In Japan, manga covers all sorts of subjects. It isn’t all boys fighting to protect the planet or girls looking for love. There are manga for just about every subject. Penguin Books has tapped into one of those other subjects: Biography. They debut their manga line with the lives of two very influential people of the 20th century with mixed results.

The 14th Dalai Lama

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By Tetsu Saiwai ♦ Penguin Books ♦ Teen ♦ Biography ♦ $15.00
Rating: ★★★½☆

The 14th Dalai Lama is one of the most well-known men and spiritual leaders of the last 30 years. Born in a small village in northeastern Tibet, he was recognized as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama. He goes the capital with his family to study and learn the ways of Buddhism. By age 15, he is made the political leader of Tibet as the Chinese invade. By age 24, he is forced to flee Tibet to live in exile in Northern India. During all that time and even today, he continues to fight for Tibetian freedom from harsh Chinese rule by speaking out, telling the truth about the Chinese occupation and always staying on the path of non-violence.

Overall, I enjoyed this volume. It’s told in the first person, and feels very personable. I of course knew who the Dalai Lama was and that the Chinese had committed atrocities in Tibet, but seeing these things happen through his eyes made them more than just historical facts. The story covers his life from about 2 to 25, so we see him growing up. These are where some of the lighter moments of the story come from. Before he really understood the burden he was taking on, he was just an average kid. He fought with his older brother, missed his mother at night, and played jokes on his tutors. All too soon though, he is forced to become the political leader of Tibet, dealing with the Chinese and their broken promises, and most of all, trying to do what’s best for the Tibetian people. Saiwai did a good job portraying the Dalai Lama in all his stages of life. The art is simplistic and a touch cartoon-y, but it doesn’t detract from the more serious scenes, or make the tragic deaths any less heartbreaking. The story flows well, moving though time easily to touch on the important moments of the Dalai Lama’s life without breaking the narrative. This title is a good primer on the Dalai Lama and the recent conflict between Tibet and China. A bibliography is included for those interested in further researching the man.

Che Guevara

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By Chie Shimano and Kiyoshi Konno ♦ Penguin Books ♦ Teen ♦ Biography ♦ $15.00
Rating: ★★½☆☆

The face of Che Guevara is well known even if the man himself is not. Born and raised in Argentina, his original goal was to become a doctor. But, a trip around South America at age 23 sets him on a completely different path that would change not just his life, but the lives of millions of others. Whether this change was for the good can be and probably is still debated. But if anything can be said about the man, it’s that he was true to his ideals to the very end.

Like the person asked at the beginning of this volume, I knew the image of Che Guevara, but I had no idea who he was or what he had done. So, I was interested in finding out who he was. This title divides Che’s life into 5 chapters, from wandering young man to revolutionary. I didn’t really have a problem with this method of story telling. The transitions between chapters are fairly even and worked for me. The details about his life presented were interesting, so in that respect this volume worked. It laided out his accomplishments, with each chapter building on the previous. What didn’t work was the narrow view that the title presented. It doesn’t show who he was as much as it seems to be promoting what he did. In some ways the two things intersected, but one would think there was more to him that inciting revolutions in Africa and South America. His personal life is barely mentioned, with his first wife only getting a few panels, and next to nothing about his first child. His second wife and children get a little more, but it seems to be more of him spending an afternoon with them before leaving for some battle, whether with words or weapons. What Che believed in was admirable, and it’s clear that’s what the author wanted to get across, but the title became more of a propoganda piece than a biography. The art has a more realistic look, with occassional lapses into comedic moments. I can see this title being used to pique someone’s interest Che Guevara, but as a biography, it’s falls short.

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