Teen writer and comics illustrator team up to create new WW2 comic “Johnny Recruit”
Set in wartime Canada, England and Germany in 1941-2, Johnny Recruit is a story about hope, heroics and youthful ambition. When 14-year-old Big Johnny learns his uncle’s been captured by Nazis, he’s sure the only person who can rescue his mentor is – himself. Stellar bush pilot and expert game hunter, Johnny lies about his age and joins WW2 to find his best friend. But when a rival British pilot threatens to expose his secret, Johnny faces tough decisions no young kid should have to make…
A huge fan of Band of Brothers, it’s my belief that the generation that fought in World War II still deserves recognition. Too often, “boomers” are shot down and discounted as nothing more than stuffy, overbearing, and forever complaining about the latest generation (can’t remember if we’ve moved beyond Millennials yet, or if they’re still “it”). Our parents and grandparents should always be given the courtesy of acknowledging that they A) are at least partially responsible for the generations to come, and B) taught us how to safely eat with a fork.
Fun fact: Every generation complains about the latest generation, and I’m gonna be laughing my Gen-X head off the first time I hear a Millennial griping about “kids these days…”
You know who I respect the heck out of? Anyone who has the ambition, the drive, and the creative energy to come up with an idea honoring those who went before, to personalize the stories touched on in history books, and to actually make that idea happen.
Lemme introduce you all to Theo Houle Behe. This 14 year old Canadian footballer took a school project, turned it into a fully formed comic book with the help of artist Thomas Muzzell & the folks at Markosia, then sent it out into the world. What makes these feats more impressive, Behe went farther and came up with a very non-traditional kind of comic. Looking to the propaganda posters from WWII, he was inspired to tell the story of young Johnny without any dialogue. Relying on imagery, a reader will follow Johnny along as he discovers the fate of a lost uncle, fools his local recruiter into believing that he’s 18 (not all that uncommon a thing at the time), and taking risks that no 14 year old should have to take.
Assisting with the story telling in a big way, even more than comic artists who are given a script with dialogue to work with, Thomas Muzzell has to be respected for taking on this kind of project. Tackling the artwork, all double page layouts crammed with setting and character details, he’s an old-school kind of guy who does all of his work by hand. Muzzell does a good job, filling in the blanks left by the lack of dialogue, making sure every page has enough information to keep a detail oriented reader busy. While some pages might have benefitted from a more solidified starting point, a reference that pulls the eye to it before moving along to the next point, it all comes down to the time a reader will spend on each page.
On many levels, the story told through pictures works well if you put in the effort to really look at what’s on the page, rather than just flipping through the book like it’s a race to the finish. There are enough details, stories beyond Johnny’s own, to get one through the tale if you spend a bit of time getting familiar with the book’s premise. Some people might find it inconvenient, needing to find out what Johnny Recruit is about to figure out what it’s about, but there are a lot of things worth doing that take a little bit of prep time. Granted, a brief caption on each page could have helped to start a reader off with an idea of the story’s direction, might have avoided some confusion, and would still be in keeping with the theme of the posters the story is emulating. But that wasn’t the direction Behe chose, and at the end of the day this was his story to tell, however he chose to tell it.
The bottom line is that Johnny Recruit is an obvious labor of love, with as much story behind it as there is in its pages. Anyone who’s actually taken the effort of bringing a comic into the world deserves to be acknowledged for that sheer act of will and creativity. The fact that this one was conceived while Theo Behe was still in primary school (ages 4 to 11 for those in the U.S.) only serves to heighten my regard for the book. World War II history buffs, fans of Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers, anyone who just appreciates out of the box ideas brought to life with painstakingly detailed artwork should consider giving Johnny Recruit a look. The story concept may sound pretty standard, but the “show, don’t tell” approach taken to its extreme by Behe & Muzzell is anything but.
Final Score: 10/12