It's been an odd couple of weeks for freebie books here at Casa Comics Bulletin, as a series of graphic novels have showed up that all kind of coalesce around a theme: educational comics. And they've been a fascinating collection of material — as each one explores either history or its designated topic from its own unique angle. Each book is didactic and provides a detailed look at the topic that it explores, whether that topic is early American history, philosophy, a specific historical event… or the topic of today's book, a 2001 riot in Cincinnati.
Ten years after the Rodney King riots convulsed Los Angeles and brought the topic of racism to the forefront of American political thought, a similar riot erupted in a mostly African-American neighborhood of Cincinnati. While these riots are much less well known than the '92 LA riots, they may be an even more fascinating event in modern American history: a spontaneous eruption of convulsive anger about inequality in a racially diverse city, and a warning shot across the bow for future troubles in America.
Dan P. Moore creates his first graphic novel with this fascinating collection of reportage about the riots — an intriguing use of the elements of cartooning to create a compelling picture of the landscape of the events that led up to, and involved, the riots. His rough-hewn and often flat-looking style adds immediacy to the events that he depicts, an intensity and energy that a slicker artist might not be able to use when showing this story.
On many pages Moore's art seems to be influenced strongly by the work of Joe Sacco. He employs many of Joe Sacco's most effective tricks — the use of continually shifting perspectives, the use of real people testifying directly to the reader, the constant grounding of the work in a specific time and place — to create a multidimensional story that adds depth and complexity to the story being told. Strictly as a work of comics art, this is an intriguing work that's surprisingly effective in the way that Moore utilizes the comics page.
It would be tempting to dismiss this comic because Moore's art seems simplistic and even a bit ugly at first glance, but that misses the point of why the book works: the art looks like it's thrown down on the page with real urgency because this is an important story that needs to be told. Moore seems anxious to get this important story down on the printed page as rapidly as he can; you can feel the almost palpable forward energy of this story on nearly every page. That's a great fit for this book because the events in Cincinnati start with a quick moment of relative quiet and quickly builds to moments of real intensity and drama.
Mark Twain Was Right is a great example of comic as reportage, and comics as a way to convey complex ideas in a way that no other artform can convey them. Microcosm Publishing is dedicated to "growing your small world," and my world was enriched by this interesting history.
For more information on this book, visit the Microcosm website.