Tuesday, May 29, 2007

New Texas History Movies published

One day in the fall of 1959, as a fifth grader at Austin’s T.A. Brown Elementary School, I watched as my teacher passed out a red and blue softcover booklet called “Texas History Movies.”

The booklet, through pen and ink cartoons with dialog and captions, told the history of the Lone Star State in comic book form. I’m sure most of my fellow classmates felt like I did, hardly able to believe that our teacher would be giving us a comic book. I had piles of Donald Duck and Classics comics at home, but we weren’t allowed to have them at school. They were comic books, after all. Now our teacher was handing out comic books.

I pored over “Texas History Movies,” which began as a cartoon series in the Dallas Morning News in the late 1920s, with every bit as much relish as I would have shown for the annual 25 cent Donald Duck summer vacation special issue. And like hundreds of thousands of Texas school children, I learned a lot about Texas history in a very palatable way. It was like eating chocolate brownies laced with tasteless medicine.

Nearly a half century later, I now know that I was among the last group of Texas school kids to get that book. The same year I received it, its longtime distributor, Mobile Oil, decided to discontinue it. For years, the oil company which had a flying red horse as its logo gave the book away free to Texas school districts.

In explaining its decision to drop the book, the giant company cited economics, and the fact that the booklet no longer fit its world-wide business plan. The real reason, of course, was the criticism Mobil already had begun to receive about the book’s politically incorrect language and themes. The term “politically correct” had not even been coined yet, but with a text unchanged since the 1930s, the book was Anglo-centric to say the least.

That lack of diversity – harshly demonstrated in places – was a product of its times. I doubt seriously if it inflamed any more racism on the part of its young readers than may already have existed, courtesy of their parents and grandparents. The main effect it had was to get school kids caught up in what has always been a pretty compelling story. In fact, I feel safe in betting that “Texas History Movies” fostered more historians than it did racists.

Now, thanks to the late Jack Jackson (who also read the book as a youngster) and the Texas State Historical Association, a modern cartoon history of Texas done in the spirit of “Texas History Movies” is available for a new generation of Texas children. As its title implies, “The New Texas History Movies” is a new book from the ground up, with drawings and text by Jackson. While it is now deemed politically correct (TSHA produced a sanitized version of the original back in the 1970s) and thus not likely to corrupt the innocent young minds of grade schoolers and middle school pupils, the new book is still interesting and in places, funny.

The 48-page softcover is available for $9.95. (To read more about the book or to order copies, go to the TSHA Web site at www.tsha.utexas.edu)

In addition to his drawings, Jackson wrote a five-page essay, “A Bit of History about Texas History Movies,” to close out the book. As he pointed out, the original comic book had a strong influence on his career.

Sadly, this was Jackson’s last work. He died by his own hand a year ago, his body found in the family cemetery near Stockdale in South Texas.

Hopefully this book will influence new generations of Texas kids. Who knows? Maybe it will inspire another child to become as solid an artist and historian as Jackson.


texaswatch said...

I have always liked Texan movies.Especially those with Chuck Norris. He's a great actor.

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Amyzing said...

Does the New Texas History Movies have the text of the original? Even if it is rewritten to be politically correct? We use these books in school and finding the original is a pricey affair. We would gladly upgrade to the updated version if the history text is still included. We have found other versions that have only the comics and that is not what we were looking for. Any help would be appreciated!