A Look at World War 3 Illustrated

Reviewed: World War 3 Illustrated, #38 (2008)

The pages of World War 3 Illustrated contain one of the best kept and mistakenly kept secrets of the fast-developing world of comic art here in the US. Launched in 1979 by a couple of youngsters moving from Cleveland  to New York’s Lower East Side, the magazine first developed mainly as a forum for resistance to the gentrification of  the long-famous radical neighborhood. It was always ecological-minded, but increasingly included the expression of young artists drawn to Third World support.

The invasions in the Bush years turned the art and the artists toward the familiar issues, to Vietnam-era radicals, of the power-mongers and their connections to the warmongers, in short the way the system based in Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (i.e., the White House) were all part of the same thing. The publication is also about how resistance to them needed to be grassroots and creative, to bring out the best capacities of ordinary people and extraordinary artists.

The latest issue begins with a message of solidarity with the Palestinians (by Jewish American artists, which is itself notable). And refusal to accept the lies of the US war upon Iraqi civilians. It moves on to Katrina, seen wordlessly as a swirl of destruction. And then to the beautifully developed saga of the Manhattan group Times Up! Which has since its founding in 1987 used posters, bicycle posses, music, floats and other means to drive home the simple message that people need to think about the destructive effects of everyday consumer/commuter behavior. Some six months before the Republican National Convention of 2000, New York’s presumed Finest began to issue tickets, crack heads, infiltrate meetings and otherwise treat bicycle riders as the enemy. Despite "accidents" in which bike-riders are targeted by drivers (never issued tickets), some fatal and many life-threatening, these people won’t quit. It’s an important message.

Among the issue’s many other features that mean the most to me, 1960s veteran art-activist Susan Simensky Bietila has delivered a recollection of her first years in the civil rights movement and at Brooklyn College, the free speech fights, the struggle to demystify the military presence on campus, the racism, the beatings and the sweet moments of triumph in student strikes that electrified the campus. This is an important memory.

Next, Peter Kuper’s view of Oxaca in the midst of radicalism and brutal repression, drawn from sketchbook, eight pages slick and in color. Kuper, who does the "Spy vs Spy" page in Mad Magazine, is the best-known commercial artist of this crowd, but sticks with the commitments of his radical origins. That other guy from Cleveland at the launch of World War 3 is Seth Tobocman, and here he weighs in with a special piece of reportage from New Orleans. Tobocman draws on the spot, like a photographer, and works his on his story, like a novelist. The result is the tale of a neighborhood saved by the determination of its residents and then stolen again by city authorities.

Well, there’s plenty more, but readers will want to dig it out themselves. And there are plenty of back issues. You won’t find better political comic art anywhere.

For more information visit the magazine’s website: http://www.worldwar3illustrated.org/

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Paul Buhle’s latest book is A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF AMERICAN EMPIRE, an adaptation of Howard Zinn’s PEOPLES HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES.