Eleanor Janega has penned a new book about medieval history in the medium of a graphic novel. Here she talks about creating that book.
I am absolutely delighted to have the chance to tell you about my new book The Middle Ages: A Graphic History which is out now on Icon press. The initial idea for the book came after a friend of mine, Meg John Barker wrote their own Queer: A Graphic History for Icon and I was really struck by what a great medium it was for teaching history. I have always loved graphic novels, and since I am sadly unable to write fiction this was a great opportunity to get myself on to a comic shelf.
Other than wish fulfillment, The Middle Ages exists to let people who may not have had the opportunity to get a solid grounding in medieval history because it isn’t widely taught. The book itself is set up to mimic my first-year Middle Ages survey courses. It covers the thousand plus years of the medieval period, beginning with an introduction to what the era is – a time between the ancient period and our own modern world – and showing what the major social, political, and theological movements that define it are.
It covers, among other themes: the theoretical “fall” of the Roman Empire, the rise of the church, the reemergence of cities, agricultural developments, monastic movements, the Crusades, as well as artistic and architectural movements. However, the book doesn’t just focus on great men and big things, it also includes groups that are often sadly left out of the historical record including Jewish people, queer people, sex workers, and women. The idea was to make it clear that the medieval period wasn’t just a series of rich men talking to and warring with each other, but a complex time with a society every bit as multi-layered as our own.
Of course, what makes The Middle Ages really special is the fact that it is very much a graphic history. My amazing illustrator, Neil Max Emanuele, did an incredible job bringing the history to life with his pictures. We worked together to use real medieval art as guides so that the illustrations would make sense in context, while Neil also worked to stretch the boundaries of how that might work for a modern audience. The result is hundreds of gorgeous pieces of art that I think really help emphasise the fact that studying the medieval period might be complex, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun.
When we were working on The Middle Ages we were envisioning an audience of adults, and that is still true, but I am hearing from more and more parents of savvy twelve-year-olds who really enjoyed it “even though it was obviously written for grown-ups.” We are really proud to have made something that works for all ages, and that allows interested audiences to come to grips with the medieval period in a fast and fun way.
I hope you pick up a copy and really enjoy it.
Eleanor Janega is a historian specialising in late medieval sexuality, apocalyptic thought, propaganda, and the urban experience in general, and in central Europe more particularly. She is the host of Going Medieval on HistoryHit and has her own website, also called Going Medieval. You can follow Eleanor on Twitter @GoingMedieval