Tag Archives: Seven Stories Press

Book Review: THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum

THE DEAD EYE AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA by Vannak Anan Prum

There are more slaves today, well over 40 million, than at any time in human history. A new book, a graphic memoir, by Vannak Anan Prum provides a most vivid and compelling testimony, through luscious watercolors and the author’s honest oral account, transcribed and composed to meld with Prum’s artwork. The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a 256-page hardcover, in full color, published by Seven Stories Press.

First and foremost, this is a unique and remarkable book that readers will quickly find themselves immersed in. Human trafficking is not an obvious subject matter for the casual reader but Mr. Prum handles the subject with great dignity, never delivering a false note, and even maintaining a sense of hope throughout.

Teamwork equals survival.

This is not a conventional graphic novel/memoir. But, in the process of reading it, I found myself open to seeing this book as functioning as comics–even if it forgoes many of the building blocks of the comics medium. Was Prum ever really intending to create a work in comics, per se? I think Prum is working on a pure level, one that takes the tools required to get a job done. So, given his background and his harrowing experience, I’m sure that he wasn’t mulling over whether he might end up creating a book that would be deemed one of the hippest graphic novels of the year by the A.V. Club, The Comics Journal, etc. No, this man was in dire straits, as serious as a heart attack, and he was most interested in documenting his experience. Surely, he was thinking of working as an artist in some general sense but, even more so, Prum required his work to align with the accuracy of a top notch courtroom sketch artist. Get the facts out, first. Then take care of the artistry and poetry.

Death on a slave owner’s whim.

Even after the experience and with time for contemplation, Prum is driven to document, much in the artist tradition of, say, Albert Bierstadt, Winslow Homer, or Charles Fritz. And, I believe, the initial collection of Prum watercolors gave way, somewhere in the process (through the translating and transcribing of his oral testimony) to having this all adhere more to a graphic novel/memoir framework. And, as you progress from page to page, alternating between artwork and text, you can’t help but totally empathize with Prum, from his stumbling into danger to his dogged perseverance. So, yes, ultimately it does feel and read like a work of comics.

Prum begins his journey as a newlywed with a child on the way living in a tiny poverty-stricken village in Cambodia. Without any prospects, no education, no employment opportunities to speak of, Prum is one very desperate and vulnerable young man. Like so many others like him in similar situations, Prum is lured into a too-good-to-be-true offer of a good job with good money. It is just a matter of one footstep into a truck, and overwhelming desperation, that leads Prum and a band of other victims onto a fishing vessel–followed by years of toil and torture, at the mercy of his overseers.

“I want everyone to know about this. Through my pictures, I want to warn all cross-border migrant workers to be careful. Even if they do not keep my own story in mind, they will at least have an idea of what life is like for people trafficked onto boats for forced labor.” Vannak Anan Prum is an artist who was held captive as a slave for four years on a Thai fishing boat before being sold into slavery on a Malaysian plantation for another year. He has since escaped and now lives with his family in Cambodia. Read his story here: http://tiny.cc/deadeye Vannak’s store is run by a handful of English speaking friends. 100% of the royalties earned from this store go directly to Vannak. Feel free to email us if you have any questions or would like to commission a work directly from Vannak.

–from Vannak Anan Prum’s Twitter

It is to the credit of Prum’s own natural artistic and poetic inclinations that his story never turns maudlin. It is also to Prum’s credit that, despite the grim circumstances, his narrative never grows too dark, as if the reader can rely upon Prum to find a way, to rise above, while also not suggesting he was some sort of hero. What Prum turned out to be is an authentic artist/journalist. While I’ve stressed that Prum’s main goal is accuracy, there is no denying that he also managed to remain faithful to artistry. He has a keen sense for pacing, composition, and for color. Life is back to the normal for him now, back with his wife and little daughter. While he continues to heal from his past, Prum can take solace that his voice has been heard and that his contributions are greatly appreciated. No doubt, this book will have readers wondering about where their last seafood meal came from.

A tattoo artist emerges.

As I say, this is a tough subject to deal with, but it is essential that we educate ourselves on human trafficking and this book is invaluable in that process. Personally, I am very inspired by Prum’s story, made up of so many nuanced moments. I wondered, as I read, how he would make a life for himself after having been forced into slavery. What will freedom look like for him? I think this book will make a difference, not only to educate others but, hopefully, to help Prum and his family rise up to where they belong. I can see him developing further as a fine artist. And, as the book demonstrates, I can also see him doing quite well as a renowned tattoo artist. I look forward to whatever he does next.

Prum’s artwork saves his family.

The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea is a 256-page hardcover, in full color, published by Seven Stories Press. To learn more about Vannak Anan Prum, and purchase his art, visit him here.

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Filed under Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Human trafficking, Seven Stories Press, Vannak Anan Prum

Review: TRUMP by Ted Rall

Ted Rall Donald Trump

TRUMP is an informative guide on Donald Trump presented in a comics format by Ted Rall, published by Seven Stories Press. It is not a satire, nor is it a bombastic attack on Mr. Trump. In fact, if you were only to read a brief passage here or there, you might even warm up a bit to the human being that is Donald J. Trump. Yes, of course, this is a human being we’re talking about. To his credit, Trump has provided quite a reality check to what has usually been a rather rote and bloodless presidential campaign process. Well, the powers that be would much prefer it to work that way. But there’s always room for some sort of change. The last hopeful sign of it was the rise of Barack Obama. This time around, some would have you believe that the winds of change are for Trump. With Ted Rall’s compact and concise guide, you might pick up on a number of facts that have gotten lost in the whirlwind.

When one sings a high note, it is essential to leave room for the climb up. And so it is with Rall’s rendition of events. Rall has had a glorious career in comics leaning hard left or involving highly-charged pieces railing against the status quo. But, through it all, I believe Ted Rall has always had something interesting to say. I’ve had the pleasure to review two of his recent books, also with Seven Stories Press: a bio of Edward Snowden; and a bio on Bernie Sanders. SNOWDEN paved the way for some of Rall’s best work. The format of crisp chapters that hit the main points to each topic leads to greater clarity and seems to foster a well-balanced approach.

Trump, a pacifist? Not so much.

Trump, a pacifist? Not so much.

Of course, Rall wouldn’t be Rall without some provocation. In the case of TRUMP, Rall is playing fair where he can. Sure, Trump has proven to be a good guy in regards to his own family. Yes, Trump has made the establishment cringe in much needed ways. Who else but Trump would dare to so pointedly criticize the U.S. invasion of Iraq? Well, no Republican dared to cross the Bush dynasty in the way Trump did. Like it or not, that rebuke of the war in Iraq was nothing less than brilliant. However, Rall, while giving Trump some credit, is also building a case that a Trump administration would be fascist. In fact, Rall brings up a comparison to Hitler a number of times.

What makes Rall’s argument work is that he thoughtfully and logically presents the facts. Ironically, as it were, Rall does agree with Trump that America, overall, has been in decline these last forty years or so. But Trump is only exploiting a vulnerability. He heavily relies on his charisma and empty slogans. He blames races of people for America’s problems. And, while he was against the war in Iraq, he shows no qualms about “bombing the hell out of ISIS.” Rall refers back to, Robert Paxton, a history professor he studied under at Columbia. Paxton wrote the definitive, “The Anatomy of Fascism.” Of Trump, Paxton says, “He’s very spontaneous. He has a genius for sensing the mood of a crowd and I think to some degree Hitler and Mussolini had those qualities also. I do not think he’s learned this from a book.”

When the U.S. government could have saved Main Street, it sided instead with Wall Street.

When the U.S. government could have saved Main Street, it sided instead with Wall Street.

Or is it possible that much, if not all, of what Trump has said and promised on the campaign trail is a bunch of blustery hooey? Rall’s book came out in time to tap into the recurring theme about Trump supporters: They are willing to overlook his offensive statements and take it with a grain of salt. The overriding goal for them is change. Let Trump be Trump and let him give an upturned middle finger to the political elite. It’s a fairly sophisticated stance coming from what most of the media is willing to dismiss as a steaming pile of racist buffoons.

Trump has been Professor Harold Hill to America’s vulnerable River City. Like that masterful Pied Piper, Trump has ingratiated himself with a larger-than-life persona only to come up woefully short on any of his outrageous promises. Trump has inspired Ted Rall to write this book about him and make a case for him being a fascist! But, alas, Trump may prove to be the most empty suit of them all.

TRUMP is a 192-page trade paperback in full color. For more details, visit Seven Stories Press right here.

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Filed under Barack Obama, Comics, Donald Trump, Great Recession, Hillary Clinton, Political Cartoons, politics, Seven Stories Press

Review: BERNIE by Ted Rall

Bernie Sanders Ted Rall 2016

“Bernie,” the new graphic biography by Ted Rall, published by Seven Stories Press, is a brilliant portrait of the celebrated iconoclast. Following up on his graphic biography of Edward Snowden, Ted Rall has found a kindred spirit in Bernie Sanders. Something broke in the American political system at the end of the Sixties and we have been grappling with that ever since: the demise of liberal activism and the ascent of corporate influence. We see that debate raging in this year’s presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton represents the centrist Democrat; Bernie Sanders represents a way back to progressive values. Rall not only makes a case for Sanders but, in the process, shows us how far afield the American political system has gone and why it is vital to regain balance.

Bernie Sanders Rall 2016

Ted Rall and Bernie Sanders both do not mince words and get to the point: the American middle class is being shrunken out of existence. The American political system is out of whack. Billionaires rule. The common man is left out in the cold. So, where do we go from here? Whatever your political affiliation, it is hard to make a case for the established way of doing things. Rall begins by looking back at how we got where we are. Rall points to the death of American mainstream liberalism with the stunning and utter defeat of Democrat George McGovern to Republican Richard Nixon in 1972. From that point forward, Democrats made a decided turn to the center right. Not only did Democrats abandon pursuit of social programs and saving the environment, they found themselves scrambling to hold onto past accomplishments. In the meantime, the right-wing of the Republican party became toxic.

Bernie Seven Stories Press

In the spirit of America’s robust liberal history, there emerges a voice that finds many ears, Bernie Sanders. Rall makes the case that with the Great Recession, Bernie Sanders and his vision, is more relevant than ever. Rall’s simple drawing style is quite effective in keeping to a steady pace. As always, he cuts to the chase and provides numerous examples to make his point. Rall speaks eloquently to anything an Occupy Wall Street protestor might want to share with the public.

In the end, as divisive and distracting as politics is, there are some humbling facts to consider. Does anyone really want to see their government in the hip pocket of big business and needlessly avoiding investing in its citizens and infrastructure?

Sanders Teddy Roosevelt

Rall makes a strong case for a Bernie Sanders candidacy and what it means. Even if establishment Democrats are resistant, Sanders is paving the way for a return to progressive values. Sanders isn’t planning to change the Democratic Party but his involvement now, in 2016, is the start of a new wave of involvement. Whatever the outcome, the rise of Bernie Sanders is significant.

“Bernie” is a 205-page paperback available now. For more details, visit our friends at Seven Stories Press right here.

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Filed under Bernie Sanders, Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Hillary Clinton, politics, Seven Stories Press

Review: SNOWDEN by Ted Rall

Snowden-Seven-Stories-Press

How important is the truth to you? In the new graphic biography, SNOWDEN, published by Seven Stories Press, Ted Rall presents to us not only the story of a whistleblower but an American intelligence system gone haywire. In Orwellian fashion, your laptop, home computer, smartphone, or television screen are being used as monitoring devices. As Rall states, “The National Security Agency’s goal is to gather every fact, every communication, about everybody on Earth.” And despite the best efforts of Edward Snowden to expose the abuse of power, the NSA continues to pretty much do as it pleases. Unlike the media’s personality-driven story, this story is only partly about a whistleblower.

Edward-Snowden-Ted-Rall

Ted Rall is known for his provocative political cartoons. For this book, he aims for clarity and a step-by-step approach. He does not draw horns and a tail on each of the bad guys. He tones it down for the sake of better conveying the facts. It’s a delicate balancing act as he goes about describing the enormity of the abuse, impressing upon the reader the large number of people who knew about it but remained quiet, and attempting to paint a portrait of the ideal personality to blow the whistle.

NSA-Surveillance

Given the number of key facts that need to be presented in an organized, and accessible fashion, Rall does a supreme job of giving the reader a primer on how their privacy is being violated and why a young man named Edward Snowden deserves to be given a chance to make his case.

Edward-Snowden-James-Clapper

The pace of the narrative is just right. It amounts to a panel per page. You feel a serious urgency tempered by a steady hand. It seems like each page has boiled down what it has to say to a very compelling level. Many pages can easily act as memes. One excellent example focuses on the duplicitous testimony before Congress by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. He makes the ridiculous distinction that it’s alright to store an innocent person’s data as long as it’s not read.

Ted-Rall-Snowden-2015

Ted Rall has never drawn a convincing portrait of anyone. His depictions don’t really resemble Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, or George W. Bush as much as look like a bunch of generic meat puppets. That helps create enough of a distance when dealing with these political fixtures. Maybe this story was a little different as it sees a former boy scout and defender of country turn into the most wanted man on the planet. Rall seems to have been moved by that fact.

Ted-Rall-Snowden

We mostly see Snowden depicted pretty much like any other Rall character but, at times, there is a less rushed, more careful, depiction. And, without a doubt, there is a certain specificity, and even warmth, for his cover art portrait of Edward Snowden. I think that was essential and will help draw readers into a most compelling read.

SNOWDEN is a 224-page trade paperback, published by Seven Stories Press, and available now. You can find it at Amazon right here.

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Filed under Comics, Edward Snowden, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Seven Stories Press, Ted Rall