Review - Mandela and the General (@superfanpr)

"Do not allow yourselves to be provoked. This is what our enemies want!"

It'd be great if racism and inequality were no longer a thing, but sadly that's not the case. There are deep-rooted emotions that go back generations; some families can break from them and look forward while others always seem to be looking backward. Nelson Mandela was a man looking forward and in Mandela and the General his vision for a peaceful South Africa bore tremendous results. The graphic novel is written by John Carlin and illustrated by Oriol Malet.

Today Nelson Mandela is an international icon: the first leader of the new South Africa, an anti-apartheid hero and a universal symbol of justice. But in 1994, Mandela’s nonviolent struggle for equality very nearly spiraled into an all-out war that would have only ended in “the peace of graveyards.” As the first post-apartheid elections approached with South African blacks poised to take power, the nation’s whites feared reprisal. White nationalist militias claiming 50,000 well-armed former soldiers stood ready to fight to the death to defend their cause. As tensions throughout the country mounted, Mandela began to meet and strategize with the unlikeliest of political allies—General Constand Viljoen, former chief of apartheid South Africa’s military. The two leaders met in secret, in the hopes of keeping their followers and radical fringe elements from acts of violence. Despite the misgivings of their advisers, the two men put aside their differences for the good of the country.

Nelson Mandela's life is certainly densely packed with events and Carlin does a remarkable job of condensing those events down into a graphic novel. There are moments when Mandela and the General feel a little hurried in its pacing and Carlin clearly realizes that, but considering the amount of his life he's crashing through to focus on the more memorable encounters it's worth it. Mandela is depicted as the peaceful and intelligent man that he was with Carlin offering a seemingly mirror personality in General Constand Viljoen. Both men seem to share similar ideals yet are positioned on opposing sides of the matter; what's more alarming is that despite the crux of the events surrounding the downfall of Apartheid taking place so long ago the world hasn't seemed to learn very much from the struggles. Carlin isn't attempting to contemporize the events of Mandela's life; rather, he's simply presenting them to readers who may otherwise be unfamiliar with what the man accomplished.

Malet's ethereal illustrations are the perfect match for following Mandela's attempts to reconcile warring factions of South Africa. There's an intense gravitas to the events as they unfolded in real-time and had Malet chose a more realistic illustrative style it might have added too much emotional weight to depictions that were already emotionally charged. There's a looseness to the line style that gives the action a sense of impermanence, although Malet does well to corral the action by clearly defining the panels. There are quite a few pages where Malet relies on newspaper headlines to sort of flash-forward through some events, not because they're not worthy of attention but because there's so much that happened. The colors are largely black and white with occasional blues and yellows thrown in; there are two pages in particular where color is used to chilling effect where Malet shows a picture of Africa colored both red for bloodshed and the colors of the flag for peace.

Mandela and the General is a tremendously powerful graphic novel that succinctly chronicles Mandela's attempts to achieve peace--sometimes with brutal honesty. Nelson Mandela and General Constand Viljoen were giants who were respected by their various parties and were able to come to peaceful terms without further violence. Carlin's script is densely packed with key events and portrays the relationship between the two main characters as one built on a mutual respect for one another. Malet's illustrations are beautiful and airy, capturing both the despair of the wanton violence and the optimism of the newly brokered peace. Mandela and the General is a great recounting of Mandela's life in politics as he fought fiercely to bring peace to a country ravaged by decades of unease and distrust amongst its inhabitants. It's an extremely poignant tale of a man facing issues that--sadly--show no signs of abating any time soon.

Mandela and the General is available now.