cover image Big Black: Stand at Attica

Big Black: Stand at Attica

Frank “Big Black” Smith, Jared Reinmuth, and Améziane. Archaia, $19.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-1-68415-479-1

Smith (1933–2004) was a prisoner who took a leadership role within the 1971 Attica prison uprising, and this immersive graphic memoir (coauthored by the stepson of his longtime lawyer) illuminates the plantationlike environment that precipitated the hostage crisis—and the bloody siege that followed. The son of a South Carolina sharecropper, Smith was sentenced to 10–15 years in prison in 1965 for holding up a dice game. At Attica, he becomes the yard football coach and bonds with an older prisoner obsessed with da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, an illustration repeated throughout the book to depict Smith’s later torture by guards in retribution for the uprising. The beating of two inmates triggers the prisoner revolt, in which guards and other employees are taken captive, and Smith is named by fellow inmates as head of security. He attempts to ensure hostage safety and manage tensions among inmates as they present their manifesto and appeals to then-governor Nelson Rockefeller. The account also details the 25-year legal battle that resulted in a 1997 settlement to Smith and others for their maltreatment. The stellar artwork by Améziane (Muhammad Ali) includes tabloidlike chapter openers rendered with bold fonts and exaggerated letterboxes. His expressive realism and muted colors invoke a nostalgic 1970s pulp effect reminiscent of Ed Piskor’s work. This penetrating portrait of a broken correctional system and a flawed man focuses on his legacy of courage, which towers over the forces stacked against him. (Feb.)