As President Obama accepts the Nobel Peace Prize and sends more troops to Afghanistan, there’s quite a sense of irony in the air in America. What better time to review a collection of anti-war comics? In The Great Anti-War Cartoons, Craig Yoe has gathered an amazing assembly of peaceful protests that seeks to prove that the pen is truly mightier than the sword.
For years, editorial cartoonists have been creating powerful statements against violence and unnecessary aggression, using their medium to express the futility and horror of war. This book collects artwork that depicts scenes that range from beautiful to dreadful with artists from Francisco Goya to Robert Crumb. There is no political agenda here. The cartoons in this collection to not take aim at any particular country or political ideology. There are no Republicans or Democrats, no conservatives or liberals, no potshots at William Howard Taft or the policies of his day; simply a cry for peace expressed through art.
So… how does one review a book like this? Obviously I’m in favor of the ideas expressed. I don’t know a whole lot of folks who are really itching to go to war at any given time, so I expect that for the most part, there aren’t going to be a lot of unpopular ideas in here or much that will offend anyone save for the folks who make their living crafting weapons of destruction. So do I focus on specific cartoons like the one featuring a skull-faced Pied Piper playing a missile like a flute while dozens of children follow him through the streets? Or the war profiteering fatcat perched upon a pile of skulls begging the question “Who says war is Hell?” Or maybe the jarring image of Death purchasing human bodies at a meat market? To describe what I saw within seems counterintuitive to the point of the book. It’s art – you’re supposed to look at it. That’s how it works.
Do I focus on the beauty of the art? ‘Cause a lot of it is really striking. Some of it is somber and depressing while other pages are actually quite humorous and it runs the gamut from naturalistic and real looking to exaggerated and cartoony. But to focus on the quality of the artwork also seems to miss the point. All of it is thought-provoking and deserves a look. And where else will you see a collection like this? Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Rube Goldberg, Honore Daumier… my god. Even if you don’t dig the message, you gotta dig the art.
In the end, it’s obviously a book that’ll stick with me and would make a worthy addition to your collection. It’s a coffee table book that’s sure to be a conversation starter and would make a great holiday gift for the right person on your list. While the main thrust of this book seems a bit on the depressing side, at the end of the day I actually found it to be uplifting as well. It seems that since the dawn of time, humankind has been on a mission to eradicate itself from the face of the earth, a point which is illustrated on every page of this book. But at the same time, The Great Anti-War Cartoons illustrates that for as long as we’ve been killing each other, there have always been individuals dedicated to pointing out the eternal folly of war. It’s easy to get down on humanity for all of our atrocities and crimes, but to express the desire for world peace through art? That’s something to be proud of.