Civil War Adventure by Chuck Dixon and Gary Kwapisz, a 2015 release by Dover Publications, continues that companies contributions to more serious subject matter of the sequential art form of entertainment. First published in 2009 by History Graphics Press with the subtitle ‘Real History: Stories of the War that Divided America’, the volume also provides educational content. Maps and spot illustrations elaborating upon personages and materiel are throughout the book, which is organized by timeline of events. Single pages composed primarily of text, supported by explanatory drawings, are throughout and lend ‘Civil War Adventure‘ to perusal.
The primary recurrent fictional characters are from a southern farm, who appear in several of the stories as the war progresses. Each chapter may be read as an individual story, however, so there is also an anthology quality to the production, enhanced by the art contributions of contributing artists Esteve Polls, Enrique Villigran and Silvestre and Erik Burnham and letterer Dave Rothe. Most of the vignettes are told from a Southern perspective, but northern heroes are included as well, such as George Armstrong Custer. Several other important figures are highlighted, notably southern raider John Singleton Mosby and his legendary encounter with Union General Edwin Stoughton.
The story and art are realistic and not idealized, and portray the true privation and horror of war, yet there is nothing gratuitous about the depictions. It is a work for a more mature audience, including a mature juvenile readership. As entertainment, it is not meant to replace scholarly works, but may serve as an introduction to the topic; in fact, the final two pages list ‘Further Reading‘ on the Shenandoah Campaign as well as a list of official civil war visitor centers. This is the type of introduction to learning that should be applauded and encouraged if comic art is to continue to escape the repetitive superhero genre.
The writing, primarily by famed scribe Dixon, includes some twist endings, with a macabre or wry sense of humor, very much in the tradition of the old E.C. Comics. An influence on the art seems to be the great John Severin; perhaps this reviewer is mistaken, for the similarity is not overt. But illustrator Kwapisz is at his best when he uses the brush more than the pen and lets high contrast and low detail of the night scenes take on a drama that unleashes the imagination of the viewer. The artist is a skilled organizer and researcher and much qualified hard work went into this impressive labor: but his work achieves a real brilliance when influences seem to disappear and moodiness of the shadows takes over.
This book is very moderately priced and printed in the USA. The editorial staff at Dover Graphic Novels deserve continued respect for bringing high quality writing and drawing to a wide audience, beyond typical comic fandom. We eagerly await their next foray into the historical field.