Red Emma’s hosted a multimedia presentation of the latest issue of World War 3 Illustrated, a left-wing political comic magazine, on Friday, March 29. This issue, “Now is the Time of Monsters,” focuses on the rise of capitalism and fascism. And though the theme may be broad, each featured artist hones in on one specific evil in the world, from Mark Zuckerberg to forced evictions in Detroit.
Lou Allen is one of the magazine’s newest contributors. Her cartoons are autobiographical, depicting her relationship with her father. Growing up, Allen explained, her father was always suspicious to the point of being paranoid about technology. At the same time, Allen remembered seeing him spend late nights working on his computer. It wasn’t until after he died that Allen learned her father had been a hacker.
Shortly after this discovery former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified information revealing that the U.S. government was running various surveillance programs. According to Allen, this made her reflect on her relationship with her father in a different light.
“All the things I’d heard my entire childhood were on television, being talked about by previous NSA agents,” she said. “I went into a tech coma shortly afterwards, terrified of all the things I’d thought were made up in his mind. Turns out that the predatory nature of this surveillance state from the outside also affected him from the inside.”
Allen then read from one of her comics which illustrated the effect that her father’s work had had on his mental health. In the cartoon, Allen’s father instructs a teenage version of her to erase everything on her laptop; she’s been hacked, he tells her. He then insists that she can never use Facebook, calling it a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) experiment, and points out a car parked down the street that he believes has been watching him. The comic ends with Allen feeding her fish, which she explained is something that she does when she is stressed.
“At the end of it all, I’m still not really sure what was going on here,” Allen said.
And while in terms of plot I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on either, the comic felt like an honest portrayal of her childhood and her relationship with her father.
Jeff Wilson, another contributor for the magazine, also writes from personal experience. His art features stories from his time as an activist in Detroit. There he advocated for housing rights. His first comic featured Dolores, a black woman who attended a housing board meeting when her landlords failed to repair her refrigerator. When Dolores spoke up about this, one of the members of the housing board called the police, and two officers showed up and stood at the front of the room for the remainder of the meeting.
“It was one of the most blatantly racist things I have ever experienced,” Wilson said.
He then spoke about his upcoming comic book, which features stories from his time working on the Detroit Eviction Defense.
For her presentation, artist Rebecca Migdal focused on the plight of Kurdish fighters and refugees in Turkey. Instead of a traditional comic, Migdal read an original poem titled “Flower in the Rubble,” while her illustrations appeared on a screen. Other contributors from World War 3 Illustrated, seated in the audience, accompanied the performance with flute and drum music, making the whole experience feel a bit surreal.
Migdal’s poem, however, was very informative, detailing the history of several notable Kurdish figures such as Ahmet Kaya, a singer who was attacked at a banquet in his honor, and a group of women fighters. Migdal addressed her decision to illustrate some aspects of Kurdish history.
“It’s a topic that a lot of people don’t know much about. It’s a history that’s been largely hidden,” she commented. “It’s actually been illegal to tell these stories in Turkey.”
Finally Seth Tobocman, cartoonist and co-creator of World War 3 Illustrated, presented three of his comics. First Tobocman told the story of an electricity plant in Albany, N.Y. that produced toxic smoke that harmed many Albany residents but only provided electricity for Empire Plaza. Although Albany residents had been petitioning to have the plant closed for years, it was not until former Governor Mario Cuomo noticed soot on the snow outside of his home that it was actually shut down. Under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, plans to reopen the building — this time as a hydraulic fracking plant — resurfaced. Cuomo changed his position on fracking many times over the course of his political campaign. Tobocman concluded with a nuanced opinion on Cuomo’s politics.
“Cuomo can be influenced by both sides. So who then is the monster in Albany?” he said. “The monster isn’t Cuomo, and I would say the monster isn’t Trump. The monster is our fossil fuel infrastructure which threatens to destroy life on Earth.”
Tobocman’s next cartoon was accompanied by another World War 3 contributor, who played the garden hose. Yes, apparently you can play music on a garden hose — it sounds a bit like a saxophone. Although occasionally graphic — an activist has her face cut off with a chainsaw, and there are some Donald Trump-inspired depictions of sexual assault — Tobocman’s comic ends on a hopeful note. The final image is a group of people holding hands around the grave of the faceless activist, having defeated Trump.
By drawing from the experiences of people with unique backgrounds, World War 3 Illustrated successfully broaches a topic as broad as the global rise of fascism, and I, for one, am excited to read this issue.