Ohio Chronicles

By | Wednesday, September 30, 2020 Leave a Comment
Ohio Chronicles: 1857
Keeping with this week's apparent theme of comics based on Ohio history, let's take a look at Lee Smith's Ohio Chronicles. Smith's comics are smaller in scope than a lot of other history based comics I've seen. In large part, because they're hand-made sixteen-page mini-comics. There just isn't a lot of room to cover much ground in sixteen pages. So with each issue, Smith takes a look at very specific individuals or events, relevant to the state as a whole. President Taft's re-election run, for example. Not Taft's life as a whole, or even his presidency, but just his run for re-election. Another issue looks at the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Fort Donelson in 1862. Another examines when Rufus Putnam came across the earthworks of Native Americans when he brought some men to settle the area that would later become the city of Marietta. Smith's not going for particularly broad or grand subjects, and he's not trying to get into tons of detail. These are smaller events in Ohio history that you're almost certainly not going to learn about in history class.

He goes a step further in that, though, in that with his teacher's background, he also makes teachers' guides available for each book, so that educators don't have to develop their own materials from scratch to make these comics useful in the classroom. He also makes a point of not white-washing history, providing biographies of several Black and Native American people as well as not excluding the additional hardships thrust upon them by white settlers.

Again the books are only sixteen pages each, so they clearly don't have room to go into great detail. As something of a compliment to that, the illustrations are cartoony (i.e. not particularly detailed) which also helps to make the subjects more approachable. The point is to whet a reader's appetite to look up more information about the various subjects. The shortness means that reading them doesn't require much of a time commitment, so you can breeze through them in a few minutes and get a sense of what's being covered; and then you can go dig deeper elsewhere once your interest is piqued.

If I had to lodge a criticism against these, I think the one thing I would like to see improved is the lettering. While the illustrations and coloring are all done by hand and scanned in, the lettering is added digitally. That's fine in and of itself, but Smith takes a little too much advantage of digital editing capabilities when placing text and word balloons. What I mean is that A) he's probably using too many different fonts -- I get that you might want to indicate different styles of speech that way, but 4-6 fonts in sixteen pages is a bit heavy -- and B) he often modifies the size and scale of the lettering to squeeze it into the available space, meaning font sizes change from panel to panel or they might look compressed or extended from one panel to the next. Balloon placement can be a little awkward at times as a result of both of these. It's certainly no unreadable by any means, but it's noticeable enough to be a bit of a distraction. Which is a shame because the books are really quite charming otherwise.

I don't know if Smith is making any money on these, or if he's doing it exclusively out of his love of Ohio and education. I'm continually kind of amazed that more people don't tap into history as a source of comics stories. There's loads of great stories out there, and comics is a medium in which is easy to tell a wide variety of them fairly easily. I'm all for seeing more, whether they're in the form of mini-comics, webcomics, graphic novels...
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