Must Have More Historical Graphic Novels!

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I now know how much historical accounts interest me, when written in the narrative form.  When I was younger, I loved historical fiction, but once I took eighth grade American History, I lost all interest in anything historical.  Some things still caught my attention, but it wasn't the same as when I was in elementary school.  Anyways, I read Persepolis last year in Topics in World Literature and I absolutely loved the experience.  It's hard to say that I "loved the book," because I feel insensitive to say that I loved a book about a real person's unbelievable struggles.  However, saying I loved the experience is absolutely true because I learned so much in a valuable way.

Persepolis and Maus are both graphic novels detailing the experiences of real people during extreme hardships.  Persepolis is about a girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution, having her rights taken away from her and her family.  I highly suggest it if you feel like you're gaining a lot from Maus.  It's similar in style, and it taught me so much about Iranian culture and history that the media tends to hide from us.  Anyways, let's move on to Maus specifically.

One of the main reasons I value this novel is the detail Spiegelman puts into every illustration.  It helps me understand the events of the book in such a profound way, an understanding I don't thing I would have from reading a straightforward history textbook.  On page 12, for example, Spiegelman focuses the illustration on his father's tattoo of his prisoner ID from his time in a concentration camp.  He doesn't have to point it out by words because the reader can see it.  I thought this is one of the defining moments regarding the details of Spiegelman's drawings because it allows him to show an important aspect of his father's story, without detracting from the current flow of the narrative.

Spiegelman's detail isn't present only in his drawings, but also in the narrative itself.  I got a sense of his father's personality throughout the novel so far, almost as if I know the man personally.  I've noticed that he gets sidetracked a lot, and it made me wonder: is it because of old age, or because he has so many traumatic memories that it's hard to keep everything straight?  Perhaps it's both.  I could never imagine being in his situation, and I admire this man incredibly, even though I don't know him personally and the only image I have of him is an illustrated mouse.  From that opinion alone, it's obvious this book is making a huge impression on me.  I have to buy Maus II!

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12 Comments

Kayla Lesko said:

I thought that Spiegelman's artwork was sometimes hard to make out. I'm used to reading comics in black and white because I read manga, but in some places in Maus, the black and white don't seem to be balanced. Otherwise, I really like it.

Josie Rush said:

"He doesn't have to point it out by words because the reader can see it."
Yes, I enjoyed that, too. It was nice to see these characters walking into a house and not have to read "Their steps echoed off the dirty sidewalk as they entered the brick house..." Yeah, there was narration, but I just think this graphic novel was placed at a great time for me, it switched things up nicely.
I'm also a historical fiction fan. It's fun to read about events that you vaguely know about, and have that sense of remembering something as situations are revealed.
I wonder if the black and white was an artistic choice by Spiegelman, or if it was a choice that was made for him...etc. Because if it was his own choice to keep his graphic novel black and white, I'm sure there's some significance behind it. I dont' really want to speculate if this is something that "just happened" though. Admittedly, while I enjoy graphic novels, I do not know how they're made or what publication decisions belong to the artists.

Melissa Schwenk said:

I think the dialogue played a big role in the authenticity of the book, which I discuss in my blog entry. I would link you to it, but I tried your link things from a previous blog and seemed to have little luck. I probably just did it wrong or something. Anyway, the pictures definitely enhanced the authenticity and the way the book moved the reader easily through the scenes and flashbacks to the Holocaust. However, you mentioned the ID, and I found myself wondering if I had just completely skipped over that picture because I couldn’t remember seeing it. But going back I realized that I just simply bypassed it without thinking since the author put it in so slyly. However, the maps and other small pictures helped enhance the story in a way that helped pace the reader and allow little details to not bog down the action of the story too much.

Jessica Orlowski said:

Karyssa,

I agree that the detail of the book was fantastic, not only in the pictures but also in the details that he put into character development and such.

Kayla- It was a little hard to make out, and it took me a while to get used to the format.

Josie- there COULD be no significance at all around Spiegelmen's decision to use black and white in his novel, but I believe that the author put too much detail into everything else to dub this as anything but a conscious decision. Maybe it's putting us in the mindset of an old black and white film?

Melissa- I agree. It must have been hard trying to find a balance between too many small details and just enough. I think that the author did a superb job, though. He places things (like the ID number) so subtly into the book that you just subconsciously accept them as being there.

Kayla: Maybe my reaction to his illustrations was different from yours because I'm not used to reading comics in black and white?

Josie: Were you a fan of the Dear America books? They are diaries of fictional girls living during significant historical time periods. My favorite one was actually about a Jewish girl living during the Holocaust,called One Eye Laughing, the Other Weeping: The Diary of Julie Weiss. It was such a moving story. Another one was Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards. I especially liked it because Grace made references to Anne of Green Gables all the time haha. The Royal Diaries series was also a favorite of mine. My favorites were Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor and Mary, Queen of Scots: Queen Without a Country. They were about Elizabeth and Mary while they were still young. I loved them!

Now about Maus (I always get on a tangent somehow): I'm not sure if there was any significance behind Spiegelman drawing in black and white. I think it's just his style of drawing. Marjane Satrapi also drew in black and white in Persepolis. I don't think it's significant on a symbolic level.

Melissa: Maybe you forgot the quotation marks before and/or after the link. I always forget the second quotation mark, and it makes the words just show up red and unclickable. I can try to help if you tell me what didn't work about it :)

The ID was the first thing I noticed when I got to that square. Ever since I became more interested with film and media, I've been more keen on noticing the placement of things. For example, in that square on page 12, the position of everything is so precise and intentional. It made me think of television, which is mostly where I notice direction and placement, etc. Spiegelman, the "director" if you will, devised a way to include Vladek, Artie, and focus on the ID number on his arm all in one shot. It allowed him to focus on everything, without taking away the significance of Vladek's tattoo. I loved the choices he made in that illustration. Everything was so balanced. I'm sort of having a fangirl moment here for Art Spiegelman LOL.

Jess: As I said in my reply to Josie, I don't think it was a conscious decision in the sense that Spiegelman wanted to symbolically represent something. A lot of comics are done in black and white, so I think it was just his style. However, I can't say that with 100% certainty because I haven't seen any of his other work, except that comic about his mother's suicide that he included in Maus.

I expanded on my thoughts about Spiegelman's use of black and white at Kayla's blog.

Josie Rush said:

Karyssa- Oh, yeah, the Dear America books were very popular in my elementary school, and I was definitely a fan, though I can't recall the specific names of the books I read, I do know that I read one by a girl who was captured by Indians (thankfully she kept her diary with her), one that was during the Revolutionary War, one about a girl coming to America...And I'm sure a lot more, but those stories stick out to me. One of my favorite historical fiction books was Dove and Sword, which is sort of about Joan of Arc, but the author made it more about some random person following Joan of Arc around, basically. More recently, I read The Historian, which I'm counting as historical literature, because even though it isn't set in a historical time, it flashes back to Vlad the Impaler a lot. I've never read the Royal Diaries books, but one of my best friends has, and she swears they're wonderful, so even though I may possibly be a little old for them, I might have to read them anyway. lol.

It's a little disappointing to me that the color choice was probably not an artistic decision, but I can definitely see where it wouldn't be. It would just be something fun to try to interpret. Like was Spiegelman trying to point out that even though now the morality of that time seems black and white, clearly it was more uncertain and gray? Oh well. There goes that thought. lol.

I'll have to check out Dove and Sword for sure, Josie. It sounds like something I would enjoy. About the Diaries: I'm considering rereading my old favorites and reading the ones I never had the chance to buy/borrow, even though I'm too old. The writing might be simple, but the story itself is always interesting. Think Twilight. On a non-literary level, since we're talking about historical fiction, you should totally watch Stargate with me. It's like historical fiction meets scifi. And if scifi isn't your thing, it's not your typical scifi anyways. It's more about the people and the situations. The basic plotline is that the major ancient Egyptians (and later the head honchos from other ancient cultures), like Ra, weren't actually from Earth. The show uses real historical and mythological events and fills in the mysteries with science fiction solutions. You'll just have to see one. Seasons 9 and 10 are also interesting because they focus a lot on Arthurian legend, which fascinates me.

OH! And Sanctuary, too. It doesn't focus *too* much on historical fiction, but they occasionally work historical figures into the story. For example, in the show, Nikola Tesla is a vampire. It's pretty awesome :)

And now about Maus, haha: The more I think about it, the more I don't really know. I think it would be easier to determine whether the black and white is significant if we knew what Spiegelman's usual technique is. I briefly tried to research it, but I couldn't find it.

Aja Hannah said:

I actually linked to your blog on my entry. I also really liked the detail and on page 12 I totally had the same reaction! Just so well done in a subtle way.

The amount of detail in each picture is rounded out also by the amount of detail in the book and the running trends/themes/and symbols.

It's historical, a story that we already know, but its told in such a new/bold way that I'm actually interested.

Josie Rush said:

Karyssa, I know what you mean about Stargate being *kind of* historical. I watched Xena when I was younger, and there were so many refrences to things that were going on in the ancient greek time period that I ended up having this sort of half-knowledge of events. lol. And you know I'm always up for new tv shows.
Aja, good point about the story being told in a new/bold way. I think it needed to be done like this, because there's so much Holocaust literature out there, that artists need to think of a new way to get readers' attention and tell this story.

Dave said:

Wow, big conversation. Anyway, I think the black and white worked really well, and was probably a conscious decision, as I doubt printing a color rather than black-and-white novel was really much different in 1992, in terms of cost, etc.
I really more or less agree with everyone as far as the level of detail being extremely effective in Maus.

That said, in terms of historical fiction (which I read quite a bit when I have the chance), try out anything by James Clavell (But I recommend reading Noblehouse after everything except Whirlwind) He writes historical fiction set in Southeast Asia. His first one, King Rat, is somewhat autobiographical and takes place in Changi, a Japanese POW camp during WWII. The rest are not autobiographical, but are well researched and offer an excellent look at the culture and society, as well as including a very intricate and compelling plot. Shogun takes place in Feudal Japan, Tai-Pan is about the founding of Hong Kong, Gai-Jin involves the fictional trading company from Tai-Pan, when the first western traders were allowed in Japan, Noble House, involves the same company in Hong Kong in the 1960's, and Whirlwind involves the same trading company, but in Iran, during the revolution.

Anyway, speaking of the Iranian revolution, I really need to read Persiopolis. Oh, and also, another historical one I should recommend is On Wings of Eagles, by Ken Follet, which is a true story about the Iranian Revolution, during which Ross Perot basically put together his own special forces team to rescue some of his imprisoned employees from Iran. (Actually, Ken Follet does write a pretty decent amount of pretty decent historical fiction, though he also writes a lot of spy novels too.)

Also, Karyssa, I'll probably have to check out Stargate more thoroughly at some point...but probably not until I graduate and have time for it.

Aja: Thank you for linking to me :) The subtlety was what caught my attention. It was almost like a brilliant camera technique in film.

Josie: I agree about needing to change up the presentation of history. I'm not being insensitive in any way when I say this, but when I was younger and didn't really understand the implications of the Holocaust, all the lectures we had at school assemblies did nothing to move me. Every year, I'd just be thinking "uh, we're hearing about this again." It wasn't until we had an actual survivor come and speak to us that I realized "wow, this was an atrocity that actually happened to real people." Hearing it from someone who witnessed it made the story have a much more emotional effect on me than a history teacher detailing the event. I cried, and I still remember that moment so vividly.

That sort of presentation was a completely different experience for me. Perhaps it's a good thing that they built us up to it, starting us out with basic education about the event in elementary school and then presenting it in a more mature way in middle school. Creating new ways to relate the experience allows for a deeper understanding, at least as much of an understanding anyone who hasn't experienced it themselves can get.

Dave: Thanks for all the great recommendations! I always want to read more historical fiction because you can learn so much from it. Persepolis was excellent. I still have to read Persepolis 2 but I haven't had time between work and school. I plan on reading it over Christmas, though. If you ever want to borrow them, I have both.

By the way, Hulu currently has all the episodes of seasons 1-8 of Stargate: SG-1. Stargate the movie came first, though, so make sure you watch it beforehand (all the actors change for the show. I normally hate it when they change actors, but I like the characters better in the show because the actors really make them their own, so no complaints from me). Just a warning: a lot of the storylines for the first 2 seasons are corny, but once you make it through them, the show's great. If you end up liking it, you can get the complete collection DVD set on amazon for $120. That's a lot of money, but considering the fact that there are 10 seasons, it's a great price. Haha you can tell I like promoting this show ;)

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