The United States Constitution A Graphic Adaptation

Jonathan Hennessey; Art by Aaron McConnell

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

160 Pages



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An American Library Association Great Graphic Novel for Teens Winner
A Village Voice Best Book of the Year
A Texas Library Association Young Adult Round Table Recommended Graphic Novel

United States leaders swear to uphold it, the U.S. military to defend it. It is the blueprint for the shape and function of government itself and what defines Americans as Americans. But how many Americans truly know their Constitution?

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation uses the art of illustrated storytelling to breathe life into the nation's cornerstone principles. It is an engaging and groundbreaking way to read the governing document of the United States. Spirited and visually witty, it roves article by article, amendment by amendment, to get at the meaning, background, and enduring relevance of the law of the land.

What revolutionary ideas made the Constitution's authors dare to cast off centuries of rule by kings and queens? Why do we have an electoral college rather than a popular vote for president and vice president? How did a document that once sanctioned slavery, denied voting rights to women, and turned a blind eye to state governments running roughshod over the liberties of minorities transform into a bulwark of protection for all?

The United States Constitution answers all of these questions. This memorable introduction is sure to surprise, challenge, and provoke a new or reinforced understanding of the U.S. Consitution.


Praise for The United States Constitution

"Author Jonathan Hennessey and artist Aaron McConnell have successfully combined their talents to create an exceptional and reader-friendly graphic novel. The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation would be an outstanding addition to any government or history classroom, as well as to any classroom or library that uses graphic novels."—Cheryl Williamson, teacher at Monroe Central Junior-Senior High School, Parker City, Indiana

"The coolest thing since Schoolhouse Rock."—Rachel Maddow, The Rachel Maddow Show

"If the Constitution is a living document, the last eight years have left it badly battered. But this intelligently written, lushly illustrated tome offers an antidote to the grievous misreadings that have spawned the likes of Guantánamo. Hennessey interweaves the Framers' intent with contemporary battles over constitutional law, while McConnell colors history with masterful strokes. A civics lesson no one should miss."—Alexander Nazaryan, The Village Voice (Best Book of 2008)

"In a format more familiar to Superman, Jonathan Hennessey has told an even greater adventure story about American history starring everyday superheroes named 'We the People.' Instead of leaping tall buildings in a single bound, the Framingham native has written the illustrated United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation which chronicles the creation of the document that's guided the nation for 221 years. Illustrated by Aaron McConnell with vivid, detailed drawings, the 160-page book explains the history and principles establishing the government's three branches and the adoption of the Bill of Rights and 17 later amendments through colorful images and informative speech . . . If Ben Franklin were alive today, the cagey old printer would probably be publishing it instead of Hill and Wang."—Chris Bergeron, The MetroWest Daily News

"Not too long ago, the term 'graphic nonfiction' might have referred to how-to manuals, editorial cartoons or field guides to flora and fauna. But recently, Farrar, Straus and Giroux has released several works by nonfiction writers using pictures to help tell a story—to leaven a dense topic or to help the information flow. The topics are as varied as the U.S. Constitution, modern dancer Isadora Duncan and the human genetic code . . . Writer Jonathan Hennessey and artist Aaron McConnell collaborated to make The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation an excellent guide not only to the document itself, but also to the events that informed it. It's not an article-by-article, amendment-by-amendment kind of reference, but rather an insightful look at factors like the relationships between the states, the ramifications of creating a federal government, the concerns of the people and the changes wrought over time on language, technology and the economy that inform the way we interpret the Constitution. It's packed with information. In taking up the second-amendment right to bear arms, for example, Hennessey differentiates between the words 'persons' and 'people,' persons being everyone and people being those individuals granted political rights—and therefore susceptible to having them taken away. He includes elements of the current debate, such as whether the men in the late 1700s who wrote the amendment could have imagined the power of the 'arms' available today. Despite providing that level of background and collateral information, the book doesn't weigh in on whether the right should be limited. McConnell's pictures mix narrative art with surreal political cartooning, using anthropomorphism (legislators with the Capitol dome in place of heads or the judicial branch represented by a human figure capped by the Supreme Court building); by depicting metaphors literally (a description of the states as 'laboratories of democracy' is rendered as a chemistry lab surrounded by state birds, including Ohio's cardinal); and in straightforward comic-book style, like action-oriented battle scenes accompanying Hennessey's discussion of the fact that, until 1971, young men were eligible to be drafted for three years before they were eligible to vote. This gem of a book would be an asset to any high-school civics or government curriculum and equally at home on a pleasure reading list."—Michael Gill, The Cleveland Free Times

"True or false: The word 'democracy' never appears in the Constitution. If you can't pass the 10-question quiz inside this book's jacket, it's time for a refresher course on how your government functions. Amazingly, Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell keep their history lesson from growing dull with creative illustrations and text explaining the need for, method behind and exact implications of wording in our Constitution. When children and students can learn about the nitty-gritty of articles and amendments through something like a comic book, why have them slog through a text? Nothing says fun-with-Congress like pictures of characters—with prominent Washington, D.C., buildings for heads—peopling a comic panel. And the answer, by the way, is 'true.'"—Matthew Schniper, Colorado Springs Independent

"Teachers be aware! This was the most interesting and entertaining mode of education about the United State Constitution I have ever read. I remember my Social Studies class. Sure, I got a lot out of Mr. Worthington's long-winded lectures, but I'm sure even he was bored with some of the stuff he was teaching my fresh young mind. If only Mr. Worthington has this book, I think I may have retained even more of one of the building blocks of our country. I've read some biographical and educational comic books in my time and the one thing that all of them had in common was that they were boring as hell. Just because the material is not the most exciting in the world, that doesn't mean the comic has to be visually stagnant. Hill and Wang's US Constitution adaptation is the exact opposite. It offers a variety of cool imagery and vivid storytelling. There's not a dry or boring page in this book. Sure, it's filled with crucial facts behind both the making of the Constitution and the article itself, but writer Jonathan Hennessey and artist Aaron Mitchell give it their all to make the story fresh and alive. I'm serious when I recommend this to teachers all around. Instead of that stale old Social Studies book you've been reading since I Love Lucy dominated the airwaves, order The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation. You will be educating the kids and entertaining them too. If you're looking to get your students engaged or if you're just interested in a refresher course on US History, check this book out."—Ain't It Cool News

"In the last two months of George W. Bush's eight-year term as President of the United States, as President-Elect Barrack Obama assembles his cabinet, perhaps now is a good time for the American people to take a refresher course in United States history. Writer Jonathan Hennessey, a ten-year veteran of the film and television industry, along with artist Aaron McConnell, a freelance illustrator and author of several of his own comic books, including The Young PUPS and Black Gesso, have taken it upon themselves to offer the first lesson: The United States Constitution. Published during the sweat-inducing final weeks of the U.S. presidential election, this graphic novel not only provides an easy-to-understand translation of the historical American document, but it presents the struggle our Founding Fathers endured in order to write it, so that elections like the one Obama, the first African-American to be elected Commander-in-Chief, could take place. Hennessey and McConnell adapt the often hard-to-understand document into comic book form so that they can explain its concepts. The writing and illustrations are simple yet effective in bringing understanding to some of the most misunderstood U.S. laws, such as the process for voting on elected officials, how a bill is passed into law, and the 'Bill of Rights.' It also points out common misconceptions, such as the belief that the word 'democracy' is present in The Constitution. It is not. When presented as a graphic novel, The United States Constitution becomes much more than the guidelines by which a country abides. It becomes a story that gives the readers a historical perspective of how much America has gone through to obtain and maintain its freedom and a clearer understanding of why it's so important to hold our political leaders accountable for what they do. After all, isn't it a government 'of the people, by the people and for the people'? The Founding Fathers had their flaws, and Hennessey and McConnell reflect those flaws in their work. Racism, sexism and anti-Semitism are all part of America's history. Of course, times have changed and Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and the rest of the Founding Fathers prepared for that change, creating a document which has been adaptable over the years. Hennessey and McConnell provide examples of contradictions and repeals, reflecting a changing American society. At present, the American conscious has grown weary and numb from eight years of 9/11 scare tactics, public deceit, the War on Terror, and a plague of abuse and corruption. Before Obama is sworn in as the next U.S. President in January, let Hennessey and McConnell's The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation be your refresher course."—Charles Moss, PopMatters

"A searching interpretation of that sonorous document the Constitution, with cartoons . . . Hennessey, paired with artist McConnell, does a fine job of turning the making of the document . . . into a drama. Happily, Hennessey is aware of the truly radical origins of the Constitution, even as he notes its conservative strains. For example, he remarks that the system of checks and balances is a remarkable innovation, even if it sometimes seems that presidential actions—as with military intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere—go unchecked. In addition, laws are difficult to make in this country for very good reason: 'Otherwise we might get too many of them.' Combining words and appropriate images, sometimes comic and sometimes earnest, the narrative visits such matters as the three-fifths law of determining apportionment, the writ of habeas corpus, eminent domain and conceptions of property and freedom of assembly and movement (for instance, the Articles of Federation forbade 'vagabonds and paupers' from crossing state lines). Also covered are the many guarantees Americans take for granted—not least the Ninth Amendment, which states that certain rights not enumerated ('The right to scratch a dog behind the ears?') shall not be denied . . . [An] undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities."—Kirkus Reviews

"We the people can now appreciate our nation's founding document unpacked into easy-to-follow explanations enriched with stick-in-your-mind visuals. Rendering nonfiction into comics is a unique challenge, perhaps best addressed by pulling out the multiple stories implicit in the text. The stories stay with you, whereas mere illustrations can fade faster than the Articles of Confederation. Stories in the Constitution? Yes, indeed: about how the Founding Fathers disagreed with one other, how the 13 Colonies disagreed with England and among themselves, and how the Constitution was therefore designed to balance competing interests: states rights vs. federal power and—within the federal government itself—the executive vs. legislative vs. judicial branches. Throughout, we learn how the document evolved over time so that today the Constitution forbids slavery, for example, instead of sanctioning it as did the original. With his full-color, detailed art, McConnell has personified the three different branches as suited humans of varying gender, but instead of heads with faces, the human figures are headed by small replicas of the White House, the Capitol, and the Supreme Court building. This and other inventive imagery work well across all seven articles and the 27 amendments. A surprising and effective accomplishment; highly recommended for all collections. Buy multiples for kids, teens, and adults."—Library Journal (starred review)

"I don't like to read nonfiction. Short articles and essays are okay and even tolerable, but an entire nonfiction book? I'd be hard-pressed to finish one. Yet, that's all changed recently, as I've discovered graphic nonfiction. I'm not talking about the less than stellar titles that are being shoved at the school market. I'm talking about quality titles were publishers, writers, and artists are putting their hearts and souls into the project. So you want to know how our country went from counting a slave as 3/5 of a person to electing its first African American president? Then read the graphic adaptation of the constitution. It lays it all out there. Like I said, I'm not a nonfiction reader, and even graphic nonfiction is dense with facts. So while it's taken me quite a while to get through The United States Constitution, it was worth the time I took to digest it in bite size pieces. The book begins with a beautiful two page spread—'We the People.' The artist depicts a large crowd, made up of people from all sorts of race, ethnicities, religions, and background. The writer and artist then go into the story of how the constitution came about, from the American Revolution to the Articles of Confederation and finally explaining the need for a better document to bring all the states together—the Constitution. That is the first of 10 chapters. The remaining chapters cover the preamble, 7 amendments, ratification, the bill of rights and the remaining 17 amendments . . . The text is easy to understand and gives a thorough . . . understanding of the constitution, [and] the artwork brings to life the idea that the constitution is a living document. Incorporating artwork that depicts the past as well as artwork that is set in the present day, readers glean that the constitution is a dynamic and living document. The artist also makes sure to not pigeonhole the document, by using specific examples, but rather uses icons to depict the more general ideas. For instance, when discussing the powers of the three forms of government, rather than draw a single president and have a reader think that the topic being covered only applied to the moment in time, the artwork shows a man with the white house as its head, making the illustrations whimsical as well as meaningful . . . [The United States Constitution] is most definitely accessible to upper middle school and high school students. And readers will gain a solid understanding of the many topics that tie in with the document. On Election Day, I was able to explain to someone how Gore could have won the popular vote in 2000, while Bush won the electoral vote. I was able to do so, because I had just finished that part of the book. Now that I'm done with the book, I'm going to first give it to the 7th grade social studies teachers I work with . . . It is a worthy addition to any library—whether you shelve it in nonfiction or graphic novel. And for those out there just looking for a good read, I'd add this to my list too."—Esther Keller, School Library Journal

"Avoiding the didactic, the book succeeds in being both consistently entertaining and illuminating . . . A fine introduction to U.S. legal history."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads




  • The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation trailer

    A pathbreaking, Graphic Novel Introduction to the Supreme Law of the United States

  • Aaron McConnell on the artwork of The United States Constitution

    Illustrator Aaron McConnell discusses the artwork process for Jonathan Hennessey's graphic novel, The United States Constitution.






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