Tuesday, September 8, 2009
OHP BOOK REVIEW: CLEBURNE BY JUSTIN MURPHY
Graphic Novel, illustrated, suggested reading, 208pp., 2008. Rampart Press, PO Box 551056, Jacksonville, FL, 32255, $24.95 plus shipping.
In the eve of the sesquicentennial, there is a dire need for War Between the States books that cater to a younger audience. Children find history boring and uninteresting due to an education system that puts restraints on teachers. Educators find they are unable to teach in an entertaining and informative hands-on style due to standards set by the government to ensure students can pass a test. Outside sources are needed to facilitate the learning of history.
A graphic novel tells a story by using vivid pictures, basically in a comic book style. They are a form of entertainment, especially for children. Cleburne is written in this approach. With full color, stunning images, Justin Murphy records the last year of Major General Patrick Ronayne Cleburne’s life in roughly the length of a nine issue comic book mini series.
An immigrant from County Cork Ireland who had served as a foot soldier in the British Army during the Potato Famine, Cleburne comes to America, after procuring his discharge, with his two brothers and older sister. He would arrive in New Orleans but would ultimately settle in Helena, Arkansas where he would become a naturalized citizen and practice law. When the call of arms came for his adopted homeland, he would answer by joining as a private but was promoted to captain. Even though Cleburne does not cover this information chronologically, it is brought out in the dialogue between the characters.
The story begins on November 25, 1863 and continues until Cleburne’s death at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. During this time, the reader is able to appreciate the fast pace setting of the army during the Atlanta Campaign, and the politics between the leaders. It even brings out the human side by showing Cleburne’s relationship with Susan Tarleton. The main concentration of Cleburne is the proposal that the General made allowing blacks to officially serve in the Confederate States Army in exchange for their freedom. This was a controversial issue, especially if one understands the antebellum period of compromises in the halls of Congress that lead up to the War Between the States. General Cleburne was willing to risk his career, which happened, for this proposition. Up to this point his reputation had been worthy of fame. He was a hero to many, a superb fighter that was shy around people. His men loved him and would rally behind his every order. When Johnston was removed as Commander of the Army of Tennessee, Cleburne should have been promoted since General Hardee had declined the advancement. However, as history will tell, General Hood would receive the elevation in rank. Many consider this a mistake.
As a historical fiction, it is important to point out that although majority of the characters are factual, this an invented story with the author’s theory of what might have been said. Several of Cleburne’s famous quotes are utilized in the appropriate settings. “I believe the job of any writer of historical fiction is to fill in the blanks and capture the essence and motivations of the individuals they choose to write about,” states Mr. Murphy in the forward.
Incredible artwork is used to allow the reader to visualize without words the events that unfold. The wide range of hues and details create a stunning success. Even historical elements are utilized, such as the Carter House in the Battle of Franklin, to portray every aspect of the scenery. The imagination of a reader can take these images and envision the story in greater detail. Inker Al Milgrom and colorist J. Brown have both worked with Marvel comics in their career, on such projects as The Incredible Hulk and Captain America respectively.
It is worthy to note that Cleburne has already been featured on the cover of Publishers Weekly and has received the 2008 Xeric Award. This creditable publication should be an essential part of any educator’s collection for students in middle and high school, not to mention is ideal for the adult reader also. The graphic nature of some of the illustrations is not recommended for younger children. Cleburne is a book that can educate the youth and grown-ups concerning an aspect of the War Between the States by using a medium that seizes their imagination.
Written by Cassie A. Barrow