American Terrorist, The Comic.
Writer(s): Tyler & Wendy Chin-Tanner
Artist(s): Andy MacDonald and Matt Wilson
US Publisher: A wave blue world. http://www.awaveblueworld.com
Angered and frustrated with the current system, four American citizens adopt extreme tactics in order to expose and combat the injustices, corruption, greed, inequality they feel are ruining their nation.Plot:
Investigative reported Owen Graham, public school teacher Hannah Bloom, civil rights lawyer Michael Clar, and EPA scientist Shannon Lim view themselves as activists, even patriots when they go to extreme measures to enact change in their country. They are labeled many things by others, including terrorists. A battle of perception is waged over the internet as they try to walk the line between political protest and violent uprising.
Talk about synergy. Talk about serendipity.
Here I am walking around the NYCC, lamenting not having seen much worth buying, where I come up the stand were Tyler Chin-Tanner is sitting, all by his lonesome. He is talking to someone about the book, and I should clarify that I have this habit of hanging around tables and listening to artists talk to fans and marvel at the interaction, unless the interaction is a total sign of spazz.
I saw the cover and wondered if the contents could match the symbolism of the cover. I mean, c’mon! It is a blatant homage to the painting of Eugene Delacrox!! It should be good!
And I engaged in casual conversation with Tyler, and he didn’t disappoint. Tyler Chin-Tanner is very passionate about his work, and this project in particular. He stated that this comic is not done in “documentary style”, although the main character is a journalist. He mentioned also that he had been realizing this project for the last 2 years, and recently had decided to unveil it at the NYCC, as a surprise! When the novel went to press he had just heard of the movement Occupy Wall Street and he was pleasantly surprised at how sometimes life imitates art and all that.
The graphic novel is something worth picking up at different levels, and for different reasons.
Let me tell you off the cuff, who are likely NOT to like this graphic novel:
If you are a conservative, who find yourself agreeing with Herman Cain when he said “IF YOU DON’T HAVE A JOB & YOU’RE NOT RICH, BLAME YOURSELF”, and you think that there is nothing wrong with our current political AND economical system… I think you are not going to like this book. Or at least you won’t get it.
The rest of you, those who think there is something wrong, but don’t know what; those who would like to see opportunities stretch around for everyone in similar quantities; who would like more accountability within government; those who think that too many institutions abuse their power; and those who think that things have deviated too much from the constitution originally framed by the founding fathers… step right up. You may like this.
Because Tyler Chin-Tanner can tell a story, with heart, with relevance, and with smarts to spruce it up in all the right places. Well, I should clarify that the argument of the story is Tyler’s, but he actually credited the script to Wendy Chin-Tanner.
The Chin-Tanner duo fleshed out a story with interesting characters, who dwell in a common world that upon giving it a closer inspection, shows complexity and layers hidden behind layers. They also tell this story giving separate voices to the characters, molding them out of the everyday lives of people the readers can relate to: the journalist, the teacher, the college graduate, you and me.
It is precisely those many layers of humanity that will make the reader empathize with the characters in the story, with those people who are torn with job conflicts, with professional priorities overtaking every aspect of their lives (including their personal), health conflicts, morality at play and everything coming down to a power struggle.
The mastery of this tale, is in how amazingly entertaining it interwows fiction, with current events, with political ideology, with a call to action that is absent in many mainstraeam political movements nowadays. There will be many an individual who read this book and may disagree with items presented in this tale.
That is ok. I don’t think this story was conceived as a moralistic tale, expecting to motivate everyone to act like the lead character in the story, although some people may want to simplify it to just that, and that is their prerogative as individuals, in the same way that some unsupervised kid may tie a towel around their neck and jump from a window yelling “up up and awaaay!” (hopefully a near ground level window).
I realized after barely reading three pages that this tale should be disturbing to the reader at many levels. For once there are the obvious parallels with current events in North American society and in the world in general. Chin-Tanner takes its time making the protagonist evolve from a mildly involved private citizen, to someone who is the middle of political turmoil and gets appointed as a representative of a movement he wasn’t sure he wanted to join I the first place.
The team Chin-Tanner avoids talking in absolutes in their graphic novel. If you want a Doctor Doom-like figure, go and pick up a Marvel book! The antagonists have frailties, just like the protagonists do, they have insecurities and they have their hearts invested in common goal, that is not too far from the goal their enemies profess. At the end, both camps want what they think it is the best for their country and their society.
Now, for those of you who think that good intentions is what really matters in life, I shouldn’t need to remind you that’s what the north and the south fought about during the US Civil war, right? Each side thought they were doing what was best for their country.
That’s at the heart of most struggles and conflicts, not only in comics, but in everyday politics and society.
In comics, often you find the villains committing questionable actions because they have the best intentions at heart. From Kingping (who thinks the underworld would be better if run by him, and thus NYC would be better), to Dr. Doom, (thinking that Latveria and the world should want what he thinks its best for them) to Lex Luthor who thinks he is protecting the earth from an alien usurper.
The same holds true for the democrats and the republicans.
Now, I’ve been involved in lengthy discussions about the ending of this graphic novel ever since we picked it up at the comic con. I bought it, and then most of my friends went and bought it, at my recommendation.
Some people that I’ve talked to called the ending anti-climatic (I think misusing the term, but nevertheless). I understand their frustration, and their disappointment at not portraying a sunnier ending, but I point out that given the way the story unfolds, given the lack of planning that the lead characters profess and given the history this country has of governmental power in the 20th century….that is the only realistic outcome possible given the events portrayed up to that point.
Andy MacDonald did a superb job at illustrating this book. At the NYCC I found him at a different stand, promoting some adventure novel he had illustrated, but was excited at signing the book and talk a bit about it (the fan-boy in me insists in showing the pic of his signing, noting how he and Chin-Tanner did something a lot of artists neglect to do, which is to put the date and something to the effect of the event). I had only picked up the book and couldn’t do in detail about it, although at first glance I found the art to be of interest and worth the investment.
Later, after a couple of reads, I grew to appreciate even more Andy MacDonald as one of the best matches for this project.
I am not too fond of over-stylized art, but Andy manages to strike an amazing balance between stylization and realism, to the advantage of the story and the subject matter that definitely makes him an invaluable asset to this graphic novel.
His attention to backgrounds makes the settings come to life, and join in the story in a way that other artists should aspire to do (but unfortunately often neglect).
The city landscapes rise oppressively enough into the skies, and the characters do the best they can in the mazes they have to live in. The police chase that takes place at the attorney’s office is an example of marvelous action pacing, great choice of angles to maximize the visual impact, and attention to detail. The throwing of the shoe at the NYPD officer was wonderfully constructed. The character of Hannah got lucky she did not throw the show at Ltnt Bologna, otherwise the story would’ve ended right there, with 4 clips emptied in the suspect, and a couple of cans of pepper spray for good measure.
Like I stated before, I totally deem the stylized nature of Andy MacDonald’s art secondary to the fact that he shows a high degree of experience in his mastery of setting the visual narrative pace, his choice of panel angles, and the way he fills those panels with backgrounds. It’s been a long time since I’ve had an artist make me admire how they blend the figures of the story that he/she is portraying with the surroundings that delimit and form the context in which they live. I loved that in the book. I am not sure if I am biased because of my inherent love for black&white art. I happened to pick up the special B&W edition that was being released for the NYCC, so I don’t know how the color edition will turn out to be.
Given the quality of Andy MacDonald’s art, I think it will just turn out to be an editorial ploy to try to attract as many readers as possible, and believe you me when I tell you that there are way too many readers out there that haven’t matured into appreciating B&W books, and if the comic doesn’t have “shinny pretty colors” they loose interest fast.
Well, all I can say is that for an independent book this is formidable.
Avoiding wisely the trappings of just writing a political pamphlet, giving us an insider’s point of view into a complex issue, and avoiding easy and “Feelgood” resolutions at the end, I wish the comic book publishing landscape offered us more books like this.