March 1, 2009

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Gettysburg The Graphic Novel



Written by C.M. Butzer
Illustrated by C.M. Butzer
Harper Collins

Having looked at the publisher's blurb after reading the book, I can now see why the author chose to focus as he did. This is not really a book about Gettysburg the battle, but the Gettysburg Address, a totally different animal.

We do get some short, historically dubious information about the battle, with the focus almost entirely on the Confederates for some strange reason. (I say dubious because the writer implies that General Buford planned a grand retreat to Cemetery Hill and Ridge, when the only thing he did was try to delay the Confederates and later Generals worked on the terrain.)

Because of the briefness of the overview of the battle, there's no room to give anyone a fair hearing, so the only Union General highlighted is Joshua Chamberlain, nothing is said about General Sickles, and so on. It's about the worst example of teaching a younger audience about the Battle of Gettysburg that I've seen. I cannot for the life of me figure out why Butzer opts to look so much at the Confederate side of things, especially given that his bias is strongly against the ideals of the CSA, as the reader can see by the time we get to the Address.

We then move on to the battle's aftermath, which honestly was pretty well done. Butzer actually shows people dying, the problems of Civil War medicine and the post-battle plans for the cemetery about as accurately as possible for a children's graphic novel. I was impressed.

It's when we get to the Gettysburg Address itself, which is reproduced here in its entirety, that I have a problem, as Butzler opts to hit the child over the head with inclusionary visuals. While I agree that the Gettysburg Adress is something that effectively re-affirms the Delcaration of Independance, I find the background drawings of every single racial dynamic, every single movement (from emancipation to gay rights) marching along in harmony to the tune of Uncle Abe rather disengenuous. After all, those movements often don't agree or work together and to imply they've all just worked together for a better America is teaching kids a false reality.

Just like the complexity of Lincoln himself, America is a tricky place to pin down so simplisticly. I realize this is a kids's book at heart, but I believe stongly in teaching kids how things are to make them better--not showing them what it should be and leaving them shattered when they discover the truth.

All in all, this was a nice idea that wasn't executed as well as I'd hoped for. The scope is too broad and the message--while I agree with it--is too idealistic for what's supposed to be historical fact.