C.M. Butzer's Gettysburg, The Graphic Novel: Kidz Warz / by David Anderson


Know what was funny about the American Civil War? I mean, besides the whole Southern apologist movement dedicated to pretending it was about states' rights and not about states' rights to oppress blacks (read the Confederate constitution, they basically took the US one and hit copy/paste, then added a bunch of clauses making slavery mandatory along with some really specific minor trade regulations).

Well, the funny thing about it was that it was like a warning shot across Europe's bow, since the invention of the rifle and steel warships completely turned warfare on its head, forcing the two sides to figure out new strategies and tactics now that they could engage each other from longer distances- artillery had to move back, infantry had to have more space and mass, they needed to move faster into bayonet range (if that was even possible), and they had to worry about cover and suppression fire more. The battle for St. Petersburg, VA was brutal trench warfare, an ominous foreshadowing to the kind of fighting Europe would slog through in 1914.

And yet, like the fighting around Port Arthur in the Russo Japanese war, the arrogant European elites would sit back, watch and say "Aw, isn't that cute. Look at how stupid they are, how many men they lose. Clearly they don't understand how to fight a war, like we do."

Sorry guys, you were looking at the future of war and didn't realize it yet, because you were too fat and happy on peace and proxy wars against African tribes to notice. Too busy reading Jomini when you should have been reading Clausewitz. Man, if only you'd known. If only.

Stories about Gettysburg are about as overdone as D-Day, but that doesn't mean more books on the subject are un-welcome. C.M. Butzer's take on the pivotal battle might seem like a fish in the Gettysburg ocean, but it's solid and does a fine job of retelling it. It mostly focuses on the aftermath, however, which I think is more important- too often we are content to read about these battles like Hollywood plotlines, where the good guys win and then the credits roll; no effort to find out who cleans up the mess. And man, was Gettysburg a huge one. This book was written for kids ages 9-14, and what better age to imprint them with the knowledge of how horrible warfare is? Seeing as how we're terrified of children seeing naked people but fine with them seeing mass bloodshed in this country, I figure it's okay. 9-14 is about when kids start fantasizing about wrecking things anyway.

That said it isn't too graphic, but there's enough to get the point across. I think he does an amazing job of capturing the feel of a scene with pictures alone- as one example, he has a couple panels devoted to a soldier reclining in the grass pointing at the sky, as if he's cloud counting or something. When the camera pulls back, though, we see the field of dead- and we realize the man is frozen in rigor mortis, not relaxing. That gripped me, personally, and I think that's just one example of how good Butzer is at his craft.

So while the main battle only takes up the first third of the book, the rest is dedicated to the clean up effort and the construction of the memorial of the dead, all the way up to the Gettysburg address. The pictures speak more than the words, of which there are few, mostly either narrations or quotes from historical documents, with a few pieces of the author's own inferences of what might have been said. Mostly though it's a picture book, meant to summarize the event and its aftermath, which was a core fulcrum on which American history turned.

So then, it's a great thing that this book has such fantastic art in it. It's the kind of art style geared towards kids, with black and white drawings a light blue shading (opposed to grey), open and expressive faces with soft features, and a style of detail meant to make it easy to absorb the meaning of the pictures. The paucity of word bubbles gives Butzer lots of working space, and a lot of panels are landscape pictures where action is merely a part rather than the focus of the picture. It's more emphasized on scale and implication, in other words.

It's very well done and I think it serves its purpose greatly. If you have kids who want to know what the heck the deal with with one of the bloodiest wars in American history, give them this. It'll learn 'em a thing or two.

TL;DR Gettysburg is well done and I think it serves its purpose. It will definitely teach curious children (and adults) a few things about the Civil war with minimal text but gorgeous art.

Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel is written and illustrated by C.M. Butzer and published by Bowen Press, the now defunct imprint HarperCollins. You can find it in bookstores everywhere, the HarperCollins website, or, support Spandexless and buy it from our web store.

A review copy of Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel was graciously provided to Spandexless by the author.