Drawing Strife: Global Conflicts in Graphic Novels | The Reader’s Shelf, February 15, 2016

The striking images in graphic novels are an excellent means of depicting the physical and emotional trauma created by conflicts around the world. Whether these works are fictional or journalistic, their scope and resonance in representing the events and repercussions of conflicts are truly eye-opening.

exitwounds.jpg2116warofthetrenches.jpg2116Gene Luen Yang’s two-book set, Boxers (First Second. 2013. ISBN 9781596433595. pap. $18.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466843820) and Saints (First Second. 2013. ISBN 9781596436893. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466843851), shows both sides of the Boxer Rebellion through coming-of-age tales. Boxers follows Little Bao, a Chinese boy who helps to create the Righteous and Harmonious Fists, a group fighting Christian missionaries, Chinese Christians, and foreign governments that they feel have become too influential. Saints focuses on ­Vibiana as she chooses to break away from her abusive family by converting to Christianity and moving to a Christian village that comes under attack from the Righteous and Harmonious Fists. Filled with cleverly colored work and remarkable illustrations, both volumes are easily digestible and will resonate strongly.

Jacques Tardi’s multi-award-winning graphic novel, It Was the War of the Trenches (Fantagraphics. 2010. ISBN 9781606993538. $24.99), is widely considered a masterpiece of war comics. Following a vignette style, it conveys the daily life of soldiers fighting in the muddy, wet, and deadly landscape of trench warfare. Tardi’s meticulous, elaborate, and finely crafted black-and-white images forge unforgettable scenes of death. It is a gruesome and shocking narrative of hardship, both beautifully and tragically rendered. Expressing the sweeping magnitude of the horror and bloodshed of war, the book presents an indelible vision of the mass slaughter of men that took place a century ago.

Showa: A History of Japan; 1926–1939 (Drawn & Quarterly. 2013. ISBN 9781770461352. pap. $24.95) is the first in a four-volume autobiographical series by Shigeru Mizuki, one of today’s most influential manga authors. It portrays the events that preceded Japan’s entry into World War II, interspersed with scenes from Mizuki’s life growing up in the country. Filled with personal experiences of street brawls and failure at school, Mizuki’s early interest in art, and his family’s struggles with poverty and unemployment, the multiple plotlines paint an in-depth picture of how Japan’s economy and politics affected the average family. Additionally, the historical moments of its battles with China and the Second Sino-Japanese War offer telling insight into ­Japan’s totalitarianism.

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (Pantheon. 2004. ISBN 9780375714573. pap. $14.95) and Persepolis 2 (Pantheon. 2005. ISBN 9780375714665. pap. $13.95) are modern classics of the medium and have also been adapted to film. Satrapi’s memoirs of her childhood during the Islamic Revolution in Iran are rendered in black-and-white ink and are full of thematic imagery. By detailing her own life and that of her fascinating family, she provides a vivid look into Iranian history and the difficulties of living under a repressive and brutal regime. Escaping those experiences by attending high school in Austria, Satrapi illustrates her rebellious time abroad, only to lose her freedom once more upon her return to Iran, making it impossible to live as a liberated woman.

Jean-Philippe Stassen’s gut-wrenching ­Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda (First Second. 2006. ISBN 9781596431034. pap. $18.99) tracks Hutu teenager Deogratias during the horrific Rwandan genocide in 1994. Deogratias flashes back and forth between his life before and after the violence began. In one moment, he pursues a girl he has fallen in love with, and in the next he has descended into a state of madness during which he plays a role in her death. Another scene shows him plunging into schizophrenic shock, believing he has become a dog. In addition to the disturbing story line, readers get a sense of the personal and national destruction of the period through Stassen’s deeply saturated color work and realistic depictions.

Exit Wounds (Drawn & Quarterly. 2008. ISBN 9781897299838. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781770461819) by Rutu Modan is a love story that reflects on the emotional experience of fear and loss suffered by Israelis in the wake of suicide bombings. Modan tells the tale of Numi, a female soldier, and Koby Franco, a cab driver, as they scour Tel Aviv for Koby’s estranged and missing father, Gabriel, who just happens to be Numi’s former lover. Their hunt for Gabriel reveals the tense realities of life in the Middle East as Numi and Koby become romantically involved. Modan’s deft digital images and skillfully designed panels will instantly draw readers to this superb work.

Rachel K. Fischer is a Library Technical Services Specialist for YBP Library Services, Contoocook, NH

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

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