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Posted May 27, 2009
Reviewed by Candace Cunard for TeensReadToo.com
GETTYSBURG: THE GRAPHIC NOVEL is almost exactly what it proposes itself to be: a graphic-novel account of the Civil War's Battle of Gettysburg and its aftermath, culminating with Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.
It's obvious that Butzer has done his research on this one, as you can see if you flip to his bibliography at the back, but I kept wishing that this research could have been presented in a manner that would be easier to understand. Even with a decent knowledge of the Civil War's political and historical climate, the first several pages of Butzer's account were difficult to follow, long on images and short on explanatory text. The author/illustrator appears to have foreseen this complaint, and has included in the back of the book a panel-by-panel discussion of the historical background for each page of the comic, but I kept wanting that information to be made available to me on the same page as the images.
The narration picks up after the battle has ended and the Union must care for its sick and wounded; from here on, Butzer's arresting visual narrative is bolstered by quoting from the journals and letters of people who were actually present, including a local nurse and the photographer sent to document the battlefield carnage.
I will say this for Butzer: the images themselves are beautiful. Rendered in black, white, and a gray-blue reminiscent of both Union and Confederate uniforms, these drawings capture the atmosphere of Gettysburg before and after the battles with the same harsh clarity as famous photographer Timothy O'Sullivan, some of whose original prints from Gettysburg are reproduced by Butzer as drawings.
By the time the graphic novel presents the Gettsyburg Address itself, Butzer is in fine form, juxtaposing images of the crowd gathered to consecrate the new national cemetery and moments in American history, past and future, that seem to be encapsulated within Lincoln's speech. The final image of Lincoln as he walks away through the now-empty graveyard is evocative and sparse, sending chills up my spine.
Still, if you are looking for an interesting place to start learning about Gettysburg or the Civil War, you might want to start with something that will give you all the facts up front, instead of relegating them to ten pages of notes in the back. Based purely on the art content, I'd give this book 5 stars, but the difficulty following the story, especially of the battle itself, detracts from the artistic experience and makes it hard to determine how effective this graphic novel is as anything other than a series of evocative images.
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