The adaptation of an epic biography into a graphic volume underscores both the reach and the limitations of the graphic format.
In 1997, New Yorker staff writer Anderson (The Fall of Baghdad, 2004, etc.) published a biography of Che Guevara (1928-1967) that ran to more than 800 pages, which might test the patience of even the most committed readers of subsequent generations. So the author teamed with Mexican political cartoonist Hernández for a collaboration that can, as the author explains, help “reevaluate Che Guevara through the prism of each new generation.” On the visual level, it succeeds brilliantly, with the sweeping scale of the illustrations taking the measure of the man and his legacy. However, the necessary abridgement of text falls somewhere between simplifying his story enough to capture a younger readership and retaining enough of its context and complexity to satisfy those for whom this would not be an introduction. At more than 400 pages, it is around twice as long as the norm for graphic narratives, and Anderson does a solid job with the narrative arc, showing how the young ardent idealist, educated as a physician, became synonymous with heroic revolutionary commitment, which ultimately led to his falling out with Fidel Castro. No one was more committed to the Cuban revolution that the Argentine, who subsequently felt that Soviet support had made Cuba a pawn in negotiations with the United States. Guevara took his revolutionary spirit elsewhere, seemingly hoping to export it. Long after his execution in Bolivia, “Che lives” remained a rallying cry. The narrative also hints that Guevara could be ruthless in his devotion—“innocent people will have to die”—and that he abdicated his familial responsibilities. He remained a Stalinist and called his son “Little Mao.” He was very much a figure of his times, and those times had a complexity that can be tougher to translate into a form that values an uncluttered simplicity.
A valiant effort and a visual triumph, though the necessary abridgment compromises the depth.