World War II was truly global; this week we go beyond the traditional WWII narrative.
It is a bit odd thinking about it now, but when I was born, World War II had ended less than 35 years prior; it was still fresh in the minds of many. We still had living veterans, and those that clearly remembered its after effects. I imagine that for this generation, the mindset of war never really ended as they also witnessed the Korean War, and had just witnessed the end of the Vietnam War.
Of course, World War II books and movies really dominated the war genre (and still do to this day). With many great examples to choose from, there is one common element. Regardless of the story or the approach, the narratives tend to focus on the US, Russia and Germany, with the U.K., Japan, Italy and Canada playing supporting roles.
When looking at these great WWII stories, I was intrigued when I came across Elisio – a true story of Brazilian World War II combat veterans. Yes, you read that right – Brazil.
When we think of Brazil, it’s easy to think of Rio de Janeiro and its party scene, political corruption and crime, and of course soccer. Brazil has had a huge impact on culture worldwide, with its soccer stars being the idols of youth around the world. But a lot of this fame seems newfound; it’s almost like the world didn’t care much about Brazil before 1950, and certainly I had never heard anything about their involvement in World War II. When I first encountered stories about the Cobras Fumantes (or, the Smoking Snakes), I thought that maybe this was some kind of parody, or clever hoax. After all, I’ve read WWII books and comic books, watched pretty much every big movie about the Second World War, and along with my dad watched hours of documentaries on the History Channel. So, why hadn’t I heard any of these stories before on what is probably the most covered, documented and historically significant war in our history?
To be honest, the firefights involving the Smoking Snakes are likely just a blip on the grand scale of things. The thought of Brazil’s Expeditionary Forces might feel more like a show of support than an actual threat to enemy combatants. After learning more about these brave soldiers, it is sad to think that there could be literally hundreds of these stories around the world – lost, even though they are tied to such a pivotal event.
Before I jump in to more details on the Smoking Snakes, I wanted to give you a bit of background on how I encountered this story and why I was immediately drawn to it. I was contacted a couple of years ago by an agent for AVEC – an amazing indie press out of Brazil. I immediately loved their catalogue, and Artur Vecchi (Chief Editor) had some great titles to show me. During his presentation, I saw a brief glimpse of a war book. I asked him to back up a few slides. He stopped at Elisio and said “No Rodolfo, you don’t want this one.”
“What do you mean? Why not? It’s gorgeous!”
“Yes, it is” he replied. But no one outside of Brazil will care. Nobody cares what we did during World War II.
Despite his warnings that the book wouldn’t sell, I insisted on seeing the complete story. The more he warned me, the more I wanted it. He insisted that I take some other titles – basically anything but Elisio. Fortunately, I stood my ground. This was something I really enjoy not only as a publisher, but as a fan: a comic book story you won’t find anywhere else. Combined with beautiful art by Renato Dalmato made this an easy choice for me.
Now that I had this beautiful book, I just had to figure out how to get it into English. It’s one thing to have a book about Brazilian WWII soldiers and hope it will sell in North America; it’s another to hope that it will sell in Portuguese! Fortunately, my lovely wife’s family were able to assist and Elisio was on its way to being ready to share with the world.
Elisio follows the story of our hero, who seems to live a life of middle class in Brazil as a solider. While at the movies with his girlfriend, he sees a news reel highlighting the Nazi threat, and Brazil’s formal declaration of war becomes apparent. Eliseu, who as a Brazilian soldier imagined himself too far removed from World World II to ever see combat, will now be sent off to war.
Similar to how many might view and even ridicule the idea of Brazilian soldiers, the Smoking Snakes find few true allies. Ostracized by the Americans, and a welcome target for the Germans, the struggle for our Brazilian soldiers is not an easy one. Along the way Eliseu engages in several firefights, finds (and loses love), and is eventually captured by enemy forces, where we might say that his real struggle begins.
The story of Eliseu is one of tragedy and trauma, but above all else, it is an important record of a lost part of our history.
Be sure to join us next week as we begin to explore alternate realities that could have been.