Tag Archives: History

Review: THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui

THE BEST WE COULD DO by Thi Bui

THE BEST WE COULD DO, by Thi Bui and published by Abrams ComicArts, is one of those rare graphic novels with an in depth family theme. This sort of book belongs in the select group of titles like PERSEPOLIS and FUN HOME. In fact, you usually need to turn to the superhero genre, with all its universes and lineages, to find a story in comics that focuses on anything remotely to do with family. I say this tongue-in-cheek but it’s fairly true. Anyway, anytime you add family, you are likely adding something interesting to your story. What happens in Bui’s graphic novel is thoughtful, funny, and totally interesting. When was the last time you read an epic saga about a Vietnamese family? Well, this fills that void in a very compelling way.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

Thi Bui studied art and law, thought about becoming a civil rights lawyer, but became a public school teacher instead. Someone with that kind of background is just the sort of cerebral and sensitive type of person who gravitates to creating comics. Bui was born in Vietnam and arrived in America with her family as a refugee from the Vietnam War. Her immigrant experience, without a doubt, is part of a continuum that will outlive our current political machinations. This is a story that goes beyond that and addresses the struggles that any family will confront as one generation must come to terms with another. It is also a story about finding one’s self both within and outside the context of family. As Bui discovers, close proximity to family does not necessary mean close ties to family.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

Overall, Bui has adopted a solid alt-comics approach to her work. It has that intimacy and spontaneity that evokes work coming out of a sketchbook. While Bui is not a career cartoonist who has honed years of experimentation with comics, she provides an engaging and polished style. It will be interesting to see if she chooses to further develop her work in the comics medium. She has created a beautiful book.

Page excerpt from THE BEST WE COULD DO

“The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” is a 336-page hardcover available as of March 7th. For more details, visit Abrams ComicArts right here. You can purchase through Amazon right here.

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Filed under Abrams, Abrams ComicArts, Comics, Family, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Immigrants, Immigration, Vietnam, Vietnam War

Book Review: ‘The Blood of Emmett Till’ by Timothy Tyson

"The Blood of Emmett Till" by Timothy Tyson

“The Blood of Emmett Till” by Timothy Tyson

April 28, 1955
Emmett Till was tortured and murdered by white men in Money, Mississippi for allegedly flirting with a white woman. The men were tried for murder, but an all-white, male jury acquitted them.

Facts are very stubborn things. You can try to avoid them or even provide alternates but they will come back, and with a vengeance. That is certainly the case with historian Timothy Tyson’s new book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” published by Simon & Schuster.

In 2007, Tyson interviewed Carolyn Bryant, who was at the center of a tragedy that helped to propel the American Civil Rights Movement. It was on a hot summer night in 1955 that 14-year-old Emmett Till was kidnapped, bludgeoned, and lynched. All this fury came down upon this young African American for supposedly having flirted with a white woman. That woman was Carolyn Bryant. The interview, where Bryant recanted most of her testimony at the murder trial, was the first step towards the creation of this book, a book that helps us get a fuller picture as to what led to this pivotal moment in history.

Emmett Till

Emmett Till

We may think we know what happened but Tyson brings in a rich tapestry that pieces together a more detailed story. The combination of his firsthand interview with Carolyn Bryant and his measured presentation guide the reader through the dynamics running throughout. With a level of sensitivity, Tyson gives us a balanced depiction as we see events from various perspectives. What comes through are real people and real facts. We get to know the young Emmett Till, a loyal baseball fan, partial to the Brooklyn Dodgers. And we get to know his killers, J.W. Milam and his half-brother Roy Bryant, men full of pride and used to getting their way. We see what kind of world, with its limitations and dangers, that each existed in.

The quick takeaway fact in this book is that Carolyn Bryant confesses to historian Timothy Tyson that she made up the story of being manhandled and threatened by Emmett Till. That never happened. And that is the hook upon which to proceed. A history unfolds: we discover Emmett Till, a child full of life but who also suffered from a lisp and was gentle and vulnerable; and we discover the many layers of Southern culture to unravel. Tyson guides you along, provides side trips as needed, and has the real life goblins show themselves: the Citizens’ Councils, formed in response to school integration and the NAACP, responsible for keeping African Americans away from the polls at any cost; Sherriff H.C. Strider, who was responsible for suppressing evidence in the Till murder trial by hiding key witnesses.

Mamie Till

Mamie Elizabeth Till-Mobley (Nov 23, 1921 – Jan 6, 2003) was the mother of Emmett Till, whose murder mobilized the African-American Civil Rights Movement. Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi on August 28, 1955, at the age of 14, after being accused of acting inappropriately with a white woman. Photo: Mamie Till-Mobley (L) speaking to anti-lynching rally after acquittal of men accused of killing her son, Emmett Till. Photographer: Grey Villet for LIFE magazine.

It was the reputation that Timothy Tyson had built with 2005’s “Blood Done Sign My Name,” his own recollections of a murder similar to the Till case that inspired Carolyn Bryant to come forward. Tyson’s goal is to document and ferret out the truth as best as possible. That means bringing out the whole picture. Part of that picture is that Carolyn Bryant tells Tyson that she had a close African American friend when she was a child and her heart went out to Till’s mother.

It was the decision by Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to bring her son’s body in Mississippi back to Chicago for an open-casket funeral that set in motion a global outcry. This was not lost on Carolyn Bryant. However, with the fear of having her husband go to prison for murdering Emmett Till and leaving her with two boys to raise alone, she took the stand and lied. Mamie did what she had to do. Carolyn did what she had to do.

Tyson presents the facts and continues along his way to provide context and insight. One key distinction he makes is that Emmett Till was not only murdered, he was lynched. With the 20th century charging its way through, some things from the past had to change, like large crowds gathered for a public hanging of an African American. By the 1950s, the process had been updated. The threat of killing an African American was still very much alive and, from time to time, a person could suddenly go missing and later on his body could turn up dumped in a river just like Emmett Till. The community would know who the killers were; that did not need to be a secret since there were no consequences for lynching someone. The deed was done and the message delivered.

White supremacy was not to be undermined.

That we still have a long journey ahead is clear. Tyson does not mince words about that. He offers hope too. As long as we have an understanding of the causes of racism, there is hope. As long as we remember Emmett Till, there is hope. Tyson would be the first person to encourage you to not only read his book but also read other books on Emmett Till and the Civil Rights Movement: “Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime That Changed America,” by Mamie Till-Mobley and Christopher Benson; “Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement,” by Devery S. Anderson; and “Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File,” by John Edgar Wideman, named a finalist for a 2016 National Book Critics Circle Award. It is Tyson’s book that belongs among these notable titles.

“The Blood of Emmett Till” is a 304-page hardcover, published by Simon & Schuster. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Simon & Schuster right here.

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Kickstarter: SIMON SAYS: NAZI HUNTER #1

SIMON SAYS: NAZI HUNTER

SIMON SAYS: NAZI HUNTER

Writer Andre Frattino and illustrator Jesse Lee have a very compelling graphic novel project, SIMON SAYS: NAZI HUNTER, the story of famed Nazi hunter and writer Simon Wiesenthal. Frattino and Lee seem to have a good handle on the subject. They have the background to tackle such an ambitious project. And, based upon their samples, it looks like it will add up to a riveting narrative. This is inspired by the true story of Holocaust survivor, Simeon Wiesenthal, an artist who lost his family and took justice into his own hands.

SIMON SAYS by artist Jesse Lee and writer Andre Frattino

SIMON SAYS by artist Jesse Lee and writer Andre Frattino

From the Kickstarter campaign:

Wiesenthal was an Austrian architect who survived the Holocaust thanks partly to his artistic skills (he was spared from execution when he was employed to paint swastikas on train cars). After the war, he discovered that he and his wife lost over 80 members of their family. Wiesenthal dedicated the rest of his life to hunting down notorious war criminals including Adolf Eichmann (a chief orchestrator of Hitler’s “Final Solution to the Jewish Question”) and Joseph Mengele (a.k.a. “The Angel of Death” who conducted horrifying experiments on his subjects).

While Simon Says: Nazi Hunter #1 is inspired by Simon Wiesenthal, it is not merely a dramatization of his experiences alone. The story takes from many aspects of various Nazi Hunter stories following the war. The tone of the comic is a mixture of noir and pulp fiction which was prevalent in the 1950s and 60s. Other influences include Ian Fleming’s James Bond Series as well as such films as Schindler’s List, Inglorious Bastards and TV series like Sherlock and Man in the High Castle.

Simon Wiesenthal will always be a quintessential hero. It is exciting to see a graphic novel taking shape about his life and work. A Kickstarter campaign in support of SIMON SAYS: NAZI HUNTER #1 is on now through February 27th to raise funds for the first issue of what will be a full length graphic novel. Visit the campaign right here.

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Review: ‘Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation’

"Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation"

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation”

There’s a ragged and raw quality to Octavia Butler’s novel, “Kindred,” first published in 1979, about a young African American woman who time travels to America during slavery. It’s odd. It’s compelling. And it demands to be read all the way to the end. As I say, it’s ragged and raw, and by that I mean it’s a rough journey in what transpires and in the telling. As a time travel tale alone, it’s bumpy at best. The time travel element abruptly kicks in and, just as abruptly, the characters involved accept the situation. The narrative itself is episodic and there is little in the form of subtlety. What can be said of the novel transfers over to the just released graphic novel adaptation published by Abrams ComicArts: this is raw, sometimes ugly, but always compelling and a must-read.

panel excerpt

panel excerpt: a time traveller’s satchel

Octavia Butler rips the scab off a nightmarish era in America, a wound so deep that it remains healing to this day. You could say that what Butler aspires to do is give a full sense of what it means when we talk about slavey in America. There are a number of approaches you can take. If you go down the ragged and raw path, you may end up with something that is deemed bold by some and deemed heavy-handed by others. The end result could be somewhere in between. Butler chose to damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, with this novel that finds Dana, an African American woman from 1976 Los Angeles, repeatedly and relentlessly subjected to various torture and humiliation as she finds herself regularly being transported back to America during slavery. The story begins in Maryland in 1815 and subsequently follows the progress of slaver-holder Rufus Weylin, from boy to manhood.

page excerpt: dark journey

page excerpt: dark journey

First and foremost, this is a book to be celebrated. While it is a tough story to tell, it is brimming with truths to be told. Sure, no need to sugarcoat anything. There are no sensibilities here to protect. That said, while a graphic novel, this is a book with a decidedly mature theme running throughout with disturbing content. What it requires is a adult to check it out first and then decide how to proceed. Without a doubt, this is an important teaching tool but best left to high school and above.

page excerpt: slave/master

page excerpt: slave/master

As for the overall presentation of this graphic novel, it has taken an audacious approach of its own. Whether intentionally or not, it carries its own distinctive ragged and raw vibe. The drawing throughout is far from elegant, quite the opposite. In fact, it often has a rushed quality about it and I’m not saying that’s necessarily a bad thing. I sense that it’s something of a style choice. This is a harsh and dark story and so it is depicted as such. In the end, this is a truly unusual and intriguing work.

“Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation” is a 240-page, full-color, hardcover available as of January 10th. It is based upon the novel by Octavia Estelle Butler, adapted by Damian Duffy, artwork by John Jennings. For more information and how to purchase, visit Abrams ComicArts.

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Filed under Abrams ComicArts, African American, American History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Race, Race Relations, Racism, Sci-Fi, science fiction, Time Travel

Review: HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

HOW TO SURVIVE IN THE NORTH by Luke Healy

What if you could run away and live off the land as you help settle the North Pole? Sounds kinda nutty, doesn’t it? Well, it made total sense to Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a Canadian Arctic explorer and ethnologist, active at the turn of the last century. Luke Healy’s new graphic novel, “How to Survive in the North,” published by Nobrow Press, looks back on this most quixotic journey.

Healy brings in a contemporary narrative thread that is interlaced with this bizarre arctic misadventure. It provides a nice counterbalance to the often dire arctic narrative. As weird as the attempt to settle the North Pole is, it is also weird, in a good way, to embark upon a graphic novel based upon this relatively arcane history. But a gem is a gem and it takes a certain talent to see that.

Panels excerpt

Panels excerpt

There’s a wonderful depth to this book with its full-bodied scope following the rhythms of a prose novel. Healy’s drawing style is economical while not missing a beat. The pacing, the light but spot on composition, and the compelling dialogue provide a rich experience. A lot of people today are ready to dive in and create their own graphic novels. There is no trick to it and there’s a great chance of failure. But, if you’re in love with it, then there’s no other way. Healy is clearly in love.

Panels excerpt

Panels excerpt

In fact, there’s plenty of love to be found within this story. One primary plot line, set in the present, follows the ill-fated affair between Sully Barnaby, a tenured professor, and Kevin, his student. Sully has been put on a forced one-year sabbatical to temper his lack of judgement. It is during this bittersweet one-year paid vacation that the prof immerses himself in the various documents related to the two arctic expeditions of 1912 and 1926. In the process, Sully gains a renewed sense of purpose.

Full Page Excerpt

Full Page Excerpt

Was it a very good idea to try to tame the North Pole? Spoiler alert: No, it was not such a good idea. But you will definitely root for the survivors. And reading this quirky and highly entertaining graphic novel is certainly a great idea! This book was first introduced to American audiences via the Center For Cartoon Studies, which launched the careers of Chuck Forsman, Jen Vaughn, and Sophie Goldstein, amongst others.

“How to Survive in the North” is a 192-page full-color hardcover. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Nobrow Press right here.

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Book Review: ‘1956: The World in Revolt’ by Simon Hall

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

As a momentous year comes to a close, we look, inevitably, to the future. However, in order to help us on our way, we must also look to the past. If 2016 was the year of Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump, then sixty years ago was the year of the Montgomery bus boycott, the Suez Crisis, and, most significantly, the Hungarian Revolution. A vivid and highly accessible account of the year is provided by Simon Hall in his book, “1956: The World in Revolt,” recently published in the U.S. by Pegasus Books.

"1956: The World in Revolt" by Simon Hall

“1956: The World in Revolt” by Simon Hall

Hall’s book is very readable with a novel’s narrative flow. The interconnections Hall makes are quite impressive as he makes a case for brewing unrest across the globe in the pivotal year of 1956. The seeds of unrest are sown everywhere none the least of which is among the youth. Today, you hear the classic, “Rock Around the Clock,” by Bill Haley and the Comets, and it might come across as a soothing lullaby. Well, relatively speaking. In fact, there’s an undeniable power to it. And, in 1956, it had the power of a cultural sonic boom. There were teenagers dancing in the streets after viewing the rock ‘n’ roll movie featuring Bill Haley and his band. And, around the globe, the status quo was being confronted at all levels. Enough to give those in power plenty of pause.

Hall tackles 1956 in fairly chronological order. We begin with a young and untested Martin Luther King Jr. as he must confront the firebombing on his own home, with his wife and children still inside. Remarkably, no one was hurt from the blast. And thanks to King’s moving address to the crowds gathered, the rest of that cold January night remained calm.

Among the leading news stories that year, the focus was on Egypt, the Suez Canal Crisis, and Egypt’s charismatic leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser.

The greatest undermining of Soviet expansion after World War II was the Hungarian Revolution.

And the end of 1956 would see one more significant sign of things to come: Fidel Castro and his band of revolutionaries proceeded upon their shaky but steadfast push against the Batista regime.

Simon Hall’s book is the first definitive account of the year 1956. Hall’s account presents 1956 as far more than an eventful year but as a source of much significant change that was still ahead. From Poland to South Africa, the call for freedom was loud and clear. Around the world the responses came from world leaders: Eisenhower in the US. Khrushchev in the USSR. Anthony Eden in what was left of the crumbling British Empire. The nationalization of the Suez Canal by Nasser spurred an Israeli-British-French attack that nearly brought in the Soviets–an attack that would ultimately fail. Hall captures it all in a riveting narrative always mindful of those not in power who were brave enough to shout the loudest.

“1956: The World in Revolt” is a 509-page hardcover, published by Pegasus Books. For more information, and how to purchase, visit Pegasus Books right here.

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Filed under 1950s, Book Reviews, Books, History, Pegasus Books

Review: ‘Division to Unification in Imperial China (vol. 2): The Three Kingdoms to the Tang Dynasty (220–907)’

Volume 2 in Jing Liu's Understanding China Through Comics series.

Volume 2 in Jing Liu’s Understanding China Through Comics series.

Jing Liu brings to life the history of China in his series, Understanding China Through Comics. With Donald Trump’s focus on China, with no signs of letting up, it is a perfect time to gain a better understanding of a very misunderstood country. It was a pleasure to review the first volume in this series. You can read that here. For this second volume, Liu proceeds where he left off and focuses on the periods of division and unification in Imperial China. The full title is, “Division to Unification in Imperial China (vol. 2): The Three Kingdoms to the Tang Dynasty (220–907),” published by Stone Bridge Press. But don’t let the long title intimidate you. This is a highly accessible work tailored to fast learning while also very entertaining.

There is much to marvel over with Liu’s book. As a cartoonist myself, I fully appreciate the balancing act that Liu had to negotiate in order to have the facts make sense in a comics format. It is often believed that the only path for a work in comics or a graphic novel is brevity. You should only insert a limited number of words in those word balloons and text boxes, so the rule goes. However, that all depends. Liu presents everything in a very clean and visually appealing style and has managed to up his word count as needed.

Dividing up territory.

Dividing up territory.

The story of China is one of many regions vying for control and Liu is up to the task of showing us all the machinations. With great clarity, Liu reveals all the moving parts involved and reintroduces key facts as the story unfolds. Liu employs a number of time-saving devices, primarily he makes good use of all his digital options: fonts, pre-made borders for his panels, word balloons, and such. And, in an uncanny way, his art style compliments this more compact approach. It is a relatively spare style but not without a beauty and flourish running throughout in the spirit of manga. He’s managed to hold back enough in order to mix well with the flow of characters and events. You will not only learn about battles and wars, you will learn about the evolution of Chinese culture and spirituality. For instance, Liu provides a wonderful comparison and contrast to the Tao and Buddhist belief systems.

The excess of The One Percent.

The excess of The One Percent.

Liu presents us with cycles of history, the rise and fall of dynasties. And we come to see the patterns and how they relate to current history. We see the perpetual struggle between the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak. But we never tire of such a narrative. First, dynasties prospered. Then they grew corrupt. Finally, they fell and gave way to other dynasties. Liu shows us both the good, the bad, and the in-between. One example that sticks with me falls squarely in the bad column: there was a time when wealthy aristocrats thought nothing of commissioning miles and miles of screens made of silk just so they could pass through them and greet each other. Now, there’s some One Percent decadence for you!

“Division to Unification in Imperial China” is a 166-page book, published by Stone Bridge Press. For more details, and how to purchase, visit Stone Bridge Press right here.

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Review: ‘Pocahontas: Princess of the New World’ by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

"Pocahontas: Princess of the New World" by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

“Pocahontas: Princess of the New World” by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky

Here is a story that will greatly resonate with anyone struggling with issues of Otherness. There is so much to love about the graphic novel, “Pocahontas: Princess of the New World.” If you are looking for a powerful and accessible way to talk about race and tolerance, here is a compelling new addition to that discussion. Depicted in a direct and straightforward manner, here is the story of Pocahontas and John Smith as you’ve never seen it before. This is truly a unique gift for young and older readers alike. Originally published in French by Sarbacane in 2014, this spirited and quite informative graphic novel by Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky is now available in an English translation by Pegasus Books.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky plays with that concept by mining closer to the known facts, at least much closer than a Disney animated feature could. Pocahontas was around eleven years-old in 1607 when she was supposed to have famously saved Jamestown settler John Smith from being executed by the Powhatans. The rest is a bit of history and myth. This graphic novel interpretation has Pocahontas in the role of vigilant defender and protector of John Smith and the English colonists. Originally named, Matoaka, there is some dispute as to how and why she became known as “Pocahontas.” Some versions of the story say the name meant “playful one.” But in this version, the Powhatans feel betrayed and the nickname is supposed to simply mean, “shameless whore.”

Young Matoaka

Young Matoaka

Matoaka, later to be known as Pocahontas, would be baptized by the English as, Rebecca. The Biblical reference suggested a healer to two separate cultures. That myth would blossom in the 19th century as she was portrayed as an emblem of the potential of Native Americans to be assimilated into European society. Keeping close to the facts gives way to some poetic speculation as Locatelli-Kournwsky explores the inner world of his celebrated main character. In a number of key scenes, we see that the the clash of cultures is quite overwhelming for Pocahontas. Even once married to John Rolfe and dressed in the best fashion, English society around her does not really embrace her. She is forever seen as part of the wilderness and best suited to remain there. The die is cast, for better or worse, once Pocahontas, always Pocahontas.

Readers will be pleasantly surprised to read a more enlightened account of such a celebrated figure in history. Locatelli-Kournwsky’s artwork is just the right mix of lightness and precision. And the new English translation by Sandra Smith provides a smooth and accessible path to this most engaging story.

“Pocahontas: Princess of the New World” is a 128-page hardcover, published by Pegasus Books and available as of September 6, 2016. Visit Pegasus Books right here.

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Filed under American History, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History, Native Americans, Pocahontas

Seattle Focus: MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

MOHAI Presents TOYS of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s

Illustration by Henry Chamberlain

Once a toy has become an artifact of childhood, it has reached a very special place. For the purposes of this exhibit, a look at American toys spanning three decades, the focus is upon the joy and comfort these toys provided. The context is both simple and complex as viewers are invited to study the various exhibits from their own personal point of view. Did you have a happy childhood? If not, maybe a toy helped you along the way? Sectioned off into three decades worth of childhoods, there is plenty to recollect and reassess.

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

Contemplating Toys and Childhood

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is enjoying its West Coast premiere on display at MOHAI here in Seattle. Originating from the Minnesota History Center, this exhibit asks you to revisit many toys that, by today’s standards, would not be deemed suitable for children on many grounds, including common sense safety! Lawn darts, anyone?? Yep, we don’t see lawn darts sold in today’s toy market. They’re basically sharp steel projectiles. They’re not going to cut it, or rather, they ARE going to cut it! But, you see, lawn darts have a home here–on display only. Lawn darts are not subject to recall within the bounds of this exhibit. They are here to conjure up good lawn dart memories, for those who have them. And they’re also here as a subject for discussion. As much as this exhibit is a trip down memory lane, it also invites viewers to draw their own conclusions.

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

The Game of Cootie, originally launched in 1949

What are your thoughts on Barbie dolls or toy guns? You’ll find them here ready for your marvel or scrutiny. The point is that you’ll find all sorts of toys, whether or not they pass today’s safety or societal tests. The overwhelming nature of childhood memory takes over. Countless kids loved their toys and now we have the nostalgia for yesteryear and contemporary perspective to guide us. You’ll find a lot of kids attracted to the exhibits. You’ll see lots of families with their toddlers, too young to appreciate any nuances but ready to grab at anything not secured. And then there are the adults who grew up in these respective decades. For them, especially, the exhibit features living room re-creations for each decade on view. For these viewers, the couch is right there to sit and go back in time with, alone or perhaps to share with younger family members.

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

1960s Living Room Re-creation at MOHAI Toys exhibit

Toys are certainly not easy to pin down. Toys resist being dismissed even if the originals are stored away or thrown away. Toys come at you from every direction. At a certain age, they define your leisure, your means of escape. They can become your world, your identity. They’re based upon all you think you know about the world whether from books, movies, television, just about anything. What does a choice in a toy say about a child? What does a toy say about the adult who chose it for the child? The adult who created it? The manufacturer that produced it? The country that embraced it?

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Atomic Disintegrator repeating cap pistol, introduced by Hubley in 1954

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, introduced by Amsco Industries in 1958

One of the best examples of how toys can make a difference is the American reaction to the Soviet’s being the first in space in 1957 with the Sputnik satellite. That little object in space caused shockwaves in the United States. Toy makers would definitively enter the Space Age and Space Race. Hubley’s 1954 Atomic Disintegrator, right out of science fiction, was all well and good. But now was the time to step up a focus on science and technology. Amsco Industries responded in 1958 with the Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile, “designed by missile engineers, tested in Cape Canaveral.” And, as the display makes clear, kids ate it up! There’s this priceless quote from the exhibit:

“How did I get interested in science and make it my life’s work? Kids in the late ’50s and ’60s could get toys that complemented that interest. My friends and I loved my Alpha-1 Ballistic Missile: Mix up some baking soda and vinegar, put it into the missile, put it on the launch pad, and pull the string. That baby could really fly.”

–Mike Smith, b. 1952, meteorologist

It was fun, as a discerning adult, to wander back and forth between the three living room areas: the wonder and innocence in the 1950s; the keen interest in science and exploration in the 1960s; and a full circle escape to wonder and innocence in the 1970s. It seemed like, after having landed on the moon, and the rise of the Vietnam War, Americans were ready to refocus. Instead of looking to actual stars, Americans were ready to go see the new blockbuster hit, “Star Wars,” entertainment with its roots in 1930s pulp fiction. They were also ready to buy all the Star Wars toys.

Hey, that's Han Solo's Millennium Falcon!

Hey, that’s Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon!

I have fond memories of the ’70s as a kid. And I recall seeing “Star Wars” in 1977, at age 14, at our local movie theater at the mall. It would not have occurred to me to buy all the Star Wars figures, let alone a toy replica of the Millennium Falcon. But it was really nice to see the whole Star Wars set on display here at MOHAI. Any kid would have been thrilled to have owned them back then. But I’m sure that I owned a couple of figures. And I know that I went to see “Star Wars” more than once, despite the very long lines. I didn’t question any of it back then, although I was certainly old enough to do so. I was more than happy to accept it just as fun. I didn’t think about profit motives or the future of franchises or the American spirit. This brand new thing called “Star Wars” left you with a good feeling inside. And that’s the best thing any toy can offer.

TOYS at MOHAI!

TOYS at MOHAI!

“Toys from the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s” is on display at MOHAI through September 25th. For more details, visit MOHAI right here.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, Childhood, Children, Comics, Education, Family, History, MOHAI, pop culture, Sci-Fi, Science, Seattle, Toys

Review: ‘Amiculus: A Secret History: Vol. II: Flagellum Dei’ by Travis Horseman

Amiculus Vol. II by Travis Horseman

Amiculus Vol. II by Travis Horseman

Romulus Augustus is one of the most vilified and controversial of leaders in history. Known as “Romulus Augustulus,” or “Little Augustus,” he was the product of a coup that was ill-fated from the very start. His father, Orestes, in charge of the military, pushed out the emperor, Julius Nepos. Then Orestes installed the boy as emperor. Romulus reigned over the last days of the Roman Empire. His reign lasted less than a year, from AD 475 to AD 476. Orestes, arrogant and distracted, would be overwhelmed by a mutiny led by one of his own senior officers, Flavius Odoacer. In short order, Orestes would be executed. Romulus would be sent into exile. The boy king remained an enigma, a mystery. Travis Horseman adds to this intrigue with his comic book series, “Amiculus: A Secret History.”

Procopius of Caesarea continues to find the true story of Romulus, the boy emperor.

Procopius of Caesarea continues to find the true story of Romulus, the boy emperor.

The details add up very nicely in this well-researched comic narrative based on Romulus Augustus. Travis Horseman has created one of the most unique works in comics which combines elements of speculative history and the supernatural. The second volume to “Amiculus: A Secret History” is truly a second act, an opportunity to delve deeper into the characters. We learn more about each player including the evil force lurking amid the shadows, the mysterious figure Amiculus. It is this demonic Amiculus who enables the barbarian hordes to overrun the western region of the Roman Empire which Orestes and Romulus only had a tenuous grasp on to begin with.

What is Amiculus?

What is Amiculus?

This comic is a fine example of what is possible when a creator gets fully immersed in a subject. Horseman has teamed up with a kindred soul in artist Giancarlo Caracuzzo. Both are driven and that resonates with the reader. While the narrative can get bloody, it is not exploitive violence. Essentially, it is strategic and, at times, only implied. Much of the blood is due to the ruthless Orestes. But this would not be story without his bloodlust. That said, I think this would prove a great gateway for teens to learn more about ancient Rome. I would also not be surprised to see the Amiculus series adapted for television or some other format on the screen. For now, we have this very inventive and engaging comic.

Keep up with Amiculus right here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, History