When historian Scott Edmonds first interviewed Flemish painter and essayist Von Dutch about his connections to the Tuskegee Airmen, they shook hands and began to talking. Edmonds would keep talking, looping back to many of the same questions over and over. But unlike the story line in a dinner theater musical about Von Dutch, I’m happy to report he didn’t get off the trail.
This 2016, Trump-era history lesson is one of many in “The Untold Story of Von Dutch,” an American history for the Trump era. It’s the fourth volume in the great “American Tragedy” trilogy, featuring Von Dutch as part of the tale. “Von Dutch and his fellow Tuskegee Airmen have been treated like folk heroes, a cowboy hero in some ways,” Edmonds says. “Everybody who’s ever fought has wanted to be Von Dutch.”
The printed works in the trilogy are illustrations—Edmonds’s remarkable line drawings, based on vintage photos—a perfect complement to the printed version. What started as “a kind of homage to the graphic novel medium” has turned into “the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do” for him.
Although nothing is quite so instantly recognizable on your desktop as the silent Al Pitrelli billboard that chugged its way across the nation in 1954, an oft-quoted line in “American Tragedy” is from an Internet meme: “Everything is a question: To what length can you take it? To what degree can you adapt to it?”