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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Graphic Novel on the History of the Vietnam War

Zimmernman, Dwight, Jon; Vansant, Wayne  (2009) The Vietnam War: A Graphic History  New York:  Hill and Wang

    I remember when I was in high school, it seemed like history classes never quite got to the Vietnam war, and when they did it seemed like they somehow managed to make the most interesting and controversial war I could think of into something that was dull as dirt.  This graphic novel has some amazing and interesting parts (I loved the stories about the small Navy boats that had to cruise the inland waterways) but also has a lot of dry, dusty textbook stuff.  So this one is kind of a mixed bag.
      I really liked Wayne Vansant's work on The Red Badge of Courage.  In this book, there seem to be a lot fewer connections between panels.  That is the magic that makes graphic novels work -- when the reader has to look back and forth to discover the differences and similarities from one panel to another, then realizes how the character or scene has changed and the story has advanced.  If you don't have much of that, the story can seem more like a well-illustrated history textbook than a living breathing story. The art work is good in this book, it just isn't very connected.
     The editorial stance here is certainly from an American perspective.  It isn't particularly slanted toward a rah rah perspective, nor is it slanted toward those who opposed the war (though both hawks and doves are covered well).  It has a few bits that talk about the war from the perspective of Vietnamese civilians -- but these are rare.  This is the American history version of Vietnam.
     So am I suggesting you avoid this book like the plague?  No, I think it might be very much interesting to students fifth grade and up --but I think it is important to know that this is not the best of Vansant's work, and it is not the last word on graphic novels and Vietnam. 

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