Tag Archives: American history

The Times They Have A-Changed | Review of “SDS: A Graphic History”

By Hugh Goldring, Staff Editor

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”

Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified U.S. History

ediblesecrets_coverTitle: Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified U.S. History
Authors: Michael Hoerger and Mia Partlow
Illustrations: Nate Powell
Published: 2010 by Microcosm Publishing

As pointed out in its introduction, food is as good a filter as any for relating to government secrecy: both are ever-present realities of life that we swallow without much further thought. This book is a creative one, in that it ties a lot of things together. It’s a history book, a comic, a zine, …and a reproduction of declassified government documents.   All relating to food, either as a code word or as a coincidental element in major geo-political events (Black Panthers leader Fred Hampton was framed for robbing an ice cream truck at age 19; U.S. officials tried to assassinate Fidel Castro by spiking his milkshake with poison).

It’s a quirky take on a lot of different things that I enjoy reading about: history, secrecy, art, and food. I think it may take a special interest in the subject matter for the reader to really get down with this book, in my opinion—but I freakin’ love it. Nate Powell’s illustrations are the icing on the cake here: the first chapter’s title page shows Fred Hampton, dressed as Robin Hood, passing out ice cream to the neighborhood children. He hands a small boy a popsicle in the shape of a Black Power fist. Seriously, it doesn’t get any better than this. Original, political, historical, shocking, artistic: awesome.

fred hampton


Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America

coverTitle: Devil Dog: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America
Author: David Talbot
Illustrator: Spain Rodriguez
Published: 2010 by Simon & Schuster (Pulp History Series)

It’s almost impossible to fathom the life of Smedley Darlington Butler. He began his military career at 16 (in 1898, in response to the supposed Spanish attack on the U.S.S. Maine off the coast of Cuba), and spent the next 34 years rucking and getting shot at in China, the Philippines, Central America and the Caribbean. He would also serve in WWI, being deployed in France.

If that were not enough, consider that in Butler’s final years he was among the country’s most decorated veterans and fiercest critics. Just 5 years before he died, he wrote a book called “War is a Racket” about the nature of the U.S. military industrial complex—a slogan that still gets used today in the anti-war movement.

Unfortunately Smedley Butler’s incredible story fades with each generation. The idea that “War is a racket” became at risk of becoming just another dusty and out-dated slogan of protest.

What “Devil Dog” brings to the table is a remix on a story that’s too good to forget in the past and too important to leave on the fringes.
smedley spread
Staying true to the look and feel of its “Pulp History” series, Devil Dog is actually a book of prose dotted with vibrant comic art by the wonderful Spain Rodriguez, in addition to press clippings and other contemporary visuals- art, photographs, etc.–all of which lends to the “Pulp” nostalgia that the series is shooting for. It is, much to my pleasant surprise, a very artfully written piece—you can tell Talbot is engaged by the story and wants you to feel it, too—with each chapter feeling like its own self-standing story of adventure, suspense, romance. Spain’s illustrations, especially with the Technicolor palette choice, really give the book the feel of an old pulp adventure comic.

More importantly, Smedley’s anti-imperialist politics aren’t editorialized by the book’s creators. In fact David Talbot goes out of his way to illuminate much of Butler’s military adventures (even prior to his anti-war awakening) as campaigns of corporate adventurism. He has probably taken a cue from Butler’s own memoir-styled book, where he is looking back on everything that he did with mature hindsight.

I would recommend this work to anyone interested in American war / anti-war history: it truly is a gem. The narrative is one that works well for being told aloud—if it weren’t for a few passages of sex and violence, it would be an amazing story to read to kids.

If you want to know more about the work, S&S actually made a trailer for their Pulp History series- and you can check that out here:

ScreenHunter_12 May. 04 11.20

Django Unchained Issue #1

Tarantino is known by fans and foes alike for essentially making good bad movies. Personally, I find some of them great, and some of them horrible. Django as a film, for me, ranks probably in the top two. But how is a comic book adaptation standing up to that?

django comic art

First, a side note: I am fascinated by the fact that Tarantino made this movie from a place that is very different from where most people, post-viewing, are coming at it. Tribute to Spaghetti Westerns and Blaxploitation aside, Tarantino also wanted to open discussion about America’s horrible history with slavery, and racism in general–to which he makes several very thoughtful commentaries in the film. Thom Hartman of Common Dreams went so far as to describe the movie as Tarantino telling today’s American South to go fuck itself.

…But a month in to the world of online reviews, and I’m knee-deep in (very) modern-day commentary about the paradigms of white/male privelege, which all ultimately boil down to whether or not Tarantino, as a white man, should have made a movie about slavery at all.

I’m going to do the only reasonable thing I can with regard to these comments, and just ignore them.

Let’s talk comics.

Shortly after the movie’s release, Vertigo released Issue #1 of “Django Unchained,” a 24-page comic book. Categorically, comic books released in conjunction with a film counterpart are exploitative, in that they’re exploiting peaked interest in a particular plot, character, or genre (whether it’s Kung-Fu, Westerns, etc.) It seems ironic to me that this is an exploitation comic about a film that is essentially a tribute to exploitation film. That would explain why I was the third person in line at the comic shop to be buying it. Generally, I’m not down with this kind of comic-book making: they are all designed to be viewed in a different medium (film), and are, more or less, hastily-assembled products solely introduced for the making of money and fan-swag. The artwork is amazing, yes, but stylistically I see nothing special so far, aside from some exceptional cover art and promotion posters.

django portrait

I am, however, hopeful. The issue opens with a short forward by Tarantino touching on his favorite childhood Western comics, and pointing out that the comic, unlike the movie, is the complete script, unedited and uncut. Things that were cut out of the movie due to lack of time or actors pulling out due to scheduling conflicts remain as scenes in the comic. (Who pulls out of a Tarantino film due to a “scheduling conflict?” apparently half a dozen well-known Hollywood stars…)

More than the film, the comic is a straight-forward look at the barbarity of slavery in the sunset days of the pre-Civil War South (before it transformed itself into the share-cropping/Jim Crow system). Much like any Issue 1, we see a layout of the plot and characters here, and little deviation from the movie.

Some general observations…
I will note that the comic and film DO NOT sing a song of revolution — one in which, say, Django would team up with other slaves, and with their strength in numbers, lead an insurrection. So let’s stop talking about how there isn’t enough of this or that in the film: it’s obviously not meant to be seen that way. The story sings the undeniably individualistic tune of revenge, in which our singular hero and [sometimes] his de-facto side-kick, Dr. King Schultz, go it alone in a hostile environment without anyone’s help.

If you’re looking for a film with strong female roles, you’re barking up the wrong genre tree. The last time someone in Hollywood thought a bunch of strong women belonged in a Western, disaster struck. Someone, someday, will change this–but not here, and not today.

I’m looking forward to the possibilities of this comic series. I’m looking forward to seeing scenes that were cut, and seeing stylistically what it might bring to the table. But so far, nothing remarkable. Stay tuned.