In the basement of the downtown Convention Center, wedged between Emmett Brown and a DeLorean from “Back to the Future,” and the life sized Appa from “The Last Airbender,” two locals offered a very different kind of tale.
“Hate Stings” is a graphic novel written by James Curry, and drawn by Tom Ngyuen, a renowned comics artist.
Preview pages show a shirtless, muscular Black man astride a white horse. He’s also depicted being whipped by a white overseer, who is screaming racial epithets.
The enslaved man is the hero of this graphic novel. He’s also one of Curry’s forefathers.
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“An ancestor killed an overseer,” he explained. “A slave wanting water in Virginia, being denied it, and probably reaching a point of critical mass and killing the overseer in order to get that water. Then becoming an escaped slave.”
Curry is a producer and filmmaker, but also an amateur historian who has delved deeply into the history of his Minnesotan Black family which settled in Hastings in the 1800s.
Curry said his ancestor joined a Black regiment during the Civil War and eventually made his way to Minnesota. Relatives followed, and together they befriended the Wallaces, another Black family already settled in Hastings.
The families formed Brown’s Chapel AME, the only church in the area where Black people were able to worship. In 1907, the church was burned to the ground in an act of racist hate. The arsonist was never found.
“It's an uncomfortable history,” Curry acknowledges.
Telling the story to a younger audience
While this story has been documented in the past, including stories for MPR News’ special project series North Star Journey, Curry says it’s important to him that younger generations know about it too.
“And I thought, since there was a Marvel/DC artist in Hastings, that we could bring the script, to life to create a graphic novel.”
The fact that Nguyen was an artist of color also from Hastings was a draw for Curry.
As a fairy godmother from Snow White strolls behind their convention booth, Nguyen says the project is very different from the work he’s usually created in his career.
“I've already gotten a wide range of reactions to it,” he said. “Most people are really polite, and they like it. Unfortunately, I've gotten the other end of the spectrum too. Questioning why we're even doing this. And some of that reaction, of course, it's tied to the political climate.”
But Nguyen believes in the project, and said it allows him to stretch his creative muscles.
“The whole history of African Americans and slaves and the trials and tribulations that they had to go through has always been fascinating to me.”
He adds that the challenge of keeping things historically accurate adds another layer of inspiration.
“I am having to pay attention to Jamie's script, because it's such a rich history, and I feel like I'm in school studying again,” he said. “But I'm learning too, and it forces me to go online and Google all these historical references and books, so I can draw things a little more accurately to the time period that we're trying to tell the story.”
“It's just a nice change of pace from doing superheroes all the time,” he added.
The completed book is available at comic book stores around the Twin Cities. But Curry says this is only the beginning, and he thinks the project could eventually become a trilogy.