Your browser (Internet Explorer 6) is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites. Learn how to update your browser.

Comic Books and History: Drawing Tales from the Past.


We have seen how comic books can be used to share the concepts of science. The story presented can be told in a factually accurate way. The topics can be presented in simple, yet interesting ways. What about History? Can comic books accurately portray events from the past in the same manner? Can comic books show these events as stories that are factual rather than fictitious? Of course they can!

In my opinion History is well suited to being presented in comic book form. Imagine a story set in Ancient Rome. A comic book can depict, on a single page, a setting that may have taken several pages to describe through text alone.  A single, well drawn panel can provide a pictorial backdrop against which the events of the story unfold. While other mediums, such as film, can portray the same story in more dynamic ways, they are also more costly.  To depict the same story convincingly in a film requires the successful blending of scenery, acting talent and the occasional special effect. In comic books these are only minor concerns.

A good example of the right mix between fun and fact is the work of Stan Sakai. Sakai bases his comic books in a medieval Japan. His most well known creation Usagi Yojimbo, which literally means “rabbit bodyguard”, is the hero of a comic book series set in Edo Period Japan. The main character (Usagi Miyamoto), is a master less rabbit samurai, loosely based on the famous Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Usagi wonders the land occasionally selling his services as a bodyguard (Yojimbo). Throughout the stories there are many references to Japanese history and folklore. The depiction of the architecture, clothes, weapons, and other objects, is faithful to the style of the period. Many stories have share Japanese culture by illustrating various elements of Japanese arts and crafts, such as the fashioning of kites, swords, and pottery.

While a comic book can never be a textbook, Usagi Yojimbo is recommended supplementary reading material in many schools. As a result the series has been very well received and has won numerous awards including:

  • 1990 Parents’ Choice Award for its educational value
  • 1996 Eisner Award for “Best Letterer” (Groo and Usagi Yojimbo)
  • 1996 Eisner Award for “Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition” (Usagi Yojimbo)
  • 1999 Eisner Award for “Best Serialized Story” (Usagi Yojimbo “Grasscutter”)
  • 2012 Eisner Award for “Best Lettering” (Usagi Yojimbo)

Continuing in the same historical period, another work that deserves mention is Stan Sakai´s 47 Ronin. Here Sakai retells one of the most important national stories of Japan.47 Ronin is based upon the historically accurate account of warriors who lay in wait two years to avenge the tragic death of their master. After their revenge they take their own lives to be buried beside him. The story epitomizes what a samurai should be.

Ever heard of a comic book with a corresponding teachers guide? Bentley Boyd created Chester Comix to encourage boys to read and, to provide historically accurate stories. Mr. Boyd studied both History and Literature at Harvard University, and he uses both subjects to construct his comic book stories. Each book is historically accurate and expands children’s reading ability by placing new vocabulary into the story. The teacher’s guides then show how to introduce the stories from the comic book and, how to introduce the vocabulary. The teachers guide also offers suggestions: for word studies, writing prompts and other activities.

Which story from the past would you most like to see made into a comic book? Drop me a line and let me know!

Leave a comment  




Submit comment