Category Archives: Comics

Graphic Novels about the Holocaust (updated)

The term Holocaust, originally from the Greek word “holokauston” which means “sacrifice by fire,” refers to the Nazi’s persecution and planned slaughter of the Jewish people. The Hebrew word HaShoah, which means “calamity” or “devastation” is also used for this genocide.

The thought of what was wrought between 1933 & 1945, not just to the Jews but also to Gypsies, homosexuals, people with disabilities and many others is almost impossible to comprehend. It was inhumanity of a scale that dwarfs the imagination. I have known about what happened for years, it is taught in schools, many volumes have been written about what happened but until I visited the Holocaust exhibit at the Imperial War Museum several years ago, my knowledge was academic. Seeing the pile of shoes in the exhibit and the clothes worn by the inmates of the camps and everything else displayed there affected me so much that I am actually frightened by the thought of going back in to the exhibit.

In 2010 I was working for Brent Libraries and for Holocaust Memorial Day we were fortunate to have artist Maurice Blik a survivor of Belsen come in to Willesden Green Library to give a talk to a combined group from local secondary schools. I wept as I listened to him speak of his experiences as a child and the loss of his younger sister. He is a phenomenal artist and also a fantastic speaker.

That brings me on to graphic novels, it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words and that is true of comic books. The belief that comics could be more than disposable entertainment had already begun to change when Art Spiegelman’s Maus: a Survivor’s Tale was published, but it was this book more than many of the other graphic novels published in the late 1980’s that helped change that supposition.


Maus is the tale of Art Spiegelman’s troubled relationship with his father Vladek, a Holocaust survivor, and, through his conversations with his father the story of his family’s experiences of Hitler’s Final Solution. In Maus the Jews were represented as mice, the Germans as cats (Katzies), the French as Frogs and so on. Maus has been described as ‘the most affective and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust’ by the Wall Street Journal and after over 20 years of publication it is still a powerful and moving narrative of the Holocaust and the effect it had on the survivors. Art Spiegelman won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 after the second volume had been published. A companion volume entitled MetaMaus was published in 2011.
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In the pages of METAMAUS, Art Spiegelman re-enters the Pulitzer prize-winning MAUS, the modern classic that has altered how we see literature, comics, and the Holocaust ever since it was first published twenty-five years ago.
He probes the questions that MAUS most often evokes – Why the Holocaust? Why mice? Why comics? – and gives us a new and essential work about the creative process.
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Auschwitz by Pascal Croci begins and ends in a squalid room in former Yugoslavia in 1993, another graphic novel rendered beautifully in black & white, Auschwitz is a fictionalized story of an elderly couple trapped in the midst of the civil war that presaged the breakup of Yugoslavia. They relive their memories of being trapped in Auschwitz and what they had to endure to survive. Pascal Croci interviewed a number of survivors to make sure that his story was accurate, and based a number of incidences within the book on events that happened to his interviewees during the war. Auschwitz is relatively short – only 70 pages of story but it is no less harrowing for its brevity, it also contains background information to the creation of the book, including extracts from transcripts of the interviews and a glossary of terms used.

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Eric Heuvel is the author and illustrator of A Family Secret, using the ligne claire style of drawing pioneered by Herge the creator of Tintin to illustrate the book, he tells the story of Jeroen, who, while searching in his grandmother’s attic for items to sell at a flea market finds a scrapbook created by his grandmother in 1936. On enquiring about what it was about, Helena starts telling her grandson about her youth in Amsterdam in the 1930’s and the arrival of Esther, a young Jewish girl, and her family.
A Family Secret is a wonderful example of a family split apart by politics and duty, viewed from the perspective of Helena who is telling the story. Using a child’s view for the narration gives the tale of the invasion of Holland and the indignities heaped on the citizens of Amsterdam and the Jews in particular. Helena’s father was a police officer and after the German occupation he had to become involved in clearing the Jews from Amsterdam and one evening he has to round up Esther’s family.

 

The Search, also by Eric Heuvel is a companion volume to A Family Secret and tells the story of Esther, and what happened to her before and during the war. Both volumes are told via flashbacks from contemporary Holland and America and focus more on what happened to Jewish families during and after the war and how some survived.
Out of all the graphic novels I read it was A family Secret and the Search that affected me the most, I found myself welling up whilst reading, this was in part due to my being a massive Tintin fan and seeing similar much-loved artwork being used to illustrate a heartbreaking story, these books are also the most positive, sad as they are.

A Family Secret and The Search are published by MacMillan, Teaching guides for both books are available from the US site.

 
 
Not all the graphic novels are black & white, Marvel Comics published a five issue mini series called Magneto: Testament, this is the backstory of Magneto, the greatest foe the X Men have ever faced. At first I questioned the idea of wedging a comic book villain into the story of Auschwitz and the events leading up to the final solution. It is not a super hero story, it is a story of the Holocaust and a boy who has to grow up quickly in the midst of the most inhumane conditions to not only survive but save the woman he loves and himself.
Writer Greg Pak and artist carmine Di Giandomenico bring you this heartbreaking and historically accurate look at one of the most popular characters in the X-Men canon.
Magneto: testament also contains extensive notes at the back of the book about the creation of the book and historical facts about Auschwitz as well as topics for group discussion.

 
 

Marvel Comics is not alone in publishing a Holocaust comic book, DC Comics published the amazing what if… story by Joe Kubert, titled Yossel April 19, 1943.

In 1926 Joe Kubert’s family tried to emigrate to America, but owing to the fact that his mother was pregnant with him at the time, their request was denied. Fortunately not willing to give up his family tried again shortly after his birth and they were successful with their second attempt.
With Yossel, Joe Kubert imagined what his life would have been like if his family had not made their second attempt.
As he wrote in his introduction:

If my parents had not come to America, we would have been caught in that maelstrom, sucked in and pulled down with the millions of others who were lost…
The usual procedure in cartooning is to do the initial drawings with pencil, then to apply ink over the pencils with brush and pen. The pencil drawings are then erased, leaving only the ink rendering.
The drawings in this book are pencil drawings…

As a concept the idea of a comic book composed of rough sketches does not sound too appealing, but when you open the book that does not matter anymore! You forget that these are only rough sketches; the sense of movement in them is amazing. I think that so much vitality would have been lost if they had been inked and coloured.
Again this is a fictionalised account of what might have happened to Joe (Yossel) and his family had they not left Poland. The date in the title is significant; the 19th April 1943 is the date of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Germans thought that they would be able to put down the revolt by the by then starving Jews in the ghetto in three days, but they were in for a shock, although poorly armed and hemmed in the Jews resisted until the 16th of May making the Nazi forces pay in blood for each foot of ground they took.

I have recently come across two biographies involving the Holocaust, the first the story of Lily Renée who was fortunate enough to be evacuated to England but her story is no less interesting – her ordeal as a refugee in England was one shared by many who escaped. The second is the official graphic biography of Anne Frank, adapted from her diaries and other works documenting her families life in Germany and Holland.

lily-reneeIn 1938, Lily Renée Wilhelm is a 14-year-old Jewish girl living in Vienna.

Her days are filled with art and ballet. Then the Nazis march into Austria, and Lily’s life is shattered overnight. Suddenly, her own country is no longer safe for her or her family. To survive, Lily leaves her parents behind and travels to England.

Escaping the Nazis is only the start of Lily’s journey. She must escape many more times – from servitude, hardship, and danger. Will she find a way to have her own sort of revenge on the Nazis? Follow the story of a brave girl who becomes an artist of heroes, and a true pioneer in comic books.
 
 
 
 

Anne-Frank-graphic-biographyDrawing on the unique historical sites, archives, expertise and unquestioned authority of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, the New York Times bestselling authors Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon have created teh first authorised graphic biography of Anne Frank. Their account is complete, covering the lives of Anne’s parents, Edith and Otto, Anne’s first years in Frankfurt; the rise of Nazism; the Frank’s immigration to Amsterdam; war and occupation; Anne’s years in the Secret Annex; betrayal and arrest; her deportation and tragic death in Bergen-Belsen; the survival of Anne’s father; and his recovery and publication of her astounding diary.

 
 
 
 

 
 
twilight-zone-deaths-head-jLocation: Dachau concentration camp years after World War II. A retired German SS captain returns to reminisce about his days in power. Until he finds himself at the mercy of those he tortured, and on trial by those who died at his hands. Justice will finally be served . . . in the Twilight Zone.

Death’s Head Revisited is a graphic reimagining of the classic Twilight Zone episode of the same name. It details the story of former SS captain Gunther Lutze who returns to Dachau from South America to relive his old glory days only to be confronted by the ghosts of those he had murdered decades before.

I had never seen the original episode so the graphic novel was my introduction to this classic story, I have since watched it (video below) and an mot sure which version of the story I find more chilling. It is a brilliantly told and illustrated story of vengeance from beyond the grave.

The horror of the concentration camp is shown in full colour and the charges laid against the captain are chilling to read. Lutze is unrepentant and at first unbelieving of what is happening to him and needless to say gets what he deserves.

An endnote to the story features similarities of the story with that of real-life Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who was tried for his crimes around the time the original story was written.

You can watch the original episode here:

Death’s-Head Revisited (Dir. Don Medford, 1961) from CAJ on Vimeo.

 

Not all graphic novels focus on the Holocaust through the eyes of the people that suffred through it, I have recently discovered two brilliant books set in the here and now but still affected by the what has gone before.

We Won’t See Auschwitz is a graphic memoir by Jérémie Dres about two brothers who visit Poland to see where their grandmother came from, their express mission is to not to visit Auschwitz.

Auschwitz: five years of annihilation for more than a thousand years of life and history of the Jewish people of Poland. A trauma still so real it threatens to make us forget everything else. It’s the everything else that I went looking for. – from the preface by Jean-Yves Potel.

The Property by Rutu Modan is another story about a woman and her grand-daughter’s return to Warsaw to reclaim family property lost during the war.

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A journey through Poland to discover what it means to be Jewish

When his grandmother dies, Jérémie and his elder brother wanted to learn more about their family’s Polish roots. But Jérémie is less interested in finding out about how the Holocaust affected his family, and more interested in understanding what it means to be Jewish and Polish today. They decide not to do the Holocaust trail… they won’t see Auschwitz. Through their journey, they discover a country that is still affected by its past. The brothers talk to lots of people, including progressive rabbis and young Jewish Orthodox artists. Using their grandmother’s stories, they piece together the threads of their family history.
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propertyrutu
After the death of her son, Regina Segal takes her granddaughter Mica to Warsaw, hoping to reclaim a family property lost during World War II. As they get to know modern Warsaw, Regina is forced to recall difficult things about her past, and Mica begins to wonder if maybe their reasons for coming aren’t a little different than her grandmother led her to believe.

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The Holocaust was not the only attempt at genocide in the 20th century, but it is the most well-known and reviled. To learn more about this and the Armenian Genocide, Rwanda, Darfur, Cambodia and others visit http://www.hmd.org.uk/

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Moose Kid All Ages Free Comic Launched Today!

Moose Kid Comics is a glorious 36-page, free to read, digital children’s comic. It features over 40 of the best comic artists working today, from well-established heroes to newer talents from the indie and web scenes. Each contributing their own entirely original characters, exclusively for the comic.

No-one involved makes any profit, all artists have given their time for free!

For three main reasons:

To entertain comic readers and win new audiences.
To show how fantastic a children’s comic can e when artists create it themselves.
To open up discussion about how we can make children’s comics great again.

from: http://www.moosekidcomics.com/about/

To read the comic (and find out more), click on the image below!

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Neville Johnson Comic Strip Competition

Have you ever dreamed about being invisible? Ever wondered what it would be like to go wherever you wanted and do whatever you wanted?

If you or an imaginary character were invisible, how would you use your superpower? Try to imagine what kinds of scary, amazing and even humorous situations you might find yourself in…

Create a six panel comic strip of your adventure, using words and images to bring your character and his or her escapades to life. You don’t have to be an artist, just make your comic strip unique, fun and exciting.

Entries for the Neville Johnson Comic Strip Competition will be judged by Curtis Jobling – whose latest book Haunt features an invisible character – and the winner will receive a professionally designed framed print of their comic strip.
For more details and to find out how to enter go to www.mcbf.org.uk and click ‘Get Involved’, or click here.

This competition and resource have been devised by the ‘Walking in Their Shoes’ Schools’ Liaison team at Manchester Metropolitan University. See the MMU Humanities Schools Liaison website for details about the Comic Smart project (on which this competition is based) and to download resources on this and other projects.

• Entries welcome from anyone aged 8-16

• Deadline for final entries is 31/08/2014

• Winners will be announced end of September

• Download your comic strip template here

My Comics Addiction – where it came from and where it is going

My addiction to comics can be traced back to one specific comic book, I know this because it is always in my mind. Often not consciously thought about but it is there. The comic book in question is issue 27 of Saga of the Swamp Thing written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Steven Bissette and John Totleben. The story was called By Demons Driven.

As for these shrieking statues, I’ll not weep,
They’ll perish as they lived: dazed, witless sheep
In slaughterhouses far beyond their ken.
I shed no tear for those that die unshriven,
For they are men. Just men. And what are men
But chariots of wrath, by demons driven!

– Etrigan the Demon

Monsters, demons, possession, alcohol abuse, and pure, visceral storytelling… I still have the comic somewhere in a box at my parent’s house in Cape Town. I read somewhere that Moore wrote The demon Etrigan’s speech in iambic pentameter (who says thet comics can’t teach you anything?).

Growing up in Cape Town in the ‘80’s it was not an easy time to be a comics fan (comics were hard to find), after a particularly bad series of tests and exams my parents banned comics (well they tried to) I rescued the remains of comics from a box in the front of the house, the inner section of a batman 80 page special from the 1960’s I think, with a story about a Mexican batman and a villain with a parrot I can still remember the Batman deducing that the Mexican Batman was in league with the bad guy by seeing parrot claw marks on his colleague’s shoulder, there were also some Archie comics, Richie Rich a Spiderman mixed in with sundry other titles.

I hunted down comics where I could but they were few and far between in those days and it would be a few years before professional comic shops opened.

The first was Reader’s Den in Cape Town and later came Outer Limits which became my regular haunt when I was studying at the Cape Technikon. I collected the entirety of Preacher by Garth Ennis from Outer Limits but I am getting a bit ahead of myself.

Whilst in High School (and after my parents had forgotten about the comics ban) I was introduced to the Batman, and soon I was collecting Batman, Detective comics and Shadow of the Bat and Jim Balent’s Catwoman – only the early storylines as I did like a good story and an improbably voluptuous Selina Kyle could only keep my attention for so long. I collected Batman from the mid 400’s to the early 500’s. In between Batman and studying for tests and exams I discovered a corner store in Kalk bay where I lived that had a revolving rack stuffed with back issues of Justice League International (the storyline before it split into Justice League America and Justice League Europe) a FUNNY, dysfunctional super-hero story starring Batman, the Martian Manhunter Guy Gardner Green Lantern, Mister Miracle, Big Barda and others – just what I needed to take my mind off ever looming exams!

I was saved from superhero comics by 2000AD and discovered a number of writers that I still follow – Garth Ennis, Alan Moore again (it was the complete DR & Quinch trade paperback), Pat Mills and others. Then there was Hellblazer, Sandman – the creation of the Vertigo line in 1993 kept me reading comics, I still have the first issue of The Extremist and some of the Hellblazer comics (Hellblazer predated Vertigo) I have some loose copies of The Family Man and Fear Machine storylines. Along the way I flirted with Spawn by Todd McFarlane – I had number from 1 to the 60’s (I sold those to part finance my ‘plane ticket to the UK)

I spent many Friday afternoons at Outer Limits when it was still on the Cape Town foreshore (after I had finished at Tech.) I was introduced to Sirius Entertainment – they published Chi-Chian by Voltaire as well as his Oh My Goth series and the Dawn comics by Joseph Michael Linsner. The one true comics love of my early to mid-20’s was Preacher by Garth Ennis, I followed Garth from Hellblazer and regretted not an instant! One man’s search for god who has abandoned his creation, followed by Tulip – his ex girlfriend (now a hitwoman) and Cassidy an Irish vampire – it was spot on for my tastes at that time and even today I still love it! Whenever I go back to South Africa (usually once a year or so) I did out my Preacher box and reread the series – usually in the evening when everyone has gone to bed and my nephew Scott is not there as he loves comics but at 12 is too young for many of my comics.

I was also a fan of Bitterkomix – a South African publication mainly by Joe Dog and Conrad Botes two Afrikaner art students who were creating comics that were scandalising Stellenbosch University and Afrikaner culture (this was in the dying days of the National party led government prior to free and fair elections in South Africa.

Nowadays as a respectable librarian earning a (fairly) decent salary with access ot the internet I have been collecting comics that I had only heard about when growing up and also trade paperbacks of comics I read. I have just finished rereading Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis – political futurist sci-fi with a distinct humanist bent bloody funny and sharp as a razor. I have an original B&W trade paperback of Rick Veitch’s Brat Pack, most of Alan Moore’s back catalogue and his ABC stuff.

I do most of my shopping at Gosh Comics which is, to my mind one of London’s best book shops. I have also started collecting individual comics again – only two series Saga by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples and The Massive by Brian Wood.

I collected The DFC for the entirety of its (too short) run and am debating with myself about subscribing to the Phoenix – I flip through it every now & then at Gosh but am afraid of committing in case I am hurt again.

I also read manga – but fairly infrequently these days (my time as the manga librarian is coming to an end) I still enjoy anime – particularly the movies released by Studio Ghibli, Madhouse and Gonzo.

It is so easy to get hooked on reading comics these days. Most public libraries stock graphic novels, if you are in a university or college take a look under 741.5 in the Dewey sequence. that is how I discovered Watchmen, Maus and Dark Knight returns when I was studying.

Or if you have money to spare check out your local comic shop!

It's Comics Time!

Sarah McIntyre has written a brilliant introduction to The Phoenix comic (it can also be used to explain why comics are awesome and good to read generally) on her site:

it’s comics time: calling all librarians!!! Read it now! It is brilliant!

Sarah is the creator of the excellent Vern & Lettuce comic that appeared in the lamented The DFC her work has also appeared in Nelson – a comic book by 54 comics artists about a day a year over 43 years in the life of a girl called Nelson.

Hereville: How Mirka Met a Meteorite by Barry Deutsch

Boldly Going Where No 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl has Gone Before

How Mirka Met a Meteorite is the second book in the Hereville series. The first being Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl).

Mirka Hirshberg is a spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old who isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing Mirka does want: to fight dragons! But she’ll need a sword – and therein lies the tale!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Mirka is back, and this time she takes on a misguided meteor that’s been set in motion by the troll and turned into Mirka’s twin by the witch. Doppelganger Mirka is out to best the real girl. Our heroine will have to beat her other self in a three-part-challenge – or be banished from Hereville!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
My all-time favourite indie comic is the amazing Bone by Jeff Smith – I can honestly say that I never thought I could find another comic to challenge it in my affections; the early Cerebus books by Dave Sim came close but ultimately fell by the wayside as Dave Sim became progressively weirder.

Now there is a new challenger on the block – Barry Deutsh’s stories of Mirka and Hereville. If you had not guessed by the tag lines – Mirka is Jewish, Hereville is a shtetl and an undercurrent of Orthodox Jewish life fills the book, Mirka’s family life centres on Shabbos (Shabbat), the Shabbos rituals and family jobs are laid out beautifully in How Mirka got Her Sword and the disruptive effect having a twin has is shown during Shabbos in How Mirka met a Meteorite. Mirka’s family life and relationships are shown to good effect in the Shabbos pages in both books. The love that Barry obviously has for this comes through in the art and the words he uses.

I am a goy but I have been picking up and using Yiddish words and learning about Jewish culture (and food) for years. I enjoyed immersing myself in a culture that is not my own and even picked up some more words. You do not need to be Jewish or have an understanding of Jewish culture to read or enjoy this book (but it does help).

Mirka is awesome! I do not think there are many comic books that have 11-year-old heroines; let alone snarky siblings as side-kicks. There are trolls, a witch with a pig, extra-terrestrial beings, bullies, family – no orphans in this story, there is a stepmother she is not of the evil variety, more long-suffering and understanding of Mirka than Mirka can actually see. I love that Mirka argues with absolutely everybody but the only one that seems to get the better of her is her stepmother, she is also teeh one that gives Mirka the mental tools to get out of the scrapes that she finds herself in. The scenes where Mirka talks to her stepmother about her mother are some of the most touching I have seen in a comic.

Hereville is hilarious, touching, exciting and the best magically real comic I have ever read!

Scott Westerfeld's Uglies has been given the Graphic Novel treatment

Hey wow!

I just found out the Dystopian novel Uglies by the always awesome Scott Westerfeld has been turned into a graphic novel!

Del Rey will be publishing four manga-inspired Uglies graphic novels, outlined by Westerfeld and adapted by artist Steven Cumming.

This story will be told from Shay’s perspective.

Webcomic Wednesday

Welcome the the first in a series of reviews and articles about webcomics!  I thought I would use Wednesdays for this feature as it is the middle of the week and usually at this time people could use something humourous (sometimes) to read.  Also it rhymes.

Apparently (according to wikipedia anyway) webcomics have been around since 1985.  I was bitten by the webcomic bug some five years ago and am still finding some interesting titles.

To begin I would like to introduce you to one of my favourite series of the moment:

I have been a fan of Weregeek since it began in 2006 and have featured it in two of my newsletters over at TeenLibrarian as I have found it to be a brilliant tool for educating people on LARPS, collectible card games, Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun and other obsessive tendencies of geek kind.

It is also a fantastic (free) read!  The overarching story concerns Mark.

Mark was once just an ordinary guy with an office job and a blonde girlfriend. Except that every once in a while he had a strange urge to hang in front of a tabletop RPG store and stare at its wares pointlessly… Then one day, after a run in with the local vampire coven and The Hunters, he discovered a mind-blowing truth: there is a secret society out there, The Masquerade… OF GEEKS! And he is one of them, “a human by day and a geek by night”…

The story also follows his friends, and colleagues in their real lives as well as in the fantasy worlds they enter through their role-playing games.  It also pokes fun at pop culture…

 Weregeek was created and is written, drawn and edited by Alina Pete and Layne Myhre.

Give it a read, if you are a geek you will enjoy the in-jokes and positive portrayal of geek culture.  If you are not a geek – read it and you may discover that actually you are a geek after all!

So if you just want to enjoy a good laugh with a few soap opera, fantasy, horror, gaming and mystery tropes thrown in then Weregeek is for you! 

Just remember to start at the beginning

For those of you that do not enjoy reading off the computer, Weregeek is also available in print form from the Weregeek Store