Comic books: Historical books that are worth a look

  • Article by: ANDREW A. SMITH , Scripps Howard News Service
  • Updated: September 27, 2012 - 2:43 PM

Including "Taxes, the tea Party and Those Revolting Rebels"

"Taxes, the Tea Party and Those Revolting Rebels"

The teetering tower of review copies has yielded a bumper crop of historical goodness. Let's take a look chronologically:

"Taxes, the Tea Party and Those Revolting Rebels" (NBM, $14.99) is a history textbook disguised as a graphic novel. It makes history fun and memorable by using cartoon characters to explain and propel the narrative.

That narrative runs, roughly, from the early 1760s to 1789, bookended by the Writs of Assistance (the first of King George's onerous tax burdens on the American colonies to help pay for the Seven Years' War) and the adoption of the Bill of Rights. In between we get the Boston Tea Party, the Declaration of Independence, the Revolutionary War and the election of George Washington.

"Taxes" is written and drawn by Village Voice cartoonist Stan Mack, who has created other historical graphic novels, including "The Story of the Jews: A 4,000-Year History."

• Americans tend to think of the Japanese enemy in World War II as implacable, fanatical, faceless and terrifying. A new graphic novel by one of Japan's most celebrated manga artists shows the truth behind the (Western) legend.

"Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths" (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95) follows some new recruits in a Japanese company on New Britain in what is now Papua New Guinea, from their arrival in 1943 to their deaths in 1945. I guess that's a spoiler of a sort, but really, you don't expect any other outcome when you experience these soldier's daily lives -- physical abuse from their superiors, starvation, irrational orders and more. And their deaths are due entirely to a culture we barely understand; when 81 soldiers miraculously survive a suicide attack, their commanders send them back on a second suicide attack to avoid losing face (and force several officers and NCOs to suicide).

"Deaths" is written and drawn by someone who knows this story, because he lived it. Writer/artist Shigeru Mizuki, now 90, is not only one of Japan's most celebrated manga artists, but a veteran of World War II, which claimed one of his arms. And the only reason he survived is because he was hospitalized with battle injuries and malaria when his company was sent to its death.

Any roadblocks evaporate fairly quickly, given the story's lively pace, rough humor, endearing characterizations ... and suffocating sense of inevitable doom.

• Baby boomers like to joke about how the future predicted when they were children, complete with flying cars and personal jetpacks, failed to materialize. Writer/artist Brian Fies ("Mom's Cancer") decided to tackle the topic directly.

"Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?" (Abrams ComicArts, $14.95) is much more than a one-joke premise, though. It uses a father-son pair in five different decades to explore what each generation expected of the future, plus how the generation gap played itself out. Fies also includes a great deal of history about science fiction through the years, supplemented by comic-book stories starring "Captain Crater and the Cosmic Kid" rendered in different styles to reflect different eras of comic books. That's a lot of information packed into a small space, but Fies has a breezy style that makes it painless.

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