Battle lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War


A little over a week ago I attended a reading and discussion at the Greenlight Bookstore with the authors of Battle Lines: A Graphic History of the Civil War, Ari Kelman and Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Though it wasn’t really what I was expecting I really enjoyed it. I found the event on the Poets & Writers local app, listed as a creative nonfiction talk. The book in comic form consist of 15 chapters that open focused on a single object, and then open up to a larger story covering the war and later reconstruction from different perspectives. Since there’s very little text they were able to read two chapters from the book before discussing the writing process and taking questions.

They began with Chapter 2, which discussed the conflicting nature of a country founded on freedom but allowed slavery. It reviewed legislation that attempted to control the spread of slavery and protect the rights of slave owners. Discussing the clashes between abolitionist and slave owners that ultimately led to the war. Chapter 5 began with the image of a bullet and described how new technology changed warfare and more severely wounded soldiers. Focused on one dying soldier it outlined how the new bullets combined with lack of medical technology led to more deaths than previous wars and introduced women’s role in the war as nurses tending to the wounded.

Both the writers were entertaining and gave a lot of insight into the production of the book. Describing how they collaborated by Ari, the historian, emailing Jonathan a small synopsis of each chapter to be sketched out and scripted. It seems a lot of detail went into ensuring the accuracy of the stories and the images. They incorporated real stories from diaries and historic documents from the time. Jonathan also had to do research for the visual aspects, which luckily there were a few sources, including photographs and sketches. He also found that reenactors where very helpful.

As they spoke you could see that they seemed to complement each other well. They both seemed to have a vision of bringing to life the story of the war that most people never learn about. Ari said when they began, he told Jonathan he didn’t want Lincoln to appear in the book. Jonathan responded by saying he didn’t want anything people knew about in it.

I have to say for somebody that usually has little interest in American history I think I’d actually really enjoy this book. Unfortunately, due to my lack of funds I was unable to purchase my own copy. But I might have to pick one up in the future.

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