Comics have long been more than just ‘funny pages’. Wil Eisner essentially created the medium of graphic novels with his semi-autobiographical work, “A Contract with God”. Art Spiegleman used mice and cats to share the biography of his father with seminal “Maus” in addressing the Holocaust. Comic legend Neal Adams (best known for his work on Batman, Green Lantern / Green Arrow, comic creator rights, and co-founder of Continuity Comics) along with Dr. Rafael Medoff (historian and author of multiple books on Jewish history and the Holocaust) and comics historian Craig Yoe went searching for something deeper and bound it together to share an equally serious set of stories.
“We Spoke Out” looks at a much longer history of artists and writers who addressed the Holocaust as far back as the 1950, not just with a strong jawed hero punching the Nazis but with accounts informed by survivors and historians. Unsurprisingly, many of those early comic creators were directly influenced by what had gone on in Europe, being the children of immigrant Jews or growing up in predominantly Jewish neighbourhoods. Eighteen stories of more than just the War, weaving history and fact into something far more impactful on a young adult reader than a textbook of statistics. Each story comes with a brief introduction of how each of the writers and artists passionately connected to the stories they produced. Ranging from EC Comics’ Master Race in 1955 to mainstream heroes like Batman and Captain America to a brief biography of artist Dina Babbitt, a Holocaust survivor.
The list of famed creators who put together these stories is long and impressive and their portrayal of these horrific events bleed humanity we don’t often associate with the four color action of comics. To name a few – Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont, Bob Kanigher, Harvey Kurtzman, Roy Thomas, Gene Colon, Gil Kane, Carmine Inantino, and Joe Kubert all had contributions to make in this work. Collected together, it made for a book that was emotionally difficult to read for all the right reasons.
I’d gladly recommend this to anyone with interest in this period of history, in comic history in general, or even as a less conventional way to approach a subject that should never be forgotten despite its ugliness and inhumanity. There is much to be unpacked in this book but well worth it.