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Wobblies!

April 9, 2005

Wobblies - Nicole Schulman
The long-awaited Wobblies! is finally here, and it’s even better than I could have expected. It’s easily the best recent book on the connection between art and radical politics, not only because of the history it explores, but also by the sheer force of its example.
Co-edited by Nicole Schulman, the book is a collection of comics and very short essays on the history and spirit of the Industrial Workers of the World. Featuring new work by Nicole, Peter Kuper, Josh MacPhee, Fly, Mac McGill, Ryan Inzana, Sabrina Jones, Sue Coe, Seth Tobocman, and many, many more, as well as Wobbly classics from Carlos Cortez, Ralph Chaplin, and Joe Hill, the book is a remarkable testament to the living spirit of the IWW and its remarkable influence. From the introduction:

[Their] way of looking at freedom makes the IWW seem like a lot more than a labor organization, or bigger than all the other labor organizations combined. It looks, for instance, like the grassroots of the ecological/environmental movement. It looks like the Mexicans and Americans who welcomed the Zapatistas taking back the land that had been stolen from their people. It looks like every antiwar movement. It even looks a little like the world John Lennon summed up in the song “Imagine”: no distant god, no country, just us humans, all of us, and our world.

Wobblies - Seth Tobocman
Unlike most books on the subject, Wobblies! doesn’t end on a tragic note — on the contrary, it makes a uniquely convincing case that the IWW lives on, not as some shadow of past greatness, but as a subterranean source of inspiration, a model of joyous, liberatory radicalism. The pieces on 60s comix, surrealism, and Judi Bari, weave threads between seemingly disconnected miracles of history.
The highlight for me is the final essay, The Art and Music of the IWW:

The IWW… was no organization of trained artists…. Yet it inspired dozens of talented artists, before 1920 some of the nation’s most experimental and talented, and the IWW generated its own fabulous “school” of cartoonists. Next to songs, cartoons probably brought more workers around that any other expression of Wob creativity…. These rank-and-file artists appear to have received little or no pay for their work, choosing to go “on the bum” with their fellow Wobs, organize where possible, and take odd jobs to stay alive. Some of them signed their art only with the “red card number” on their Wobbly ID, or didn’t sign cartoons at all….
We look back upon the Wobbly cartoonists, then, as we do upon the Ash Can art of the Masses magazine: a century ahead of their time in their discoveries, but just ripe for our time — not to copy but to learn and grow from, amid the tasks of art and revolution ahead.

I’m posting this in the category “Inspirations,” because it is. For bringing together some of my favorite artists to do unique and necessary work, and for bringing a new focus to the legacy of the IWW itself, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I would like to feature further looks at the book in the next few weeks. In the meantime, support the artists who made it happen, and do yourself a favor: get it.

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One comment on “Wobblies!”

I’ve looked through the “Wobblies!” and it is excellent. It’s chock full of IWW stories are told by some of the top notch
hardest working political comix artists alive today. So check it out and if you got the $$$, it’s definitely worth the buy.

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