Category Archives: Art Activism

Themes relating to art as a force for social change.

Call for Art: End Migrant Detention!

In January 2017, Ad Astra Comix is teaming up with Toronto-based artist and activist Tings Chak to produce a new and improved 2nd edition of their work, “UNDOCUMENTED: The Architecture of Migrant Detention”.

What is Undocumented?

This 120 page book of illustrations, diagrams, and comics journalism-style interviews with former detainees explores the world of migrant detention from the intersection of architecture and migrant justice. The result is a unique and eye-opening argument for an end to migrant detention as we know it –or, in many cases, as we have only begun to discover it exists.

Pre-orders for the book’s 2nd edition will begin with a crowdfunder in January, and we’d like to use the crowdfunder as an opportunity to celebrate all art against migrant detention.

Themes:

– End Migrant Detention
– Refugees Welcome Here
– No One Is Illegal
– Stop the Deportations
– Migration is Not a Crime

If you are an artist and would like to “donate” a digital file as a promotional perk, we will promote your art through the crowdfunder and compensate you for your work to the tune of a 20% royalty on all items sold. Please e-mail adastracomix@gmail.com for details.

Requirements & Deadline

Deadline for art submissions will be January 1, 2017. We request that files be 300 dpi, black and white or colour, and between the size dimensions of 5″ x 7″ – 18″ x 24″ (irregular dimensions may also be accepted). Any questions or concerns, please e-mail Ad Astra Comix at adastracomix@gmail.com.

Looking for Inspiration?

Check out some beautiful migrant justice artwork through the JustSeeds print collective and their collection, “Migration Now!” Have any other inspiring suggestions? Msg us and we’ll share it!

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7 Ways ‘War in the Neighborhood’ is the Comic Book version of RENT

Anyone who has accidentally gotten their one theatre friend talking has heard of ‘RENT’, the 1993 musical about artists and activists living in Alphabet City, New York. But far fewer people have ever heard of Seth Tobocman’s ‘War in the Neighborhood’, a graphic novel published in 1999 that has more than a few similarities to ‘RENT’. How many? Let’s take a look.

gerrymandered1. Both take place in New York City’s Lower East Side

Sure, Alphabet City is a little bit more specific than ‘Lower East Side’, but it’s the same neighborhood, a stretch of blocks between Avenue 1 and A Street. Now one of the most expensive places to live in North America, the Lower East Side once had a reputation for being a haven to bohemians, radicals, immigrants and anyone else looking for a cheap place to live as they set out to build lives in the capital of the world. The perfect place to write a tragedy in the case of ‘RENT’, or watch one unfold, in the case of ‘War in the Neighborhood’.

 

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2. They’re both set in the Bush years

No, not that Bush. From 1988-1992, George Bush Sr. was president of an America in transition. Eight years of Ronald Reagan had kick-started the “War on Drugs”, broken the back of the labor movement and set the stage for the disappearance of the middle class. Many of the themes the two works have in common: the AIDS crisis, gentrification, conscientious objection to said “War on Drugs,” and heavily politicized art. Romantic as life on the Lower East Side might seem in art, the lived reality was often one of hunger, cold and constant anxiety that today would be eviction day. Both ‘RENT’ and ‘War in the Neighborhood’ show that heady mix of insecurity and adventure.

this is how the system kills us

 

3. Both stories involve the struggle between squatters and gentrifiers

At the root of that anxiety about displacement, of course, was gentrification. After decades of neglect and urban decay, developers in New York City saw an opportunity. Slowly, condos began springing up along with yuppie shops, gyms and coffee bars, pricing residents out of their own communities.

Both the squatters and gentrifiers look at the decaying urban infrastructure and see possibility: but where squatters see the potential for an inclusive, self-reliant community, gentrifiers saw an opportunity to turn a profit regardless of the human cost.

In ‘RENT’, Benny is an affable tech entrepreneur who promises his old bohemian buddies a home in his state-of-the art “cyber studio” – but only if they can stop a protest happening in the neighborhood—against what? Gentrification. Meanwhile, this process of urban transformation is illustrated as a gigantic serpent in ‘War in the Neighborhood’, coiling itself up the old apartment blocks and suffocating the life out of the people who live there. Backed by the power of local politicians, this force seemed unstoppable.

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In both stories it is a group of squatters who form a front-line opposition to this community takeover. They occupy the abandoned buildings before the landlords get a chance to burn them down. While Roger and Mark may be living for free, courtesy of Benny, Mimi and the rest of the squatters seen in ‘RENT’ are very much taking their chances. Squatting is a major theme of ‘War in the Neighbourhood’, where the struggle to build a life that you could lose at any time appears again and again.

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4. Anarchists play a prominent role in each title

Sure enough, wherever there are struggles against gentrification, anarchists probably aren’t far behind. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, anarchists party in Tompkins Square Park, fight the police, denounce Leninists, and insist on democratic process in the governance of the squats. As for ‘RENT’, Although almost the entire cast exudes a cheeky anti-authoritarianism, only former professor Collins is explicitly identified:

‘And Collins will recount his exploits as an anarchist – including the tale of the successful reprogramming of the M.I.T. virtual reality equipment to self-destruct, as it broadcasts the words: “Actual reality – ACT UP – Fight AIDS!”

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5. Both show radical communities dealing with addiction

The Bush years marked a continuation of Ronald Reagan’s so-called “War on Drugs”, an effort that led to moral panic, militarization of police forces, and the criminalization of people living with addiction. In Rent, Roger is recovering from a heroin addiction, while Mimi is actively using. The question of addiction is portrayed sentimentally and feels a little bit borrowed for the sake of deepening tragedy. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, several characters are addicted to heroin, cocaine, or crack, and there is nothing romantic about it. Tobocman portrays drug use as a fact of life under capitalism—the baggage that we sometimes carry with us to deal with our pain. The question of whether or not to let people use drugs in the squat is a major source of conflict: how do we build a new world that is inclusive and supportive when we carry so much baggage from the world we want to leave behind?

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6. Both take place at the height of the AIDS crisis

It’s impossible to write about New York City in the Bush Sr. years without addressing the AIDS crisis. Government silence and inaction allowed the disease to become an epidemic, devastating affected communities. In RENT, fully half of the main cast has AIDS, which claims the life of Angel, a drag queen and street performer. In the middle of ‘La Vie Boheme’, the cast leans on the fourth wall by referencing ACT UP, the direct action group organized by people living with AIDS.

ACT UP also appears in ‘War in the Neighborhood, where Scarlett is a squatter living with the virus, struggling to find a safe space in the middle of a virtual war zone. They struggle to find the physical energy, let alone the spirit, to continue the fight for housing. Another character, Tito, is bedridden due to complications but is able to keep watch for nearby squatters and help them stay safe.

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7. Neither has an uncomplicated, happy ending

Anyone walking through the Lower East Side can see that gentrification has won. The bohemian utopia, always half-imaginary, exists only in works like Rent and ‘War in the Neighborhood’. It isn’t easy to tell the story of its life without touching on the death that was all around.

In ‘RENT’, the death of Mimi is the most visible impact of the AIDS epidemic, though people disappear steadily from her AIDS support group. Tension around Angel’s death fragments their circle of friends. In ‘War in the Neighborhood’, the squats slowly dissolve in a mix of death, eviction and interpersonal conflict.

But neither one ends as a tragedy. Rent ends with Mimi pulling back from the brink of death, following Roger’s confession of love. ‘War in the Neighborhood’ ends with a thoughtful meditation on how hard we are on each other, and that if we can see the possibilities in what we might be, there’s no telling what we can do.

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Maybe good tragedies need a moral lesson to soften the blow. I think both these stories end with a moral: ‘keep living; there is hope’. And hope, these days, is in short supply. We’ve got to take it where we can find it; to make the most of the time we have.

 We’re publishing a second edition of ‘War in the Neighborhood’! To order your copy, check out our crowdfunder or, head over to our press kit to learn more about the book.

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35 Years of World War 3 – An Exclusive Interview

It’s been thirty-five years of World War 3.

As momentous as it sounds, no one could have known in 1979 that this self-published periodical based in New York City would become the longest-running anthology of political comics in the world–at least, that we’ve been able to find.

Continue reading 35 Years of World War 3 – An Exclusive Interview

World War 3 – #44 – The Other Issue

coverWorld 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.

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“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.

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 Dudes Behind the Mask: An Interview with Matt Pizzolo, a Founder of the new Black Mask Studios

Artwork courtesy of Guy Denning
Artwork courtesy of Guy Denning
logoNicole: Who is the group behind Black Mask Studios? Did you all know each other before Occupy? Through comics? Through activism? Through the art / music scene? 
Matt: Black Mask is founded by Steve Niles, Brett Gurewitz, and me. I’ve known Brett for a pretty long time, but I’d only met Steve shortly before Occupy. We were on a horror comics panel together at San Diego Comic Con, and I accidentally insulted him during the panel… which is always the start of the best friendships. We got along pretty quick though because we both come from the punk scene and bring that sensibility to our work, both in terms of integrating social issues into the content and in terms of producing through the DiY ethic. It was a few months later that Occupy Wall Street began and I had the idea for Occupy Comics–Steve was one of the first people I reached out to about it and he helped me get the whole thing rolling. Brett was quick to help support the Kickstarter and when that was done he asked how he could help with the project as it moved forward beyond the Kickstarter. So we all met up and Black Mask was born.
N: How did Occupy seem like a movement special enough to have a comic book dedicated to it?
M: Occupy is really special because it’s a social justice movement that transcends party politics, which is particularly critical these days when bitter partisanship prevents pretty much anything at all from getting done. What excited me about Occupy is that it quickly spread to all different types of people coming from diverse backgrounds and banding together around an idea rather than an ideology. The very earliest iteration of the Tea Party was similar in that it sprang up from non-partisan populist rage, but it was quickly co-opted. I felt anything we could do in our own small way to help try and prevent Occupy from being co-opted was important because it’s a really unique movement and needs to be protected from entrenched political groups.
occupy cover 1N: Conversely, why did comics seem like the art medium to go with for a political art project?
M: … Comics are a very personal, hand-crafted art form (usually created by just one or two people) and the anthology format expands that into a chorus of individual voices… which is precisely what Occupy is: a chorus of individual voices. That’s why the news media didn’t know how to cover it, the news format requires a leader or representative with a list of talking points or demands. A movement like Occupy doesn’t function that way, so comics seemed like the ideal medium to reflect it.
N: Beyond Occupy Comics… what decision brought about the larger vision of creating Black Mask as a publishing body for multiple bodies of work?
M: Well initially I didn’t want to be responsible for distributing Occupy Comics; it was enough of a colossal task to organize and produce it as a volunteer effort. I’d hoped I could then just bring the book to a publisher who would connect the dots getting it to an audience, after all the project was very hot coming off its Kickstarter. And certainly publishers were really aggressive about wanting to take it on, if for no other reason than the amazing roster and tremendous press coverage.
But, nonetheless, the offers from the publishers were all pretty awful… and I realized that if the offers were that bad for a project with people like Alan Moore, David Lloyd, Art Spiegelman, Ben Templesmith, Charlie Adlard and all the other dozens of amazing creators on the roster, then it must be nearly impossible to try and get a decent deal for anything that’s not superheroes or zombies. I’ve always been a fan of the more transgressive, confrontational, socially-conscious comics, and there’s a great history of those themes in comics, but not so much these days. So I decided I’d put the additional work in on building a pipeline for Occupy if we could sustain the pipeline and use it to support other outsider-type comics. Luckily Brett and Steve and all the awesome creators who’ve joined the team agreed with me. It’s unintentional but not by accident that every book on the initial slate [includes at least one person] who contributed to Occupy Comics. Darick Robertson on Ballistic, Matthew Rosenberg and Patrick Kindlon on 12 Reasons To Die, and Matt Miner on Liberator. The people who joined Occupy Comics all share a certain unique sensibility and that’s what holds Black Mask together.

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N: And I’m sorry to be that shitty journalist, but… where are Alan Moore and Art Spiegalman fitting into all of this? I see their names getting mentioned in the press but I don’t see anything on the website…
M: Alan Moore and Art Spiegelman are both contributors to Occupy Comics. They’re both giants, of course, so they get a lot more attention than the rest of the team when headlines are being written.
N: Favourite comic book (preferably political comic book, but I can’t really force that on you) and why?
M: The obvious thing would be to say V For Vendetta or Maus (both of which are favorites), but for a deep cut that blew my mind as a kid I’d say The Realist by Joseph Michael Linsner (an Occupy [Comics] contributor as well) in Cry For Dawn #7 (1992) collected in the Image Comics trade Angry Christ Comix. It’s kind of an inversion of American Psycho, about a guy who kills corporate suits and hangs their ties on his wall. Cry For Dawn was a self-published black & white comic with gorgeous, evocative art and powerful, angry storytelling–so unique to comics. That’s the type of thing that burned a correlation between punk and comics into my young mind. For something more contemporary, I’d say I’m really looking forward to Molly Crabapple’s Shell Game, which I backed on Kickstarter–her work is just incredible.
Thanks so much Matt – looking forward to Occupy Comics and all the rest from Black Mask!
Black Mask and Occupy Comics can be found on Twitter and Facebook:
You can check out their website here:
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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.)

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“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.

Sneak peak on Indigenous Comic artist Jason Eaglespeaker

Hey Folks,

I’m in the midst of bringing you an interview with the creators of MAYDAY: A Graphic History (The Graphic History Collective), but in the meantime, I want to share a website that I just stumbled upon this morning.

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Residential School Graphic Novel – by Jason Eaglespeaker

This project literally made me do a double-take… Wow. Great cover concept. I came across the project writer Jason Eaglespeaker (Calgary, AB) in an article about grant writing in Broken Pencil. If you look on his website, The Connection, you’ll find a ton of amazing projects available (including an illustrated Bannock recipe- what more could you ask for?).

Not only does this initiative take on a fundamental political/cultural/social issue in Canada (I would even call it “THE” fundamental issue in Canada) of Canada being occupied Indigenous territory- but the approach is immersion–that is, made for people who aren’t familiar with these concepts. As a writer and reader who thinks a fundamental hang-up of the politically conscious is preaching to the choir, I know, at face value, that this is a book that I’m really going to appreciate and learn from.

Anyways, I’m obligated by reality and my 50 hour/week day job to only take one review project at a time, so an actual review (you know, where I’ve read the book first) will have to wait. …But this guy’s work has really got my attention.

Check out more of Eaglespeaker at:

http://eaglespeaker.bigcartel.com/