I haven't read Uptown or 2012 by Collier yet, but by comparison to his biographical work I like this one better. As a general rule, I don't like poems to be illustrated, because the illustrator usually interprets the poem for me instead of encouraging me to interpret for myself. But Collier did his work well. Here's how:
1. His choice of just one segment of the history of African Americans in the US feels narrower than the poem, which for me meant there was so much more the poem could do--so his illustrations did not shut off my sense that these words could do more than apply to Pullman porters.
2. He did not use a corresponding style. That is, he really does not illustrate the words at all. He has told a whole story with his picture sequence, and he has 'set' the poem in this sequence, almost like a musical score.
3. Because this poem is so spare to start with, Collier's storyboard decisions (with Laurent Linn as designer) slow the reading down, forcing us to go through multiple turns of the page and looking at illustrations before moving on to the next line. For me this resulted in a kind of savoring of the words. When I read the book aloud to Nancy, she was thinking and interpreting because of these pauses: "Does the poem actually say, 'I am the darker brother'?--that's interesting language!"
4. It's a genre-breaker. It's poetry, it's history, it's historical poetry
. If he had tried some counterpoint between the illustrations and the words, I might have given it a 5, but his reverence for Hughes and for the Pullman porters stops him at a complementary relationship. And reverence isn't all that interesting, so it was hard to say 'amazing'.
I also thought Collier was on his game with this storyboard, in his signature collage and painting multimedia style. There were numerous spreads where I just wanted to sit and look for a long time---not as many of these in his other books. I should probably give it a three because I was expecting to give it a 2, and usually only go up one from there. But I was just very pleased with the experience of Hughes' poem in this setting.