Review by Win Wiacek
Politics is composed of and utilised equally by firebrands and coldly calculating grandees, and that’s probably the only guiding maxim you can trust. Most normal people don’t give a toss about all that until it affects them in the pocket or impacts their kids and, no matter to what end of the political spectrum one belongs, the greatest enemy of the impassioned ideologue is apathy. This simple fact forces activists and visionaries to ever-more devious and imaginative stunts and tactics.
However, all entrenched Powers-That-Be are ultimately hopeless before one thing: collective unified resistance by the very masses they hold down through force of arms, artificial boundaries of class or race, capitalist dogmas, various forms of mind control like bread, circuses and religion, divisive propagandas or just the insurmountable ennui of grudging acceptance to a status quo and orchestrated fear that unknown change might make things worse.
In Britain the cartoonist has always occupied a perilously precarious position of power. With deftly designed bombastic broadsides or savagely surgical satirical slices they ridicule, expose and always deflate the powerfully elevated and apparently untouchable with a simple shaped charge of scandalous wit and crushingly clear, universally comprehensible visual metaphor. Or sometimes just the plain and simple facts of the matter.
This procession through the history of dissent is compiled and scripted by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson begins with an agenda-setting prologue – illustrated by Adam Pasion – best described – without giving the game away – as Uncle Sam, John Bull and the Statue of Liberty walk into a bar. Their heated discussion on the value and need of people using their right to dissent is then captivatingly illustrated through a series of erudite, fascinating, shocking and deliciously funny tutorial episodes, beginning with a compelling account of the Luddites and the Swing Riots (1811-1832) written by Wilson and rendered both palatable and mesmerising by comics legend Hunt Emerson. The artist then turns his talents to recreating the horrific events and aftermath of 1819’s Battle of Peterloo from Dickson’s script before, with Wilson, cataloguing a wave of Colonial Rebellions between 1835 and 1865.
Considerable other appalling horrors follow highlighting repression of strikes around the world, the concept of votes for women (right up to the present), how to deal with unwelcome military orders and the championing of human rights. The most recent movement examined is Occupy. It makes for a depressing catalogue of injustice, but the writers end by listing the truly phenomenal rewards of all those campaigns and protests with a long list of rights won.
Understanding the value of a strategically targeted chuckle, this fabulous monochrome chronicle concludes with one last strip as Dickson and Emerson hilariously reveal ‘The Four Stages of Protest’ courtesy of Mohandas ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi.
Of course, cartooning can only accomplish so much, and whilst Fight the Power! recounts a number of instances where physical and intellectual action were necessary to achieve or maintain justice, at least comics can galvanise the unconvinced into action and help in the useful dissemination of knowledge about protest: the Who, Where, When, and How. If you don’t understand What or Why then you’re probably already on the other side of the barricades.