Masks of Anarchy: The History of a Radical Poem, from Percy Shelley to the Triangle Factory Fire

Michael Demson and Summer McClinton. Verso, $16.95 (128p) ISBN 978-1-78168-098-8
Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s famed works have helped his reputation extend to the worlds of politics and history thanks to the influence of his poem “The Masque of Anarchy,” a passionate allegorical championing of nonviolent resistance as political protest. Written to comment on the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, where cavalry charged a mass of demonstrators, it has had a long and potent life as the vanguard of civil resistance. This graphic novel documents the history of the poem’s influence, interspersing the life and times of Shelley with labor activist Pauline Newman, champion of early 20th-century organized strikes and resistance by female laborers of New York’s garment trade in response to squalid working conditions and the deadly 1911 Triangle Factory fire. McClinton’s bold artwork has little continuity between panels or pages, giving an impression of a very heavily illustrated text rather than a flowing narrative comic. Demson’s extensive text and dialogue frequently overcrowds and overwhelms the page, and some poor choices in lettering fonts create legibility issues. While the historical scholarship is impressive, this graphic novel would have had much more appeal and strength as a written text. (July)
Reviewed on: 07/01/2013
Release date: 07/01/2013
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