cover image Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay, a Graphic Novel

Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay, a Graphic Novel

David Lester. Beacon, , $15 ISBN 978-0-8070-8179-2

Lester (1919) captures the overlooked legacy of a fiery abolitionist who became “the most disowned Quaker of his era” in this raw graphic biography. In the early 1700s, the Quakers branded member Benjamin Lay (1682–1759) a “troublemaker” for his tirades against slavery, and protests such as smashing tea cups (“torture” sweetened) in Philadelphia commons. The text that Lester adapts is drawn from a biography by historian Marcus Rediker, who provides context in an in-depth afterword, which helps guide the reader chronologically through impressionistic comics. Lay clashed with colonial American society due to his politics, his class, and his body (he had dwarfism). Living on a sugar plantation in Barbados, Lay observed firsthand the horrors of slavery and spoke out against white plantation owners who called themselves Christians: “Slavery is the devil’s work and you are his agents.” In documenting a life rife with cruelty and passion, Lester’s artwork is aptly grim and features rough linework that’s splashed with gray washes and black ink blots that evoke blood, smoke, and shadows; though digital font clashes with the hand-drawn quality. Lay spent his life fighting for abolition, women’s rights, and equality—causes that he never saw come to light. But, in a coarse hand, Lester captures Lay’s slogan “No justice, no peace!” and how it reverberates across time. (Nov.)