‘Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer’ blends historical dystopia with fantasy and horror to tell gripping stories of adventure and peril, rooted in the very real evil of chattel slavery.
Harriet Tubman is a remarkable individual and historical figure for a number of reasons. Her skill set was impressive, to say the least. After escaping to Philadelphia from a Maryland Plantation with her two brothers in 1849, she returned over a dozen times to help free nearly 70 more people—many of them relatives—eventually becoming known as the “Moses of her people” and Conductor of the Underground Railroad. In the years following, she served as an armed scout, spy, guerrilla soldier, and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War, as well as a political activist for women’s suffrage.
All of these things and more have inspired people to write books, make art, and even speculative fiction featuring Tubman. David Crownson’s best-selling indie comic Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer brings us a vision of Tubman that ventures into the fantastical with an entertaining series—which features striking artwork and color by Courtland Ellis, Joey Vazquez, and Josh Burcham—imagining her as a formidable and stealthy ninja warrior battling an “army of darkness.”
With HTDS, Crownson blends historical dystopia with fantasy and horror to tell gripping, outlandish stories of adventure and peril, all rooted in the very real evil of US chattel slavery. When frustrated slavers are unable to capture Harriet on their own or prevent her from whisking away her enslaved kin—whom the white slavers consider to be their personal property—they conjure up and enlist vampires, werewolves, witches, and of course, demons as supernatural hindrances. And so, Harriet must face waves of stalking, otherworldly creatures and beings even as she continues her abolitionist work of guiding families to freedom.
This version of Harriet Tubman possesses superhuman strength, heightened agility and speed, deadly hand-to-hand combat skills, and even prescient knowledge of danger. She also suffers from severe narcolepsy and Crownson has plans to use this to “raise the stakes significantly” in a future issue. The real-life Tubman was also said to have had precognitive abilities connected with the hypersomnia, visions, and vivid dreams she was known to experience and regarded as premonitions from God. These things were due to a traumatic brain injury she suffered as a child when she was struck in the head with a heavy metal weight after stepping in front of an overseer threatening another enslaved person. Even as a child, Tubman’s desire to protect her people was a strong and guiding force of her character, and it’s only appropriate that her fighting spirit and conviction would find its way into something like Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer in our time.
The HTDS team has just celebrated the release of the comic’s third issue and is ramping up for the arrival of issue #4 soon. Wear Your Voice recently had the opportunity to ask David Crownson a few questions about his creation and the inspiration behind it. Answers have been briefly edited for length and clarification.
What is it about Harriet Tubman’s spirit that makes her the perfect choice for slaying demons in your story?
“I came across this story where Harriet Tubman was leading a family of slaves to freedom and… the father was having a panic attack in the middle of the night… He’s like, ‘Oh, I made a mistake. This was a bad thing. My family was allowed to sleep in the Big House, they were allowing my daughter to learn how to read. This is a mistake. We shouldn’t have done this. This is awful!’ And so Harriet Tubman walks up to him, and this is when [she] was known for pulling a gun on you, so he got nervous. And she just calmly put her hands on this guy’s shoulders and took time to talk to him and be someone of council, and then she told him a joke and made him laugh. And he relaxed and he calmed down, you know. And I just thought… that’s a hero. That’s who she is. In the face of stress and white supremacy and racism and demons—this demon called slavery which is like a mountain—she’s able, in the face of it, she’s able to maintain poise, be of council, be of love, and also tell jokes and make people laugh and feel light and feel safe, and take that heaviness and burden off.”
What parts of Tubman’s life do you draw inspiration from for your comics, especially in the next issue?
“For this specific storyline, I’m going to draw upon… the event when Harriet Tubman was outed. For, I think, seven years, no one knew who she was. They thought it was either a white man in Blackface or just like a big, strong 6’6″, 250 pound Black man. No one could believe that it was a 4’11 Black woman who can’t read. So, when that happened, she was considered the most dangerous woman in America… And, uh… maybe we’ll end up in the Civil War later down the line.”
What was the thing that kicked you into high gear to get HTDS made?
“I always joke around that I came up with this comic book because I wanted to scare white people, but [really] this book started out as just a fun idea. And around the time we had a new president in 2016 and it was a shock to everyone. I went to the grocery store to eat my feelings—I got some Oreos and whipped cream and was gonna binge watch Luke Cage and eat high sugary food—and there were tons of white people at this grocery store, and I live in a town that’s a small, conservative area, and everyone was just being outwardly, openly Muslim-phobic to this lady who was wearing a hijab who was a cashier. They all refused to go to her line. And everyone was acting like, ‘Oh, this should be normal.’ And I’m like, ‘No you should be ashamed and feel scared that you have those racist, trash feelings… You know what? I’m gonna make this comic book happen.'”
What’s your favorite Harriet Tubman quote?
“‘Never wound a snake. Kill it.’
Do with that what you will. But I think it just means… I think when you’re ending something that’s evil and venomous and toxic, don’t temporarily break up and get back with it or ease up on it. Make sure that it is completely dissolved and dissipated.”
You can follow David Crownson and Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer on Instagram (@dcrownson/@harriettubman_demonslayer) and Twitter (@Dcrownson). Click here to purchase issues of the best-selling comic (that is, if they’re not sold out!). Enjoying these comics is an undeniably entertaining way to celebrate the abolitionist and activist for her boldness and commitment to Black liberation.