Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fundraisers: Last Gasp, New South Festival

I wanted to make note of the kickstarter fund for Last Gasp's ambitious fall line. Last Gasp has been a key distributor and publisher of underground comics for a long, long time, and so I would consider adding your support to their campaign.

 As a contributor to Foxing Quarterly's blog, I also wanted to make note of the impressive-sounding new comic arts festival in Austin, currently holding its own fundraiser. This has the potential to be something great.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Some Thoughts On Root Hog Or Die

Dan Stafford's low-fi, slightly ramshackle documentary, Root Hog Or Die, is entirely fitting with regard to its subject minicomics/zine-making legend, John Porcellino. The film follows a roughly chronological look at his life and career as a musician and cartoonist with extensive interviews from a number of friends and peers from all walks of his life. The film's rough, DIY feel makes sense given Porcellino's background as a cartoonist who uses an exceedingly spare line to relate anecdotes and poetic observations about his life and environment. It was interesting to see various places around Illinois and Denver concretized on the screen, but it was more interesting to hear Porcellino's own feelings about each of these places. There are also a number of readings of his comics by a variety of people.

The film is neatly divided into title-card sections, from his early life to college years to his early years in bands. From there, Porcellino's descent into years of poor health are described in some detail, and his account of battling OCD and depression are particularly harrowing. What is delightful is seeing the frequently solitary Porcellino hanging out with various of his friends from over the year. He's not by nature a solitary person, but circumstances and mental illness often drove him into that direction. Seeing him just cut up with friends like Noah Van Sciver was one of the real joys of this DVD, especially in the extended deleted scenes section. In some ways, I enjoyed the deleted scenes as much or more as the film itself, because they were every bit as revealing as the film's narrative but were more relaxed and more fun. Watching them felt more like reading an issue of King-Cat than watching the straight narrative. The "Extra P" section, devoted to John P talking about the "filler" cartoons from King-Cat as well as talking about how they bombed at one presentation, was excellent for the same reason.

A couple of quotes stood out in the film as especially illustrative of why John P is so good at what he does. Long-time admirer Ivan Brunetti notes that the specific nature of Porcellino's observations about life actually give them a universal appeal. We may not share Porcellino's precise situation or even aesthetic understanding of the world, but his passion for understanding and his attempt to create meaning is easily understood. Porcellino's interest in Zen Buddhism became crystal clear when he referred to it as the "DIY religion", where it's all up to your own effort to make it work and no one else can make it work for you. How fitting is that thought, given his own relentless and independent work ethic over the years?

Where the documentary is at its best is when it manages to capture the thoughtful, poetic and philosophical side of Porcellino alongside his more playful and silly side. Seeing live footage of various bands he was in was a great deal of fun, as well as hearing anecdotes about some of his wackier on-stage antics. Porcellino is a skilled raconteur, even if that's a skill that took him years to develop. He's someone who's now used to talking about his life as a narrative and parceling it out as a series of anecdotes. At the same time, the best John P comics are those that float apart from specific timelines, those that are about Porcellino as phenomenologist. He observes the world, apart from its utility and our everyday understanding of it, and deftly records his sense of awe. There is a famous Zen koan: "First there is a mountain/Then there is no mountain/Then there is." This is a way of describing the Zen approach to living in the material world. We acknowledge the world as it seems to everyone, as the manifestation of the evidence of our senses and all of the assumptions that flow out of that. Then we acknowledge the illusory nature of these constructions. Then we once again acknowledge the temporal and physical existence of the world once again and our role in it. Porcellino's exquisite awareness and willingness to feel his emotions as connected to time and place are the essence of what makes his poetic work so powerful. It is simple and direct, where small details matter most of all. The words are basic and unadorned, the images stripped down to their simplest configurations.

That's especially true with regard to his relationship with animals, and his beloved, deceased cat Maisie Kukoc most of all. There's one strip about traveling across the country on a move where he sits in the cab of a truck, eating with his cat. There's a sense of perfect contentment on both their parts, of total understanding and acceptance of each other.

The timing of this documentary was interesting, because it came at a time when Porcellino was just starting to heal from years of mental illness that wound up wrecking two marriages. Both of his ex-wives are in the film, and he and his first wife Kera actually share a great deal of time together on the screen. The obvious affection both women still feel for him is obvious, given their tones of voice, body language and the ways they exchange words together. There's a sense in which being mentally ill is an aberration of who we are, a warped mutation of our true selves. Porcellino's OCD was certainly in that category, made all the more painful because he could understand rationally that what he was doing and thinking was not credible but couldn't help feeling and thinking that way. When someone is depressed and isolated but is then able to make a reconnection with an old friend, that experience can be a powerful tonic. It's rebuilding synapses that had been long abandoned and creating a flow of creative energy that had been dammed away. Seeing this happen onscreen, even if it's not discussed as such, is quite interesting and even inspiring. The film can also be seen as a companion piece to Porcellino's new book The Hospital Suite, which goes into greater detail regarding a number of autobiographical details from the film. Viewers should be warned that the DIY nature of the film extends to things like frequently poor lighting, a shaky camera, weird angles, etc. None of that seems to matter much given the subject, as the film shares in and celebrates Porcellino's own rough edges.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Activist Week: World War III Illustrated #44, World War III Illustrated 1979-2014

Issue #44 of World War III Illustrated was one of the quieter, more reflective entries in the long-running magazine's history. Billed as "the Other issue", the stories are about the experience of being made to feel the other,and there are some remarkable stories built around this theme. First and foremost is Sandy Jimenez's piece on growing up in the burned-out South Bronx and being photographed by some art students as a child. Thinking they were friends, he eventually sneaked into their show and saw himself as they saw him: the Other. As a poor, dirty waif. That betrayal set the stage for his later difficulty taking photos when he got to art school and his later, painful understanding that it's not the camera that exploits its subjects, it's the photographer. The way he draws his eyes as black saucers is especially affecting and attention-grabbing. This is a raw, powerful story that I wish had gotten wider recognition when it was published; it's certainly one of the best things I've ever read in WW III Illustrated.

That said, this is an unusually strong and coherent issue overall. Sabrina Jones' account of a young woman caught up in harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws is notable because of her expressive pencils-only style. A report from activists in Quebec about the student protests is as measured and even an account that I can imagine, as it takes aim at both right-wing scorn toward Quebecois as well as the racist and anti-immigrant tendencies of some from the left. Leila Abdul Razzaq's comics about her father's experiences growing up after his family was thrown out of Palestine are superb; the drawings are lively and expressive and the narratives are personal, detailed and passionate. Carlo Quispe, who's become one of my favorite personal/political cartoonists, uses his expressive scrawl of a line to relate a story about trying to reconcile his dating life with his political life as an activist. Tom Keough and Seth Tobocman have pieces about resisting bullying and the possibility of new communities in the face of disaster, both of which have a more hopeful character than the usual sort of WWW III Illustrated article.

The magazine has been one of the very few places where American readers can gain access to translated work by Middle Eastern cartoonists. In addition to Razzaq, there was work by Egyptian artist Ganzeer (though I found its sentiments rather pat) as well as a dream comic from Barrack Rima. That one was especially interesting, because it was very much about being the other as a foreign immigrant, and the page composition was fascinating. Many of Rima's pages looked constructed rather than drawn, and other pages had drawings with a remarkably sensitive and fragile quality. In an issue where co-founding editor Peter Kuper had a few pieces, they wound up being among the least compelling material in the issue. This speaks to the overall health and vitality of the anthology, as its younger caretakers have done a fine job in maintaining its voice.

Speaking of its founders, PM Press recently published World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014. This is the third time in its history that a collection of the best from the anthology has been collected, but this is a definitive and beautifully well-produced 300-page volume. Reading this book is quite a different experience from reading the average issue of the magazine in that the charmingly ramshackle DIY feel of the magazine is not really in evidence here. This is both a good and bad thing, as some of the pieces published in the magazine over the years weren't really of a high enough level of quality to merit reprinting, and the somewhat slapdash nature of the editing and construction of each issue sometimes inhibited the flow as a reader. Of course, that also meant wonderful surprises popping up in each issue as well in addition to the contributors who have been with the magazine throughout its run. The book is well-organized, with fourteen different subsections grouping together different kinds of stories. While there are about forty artists represented, much of the book focuses on a small group of regulars.

Of course, when those regulars include Peter Kuper, Seth Tobocman, Fly, Eric Drooker, Sabrina Jones, Sue Coe, and Nicole Schulman, there's not too much to complain about. There are also oddities like an early Peter Bagge strip, a piece by occasional contributor and cause celebre Mumia Abu-Jamal, and contributions by artists known for their work in other venues like Art Spiegelman and Tom Tomorrow. Still, the regulars do most of the heavy lifting and document thirty-five years of government oppression, police brutality, oppression of women and spirited resistance across the globe. While both Kuper and Tobocman have both clearly been inspired by street art in their use of stencils, bleeding images, etc, Kuper's work has always been more polished and more in the tradition of political cartooning. Even his autobiographical strips, like when he went to testify on Mike Diana's behalf at his obscenity trial, have a slightly amused, detached and self-deprecatory air.  He uses powerful and blunt images and satire as his weapons. Tobocman's work has always been more emotional and on-the-ground, detailing events as he experienced them. It's speaking truth to power in the most direct way possible.

Drooker and Coe's best-known work consists of single images on covers or as illustrations, using rich colors and lots of ink to get their points across poetically but bluntly. Jones and Schulman are superb storytellers with naturalistic styles. Fly has always been the secret MVP of the magazine whenever she's appeared; there are few artists who are as adept at writing biographical details with as much visceral punch as she can, and her own street-level approach to life and art give her comics a powerful sense of authenticity. The nice paper and use of full color makes this book an eye-popping read, and the editors do a great job of using interesting interstitial material to stitch together the differing chapters. Sandy Jimenez notably updated one of his old stories, "Skips", in full color, and it added a lot to the reading experience. Reading this book is reading a history of opposition and of artists grappling with their role in that resistance. It must be noted that there's a solid representation of artists who are women and artists of color, and this was so long before that was a commonplace event in alternative comics. There's little in the way of self-congratulation; instead, their helpful timeline at the end of the book just underlines how it's simply time to get back to work.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Activist Week: World War III Illustrated #43

For thirty-five years, World War III Illustrated has been the standard-bearer for comics activism. Its existence predated and to some extent presaged the more precise comics journalism of Joe Sacco. It's always been somewhere between political cartooning, comics storytelling and in-your-face agit-prop. Tomorrow, I'll examine the recent hardcover collection from throughout the magazine's history as well as #44. Today, I'm going to examine #43, an issue from 2012. (I haven't seen a copy of the most recent issue, #45, which debuted a year ago).

#43's theme is "Expression Repression Revolution", and its pages are stuffed with reports from the resistance in Egypt as well as the ramifications of the Wikileaks reveal of brutal war crimes perpetrated by the US in Iraq. The editorial collective for the issue, which includes Rebecca Migdal, Hilary Allison, Carlo Quispe and co-founder Seth Tobocman, notes that the magazine has a commitment to pluralism even in its hard-left approach. That manifests in how Wikileaks founder Julian Assange comes up for both praise and criticism, and the same is true for Barack Obama. The issue was published in 2012, when Occupy and attempts to silence the movement were more active and the revelations regarding the more sinister aspects of the Obama administration were revealed. In a broader sense, the issue is about the idea of free speech and censorship, especially given that the left often seeks to ban certain kinds of speech.

That's explored in Jordan Worley's "Violent Praxis", which follows a group of anti-racist activists who seek to jam and interfere with racist groups like the KKK and skinhead organization. It's a fascinating read, given that it captures the debate between those who would justify violence as part of resistance and those who see the use of force as coercive and counter-productive. The issue leads off with a new Mike Diana story, which is fitting given his status of being charged with obscenity for drawing his comic over twenty years ago. I never thought Diana was much of a cartoonist; his claims of trying to reflect the violence of society in his comics may have been true, but his crude grasp on both drawing and language made those comics a slog. That said, there's an interesting rawness to his work that's only become more interesting after the ridiculous circus he was put through.

One of the more interesting things about this issue is that it prints work by Egyptian cartoonist Magdy El Shafee. There's brutally hilarious work about Egypt's position regarding foreigners as well as an interesting story about him trying to preserve old works from rioters. Walking the line between resistance and total chaos is something that's little discussed in activist circles, and his line drawings are exquisitely funny. Tobocman and Worley collaborate on a fairly straightforward account of the brutal US assault on random, unarmed civilians in Iraq.(ostensibly, as a kind of pressure-valve revenge for soldiers killed by an IED) that's typically blunt. There's an excerpt from a graphic novel simply titled Julian Assange that starts with the incident and then delves into Assange as a cultural figure. That's countered by Bill Weinberg's piece accusing Assange of ignoring a Wikileaks operative in helping a brutally repressive regime, although the art supporting this piece is impossibly small and blurry.

That's part of the package with WW III Illustrated sometimes, alas. It's printed on mostly cheap paper (though there are color sections), and almost no copy-editing is done. The Diana piece was rife with spelling errors, for example, and that wasn't the only piece with that problem. On the other hand, this makes a piece like Allison's "Bad Words" stand out, because its rendering is so precise. This is a great piece about the author's relationship with things she shouldn't say, finding the right audience for her words and respecting those who don't want to hear certain words, realizing that her opposition to certain words makes others treat her differently and rethinking the negative connotation of words entirely. It's a lively, funny strip that's a highlight of the issue.

There are features on a former Disney caricaturist whose status as a person of color was a driving force in his frequent difficulties playing his trade, as well as a correspondent in prison whose mail has been repeatedly censored or held back. Other highlights of the issue include a typically satirical Kuper piece about the Tea Party and their benefactors the Koch brothers, a piece by Tobocman and Jessica Wehrle about the first days of the Occupy movement, a searing personal piece by Jenny Gonzalez-Blitz regarding her complicated experiences regarding sex and sexuality, and a piece exposing the hypocrisy regarding the Smithsonian banning artist/activist David Wojnarowicz's video from an installation. While World War III Illustrated has never been short on material, it seems like worldwide activism and turbulence has made for a richer and more diverse magazine on the whole.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Activist Week: Ethan Heitner and Kevin C. Pyle

Ethan Heitner and Kevin Pyle have long been mainstays at the seminal political comics anthology World War III Illustrated. Each has also done their share of solo work, much of which is in the category of direct action literature.

Pyle's Wage Theft, co-written by Jeffry Odell Korgen and flip-booked with a Spanish-translated version, is a deft, fast-moving and highly persuasive tract aimed at workers who have suffered from the title phenomenon. The comic, drawn in Pyle's scratchy line with a huge emphasis on greyscaling to add tone and depth to each page, focuses primarily on undocumented/illegal workers in service industries like cleaning. The practice of wage theft can involve being paid less than minimum wage, of failing to pay wages or paying them on a consistently late basis, ignoring overtime, making illegal deductions, etc. Some employers feel they can get away with this by threatening to report their employees to immigration, threatening to fire them or using some other form of illegal intimidation. This comic is full of cases of workers who fought back, the resources they used and the outcomes they achieved. Pyle and Korgen aren't practicing pie-in-the-sky activism here, as they acknowledge that there's a risk of businesses going bankrupt as a way of dodging their debt obligations and of course the difficulty of losing time and wages. That said, by giving a clear idea of what resources do exist and how people have used them, this comic is meant to be a seed that provides support and a means of resistance to exploited workers across the country.

Heitner's comics focus on Palestinian rights and divestment away from Israel. Nothing "Normal About It was written by Tanya Keilani and speaks to the idea of false equivalency of "dialogue" between Palestinians and Israelis, given the idea that the Israelis booted out the Palestinians in 1948 and currently practice what is roughly the equivalent of apartheid. Keilani's comic details some Palestinian students being invited to dialogue and eventually walking away after realizing that for groups to come together as equals, the two groups actually have to be equal. The writing is strident and without the faintest sense of subtlety, and the Israeli supporters here are portrayed as little more than straw men (curiously illustrated to look like stuffy Archie-adults). Tara Tabassi's writing is similarly one-note in There Is A Checkpoint Around This Center!, which is about a protest about the clash between Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) in New York being denied space at the NY LGBT Community Center. The central idea that oppression of Palestinians is not something separate from queer issues is one that makes sense, but this is less a story than a series of shouted slogans. That has its place, and documenting this issue makes sense, but comics like these are merely preaching to the converted.

More effective are Heitner's own comics. Old Abdullah Had A Farm, for example, is a perfect example of effective and memorable political comics. Drawing his characters as anthropomorphic mice, he detailed the ways in which settlers, soldiers and the Wall pushed out farmers from their land, and how this has led to a movement. With a scratchy, cross-hatching heavy line, the comic has the proper amount of pitch-black humor and serious commentary. The Power of Our Voices uses Joe Sacco-style interviews with Palestinians and tells their stories, building a powerful case for the cultural boycott of Israel. Interviewing artist Samia Halaby, for example, she makes the point that art cannot transcend politics, that it either passively or actively supports oppression even if it claims to have nothing to do with it. That's the crux of the argument in favor of the cultural boycott, especially since an argument is made that Israel's cultural exports are very much a propaganda exercise in improving their image around the world. If Halaby is perhaps too much of a firebrand for one's tastes (she comes out in favor of violence as one means of resistance, which is unusual in these comics that call for protests, boycotts and divestments), then AnneMarie Jacir's story of not being allowed to film a documentary in Palestine, nor being allowed in is even more powerful. Trying to navigate a brutal, impersonal and frequently nonsensical bureaucracy frustrated the filmmaker. When told she'd be invited into a festival in Haifa, she refused because her own father wouldn't be allowed access. Another artist, Larissa Sansour, had her work censored in France because it was too "pro-Palestinian". Letting people tell their stories is the most effective way of getting a greater point across, and Heitner then takes that opportunity to lay out the specifics of the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement.

Heitner's own Empire State of Mind has two stories: an adaptation of a Kafka story that touches on jackals and Arabs, and the sticky relationship between the Middle East and the West. "Stick and Stay, "They're Bound To Pay" is about the big union strike in Flint, Michigan that led to the rise of United Auto Workers. They struck for better working conditions and fair wages, and their commitment and togetherness--especially with the quick-witted support of their wives--won the day for them. Like Pyle, Heitner is skilled at creating a narrative out of primary sources. He adds a sense of suspense and drama to events that certainly didn't lack it and is careful to let his pages breathe with the occasional silent panel that is worth the proverbial thousand words. Heitner is careful not to write this with a sense of starry-eyed nostalgia of triumphs past, but rather as a call to arms for protesters and occupiers everywhere. That mix of fact, reasoning and passion is what makes his narratives so compelling. It's not just relating that the personal is political, but trying to explain precisely how and why this is so in such a way that anyone can understand it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Activist Week: The System

In some ways, Peter Kuper's The System is very much of its time with regard to its view of New York City. Written in 1995, its Times Square is still sleazy and the city (especially its downtown area) was far less gentrified than it is now. That said, its central plot beats--police corruption, racially-charged violence, insider trading, the threat of terrorism--are still all too familiar. This is my favorite of all of Kuper's comics, as it synchs up his interests in urban storytelling, political rabble-rousing, silent storytelling and his personal relationship with New York. It's also his most visually inventive and ambitious, as he spray-painted stenciled sheets to get a gritty, graffiti-inspired effect on each page. Given that the visual theme of the book is the way seemingly random people and things intersect and affect each other, the fact that colors literally bled into one another from panel to panel only helped to reinforce this theme.

While The System is touted as a silent book and there is no dialogue, it's a bit of a cheat to say that it's wordless. Indeed, there are whole subplots of the book that take place in headlines, on newstickers and on TV screens that drive a great deal of the action. We learn that a detective investigating the murder of a stripper is guilt-ridden for accidentally shooting a boy by looking at the newspaper clipping he carries around detailing the incident. We learn that there's a presidential election coming up between the corporate-sponsored incumbent and his firebrand liberal counterpart, and we later learn of the challenger's tragic fate from the papers. We learn of a major battle between two corporate giants who are trying to take over a third company via computer screens and iconography. This isn't a knock against the book; indeed, the omnipresence of media is a reality in an urban setting. That said, this is a book that requires different kinds of reading and rewards readers for keeping track of small details.

There's an orderly sense of chaos in how Kuper designs his pages. He resolutely stays away from any set sort of grid pattern on a page to page basis. In the second chapter, a brutal race-related murder is framed such that the panels are all askew, as though they were rocking or vibrating. Some of his panel-to-panel transitions are simple, while others are more dramatic and abstract, like the scream of a murder victim giving way to the tracks and train of a subway. A pigeon is his go-to way of moving the action somewhere new, as the bird draws away our eyes when Kuper simply wants to shift scenes without having characters intersect.

Peter Kuper's New York is one with predators, prey, and those in-between, trying to live their lives. Some of the characters meet horrible and unjust fates. Others have surprisingly sweet happy endings. Some of the corrupt are busted, while many more of the corrupt continue to exploit and profit off of others. Some murderers walk away clean, while others are punished in the most dramatic and ironic ways possible. Kuper's amazing achievement is keeping over a dozen different stories tightly wound around each other, effortlessly weaving them in and out of each other over the course of a few days. Some of the stories are a bit on the broad side and even feel a bit silly (like a corporate saboteur being brought in to nuke a competitor's building), though after the events of 9/11, who can say what's broad? Relying on simple visuals means Kuper can't afford much in the way of restraint or subtlety, neither of which were ever his strong suit to begin with. In the system, he uses that bluntness effectively and beautifully, making each and every page look like a beautiful bit of street art. Street art is frequently simple, bright and direct, and that's what Kuper aims for here. That said, he also manages to throw in a murder mystery, a political thriller, a cop procedural and various other kinds of stories into the book all at the same time, and pulls each of them off seamlessly. More than any of his other comics, The System is admirable simply because of the beauty of its structure. I do think that the final-panel reveal of a (literal) ticking time-bomb was a tad on the ridiculous side and betrayed the cyclical nature of the storytelling in the rest of the book. It was too much an "end of history" moment for a book that essentially showed that at any given time in the city, there's a cycle of predators and prey, lovers and artists going about their day, the rich trying to exploit the poor and certain elements of the underclasses that try to fight back in their own ways. By teasing an explosive game-changing end felt a bit cheap and went against the grain of the rest of the book. That said, the rest of the book worked as a distillation of much of Kuper's career as an artist and editor.

This edition was published by PM Press; Vertigo originally published it as three monthly issues and then later a collection. This edition is in hardback, is printed at a larger size and on better paper. The colors absolutely pop off the page in this book, and the quality of the paper is a big reason why. The endpapers, commentary and interstitial material give the book a real chance to breathe. This is obviously the definitive version of this book, and I'd point any reader curious about Kuper's career to this book first and foremost.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Activist Week: On The Books

Greg Farrell's book On The Books (Microcosm) is an interesting departure for a cartoonist best known for autobio and humor material. Both of those elements are still present in this story about a labor dispute at The Strand, the famous New York bookstore, but they're muted in favor of bigger issues. On The Books presents a struggle that's a microcosm of larger labor and wage equality movements happening in the US, along with protest moments like Occupy. While Farrell does his best to provide the historical background regarding The Strand's ownership and its unionized workers, the book is more journal than cohesive narrative. Farrell admits this up front, noting that opinions he held earlier in the book don't necessarily carry over as time went on. By setting himself as an unreliable narrator with his own personal stake in the events of the book (Farrell is an employee of The Strand), he makes the complex, murky and shifting elements of the struggle easier to understand. Farrell himself is unsure of the right moves to make, making this less a polemic than an attempt to understand the conflict, its components and the issues at stake.

The primary issue at stake was renegotiating the union's benefits contract with the store. The Strand, citing worldwide publishing downturns, wanted to introduce fairly harsh cutbacks and a new wage tier such that new employees would make less money. The struggle that Farrell and his co-workers faced was not only a management that appeared to be negotiating in bad faith, but union representatives who seemed disinterested at times and all too eager to roll over to management. The book details a variety of protests, worker meetings, dissemination of literature designed to inflame and unite his fellow workers at the store. All of this sounds heavy, and it is: people's livelihoods depended on the vote, and the workers were not in agreement regarding what the proper course of action was. The naturally goofy Farrell balances all of the seriousness with an elastic, cartoony line that frequently drops in gags and silly jokes to counter the dryness of the narrative. This approach doesn't always work and isn't always necessary, as many of the story's details are fascinating in their own right. For example, he plays it more or less straight when he describes The Strand's policy of turning on sprinklers early in the morning as a way of dispersing the homeless. At times, though Farrell overdoes it on trying to lighten the mood.

That said, Farrell's narrative voice is also angry and engaged, yet tuned into the concerns of those with other points of view. Those with families who depended on that job were less willing or able to take the time to join strategy sessions. Then there were their allies from Occupy Wall Street, including those with fringe political agendas that had nothing to do with the Strand workers' concerns. There was anger reserved for management, who used strategies designed to pit worker against worker, as well as union leadership, who frequently seemed arrogant, out of touch and unwilling to really help their constituents. Farrell starts off the book as somewhat skeptical toward those emphasizing direct action and protest, but by the end, he's full throttle in favor of resistance. This ideological shift comes through the background of protests (including a memorable May Day shutdown protest that paralyzed the store for hours), tactical disagreements, groups growing and then fizzling and management's ever-more-disingenuous negotiating tactics. Farrell printed minis of what later wound up in the book, and even those comics caused some controversy.

This is an ambitious book that at times feels more like a solid first draft instead of a finished product. Farrell's line is shaky at some points, especially when he tries to draw dozens of different characters. It's admirable that he tried to capture the voices (many different from his) of so many different people, but he didn't quite have the chops to pull it off effectively. Balancing satire and simple lampooning was also tricky. A running gag of changing the Strand's sign outside the store (Old Rare New) to something topical ("Used--like our staff") was one of the funnier devices he used. Somewhat unrelated gags in dialog proved to be distracting. Despite the book's aesthetic shortcomings, it was still fascinating to see Farrell document this struggle in real time while trying to inform the reader as to who all of the major players on both sides were while still offering up his own point of view. It's a remarkable, raw and emotionally charged account of a labor dispute from an insider who wanted to own his own narrative of a historically important struggle.