Im Eisland: Band 1, Die Franklin-Expedition

Image ID: A panel of a man seated on the ground, taking notes. He has a thick beard and is dressed in an Inuit style coat. His internal monologue reads, in German, "Was gescha damals vor 20 Jahren wirklich, als die Franklin-Expedition in der Arktis zugrunde ging? Ich, Charles Francis Hall, werde das Rätsel lösen!" The Snapchat caption reads, in English, "'I, Charles Francis Hall, will solve the puzzle!' Fuck, that is so very Hall." End ID.

Kristina Gehrmann’s “Im Eisland” trilogy has been on my radar for a long time and I’ve owned it for almost as long. It’s the story of the Franklin Expedition and its disappearance in the Arctic in the mind 1800s. If you’re a long time follower, you probably recognize the name as I’ve had at least three reviews on FE related fiction appear on this blog. Due to the mystery of the expedition, however, each piece of fiction brings something new and “Im Eisland” is no exception.

Volume one starts with Charles Francis Hall interviewing a group of Inuit about discovering the remains of the expedition before flashing back to just prior to the expedition sailing and getting to know our key players. It then ends with the death of the first of the Beechey Boys, the trio of men who died during the first winter when the ships were frozen in at Beechey Island.

Something I really loved was how seamlessly we are introduced to new, frequently similar looking, characters without the narrative grinding to a halt. I also enjoyed how we got an even split between scenes with the officers and scenes with the men, which we are given through John Torrington, Thomas Evans, and John and Tom Hartnell, being point-of-view characters. (Note: The two Johns here make up two of the Beechey three, so it makes a lot of sense to make them early POV characters.)

Image ID: A panel of a man, First Lieutenant Graham Gore, playing the flute. He has dark hair with muttonchops and a freckle on his left cheek. Behind him is a string of music notes. The Snapchat caption reads "Gore on the flute!!!" End ID.

It’s also very clear that a lot of care went into the research. For example, we see Graham Gore playing the flute, which he did historically, but it’s such a small detail and one I’ve never seen in FE fiction before. I also love the art style, and how Gehrmann has adapted the few images we have of the officers to create visually dynamic characters. I am particularly fond of her Le Vesconte, Fitzjames and Crozier. The art also really drives home just how young a lot of these men were, Fitzjames was 31 to Franklin’s 59 and Crozier’s 49.

Image ID: In the wardroom, Sir John Franklin stands flanked by Captain Francis Crozier on his right and Commander James Fitzjames on his left. The age difference is very apparently between them, Sir John is graying and portly at 59, Crozier is younger, but still showing his age at 49 and Fitzjames is a fresh-faced 31. Sir John has his hands out and is saying, "Wunderbar! Heute Abend lasse ich die besten Delikatessen servieren, die England zu bieten hat! Sie werden sich wie zu Hause fühlen, Gentlemen!" The Snapchat caption reads, Fuck, the art really drives home just how young James was. End ID.

Now, I read “Im Eisland” in its original German, both because I need to refresh my rusty skills before grad school and because I do better reading from hard copies. However, there is an English version, “Icebound,” that has been published online as a webcomic. If you are thinking, “My German is rusty/bad/limited, but I’d like a hard copy,” I can tell you that it’s not impossible to read with rusty/limited German provided you have the determination and a dictionary. Ultimately, my biggest problem was unfamiliar vocabulary.

A few words of warning, everyone from the expedition dies. This is historical fact, but reading about graphic death in a novel is different than seeing it drawn. Volume one sees on page animal death, and later volumes will see deterioration from scurvy and a variety of other deaths. There’s also some period typical reactions to gay characters, and I believe volume two has a lashing for sodomy, but nothing I would define as uncomfortable/excessive levels of in canon homophobia.

If you enjoyed “The Terror” show (not the book, never the book), I would definitely recommend “Im Eisland”/“Icebound.” I got my copies straight from the press website, however, you can find it on Amazon if shipping costs are an issue.

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Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel by Andrea Grosso Ciponte

Cover of "Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel." Three people (left to right, Sophie School, Alexander Schmorell and Hans Scholl) sand in front of a Nazi insignia that has a white paint smear through it. Sophia is holding books, Alexander has a paint brush in his lapel and Hans is holding a paint can. In front of them is crouched another man, Christoph Probst, who is holding a pamphlet.
In the bottom left corner of the cover there is a note in red stating that this is an uncorrected proof and not for sale.

I was really excited when I first heard about “Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel,” in part because it’s a part of World War II history that I’ve been interested in, but haven’t had the opportunity to read much about. I’d previously read several short articles about Sophie Scholl—one of the book’s lead protagonists—but they had been sparse with the details about her involvement with a larger group, making her seem like a lone martyr figure. I hadn’t even heard the name “White Rose” until I picked up this graphic novel, which, I think, makes the book all the more important and timely given the importance of history in resisting fascism.

Two panels. One partially obscured, shows a formal portrait of Sophie Scholl and her name in her passport. The next panel shows Sophie sitting crosslegged in a train car, saying "I'm a student at the university." 

The Snapchat caption says "In all the stuff I've read about Sophie Scholl, I'd never actually seen much about the resistance group she was part of."

The book is very engaging and pulls you into the story immediately right in the middle of the action with Sophie and her brother Hans dropping a stack of leaflets down from the top floor a building into the main hall, before jumping back to a flashback that shows you how everything began, how a small group of friends (Sophie and Hans Scholl, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf) eventually became the White Rose. 

The story then moves quickly, following Sophie, into her discovery of her brother’s and their other friends involvements with the White Rose, and how they continue that through their military service, until they are eventually caught. Despite how quickly things move, it doesn’t feel in anyway rushed. The book has a very artistic flow to it, there’s no real background exposition to speak of, drawing your focus to the art, dialogue and the limited quotations the serve as background for various scenes. 

My particular favorite quotation used is the English translation of the song “Die Gedaken sind frei,” (“Thoughts are Free”), that is overlaid on a scene of Sophie working in an ammunitions factory.

Full page spread of Sophie working in a munitions factory, she is holding a shell and there are more laid out in front of her. 

There is no dialogue, but the text overlay is partial English lyrics of the song "Die Gedanken sind frei." They read, "No person can know them/No hunter can shoot them/ With powder and lead/Thoughts are free.*"

The asterisk points to a footnote that reads "'Die Gedanken sind frei' traditional revolutionary song, forbidden during Nazism."

The Snapchat caption reads, "I learned this song at a German summer camp and had no clue about the history behind it."

I will say I was a touch confused by that scene as I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was supposed to take away from it. It’s a lovely scene and gorgeously illustrated, as is the whole book, but it wasn’t clear to me if it was meant to imply that Sophie was doing sabotage work. There is discussion earlier in about encouraging sabotage in their leaflets alongside passive resistance, so I had wondered if this was tying into that, but I can’t say I know for sure since there’s no background exposition to explain the scene. I think some added points of additional exposition would have been nice, but as a narrative the story does hold up just fine without them. 

Something that I’ve always found true when it comes to World War II studies is how angry and upset and heartbroken I feel when presented with personal narratives, be they biographical or autobiographical. That emotional pull is something that “Freiheit!” does incredibly effectively. There is an incredible amount of characterization for such a short book, we see Sophie living her life as a regular student, we see Christoph with his wife and children, we see the Scholl family’s response to their father being arrested, and you know through all of it how it’s going to end. Arrest and execution. 

But the book doesn’t leave you on a sad note, it ends on a hopeful one, with the fact that the British took the final pamphlet produced by the White Rose and used airplanes to drop 5 million copies across German cities. This drives home that what the White Rose did mattered and, especially in todays day and age, that activism matters. Not everyone can make the sort of sacrifices that the White Rose did, but what they preached, passive resistance against a terrible “norm” is something anyone can do.

A panel showing the shadow of an airplane in the sky dropping leaflets. The adjacent text reads "In July 1943 the British dropped five million fliers quoting from the sixth White Rose leaflet on cities across Germany."

The snapchat caption reads: "Words live on."

“Freiheit! The White Rose Graphic Novel” is being published through Plough and will be released in February 2021. 

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