Comic book offers lesson on Battle of Antietam

May 04, 1997


Staff Writer

SHARPSBURG - A new book details the Battle of Antietam, but this colorful book is a bit different from the many publications about the Civil War battle. The latest entry about Antietam is a historically correct comic book.

"Antietam: The Fiery Trial" is the fifth in a series of Civil War comic books and the first produced in consultation with National Park Service historians.

Atlanta illustrator Wayne Vansant, who signed books along with four other authors at the battlefield's visitors center Sunday, said collaboration with the park's historians resulted in a highly accurate work - right down to the hats worn by Union and Confederate soldiers.


"I think this is the way to go," said, Vansant, a former Marvel Comics illustrator. "You can do all the research you want, but it's really great to be able to run things by these people."

A comparison of two different drafts of the comic book shows subtle details captured by the experts. Several soldiers were changed to depict Southerners without shoes. Also, the color of a horse was changed slightly to more accurately reflect the horse ridden by an officer.

"It's like a super-available editorial staff that knows far more than you do," said Ethan Krash, who published the book.

Krash, founder and president of S.A.F.E. Systems of America Inc., said he struck upon the idea of a Civil War comic book series about a year and a half ago. He said he saw a National Education Association survey that indicated that more than 50 percent of eighth-graders knew nothing about the Civil War.

Krash said he figured a colorful comic book would reach kids in a way textbooks never could. It is similar to the publications his company produces to teach job safety information to workers.

"They're going to (learn) because they want to, not because it's being shoved down their throats," he said.

Park historian Ted Alexander said he reviewed at least five different drafts of the book, beginning first with the text.

"It was a lot of fun," Alexander said. "I've done three books and over 100 articles and book reviews. But this was more fun, in many ways, than all of them because it's going to reach kids."

Ranger Paul Chiles, an expert on Civil War artillery, said children have asked him if the Civil War was before or after World War II.

"Unfortunately for a lot of people, if it's not on television, they don't know about it," he said.

As an added thrill, Chiles, Alexander and other park rangers were depicted in the battle, Vansant said.

"We're all in it," Alexander said. "They put me on a diet - a quick way to lose 100 pounds."

Vansant said he has already received a great deal of feedback from his first four Civil War comic books. His favorite letters, he said, come from children who have read the book.

Vansant, 47, worked for Marvel Comics for about six years. He said he drew comics based on historical events, but never was excited about superheroes.

Vansant said he has always been fascinated with history and plans on following up with additional Civil War comic books. He said he would also like to do a series on the Korean War.

"It's rewarding," he said. "I think we're going in the right direction."

Krash said he has sold thousands of copies of the books to comic book stores, bookstores and recently received an order for 40 copies of each book from a Connecticut school.

Unlike most comic books, which are out of date in a few months, Krash said the Civil War series is timeless.

"I hope my grandchildren come here one day and pick it up," he said.

The book can be found at the Antietam National Battlefield bookstore. For more information, call 301-432-5124.

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