‘War in the Neighborhood’, first published in 1999, tells the story of New York City’s Lower East Side during the late 80s and early 90s, a period of rapid change.
Although gentrification is now unraveling communities from Atlanta to Seattle, what happened in the Lower East Side was one of the earliest modern examples. Artists, people of colour, migrants, radicals, squatters, the homeless and regular working class people all called this crowded area full of abandoned buildings home.
Though no one book could ever hope to tell the entire story, ‘War in the Neighborhood’ contains a full cast of artists, anarchists, dog-walkers and ex-prisoners as they fight to build a future for themselves before greedy developers literally burn it out from under them.
Modern readers familiar with the history of internet-age social movements like Occupy Wall Street will be surprised how much they recognize in these stories. Gendered violence, police brutality, factional fights and hostile news media all come together to paint a very familiar picture.
Instructive as it is for activists, ‘War in the Neighborhood’ is above all a feeling, human portrait of life in a troubled time. As neighborhood residents fight the police, the cold and each other to make space for themselves, our own hopes for affordable housing, community, and safe space are reflected on the page. In an era of market crashes and rigged elections, we recognize our own struggle to build something that lasts in a world intent on tearing us down.
Ad Astra Comix is pleased to announce that “EXTRACTION! Comix Reportage” 2nd edition is back from the printers! With a thoughtful combination of research, on-the-ground journalism and original comic art, ‘Extraction’ features stories from major industries–uranium, oil, aluminum and gold–and their devastating impact on communities and the environment in Canada, India, and Guatemala.
The human and ecological cost of this industry is too often buried in the fine print of annual reports. “EXTRACTION!” can help these stories reach Canadians – the people best positioned to challenge these companies.
In May 2016, we sold pre-orders of “EXTRACTION!” through a 40-day crowdfunder. Organizations, individuals and local book retailers were encouraged to participate. We also offered special “perks”, like sending the Ministry of the Environment a lump of coal for the poor record on holding extraction projects to account, as well as custom-made comics about mining projects.
Ad Astra Comix is an independent Toronto-based comics publisher. We believe in the power of comics to share the stories of regular people and speak truth to power. We have no investors, stockholders or friends in high places – just an enthusiasm for comics and social justice.
We are very pleased to be re-releasing our poster series, encouraging readers young and old to consider a different kind of hero than we normally think of when reading comics. These four posters boldly claim, “All Our HEROES Have Criminal Records“.
This visual campaign is inspired by the lives of four people who have been arrested for their grassroots organizing and/or activities of civil disobedience: Martin Luther King, Jr., Howard Zinn, Emma Goldman, and Judi Bari. They reflect a healthy variety of political backgrounds (civil rights, environmentalism, anti-war, people’s history, feminism, and anarchism) – and each has appeared, at least once, in comic form. All artwork by Sean Richman.
We’re excited to be making these posters available for sale! Visit the Ad Astra Online Shop to get your favorite, or collect all four. Numbers are limited for this printing, so if you don’t get one – stay tuned!
Emma Goldman appears in A Dangerous Woman : The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman, Sharon Rudahl; edited by Paul Buhle. Published by New Press in 2007 (ISBN 3: 9781595580641)
Howard Zinn appears in A People’s History of American Empire: The Graphic Adaptation, by Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki and Paul Buhle. It was published by Metropolitan Books in 2008 (ISBN#: 978-0805087444).
Judi Bari’s story appears in WOBBLIES! : A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World by Mike Alewitz, Sue Coe, Sabrina Jones, Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman. It was published by Verso Books in 2005.
The story of Martin Luther King Jr. can be found in many titles at this time. The first appeared in 1958, called Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story (written by Alfred Hassler and Benton Resnik, produced by the Fellowship of Reconciliation) , and has been re-released by Top Shelf Productions.
Another is KING, a three-part biography by Ho Che Anderson, published by Fantagraphics between 2003-2005.
The literary fortune telling booth was a a true highlight of the evening, with all kinds of people packing in behind a screen of diaphanous silk to hear Melina and Yasmine prophesize their book-loving prospects with tomes and tarot alike! Some eager fortune-seekers were so taken by the proceedings that they sat in on additional tellings just to take it all in.
Ad Astra Comix contributor and Comic Book Embassy ambassador Sam Noir made an appearance with his newly-crafted “Crack Smokin'” Mayoral action figure! Also to be available in a PG “Publically Inebriated” model… We hope he will be making many more, as it was incredibly popular!
If Mario Kart came to a crashing close when someone stumbled over the controller cords and sent the whole thing into scattered disarray, the circles of conversation that formed in the half-pipe were an ample substitute. Several attendees discovered to their delight that the slick surface of the half-pipe is perfect for group sliding…
All in all it was an exciting night – food was served, perspectives were exchanged and a good time was had by all. If we sold a few comics along the way, well, it’s in the service of expanding the city’s political horizons through the medium of the graphic narrative. A big thank you to the 70+ people that came out to make the event a truly memorable one, and an extra special cheer of appreciation to everyone who poured their energy into putting it all together.
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”→
With over 2,000 likes on Facebook (where it is glibly listed under the category “Wine / Spirits”), many may still be unfamiliar with Great Moments in Leftism, an amateurish strip by a self-confessed bad artist.
With an accompanying blog that only dates back to April, this nascent phenomenon in left-loathing has yet to let the echoes of the internet bring its natural audience out of hiding in the squats, university classrooms and purposeless circle-marches that constitute their natural habitat. But with a willingness to speak truth to power, albeit in a state of relative anonymity, it’s only a matter of time before strips from Great Moments in Leftism make their way onto Facebook pages and the doors of grad students’ shared office space everywhere.
Although the acid tone mocks leftist tropes and organizations with enthusiasm, the author demonstrates such a familiarity with their subject that they must either have a background on the radical left or be a singularly dedicated hater. Just about every left group is sardonically skewered by the author, with many comics fixing a single organization – the IWW, Kasama Project or the International Socialist Organization – in the crosshairs. The best comics, however, identify tendencies on the broader left and cast them in the awkward limelight of absurdity.
For example, the man in the above comic (complete with creepy John Waters moustache) identifies as an organizer. That this role seems to consist mainly of insular participation within existing activist circles, falling short of actually organizing any communities, seems lost on him. The buttons on his chest demonstrate the easy retail nature of the activist identity, advertising to like minds that here is a person who has dropped by the bucket of pins offered at their student union and fished out the best of the bunch. Left implicit is the idea that the ‘organizer’ identity is so insular that it precludes the possibility of actually organizing anyone who doesn’t already attend your reading circle, punk show or vegan potluck.
The theme of the activist as The Other makes another appearance in this comic. A cross section of apparent radicals at their respective Thanksgiving dinners are seen scolding the rest of the table. The politics of the comic as a whole suggest that the author is sympathetic to critiques of colonialism and consumerism such as those offered in the comic. But the implicit critique in the previous comic – that activism is an insular, primarily social activity with no potential for mass struggle – is made all the more evident. Not for nothing does Google turn up 13 million search results for ‘surviving Thanksgiving’, many of which emphasize the importance of avoiding politics. Whether the author thinks activists should hold their tongues or seek more constructive engagement on holidays, the contempt for humourless blathering is everywhere evident.
If the left misses opportunities to engage with a broader community, as the author sometimes seems to suggest, there are evidently reasons why. In this comic, a smug union staffer is seen explaining to a handful of labour protesters agitating for higher wages. Even the status of the protesters as workers or merely fellow activists is left ambiguous, but one thing is not: the character of the event as a stage-managed show for the media. As the union staffer makes a self-congratulatory exit, he reflects happily on his prospects for career advancement. The theme of careerism in the left is a frequent subject of criticism, and while it is often directed at those who put financial advancement ahead of the movement, it is sharpened here to demonstrate that certain types of organizing may do more for the organizers than any intended beneficiary.
Of course, even organizing ‘the left’ to come out in any collective capacity is like herding cats. The point is ably made in this comic, where a group of leftists holding a banner calling for left unity scowl at one another. Barely able to share a banner, how are these men meant to accomplish its stated purpose and unite the left? The fact that they are all men does not seem incidental, as the comic does regularly feature women. Without knowing for sure if the decision is deliberate, it seems unlikely the endless echoes across the radical left that feminism is divisive would have escaped the artist’s notice. But then, the idea that misogyny is the real divisive force on the radical left never quite occurs to figures like the ones in the comic.
“Whither the left?” seems to be the snarky inquiry on the tip of the artist’s pen. The answer that flows forth is left to the individual interpretation of the reader, but a common theme seems to emerge: we are going in smug circles. The idea is perhaps most succinctly captured in this comic. A man in a flannel shirt and flat cap holds a sign denouncing capitalism, with the initials of the International Socialist Organization on it. When the last panel closes on his face, he reflects contentedly that he’s in the class struggle, though by all accounts he appears to simply be at a protest. This is the recurrent theme of many of these strips: whatever our grouping or politics, we have become content with the ritualized politics of symbolic dissent. To many, there would be nothing immediately laughable about the man’s belief he is in the class struggle, and a few comments on the Facebook page complain of not getting the joke. Maybe the best explanation is the commenter who simply said “Still feels damned good.” True as that may be, Great Moments in Leftism seems calculated to disrupt our pleasant reverie and ask the uncomfortable question: What are we doing wrong?
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)