Books — Comics Have Serious Fun With Politics

Comics have serious fun with politics—from the Axis Powers to the Axis of Evil

By Amy Diaz [}

Comics are kicking the butt of America’s op-ed pages.

In a time where a fake news show provides some of the best analysis of current events, it makes sense that comics (or graphic novels, if you want to seem more mature) are one of the best venues for arguing political opinions.

Even the most strident Michael Moore-penned article doesn’t pack the wallop delivered by the grotesque caricatures and the goofy cartoonizations of the Bush administration in The Bush Junta: 25  Cartoonists on the Mayberry machiavelli and the Abuse of Power. Nor did anything I read post-Sept. 11 have the resonance or thoughtfulness of Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers.

Spiegelman knows how to capture massive historical events in the confines of a one panel without losing the scale and awfulness of the thing he is documenting. In his two-part series Maus, graphic novels about his parents’ experience during the Holocaust, he was able to capture the history and the personal story with remarkable skill and subtlety. And that’s even more impressive when you remember that his characters were drawn as animals—Jewish mice, German cats.

The mice return in In the Shadow of No Towers. Spiegelman, who grew up learning from his parents “to always keep my bags packed,” finds himself confronting his own historically horrifying event and he frequently does so in mouse-face. Drawn as one chapter per broadsheet-sized-page, the comics first ran in a German magazine documenting New York on and right after Sept. 11. He describes the horrors of the day, the confusion afterwards and, most deftly , the fear—both of what would happen next and old racism reawakened. Spiegelman expertly borrows not only from his own mythology of the mice and cats but from the visual styles of early comic strips, such as Happy Hooligan and the Katzenjammer Kids. In only particularly arresting sequence, he turns the twin towers into to kids who perish at the hands of their maliciously buffoonish Uncle Sam.

The style has even more meaning after you get a glimpse at the second half of the book where Spiegelman  reprints a several turn of the century broadsheets. For all that their purpose was to communicate with uneducated masses, these rather amazingly intricate pieces of art feature sophisticated commentary on their times.

Providing equally strong commentary on current politics are the arts whose works appear in the collection The Bush Junta.

These artists set forth with clarity unknown to many print commentary their opinions about what nearly all the artists see as a dangerous and near-sighted group of power-mad individuals. How true are arguments that connect the Bush family to Nazi war profits or that explain the harmful effects of the administration’s environmental policy? Few partisans fact check themselves, but the artists do lay out their arguments in a way that they are not only easy to follow but curiosity piquing. The standard George Will column can put me to sleep. The stories told here, even the ones I don’t necessarily agree with, make me want to learn more—perhaps the  highest compliment you can give any form of political discourse.

As Spiegelman reminds us, using often times humorous drawings to make a serious political point is nothing new. In Dr. Seus Goes to War: The World War II Editorial Cartoons of Theodor Seuss Geisel, we see a different side of the childrens’ book illustrator. His pieces serve as warnings of the world-domination plans of Germany and Japan and take to task the democratic countries that did nothing as the world slipped into war. As the drawings pass the Dec. 7, 1941 Rubicon, the pieces become more patriotic and more intent on uniting the country behind the wartime effort. Nuanced work considering he’s the author of Hop on Pop.

- Amy Diaz

2004 HippoPress LLC | Manchester, NH