January 1, 2009

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The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation, written by Jonathan Hennessey, art by Aaron McConnell, 2008, Hill and Wang, 149 pages.
By Lisa Parsons letters@hippopress.com

The U.S. Constitution is one of those books where you wish you could place it against your cranium and magically absorb its contents in all their complexity, to be recalled, discussed and analyzed whenever you want. Hopefully the transfer wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

When some presidential candidate waves a copy around at a debate, you wistfully resolve to get your own copy and read it. You never get around to it. You really knew you wouldn’t.

A “graphic adaptation” — now that’s something you might get around to reading.

But does this book do the job? Does it clarify what you didn’t understand or help you remember what you never could remember about the Constitution? Does it really bring the thing to Technicolor life?

Yes and no.

It did give me the context to finally be able to read the Federalist Papers with a clue. No small feat.

Still, it left me with questions. A panel about Article IV notes that whatever state you travel to, you “must be afforded all the ‘privileges and immunities’ states recognize for their own people.” The authors’ next sentence, however, is “But states may discriminate, for example, when it comes to voting rights, practicing law or medicine, or qualifying for reduced tuition at state colleges and universities.” What do they mean, “for example”? What is it about those things? They don’t say.

They move right on to discussing fugitives from justice, complete with a cartoon of a robber caught by a rubber-band boundary between two states.

The artwork is standard comic-book, not really memorable except for the continuing representation of the executive branch as a man in a suit whose head is the White House, as well as a robed man whose head is the Supreme Court building (in one case, he’s wearing a referee’s uniform) as the judiciary, and a suited man/woman whose head is the Capitol building to represent the legislative branch (in the case of an incapacitated president, he gets to dress as Superman but with a U.S. flag logo on his chest).

It’s not just the Constitution that’s presented here, but some (comic-book-level) context as well. The introductory pages set the stage, briefly presenting the revolution, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitutional Convention (but not the tussling over its ratification). The closing panels quote “one long-serving U.S. senator” reminding us all to read the Constitution (I had to Google to learn it was — if Google be believed — Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va.). The authors even bring in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision in their coverage of the 2nd Amendment.

This book is not everything you need to know; it’s not a reference guide. It does explain the pocket veto, for instance, but you can’t go to an index (there isn’t one) and look up “pocket veto.”

It’s enjoyable enough and worth a read, but don’t expect it to do all your learning for you. B+Lisa Parson