Draw­ing his­tory

Two new graphic nov­els de­tail the world of Nazi Ger­many

The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - BOOKS - • MARY ANN GWINN

Two new works of graphic lit­er­a­ture recre­ate the har­row­ing years of Hitler’s Ger­many, an era when a once-proud coun­try and its peo­ple de­scended into an abyss of fas­cism, race ha­tred and mass mur­der. Vic­tims, vil­lains and he­roes – they’re all rep­re­sented in these works.

Ja­son Lutes’s graphic novel Ber­lin is a mas­ter­piece of the form. Lutes worked 20 years on his story, pub­lish­ing it in in­stall­ments, and this om­nibus edi­tion is the sum of his ef­forts, the saga of a city’s trans­for­ma­tion from a lib­eral cul­tural metropo­lis to a com­mu­nity in the com­plete grip of fas­cism.

The black-and-white il­lus­tra­tions are evoca­tive and somber, ap­pro­pri­ate to the sto­ries of peo­ple whose op­tions nar­row to noth­ing in the Ger­many of the late 1920s and early 1930s. There are more than 40 char­ac­ters, in­clud­ing his­tor­i­cal fig­ures such as im­pris­oned news­pa­per pub­lisher Carl von Ossi­et­zky, Nazi pro­pa­ganda czar Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler him­self. There’s a young woman artist mak­ing her way in the city, a dis­il­lu­sioned jour­nal­ist, a Com­mu­nist or­ga­nizer, a Nazi stormtrooper re­cruit, a fam­ily of mid­dle-class Jews, an Amer­i­can jazz band thrust into the chaos.

Lutes im­merses the reader in the poverty, des­per­a­tion and fi­nan­cial panic that drove peo­ple to choose sides in the bat­tle for Ger­many’s soul. He tells sto­ries of love, parental de­vo­tion, des­per­a­tion and be­trayal.

And po­etry. In one panel Lutes sets the words of Yeats’s poem “The Sec­ond Com­ing” to visual mu­sic: “The blood­dimmed tide is loosed/and ev­ery­where/The cer­e­mony of in­no­cence is drowned;/ the best lack all con­vic­tion, while the worst/ are full of pas­sion­ate in­ten­sity.” Ber­lin will make you shiver with recog­ni­tion at some dark and all-too-rec­og­niz­able cur­rents of his­tory. If there was ever any doubt of a graphic novel’s abil­ity to achieve a high level of sto­ry­telling, this book blows it away.

An­other tal­ented il­lus­tra­tor, John Hen­drix, has re­vis­ited an in­spir­ing and tragic story of the era in his graphic biog­ra­phy The Faith­ful Spy: Di­et­rich Bon­ho­ef­fer and the Plot to Kill Hitler.

The book is clas­si­fied as mid­dle-grade non­fic­tion, but both teenagers and in­ter­ested adults will find that it is a com­pelling in­tro­duc­tion to Bon­ho­ef­fer’s life. As some­one al­ready fa­mil­iar with Bon­ho­ef­fer, I was im­pressed with Hen­drix’s abil­ity to con­vey, through words and pic­tures, the po­lit­i­cal and the­o­log­i­cal con­flicts that tor­mented this de­vout Ger­man pas­tor. Bon­ho­ef­fer, child of a cul­tured, lov­ing Ger­man fam­ily, grad­u­ally aban­doned a con­tent ex­is­tence as a Ger­man Lutheran min­is­ter to be­come a mem­ber of the Ger­man re­sis­tance to Hitler. Even­tu­ally, he would pay for his con­vic­tions with his life.

As a young man, Bon­ho­ef­fer con­cluded, af­ter much soul-search­ing, “that the true church of God would not al­ways agree with the world it in­hab­ited, and so it must be rev­o­lu­tion­ary!” His evolv­ing be­liefs were just that – rev­o­lu­tion­ary. As the Nazis con­sol­i­dated power, one con­quest was the Ger­man state church. Bon­ho­ef­fer vo­cally op­posed his de­nom­i­na­tion’s em­brace of the Nazi regime, in­clud­ing its en­dorse­ment of dis­crim­i­na­tion against Jews. He founded a break­away sect and, af­ter a stint of spy­ing for the Ger­man re­sis­tance, he joined the Valkyrie plot to kill Hitler. He was cap­tured and jailed, and ex­e­cuted by hang­ing one month be­fore the end of World War II.

Hen­drix’s stark and pow­er­ful il­lus­tra­tions, ex­e­cuted in black, red and turquoise, vividly evoke the un­cer­tainty, ter­ror and fi­nally, spir­i­tual fulfillment Bon­ho­ef­fer achieved on his dif­fi­cult path. The Faith­ful Spy is an il­lu­mi­nat­ing ac­count of a brave man’s mor­tal strug­gles.

(Abrams Books)

SCENES FROM ‘The Faith­ful Spy’ by John Hen­drix.

(Drawn & Quar­terly)

AN EX­CERPT from ‘Ber­lin’ by Ja­son Lutes.

BER­LIN By Ja­son Lutes Drawn & Quar­terly 580 pages; $49.95

THE FAITH­FUL SPY By John Hen­drix Abrams Books 176 pages; $24.99

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