World War 3 Illustrated

Posted by on April 24th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

World War 3 Illustrated Inc.; 128 pp.; $5; B&W; Softcover (ISBN: 9781603090605)

World War III Illustrated is an anthology of left-leaning political comics, many of which are made by people more concerned with social change than professional cartooning. (Its price is a sustained victory for the masses right there.) The introduction to this latest issue reveals it was produced to reflect the spirit of the times at the end of “28 years of right wing dominance in U.S. politics,” where “Americans were looking leftward for solutions” even as early discontent and disillusionment with the Obama administration was making itself felt. The magazine “put out a call to artists to present their solution” with the results appearing under the themed subtitle, “What We Want.”

Of course, there’s a big fat difference between that which is wanted and that which solves. I’d like to think that’s why some of the comics submitted to the editors surprised them: “The variety of responses speaks to the depth and diversity of the cohort of contributors to this magazine and to the fact that solving problems is often harder than complaining about them.”

I know I was surprised by the resulting collection. It’s a pretty unscientific impression but the issue feels to me to be one of the most thematically free-ranging of the series and one in which contributors’ demonstrated artistic ability fluctuates more wildly than usual. That’s not necessarily criticism.

The considered subjects include the healthcare and health-insurance crisis, gay rights, Palestinian equality, skateboarders’ freedoms, the youth vote, education, homelessness and urban development (my personal binky, environmental degradation, is hardly ignored but it doesn’t receive the comparative scrutiny some might, you know, think it warranted). The best topical examinations result from multiple looks at the same problem from different vantage points, such as healthcare with Susan Simensky Bietila’s fantasy of a nationwide march on Washington coupled with Eric Hadley’s anything-but-fantastic hospital bill for five stitches over his eye. Even better is the mid-book triplet of Sabrina Jones’ blend of autobiography and urban-planning theory, a home reclamation campaign retold by Seth Tobocman and others, and the pre- and post-Katrina contrast in New Orleans by Zeph Fishlyn and Jordan Flaherty.

Yet even among these pieces, the bright and beating heart worn so prominently on sleeves distracts from the impact that observation and insight might otherwise offer. (Accordingly, my uniformly favored inclusion is an unflinching bit of self-scrutiny within a tough profession: Sandy Jimenez’s “I Was a Lousy Teacher.”) Too many of these comics are more committed to convincing than informing. Yeah, solving problems is more difficult than complaining, but facile solutions, the kind that make fellow choir members roll their eyes, are way too easy to dream up, as well. Moreover, there’s a dichotomy among and within pieces whereby optimistically sketched reports of distinct if discrete high points of activism compete with extended lamentations at the machinations of known and legitimate villains. It makes genuine advances appear as exceptional and isolated as evil remains ingrained and pervasively intractable. Einstein is supposed to have said that the most worthwhile problems are never solved at the same level at which they are created and there’s not enough evidence here that well-intentioned contributors are earnestly trying to make the leap. That’s criticism.

Buddhism posits that wanting (actually the attachment that accompanies wanting) is one of the surest-fire methods of getting it wrong (another being aversion). There are too few moments regarding “What We Want” that get it as right as Jennifer Camper’s two pages of six interrelated strips. They may go unreproduced here but I bet you can grok something of value by title alone: “Everybody Wants Something.” It’s comics like that that make World War III the vital, wooly, irreplaceable forum it is.

Cover image ©2010 Peter Kuper

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One Response to “World War 3 Illustrated

  1. eheitner says:

    FYI that cover is by Seth Tobocman, not Peter Kuper.