With the current geopolitical climate being what it is, it seems as apt a time as any to ask: War. What is it good for? I tick down my personal list of top 5 must read comics about the horrors of war.
Set amidst a brutal massacre in which hundreds of thousands of Chinese were killed, this is the story of two Chinese officers trying to escape the capital city of Nanjing after it was seized by the Japanese in late 1937. The book is a little shy about depicting the atrocities that happened in full detail, instead choosing to focus on the toll it is taking on the characters.
It is a sobering moment in history that we in the west don’t hear about very often, but one that will never be forgotten in China.
DMZ is the only book on this list that is not based on actual historical events, but that doesn’t take anything away from its impact as an anti-war parable. After insurgencies from the Midwestern United States strike at the government over growing anger at the direction of the country’s foreign policy, skirmishes start to break out all over the county. The government and the revolution become stalemated at Manhattan. Many of the city’s residents have fled, but several hundred thousand still call the island home.
DMZ focuses on the exploits of journalist Matty Roth who is embedded in Manhattan during the bloody second American civil war. The book puts emphasis on exploring the way that extended conflicts change us as people, while also bringing the experience close to home for American readers. At 72 issues, it is a commitment, but there is so much to explore here, you’ll wish it was longer.
The story of Joe Sacco traveling to Sarajevo and buying stories from a local ex-soldier named Neven, The Fixer exposes some of the criminal underbelly of a country ripped apart by war. Joe’s time with Neven spans three meetings over the course of 10 years in which time he finds that when it comes to war, it is often hard to tell what parts of the story are true and which are fabricated.
Sacco is responsible for several other books about countries in war time and all are worth the read if you want a deep dive into some major world events, however, this one really digs into what the fog of war does to the truth and the people lost within it and, for that reason, it is the first one I recommend to anyone looking for good comics journalism.
The first book of Marjane Satrapi’s auto-biographical comic, Persepolis discusses her childhood caught up in the turmoil of the Islamic revolution. For many, this was a book that showed the human side of people and children enmeshed in revolutionary movements. The time we spend with Satrapi is powerfully empathic as we share her teenage self’s victories and defeats. Throughout, we learn that though she lives a world away, she shares and invites us to look at her essential humanity.
It is not enough to know what she went through, but we feel it in agonizing detail. I read this book many years ago and it has stuck with me ever since.
Art Spiegelman’s brilliant and gut wrenching book about his parents’ journey as Jews from Poland who lived through time at Auschwitz ranks among the great World War II stories of all time. Told through the lens of anthropomorphized animal characters, there are layers upon layers of symbolism baked into this book. Along with the compelling tale of their survival, told by Vladek, Spiegelman’s father, Art’s own sense of guilt about not sharing his parents’ pain is openly portrayed and dissected.
It is a study of two generations shaped and, to some extent, defined by the war. I highly suggest you read every book on this list, but if you can only read one, make it Maus.
There are several other books that are solid reads in this category, here are just a few others that are definitely worthy of a read:
Perhaps you can introduce me to a few more important books like these.