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Story by: Christos Gage & Ruth Fletcher Gage
Art by: Jackie Lewis
4/ 5

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1 total rating



Well-researched indeed; underdog theme; reconstruction of an unknown historical figure and the events concerned; excellent re-interpretations of geographical settings by Jackie Lewis; inclusion of serious and credible historical websites and literatures as readings; creative team’s impartial presentation of opposing views


It is still a graphic novel, not a serious history textbook; artistic and literary flexibility, particularly on the majority of the dialogues for maximum dramatic effects The creative team’s bias against religious intolerance, and for Javanel’s cause Neither annotations nor notes included

To sum it all up..

PEACE, STRUGGLE, FREEDOM! Comic book veteran Christos Gage (Netflix’s Daredevil, Avengers Academy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine) and his wife Ruth Fletcher Gage (Netflix’s Daredevil, Law and Order: SVU) engage of crafting a historical graphic novel that focuses on an unknown historical mover that inspired future proponents to move history forward to what we […]

Posted August 18, 2015 by




Comic book veteran Christos Gage (Netflix’s Daredevil, Avengers Academy, Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Nine) and his wife Ruth Fletcher Gage (Netflix’s Daredevil, Law and Order: SVU) engage of crafting a historical graphic novel that focuses on an unknown historical mover that inspired future proponents to move history forward to what we are now enjoying right now. This unsung hero is Joshua Janavel, the Lion of Rora, which the Gages researched thoroughly and Oni Press wholeheartedly releases in the era where the rights or freedom of religion in many parts of the world in now taken for granted. The Lion of Rora resonates more than ever due to the fact that the comic medium is becoming one of the most effective outlets of learning history without the dreadful stuffs we endured in many history classes, then and now. The new graphic novel brings in elements of a good narrative and descriptive historical storytelling, though there are some artistic and literary licenses to be considered here since, well, this is an interpretation of the couple’s study on the life and contributions of an unknown freedom fighter against the repressive regime of medieval France in the 17th century.

The Lion of Rora clocks about two hundred pages, colored in black-and-white, and listed seven references as an extension of historical service for students of history, lovers of anything medieval Europe, and some doubters to go beyond the graphic novel after reading it. As I mentioned, this is an excellent narrative/chronicle, suitable for traditional or conventional comic readers from the first page up to the finish, no flashback interruptions whatsoever. And, the artist Jackie Lewis makes sure that the illustrations presented here are strong representations of the geographical set-ups and the ambiance of the places and societies involved in the abovementioned time of religious intolerance and extreme prejudice. The faces of the personalities involved can be questioned altogether since they are the artist’s view on what are left from the historical evidences then. Imagination in visual and literary literatures can go a little broad, unlike historians and students of professional history who are trained to limit their historical imagination within the context of the times, borders of authenticated historical texts and evidences, and the teachings of historicism—the intellectual ideological standpoint in viewing the past “as it was actually happened.” However, the Gages and Lewis did an excellent job of attempting to stay “true” to the existing documents and times to illustrate readers that the “Lion of Rora” is an aid and/or guide, not an end or definitive source, of presenting an event worth retelling to today’s generation of the visual literature. In short, the book compliments with the growing historical literature about Joshua Janavel, religious prosecutions, medieval era, rebellions, military tactics and humanity itself.

Reading this historical-themed biography feels like reviewing similar visual literature, such as Frank Miller’s 300, the multi-volume SHOWA, the comic adaptation of historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, and the most influential of all, Art Spiegelmann’s Maus. It is debatable whether or otherwise Gages’ graphic novel can be at par with the abovementioned citations, but I can say that the Lion of Rora achieves its lofty objective of presenting the potential perspectives of the parties involved, particularly the so-called adversaries of the story, to somehow show the readers a sense of impartiality (though neither unbiased nor “objective” which is absolutely not the case here) in explaining the intricacies, motivations, and forces that led, moved towards, and progressed the events retold in the book. Like many carefully researched historical-centered graphic novels, the positioning of the authors’ (or creative team’s) characters are well-placed, but their preferences or sympathies notwithstanding for the topic of the underdogs serves as the true driving force of the story altogether. For examples in 300, the Spartans were the outnumbered; in Maus, Art’s father was a true survivor of incredible circumstances; and in A People’s History of the United States, Zinn, through the artists’ eyes, points out the vital roles of the nameless but powerful collective force of the United States of America. In the Lion of Rora, Joshua was the reluctant leader of very humble beginnings who was forced to fight his people’s aspirations: land, religious freedom, and peace. One may argue of the issue of revenge/vengeance since his mother was killed by the French royal troops under the pretext of religious oppression, but the authors think of some more lofty motivators: his people’s ancestral domain and the idea of “freedom”, in the context of the insensitive minds of Catholic French aristocrats, and abusive French officer(s) and troops in the villages they pillaged, looted, burnt, and massacred.

Speaking of historical biography, the Gages nail in making the main protagonist’s portrayal as sympathetic and accessible as ever. Not many people, even so students of history, know this “Lion of Rora” unless for medieval specialists or those who take interest on his life, milieu concerned, and the images surrounding him (particularly the Gages, of course). I personally know the rise of Protestantism inspired by the thinking of Martin Luther and his soon-to-be followers and allies in present-day Germany; the religious persecutions by the Crown of France, particularly the massacre of Huguenots occurred in the Bloody Saint Valentine’s Day; and the existence of the Commonwealth England under the Puritan-ruled and leadership of Cromwell and its leading literary figure then, John Milton (Paradise Lost, anyone?), all occurred in the 16th to 17th century Europe, the tail-end of the so-called Middle Age, medieval era, and in the tongues of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels—feudal Europe. Seriously, I would not be aware of Janavel and his significant contributions to the bigger picture of Protestantism, military tactics and strategies, and even the historical events he unintentionally and unwillingly inspired until this well-executed historical graphic novel by Gages. Similar in chronicling one’s life and works, the Gages are sorely limited what was left concerning Joshua’s details, moreover the other important personalities who shaped, inspired and followed his lead. This is understandable in the study of history, we are bounded to evidences—written or oral, and the objects directly connected and still existing. Joshua’s mother was definitely a very powerful influence in his formative life, but she is treated with less than ten pages. His wife is another focal point, but she served as a true wife to her husband: consul (this may dismay some hardcore feminists out there, but that was how many medieval European ladies acted then). And his most trusted and strongest right hand man who died in the battle whose lines in the graphic novel “inspired” Joshua to lead and command. And, the speeches he delivered to his troops and/or followers are obviously modified, if taken as authentically true, for the present generations. There are no perfect translations per se, but can we blame the Gages for trying, to say the least? And, did he die peacefully or otherwise? Did he have living descendants nowadays, particularly those who are conducting researches or carrying on his legacies? But nevertheless, Gages did an excellent job of re-creating and re-interpreting whatever documentary and textual sources left on the story’s leading personality.

Ultimately, artist Jackie Lewis does an impressive but difficult task of visually re-visualizing the scenes of 17th century southern France/northern Italy (the latter was literally a broken political state, composing of several independent city-states since the fall of the Roman Empire. The Italy we know presently existed in the 19th century), particularly the villages and the castle of the Count of Savoy. Sure, there are no photographs whatsoever since photography was invented at the end of the 18th century, though the geographical profile of the places mentioned remains virtually the same (the valleys, the topography, and the forests). If one already notices how Joshua and his determined troops repelled the superiority of the French Royal Army, geography and the former’s familiarity with the surroundings were the primary keys for their guerilla-inspired victories, which somehow inspired Napoleon Bonaparte later on (and historically parallelized with the American Revolution and other conflicts that saw applying guerrilla-tactics and strategies in pestering a highly conventional armed forces). The illustrator exaggerates nothing or less, making this graphic novel a good illustrative study aid in the study of one of the most pivotal moments of European history. His artistic portrayals of the characters are restrained on evidentiary materials available, and if some artistic flexibility is to be applied, it should be the most possible or near to historical plausible as ever, not in horrific, superhero, and magical comic fashions. I personally believe the artist applies a sort of historical imagination, not artistic counterpart, in executing the scripts and visual texts the Gages gave to him. Lewis’s greatest product is a clean and easy to follow sequential visual narrative.

The Lion of Rora is first and foremost, a graphic novel. But it is an excellent addition in retelling a tale of human struggle against an oppressive and powerful force. Underlying the life of a reluctant freedom figure is the theme of the great underdog that is very popular and inspiring to many readers (or viewers if this would adapt into the big screen hopefully). Thus, the creative team’s utmost respect and sympathies to Joshua Janavel’s cause is so evident, and it fits so well to the team’s philosophical idea of human rights, particularly the rights of expression and faith that can be rooted to the religious intolerance and persecutions in the said historical era. Thus, the book is a reminder for comic book readers and aficionados that freedom is something worth defending, if not fighting, for. The narrative is deliciously simple, but nonetheless highly effective, in the spirit of the epistemological root of HISTORY: a study of humanity’s past stories; especially deemed significant and relevant ones, like Janavel and the Waldense community. I am sure there are some historical errors here (as if history is either complete or objective…it is the exact opposite, deal with that), but like most well-meaning historians, the creative team led by the Gages presents what needs to be presented, without any bearings of propaganda or worse, historical distortions whatsoever. In my view, the Lion of Rora should be included as an additional list of educational aid in World History classes, particularly European. If you want to foster the sense of freedom and history, Lion of Rora is a great start to do so!


Norby Ela

Now residing in San Diego, CA, I strive to work in art and further grow FlipGeeks around the world.


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