Chronological overview

1945: After the liberation

During the Second World War and the Nazi occupation, few comics were published (the term “graphic novel” was not yet in existence). This was due to the scarcity of paper and the import restrictions in Nazi-occupied territories. However, during and shortly after World War II, a number of comics were made that depicted life under the occupation. A Dutch example is a publication with caricatues (1945: Ons Land Uit Lijden Ontzet) by Ton van Tast (Anton van der Valk) in 1945. These drawings are representations of the exclusion and persecution of Jews. After Dutch liberation in 1945 these kind of books were widely spread as a parody of life in the Netherlands under Nazi occupation.

1978: France and Belgium

The comic book “La Seconde Guerre Mondiale” by Buzelli et al., part of the series “Historie de France” and Farr and Philip’s “Illustrated 1940 – 1945 World War II” show how comics are and have been used as part of a collective historical narrative. Taken especially seriously in Belgium and France, during the 70s comic art was not merely read for pleasure, but also utilized as part of a basic historical education.

The 1980s: The publication of Art Spiegelman's Maus

The publication of Art Spiegelman’s “Maus” in the early 1980s, led to an emergence of the term graphic novel and burgeoning recognition that comic art styles could successfully handle serious and “adult” topics like the Holocaust. “Maus” was the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, combining an innovative use of graphic style and the gripping story of Spiegelman’s family during the Holocaust. This personal and effective approach opened up new possibilities and a much broader acceptance of the genre.

After 2000: Other genocides

In the last decades, authors of comics and graphic novels have expanded their choice of topics beyond the Holocaust, dealing with the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, and the Armenian genocide and Srebrenica. The genre of genocide within graphic novels has since the millennium become much more broadly accepted. Authors have explored different themes and, through their stories, illuminated different perspectives. Comics and graphic novels about genocide are used worldwide as an alternative way to learn about history, or for educational purposes in the classroom. Comics are also used for reconciliation and transactional justice processes and to contribute to a common historic and societal narrative.


T. van Tast (1945). 1945: Ons Land Uit Lijden Ontzet. 1945: Ons Land Uit Lijden Ontzet © Kompas Den Haag, 1945.
G. Buzzelli, F. Tacconi, R. Bielot & P. Dufourcq (1978). Histoire de France en bandes dessinées – la seconde guerre mondiale, p. 1102. Histoire de France: la seconde guerre mondial © Larousse, 1978.
A. Spiegelman (1986). The Complete Maus, p. 169. Maus: A Survivor’s Tale © Penguin Books Limited, 2003.
R. Bazambanza (2005). Smile Through The Tears: The Story of the Rwandan Genocide. Smile Through the Tears © Les Editions Images, 2005.