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A People’s History of American Empire
posted March 6, 2008


Creators: Howard Zinn, Mike Konopacki, Paul Buhle
Publishing Information: Henry Holt, softcover, 288 pages, April 2008, $30
Ordering Numbers: 9780805077797 (ISBN13)

imageThis is a crushing disappointment of a book, a smart list of criticisms of American foreign policy presented in hamfisted fashion. Even coming to that realization feels like downer, as if you've just walked up to cartoonist Mike Konopacki in the moments after he's run a 288-page marathon and told him that his time was really, really slow. The cartooning just isn't up to snuff; Konopacki's skills just don't seem up to the task in any way other than that he was able to complete the project. A lot of the objects and people-types drawn simply aren't authoritative or convincing. Backgrounds are simplistic or dropped altogether for ugly grays; unimaginatively designed figures leer and rarely stay on model. Whoever put the material into comics form has a lot to answer for as well. The framing sequence is in the form of a Zinn lecture, which at least lets you know that you're going to be told a lot of things -- sometimes by characters who sound hilariously stiff chewing through mouthfuls of unnatural dialog -- instead of shown them. It's hard to get into specifics much beyond that: this project just needed much better comics-making in conception and in execution. I'm not sure I can grade the history except that it's so unnaturally presented I didn't trust it. I was a history major a while before Zinn became a minor pop celebrity; maybe this will be satisfying to his fans. I can't imagine it will please fans of good comics. The lingering feeling I had leaving this pulp lecture hall was less a critical view of American history than a deeper admiration for Larry Gonick.