American Cult: A Graphic History of Religious Cults in America from the Colonial Era to Today

Edited by Robyn Chapman. Silver Sprocket, $24.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-945509-63-6
A breathtaking panoply of what Philip Roth termed the “indigenous American berserk” is on full display in this detail-packed anthology about American cults. In the introduction, Chapman (Drawing Comics) calls for a critical but human approach—“50% empathy and 50% justice”—to the individuals sucked into such movements. Eighteen stylistically varied pieces avoid tabloid hysterics as much as possible, given the outré subject matter, but are too brief to delve deeper than thumbnail histories. Regardless, they offer fantastic introductions, ranging from Steve Teare’s chapter on the late 17th-century mystics following Johannes Kelpius in the woods outside Philadelphia, to Brian “Box” Brown’s dry mockery of sex cult NXIVM’s leader Keith Raniere (who “enjoyed telling people what was wrong with them [and] having sex with female followers”). The material leans heavily on the last half century and balances obvious subjects (Charles Manson’s gaggle of lost hippie teenagers) with lesser-known movements (Louisa May Alcott’s father dragging the family into a comically disorganized utopian sect). Some chapters are straightforward, but others follow Chapman’s challenge to interrogate the lines between cults and religions, with Josh Kramer—writing about the Cheesecake Factory–funded Sufism Reoriented—asking, “Does it matter?” Though these comics raise more questions than they answer, they sweep admirably through a little-understood phenomenon. (May)
Reviewed on : 03/25/2021
Release date: 04/01/2021
Genre: Comics
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