The Face of Struggle Review

By | Tuesday, May 05, 2020 Leave a Comment
The Face of Struggle
I've been trying to support independent creators and publishers during this lockdown, and one of the books I picked up recently was Seth Tobocman's The Face of Struggle from AK Press. Tobocman's intent was to to relay a very contemporary allegory in the same vein as Frans Masereel and Lynd Ward had done a century earlier. I don't believe Tobocman is using actual woodcuts here, but he carries much the same design sensibility, including a lack of any words.

The story is fairly short, a mere 37 individual images. But the images are powerful, and strongly resonate. The first 30 basically relay Trump's rise to the Presidency and his first years in office. It's not a literal recounting of events, but a more impressionistic one. However, the individual allegories used to relay collections of events are both striking and unmistakable. Tobocman pulls no punches by showing Trump taking the hair and actual face of a woman whose been fighting for justice and equal rights and peace, and then using them as a mask to incite violence and fear. The last few pages turn towards a more optimistic ending as Trump is found guilty, the police turn on him, and people rejoice after stabbing him to death. I say optimistic, of course, because Tobocman clearly is showing justice being served, but given that Trump has bought his way out of justice for over seven decades, I'm skeptical it's about to be served now.

With only 37 images, none of them containing any words, The Face of Struggle is initially a very quick read. I say "initially" because if you read through it just for the superficial story, it does go by pretty quickly. But after you finish, you'll find some of the images stick with you and you flip back to look at them again. And as you're flipping through to the right page, you catch other images and those catch your attention too now. And as you start studying the individual images, you realize that, despite seeming to very simple on the surface, they all actually do an amazing job of capturing entire episodes pretty masterfully. For example, Hurricane Maria, the devastation it wracked on Puerto Rico, and Trump's response are summed up in a single image. It's deceptively simple, yet it is absolutely unmistakable what Tobocman is trying to convey there.

Tobocman's comic here is perhaps THE most openly oppositional to Trump I've come across. It's not like a political cartoon that might focus on a single thing Trump said or did, or maybe criticizing one of his policies. No, this is a more extended indictment of... well, I don't want to say everything because Trump has done a HELL OF A LOT OF AWFUL THINGS, but this does have a great deal of the evil Trump has perpetrated in office. Make no mistake, Trump is evil. He's encouraging Klansmen, he's ordering murders, he's making disasters even worse. Both in the story and in real life. Like I said, the book isn't a literal recounting of events but it's definitely one of those books that speaks the truth.

The art here is incredible in its power. The story is blunt, but necessarily so, I think. The Twitter feed for President SuperVillain puts Trump's actual words into the mouth of the Red Skull, and you frighteningly can't tell the difference. Which is kind of the joke of the whole thing, right? It's funny because it's comparing Trump's actual speech to the dialogue of an often badly written comic book villain. The tension between the two ("No one would actually say that, would they?") yields a humorous response. But that also makes it safe. What we see in The Face of Struggle is the reality of the situation. It's still taking actual events and putting them into an over-the-top comic format, but doing so as a direct allegory carries more weight to it, and says, "No, this is not something to laugh at -- this is some really mind-bogglingly terrifying shit!" And I think we need more of that.

Trump is incomprehensibly dangerous. People keep coming back surprised that he's done something even more awful than before, and I find myself saying over and over again, "There is no bottom here. Think of the most one-dimensional evil-for-evil's-sake Saturday morning cartoon villain you've ever seen, and you'll START to get a sense of Trump's motives. Nothing -- NOTHING!!! -- is beneath him." Tobocman is the first cartoonist I've seen that seems to get that. And he does so with a masterful eye on simplifying complex stories and ideas into strangely simple drawings. This won't be a book to eat up a lot of your free time while you read it in lockdown, but it will eat up a lot of your brain space as you mull things over for days on end.
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