by Paul Buhle
World War 3 Illustrated #45, Before and After, Edited by Peter Kuper and Scott Cunningham, New York: WW3, 2014. 144pp, ISBN: 978-1-60309-4, $7.
(Swans - February 24, 2014) This is actually a "Death Issue," prompted, the editors say with an edge of irony, because so many readers young and old wonder why World War 3 Illustrated hasn't died after thirty-four years of production, outlasting not only Underground and Alternative comics but also assorted radical art movements in New York. There's a better reason, especially for the veterans of decades-long work in these quarters: the artist-editors themselves are getting older, their parents and old pals and now gone or on the way.
And yet a better reason, artistically. Peter Kuper, the most famous of the crowd (thanks to his long work on the "Spy vs Spy" feature of Mad Magazine), has been spending much time in Mexico, soaking up the expressive culture of mortality in those climes and producing bilingual comics. World War 3, meanwhile, has been internationalizing its art, tapped into artistic currents beyond the American pop culture that responds to its own collective death fears with teenage vampires.
At any rate, we have lots of relatives of the artists passing here, or more properly, accounts of the artist trying to cope with the events, including their own dream experiences. Plenty of artists express fear of their own demise, of course, including "close calls." A lovely adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's tale "Death and the Mother" can be found here. And even a bit of Biblical drama by Sabrina Jones, with JC's pronouncements of warning the wealthy sinners and welcoming the downtrodden.
High among my favorites is a deep historical piece by Kevin C. Pyle, "Memento Mori," where he remembers learning about a sixteenth century rosary with skulls. He speculates further on many items including Holbein's famed "The Dance of Death" (1526) and its implications for today -- including his own art. "Municipal Postmortem" by Bronx-raised Sandy Jimenez goes the other way, pondering for instance himself as part of the final generation ever to use a typewriter or living in an unwired world. This strip ends with an unhappy love affair: the artist is alone again. Co-founder Peter Kuper is visited by an apparition of his father, and the other co-founder, Seth Tobocman, has family quarrels amidst both his parents' demise -- father to Parkinson's, mother to cancer.
And so on. It's a tough issue to take, in assorted ways. But deeply courageous and important as art and politics. Huzzahs to the WW3 crowd once more.
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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. His last production (2011) is Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & the New Land, edited with Harvey Pekar, and reviewed in these pages. His latest comic is Radical Jesus (Herald Press). (back)