History Comics: The Roanoke Colony | Review
History Comics: The Roanoke Colony: America’s First Mystery
by Chris Schweizer
First Second, $12.99 (paperback), $19.99 (hardcover)
A fact-filled, fascinating read that uses the mystery of what happened to the Roanoke Colony to explore many political and cultural questions stemming from English settlement attempts in North America.
In case you’re not familiar with the story—I’d heard it before, but I grew up in North Carolina, and I still learned more from this book than I ever did there—the Roanoke Colony was the first English settlement in North America. A group of about 100 colonists were left behind when organizers went back to England for supplies. By the time anyone returned, years later, the settlers had disappeared, leaving behind the word “Croatoan” carved into a tree.
The Roanoke Colony is narrated by Manteo and Wanchese, two Native Americans who took different sides during the events covered here. Readers learn about the various tribes living in the area and their ways of life before moving on to reading about Queen Elizabeth, the war with Spain, Sir Walter Raleigh, and privates and privateers.
Schweizer does an amazing job providing lots of details in easily comprehensible form. His simplified style means he can put more panels on the page without sacrificing readability, so there’s a lot of information contained here. That makes the book rewardingly lengthy, something to spend a good amount of time with.
There’s also a lot to think about, from the different purposes of colonization to why someone might make inaccurate reports back to their homeland’s leaders. There are wars and storms and starvation and illnesses and deaths and the occasional bit of humor to lighten things up, all told in very approachable fashion.
Schweizer doesn’t have an answer to the mystery behind all this, but he does an excellent job presenting various theories, even if some of them are bonkers. He also writes an afterword where he explains the different kinds of sources he used, reinforcing encouragement for readers to think for themselves about what they’re reading. This is one of the best history comics I’ve seen, bringing together significant events and the meaning behind them in a book that’s a pleasure to read.
Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages ComicsWorthReading.com, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
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