Graphic Novel Review: Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence

Creator: Joel Christian Gill

Publisher: ONI Press

“Memoirs are not biography–they’re more like a recollection of past events,” Joel Christian Gill tells the reader in the afterword of Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence. In this memoir Gill shares how his life pushed him towards violence and how he took control of that violence to create the life he wanted for himself and his family. 

This book is full of trauma and violence: physical, sexual, & racial violence. It was a hard story to read at times, but if he had to endure living it…I can endure reading about it.

Gill uses fire as a symbol for his anger, his rage. His technique of drawing an ever-growing flame above his head highlights the moments that caused his anger and pushed him towards violence. This symbolism is threaded throughout the book and is even used with other characters. 

The cartooning in this book clearly and heart-wrenchingly depicts the events of Gill’s life. Some adults in the story are depicted more like the adults in Peanuts comics, with the camera never going above their knees or, in some cases, their shoulders. While other adults get their close-up to the camera several times. Gill’s mother is one character whose face we never see. I wonder if her missing faces symbolizes her absence in his life. She was present, but never “present.”

Gill also says, “I hope that when you see children acting out in ways that I acted out, this will help you understand that they might be in situations similar–or even worse–than what I experienced. This insight, I hope, will encourage you to try and learn their story.”

I will carry this story with me as I continue to teach children. Thank you for sharing your story, Mr. Gill. I imagine it will be incredibly powerful to others like me and people who find themselves in similar situations.

Teaching Considerations:

  • Genre: Memoir
  • Units of Study: Memoir, Trauma, Social Issues, Narrative Nonfiction, Identity
  • Grades: High School

Published by Eric Hand

I'm an educator and literacy professional with a long-standing passion for comic books and graphic novels.

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