Art is an expression of how different people interpret the world around them. This is why there are several styles of art, each representing a different time, emotion and place. Even people who may not consider themselves artists use art as an expression of what is going on around them. From 1946 to 1950, there was a young gentleman in Lexington, NE, who used comic style drawing to process and interpret the tragedy of World War II. As a high-school student in small town Nebraska, Jimmy Kugler used drawing to create his own story of what happened during the war.
Jimmy Kugler just so happens to be the late father of Dr. Michael Kugler. Dr. Kugler is a professor of history at Northwestern and has been teaching here since 1994. Dr. Kugler received his BA in history from Judson Baptist College in Oregon, his MA in History at Western Washington University and his PhD in istory at the University of Chicago. Dr. Kugler is a professor beloved by his students here at NW. Often described as “a man of sarcasm” Dr. Kugler is well known for cracking jokes while giving lectures.
Senior economics major Michael Leon, who is currently taking Useful Past Two with Dr. Kugler had remarkable things to say about Kugler’s class. “Dr. Kugler has an uncanny ability to spark curiosity through his, sometimes bizarre, stories and connections he makes to my classes content. You will either laugh, or question what was said for the rest of the day.” Thankfully, Leon is the exact kind of student that Dr. Kugler says he enjoys working with.
“I enjoy working with students who have little or no background in history, convincing them that learning to think like a historian is central to being a thoughtful and informed citizen and Christian,” Dr. Kugler said. “My students have taught me to think carefully about explaining complex documents and historical arguments.”
In 2017 Dr. Kugler committed himself to taking the hundreds of comics that his father had drawn and compiling them into a collection. This collection has now become a published book titled “Into the Jungle! A Boy’s Comic Strip History of World War II.” Dr. Kugler had no easy time putting this together, however. As a historian himself, Dr. Kugler had to realize the importance of different approaches and perspectives when deciding the narrative and argument of the collection.
This publication is no small feat. “The comic strip project has occupied a great deal of my time over the last ten years,” Kugler said. “Creating a historical context for my dad’s adolescent drawings, connecting that to American popular culture of the World War II years, represented a series of complex interpretive problems. I have more confidence now that I can accomplish that kind of project than I did a decade ago. But now that it is finished, I also see holes or missed opportunities.”
The comics themselves are complex and detailed pictures that show how Jimmy Kugler was able to use frogs and toads, to depict a war that pulled in the entire world. The interpretation from the elder Kugler shows just how much the war impacted not just those who served, but those who had to watch others serve.
Dr. Kugler Hopes that these comics can be a learning tool that readers can use to recognize that propaganda used during war times has inspired the youth of the time to become creative and use the skills they had to show how the war looked through their eyes.