06 Dec / Discipline by Dash Shaw [in Booklist]
Graphic titles about Quakers aren’t exactly a hot topic – or are they? This season brings two Quaker-related comics in quick succession: David Lester’s Prophet Against Slavery: Benjamin Lay and this, Dash Shaw’s Discipline, a haunting fictionalization of a teenage Quaker Civil War soldier. Quakers abhorred slavery (after Benjamin Lay’s decades of protestations) and, as pacifists, also war. Thus, the Civil War presented extraordinary challenges to long-held beliefs.
As a boy, Charles Cox cries at any violence, including cruelty to animals. As he matures, silent Sunday meetings get harder, and public ridicule for the Quaker use of archaic “thees” and “thous” more galling. His growing frustration inspires him to leave a pre-dawn letter for his sister and enlist in the Union Army. His initial understanding that soldiers’ reports of war are “half-exaggerations” proves utterly mistaken as his hasty decision is repeatedly tested. Savagery drives both sides. At home, his desertion of his community has grave consequences for his family that he never could have realized.
Comics creator/animator Shaw, who was raised a Quaker in Richmond, Va., created his text from “actual letters and diaries of Civil War-era Quakers and soldiers,” his foreword says. Six years in the making, Shaw’s pages of stark black-and-white line drawings often comprise sequential scenes – a family meal that turns into an ugly argument, upturned table, angry departure; his hand-lettered text in cursive script enhances the sense of urgency. In eschewing panels and speech balloons, Shaw’s non-bordered presentation seems to confront the limitations circumscribed by faith, family, and even humanity. His clever choice of card-faces for chapter markers also underscores an everlasting uncertainty.
Discover: Comics creator Dash Shaw examines a teen Quaker’s enlistment in the Union Army during the Civil War – and the complicated repercussions and consequences of his decision.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult