cover image Putin’s Russia: The Rise of a Dictator

Putin’s Russia: The Rise of a Dictator

Darryl Cunningham. Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95 trade paper (164p) ISBN 978-1-77046-504-6

In this blistering broadside of a graphic biography, Cunningham (Billionaires) outlines the life of the modern world’s most powerful autocrat. Acknowledging that Vladimir Putin’s early history is sketchily documented, Cunningham still provides a timeline for the rise of an unlikely czar. Born in 1952 in war-ravaged Leningrad, the young Putin dreamed of joining the KGB, which he did in 1975. Returning from East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he “mysteriously found” government jobs that positioned him to take advantage of the 1990s post-Soviet chaos. Attaching himself to powerful men, Putin became president in 2000 and leveraged crises like the 2004 Beslan terrorist attack to “further consolidate his power” with xenophobic and homophobic appeals to nationalism and masculinity. Presented as an unknowable cipher—Cunningham’s bright, flat art creates a kind of blank of his subject—Putin emerges here as corruptly self-enriching (stealing perhaps $200 billion) and amoral, and connected to numerous murders (attempted and successful) of journalists and politicians. After chronicling the shadow wars (Ukraine, Syria), disinformation campaigns, and the interference in the 2016 U.S. election that Putin has used to keep rivals off-balance, Cunningham castigates American leaders for having “missed Putin’s transformation” from bureaucrat into “megalomaniacal dictator.” It’s an infuriated and eye-opening guide to a real-life supervillain. (Feb.)