Using graphic books to teach, or to lure a more visual reader to books, is nothing new, but Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm and Ari Kelman, seems destined to resonate, not just for younger readers but for the broad audiences that were attracted to Art Spiegelman’s graphic masterpieces Maus I and II as well as Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series. In a prepublication review, Publishers Weekly said, “In 15 harrowing chapters [the authors’] graphic take on the Civil War brings home the shattering costs of America’s epochal conflict like almost no other single-volume history.”
Ari Kelman, who is the McCabe Greer Professor of the Civil War Era at Penn State University, is also the author of A River and Its City and A Misplaced Massacre, winner of multiple awards including the Bancroft Prize. Kelman wanted to write an introductory text accessible to those delving into the history of the Civil War for the first time, but couldn’t make it work with a reasonable word count. Then he connected with author and illustrator Jonathan Fetter-Vorm, winner of the American Library Association’s Best Graphic Novel for Teens award in 2013 for Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb, and the book was born.
Published earlier this month, the narrative vignettes tell the story from a multitude of perspectives. Fetter-Vorm credits Kelman, saying, “Ari had a lot of cool ideas—it was his idea to show radically different points of view.” For Fetter-Vorm, the challenge was to “represent trauma on the page but to alleviate [the shock of seeing] horrifying images.” It was equally important to him to do justice to the heroes and heroines of the conflict, but to create a remove to mitigate the visceral trauma and devastation that the Civil War wreaked on a nation divided.
Today, 2–3 p.m., Fetter-Vorm joins graphic novelists Ben Hatke (Little Robot) and Penelope Bagieu (Exquisite Corpse) for the panel, “Graphic Novels: In the Studio,” moderated by Calista Brill, editor at First Second Books, in Macmillan’s Meeting Room 3139.
This article appeared in the May 31, 2015 edition of PW BookCon Daily.