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A Graphic History

by Harvey Pekar & illustrated by Gary Dumm & edited by Paul Buhle

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-8090-9539-1
Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The story of the legendary 1960s student-activist group, in words and pictures.

With the acceptance of graphic novels and nonfiction into the mainstream, Pekar (Macedonia, 2007, etc.) seems to have more work than ever—you can almost hear his curmudgeonly grumbling about deadlines—and he has branched out beyond the autobiographical writings showcased in issues of American Splendor. As witness this graphic history of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS): written mostly by Pekar, supplemented by several former SDS members; edited by Buhle, founding editor of the SDS journal Radical America, who also wrote several sections; with effective art by frequent Splendor collaborator Dumm. Although he’s never been shy about his angry leftist political leanings or about shoving himself into a narrative, Pekar keeps almost entirely in the background here as the book parses the minutiae of SDS’s creation, rise to prominence, post-Nixon splintering and, very briefly, its resurgence in 2006. Founded in 1960 as an offshoot of various lefty-labor organizations that traced their lineage back to Upton Sinclair in 1905, SDS quickly alienated more staid elements of the Old Left with its emphasis on personal freedom, solidarity with the civil-rights movement and vehement antiwar stance. Throughout the mid and late ’60s, SDS grew in numbers, leading demonstrations and publishing agitprop journals in cities and campuses across the nation, while it was simultaneously riven from within by agent provocateurs and fractious infighting among factions like the Weathermen and doctrinaire Marxists. Eschewing a standard time line, many of the book’s later pages offer journal-like contributions from rank-and-file members, who provide snapshots of the life-altering struggle they were engaged in—often with a self-deprecating nod to its more naïve aspects.

Learned, passionate and accessible history of the first order, casting a critical but mostly benevolent eye on an often-contradictory movement.