September 4, 2017

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Graphic Nonfiction: Andy Warner and Jackie Roche Talk American Socialism

Happy Labor Day! In honor of the work that many socialists and communists did to help those of us lucky enough to enjoy today as a day of rest, Graphic Nonfiction today features an article from one of my favorite sites, The Nib. It's a brief history of American Socialism, by graphic nonfiction master Andy Warner, working with Jackie Roche.


In this rather lengthy examination (I'd imagine this would work out to a full mini, if it were in print), Warner and Roche briefly explain the idea of socialism, as represented by its most famous practitioner in the United States, Eugene Debs (who features in quite a few of the panels). They don't shy away from the darker points, such as how the first socialist societies were white-only and that labor strife often entangled itself in racism.


There's some great work from Roche on the art here, as they alternate between work that's properly proportioned, such as the panel above, to playing with perspective, as in this lovely shot of jailed presidential candidate Debs below:

From there, we of course move into the FDR years, where it was almost okay to be socialist, then the Red Scare, and finally, some rays of hope for the future.

That's one of my favorite panels in the article, with its subtle pink shades evoking sunrise, hope, and the promise of a new socialist future. Bernie as the sun warming the hearts and minds of America. Using his unruly hair as rays spilling out from his iconic glasses and eyebrows. It's brilliant creative work, within a framework that's completely factual.

As with any comic involving Warner, there's a great balance between the text and the art. There's a lot of detail to go over--the history of Socialism is really deep--but the pair manage to ensure that the pictures not only evoke the text, but give the reader a reason to linger over them, whether it's because of visual gags (like Sanders just missing the winner's podium) or some wonderful editorial cartooning (another panel shows Uncle Sam refusing to share his pie.)

But as with all of Warner's amazing climate change comics, there's a sense of reality, too. We can be amazed and happy that over 26,000 people are members of the DSA and counting, but there's a monster looming. The final panels cover this, and I'll close with this sample for you:


Look at that image! It's outstanding! I urge you to go read the rest here, right away.

Happy Labor Day, comrades. We're all in this together. And Comics can help us learn our past and future, especially when they're as well written and drawn as those by Warner and Roche.