Correctives & Propaganda: World War III Illustrated #41 and Borderland

Posted by on January 15th, 2011 at 5:48 AM

Rob reviews World War III Illustrated #41 (by various) and Borderland, by Dan Archer & Olga Trusova.

Dan Archer is a young political cartoonist who has been firing off a series of highly well-sourced blasts of polemic for a couple of years now.  His work is less commentary than sober but withering attacks on political & moral injustices, especially those that aren’t well known.  As attack literature, his work has been top-notch.  As an effective form of comics-making that I want to look at, his work has been lacking.  His latest, Borderland, is easily the most focused and best-looking work of his career.  It’s seven first-person accounts of human trafficking from around the world, and it’s a big improvement over past works for two chief reasons.  First, the stories speak for themselves and don’t require the text-heavy information dump common to past works.  (It’s there anyway, because Archer is fastidious about documentation, but it doesn’t get in the way of his narratives.)  Second, the sepia wash he chose for the stories worked perfectly.  That particular color adds a dusty, slightly desperate tinge to the proceedings.  The stories are all different (and horrifying) enough so as not to start to drone; rather they succeed in raising grabbing the reader’s attention and raising awareness.

The folks at World War III Illustrated have been fighting the good fight for thirty years now.  Born out of various resistance movements in post-punk era New York City, it’s been a home for artists like Sue Coe, Peter Kuper, Seth Tobocman and many young artists over the years.  The latest issue is the “Food Chain” issue, and I was impressed that so many of the pieces were warm and personal, not just prescriptive propaganda.  For example, Sandy Jimenez’ “An Italian and a Jew Walk Into a Pizza Shop” was about the ways in which food can unite people of different cultures.  It was a personal memory that was made all the more poignant in that two friends who were uniters became divided over a political argument.  The strips about urban gardening were touching in the way that they detailed community action centered around beautification, sustainability and independence from both state and corporate masters.

The quality of the works here is a bit all over the place.  Archer’s “What A Whopper”, about Burger King’s shady corporate ethics, was one of his weaker, earlier pieces.  James Sherman’s “Food Fight” was so wrapped up in nutrition-related factoids that it had to be parsed rather than read.  More poetic pieces like “What Are We Nourished By/What Are We Consumed By”, by Cindy Milstein & Erik Ruin, was smudged to the point of near-illegibility.  It was a bit jarring to see works like these alongside more polished work from the likes of Kuper (whose “Chains” contained one of his clever recursive visual narratives) or Tobocman (whose “She Lives Here” was less about food and more about corporate consumption of homeowners before the crash).   Of course, given that this magazine has always been heavily influenced by graffiti and DIY culture, that unevenness of storytelling and flat-out roughness of style has always been part of the package.  What’s refreshing about World War III Illustrated is that it may want to lecture and might want to hector in a humorless fashion at times, but there’s also a sense of warmth, of togetherness and of a shared passion for justice in the sense that it’s the first step to a better way of living for everyone.  It doesn’t always succeed as art, but it’s never stopped experimenting and never ceased giving artists/activists a voice and a venue.

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2 Responses to “Correctives & Propaganda: World War III Illustrated #41 and Borderland

  1. […] the comic I did with Fulbright Fellow Olga Trusova last year, just got a great review from The Comics Journal, together with a review of the latest issue of World War 3 Illustrated, which is carrying an […]

  2. Media.Seamstress says:

    “roughness of style has always been part of the package” -agreed. I always come to that magazine for its diversity, and it’s still the only one of its kind, I just wish it came out more often.
    btw- The artists from World War 3 Illustrated (Peter Kuper and others) are speaking This Friday at Exit Art in NYC, the location of their current retrospective of 30 years of published work.