After Election Day, November 8, 2016, Gabe Fowler had to do something. As owner of Brooklyn’s Desert Island comics shop and editor of the quarterly comics tabloid Smoke Signal, he decided to devote a special issue of that publication to cartoonists reacting against the forces of intolerance. Fowler lined up comics guru Françoise Mouly (Blown Covers: New Yorker Covers You Were Never Meant To See) and her writer-daughter Nadja Spiegelman (I’m Supposed To Protect You from All This) to serve as guest editors. The New Yorker’s art editor for more than 20 years, Mouly is publisher, editorial director, and senior designer of TOON Books, and with Art Spiegelman, founded the influential comics periodical RAW. Nadja has penned several kid-magnet graphic novels as well as her memoir about mother-daughter bonds. The RESIST! issue of Smoke Signal was distributed free at the January 20 Inauguration, the Women’s March on Washington the following day (see resistsubmission.com), and elsewhere around the country.
LJ: Why RESIST!? What were your hopes for this project?
NS & FM: We didn’t want to remain paralyzed. We’re giving expression to another reality just as powerful as the one the men in the White House are spinning. We hope that whoever picks this up will feel less alone and will be inspired toward their own small acts of resistance. Our avowed goal is to create a propaganda of the left. It’s easy to unite people against something, as Trump has done, and much more difficult to unite for. But this is a manifesto of what we stand for: creativity, humor, diversity, unity.
GF: In the face of an unacceptable reality, we must use the tools at hand to create the difference we can make.
Why do you think comics are so popular for expressing political issues?
NS & FM: Images have a way of searing themselves into the brain, of cutting through the hypocrisy, of giving shape to the world and shaping the world in return. Comics are made by hand—you see the handwriting, the pencil lines of the artist—it’s personal, there’s a sense of intimacy. Despite the deep alienation of the election, comics can create a moment of connection.
Can you talk about the selection process? What were you looking for?
NS & FM: We received over 1,000 images in the two weeks our submissions were open. We were overwhelmed and deeply moved by the response. So many people went immediately to their drawing tables. We didn’t work off some preconceived notion of what it should be, instead [we] let it grow organically from all these different voices to create the most comprehensive reflection of the collective voice we were hearing. We’ve been thrilled by the diversity of the artists who’ve submitted—from women as young as 13 years old, immigrants, ethnic minorities, people of all sexual and gender orientations, from across America and the world. We’ll be posting the majority of the images that we couldn’t fit in the paper on our website.
You’ve included so many types of cartoons: expressions of feelings, expectations for a dystopian future, personal stories, suggestions for action! Care to elaborate?
NS & FM: The diversity of approaches is marvelous. The [gender] difference was striking. In the submissions by women, you saw women’s bodies, women standing arm in arm, women drawing how they had reacted. And in the submissions by men, you saw Trump. This powerful and specific female voice was taking shape. In the few weeks right after the election, people’s responses were visceral about November 9, the morning after. Then we got images of mouths shouting the word “NO!” and then images of fighting back, pens raised, arms linked: the resistance. We also got many comics about daughters and mothers and grandmothers.
How is RESIST! being funded?
GF: Originally, I intended to fund the entire project just like any other issue of Smoke Signal, through my shop Desert Island. As the interest in RESIST! swelled, it became its own reality. Supporters advance-ordered copies for $10, and a few sympathetic donors materialized to help grow the project. We now have enough cushion to increase our print run and distribute large quantities to other cities with volunteer distribution organizers.
NS & FM: We even had one very generous supporter donate $5,000. This additional funding has been deeply moving. We’re doing everything we can to live up to the trust placed in us.
How can librarians help, and how can they acquire copies for their libraries?
GF: We would love for libraries and archives to offer this project in whatever way they see fit. A box of papers can be ordered at cost by any institution, to be distributed for free. (For ordering information, see ow.ly/ERCx307HahW.)
NS & FM: Librarians should be inspired by this effort! Rather than ordering a copy through our website, we hope they’ll create their own versions. [They can] hold workshops where they encourage people to come together to create politicized poetry and cartoons and posters—then print them off on Xerox machines, make the resistance physical, distribute it. It’s a great way to bring people together [and support] our shared ideals of tolerance.
Do you know of any similar projects?
NS & FM: The Women’s March, in partnership with the Amplifier Foundation and Seattle’s Center on Contemporary Art, just announced their own call for art. They’re holding open submissions and will print 30,000 posters and banners to be held up during the march on Washington.
Any final words you’d like to share with our readers?
GF: Images are powerful, and anyone can make one. Let’s use images to fight this administration with all our might!