Graphic novels are enjoying a purple patch in publishing terms and public kudos. The shortlisting of Nick Drnaso’s Sabrina for the Man Booker 2018 prize is indicative of this pleasing state of affairs. At very best, graphic novels can tell stories in evocative, intimate and intelligent ways with lasting effects.
In American Politics: A Graphic History, US professor Laura Locker has teamed up with artist, Julia Scheele, to tackle a meaty subject. The book is a product of the ‘Trump dividend’. President Trump has been doing his best to subvert constitutional niceties and presidential deportment. If you follow The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, you will have had ample opportunity to feast on a comedic diet of presidential peccadilloes.
Locker wants to remind us that American political culture is a more nuanced beast than often portrayed. Underpinned by a written constitution, the post-1789 history of this large continental country (with Alaska and Hawaii as comparatively late additions) is filled with administrative and political complexity. Locker does not duck difficult and traumatic issues such as slavery, the treatment of indigenous peoples, civil rights, fascism, racism, poverty and inequality. She places the ideology and experience of the ‘American dream’ firmly in its place.
The biggest drawback of this graphic history is that it demands a great deal of the reader. It is organised into distinct sections but some issues are treated rather unevenly compared to others – immigration is given a few pages while taxation gets just a paragraph. A timeline somewhere in the book would help orientate the reader and a map or two would be an added bonus – the administrative and constitutional complexities of the US are formidable.
Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!