Boxers, Saints, and Compassionate History

Originally published on November 25, 2013

Last post I reviewed “March,” a history of the civil rights movement told from the perspective of congressman John Lewis. Most valuable about that book was the specificity of its history—how it re-told a story that most of us thought we knew. Gene Luen Yang’s paired books “Boxers” and “Saints” are also historical fiction, and similarly rewarding, but for slightly different reasons.

Like many North Americans, I’m fuzzy on the history of the Boxer Rebellion, but now that I’ve read these paired books, I can get pictures like these out of my head when I hear the phrase



and replace them with this:


(Thanks for—well, you can guess which one of the above three photos.) Continue reading “Boxers, Saints, and Compassionate History”

March: Comics, Civil Rights and the Story of Congressman John Lewis

Originally published on November 25, 2013

(UPDATE: The March trilogy is complete! Here’s what Book Three looks like, and you can get all three in a boxed set.)

Most of the comics I’ve reviewed in this blog have been for entertainment, but the history of comics is also closely tied with education. Comics versions of literary classics and the Bible, for example, have been created for audiences disinclined to sit down and read a book.

This sometime association of comics with educational purpose is part of why the genre is often dismissed by artists and art critics who consider any predetermined goal or meaning a corruptive influence on art. As high Modernist poet Archibald MacLeish famously put it in “Ars Poetica,” “A poem should not mean / But be.” Art in its “pure” state is (supposedly) objective, devoid of any specific point or purpose beyond artistic “expression.”

Plenty of comics—perhaps the majority—aim to tell good stories rather than communicate a particular purpose, but the history of comics with more specific political goals is just as rich and fascinating. One such artifact from the Civil Rights era is a comic produced in 1958 by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, or FOR.


“Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story” was designed to teach the fast-growing ranks of nonviolent protesters about the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., the site of Rosa Parks’s famous protest, and also to educate them in the most effective methods for continuing the practice in other locations.

Congressman John Lewis, one of the most prominent surviving figures from the Civil Rights movement, was inspired by the 1958 comic book, and was convinced by his comics-nerd staffer, now co-writer, Andrew Aydin, to tell his own story in comic-book form. The result is “March: Book One,” the first of a projected trilogy.


Continue reading “March: Comics, Civil Rights and the Story of Congressman John Lewis”

Biff! Bam! Pow! Color Dukes It Out with Black and White

Originally published on November 11, 2013

Last post’s review of “Marble Season” by Gilbert Hernandez was my first write-up of a black and white comic—which made me realize how little I’ve been representing this seminal and diverse world.

Black and white comics are the foundation on which the genre has been built. What most of us define as comics were first published in newspapers before the age of color printing—as well as later, when color printing was expensive and rationed to pages more important than the Sunday “funnies.”

Printing in color has become much more affordable for small presses, a shift in production crucial to the current comics zeitgeist. Many recent comics bestsellers push color to the limits of its possibilities, creating rich, bright and complicated scenes. Here are images from three works I reviewed in earlier posts, Marguerite Abouet’s “Aya” series, illustrated by Clement Oubrerie; Chris Ware’s “Building Stories”; and Lucy Knisley’s “Relish”:




Continue reading “Biff! Bam! Pow! Color Dukes It Out with Black and White”