Monday, September 5, 2011

Review: "Civil War Adventure #2: Real History: More Stories of the War That Divided America"

Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz, Authors
Gary Kwapisz, Enrique Villagran and Esteve,  Illustrators

History is more than names, dates and places.  History lives in every one, it surrounds us and shaped the world we live in, yet it can often be difficult to convince students as to why it is important to study history.  It is simply not enough to regurgitate the same old platitude, “Those who do not know history are condemned to repeat it.”  New ways, new tactics and new tools are needed to make history relevant to today’s students.  That being said, the creators of “Civil War Adventure #2: Real History: More Stories of the War That Divided America” have gone back to the drawing-board of the low-tech past, and created a comic book, or in today’s parlance what would be termed a graphic novel

A novel however it is not.  It is rather a book of seven, starkly drawn, black and white, graphic short stories:

  •  The March To Romney
  • The Gray Ghost
  • Burning Vengeance
  • Will The Back Man Fight?
  • Sharpshooter’s Duel
  • Pickett’s Diary
  • Let Go Now . . .

Sadly the book fails at a few different levels.  First it’s subtitle: “Real History: More Stories of the War that Divided America.”  In a story titled “Burning Vengeance” a group of Union foragers are cursed by a grotesque witch who resides in an abandoned plantation house.  Real history?  I think not.

Secondly, many of the Confederate characters are bad stereotypes and misrepresentations of the Southern soldiers, and people from the South in general.  Many are missing teeth, and speak in dialect that would make Gomer Pyle look like the smartest kid in the class.  “Danged if that ain’t so!” and “G’wan back t’Boston Billy!” are just a few such phrases used.  This, coupled with the fact that the authors refer to the Civil War as “The War Between The States,” a name given to the war by Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederacy, and adopted by those who took up the banner of “The Lost Cause,” is an odd juxtaposition.

And lastly, there are more than a handful of spelling errors in the book, discounting of course the dialogue written in a Southern dialect.

The book’s one shining moment, however, is the story of “Will the Back Man Fight?” highlighting the courageous fight of the United States Colored Troops during the Battle of Milliken’s Bend on June 7, 1863.

One story though is not enough to recommend this book.  If its aim was to generate the interest of today’s graphic novel generation in the Civil War, it utterly fails.  The stories presented are unrelated to each other and only the most minimal exposition is used to set each story in its context.  Often the stories are sensationalistic and best (discounting “Will the Black Man Fight?”), and pandering to the lowest common denominator at their worst.  I can’t imagine reading this book would motivate any one to read further on the history of the Civil War, had they not already been so motivated.

ISBN 978-0982446621, History Graphics Press, © 2011, Paperback, Illustrated, 144 pages, $14.95

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