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The Philodoxer
Thoughts on writing and publishing, and the various sources of entertainment...
A weekly column by Abel G. Peña, best known for his Star Wars work.

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THE PHILODOXER for 07/09/2006
"This is Atomic Death": The Bomb and the General

On the lowest level of one of my many bookshelves is a row of the best books I've read in my short lifetime, among them Alan Moore's From Hell, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and Herbert Mason's translation of Gilgamesh. Of this very personal collection, one item is a so-called children's book. It is The Bomb and the General.

The Bomb and the General

Spotted at a Big Lots store in Las Vegas, this picture book's odd cover and its 99-cent price tag coerced me into making one of the best purchases of my life. Written by Umberto Eco of The Name of the Rose fame and illustrated by Eugenio Carmi, The Bomb and the General was originally published in Italy and later translated to English by William Weaver.

Most folks who appreciate comics know the particularly unique pleasures of combining words with art. Eco and Carmi's collaboration is an exemplar of the form. The art in The Bomb and the General is simple to say the least, but not uncomplicated. A collage of watercolors, line drawings, and fabrics, the largely symbolic result is shockingly evocative. The text too is often just as minimalist, which is arguably nothing to be surprised about--it is a children's book, after all. But the subject is the most serious of matters.

The story begins innocuously enough.

Once upon a time there was an atom.

On the opposing page is a reductive depiction of the quantum hero in question.

And, the next page reveals, once upon a time there was a bad general...

So the stage is a set for a six-year-old's introductory education in the ultimate lucid human threat:

Nuclear warfare.

With devastatingly straightforward sentences like, "And he declared war" and "This is atomic death" filling its pages, complemented by a kaleidoscope of representative art, not since The Little Prince has a children's story managed to be so disturbingly thought provoking.

The ending is maybe a little sappy, but this may be a reflection of Eco's personal philosophy more so than a storytelling dive taken on account of his pre-adolescent audience. In any case, the story's villain is properly reduced to a humbling state of inconsequence. For anyone who likes the simplicity of children's stories, abstract and expressionistic art, or dramatic narrative, I can't recommend The Bomb and the General highly enough.

-- Abel

<< 07/02/2006 | 07/09/2006 | 07/16/2006 >>

Discuss this column with me in World Famous Comics' General Forum and at Pop Culture Bored.
Also, visit my website at www.abelgpena.com.


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