This story was updated on February 1, 2024.

Rob Edwards, a Detroit-born screenwriter best known for Disney’s “The Princess and the Frog” and “Treasure Planet,” and the TV shows “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and “In Living Color,” has a new graphic novel set to release in February 2024 detailing a little-known, yet highly prominent figure of America’s Black history: Robert Smalls.

Titled “Defiant,” the graphic novel chronicles the extraordinary life of Smalls, who as a 23-year-old slave successfully commandeered a Confederate Civil War ship and surrendered it to the Union Army, before joining the Union Army and becoming a war hero himself. Smalls went on to run for Congress five times, and won, the longest-serving Black congressman during Reconstruction, among several other successes.  

Volume One of Edward’s graphic novel is set for a digital release in late February, during Black History Month. The release date for a  physical copy of “Defiant” has not yet been announced. Subsequent volumes of the graphic novel are expected to be released throughout the year.


“He started a printing press. He started a railroad. He’s the reason why we have Black people in the military, because they showed courage, you know, intelligence and strength. He’s the reason why we have public schools,” Edwards said during an interview with One Detroit’s Chris Jordan. It’s a story Edwards felt compelled to tell as a Black author and one that readers were hungry to get their hands on. The graphic novel has been backed by almost 2,000 supporters, bringing more than $150,000 on Kickstarter to help fund the project.  

One Detroit’s Chris Jordan caught up with Edwards on a recent visit home to Michigan, at Comics & More in Madison Heights, where they talked about “Defiant,” the support he’s received through Kickstarter, and why a comic book is a perfect, if unorthodox, way to teach kids Black history. 

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