Friday, December 7, 2012

New Comics And A New Kickstarter From Dan Archer

Dan Archer is a busy man. Behind Joe Sacco, he's probably the most adventurous comics journalist in the world. He's very much into social justice, human rights,  and bringing problems related to oppression, poverty, violence and general wrongdoing by both the state and big business to light. He's currently in Nepal, trying to gather funds for an incredibly ambitious project. He's interviewing survivors of human trafficking and experimenting with the plan of disseminating materials related to avoiding becoming a victim of human trafficking (in comics form). He's also going to document this experience in real time at his website, which is a comics journalism first. The money will go to travel, translators, supplies, etc. Please consider checking out his kickstarter fund.

Archer drew and co-wrote (with Adam Bessie) a series of stories related to the ill-named concept of "education reform" in the USA, which is mostly an excuse to privatize and exploit something best left in the realm of public goods.  the first story, "The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum", contains a number of the sort of striking and provocative images that Archer's come to be known for. He and Bessie also break issues down succinctly and with impact, outlining the ways in which Milton Friedman-style naked capitalism turns schools into a test-and-drill culture where any thought of learning is snuffed out. In "Murky Waters", Bessie & Archer discuss what is the free-market fantasy: a landscape where prior economic structures can be stripped away and replaced entirely by a free-market solution. That became the case in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where public school teachers were (illegally) fired and a network of charter schools were set up. Archer cleverly illustrates the debate between a local advocate and a Stanford free-market think tank member, depicting them rowing a boat in opposite directions in one panel. An interactive version of the comic includes links to a number of other sources, providing quick reference to claims made in the article. The third chapter, "The Finnish Alternative", details the ways in which a state that astutely supports the welfare of children as a public good can provide an educational system built on a model that encourages learning through doing and experience (things that lead to actual learning) rather than rote test-taking. These are well-reasoned but pointed comics that match graphic clarity with the power and complexity of its ideas. I especially like the way Archer uses color to catch the eye without it becoming garish, though lettering was a problem in some of the strips as Archer started to run out of room.

On a very different note, Archer did a comic for the National Parks Conservancy Trust about John Giles, a man who tried to escape from Alcatraz in Escape From Alcatraz: The Lone Wolf Breakout. This one plays to Archer's skills as a historian, researcher and documentarian rather than an activist or polemicist, and he's able to coolly lay out the facts while still providing a narrative that's quite tense. The story follows a jailed train robber and murderer known for being a jail-jumper who took advantage of the privileges afforded him thanks to good behavior and sheer luck to engineer an escape attempt. Working the laundry detail during World War II, Giles managed to slowly construct a uniform, ID and papers that he hoped would pass the eye test once he slipped out of his detail. Unfortunately for him, his absence was noted quite quickly and he was found out, but he was very close to freedom. Archer's art has never looked better than in this comic, as he was clearly stretching a different set of artistic muscles. In particular, there's a flair and level of detail in his facial depictions that I hadn't seen before, and he also takes full advantage of being able to use color.

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