Last post, I wrote about the ways that Rebecca Hall and Hugo Martínez’s Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts uses the juxtaposition of text and image to highlight the continued ways that past impacts the present. Today, I want to continue that discussion and expand it some by focusing specifically on some of Martínez’s layouts. From the opening of Wake to its conclusion, the ways that Martínez’s illustrations and layouts compliment Hall’s narrative stand out, and I cannot think, off the top of my head, another text where this occurs so well. I have been reading Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth lately, and there are a few pages there that do this, most notably the one where Gus and Dr. Singh walk over Gus’ head from ear to ear. Martínez’s illustrations work in a similar manner.
From the opening section, Martínez and Hall’s use of sequential art brings us into the narrative and engages us. The opening, which I’ll refer to as the “Prologue,” starts by showing the rebellion on The Unity, a ship carrying enslaved men and women from Africa to the United States. The opening splash page shows the ship, bobbing up and down on the waves in the Atlantic Ocean in 1770. We see a word balloon above the ship that simply reads, “They wait . . .” This introduction sets the stage, and the word balloon leaves us guessing on who says “They wait” and what will follow.
On the next page, Martínez presents us with a cross-section of the ship, from the top sails to the hold. He breaks the ship parts up into six distinct panels, moving us from focusing on Adono, the woman who says, “They wait for our signal” to an enslaved woman, in the hold, passing tools to an enslaved individual so that they can break their chains. This movement brings the focus to all of the enslaved individuals on the ship while foregrounding the fact that Adono and another enslaved woman, Alele, plan and start the rebellion onboard The Unity.