stories about the escape from slavery to freedom; instead, the four stories in the collection explore different forms of violence integrated into the slave system. Though the narratives address the explosions of graphic violence found in slave rebellions and escape attempts, they also foreground the casual, normalized violence of day-to-day interactions between slaves and their masters, thereby getting into what Wood would call the “grey zones,” or the “horrors that lay within the very normalcy of slave existence” (37). Speaking of Debret’s compositions, Wood comments on the artist’s remarkable “ability to go into the grey zone, to bring out the intimate violence, and the slow burning apprehensions, locked into the day-to-day existence of slaves…” (37); Debret’s watercolors and engravings are characterized by a “slow, almost casual release of horror” (38).

Writing and drawing centuries later, D’Salete also dives into the hazy zones of slavery’s everyday violence but resists the explicit representation of abuse in the way favored by Debret and similar artists. In the second story, “Sumidouro,” a young female slave named Calu not only has to suffer through the pain of losing her child but must also live with the knowledge that the master’s wife is the one who murdered the baby. Using two pages of textless panels (see fig. 5), the story suggests that the plantation master was the baby’s father. The use of multiple textless pages in sequence is a striking characteristic of Cumbe and one of the ways that the graphic novel presents a challenge to literature about slavery in the Americas as a whole—which has historically relied on text and dialogue to advance the narrative, especially in the US.[9]

Fig 5: Implicit Violence, from “Sumidouro,” Cumbe 58-59.

The master slowly enters the kitchen as Calu is cutting vegetables; a close-up of her face shows that she is crying as the master hovers in the doorway behind her. The last two panels depict the mistress, reclining on the veranda with a sharp look in her eyes directed towards the door her husband used to enter the house. On the next page, a medium long shot reveals that Calu is pregnant. D’Salete’s use of line, silence, and close ups of facial features and bodily expressions, as noted in Jasmin Wrobel’s study of his oeuvre, serve him well in telling Calu’s story without showing the violence the master visits upon her. That violence surrounds her, lurking not only in the shadows of each panel but also within the gutters of the comic page where readers are called to “fill in the gaps,” the time elapsed and spaces covered in these moment-to-moment, subject-to-subject, and scene-to-scene transitions.

Jealous and spiteful, the mistress later kidnaps the infant and takes him to a well. We do not see her drop the child into the well; however, when Calu reports to the master about her missing child, the mistress merely reclines in her chair and with a small smile cryptically states, “O sumidouro é fundo” (D’Salete 69). The well is deep (translation mine). Calu runs to a priest to reveal her suspicions, but the priest only exacerbates the problem by telling her master about her visit. The master takes Calu home with her hands bound, chastising her for telling the priest and suggests that he will punish her for speaking out. Each page in the story slowly reveals a system of abuse without showing any explicit scenes of violence. We never see the master tie Calu’s hands (or even touch her until the story’s conclusion); instead we see a panel focused on the rope around her wrists and another panel where her bound hands are held in her lap (D’Salete 73). The onus is on the reader to supply the violence, so to speak, by drawing on their familiarity with the visual tropes that artists have historically relied on to document slavery. The reader can imagine how the master secured the bonds taking into consideration the intense cruelty seen in images of slaves bound by ropes and chains and marching in a coffle or awaiting the punishment of a whip. These images form commonplaces that are constantly revisited in art and form the basis of a reader’s background knowledge of slavery. By using that knowledge to engage with D’Salete’s narrative, a reader is inextricably implicated in the ongoing history of slavery. Within the gutters of the graphic novel, readers make meanings, draw connections, and bear witness.

D’Salete is not alone in his attempts to address the histories of slavery in the Americas through visual media and explicitly through comics. Comics critics and practitioners Duffy and Jennings have not only drawn further attention to Octavia Butler’s science fiction classic but have also supplied another perspective from which we can consider the indelible nature of slavery in the US. Dana, the young African American female protagonist, continually slips through time and space from her home in 1976 Los Angeles to a plantation in 19th-century Maryland that belongs to her ancestors. There, she must not only survive slavery, but also ensure the birth of her family in the relative future. In the novel, Butler devotes a significant amount of attention to the whipping scene, acknowledging what we have come to understand about the form and purpose of such enactments of violence: these were public demonstrations of power over life, demonstrations that required slaves to participate in the abuse of their peers and to police themselves in the future to avoid punishment (91-92). One of Dana’s earliest encounters with slavery’s violence is a whipping scene, during which she recalls the many times that she has seen whippings on television and in film. Even by 1979, when the novel was originally published, these scenes had become commonplace. By now, when a deluge of movies, television shows, and literature about slavery threaten to drown audiences, these visual citations come across as worn out. What else is there to say about slavery that has not already been considered?

Jennings and Duffy’s rendering of this whipping scene, like D’Salete’s, avoids reproducing the entire body of the slave, preventing the suffering body from becoming a display for viewers to consume. Such a move revises standard tropes of displaying enslaved black bodies in pain. In the first whipping represented (42), the slave’s nudity is minimized through careful use of panel borders and through strategic placement of the tree to which the slave is tied. Such a change in viewing perspective alters the viewer’s relationship to the subjects of the images and changes the focus of the scene, diverting attention from the slave to the whip itself. Though the whip has become a visual shorthand for the absolute cruelty of slavery (Hartman 138), in both graphic novels, the whip takes on new connotations. As previously stated, in Cumbe, the whip is a symbol of forced complicity, whereas in Kindred: GNA, the whip snaps through the air and across the slave’s back with no overt representation of the one directing it (Duffy, et. al. 42). It is a type of mindless violence visited upon the unwillingly exposed body. The whip stands in for the absence of agency and the overwhelming power differential between slaves and masters. The scars visible on the slaves’ backs in both Cumbe and Kindred: GNA add a temporal distortion to the experience of the punishment. The scars suggest that the slaves have been whipped multiple times already, yet because of the black and white color scheme in Cumbe and because of the speed lines used in Kindred: GNA, readers are unable to tell which scars are fresh and which are old. We cannot tell how many times these men have experienced this abuse before this moment, but we have a near guarantee that it will happen again, as slavery in both graphic novels will not be abolished for decades.

The use of color in Kindred: GNA is also a tool that reflects the way the past becomes more real to the protagonists and more vivid to readers. Whenever Dana travels to the past, the color scheme of the graphic novel’s pages shifts from a muted sepia to a variety of garishly bright, bold colors (see fig. 6). We slowly become accustomed to the color shifts, just as Dana, and later her husband Kevin, become accustomed to traveling through time and to living in the antebellum South. Dana and Kevin even admit to each other that returning to the Weylin plantation, the center of the family drama, feels more like coming home than returning to their present-day California. The color schema reflects this interior reassessment of reality for both characters; their present time is bathed in sepia, a palette usually associated with memory and the past. It is a present largely unaffected by slavery to which Dana and Kevin can never return. Arguably, as their lives in 1976 are rendered in sepia tones from the beginning of the narrative, the formal elements of the graphic novel suggest that a present time unaffected by slavery is a nostalgic idea of something that never existed. By contrast, the events taking place in in the early 1800s completely change the way Dana and Kevin see the world and are rendered using a polychromatic scheme.

Fig 6: Back to the Past, Kindred: GNA 174.

In the above key panel (see fig. 6), the colors of the past mingle with a torrential downpour and literally wash over Dana, washing the present from her body and anchoring her in the past (Duffy, et al. 174). The past is more alive and more real than the present for the protagonists, and as readers process these formal shifts, the past becomes more vivid for them as well.

This idea speaks to Lisa Woolfork’s analysis of the novel Kindred; she notes, “As part of its exploration of the slave past, Kindred calls into question the divide between an observer who watches an event and a participant who actively engages in it;” moreover, “While [in the traumatic slave past, Dana] casts herself as an observer, one who watches rather than participates. But when the barrier is breached, she becomes a participant actively invested in the past” (26). Through the formal devices of the comics medium such as the use of color, Kindred: GNA builds on this tension between participant and observer already inherent in the narrative. This tension is also played out through the medium’s reliance on closure (McCloud 64-67); as we readers fill in the gutters on the page with our understandings of how the narrative progresses, we take on participatory roles in the drama/trauma of slavery. The effects of the comic’s formal elements thus implicate us in the (hi)story of violence.

Woolfork’s argument about reading and representation also resonates with my understanding of what comics can do in relation to slavery and bears quoting at length:

Kindred is a book that stands in almost ironic relation to textual representation. Generally speaking the novel values literacy and the act of writing as both vocation and avocation. It acknowledges that fiction and nonfiction books are the only real way[10] to peer into the past and the only source of information on circumstances that are long dead. […] At the same time, the novel deploys a scenario that resurrects the past and forces two present-day people to know it. It seems crucial to the novel’s approach that this return to the past not be mediated by books. …as Dana’s frequent journeys erode the boundaries between past and present, so does the novel’s faith in the belief that books are the only way to reference a traumatic experience” (28).

The graphic novel adaptation underscores Woolfork’s message: a written record is one of the primary means by which we can experience the past; however, not everything will make it into the history books, whether for lack of source material or a writer’s inability to express him/herself in words. Some things simply cannot be explained, as Dana learns by the end of her time traveling. Both on the narrative and formal level, Kindred: GNA and Cumbe pose the question: in the absence of material records of history, what do we invent to fill those spaces, to enable us to hear the silent screams in the archive?

In the case of Kindred: GNA, the answer emerges from the visual rhetoric of the narrative. Just before her first trip to the past, Dana knocks over two books from her shelves of fiction: Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5 (1969) and Octavia Butler’s Patternmaster (1976). Those books are the last things that the reader sees before quite literally turning the page to a new scenario, new characters, and the first of the aforementioned shifts in color scheme (Duffy and Jennings 11-12). As these books are never mentioned in the novel, we can read this as Duffy and Jennings’ move to establish another genealogy of knowledge for Dana and to situate the graphic novel within a longer literary tradition. More importantly, however, the presence of these texts at the beginning of the novel answers our question with the following: to understand and represent the incomprehensible, we turn to fiction; stories of inexplicable time travel and of societal stratification based on supernatural powers become the scope through which we reexamine our world.

This question of filling the gaps is especially salient in the case of Cumbe, as almost no slave narratives exist that attest to the experience of slavery in Brazil from the perspective of the slaves themselves. Cumbe not only pushes against depictions of black bodies in visual media, but also asks readers to reconsider the literary precedents (or lack thereof) for stories about slavery. Though there are many slave narratives that originate from the US, Canada, and the Caribbean, the number of slave narratives from Latin America is significantly smaller in comparison. Indeed, in Brazil, there is no written tradition of slave narratives used to further the abolitionist cause as was the case in the US. In comparison to the US, Brazil also did not heavily rely on printed works such as newspapers, journals, and novels; abolitionists depended more upon (cheaply produced) visual materials to disseminate their ideas. Wood claims,

“This prioritizing of the visual over the printed word was partly owing to the technological lack of development and the low levels of literacy in Brazil in the second half of the nineteenth century. Yet it was also the result of the endemic popularity of distinctive oral, politico-religious, and performative traditions. Brazil possessed musical and theatrical popular cultures that allowed political messages to be spread among the people without the aid of the printing press. […] Conversely, Brazilian abolition book publication was primarily a white patriarchal affair and compared to that in North America, had virtually no textual input from slaves and ex-slaves” (10).

For abolitionists that wanted to communicate with a wide constituency, the use of visually based materials (i.e. cordel literature[11] and, ironically, packaging on products such beer and cigars) was quite effective. Arguably, D’Salete is continuing this tradition of utilizing widely disseminated and (relatively) cheaper forms of visual based communication to address a broader audience. He is not the only Brazilian graphic novelist to openly engage with the past and early artistic forms; in Morro da favela (2011), André Diniz imitates the black and white woodcuts used to illustrate cordel booklets, clearly placing his work into a longer tradition and demonstrating the inherent self-awareness/self-reflexivity of the comics medium. The debt to older forms is constantly acknowledged and becomes a font from which the comics writers and artists can draw common knowledge and, in the case of socially engaged writers like Diniz and D’Salete, acknowledgement of past artistic forms within their work allows them to more effectively communicate their social critiques.[12]

Whatever primary sources that Brazilian audiences read about slavery are always guaranteed to be mediated by an author who did not directly experience enslavement. The absence of first-hand Brazilian slave narratives—textual spaces that “allowed the slave a unique opportunity for testimony, confession, and self-expression” (Wood 74)—raises the simple question of what Brazilian slavery looked like from the perspective of the enslaved. Based on the second-hand knowledge of historians and other scholars, a work such as Cumbe attempts to portray the lives slaves may have led and tries to depict slaves not only as victims of a cruel institution but as individuals with agency. At the same time, such works begin to establish a literary tradition; though Brazil may lack a first-hand slave narrative tradition, contemporary authors can add onto a body of literature responding to slavery in an attempt to acknowledge and address its legacies.

As a medium based in visual imagery, comics are forever preoccupied with managing the gaze of their viewers. As a result, the medium has developed numerous techniques that guide the reader’s eye though the narrative. In the case of Kindred: GNA, the use of color and panel layout coupled with the stiffness of the artwork itself counters a problem found in comics: how to slow down movement and, as a result, slow down a reader’s speed through the text. We are invited to pause and pore over each panel, to absorb each image rather than scanning through what may be familiar scenes of horror. With Cumbe, the use of silence and sparse dialogue points us back to the high contrast images. In this silence, we are asked to fully appreciate the amount of work an image can do on its own or in a collection of textless panels; from this latent power in the image and with the absence of slave narratives comes the anxious need to offer representations that positively empower viewers. As it constantly redirects our attention, Cumbe asks readers to constantly keep in mind the bodies missing from its pages. This graphic narrative is particularly successful in inviting us to imagine horror without reproducing the scene of subjection and without allowing us, in well-intentioned a display of empathy, ultimately to displace the suffering subject. In reading Cumbe we must always first ask: what happened to them? In reading and analyzing Brazilian and US comics in a comparative framework, we come to create a common visual history of the Americas, but we realize that the stakes for re-representing slavery are the same in both contexts. What is at stake is not simply the preservation of the historical past or the documenting of slavery—something people (should) already know about. What is at stake is the way we think about slavery, slave life, and the resultant lives of Afro-descendant peoples throughout the Americas. Slavery in the Americas, though it developed regional specificities, still emerged from the same context of violence against othered and marginalized peoples and continues to shape our present reality to sometimes lethal results.


[1] Hereafter, Kindred: GNA.

[2] Note that the Brazilian film market has a significant lack of films about slavery in comparison to the US; the archive of Brazilian literature and art examining slavery is similarly far smaller than that of the US.

[3] For further information, see Mara Loveman, et al. “Brazil in Black and White? Race Categories, the Census, and the Study of Inequality.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 35, no. 8, Aug. 2012, 1466–1483., doi:10.1080/01419870.2011.607503 and Andrew M. Francis and Maria Tannuri-Pianto. “Endogenous Race in Brazil: Affirmative Action and the Construction of Racial Identity among Young Adults.” Economic Development and Cultural Change, vol. 61, no. 4, July 2013, 731–753. doi:10.1086/670375.

[4] See Kim Parker, et al. “Race and Multiracial Americans in the U.S. Census.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 11 June 2015,…census.

[5] See Mala Htun. “From ‘Racial Democracy’ to Affirmative Action Changing State Policy on Race in Brazil,” Latin American Research Review 39:1 (2004), 60-89.

[6] For further discussion of countervisuality, see Nicolas Mirzoeff, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality, Duke University Press, 2011.

[7] The paradoxes of sugar production in Latin America are described in detail in Fernando Ortiz’s Contrapunteo cubano del tabaco y el azúcar, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1991.

[8] In economic terms, fungibility implies that two goods or commodities are equivalent and can therefore be interchanged. When applied to enslaved peoples—living human beings—the concept becomes terrifying; one (black) human life is no more distinct than the next. They all look the same, so why not replace one for another? Hartman writes, “The relation between pleasure and possession of slave property, in both the figurative and literal senses, can be explained by the fungibility of the slave—that is, the joy made possible by virtue of the replaceability and interchangeability endemic to the commodity—and by the extensive capacities of property—that is, the augmentations of the master subject through his embodiment in external objects and persons. Put differently, the fungibility of the commodity makes the captive body an abstract and empty vessel vulnerable to the projection of others’ feelings, ideas, desires, and values…” (21). It is the perceived fungibility or replaceability of the slave body that, for Hartman, problematizes attempts at empathetic identification with slaves in slave narratives. In empathizing, readers displace the existence and feelings of the captive and project their own into the emptied body represented on the page. In effect, the response to the question “How would you feel if this happened to you?” becomes more important than concentrating on what did in fact happen to the slave.

[9] Because of the sheer size of its corpus, the US American tradition of slave narratives has received a significant amount of attention and has come to set standards for the genre. Nicole Aljoe points out, however, that the absence of Latin American and Caribbean slave narratives in the predominant understanding of the genre stems from the fact that none of the narratives discovered to date resemble the autobiographical and separately published texts with which most readers are familiar. In particular, “Caribbean narratives appear in the archives in more complex manifestations: dictated, unsigned, and undated testimonies, portraits embedded in other text, court depositions, spiritual conversion narratives, letters, interviews, brief narrative and ethnographic portraits, representations of conversations, etc.” (Aljoe 362). It is also worth mentioning that the only known Brazilian slave narrative to date is the biography of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua, first published in English in 1854. After escaping from slavery in Brazil, Baquaqua traveled throughout North America and temporarily settled in Canada where he related his story to his editor, Samuel Moore, before moving to England with the hope of securing passage back to Africa. There is some debate as to whether or not scholars can and should consider the narrative to be an authentic “Brazilian” slave narrative, given that Baquaqua’s enslavement in Brazil is only a minor part of the narrative as a whole. The text is nonetheless valuable and intriguing because it comes from the perspective of an African born slave, a characteristic that separates Baquaqua’s narrative from similar texts in North America. By 1808, the US had legally abolished the slave trade from Africa and no longer imported its slaves; although an 1815 law had rendered the African slave trade illegal in Brazil, the law was not enforced until 1850 (Law and Lovejoy 4).

[10] At the story’s conclusion, Dana can find no records of the Weylin plantation—save the lists of slaves sold off. The plantation and its people, however, continue to live on in her scarred body and in her memories.

[11] Cordel literature refers to small paperback booklets or pamphlets containing folk tales, ballads, and popular stories meant to be read aloud. The pamphlets often came with hand-colored woodcut illustrations (Wood 9). Especially popular in the 1920s and 1930s in northeastern Brazil, cordel literature is still published in Brazil and can be found in many bookstores and gift shops.

[12] After the international success of Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá’s Daytripper, “loosely inspired by Machado de Assis’s Memórias Póstumas de Brás Cubas” (Wrobel 109), the Brazilian graphic novel has received more attention worldwide. More artists within Brazil are increasingly using the medium to interrogate their daily lives while also telling and retelling stories of marginalized historical figures. Morro da favela, for example, is a biographical comic on Maurício Hora, a renowned Brazilian photographer and resident of the first favela in Rio de Janeiro. Also taking up a biography and using it as a vehicle for social critique, in 2016, Sirlene Barbosa and João Pinheiro published their graphic novel adaptation of Quarto de despejo (Eng. Child of the Dark), the diary of Carolina Maria de Jesus, Afro-Brazilian writer and resident of the favelas in São Paulo. See Wrobel “Narrating other Perspectives, Re-Drawing History: The Protagonization of Afro-Brazilians in the Work of Graphic Novelist Marcelo D’Salete,” in Literature and Ethics in Contemporary Brazil, eds. Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho and Nicola Gavioli.) Cumbe has also gained significant international attention; it has been translated into French, Italian, German and English and has won an Eisner Award for Best US Edition of Foreign Material (2018). Surprisingly enough, the text has been added to the list of suggested texts for the Plano Nacional de Leitura in Portugal, a list of recommended texts for school children to read. Cumbe is listed as appropriate reading for ages 7-9 in school (D’Salete, “Quadrinhos”). Beginning to do some of the work that Henzi expects of comics, this graphic novel is positioning itself to reach not only an intercultural audience but an intergenerational one as well.

Image Citations

Portable Sugar Mill, Brazil, 1816-1831.

Jean Baptiste Debret, Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Bresil (Paris,1834-39).

Taken from the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “Petit moulin à sucre, portatif.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1834 – 1839. http://digitalc…rg/…e00a18064a99

Public Whipping of a Slave, Brazil, 1816-1831.

Jean Baptiste Debret, Voyage Pittoresque et Historique au Bresil (Paris,1834-39).

Taken from the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library. “L’exécution de la punition du fouet; Nègres ào [au] tronco.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1834 – 1839. http://digitalc…rg/…e00a18064a99

Works Cited

Aljoe, Nicole N. “Caribbean Slave Narratives.” The Oxford Handbook of the African American Slave Narrative, edited by John Ernest, Oxford UP, 2014, 362-370.

De Paula, Benjamin Xavier, and Selva Guimarães. “10 Anos Da Lei Federal № 10.639/2003 E a Formação De Professores: Uma Leitura De Pesquisas Científicas.” Educação e Pesquisa, vol. 40, no. 2, April 2014, 435-438.

Duffy, Damian, et al. Kindred: a Graphic Novel Adaptation. Abrams Comicarts, 2017.

D’Salete, Marcelo. Cumbe. Veneta, 2014.

D’Salete, Marcelo. “Marcelo D´Salete | Desenho | Ilustração | Quadrinhos | Art | Drawings | Comics | Illustration | Cumbe | Encruzilhada | Noite Luz.” Marcelo D´Salete | Desenho | Ilustração | Quadrinhos | Art | Drawings | Comics | Illustration | Cumbe | Encruzilhada | Noite Luz, Accessed 15 February 2019.

Francis, Andrew M., and Maria Tannuri-Pianto. “Endogenous Race in Brazil: Affirmative Action and the Construction of Racial Identity among Young Adults.” Economic Development and Cultural Change, vol. 61, no. 4, July 2013, 731–753, DOI:10.1086/670375.

Hartman, Saidiya V. Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford UP, 1997.

Henzi, Sarah. “‘A Necessary Antidote’: Graphic Novels, Comics, and Indigenous Writing.” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature / Revue Canadienne De Littérature Comparée, vol. 43, no. 1, March 2016, 23-38, DOI:10.1353/crc.2016.0005.

Htun, Mala. “From ‘Racial Democracy’ to Affirmative Action: Changing State Policy on Race in Brazil.” Latin American Research Review, vol. 39, no. 1, February 2004, 60-89, DOI:10.1353/lar.2004.0010.

Law, Robin, and Paul E. Lovejoy. The Biography of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua His Passage from Slavery to Freedom in Africa and America. Markus Wiener Publishers, 2001.

Loveman, Mara, et al. “Brazil in Black and White? Race Categories, the Census, and the Study of Inequality.” Ethnic and Racial Studies, vol. 35, no. 8, August 2012, 1466-1483, DOI:10.1080/01419870.2011.607503.

Mallonee, Laura C. “A Graphic Novel Portrait of Slavery in Brazil.” Hyperallergic, Hyperallergic, 3 Apr. 2015.…-brazil/. Accessed 15 February 2019.

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. William Morrow, 1994.

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality. Duke UP, 2011.

Oliveira, Cleuci de. “Brazil’s New Problem With Blackness.” Foreign Policy, Foreign Policy, 5 Apr. 2017,…action/. Accessed 15 February 2019.

Ortiz, Fernando. Contrapunteo Cubano del tabaco y el azúcar. Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 1991.

Parker, Kim, et al. “Race and Multiracial Americans in the U.S. Census.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, 11 June 2015,…census/. Accessed 9 December 2019.

Wood, Marcus. Black Milk: Imagining Slavery in the Visual Cultures of Brazil and America. Oxford UP, 2013.

Woolfork, Lisa. Embodying American Slavery in Contemporary Culture. U of Illinois P, 2009.

Wrobel, Jasmin. “Narrating Other Perspectives, Re-Drawing History: The Protagonization of Afro-Brazilians in the Work of Graphic Novelist Marcelo D’Salete.” Literature and Ethics in Contemporary Brazil, edited by Vinicius Mariano de Carvalho and Nicola Gavioli, Routledge, 2016, 106–123.


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