5 Stars for the Multi-Layered Graphic Novel, “First Man: Reimaging Matthew Henson”

If I had an endless supply of money, I would buy a copy of this book for every school library in the United States. The book succeeds on countless levels and leaves the reader with the desire to dig through it numerous times to revisit the nuances of the numerous story telling paths. It works as a personal introspection of an aging man who is haunted by his more agile days. It works as a tale of the courageous and humble path of a hard-working African American who was not respected as he should’ve been. It works as a mystical Inuit fairy tale. It works as an introduction to a rarely told exploration story.

At it’s base “First Man” reimagines what the experience would’ve been like for Matthew Henson as he assisted the arrogant and selfish Robert Peary explore the arctic landscape until they reached they’re ultimate goal of discovering the North Pole. The story drifts into Henson’s reverie of the love his life, and hints at the mystical beliefs of the true first men of the North Pole, the Inuits.

The illustrations have as much vfirst manariety and complexity as the story line. At first view they have a simple cartoonish quality. The villians have pointed chins and the hero is soft and round. All of the coloring is in shades of gray and blue which give the reader the chilling feel of the arctic. The sections that delve into the Inuit fantasy have more lines, patterns and a petroglyph type style. The texturing and detail in the illustrations of the city buildings, museum and ship frames have the same underlying layers and complexity as the story- they are there if you choose to see them.
Because this is a reimagining, the text can’t be used directly for lessons on the event. The author states in his intro,

“I am not a historian but a graphic novelist, which is why I mad no attempt at nonfiction. I played with the story. I gave myself freedom with the narrative, although readers can find a timeline at the back of the book that doesn’t take the same liberties.”

It can however be a powerful tool for kids who don’t relate to text only books and for kids who think on deeper levels and would enjoy the challenge of sifting through the multiple layers of this complex an beautiful story. Although this is an appropriate book for teens my hope is that adults will also discover the beauty, depth and passion of this rich graphic novel delight.
This title was originally published in German in 2012 as Packeis.


My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Publication date: October 1, 2015
ISBN: 978-146-775-8420
Page Count: 164
Publisher: Graphic Universe: Lerner Publishing

*Thank you Net Galley for providing a digital preview copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

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