Historical Fiction and Non-Fiction. Crogan’s Loyalty; Big Bad Ironclad

crogans loyalty sniper

Brother is set against brother in the excellent Crogan’s Loyalty, historical fiction set in the Revolutionary War.

This year during school visits we discussed historical fiction and I figured I’d take this space to highlight a few standout titles in our Graphic Novel collection.

Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales:  Big Bad Ironclad.

This book works hard to do a great deal all at once in a very small space.  Pages are always cramped in a digest sized book, and while this works fine for manga where often one entire page is filled with a single panel,  here Hale manages to cram action, information and dialogue into dozen or more panels per page.

Within those size constraints Hale does fairly well.  Young comics readers won’t have to guess to untangle the flow of action sequences. and his flash-forward narrators (soon-to-be-hanged spy Nathan Hale and the Greek chorus of participants at his hanging) only occasionally obtrude on the flow of the story.   Now and again the nincompoopery of the hangman character fails to hit the funny bone, but otherwise the story serves its purpose:  teaching younger grade-level readers about a significant period of history in a breezy easy way.

The book is not trying for resonance or humanity or perspective. It seeks to make history kid-friendly. For graphics non-fiction it works pretty well, even if here at the library it doesn’t create its own audience or compel readers in to eagerly yank it from the shelf. To me well-done period fiction or non-fiction works best when it ignites further interest in the topic or era.  I ask myself not whether I learned something but: do I care to know more?

Crogan’s Loyalty by Chris Schweizer

Contrast with Chris Schweizer’s excellent The Crogan Adventures series.  These well-researched historical fiction action graphic novels follow the adventures of various ancestors of the Crogan family.  Tales of morality and moral ambiguity are told father to son to illustrate ethical lessons and a bit of history.

Consider Crogan’s Loyalty (Oni Press 2012). Set in the Revolutionary War two brothers find themselves with opposing loyalties, one serving the crown the other siding with the colonial rebels.

Here the loopy fast forward action follows fictional characters caught up in real events.   Rather than force modern dialogue into the mouths of real historical characters, Schweitzer pens period-accurate dialect spoken by fictional characters with believable cares and worries. The comic format provides context and allows kids to interpret unfamiliar words or usage; swiftly the rhythms and lope of speech become familiar.   (In our read-aloud sessions, projecting comics on screen to share, the pirate tale Crogan’s Loyalty became a well-attended serial event , drawing a large audience from month to month to hear pirate accents spoken loud hale and hearty…. Which created a run on pirate non-fiction in the library stacks, and built a small waiting list for the next book (set with the French Foreign Legion in the early 1900’s).

Here readers become immersed in historical events, interested in the outcome, curious about the context — ironically because the characters are not cartoon cutouts despite Schweizer’s loose lines and simple iconic comic strip faces.   And while the background details may not be quite as crisp and cleanly rendered as Hale’s the realistically claustrophobic backgrounds evoke the vast forest this country once was.

I suppose that’s the crux of the comparison for me:   Schweizer’s book incites interest and educates kids not by simplifying complex topics as does Hales books (necessary when providing an accurate historical overview in limited space)  but by using the strength of the medium to its advantage.  In the Crogan tales illustrations provide context to interpret archaic language, unusual situations situations, or complex event events, but kids willingly work to understand because the story flows with drive and heart and vigor.  Kids might not leave the book wanting to know more about the period, but they are definitely eager to see what will happen with the next generation of the Crogan family and they snatch the new series off the shelves as soon as they arrive.

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