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Petrograd Hardcover – August 3, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


In this historical thriller, Gelatt and Crook vividly depict the 1916 events in Russia that led to the murder of Rasputin. Gelatt carefully weaves together several threads into a tense, taut tale, as peasants, members of the Russian aristocracy, and the British Secret Service plot to kill the Mad Monk. This version is inspired by a longstanding rumor that a British spy participated in the assassination--a rumor that has recently developed more historical credence through the discovery of forensic evidence. Crook is a rising comics star; his sepia artwork, full of shadows, sharp angles, and anguished expressions, does much of the storytelling; particularly noteworthy are the panels without dialogue that brilliantly portray the complex emotions of a people at war and on the verge of revolution. --Publishers Weekly

The past couple of years, I've developed an affinity for non-fiction comics. They have all the elements of the medium that I enjoy, plus I usually learn something from them. Closely related to non-fiction is historical fiction. Typically, these take elements of history and try to tell stories around the periphery. They try to give a feel of what things were like for the people who don't show up in the history books.

That's where Phil Gelatt and Tyler Crook's upcoming graphic novel, Petrograd, comes from. It's set primarily in Russia during World War I. Agent Cleary, a British spy, is trying to keep tabs on things from his connections with the Russian secret police and, where possible, push events in directions that are more favorable towards Great Britain. It's in this fashion he picks up on some drunken ramblings of Prince Felix Yusupov, who suggested killing Grigori Rasputin to quit his influence on the Tsaritsa. Cleary nudges the plot forward and, despite his efforts to remain removed from the assassination attempt, winds up in the final struggle. Cleary is then sold out to the police, with the British government claiming he's gone rogue. Cleary manages to escape but is left to try to start a new life for himself.

Almost any story involving the death of Rasputin is going to contain some element of fiction. First-hand accounts at the time varied, and the original documents were destroyed in one fashion or another. Further, his reputation at the time suggested he had magic powers and it was easy for people to believe exaggerated stories about him. Consequently, we don't definitively know how he died.

What Gelatt and Crook have done, then, is take the best information that's available, and try to craft a compelling, logical tale around that. The secret service, the involvement of the Prince, the motives... all of that fits in just about perfectly with what we do know. From what I've gleaned, the only significant change is that Cleary appears to be a fictional stand-in for someone named Oswald Rayner. But otherwise, it all seems pretty accurate. So, while this is technically historical fiction, it's probably closer to non-fiction than many other supposedly non-fiction books and, from that sense, was incredibly fascinating for me.

The artwork is beautifully rendered in orange/red duotones throughout. I did have a little difficulty discerning individuals in a few scenes where people were bundled up heavily to ward off the cold outside (that a couple were cross-dressers didn't help matters) but considering how little I knew of Rasputin and Russia's involvement in WWI prior to reading this, it still wasn't that difficult to follow along. Certainly, once the story got rolling and I established who all the characters were -- about two dozen pages in -- things progressed along nicely. Although that two dozen pages might sound like a lot, keep in mind that the whole book is 274 pages long and the actual murder of Rasputin, beginning with his first sip of poison, takes over 40 pages.

All in all, I quite enjoyed the book. I think it's an excellent example of taking real events to tell a gripping story. Especially in light of how much Rasputin floats in the public perception as this vague and mysterious, almost mythical, villain, I think Petrograd does a superb job of showing what people really thought of him and what he was really like. Oh, he's still plenty villainous, and that helps to make this a compelling story, but he's villainous in a decidedly more debauchedly human way than he's often depicted. Writers don't NEED to make embellishments to make Rasputin the bad guy, and that's part of what makes Petrograd successful. --Kleefeld on Comics


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Oni Press (August 3, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1934964441
  • ISBN-13: 978-1934964446
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #335,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Man of La Book on March 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Pet­ro­grad by Philip Gelatt (art by Tyler Crook) is a graphic novel about an assas­si­na­tion. The graphic nov­els tells about an inter­na­tional con­spir­acy behind the mur­der of Gre­gorii Rasputin.

World War I is rav­aging the world. Hunger, depres­sion and despair reign while only hard core rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies at the bot­tom of the food chain and those in the upper ech­e­lons of gov­ern­ment cling to a drop of hope.

The pow­ers that be think that Rasputin is urg­ing the royal fam­ily to make a sep­a­rate peace pact with­Ger­many, which will free them to fight the war again­stEng­land. Cleary, an unen­thu­si­as­tic Eng­lish spy is sta­tioned inRus­si­aand has been given the most dif­fi­cult assign­ment of his career: plan and devise the assas­si­na­tion of Gre­gorii Rasputin, the most trusted advi­sor of the Tsarina.

The graphic novel Pet­ro­grad by Philip Gelatt (art by Tyler Crook) is more of a his­tor­i­cal thriller than any­thing else. The death of Gre­gorii Rasputin has gen­er­ated much con­tro­versy at the time and many more con­spir­acy the­o­ries which are always fun and sup­ply fod­der for authors.

The story, while fic­tional, seems real­is­tic enough to have actu­ally hap­pen (almost). Some­how Mr. Crook took the blighted atmos­phere which authors try very hard to cre­ate and drew it. While I'm sure that many cre­ative licenses were taken, as they are in every his­tor­i­cal novel, I still enjoyed the story immensely.

But don't let the words "graphic novel" fool you. Pet­ro­grad takes his­tor­i­cal facts (as seen by Amer­i­cans) and re-tells the story in the for­mat of an espi­onage thriller.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Sam Quixote TOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The assassination of Rasputin, the mad Russian monk who was arguably a big motivating factor in Russia overthrowing its aristocracy and becoming a communist nation for much of the 20th century, is one hell of a story. To kill Rasputin the assassins had to poison, stab, and shoot him and, to make sure he didn't come back from that, rolled him up in a blanket and dropped into the Volga river in the dead of winter, crashing through the ice into the freezing waters below. That is one tough dude.

A dirt poor peasant who became known as a holy man, Jesus reincarnate, who also looked like Satan, and who managed to get into the good graces of the Tsarina who lavished attention on him for seemingly being able to cure her haemophiliac son, Rasputin was a fascinating figure. But if you didn't know anything about him before coming to this book, you won't find out much info on him here. Instead, this book focuses on an Irishman called Cleary who is working for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). This book is set in 1916, during the First World War and Cleary has been tasked with keeping the Russians at war with the Germans.

Rasputin has allegedly been whispering to the Tsar to make peace with the Germans but if this were to happen then the Germans would be able to transfer their resources from the Eastern Front to the Western Front and overwhelm the struggling British. Cleary is then tasked with murdering Rasputin to scupper any chances at a truce and to ensure Russia and Germany remain at each others throats, thus ensuring Britain's relative safety.

Officially, Rasputin's death was never put down to Britain's interference or the SIS though it has been a theory for many years.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By LVT06 on June 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Being a huge fan of the non-superhero "reality" graphic novels, like the "Parker" series Parker: The Hunter (Richard Stark's Parker), "Petrograd" was a treat for its factual attention to historical detail. The fact that a bibliography was included shows how much the authors invested in creating the work. More entertaining than a stuffy biography, the book provides enough groundwork for a more dedicated reader to jump off into the "serious" historical works on the Revolution years. The measured pace of the plot and the crisp artwork make this an enjoyable read. I hope there are more such historical GNs on the way from this pair.
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By C. Ricci on November 28, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I initially bought this book for three reasons: I like comics, I have a passing interest in Russian history, and it was cheap.

I ended up getting a lot for my money. Oni Press really cares, and did a beautiful job putting this book together. It's sturdy and pretty to look at.

More importantly, it's a damn good story and its well-told. The art and the writing are excellent individually, but even trickier, they also complement each other beautifully. I was really impressed by Gelatt and Crook, although I wasn't familiar with any of their other work. I hope they do more together.

The book does an excellent job showing the complicated nature of Russian politics at the time by creating a fictional American agent at the heart of the conflict. As a foreigner, he maintains a distance from the politics, but he also has an indirect stake in both sides. While he's clearly designed to serve a function, letting the creators have some fun playing around in otherwise fairly accurate history, he stands well as a realized character with a compelling arc in a gripping story. This would be tricky in a prose story, in a comic it's plain impressive. Most importantly, it's entertaining. I read it in one sit-through, although that wasn't my plan before I got into it.

I have to say, for my money, this is an example of comics as a medium at its best. The book is a compelling argument for the end of the superhero stranglehold on the American comics industry. Again, I hope these two work together again soon.
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