cover image Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography

Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography

Paul Buhle, Steve Max, and Dave Nance, illus. by Noah Van Sciver. Verso, $18.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-78663-687-4

This ragged polemic is worth reading mostly because of the dense and slightly grotesque art of Van Sciver (Johnny Appleseed). Published in conjunction with the Democratic Socialists of America, the book is both a biography of labor leader Eugene V. Debs (1855–1926) and a history of socialism in America. It was written to emphasize that the problems endemic to capitalism are as troubling now as they were a century ago, when Debs was most active. The authors focus on Debs’s devotion to socialism as an economic imperative and as a moral imperative that included equality for all races and between men and women, but the narrative momentum is slowed by text pieces at the beginning of each chapter that make the comics, which cover the same ground, feel superfluous. The choppy story is marked by individuals spitting rhetoric instead of dialogue, and characters that are introduced quickly and then dropped at a maddening pace. Van Sciver humanizes Debs with sensitive character design and a knack for depicting the gritty details of the past; the socialist hero comes across as passionate but physically frail. But with the work’s focus split among biography, history, and political tract, it’s not successful as any of these things. (Feb.)