Occupy This: Graphic Novels About Economic Justice, Social Movements & Historical Revolutions

Thousands of graphic novels and comics could qualify for this description, including story arcs in superhero series such as X-Men as well as historical titles referencing the Holocaust or minority struggles. For displays, libraries may want to enhance the selections below with additional staff and patron favorites. For links to other lists of titles and additional comics news related to the Occupy movement, see this posting on the Comics Reporter. In addition, a Kickstarter project is underway to fund an Occupy-themed comics anthology. Thanks to those posting on the GNLIB-L Graphic Novels in Libraries e-group for some of these titles.

Laird, Roland & Taneshia Nash Laird (text) & Elihu Adofo Bey (illus.). Still I Rise: A Graphic History of African Americans. rev. ed. Sterling. 2009. 220p. bibliog. ISBN 9781402762260. pap. $14.95. HIST
The story of African Americans in the United States from the year 1619 through the election of Barack Obama, told in some detail, with simple black-and-white art. Charles Johnson’s introduction about the history of Blacks in comics enriches the presentation, as do the differing viewpoints of the two elderly narrators. Teens and up.

McGruder, Aaron & Reginald Hudlin (text) & Kyle Baker (illus.). Birth of a Nation: A Comic Novel. Three Rivers: Crown. 2005. 144p. ISBN 9781400083169. pap. $35 (out of print). HUMOR
After a voting scandal disenfranchises the virtually all-black East St. Louis, the disgusted residents secede from the United States to form the Republic of Blackland, throwing the Bush-look-alike administration into chaos. Political satire that reworks the Florida ballot snafu from the 2000 presidential election into a pointed and funny fable. Older teens and adults.

Moore, Alan (text) & David Lloyd (illus.). V for Vendetta. Vertigo. 2008. 296p. ISBN 9781401208417. pap. $19.99. F
In an alternate future, a fascist government rules England with absolutely corrupt, absolute power. In this land without personal or political freedom, a lone revolutionary in a white porcelain mask fights back using terrorism and acts of seemingly random absurdity. Lloyd’s mask is intended as a stylized depiction of Guy Fawkes, who in the 17th century plotted to blow up the House of Lords and assassinate King James I but was captured and condemned to death. Subsequently used in the film based on the graphic novel, the mask has been adopted by real-life protestors, most recently in the Occupy movement. Older teens and adults.

Origen, Erich & Gan Golan (text) & Ramona Fradon & others (illus.). The Adventures of Unemployed Man. Little, Brown. 2010. c.80p. ISBN 9780316098823. pap. $14.99. HUMOR
In this double spoof on superheroes and U.S. economic politics, a superhero‚ a motivational speaker named Ultimatum, also known as the Dark Knight of Self-Help‚ is ejected from his superteam and finds himself jobless. As he makes his way through the ranks of his fellow superhero outcasts, he meets indebted student Master of Degrees, single mom Wonder Mother, and numerous others among the well-intentioned who have been stymied by various supervillains and dastardly plots to control the nation’s money. Includes bogus ads and homages to comics notables. High school age and adults. See LJ‘s review here.

Pekar, Harvey & others (text) & Gary Dumm & others (illus.). Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History. Hill & Wang: Farrar. 2008. 224p. ed. by Paul Buhle. bibliog. ISBN 9780809089390. pap. $16. HIST
From 1960 to 1969, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) held out to young people an invitation to change America into a more activist, peaceful, progressive, and egalitarian social order where the military-industrial complex would no longer have central power. Waylaid by external roadblocks and internal chaos, the organization stumbled and splintered early on. Yet many of its goals did move into the mainstream. (A new SDS was established in 2006.) This account begins with a historical overview, followed by we were there stories from SDS veterans and observers from the period. Older teens and up; good for high school libraries.

Pekar, Harvey & others (text) & Ed Piskor & others (illus.). The Beats: A Graphic History. Hill & Wang: Farrar. 2010. 208p. ed. by Paul Buhle. ISBN 9780809016495. $15.95. HIST
Forerunners to Woodstock, the so-called Beat Generation of artists and writers helped create the climate for the explosion of transgressive cultural diversity in the 1960s. This volume includes profiles of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, the Fugs, and many lesser-known men and women. Teens and up.

Rudahl, Sharon. A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman. New Press, dist. by Perseus. 2007. 128p. ISBN 9781595580641. pap. $17.95. BIOG
Radical heroine Red Emma crusaded for free speech, free thought, birth control, sexual self-expression, and the right of workers to organize‚ all largely taken for granted today even if still imperfectly realized in America or anywhere else. A charismatic public speaker and champion of the oppressed, Goldman attracted crowds, newspaper attention, and police surveillance. Indeed, she spent time in prison for anarchist speech, promoting birth control, and protesting conscription in World War I. Rudahl’s swirly, crowded pencils convey well the electric tumult of Goldman’s life and times and the culture-bending courage of Goldman and her associates that led to many of our present freedoms. High school age and adults. See LJ‘s review here.

Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. Pantheon. 2007. 341p. ISBN 9780375714832. pap. $24.95. MEMOIR
Growing up during the Islamic Revolution, Satrapi lives through repeated cultural rewrites as the conservative regime coming to power attempts to place much of modernity and westernizing influences off-limits to Iranians. Supported by her loving family who themselves rebel privately, she escapes as a young teen to a boarding school in Europe, where she matures in a freewheeling social and intellectual ambiance. Then, deeply longing for her parents, she returns home to adjust anew to political upheaval and study for her master’s degree. After marrying and, several years later, divorcing, she leaves Iran permanently. The One Book, One Philadelphia selection for 2010, this ranks as a top acclaimed graphic memoir of recent years, blending the personal and political into a compelling coming-of-age story. Older teens and adults.

Shahin, Tarek. Rise: The Story of the Egyptian Revolution as Written Shortly Before It Began. Al Khan Comics/CreateSpace. 2011. 132p. ISBN . pap. $12.99. F/POL SCI
Omar has left a freewheeling life in Paris to take over his grandfather’s publication, Al Khan. Now he’s up against firebrand reporter Nada and progressive photographer Yunan, even as his traditional friend Anwar takes a second wife and everyone confronts an increasingly unsettling political climate. This is Cairo on the eve of revolution. Taking Doonesbury as inspiration, Shahin ran his English-language strip, Al Khan, in the Daily News Egypt from 2008‚ 10, using his loveable and complex characters to plot deftly around Muslim-Christian-Jewish interactions, political earthquakes, and marital conflicts (that second wife turns out to be an undercover journalist), not omitting rape and murder. A superb immersion in recent Middle East affairs, delivered with a light touch. Older teens and adults. (See LJ‘s review in the 1/12 issue.)

Sinclair, Upton (text) & Peter Kuper (illus. & adapt.). Classics Illustrated #9: The Jungle. Papercutz. 2010. 56p. ISBN 9781597071925. $9.99. F
A classic muckraking novel of the early 20th century, The Jungle exposed in filthy detail the horrific and health-sabotaging practices of Chicago’s corrupt meat-packing industry. Reactions to the novel led ultimately to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration. Kuper’s adaptation, while brief, has been praised for drawing on several different artistic approaches to add vividness to this story of an immigrant Lithuanian family who lose all they have in a merciless new world where industry rules all and workers have no rights. Teens and up.

Sowa, Marzena (text) & Sylvain Savoia (illus.). Marzi: A Memoir. Vertigo. 2011. 240p. ISBN 9781401229597. pap. $17.99. MEMOIR
Sowa (Marzi) grew up in 1980s Communist-occupied Poland. Her vignettes of a childhood behind the Iron Curtain describe a daily life affected by shortages of food and staple goods, the sense of being monitored by an ominous Big Brother, confusion as to what the adults aren’t telling her, strikes and political debates, and, eventually, the transition of Poland away from communism. This volume includes four collections first published in Belgium. Several more are available in French. Tweens through adults will find this compelling.

Wobblies!: A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World. Verso. 2005. 299p. ed. by Paul Buhle & Nicole Schulman. ISBN 9781844675258. pap. $29.95. HIST
The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, or the Wobblies) is an international union that played a major role in the labor rights movement in the early 20th century. A grassroots organization that fought for equality and safe working conditions, the Wobblies also had ties to women’s rights and socialism. Their major tenet was that all workers, regardless of trade, should organize and together take back control of the workplace from the employer class through revolutionary struggle. Overthrowing capitalism was to be part of the process. This collection highlights the rich history of the movement and its stars, among them Margaret Sanger and Mother Jones. Teens and adults.

Zinn, Howard and Paul Buhle (text) & Mike Konopacki (text & illus.). A People’s History of American Empire: A Graphic Adaptation. Metropolitan: Holt. 2008. 288p. bibliog. ISBN 9781439598696. $26; pap. ISBN 9780805087444. $19. POL SCI
The dark side of American independence‚ the ugly empire that leaves tire treads all over cultures, countries, and dissenters‚ is glossed over in mainstream media. But Zinn, who passed away in 2010, ends by noting that while imperialism persists, progress has come through bloodless revolutions and progressive approaches. Adapted from Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. For older teens and adults.

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Martha Cornog About Martha Cornog

Martha Cornog is a longtime reviewer for LJ and, with Timothy Perper, edited Graphic Novels Beyond the Basics: Insights and Issues for Libraries (Libraries Unlimited, 2009).