War in the Neighborhood is 320 pages of largely unheard history. First published in 1999, WITN is a story about smashing cinderblocks, filling in the cracks and finding our future in the rubble. It tells the story of New York City’s Lower East Side in the late 1980s, when it came under attack by wealthy developers, cynical politicians and that special kind of daring yuppie who thinks that gunshots in the night are a sure sign of a hip ‘hood. The panels may be black and white, but the moral questions raised in the comic are anything but.
It may be hard to imagine that a story set at the end of the Cold War is relevant to struggle today. The history of social struggle, however, repeats itself. The lessons contained in ‘War in the Neighborhood’ have echoes in Occupy, Black Lives Matter and other 21st century social movements.
‘War in the Neighborhood’ is the longest book we’ve ever published. Our printer tells us that it will cost about $11,000 to print 3,000 copies. In order to ensure that our publishing projects are sustainable, we make sure that pre-order campaigns like this one cover the full cost of printing. Our funding levels reflect the cost of laying out, printing and shipping these titles. That’s why we’re asking for 15 big ones in order to cover costs.
But, there are some incredible perks in this crowdfunder: workshops, original poster art, super-rare political comics… even some special offers for retailers and distros! So check out the crowdfunder and spread the word!
Title: Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World Contributors: Mike Alewitz, Seth Tobocman, Sue Coe, Sabrina Jones Edited: Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman Published: Verso Books, 2005 Length:306 Pages
“Happy May Day, friends and fellow workers!”
It is hard to imagine these words would once have been enough to land the speaker in a cramped jail cell, crammed with dozens of fellow workers like so many salty, tinned fish. ‘Wobblies!’ chronicles the rise of the Industrial Workers of the World from a promising start in Chicago. We are taken through several major strikes and biographies of bohemians and revolutionaries by the comic’s several contributors. Curiously, what unites many of these tales is the suffering of their subjects.
Perhaps there is nothing surprising in this. There is a peculiar allure to martyrdom. Saints, mystics and secular heroes of humanity the world over have been canonized by their suffering long before any state or patriarch could place the laurels on their bloodied brows. Hagiography, the genre of saints’ biographies, owes much of its enduring popularity to stories of the suffering of those early Christians. In a modern context, today is a commemoration of the deaths of the Haymarket Martyrs, Chicago anarchists who went to the gallows for a crime none had committed. “Wobblies” continues in this tradition.
In its entirety, the book is a collection of short narratives surrounding major events in the history of the IWW. It begins with a detailed recounting of their founding convention, rich in historical personages such as perennial Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs and Haymarket widow (and ass-kicking anarchist heroine) Lucy Parsons. From there, it outlines several major strikes, particularly those associated with the Western Federation of Miners, and the textile strikes in Lawrence and Paterson, a high watermark for union organizing under the IWW banner. This is followed by more strike accounts, then biographical sketches of the highly eclectic bunch of radicals who swelled the ranks of the IWW during its heyday and kept its memory alive through long decades of irrelevance. It ends with two modern episodes. The first details the life of environmentalist and Wobbly Judy Bari, while the second recounts a port strike in Jefferson, Indiana.
Nothing in this critique is meant to belittle the value of the struggles, or the bravery of participants. These are struggles that shaped the lives of generations of Americans by putting a pressure on state and capital alike. The fights found between these pages paved the way for the eight hour day, for wage increases and safety regulations. But they also fell short of the ultimate goal; a society in which the wealth of society is shared equally amongst those who produce it.
These vignettes are a mixture of victory, defeat and sentimental reminisce. Shot through all of them are scenes of agony, of sometimes lethal suffering. Martyrdom is an old and popular theme in heroic narrative, and echoes from Calvary to Tahrir. Looking at these graphic re-tellings, it is impossible not to be reminded of paintings of saints caged in cells, pierced by arrows. They are ennobled, it would seem, by their suffering.
So it is for the workers in the pages of “Wobblies!” They are shot, beaten, jailed, defamed, tortured, bombed, ridiculed and betrayed. The outcome of the struggle is secondary to these latter-day passion plays, showcasing the divine agony of the downtrodden. Anguish is often compounded by anguish, with strikers blamed for the deaths of other strikers.
There are courage and beauty both in the struggles of IWW organizers and members. Their suffering is a credit to their devotion. But it is their vision that matters most to the future, not their pain. They were not shot so our eyes could blear at the mention of their memory. Not for nothing are the words associated with Joe Hill: “Don’t mourn, organize!”
In other words, the image of Frank Little that captures our imagination is not his battered corpse hanging from a Montana Bridge, but of the cantankerous old bastard hobbling around America on two crutches. With one leg and one eye, Little walked farther and saw more in the name of industrial struggle than many activists could imagine today. As he is said to have remarked “All we’re gonna need from now on is guts!”
It is fitting, then, that the image of Judi Bari that concludes her story is not one of the car bomb that took her legs, but of Bari fiddling. It would be too easy to dwell on the pain of these Wobblies, to accept the tacit coupling of corporal agony and moral ecstasy. But on this May Day, and every day, we have to remember that this is not why blood was shed. This is not why bones were broken. Our antecedents suffered not so that we could romanticize them, but so that we could follow their lead. The general strike is our best hope, and it will take one big union to get there.
Written largely by alternative comics legend Harvey Pekar, “Students For a Democratic Society – A Graphic History” is a vexing text. Published in 2008, it breezes through a decade of radical organizing with moments of resistance narrated by witnesses to the history of the SDS. Along the way we learn the names, faces and stories of many of the most famous activists associated with the legendary student group, as well as some of their mentors. It is both a formal history and a collection of brief individual accounts, some spanning decades or a single afternoon, of former members of the SDS. Continue reading The Times They Have A-Changed | Review of “SDS: A Graphic History”→
Title: MARCH: Book One Creators: John Lewis, Andrew Aykin, and Nate Powell Published: August 2013 by Top Shelf Press
March: Book One is the first part in a trilogy graphic memoir detailing the life and times of Civil Rights activist and Congressman John Lewis.
Growing up in the United States, you’re led to believe that you learn all there is to know about the Civil Rights Movement in school. You learn about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycotts; you learn about the most famous American speech of the 20th Century: “I Have a Dream”.
In a recent article shared through the Zinn Education Project, historian and black activist Bill Fletcher Jr. describes the method by which certain moments and people in the Civil Rights movement have been “mythologized” and “sanitized“. And boy, has our understanding of this history been manipulated! We would be led to believe that forces of the status quo in the 1950s and 1960s–from local police departments up to the President’s office–supported non-violent forms of protest; that racism and racists were isolated to the masses of simple folk in the South.
Of course, the result of this is that students are not understanding the context of these important pieces of history. That is why I’m hopeful of a book like March making its way into classrooms… students deserve a broader view of these issues than what will be allocated to them in 2 or 3 paragraphs of a standard-issue textbook.
As John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell so eloquently show us in March, this was not the case. The Civil Rights movement was a bloody, uphill battle. The struggle and its gains were not the results of a few actions by those now famous historical figures: the movement moved by way of thousands of committed activists, many of whom were students.
This is a truly beautiful comic book that paints a portrait not just of a man (John Lewis was one of the leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and is now a Congressman; he is also the last living person to have given a speech alongside Martin Luther King on Aug 28, 1963). It paints a vivid portrait of a movement that you think you know, but maybe, possibly, probably don’t. Why was non-violent civil disobedience so radical at the time? Why were there rifts between the younger activists and the older black leadership–figures like Thurgood Marshall? How was the Civil Rights movement connected to religious groups? To the labor movement?
Nate Powell has a way of making every picture personable–crisp, yet dreamy, with solid black ink brush strokes complimented by dabbles of watercolor staining. And Andrew Aydin, who works on Congressman John Lewis’ staff, has obviously been instrumental in taking the vast treasure trove of information that is John Lewis’ life experience, and organizing it into an epic memoir. I particularly like the stories that attest to his core character, like growing up on an old sharecropper farm, wanting to be a preacher and practicing his talks on his chickens. These are wonderful stories that bring out the humanity behind the political battles.
These are the stories from the Civil Rights Movement that, I believe, reclaim the history and restore its heart and soul. You can’t learn about a protest movement from a government-sanctioned textbook.. they’ll make you think the whole thing was their idea. And although Congressman Lewis is now a part of that system, well… how he got there will be explained in the next two books of the trilogy.
I’m excited about what I’ve seen so far–this is an often raw, ugly–yet true history of the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. To get a glimpse of this, I’ve asked the kind folks at Top Shelf to show you the first five pages of March. I hope you see what I mean–and be sure to pick up a copy when you get the chance!
Available here for the first time is a collection of pages from Ad Astra Comix’s upcoming re-release of the 100 Year Rip-Off. Originally printed in 1971 for the B.C. Centennial, Ad Astra, in cooperation with the artist Bob Altwein, are making the work available for a new generation. Enjoy!
The series opens with one of the main characters taking down a dog fighting ring. It’s a feel-good moment where a few horrible people are given their just desserts, and some dogs get the justice they deserve.
Liberator is a series that tells the story of two animal liberation activists who save dogs and other animals from abuse. While one has a long history of making a public presence in activism, the other chooses to work in the shadows, taking direct vigilante-style action against abusers, most of whom are themselves breaking the law with their activities. Each issue comes in at about a dozen pages of full-colour graphics, and is coupled with literature (located in the back) on animal rights work.
I do tend to approach my comic reviews in two ways. One is aesthetic: is the story good? Does the art kick ass? The other side of my reviews tends to focus on political/social relevance and its method of delivery. Like the Bechdel test, a comic that is most politically relevant doesn’t make it a good story—nor are the two mutually exclusive. They embody separate goals, hopefully ones that work together.
Aesthetically I think Liberator is pretty impressive. It is more or less self-published under the new label of Black Mask Studios, after a Kickstarter campaign that brought comic and animal lovers together quite successfully. Key points in the comic show some really nice artwork with great colour schemes. I don’t quite feel a connection to the narrative yet, but it is only Issue #1.. (I point this out because Matt Miner made me cry within about 6 pages of his story “Light” in the Occupy Comics Issue #2 that just came out– so my standards are high with him. Great comic, by the way. Read it. Read it now.)
In only a dozen pages, the comic nonetheless makes lots of commentary, and not just on animal rights. One is that a lot of people who literally devote their lives to helping others (humans or animals) work the crappiest of minimum wage jobs to get by. (Check). Another is that men who encounter other men’s disrespect of women should call that shit out. (Check). I think there is also more subtle commentary here, like when a black man refers to a dog he is abusing as “his property” (irony?) –or the never-ending activist debate with regards to making effective change by political protest vs. other more creative, even illegal forms of resistance.
(All of this is hypothetical in a comic book, of course. Which is what makes it so great.)
Liberator clearly has an agenda. Guess what? Everything does, including comic books. My opinion is if you’re pouring your life/money/job into creating something and you’re not using it to say something meaningful, you’re making a bad investment There is a self-awareness in political comics that the project’s completion will be able to further assist with a topic that generally lacks creative avenues of discussion–like animal abuse, or violence against women, or mistreatment of prisoners. For a long time the comics community and activists of varying causes have waved the other away–“No one will buy that.” “Sounds campy.” “What’s the difference between a comic with a political agenda and propaganda?”…..and vice versa, “A comic dumb’s down the topics we’re trying to discuss,” “Comics take time and money,” and again, “No one will buy it.”
To fit a lot of potential discussion into such a small space is indicative of the medium’s ability. So even if I’m not totally compelled by the narrative just yet, my hat goes off to the Liberator team, and I look forward to picking up the next copy.
I have funny, petty criticisms of Liberator (like, No one wearing a Conflict shirt would wear blue cargo pants) that boil down to me thinking/writing out loud. But I also felt it was honing in (maybe too much?) on a small minority of psychotic animal killers and abusers. I mean, how many of those can there be out there?
The day after I read Liberator, my husband wouldn’t stop talking about Mike Vick’s dogfighting bust, and I just couldn’t get it out of my mind that this was a man who obviously didn’t live in the shadows, and he has a thing for training dogs to kill other dogs, and motivating them through methods like pressing a hot iron against their faces. He was a superstar football player with thousands of people following him on social media, laughing at his jokes, and ready to buy whatever he endorsed. And he killed animals for fun.
Is the animal-abusing psychopath …common? Or perhaps regardless of its frequency of occurrence, does that make it any less real or disturbing where and when it happens? Maybe there are issues that effect a larger swath of our population, like the number of homeless pets out there, but comic books focusing on extreme crimes and abuses is nothing new.
…as a side note, the special edition cover of Issue #1 absolutely wins my heart over. I will be following this comic closely, and I encourage others to do the same.
Some of you will remember when I blogged about Liberator during its Kickstarter campaign. Looks like that money went to some good use – holy smokes, that artwork in this is amazing. Congratulations to writer Matt Miner and the Liberator team.
Destination this weekend: Ft. Meade, Maryland, where hundreds/thousands are gathering to protest the continued imprisonment of whistle-blower Bradley Manning. June 1st marks the beginning of his 4th year in prison- over a year of which has been in solitary confinement–and his trial has only just begun.
My plan: to cover the rally and the case of whistle-blowers and war resisters from a comics journalism perspective. Who are whistle blowers and war resisters within the current framework of the Global War On Terror? What are the historical precedents? What compels them to face jail time, potentially life sentences for standing up / speaking out / leaking classified information?
Obviously, I will be biased in my investigation. My husband is a former U.S. 82nd Airborne Paratrooper who served a 15 month tour of duty in Afghanistan–and would be arrested the minute he stepped back into the United States on grounds of desertion, as his contract was being extended to include a second tour. As his partner and someone who has heard intimately on his time in the military, I feel confident in saying that the injustices he witnessed were first-hand; stuff not of a “necessary evil” or “duality of man” that resigns one to complacence. I believe he and Bradley Manning share a story–a story shared, in one way or another, by all whistle-blowers, war resisters, and veterans who have decided to make a stand, and I’d like to share that story with all of you.
I bring with me the 5 P’s:
Phone (Voice recording / camera / Internet)
World War 3 is America’s longest-running radical comics anthology. While I’ve never reviewed an issue for Ad Astra, a lot of radical comic artists (including those I’ve featured here) have graced their pages. This issue took on the idea of “the other” – when ideas and people are perceived as alien, even opposite or in conflict with the given norm.
Issue #44 includes:
“Alien Europe” by Ganzeer – An exploration of cultural differences across time and space. This appears to be based on a lecture, or perhaps just a thought process of the author, but he shows how all culture is, in short, a homogenization of converging cultures.
“Single Lens Reflex” by Sandy Jimenez – Autobiographical piece about gentrification, photography, and class dynamics in artistic interpretation. That description makes it sound stuffy and academic, but it is extremely personal and heartfelt. I think this is an amazing story that is told very well. Sandy Jimenez has a great understanding of memoir narrative–looking back on a feeling that he had over a period of years and identifying how it developed, how he came to understand and overcome it, and what remains. A gem – one of my favourite contributions to the issue.
“Kemba Smith” by Sabrina Jones and Marc Mauer – part of a larger book called Race to Incarcerate: A Graphic Retelling about the U.S. prison system (available as of April 2013 from The New Press). “Kemba Smith” tells the story of a 24 year old college student with no previous record, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for her connection to her drug-dealing boyfriend.
“Charest, Dehors! Inside Quebec, Out in the Streets” – by Jesse Staniforth and Dan Buller. Great personal account of the massive student protests in Quebec – a story that we’ve yet to fully unravel and appreciate in the rest of Canada/North America in general. Great illustrations from Dan Buller, mostly from photographs from the protests, accompanied with reproductions of some of the protest/street art that appeared over the course of the action.
“Baddawi” – A comic memoir by Palestinian American comic artist Leila Abdul Razzaq, who has illustrated her family history from Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing campaign, to her father living as a child in a refugee camp, to her own modern-day self. Making her debut in this issue of WW3, Razzaq focuses on her family, showing how her grandmother survived Al Naqba at the age of 17, and how her father became the most successful marble tycoon of their family’s refugee camp.
Further notes: Razzaq’s style is very simple. My first impression was that it reminded me of Satrapi’s Persepolis for its simple line work and good use of contrast. But on further inspection I see some interesting and original details–garments with designs that are distinctly Palestinian, imagery of invading soldiers coming out of the ocean. I think Razzaq probably faced/faces the challenge of having content in her stories that is so powerful, it can overshadow or overpower her artwork. It’s a good challenge, and I can’t wait to see how her work develops and evolves with her storytelling.
“A Real Hero” by Tom Keough – A personal memory of the artist and two friends sticking up for a man who was getting beaten to death by a group of men in the street.
“One Rainy Night” – Peter Kuper’s enactment of a conversation with a once-rich and beautiful woman. This one-page piece is part of a larger body of work entitled, Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City.
“One City, One People, One Planet” – The legendary Seth Tobocman makes some inspiring observations about the human response to Hurricane Sandy.
“Nap Before Noon” by Barrack Rima – translated from Arabic and read right-to-left, tells the story of the authors first trek into Europe as an immigrant.
Some time ago now, I was more deeply submerged in socialist literature than comic books. Luckily, when I received an old, shoddy copy of this tabloid-sized piece, I kept it.
Originally released in 1971 for the Centennial commemoration of B.C. joining Canada, a group called Young Socialist released this tabloid-sized comic history as a reading supplement. Despite a few out-of-date depictions (a short section on Chinese migration building the B.C. railways is crudely stereotyped), the work is stylistic and well-researched, in addition to lending insight into labour tensions (particularly the BC Fed vs. rank and file workers) in the province at that time.
I am now at the point where, as much as I want to review every new political comic release that is coming out, I too want to dig for those historic gems that were far more ahead of the times than they ever could have imagined. Who would have thought that in the last decade alone, the category of “educational comics” ranging from history and economics to science and the arts would be in a scramble for an exploding market? “Graphic histories” have popped up like weeds on every subject and personality; they are now the bread and butter of a middle school classroom.
My copy of 100 Year Rip Off is in good condition, but is the copy of a copy that wasn’t. I haven’t been able to find another copy online, and can only assume that other remaining copies in the country are most likely in personal collections. I have scanned it onto my computer and plan to spend the next few weeks re-mastering the images, to have it available as a downloadable .PDF file. It’s a wonderful piece of Canadian radical history, and I look forward to seeing it the way it was when it first came out.