Comics are, first and foremost, entertaining. However, that doesn’t mean that every now and then a reader couldn’t learn something from a funny book.
Most readers are pretty familiar with the “Big guns” of historical comics (Maus, Persepolis, solid chunks by Tezuka) so I have decided to skip those and focus on less well-known books. this is by no means exhaustive, and, even though there are ten of them, they are not in any particular order.
1. Laika – by Nick Abadzis. Laika is a fictionalized account of the life and death of the first living creature launched in orbital spaceflight. In the carefully controlled and sanitized world in which we live, it is difficult to imagine that humans used to launch living creatures in to space without any real hope of binging them back alive.
The graphic novel tells the story of Laika from multiple points of view including viewpoint of Laika herself, who had lived as a stray on the streets of Moscow. However, Abadziz resisted anthropomorphizing Laika. This makes the story feel all the more real since all of the main decisions were made without much regard for the thoughts and feelings of the dog. A powerful book about a forgotten hero of the global space race. Suitable for all ages, but might be best for ages 10 and up. You can order Laika here
2. Resistance Trilogy (Resistance, Defiance, Victory) by Carla Jablonski and Leland Purvis. Resistance covers that trials and tribulations of siblings Paul and Marie living in France during World War II. They live in a free section of France (as opposed to an occupied section) so they have considerably more freedom than others. However, that does not mean that they are immune to the ravages of war. Their father is a prisoner of war and their friend, Henri, is forced to go into hiding because of his Jewish ancestry, the realities of war come crashing in all around them.
While the book is decidedly fictional, there is a great deal of real information to be gleaned about the French Resistance movement. Each volume comes with historical and author’s notes at the back which fills in some of the gaps. While the allies got all the glory and we hear about the invasion at Normandy and the bombing of Pearl Harbor, it is rare that much is written about the French resistance. Order Resistance: Book 1 here
3. Marathon by Boaz Yakin and Joe Infurnari. Marathon covers the circumstances by which the Greek soldier Eucles delivered news of the result of the Battle of Marathon to the people left behind in Athens. In addition, that some messenger ran from Athens to Sparta asking for help, and then ran back, a distance of over 150 miles each way! Who knew that a book about over three hundred miles of running could be so exciting?
As with the other titles in the book, the takes some liberties with the facts of the story. However, since the story itself has plenty of factual inconsistencies depending on which Greek philosopher is relating the story (many people believe that Eucles was an invention of Herodotus, it is easy to forgive Yankin for adding some action scenes to heighten the tension. What is important is the depiction of the will of the human spirit in both the epic run as well as the battle of Marathon. You can order Marathon here
4. The Loxleys and the War of 1812 by Alan Grant and Claude St. Aubin. The War of 1812 is probably the least studied and most misunderstood war in the history of the United States. But that does not mean that it did not significantly impact the course of US History or the lives of the people who lived through it. the war of 1812 drastically changed the fortunes of the Native Americans who lived in the Great Lakes region at the time.
Interestingly enough, the book is written from the perspective of Canadians allied with the British during the war. We get so caught up in believing that we are “right” and what we have done is “for the best” that we forget there are other points of view. The book includes a 64 page summary of the war (including maps and illustrations) and itʼs implications for Canada and America written by Canadian military historian Mark Zuehlke. You can horder Loxleys And The War Of 1812 here
5. Oregon History Comics by Members of The Dill Pickle Club. Oregon has a history of being progressive and forward thinking. Oregon History Comics are ten short comic books telling little-known stories from our state’s history. From women’s suffrage in Oregon to the tragic Vanport Flood to the legendary all-ages venue, the X-Ray Café both small and large parts of state history are approached withthe idea of making it accessible and interesting.
Whether you’re a history buff or just a casual comics reader, you’ll find value in Oregon History Comics as a way of learning more about why Oregon is the way it is today. Even if you are not from Oregon, this would be a great place to start thinking about the little known history of your own state.You can order Oregon History Comics directly from the Dill Pickle Club.
6. From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell. It occurred to me after hearing so many people exclaim that they did not know that the Titanic had been a real ship (just something from a movie) that they may not know that Jack the Ripper was a real person! Jack the Ripper has transcended history and become a character. He shows up in a myriad of pop culture pieces from books, to movies, to songs. He is so pervasive that it is difficult to believe that he was a serial killer in London in 1888.
Alan Moore’s From Hell is an exceptionally well-researched piece of speculative fiction. In it, Moore lays out his case for what he believes was the identity of Jacke the Ripper. From Hell features over forty pages of notes and references, indicating which scenes are based on Moore’s imagination and which are based on specific sources. At 572 pages, there is plenty of information to mull over. Even if you disagree with Moore’s conclusions, it is a fantastic introduction to an interesting topic in history and can inspire you to do your own research. Order From Hell here
7. Petrograd by Phil Gelatt and Tyler Crook. Like Jack the Ripper, Rasputin is one of those real historical figures who has grown to such proportions that it is difficult to believe that he really lived. Even more unbelievable is the length people went through to end that life.
Gelatt and Crook speculate that the Murder of Rasputin was part of a larger conspiracy masterminded by the British government. What could have been a simple biography of a political and spiritual figure turns into a tense political thriller where the facts are even stranger than the fiction. Get your copy of Petrograd today
8. Treasury of Victorian Murder/Treasury of XXth Century Murder by Rick Geary. there is few tings more interesting to read about than murder. Rick Geary has produced a series of 13 books (so far!) which relate the details of sensational murders of the day. From the aforementioned Jack the Ripper to the assassination of President James Garfield and the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, Geary manages to convey not only the facts of the crime but also the personalities of the people involved. He also captures the feel of the era in which the murders take place.
In our celebrity and scandal obsessed culture there is something comforting about realizing that people have always been fascinated by murder and mystery. His most recent book, Lovers’ Lane: The Hall-Mills Mystery is exceptionally good. It digs deep into a murder which, to this day, has gone unsolved. That kind of uncertainty, even 100 years later, makes the reader yearn to learn even more. And now you can get A Treasury of Victorian Murder Compendium: Including: Jack the Ripper, The Beast of Chicago, Fatal Bullet here
9. The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography by Tetsu Saiwai. Whether or not you believe that Tenzin Gyatso is the fourteenth reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, there is no denying that he has lead a fascinating life. From being named as the Lama at the age of two, to being forced to walk across the Himalayan mountains to escape the invading Chinese Army, Tenzin Gyatso has managed to pack into his life more than dozens of people could ever dream of.
This depiction of the Dalai Lama’s life is in stark contrast to the calm and measured approach His Holiness takes in his own writing. Saiwai is writing for a younger audience and is trying to keep their interest by highlighting some of the more adventurous parts of Tenzin’s life. While The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography is not designed for someone who already knows a lot about the Dalai Lama, it is a great book for people who have never read about him and do not know much about him. You can get your copy of The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography here
10. The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song by Frank M. Young is the latest release in this list. Just released last month, The Carter Family: Dont Forget This Song is about the first family of country music. Not only did the Carter Family have a huge influence on the word of Country music, they also influenced Bluegrass, Southern Gospel, Pop, Rock, and the Folk music revival of the 1960′s. from their musical stylings to their harmonies and lyrics, much of what we appreciate in music today is derived from the music of The Carter Family.
The Carter Family may not have the flash of a celebrity reality show or the intrigue of a murder mystery, but what it lacks in the wanton and sordid, it makes up for in a compelling narrative about hard work, rising from poverty, and a family who developed a style all their own. This is a great book for people who are interested in exploring the deep roots of American music. Even better, the book includes a CD with original Carter Family music. Pick up your copy of The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song here
So, there you go. A list of 10 History comics where you might learn something. I have barely begun to scratch the surface of history comics. For another extensive list, complete with reviews and commentary, you can check out this list from the fine folks over at Art Bomb.