May 22, 2016

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Graphic Nonfiction: Peter Bagge Goes to Cuba

Anyone who reads my Graphic Nonfiction column on a regular basis can kinda sluice out my politics, which of course is one of the risks of doing a series like this. However, today it's time to throw you a curve, because this time we're off to the Land of Libertarianism, Reason Magazine!

Peter Bagge is one of my favorite creators, even if his politics and mine don't exactly square. I had no idea that Bagge was associated with Reason Magazine, but it makes sense given what I know of Bagge himself. In this visual column, Bagge talks about his recent trip to Cuba and makes observations on both the state of the country and what it might mean for them to have a greater relationship with the United States.

Here's the first page of the feature, setting the stage, some of Bagge's signature cynicism, and of course his amazing panel work:


All of the things I like about Bagge's work are featured here: His use of bright colors (note how each building in the opening panel are a different color, as are the cars, and the clothing of his characters), extremely expressive faces (even on the animals), bodies that are all curves, and quite a bit of narrative text. The latter is especially amazing to me, because unlike some, Bagge can have his characters talk up a storm and/or use narrative boxes, and yet I never feel like his panels are crowded out. Look at how he keeps the dialog balloon up and away from the visuals--it's a great, clean, crisp look that's perfect for nonfiction comics.

As the narrative progresses, Bagge of course editorializes in ways that might cause you to wince, but that's not always a bad thing. We shouldn't agree with everything we read, or else we end up in a protective bubble that causes us to think our opinions are the only, correct ones. (That doesn't mean you should consider all opinions equal, mind you--just that you should have a working knowledge of them!) 

Bagge's observations are really interesting, given that, quite honestly, most of what I've read about opening Cuba has been unrelentingly positive OR the usual knee-jerk "Screw Castro!" screeds. He notes that job duties often have racial overtones, for example. One of Bagge's concerns about merging Cuban Culture and United States Culture is that the latter, due to its overwhelming power, will destroy the former, showing this in humorous remarks about the bootlegged music that's made it to the island. In the end, though, he brings up a great question, especially for a Libertarian like Bagge: What right doe he have to say they shouldn't be allowed Starbucks, even if he doesn't like the chain?

A great combination of bright colors and dark comments Bagge's exploration of what opening Cuba means--right down to smoking bans!--this was something I came into worried about reading, due to politics, and ended up really interesting. You can check it out in full here, and I highly recommend you do so.