Friday, February 28, 2014
Here's where I'm supposed to say "but it wasn't always like that," and bore you with tales of the Bad Old Days, when comics were only allowed to have guys in long underwear, and anything non-fictional was shunned. Well, that would be a gross exaggeration -- but non-fiction comics used to be pretty rare, and comics doing smart, relatively serious popular history even more so.
Which is why it's nice to see the return of 1994's Taxes, the Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels, a history in comics of the American Revolutionary War by Stan Mack, best known for his long-running found-dialogue strip in the Village Voice, "Stan Mack's Real Life Funnies." Taxes is a full history of the war -- inevitably condensed because of space and graphic considerations, but covering all of the high points and making them all come to life.
(And I say "nice to see the return," even though I missed Taxes the first time around -- come to think of it, that makes it doubly nice, not to miss it this time.)
Mack tells this story in a populist tone, with a slight leftist edge -- he mentions women, slaves, and natives; the right-wing version of this story is all stout property-owning yeomen with their muskets and pearly white skin, fighting for their God-granted rights to oppress the aforementioned -- but that's mostly undertone and framing: he focuses on Adams and Washington and Hamilton and Paine and so on, all of the greatest hits of American History 101. If you're a grown-up, you probably know a lot of pieces of this story -- but Taxes is also aimed at teens, and that's where I hope it will really shine. It depicts the Founding Fathers as real people, with foibles and hobbyhorses, who fought with each other and schemed for power -- because that's what they were, because that's what all people are.
Mack's art is energetic and expressive as usual, and his writing is smart and funny and packs a lot into limited space. (As when he glancingly debunks a silly legend by having Paul Revere say "We're all British, you idiot," to someone trying to feed him the famous line.) This book is rabble-rousing in the best way, and it deserves to be read widely.
Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index