Fred Van Lente Day Review: Action Presidents Volume 1

Another Fred Van Lente Day comes to a close (I think this is our, what, 12th Fred Van Lente Day? Maybe 13th? Crazy how time flies) as I celebrate the holiday by looking into the future and letting you all know how cool Action Presidents Volume 1 (which will be released on February 6th, 2018) is, by Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey!

One of the things that has always been impressive about Van Lente and Dunlavey’s work is the way in which they manage to avoid the books being strictly talking heads, which is a danger faced by any historical story. It is remarkable how good Dunlavey is at coming up with creative (and often hilarious) ways of making a scene feel full of life, even if it “just” reciting a simple fact.

For instance, an aspect of George Washington’s life that ended up playing a notable role was his civility, which he learned when he was a child. So, do note, that this a two-page spread explaining the lessons of civility that George Washington lived his life by. Again, a two-page spread about lessons of civility. Let me repeat, a two-page spread about lessons of civility. How boring can you get? And yet, with Dunlavey’s skills at work, it is becomes a hilarious two-pager…

The framing sequence for the book is a clever one that introduces Noah the His-Turkey, who (besides being a hilariously clever character) introduces the basic conceit of the book (and presumably all Action Presidents books), which is that the ACTUAL history is almost always going to be more interesting than the folklore invented about a historical figure. The goal of these books is to let kids know about as close to the “unvarnished” truth about George Washington as possible…

Luckily, since George Washington was a war hero (even before the American Revolution), this book has a lot of built-in action sequences that move things along at a crisp pace. The harder parts, from a narrative perspective, come later in the book when Van Lente and Dunlavey have to explain matters of policy in an interesting fashion. However, these are the same two guys who managed to make descriptions of old school philosophical positions interesting, so this is practically old hat for these guys by now and they pull it off beautifully.

A nice thing about the book, too, is that Van Lente and Dunlavey don’t shy away from the negative aspects of George Washington’s life, like the fact that he, you know, owned people. I think that they end up doing a fine job putting Washington’s slave-holding into the proper perspective, letting the reader know that it was a really bad thing.

The book comments on its own use of fart jokes, but they really do help to make the book appealing to a younger audience. Really, any time that Van Lente and Dunlavey can lighten the mood, they take it, which is a smart approach.

This is sharply written history of America’s first President, with hilarious artwork always keeping things lively – it’s highly recommended.

That’s it for this year’s Fred Van Lente Day, everyone! See you next year!