Luisa was created by the 2016-17 Stanford University Graphic Novel Project class. In this twenty week long class, students undertake an incredible task together: create a graphic novel.

Luisa tells the story of labor organizer and activist Luisa Capetillo, from 1909 until her death in 1922. The book opens with an iconic scene: Luisa Capetillo is arrested for creating a public disturbance…by wearing pants in public. The story then cuts to five years earlier, where Luisa is hired as a reader by the workers in a cigar factory. They take up a collection among themselves to pay her, and in return her readings on Puerto Rican history and union activity help to pass the time, and in some cases, inspire others to action. One of the workers meets with Luisa afterwards, and she introduces him to members of the Federación Libre de Trabajadores (FLT) [The Free Federation of Workers], a union federation. It is here that the members begin talking of the Crusade of Ideals, a journey across Puerto Rico to organize and unify workers. The book continues to trace key moments in Luisa’s life, including her iconic arrest pictured at the beginning of the book.

As might be expected from such a highly collaborative process, the art style in the book changes on a page by page basis. However, the reader comes to expect this variety, and it’s not as jarring as reading a story with inconsistently rendered anatomy or poorly drawn perspectives. Instead, each style conveys something different, whether it’s humor, gravity, or longing. A few striking scenes use unique paneling techniques, with angled gutters and irregular shapes, increasing the dramatic tension. The bright color palette is consistent throughout the book, which makes the art feel more cohesive across the different styles.

The story is kept fairly tight, giving an overview of her life while focusing on a few key moments, so as to not dilute the impact she had by generalizing her story. The book is split into four parts, which helps with transitioning between these distilled moments. It’s evident that the story is well-researched, with one scene picturing Luisa against a spread of newspaper articles covering her arrest and court hearing. The book is full of wonderful details. The inside cover is illustrated, the front with Luisa’s home in Arecibo, her birthplace, and the back with her place of burial. The lettering is quite impressive, the fonts based on the handwriting of two students, and the text and dialogue is laid out very well, aiding with the pacing of the story.

To help give Luisa’s story additional context, the book also includes: a map of Puerto Rico showing her 1909 crusade with the FLT, a timeline of her life, an essay written by the students, a word from the instructors, and two pages on the book’s artistic process, showing how a page moved from a rough script to a final, colored product. Also included are the bios of the nine students who were in the class so you can “meet” them, and perhaps keep an eye out for their future works.

While this book would be appropriate for a teen or adult collection, I would recommend shelving in the teens section as inspiration for young creators. A creative and well-researched work, Luisa tells a story that might not otherwise be available in history class. I hope that its presence encourages librarians to bolster their collections around similar historical figures.

by Stanford Graphic Novel Project
Stanford Graphic Novel Project, 2017

  • Maria Aghazarian

    Past Reviewer

    Maria Aghazarian is a librarian at Swarthmore College and the Lower Merion library system, in the stretch of southeastern Pennsylvania otherwise known as the “greater Philadelphia area.” Her love of graphic novels started with manga in middle school, but exploded after graduating college when she learned that superheroes aren’t the be-all and end-all of comics. She aims to support small and independent presses, and manufacturers of sturdy bookcases.

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