Thursday, October 9, 2014

Activist Week: World War III Illustrated #43

For thirty-five years, World War III Illustrated has been the standard-bearer for comics activism. Its existence predated and to some extent presaged the more precise comics journalism of Joe Sacco. It's always been somewhere between political cartooning, comics storytelling and in-your-face agit-prop. Tomorrow, I'll examine the recent hardcover collection from throughout the magazine's history as well as #44. Today, I'm going to examine #43, an issue from 2012. (I haven't seen a copy of the most recent issue, #45, which debuted a year ago).

#43's theme is "Expression Repression Revolution", and its pages are stuffed with reports from the resistance in Egypt as well as the ramifications of the Wikileaks reveal of brutal war crimes perpetrated by the US in Iraq. The editorial collective for the issue, which includes Rebecca Migdal, Hilary Allison, Carlo Quispe and co-founder Seth Tobocman, notes that the magazine has a commitment to pluralism even in its hard-left approach. That manifests in how Wikileaks founder Julian Assange comes up for both praise and criticism, and the same is true for Barack Obama. The issue was published in 2012, when Occupy and attempts to silence the movement were more active and the revelations regarding the more sinister aspects of the Obama administration were revealed. In a broader sense, the issue is about the idea of free speech and censorship, especially given that the left often seeks to ban certain kinds of speech.

That's explored in Jordan Worley's "Violent Praxis", which follows a group of anti-racist activists who seek to jam and interfere with racist groups like the KKK and skinhead organization. It's a fascinating read, given that it captures the debate between those who would justify violence as part of resistance and those who see the use of force as coercive and counter-productive. The issue leads off with a new Mike Diana story, which is fitting given his status of being charged with obscenity for drawing his comic over twenty years ago. I never thought Diana was much of a cartoonist; his claims of trying to reflect the violence of society in his comics may have been true, but his crude grasp on both drawing and language made those comics a slog. That said, there's an interesting rawness to his work that's only become more interesting after the ridiculous circus he was put through.

One of the more interesting things about this issue is that it prints work by Egyptian cartoonist Magdy El Shafee. There's brutally hilarious work about Egypt's position regarding foreigners as well as an interesting story about him trying to preserve old works from rioters. Walking the line between resistance and total chaos is something that's little discussed in activist circles, and his line drawings are exquisitely funny. Tobocman and Worley collaborate on a fairly straightforward account of the brutal US assault on random, unarmed civilians in Iraq.(ostensibly, as a kind of pressure-valve revenge for soldiers killed by an IED) that's typically blunt. There's an excerpt from a graphic novel simply titled Julian Assange that starts with the incident and then delves into Assange as a cultural figure. That's countered by Bill Weinberg's piece accusing Assange of ignoring a Wikileaks operative in helping a brutally repressive regime, although the art supporting this piece is impossibly small and blurry.

That's part of the package with WW III Illustrated sometimes, alas. It's printed on mostly cheap paper (though there are color sections), and almost no copy-editing is done. The Diana piece was rife with spelling errors, for example, and that wasn't the only piece with that problem. On the other hand, this makes a piece like Allison's "Bad Words" stand out, because its rendering is so precise. This is a great piece about the author's relationship with things she shouldn't say, finding the right audience for her words and respecting those who don't want to hear certain words, realizing that her opposition to certain words makes others treat her differently and rethinking the negative connotation of words entirely. It's a lively, funny strip that's a highlight of the issue.

There are features on a former Disney caricaturist whose status as a person of color was a driving force in his frequent difficulties playing his trade, as well as a correspondent in prison whose mail has been repeatedly censored or held back. Other highlights of the issue include a typically satirical Kuper piece about the Tea Party and their benefactors the Koch brothers, a piece by Tobocman and Jessica Wehrle about the first days of the Occupy movement, a searing personal piece by Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz regarding her complicated experiences regarding sex and sexuality, and a piece exposing the hypocrisy regarding the Smithsonian banning artist/activist David Wojnarowicz's video from an installation. While World War III Illustrated has never been short on material, it seems like worldwide activism and turbulence has made for a richer and more diverse magazine on the whole.

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