Imagine a collaboration between Arnold Toynbee and R. Crumb and you get a pretty good idea of Gonick's clever and ambitious...


"THE CARTOON HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE II: Vols. 8-13, From the Springtime of China to the Fall of Rome"

Imagine a collaboration between Arnold Toynbee and R. Crumb and you get a pretty good idea of Gonick's clever and ambitious comic book series. This volume should not be taken as some kind of Mel Brooksish joke. Gonick does his research and interprets his sources with scholarly care. Inspired by the educational comic books of Latin American artist RIUS, Gonick makes world history a blast -- literally, with his predilection for onomatopoeic word balloons. In this second collection -- the last left us with Alexander the Great schlepping toward Persia -- Gonick takes us on a side tour through India and China. He integrates myth and history to establish the origins of sectarian conflict in India, and attends to migration patterns from the Middle East to China in order to explain the development of Buddhism and Confucianism. Dynamic intrigue and the threat of northern barbarians compete with periods of prolonged peace. This highly selective version of Chinese history, though full of diverting stories, will be a bit confusing to readers unfamiliar with the main players. Back in Rome, meanwhile, after the death of Alexander, the republic enters its period of glory, followed by the building of the empire. Problems of succession lead to lots of lurid anecdotes about perverse and insatiable emperors, violent entertainments, brutal conquests -- all of which Gonick records with Mad-like irreverence. He equivocates, however, in telling the story of Jesus, ending up with an uneasy mix of canonical fact and outfight heresy. His account of the historical rise of Christianity is superb and demonstrates an interesting parallel with China: In both cases alien cults from the edge of the empires eventually captured the capital cities. Gonick's humor is mostly visual and relies on the juxtaposition of comical images with his relatively sober text. Despite his lefty, multi-culty inclinations, Gonick maintains the high level of sophistication, skepticism, and just plain fun established by the first volume.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994


Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994