Life Through Comics: Italian Cartoonist Illustrates Life in WWII Italy

Bannerman’s comics interpret life for Italians in World War II.
(Photo: Courtesy of Isabella Bannerman)

In celebration of Italian Heritage Month, WCC hosted guest speakers Isabella Bannerman, 56, and Franca Vescia Bannerman, 88, in the Gateway Center’s Davis Theater on Oct. 11.
Bannerman, a retired foreign language teacher, combined her memories from World War II era Italy with illustrations created by Isabella, an award-winning cartoonist, allowing viewers to listen and share her experiences.

“The lecture was about how World War II affected the lives of children living in the north of Italy, and specifically my mother’s experience in discovering that her older brother was secretly fighting alongside the Italian partisans against Mussolini’s fascist regime,” said Isabella.

Isabella’s drawings allowed viewers to immerse themselves in a more personal experience, being able to actually watch the stories happen before them. They were soon captivated by Bannerman’s descriptions of her past, such as the car she was crammed in while driving through the country, which she called “Topolino,” meaning “little mouse.”

“Some of the rhetoric in the USA politics of 2016 and 2017 reminded my mother of her experiences during World War 2,” said Isabella. “I was inspired by the courage and resilience I saw in her and the people she had around her, and I thought those qualities could help us today. Sometimes it’s more fun to listen to a story with pictures, so I decided to illustrate them.”

These drawings emphasized a range of emotions—from fear while driving a Jewish family across the country, to a touching memory of when Bannerman learned how to catch trout the proper way from her friend Sergio.

Although the audience was an older crowd, the students among them also enjoyed the event.

“I thought the event was inspiring and eye opening. I went to the event because I like to get a first person’s perspective of events that occurred in the past,” said Estephani Partida, 21-year-old WCC student.

“I came because I am currently in an Italian Level 1 course, and I was just curious to hear what was going to be said at the event,” said WCC student Nicholas Gagliardi. “My favorite part about the event was the story when la signora was learning how to catch a fish, but just could not do it with the technique she was using at the time. I found it quite funny.”

For Isabella, this event’s purpose was multifaceted.

“So often, war is reported to us in statistics, and it seems far away. For instance, news articles tell us that today there are more refugees, asylum seekers, and displaced people than there were during World War 2,” said Isabella. “ By showing one person’s story, I hope students see how people can survive difficult times through trust, friendship and ingenuity.”

Overall, the Bannermans hope that students, no matter their age or the language the speak, will be able to continue conversations like this with their own family and friends, as they can learn much from one another.

“I also enjoyed the process of translating with my mom,” said Isabella. “I hope students gain an appreciation of how beautiful and metaphorical the Italian language is. For instance, in English, you say, ‘The water was crystal clear,’ but in Italian, you say, ‘L’acqua era transparente come cristallo.’ Perhaps I am romanticizing, but the water sounds even more appealing in Italian.”

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