The graphic novel Hitler by Shigeru Mizuki from Drawn + Quarterly presents the life of the twentieth century’s most infamous dictator in a personal way that few do. While some biographers hold Hitler in a sort of awe as evil incarnate and others treat him as a historical novelty, Mizuki shows Hitler in a very realistic and human light. This is perhaps the most unnerving way to see Hitler: just a troubling man who gained terrible power.
Mizuki, also known for his kids comics like Kitaro the yokai, is meticulous in his research, and this volume translated by Zack Davisson features more than a dozen pages of endnotes explaining the diverse cast of characters in the story of the rise and fall of the Third Reich. The scenes are very specific on dates, even times, and locations throughout Austria and Germany.
Mizuki gives his own touch upon this foundation of history, which matches his unique style of cartoony caricatures in one panel alongside another panel containing near photo-realism of landscapes and buildings. Dialogue from speeches and letters are pulled directly from firsthand accounts, but there are also plenty of times Mizuki writes original dialogue that might be said with a little smirk.
Hitler is told with a fair perspective of Hitler, although Mizuki leaves no doubt to his impression, beginning with a prologue showing the terrors of the Holocaust and life in Europe under the Gestapo. The story then shifts back to Vienna in 1908, where twenty-something Adolf rents a room with a friend and dreams of beginning his life as an artist. Through evocative scenes, Mizuki shows Hitler’s fierce temper, delusions of grandeur, and projection of his problems. He struggles in shyness around women, blaming his anxiety on other men immorally distracting them. When his roommate gains success as a composer, Hitler leaves to live on the streets rather than admit jealousy.
World War I begins, and Hitler gives up his bohemian lifestyle in a sudden shift toward nationalistic zeal in the army. Following awards for bravery, postwar Hitler struggles along with other veterans until finally getting a job with the government investigating potentially subversive political gatherings, namely the group that will become National Socialists. Although he is originally there as a spy, soon his enthusiastic rhetoric brings him to become their leader. Other members are suspicious and work to oust him, but Hitler replies with a suicide attempt that gains their pity and fear, another clear example of Hitler’s psychology as presented by Mizuki.
The biography traces Hitler’s triumphs and ultimate destruction, along with that of Germany, with bold splash pages of shining banners as well as shadowy cityscapes broken by bombs. We see Hitler’s knack for organization and stirring spirit, just as we see his overly protective relationship with his niece, who commits suicide after being confined to their house for her own “protection.” World War II is portrayed through Hitler’s eyes, far from the front, more as a government project to be managed. His final statement, referring only to “setbacks” in his “twelve years’ service to my people,” shows a complex mind determined yet detached from reality.