Comic books, from their inception, have been in a unique position to address political and social issues of the day. From the unbridled feminism of Wonder Woman to the more subtle commentary of Archie comics, the medium is perfectly situated to discuss complex issues in an accessible way despite being a “low” art. Here are just five graphic novels that have drawn from political sources in order to craft stories with messages.
Persepolis is the autobiography of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian woman who lived through the changes to the country during and after the Islamic revolution. It discusses her struggle with identity, how she tries to fit into this new world, and how it is different for adults and children. The simple art style makes the story even more stark, and the telling is both heartwarming and terrifying. It was removed from Chicago Public Schools in 2013 for containing, “graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use” according to former CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett who retired earlier this year in the midst of controversy regarding a no-bid contract awarded to a company she had ties to.
Written and drawn by artist Art Spiegelman, Maus is centered around an interview with Spiegelman’s father about his experiences as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust. It depicts the main groups as animals, with Jews as mice, Germans as cats, and non-Jewish Poles as pigs. It was the first graphic novel to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992 and uses metaphorical imagery to depict the horrors of the age in a way that is accessible, but no less impactful. About its only flaw is the simplistic characterization that can take a reader out of the story.
This is the story of Rebecca Buck, better known as Tank Girl. In this British comic, Tank Girl drives around in the aforementioned tank with her boyfriend Booga, an anthropomorphic kangaroo, fighting against authority wherever she goes. While the book is great at producing a generalized “reject conformity” message, it’s otherwise unfocused both in style and substance. It’s difficult to tell what it wants you to be fighting on the story side, and on the art side spends a lot of time on visual asides and surrealistic tangents.
V for Vendetta
Set in a fascist future Britain, this classic epic from Alan Moore follows Evey Hammond, a prostitute saved from rape by V. V is an anarchist who opens her eyes to the corruption around her, eventually revealing how he has been systematically planning to bring down the government and inspire the people of Britain to rise up. While incredibly ham-handed at times, especially when V makes long-winded speeches, the book does do a good job of presenting the flaws of V’s plans, arguing by default for a balanced approach to governance. The film, starring Hugo Weaving as the titular character, can be streamed online through Amazon and DirecTV and is a bit less direct in its messaging.
Originally created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby as WWII propaganda to keep the kids and troops supporting the good ‘ol US of A, Captain America has evolved in the past 70+ years. Since then, it has tackled a lot of questions about freedom, the promise of America, and what patriotism is. From punching Hitler in the face to Cap’s stand during the Marvel Civil War to Bucky grappling with post-2008 American politics, Captain America has always been about what it means to be American and how we can be better at it.
There are, of course, other comics out there that also deal with politics, but these are some of the best of the bunch and a great way to confront new ideas in an entertaining medium.