Even readers who do not share Rall’s politics will find his reporting powerful and convincing.

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AFTER WE KILL YOU, WE WILL WELCOME YOU BACK AS HONORED GUESTS

UNEMBEDDED IN AFGHANISTAN

A political agenda can’t undermine the author’s credibility as an observer who gets close to the Afghan people and sees what otherwise goes unreported.

As a cartoonist, alternative-weekly correspondent, and author of previous books on American imperialism and international intervention (Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East, 2014, etc.), Rall lays his cards on the table at the beginning. His subject is “the war against Afghanistan” rather than “the war in Afghanistan”—“Like all choices of language, this is a political choice.” The author is not one of the reporters with big rolls of bills and accommodations at the best hotels, subsidized by major news organizations, nor is he embedded with the soldiers, a position he finds hopelessly compromised: “The Taliban are right: American journalism has been reduced to rank propaganda.” Through cartoons, dispatches and contextual analysis, Rall shares what he has learned through two trips to an Afghanistan that Americans rarely see and comes to conclusions that invite readers to share his outrage: “We have spent $229 billion here. Meals cost less than a dollar. No Afghan should be starving—yet millions are.” He argues that America’s longest war is unwinnable, since “Afghan resistance forces live there. We don’t. Sooner or later, U.S. troops will depart. All the Afghan resistance has to do is wear us down and wait us out….All occupations ultimately fail.” Talking with Afghans and staying in their villages has allowed the author to understand their puzzlement and resentment at an occupying force with so many resources but so little expenditure in terms of infrastructure support in comparison with military spending. There’s a particularly telling photograph of a “children crossing” sign in which the caricatures are practically stick figures: “In Afghanistan, even abstract symbols are emaciated.”

Even readers who do not share Rall’s politics will find his reporting powerful and convincing.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8090-2340-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION

A GRAPHIC ADAPTATION

A searching interpretation of that sonorous document the Constitution, with cartoons.

Why have a Constitution to begin with? Because, remarks film and TV writer Hennessey—who, even if his prose is bound by balloons, turns out to be quite the Constitutional scholar—the founding fathers were keenly aware that civil rights were never formally written down in Britain, “and that deeply troubled the framers.” That’s as much of an establishing conflict as is needed for a superhero piece, and Hennessey, paired with artist McConnell, does a fine job of turning the making of the document, despite all the dull stretches in the Constitutional Convention that James Madison recorded in his diary, into a drama. Happily, Hennessey is aware of the truly radical origins of the Constitution, even as he notes its conservative strains. For example, he remarks that the system of checks and balances is a remarkable innovation, even if it sometimes seems that presidential actions—as with military intervention in Vietnam and elsewhere—go unchecked. In addition, laws are difficult to make in this country for very good reason: “Otherwise we might get too many of them.” Combining words and appropriate images, sometimes comic and sometimes earnest, the narrative visits such matters as the three-fifths law of determining apportionment, the writ of habeas corpus, eminent domain and conceptions of property and freedom of assembly and movement (for instance, the Articles of Federation forbade “vagabonds and paupers” from crossing state lines). Also covered are the many guarantees Americans take for granted—not least the Ninth Amendment, which states that certain rights not enumerated (“The right to scratch a dog behind the ears?”) shall not be denied.

A sugarcoated but undiluted vehicle for schooling American readers about their rights and responsibilities.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-8090-9487-5

Page Count: 142

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2008

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Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

THE VOYEURS

“Graphic memoir” only hints at the artistry of a complex, literary-minded author who resists the bare-all confessionalism so common to the genre and blurs the distinction between fiction and factual introspection.

Who are “The Voyeurs?” In the short, opening title piece, they are a mixed-gender group standing on an urban rooftop, watching a couple have sex through a window in a nearby building. They tend to find the experience “uncomfortable,” even “creepy,” though those who remain raptly silent may well be more interested, even titillated. Bell (Lucky, 2006, etc.) is also a voyeur of sorts, chronicling the lives of others in significant detail while contemplating her own. As she admits before addressing an arts class in frigid Minneapolis, where she knows the major interest will be on how she has been able to turn her comics into a career, “I feel I need to disclaim this ‘story.’ I set myself the task of reporting my trip, though there’s not much to it, and I can’t back out now. It’s my compulsion to do this, it’s my way, I suppose, of fighting against the meaninglessness constantly crowding in.” The memoir encompasses travels that take her from Brooklyn to Los Angeles and from Japan to France, while addressing the challenges of long-distance relationships, panic attacks, contemporary feminism, Internet obsessiveness, the temptation to manipulate life to provide material for her work, and the ultimate realization, in the concluding “How I Make My Comics,” of her creative process: “Then I want to blame everyone I’ve known ever for all the failures and frustrations of my life, and I want to call someone up and beg them to please help me out of this misery somehow, and when I realize how futile both these things are I feel the cold, sharp sting of the reality that I’m totally and utterly alone in the world. Then I slap on a punchline and bam, I’m done.”

Playfully drawn and provocatively written, the memoir reinforces Bell's standing among the first rank of the genre’s artists.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-9846814-0-2

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Uncivilized Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

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