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Monday, February 18, 2013

The Constitution -- As A Graphic Novel? Seriously?

     At some point, Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell, creators of The United States Constitution:  A Graphic Adaptation (2008) must have realized that what they were attempting was, at best, insane.  I mean, how can you take a document of profound and foundational importance to the United States, a document that has been an inspiration to many other democracies, a document that is full of compromise, and above all, a document that is complicate and hard to understand, and translate it into a medium most often reserved for caped superheroes and talking animals.  And yet, despite this realization of insanity, they not only completed their task, but did so in such a way that uses a range of graphic novel techniques to make the constitution understandable.  (The term graphic novel by the way, is a generic term that refers to any narrative, fiction or non-fiction, novel or not, that uses the conventions of a comic book to tell a story or convey information.)
     The text alternates between the text of the Constitution, the words of the founding fathers taken from other sources, a contemporary voice explaining what the different articles mean, and dialogue between people affected by the constitution in today's world.  The artwork combines historical scenes with symbolic representations (the three branches of government -- executive, legislative, and judicial, are represented by giants in suits with their respective buildings -- white house, capital dome, and supreme court building -- as heads. The states are represented by their state birds, with the bald eagle representing the interests of the  federal government.) 

     Some of the more difficult laws, articles, and amendments are portrayed here in a way that makes sense (the eleventh amendment, for example, that allows citizens to sue states in state court, but not in federal court).  By and large it is very well done.  In fact, the only complaint that I have is that it moves often from subject to subject as it moves from panel to panel.  What makes graphic novels fun to read is the connections between the panels.  Though this book has some of that, it doesn't have as much as it could.  Overall, though, it is well worth reading -- and if you teach middle school or high school history or social studies, you should order it right away.

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