We all went to school, right? And at some point, we found that there were, probably, a few subjects we liked, a few we excelled in, and perhaps a few we disliked; but for all of us, there was that one subject that, perhaps because the teacher didn’t understand you or couldn’t cater his lectures to you or perhaps because you sucked at it, or they sucked as a teacher (run-on sentence; sorry Mrs. Satterfield) you simply hated with all your passion. For me, that subject was history.
To me, history always seemed to be a boring rehash of the daring exploits of someone who was considered a hero for being less than heroic or famous for being in the right- or wrong (Crispus Attucks) place at the right or wrong time. So, my mind wandered until someone said something that seemed to apply to me, usually in February and most likely about George Washington Carver or Martin Luther King, Jr. Unfortunately, February would end, and suddenly we were discussing Magellan again. I mean, not that his discovery wasn’t important, but I tend to think a guy who sails in a circle around the planet in search of an island a thousand miles away is a bit on the not so smart side, or at least terribly unlucky. Heck, I turn the car around if I feel lost for longer than five minutes! So, why should I care?
Honestly, this is why: the graphic novelization of one of the great figures in Korean military history, Yi Soon Shin (Yi Sun-Sin if you want to know about him from a completely historical perspective). I admit, once I read the first few sentences introducing the story and realized it was a comicbook about history, I grew very skeptical; but then I read it, and personally, I loved it. I tend not to mention teachers I didn’t like or get in school, so I won’t mention my history teachers by name, but I believe that had they presented history to me like this, I might have become a history teacher myself- OK, I’m lying, but this is truly and excellent read, in my humble opinion.
Written by Onrie Kompan and David Anthony Kraft and beautifully drawn by Giovanni Timpano, the comics follow the exploits of Admiral Yi Soon Shin as he fights off Japanese invaders who have his forces vastly outnumbered and incredibly over-matched in weapons and outright nastiness. The one thing they don’t have is the genius of the Korean commander. So feared and revered is he by his own troops and those of the Japanese that it was believed that the entire war, no matter how outlandish the odds, would be decided solely by whether he lived or died.
That’s nice, but the problem, I think, I always had with history is you can never know what they were thinking. It’s nice that the Boston Tea Party started a revolution, but how did Mr. Smith, who was not a soldier, feel about the Hell that was about to be rained down on him? When Custer had his last stand at Little Bighorn, did he think about a girl back home he wished he’d kissed or his favorite food? Those are the aspects that could have brought history to life for me. That’s the reason I like history movies more than history. In the movie, these legends become characters.
Admiral Yi is a character that is cool and calm, at least on the outside. He projects extreme confidence and his men feed off it, taking on, nearly, immeasurable odds and snatching victories from certain defeat while all the while, their commander decides life and death and silently and internally accepts the consequences of his choices.
If you are a fan of historical, fact-based fiction, check out these extraordinary comics. If you are not, I still urge you to give them a try. I’m glad I did. I think you will be too.