An overly episodic but nonetheless powerful teaching tool for the next generation of anti-imperialist activists.

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF AMERICAN EMPIRE

A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION

The unknown history and devastating impact of American imperial activities abroad.

In this impressively ambitious, if scattered, new offering from Metropolitan’s wide-ranging American Empire Project, left-wing historians Zinn (The Unraveling of the Bush Presidency, 2007, etc.) and Buhle (History/Brown Univ.; Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History, 2008, etc.) collaborate with graphic artist Konopacki on a graphic adaptation of key sections from Zinn’s bestselling A People’s History of the United States (1980). The book is imagined as a lecture on the ugly side of history, delivered by the lean, aging Zinn to a darkened auditorium, with each episode illustrated by Konopacki’s almost childishly simple illustrations, sometimes crudely buttressed with grainy photographs. Occasionally, perky sidebars titled “ZINNformation” pop up to point readers to a modern analogy or an interesting bit of trivia. It’s an effective technique for delivering this laundry list of despicable behavior, though at times the illustrations seem less than capable of truly rendering their subjects. After a prologue that describes the government’s vengeful, knee-jerk reactions to 9/11 as “part of a continuing pattern of American behavior,” the main narrative begins abruptly with the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 and moves on to one head-shaking moment of infamy to another. Being that Zinn is most valuable for his insistence on shedding light on dark corners of American history, the book comes most alive when it is describing little-remembered episodes like the shameful American occupation of the Philippines in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, cleverly enlisting Mark Twain’s embittered, virtually unknown writings on the subject. The authors’ thesis—that America’s imperial war machine manufactures conflicts abroad to further its economic interests while stoking consumer demand and tamping down dissent at home—is not developed as fully as it should be, and current wars are strangely missing.

An overly episodic but nonetheless powerful teaching tool for the next generation of anti-imperialist activists.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7779-7

Page Count: 274

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2008

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A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION

A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION

A searching interpretation of that sonorous document the Constitution, with cartoons.

Why have a Constitution to begin with? Because, remarks film and TV writer Hennessey—who, even if his prose is bound by balloons, turns out to be quite the Constitutional scholar—the founding fathers were keenly aware that civil rights were never formally written down in Britain, “and that deeply troubled the framers.” That’s as much of an establishing conflict as is needed for a superhero piece, and Hennessey, paired with artist McConnell, does a fine job of turning the making of the document, despite all the dull stretches in the Constitutional Convention that James Madison recorded in his diary, into a drama. Happily, Hennessey is aware of the truly radical origins of the Constitution, even as he notes its conservative strains. For example, he remarks that the system of checks and balances is a remarkable innovation, even if it sometimes seems that presidential actions—as with military intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere—go unchecked. In addition, laws are difficult to make in this country for very good reason: “Otherwise we might get too many of them.” Combining words and appropriate images, sometimes comic and sometimes earnest, the narrative visits such matters as the three-fifths law of determining apportionment, the writ of habeas corpus, eminent domain and conceptions of property and freedom of assembly and movement (for instance, the Articles of Federation forbade “vagabonds and paupers” from crossing state lines). Also covered are the many guarantees Americans take for granted—not least the Ninth Amendment, which states that certain rights not enumerated (“The right to scratch a dog behind the ears?”) shall not be denied.

A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9487-5

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

THE VOYEURS

“Graphic memoir” only hints at the artistry of a complex, literary-minded author who resists the bare-all confessionalism so common to the genre and blurs the distinction between fiction and factual introspection.

Who are “The Voyeurs?” In the short, opening title piece, they are a mixed-gender group standing on an urban rooftop, watching a couple have sex through a window in a nearby building. They tend to find the experience “uncomfortable,” even “creepy,” though those who remain raptly silent may well be more interested, even titillated. Bell (Lucky, 2006, etc.) is also a voyeur of sorts, chronicling the lives of others in significant detail while contemplating her own. As she admits before addressing an arts class in frigid Minneapolis, where she knows the major interest will be on how she has been able to turn her comics into a career, “I feel I need to disclaim this ‘story.’ I set myself the task of reporting my trip, though there’s not much to it, and I can’t back out now. It’s my compulsion to do this, it’s my way, I suppose, of fighting against the meaninglessness constantly crowding in.” The memoir encompasses travels that take her from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and from Japan to France, while addressing the challenges of long-distance relationships, panic attacks, contemporary feminism, Internet obsessiveness, the temptation to manipulate life to provide material for her work, and the ultimate realization, in the concluding “How I Make My Comics,” of her creative process: “Then I want to blame everyone I’ve known ever for all the failures and frustrations of my life, and I want to call someone up and beg them to please help me out of this misery somehow, and when I realize how futile both these things are I feel the cold, sharp sting of the reality that I’m totally and utterly alone in the world. Then I slap on a punchline and bam, I’m done.”

Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-9846814-0-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Uncivilized Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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