The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation


Our leaders swear to uphold it, our military to defend it. It is the blueprint for the shape and function of government itself and what defines Americans as Americans. But how many of us truly know our Constitution?

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation uses the art of illustrated storytelling to breathe life into our nation’s cornerstone principles. Simply put, it is the most enjoyable and groundbreaking way to read the governing document of the United States. ...

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Our leaders swear to uphold it, our military to defend it. It is the blueprint for the shape and function of government itself and what defines Americans as Americans. But how many of us truly know our Constitution?

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation uses the art of illustrated storytelling to breathe life into our nation’s cornerstone principles. Simply put, it is the most enjoyable and groundbreaking way to read the governing document of the United States. Spirited and visually witty, it roves article by article, amendment by amendment, to get at the meaning, background, and enduring relevance of the law of the land.

What revolutionary ideas made the Constitution’s authors dare to cast off centuries of rule by kings and queens? Why do we have an electoral college rather than a popular vote for president and vice president? How did a document that once sanctioned slavery, denied voting rights to women, and turned a blind eye to state governments running roughshod over the liberties of minorities transform into a bulwark of protection for all?

The United States Constitution answers all of these questions. Sure to surprise, challenge, and provoke, it is hands down the most memorable introduction to America’s founding document.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“The coolest thing since Schoolhouse Rock.” —Rachel Maddow, The Rachel Maddow Show

“Intelligently written, lushly illustrated . . . Hennessey interweaves the Framers’ intent with contemporary battles over constitutional law, while McConnell colors history with masterful strokes. A civics lesson no one should miss.” —Alexander Nazaryan, The Village Voice (A Best Book of 2008)
“Avoiding the didactic, the book succeeds in being both consistently entertaining and illuminating . . . A fine introduction to U.S. legal history.” —Publishers Weekly
“[A] must-read graphic novel treatment of the history, meaning and evolution of the United States Constitution. It should be a staple of every high school history class.” —Jonathan Valania, Phawker
“A sweet, quick, thoroughgoing history of the U.S. Constitution . . . You’d be hard-pressed to find a better primer for bringing the kids, foreigners and forgetful in your life up to speed.” —Cory Doctorow, Boing Boing
“We the people can now appreciate our nation’s founding document unpacked into easy-to-follow explanations enriched with stick-in-your-mind visuals . . . A surprising and effective accomplishment; highly recommended for all collections. Buy multiples for kids, teens, and adults.” —Martha Cornog, School Library Journal (starred review)

“Before Obama is sworn in as the next U.S. president in January, let Hennessey and McConnell’s The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation be your refresher course.” —Charles Moss, PopMatters
“Aaron McConnell’s illustrations are brilliant in their effectiveness of depicting complex themes and ideas in discernable ways. The style is reminiscent of the political cartoons of yore and his use of iconography is clever and informative.” —Chris Wilson, The Graphic Classroom



Publishers Weekly

Writer Hennessey and artist McConnell undertake the imposing task of going through the entire U. S. Constitution, article by article, amendment by amendment, explaining their meaning and implications-in comics format. Avoiding the didactic, the book succeeds in being both consistently entertaining and illuminating. The illustrations are sometimes predictable: as the text describes King George III wrestling with the rebellion, the art shows him arm wrestling a colonist. More often, in the editorial cartoon tradition, McConnell's art ranges inventively through different styles and devices, from realistic depictions of historic personages to symbolic figures (the president as a man with the White House as his head) and even talking birds and parodic superheroes. Hennessey is particularly good at exploring the historical context in which various elements of the Constitution originated, such as the excesses of European monarchies. He also chronicles the dark side of constitutional history, notably how long it allowed slavery to remain legal. While the book depicts the framers of the Constitution as practical men, readers will also be impressed by the framers' vision in devising a system that has endured for two centuries, and it's a fine introduction to U.S. legal history. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Who knew that political history could be so interesting? Forming a more perfect union has taken over 200 years, and it's not finished yet. But we the people have always been in there fighting for something better.-M.C. (LJ11/15/08)

—Martha Cornog
Kirkus Reviews
A searching interpretation of that sonorous document the Constitution, with cartoons. Why have a Constitution to begin with? Because, remarks film and TV writer Hennessey-who, even if his prose is bound by balloons, turns out to be quite the Constitutional scholar-the founding fathers were keenly aware that civil rights were never formally written down in Britain, "and that deeply troubled the framers." That's as much of an establishing conflict as is needed for a superhero piece, and Hennessey, paired with artist McConnell, does a fine job of turning the making of the document, despite all the dull stretches in the Constitutional Convention that James Madison recorded in his diary, into a drama. Happily, Hennessey is aware of the truly radical origins of the Constitution, even as he notes its conservative strains. For example, he remarks that the system of checks and balances is a remarkable innovation, even if it sometimes seems that presidential actions-as with military intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere-go unchecked. In addition, laws are difficult to make in this country for very good reason: "Otherwise we might get too many of them." Combining words and appropriate images, sometimes comic and sometimes earnest, the narrative visits such matters as the three-fifths law of determining apportionment, the writ of habeas corpus, eminent domain and conceptions of property and freedom of assembly and movement (for instance, the Articles of Federation forbade "vagabonds and paupers" from crossing state lines). Also covered are the many guarantees Americans take for granted-not least the Ninth Amendment, which states that certain rights not enumerated ("The right to scratch a dog behindthe ears?") shall not be denied. A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809094707
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/14/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 296,677
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

A ten-year veteran of the film and television production industry, JONATHAN HENNESSEY is a writer living in Los Angeles. AARON MCCONNELL is a freelance illustrator living in Oregon.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Questions

1. The first images we find in this book are isolated, individual moments—a two-page series of distinct, wordless pictures: a candle, a locked door, an inkwell, etc. What sequence of events is being conveyed? Who are these people? And who are the people we see when we turn the page? How many kinds of people can you find here (as in background, ethnicity, profession, historical era, or social class)?

2. “The Constitution is not just a document,” we read on page 22. “It is also an act.” What does this mean? And who are the “actors” shown in the top and middle panels of the page?

3. Look again at how a “truly direct democracy” is illustrated and captioned on page 28. Did this rendering strike you as comic in any way? Why or why not?

4. Explain the “partial” manner in which American slaves are drawn on page 31 (and elsewhere in this work). At what point are they finally shown “in full”? At what point — historically—was this possible?

5. The narrative box at the lower right corner of page 74 points out a specific way in which the Constitution improves on the Articles of Confederation. Name a few other ways.

6. On pages 54 (in the top panel) and 83 (in the bottom panel), we see two different street scenes, two different renderings of people in public. Why are these two scenes — both set in colonial times—drawn so differently? What moods or mindsets are being conveyed in each?

7. Why do the Legislative, Judicial, and Executive branches play “Rock, Paper, Scissors” at the bottom of page 71? What ideas are being artistically communicated here, both generally and specifically? Also, what is a “hydra”—and why did Alexander Hamilton refer to such regarding our state and federal courts? And finally, what is the only crime mentioned explicitly in the Constitution?

8. A juggernaut-like machine appears occasionally in this book—a large, difficult-to-assemble contraption that must be harnessed by several ropes pulled by several people. Looking back over these pages, where do we encounter this assemblage? What does this great and unruly thing stand for? (See especially page 86, where we read in a speech balloon: “The more you pull, the more stable we will all be!”)

9. What Franz Kafka novel is echoed by Hennessey and McConnell’s explanation of the Fifth Amendment? What rights are granted to Americans by this Amendment? Paraphrase the narrative graphically depicted on page 102, and explain how this Amendment prevents such a narrative.

10. What changes did the 14th Amendment bring to American society? What rights did it ensure, and when did it become law? Why do you think this particular amendment is often “foreshadowed” in these pages? And how is such foreshadowing graphically accomplished?

11. On page 137, we see a young man—apparently about to vote for the first time—walk into a polling booth. He then suddenly finds himself immersed in deadly combat. Explain the logic or argument that is being put forth in the somewhat surreal visual narrative comprising this page.

12. On the final page of this book, a distinction is made between “a perfect union” and “a more perfect” one. Explain this distinction, and then talk about how Hennessey and McConnell’s book—as a graphic rendering of the defining document of our government — fleshes out such a distinction of them change over the course of this book? Explain.

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  • Posted November 23, 2008

    Great gift for Junior HS and older people

    This "quick read" reminded me of many things I had forgotten and taught me a number of things I don't remember ever knowing. It will make a great gift for ages 12+ because people can learn and retain information about the Constitution not only by reading the text but also from the pictures. Many readers will want to delve further into issues raised in the book, either pursuing the author's recommended reading or searching the internet. I particularly liked some of the analogies which explained Constitutional issues by comparing them to everyday experiences. --- Claude, age 60

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 18, 2008

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