Political Graphic Novels On The Upswing

Whether satirical or serious, sophisticated illustrated literature continues to tackle 9/11, the Middle East and the War on Terror.
For decades, they were thought of as merely disposable entertainment for children. But in the past twenty-plus years comic books finally have come to be acknowledged -- even respected -- as literature suitable for more discerning and mature readers. Appropriately for the subject of this article, the single work most often pointed to as the catalyst for that breakthrough is about war and its lasting impact on the survivors and their progeny.

In his 1986 Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus, famed cartoonist Art Spiegelman delved deeply and seriously into his Jewish father's harrowing experiences in WWII Germany. Maus and its sequel moved onto school reading lists, and the comic book began its exodus out of the juvenile section -- although, thanks to the legendary Will Eisner (The Spirit), it underwent an Ellis Island-style renaming to become the "graphic novel."

The next stage of development focused on mainstream revamps of the superhero genre, with the likes of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, but the graphic novel never strayed far from its political and social roots. Spiegelman's next significant contribution to the medium was 2004's In The Shadow of No Towers. Although it has been seven years since the World Trade Center attacks, 9/11 continues to be an important subject for graphic novelists and shows no sign of fading away.

With the aid of artist Sungyoon Choi, Alissa Torres uses American Widow to unleash her fury upon the bureaucracy -- especially the Red Cross and the September 11 Victim Compensation Fund -- that failed to help her and her post-9/11 baby after her spouse, Luis, died in the WTC collapse. Less biographical but just as palpably emotional is Please God Save Us, in which activist Democrat Kent Smith's "facts and tracts" and the "unapologetically subversive" artwork of Derek Hess (veteran designer of posters and album covers for Pantera and Pink Floyd) are balled together "into a smart fist" and aimed directly at the religious right.

In the past couple of years, some cartoonists have used the graphic form to illustrate the ripple effects of U.S. governmental reaction to 9/11. In his Booklist award winner, Johnny Jihad, Ryan Inzana covered terrorist training camps within U.S. borders, while controversial Pulitzer Prize-nominated essayist Ted Rall filled Generalissimo El Busho with his satirical analysis of the Bush Administration.

More recently, comics creators have followed in the footsteps of such seminal works as Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis -- the simply-drawn tale of political oppression in 70's and 80's Iran which recently was adapted for the cinema -- and taken their post-9/11 works overseas to the battlegrounds of the Middle East. After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001-__), the latest from Sid Jacobson & Ernie Colon (The 9/11 Report), may be an adult work, but author CARLO WOLFF (Cleveland Rock & Roll Memories) noted that it's "a natural for classrooms, with clear lessons in geography and distillations of Middle East carnage."

The White House regime change may cool the rage of Iraq War/on Terror books, but 9/11-themed graphic novels likely will retain their relevance for some time to come, and -- if the recent and upcoming one-shots on national candidates are any indication -- political comic books are just getting started.

[Thanks to the Adams Book Company and ComicsVillage.com.]
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