Set at the beginnings of WWII, our heroes are married couple Bernhard and Illo, German Jews that have been forced out of the German film industry by the Nazis. Illo is a screenwriter, and Bernhard had just stepped into the role of director, and now they can’t even set foot on the studio lot without fear of being punished.
Bernhard and his wife, along with her father Kessler (a Jew who fought for Germany in WWI against France), decide to pull some strings to get out of Germany and go to Shanghai. Even to get out of Germany is frustratingly difficult, and, immediately, circumstances begin to pull on the figurative thread in the sweater, and those circumstances (the Nazis) don’t stop pulling.
I have to stop typing the synopsis for a moment, because I’m starting to cry. Shanghai Dream snuck up on me. I was not expecting to be this gripped and overwhelmed by this story. Upon finishing the final page, chills ran through my body, top to bottom. The human spirit is an amazing thing, and yet there are people who would try to crush it.
This story follows Bernhard and Illo as they try to escape from Nazi Germany, and the one thing that keeps them going - making the film Illo wrote - never seems to work out. And every time something terrible happens (because the worst things imaginable do) and every time the stakes are raised, our heroes push that much harder to make this film - to survive and to inspire.
Despite the sorrow, the intensity, and the tragedy in this story, there is so much hope, love, tenderness, spirit, and commitment and dedication to ideals and beliefs that show what we’re capable of towards others and ourselves, even in the worst circumstances.
The graphic novel by Philippe Thirault is based on a screenplay by Edward Ryan and Yang Xie. They effectively take one of the most infamous, large-scale human atrocities, and they narrow down the scope, much like The Pianist did, so that it resonates in an entirely new way while also resonating with many current political scenarios - showing things, at least to me, that I hadn’t seen before. A large part of this story unfolds in Shanghai, where the Nazi’s grip over Japan (and how it viewed the world) began to take hold.
The art by Jorge Miguel is incredibly detailed and precise, and with Delf’s work as colorist, the world pops to life in an incredibly cinematic way. They weren’t just drawing a comic book, they were drawing a film. It’s beautiful to look at which makes the tragic elements that much more emotionally jarring.
Another big kudos to Humanoids for supporting this kind of storytelling with their Life Drawn imprint.
Creative Team: Philippe Thirault (writer), Edward Ryan and Yang Xie (screenwriters), Jorge Miguel (artist), Delf (colorist), Mark Bence (translator)
Publisher: Humanoids Life Drawn
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