J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2022

A Dutch-English Graphic Novel about Slavery

I’ve written before about John Gabriel Stedman (1744–1797), a mercenary of British and Dutch parentage who volunteered to be an officer in the campaign to fight Maroons who had escaped from slavery in Surinam.

In 1796 Stedman published a memoir about that experience, which the publisher augmented with horrific illustrations by William Blake and other artists.

Stedman’s diary shows him to have been fairly active in exploiting enslaved people, especially on the sexual side, but also caustic about the institution. He carefully edited the memoir to be more acceptable on both counts to the British reading public at the time. Nonetheless, it became an important document for British abolitionists.

Among the people Stedman encountered as an officer was a recently kidnapped African boy named Quaco, loaned to him as a personal servant. The Dutch author Ineke Mok reconstructed that boy’s life for a graphic novel titled Quaco: My Life in Slavery.

Eric Heuvel drew the art for this comic using the “clear line” style that American readers probably know best from Hergé’s Tintin adventures. But here the adolescent crossing the globe after being enslaved. It feels incongruous to me at first, but Heuvel has reached a young international audience by exploring World War II in similar style.

Quaco: My Life in Slavery was published in Dutch in 2016. Recently the University of Sheffield’s School of Languages and Cultures made a collective student project out of translating the book and its teaching materials into English.

This article from Sheffield offers some sneak peeks of the project, and the book is offered for sale through this website

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