Dictatorship Review

By | Wednesday, July 05, 2023 Leave a Comment
I'm actually at something of a loss on how to review Dictatorship: It's Easier Than You Think! by Sarah Kendzior, Andrea Chalupa, and Kasia Babis. The book is ostensibly a how-to guide on how to set up and run a dictatorship, using real-world examples (mostly from within the past 30-40 years, although naturally Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini come up as well) to highlight "best in class" ideals. Not surprisingly, this is all done very sarcastically and it's more about showing readers what to be on the lookout for as would-be dictators rise to power.

Kendzior and Chalupa, while first-time graphic novelists, have plenty of credentials in the material itself. I first started reading Kendsior's work probably in late 2016 or early 2017 as she ringing as many alarm bells as she could trying to warn Americans about the dictatorial intentions Donald Trump was signaling in the run-up to his election. She was largely dismissed as a reactionary alarmist as most of the media normalized Trump's increasingly vile behavior, and she eventually began the Gaslit Nation podcast with fellow journalist Chalupa to continue to try to get the word out. Despite both being invited to any number of news programs to talk about their concerns and their warnings, their messages aren't given any serious consideration by the media at large and the news outlets continue to normalize abhorrent polticial behavior.

And that's kind of where I start having trouble reviewing this book. If you're familiar with Kendzior, Chalupa, and/or Gaslit Nation, you're likely familiar with much of the book's contents already. Maybe not each of the specific examples, and you might not have encountered before this particular way of organizing all these ideas, but the broad strokes won't be a surprise. Content-wise, Dictatorship is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from Kendzior and Chalupa. Kasia Babis is a Polish cartoonist, and I was not previously familiar with her or her work at all, but she does good job here. Since there isn't really a story narrative here, I can't speak much to her talent as a comic storyteller, but the illustrations are smooth and the caricatures are all on-point. I suspect (based pretty much solely on the fact that this is Kendzior and Chalupa's first graphic novel) that it was Babis who helped ensure the book wasn't simply illustrated prose, which is something I could easily have seen this slide into. It still is a little text-heavy but, given the subject matter, I don't think there's a way around that.

Because of what this book is about, I don't think an assessment of the quality of storytelling or the smoothness of panel transitions or any formal comic elements really matter that much. People are going to read this (or not) for the content irrespective of the particulars of delivery. In fact, I half-wondered who the book is aimed at since I suspect most people purchasing it are familiar with its contents, as I suggested earlier. But I suppose there is a group of people who might be interested in the topic but are turned off by long prose and/or the podcast format. The how-to conceit is serviceable enough, and probably makes it a little more engaging by way of the cartoonish instructor, and it's possible that might make the content a little more digestable than the TV talking head forums you often see the authors on.

It'd be easy to say you can skip past this book if you still support Trump. Although maybe you can slide a copy over to you Proud-Boys-faithful Uncle Zeke, and the Trump connections will sneak up on him. I doubt it, honestly, but maybe -- you know your Uncle Zeke better than I do. If you appreciate what Gaslit Nation has been about but won't/can't sit through all of them, or you like what they have to say generally but aren't good at keeping up with their latest works, this might also be a good book for you as 'universal' reference point.

There's nothing here that's particularly new or original, I don't think, ether in content or in form. But some of it might be new to you and being aware of all that is why you should pick up a copy yourself. The book came out about three weeks ago and retails for $28.99 US at all major bookstores.
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