Thursday, July 12, 2012
Anthologies: World War III Illustrated #42
The takeaway from World War 3 Illustrated #42 is the sheer enthusiasm on the part of the editorial staff and the contributors. For over thirty years, WW3 has been a staunch leftist, activist voice, becoming one of the longest-running comics anthologies of all times in the process. While regulars like Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman make their mark in this issue, it's the publication's willingness to seek out and publish new voices that's long been one of its trademarks. The theme of this issue is liberation, "from the mid-east to the mid-west", and it focuses in on the "Arab spring" uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt as well as the Wisconsin protests against governor Scott Walker. What we get is a compelling series of on-the-ground reports of the experience of being part of a movement, complete with both the thrills of making a difference, the doubts that arise when things don't seem to change, and the terror experienced when the forces of the state crack down.
Regarding the latter, the comics from the Middle East are especially charged. Malik Sajad's harrowing story of having to dodge the police after posting a video proving their complicity in beating innocents in Kashmir really boils things down to their essence. By simply speaking out, he becomes a target of the law, who can warp reality to suit their ends. Sajad is a terrific young artist with a lot to say about that region's with totalitarianism. Mazen Kerbaj's "Flap Flap Blues" is a poetic take on the resistance, with a particular focus on the role of women. Magdy El Shafee's "The Anonymous" gives another ground-level view of the action in Cairo's Tahrir Square, which was ground zero for the Egyptian uprising. Ethan Heitner's story lays out some of the facts about the uprising and makes sure to discuss the fact that the struggles are not over.
Indeed, the issue leads with Edd Baldry's "Freedom", a debate between two people about the viability of political action. Even the most jubilant and upbeat of stories in the issue contains a caveat that a moment of revolutionary fervor is not the same thing as lasting, systemic change. Existing power structures are built to last and do not give up their statuses easily, and it's frequently surprisingly easy to ride out a rebellion. That's especially true in the west, where a revolutionary moment can get glossed over by celebrity news. Still, one can't help but get caught up in the excitement of strips like "The Cheesehead Rebellion of 2011", "What's So Funny 'Bout Beer Brats And Cheese And Unions" and "Walk Like An Egyptian". These are all accounts of the mass protests in Wisconsin against Walker, who enacted a union-busting agenda and reaped a whirlwind of protest. As a comic qua comic, the first story (Written by Mike Konopocki & Kathy Wilkes, with art by Konopocki) is the best of the three, setting up and summarizing the events as a coherent narrative. The story includes a delicious tidbit that I hadn't heard: Walker was fooled into thinking that billionaire Tea Party supporter David Koch was calling him; in reality, it was a left-wing blogger playing a prank but getting all sorts of fascinating information about Walker's true intentions.
What has always made WW3 more than a simple series of polemics and rants against the right is the personal nature of so many of its stories. Sandy Jimenez' "Beyond The Lighted Cage" is a fascinating account of one man's attempt to deal with grief, anger and hate by way of the boxing ring, until one day he pulls a dirty trick on a friend because he was being beaten so badly. The searing honesty and pain on each page is palpable, even as Jimenez casts a damning eye on himself as much as he does the city and its power structures. Sabrina Jones' "Whatever Happened To The Eight Hour Day", an account of the ways in which certain kinds of workers in the entertainment industry are essentially forced to work ten-hour days, is also fascinating. Carlo Quispe's "Besame Mucho", an account of the struggle for gay rights in Peru through public kissing events, is at once painfully local and profoundly international in its scope. Jennifer Camper and Marguerite Dabaie's "Hummus Wars" is an absurd and funny account of the ways in which Israel and Lebanon fought over who created hummus in ridiculous and elaborate ceremonies over who could create the biggest bowl of hummus. The work of both artists is some of the most attractive in the book in terms of visuals, along with color sections featuring Kuper and Tobocman. Still, even if some stories lack a strong visual punch, there's a power and immediacy to every story in this book. These are stories that desperately needed to be told by their authors and quickly. This comic is a potent snapshot of a particular exciting, turbulent time across the globe by people who participated in as well as observed it all.