Hall unburies powerful stories in Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts (Simon & Schuster, June).
Why did you decide to turn your research into a comic?
I think graphic novels or the comics medium can do some things that other mediums can’t do. There’s this way that the reader becomes really an active participant in the medium. Writing it this way allowed me to move back and forth between memoir and history and historiography. And finding [collaborator] Hugo Martínez, that was just sheer luck. Hugo was working as a pedicab driver, drawing comics on the side. I had tried working with different artists—but with Hugo, it clicked. So that’s how he went from pedicab driver to full-time artist.
You imagine the lives of the women represented. What was truth, what was fiction, and how do you understand those definitions?
So, as a historian, it was really important to me that people understood what we 100% knew for a fact happened and what was a very careful use of historical imagination. But even then, every single tiny piece of those instances was researched, down to burial practices, what people wore, how people communicated with each other. So it’s not just, “Oh, I’m going to just make something up.” Every piece of that is connected to historical research. We actually uncover history through discovering primary sources. We access slave ship captain’s logs, slave ship surgeon’s logs, insurance policies, regulations for the Royal African company, court documents, church records, any kind of criminal proceedings. Doing this kind of history, especially of enslaved black woman, requires you to dig deep and read against the grain.
How does this work speak to the current climate and the Black Lives Matter movement?
The issue of police killing Black people in America is evergreen. In fact, policing came out of slave patrols. I’ve heard people say, “Oh, this book is so timely” because of what happened in 2020; this book would have always been timely. I think we’re not going to understand what has been happening this year without understanding the history of slavery, and there needs to be a massive truth and reconciliation process in the United States because, here, forgetting history is like a national pastime.
That’s part of the reason why I am a JD PhD writing graphic novels. Trying to teach the history, I kept getting fired. I worked at different high schools and got fired three different times, all because of race issues. And that’s when I said I’m not working in systems of white supremacy anymore. But I needed to come up with a way to do what I feel called to do, and so this journey happened.