THIS REVIEW OF ‘BIG BLACK: STAND AT ATTICA’ IS SPOILER-FREE.

'Big Black: Stand at Attica': The DoomRocket Review
Cover to ‘Big Black: Stand at Attica’. Art: Améziane/Archaia/BOOM! Studios

by Arpad Okay. This is the Story of Frank “Big Black” Smith and Attica. Racism and murder and lies. Big Black is bigger than Attica, Big Black is human rights. Big Black is justice as a force that never ends, forever tipping the scales back towards freedom. Smith’s mother Six was the child of forty acres and a mule. Prisoners get forty dollars and a suit. Big Black Smith is carrying the legacy of trauma, shouldering it, so that those who come next know liberty.

Because Smith is an inspiring figure, evil sought him out. He and Jared Reinmuth speak in Stand at Attica to a system that traps angry men and takes away their power, usurps their strength for dollars. Even before prisons were made into money machines, it was social control, the boot on the neck counting the pulse of the status quo. Attica exploded because twisted Civil Rights Act politics were filling prisons with radicals of color and staffing them with administrations poisoned by white fear.

To justify racist beliefs, to be able to treat men like animals and then go home and kiss their children, white folks manufactured the reality they needed. The details are infuriating, but I don’t wish to dive too deep—they are Smith’s message for you, not mine to give away. A radical prison gets a chance to stand for the world. But is robbing power from men in power a fair balance for the lives they take?

Améziane’s art is stunning. At times it resembles some of the most esteemed work in superhero comics, a realist style with minimal touches that evokes John Paul Leon. A classic illustrator’s strength of line, a detailed clarity used for Wellesian deep focus. The lettering from Andworld Design goes for big, John Workman-style sound effects. Shotgun reports are chunky blocks, given the space to be louder than any spoken word.

But the art also feels like something more esoteric, more hand crafted. Raw magazine, Fantagraphics fare. I appreciate the high definition theatrics of state violence as much as the next social science fanatic, but what moves me is the more loving, intimate way of portraying the prisoners. The pulp horror severity of the white power authority figures seems even worse when compared to the faces of heroes drawn from the heart.

The Big Black shot list plays like La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. Faces dominate the pages, each panel offering nothing to see but expressions. Nowhere to look but into the eyes of the oppressed. They may be locked in prison, their world hemmed in by panel walls and gutters, but their story, their experience of their story, reaches out across the page and into the reader. Intimacy is the most powerful force in the world.

When the frame does zoom out to medium and long shots, the manga superrealism of the prison imposes itself around the inmates. Améziane submits to the math of architecture designed to crush dreams of escape. Getting the unyielding march of jail bars letter perfect is an accusation, too. It’s evidence.

The colors in this book give the reader everything. The choices always play to the drama or the mood instead of attempting the script’s ironclad adherence to the facts. But there is also a broad, reverent spectrum of melanin, with the imagined and the actual coming so close at times the colors create a mirage of collage. Every page is treated to look like faded pulp paper stock, like lost comics found. The prisoners of Attica are painted in full, the saturation of their skin more solid than any prison wall.

What comes, then, from such talents put to telling an important story? The history is honored, the truth brought to light with the candor it deserves. The spirit of those who went through it is equally present, the comfort of brotherhood in their faces. Big Black: Stand at Attica is a fresh dedication to their cause, greater than any one of them, or us, a sentiment stronger than litigation, more powerful than the billy club and buckshot. Attica is all of us.

Archaia / BOOM! Studios / $19.99

Written by Frank Smith and Jared Reinmuth.

Illustrated by Améziane.

Lettered by Andworld Design.

10 out of 10

Check out this 15-page preview of ‘Big Black: Stand at Attica’, courtesy of Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios!

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