Independence Day is an excuse for fireworks and barbecues, but it’s also a good opportunity to think about how our nation was formed and evolved. With that in mind, the Good Comics for Kids bloggers decided to have a conversation about our favorite graphic novels about American history—and there’s a surprisingly strong selection to choose from.
Eva: My two picks aren’t Revolutionary War focused, but I think they fit under the Fourth of July umbrella. The first is The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, by Jonathan Hennessy and Aaron McConnell. At first I was flummoxed that anyone would want to illustrate the Constitution, let alone read about it, but once I got going I found it fascinating. The backstory, fun facts, and personalities behind the creation of the document make for engaging reading and I was thrilled that by the end of the book I actually understood how the electoral college works.
My second pick is The Bluecoats, by Lambil and Cauvin. Starring Sergeant Chesterfield, a career officer, and Corporal Blutch, a very reluctant soldier, the two bumble through the Civil War, from “Robertsonville” Prison to the Navy to the war on the frontier. Full of slapstick humor, the five volumes already released by Cinebook are full of gags, but they’re also full of interesting historical tidbits not often taught in schools. Sometimes it takes outside eyes (in this case Belgian) to see American history in new and very funny ways.
Robin: My pick for the Revolutionary War is Lora Innes’s webcomic (and graphic novel) The Dreamer. Yes, it has all the trademarks of being a potentially cliche time travel romance a la the latest rom-com fluff, but it turns out to be witty, action-filled, and uses the romantic tangles to plop you right into history. Alongside Nathan Hale, no less! Who looks pretty darned dreamy in uniform.
For US history in general, I will always love Journey into Mohawk Country. It’s a primary source, in that it is an entire, unedited journal of a Dutch trader in 1635, and it’s wonderfully illuminated by George O’Connor (known now for his equally wonderful Olympians series.) I’ve had great luck turning teachers on to it by clarifying that yes, it IS a primary source, and that it’s a wonderful way to make the very early history of our country come alive for students and readers.
Esther: Well, I’ll grab The Sons of Liberty, by Alexander and Joseph Lagos). I thought this was an excellent twist on the Revolutionary era. Two runaway slaves end up with supernatural powers after being tricked as lab rats for Benjamin Franklin’s son William. They learn the African martial art of Dambe from William Lay, honing their powers. The first volume is just a set up… and I never got to volume 2 (because of a lack of time, not desire). I am eager to see what happens next. This also did well with any student who borrowed this title from my library.
My second choice isn’t about the Revolutionary War era, but rather Civil War era, which I think is as important to our country’s identity and liberty: Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel, by CM Butzer. The beginning leads up to the battle, and then to Lincoln’s famous address. I think what I most enjoyed about this wasn’t the story, but rather artwork, specifically, the use of color. Blues, grays, black and white—which is fitting due to the significance of blue and gray during the civil war.
Michael May: My favorite graphic novel about American history is easily H.M. van den Bogaert and George O’Connor’s Journey Into Mohawk Country. Fortunately, since Robin’s already mentioned that one, I’ve got a backup.
The Battle of Dovecote Crest is a webcomic, not a graphic novel, and it doesn’t go into great detail about its titular Civil War battle. But it does offer a wonderful, behind-the-scenes look at the lives of historical reenactors and the small museums that support them. On the surface, it’s a lovely, romantic, YA comic that makes history exciting through the enthusiasm of its very funny and sweet characters. But supporting its central love story are also lots of details and commentary about the Civil War that surface as the characters research and discuss their battle.
Mike Pawuk: I’ve really enjoyed Chuck Dixon’s and Gary Kwapisz’s Civil War Adventure from History Graphics Press. It’s currently two volumes, but they brilliantly retell true tales of the American Civil War and it’s engaging and full of action, adventure, pathos, and true history that’s been very well researched. You can find more at their site.
Secondly, I’ve really enjoyed Amulet’s forthcoming series by Nathan Hale (artist of Rapunzel’s Revenge) who has created a new series called Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales that teaches American history for yournger readers. The first two volumes are coming out in August and I got a sneak peek of them at the American Library Association conference. The first volume is called “One Dead Spy” and focuses on the life and impending death of the historical Nathan Hale, a spy who was hanged for his deeds. He is joined by a hangman and a British soldier – representing both sides of a moral compass on a journey of Hale’s life, the battles he fought, and more. The second volume called “Big Bad Ironclad” and focuses on how Ironclad warships were made. Both books feature facts intermixed with lots of humor and are great looks at American history.
Brigid: I like all of Chris Schweizer’s Crogan books, but Crogan’s Loyalty, his newest volume, is my favorite so far because it shows something you don’t often read about: The other side of the American Revolution. It’s the story of two brothers who are on opposing sides, and the Loyalist brother is actually a very sympathetic character who makes a cogent argument for keeping the status quo. History is written by the winners, but it’s important to understand why the losers chose their side, and this book is both entertaining and illuminating.
Stan Mack’s Taxes, The Tea Party, and those Revolting Rebels brings Mack’s keen eye and ability to blend the everyday and the profound to the story of the American Revolution. Originally published in 1994 as Stan Mack’s Real Life American Revolution (a shout-out to his long-running Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies), it has been updated and is as fresh today as it was back then. Mack has done his homework, so this is not a retread of the standard story; he brings a new perspective and a lot of hey-I-didn’t-know-that facts to the history we all thought we knew.