Tag Archives: Smedley Butler

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.

devil-dog-belleau-wood_300w
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

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Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels, Revolution: The Life of SPAIN!

spain mural

A couple of weeks ago, some good friends of mine in Toronto, also Americans, invited me to join them in a trip over the border to New York to check out the exhibit of Buffalo native, Spain Rodriguez: “Rock, Roll, Rumbles, Rebels, Revolution”.

On Sept 2012 - January 2013 at the Burchfield Penney Gallery in Buffalo, NY.
The Exhibit contains some 50 hanging pieces, in addition to original comic book copies of Spain’s work, and runs from Sept 2012 – January 2013 at the Burchfield Penney Gallery in Buffalo, NY.

Both my friends Nick and Tanya are themselves bikers, rebels, and surviving witnesses to that mythological time, the 60’s and 70’s (not to mention their occasional run-ins with Spain and folks he knew back in the days he rode with the Road Vultures and drew for now-legendary underground comic publications like Zap!). Going to the exhibit with them was as close as I would get to having Spain there to explain some of the nuances and timely political/cultural references.

Sadly, only a few days before we visited the exhibit, Spain passed away. He was 72, and had been battling prostate cancer for about six years. It became especially poignant to understand the legacy of this artist, who was a pioneer of indie comics, a pioneer of comics journalism before the term was even coined, and a pioneer for political comics and historical comics. What’s more, his career wasn’t 3 or 4 ‘golden years’ nestled in a lifetime of mediocrity. His cutting edge work ranges from the early days in underground comics, unbridled by still-McCarthy-Era censorship rules, to just before he died.

Comic book eccentric, Art school nerd, Tough-ass biker, leftist shit-disturber | Spain was an in-betweener, and these are always the folks who make incredible art. Their creativity isn’t confined to one genre, one subculture, one ideological viewpoint of the world. As a biker, Spain scared his comics compatriots and offended some of his lefty comrades: after all, these were three typically segregated subcultures within a man’s world of the 1960’s (none would even begin to include women as anything more than decoration for a few more years…a sidenote). For this overlap, we have some incredibly enlightening artwork depicting the era’s biker culture, general drug and counter-culture, and, more crucial for me and this blog, political happenings of the day.

DNC Chicago 1968Before drawing for Zap! with Crumb in San Francisco, Spain covered the Democratic National Convention in Chicago for the East Village Other (a publication described by the New York Times as being so left-wing it made the Village Voice look like a church circular). This was the home of his other early work, Zodiac Mindwarp.

Above, we see some of the spirit of what went down.


There’s no argument that Spain was an expert brawl-drawer. From his days with the Road Vultures to his activist scuffles, the man had a talent for laying out scenes that generally pass most of us by in blurs if and when we experience them.

These illustrations, when compared to photographs or even video of the protests and police repression, give you more of the feel of the surroundings, and vividly so.  I’ve postulated that he had a tendency to compile several visual records in one large frame. Taking these many single instances he saw–he not only depicts what was in front of him, but he describes the scene and tells a story with it.

tumblr_m0vpq38z071qzhoqfo1_1280Spain went on with his occasional comics journalism, and much to my liking, even delved into historical comics. The book “Devil Dog” illustrates the life of one of my favourite American military figures, Smedley Butler. My friend Nick also told me of a piece he did on the Chaco War fought by mercenary pilots in Bolivia in the 1930s that I’ve yet to see, but I can’t wait to inspect. Untold American history is the bloodstream of my own comic series, so, needless to say, this interests me. His most notable political work is probably Che: A Graphic Biography, published in 2009, which he wrote with the editorial assistance of Paul Buhle, a radical history and comic book expert (best combination–ever).

Young comic lovers should appreciate the fact that, in addition to all his other work that had given him a legendary status in indie comics, Spain never stopped paying attention to political causes around him. The exhibit even included some work depicting the Occupy Movement, that he drew mere months ago.

On November 29, comix artist Def Backderf tweeted, “On the day he died, Spain Rodriguez was inking a poster. Died with a pen in his hand. Hell yeah, amigo! You’re a legend.

Everything else that he so wonderfully was–all aside, this fact alone commands my respect.

spain portrait

Good night, Spain. Your work will forever have a place in my heart.

NMG


Review of Penney Art exhibit:
http://artvoice.com/issues/...

Good informative video about Spain and his political work:
http://www.revelinnewyork.com/videos/spain-rodriguez

Great article from his good friends over at Salon.com:
http://www.salon.com/2012/12/01/death_of...

Pulp History trailer (Devil Dog part of this series)
http://pages.simonandschuster.com/pulp...