Archive for ‘comics history’

July 29, 2013

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.

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February 24, 2012

Panel Check! Racist images in comics.

Before shelving a book in our collection, no matter the review nor recommendation, here at the Takoma Park MD Library we always run a ‘panel check’ on every graphic novel we add.

This means I read a great many comics of course, the point here is to confirm where a book belongs in our collection, and in our children’s section to avoid any upsetting surprises for patrons hunting for an appropriate book for their kid.  Adult language, realistic violence, sexually charged situations, mature topics– these are all reasons why a book may step up the ladder to the next higher age category.  (See promotion criteria at the bottom of this article).

Occasionally we get ambushed by a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing and buy a book intended for a young audience, but discover a single panel of art that bumps it to a higher category.   Kid-to-grown-up ‘booby-trapped’ books are especially upsetting when an otherwise great story, appropriate for all ages, is derailed by unfortunate racial stereotypes or caricatures.

Here is a smattering of otherwise excellent books that are tainted by their own prejudices.

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November 18, 2011

Why not Comics? (Some history).

Underground, you can feel the weight of the cliff face overhead.  There is a solemn quiet in the tribe, even the bundled infants keep respectful silence.  All would be dark, but you have brought fire with you,  bundles of rivergrass twisted together burning brightly.  White Streak pours water on a pile of powders, dips his hand into the mud and strokes the wall, leaving a swatch of color.  He scratches with a burned stick, here and here.  Behold:  an animal,  then a herd, running, powerful.   Here a hunter carries a spear, here a spear has pierced the skin of a great longhorned bison that staggers and soon will die to feed the tribe.

Stories told in pictures have been with us for as long as we have recorded story in any durable form.  We are hardwired to understand images, and make stories in our heads to make sense of these images.  It is an important part of our mental heritage, and in fact one of the building blocks of ‘culture’ itself: the ability to pass on information via visual representations.

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