Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History by Harvey Pekar

Sometimes people ask me how I choose books. I usually answer something like “Oh, I have a lot of writers whose work I like, so just keeping up with their new books can fill my time.” Or, I’ll tell them that I regularly read the newspaper book review pages and make my choices based on that advice. But the sad truth is, sometimes I read a book because it’s been left on the breakfast table by someone else and I pick it up to read while I eat my oatmeal.* That’s how I began Students for a Democratic Society by Harvey Pekar, my first (and probably my only) foray into the graphic format. My son checked this out of the library when he was home from college on winter break and he left it there one morning.**

Did I like it? To my surprise, I liked a lot of it, though after a while I couldn’t stick with it. I discovered something that maybe graphic format readers already know: that when you read these kinds of books, the story’s facts come from the prose, but the emotions come from the illustrations. Because I am so oriented toward print instead of illustration I found myself just reading the prose and skipping the pictures and feeling like the stories were too flat. When I realized what I was doing I went back and looked at the pictures more closely and picked up more of the nuance. Still, it seemed like a lot of work and eventually I gave up.

Students for a Democratic Society is a graphic history of this group from its origins in the labor movement of the late 1950’s up through its disintegration in the early 1970’s. The book mostly consists of a series of reminiscences by and about members of the SDS. It’s certainly not a complete history of the SDS, nor does it claim to be. But it held my interest long enough to provide me with a good introduction to the format, and it inspired me to learn more about Harvey Pekar, who died a few months ago.

*Are you allowed to read during meals at your house? We are. Our kitchen table is usually heaped with books, magazines, and newspapers, and anyone may read during any meal except one that is officially designated as “family dinner,” for which we actually clear the junk off the table. Sometimes during breakfast there is no noise at all except for the crunching of cereal and the flipping of pages.

**College-age boys home on break leave their stuff everywhere. Everywhere.

(Book 1, 2011)


Anonymous said...

What thoroughly civilized breakfasts you have. Over 35 years I have converted my husband to the joys of reading at meals unless we have guests or it is as you say, a full-on 'family dinner'.

As to graphic novels, I like some and not others. One a year is my normal dose! I recommend 'Gemma Bovary' and 'Tamara Drewe' by Posy Simmonds,'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi, and the two volume (rather harrowing) book 'Maus' by Art Speigleman. 'Epileptic' by David B. was a revelation, the illustrations were much better at conveying an epileptic attack than any number of words and the genre really came into its own.
My son raves about Joe Sacco about and Neil Gaiman's books but I haven't tried them as yet.

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