Sunday, June 14, 2015

Transcending time, going back when life was epic: Ancient History in comic book form

The subject of Ancient History could cover many areas of the past.  But, it is almost always aimed at the ancient Near East, the cultures of the Levant, and in particular, the events and history of Greece and Rome.  That is by no means a bad thing, but, people who are looking to learn about the ancient past of China, or any other people with a written history or collected history of the past, you need to then take a course about that people rather than a course called Ancient History.  Graphic Nonfiction has released biographies of important people of the past.  Alexander the Great, Spartacus and Julius Caesar are just three of them.  They are hybrid books, being pretty and comic book/graphic novel looking on the outside, but, more didactic and less story and more facts to read on the inside.  They are interesting, especially for the younger reader looking to learn about such figures, and, they fill a gap between wordy biographies in prose, and pure fiction in comics.  They are recommended for people who wish to augment their learning on the subjects, but are not also more deep than a textbook or wordy biography.

Frank Miller's 300 is a visual treat, and tells the story of the battle of Thermopylae, between the Spartans and some of her allies, versus the assembled might of Persian empire.  The last stand of the 300 Spartans became legend, and the three days and many killed Persians slowed down the southern thrust of the Persian invasion, as well as gave time for the defense of the rest of Greece, as well as gave the Greeks a legend and a feeling of pan-Hellenic pride. 

There are a buttload of people who aim complaints at this book, the movie as well.  They suggest it is filled with testosterone and lies of propaganda that crowd out the reality of Athens and the rest of Greece doing their part.  Or in fact more than their part, that Sparta was always a credit hog, and Thermopylae is a clear case of that. There were accusations of bigotry and bias when the Spartans mocked Athenians for having gay lovers, when it is likely that the Spartans themselves had that as well.  But all the complaints, however valid, ignore the power of the book, and movie thereafter, that Sparta was different, and what they did was amazing.  I am not suggesting 300 is perfect.  But I do think Frank Miller captured the spirit of the moment perfectly, if he did not capture the reality of it, so.

BRATH by Chuck Dixon and Andrea Di Vito was such a breath of fresh air when it appeared on the shelves in 2003/2004.  A work done for the CrossGen world, a publisher that was not long for the world at that point, Brath captured the ideal of Celts versus the Romans with spectacular story telling, stories, and without excess attention to comic book convention.   I believe that it was worthy of being captured in TPB, and people who are able to make it happen, over at Disney, who purchased many of the rights to CrossGen books, ought to collect the series.  Even counting Conan, Brath is the best barbarian comic around.

AGE OF BRONZE is a wonderful long form story of the Trojan war, between the city of Troy and the Achaeans, or, the Greeks.  The original work of Homer the blind poet, found in the Iliad is amazingly brought to life by talented story teller Eric Shanower.  Each story panel is deeply rendered and the many layers of story telling allow the reader to feel, taste, smell, and experience the battle, the broken hearts, the anger, of the great poem ever told. This is a fantastic series, well worth anything you spend to buy it.

Graphic Universe and Marvel Illustrated are examples of different publishers utilizing similar ideas.  Each used modern comic book technology and format styles to retell the stories from classical myths.  The cover art is great, drawing the reader in, and the stories within are abridged and broken down for the reader versions of the myths for the reader to understand.  There are many of these, and some you can find for low prices.  The stories are not aimed for the young, or the low achievers in reading, just, they aim to quickly and ably tell the story, so that it flows, and the reader need not bring any foreknowledge to the books.  If you can buy them cheaply they are a bargain.

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