Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History
Harvey Pekar, Gary Dumm & Pual Buhle
Hill & Wang, 2008 (2008)
Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton
orn out of the 1960s New Left, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was a powerhouse of ideology, activism, and protest throughout the 1960s. Their rise from pet project of the League of Industrial Democracy to one of the emblazoned symbols of the 1960s is captured in this graphic history by renowned comic writer Harvey Pekar (
), and artist Gary Dumm.
he first third of this book follows the major events - from SDS early leaders such as its first president, Al Haber, and the primary writer of the Port Huron Statement, Tom Hayden, through its decline and ruination at the end of the 1960s with the Weathermen movement. This history is brief and at times hard to follow and fully understand. There's a lot of information to digest, much of it in exposition boxes while word balloons consist of quotes, not all of which seem relevant. Dumm keeps the black and white art sparse in terms of texture. This allows for more concentration the text; though his facial drawings have some resemblance to the persons they're representing, they are still vague enough to create confusion or constant back checking among readers. However, the art does give great opportunities to juxtapose ideas and discussions; simultaneously projecting enemies on the same page, which creates tension-filled moments within the history.
ut the more interesting and powerful section of this book is its second part which focuses on individual experiences and accounts from members and people involved with the SDS. These range from individuals who were peripheral to those deeply involved and invested in the movement. These first hand accounts reveal the motivations, triumphs, and despairing moments these people felt - or at least have reflected upon in hindsight. Dumm does much of the art for these, but this provides him an opportunity to break out of the expository style needed for the first part of the book. However, there are also a few SDS members who write and draw their own story, adding distinct perspectives than that of Dumm's. Both Pekar and Buehle (editor) add a few stories to round out the collection.
he power of this graphic history lies in its contrasting the third-person narrative history of the SDS with the personal experiences of those who lived through it; making this a mix of secondary and primary sources that should indeed be studied not just by comic scholars but even by historians.
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