Making History Graphic

Over the past two years, ALOUD has featured two separate programs that have explored the graphic novel as a unique form of storytelling. First, Alison Bechdel amazed us with her unique use of the graphic novel format for her memoir Fun Home; then we saw how great works of literature could be reinterpreted by illustrators, cartoonists and graphic novelists to create The Graphic Canon, a new visual way of experiencing the classics.

On November 12, ALOUD will present acclaimed graphic novelists Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese; Avatar) and Joe Sacco (Journalism; Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt) in a discussion exploring their innovative approaches toward “Making History Graphic” – both will be joined in conversation by Charles Hatfield, Professor of English at California State University, Northridge (Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature; The Superhero Reader).  Both authors have newly released books that tell historically accurate stories in beautifully illustrated comic form, to create an altogether new and exciting way to experience and learn about events of the past. In advance of this program, we wanted to give you a better idea of just how special and inventive these new books by Yang and Sacco are. Read more below, and join us at ALOUD on November 12th!

Joe Sacco’s The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme 

This stunningly illustrated panorama by Joe Sacco can be difficult to describe, because we have never quite seen anything like it. Unfolding all 24 panels of Sacco’s exceedingly detailed masterpiece reveals a complete re-telling of the events on the first day of the Battle of the Somme during World War I. The accompanying booklet, On The Great War, includes an authors’ note explaining the importance of the WW 1on Sacco’s life and psyche, a forward by author Adam Hochschild which includes excerpts of his acclaimed book, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (which he discussed at ALOUD in 2011)  and a fully annotated version of the whole illustrated panorama, which allows the reader to visually experience every step of the battle by explaining and contextualizing exactly what you are seeing, giving real insight into the lives and conditions of the soldiers. Examples of Sacco’s annotations:

Plate 9, #15: Breakfast arrives though not all the troops get a chance to eat”

“Plate 11, #23: At precisely 7:30 am, the attack commences.”

“Plate 21, #42: A battery of 6-inch howitzers fires at German positions.”

The detail in this book must really be seen in person, as photos cannot do it justice- but we’ve included a few for you below, as well as a short video that shows the unfolding of all 24 panels of The Great War: July 1, 1916: The First Day of the Battle of the Somme.
















Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints

Gene Yang has written a number of successful graphic novels, including the award-wining Avatar which became a popular television series on Nickelodeon, but his newest work, Boxers & Saints, for which he was just nominated as a 2013 National Book Award Finalist, is his historic depiction of China’s Great Boxer Rebellion from perspectives on both sides of the battle. Not only does Boxers & Saints teach about real events of the Boxer Rebellion, it also makes both sides of the story relatable because the reader experiences each story through the eyes of  the main character.

Boxers, the first volume of this series follows the main character Little Bao- a young Chinese boy living in the countryside, whose life drastically changes after the arrival of western missionaries who try to insert their beliefs by force and intimidation. After witnessing a series of injustices on his village and his own family, we see Little Bao change from a boy to a warrior determined to set things right. Bao joins a group of vigilantes called The Righteous and Harmonious Fist, and together they set out to banish the “foreign devils” in order to reunite China, showing no mercy along the way. Storytelling and the importance of cultural history plays a huge role in Boxers & Saints, and there are even a few scenes that take place inside a library (which we loved of course!)

Images from Boxers:









In Saints, the second part of this two-volume set, we witness the other side of the Boxer Rebellion by following the story of an impoverished young girl who has converted to Christianity, by giving up her family and her past as an outcast,for the prospect of starting over with a new life and a new name. We see her struggling along the way- battling her own confusion over religion, family, and searching for meaning in her life.











We’re sure you’ll enjoy hearing more about the process behind these stunning works as much as we’ve enjoyed reading them.  See you on Tuesday, November 12th as we explore “Making History Graphic.”


By Sarah Charleton, Cultural Programs Coordinator

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