May 05, 2014

Reading is Fundemental!- The Harlem Hellfighters a Graphic Novel by Max Brooks

I just finished my copy of the THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS by bestselling author Max Brooks and acclaimed illustrator Caanan White. This the riveting story of the highly decorated, barrier-breaking, historic black regiment—the Harlem Hellfighters during World War I.

The 369th Infantry, under fire for 191 days, was one of the most-decorated units of WWI. "The French called them 'Men of Bronze' out of respect, and the Germans called them 'Harlem Hellfighters' out of fear," says Brooks. They won the Croix de Guerre for bravery, and returned to a parade in NYC, denied them before they left. But they came home to some of the worst racial violence in US history, the Red Summer of 1919. 

“The Harlem Hellfighters is perhaps the first graphic novel taking as its theme a major episode in African American History, the heroic performance of black men in combat during World War I. Brilliantly dramatized by Max Brooks—author of such national bestsellers as World War Z and The Zombie Survival Guide—and stunningly illustrated by Caanan White, one of our foremost African-American comic book illustrators, the novel tells the gripping story of the often overlooked black men who served their country in combat against enemy forces during 'the Great War.' The Harlem Hellfighters served in combat longer than any other American unit, losing neither men nor ground, even as they fought entrenched racism within the U.S. military. Brooks and White tell a thrilling saga of noble perseverance, individual valor and sacrifice and collective triumph, showing how combat abroad in war contributed to the larger quest for civil rights at home. Informed by judicious historical research and vividly illustrated storytelling, this book itself is an historical “first,” and is a major contribution to our understanding of Black History.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., The Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University

Some of the Harlem Hellfighters. Front row: Ed Williams, Herbert Taylor, Leon Fraitor and Ralph Hawkins. Back row: H.D. Prinas, Dan Strorms, Joe Williams, Alfred Hanley and T. W. Taylor. (US National Archives)

The Harlem Hellfighters in the trenches, wearing French helmets. (National Archives and Records Administration)

Max Brooks, the 41-year-old son of Mel Brooks and the late Anne Bancroft, has been ruminating on this story for three decades. When his screenplay was repeatedly rejected, he partnered with artist Caanan White on a graphic novel instead. Less than 48 hours after the finished book made the rounds, Sony picked up the movie rights for producer Will Smith. Brooks dreams of a big-name cast like that of 1962’s WWII classic The Longest Day. But he’s also cautious. “Whether this movie gets made or whether it doesn’t, the book lives,” he says.

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