by Paul Buhle
World War 3 Illustrated #40 (2010), "What We Want." New York, WW3, 128pp, $5.
Tobocman, Seth: You Don't Have to Fuck People Over to Survive, AK Press, Oakland, 168pp, $20.
(Swans - April 19, 2010) Any World War 3 issue is an artistic as well as a political announcement. The group is now rapidly approaching thirty years of a more-or-less annual production and it is useful to recall that Cleveland boyhood friends Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper (whose "Spy vs Spy" page is by far the best thing in today's barely surviving Mad Magazine) met Robert Crumb through Harvey Pekar years earlier, and got themselves to Manhattan and radical politics, joined by a raft of mostly younger artist-activists.
They and their gang settled, for awhile, mostly around Tompkins Square in New York, dug into neighborhood struggles against gentrification, and met the other artists and neighborhood personalities (including Allen Ginsberg) who gave them the encouragement to think that art could make a difference and that they couldn't depend upon anyone but themselves to make radical art.
You Don't Have to Fuck People Over, originally published some twenty years ago, is a great place to start thinking about these artists, because Tobocman created a street art suited as well for posting on tenement walls as published in magazines or books. This edition has a neat introduction by comics giant Alan W. Moore laying out some details of the Punk 1970s-80s scene, the last wave of old-timers from 1930s-'40s left politics who were still making art and trying to pass on their skills, the vibrant struggles against Giuliani-style gentrification (with police clubs), and perhaps above all the Squats, where Tobocman placed himself physically as well as politically. Moore relates Tobocman to Mayakovsky, Futurist-Turned-Bolshevik, but also to William Gropper (communist cartoonist but also fine painter), to the Mexican moralist Orozco, and to the African-American painter Jacob Lawrence.
Useful comparisons all. But none give the full sense of flipping through these pages, of course. And to this edition, Tobocman has added an invaluable "Artist's Notes," a running annotation. This book is art history, street history, and political history wrapped into a single package, more accessible conceptually than before, and much welcome back into print.
The new WW3, out just weeks ago, is notable for the freshness of topics and treatment by old hands in the enterprise, like 1960s veteran Susan Simensky Bietila, whose "American Travesty: the Great Healthcare March," lays out all the miseries and exploitation that do NOT happen to go away with Obama's healthcare bill. As a nurse professional, Bietala knows exactly wherefrom she speaks. (Reviewer's note: my mother was a public health nurse blacklisted for urging unionization.) Seth has powerful pages on the housing crisis and its roots in financial speculation going back to colonial times -- if "colonial times" have ever been over. Sabrina Jones, with the WW3 crowd going back to the early 1980s, offers us a stunning commentary on Jane Jacobs' resistance against Urban Removal, with an evocation of her own youthful days arriving in the Lower East Side and her Brooklyn neighborhood today. Sandy Jimenez, whose work has been seen too intermittently in WW3 since the early 1990s, comes in with a memory of being a teacher in his native South Bronx.
There are also newish voices (or rather, brushes and the electronic equivalents) for WW3, including Rebecca Migdal, Ethan Heitner, Jenifer Camper, Colin Matthes, and Erik Ruin, spirited protests and multifaceted artwork that runs the gamut from domestic romance to Argentinean street politics, Iraq to the West Bank to gay marriage and dancing gays!
It's a rich mix, but find out yourself, reader. Words cannot describe the job that the WW3ers continue to do for art and for all of us.
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About the Author
Paul Buhle retired from college teaching to produce radical comics fulltime. His latest include Studs Terkel's Working, A Graphic Adaptation [reviewed in these pages], The Beats, A People's History of the American Empire (aka an adaptation of Howard Zinn's classic) and a pictorial biography of his childhood hero, The Art of Harvey Kurtzman. Buhle is working on his ninth comic book. (back)