Man of Peace: The Illustrated Life Story of the Dalai Lama of Tibet
Tibet House US, 2016
By William Meyers, Robert Thurman, and Michael G. Burbank
The 14th Dalai Lama is special. There is little evidence that previous holders of this title were particularly influential—or even known—much beyond the Tibetan plateau. The earliest incarnations were not especially powerful even within Tibet, and none ventured further than Mongolia to the north or China to the east. None had likely met a Westerner until the 13th Dalai Lama did so in the early 20th century. Physically isolated by the imposing peaks of the great Himalayan mountains and culturally confined by a long-standing suspicion of foreign influence, Tibet and its leaders were content to remain aloof from the wider world.
All that changed with China’s annexation of Tibet in the 1950s, when the current Dalai Lama was just a 15-year- old novice monk. Eventually fleeing to India, he emerged from these centuries of relative obscurity to become the leader of Tibet’s government-in-exile, gradually transforming himself into a modern political figure. His fame increased substantially with the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his work in “the struggle of the liberation of Tibet and the efforts for a peaceful resolution.” After 50 years of exposure to this wider world, he has become a bona fide international celebrity who counts prominent politicians, serious scholars, and famous actors among his closest friends.
Now a new book, Man of Peace: The Illustrated Life Story of the Dalai Lama of Tibet, recounts this incredible evolution in comic book form. The result is a labor of love at least two decades in the making. Begun by writer and editor William Meyers to fulfill a promise he made to his late wife, the final edition credits three authors and five principal artists, as well as other contributors from New York’s Tibet House and beyond. The most famous of those involved is certainly Robert Thurman, the renowned scholar and teacher of Tibetan Buddhism, but the other authors also seem to have a long personal relationship with the Dalai Lama. (Robert Thurman even appears as a character himself in the book several times, initially as a monk wanting to learn and then later as a householder offering to help with translations.)
The artistic style is highly realistic, almost photographic in places. This can be extremely powerful, particularly in the depictions of violence and destruction that are sadly frequent. Still, some may prefer an earlier graphic biography in the more traditional Japanese manga style, The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography. That effort, penned by Tetsu Saiwai nearly ten years ago, covers similar ground but in far less detail and with the somewhat more abstract renderings common to comics.
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