Historical Comics- Issues and concerns in an ongoing project

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Historical Comics- Issues and concerns in an ongoing project

Post by JGrubber » Tue May 13, 2008 8:20 pm

I am working on numerous comics about Canadian History- right now its a graphic novel about Samuel de Champlain, in the background is a much larger multi-volume anthology of episodes from across the history of Canada.

The problem is this: should I include dialogue, or narration only? I will be including some dialogue, culled from journals, diaries and letters, but should I try to make it into a 'story'? Should I force a structure onto it for appeal, or let it find its own structure for accuracy?

- a plot driven story is more engaging than a nonfiction information text with pictures

- more drawing, hence more colouring, and more text
- danger of 'putting words into the mouth of a person' of importance
- difficulty of developing a solid story for each of the hundred+ 'episodes' I have outlined
- for this to make it into schools, it will have to be reviewed/checked for facts, etc.

Another question- if there is no dialogue, and the purpose is to impart information through the illustration and supporting narration boxes, have i really created a comic, or is it actually an illustrated book?


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Post by Blom » Wed May 14, 2008 2:46 pm

Use what you need to tell the story in the best way.

And also, if your making a historical comic from Canada, why not contact one of the University in Canada and ask for advice from someone who knows the history. :D
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Post by jdalton » Thu May 15, 2008 5:24 pm

Have you read Chester Brown's book on Louis Riel? It's a brilliant comics adaptation of Canadian history. It's basically a story adaptation of history, slightly fictionalized, the way a historical novel or movie would be. But that doesn't mean that's the only way to make a comic about history. A non-fiction comic, or a hybrid of fiction and non-fiction, might work just as well. Scott McCloud is the master of non-fiction comics, though he writes about comics rather than about history, so you should read some of his books too.

Experiment. See what you can come up with. This is a wide open genre with very little being done at the moment, and plenty of opportunities for innovation.
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Post by thirdeyeh » Fri May 16, 2008 8:48 pm

Have you tried looking at something like the graphical edition of the 9/11 commission report? I haven't purchased it but I read through a bit at the book store and I really think they did a fantastic job of both communicating information as well as creating a narrative. It might be a bit of inspiration to turn to.

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Post by Chris Schweizer » Sat May 24, 2008 8:05 pm

There's a great book on the treatment of history in films by the recently late George MacDonald Fraser called The Hollywood History of the World. In it, he makes a strong case for artistic license in regards to dialogue, and narrative. The thesis is that it's one's duty as a storyteller to make a strong narrative, and as such liberties are innevitable when dealing with real subjects, as we rarely have a complete account of words spoken, motivations etc - and even if we did, facts are not inherently truths.

The rule of thumb is that it's okay to create dialogue, scenes, even shift details around in order to make a better read/viewing experience... PROVIDED that the writer understands the real people in question, and doesn't have them doing or saying anything at odds with what we know of their true character.

Example - I don't think that Richard the Lionheart ever met Saladin, but they exchanged letters, and as such we have an idea as to how they would interact. Were you to write a scene in which they met, even though it didn't actually happen, you would have a basis from which to know how that scene WOULD have taken place HAD it occurred. If doing that makes for a stronger, more engaging story that helps illuminate one or both of these men, then it's your duty as a storyteller to make that decision.

As for narration or dialogue, that's a choice left up to you. Neither is better than the other; either could be the best for a given project, if used effectively. If you're focusing on a person, as you seem to be, I'd lean towards dialogue. Intangibles such as events, places, etc, lend themselves towards narration. And although using both seems to be out of favor these days, it has been used to great effect in everything from Frontline Combat to the Cartoon History of the Universe.

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