Political Comics – A Rain Day Reading List

I’ve had a couple of people recently ask me for a list good political comics to delve into as the days get shorter.

Here in Toronto, we were fortunate enough to have warm weather all the way til the end of October – but that seems to be over and done with as we approach Halloween. It’s cold and soggy out- perfect comic book weather (inside…and with soup, of course.)

I’ve found that folks certainly find the genre of political comics interesting, but I will be the first to admit that it can be intimidating at entry level. Comic book stores are difficult places to start, with their tens of thousands of titles that range from action  heroes to historical biographies. Intriguing and artfully-crafted stories hide amid piles of highly-produced junk with polished covers, like so many needles in a hay barn. Unfortunately some of the best artists in the world are then hired to hide these shit-for-plots further with the endless depictions of semi-pornographic female bodies (Alan Moore, on the related subject of writing decent pornography, commented that there is a delicate brain-to-penis blood ratio that makes physical and mental stimulation often mutually exclusive… a side note).

It’s safe to say that I think of the world of comic books in a very similar way as the worlds of music–or art in general. There’s a lot of crap. Hence, a short list below of some of my favourite comics and graphic novels. And while I don’t exclusively read political comics in my spare time, I’ve decided to keep this list within that framework (since that is the scope of this little corner of the World Wide Web).

For a little more detail on a shorter list of comics, I recommend folks check out my Crash Course post on political comics.

Two-Fisted Tales – Early war comic book series that truly endeavoured to tell the whole truth about war – the bravery and courage alongside the fear and ignorance, the death and destruction, the impact of war on soldier and civilian alike.

V for Vandetta – An epic story of a futuristic dystopian England, this story is now not only a classic of the medium but for 20th Century literature in general. Alan Moore (mentioned above) keenly has you observe and then slowly dismantle every major institution of oppression: the state, the mainstream media, the religious establishment, the military, patriarchal marriage, and so on. I read this story when I was 13 over the course of 2 days, and it changed my life. A must-read.

Palestine – Joe Sacco is an incredible comic artist and writer, but he is also a pioneer in realm of comics journalism. Palestine and other books like Safe Area Gorazde, about the Bosnian War, told news stories that the mainstream news wouldn’t touch, from a perspective that they never even thought possible. It’s now because of those books that millions of people were able to know the reality for these victims of military aggression. Total game-changers. His most recent works include Journalism and Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt – co-created with award-winning journalist Chris Hedges.

MAUS – A Survivor’s Tale – Perhaps the most significant comic book in terms of its impact on an anti-comic book literary establishment, Art Spiegelman really confused people when this book came out in the 1980s. Not only was is a comic book about the Holocaust, but its main characters were depicted as mice… what to make of it? A lot has already been written about Maus and its impact on comic books and literature. To quote Wikipedia (which is itself quoting numerous academic sources):

It became one of the “Big Three” book-form comics from around 1986–1987, along with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, that are said to have brought the term “graphic novel” and the idea of comics for adults into mainstream consciousness. It was credited with changing the public’s perception of what comics could be, at a time when, in the English-speaking world, they were considered to be for children, and strongly associated with superheroes. (Full entry can be read here.)

I don’t think I have much more to add after that.

The Confessions of Nat Turner – This is surely one of my favorite graphic novels of all time; I can’t believe I haven’t taken the time to review it here yet. Kyle Baker did an incredible thing with this comic, and remained true to the primary source of Nat Turner, the leader of a 19th Century slave revolt, in his last interview before he was executed. As a passionate history buff, nothing speaks with more respect to the people of our past than having them speak for themselves. Editorialized, history slowly but surely erodes the reality that once was.

If you’re looking for other great political comic books, check out the Political Comics menu option on this page – where I’ve reviewed some others in the past few months.

Thanks for reading – and read on!

NMG

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