I Killed Adolf Hitler – winner of 2008 Eisner and Harvey award – is a graphic novel written by Norwegian cartoonist Jason (nom de plume) and published by Fantagraphics. On first glance, it seems like Jason is trying to tell a story revolving around THE cliched sci-fi theme – Time travel with anthropomorphic animals in this 48 page full-color graphic novel. But, he actually unravels a tempestuous love story in front of us and explores the themes of self identity, morality and second chances.
The story takes place in a strange, violent and morbid world where “murderer-for-hire” is a legal and commonplace profession. Our protagonist is a professional hit-man who will dispose anyone you ask for – cheating husband, mean boss, annoying neighbor or even your mother – without any reason and compunction. Things take a turn when our assassin is approached by a client who pays him to go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler. In posing a murderer as a hero, Jason tries to make us think about our perspective on morality. Should we support the protagonist or not? Does the definition of GOOD stand on one’s own actions or it changes based on comparison with others?
The plot gets interesting when the mission fails resulting in a situation where our assassin gets stuck back in time while Hitler travels to the present using the time machine. From there, the story progresses with twists and turns keeping the reader engaged and leaving us wanting more in the end. Anyone who has been a fan of sci-fi stories would have dabbled at some point with the idea of traveling back and killing Hitler. So, it may seem like another run-of-the-mill sci-fi story but I assure you, it’s NOT. In here, Jason just uses Hitler for the role of MacGuffin and tries to focus on exploring the human nature poignantly. This is evident when you can see that the sudden disappearance of Hitler in the past doesn’t change the morbid present very much. And also, this is the reason why Jason constructed this story in a way where our assassin goes back to kill Hitler when he was a dictator and not when he was just a child or a soldier.
I Killed Adolf Hitler is laid out in 8-panel grid and a limited color pallet is used throughout with no hatching or illustrated shading. The artwork seems inspired by Herge’s Ligne Claire style. It contains very flat line-work with strong lines and also flat colors are used instead of gradients. All this coupled with Jason’s spare drawing in neatly arranged panels gives a haiku feeling to the readers.
I have never read Jason’s writing before but I am really glad I came across this. This graphic novel is once again a testament to the potential of the comic medium and a proof of how it can do things that other mediums possibly can’t. I hope this beautiful work provokes an introspection in you like it did in me. It will make you asses about your definition of love, life and forgiveness. So, just go read it. NOW. It won’t take more than 45 minutes (and that includes philosophical pondering). It’s worth your time, trust me.
To put it in a nutshell, I Killed Adolf Hitler is just beautifully SIMPLE. Well, profound things always are.