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Under the Banner of King Death: Pirates of the Atlantic, a Graphic Novel

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by David Lester and Marcus Rediker, Illustrated by David Lester, Edited by Paul Buhle

Beacon Press

2/7/2023, paperback

SKU: 9780807023983


Featuring an African American fugitive from bondage, an undercover woman, and 'outcasts of all nations, ' an arresting graphic exploration of the resistance and radical vision of 18th-century pirates

A tale of mutiny, bloody battle, and social revolution, Under the Banner of King Death novelizes for the first time the real pirates, an itinerant community of outsiders, behind our legends. This graphic novel breaks new ground in our understanding of piracy and pirate culture, giving us more reasons to love the rebellious and stouthearted marauders of the high seas.

Set at the pinnacle of the "Golden Age" of Atlantic piracy, this novel follows three unlikely companions, who are sold into servitude on a merchant ship and unwittingly thrust into a voyage of rebellion.

They are:

  • 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 Night Rambler. 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 Night Rambler and start a war of high society versus high-seas pirates. Adapted from the scholarship and research of historian Marcus Rediker, Under the Banner of King Death will inspire readers with its 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.


"A concise, sharp tale of a multiethnic crew of disgruntled sailors who mutiny against miserable conditions and transform their ship into a kind of floating socialist republic with elected officers and equal shares of plunder." -- Publishers Weekly

"A story which will have you yearning for freedom and rum like the hackneyed stereotypes of Jack Sparrow never could." -- Freedom News (UK)

About the Contributors:

David Lester illustrated the award-winning 1919: A Graphic History of the Winnipeg General Strike and authored Prophet Against SlaveryHis poster of anti-war protester Malachi Ritscher was exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He is the guitarist in the rock duo Mecca Normal.

Marcus Rediker is Distinguished Professor of Atlantic History at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the author of The Fearless Benjamin Lay, and Villains of All Nations on which this book is based. He collaborated with David Lester and Paul Buhle on Prophet Against Slavery.

Paul Buhle, a retired senior lecturer at Brown University, is the authorized biographer of C. L. R. James. He has edited more than a dozen nonfiction graphic novels, including Len: A Lawyer in History.