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_Students for a Democratic Society_, by Pekar, Dumm, et al.
Bar Harbor
I had a mild interest in this book when it first came out, but not enough to pay new hardcover prices. Recently stumbled across some remaindered copies in a used bookstore, and snatched one up. Sadly, the fact that it was remaindered turned out to be entirely appropriate. I'm a big fan of comics-as-history, and have seen many fine examples of the form. This isn't one of them. It doesn't so much "bring history to life", as euthanize it.

As the front cover attests, this is "Written (mostly) by Harvey Pekar; Art (mostly) by Gary Dumm". The first part of the book (about a quarter of its length) is a broad historical overview of the SDS movement; the remainder of the book is taken up by more personal stories, some co-created with Pekar and or Dumm, some written and or drawn by the person whose story it is.

Pekar and Dumm may be perfectly good human beings, but their work is astoundingly dull. Pekar has a long history in the world of autobiographical comics. Enthusiasts of his work claim that he shows how even the most mundane life contains important stories. Every time I've sampled his work, I am left with the impression that he sold his soul to some demon to get that reputation. His 'stories' are collections of incidents without any apparent point, and put me right to sleep. This emperor has no clothes.

The broad historical overview is *so* high level, and so poor about connecting material, that I often literally thought I must have missed a page. With a few bright exceptions, the contributions of the other writers are no better. Their 'stories' are often collections of incident, with not enough context to really understand. One example that leapt out at me: a panel whose caption was along the lines of "In November 1968, police attacked student revolutionaries in the cafeteria." Campus police, or 'real' cops? Were the 'revolutionaries' just eating, making speeches, rabble-rousing, or what, at the time? By 'attacked', do you mean harsh language or blows; bruising, broken bones, or lethal force? How did the campus community react? The Administration? The media? Instead of answering any of these questions, the next panel is set five months later, relating a completely separate incident,

Gary Dumm has worked with Pekar for decades, which tells you something right there. He is a competent, if unspectacular draftsman. I blame Pekar for much of his boring-ness; when he illustrates a story written by someone else, there are often moments of visual excitement, something totally lacking from the bulk of the book.

Check out the cover, for instance. Foregrounded, we have a fist raised into the air. But so much detail is drawn into the hand and forearm that it lacks the power and anger that such a symbol should have. In the background are a diverse set of protesters, except that they hardly look like they are protesting. A few of them look mildly peeved, most look apathetic, one looks half-asleep. A single half-face (obscured by the raised arm) looks like he might actually be angry, but he's really easy to miss.

This is symptomatic of the effect of the whole book. Rather than being an inspirational and powerful force for societal change, the SDS come off, in their own self-depiction, as whiny, fractious, disorganized, self-absorbed, and almost completely ineffective.

All that said, there are some nifty bits, mostly from the stories that don't involve Pekar on the writing side. There aren't enough of them for me to recommend this book to the average reader, though. If anyone reading this is really interested in the subject matter, they might find some interest in the book -- and are welcome to have my copy!


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