Frontlines of Repair. Edited by Paula Hewitt Amram, Seth Tobocman and Jordan Worley. New York: WW3 #52. Distributed by AK Press. 217pp, $15.
Guest Review by Paul Buhle
It is a little hard to believe that World War 3 Illustrated, now nearly half a century in the struggle for challenging art and social change, seems so fresh. Sometimes, the “fresh” is fresh blood, at least as much as fresh-growing plants or humans in their increasingly inhumane environments. WW3 can be grim and means to be grim, here and there in the pages, some lavishly drawn in color. The editors insist that the book is intended to “repair the world, and ourselves,” even bearing a gardening theme that pops up a couple times. The splendid experimentation in comic art offers, in any case, a way forward and a hope.
Per usual, the variety of work defies any easy generalization. Where else would pages by Ben Katchor, sometime New Yorker illustrator, be found alongside those of Sabrina Jones, Kevin Pyle, Sandy Jimenez, Seth Tobocman and a host of young artists making what is likely their first appearance in print, or something close to their first? WW3 is, by intent, not only a political expression of radical ideas but a school for learning and development, an outlet for young idealists to try out their work in just about any form. Some of the results are inevitably stronger than others. But again and again, the intensity of the effort comes through, sometimes along with a surprising personal candor.
Thus we find the notoriously excitable Seth Tobocman explore himself, his own life, in “Rage,” rooted in family experiences but realizing itself in social struggles where anger helps and hurts, is at once either justifiable or inexplicably self-destructive. He has drawn on various subjects so often, we naturally respond to his multi-general family saga beginning in the Cleveland of his childhood, and the grandparents’ bodega (aka “Candy Store”). The more prosperous side of the family can relax and enjoy upward mobility; the less prosperous carries a rage and resentment at what happened to Jews in the twentieth century. Both sides unite, so to speak, in the drive for children to achieve and advance, whether they want to or not.
Thus Milwaukee’s own Sue Simenski Bietila, a school nurse by profession, who lays out the tales of Street Medics from the 1960s to now, volunteers who are threatened, sometimes beaten or arrested by cops, for providing aid and sanction. Thus in 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Bietila shows us street medic Gaige Grosskreutz, who tried to stop a high school right-winger from murdering a protester, but was murdered in turn (Fox News glorified the shooter, who was acquitted.) Bietila knows the issues and the moments of struggle as no outsider could. She’s an artist on the job, the unpaid job.
Thus the artist calling herself “Fly” delivers seven jarring pages on George Floyd. Christopher Cardinale describes the use of masks in New York (forbidden on the streets from 1845, then mandated in 2020, albeit with occasional police assaults against anyone who urges them to put on masks) in political and personal terms.
Thus artist Kevin C. Pyle takes us to the Sonoran Desert in southern Arizona, where the building of The Fence and the misuse of an aquifer in the building process only begin to accelerate the degradation of ecosystem and the Tohono O’odom Nation, on site for centuries. Against this background or creating a background is philosopher Walter Benjamin, his quotes effectively explaining the deep and terrifying logic of “progress” as destruction laying the basis for more destruction.
Gianluca Constantini and Elettra Stamboulis take us to Bergamo, Lombardia, in Northern Italy, where the health system was said to be among the best in the world. Come Covid, the reality of a continuing privatization was revealed. Bodies piled high and the artist trapped in his studio struggled to grasp the moment. “Doctors became heroes for a while. But we need…continuing social justice, not just heroes for a day.”
I’m drawn, so to speak,to the pages of Sandy Jimenez, Bronx educator who loses his job after fifteen years, finding himself in middle age without any certainly what he will do or even who he has become. He works it out, partly by elaborating a friend’s saga, the erstwhile Vietnam Vet who looks back with horror at the killing, and gains self by coming out. Jimenez ends by embracing his younger friends, poor Latin Americans or Eastern Europeans who find their way to the Bronx. They show him that he has a role beyond working for a living: it is quite a gift.
I am also drawn to the familiar touch of Sabrina Jones, seen here recovering the familiar bunny (source of “Br’er Rabbit” in Southern folklore exploited by Disney but very real nonetheless as the weak animal who has historically outwitted the more powerful animals including humans) but now faces all-destructive “development.” Lawns, fences, pesticides ruin what could still be recuperated as a healthy environment for Mr. Rabbit and his animal friends, birds and frogs to butterflies. Message: let your land re-wild itself with native habitat!
More should be said about the color work of Paula Hewitt Amram, the occasional color page by Kate Gerhart or the rightly renowned Eric Drooker. And the black and white full page drawings by Tom Keough of James Baldwin, Harriet Tubman and others less famous. More could be said about so much more in these pages. But I leave them for readers to discover.
Paul Buhle’s latest collaboration is ¡BRIGADISTAS!, a story of the Spanish Civil War; his next ones include a pirate comic and an adaptation of W.E. B. Du Bois’s Souls of Black Folk.