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Read Your History in Seven Graphic Novels

Graphic novels that broach historical subjects have become increasingly popular. History, in graphic novel form, whether World War I or II, or biographies of historical figures, can pack a powerful punch thanks to the combination of graphics and narrative. Besides the pure pleasure of reading, more and more parents, schools and even universities are realizing the value of graphic novels as a learning tool. Below are seven top-notch graphic novels to begin with for some historical perspective:

    It Was The War Of The Trenches

    World Wars I and II seem to have generated more graphic novels than any other historical event. The award-winning French comic book artist Jacques Tardi has long been obsessed with the First World War. His It Was the War of the Trenches is a visceral, haunting look at what it was like to simply be a soldier—beyond politics and battles, Tardi is in the trenches with the everyman. He does address the underlying causes of the war, though, and shows how the First World War set in motion the World Wars that followed.

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    The Complete MAUS

    When Art Spiegelman's Maus was first published in 1986, it was was a first, for a Holocaust narrative. The story of Spiegelman's father's life in pre-war Poland, to his marriage, his imprisonment in concentration camp, and the family's survival is intertwined with a second narrative; Spiegelman's, as the son of a Holocaust survivor. By weaving the two narratives together Spiegelman show the impossibility of understanding the horror, both for survivors and for those who did not live through it.  

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    Red Rosa

    Going back to the First World War again, Kate Evans' Red Rosa, a graphic biography of Rosa Luxemburg, a central figure in the early twentieth century socialist movement in Europe, shows how an independent, passionate woman stood fast for her beliefs. Luxemburg was an antimilitarist and did what she could to try to prevent World War I, she was an open critic of bourgeois-capitalist society, and although she welcomed the advent of the Russian Revolution, she remained wary of dictatorial policies within the Bolshevik party. Luxemburg was one of the rare women involved in politics in her day and Red Rosa is a lovely tribute to a fiercely independent and forward thinking woman. 

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    SUCH A LOVELY LITTLE WAR: Saigon 1961-1963

    Such a Lovely Little War, by Franco-Vietnamese author Marcellino Truong, recounts Truong's childhood spent in Saigon with his French mother and his Vietnamese father who worked for the South Vietnamese government. It is a gentle introduction to the beginning of the Vietnam War seen by a child of a bi-cultural marriage. Truong describes beautifully both his mother's and father's concerns, vestiges of French colonialism, the war games he plays with his brother and sister, and the dire situations of the Vietnamese who work for the family.

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    The Photographer

    The Photographer, Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders is a unique combination of beautiful black and white photography by the late photojournalist Didier Lefèvre and artwork and text by Emmanuel Guibert. It recounts the journey of a reporter through Afghanistan while accompanying Doctors Without Borders. Divided into three parts, the voyage, the medical mission, and the trip back, the book describes the courage of the medical staff in a country torn apart by a war pitting Russians against an Afghan resistance supported by the US and other countries. The gripping story tells war with heartbreak, stark reality and comic relief when needed. 

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    Safe Area Gorazde

    In late 1995 and early 1996, cartoonist/reporter Joe Sacco travelled four times to Gorazde, a UN-designated safe area during the Bosnian War, which had teetered on the brink of obliteration for three and a half years. Still surrounded by Bosnian Serb forces, the mainly Muslim people of Gorazde had endured heavy attacks and severe privation to hang on to their town while the rest of Eastern Bosnia was brutally 'cleansed' of its non-Serb population. But as much as Safe Area Gorazde is an account of a terrible siege, it presents a snapshot of people who were slowly letting themselves believe that a war was ending and that they had survived. Since it was first published in 2000, Safe Area Gorazde has been recognized as one of the absolute classics of graphic non-fiction. We are delighted to publish it in the UK for the first time, to stand beside Joe Sacco's other books on the Cape list - Palestine, The Fixer and Notes from a Defeatist.

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