More Powerful than a Speeding Ballot
| Comic books fight a never-ending battle for truth and justice. |
Shortly before the 2020 election, School Library Journal highlighted several "graphic novels that center democracy, voting rights, and political activism." The article was framed through a look back at MARCH written by the late Rep. John Lewis, and it featured the following recent releases:
Addressing elements of government and the Constitution -
Constitution Illustrated, by R. Sikoryak (Drawn & Quarterly, 2020)
Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Graphic Novel, by Cynthia Levinson & Sanford Levinson, illustrated by Ally Shwed (First Second, 2020)
Drawing the Vote: An Illustrated Guide to Voting in America, by Tommy Jenkins, illustrated by Kati Lacker (Abrams ComicArts, 2020)
This is What Democracy Looks Like (Center for Cartoon Studies, 2019)
Addressing ideas of activism and advocacy -
Act, by Kayla Miller (HMH, 2020)
Colored: The Unsung Life of Claudette Colvin, by Emilie Plateau (Europe Comics, 2019)
Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy, by Daniel G. Newman, illustrated by George O'Connor (First Second, 2020)
Answers to Your Protest Questions, by Chelsea Saunders
How the Suffragists Succeeded in a Pandemic, by Allyson Shwed
It's Census Time. Here's Why That Matters, by Andy Warner and Gerardo Alba
Silent No Longer, by Gerardo Alba
A Graphic Guide to the 2020 U.S. Census, by Josh Neufeld
What the President Did to Get Impeached and Acquitted, by Josh Adams and Anthony Del Col
To the titles suggested by SLJ, I would add COLORFUL HISTORY ISSUE #62: THE ELECTORAL COLLEGE from Pop Culture Classroom and Voting is Your Superpower, edited by Craig Yoe (Clover Press, 2020).
As is discussed in the forthcoming Politics in the Gutters, comic books have a rich history of participating in civics: They have served as campaign literature. They have been used for government-sponsored education and propaganda (see Richard L. Graham's Government Issue: Comics for the People, 1940s-2000s for some wonderful examples). They have been used by organizations to promote community causes and civic engagement (see, for example, Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story, 1957). They have endorsed candidates.
They have helped to explain major socio-political events, like the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the impeachment of Donald Trump. And they have pleaded with readers to vote.
Voting is Your Superpower, from Clover Press/Yoe Books, is, in fact, an homage to this tradition, highlighting the civic-minded moments in a medium that is, arguably, about century old (at least).
Such comics, and their continuation in many educational graphic media resources that emerged with the 2020 election, are valuable. As argued in the article "Comic-Con: Can Comics of the Constitution Enable Meaningful Learning in Political Science?" in a 2019 issue of PS: Political Science & Politics, from the American Political Science Association, students may better comprehend content from visual depictions of difficult texts - such as the Constitution. Likewise, the popular press has heralded graphic novel adaptations of government documents, such as the "Torture Report," for their ability to make dense material not only more accessible to the public, but also more meaningful to readers.
Read more about the traditions of campaign comics, good government comics, and graphic reportage in the forthcoming Politics in the Gutters from the University Press of Mississippi.
~Christina M. Knopf
28 November 2020