A page from Toussaint L’Ouverture—The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History, written by CLR James

This a fantastic graphic novel! How did you come to make it?

The play was written in 1934 by Trinidadian Marxist CLR JamesAt the time, very little was written about the revolution by Haitians or from a viewpoint sympathetic to the revolution. 

The French or other colonial powers had written the histories.  James had to return to the source, reading archives of Toussaint’s letters and records in Paris. 

The play was staged in London in 1936 with the black US star Paul Robeson playing the title role.  It was the first time in Britain that black professional actors had starred in a play written by a black playwright. It’s an inspiring story of action from below. 

CLR James intended it to be a call to arms.  This is what we’d like our book to be—words as weapons. 

Who was Toussaint L’Ouverture?

He was a literate slave, which was very rare at the time.  He was initially a reluctant leader. But he became an incredibly successful military leader, beating the armies of France, Britain, Spain and the US.

How is the Haitian Revolution relevant today?

In the time we have been working on this project the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has transformed the public conversation.

Ten years ago much of that discussion was on the fringes.  Now with the BLM movement, these issues have become centre stage. 

How did you manage to keep the characters recognisable throughout the book, something I always struggle with? Working together is a good way of maintaining readability and continuity. It means dividing the work between drawing and keeping an eye on consistency.

For us it was important to show the violence of the slave system. This is not always done directly, such as seeing people being whipped. 

It was about showing the effects of slavery literally drawn on people’s bodies—whip marks, branding, mutilations, manacles and punishment collars.

Many events are talked about rather than acted out. Our adaptation—while true to the text—makes great use of illustrating events alluded to or described. This enhanced the drama and the reader’s understanding of what occurred.

I like the device of using a mosquito to link the events in the story.

Mosquitoes also became important characters in this book.  The heat and mosquitoes are drawn to show them constantly bothering the white Europeans, with sweat beading down their foreheads. 

The impact of the mosquitoes intensified as yellow fever grew and decimated the French army.

What do you want readers to take away from this story? 

That this is a hugely inspiring story, and that struggle from below works.

Haiti was punished by the imperial powers, but the revolt was the beginning of the end of slavery. The most profitable colony on the planet became the first free black state outside Africa.

Buy Toussaint L’Ouverture—The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History for £14.99 from bookmarksbookshop.co.uk or email info@bookmarksbookshop.co.uk

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