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First Man: Reimagining Matthew Henson

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  53 reviews
In this graphic novel, Simon Schwartz weaves biography and fiction together to explore the life of Arctic adventurer Matthew Henson. Moving between different time periods and incorporating Inuit mythology, Schwartz offers a fresh perspective on the many challenges Henson confronted during his life.

As a member of early missions to reach the North Pole, Henson braved
Paperback, 160 pages
Published August 1st 2015 by Graphic Universe (Tm) (first published April 1st 2012)
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Average rating 3.69  · 
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Feb 18, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
First Man is largely about a black man named Matthew Henson. He was a part of history before black men were allowed to be.

He journeyed with a white party to the North Pole and was actually the first American to step foot there without receiving any credit until many years later. Simply because he was black and the leader of the expedition was just the worst.

It's a deeply upsetting story that needs to be told in history classes all across the world. However, I'm not sure this graphic novel is the
Dov Zeller
If you go to the last couple pages of this book you will arrive at the afterward. And though this book is a heart-breaker, there is a note of victory upon witnessing its final contents. First, the map: "The site of Matthew Henson and Robert Peary's journeys toward the North Pole." (Matthew's name listed first). Then, the chronology: "First Man: Reimagining Matthew Henson is a literary retelling of Matthew Henson's life. Not all aspects of the graphic account are historically accurate. The list ...more
Matthew Henson was one of the first men to reach the North Pole. He was a member of nearly all of Robert Peary's expeditions and, because he was a black man, received little recognition for his work until late in his life. In the introduction of this book the author states that when he wrote this book he made "no attempt at nonfiction." It's clear when comparing the novel just to the supplemental materials included in the back that he was uninterested in the facts of Henson's life, and overall ...more
Jennifer Bacall
Jun 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If I had an endless supply of money, I would buy a copy of this book for every school library in the United States. The book succeeds on countless levels and leaves the reader with the desire to dig through it numerous times to revisit the nuances of the numerous story telling paths. It works as a personal introspection of an aging man who is haunted by his more agile days. It works as a tale of the courageous and humble path of a hard-working African American who was not respected as he should ...more
I liked a great deal about this book, including the art and the incorporation of Inuit myths. However, I found it hard to tell what was actually biographical and what was fiction and that bothered me. I dont think the life of Matthew Henson is that well known, so trying to figure out what he really experienced and what the author made up was challenging. There is a helpful chronology at the end that includes pictures, but that is not enough to make me recommend this. ...more
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition

I had never heard of Matthew Henson before and this graphic account gives us a decent insight into his role in getting to the North Pole. The art work is good enough and the story is readable though it is frustrating trying to discern fact from fiction, and it finishes off with an uneven chronology of events.

This was a deeply frustrating read in many ways and the many injustices are maddening to read about. Henson is portrayed as a weak, gullible sucker who is exploited time and time again and
Excellent illustrations in shades of black, gray, blue, and white fully complement the text story of Matthew Henson, the first (black) man to reach the north pole. If you were to research who was the first man to reach the north pole, you would find that there are two white men who both claim that distinction: Robert Peary and Frederick Cook. Matthew Henson accompanied Peary on that trip. It can be argued that perhaps Henson was indeed the first man, white or black, to reach the north pole.
Mar 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a really good depiction of Henson's life - Peary is kind of the bad guy here. Amazing how Henson was not recognized for his accomplishments in his day! I liked the layer of Inuit mythology too. Well done.
Jul 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really, really liked this. Not sure why Schwartz chose to fictionalize Henson's story and not tell it as straight non-fiction...
Jun 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Since the author said up front that he was making "no attempt at non-fiction", I'm going to be nice and rate this according to my expectations of "based on a true story" movies. Schwartz makes significant diversions from the truth to make Henson more sympathetic or at least more pitiable. This is especially true of Schwartz's portrayal of Henson in his senior years, a widower working as a janitor at a museum in New York. In 1945 when the scene was set, Henson had already retired from being a ...more
Sep 04, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: graphic, historical
This graphic novel bridges the gap between fiction and non-fiction. Matthew Henson was, of course, a real historical figure. His many adventures as Robert Peary's long-suffering assistant have assured his place in history. His role, however, was probably much larger and more significant than we've been led to believe. As a black man at a time when black men were expected to be nothing more than laborers and domestics, Henson suffered from discrimination in his work. He was often excluded and ...more
K De
Dec 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Simon Schwartz gives a measured reading of the first black man to explore the Arctic and, probably, the first man to reach the North Pole. The man, Matthew Henson, is a reticent figure. He encountered incredible hardships from nature during his explorations with Cmdr. Peary. He saved Peary's life on one expedition and was not repaid in kind. The relationship between the two men is incredibly one sided and shows the inhumanity of Cmdr. Peary towards his companions. The native people thought that ...more
This is an important book.

It's fictionalized, but it shows how history has been whitewashed and how many people, who should have received honor, were swept into the shadows.

There is a timeline following the graphic novel. It gives an idea of the true events and of who truly should have been given the honor of making it to the North Pole.

I'm trying not to spoil it, so just read it.
Jan 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book. Many things accurate, but I like my biographies to be accurate, and there are many flaws with the storyline in the book and the accurate timeline. Still gripping and entertaining read though.
Marge Shaffer
The author used alternative facts to tell the story, while this makes it readable, most people will not read the front or back matter to get the correct story. I can't believe this is classified as nonfiction.
Aditya  Singh
Jun 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable read. Brilliant chronological transitions with an enchanting folklore of igloos to bring out the truth of several of such expeditions.
Julie Rylie
Jul 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: graphics
I think I am in love with Simon Schwartz... That was such a beautiful book about this man that for being black is not really in the history books as the true founder of the south pole!

the illustrations are beautiful, the black and white with blue works amazingly.

I love that there are pictures of the people involved in this graphic novel at the end of the book with a history line.

this was a work of art!
This graphic novel biography is not what I thought it would be.

I finished this book feeling... deflated, and sad for Matthew Henson. Throughout the book the author/illustrator primarily focused on the racial injustices he faced, however, Matthew doesn't stand up for himself. He's merely just a passive character in the story of his own life.

Peary is such an asshole. He's no better than slave traders, after all he did ship some of the native Inuits to NY, and it's even alluded to the fact that one
Biography and fiction combine in this graphic novel version of the story of Matthew Henson, who traveled to the North Pole with Richard Peary and got little acclaim for his accomplishments. Not only did Peary shut him out of any mention in the publicity garnered by the feat, but later, when he sought financial assistance, none was provided. The format allows the author to take liberties with the truth--whatever that might have been--and Henson is presented as larger than life, heroic, and later, ...more
Maggie Gordon
I am very torn on this book. On one hand, it helps to publicize a lesser known historical figure, and is filled with beautiful art. On the other hand, I feel that it tries to support one group of marginalised people at the expense of another.

Matthew Henson was a Black man who was the first or one of the first men to reach the North Pole, though he only received proper recognition for this later in his life. Schwartz, the author, admits that this book is not historical truth, per se. He was
Sep 14, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Read review in its entirety at
In a thought-provoking look at African-American explorer Matthew Henson's life, graphic novelist Simon Schwartz forges fact and fiction in Firstman: Reimagining Matthew Henson. Schwartz elicits the arduous journey which Henson faced not only in his exploration of the North Pole, but also as a black man in a prejudiced society.

Told through third person, the author portrays the story by entwining different stages of Henson's
Matthew Henson journeyed and assisted Perry on several major explorations, yet because he was African American, his accomplishments were overlooked at the time. Even now, there are not enough references to his amazing deeds. This fictionalized biography takes an Impressionistic view of Henson, seeing him through the prism of the Inuit mythology, the racist worldview of the era, and implications of potential lost in a rueful old age.

There are many things to love about this book. The
Golden Secondary School
This graphic novel dramatizes the life and achievements of Matthew Henson, the black American who accompanied Robert Peary, considered to be the first man to reach the North Pole. We find from the book the struggles against bigotry that Henson faced; he himself was the first man to reach the Pole, but for years, Peary got the credit. The author does a compelling job of weaving Hensons life into Inuit mythology, and uses flashbacks (and flashforwards) effectively.

The story is a bit loose with the
Jan 31, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This comic takes an important and little-known story from history and turns it into gripping fiction with a mythic superhero leitmotif. I had no idea that an African-American man was the first explorer to reach the North Pole, and the fact that he has been incorporated into Inuit myth is fascinating. I was really impressed by the way the author bookended the comic with texts that addressed the divergence of his work from the events of Matthew Henson's life. I was a little frustrated at the end ...more
The cover drew me in and pow: the first page was not what I expected, but it drew me in further. The round realism mixed with folk-style art creates a rich visual experience. The story itself bounces back and forth in time and place, but there is a rhythm to the motion that makes it relatively easy to figure out where you are in the story.

I enjoyed the drama of the race to the North Pole and I shared the frustrating impotence when Henson was dismissed or shamed for his color. I thought that
Glen Farrelly
There were elements of this book that I really enjoyed and thought were strong. The artwork - particularly of the settings and Inuit aspects were amazing. The subject matter - a biography of an incredible man's accomplishments despite racial injustice is a fascinating and emotional story. I also like how Schwartz blended Inuit mythology into the story.

What I hated - and I really mean HATE - is that the author changed fundamental aspects of Matthew Henson's life - and elements that weren't
Nicola Mansfield
Aug 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fictionalized biography of African-American Matthew Henson considered to be the first person to set foot at the North Pole even besting Perry, his Commander. While being a story of Arctic Exploration and of a forgotten black hero it is also a tale of the Inuit. Matthew Henson became a legend to the Inuit people of the area and they have art and stories depicting him. A fascinating piece of little-known history illustrated with exceptional art in shades of blues and browns. Especially ...more
I'm not a huge fan of the artwork in this one, but how could I resist a graphic novel about Matthew Henson?!? I like the way Schwartz tells the story, juxtaposing Henson's youth with his old age, and Inuit ideas of heroism vs. those of white Victorian/Edwardian society. It's told with feeling and depth and sensitivity, but at the same time, Schwartz definitely doesn't always stick closely to facts (although to be fair, in the case of Cook vs. Peary it seems there are very few actual facts to be ...more
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fan of Simon Schwartz over here, and I'm also a newly awakened fan of fictionalized histories. I love how Schwartz shares his fascination with Henson's story and admits that he knew any attempt he would make with a nonfiction telling of it would fall short. The result, my friends, is genre blending, and it is a beautiful example of an author learning enough about a man to give a timeline and include some artifacts of his life (an appendix) but finding themes in his life to fictionalize and ...more
Eli Poteet
Jan 14, 2017 rated it liked it
I appreciate this work because it's content is focused on a mixture of historical occurrence and cultural significance. I found its blue hues a unique distinction from the comic world of black and white majority. I really liked the the history content in the back with awesome original photographs depicting the inspiration for the protagonist of the story. unfortunately I had a difficult time balancing the plot, I'm not sure if this is due to my inability to follow through provided timeline or if ...more
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Simon Schwartz was born in Erfurt in 1982 and grew up in the Kruezburg neighborhood of Berlin. In 2004, he relocated to Hamburg to study illustration at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. Five years later, he had completed his debut graphic novel.

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