It's that part of the year where I start my tradition of looking for two to three new graphic novels to add to my growing collection. When I started working, I decided that my library wouldn't just be plain old books, but it would have a little character in it, a little of my nerdy and geeky side if you will. So I started out with simple graphic novels: the quintessential Batman (Killing Joke, Long Halloween and etc...), a little bit of Marvel, and mostly DC. When I had found the standards of Marvel/DC graphic novels, I decided to go indie, meaning those not published by the big comic book houses. Last year, I got my start on Guy De Lisle's "Pyongyang" (which was very cute, check it here); Marjane Satrapi's moving tale of life in Iran, "Persepolis" and; Y: The Last Man volume 1. The latter of course wasn't as moving as the other two since it wasn't the complete set of the series Y. Nevertheless I enjoyed it and it gave me something else to read. This year, I decided to check out the list of 2014's best graphic novel, and I stumbled upon Max Brooks' "The Harlem Hellfighters". For a while I tried to look for a copy of it in our book stores but they never seemed to carry it. Eventually I gave up and made use of Amazon, while browsing I saw another interesting graphic novel, Shigeru Mizuki's "Showa 1939-1944: A History of Japan" which I undoubtedly ended up buying the two.
I started off with Harlem Hellfighters, Max Brooks (the author of World War Z) and his second foray into the world of graphic novels, his first being the Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks. Set during World War I, the story covers the lives of an American black regiment fighting for freedom in Europe. In typical war stories, Max Brooks goes through the usual pattern of: enlistment, challenge, war, death, defeat, triumph, and glory. Along the way it becomes evident as I settled in and joined the lives of Hellfighters and got to know them a little bit more. Drawn in beautiful black and white, the story propels itself with the individual challenges of each soldier. At some points, Brooks opens up with big ideas of racism, inequality, and discrimination. Brooks isn't afraid to also to point out controversial ideas like the savior complex of the whites, western imperialism, and the use of colonial subjects to fight a war that was never theirs to begin with.
The story telling is interesting and the art is nice. There would be times that I would find myself being lulled to sleep, the graphic novel has this tendency to become too detailed or too dragging in some parts that in the end, the excitement would wear off and I just wanted to finish the graphic novel.
I have always been interested with the history of World War II, maybe it's because each of us had that grandfather who would talk or would have written about his exploits against the Japanese in one way or the other. Maybe it's the only war that has been aggressively adapted into one form or the other that our imagination has been captivated and mesmerized with a war that literally made the world stand still. But the problem with World War II is that it has always been depicted in the eyes of victors and rarely have I gotten a glimpse of life on the other side. There have been movies such as Valkyrie and the Studio Ghibli production "Grave of the Fireflies" but often these are anti-war sentiments (which I totally appreciate, mind you), but rarely anything on the insights of either the Japanese of the Nazis themselves.
Thanks to Amazon suggestions, I stumbled on Shigeru Mizuki's History of Japan series and bought the second one, focusing on this turbulent period in Japan's history. At a whopping 500 pages, it was a long read but comedic read. Unlike Max Brooks which was all serious, Mizuki thrusts us into his life during the late 30's and early 40's and how he survived World War II.
Like a textbook, Shigeru, masterfully recreates shots and scenes in World War II, interspersing his own life with actual events happening around him. Reading like a report, Mizuki focuses on every single detail of certain battles, each page is a well-researched document that had just been declassified and the illustrations bring to life those battle scenes. At times I would just pass the "battle field reports" and stare at the illustrations of Mitsubishi Zeroes and American Mustangs dog fight. I would also laugh at the clumsiness of Mizuki's character and connect with his reluctance and naivete in a war that he doesn't even understand anything about. It was beautiful and I enjoyed every page of it. Though I felt a little bit shortchanged since the novel ended before the war did, so I would never know how Mizuki would sacrifice his arm for the Showa or how his world changed after the US dropped the atomic bomb and the emperor himself would broadcast (for the first time) the unconditional surrender of the "Land of the Rising Sun". That of course would most likely be covered in the last book of the series.
My name is Alfonso your nerdy history teacher, bookworm and lover of all things cultural and exciting. You can find me in a weekend market, in a bookshop, or eating in Japanese restos during the weekends.