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Peter Kuper, cartoonist, interviewed on RiYL podcast on Boingboing

by Brian Heater
RiYL podcast on Boingboing
July 23rd, 2014

In the latest episode of the RiYL podcast, Brian Heater interviews the author of multiple Kafka adaptations and a sketchbook diary chronicling his time in Mexico.

Every time I speak to Peter Kuper, the conversation invariably turns to New York — or, as is often the case, begins there. It’s my own fault. I’ve got this insatiable need to ask fellow residents, artists in particular, what keeps them in the city’s orbit. Kuper is a particularly interesting case study, having left the city — and country — in 2006, for a life in Mexico.

It was, as one might, expect, a multifaceted decision to move his entire family down to Oaxaca, in part an attempt to expose his daughter to another language and culture — and certainly leaving the country at the height of George W. Bush’s second term was seen as a net positive for the oft political cartoonist. A few years later, the Kupers found themselves back in New York, but the experience generated, amongst other things, the lovely Diario De Oaxaca, a sketchbook diary chronicling Kuper’s time in Mexico, immersed himself in the area’s stunning counter-cultural murals.

More recently, Kuper returned to the book’s publisher, PM Press, in hopes of helping to anthologize World War 3 Illustrated, the progressive comics anthology he co-founded with fellow New York cartoonist, Seth Tobocman. The process was a touch more complicated, and when we sat down to speak at the MoCCA Arts Festival back in April, the duo had recently completed a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Even outside the long-running anthology, Kuper’s career has long been both fascinating and diverse, from multiple Kafka adaptations and his 2007 semi-autobiographical Stop Forgetting To Remember to an on-going stint as Mad Magazine’s Spy Versus Spy artist. So, you know, plenty to talk about.

About the Author
Brian Heater (@bheater ) is a senior editor at Engadget and the founder of indie comics site, The Daily Cross Hatch. His writing has appeared in Spin, The Onion, Entertainment Weekly and The New York Press. He hosts several podcasts and shares an apartment in Queens with a rabbit named Sylvia.

Listen to the interview | Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page

Horror than Hope: The Comic Art of World War 3 Illustrated in Dissent Magazine

By Paul Buhle
Dissent Magazine
July 24th, 2014

It is safe to say that nothing, in the annals of comic art, has ever resembled World War 3 Illustrated. New issues have come out more or less annually for the past thirty-five years, though they have not always been easy to locate West of the Hudson river; distribution has not been a strong point, but the art, rarely repetitive or clichéd, has been. Year to year and decade to decade, it has been drawn by new hands, in a continual effort to bring along young artists committed to social themes but groping for their own way forward. Luckily for comic enthusiasts everywhere, this remarkable body of work is now collected in an oversized, chock-full volume.

The conceptual starting point for the founders and early collaborators of World War 3 was Masses magazine (1912-17), the original fount for printed "ashcan" art, but also revolutionary optimism and good humor. I've always been struck by the hostility of the European experimentalists of the 1913 Armory Show toward their American cousins: ashcanners were viewed as retrograde realists, unable to grasp that the future lay in abstraction. The Cubists and Dadists, and the Surrealists to come, could be revolutionary on their own terms, but the smell of the tenement blocks-or even the sense of a warm summer day in Central Park-did not interest them much as a subject for exploration.
Irving Howe upon his graduation from CCNY.

World War 3 began in a different place, although here, too, war provided a backdrop. Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman grew up in Cleveland, a couple of Jewish neighborhoods away from the creators of Superman; as adolescents, they met Harvey Pekar and published Robert Crumb originals in their fanzine. Kuper and Tobocman looked at the world of the late 1970s with more horror than hope. For them, the optimism of the Summer of Love was long gone, and the shadow of Reaganism was closing in. As much to the point, in the minds of two young artists in Manhattan, the Lower East Side that greeted them was faced with the prospect of an all-consuming gentrification. They created art for Tompkins Square in the way that Allen Ginsberg, joining them in the crowd, created poetry for the struggle, which they ultimately lost.

The power of wealth over human life occupies many pages in this collection, among the most prominent of which are by the severe expressionist Tobocman himself. Ecology, the war machine, violence against women, and the climate of fear engendered by police fill many others. But it would be wrong to see World War 3 as primarily didactic, in the old sense of protest art ordered by some Party committee. The comics capture the artists' own sense of the moment, and the expressions of outrage-and sometimes hope-belongs to the creators.
Irving Howe upon his graduation from CCNY.

Kuper, for example, the comic's best known regular, records the politics and culture of Oaxaca, Mexico, while in a different mode drawing his sardonically brilliant "Richie Bush" (Kuper's first job in Manhattan was inking the long-running kitsch classic "Richie Rich"). Other artists display similar ingenuity and diversity of interests. Art Speigelman has an unforgettable Uncle Sam rolling up his sleeves to mainline gasoline, with an army of cars below. Tom Tomorrow offers the quiz page, "Are You a Real American?" Nicole Schulman offers grim pages on sexual abuse in South Korea, during the Japanese and U.S. occupations and beyond.
Some of these comics are hard to look at, in the way that challenging art can be demanding. But there are beautiful moments, like Eric Drooker's take on Occupy, featuring a magic girl on a skateboard hovering over the Brooklyn Bridge, or the four-color pages of Sandy Jimenez looking back, with pain and fascination, at his own life in the Bronx of the 1950s. But to me, nothing tops Sabrina Jones's mixed-media pages on abortion rights, drawing on her own youthful experiences. Readers of the anthology are bound to find their own favorites.

While the founders justly admired the Masses, I couldn't help compare and contrast World War 3 to Mad Comics (1952-55), more intense than its Mad Magazine successor (although Kuper did take over the "Spy vs. Spy" feature of Mad Magazine some years ago). Mad's genius founder Harvey Kurtzman, who would take on Joe McCarthy, guided his artists toward an immanent critique of commercial art and the commercialized popular culture of the postwar era. His vernacular, the hungry but hopeful blue-collar world of the 1930s and '40s, was being shunted off by something much uglier.

World War 3 portrays this less hopeful world, filled with endless war (and accompanying budgets squeezing out domestic needs), ecological exploitation, and the brutalization of social (especially gender) relations. It's not nearly as funny as Mad, and that may be the most serious criticism to be made. But it is seriously artistic, a place for artists of any age but especially the young to find a social outlet, providing us with a documentation that we all need to comprehend in our own ways. I've been learning as I've looked at the pages of the magazine over almost its whole history, and I haven't stopped learning yet.

Paul Buhle is a retired professor who is now editing his eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth comics, respectively, on Rosa Luxemburg, Herbert Marcuse, and C.L.R. James.

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page

World War 3 Has Raged for 35 Years

By Steven Heller
The Atlantic Magazine
July 3rd, 2014

This comics zine stays angry, even if it doesn’t have Regan to skewer anymore.

World War 3 celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. That’s longer than World Wars 1 and 2 put together. WW3, however, is a comics magazine—founded by artists Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman—which has fought political, social, and religious folly through hundreds of killer comic strips. The odds against a comics magazine surviving for this long are extremely high, and the recent publication of World War 3 Illustrated (1979-2014) marks the occasion.  

Kuper and Tobocman (both 55) grew up together in Cleveland, Ohio and discovered comics when they were seven. Four years later they published their first zine. From then on they devoted their lives to comics: visiting comic conventions in New York each summer—where they met everyone from Jack Kirby (co-creator of Captain America, X-Men, etc.) to William Gaines (publisher of Mad)—and publishing fan interviews with their favorite creators. In the late 1970s, each separately ventured to NYC, where they were disappointed that there were so few venues to get published.

“The undergrounds were mostly gone and the alternative movement didn't exist yet,” Kuper says. “Since we'd done zines, the idea of self-publishing wasn't remote. Beyond publishing our own work we also wanted to print work that moved us—much of it was on the street posted on walls and lampposts. It was work that was talking about our reality in 1979 with a hostage crisis in Iran, the Cold War in full swing, and a B-actor about to have his itchy trigger-finger on the nuclear launch button.”

courtesy of Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman

They started World War 3 Illustrated also because in 1979 mainstream comics publishers wanted capes and tights. And “the remaining underground comics publishers also had a formula to sell their books that was pretty narrow,” Tobocman says. “Book publishers had not yet learned the phrase ‘graphic novel.’”

So the duo conceived of a self-funded magazine, which now spans 45 issues, as an outlet for scores of other comics, grafitti and street artists, including Tom Tomorrow, Sabrina Jones, Eric Drooker, Ward Sutton, Sue Coe, Isabelle Dervaux, and more. “The magazine sort of generates its own energy in that there is a constant stream of new artists joining the group,” Tobocman says. “There are today people working on the magazine who are younger than the magazine itself.”

courtesy of Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman

The publication's longevity also derives from “the history that’s unfolding around us,” Kuper says. “New wars, new administrations making the same old bad choices, a desire to capture our personal histories as we age through these experiences, and a deep, deep love of comics as an art form that can tackle all of the above.”

Running a magazine for 35 years gives its founders a sobering opportunity to see how the things they’ve covered have changed, or not, over time. “Looking at early issues, there was a high degree of anxiety as we wrote and drew about Ronald Reagan, the possibility of nuclear war, environmental destruction, the housing crisis, homelessness, and so on,” Kuper says. “These days we write about those same things with a high degree of anxiety, only Ronald Reagan's name doesn't come up as often.”

courtesy of Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman

And in 35 years, certain aspects of what World War 3 has done have been embraced by the mainstream. “In the 1980s, very few people gave comics a second glance as an art form,” says Kuper. That has changed, of course. “Yet, talking about social and political subjects in comics remains quite alternative, and there still are very few venues for political art. With the disappearance of comic shops and bookstores, distribution has only gotten harder. So, like it or not we remain in the alternative world.”

World War 3 is nonetheless a useful subjective historical record. When looked at alongside other key comics documents, it's a window on two generations of alternative cultural and political ideas.

“Back in 1980, there were, in my opinion, three American comic books aimed at an adult audience,” Tobocman says. “Ben Katchor’s Picture Story Magazine, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Art Spiegelman, and Francoise Mouly’s Raw, and our World War 3 Illustrated. Of those four, we were the only one with expressly political intentions. Today there are hundreds of such publications. We pioneered the idea of a comic strip that deeply investigates a social or political issue. Today they are calling that graphic journalism.”

courtesy of Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman

“A lot of big things started small at this magazine," Tobocman says. He often meets cartoonists who report that WW3 had a big influence on their work. “So I think we are participating in a process of evolution. Maybe we are making a big contribution, or maybe a small contribution. But we are part of it.” An example: In 1988 WW3 published an interview with slain Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al Ali, and for the next issue Tom Keogh went to Palestine and did a piece called “The Gaza Strip.” The magazine was arguably the first opening for such content.

Issue #34 opposed the second Iraq War before America intervened, and included a parody Kuper did on George W. Bush as Richie Rich. That story was later reprinted as a comic book, and Kuper says U.S. Customs seized it as piracy. “The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund with came to the rescue with a bank of lawyers proving it qualified as parody, and customs relented,” Kuper recalls. But not every subject was so global. In Issue #6, they expressed support for homelessness and squatting in the East Village. “I think both the artwork and writing in that issue helped jumpstart the Squatters movement here in New York,” Tobocman says, adding, “I think many of the organizers would agree.”

The new anthology is a distillation of WW3’s artistic and political concerns. But is it a milestone or a capstone? Kuper offered this: “Thankfully, since all the problems we have been addressing since 1979 have been solved through the power of comics, we've decided to kick back, relax and enjoy the fruits of our labors. Unfortunately the fruit turned out to be genetically modified by Monsanto, we got evicted from our hammocks and retirement isn't until 65—2065 that is. What could come next is everybody's guess and ... and though the revolution may not be televised, it will be illustrated.”

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page

World War 3 Illustrated Interview: Peter Kuper on

By Zach Roberts
March 3rd, 2014

A Work of Art in Publishing

We wrote about World War 3 Illustrated's Kickstarter weeks ago, since then it's really been moving. Just in the past couple of  days it met its $15,000 goal to make a hardcover compendium of the magazine.

The Kickstarter still has 9 days left - so there's still time to kick in and get some of the very cool rewards that they're offering. But for those of you who are unsure, or don't even know what World War 3 Illustrated is, Co-Editor Peter Kuper joined to discuss the project.

For the basics on the kickstarter and what they're looking to do - check out's last article on it at the link.

For people who might have never heard of World War 3 Illustrated - could you give us a brief explanation of the magazine?

Peter Kuper: It’s magazine that was founded in 1979 by Seth Tobocman and me when we were in art school at Pratt Institute. We had done comic fanzines as kids, growing up in Cleveland and so the idea of self publishing was familiar. It was  inspired by Ronald Reagan winning the election, the Cold War being in full swing, concerns about impending nuclear war, environmental disasters, homelessness and a deep, deep love of comics. Over the years people have been drawn to this project and now a larger group of editors makes the magazine happen. We just published our 45th issue.

I had always felt frustrated since it seemed like there had been a ton of art movements that we were always too young to join. The Beats,the hippies, missed " The Summer of Love" (drat!) the underground comix, all gone. So we had to create our own movement and that has taken root with a cross- generation of artists, including  Sue Coe, Eric Drooker, Sabrina Jones, Art Spiegelman,Tom Tomorrow, Isabella Bannerman, Sandy Jimenez, Mac McGill , Spain Rodriguez , Kevin Pyle, Peter Bagge, Mumia Abu Jamal and hundreds of others. WW3 is a place to see new artists along side of veteran cartoonists writing and drawing about the world we live in.

One of my favorite issues of WW3 was one of the issues after 9/11 where artists shared their sketchbooks that had art that referenced 9/11 themes. It was really the only place I ever saw anyone confront the idea that preventing 9/11 was a 'lack of imagination.' Did you get a lot of push back from that? 

It's my favorite as well. The issue not only clarified the importance of alternative media--given the impossibility of publishing any ideas that were not a call to arms in any mainstream venues.It was also what helped many of us recover from the tragedy. Writing and drawing about our experiences was a great form of catharsis and a way to connect with other people.

On the contrary to push back, that issue sold more copies than we ever had before and we needed to go back to press to meet the demand. Our release event for the issue was also attended by hundreds of people, whereas previous issues had been mostly contributors. The Library of Congress approached us about the work in that issue and now several pieces, including my cover, are in their permanent collection.

In this world of digital comics have you thought of starting an app or offering the magazine digitally? If not, why not?

We have and are talking about having a digital edition along side of the print one. It has only been a matter of time and organization. Since none of us are paid, everything we do has to slot between our other paid jobs and this has been more than we have had time for. It's coming though.

What problems have you seen in the changing distribution models?

Distribution has always been the hardest aspect about this enterprise. For years we had a record distributor which got into all sorts of great places including tower records and helped us reach an audience outside of comic shops. The current scene is yet another hurdle, but apparently hurdles don't stop us given how long we've been at it.

What do you feel WW3's place in the history of illustrated journalism is?

That's for historians to decide, but since we've been doing journalism in comics for 35 years--long before this was considered a viable form of journalism, they may look kindly on us.

Why PM Press?

Bless their hearts, they were the ones not only willing to step up to the plate, but even suggested we do it all full color and hardcover with no restrictions on length. This is why we are so willing to do a Kickstarter campaign. A book like this is a daunting expense and they not only were willing to take that chance, but have done what they can to make the book affordable.

Why should people who don't consider themselves political support your kickstarter? 

There is very little in this world that is done without constant consideration of "The bottom line" That's is a rare creature in this world and like a lot of other creatures on this planet is nearly extinct. There are few true labors of love out there and this one has survived for decades. What you see in our Kick Starter video is a diverse group of people who have been helped by the very existence of this publication. People who support this campaign are supporting the idea that not everything in this world has a dollar value, that artistic expression and sharing ideas is important and worth encouraging.

You've got a wide selection of really cool 'prizes' - which one would you pick (outside of the book itself)? Personally I love the idea of the gas mask and the copy of WW3 Illustrated.

I find the implication of the gas mask  a bit scary--I'm more of a flower-child. If I had the money I'd go for one of the pieces of original art or a print. Or, wait!  There's several books available including back issues of WW3 and some of my other books with PM including Drawn To New York and a brand new hardcover edition of The System my wordless graphic novel that has been out of print for 15 years! Also there's...gosh, I don't know where to begin, too many great choices.

You can check out all the rewards and watch the kickstarter video by going to their page on

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page |

Peter Kuper’s The System: A Work of Art in Publishing

By Zach Roberts
July 4th, 2014

Peter Kuper's The System takes us through several people's lives, told in wordless vignettes that in the end intersect each other and then begin a new story.

The book starts with a quote by William Blake "I must create a system or be enslaved by another man's" it's this idea that seems to drive much of the story of The System.

Everyone is living their own lives thinking they're not connected to some larger system - but as this story shows everyone, especially those living in a big city is.

We open on a rainy city street, it could be the 1950's or it could be modern day - it's a cross of generations. Classic yellow cabs empty with people talking on their cell phones, time is fluid, much like the tangled plots. First we meet the stripper and a creepy looking man with a pony tail - little do we know which character will lead us to the next one, or how.

Eventually most of the story lines end after meeting another one head on, some with a knife, some with a gun, some with a embrace. Which ones end and which ones continue is part of the suspense brought in these wordless pages.

The publisher of Peter Kuper's The System is PM Press, which is probably more well-known for their political books which range from punk music to feminism. Here, PM has created a beautifully-illustrated hardcover book. This is no normal graphic novel, really a work of art in publishing. Surprisingly it's only $19.99 retail.

Peter Kuper has an interesting history in comics - from co-creating the political World War 3 Illustrated to taking over Spy VS. Spy at Mad Magazine. We interviewed Peter Kuper a couple of months ago for his World War 3 Illustrated Kickstarter. (You can read the full interview here).

Buy The System now | Buy The System e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page

Thirty-Five Years of Bashing Stereotypes, Tearing Down Walls, Smashing Icons and Visionary Cartooning

By Bill Berkowitz
July 5th, 2014

In 1979, in the wake of a meltdown at Three Mile Island, the founding of the Moral Majority by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the murder of gay politician Harvey Milk in San Francisco's City Hall, the Iranian hostage crisis and the impending election of Ronald Reagan, Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper, two art students at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, decided the time was ripe for an antiwar comic book.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two guys from Cleveland, had revolutionized comic books in 1938, with the publication of a story called Superman: Champion of the Oppressed, in Action Comics #1. Forty-one years later, Tobocman and Kuper, who grew up in Cleveland and knew each other since the first grade, were ready to create a home for political comics, graphics and stirring personal stories.  

Tobocman and Kuper constructed a relatively simple, yet monumentally difficult game plan: Develop an outlet for their own work that emphasized their politics; and create a space for like-minded artists and politicos whose voices needed to be heard; and, of course, make enough money to keep the presses rolling. 

"The undergrounds were mostly gone, and the alternative movement didn't exist yet. Since we'd done zines, the idea of self-publishing wasn't remote. Beyond publishing our own work, we also wanted to print work that moved us - much of it was on the street posted on walls and lampposts," Kuper said in a recent interview posted at "It was work that was talking about our reality in 1979 with a hostage crisis in Iran, the Cold War in full swing and a B-actor about to have his itchy trigger-finger on the nuclear launch button."  
It is now 35 years later, and the Oakland, California-based PM Press has just published an elaborately designed, full-color anthology titled World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014 (PM Press, July 2014, 328 pages, $29.95). The collection contains creative, hard hitting, and issue-oriented content, covering such subjects as police brutality, feminism, the environment, religion, political prisoners, housing rights, globalization and depictions of conflicts from the Middle East to the Midwest.

In their Editors' note, Tobocman and Kuper point out that once they began publishing their magazine, "all sorts of people were drawn to that banner: punks, painters, graffiti writers, anarchists, photojournalists, feminists, squatters, political prisoners, and people with AIDS." 

The Comic Book: Through Golden Age of  '60s & '70s

Flash back to the mid-1950s: Raye Ellen, one of my downstairs Bronx apartment building neighbors, set up a comic book lending library. The process was simple: Fill out an index card with your name, phone number and apartment number; choose the comic books you wanted to borrow; list them on your index card; and take them home for up to two days. If you didn't return the comics on time, there'd be no more comics.

It's been a long time since I've been a dedicated a comic book fan. These days, I read the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday comics section and its two pages of comics just about every day. Over the years, I've read and reviewed a handful of graphic novels and graphic journalism. The late Bob Callahan, who edited several cartoon anthologies, most notably The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories from Crumb to Clowes (2004), taught me a lot about the history and value of comics.

In his Introduction to The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories, Callahan discussed the rise of America's comic book industry: "The current era in American comic book history swung boldly into place one brilliant San Francisco morning in the late 1960s, when an odd-looking man [Robert Crumb] . . .  began to sell his own self-published comic book, Zap Comix.  . . . The comic book itself was only about 30 years old when Crumb came along and rearranged it." 

Comic books about fighting the Nazis and Japanese during World War II - read by millions heading off to war - were a new development as "Over the years, the comics more often responded to the spirit of disorder  - to the divine virtues Sedition, Anarchy and Mischievous - than to the need to put anybody's house back in order." 

Many modern-day comic-book illustrators and writers stand on the shoulders of Harvey Kurtzman, who is known for his "pioneering antiwar stories," and brilliant "send-ups and parodies that made MAD Magazine the most celebrated comic of all time. Kurtzman stood up against Senator Joseph McCarthy's anticommunist witch-hunts. 

In 1954, The Comics Code Authority, a result of almost daily newspaper tirades "connecting crime comics to juvenile delinquency," led to publishers dumbing down the comic book. A seal on a comic book's cover stating "Approved by the Comics Code Authority," was aimed at protecting America's youth from smut, profanity, obscenity, and/or communism. Comics were forced underground, and, according to Callahan, "it was 12 years . . . before open, smart and adventurous comics surfaced again."

By the mid-1960s, alternative newspapers across the country "threw open their doors to certain new and radical perspectives in art and politics." From New York's Lower East Side to San Francisco, from Crumb's Zap Comix to artists such as Bill Griffith, Rick Griffin, Frank Stack and Joel Beck, young artists and illustrators pursued their passion with a free hand and, well . . . an unbridled passion. Through the work of Justin Green, Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Kim Deitch, Carol Tyler and Harvey Pekar, "the undergrounds discovered their own literary destiny."

From the earliest days of comics, numerous women artists have been integral to growing the art, working as editors, inkers, storytellers and artists: Emma C. McKean was a contributor to New Comics #1 and was the first woman to contribute original comics material to a comic book; Elizabeth Holloway Marston helped create Wonder Woman; the work of Roz Chast, a New Yorker staff cartoonist can be found in The Party After You Left: Collected Cartoons 1995-2003; Alison Bechdel created the long-running comic strip "Dykes to Watch Out For"; and the alternative comic world is full of women storytellers and artists. 

Stan Lee's brigade of Marvel superheroes, - the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and so many others - led Marvel to "become the most popular comic book company in the world." Art Spiegelman's brilliant Maus:A Survivor's Tale, "which dealt with his father's tortured memories of life in Hitler's concentration camps," won Spiegelman a Pulitzer Prize. 

World War 3 Illustrated

Peter Kuper told that when he and Seth Tobocman arrived in New York, they "were still fans of comics and had become serious about creating them, but there were few venues to get our work published." 

Seth Tobocman was "spurred" on by the Iran hostage crisis: "I knew a lot of Iranian students who were at school with me. So I knew about how the Shah of Iran was put in by the United States and how my Iranian friends were afraid of the Savak, the Iranian secret police, even while walking around NYC. So when the Shah fell and Iranians took over the US embassy, I understood why they did that. But for many Americans this was an outrage, like 9/11, and there was this wave of patriotic hysteria. So I felt, if all these ignorant people can express themselves, so could I. I decided to throw my hat in the ring."

Both Kuper and Tobocman are accomplished artists. Kuper has produced more than 20 books, and his work has been featured in Time, The New York Times, and MAD Magazine, for which he has written and illustrated "SPY vs SPY" since 1997. Tobocman is the author of five graphic books and he has participated in exhibitions at ABC No Rio, Exit Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014 is a beautifully crafted, full-color anthology that is not solely politics: There are personal stories about life, death, love, hate, growth, stagnation and the horrible loneliness of staking out positions you believe to be right.

Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical, cofounder of the Weather Underground and respected educator and author, who is perhaps best known today for being the "pal" in Sarah Palin's oft-repeated 2008 Presidential Election meme about Barack Obama "Palling around with terrorists," in an Introduction titled "In Cahoots!" writes: "The artists of World War 3 have forged a space by turns harsh and exciting, honest and rowdy, boisterous and straight-forward, always powered by the wild and unruly harmonies of love. It's a space where hope and history rhyme, where joy and justice meet. Their voices provoke and sooth and energize."  

Reading through this strikingly designed book, one cannot help but admire those many young, often obscure and struggling, courageous comic book artists and cartoonists who, with unbridled passion, took on unpopular issues, bashed stereotypes, tore down walls and smashed icons. 

As Kuper and Tobocmen point out in their Editors' note, "In many ways WW3 represents a microcosm of the type of society we'd like to see - a place where people of various backgrounds, sexual orientations and abilities, pull together to create something that benefits the whole." 

With Iraq in chaos and the same tired and discredited voices trucked out by the mainstream media, a surveillance state run amok, income inequality continuing to peak, prison privatization, climate change, unabated gun violence and Tea Party madness, it's important to have sharply honed, no bullshit, critical perspectives to antidote mainstream blather. World War 3 Illustrated contributors, new and old, are now hard at work cooking up their next issue.

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page

Singing Songs of Struggle: How a Folk Music Movement Helped Elect a Marxist Reformer in Chile

By Eleanor J Badger

July 8th, 2014

Nearly 44 years ago, on September 11, 1970, Chilean voters shocked the world by electing Marxist Salvador Allende as their president. It was a startling - if short-lived - victory for democracy.

In Venceremos, Gabriel San Roman writes that Allende's Popular Unity Coalition was aided by Nueva Cancion, "the strongest folk music movement in Latin American history."Like all movements, Nueva Cancion did not spring up out of nowhere but developed over several decades. Much of the credit for its evolution goes to famed singer Violeta Parra (1917-1967), who began traveling into remote areas of Chile to collect traditional compositions in the 1950s. The songs she found were often political, with lyrics that were critical of colonial and neocolonial oppression. "The verses of rural music conveyed utopian ideas of the earth, love, and mysticism," San Roman writes.

Parra's work, San Roman continues, centered on La Nuevo Ola Folklorica, a movement intent on popularizing folk music. But as the 1940s turned into the 1950s and early '60s, Elvis and The Beatles began to capture the attention of Chilean youth. This angered those who saw "northern influences as cultural imperialism." To counter the American and British invasion, a slew of indigenous musicians in their twenties and thirties formed bands of their own. Among the most popular were Inti-Illimani and Quilapayun. These new groups incorporated world events into their music, including then-escalating political unrest in Chile and other parts of Latin America. The need for a theology that tilted toward human liberation also found its way into the music of Nueva Cancion.   

Despite this broad thematic sweep, Christian Democrat Eduardo Frei, who became president of Chile in 1964, was a favorite target of Nueva Cancion songwriters; despite promising to enact policies leading to meaningful social change, his administration did almost nothing. Frei's inaction galvanized the left and a wide swath of progressives seized the moment, coalescing behind Allende and quickly gaining numerical and political influence. At the same time, Nueva Cancion was ascending as an artistic force, with singer-songwriter Victor Jara emerging as one of the movement's most popular performers.

By 1970, Jara and Nueva Cancion had aligned themselves with communists, socialists and liberation theologians and were actively campaigning for Allende. "In the 1970s presidential campaign, Nueva Cancion folk singers were officially integrated into the Left's political apparatus and assumed a semi-official status as a cultural voice for Allende's Popular Unity Coalition," San Gabriel reports. The music itself was a huge draw - and offered a unique merging of traditional and contemporary sounds that aimed to teach listeners - albeit through entertainment - about past and present injustices.           

It worked. Allende's victory - he was the first democratically elected Marxist in the Western hemisphere - led to agrarian reforms, increased wages for workers and control over inflation. Still, it was slow going and while the elite bristled at Allende's policies, many of the leftists who had supported Allende in the election were becoming impatient with the pace of change. San Gabriel writes that Jara's music tried to strike an optimistic chord and continually stressed the need for unity.

The effort failed and after a botched coup attempt in June 1973, dictator Augusto Pinochet took the helm as commander-in-chief of the army. Three months later, on September 11, 1973, a second US-backed coup led to Allende's death and the complete collapse of the Popular Unity government.

Jara, too, fared badly: He was taken to Chile Stadium and murdered.

Since then, Jara's widow has worked tirelessly to preserve his memory. She created the Victor Jara Foundation and led a successful effort to have Chile Stadium renamed in her husband's honor. What's more, musicians as diverse as Arlo Guthrie and The Clash have written songs of remembrance about the fallen singer. 

Gabriel San Roman's tribute reminds us of what was lost when Pinochet smashed Nueva Cancion. At the same time, Venceremos highlights the power of culture - whether music or other artistic modalities - to foment change, raise consciousness and heighten excitement about the possibility of a better world. It's a lesson worth remembering as we work to dismantle oppressive laws and undo centuries of hate and exploitation.

Buy “Venceremos”: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement now | Buy “Venceremos”: Víctor Jara and the New Chilean Song Movement e-Book now | Back to Gabriel San Román's Author Page

Sound of the Underground

The anarchist USA publisher PM Press tell us what motivates them to publish books which are "progressive, unabashedly lefty and even revolutionary".

By Martin Cornwell
June 14th, 2014

M Press was co-founded in 2007 by Ramsey Kanaan, a veteran of the ‘70s punk rock scene and organiser of anarchist book fairs. Based in Oakland, California, it’s a hard-working and fiercely independent operation whose range of output is as broad as its motivation is singular. A browse of its online store shows not just the publisher’s staple stock of literature and non-fiction books, but much else besides. Graphic novels, CDs, videos and DVDs, and even PM-branded merchandise such as posters and T-shirts are all up for grabs. It might all seem a bit muddled if it weren’t for the political and creative idealism that threads it all together.

“A radical spirit is crucial,” Kanaan tells me during a visit to London to promote Futures, the new novel by John Barker, “but so is an enquiring mind, and an accessible writing style. In one sense, it’s a given that we publish books that are progressive, unabashedly lefty and even revolutionary. But more than that, we strive to actually publish and disseminate really good books, content-wise and aesthetically.”

Kanaan seems relaxed about describing PM as an anarchist project, and I’m glad about that. ‘Anarchy’ must be one of the most misunderstood and misapplied words in the English language. Practically speaking, anarchism has very little to do with the stereotypical images of wanton destruction (although, like all stereotypes, it may contain an unfortunate grain of truth; Churchill’s statue didn’t give itself that green mohawk). More often it’s about co-operation, self-reliance and freedom from traditional organisational systems—in this case, freedom from the corporate publishing industry.

“As someone who came out of the punk/so called DIY underground, I agree absolutely,” says Kanaan. “DIY, of course, is a complete misnomer, since we weren’t—and aren’t—doing it ourselves. We’re actually doing it together, in concert with others. We like good old fashioned concepts like solidarity and mutual aid. PM Press is a political project as much as a literary one, so we’re as much a reaction to capitalism and the state as we are to the legion of negatives involved in corporate publishing.”

With its rejection of profit as motive, it’s safe to assume that PM can’t offer its authors the kind of eye-watering advances that are still occasionally forked out by the big publishing houses. But that doesn’t mean it’s in any way an amateur outfit. In accordance with its aesthetic concerns, PM’s books are finely-crafted artefacts in their own right. They often also feature the work of major mainstream authors: I discovered PM through The Wild Girls by Ursula le Guin, who is one of the most important writers of the last fifty years in any genre.


Despite existing as a kind of antidote to traditional publishing, PM faces the same challenges as the rest of the industry. Kanaan is very aware of this. “Undoubtedly, in this age of hyperlinks, texts, short attention spans and instant gratification, not only is reading and writing increasingly an anachronism, but in particular, long-form reading and study is an endangered species.”

Ursula Le Guin

But, equally, the combination of pragmatism and idealism that has got them this far means he’s optimistic about PM’s future. He describes the job of a good publisher as “editorial and curatorial”—a crucial service in a world where self-publishing, while democratising the creative process, also drops the reader in an unnavigable sea of content. As Kanaan puts it, “we help produce the nuggets of the good stuff, amongst an ocean of garbage, and help make them known.”

The Real-Life Stories Behind ‘Orange Is the New Black’

by Holly Eagleson
June 12th, 2014

Once you’ve binged your way through Season 2, get on these true tales of life behind bars stat.

The Real-Life Stories Behind ‘Orange Is the New Black’

(Photo: Orange Is the New Black/Youtube)

Caution: Spoilers ahead!

Can we all agree that Orange Is the New Black seriously upped its game with Season 2? From the masterful storytelling (how jaw-dropping was Morello’s backstory reveal?) to the unexpected moments of hilarity (pedal to the metal, Rosa!), we’re majorly missing the ladies at Litchfield already.  

Rather than wallow in OITNB withdrawal, why not seek out a few books and movies about the real-life stories of female prisoners? After all, you’ve got tiiiiime until Season 3. And schooling yourself on the human rights issues plaguing the prison system seems like the right thing to do if you’ve only been introduced to them through entertainment.

We put together a list of indispensable works about women in prison with the help of Victoria Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggle for Incarcerated Women, and mimi lok, cofounder and executive director of Voices of Witness, a nonprofit that publishes oral histories of human rights crises, including Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives From Women’s Prisons. Piper Kerman, activist and the real-life inspiration for OITNB’s Piper Chapman, calls Inside This Place “essential reading,” and we’d agree. It's a collection of moving essays by inmates that detail the indignities women experience before incarceration and the new ones they confront in jail, such as forced sterilization and physical and sexual abuse by staff. Law’s work is a must-read for anyone interested in how activism happens within the prison system—think the real-life Sosos and Sister Ingallses.

Sentences Served: 'Orange Is the New Black' Writer and Others Talk Prison Life

Once you’ve read those two, dive into these poignant works and cool projects that are organized by OITNB storyline. Some can be tackled during a lunch break. They’ll all change the way you look at the women’s prison system.

1. If you live for OITNB’s flashbacks to characters’ pasts, watch What I Want My Words to Do to You.

With its deft vignettes, OITNB chips away at the idea that inmates can be only perpetrators or victims—everyone is a bit of both. This documentary does the same by profiling playwright and activist Eve Ensler’s writing workshop for female prisoners inside New York's Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Fifteen women, most doing time for murder, employ the power of the pen to reveal their compelling personal histories. At the close of the film, their stories are performed by celebrities such as Glenn Close, Rosie Perez, and Marisa Tomei. Though Ensler’s project was just one of many similar writing programs across the country, lok likes how it emphasizes community-building inside prisons. “It shows the process of women connecting with their own stories and developing their sense of agency over them, then being given a platform through the readings,” lok said.

2. If you felt for Miss Rosa’s struggle with health issues, watch Charisse Shumate: Fighting for Our Lives.

When Rosa was denied a potentially lifesaving treatment for ovarian cancer, she went out on her own badass terms. The vast majority of terminally ill women in the prison system aren’t so lucky. This 37-minute film looks at one such prisoner, Californian Charisse Shumate, who battled sickle-cell anemia, hepatitis C, and cancer while lobbying the system for better health care and compassionate release of terminally ill inmates. Her valiant fight for sick prisoners, as well as battered women, is an extraordinary story you won’t soon forget.

3. If you worry what will become of Daya and Bennett’s baby, check out Too Much Time: Women in Prison, by Jane Evelyn Atwood.

Caputo’s warning to Bennett that Daya could birth her child in shackles wasn’t an idle threat. That particular ignominy happens to incarcerated women worldwide all the time. It’s documented, along with many other startling abuses, in this remarkable book of photo essays recommended by Law. “You see in stark black and white all the horrifying aspects of prison life: pregnant women giving birth while handcuffed, self-mutilation, male guards strip-searching women,” Law said. Even the depictions of day-to-day routines in prison provoke alarm. “Seeing male guards able to frisk women, women getting dressed after a strip search, or women watching their families walk out of the visiting room really illustrate the horrors that prison life inflicts on people as a matter of course,” Law said.

4. If you were outraged by Gloria’s abusive boyfriend, watch Sins by Silence.

While Gloria didn’t end up at Litchfield for harming her violent partner, prison time is an inevitability for many battered women who are pushed to the brink and act in self-defense. This film explores the stories of women who kill their abusive husbands, profiling one prisoner-led organization, Convicted Women Against Abuse, that supports abused women on the inside. It sheds light on the disproportionately long sentences for women who kill violent partners and why many battered women are unable to use their history as a defense. It may sound disheartening, but there’s a happy ending: The doc spurred two California laws that protect abused women as they move through the justice system.

5. If Healy’s vile treatment of lesbians infuriates you, watch Out in the Night.

This documentary making the rounds on the festival circuit explores what happened when four African American lesbians fought back after being attacked for spurning a man’s advances. The incident, which took place in New York City’s West Village in 2006, spawned a media circus and sobriquets like “Gang of Killer Lesbians.” Despite their claims of self-defense, the women were convicted for assault and attempted murder and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. “The movie unpacks who has the right to self-defense, what would have happened to these women if they were white or hadn’t been poor, and looks at some of the prison conditions,” says Law. “People’s moms die and they’re not allowed to go to the funeral. Another woman finds out the state has taken custody of her child while she’s inside.”

Also worth keeping on your radar is the forthcoming documentary, FREE CeCe, produced by OITNB’s Laverne Cox, who plays trans inmate Sophia. It’s the story of Cece McDonald, a trans woman who was convicted of accidentally stabbing a man who attacked her outside a Minneapolis bar in 2011 and was sentenced to serve time in a men’s prison. The film zeroes in on controversial correctional practices with trans prisoners, like isolating them from the prison population by placing them in solitary confinement and denying hormone therapy.

6. If you’d love to read a real-life version of Litchfield’s The Big House Bugle newsletter, check out the Women + Prison project.

lok highly recommends this website, installation, and zine created by incarcerated women. “It’s really nicely designed—not what one might expect from a prison zine,” lok said. “I love the fact that the site not only gives women a creative writing outlet and offers human rights reports, but it has a frame of reference broader than just the US, highlighting imprisoned Iraqi women, for example.”

Law points to The Fire Inside as another great read that gives incarcerated women a megaphone to the outside. A grassroots newsletter produced by the California Coalition of Women Prisoners, it features heart-wrenching articles and poems that explain what it’s like to be locked away from your community and family. “Because you hear directly from the women themselves, it’s a great resource for people to start watching [OITNB] and wonder, 'What can I do?' or 'How accurately does this show reflect what goes on inside women in prison?' ” Law said.

7. If embezzling prison head Natalie Figueroa made you mad as hell, read Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, by Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Not every prison warden is criminally mendacious like Fig. But with the massive growth of the U.S. prison population (up a whopping 450 percent since 1980), more stakeholders than ever stand to benefit from the exploding prison-industrial complex. Gilmore trains her eye on California and the funds necessary to house its ballooning inmate population. She also examines how “three strikes” laws and other forms of punitive justice feed the need for more correctional facilities. Though it’s more of an academic work, Golden Gulag is an intriguing glimpse into the large-scale systems that transform human beings into a profitable, disposable population.

8. If you railed against prison conditions right along with the hunger strikers, watch this video about Riverhead Jail.

This Long Island, N.Y., correctional facility is one of the real-world settings for some OITNB scenes. Art seems to imitate life. Overcrowding, bathrooms overflowing with human waste, vermin, and black mold are just a few of the problems reportedly plaguing detainees, many of whom are low-level offenders stuck at Riverhead simply because they’re too poor to afford bail. Conditions are allegedly so deplorable that the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County two years ago. The NYCLU recently launched a campaign called #HumanityIstheNewBlack to bring attention to conditions at Riverhead and nearby Yaphank Correctional Facility.

In her latest edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggle of Incarcerated Women (PM Press 2012), Victoria Law offers us a whole-hearted chronicle of despair and resistance in the modern prison industry. It is worth a good read by anyone interested in the sociology of American life, as well as any radical with friends or comrades behind bars. Law’s accounts of women prisoners taking action are so inspirational that you will never be the same after reading them.

With an approach resembling the old underground chronicles of the Soviet samizdat press, Resistance Behind Bars carries no piece of frivolity in its tight, hard-hitting prose. Law moves from facts to facts, drawing out broad truths about the prison industry’s systematic oppression of women throughout the United States of America. What we find is rampant sexual abuse, neglect, and manipulation—the holding of women in shameful conditions where prison becomes an almost airtight container for misogyny and patriarchy. But there is hope in resistance.

Law’s work is crucial, because the greatest recent works on the prison industry (for instance, Ruth Gilmore Wilson’s Golden Gulag, Micelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and the Let Freedom Ring anthology) are more focused on male prisoners. “Many activist-oriented publications mirror the mainstream media’s masculinization of prisons and prisoners, contributing to the invisibility of women behind bars,” states Law. “Because they receive much less attention than their male counterparts, women in prison receive much less support from both individual activists and prisoner rights groups.”

By revealing the obscured facts of prisoners’ oppression, Resistance Behind Bars exposes immediately the need for such a work. During an investigation of two women’s prisons in Michigan in 1994, the Justice Department found that “nearly every woman… interviewed reported various sexually aggressive acts of guards,” while a 1996 Human Rights Watch report exposes commonplace reprisals of guards against women who complain. In one mind-blowing statistic, Law explains, “[i]n both men’s and women’s prisons, prisoners are more likely to experience sexual violence at the hands of prison staff than from their fellow prisoners.


In his vital text The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Victoria Law’s impressive chronicle opens the heart of humanity with stories of resistance—stories of love and patience more than rage and riot, which are most commonly associated with prison resistance.

Law’s intensive investigations obviate exhaustive knowledge of the day-to-day situations of resistance, such as the spreading of information, the slow motion of court cases, and the relationships of people involved. She discusses the surges of women’s movements behind bars, the media, communications, and alliances formed between heroic women willing to risk their bodies and their access to others for mutual aid and basic rights. Law notes the critical and lasting impact of magazines like Sojourner: A Women’s Forum, which helps women resist “feeling as if their words, thoughts and actions are meaningless. For these women, having their words and thoughts taken seriously is, in and of itself, a major achievement.” Media also presents “an act of subversion against both their own lack of agency and the isolating effects of prison.”

So much of the struggle against oppressive conditions takes place in the battle for information. Information being shared between people, on personal levels as well as through magazines, leads to liberation. One crucial chapter in Resistance Behind Bars illustrates this point through a discussion about detention facilities and women subject to incarceration awaiting deportation. Many of these women do not speak English, yet prison officials often place them among English speaking populations without any translators. The ability of prisoners to then work together to create unity beyond the language gap indicates the compassion and tender, careful relationship-building that accompanies being together in prison.

In a welcome addition to the second edition of Resistance Behind Bars, Law presents a stirring analysis of incarcerated trans people. Authorities place trans people in prisons according to their sexual organs at birth, a practice which leads directly to increased abuse and alienation. In one tragic example, Dee Farmer, a trans woman, was placed in Terre Haute (an institution that will ring a bell for ecodefense activist), where she was repeatedly beaten, raped, and infected with HIV. Trans men in women’s prisons have traditionally been confronted with abuse from guards, including even forced segregation. Cis-privilege, in general, is reified within the patriarchal container by the guards. Law declares, “[n]arratives of transgender, gender variant and intersex people’s resistance in prisons are rare. This should not be interpreted to mean that they do not resist prison abuses. Instead, researchers, activists, and abolitionists should see the conspicuous absence of transgender, gender variant and intersex stories of resistance behind bars as a challenge to dig further, figure out why such tales are absent and do what isneeded to both end the silence and support their struggles.”

Resistance Behind Bars is replete with such harrowing stories of women acting out of their own agency, against assault and neglect, with little tools to win the fight. One example is that of Stacy Barker, whose successful lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections led to an onslaught of cell searches yielding “contraband violations” for iron pills and Ibuprofen. When the corrections officials used the violations to keep Barker from visiting her daughter, she joined a large suit against the regulations keeping mothers from their children—and won.

Much of women’s resistance in prison stems from letter writing campaigns, newsletters, and law suits. These efforts are forwarded by education efforts behind bars. Law discusses the awesome work of Marcia Bunney, who used her job in the prison library to teach herself law, eventually becoming one of five prisoner representatives of the National Steering Committee of the National Lawyers’ Guild’s Prison Law Project. The classes taught behind bars, Law shows, are frequently degrading, humiliating, and repressive, but offer rewards for those who can work through the system.

Even working through the system can bring new roadblocks, however. A request for medical treatment can bring unwanted reactions from authorities, for instance. “Women in prison face not only medical neglect and malpractice,” writes Law, “but also retaliation from the prison administration should they advocate for themselves and demand adequate treatment.”

Underlying the lack of care is a basic lack of counseling and information available to prisoners with AIDS and hepatitis C, but Law notes that prisoners team together to pass on their knowledge, speak out, file lawsuits, and make their daily lives livable. One example is that of Charisse Shumate, whose work with other inmates with sickle-cell anemia led to a class-action lawsuit, Schumate v. Wilson, that resulted in preventative care (although Shumate would succumb to her illness before the case was settled).

In the seminal In Russian and French Prisons, Peter Kropotkin declares, “No autocracy can be imagined without its Tower or Bastille.” The symbol of the central prison, and the possibility of its rupture, makes history. The U.S., with its tentacle-like prison industry complex provides multiple histories of oppression and autocracy. Law shows that much of the most important work to benefit prisoners comes from the prisoners themselves, in a heroic movement with support groups around the world working to fight the system. The hard task abolishing the prison industry is upon us, and it builds from the kind basic communication of facts and truths presented in Resistance Behind Bars—this is a method steeped in the feminist tradition, and it is one worth taking up at once.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Vikki Law's Page

Speaking Out: A Rainbow of Reasons We Need Diverse Books

by Amy Jussel
June 24th, 2014

June 25, 2014 You’re in for a treat if you’re following the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks on social media or their website, as it’s brimming with an extensive collection of worthy kidlit, summer reading, youth voices and amazing resource roundups curating books and authors bridging the diversity chasm that big publishers and media giants sadly miss.

From School Library Journal’s resources for diversity in children’s (kidlit) and young adult (YA) literature to Pinterest social media boards and Twitter lists inclusively reflecting robust storylines depicting every race, creed, color, sexuality, special needs group along both the mental and physical spectrums, diversity adds dimension and wisdom that help fill in the holes of our gaping knowledge chasms.

It goes without saying that choices and opportunities to “see yourself” in media make a huge difference to readers who identify with the characters, but equally important are the vast audiences reached gaining a greater depth of understanding of how others walk through the world.

Diversity is not just some politically correct method of social emotional learning and “teaching tolerance” either, it’s about genuine inclusion, acceptance, and the ability for media to uncork conversations about the human condition.

Ashoka conveys this beautifully in their “start empathy” initiative, building strong collaborative foundations with abilities to resolve conflict and listen with the keen senses of 21st century learning we’ll need in our global, interdependent society.

Before I get to the ‘positive pick’ selection for today’s diversity post, I’ll add “We need diverse books” not JUST for equality, but for plain ol’ QUALITY…a substantive multicultural lens to challenge our propensity to churn out formulaic “me too media and marketing” that continues to astound me with dumbed down “sameness” in cookie cutter mode from toys to fashion, books and beyond. Our choices in mass media have become like Pegasus with clipped wings.

NPR recently cited the CCBC data showing only 6% of children’s books published in 2012 featured diverse characters, capturing the vapid pulse of pop culture offerings quite well,

“First it was vampires. Then there were werewolves. This led to zombies, cyborgs, and fallen angels. In the end it was mermaids, rising from the waters to take the last gasp in a publishing craze we are all hoping is really dying out—that of the paranormal romance…”

Diversity is key…in characters, content, creativity and imaginative storylines

bringing us voices and views that haven’t been heard.


speaking out logo coverToday’s post is hand-selected as the perfect project to support for a rainbow of reasons beyond Pride 2014.

Award-winning photographer Rachelle Lee Smith focuses her lens on youth documenting the stories and experiences of LGBTQ youth in a dynamic photo essay compilation over the course of TEN years.

Her book is called, Speaking Out: Queer Youth in focus and is slated to be published by two indie publishers, PM Press and our friends at Reach and Teach, renowned for their stellar peace and social justice curations from toys, games and eco-friendly items to human rights projects bringing books into being that need strong backing and support sorely lacking in mainstream media.

The project’s video poignantly captures the importance of the work, hand-scrawled with emotional snapshots and vignettes of life by the subjects themselves to give voice to the vision.


“This project is important because it not only shows a moment in time…

…It also shows change over time.”


Speaking Out is a ‘for youth by youth’ compilation, seen in galleries, schools, magazines, U.S. Department of Education, Human Rights headquarters, youth programs, “and even in the church” as the video says, providing an authentic lens that helps to debunk stereotypes, open hearts and minds, and document the massive movement and colossal changes in the last decade that have shifted seismically in the lives of these kids.

Just think about that a bit. TEN years. Documenting the lives of the same youth over time…

A then + now photographic essay of feelings, changes, looks and growth from the very individuals growing up smack dab amidst these history-making culture shifts…It’s like a StoryCorps Smithsonian moment in photo essay form!

These kids are not only a part of living history…the IndieGoGo campaign to get the book itself published is a nod to the shifting media landscape and new world order in how worthy voices and talents emerge with small and mighty fervor.


speaking out processPublisher and co-founder of Reach and Teach, Craig Wiesner, said:

“Having a long-time activist like Candace Gingrich (Newt’s sister) writing the foreword and teenager Graeme Taylorwriting the afterword (on Ellen Show at age 14 here) it shows just how far we’ve come in the last 20 years and how much more we still need to do.”

As for helping others and opening dialogue, he added,

“A therapist friend insisted on taking our pre-publication print to a client who was struggling with his son coming out…If a book like this had been available when I was a teen, it would have saved me a lot of suffering.”

There are profound reasons this book deserves to come to light in an affordable, accessible manner, helping an entire generation, like the “It Gets Better” docu-series from the Trevor Project gained “viral” mass media momentum, heralded for literally saving lives with a keen focus on anti-bullying support for LGBTQ youth…or the recently post from The Good Men Project with the Lambda Literacy Foundation titled, “Can LGBT Books Save Lives?”

I don’t need the special ‘rainbow regalia’ or the special month of June’s Pride to wave the ‘fund this’ flag…

Speaking Out appeals to me universally as media that matters…Bringing forth indie, creative, visual insights into a portrait piece that’s easy to support as a staunch “Straight Against Hate” advocate of human rights for all, while giving some much needed Windex to an often stereotyped media lens of LGBTQ youth depictions.

All too often we see characters portrayed as caricatures.

speaking out visualThis non-fiction book upends all the contrived casting and instead turns the storytelling and starring roles over to real life youth, ages 14-24 who “provide rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth.”

Speaking OUT gives a voice to an under-served group of people that are seldom heard and often silenced. The collaboration of image and first-person narrative serves to provide an outlet, show support, create dialogue, and help those who struggle.”

As Rachelle Lee Smith, the photographer herself sums,

“I believe there is power in words, strength in numbers, and freedom in art.”

This feels like a perfect project for Pride 2014, amped by the urgency of June’s hourglass running low…Their team just shared that if Speaking Out gets fully funded, The Arcus Foundation has promised an additional $10,000 matching grant. So help ‘em out if you can…

As always, I had to ‘dig a little deeper’ and ask Craig what that money ‘buys’ in this passion project, and he revealed that it’s the difference between a self-funded high end quality piece and a larger scale marketing effort to get it in the hands of those who need it the most, affordably and accessibly.

Now of course, I’m thinking of all the organizations that should partner and ‘pay it forward’ with their own social media outreach, from Advocates for Youth to PFLAG to the Trevor Project and Inspire Foundation…the massive coalition building in the anti-bullying and social emotional learning spheres could do wonders for all of us to learn about lives lived that may not mirror our own…(Great BuzzFeed post about WRITING from the perspective of characters that ‘aren’t you.’ )

Yep, diversity matters. And so does this book. Join me in “Speaking Out” with support. 

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Rachelle Lee Smith Author's Page


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