“The Death of Stalin” is a digital graphic novel presented by Europe Comics and is one of various select titles from Europe Comics being promoted at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego. This is quite an audacious, vivid, and insightful look at the strange events occurring shortly after Joseph Stalin had a stroke: the chaos and the subsequent grab for power. It is highly accessible: drops you right in, as if you were a fly on the wall, a fly that Stalin, himself, would have thought nothing of swatting and flicking away.
Who was Joseph Stalin? If you’re too young to have a frame of reference, that’s understandable. Think World War II. Think dictator. Then add to that one of the great mass murderers in history responsible for the deaths of millions. Joseph Stalin was the Soviet Union’s dictator from 1924 to 1953. And, in that time, he ordered the deaths of an estimated 50 million of his own citizens. So, you can imagine that his death would be a pretty big deal.
It once was common to find in your newspaper a grainy official photo of the Soviet leaders proudly reviewing the annual May Day parade displaying Soviet military might. That very same photo would, at a later date, pop back into those same newspapers with the latest news from the mysterious world of the Soviet Union. But the photo was altered: someone had been erased and replaced with someone else. There was plenty of doctoring of photos and executing of comrades during Stalin’s regime. While that may seem primitive by today’s standards, you can see something similar going on in North Korea. I feel like Rachel Maddow now as I hope I impress upon young readers that Kim Jong-un’s regime is a small scale throwback to what the Soviet Union was like.
To best convey the inner workings of the Kremlin during the last days of Stalin requires a dedication to characters. Go back to that grainy photo of politburo leaders at the May Day reviewing stand. How do you give those ghostly figures some life? Now, that must have been a challenge. This book is up to the task thanks to both a lively script by Fabien Nury and compelling art by Thierry Robin. Without a doubt, you are that fly on the wall. We are told that truth is stranger than fiction. Did Stalin, the night before he had his fatal stroke, really force the national symphony to replay a concert they had just performed just for the benefit of his own personal recording? I would not be surprised.
This two part story will thrill political junkies as well as history buffs. We see a relatively young Nikita Khrushchev as he maneuvers for power. In 1953, he was a mere 59 years-old! That’s “young” for Soviet leaders. In a matter of days, the tide would turn in his favor and he would replace Stalin. But not before a chaoic, bloody, and sometimes comical, turn of events. That said, this intriguing story will prove insightful and entertaining for any reader of any age.
“The Death of Stalin” is now available at Europe Comics, which launched in November 2015 by a coalition of nine comics publishers, two rights agents, and an audio-visual company, from eight different European countries. Europe Comics is working towards the creation of a pan-European comics catalog, available in English and digital format, a website with comics information for readers and professionals, and a series of author tours and events across Europe and the USA.