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Nanjing: The Burning City Hardcover – September 1, 2015
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Acclaimed comics creator Young (Tails: Life in Progress) has released his most ambitious project yet: an intimate look at what’s known as the Rape of Nanjing: six weeks during the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937–38, in which Japanese troops systematically tortured, sexually assaulted, and executed hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers and civilians. Although records of the massacre have largely been destroyed, Young draws on the best information available to tell a fictionalized account of two Chinese soldiers attempting to escape their city. Along the way, they meet several equally desperate refugees, and their destinies become intertwined. Young’s black-and-white artwork is heart-wrenchingly beautiful in its depiction of countless tragedies, and his writing remains tight throughout. Most notable among the fascinating cast is Yan, a battle-hardened wife and mother who retains her agency during the infamous violence against women. Young’s decision not to glorify violence or titillate the reader in any way avoids a common pitfall and heightens the drama. This is stunning, stirring historical fiction by a creator at the height of his craft. (Sept.)" -Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
"In Nanjing, cartoonist Ethan Young tells an intimate story against an epic landscape. Bold, heart-breaking, and gorgeously rendered." -Eisner and Printz Award-winner Gene Luen Yang (Boxers & Saints, American Born Chinese)
"Haunting and powerful, Nanjing is a moving tribute to an event which needs to be remembered as much as we'd like to forget it."-Eisner and Harvey Award-winning creator Derek Kirk Kim (Prime Baby, Same Difference and Other Stories)
About the Author
Ethan Young is a prolific illustrator. His main expertise is sequential art and cartooning. Whether it's comic books or storyboards, Ethan Young brings his own unique sense of style and storytelling to every panel. Young has contributed comic book art to Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics, DNA Creative, Ardden Entertainment, Hermes Press, and Johnson & Johnson. He has also drawn and designed for advertising, video games, independent films, T-shirt designs, album covers, logos, fantasy & sci-fi illustration and much more. Young is currently the lead storyboard artist for 'The Centsables', a saturday morning cartoon on Fox Business Channel. The author lives in Ithaca, N.Y..
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Despite not being known for darker works, Young shows off his skills exceptionally well here. He turns in some excellent storytelling here, much more subtle and nuanced than what he did for Tails. The illustrations are somewhat more detailed in Nanjing and Young uses that to great effect, substituting slight facial expressions and changes in posture for dialogue. It shows a much greater confidence in his own abilities, and returns a more thoughtful and engaging story. Further, Young seems to have stepped up his inking abilities quite a bit as well; there is lots of beautiful linework throughout. The brushwork on some of the scenery in particular was wonderfully executed.
One thing I found fascinating about the story overall was how it directly confronts the racism that was at play during that conflict. Here in the United States, we frequently lump all Eastern countries into a single checkbox, but Young's tale shows more than a few Japanese soldiers actively degrading the Chinese as a whole. Interestingly, though, while the Japanese soldiers are clearly the primary antagonists throughout the book, and it makes sense to portray them more negatively, Young doesn't exactly make his Chinese heroes out to be above racial prejudices either.
It's not uncommon for a country to paint their enemies with a broad brush of racism. It's a deliberate attempt to dehumanize them, so individual soldiers can justify killing them. If the enemy is something less than human, after all, shooting them isn't much different than killing a cow to make some hamburgers. The enemy is only just a walking meat sack, not a human being with their own hopes, fears and dreams. And while Young shows the Japanese soldiers with less empathy than his protagonists, he also shows that everyone is susceptible to their own biases.
Young's story could well have been placed in any war setting. I don't doubt similar events transpired in Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, or any of a hundred other wars. Placing it during the Sino-Japanese War, though, does highlight an almost entirely neglected (in the U.S.) piece of modern history and, while Nanjing is not intended even as a primer on the subject, it's more than engaging enough to encourage readers to find out more.
The graphic novel includes some intense depiction of war but not sensationally so. It's expertly handled in stark black and white. There is some brief, and uncomfortable, nudity to show some of the harsh and eye-opening realities of war and this historical event. The book includes a bibliography; I could see this being used for educational purposes for older students.
Ethan Young is the writer and artist and I predict big things from him. He is a very talented man. While residing in Ithaca New York he is of Chinese Ancestry. His art style reminds me of a cross between Milton Caniff and Joe Kubert.
The story is a fictionalized story set against the back drop of a very real event. In 1937 the Japanese bombed the heck out of Nanjing , China and left it in burning runes. Then the Japanese soldiers came into to Nanjing killing the surviving soldiers and civilians alike. They also raped women and very young girls both. This horrible massacre lasted six weeks and 300,000 Chinese are believed to have been killed. This conflict then led directly into World War Two.
The story follows two surviving Chinese Soliders as they plot to escape The Burning City which in under Japanese Occupation. It is a powerful and compelling story which I am sure will be on the ballot for every Major Graphic Novel Award come next year.
My Highest Recommendation.
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Two Chinese soldiers are trapped in Nanjing after the quick and brutal Japanese victory.Read more