Join Our Mailing List

Bookmark and Share

  Home > News > Additional Stories

Marronage Meets Bolivarian Socialism: Maroon Comix, A Review

By Jeanette Charles
September 5th, 2018

VA's Jeanette Charles reviews Maroon Comix, a book that tells the tales of maroons' fight for freedom and self-determination and their legacy for today's struggles.

“Today in Venezuela, the history and heritage of maroons are celebrated and continued as part of an ongoing revolutionary process.” Maroon Comix, pg. 25.

African and Indigenous peoples across the Americas have honored and embraced their maroon roots throughout time. In the case of Venezuela, the Bolivarian Process and Afro-Venezuelan movements have revitalized these histories on a national scale through a variety of political spaces and campaigns. Today, the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela confronts hegemonic powers principally in the shape of sustained and overt US aggression, ranging from corporate media defamation campaigns, economic sanctions, political intervention to military threats. Moreover, grassroots movements and the Bolivarian state continue to grapple with necessary and urgent debates about how to strategically manifest 21st Century Socialism under these conditions. Maroon Comix: Origins and Destinies (PM Press 2018) offers a critical window into these conversations from the perspectives of maroon histories of self-determination.

The examples of self-liberated peoples in their exercise of self-governance, and the quest for national sovereignty against colonial empires, surface as relevant paradigms to study, understand and apply in contemporary struggles. The book’s editor and illustrators highlight key connections with the African and Indigenous peoples who “escaping slavery in the Americas, maroons made miracles in the mountains, summoned new societies in the swamps, and forged new freedoms in the forests.” This innovative comic-book inspired collection serves as a political testament to the will of all African peoples and Indigenous nations, and their descendants’ unwavering fight for freedom.

What is Maroon Comix?

Maroon Comix, edited by Quincy Saul, skillfully weaves together anti-colonial struggles from Latin America and the Caribbean, the African continent as well as the United States. “And so to tell maroon history is a paradox: How to reveal the majesty with reverence for the mystery? How to tell their story in a form which fits their freedom?” poses Saul. In the book’s chapters, the Maroon Comix team attempts to answer these question as they share the stories of the Palmares Maroon Republic from 17th century Brazil; the Haitian Revolution waged and won by enslaved Africans; the multiracial alliances between African, Indigenous and white communities within the US American Seminoles; Queen Nanny and maroon settlements of Jamaica, as well as the resistance histories of pre-independence Venezuelan leaders and spiritual icons, including María Lionza, King Miguel, José Leonardo Chirino and Guaicaipuro, among others.

Maroon Comix features artwork by Songe Riddle, Mac McGill, Seth Tobocman, Hannah Allen, Emmy Kepler and Mikaela González. The comics’ diverse genres are captivating and evoke political reflection as well as emotional responses. Maroons, largely characterized by their anonymity in history, have few official portraits (1). They live on almost entirely through oral histories transferred from generation to generation with few archival sources. The historical importance of the illustrative work palpitates from each page as these struggles transcend time. Maroons are honored as heroes and heroines in ways unmatched in other literature. Selections from US political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz and citations from Trinidadian Marxist historian C.L.R James, anti-colonial leader and Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere, US anthropologist Richard Price and others, are incorporated into the book’s narration, reminding us of the historical weight and reverence of these societies throughout time. Maroon Comix is an unparalleled opportunity to engage in what Saul refers to as “A mosaic and a manifesto, a genre and a genealogy, a maroon methodology!”

While some struggles mentioned in the book occurred simultaneously, others create a non-linear chronology. Spanning such broad histories takes tact and Maroon Comix does not disappoint. The work steers away from romantic tendencies, often attributed to the re-telling of maroon societies, and chronicles these struggles with a level of political sophistication and radical eloquence. While each contribution is a strong stand-alone piece, also printed in black and white, offering readers to apply their own imaginations in color if they wish; together, the comics build a collective approach to storytelling. In addition, Maroon Comix reminds us that this is only the beginning and admits to historical shortcomings. This work, spanning abolition to African socialism, invites other collectives and communities to envision new chapters and incorporate other stories to reverse the historical silencing of maroons.

Anyone who dedicates time to reading, or simply admiring Maroon Comix’s illustrations, will learn lessons from these self-determinant societies and engage in profound political questions. What defines reformist, radical, or revolutionary strategy? How did maroons build decentralized and democratic societies? What does it mean to build, share and live communally? What were the connections between guerrilla warfare, communal governance and ancestral spiritualities? How did maroon movements teach political integrity and ensure comradery? How did maroon communities challenge colonial powers and win? These questions remain consistent with ongoing concerns that international movements face today.

Maroon Comix Captures the Roots and Reality of the Bolivarian Process

Along Venezuela’s coastal towns and its mountainous countryside, entire Afro-Venezuelan and Indigenous communities have deepened their political commitment to studying anti-colonial struggles and incorporating these orientations, tactics and struggles into their current struggles. Since 1999, the Bolivarian Process has radically transformed the political landscape of the nation by: unearthing maroon historical figures and inscribing them into Venezuela’s national identity, even elevating figures such as Guaicaipuro, Juana La Avanzadora and Negro Primero to the National Pantheon, implementing educational initiatives; developing political, economic and cultural ties with other nations heavily inspired by maroons such as the Caribbean; as well as empowering political campaigns responding to the interests of the African and Indigenous working class and poor majority.

One of the cornerstone debates in Venezuela centers on the communal state (2). Comandante Hugo Chávez’s last political call to action definitively declared that the Venezuelan path to 21st Century Socialism would be defined by: ¡Comuna o Nada! The commune or nothing. Afro-Venezuelans, through a maroon inspired lens, have adjusted this revolutionary cry proclaiming: ¡Toda Venezuela Una Cumbe! All Venezuela [is] a Cumbe! urging the country’s socialist model to draw from marronage (3). Since 2008, Afro-Venezuelans have organized rutas del cimarrón (maroon routes), identifying, documenting and retelling the stories of their maroon communities. As a result, Afro-Venezuelans have invited other grassroots movements to partake in these efforts and have presented their maroon references to the Bolivarian state and the Ministry of Communes as a way to look toward other influential self-governance models pre-dating the Paris Commune and even the 18th century Venezuelan commune in the Andean state of Mérida. (4)

Afro-Venezuelan woman in a march to support President Maduro, June 2016 (Venezuelan Ministry for Women)

One of the regions where the rutas del cimarrón have taken flight is in the state of Yaracuy. In this agricultural and densely populated Afro-Venezuelan region, communities proudly resonate with their maroon past. Spiritual traditions and militant organizing in this community remain constant. Maroon Comix refers to this lineage highlighting the story of Indigenous Queen María Lionza, whose history and likeness has been adapted in Venezuelan films, music and literature. Today, she lives on in everyday Venezuelan life as an essential figure within Afro-Indigenous religious practices. Saul writes, “Maria Lionza is revered in Venezuela, and her spirit is said to inhabit the mountains outside Yaracuy. Born to an indigenous chief, she has become immortalized in a pantheon of maroon spirits: also in her holy trinity are the indigenous chief Guaicaipuro and the African warrior Negro Felipe, both of whom lived and died fighting against the Spanish colonists. A goddess of nature, she represents a synthesis of African, indigenous and European maroon cultures.” María Lionza, Negro Miguel and Guaicaipuro are honored in prayers, local celebrations and depicted on candles, cards and posters found in many Venezuelan homes and communally managed spaces. They are powerful historical leaders revered as both revolutionaries and deities.

Veroes, one of the Yaracuy’s fourteen municipalities, poignantly ties the past to the present. Andrés López del Rosario, known as Andresote, was a maroon from this region who launched African and Indigenous rebellions against Spanish crown and early monopolies in Venezuela. He similarly founded one of the largest maroon networks in Venezuelan history in the early 18th century, as documented by Afro-Venezuelan historian Jesús Chucho García. García attests that archival literature suggests that Andresote’s cumbe network reached the island of Trinidad. In Veroes, he established the Cumbe Río Chiquito which also existed as a cumbe móvil, a mobile cumbe, which fought off against colonial forces across the countryside. Fundamental in the pursuit for freedom during colonial times, Andresote had an incredible impact on Venezuela’s maroons and on African as well as Indigenous descendents. The citizens of Veroes continue to influence national politics in the same regard. Veroes was the community where Chávez first publicly self-identified with his African and Indigenous ancestry on his television program Aló Presidente and where dozens of international as well as Venezuelan organizations gathered to celebrate the First EcoSocialist International in November 2017.

Drawing inspiration from prior communist internationals, the First EcoSocialist International responded to “the cry of Mother Earth” seeking “to reverse the destructive process of capitalism, we will return to our origins, recuperate the ancestral spirituality of humanity, live in peace, and end war.” This unprecedented summit gathered approximately “100 people from 19 countries and five continents, 12 original peoples from Our America, and ecosocialist activists from 14 states of Venezuela.” And, as Kanya D’Almeida explains in her reflection of the gathering, “[The First Ecosocialist International] could only happen here, in Venezuela, where many millions are infused with a revolutionary spirit which they are determined to share with the world.” Undoubtedly, this spirit permeates Venezuelan political traditions, not only of contemporary efforts to build 21st Century Socialism, but is also rooted in the maroon martyrs of the nation’s anti-colonial past.

Similarly, in in the comic chapter “Modern Maroons”, editor Saul writes, “All over Venezuela maroon heritage is recognized and celebrated -- not only remembered but resurrected. The work of the original maroons is carried on in the context of an internationalist ecosocialist movement dedicated to overcoming colonialism and capitalism by returning to ancestral production and trading practices.” As Venezuela faces some of its most challenging political and economic times to date, the emphasis on maroon-like tactics, strategies and visions plays an instrumental role in facilitating transformations within Bolivarian Socialism.

In this same vein, Yaracuy is not isolated in its historical significance. The legacies of maroon resistance have arisen in the growing pan-Caribbean campaign for reparations. Unbeknownst to most outside of Venezuela, the Venezuelan 2010 national census confirmed that at least 60% of the population is of African descent or Black-identified. This critical detail underpinned the grassroots pressure on the Bolivarian government to ratify the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent: Recognition, Justice and Development (2015 -2024) in Caracas this March 2018. As a result, subsequent events responding directly to histories of enslavement and emancipation took place in Venezuela. In May 2018, amidst the political whirlwind of the country’s last presidential election, Venezuela hosted its first International Summit on Reparations. The more than 43 distinguished international experts, political leaders, heads of states and grassroots organizers expressed the pan-African and pan-Diasporic demands for legal recognition, economic restitution and reparative justice for the colonial harms of slavery. The Caribbean, African continent, Latin American and the Black nation within the United States participated with varying degrees of representation. Afro-Venezuelan movement leaders and community members, especially young people, attended the event and left with a commitment to build deeper understandings of reparations within Venezuela and their relationship to the Bolivarian Process.

The congress took place on May 8, 9 and 10th in honor of Afro-Venezuelan Identity and History month. These three full days of debates, discussions and presentations were held observing the commemorative dates of José Leonardo Chirino’s African- and Indigenous-led rebellion in Coro, state of Falcón, in 1795, embodying this maroon spirit. Although Venezuela is only an observing member of CARICOM, the largest economic and political block calling for reparations currently, the Bolivarian government facilitated a necessary space for these nations and others to deepen their actions in support of this joint state and grassroots-led initiative demanding financial restitution, cultural restoration and repair, land redistribution, as well as international legal campaigns seeking justice from colonial powers for their historical crimes against humanity. In addition to CARICOM, other precedent setting cases for reparations include the Haitian 2004 bicentennial demand for reparations from France for the more than $USD 24 billion (which resulted in significant backlash and the coup d’état against Lavalas President Jean Bertrand Aristide) and more recently, the Garífuna communities of Punta Piedra and Triunfo de la Cruz that successfully won two decades’ long cases against the Honduran state at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Long Live the Maroons!

The revival of African and Indigenous inspired political strategies have emerged and continue to emerge in a multitude of ways in Venezuela, from ecosocialism to reparations. The Maroon Comix team is key to this international effort to document, inspire and challenge. Their work offers today’s organizers, farmers, workers, political visionaries, dreamers, and militant generation at large, an invitation to reorient their political and theoretical frameworks from Euro-centric revolutionary models to African and Indigenous historical points of reference. Herein lie the ancestral forms of communalism, socialism and communism -- maroons, their societies, their strategies, their republics and their present-day permanence. Herein lie the answers to some of our deepest and most puzzling political questions and historical contradictions.


(1) Sara Johnson, "Statues of Solitude" (Emancipatory Legacies of Marronage:Politics and (Re)presentation, Caribbean Studies Association, La Habana Cuba, June 5, 2018). Johnson highlights the case of Solitude, a maroon woman from Grenada, whose history and image while popular are not entirely certain due to a lack of visual and other primary source documentation not unlike most maroons.

(2) At Venezuelanalysis, we have extensively covered the Commune movement in Venezuela and the political debates this movement has engaged in with the Bolivarian State. For more resources, review our analysis and multimedia sections highlighting these critical conversations. Some examples can be found here and here.

(3) Cumbe as collectively defined by the founding organizations of the First Ecosocialist International is “a territory of resistance dedicated to an intercultural way of life; a form of organization, production and insurgency pioneered by maroons; based on ancestral principles of solidarity and reciprocity and not in competition.” For more information see here.
Afro-Venezuelan movements convened thousands across the country to mobilize in 2016 around this call to action with the campaign of the same name, “Toda Venezuela un Cumbe.” For more information, listen here.

(4) For more information, Afro-Venezuelan historian Jesús Chucho García details the experiences here.

(5) For more information about Andresote’s legacy, read more of Jesús Chucho García’s work here and here.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Quincy Saul's Author Page

Pictures of a Gone City Reviewed in Insurgent Notes

By Loren Goldner
Insurgent Notes
August 2018

…Silicon Valley fever is a disease of a social body infected with the overheated pursuit of riches and expansion.
—Richard Walker

Richard Walker says in his exceptional book Pictures of a Gone City that someone who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the decades following World War II would not recognize the place today. As one such person, who fled the gentrification of the area decades ago, I can only agree. Walker is an emeritus professor of geography at uc Berkeley and seems to have made the social, political demographic and environmental history of the Bay Area his life’s work. He also uses a Marxist framework of analysis, though is a bit weak on real class struggles and strategies looking forward. He also seems to treat some official state and local institutions with more respect than I would, presenting them as partial ramparts capable of slowing or correcting the negative trends at work, at least under pressure “from below.” He is no fan of the Democratic Party, but also no mass strike theorist, and this blind spot is one main flaw of the book. But I’ll take Walker and this flaw, along with all his rich layers of analysis, rather than neither. (He takes his title from Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s poem “Pictures of the Gone World” which opens the book.)

The Bay Area after 1945 was a unique “scene” in the United States, something of which I only became fully aware when I left it. What happened (or at least accelerated) there after the mid-1970s was the superimposition of a fictitious, artificial, culturally and historically ignorant, self-satisfied and narcissistic tissue over most aspects of the previously lived reality, as if those driving the process were using Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle as a counter-insurgency manual. Not to jump ahead, but the fact that almost no ordinary black people any longer live in San Francisco, says just about everything.

Based on Walker’s title, I for one opened the book expecting more of a portrait of postwar Bay Area Bohemia and its general demise. The San Francisco/Berkeley core of the region was something of a refuge for 1930s and 1940s leftists keeping their heads down during the worst (late 1940s/early 1950s) years of McCarthyism, for which payback came in the 1960 riots against the notorious huac (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings in San Francisco, which effectively killed it off. The working-class Italian restaurants in San Francisco’s North Beach, frequented by radical longshoremen and poets alike, the cafés, the jazz clubs, the (black) Fillmore district, night clubs such as the Hungry I or the 1960s satirical review The Committee, art cinema houses, Pacifica Radio, bookstores such as City Lights (founded by Ferlinghetti in 1951) or Cody’s in Berkeley, the affordable rental housing in the pre-hippie Haight-Ashbury and elsewhere in pre-yuppie Victorians, were all part of a “scene” that tilted left, building on Kenneth Rexroth’s post-1945 circle of poets and anarchists. Beat poets and writers such as Allen Ginsburg and Jack Kerouac later animated this scene, in which writers and artists and musicians and political activists could live cheaply and pursue their work. It was a scene of a time and a place, about whose broader social and economic limits those who breathed its heady atmosphere did not think too much, until gentrification wiped it out or neutered it, leaving behind little except icons (as with City Lights bookstore or the Cafe Trieste at Vallejo and Grant Streets) of a bygone era. It was the exact opposite of rank apologist Richard Florida’s “creative classes” of web site designers and the startup capitalists who displaced it.

Walker is aware of this demise, and critiques it, but not quite as forcefully as the money-driven forces that buried Bay Area Bohemia and working-class radicalism deserve.

Meanwhile, at the south end of the bay, those money-driven forces, associated with Silicon Valley high tech (or simply “tech”) were preparing to turn parts of the region into one of the wealthiest areas in the world, one which had little or no place for the left Bohemian and labor scene sketched above. Much has been written about the role of the hippie counter-culture in the rise of Silicon Valley, embodied in its best-known icon Steve Jobs of Apple, who traveled barefoot in a saffron robe in India before becoming an entrepreneur. So be it. Walker argues that this counter-cultural background of Silicon Valley tech partially explains its triumph over Boston’s more staid Route 128, being more inclined to “think outside the box.”

This “high tech” scene had origins in the South Bay region (Palo Alto and environs) as early as the 1940s, but truly took center stage in the 1970s, ultimately giving rise to most of “tech’s” contemporary “fangs” (Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Snapchat). To the high tech “campuses” of the South Bay, however, outfitted with everything from exercise rooms to free gourmet food to childcare available 24/7, Walker counterposes the three or more million proletarians, increasingly Latino and Asian, who do the unglamorous scut work that keeps the region moving, and who are immune to the hype surrounding Silicon Valley since, as he puts it, “so little of the manna from tech heaven fell their way.” Nor does he neglect to mention the extra-long hours that tech workers themselves put in, in between their extra-long commutes. (Some of them merely sleep under their desks.)

Walker gives a “thick description” of the scene of the 1990s, notorious for such short-lived meteors as, or others, described by older, less sanguine figures such as banker and onetime Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker, marveling at multi-million dollar ipos (Initial Public Offerings) of startups that had never turned a profit, all of it culminating in the meltdown of 2000. The 1990s were the era of the “New Economy,” presumably one which had transcended the grey-on-grey laws of capitalist accumulation, until it hadn’t. This was similarly the era of the Bill Clinton mini-boom of the late 1990s, the only uptick to date for workers’ wages in a (briefly) tight labor market since the long stagnation began in the early 1970s. It also saw the ephemeral beginnings of a pay down of the Federal deficit, with “surpluses as far as the eye could see.” It seemed too good to be true, and it was. In a new expansion after 2000, hundreds of millions were again “pouring in to back up start-up Wag Labs, whose app connects dogs owners and dog walkers.” “In the end,” Walker writes, “the ideology of plucky start-ups ran into the hard realities of commerce and capital…”

Given the intrusion of the big tech firms into every aspect of life, as has, for example, been coming to light in Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is hardly surprising that disillusionment “with the lords of the Tech World…has been exploding in the last few years, taking the shine off the image of once shining knights of liberty, equality and information for all.” Walker demystifies the “much ballyhooed entrepreneurs and start-ups of today” who in reality draw on a century of earlier electronics technology development. They cannot be reduced to the “discoveries of modern science and men in white coats.” He does not forget the “cold bath of governmental assistance”: World War II purchases of radar and sonar tubes “made” by Hewlett Packard and Varian; the Department of Defense dominated digital computing right through the 1960s. Not to be forgotten was the National Science Foundation, funding research at Stanford and Berkeley: “The original internet was a DoD project…”
The theory of the creative class, writes Walker, “leaves out the majority of workers in the industry.”

The tech industry may be the pinnacle of modern industrial sophistication, innovation, and profitability, but it still rests on a mountain of ordinary labor…the tech industry could not function without a host of people doing manual, routine and unglamorous jobs. Counting such workers is made more difficult still by widespread subcontracting, primarily of people of color, Filipino, Vietnamese and Latino. This goes together with the failure to mention all the labor done in and for the tech industry overseas. The global reach of the Bay Area’s tech giants is motivated by one thing above all: access to cheap labor.

These include Foxconn’s workers making iPhones in Shenzhen, where a wave of high-rise suicide leaps in 2010 led the company to “install nets outside dormitory windows.” Contrary to the dominant ideology touting “risk takers,” writes Walker, “the success of the region rests on broader foundations, which are too often missing from the story of Silicon Valley fever: industrial clustering and urban agglomeration, the base technology of electronics nurtured in the region, and the labor of thousands of skilled workers and millions of others.” The fangs and the tech elite also engage in massive tax avoidance though the usual venues of “the Bahamas, Luxembourg and the Channel Islands.”

For all this wealth, Bay Area tech has been slammed by two major stock market routs, in 2000 and then in 2008. The region lost “half a million jobs, and only crept back to the employment level of 1999 by the end of 2015.” These meltdowns “bankrupted thousands of homeowners”; two million state employees lost their jobs and unemployment hit 12 percent. Commenting on the post-2009 expansion still underway when his book went to press, Walker writes:
The mainstream press rarely delves into the cumulative consequences of recessions, other than quoting unemployment figures. Reports on growing homelessness, poor health, and rising divorce rates are rarely connected to the hidden costs of economic recession crashing down on the heads of ordinary folks. But when the current economic wave breaks on the reef of capitalist excess, a huge amount of wreckage will be revealed on the shores of the Pacific Coast’s star performer.

In the Bay Area work force, the area “may be a high average wage region, but millions of people still go home with middling to lousy paychecks… People in humble jobs, such as custodians, security guards, and nursing aides, are not feeling the buzz.” As for comparative national income differentials, “the four counties of the West Bay come out much worse, ranking somewhere on a par with Guatemala, putting the heartland of High Tech neck and neck with a nation of latifundia…Low-wage work employs well over a third of the labor force, or around 1.3 million people, which translates into 3–4 million in those working families. This is only slightly better than the proportion of low-wage work in California and the nation…the well-off elite and salaried workers depend every day on the labor of millions of ordinary workers who are overwhelmingly not white and not male.” Inequality, Walker points out, “literally makes people sick and unhappy… Not surprisingly, among rich nations, the United States and Britain—where inequality is greatest—come off as the worst in measure after measure, from longevity to obesity, mental health to physical ailments.” The two countries also have “the weakest social safety nets and the harshest attitudes toward personal failure… The glow of the Bay Area’s success is deeply tarnished by the tragic residue of thousands of homeless people on street corners, living out of cars, and camping under freeways.” One troglodyte member of the tech elite did not mince words:

Every day, on my way to and from work, I see people sprawled across the sidewalk, tent cities, human feces and the faces of addiction. The city is becoming a shantytown… The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it… I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless people on my way to work every day.

Cities such as San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland have ramped up the war on the homeless, ejecting (among other things) tent encampments. A “society that allows so many people to fall into public destitution in the face of abundance is a moral failure of the first order.”

“A truly shocking aspect of work in the bay metropolis is how many lousy jobs there are in such a high-flying, sophisticated economy.” Walker identifies these in retail, hotels, cleaning services, food preparation and domestic services. When high costs price such workers out of housing, “a chorus of howls about their absence goes up from employers, politicians, and upper-class households.”

“The postwar regime of stable, full-time and lifelong employment is a thing of the past.” The new normal is flexible or contingent employment, subcontracting, temp work and self-employed “consultants.” These latter make up between one-quarter and one-third of all jobs, culminating in the “Gig Economy.” The latter is “the antithesis of collective responsibility and class solidarity.”

Walker is presenting an ongoing process of class formation: “A new American working class is coming into being and it is heavily weighted with people of color…something unprecedented is happening here in the Bay Area and across the state… The working population has been transformed from majority White to majority Brown, with a touch of other colors.” Day laborers are undocumented immigrants “from native Indio groups in Southern Mexico and Guatemala who do not always speak Spanish, let alone English.” They stand on street corners and work in “heavy landscaping, debris clearing, crawling under houses, and other nasty jobs.” One quarter of all Californians are foreign born, coming from all over the world. This “overlap between immigrant rights and labor organizing” has made California a national vanguard while “the rest of the United States is still trying to get its collective head around mass immigration.”

Nevertheless, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and now Donald Trump have deported millions, and the current amplified hysteria around “illegal and criminal” immigrants is feeding the raids of ice (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and Homeland Security around the country.

There is much more to Walker’s book, far more than can be included in a (relatively) short review. I urge Bay Area (and other) militant comrades to bracket Walker’s shortcomings as a Marxist and to use this book for more incisive interventions of their own. The hard left would do well to produce its own, improved version of such an exposé.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Richard Walker's Author Page

The dark side of the San Francisco Bay Area's prosperity

By Richard Walker
San Francisco Chronicle
August 31st, 2018

The Rev. BK Woodson talks to people gathered at the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office to protest the minimum wage and demand that the charges against the Black Friday 14 be dropped on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015 in Oakland, Calif.
Photo: Nathaniel Y. Downes / The Chronicle

The Bay Area has gone through an astonishing growth spurt in the 2010s, with the region’s gross domestic product rising by nearly 50 percent from $323 billion in 2009 to $470 billion in 2016. The Bay Area is the unrivaled world leader in information technology, with the biggest concentration of firms, startups and risk capital. Silicon Valley now stretches around the bay and is home to the first trillion-dollar corporation, Apple, and corporate behemoths such as Google (Alphabet), Facebook and Salesforce.

The Bay Area economy is only 10 percent tech, however. Other thriving sectors are finance and management, hospitality and tourism, health, education, food and wine, transportation, wholesale, retail and government. There is an extraordinarily talented labor force, loads of high-skill jobs and large salaries for many. Income per person is nearly $100,000 — far ahead of any other metropolitan region in the world.

So what could be wrong? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Obscene enrichment: The Bay Area is in the vanguard of inequality, with more billionaires and more 1 percenters per square foot than any other U.S. region. The superrich are overwhelmingly white men, while the majority of workers are women and people of color.

The short straw: Wages for the bottom third of the workforce have been stagnant, despite low unemployment, and the (working) middle class is shrinking here, as elsewhere. Low wages are good business, including for tech firms — which hide it by subcontracting. Wages rise only when there is pushback by unions, living wage ordinances and immigrant rights advocates.

Sky-high housing: The Bay Area is one of the most expensive and unaffordable regions in the world. Housing is beyond the reach of all but the top 20 percent. Only the upper classes can pay to play in the bright, shiny new city by the bay. High rents are due chiefly to the bloated demand of a supercharged economy, fast-rising incomes and severe inequality.

Wholesale displacement: Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced from their former homes. They move to the Bayview, to Oakland, and to the far extremities of the regional metropolis, from Dixon to Hollister. Tenant evictions are one nasty facet of the problem, tent cities of the homeless another. Yet even young people with prospects are finding it impossible to live here.

Uncontrolled sprawl: This is not your grandparents’ Bay Area of five counties or your parents’ version with nine; it is now officially 12 (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Benito, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano and Sonoma counties). The region has its own Inland Empire, like Los Angeles, in the Central Valley and more long-distance commuting than anywhere. Traffic is a nightmare, and mass transit systems are overwhelmed.

Devouring resources: Despite the Bay Area’s record of conservation and progressive thinking about climate change, few are aware of the Bay Area’s enormous footprint and appetite for resources. Too little has been done to reduce water withdrawals from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and stop the governor’s twin-tunnels project, to curb urban expansion into wildfire zones and to take sea level rise seriously as cities keep building up and out.

Delusions of Tech World: First there was Silicon Valley Fever and then Dot-Com Madness, but there’s a new outbreak of hubris in Tech World. The lords of tech created new ways of working, socializing and knowing by means of iPhones, Google searches and Facebook friends, and made utopian promises of equality, information access and friendship. But they forgot to think through the dark side of their inventions, and their dreams are becoming our nightmares.

Political paralysis: The Bay Area tradition of progressive politics has frayed badly. Too many of the elite are self-satisfied, too many techies are naive libertarians, and too many activists end up in Portland, Ore. A shabby record of kowtowing to the tech industry puts local politicians in a poor position to lead the country forward. The Bay Area’s blue tilt is now mostly attributable to the new working class of color, which wants basic needs met, such as good education, health care and transit.

Remember, too, these are the good times. Every boom ends with a thud. The next crisis will hit the Bay Area hard, just as in 2000 and 2008. We may fail to learn from economic history, but we will not escape its harsh judgment.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Richard Walker's Author Page

Former R.I. health director Michael Fine issues clarion call for health care reform

by G. Wayne Miller
Providence Journal
September 6th, 2018

Family-care physician is eminently qualified to dissect health care in America today and to propose a way forward.

The United States spends more per person for health care than any other country yet has some of the worst health outcomes among the industrialized nations. So if that $3.2 trillion annually overall doesn’t buy something better, where does it go?

To armies of lobbyists, private insurers, Big Pharma pushing unnecessary medications, and hospitals and practices that provide expensive technology-based treatments that might be avoided were primary care emphasized in America — among other players. As Dr. Michael Fine writes in this searing and thoughtfully articulated indictment, “we have a health care services market and not a health care system.” Overall, profit rules.

Others have made a similar point, especially recently with the rancorous debate over the Affordable Care Act, but few have made it as powerfully as Fine — and none, to my knowledge, have proposed as bold and comprehensive a solution as his in “Health Care Revolt.”

A longtime family physician in Scituate, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health from 2011 to 2015, and now chief health strategist for Central Falls and a leader of Blackstone Valley Community Health Care, Fine is eminently qualified to dissect health in America today and to propose a way forward — one he asserts would save $1 trillion or more a year while erasing health disparities and improving the health of everyone. All while restoring Americans’ faith in democracy, which is where the revolt comes in.

The foundational philosophy of the Movement for Health Care in America, as Fine calls it, is that individual health is a function of public health — and that public health, what we as a society should all support, is determined not only by professional care but also, fundamentally, by education, housing, social connections, levels of stress in families and neighborhoods, income, access to healthy foods and other socioeconomic factors.

The movement’s goal would be small primary-care centers in every community linked to larger multi centers, which in turn would be linked to hospitals, should advanced treatment be required — which would be far less frequently, Fine writes, with a proper emphasis on primary care. Fine cites examples of such successful primary-care centers, including Blackstone Valley, where he serves as senior population health and clinical services officer.

Don’t expect politicians or industry executives to lead the charge. As Fine writes, “There is no one, in government or outside of it, who is held accountable to produce the best health outcomes most affordably.” Thus, Fine concludes, the fight to this better future must be championed by clinicians and citizens, through establishment of a national coordinating council with local chapters. The work, Fine concedes, would take years — and might not succeed.
But Fine has faith, citing other great American movements that have succeeded against great odds, starting with the Revolution.

“The health care market won’t change easily,” Fine writes. “Vested interests will fight tooth and nail to keep things as they are. They will lie, cheat, steal and threaten us all with death. [But] nothing will change unless we act up. The likelihood of success is small. But the likelihood of success without trying is zero.”

Whether you work in health care or just want good health, and that covers pretty much everyone, “Health Care Revolt” is a must-read. We deserve better than the expensive and ineffective mess we have now.

— Staff writer G. Wayne Miller covers health for The Journal. He has written four books on medicine: “The Work of Human Hands,” “King of Hearts,” “The Xeno Chronicles” and “Top Brain, Bottom Brain.” Visit him at

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Michael Fine's Author Page

I'm Queer As Hell, And I'm Not Going To Take It Anymore

By Landon Funky
Funky Feminist
September 8th

You know what sucks? Unequal representation in the media. I know I don't have to tell you all that. We have published piece after piece drawing attention to this issue, and we shouldn't have to. Time and time again I hear the same thing: if you don't like it, fix it. And so, we do.
But fixing what is wrong and unequal is a challenge, an uphill battle. In order to get equal representation, we have to assert ourselves into the conversation and make sure to be heard by those in positions of power. More importantly, we need to be heard by our youth. If you want to change the world, you have to create a different world view and present that view to the children in our lives - which is exactly what Jacinta Bunnell is doing with her coloring books.

Bunnell's coloring books tell a story. In the one I am currently working on, Sometimes the Spoon Runs Away with Another Spoon, she creatively retells popular fairy tales that break free from the usual heteronormative, cisgender tropes with which we grew up. The prince searches for Cinderella, not to find his princess, but to ask her where he could find a pair of glass slippers for himself. A little girl rides on the back of a tyrannosaurus rex in a sheriff's uniform, and a little box finds an his treasure, an Easy-Bake Oven, in the trash.

Her other coloring books are Girls Are Not ChicksGirls Will Be Boys Will Be Girls Will Be..., and The Big Gay Alphabet Coloring Book. As you can tell from the titles, Bunnell writes stories to empower kids - and adults like me - to accept who they really are. A person cannot choose their sexuality just like they cannot choose their race. But they can choose how they identify, and Bunnell's coloring books are empowering kids to be unapologetically themselves.
Now, that is something I can get behind.

Bunnell creates a safe space for kids to question gender norms and actually be themselves. The books are sold by PM Press for only $11. These 11x8.5 inch coloring books have forty pages and are distributed in the United States and Europe.

She doesn't sit back and watch the world change; Bunnell incites the change. With each page. With each book. With each child. If we were all as courageous and creative as she is, the world would be a better place.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Author's Page

Fire. in Maximum RocknRoll

By Michael T Fournier
Maximum RocknRoll Magazine
September 2018

I confess that I have a copy of Elizabeth Hand’s Generation Loss sitting unread in my bookshelf. A friend of mine gave it to me in 2015 while I was staying at his place during a summer tour. Here, he said, is an author who’s right up your alley: she’s into punk, and she’s from Maine. (My wife’s family is from Maine, and we both went to grad school there.) But you know about the good intentions paving the road to hell—and that’s before considering the book critic pile, which is usually consists of at least three or four new volumes calling out for review.

I was happy find Fire in the MRR stacks: here, I thought, is a perfect chance to check out an author whose stuff I’ve been meaning to read for a while—an author, it should be mentioned, with a considerable back catalogue.

When the volume arrived, I was initially bummed to find that it contained previously published stuff.

You know how it is: your record collection doubtlessly includes some B-sides/ rarities albums. These sound like a good idea, especially for completists and record nerds, but they’re called B-sides for a reason, you know? Almost fifteen years ago(!!!), I reviewed my record collection in alphabetical order and in doing so had the hardest time writing about such albums, because the level of quality between the best and worst material tends to drastically differ.

Even as you wrack your brain trying to come up with albums that buck the trend (besides Singles Going Steady, which is a given), I’m her ego tell you: don’t bother. I’m an idiot. Elizabeth Hand’s book does exactly what I’m guessing the fine folks at PM Press intend it to do: provide a quick overview of all the strong hues in Hand’s palette.

Fire. begins with a short story called “The Saffron Gatherers.” In the story, the protagonist Suzanne rekindles a long-lost relationship with a gifted writer living in San Francisco. They visit an open house and agree to move in together once she returns from a business trip. The story is festooned with references to art and wring and has a dreamlike, almost drugged quality— a languid pleasance that makes the ending all the more impactful. I won’t spoil it, but I will mention that Hand understand the power of imagination, as corny as that may sound, and makes the decision to allow readers to fill in blanks rather than needlessly spelling everything out. Like “The Saffron Gatherers,” the title story fits under the loose category of dystopian climate fiction (cli-fi, if you’re nasty—it’s a thing!). Unlike the previous story, this one relies on first-person narration. Hand repeats the trick of omitting detail here, cutting one side of the narrated story to all call, no response. It’s hard to write dialogue that sound convincingly like speech, but Hand, an expert stylist, has no such trouble.

Two pieces of Hand’s criticism ring out, calling for digging and exploration: she writes on Alice Shelton, a writer who wrote in the distinctly masculine world of 1970s science fiction under the assumed name Jamed J. Tiptree Jr., and on Thomas Disch, an openly gay 1960s science fiction writer. I love pieces like this, which allow neophytes like myself to establish a base in the past off of which to branch. Hand is generous with praise in these essays, subscribing to the punk urge of thanking tons of bands in the liner notes so listeners can do their own riffing.

There’s a biography here, too, in the shape of a member essay and an extended interview. Like her essays, these pieces showcase Hand’s generosity, as she details the events and influences that shaped her into a writer. Readers of MRR might do the same mental math as me when certain years and cities are mentioned: here, as an example, Hand mentions living in Washington DC in 1979, which immediately caused me to wonder which bands she saw. A few paragraphs later, she mentioned seeing films in Georgetown— the same theater where the Discord crew worked, maybe?— and catching the Ramones’ first area appearance.

Fire. in an installment of PM Press’s Outspoken Author series. If this slim volume is any indication, the series is a must-read, a means for readers to introduce themselves to indispensable writers like Elizabeth Hand. It’s great to be genuinely excited to dive into an author’s work— which I am. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be swimming in Generation Loss with Singles Going Steady playing in the background.

Buy Fire. | Buy Fire. e-Book now | Back to Elizabeth Hand's Author Page

Williams Shares Writing

writer: Mai’a Williams, a writer, editor, visual and performance artist is in residency through the Springboard for the Arts Hinge Art program. Williams is co-editing the memoir, “This is How We Survive: Revolutionary Mothering, War and Exile in the 21st Century” that will be published Dec. 2018 Emily Carlson/Daily Journal
By Emily Carlson
Fergus Falls Journal
September 14th, 2018
MOTHERING: A post card made to represent Mai’a Williams book, “Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines.” Provided

It’s hard to think of a country that Mai’a Williams has not lived or worked in. The writer has spent her time all over the world and is compiling all of these experiences together to shine through her writing. She now is spending a week in residency through Springboard for the Arts Hinge Arts program in Fergus Falls.

As said before, Williams has shared her talents with many people from all over the world. During her artist talk at Springboard for the Arts Tuesday afternoon, she quickly ran through her life story to attempt to fill us listeners into how she ended up in Fergus Falls for a residency program. Somewhat tricky to follow, but most certainly impressive, she shared how she grew up in Washington D.C. and went to school in New York. From there Williams moved in Palestine in 2003 and lived in the West Bank for a year. Next came some time in eastern Africa where she moved to Egypt.

When violence started overtaking Egypt, Williams and her daughter moved to Germany as immigrants. Since then she and her daughter have moved back to the   United States and now live in Minnesota. She participated in the Standing Rock protests for four days during the time when 145 people were arrested at the site. “It was actually a pretty heavy weekend,” Williams said, “It’s this incredibly vibrant, community healing space.”

Although she worked as a journalist throughout these years, Williams has writing long before these jobs. “I came to journalism through poetry,” Williams said, “I realized the one thing I could do is write.” At her artist talk, Williams shared with the group some of her original poetry. The first, “Paper Dreams,” relates to her experience during the Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring.

Williams has written and co-written three books. These include two books of poetry,“Monsters and Other Silent Creatures,” which takes from stories that were revealed out from Wikileaks, and “No God but Ghosts.” The third book, “Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines,” is a “collection of writing and visual art about mothering on the margins,” according to PM Press. Edited along with Alexis Pauline Gumbs and China Martens, the book is published by PM Press and has become their most popular book.

“I really adore this book,” Williams said regarding “Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines,” She said that she often runs out of copies as she is traveling and this proved to be true in Fergus Falls, as well. The book was inspired by many of William’s experiences. According to PM Press, “It was her living and working with Palestinian, Congolese, and Central American indigenous mothers in resistance communities, that initially inspired her to become a mother and continues to guide her as she practices this life-giving work called radical mothering.”

Currently, Williams is working on a memoir, “This is How We Survive: Revolutionary Mothering, War, and Exile in the 21st Century.” The book will describe William’s, “experience working in conflict zones and with liberatory resistance communities as a journalist, human rights worker, and midwife in Palestine, Egypt, Chiapas, Berlin, and the U.S. while mothering her young.” Those who have read her book before or those looking to find a new book can look forward to December 2018 when the book is scheduled to be published.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Mai’a Williams Author Page | Back to Alexis Pauline Gumbs's Author Page | Back to China Marten's Author Page

Complete Anarchy, Illustrated

By Michael Dooley
January 11th, 2013

As the Tea Party and Occupy movements fade from the political scene, anarchy is still visible . . . well, its graphics are, anyway. In England, Autonomy: The Cover Designs of Anarchy, 1961–1970 just hit the streets. And PM Press is singlehandedly keeping anarchy alive with an impressive catalog of revolutionary fare that covers everyone from Chomsky to Banksy to the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.

Established just five years ago, PM has already produced hundreds of radical-themed publications and other merchandise. They’ve done several graphic novel-ish books, the most stunning of which is Peter Kuper’s deluxe Diario de Oaxaca. And for richly illustrated perspectives of the ’60s countercultural press scene as seen by Paul Krassner, Trina Robbins, Emory Douglas, and other insiders, you can’t beat On the Ground. There’s also plenty to view and read in the first two issues of Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics & Culture.

Clifford Harper

One new release that should be of particular interest to designers is the visually venturesome Anarchy Comics: The Complete Collection, edited by Jay Kinney and with a foreword by Paul Buhle. It’s an anthology of all four issues of the now-legendary underground comic book Kinney started in 1978, at the height of the punk revolution. Its dozens of contributors hailed from Great Britain and Europe as well as the U.S. and Canada, with artists as diverse as Gilbert Shelton and Gary Panter. Regulars included Lost Girls‘ Melinda Gebbie, the recently deceased Spain Rodriguez, and Kinney himself. And as you’d expect, each had his or her own take on the topic, whether educational, agitational, satirical, or all three.

Kinney was part of the original underground comix movement in the late ’60s, and he cofounded, with Zippy‘s Bill Griffith, the romance-comic parody series Young Lust. Our discussion below touches on Kinney’s friendship with Rodriguez, how anyone can now access loads of free comics online, and why political labels have become meaningless.

Anarchy‘s first issue started out with a bang, from Kinney’s burning Boris Badenov-ian globe bomb on the cover to his anarchically assembled opening strip, “Too Real,” which is where our conversation begins.


How did you put together “Too Real”?

Writing and designing “Too Real” was largely an exercise in amassing a pile of clip art and old ads from ‘40s and ‘50s magazines and letting a story line emerge as I moved the images around like chess pieces or Tarot cards.

Initially—and you can see this in the splash panel—I had the notion of tracing and re-drawing clip art, but it rapidly became clear that that added a layer of unnecessary work to the whole process. So I just went with the clippings themselves for the rest of the story.

This was at a time when I’d scored old Life and Colliers magazines for 50 cents apiece at flea markets and from the back rooms of dusty used book stores. Someone had given me a stack of old clip art and that became the unifying glue, because so many of the advertising images of happy families or dads and moms looked like they were nearly the same identical, squeaky-clean people. So it was surprisingly easy to find different clips that moved the story along with very similar-looking people.

Have you ever heard from David Rees?

I do know that it influenced Tom Tomorrow at the beginning of his career, but I have no idea whether it influenced Rees. I’ve never heard a peep from him, though obviously he’s been barking up a similar—if not the same—tree.

I can’t claim that I originated this collage mash-up technique, as the Situationists had already pioneered it. Collage was also a stock punk style, thanks in part to Jamie Reid, whose name I was unaware of. If I invented anything new, it was in combining the two veins of collage, along with a lot of smart-ass humor.

Tell me about your design training and early career.

I attended Pratt Institute in Brooklyn at a volatile time—’69 to ’72—with mixed results. Through happenstance and good fortune, I’d become involved with underground comix in ’68, when I was right out of high school, but my drawing teachers at Pratt definitely forced me to learn to draw. I also took illustration, design, and lettering classes, which I really benefited from. Unfortunately, the school was kind of a mess at the time—teachers wouldn’t show up on the first day of class and we’d be stuck with a substitute for the rest of the quarter. I dropped out in the middle of my junior year, as I was already making a meager living through freelance illustration and cartooning.

My real design training was from just being in New York and absorbing everything in the environment. My fellow students and I would ride the subway and for our own amusement identify the fonts used in the ads in the subway cars. Pushpin Studios was a big influence on me, but so were several professional cartoonists whom I met in New York and who shared tips about the craft of cartooning, such as Ralph Reese and Frank Mell.

Throughout the ‘70s I juggled comix work with illustration and paste-up jobs. But in the ‘80s I largely shifted into writing and editing for magazines. I was a graphics person at CoEvolution Quarterly—later Whole Earth Review—and then editor there before I founded my own magazine, Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner Traditions, which I published for 15 years. As the art directors of those magazines will testify, I always had strong opinions about the publications’ look and design.

What standards did you use when editing Anarchy, and how important was the visual factor?

Comics are a melding of the literary and the visual, so the visual element is always a big factor. One distinction of underground comix was that the editor—who was invariably a cartoonist—was in charge of delivering a fully-designed comic book to the publisher, with almost no inhibiting restrictions. This allowed great freedom in creating a comic’s design and style.

My own standards were pretty clear-cut: I only solicited artists whose work I enjoyed, who could come up with material that fit into the overall theme, and who I could count on to meet deadlines. Beyond that, I largely left them alone. There was a tradition of artistic autonomy in underground comix, so editors tended to only choose artists who they knew would turn in quality work. I was a traditionalist in that sense.

Probably the biggest chance I took on an artist was with Matt Feazell, who was relatively young and unproven. I allotted him four pages in Anarchy #3 and he came through with a wry, pointed, and well-crafted story that exceeded my expectations. Most everyone else, I had a good idea of what they’d probably do.

My concern has always been that the comic art that I create or edit communicates clearly. In my view, if you confuse the readers, you lose them and they’ll toss the book aside and move on to something else. So I tend to favor straightforward stories that read well, even if the reader is being challenged with sudden switches in art style or twists in the plotting.


Who do you consider Anarchy‘s most exceptional artists, graphically?

Since I consider most of Anarchy‘s artists to be friends, I’m reluctant to single one of them out as the most exceptional. I will note that I think the strips by Cliff Harper and by Melinda Gebbie were perhaps the most graphically striking, but every contribution had its own merits. Gary Panter probably pushed the envelope the most—no surprise there—but so did Peter Pontiac.

What was your relationship with Spain Rodriguez?

Considering that Spain was ten years my senior, he was simultaneously an older brother, a mentor, and, over time, my best friend. Still, there were periods over the last 43 years where we might only see each other twice a year, so our relationship was fluid, like many friendships.

Spain was a former biker, a visceral working-class Marxist, and an immensely talented artist. His drawing style could be called a mixture of Wally Wood and Chester Gould, but he made it utterly his own. He somehow managed to combine a penchant for drawing “hot babes” with a no-nonsense feminism that gave women their full due as autonomous, powerful beings. His instincts were always on the side of the underdog or the outcast, which I think sums up his underlying politics.

He supported the idea of Anarchy Comics from the very first time I brought it up. While he was a Marxist, he was not dogmatic about it, and we had many lively conversations about politics over the years. I think he especially appreciated the series because it allowed him to combine a certain EC war comics style with radical politics. While he would stick up for Stalin’s virtues well past the point that most of us would, it always seemed like his real heart was with the Anarchists during the Russian Revolution and the Spanish Civil War. We got along fine.

Which of the strips in your book feel most relevant today?

Paul Mavrides’s and my story “Armageddon Outtahere!” could just as well have been written in 2013 as in 1987. The same could be said for Sharon Rudahl’s “The Treasure of Cabo Santiago,” which contrasts the rich and poor in a Latin American country. Matt Feazell’s “Pest Control” is pretty timeless, as is Paul’s and my “No Exit.” And I’d say the historical strips by Spain and by Épistolier and his collaborators remain solid for offering glimpses of liberatory moments in world history.

Who among the new crop of comics artists do you admire?

To be perfectly honest, I’ve not kept up with most contemporary comics. When I’ve gone to the Alternative Press Expo in the recent past, the sheer amount of hopeful indie publishers and artists was overwhelming. I’d say the newest artist to catch my eye is Laura Park, but even she’s been around for a while. I do think she is fabulous. I admire Chris Ware and Dan Clowes; I think they are dazzling stylists, though their stories tend to trigger my own depressive tendencies, so I’ve not read all their work religiously. Los Bros. Hernandez are always good, but they’ve been at it 30 years already.

If you are talking newspaper funnies, my favorites are Dan Piraro’s “Bizarro,” Stephan Pastis’s “Pearls Before Swine,” Mark Tertulli’s “Lio,” and Patrick McDonnell’s “Mutts,” when it isn’t falling into sentimentality.

But my favorite “new” artists in recent years have been all the golden-age comic book artists whom I’ve been discovering, due to the scanning of public-domain comics at fan-run sites like Digital Comic Museum and Comic Book Plus. I’ve even helped out with some scans from my own collection of old comics. There were some terrific artists working for smaller publishers whose work has been previously obscure but who are beginning to find a new audience, such as Dick Briefer, Lily Renee, Mo Gollub, John Celardo, Harold Delay, Maurice Whitman, Rudy Palais, Fran Hopper, and the list just goes on and on. Great stuff.


When you started publishing Anarchy in 1978 you had left libertarian leanings. What are your politics these days?

I’ve spent much of the last 25 years questioning whether the old designations of “left” and “right” are even useful anymore. Certainly at a time when we have pundits and Tea Party types calling Obama a “socialist,” it seems like such labels have become meaningless. Surely the label “conservative” that so many people apply to themselves has become a misnomer. They aren’t conservatives, they’re radical reactionaries.

I suppose I’d still call myself a left libertarian or libertarian leftist, in the sense that I prefer democracy over autocracy, cooperation over competition, people over corporations, and so on. But I long ago gave up on the notion that a revolution—of whatever variety—was the answer. Attempts to make over a society from top to bottom usually end up backfiring, at least when they’re done in the service of an ideology, whether its Marxist, Islamist, Zionist, or whatever. Even back when we were originally doing Anarchy Comics, much of my satire was aimed at the competing claims of different leftist sects and belief systems.

Of course, these days it’s hard to even point to a coherent left or right in American politics. We’re just living in a sci-fi future where everyone generates their own reality bubble to the point where we might as well be living in parallel universes. One could say that both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement represent two very different kinds of popularized anarchism, so it’s perhaps rather timely to have all the issues of Anarchy back in print again in the anthology.


Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Jay Kinney's Author Page

Peter Kuper: Drawn to an International Comic Art Career

By Michael Dooley
June 3rd, 2013

Peter Kuper’s seen it all. And he wants us to see it, too. So he draws it for us. His visits to Latin America, the Middle East, and beyond have been providing him with perspective and inspiration for World War 3 Illustrated – America’s longest-running radical comic book anthology, since 1980. His various comics autobiographies include ComicsTrips: A Journal of Travels Through Africa and Southeast Asia. And his graphic novel adaptions of classic literature by authors such as Franz Kafka and Upton Sinclair have been translated into French, German, Swedish, Portugese, Greek, and several other languages.


photo by M. Dooley

photo by M. Dooley

Peter’s accomplishments include creating the New York Times‘s first regular comic strip feature. With his mastery of multiple art media and a flair for rendering powerful, riveting images, he’s produced award-winning covers for Time, Newsweek, and numerous other publications. And he’s most known to the public for “Spy vs. Spy,” which he’s been drawing for Mad since 1997.

This summer, you can find Peter at his regular spot in San Diego Comic-Con’s Artists’ Alley, selling his original “Spy” artwork and rare collector’s items. He’ll also be promoting Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City, which just released this week.

Our conversation begins with his views of Manhattan and Mexico and covers a lot of ground, including his comics class at Harvard, his success at gaining a broad readership and reaching foreign markets, and his thoughts about print vs. digital media.

Unless otherwise noted, all images copyright © Peter Kuper.





How would you describe Drawn to New York and Diario de Oaxaca?

Both books are odd birds, falling between categories. They’re more like visual diaries of time periods in my life, reflecting the influences of specific locations.

And how are they different from each other?

New York, relatively speaking, seems to be in black and white, with its towering modern steel and glass structures in stark contrast to the humans who inhabit the city. Compared to most other places in the world – especially the laid-back nature of Mexico – the pace in Manhattan is intense – which I love – so the books reflect those vast differences.

Drawn to New York illustrates 30 years, including an era when the city was much more dangerous, down and dirty, then later, as it was gentrified for better and worse, through 9-11 and other stormy experiences – literally with Hurricane Sandy.

Diario de Oaxaca is a sketchbook journal primarily about a town in Mexico where I lived from 2006 to 2008. Oaxaca is an incredibly colorful place, sunny and warm 90% of the time, with 16th century architecture and nearby ruins of ancient civilizations. There was a huge teachers’ strike, people killed and a military presence during the first six months of my stay, which added a dark dimension, but that left the remaining year and a half to draw the glorious details of life in Mexico.


The pages of both these books appear quite vivid and luminous on electronic devices; do you see this as an advantage?

For the limited way I’ve used eBooks, this is the main benefit. It is really striking to see the pages illuminated this way, but not worth the loss of the tactile experience of a print book. I haven’t taken advantage of all the things that can be done within the form of eBooks, like open sources, linking to videos, or adding animation.

So, print’s your personal preference?

I’m really a print person, and need the feel of a book in my hands. I feel obliged to explore the options of digital since it’s clear that this is a direction books are headed. And of course, there are, and will be, many exciting things to be done in that medium, too.

Like many people, I have a real love/hate relationship with computers and everything that they’ve changed.





What’ve been your most successful works in foreign markets?

My adaptation of The Metamorphosis, thanks to the popularity of Kafka, has been translated in ten countries – including Israel, Turkey, Brazil, and the Czech Republic – so that’s the winner. But since I lived in Mexico I’ve done five books with my Mexican publisher, Sexto Piso, and that’s opened the door to a much wider relationship with Latin America, which is another kind of success. It’s also translated into many invites to book festivals throughout South America.

And what’ve been your experiences with overseas printing and publishing?

At this point most of my books are printed in Asia, and working directly with those printers and seeing what’s possible has given me many ideas for more elaborate printing: debossing, tipped-in plates, paper-wraps, etc.

As far as working with foreign publishers, it’s been generally fantastic, but the pay is much smaller than the bigger US publishers. Still, I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to reach new audiences with my work. And my relationships open other doors as well, with illustration work. I’ve been art directing and illustrating a weekly political piece for the French paper Liberation, which came through one of my publishers there.

copyright © Steve Brodner

Liberation illustration copyright © Steve Brodner

copyright © Edel Rodriguez

Liberation illustration copyright © Edel Rodriguez


What did you learn from the reception that Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz received?

Avoid faux autobiographies!

I had the “clever” idea of making it the autobiography of a fictitious cartoonist. This seemed reasonable, since I wanted to make adjustments to my story without cheating the truth. It seemed that the play was the thing and it was less important that it was my story. But some people were flummoxed by this.

It was later published in Spanish and French and I decided to drop the doppelgänger in those editions.



How will your approach to Ruins be different?

Ruins is a very different book for me. It will be my longest graphic novel, at about 300 full color pages. And it is a work of fiction, though I’m applying my experiences in Mexico and my interest in entomology. Nobody will mistake it for autobiography.



What first motivated you to express your political beliefs through visual commentary?

Fear was a big motivator. Ronald Reagan was about to become president when I was in art school, with a hostage crisis in Iran and his itchy trigger-finger ready to launch the bomb. I was desperate to have some kind of response, which was a big reason my friend Seth Tobocman and I started publishing World War 3 Illustrated. That title choice says it all!

How has WW3 Illustrated evolved over its 34 years?

Kuper20_WW3 One of the ways our magazine has expanded has been through bringing in younger people, including some of the students Seth and I have had at the School of Visual Arts. They bring a whole new set of ideas and connections. As a result we’ve ended up with more contributions from abroad, like cartoonists from Egypt. Many of these artists have never been seen in the US and they’re bringing stories based on first-hand experience, which is an area of journalism ideally suited to comics.

I’m currently editing a new issue, with dozens of contributors and a rotating group of editors.

What topics will it tackle?

This issue has an unusually light, upbeat subject: death.

We have stories ranging from the history of hell to a personal account of life on Death Row. There are comics about losing family members, and a look at how other cultures view death, like Mexico’s Day of the Dead. And there will be a series of photos of murals in Egypt commemorating people who died during the Arab spring.

Mortality is something we all face and comics are a great medium to express all the angles.

What makes a successful political cartoon?

One that stops you in your tracks, enlightens, and makes you consider a perspective you hadn’t previously entertained – maybe even to the point of taking some positive action steps. If it can also have humor, it’s win-win.

copyright © Jonathan Finn-Gamiño

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

How did you come to teach at Harvard?

There were enough students interested in comics that Harvard was pushed to include a course. How my name got thrown in the hat is still a mystery to me. Once I was asked – even though it’s a daunting commute from New York City to Boston and back every week – I couldn’t say no.

What was the nature of your class?

It’s really the same class I teach at SVA. It gives students all the building blocks necessary to create a solid comic page, from the most basic aspects of page design and lettering to the elements of a solid visual narrative.

All the assignments are strictly in black and white and complete beginning-middle-end in one page. I help them find stories worth telling based on personal experiences, dreams, adaptations, and journalistic approaches. I include a lot of comic art history through presentations and get them to each give a talk on an artist of their choosing.  I also bring in guest lectures; Steve Brodner and Ben Katchor visited Harvard last semester. And at SVA over the years Peter de Sève, Gabrielle Bell, Seymour Chwast, and Matt Mahurin, among others, have given presentations to my students.

How did your Harvard students differ from your SVA students?

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

copyright © Kayla Escobedo

Generally the SVA students are all cartoon or illustration majors. On rare occasion they’re in film, but all related in one form another to art.

Of my Harvard students – 23 applied and I had to select 12, the maximum per class – only half were coming from an arts background.

I had an economics student and an English literature major and one who was doing medieval studies. They brought some interesting ideas to the table even though they were sometimes artistically starting from scratch.

Students like Jonathan Finn-Gamiño and Kayla Escobedo were in Harvard’s art program, so they were already producing developed work. For the ones that were first-timers I help them hone their skills through inspiring assignments and Gulag-esque critiques. They were all pretty responsive to this approach, though several said it was the most demanding class they took at Harvard!

How would you evaluate your course’s success?

Some of my students formed a comics club and began publishing a magazine when class ended, so my enthusiasm for the form must have rubbed off!




Which art media do you feel most comfortable with?

I like media that allows me direct contact with materials and that has an unpredictable outcome. Stencil and spray paint has that in spades, so I spent several decades working in that approach. Until I lifted the stencil, I wouldn’t know exactly what the result would be. Unfortunately, I do have a pretty good idea about the long-term effects of working with toxic materials, so I stopped using spray paint.

I also love scratchboard since it, too, has surprising results, like a fluid form of woodcut. Quality scratchboard, however, has been difficult to find, so I’m finding myself forced to dig up new mediums that will bring that element of mystery.

One of my recent favorites is a multicolored pencil with seven different colors in the tip; always an unexpected color with each scrawl.


How do you feel about the “cartoonist” and “graphic novelist” labels?

It used to be I’d rarely mention I was a cartoonist since it brought calls to reproduce some kind of “Superman” style. That used to be the main way people viewed comics. These days I’m able to refer to myself as a cartoonist without people presuming superheroes. And it’s a great conversation-starter at parties!

We still haven’t really found the right title to describe what we do. “Graphic novelist” is just the one we currently agree on. In the future it may be another moniker like “People of cartoonal” or “Comic-con Americans.” I don’t care, as long as I get to ply my trade.


What’s your advice to cartoonists who want to reach a broader readership beyond the usual fan base?

First advice is: learn about the history of the form. There are so many old masters to be discovered that serve as inspiration beyond the flavor of the moment: Winsor McCay, George Herriman, Lyonel Feininger, Harvey Kurtzman, etc. I’ve found, consistently, all successful cartoonists know their history.

Next – as much as I hate aspects of computers – the Internet provides many opportunities to reach a wider audience. Or so I’ve heard.

Third, it’s unavoidable – unless you win the art lottery – to end up doing a lot of free work. This is hard to face, but to create work that demonstrates your abilities often requires producing without remuneration. Most of my early comics – and plenty of recent ones – were done without pay, at least initially. WW3 Illustrated has never paid anyone, which may be the secret to our success!

I’m not glorifying poverty: it’s just important to not give up if the money isn’t there. If you do work from the heart that you really enjoy, fandom – and hopefully, filthy lucre – will follow.

Speaking of fans, do you have anything to say to yours?

I was as surprised as anyone to be chosen People magazine’s “Sexiest Cartoonist/Illustrator Man of the Year,” so thanks for all your votes.



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

Purchasing and Downloading e-Books with PM Press

PM Press is pleased to offer many of our "print" titles in e-Book formats.

There are various formats that different e-Book readers and computer systems support. You don't have to have an eBook reader device like a Nook, Kindle, or iPad to view digital content. Software is available for Windows, Mac, and Unix/Linux computers to read e-Books in most the formats available from book publishers like PM Press.

Depending on the title, we have one or more of the following formats available:

  • PDF - This is the most common digital format for e-Books, created by Adobe Systems for their Acrobat reader. e-Book readers from Barnes & Noble (Nook), Sony (Reader) and Amazon (Kindle) can read this format natively, BUT, since most PDFs are created to match page size of the print version of a title, the smaller reader screens may not provide the best reading experience. PDF files can be converted to other formats more suitable for these readers.
  • MOBI / PRC - This is a standard developed by a company in France for all PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) and is one of the native formats supported by the Amazon Kindle. 
  • ePUB - This is based on an open standard and is one of the native formats readable by the Sony reader. The Nook and Apple's new IPad can also open ePUB files. 

The benefit to ePUB and MOBI/PRC formats is that the page layout, text and images of the book are scaled appropriately for the size of the reader device, whereas PDF tries to maintain the original layout, which can make the content hard to read.

For your convenience, here are links to support pages for three e-Book readers in case you need to figure out what file formats they require, or how to convert files so that they work with your reader:

Click here to visit our e-Book section and look through all the titles we have in e-Book format. To purchase one, simply add it to your cart and when you are ready, complete your purchase. During checkout, we recommend that you create a user ID and password which you will be able to use to log in and download your e-Books. (If you don't create a user ID and password, the store will create a set for you.)

Once you have completed payment, you will receive an e-Mail message welcoming you to the PM Press store and reminding you of your user ID.

If you've forgotten or don't know your password (because we created it for you), please click here to visit our support page.

If you can not resolve problems with your user ID or password, please click here to contact us and we'll get you the information you need ASAP.

Once you have your login ID and password, return to the PM Press store (click here) log into the site through the box on the left side of your screen.

Click "Downloads" and you will see a list of files you can download to your computer. For each title, there will be one or more file types available. Choose the one that is most appropriate for your reader. We may not have all formats for all titles so you may need to use a converter to read the file that we have available on your reader. In the coming weeks and months we will be working hard to make as many common file types available as possible.

If you need assistance, please contact us.



Quick Access to:



New Releases

Featured Releases

The Unknown Revolution: 1917-1921

The Road Through San Judas