Thursday Comics Hangover: Fighting Trump in comics

Volume two of Françoise Mouly and Nadja Spiegelman’s comics anthology Resist! Grab Back! was sitting in the free stacks at Phoenix Comics last night. Even though it says “FREE” in big block letters on the front of the book, it still felt a little like shoplifting to walk off with it: it’s a 48-page full color anthology of anti-Trump comics by cartoonists from around the world. If you were to roll it up, it would likely be thicker than your wrist. It feels substantial and raw and pulpy, like an old issue of Maximumrocknroll, back in the days when people paid money for tiny classified ads.

Resist is a woman-centric collection of anti-Trump comics, and Seattle is well-represented here with artists including Linda Medley. You’ve very likely seen some of these strips online, because political comics circulate faster than venereal diseases on social media nowadays. But when taken in aggregate like this, even the repeats gain a certain kind of power. The quality of the comics vary, of course, but they amount to a cartoon manifesto of sorts, an enthusiastic nose-thumbing at the Trump administration.

Many of the strips focus on menstrual blood as a sign of resistance. (One of my favorites is an anonymous strip encouraging readers to mail bloody tampons and pads to Mike Pence and Paul Ryan.) Others are pieces of journalism. A few of them are gag strips. Not all of them work — Art Spiegelman’s strip depicting Donald Trump as a literal pile of shit has a whiff of desperation to it — but even when a strip doesn’t appeal to the reader, there’s likely a better one just a page turn away. An omnibus of this size and this intensity simply cannot be ignored.

Still, Resist! does feel a bit like an artifact. It’s full of accounts of the Women’s March, which seems like eons ago in the hyper-speed perpetual news cycle we’ve been trapped in all year. A few of the strips are from the days when Steve Bannon seemed like the biggest problem we’d face. And that early sensation of #Resistance depicted in the book — that early idea that we’ll keep up with a relentless schedule of enthusiastic protests every weekend — has faded into a grimmer sense that we’re trudging forward, learning from our mistakes, and preparing for a long haul.

If you’re looking for a piece of comics art that feels as fresh and as lively as a spray of breaking news from Twitter, you’ll have to turn from the free shelf at Phoenix Comics over to the new arrivals wall. Yesterday, the first issue of Calexit was published, and the book couldn’t feel more immediate if it was drawn right in front of you. If you’re the kind of person who avoids the news, author Matteo Pizzolo and artist Amanday Nahuelpan’s story of what happens when liberal parts of California and other West Coast cities secede from the union after a fascist takes control of the United States might make you nauseous.

In a note in the back, Pizzolo explains that Calexit predated the election of Donald Trump, but it certainly leans into the imagery now that we’re here. The second panel of the book depicts a small-handed president announcing that “it’s been two big league years since this nation re-elected me, and I realize California wasn’t smart enough to side with the winner, but I’m still gonna take care of all you citizens.” That’s the only Trumpian appearance in the book, though one character does bear a striking resemblance to Steve Bannon.

So, what’s life like in California and the Pacific Coast Sister City Alliance? It’s pretty tense. The book opens with a delightful conversation between an armed Homeland Security agent and a Californian drug smuggler named Jamil just outside Mann’s Chinese Theater. “As your pharmacist for many weeks now, I’m a bit concerned about this move for you from uppers to anti-depressants,” Jamil tells the soldier. “You feeling okay?” They’re chummy but slightly antagonistic, and their relationship is a good metaphor for the city of Los Angeles as it prepares for a visit from the President.

The atmosphere in Calexit isn’t one of out-and-out civil war. It’s more like the Balkan states: heightened tensions everywhere, pockets of resistance bubbling up here and there, and the promise of a never-ending battle skulking around every corner. There’s even a schlubby Captain America wandering around in the background to remind us that it’s all taking place in Hollywood.

The pacing in the first issue of Calexit is excellent, the characters are well-defined, Nahuelpan’s art is detailed and expressive, and the world established in the story is entirely too believable. The incident that triggered the Calexit of the title is a hardline immigration ban, and the creators address issues of race with compassion and intelligence. The book takes its intellectual responsibility very seriously: Pizzolo interviews various political thinkers and actors and publishes transcripts of the interviews both in the back of the book and on the book’s website.

It’s always hard to predict where a series will go on the basis of its first issue, but I am fully on-board after reading the first installment of Calexit. It’s a highwire act that could go wrong at any moment, but Nauelpan and Pizzolo seem like the right team for the job. They’re not just responding to Donald Trump’s actions like the cartoonists in Resist!. Instead, they’re creating their own world and examining a framework — however fictional — for revolution.