In Q & A, a weekly feature of Fantastic Fangirls, we ask our staff to tackle a simple question — then open the floor to comments.
What is a historical event that you’d like to see incorporated into a comic?
Last Friday I went to a performance/workshop about Toy Theater put out by Great Small Works and it reminded me of two things: 1. before Anton Chekhov mainstream theater followed a set of rules best illustrated by the sentence “the train blows up in the third act”; and 2. the further we get from an event the more muddled its history. For the past twenty years Great Small Works has taken headline news and turned it into puppet theater and part of why it is successful is that it is visual. They use copies of the New York Times to make their puppets so people recognize the images. I don’t particularly want to read about Superman’s thoughts on Occupy Metropolis but a comic about a group of fictional young people out to change the world that uses real world current events explicitly “ripped from the headlines” intrigues me.
Or, Anton Chekhov graphic novels. Because my favorite New Avengers stories are the Chekhovian ones.
I’ve always been a sucker for stories of exploration and discovery. In recognition of the Russian scientists currently exploring the Savage Land — I mean, Lake Vostok — under Anarctica, I’d propose a comic about the historic expedition of the Endurance. The journey, which lasted between 1914 and 1917, has been described as a very successful failure the crew of the Endurance, led by the British explorer Ernest Shackleton, didn’t reach its goal of crossing the Antarctic continent. In fact, they technically never made it to Antarctica at all. However, the crew’s remarkable survival of a series of disasters makes for the kind of story that you never get when things go as planned. Much like my favorite space exploration movie, Apollo 13, the tale of the Endurance is a tribute to ingenuity and improvisation.
Plus, if you’ve seen Steve Lieber’s work in Whiteout, you know that Antarctica can make for great comic book visuals.
When I was growing up, I devoured any and all historical fiction in the middle grades and YA ranges. Though I read widely, my favorite stories were those about young American girls (somewhere between 9 and 15) living their lives in different historical periods in the nation’s history. Luckily, the publishing industry was there to provide such books in droves: with the Dear America diary-style books, and, of course, with the American Girl characters.
These books were easy to read and, in the case of the American Girl books, well-illustrated, allowing me to visualize the daily lives of these distinctive young women. But I can’t help but wonder how much clearer my mental pictures would have been if the books had come in comic form. American Girl is a merchandising juggernaut, from its books to its dolls to its magazines. Wouldn’t it be amazing if they could produce comics as well, helping young girls to get acclimated to the medium through characters they already love? And if American Girl itself won’t do it, why doesn’t a comic book company pick up the slack, with stories told about original historical characters in that same vein? If comic book companies want to tap into a lucrative market, little girls who regularly convince their parents to buy them $100 dolls are right there, ready and waiting to combine historical literacy with the literacy of sequential art.
Oh, how can I choose?
I love history so much! And comics, as a medium of narrative, is an incredibly versatile tool. You can tell almost any kind of story with comics.
That said, I think I would love to see a story about the ancient Persian equivalent of the pony express. During the Bronze Age the ancient Persian empire had a postal relay system spanning 1500 miles of Central Asia. I want a comic about the people who were a part of that.
So what about you? What is a historical event that you’d like to see incorporated into a comic?