Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party

'Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party cover

I have just read a hilarious children’s history comic about cannibalism. Well, actually, it’s about how hard it was to settle the West in a wagon train. For those of you old enough to remember, it’s like Oregon Trail: The Graphic Novel. Only instead of dysentery, lots of people die of starvation or exposure.

Donner Dinner Party is third in the series of Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales. As he’s waiting to be hanged, Nathan Hale tells history stories to his captor, a British redcoat, and the Hangman, goofy comic relief who’s always hungry. Thus, this story about hungry people “guaranteed to make you lose your appetite.”

'Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales: Donner Dinner Party cover

It’s 1846, and Virginia has gotten a pony in preparation for her family leaving Springfield, Illinois, for California. Father James Reed, wannabe leader of the group, comes across as a lunatic, but I think you had to be crazy to pack up your family, including several kids, and spend months in a covered wagon. Reed, though, teaches us the important lesson that you can’t necessarily trust everything you’ve read in a how-to book (something we’ve learned here artistically). His belief in a never-seen shortcut to the established trail — and his stubborn determination to follow it in spite of advice to the contrary from those who’d actually seen it — brings ruination to the group of families.

Nathan Hale (the same-named author) has a light touch with disturbing aspects of history. His storytelling is entertaining while still conveying information. He uses a lot of panels per page to pack them full, but they’re still readable. He focuses on key points, bad decisions that led to the eventual fate of almost half the party. He also nicely gives instructions, when he comes to that certain part, that those who are “easily upset” can skip ahead to another page.

As with previous books, this one is grey and a single color. It’s green, which normally would suggest verdant growth, but here takes on a sickly tone. The background information includes a list of reference sources and a text page on what happened to some of the survivors. Out next week is the next in the series, the World War I tale Treaties, Trenches, Mud, and Blood. (The publisher provided a review copy.)


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