Category Archives: Activism, Protest, & Resistance

Anything to do with grassroots-level activism.

Uncovering and Re-mastering “100 Year Rip Off: The Real History of British Columbia”

edited_cover_smallerSome 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 Despite a few out-of-date depictions (a short section on Chinese migration building the B.C. railways is crudely stereotyped), the work is stylistic and well-researched, in addition to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.

The Silence of Our Friends (2012)

coverTitle: The Silence of Our Friends
Authors: Mark Long and Jim Demonakos
Illustrator: Nate Powell
Published: 2012 by First Second Books

L.P. Hartley said, as noted in the book, “The past is a foreign country. They do things different there.”

Taking place in Houston, Texas, in 1968, The Silence of Our Friends is a brief memoir of Mark Long’s childhood against the backdrop of his town’s peaked racial tension. The title comes from that famous quote by Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Long was raised in a white, Liberal, Christian middle-class family—as American as apple pie, it seems. They find themselves in Houston when Mark’s father, Jack, moves the family to take a job as a TV camera man and the TV station’s “race reporter”. Through his job, Jack befriends a local Civil Rights leader, Larry, a teacher who has rallied students at a segregated university in the 3rd Ward—Houston’s impoverished African American community. The school’s administration banned the right of SNCC to organize (The Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee—a nationwide student group elemental in the rise of the Civil Rights Movement on post-secondary campuses). For more information about this history, I recommend reading a [White-written] news article from the time period, complete with all its presuppositions and bias. This 1967 piece from Harvard Crimson paints a pretty good picture, in addition to providing background on this chapter in Houston’s history.

Despite significant tensions, Jack and Larry’s families attempt to forge a bond in a time and place when it was considered against the rules for African Americans to be in a “white” neighbourhood  even at the invitation of community members, and the Ku Klux Klan openly passed out flyers for their monthly meetings.

soof_artworkThe story is told masterfully against many different backdrops that reflect the memory’s time and place: images of the Vietnam War constantly on TV, rodeos and ‘crabbing’ as weekend past-times. The writing displays an intimate recollection of the events of this time and place—subtleties that pop for modern readers, because so much seems to have changed. A little boy pretending that he’s a soldier in Vietnam; a mother politely arguing with a next-door neighbor about how the war is wrong; a Black man quietly observing that he hasn’t spoken to a white person for any length of time since he was in the Army. One of my favorite scenes is when the children of Jack and Larry’s families are getting to know each other. They spend a good minute just looking at each other. Then they take the time to feel each other’s skin and hair—to investigate difference innocently, without the obstruction of judgement or power dynamics. This is captured most beautifully by Mark’s younger sister, who is blind.

Nate Powell’s artwork equals the story in quality and care. I’ve been a fan on Nate’s work for so long that it’s sometimes impossible for me to appreciate the specific things he does to make a particular work stand out for what it is. The flow of panels here is so well mastered—using song lyrics of contemporary hits (like Sam Cooke’s  “A Change Gonna Come”) to guide us from one scene to another. His artwork is never static—each page is presented with an amazing overall aesthetic. Backgrounds jump from open and white to closed in and dark; the realism of a car driving down a street will be spotted with emotive/expressionistic shapes from the headlights. When I look at his work, I feel like I could be in a dream, where reality unhinging is a slight and beautiful thing. (I also can’t but notice that the subtitle of the work is “The Civil Rights Struggle was Never Black and White”–and Nate, who often works only in B&W, has used a lot of grey tones here.)

There is no other comic book that really compares to this work—it is unique and educational as much as it is personal and moving. However it seems to be opening the doors for more work of a common history—Powell has done artwork for another comic documenting Civil Rights history, March (Book One) written by Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin. I look forward to adding this work, alongside The Silence of Our Friends, to my bookshelf.

soof_artwork2

Interview from the makers of MAYDAY: A Graphic History

“The work we do defines how we live, and how we fit into society.” That’s the first sentence in MAYDAY:  A Graphic History, recently re-published by Between The Lines Press for the group known as the Graphic History Collective. To me, the depth in that simple statement speaks volumes. It’s on the first page of the book, but it’s probably my favourite panel.

MAYDAY is an entry-level look at labour history, and as such is more P.S.A than prose. I’m pleased to be able to share this interview with Sean and Robin of The GHC about this project. In it I feel they’ve offered some important insight on how politics and history can be simplified without being dumbed down… the trials of indie comic book publishing, and the ongoing importance of a political holiday that began with blood more than a century ago.

NMG) I like the way that Graphic History highlights the importance that Mayday has had for working people through the ages, and its transformation from a seasonal/cultural holiday to a socio-political holiday. From your research, when were the earliest expressions of Mayday in relation to labour contracts?

“May Day as a day of celebration for honouring the seasonal transition from Winter to Spring has roots in pre-capitalist traditions. May Pole dancing is perhaps the most familiar expression, but celebrations of this seasonal change also appear in many Indigenous cultures around this date, although “May” was not used to as a term to define time. However, as capitalism began to emerge as a mode of production, the first of May also became the day for renewing contracts in some areas. This possibly could be identified as the real emergence of a relationship between May Day and labour contracts, but the more recognized starting point for May Day as a day of worker resistance, renewal, and protest is generally talked about later, in relation to the fight for the 8-hour working day and the 1886 Haymarket Affair. Out of that grew the 1889 declaration for May 1st to be recognized as an international day for workers (Blogger’s note: This was made by the Second International, a pre-union federation of workers from some 20 countries). Since then, celebrations continue, in different forms and in different contexts, but consciously linked to identities as workers.” 

NMG) How long did this take, from beginning to end?

“The project happened in stages, sometimes with long lapses in time going by without too much progress. It was a side project for all of us, and we worked on it when we could. Research began in 2006, but things really started to come together in 2008-09. We self-published for May 1, 2009, did another print-run in 2010, and then worked with Between the Lines Press for the most recent release in 2012.”

NMG) How are you drawn to history, and what makes the graphic experience of history interesting to you? (This is sort of that essential “Why history? Why comics? Why politics?” type question.)

(Sean) “I have always followed and enjoyed comics; however, when I first read Maus: A Survivor’s Tale in the early 2000s I realized that the genre was capable of so much more. I started following the graphic novel phenomenon more closely and found that there were many politically minded projects out there (Persepolis and A People’s History of American Empire were two very influential ones.) For me, political graphic novels are appealing because they are visually appealing and yet are very accessible and quick to read. Not everyone can sit down on a rainy afternoon and finish Marx’s Capital, but they can get through May Day: A Graphic History of Protest and a few other novels and get that itch to do something personally about the injustice in the world.” 

(Robin) “The history I usually find most inspiring wasn’t part of what I learned when I was younger. Once I began to study history seriously–and moved to a larger area where there were bookstores and bigger libraries–I had the opportunity to more critically engage with ideas. I realized a lot of what I had thought true was actually limited in scope and that the stories were always much more complex.

“This myth-busting component of history really appeals to me, and carries over into my interest in politics. The two are very much linked, and the past is frequently referenced to make political points in the present. History is used as a means to define or shape identity, which in turn influences decision-making processes in many ways.

“All of the Collective members engage in our own separate projects that explore history, politics, and education, and enjoy experimenting with new ways to translate big ideas into smaller chunks of information. Reading detailed, in-depth studies and essays do serve a purpose. Songs, posters, poetry, plays, films, and of course, comics, also serve a purpose and can be used to share information and spark interest in a topic. Comics are also great because of the flexibility and wide range of options that are available for the visual side. I love comics that layer narratives through the text and visuals, particularly when there are story details hidden in the images. These hidden gems compel me to read and re-read comics, historically-focused or otherwise.”

NMG) The larger audience outside of comix culture has been pretty slow in realizing that comics aren’t “just for kids”. Most comics written and published today are for the 20 – 35yr old crowd. Who is MAYDAY’s intended audience? Were you picturing a particular readership when you were writing/drawing?

“Over the past few years an increasing number of scholars, librarians, educators, and youth have started to make the case that comics can be used as teaching tools, and this idea is something that speaks to all of us. We wrote and illustrated the comic influenced and inspired by the growing numbers of really great comics out there. In our own project, we are hoping to appeal to a number of different communities. The comic will likely appeal more to those who know little about the history of this day; it is more of a general overview than a deeply detailed analysis.”

NMG) How did you create this comic as a collective? What was the division of labour? Did one person research while another wrote – or did everyone research? How did the writers contribute to the graphics? etc….

“Creating the graphic history unfolded in many stages and the boundaries of labour were fairly blurry. Robin, Mark, and another researcher, Jeremey Milloy, originally spearheaded the research and drafting. Robin continued on with the drafting of scripts and coordination and then Sean came on to help with writing and editing. From there the three of us, with Sam and Trevor’s suggestions and guidance, wrote and finalized the “script.” At different times, we each took on some of the other work–tracking down graphic designers, making choices about printing and costs, coordinating our launch party, for example–depending on our paid work load and familiarity with the task at hand. We’ve all learned a bit more about that “behind the scenes” work and it has been useful elsewhere in our lives.”

NMG) I’ve recently seen postings by the Collective to collaborate with readers and followers on other historical events. Can you say a little about the ideas and aspirations of any future projects right now?

“We are currently embarking on a new project with Professor Paul Buhle, who has an impressive level of involvement in documenting political graphic histories. Our intention is to create a new “Graphic History Project” which would bring together all those people interested in radical graphic histories and help promote them and the medium at the same time. We are still calling for submissions to the project and the deadline is 21 November 2012.”

“Full details as well as an example of what we are looking for is up on our website.”

For more information about MAYDAY: A Graphic History, the GH Collective, or their call-out, please visit their blog:

graphichistorycollective.wordpress.com/

(And one final Blogger’s Note: There is, in fact, a comic book version of Marx’s Capital that I’ve yet to read–but if you’re interested, you can find more information about it here. I hope there are speed lines used to depict workers’ alienation towards capitalist production, in true Manga fashion…)

On Kickstarter: Prison Grievances by Teri Leclercq

As a comic book author who knows full-well how hard it is to find funding for a project (let alone make that seemingly impossible step from unpublished to published author), I’ve decided to begin publicizing political comic projects that I’m finding online–projects that have not yet reached store shelves, and that can benefit from your support.

This is not only to encourage the medium develop itself as an incredible vehicle for education and storytelling. It’s also to promote the people out there who have chosen comic books to raise awareness. I’ll be bringing you information and links on these projects as I find them on websites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter. (In fact, a recent Guardian UK article noted that Kickstarter has arguably become the 4th largest publisher of graphic novels, according to its crowd-funding data. Surely, within the numbers of those success stories are some amazing pieces of political comic storytelling that mainstream publishers didn’t want to “risk” putting out.)

~(Preview 1)~

“Prison Grievances” is a graphic novel of guidance for U.S. prison inmates in their efforts to file complaints and protect their rights. Written by educator, Terri LeclercBy

Title: Prison Grievances
Project Platform: Kickstarter
Author: Terri Leclercq, (author and educator) 

This project is not to create a book for a regular readership. Prison Grievances is written specifically for inmates of the U.S. prison system, fundamentally focused on education and empowerment. The book, reviewed by people at all levels of the prison system from judges to former inmates, details the step-by-step process for filing complaints with the court system, requesting a special piece of equipment due to a disability–whatever the case may be.

While this book may come across as little more than a practical tool for someone in a different situation than you, it serves a great purpose. The fact of the matter is that 1 in 12 Americans have been in the prison system, and over 2 million people currently sit in jail cells–that’s more prisoners than the People’s Republic of China (which, by the way, still has more people than the U.S.) Anyone who still thinks that the prison industrial complex isn’t a problem should do some more reading on the matter – maybe start with Shane Bauer’s recent heart-wrenching article in Mother Jones: “Solitary in Iran Nearly Broke Me. Then I Went Inside America’s Prisons.”

Leclercq has taken the right approach in tackling this titanic challenge that we face as a society (whether we admit it or not–prisoners becomes ex-prisoners, who are then our co-workers, neighbours, and fellow citizens), and is attempting to hand these men and women a valuable tool. If this project speaks to you, please check out the pitch page and make a donation.

Americana Weekend: Looking Back on Banned Books & an Addiction to War

It’s a big weekend in the Motherland.

Today is October 6, the last day of Banned Books Week (as observed in the U.S.), and tomorrow is the 11th anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Afghanistan.

Opening appeal of a report on the content of comic books in the early 1950s, by Paul Coates – first aired 57 years ago this week. Many of the comics he refers to were in fact used as evidence in the 1954 U.S. Senate Subcommittee hearings on juvenile delinquency–which were televised, and very high-profile. Many of these comics were thereafter banned, and the “Comics Code Authority” was born. For more info: http://www.cbldf.org

To commemorate both occasions, I’ll be looking through some interesting reads – a few quick reviews, a few more graphic samples for you to peruse and consider looking into further. (A side note- The list of political comic books that I’m finding just gets longer and longer… as time goes on, I find that this blog isn’t really the place for long-winded analysis–more, it’s a platform for sharing and promoting political titles. If I ever attract a little more attention to the blog, I may delve further into the regions of research and critique.)

Consider this clip as a bit of an introduction to the role comics have had within the question of banned books.

Comics have been criticized, censored, and outright banned from time to time over the course of their existence… particularly in the U.S. in the McCarthy-Era 1950’s. Nothing can really compete with the dishing of defamation they received as an entire medium for many years. The arguments are as numerous as they are close-minded: comic books cause criminal behavior; comic books encourage drug use; comic books discourage “proper” reading by including pictures to interpret a story in addition to words.

Dateline: OCT 7, 2012 — YEP, WE’RE STILL ADDICTED TO WAR

Consider not only the reality that tomorrow marks the anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Afghanistan, “Operation Enduring Freedom” (a campaign, which, within the first months of carpet-bombing, was said to have wiped tens of thousands of souls out of existence). It also marks the anniversary of the country’s longest (ever!) war/prolonged military engagement. Longer than WWII. Longer than the Civil War. We are raised considering these conflicts and the catastrophic damage inflicted by them as definitive pieces of our country and its character–so what has been learned from the Global War on Terror?

As an American, I say: We are, as we have never been, truly addicted to war. I’m taking some time to peruse my war comics to show you some of the ways that comic artists and writers have approached this in the past few years…

I’ve held onto this photo-copied zine comic (below) for about 10 years now… it amazes me that it hasn’t begun to disintegrate, although there is some serious creasing and ink erosion. I’m sorry to say that some of the text is now completely unreadable (maybe it always was, and I just didn’t notice?)… Although I know very little about this comic (I can’t find a record of it online), I want to give credit where credit is due: All artwork is (c) D. Ferrera, Amber Mclean & Dan Mchale.

Anyway, I’m a HUGE fan of the illustration style here. There is an obvious realism, some straight-up brutal imagery (the section on depleted uranium and its effect of the Iraqi birth rates is devastating, but certainly not the fault of the artist). Although out-dated, there is a lot of useful information here, good enough to give anyone a crash course on the consequences of the U.S.-led, U.N.-OK’d sanctions against Iraq, which devastated the country even before the 2003 invasion of Baghdad.

I think, despite some really low-rate copy job, that this is (or was, at some time), a pretty amazing indie anti-war comic. Hope to track down its creators some time soon, at the very least to ask for a better copy to post here.

An essential is Joel Andreas’ anti-war comic, Addicted to War–cover image at the beginning of this thread–which first came out, like the above publication, as a result of U.S. aggression against Iraq in the 1990’s. Andreas, who already had experience making political graphic novels, decided it was time to take on America’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for military conflict. He approached this book with the idea that it could be used as an educational tool – in High School and college class rooms, study groups, religious centers, etc. And eventually, it was. After going out of print in the late 1990’s, it was re-printed, given some decent publicity (now available through AK Press, it’s been widely distributed through various grassroots channels) and has since sold over 200,000 copies.

In 77 pages, from ‘Manifest Destiny’ to ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’, Andreas covers a lot of ground and strings it together to show the historically documented economic and social interest of war for American men and women of power. There is more educational value in this book than in the four different U.S. History textbooks I was issued as a secondary student – combined.

The book was updated to include information about the Iraq War (the copy I’m holding is a 2003-er), but it’s already so out of date. There was barely time for him to include information about Iraq and Afghanistan… of course this just means we should press him for a revised 20th Anniversary edition.

“WAR” – An anthology to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

My final addition to this edition of Political Comics Review is a bit of both topics – a 2004 anthology printed to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and its theme was “WAR”.

Much more artistically/aesthetically driven than political driven, this volume gives credit to the artists and their work to be able to raise some social commentary without it being outwardly political – and hey, it’s fundamentally political anyway, because it’s funding a good cause that’s solely dedicated to Free Speech and First Amendment protection.

The book is mostly fiction, all short stories, all having something to do with war. I’ve got a few favorites, like a short at the beginning where three guys are holed up in a gunned-down building (they appear to be under siege)… and there’s this great build-up to see the enemy… suddenly, thousands of leaflets fall from the sky, and you see these poorly translated messages, illustrated with PSA-style icons, of alien invaders asking them to lay down their arms and to cooperate “to make a unity planet with happiness people!”

Funny, sad, goofy, serious. The contributions are all diverse and all a good read, approaching the subject of ‘War’ from a multitude of angles. It is a reminder of how varied the scope of “political comics” can truly be.

For more information on the subject of banned comics, please please please check out the CBLDF’s website – some incredible documentation on a subject of which I’ve barely scratched the surface.