Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War

Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman. Hill and Wang, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8090-9474-5
In 15 harrowing chapters, Fetter-Vorm (Trinity) and Ari Kelman’s (A Misplaced Massacre) graphic take on the Civil War brings home the shattering costs of America’s epochal conflict like almost no other single-volume history. The stage is artfully set with scenes of the war’s first casualties (a Union cannon misfire) and its underlying cause (in a potent illustration that depicts the nation’s “fundamental contradiction” as piles of laws teetering on two bricks labeled Liberty and Slaves), emphasizing history’s cruelties and happenstance without tipping into cynical irony. That same carefully resonant voice carries through the vividly drawn following chapters, which roam from the home front (two slaves escaping into the night as their owner wonders how she will feed herself; the New York draft riots) to the unrelenting savagery of the front lines. A two-page spread on the “wholesale slaughter” that resulted when modern rifles met musket-era tactics is particularly difficult to shake. The authors focus on individuals while still weaving these vignettes into larger historical themes, never succumbing to the illustrated-outline schematic that afflicts many graphic histories. Poignant and heartbreaking. (May)
Reviewed on: 02/16/2015
Release date: 05/05/2015
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