Friday, August 14, 2009

Che: a graphic biography

Seen as a martyr by some, a butcher by others, Ernest "Che" Guevara (1928-1967) has been a controversial world figure for the better part of 5 decades. Whether considered a freedom fighter or a Communist thug, Che's life has captured the popular imagination. This fascination began with his popular book The Motorcycle Diaries, a story of a transformative journey across the various social classes and conditions of South and Central America, which awakened his social consciousness and which was made into a film in 2004. He was voted one of Time Magazine's Most Important People of the 20th Century, and has remained a Central and South American icon to this day.

Manuel "Spain" Rodriguez, the author of this graphic novel biography, is a comics artist who published one of the first underground comics, Zodiac Mindwarp, and is probably most famous for his creations Trashman and Big Bitch. His social views show through in his many counter-culture works, a list of which can be found here but are also well expressed in this interview about his Trashman series. Spain's artistic chops have become well-honed from decades of drawing and creating his own works, some of which can be seen on his official website (note: NSFW). His liberal politics come through in Che as he paints the picture of a revolutionary clashing against colonialism for the good of the common people.

Reviews of Che are as varied as people's opinion of the actual man. They range from the gushingly positive, such as this one from Ron Jacobs, to more accusatory ones that indicate a glossing over historical information that would besmirch Che's image, such as this one from Mike Baron, while others that point out some production issues as well as perhaps an overly didactic tone, such as this one from Mike Gold.

There is a great supply of materials about Che's life on the internet, including an interview with Alberto Granado, Che's companion during his South American motorcycle journey, a documentary titled The True Story of Che Guevara produced by the History Channel, declassified papers from the US National Security Archive, a large internet archive of his writings and speeches, and three different photo sets from the BBC. Some very critical sites about Che can be found in the Examiner piece by Jay Ambrose, the work of author Humberto Fontova, and this column by The National Review's Jay Nordlinger.

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