J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Marek Bennett Makes Sense of Money

These panels are from a short comic by the New Hampshire artist and educator Marek Bennett, looking at the dollars that the town of Henniker had to spend on a covered bridge late in the Revolutionary War.

Bennett mines the records of his town and others nearby and adapts their stories into comics form. As another example you can read online, he adapted Elisha Haynes’s application for a Revolutionary War pension. The comic captures that sort of document as well as anything I’ve read: the go-here-go-there nature of military service, the aged veteran deciding to seek public assistance, the meager property he had left (perhaps after giving some away to relatives).

Bennett’s Live Free and Draw website offers several more historical comics, most based on events in the 1800s.

This spring I enjoyed Bennett‘s new book The Civil War Diary of Freeman Colby, adapted in the same visual style as in the panels above. You can sample pages here on that site and order the book from here.

As with George O’Connor’s Journey into Mohawk Country (discussed back here), the words on the page adhere very closely to the source material. The images fill out, comment on, or even (as in this page) undercut those words.

Colby’s document is mainly a record of Union Army camp and hospital life. When he finally got into battle, he apparently became too busy to keep journaling in such detail. And Bennett sticks to the source, not adding extra battles for the sake of drama.

As for that visual style, Bennett doesn’t always draw stick figures. But when he does, they’re emotive and easy to tell apart. (In Freeman Colby, all the Massachusetts men in Colby’s company have square heads to distinguish them from his New Hampshire chums.) That style makes Freeman Colby good teaching material since every kid can draw a story like that, and indeed Bennett offers school workshops.

As if that’s not talent enough, Bennett is also a musician, performing Civil War folk music in the Hardtacks.

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