Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Boxers & Saints (graphic novels)

Boxers & Saints, Gene Luen Yang, First Second, Graphic Novel, 512 pages, September 10, 2013.

Synopsis: In two volumes, Boxers & Saints tells two parallel stories. The first is of Little Bao, a Chinese peasant boy whose village is abused and plundered by Westerners claiming the role of missionaries. Little Bao, inspired by visions of the Chinese gods, joins a violent uprising against the Western interlopers. Against all odds, their grass-roots rebellion is successful.
But in the second volume, Yang lays out the opposite side of the conflict. A girl whose village has no place for her is taken in by Christian missionaries and finds, for the first time, a home with them. As the Boxer Rebellion gains momentum, Vibiana must decide whether to abandon her Christian friends or to commit herself fully to Christianity.

My thoughts: It is rare to find a story set in historical account in the fashion that Luen Yang presents. He drives to the heart of the Boxer Rebellion, the people. Specifically Little Bao, from his youth to where the rebellion begins. He explains what could incite such a group to take up arms, in the mere visual story. The visual art seems to be simple, but conveys a lot more than you would first suspect.

Clean lines, vibrant colors, and striking expressions may lead you to think that these novels were created for younger readers. And while they do appeal visually, the topic is a very serious one. Gene Luen Yang does not let the dramatic presentation get in the way. On the contrary, he uses it to drive the story. Chinese story is rooted in this presentation, including the puppet shows Little Bao loved as a child. The bright colors and exaggerated expressions pay homage to Chinese dramatic history. He uses this style to represent both sides, which I find interesting.

In the second volume, Luen Yang presents the other side of the rebellion: the victims. This is a valuable addition, balancing out the story as a whole. Neither side is completely virtuous in this story, and as such both sides had to be presented. In the second title, the similar visual style signifies something important. While Vibiana, the opposite protagonist, was a Christian, she was just as much Chinese. It did not remove her heritage, her association with her people, her country. This visual style, representing Chinese tradition, still applied to her. It was still her history.

In conclusion, Boxers & Saints presents a valuable window into a historical event many Americans are not well aware of, and what it means to exert influence rather than simply communicate. I recommend it to anyone interested in dramatic story, Christian ministry, or historical China.

My rating: 5 stars


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