“A genuine art-form of the people, unrestricted by prevailing notions of acceptability and capable of giving voice to popular dissent or even of becoming, in the right hands, a supremely powerful instrument for social change,” writes Watchmen creator Alan Moore in the preface to a new compilation of Occupy Comics, a Kickstarter-funded comic book series devoted to the themes and ideas of the Occupy movement.
“It could even be said that, rather than such scurrilous and anti-social sentiments being a minor aberration in the otherwise sedate commercial history of comics, these expressions of dissatisfaction are the medium’s main purpose.”
The uniting of simple pictures to complex ideas has always been at the heart of underground Comix—the intersection of visual art and dramatic writing, the visual iconography of film melded with the ferocity of graffiti—which, in the pictograms and stick art of children reveals profoundly adult ideas, raising awareness through satire, raised perhaps to its highest modern form by creators like Ted Rall and Matt Bors, who have blurred he boundaries between scribbler and scrivener, jokester and journalist. Both have placed boots on the ground in troublesome spots like Afghanistan, to bring authentic experience and deeper understanding to their work.
Similarly, Stephanie McMillan sketched and checked her way through a season of the Occupy movement. Creator of the environmental panel strip Code Green, which has occasionally graced the Weekly’s small comix section, McMillian’s latest compilation, The Beginning of the American Fall traces the origins and evolution of that movement, blending journal art with a surprisingly arch analysis of the failures of capitalism and methods to create a more responsive society.
“American Fall is the definitive, thrilling and inspiring account of the beginning of the first major street-level protest since the 1960s,” Rall praises in the foreword to McMillan’s book. “Stephanie McMillan’s stunning illustrations, personal accounts and firsthand analysis documents the most exciting event in U.S. politics in generations.”
“I participate in political activity. I also draw cartoons and write,” McMillan notes. “This book is a mix of all these, which I would not be able to keep separate if I wanted to. I don’t claim that this account encompasses ‘the whole truth,’ but my interpretation of events, one of many fragments of a broad spectrum of analysis and observations about the movement—all shaped by personal idiosyncrasy, experience and outlook.”
The collapse of traditional print media, and the rise of new forms of social media, have particularly challenged rich satire printed on cheap newsprint.
Matt Bors identifies the irony: “Editorial cartoonists are going through tough times with the collapse of old media and paying outlets—yet more people read them than ever before because of the web.”
“Cartoon compilations— especially for a relatively obscure altweekly cartoon—have always been kind of a tough sell to publishers,” observes Dan Perkins, aka Tom Tomorrow, creator of This Modern World.
“These days, of course, the publishing world is in upheaval, and convincing a publisher to invest in a compiltion of cartoons which are readily available online was looking like an uphill battle,” he said. “Self-publishing is an increasingly viable option for cartoonists these days.”
Perkins, Bors, Keith Knight, and others have taken to publishing on a smaller, by-demand scale, the latter setting up online campaigns to Kickstart their publishing costs.
Bors’ new compilation Life Begins At Incorporation rips on everything from the economy (“like my hairline, a steady march in the wrong direction and deep denial about how bad it really is”) to the conservative fixation on lady parts (all the “small government that can fit inside a woman’s uterus”).
“The young shall inherit the earth,” Bors says of his target audience. “After climbing out of debt, finding a crap job, and enduring condescending olds who think we’re spoiled.”
Spoil yourself this season, and cuddle up with a good picture book and a Sparky plush toy.
The Beginning of the American Fall
Life Begins at Incorporation
The World of Tomorrow
By Tom Tomorrow
BONUS: Sparky Plush Toy, $19.25 plus Shipping
Occupy Comics Kickstarter
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