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Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean
posted February 11, 2010


Creators: Sarah Stewart Taylor, Ben Towle
Publishing Information: Hyperion, hardcover, 96 pages, February 2010, $17.99
Ordering Numbers: 9781423113379 (ISBN13)

imageI don't have a great deal to say about this volume, probably the lightest and in terms of ambition and execution the least remarkable of the four books Hyperion has done in partnership with the Center For Cartoon Studies. Like the award-winning earlier volume Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, the focus in Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean is on a person that's not the historical figure in question but someone with whom that figure has an encounter in the general course of doing the remarkable thing that person does. The creators portray this in much more straightforward fashion that the Paige co-authors; it reminds me of many young person as witness narratives the crowded the shelf of my school's library and a fair portion of its curricula. Sarah Stewart Taylor's writing is lean yet professionally distinctive; Ben Towle's art doesn't quite match the general handsomeness of the best pages in the other three volumes, but it's in the same general weight class for sure. The aviatrix herself is designed in that clever way to suggest someone slightly at odds with the rest of the world, something the historical Earhart must have seemed at times.

What distinguishes the book is the way that Taylor and Towle weave the immediacy and inexactness of historical inquiry through their more standard storyline. We're close enough to one of Earhart's journeys to find out that there are other agents involved trying to do much the same thing, to get a sense of how what she's doing is going to play out and a whiff of her own sense of self during the process. That we see through this a young person's eyes -- someone who wants to be a newspaperwoman -- and how history gets written comes into play. Sometimes it's who succeeds and who doesn't, but other times it's fashion, or a sense of the drama one individual's personality has more than another, or the freshness of their personal style, or what example provides the greater lesson later on, or even our ability to become part of the process, to choose the person for that period of history as much as events choose them. Taylor and Towle end their story in melancholy fashion that suggests it can be the way certain heroes fail to mark out a clear path that confirms their place, the way they return to earth, that may be most important. Some kid out there is going to put all of that together, and that's kind of exciting.