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 your favorite historical event that has been incorporated into a comic?
My favorite historical event is the American Revolution. See Liberty’s Kids, National Treasure, 1776, John Adams. I’ve been to Concord, MA on Patriots Day and Philadelphia, PA for the 4th of July. I own this outfit. I’m often angry at my country but I love the story of its beginnings. It’s a romance.
The Dreamer by Lora Innes is a webcomic that I first encountered as a trade two years ago in Baltimore. I picked it up and gushed about the art to the young woman (dressed as a revolutionary) at the table not realizing she was the creator. When I figured it out I couldn’t NOT buy the book (and let her sign it) but I’m happy I did. Dreamer is about a modern high school girl, a theater geek, who is transported into the American Revolution when she goes to sleep at night. Thematically it’s closest to Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane and it wouldn’t be out of place on the Paranormal Teen Romance shelf. It’s not for everyone but it is very much for ME.
I was tempted to mention that time Nelson Rockefeller got possessed by the Serpet Crown, but I guess that didn’t technically occur in “our” dimension.
Forced to settle on an event from actual history, I used this question as an excuse to catch up with a graphic novel I had bought a while ago but hadn’t read: Petrograd, by Philip Gelatt and Tyler Crook. Set in 1916 and 1917, this story follows events in the capital of Russia (known as St. Petersburg or Leningrad at other times in history, but “Petrograd” during those years). Although told through the fictionalized perspective of a British intelligence agent, Petrograd deals with real events. Particularly, it centers around the assassination of Rasputin, and, as far as colorful historical events, this one is hard to beat. Rasputin was poisoned (to no effect), then shot, stabbed, wrapped in a rug, and thrown into a river. (The book leaves out the part where he returns as king of the vampires, but that’s well-mined territory in genre fiction and we can forgive Gelatt and Crook for sticking to “facts.”)
While it would be pretty hard to make the Rasputin story boring (says the Russian history nerd, who might be a little biased), the creators of this book nonetheless went beyond the call of duty. Crook’s art is great (a stylized palette reminiscent of Darwyn Cooke’s Parker series, in red/browns instead of blue/greens), and the story captures the desperation of wartime Russia, blended into a classic espionage story.
Somewhat unsurprisingly, since the first comic I ever read was Maus, I’ve always looked at comics and history as compatible narrative forms. Comics allow for impressionistic or realistic depictions of historical settings, characters, and events, depending on what’s necessary, with no limit in terms of budget or casting and the possibility of multiple intersecting points of view.
My love of history is a big part of my love for Captain America, because stories about Cap can take into account pretty much any era of American (and, during WWII, world) history since about 1920. Cap comics have tackled everything from the Depression to WWII to the Civil Rights movement to Watergate to 9/11, and though they’ve had varying levels of success, I always appreciate the attempts to bring real historical perspective into stories about a character who so consciously embodies the themes of American history.
For an absolute favorite, however, I might have to go with the Marvels miniseries by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. In some ways, Marvels turns this question on its head — instead of incorporating a single historical event into a comic book universe, Marvels manages to mesh an entire historical era with the presence of superheroes, making those heroes the “historical events” superimposed onto that time. By sticking to the point of view of a single civilian character and following his life in New York from the 1940s through the 1960s, we’re able to see firsthand how the presence of heroes in those years would have played out on a grand scale, in a way the actual Silver Age comics never quite portrayed. It’s an awesome concept, with awesome execution, and it remains one of my favorite comic book stories.
I think my favorite (at the moment) is the recent Gone to Amerikay by Derek Mc Culloch and Colleen Doran. It’s a lovely, serious look at three generations of Irish immigrants to New York City.
Past favorites have included Frank Miller’s 300 — weak on history, but powerful in art — and Sandman #39, “Soft Places”. “Soft Places” isn’t exactly straight-up history, but like all of Sandman it pulls on myth and story from a variety of sources. Much as Marco Polo did himself. This issue tells a story of Marco Polo that could have happened, in a place and time that really did exist.
So what about you? What is your favorite historical event that has been incorporated into a comic?