By Heather Ayres
Vienna, 1908: the Academy of Fine Arts rejects Adolf Hitler for the second time, citing his “unfitness for painting.” This one fateful moment will alter not only the course of the future dictator’s life, but that of the globe, culminating in a devastating conflict that sent nations into the throes of a second world war.
Berlin, 1945: Adolf Hitler dies. For decades, the circumstances of his death remain shrouded in conspiracy, doubt, and whispers of suicide via a pistol and cyanide capsule. Rumors also swirl of an illegitimate heir to the Third Reich. For writers Anthony Del Col and Geoff Moore, this rumor spurred the creation of the original graphic novel, Son of Hitler. With art by Jeff McComsey, the narrative revels in a mire of what-ifs, what-could-have-beens, and what-truly-is.
“I was grabbing a coffee with our co-creator, Geoff Moore, five years ago, and he told me the legend that Hitler had fathered a child,” Del Col explains. “We immediately began coming up with ideas of what the actual story would be and how it could be done as an adventure story and spy story, combined. As a huge fan of historical fiction, I knew that there was something there. It would allow us the opportunity to tell an original story, yet weave it into actual events of the war. It was almost the perfect project for me.”
Even the creators admit that a comic called Son of Hitler could be a lightning rod for controversy and perceived anti-semitism, but it was also the most direct title to represent the charged history and drama of the premise. “I’ll admit that I had some reservations about the title,” Del Col explains. “Would people think we’re telling a story about a sympathetic Nazi? I thought we might have to pull it, but when I sat down with Image’s publisher, Eric Stephenson, he insisted that we keep it.”
From the first rain-splattered splash page, the creative team sets a tone entrenched in the romance and noir woven into World War II’s lore. Their word choice and period-specific vernacular build off an introductory quote by Winston Churchill, the British prime minister who helped spearhead an allied victory in 1945: In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.
“There’s a great Churchill quote for almost everything,” McComsey says. “This one immediately conveyed so many elements of the story we were working on. I sent it to Anthony and Geoff, who both agreed we should use it for the intro.” This quote became the thesis for Son of Hitler and would inspire choices that would transport the reader back in time to follow the sharp-eyed protagonist, British intelligence officer Miss Brown.
In a word, Brown is precise, whether that precision describes her ability to effortlessly segue from authoritative commanding officer to sympathetic interrogator. She commands respect from her peers and opposition, even when begrudgingly given. Moore and Del Col’s words, accompanied by McComsey’s artwork, bring her character to life in a way that captures the reader’s attention from the first moment she enters the story—convincing three exhausted Nazi soldiers to give intel on the titular figure.
Moore and Del Col weave a fluid dialogue that seesaws back and forth—first from direct English and German, then to translated bubbles—with a finesse that tricks the reader into thinking they’ve picked up another language. “We have a wide range of languages and speakers: natives of Britain, France, the U.S., and Germany. For research, I would read or watch a number of interviews by speakers in those languages to pick up on small turns of phrases,” Del Col elaborates.
Even in seemingly calm moments, Del Col and Moore bend the language to their will, vacillating between specific and vague to create tension. The approach allows the reader to peer down at all of the players on stage, absorbing their dialogue and each measured conversation to divine the characters’ motives. But if the writing is the ship that brings this narrative to shore, then McComsey’s artwork can only be described as the anchor that steadies it once docked.
In the early pages of Son of Hitler, McComsey bathes each panel in cool blue hues that replicate the sensation of peering into memory. “The artwork for Son of Hitler is done almost totally traditional,” McComsey says. “It’s a pencil finish on a toned (in this case gray) paper that I then paint into with a non-waterproof white ink for highlights… I’d been looking for a project to use this approach on for some time and felt Son of Hitler was the perfect book to dive into it.” These organic lead lines and watercolor-like details imbue the characters with a dashing energy that beckons the reader to venture deeper through the pages.
Within this monochromatic palette, McComsey manipulates the emotion of the scene, alternating light and dark shades to separate the bright moments of levity from the harsh realities of war. These nuances gain renewed import when the reader first witnesses mysterious “bakery assistant” Pierre, in one of the comic’s most dynamic action sequences. McComsey eventually shifts the robin’s-egg-blue backgrounds into rich navys and sepia tones that blanket the Parisian city streets as the story careens toward its cliffhanger climax.
This thoughtful color play dovetails with the dialogue-driven narrative, driving lingering questions to reveal incendiary answers: who is Pierre? How does he fit into this world-wide battle between military titans? Son of Hitler ultimately answers the question its title proposes, while leading the reader through a minefield of historical fiction and taut spy intrigue.