Back in June after I attended Denver Comic Con, I blogged about attending a Max Brooks panel–which was amazing. While he did spend a great deal of time in his panel talking about World War Z, he also spent a great deal of time talking about was his new graphic novel, Harlem Hellfighters. He spoke about it with such an intense passion, clearly an artist in love with his latest project, that I knew I would have to read it ASAP. So when I signed up for the Blogging for Books program and I saw it on the list, I requested it immediately.
Here’s a quick synopsis of the book from the Random House website:
In 1919, the 369th infantry regiment marched home triumphantly from World War I. They had spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never losing a foot of ground to the enemy, or a man to capture, and winning countless decorations. Though they returned as heroes, this African American unit faced tremendous discrimination, even from their own government. The Harlem Hellfighters, as the Germans called them, fought courageously on—and off—the battlefield to make Europe, and America, safe for democracy.
In THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS, bestselling author Max Brooks and acclaimed illustrator Caanan White bring this history to life. From the enlistment lines in Harlem to the training camp at Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the trenches in France, they tell the heroic story of the 369th in an action-packed and powerful tale of honor and heart.
This book was amazing. Before reading this book, I had never heard of the Harlem Hellfighters, though I had a very basic knowledge of African Americans fighting for a country that was still actively and openly oppressing and discriminating against them. Still, I was going into this story fairly ignorant. Graphic novels based on historical events are one of my favorite things to read because they can shine a light on history in a way a traditional book cannot. Stories like Maus and Persepolis are some of my favorites, and I was certain that Max Brooks’ book would fit in well with my list of favorite historical graphic novels–I was definitely right. Max Brooks does a great job of making the story come to life and making his readers invest in the characters of the story. He brings you right into this portion of history and brings it to life in a way few authors can.
While at Denver Comic Con, he spoke a lot about citing his source material in the back of World War Z, Zombie Survival Guide, and Harlem Hellfighters. He talked about not only doing this as a way to credit his source material, but to also encourage his readers to continue learning about the topic of his books. For Hellfighters, I think this is incredibly important, because while Brooks does create dynamic and engaging characters, the graphic novel format doesn’t leave a lot of time for deep exposition and intricate backstory. The story moves quickly, and you go from the recruitment office, to training, to the battlefield in what feels like a few short breaths. In order to fully understand and grasp the story–if you’re coming into the story with no background as I was–you’ll need to do some additional research to help round out the story in your mind. However, I think Brooks did that intentionally. At least, that’s what he made it sound like at Denver Comic Con. He made it sound like he wanted to only present you with a portion of the story, to pique your interest, and then point you to other places where you could continue to learn about these men. I appreciated that about this book. The story of the Harlem Hellfighters is an extraordinary one. The men were brave and they fought under unimaginable circumstances, in a time when our country was severely racially divided.
My only complaint (if you could even call it a complaint) was that the illustrations were not in color. There were several illustrations that I thought could have been a lot more visually dynamic if they had color.
If you’re curious to hear Max Brooks talk more about the book, go here to read a conversation with the author. Definitely also check out Harlem Hellfighters if you haven’t already. It’s worth the read.
Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.