Profile: History, Nonfiction, Cartoons!
If I were being honest, I wouldn’t be able to include the first omnibus edition of Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History in this Cannonball, as I’ve read it enough to have dog ended every other page. If I were being really honest, I’d have to admit that the book was the only reason I passed my Western Civ classes in high school and college. But upon reading the second and third omnibuses, I felt it wouldn’t be fair to the series as a whole to leave out the first one that did such a good job of capturing my imagination as a child and a teenager, and instilled in me a love of history that survives to this day.
As with most ‘big’ projects, it’s easier to define Gonick’s Cartoon History by what it isn’t It is not an attempt to professionally summarize the breadth of human history. Nor is it just a comic rendering of western civilization’s greatest hits. The books present a version of history that is entertaining on its own, capitalizing on the larger-than-life figures and bizarre incidents that riddle the history books. Where archaeology and recorded history fail, Gonick fills in the blanks with the mythologies and legends of the cultures he’s examining. He attempts to place these pieces of fiction within their factual contexts, such as the real war against Troy that formed the backdrop for Homer’s Iliad. The result is a ‘dried out’ version of these stories, stripped of much of the supernatural or religious trappings, but given new life in the context of history.