BOOK REVIEW/Kristian Williams

The Art of ‘War’

Since 1979, World War 3 Illustrated has bridged the worlds of comics, political propaganda, and fine art. Like a more radical, more punk, and less pretentious counterpart to Art Spiegelman’s RAW, WW3 has showcased new talent and featured a broad range of aesthetics and approaches. Most of all, it is driven by the idea that art should be in dialogue with society about the things that matter — war, poverty, pollution, police violence, and resistance.

PM Press has just released a full-color retrospective, featuring contributors such as Spain Rodriguez, Nicole Schulman, and Fly, as well as editors Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman. In it, comics artists mock the ideology of the Religious Right, recount New York’s housing struggles, and graphically depict the horrors of assorted wars. Much of the book consists of first-person accounts — of New Orleans after Katrina, of New York on September 11, of life in prison, of sexual assault, of Occupy Wall Street, city kids fighting over sneakers, American Jews visiting the Occupied Territories.

The art is as varied as the subject matter, and it is beautiful throughout. It represents a kaleidoscope of styles, materials, and aesthetics: mock propaganda posters, finely detailed ink drawings, stencils, pastels, oil paintings, photographs of murals and protest art. Some is sketchy, some cartoonish, some brightly colored and advertizing-slick, some xerox-ready black and white. The diversity is a virtue in itself, encouraging the creators to innovate, experiment, and play. There is no “house style,” so one turns each page anticipating something new.

Many of the pages work perfectly well as stand-alone pieces. It is rare in our hyper-kinetic video age that single image can command our attention, provoke thought, and demand sustained consideration. But there are dozens of images in this volume that do exactly that. Among the most striking are: Mac McGill’s haunting portrait of an abandoned building as a hollow-eyed skull; Kevin’ Pyle’s almost clinically precise illustrations of African American men, subjects to the Tuskegee experiments, suffering the last stages of untreated syphilis; Sue Coe’s bleak rendition of an oil-drenched pelican, a burning oil platform in the background and the BP logo on its chest; and a mural in Gaza — a collaboration between Eric Drooker and a group of Palestinian children — symbolically, defiantly, recreating one of the village trees, all of which had just been bulldozed by the Israeli army. The book is arranged thematically, rather than chronologically, with sections on religion, gender, housing, prison, the environment, war, and so on. It is interesting, seeing newer pieces next to the old and realizing how much the material from twenty years ago still feels current today.

World War 3 is not the Cold War, and not the War on Terror; it is the war underneath those other wars. World War 3 is the class war, but it is also more than the class war. It is a war against poverty, ecological catastrophe, and all forms of oppression - a war for freedom, justice, dignity, and human rights. It is, at once, a civil war and a global war. World War 3 is occurring in our city parks, and in urban squats, in Oaxaca, and Chiapas, and New York, and New Orleans, in the Indian countryside, in the Kijichon towns of Korea, in the West Bank, in prisons everywhere, and in the room where you sit now, reading this review. World War 3 is a metaphor, but it is also literal and deadly.

World War 3 is ongoing.

Kristian Williams is the editor of Life During Wartime: Resisting Counterinsurgency.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2014

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