Saturday, December 25, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: 'Wobblies!' (2005)

Book Review by John Pietaro:

Edited by Paul Buhle and Nicole Schulman, 2005, Verso

Like a beacon in the night, this collection of comic book depictions of the founding and struggle of the Wobblies beckons the reader. Here's one Labor history book that is infectious, exciting, informing, intense, hip. And it will piss you off in the best possible way; but, hey, that's what cultural workers do. This collection is prepared with all of the documentation and artistic integrity one would expect from editors Buhle (one of the upper echelon of progressive historian-authors) and Schulman (international artist and an editor of 'World War 3 Illustrated'). WOBBLIES! offers an eclectic collection of underground-type comic book settings which are very dedicated to an accurate telling of some of the Labor's greatest victories, as well as many of its saddest losses. But it also includes beautiful artwork and selections of poetry and prose that were produced by Wobbly creative forces at any point over this last hundred years. In telling of the IWW's fights for social justice, they explain the story of all working people. Hence, this book should be viewed not only as a piece in honor of the IWW's 2005 centenary, but as a staple of the people's history. Strong segments on Mother Jones, Big Bill Haywood, Joe Hill, Lucy Parsons, the 'Bread & Roses' strike, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Carlo Tresca, the Paterson Pageant, free-speech battles, Emma Goldman, Black Wobblies, Ralph Chaplin, Frank Little and Mexican agrarian revolts stand out. But there is no weak material to be found between these pages.

WOBBLIES! opens with a kind of prologue, a brief introduction to the advances of the early twentieth century which bridged the arts to progressive thinking. Artist and writer Sabrina Jones (who also contributes other pieces)includes Isadora Duncan, Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, Dada, the Ashcan School, , Cubism and more in just a few swirling frames. And this is but the intro. The "chapters" which follow all begin with opening statements by the editors and then delve into the comic book stories. But these have little to do with the "Justice League of America" or "Batman" comics I read as a boy. These are the type of stories and artwork that the genre title 'graphic novel' was created for. Often dark, heavily-outlined frames detail visions of striking workers, mine collapses, factory scenes, picket lines, fat-cat bosses, and free-speech fights. And these are constantly imbedded with the pride of the workers. And with so many contributing artists and writers, there is ample room forevery powerful grain of information.

Surely too numerous to be fully credited here, some of the artists and writers include Carlos Cortez, Mike Alewitz, Fly, Trina Robbins, Sue Coe, Ralph Chaplin, Tom Keough, Jay Kinney, Mike Konopacki, Peter Kuper, Franklin Rosemont, Mac McGill, and bits of Joe Hill and T-Bone Slim, as well as contributions by the editors. And continuous quotes by IWW heavies. The variety of art styles---sketches, inks, traditional cartooning, paints, realism, purposeful distortions, Modernist imagery crossed with youthful enthusiasm and underground edginess---makes for an immediate impact. You will not tire of this reading. And i don't think the kids in your life will either, and that seems to be the whole idea. I am surely going to buy copies for my teenaged nephews and nieces. And for those who are traditionalists, there is also a section on IWW originals. No stone is left unturned.

Buhle and Schulman, in making certain that this collection is not a mere history book, includes a section on more recent IWW struggles, from 1966 till today. Wobblies in SDS are discussed, as well as the IWW's connection to Judi Bari and UCWA. And they also list current contact info the the IWW and a detailed section of source material. Now, if we could just get this same group to put out volumes on every fight the people have waged for social change, we might be able to
influence every child to take a closer look at what's happening in Washington---and their parents' workplace----right now.


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