Cover Image: Four-Fisted Tales

Four-Fisted Tales

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Member Reviews

A fun "Did you know?" type of book. Most of the stories contained here are just a few pages long, a primer or brief overview of the subject. Along with the expected things like mascots of various military units there are more specific tales of individual animals that actually contributed to the ongoing conflicts of their times as both active participants and in research capacities. 

A prisoner of war exchange involving a dog, famous ship cats of the Royal Navy, famous horses of historical leaders, and rumored top secret dolphin training programs. Then there are the surprising roles that seagulls played in submarine warfare, the link between common garden slugs and early chemical warfare, and how specially trained giant rats aid in the recovery of forgotten landmines. 

The art is just basic stuff that serves the story without trying to be flashy. 

I would estimate that this book would be suitable for those 12-years and older -- keeping in mind that the subject is animals in war/combat so there is some stuff that might require individual parental judgement. Nothing overly graphic but could be upsetting to sensitive readers.
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Books about war … some people like to read them, others don't.
But … even though I belong to the latter group, this graphic novel approached the subject from such an original angle that it kept me totally hooked from beginning to end!

Animals have always partaken in wars. 
Everyone knows about the more common examples like war horses, courrier pigeons, … 
And most of us have heard of Hannibal's elephants during history lessons or Latin classes.

But did you know that …
… boats often had a ship's cat to hunt rats and keep their food reserves safe?
... one of those felins even got a war medal for his heroism?
… dolphins are trained since the '60s to accomplish several important military tasks?
… seagulls can be conditioned?
… rats are very efficient mine-detectors?
… their training program was founded in Belgium and I didn't even know this about my own country?

Ben Towle did a magnificent job to give all these and other war animals the credits and honours they deserve.
This four-time Eisner-nominated cartoonist even adapted the colour palette of his drawings to give the reader a more authentic feeling. Camouflage colours like khaki, brown, ochre and black set the tone. Curious to see it for yourself? Some preview pages are available here:
As you can read in his biography he's from a Navy family himself, which adds an even more personal touch to the whole.
More information about this talented artist and his works can be found on the website:

Four-Fisted Tales is definitely a book that will appeal to lots of readers.
Not only because of the attractive graphic novel format, but also because of the many interesting facts evoked throughout the book. 
As such it would also be perfect to use at school, covering different time periods, geographical places, interesting animal trivia, …. 

Although every animal is discussed rather briefly, lots of specifics are given: their exact names and the rewards they received, names of places and specific regiments who fought there, …
Thus this book forms a very good starting point for those whose curiosity is piqued to look up further information. 
As this was absolutely the case for me, I gathered some of the most interesting footage and articles in a blogpost. If you want to discover them, feel free to head over to:

There's only one downpoint to be mentioned: the book ends with a section about courrier pigeons.
Of course, these deserve a part in this book as their role has been very important. But it seems to me that this is more common knowledge and that consequently the book had better started with this information. That way it would've been possible to build up to the lesser known - and therefore more 'spectacular' - war animals towards the end.
This is the reason why my end rating is actually 4,5*.
But the original subject, interesting information and beautiful graphics are definitely worth rounding up!

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dead Reckoning (imprint of the Naval Institute Press, the book-publishing division of the U.S. Naval Institute) for providing a digital uncorrected page proof of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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Four-Fisted Tales is the best parts of educational and entertaining. I never knew the history of the rodent mine sniffers in Vietnam and I found the dolphin story the most interesting! This was a wonderful graphic with very accurate and beautiful illustrations and so much history I will be making this a must read for the children I work with. 

**Thank you to Netgalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review
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Anyone with a pet can attest to the bond a person can gain with an animal – sometimes better bonds than with other humans to be honest. We care for, nurture, and raise our pets to offer companionship, and give us a sense of fulfillment in our lives. Imagine extending that feeling to an animal that, acting in many ways as a colleague, can literally hold your life in their paws. That is the general theme of Four-Fisted Tales – Animals in Combat by Ben Towle, the new historical graphic novel from Dead Reckoning and the U.S. Naval Institute Press. Split into a number of small chapters, this book is a general overview of the military use of animals in numerous conflicts through time. Whether it be dolphins helping clear mines all the way to recent history, or dogs doing everything from running messages to heroically leading charges in battle, animals have always been an integral part of military operations. Usually forgotten as time passes, Towle has set out to highlight these heroic beasts and give them the recognition they deserve.

“In virtually every military conflict in recorded history animals have fought—and often died—alongside their human counterparts. While countless stories of the men and women who’ve served in the trenches, jungles, and deserts of the world’s battlefields have been told, Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat shares the stories of the animals who fought alongside them.

From Hannibal’s elephants in ancient Rome to mine-sniffing rats in Vietnam and everything in between, Four-Fisted Tales highlights the real-life contributions of these underappreciated animal warriors. Whether in active combat or simply as companions, these animals served and made their mark on history.”

Pretty much every section of this was cool, but some of the stories really stood out. Being a huge cat fanatic, I really enjoyed the run-down of “ship’s cats” throughout history. Rats were so prevalent in the food supplies of military and shipping vessels alike, so a cat easily became one of the more important parts of the crew, sometimes even being commissioned a rank and included roll records. Moving past the kitties, my favorite story in the book was the tale of Jack, a dog that became a war hero of sorts during a large portion of 1863, surviving multiple war injuries and leading the charge for a couple of battles. He was the only animal to be traded during a prisoner trade, his story is told in a rather humorous way wherein a man is lead to believe he is being traded for a ruthless war machine of a man, only to find out it’s a dog. That’s only two of around a dozen chapters.

The art style is minimalist and reminds me a bit of a “Sunday paper” comic strip, which is a refreshing look for something like this. It gives it an old-school look without trying hard to ape classic comic styles from the past. Think Archie comics or even Family Circus. The color palette is monochrome with a splash of almost greenish-grey making this stand out as wholly it’s own thing. I’ve seen similar styles recently in a lot of European comics, and I have grown to rather enjoy them. The writing takes something that could easily be a boring top ten list or something, and makes it a worthwhile book packed with fun stories and genuine hilarity. While war is rarely light-hearted, it seems man’s furry pals sure take the edge off.

I really enjoyed this book, it’s a quick read and you’ll be sad when it’s over. I’ll have to look into other works by Mr. Towle, as I like his style a lot. I know this goes against a lot of history buffs, but when I read war comics (or honestly any history book), my favorites are ones that look at the various battles from atypical viewpoints, and there aren’t many viewpoints less typical thank looking at animals that served in the armed forces. Sure, one can read the 75 million books about Gettysburg or D-Day, but I would legit read full-sized books about stuff like this. This is a great book for pet lovers, fans of history, kids, or even just comic fans. So curl up with your favorite fur-baby and check out Four-Fisted Tales – Animals in Combat – and while your dog may not be as cool as Jack, you can assure yourself that if something bad were to go down, I’m sure they would heed the call and protect you at all costs. Animals, the real unsung heroes of the war.
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This was a really interesting book on a fascinating subject though the writing was a bit textbook like at times. I really appreciate the diversity of animals covered as well as the different ways they were involved in warfare. I wish the book had gone a bit more into the morality of using animals in war. There are hints about ethics, mostly in the dolphin section, but I wish the book had gone more into details about it. It was kind of hard to pinpoint the age range for this book. Kids, teens, and adults would all be able to enjoy or learn from this.
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True accounts of the contributions animals have made to protect and save lives in war-time.  From well known and obvious, like horses, to local heroes like dogs, and unwitting helpers like slugs.

I had known about several of these animals, but this book was researched far beyond popular media darlings, to provide details about the service of all manner of creatures; how their efforts benefitted their human friends, and in some cases, what happened to them.

This graphic novel--true to form--does more than supply facts.  It fleshes out the stories with drawings that take you to the scene and set the stage.  As much in pictures as in words, this book gives you a sense of sympathy for the animals, their handlers, and all of the people who held their breaths while hoping for their safe return.  

I was also struck by the cleverness of individuals (and the courage they and their leaders had to go forward with such ideas) in finding amazing ways to use nature as a defense.  The indirect training of seagulls was brilliant!  The sheer capacity for  inventiveness people have is tremendous!

Animals have a single-mindedness we can rarely match.  Recognizing how natural wants and behaviors can be used instead of force, is the key to any positive training, and it's the strongest.  It was demonstrated many times through the experiences recounted.

In other cases, animals "volunteered" by wandering into camps and refusing to leave the soldiers.  Sometimes, soldiers felt the animals were safest with them.  So despite the protests of people back home, and regulations forbidding "mascots," rules were bent to "enlist" the animals and give them a lowly rank; providing them with food and protection.  Considering the circumstances of war, it's hard to condemn these actions.  (Although not strictly okay, I'm sure that in those isolated incidents, the benefits outweighed the negatives when it came to morale and usefulness.)

This book is a tribute to the animals and to the people who cared for them.  Only a few received medals or recognition, but every one served with dedication, and deserves equal respect.

Aside from the last few pages of the book, I found it incredibly interesting!  Although war is horrible (an understatement), recognizing some times of innovative work, humanity working with other creatures, and some animals working out of devotion, it reminds us that good things happened.  People were comforted and saved, or protected.  And that is the best message anyone can hope for.
*Note:  The last story in the book may be especially disturbing to some.  It does not contain a reason for the addition, and it does not match the overall theme of the book; I found it jarring.

Thanks to the publishers and Netgalley for the free preview of this ebook!

Ending  -1 Star
Total =  3/5 Stars 

#FourFistedTales #NetGalley
*Please contact me prior to posting this.  If I receive a response from the publisher or author regarding the conclusion of the book, I will amend this review--which has not been posted elsewhere yet.*  

Notes for publisher:
Question:  Why show the destruction of the bunker with the glow worms at the end?  Were they too bright as well?  Was it a statement that not all trials were successful, or that wars kill people in the end?  After all the work of creating a book, why?  I am confused about the message the author intends to send at the conclusion! 

Two things I wish had been included:  
1. Whether or not using a mobile pigeon truck allowed the birds to "home" to the truck.

2. What about the dogs donated and trained for WWII?  (See quote below.)

"Some of the dog breeders on the East Coast had long urged the military to assemble a K-9 Corps like those that were used in Europe during World War I.  The government was slow to act, so in 1942—after the bombing of Pearl Harbor–poodle breeder Alene Erlanger and her team put out a call for people to donate their pets to the war cause.

Ten thousand dogs were donated. To select and train those who could be used for the military, Erlanger sought out the best dog trainers of the day. Carl Spitz, Willy Necker, and Lee Duncan were among them.

Lee Duncan trained almost 5000 dogs for the war."  (https://americacomesalive. com/the-story-of-rin-tin-tin-2/)
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Four-Fisted Tales is, at times saddening, at times amusing graphic novel on the animals that have been used in wars and the aftermath of wars. Some of the examples I was familiar with, specifically the Gambian Pouched Rats, and how they are used to detect landmines. Others, like the British Navy training Seagulls to detect submarines, were amusing especially for anyone who has tried to get Seagulls to do anything other than being Seagulls.

By the end of the book, the reader will know that so many of these brave animal soldiers didn't come home. It's a bit sobering, especially when you consider that these "Four-Fisted" soldiers and sailors were picked because they were the only ones who could perform their tasks. 

I'd recommend this book for adults, teens, and advanced grade school readers..
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Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat by Ben Towle came to me at the perfect time. I’m already a huge history nerd and had fallen in love with Corporal Wojtek thanks to an episode of Buzzfeed’s Ruining History I’ve become even more curious on the topic. I knew about Hannibal’s war elephants and the use of dogs in the trenches but I had no idea that there was still such a mystery to the complex and sometimes not so glamorous stories behind the animal combatants that have fought by our side. We’ve had so much more than just elephants and dogs, we’ve had naval dolphins and tried to drop bombs with pigeons and I think that’s more than worth studying!

I highly recommend this title for history lovers, history nerds and animal historians. 

Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat by Ben Towle is out now wherever books are sold!
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I knew that many animals had served during wartimes, but I had no idea that so many different animals served in one manner or another. The Four-Fisted Tales was an eye-opener. The stories, with the illustrations, led me to read this book straight through, and then go back and skim through it again. I liked that most of the stories focused on one animal at a time, the first story being about Jack, a dog, from the Civil War.
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Ugh, y’all I am so about historical graphic novels and this is a great spin, focusing on animas during wartime. I knew a handful of these but really enjoyed them seeing them come off the page, but there were some really wild stories in here. My favorite being the seagulls? Did not see that coming??

Just delightful, 5 out of 5 easy.
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Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat by Ben Towle
Publication Date: August 18, 2021
“In virtually every military conflict in recorded history animals have fought—and often died—alongside their human counterparts. While countless stories of the men and women who’ve served in the trenches, jungles, and deserts of the world’s battlefields have been told, Four-Fisted Tales: Animals in Combat shares the stories of the animals who fought alongside them.

From Hannibal’s elephants in ancient Rome to mine-sniffing rats in Vietnam and everything in between, Four-Fisted Tales highlights the real-life contributions of these underappreciated animal warriors. Whether in active combat or simply as companions, these animals served and made their mark on history.”
Thank you to @netgalley #navalinstitutepress for the digital ARC in return for my honest review.
My thoughts…
If you love animals, read this! This was such a marvelous historical graphic novel about the animals, who were in battle, with soldiers during different wars. The illustrations were so vivid and touching. Even though these were short history of war snippets, it was informative and tugged at the heartstrings. I had to hugs my dogs after I read this.
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Excellent graphic novel describing the use of various animals throughout history during war. Informative and excellent artwork that I found enlightening and I had no idea how many different animals were involved in war. Four-Fisted Tails is a quick read that is highly educational as well as entertaining. A must read.
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Filled with very short, threw or four page stories of animals that have been to war. Animals that have helped in the fighting of wars, and animals that have died in wars.

Most striking was how Messenger Pigeons were used well into the second world war when all else forms of communication failed. 

Sad stories of animals lost in battle and wounded.  But stories are so short that you don't really get invested in any stories. It is often more like a bit of trivia, such as the story of the US Navy and the dolphins they wanted to use to in battles.

<em>Thanks to Netgalley for making this book available for an honest review.</em>
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Four-Fisted Tales is a fascinating look at how we have used animals in warfare through history. The graphic novel format made it easy to read and also helped us to get into the heads of some of the animals in question, in a way that words would not.

The only reason I would not use this in my classroom is because it's not relevant to what I teach, and might be a little too mature for some of the ages I teach; however, for middle and high school students, this book is a great intro to an overlooked part of our history with animals and warfare.
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Ben Towle and company provides an interesting set of vignettes regarding the roles animals of all kinds have played in various wars. Besides the well known animals such as carrier pigeons, horses, or dogs, the roles of rats, glowworms, and bears along with dolphins and kangaroos all make an appearance. An interesting collection of fun animal facts!

Thanks Netgalley for the chance to read this title!
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Ben Towle’s artwork is, as always, detailed and captivating. There is much to learn about and enjoy in this graphic novel.
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A superb combination of whimsy, artistry, and educational content from an imprint of the Naval Institute Press. While most readers are familiar with horses and dogs in combat, we probably know less about bears, dolphins, and slugs in the military.

Ben Towle’s style is vintage, almost a throwback to comics of the 1960s and 70s. The detail that he achieves without overwhelming the page is skillful indeed. The lettering also conveys a healthy amount of information in a clear and engaging way. The combination produces a work that is unique and memorable. I can see it finding a home in libraries, schools, and individual homes.

Thank you to Ben Towle, Dead Reckoning, and NetGalley for an Advance Reader Copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This was so lovely! It was a super simple, enjoyable read with some really cool and interesting animal facts that I'm definitely going to bring up at any parties I go to in the future. I think this book will be especially impactful to younger audiences; while I was reading it I could see a younger me getting obsessed with the animals in this book and just wanting to learn more and more about them. The artwork also definitely helps in this sense as well as it is beautiful and understandable for all ages! I would definitely recommend this to everyone as I think every person would love this little book and its contents!
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Starting with a vignette about US soldiers in WWI France using jars of glow worms as a light source, this is purely designed to show us the range of animals used in the field of war.  The first standard-length chapter concerns a US Civil War soldier convinced he's being involved in a prisoner swap that shows him in great light – only to find it's actually a dog with a miraculous spirit for survival that's going the other way in exchange for him.  Next is a light-hearted survey of naval ship's cats, followed by a look at dolphins, and it's only the semi-fictionalised halfway house of pieces like this that will put readers off this book.  This wanted to be both a listicle of dolphin use by the US Navy, and something that has something to dramatise, and is therefore stuck in the middle in an ungainly fashion.

But we have stirring dramas elsewhere to make this really well worth a look, such as Satan, a dog who sent messages and more across a field of war where seven men had failed previously, and therefore got a small troop of trapped men out of danger.  Yet for me the best thing here was the surprising element – the use of Pavlovian seagulls to indicate submarines, and so on.  I guess some people would add the monochrome nature of these pages to the turn-offs, but I didn't mind, and found it fully suiting; the other aspects to the visual representation are all fine.  What this boils down to, then, is a big success – despite the clumsiness it has at times in knowing how much to fictionalise, and some less-than-clear wordless sections, it's a book full of the unusual and unexpected, and probably sits on a very small shelf of similar books.  The fact it fills such a niche so well only helps me hold it in high regard.  Four and a half Dickin Medals.
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