This World War II Art Book Is Really Disturbing
‘Hangboy: World War Too’ is sinister… and cute
I went to the annual San Diego Comic Con comics convention this year looking for unique stories about war. Boy howdy did I find one.
Hangboy: World War Too is the creation of artist Pao Jitmakusol. The lavish, self-published art book recreates the major events of World War II, replacing all the people with Pao’s weird little Hangboy character—a kind of cute, manic imp—who’s almost always smiling.
Even when he’s being shot full of holes, ground under by tanks, sliced by swords, mauled by bears—more on those later—or, in one particularly disturbing scene, wearing a Star of David and trying in vain to hide from a Nazi soldier’s dog.
Here’s the thing with Pao’s “insane character who fears no pain.” Because he gleefully suffers and dies, he grants us a much wider and safer emotional space in which to marvel at the scale, sophistication and intensity of World War II.
We follow the imps into battle in Poland, across China, in France, Greece, in the air over Great Britain, at sea, in North Africa, the Soviet Union, The Philippines, the Pacific islands and finally in Berlin. We watch them die en masse. It’s not until we’re deep into the detailed artwork that we remember … this shit is horrifying.
Flipping through the book at Pao’s booth on the Comic Con convention floor, I muttered something to the effect of, “This is fucked up.”
Pao, a somewhat impish figure himself, happily nodded.
It’s clear Pao doesn’t mean to glorify war. “It is the greatest irony that the achievements of civilization are often gained with bloodshed,” he writes in World War Too’s preface.
The artist’s respect for his material is evident. He gets the details right. The tanks, warplanes, ships and guns all are historically accurate. The uniforms look right—even if a bunch of Hangboys are wearing them.
Pao plays with symbols. The Chinese Hangboys wear little round spectacles. The French Hangboys clutch baguettes as they flee German tanks. When the Soviet Hangboys counterattack, they ride atop angry bears wielding—what else—hammers.
The Americans enter the war and a G.I. Hangboy packs his gear before going into combat. He grabs his toothbrush, his Visa card, a Big Mac and his iPod.
My favorite is when the Japanese Hangboys march toward Australia. The Australian Hangboys release koalas and kangaroos from crates. The koalas claw the invaders’ faces while the ’roos punch right through the imps’ chests.
World War Too is all giddy mayhem until one of the final pages. A farmer Hangboy harvests turnips as, far behind him, an atomic fireball spreads over Japan. “Peace at last,” Pao quips.