Lester reviewed in Italy
December 29th, 2023
The Italian edition of a graphic novel with illustrations by Vancouver-based David Lester (at right) that is rehabilitating the reputations of historical high seas pirates, has been reviewed in Italy’s most read newspaper, Corriere della Sera, which had a circulation of over 240,000 copies in May 2023.
A tale of mutiny, bloody battle, and social revolution, Under the Banner of King Death: Pirates of the Atlantic, a Graphic Novel (Beacon Press, 2023) by David Lester and Marcus Rediker with Paul Buhle, fictionalizes for the first time the real pirates, an itinerant community of outsiders, behind our legends. It was published in Italy under the imprint Elèuthera editrice.
Long portrayed as outright thieves and murderers, many pirates were often fugitives of slave owners, downtrodden working people and even outsiders of society. Adapted from the scholarship and research of historian Marcus Rediker, Under the Banner of King Death is a tale of those on the bottom fighting back and achieving, against all odds, a democratic and egalitarian social order, if only for a short time.
Pirates are “seen not only as rebels compared to the established order,” writes Antonio Carioto in Corriere della Sera, “but also as precursors of democracy due to the egalitarian and anti-authoritarian practices used on their ships.
“The collaboration between Rediker and the cartoonist David Lester resulted in the exciting graphic novel Under the Banner of King Death (Elèuthera editrice), which tells the story of the rebellion of a slave ship which the crew, after eliminating the tyrannical captain and the officers, transforms the Jolly Roger into a pirate vessel, raising the black flag with the skull and crossbones. A fugitive slave is elected to lead the ship, next to him is a woman disguised as a sailor.
“They will attack and destroy a slave fortress, plunder several merchant ships, capture the English captain who was hunting them, before succumbing to repression. Their justice turns out to be more lenient than the official one, which strikes them mercilessly to defend the interests of maritime trade. But their message of freedom is not lost.”
More about Under the Banner of King Death:
Featuring an African American fugitive from bondage, an undercover woman, and “outcasts of all nations,” this graphic novel is an arresting graphic exploration of the resistance and radical vision of 18th-century pirates.
Set at the pinnacle of the “Golden Age” of Atlantic piracy, the story follows three unlikely companions, who are sold into servitude on a merchant ship and unwittingly thrust into a voyage of rebellion.
- John Gwin, an African American fugitive from bondage in South Carolina
- Ruben Dekker, a common seaman from Amsterdam
- Mark/Mary Reed, an American woman who defies stereotypes by dressing as a man.
Mutiny ensues against the tyrannical Captain Skinner, who is thrown overboard to make way for democracy aboard the Jolly Roger. The crew’s new order provides radical social benefits, all based on real, documented practices of contemporary pirate ships: democratic decision-making, a social security net, health and disability insurance, and equal distribution of spoils taken from prize ships.
It’s not long before the London elites enlist a war-hungry captain to take down the Jolly Roger and start a war of high society versus high-seas pirates. 9780807023983