A graphic novel is dropping this week called The Forgotten Man Graphic Edition: A New History of the Great Depression . It’s a 320 page history of The Great Depression, adapted from Amity Shlaes book, drawn by Paul Rivoche. Shlaes is a conservative historian and pundit, and to promote the book she has a piece in the National Review called A Cartoon Manifesto which is a kind of “gosh wow graphic novels can communicate” piece with the angle that the left has been taking advantage of this medium, the right better catch up.
Given my own liberal views (and lack of knowledge of the subject), I’m probably not the best person to judge whether the book’s view that The New Deal extended the economic hardships of the Depression, and Roosevelt and pals were to blame for a variety of ills is the truth. Yes, it’s Hayek vs Keynes over and over again. That said, for someone who writes history books, Shlaes’ research into comics was kinda…weird. Like the very word “mangas.” I guess this was a crash course and not an in-depth exploration.
Counterintuitive as it may sound, these graphic novels not only feature nonfiction but also lend themselves enviably to difficult nonfiction topics. Take Persepolis, a mauve-and-grey depiction of a girl’s life in the Iranian Revolution. Artist Marjane Satrapi depicts the habits of the Shah’s SAVAK officers and their terrifying successors, Khomeini’s PERFUMED police, better than any print history of Iran and certainly better than, say, the film Argo. Maus, another graphic novel, takes on a yet touchier subject, the Holocaust, and somehow manages to convey what happened without exploiting or reducing the record. What’s more, these long cartoon books have much the same capacity as films to entice the reader to delve deeper. As Bill Bennett, one who gets the medium, noted recently: “After reading the comic of The Iliad, then I read the children’s edition of The Iliad, and then I read The Iliad.”
Shlaes does have the know-how to link to an article I wrote on comics and libraries for PW, and she also tips us off to an illustration version of Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, which will set every eco-comix fan’s heart a flutter.
Things REALLY get fun in the comments, where you can see good the old “comics are dumb” attitude in full flower! Ah how I missed you. There’s this:
One thing I learned about the Left: they prefer it when the kids don’t know how to read too well. They prefer kids who can be led around the parking lot singing Civil Rights songs and hymns to The Lorax. That, to them, is more “educational” than anything a kid might learn in a (shudder) book.
I am lower middle class and I have lived in some of the poorest regions in America (including Alabama, West Virginia, and Kentucky). I have been homeless. I have lived in homeless shelters. And I worked my TAIL off to get my kids an education.
It’s not elitist to point out that reading Marvel comics is something you should do on your own time, not something that should be treated as educational.
We teach literature because the great books have depths that cannot be accessed unless one learns a particular skill set first. Learning this skill set is part of being educated. Today’s kids are not getting that education – and that limits them.
and on and on…
Whatever its politics, Rivoche’s work on this book is AMAZING. All this ax-grinding and arguing could make for a very very dull book, but he goes out of his way to make it visually compelling. There’s a tumblr devoted to the book and you can see some of the pages. I can’t judge this book as history, but as a comic it’s stunning!
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.