Tag Archives: cartoons

Sabo-Tabby Vs. The Bosses: The Political Cartoons of North America’s Most Radical Union

SaboTabbyAlthough the name might mean little to modern readers, there was a time when the initials ‘IWW’ struck fear in the hearts of bosses, police and all other respectable elements of society.  The Industrial Workers of the World, formed in 1905, was one of North America’s most radical and militant unions.  Though much diminished since its heyday in the 1910s and 20s, there are still active IWW chapters around the world, including here in Toronto.  What is less well known about the Wobblies, as they have been called for generations, is their rich history of political cartoons.

Their most enduring contribution to the graphic vocabulary of the left is undoubtedly the Sabo-Tabby.  Seen here with claws out and back arched, the Sabo-Tabby was probably created by Ralph Chaplin, more famous for writing the union hymn “Solidarity Forever”.  But their work also includes the hopeless ‘boss-head’ Mr. Block who could never quite see where his interests lay, and a proliferation of other editorial cartoons. The IWW truly forged an iconography of both union pride and class consciousness in their decades of activity.

An organized worker walks proudly with his good friend. Note the wooden clogs, another early symbol for workers' sabotage.
An organized worker walks proudly with his good friend. Note the wooden clogs, another early symbol for workers’ sabotage.

In their cartoons, the IWW often sought to entice workers away from electoral politics.  The IWW emphasis on direct action – strikes, foot-dragging and packing jail cells over free speech – finds ready expression in this cartoon.  The heroic figure of the worker is coaxed by the politician on the one hand and the Wobbly on the other – where should he struggle?  Washington’s distance is matched by the factory’s immediacy, emphasizing the workers’ true and immediate priorities.  The stakes of this struggle are expressed in the preamble to the union constitution:

“The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.”


In the first half of the 20th century, when millions of working people lived in conditions of poverty unimaginable today, the rich enjoyed lives of equally unimaginable luxury. The appeal of the IWW’s call is all too evident.

HeUnderstandsTheGame

The refusal to deal with politicians, seen as agents of the capitalist class, is recurrent in Wobbly cartoons.  The IWW’s antipathy to politicians began early, with a break from socialist politician Daniel DeLeon, who insisted on the primary importance of political struggle and the potential irrelevance of demands for higher wages.  The Wobbly response to this attitude is summed up wonderfully in “Now He Understands The Game”, where the looming figure of a class-conscious worker looks skeptically on the capitalist’s puppet show.  The demands clutched in his hand and the rising sun of the IWW at his feet are all a part of him seeing the political façade for what it is, and so the worker is labeled accordingly on his overalls.  That the various political puppets are all on the strings of the same boss, symbolizing the capitalist class as a whole, showed that the bitter partisanship of mainstream politics was an irrelevance to workers who could legislate on the shop floor.

Migratory_WorkersIWW cartoons tended to construe politicians as a class, usually not differentiating between Democrat or Republican.  But their jabs were also aimed at the parties of the socialist left. In this cartoon, the artist mocks the notion that transient workers can have their interests served by sedentary politicians belonging to the more mainstream Socialist Party, led by former Wobbly cofounder Eugene Debs.  Farmhands, lumberjacks and other temporary migrant workers were the focus of many successful IWW campaigns; the idea that these precarious workers would cast their lot in with a politician representing a congressional district they might not be in for even a year was duly mocked by the Wobbly press.  The only way to catch the pork chop of gainful employment was to join a union that would see to your getting a square deal – or at least a square meal!

Organize

IWW_misconceptionThe Communist Party USA was, if anything, less favourably regarded by the Wobs.  Like a great many other left organizations operating in North America, the IWW was constantly confronted with accusations that it was doing Bolshevik Russia’s work and that its members were agents of the communist state.  This allegation was not helped by the emigration of leading Wobbly ‘Big’ Bill Haywood to Russia following the revolution, and the publication of his happy memoirs.  But as this comic shows, the IWW did not want to be seen as leading the Russian Bear behind it.  The cartoon draws on the popular representation of Russia as a bear, and the high population of lumberjacks in the IWW to create an image of a sinister woodsman.  Other than the label, ‘One misconception of the IWW’, nothing in the cartoon indicates that the Wobblies and the Bolsheviks were anything other than friendly.

Although they were drawn by dozens of different artists, some of whom are speculated to have had separate careers as established comic strip artists working for commercial features, IWW cartoons share some commonalities.  They are seldom subtle, and some feature such extensive labeling of elements of the image that one suspects the artist harboured grave doubts regarding their abilities as an illustrator.  At times they attempt to incorporate too many elements to be coherent, though most of those selected here avoid that prospective pitfall.  But they serve their purpose in their simplicity: politicians and businessmen are ugly with expressions of sinister intent on their face. For hungry workers making a pittance for long hours, the straightforward message of these comics must have helped to win them over to the Wobblies’ cause.  When all the fiery manifestos in the world won’t do, sometimes a few comics can close the gap.

MORE WOBBLY ‘TOONS…

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Further Reading

Preamble of the IWW, by its membership:  http://www.iww.org/culture/official/preamble.shtml Rebel Voice: An IWW Anthology Edited by Joyce L. Kornbluh.  2011, PM Press. The Industrial Workers of the World: Its First 100 Years. Fred Thompson and Jon Bekken. 2006, IWW. Bill Haywood’s Book: The Autobiography of Big Bill Haywood New York: International Publishers, 1929

For a comic book history of the IWW, check out:

Keeping the Faith: Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World. Mike Alewitz, Sue Coe, Sabrina Jones. Edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman. 2005, Verso Books.

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SEX: A Graphic History

Comics, cartoons, and sex in art & literature carry a special kinship. Both have historically been taboo, “low” in status as genres of art; both have been avenues by which to mock and satirize the powerful… and underneath, despite it all, both have an almost universally popular appeal.

Presenter Nicole Marie Guiniling on the history of comic erotica - Toronto, 2013
Presenter Nicole Marie Guiniling on the history of comic erotica – Toronto, 2013

 

On November 24, we had a series of back-to-back workshops at Ohhh Canada’s new storefront on Queen West on the history of comic book erotica, exploring the long-standing relationship of sex in comics and the related struggle of freedom of expression that has come along with it.

For anyone who joined us for the workshop, we’re providing a list of links and references for further reading, along with a showcase of some of the books we’re carrying as a part of this section of our work. Enjoy!

FURTHER READING

Erotic Comics:
A Graphic History from Tijuana Bibles to Underground
Tim Pilcher (Author), Gene Kannenberg (Author),
AlineKominsky-Crumb (Foreword)

Erotic Comics 2:
A Graphic History from the Liberated 70s to the Internet
Tim Pilcher (Author), Gene Kannenberg (Author), Alan Moore(Foreword)

“What is Erotica and What is Pornography?”
http://h2g2.com/approved_entry/A2163070

Lost Girls, by Alan Moore (author) and Melinda Gebbie (illustrator). Top Shelf Press, 2002.

25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom, by Alan Moore (author), 2009. Harry N Abrams Books.

Eight sexy webcomics to read with the door locked
http://io9.com/5886302/eight-sexy-webcomics-to-read-with-the-door-locked

Slipshine: Cute, Fun, Sex-Positive Erotic Comics –
Small fee for subscribing.
www.orgymania.com
Oh Joy Sex Toy! Reviews and Sexual Health by Erika Moen
www.ohjoysextoy.com


Zizki –Webcomic Erotica Galleries (Free)
http://zizki.com/comics/

This INCREDIBLE 2x3 ft poster is "Sexy Times" by Erika Moen and Lucy Knisley will be available, in limited supply during the workshop!

SecretIdentity

Title: SECRET IDENTITY:
The Fetish Art of Superman`s Co-creator Joe Shuster

Author: Craig Yoe, with an introduction by Stan Lee
Artwork: Joe Shuster
Published:  Abrams Comic Arts, New York (2009)

It is a well-known fact in the comic world that the original artist and co-creator of Superman died having earned only pennies on the dollar for his contribution to the world`s most famous superhero—the rights to the character were won by D.C. Comics in the 1940s. So what to make of this work in later years? He never signed his name to it, but the Nights of Horror illustrations that depicted lusty ladies, titillating torture, and all manner of mild S&M scenarios were in fact Shuster. What`s more?! The characters of these filthy booklets all look, at great deal, like one Clark Kent and Lois Lane… Find out more in this curious twist in the history of comics and erotic art.


LostGirls Title: LOST GIRLS (Combined 3 Volume Hardcover)
Author: Alan Moore
Artwork: Melinda Gebbie Published:  Top Shelf Productions (2006)

Writer Alan Moore and his partner Melinda Gebbie, both legends in their respective fields, teamed up for years in the early 1990s to produce a kind of comic and a kind of erotica that the world had never seen: sophisticated, politically and historically conscious, yet honest, human, and sensual.

From back of book: “For more than a century, Alice, Wendy and Dorothy have been our guides through the Wonderland, Neverland, and Land of Oz of our childhoods. Now like us, these three lost girls have grown up and are ready to guide us again, this time through the realms of our sexual awakening and fulfilment. Through their familiar fairytales they share with us their most intimate revelations of desire in its many forms, revelations that shine out radiantly through the dark clouds of war gathering around a luxury Austrian hotel. Drawing on the rich heritage of erotica, Lost Girls is the rediscovery of the power of ecstatic writing and art in a sublime union that only the medium of comics can achieve. Exquisite, thoughtful, and human, Lost Girls is a work of breathtaking scope that challenges the very notion of art fettered by convention. This is erotic fiction at its finest.”


EroticHistory
Title: 25,000 Years of Erotic Freedom

Author: Alan Moore
Artwork: Various
Published:  Abrams, New York (2009)

If there`s anyone who can put 25,000 years of erotic art into perspective, it`s Alan Moore. Infamous author of graphic novel classics like Watchmen and V for Vandetta, Moore is a fan of uplifting both comics and erotica into more highly respectable realms. Much as he has shown us the ability of a comic to be a work of literature, so too in this volume does he show us the long legacy of pornography being a part of our most meaningful and cherished works of human expression.  A moving read!

Book is hardcover with a gorgeous Art Nouveau decal, spotted inside with dozens of colour illustrations and photographs.


pro-comic-1 Title: The Pro Author: Garth Ennis Artwork: Amanda Conner, Jimmy Palmiotty, Paul Mounts Published:  Image Comics (May 2012) For those of us looking for the lighter side of sex in comics, meet the world`s first prostitute superhero. Superhero prostitute… whatever she is, she`s one hilarious, street-smart, trash-talking tough cookie. This is not only pushing the boundaries of what could legally be sold in an Image Comics title; it also playfully mocks the image of the superhero in the collective imagination—from the spandex,…on down.  As mainstream comics legend Gail Simone says, “This is the comic that Garth, Amanda and Jimmy will be apologizing for in Heaven minutes before being sent directly to Hell. But hey, if their eternal damnation is the only downside, then I demand a sequel.”


SexInc
Title: Sex Inc.
Creators
: Nico and Richard Gallo
Story: Stephanie Halley
Edited: Ezra Mark
Published:  Gary Groth and Kim Thompson, Eros Comix (April, 1998)

From the book: “In the year 2117, the prostitutes of Sex, Inc. attempt to make their living in the urban decay of a collapsed world. Confronted with the limitless fetishes and fantasies of a desperate and enslaved public, the girls attempt to fulfill every while pursuing Sex, Inc.`s personal goals.”

An incredible work of sci-fi erotica, published by two very big names in the comic world, Gary Groth and the late Kim Thompson.


  HeavyMetalTitle: Heavy Metal Magazine
Authors: Various
Artwork: Various
Published:  1977-Present

Celebrated for over 35 years as a publication that welcomed new,  unique sci-fi / fantasy comics, Heavy Metal also welcomed a fair share of erotica, and was cherished as a space where artists could freely express something of a “no holds barred” attitude toward their creativity. Select back issue magazines are available.