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Book Report: Imagine: Holocaust in comic book form

Several years ago, my more sophisticated colleagues on the National Book Critics Circle Board were raving about a new book.

It was called "Maus" and it was by Art Spiegelman, a book and an author I had never heard of.

Well, if they liked it I might as well have a look and ordered a review copy from the publisher.

It turned out to be a comic book! About the Holocaust!

Undaunted, I read it and was totally taken aback; terribly impressed.

Since then Spielgelman's "Maus" has become a classic in the genre called graphic novels, or just plain comic books. But not comic books of the sort I grew up reading, nothing like "Superman," "Batman," "The Phantom" or "Donald Duck."

Most graphic novels are edgy, have political and social axes to grind. Such a one for children is just out from Graphic Universe, a division of Lerner Publications of Minneapolis.

"Lily Renee, Escape Artist," by Trina Robbins, illustration by Anne Timmons and Mo Oh ($7.95, paper), like "Maus," is a memoir about the Holocaust, in which a little Austrian Jewish girl, Lily Renee Wilheim, survives the Holocaust, is sent to Britain and then on to the United States, where she becomes a comic book author herself.

Wilheim drew the World War II series, "Senorita Rita," before becoming a playwright, artist and designer.

"Lily" is a much happier story than "Maus," but it has a harsh edge too. When the panels of drawings and dialogue balloons are finished there's an appendix of prose, definitions of words like "Anschluss" and "Nazi," as well as events I had never read about before.

We all know about the Japanese internment camps in the U.S., but it turns out Britain was doing something even scarier. It was sending Jewish refugees to their own concentration camps in places like Canada and Australia. One such cargo was torpedoed and thousands of lives of Jewish children were lost.

All in all, it's a much more satisfying "comic book" than the adventures of "Donald Duck."

The more I read about the American Press, about the Hearsts, the Pulitzers, the McCormicks, the more I'm thinking the press today, for all its troubles it is better off than it was 100 years ago.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 715-426-9554.