GRAPHIC NOVELS

Big Black: Stand at Attica

Archaia. Feb. 2020. 176p. ISBN 9781684154791. pap. $19.99. Rated: Teen+. memoir
COPY ISBN
Smith’s memoir opens with president Richard Nixon praising New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s courage and judgment in bringing the 1971 Attica Prison Rebellion to an end, then cuts to Smith lying naked on a table in a prison yard strewn with corpses, being taunted and tortured by policemen. An Attica inmate since 1965, Smith oversaw security during the four-day uprising, which found prisoners using hostages as leverage in negotiations for better living conditions. While many of the prisoners’ demands—fair wages, religious freedom—were accepted, talks broke down after Rockefeller refused to grant them amnesty from retaliation. Eventually, a force of 1,000 men stormed the prison, gunning down unarmed prisoners and hostages alike. To cover their incompetence, officials wrongfully accused Smith of castrating and murdering a guard. After enduring horrific torture and humiliation, Smith was released from prison in 1973 and devoted the rest of his life to seeking justice.
VERDICT Améziane’s (Muhammad Ali) gritty, expressive illustration and muted color palette present this unflinching depiction of the brutal price the Attica inmates paid for demanding civil rights in a style evocative of the 1970s Hollywood Renaissance aesthetic. Sure to be one of the most discussed books this year.

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