Day 6

'Son of Hitler': How the Charlottesville protests inspired a graphic novel's major plot change

Canadian writer Anthony Del Col's new graphic novel 'Son of Hitler' started off as a story about a World War II Nazi hunter's obsession with finding the illegitimate son of Adolf Hitler. But after Charlottesville, Del Col was motivated to come up with a new ending.

A new book explores the longstanding legend that Adolf Hitler had a son — and what he might have done

Anthony Del Col (left) is the co-creator of Son of Hitler. (Submitted by Anthony Del Col, Image Comics)

Canadian writer Anthony Del Col had already finished a draft of his graphic novel Son of Hitler when events in Charlottesville, Va., inspired him to take on a new direction with his story. 

One year ago, the white supremacist Unite the Right rally descended onto the city. The clash in Charlottesville led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was killed after a driver plowed into a crowd during an anti-racist counter protest. Another, similar rally is planned for Washington, D.C. on Sunday.

Like many around the world, Del Col was shocked and moved by the events in Charlottesville. As a result, he decided to change the script of the novel he had co-created and co-written with writer Geoff Moore. 

Son of Hitler, which was released this summer, is a piece of historical fiction that follows a Nazi hunter's obsession with finding the illegitimate son of Adolf Hitler. Del Col spoke to Day 6 host Brent Bambury about the graphic novel. Here is part of their conversation: 

An image from Son of Hitler. Anthony Del Col said the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va. inspired him to change the script of his graphic novel. (Image Comics)

Brent Bambury: This time last year, when you saw what was happening in Charlottesville, Va., what was your initial reaction?

AD: I started to get goosebumps, but not in a good way. It made me fearful about everything that's going on in the world today. And most importantly as an artist, it really made me think about what can I do to talk about this? It was the sort of things that you normally would just see in historical footage, clips from the past. But to see them live and to see that they just happened, it's a scary, scary thing.

BB: So as an artist, you are already working on the Son of Hitler. What happened in Charlottesville that changed your project?

AD: We already had a draft of the book. We were going to end our story in the bunker and find out how Adolf Hitler dies. But then when I saw Charlottesville...we came together and decided we need to do something about this. Since our story is already about Nazis, what can we do to take that story from 1945 and make it more relevant to today's audiences? That's when we kind of came up with an entirely new twist.

A photo taken by Ryan M. Kelly shows people being thrown into the air as a car plows into a group of protesters demonstrating against an "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville in Virginia, U.S., August 12, 2017.

BB: The third act talks about the possibility of a Fourth Reich and that Fourth Reich could happen in America.

AD: Absolutely. I mean to me, that is the scariest thing. You have a rise in white supremacist groups, in neo-Nazis, in far right groups and it's not just in the United States. In Europe, you have it all over the world. As a writer and a creator, I always think about what is the scariest thing that's happened today, or what might keep me up at night. And something like this, I can't think of anything scarier.

BB: Most of this book takes place during the time of the Second World War, some of it pre-dates that. But it's an alternate history of what could have happened at the end of World War II. What was it that attracted you to this narrative in the first place?

AD: Well first of all, I'm a huge fan of historical fiction tales, [like] I've done in my other works like Kill Shakespeare and Assassins Creed. I like the what if or I love the ability to create metaphors or to create parallels to today's world in past stories. So in this one here, yes it's a story that takes place during World War II. You've got a rogue female spy handler who discovers this legend that Hitler had fathered a child during the First World War and she does everything to find this guy and use him to kill Adolf Hitler and the war.

I really loved the concept of playing in this historical playground but then making it so relevant [to] today. You're talking about Nazis, talking about far right movements, talking about females in the workplace. Because at that time, you didn't have many female spies, if any at all. And so, to have a female spy handler who basically goes rogue and decides, "Hey this is how to end World War II," that's something that really interests me, especially in today's world where females are rising in every employment area. 

One of the characters in Son of Hitler is Cora Brown, a World War II Nazi hunter who tries to track down Adolf Hitler's illegitimate son. (Image Comics)

BB: This legend that Hitler had a real son that actually existed, is that out there in the conspiracy stories surrounding World War II?

AD: Back In the 1960s, there was an individual in France who actually put his hand up and said, "Hey I am actually the illegitimate son of Adolf Hitler." It was never proven. He wrote a book about it but there wasn't anything hugely notable.

But, maybe about six, seven years ago, Geoff Moore, my co-creator and another Canadian, he actually was the first one to tell me about this rumour or this legend that Hitler had a child. Immediately as a creator, my mind started to just go off in different directions.

I'm personally obsessed with stories about nature versus nurture. How similar are we to our parents? How important is the environment that we are raised in to who we become? And so, a story about a man who is the illegitimate son the worst human on the face of the planet, how similar is he? And how different is he?

An illustration of Pierre, the illegitimate son of Adolf Hitler, in the graphic novel Son of Hitler.

BB: After Charlottesville you have this third act, that the Fourth Reich is possible. How big do you think that threat really is?

AD: Up until a year ago, I thought this was pure fiction. People have always talked about Fourth Reich and a lot of stories that deal with the aftermath of World War II [and] alternate histories. With the exception of say, Man in the High Castle or The Plot Against America, a lot of them deal with Nazis [who] escaped into South America and that's where they tried to build the Fourth Reich.

But when Charlottesville came up I said, "Guys it can't be South American. It's got to be North American, it's got to be the United States." And one of the things we talk about in this third act is what would these people be doing to set the stage for it? I don't really want to spoil anything — read the book. But the foundation is there and it's because of one certain mechanism in society.

James Alex Fields Jr., second from left, holds a black shield in Charlottesville, Va., where a white supremacist rally took place. (Alan Goffinski/Associated Press)

BB: I was thinking of 30 years ago in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazis are almost like cartoons. But now, do you see the threat of Nazis? And do you see when they're represented in books like yours, do they seem more real to you?

AD: Absolutely, and that's what Charlottesville was to me. It made everything more real. It put an actual face. I've done a number of signings and talks here in New York over the last couple of weeks to promote Son of Hitler. And one of the things I do is show an image from Charlottesville and it's two young men that are carrying the torches and they're shouting and you look at them and that is the face of evil today. It absolutely makes it more relevant and scarier.

This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Anthony Del Col, download our podcast or click the listen button at the top of this page.