The Broadcast

The Broadcast
The Broadcast graphic novel review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: NBM Comics Lit - 978-1-56163-590-0
  • Release date: 2010
  • Format: Black and white
  • UPC: 9781561635900
  • Contains adult content?: yes
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes
  • CATEGORIES: Period drama

When you read that as many as one million Americans were fooled into hysterical panic by Orson Welles’ now-legendary Halloween radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds, it’s hard not to think “how dumb are you?” or “don’t you people read books?”. However, the sad fact remains that a vast proportion of the population heard only a piece of the innovative updating of the H.G. Wells classic on October 30th 1930 and genuinely thought the end of humanity had come. Or it never happened at all and the media have perpetrated one more lie upon us for inexplicable reasons.

This superbly understated, low-key monochromatic tale takes a canny peek at human nature in a time of sustained privation. The Great Depression had just hit the USA a damned sight harder than any Martian death-ray could, so an urgent – if only imagined – emergency endured in a small rural Indiana community results in a couple of unhappy coincidences leading to a horrific but very human confrontation.

At the height of a brutal storm, a small band of farmers and families huddle in a barn. It’s been a bad day all around. Young Gavin Baker has finally asked wealthy Thomas Shrader if he could marry his daughter Kim, but the meeting didn’t go well. Nevertheless, the lovers still plan to escape to New York where Kim can become a writer. Shrader has made a killing bailing out and buying up failing farms over the past year and isn’t well liked by the newly-destitute townsfolk such as widower Jacob Lee or cropper Eli Dawson, but he’s the only employer left, so they make do.

A severely beaten, wandering African-American named Martin Steinbeck stumbles into the Baker place later that day. He’s clearly had a brutally rough encounter and is astonished when the family offer him help and sustenance rather than hatred and further violence. Later, throughout the community townsfolk tune in their radios and catch what they believe to be newscasts reporting Martian invaders blasting New York and New Jersey. Suddenly, a storm hit and the town loses power. With imminent doom lurking in the darkness, friendship, civility and human empathy start breaking down, and a very human atrocity seems inevitable.

This is an enchantingly subtle and impressive tale, deftly avoiding histrionics and bombast, and is ultimately uplifting and positive. Eric Hobbs has focused on the communal heroism of the common man, with the misty, raw line and wash illustration of Noel Tuazon marrying dreamy introspection with painful sufferance to bestow the ensemble cast with a look far removed from the general run of modern comics.

The book also contains a photo and clippings gallery displaying the media’s response to the original radio broadcast, deleted scenes, character sketches and a brief commentary on the creator’s working process. Tense, ironic and deeply moving, this is a lost gem of our art form, long overdue for some popular attention. It’s also available combined with earlier work from the creators, Family Ties.