A new comic book tells the incredible (and super-long) history of beer.
One of the big questions that I get asked a lot is “why beer?” There are plenty of other things in this big world that are incredibly interesting, and I’m a woman of eclectic interests, but what is it about beer that has made it chief among them?
More often than not I tell this hypothetical person that my interest lay in the historical context of beer, a beverage as old as humanity itself. We have evidence of beer going back to China over 9,000 years ago and the time of the Sumerians, where there was even a goddess of beer, Ninkasi, a hymn of which contains a recipe for beer, making it one of, if not the, oldest-recorded recipes in the world.
Beer found its way into legend, in stories like the “Epic of Gilgamesh.” One particular legend from the ancient Egyptians tells the story of the end of the sun god Ra’s reign over humanity. In his anger, he sends the ferocious lion-headed warrior goddess Sekhmet to eliminate the mortals who conspired against him. When the job was done, Sekhmet’s blood lust wasn’t quelled and she went on to destroy nearly all of humanity. Ra, seeing his mistake and not wanting to see the end of humans, ordered that his servants brew 7,000 jars of beer dyed red, the colour of the blood that Sekhmet loved to drink. Sure enough, the goddess fell for it, drinking all of the beer and eventually becoming too drunk to slaughter humanity (as we all have been at one time or another).
Beer has been a part of many important moments in civilization. Weddings, rituals, revolution, war, social unrest, scientific progress, booming industry, and of course, just relaxing with friends … beer has been a part of it all. Having this context allows me to enjoy beer all the more because I know what it took to arrive at this point.
No more is that journey clearly exhibited than in The Comic Book Story of Beer by Jonathan Hennessey, Mike Smith, and Aaron McConnell. In a mere 170 pages, we are taken through a journey of humanity’s long relationship with beer, showing how it has changed us, and how we have changed it. Taking us from 7000 B.C. to modern day’s thriving beer culture, The Comic Book Story of Beer manages to be concise while at the same time flowing naturally, managing to cover many key moments in humanity involving beer, from ritual to household item to industrial product, as well as historical figures such as Josef Groll, Samuel Adams, and Michael Jackson, who helped make beer what it is today.
From the art side, McConnell helps tell the story well, creating images that live up to the tales, often mimicking the art style of the time the book is talking of and adjusting the shading according to subject matter and timeline. His obvious skill helps aid the reader through a long and complex history well.
While The Comic Book Story of Beer, published through the Crown Publishing Group, was released last month, sightings of it have been fairly scattered. Fortunately, the insanely awesome Page & Panel: The TCAF Shop inside the Toronto Reference Library is hosting a talk and book signing with writer/researcher of The Comic Book Story of Beer, Jonathan Hennessy, this Sunday, Oct. 4 at 5:00 p.m..
While unfortunately there will be no beer to drink at the talk, there will be an afterparty at a location to be determined later (my money’s on nearby Bar Volo, but that’s just me). The folks at the TCAF Shop kindly ask that you enter the shop through its 789 Yonge Street entrance and not the library itself.
With a little luck, I’ll be there and by all means, feel free to say hi to me. More importantly though, listen to the talk, read the book, and prepare to appreciate beer on a whole new level.