The most recent example of this practice is David Axe’s new graphic novel, Army of God: Joseph Kony’s War in Central Africa. The book was released in March, according to The Guardian, and it describes the conflict in Africa, where Joseph Kony has forced very young children into military service. Axe, the author of the work, spent 2010 as a freelance reporter covering Kony’s violent army, also known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). As part of a conflict that has been ongoing since 1986, Kony and the LRA have abducted more than 30,000 children in northern Uganda, according to a website run by the Invisible Children, a foundation whose mission it is to end Kony’s child army. Axe’s book, as well as the nature of the conflict depicted in his work, reminds me of two other Graphic Novels I’ve read.
The first graphic novel that comes to mind is Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which I just read recently for my Nonfiction Creative Writing Seminar. In Satrapi’s book, she describes what it was like to grow up during the Iranian revolution. Also known as the Islamic Revolution, Satrapi describes the conflict between Islamic fundamentalists and western-influenced imperialists in the 1970s. The graphic novel does an excellent job recreating the war-torn area and the fear that goes along with constant violent protests.
Another graphic novel that I think of is Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which I read for a summer reading assignment in high school. (Maus was also the first graphic novel I ever read, so it still holds the primary effect in my mind when it comes to judging what makes a good graphic novel.) Spiegelman’s book depicts the conflict in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and ‘40s. The book provides a unique perspective of the Holocaust, in which six million jews were killed.
Maus was a sort of revolutionary work, as it was published in 1991, when graphic novels were far less popular. The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992, becoming the first graphic novel to be distinguished with such an award. Because of its widespread audience in the early 1990s, Maus may have cleared the path for future graphic novels of this type to be successful. In fact, Persepolis was quite successful, as well. Originally published in French in 2000, Persepolis was critically acclaimed and even rendered into a film version in 2007. Graphic novel critics often draw connections between Maus and Persepolis; could Axe’s new book be put in the same category?
That would be good company. But in order to reach that level, Army of God must do several things well that the trailblazers found to be successful. Axe must capture the sensitive feelings of the conflict, highlighting the driving forces behind both sides. Satrapi’s work is memorable because of the thought-provoking abstractions she was able to create through her simplistic, yet stark, black-and-white artwork. Spiegelman, on the other hand, utilized a unique personification of cats (Nazis) and mice (Jews) to stand out. These conflicts leave lifelong impressions on one’s identity, and sometimes that is better depicted through a combination of artwork and text, rather than just one or the other.