Occupy Oakland

Occupy Wall Street and Comics: Documenting a Movement

Occupy Comics poster

Turn on the news or check online news sites, and you’re bound to see coverage of Occupy Wall Street, a series of demonstrations protesting corporate influence over our culture’s systems of government and finance. It’s essentially a reaction to what is perceived as class warfare perpetuated by a significant minority of powerful individuals and institutions (referred to as the 1%). (So much media coverage is focused on protracted confusion at the movement’s purpose, so in case you’d like to know more, Rolling Stone has an editorial by Matt Taibbi that gets into it deeper, and of course there’s always never-wrong Wikipedia.)

Whether you think the movement is just a bunch of lazy hippies or a crusade against big banks, it’s got people’s attention. Over 100 cities in the US have local versions of Occupy Wall Street, and more than 1500 have popped up in cities around the world. This has not gone unnoticed by the world of comics.

Occupy Comics is an anthology currently raising funds for the movement through a Kickstarter campaign. Coordinated by writer/director Matt Pizzolo (Godkiller), the comics will first be released as digital comics and individual comic book issues, and then collected and reprinted as a hard cover graphic novel. All creators and production staff have agreed to donate their salary to Occupy Wall Street to help pay for supplies during the winter months. An impressive line-up of comics creators have already committed to contribute, such as The Walking Dead‘s Charlie Adlard, 30 Days of Night‘s Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith, Joshua Hale Fialkov (Tumor, I, Vampire), and Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School founder Molly Crabapple. From the Kickstarter page:

This book is intended to be a time capsule of the passions and emotions driving the movement. We are comic book & graphic novel artists and writers who’ve been inspired by the movement and hope to tell the stories of the people who are out there putting themselves at risk for an idea. What is that idea? Most of the media will tell you the idea is a vague and befuddled mess, but movements don’t coalesce around vague, befuddled messes. We hope that through the medium of comics we can share some of the ideas and experiences driving this movement.

All of the writers, artists, business executives, and the publisher are being paid to produce this book… and they ALL are donating 100% of their revenue (not profits, but ALL monies they receive) to the occupiers. They want to support the movement through the winter by providing warm clothes, heaters and bathrooms if possible, and other amenities.

One of the anthology’s contributors is Susie Cagle, a comics journalist who has provided non-fiction comics for McSweeney’s, Alternet, Truthout and other publications. She has been attending one of the west coast versions, Occupy Oakland. As a member of the press, she has a bright orange press badge visibly hanging from her neck. Despite this, she has twice been swept up in aggressive police action, once getting hit with tear gas, and once getting arrested along with other press and legal observers. Occupy Oakland has been one of the more unstable Occupy sites, perhaps most notably when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, a former Marine and member of Veterans for Peace, suffered a fractured skull when he was hit by a projectile apparently fired by the Oakland police. During Susie Cagle’s 15-hour detainment at two different jails, she witnessed mistreatment of arrested protesters by the Oakland police. She was charged with failure to leave the scene of a riot and was instructed not to return to the demonstrations until her December 5th hearing or she will be charged with a felony. She plans on returning to continue work on an illustrated history of Occupy Oakland.

Of course, not everyone is supportive of Occupy Wall Street. Frank Miller, once a vocal supporter of creator rights (he was among the first to join in an attempt by comics artists and writers to unionize in 1978) and unafraid to call out corporations on their greed and poor treatment of comics creators (Miller was a vocal supporter of Jack Kirby’s efforts to regain his original artwork from Marvel Comics). But after 9/11, he was was seemingly reborn as a devout supporter of the War on Terror above all other concerns. His most recent release, Holy Terror, is a wish-fulfillment of a Batman-esque superhero crushing the terrorist organization Al Qaeda and it has been met with criticisms of anti-Islamism. In response, Miller admitted that he knows “squat about Islam”, but this hasn’t stopped him from criticizing the entire religion and populace of the Middle East on terrorist extremism. So it isn’t entirely surprising that he posted to his website last week a rant against the Occupy Wall Street movement, stating that participants should instead enlist to help the War of Terror.

“Occupy” is nothing but a pack of louts, thieves, and rapists, an unruly mob, fed by Woodstock-era nostalgia and putrid false righteousness. These clowns can do nothing but harm America.

Speaking of nostalgia, that “harm America” argument is the same one used to discourage Vietnam War protesters and other Woodstock-era demonstrations, including the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

For a response to Miller’s statement in comics form, see this special edition of Ty Templeton’s Bun Toons web-comic, which observes that “it was an oddly out-of-touch moment to tie the ‘War on Terror’ to a clichéd list of old school anti-hippie slurs” to a rather pointed caricature of Miller.