Historical comics are not the most revolutionary implementation of the medium. That’s what an ignorant person would say. Why waste the infinite budget and scope of art and text on painstakingly retelling an event when one of the two will do?
Because, dummy, the malleability of comics is much like an explorer’s compass: a tool that guides the mind and the heart through the wilderness of the world. If it can do anything, why wouldn’t you use it in any and every conceivable way? Do chefs with recipes suddenly decide to omit a crucial spice because “everyone throws it in?” Why am I asking so many questions to make my point that Andrea Tsurumi’s Andrew Jackson Throws a Punch is a bold and wickedly funny take on a fussy historical tradition?
Presidential Inauguration Balls are the kind of thing most people know nothing of, except of their pomp and circumstance. In modern times they’re basically Prez Prom, but in bygone eras they were open social gatherings where the hoi polloi could (literally) rub shoulders with the politicians and the leaders they elected. Tsurumi focuses on the inauguration of one of the most controversial Presidents: Andrew Jackson, most commonly known for his hatred of Native Americans and banks but his love of being pictured on money. Jackson’s ball was a messy affair full of drunks, punch and punching and Jackson himself slipped out a back window, wanting no part of it. Tsurumi has taken a delightful revisionist look at this outline in a US History textbook and turned it into a vivacious work of sequential perfection.
The subtlety in which Tsurumi echoes Jackson’s brusque manner is sublime- she has panels of him acting on his inner desires designed with harsh lines and stark reds, contrasting the pulpy color scheme she used the rest of the book. Her linework is fluid and evocative, and her talent for motion and posing is demonstrated in the book’s key sequence: an (already) perpetually upset Andrew Jackson takes an offhand comment about his purported bigamy to Fuck Shit Up. Jackson picks up a punch bowl and proceeds to fight the shit out of everyone attending his party on his way out, cementing him as the Scott Pilgrim of historical comics. The attention to the reader’s spatial awareness and teasing of expectation is masterful and a shot of Andrew Jackson busting through a window with a punch bowl is laugh-out-loud delightful.
The real lynchpin of the book is Tsurumi’s researched knowledge of the event: only someone so versed in an experience could manipulate it into something so adventurous, and caps the book with a succinct recap of the actual ball and includes the recipe for the titular punch. History is full of men and women in capes and tights, so comics about them are not that absurd, and with Andrew Jackson Throws A Punch: An Inaugural Brawl, a dusty old story breathes life into a creator whose career will come at the medium like a haymaker to the face.