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Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography (2019)

by Paul Buhle, Steve Max (Author), Dave Nance (Author), Noah Van Sciver (Illustrator)

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693389,413 (3.22)None
"Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party in the early twentieth-century to federal and state office across the country, helped to pioneer a fighting union politics that organized all workers, and became the beloved figurehead of American radicalism. Imprisoned for speaking out against World War I, Debs ran for president from prison, receiving over one million votes. Debs's story is the story of labor battles in industrializing America, of a socialist politics grown directly out of the American Midwest heartland, and of a distinctly American vision of socialism. With the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the rise of mass movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, and the Wall Street Crash of 2008, socialism has once again made itself felt in American politics. This graphic biography, published in collaboration with the Democratic Socialists of America--whose growing membership, spurred by Trump's election and Bernie Sanders' campaign, has reached heights not seen among socialist parties since the 1920s--is geared toward a new generation exploring socialist and working-class radicalism in the past and the present. Noah Van Sciver's dynamic illustrations are paired with short, accessible framing essays by Paul Buhle, noted historian of the U.S. left, with Dave Nance and Steve Max"--… (more)
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The authors of this graphic biography are so bad at writing comic books that they felt compelled to add four to six pages of text at the start of every chapter to try to explain the choppy, opaque, context-free mess that follows. People march across the page with little or no introduction and, too often, for no reason.

My favorite non sequitur comes at the end of Chapter 2 when we are told, "Depressed at his wife's death in an automobile accident, the great editor, J. A. Wayland, commits suicide." Wayland had only been referenced previously in one panel as the editor of the Appeal to Reason, a socialist newspaper. If his death is so important, perhaps his life should have been also?

Ironically, the best and most coherent chapter -- Debs' sedition trial -- was written by the guy who only gets a "with" credit on the cover. Next time, give him his own book free of those fools Paul Buhle and Steve Max. Noah Van Sciver's art is fine, but I'm lumping him in with Buhle and Max as an enabler because he knows how to make a good graphic novel and went ahead and drew this instead.

FOR REFERENCE:

Contents: Time Line of Debs's Life -- Debs: An Introduction -- 1. The Rise of Eugene V. Debs -- 2. "Debsian Socialism" -- 3. Triumph – and the Edge of Tragedy -- 4. Martyr Debs -- 5. The Debs Legacy: Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, Bernie Sanders -- Further Reading -- Acknowledgments -- List of Sustaining Contributors ( )
1 vote villemezbrown | Apr 3, 2024 |
Mediocre as a graphic novel, you nonetheless get a sense of the style of the man and the turbulence of his times. Most of the history of the far left in the U.S. is organized labor history (which has fallen off the radar -people died, people had their heads cracked open, etc.) We didn't get the 40-hour workweek by asking nicely; it took militancy.
  kencf0618 | Jun 25, 2019 |
The colourful Eugene V. Debs would make a wonderful subject for a graphic novel but unfortunately, this is not the book I'd recommend. A text-heavy graphic novel that cannot decide if it's "Debs for beginners" or something far more serious. It is filled with half-ideas, people and institutions that pop in for a moment, are never introduced, and who then disappear a moment later. (Will anyone reading it know who Daniel De Leon was? Or for that matter, William Winpisinger?) Much is done to show Debs as if he was a 21st century politician, far ahead of his time on issues like race and gender, though one wonders how true this is. (The party he led was hardly free of racism and sexism.) There are passing references, largely uncritical, about the Bolsheviks and their American supporters. A not insignificant part of the book focusses on American socialism post-Debs, showing Norman Thomas as a rather nice old man and Michael Harrington in a very critical light. The authors' political agenda is evident on every page, but the real Eugene Debs does not come alive here. A pity -- this was such a great idea for a book. ( )
  ericlee | Apr 8, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Buhle, PaulAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Max, SteveAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Nance, DaveAuthormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Van Sciver, NoahIllustratormain authorall editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
MORNIN' 'GENE!
When a chap has lost his grip,
An' Fate has 'im on the hip,
Er he's trekked the trails o' sin
Till his feet are tangled in
Tribbelation's toughest webs,
What he needs is Eugene Debs
To reorganize 'im, fer
'Gene's the comferter.
At sich, times, ef he should meet
Debs a-comin' down the street,
Then the clouds o' trouble roll
Frum his overshaddered soul,
An' the skies are all serene
As he murmurs, "Mornin', 'Genel"
- Walter Hurt
Debs is the sweetest strong man in the world . . . and his spirit is more beautiful, than anything that I have seen in any man of my time . . . His genius is for love — the ancient, real love, the miracle love, that utterly identifies itself with the emotions and the needs and wishes of others . . . And that is why Debs was convicted of a crime — he was convicted because he could not open his mouth without declaring his solidarity and inward identity with his comrades who are in prison.
- Max Eastman, "The Trial of Eugene Debs"
Dedication
First words
The life of Eugene Victor Debs (1855-1926) has returned to public interest and sympathy in ways that no one would have expected five or ten years ago. [Introduction]
The rise of an American socialist movement, and of the young railroad unionist Eugene V. Debs to heroic status, is at once a classic saga of rising class consciousness and a unique, emphatically unprecedented convergence. [Chapter 1]
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"Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party in the early twentieth-century to federal and state office across the country, helped to pioneer a fighting union politics that organized all workers, and became the beloved figurehead of American radicalism. Imprisoned for speaking out against World War I, Debs ran for president from prison, receiving over one million votes. Debs's story is the story of labor battles in industrializing America, of a socialist politics grown directly out of the American Midwest heartland, and of a distinctly American vision of socialism. With the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the rise of mass movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, and the Wall Street Crash of 2008, socialism has once again made itself felt in American politics. This graphic biography, published in collaboration with the Democratic Socialists of America--whose growing membership, spurred by Trump's election and Bernie Sanders' campaign, has reached heights not seen among socialist parties since the 1920s--is geared toward a new generation exploring socialist and working-class radicalism in the past and the present. Noah Van Sciver's dynamic illustrations are paired with short, accessible framing essays by Paul Buhle, noted historian of the U.S. left, with Dave Nance and Steve Max"--

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Contents: Time Line of Debs's Life -- Debs: An Introduction -- 1. The Rise of Eugene V. Debs -- 2. "Debsian Socialism" -- 3. Triumph – and the Edge of Tragedy -- 4. Martyr Debs -- 5. The Debs Legacy: Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, Bernie Sanders -- Further Reading -- Acknowledgments -- List of Sustaining Contributors
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