With Further Ado #285: American History Comics -without the comics (kind of)

I’m fascinated and impressed by America Redux: Visual Stories from Our Dynamic History by Ariel Aberg-Riger. This one took me by surprise – it’s a series of short stories each focusing on an event, or topic, from various points in American history.

It’s told visually, but not will illustrations, as is so familiar (and expected) to comic fans like me. Instead, each segment comes to life in clever “collage-y” and lettered pages.

The collages are clever – photographs, old maps, documents and graphic design. And lettering would certainly not be approved by someone like Todd Klein. It’s rough and uneven, but somehow it lends the homegrown feel of it all.

Aberg-Riger employs are sharp wit and the draws through lines between big chunks of American history. For example, a history of entrepreneur Sam Colt highlights all the strategic tactics he initiated and employed (celebrity endorsements, national sales reps, aggressive pricing, usual manuals) quickly morphs into the tragic reality of a nation enduring mass shootings with AR-15s.

Publisher’s Weekly recently interviewed author Aberg-Riger, exploring what inspired her.

Publisher’s Weekly: How has your work evolved, and what inspired you to write a book?

Ariel Aberg- Riger: Visual storytelling is an amorphous zone of making—not quite a graphic novel, not a comic. I was doing some mini stories, little poetic things, for a local paper here in Buffalo when an editor at the Atlantic’s CityLab asked if I’d do something more journalistic. Each month, I was given a topic—sometimes a single word. One month, I wrote about feminism and bicycles and 1895; the next month, I wrote about toxic waste in the 1980s.

I’d never connected with history as a student, but standing above all that was happening and seeing the junctures between the stories, it started to make sense to me. The more I wrote, the more it felt like I was writing a single story—running into the same themes and wanting to see them all together. An agent approached me and asked if I’d ever thought of writing a book. I said “Yes,” in a second. “And here’s what the book would be.”

You can read the whole interview here.

This is her first book, but I’m already anxious for her next one. And one other thing – I think this book would be a great gift for a high school student studying American history.