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Corbyn, the comic hero

Bhanuj Kappal | Updated on January 08, 2018
The Corbyn Comic Book; Fiction; SelfMadeHero; ₹430

The Corbyn Comic Book; Fiction; SelfMadeHero; ₹430

In a year Jeremy Corbyn became one of the biggest political and cultural phenomena — the face that launched a thousand memes — a comic book seals his popularity

Politicians and cartoonists have had a contentious relationship: the former’s every misstep, misfortune and public embarrassment have been fresh ammunition for the latter. It’s rarer for our politicians to be celebrated in pictorial form these days; precious few are liked enough, or have a savvy propaganda arm to make it into comic book history.

There are a few exceptions though. Barack Obama starred as a muscle-bound, loincloth-clad warrior in the Barack The Barbarian series beginning 2009. In 2014, Rannade Prakashan and Blue Snail Animation brought out Bal Narendra, an anonymously written comic book that narrated the larger-than-life exploits of Narendra Modi’s childhood.

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour Party’s charismatic and controversial leader in Britain, is the latest politician to join the list. SelfMadeHero, an independent publishing house, launched The Jeremy Corbyn Comic Book on its 10th anniversary last month. The anthology features cartoon strips, illustrations and comics by more than 30 contributors — from established cartoonists and comic artists to lesser-known writers and illustrators.

Not long ago, political commentators in the UK were calling Corbyn a laughing stock, and predicting he would lead Labour to its biggest loss in decades. The quiet, principled Islington North MP was considered a throwback to Labour’s militant Left past, one who had failed to adapt to the current realities. When Theresa May called for snap election this summer, many assumed the result to be a foregone conclusion. But Corbyn, and a generation of youngsters jolted out of their apathy by Brexit, had other ideas. The Conservatives lost their majority, and had to make a deal with the Irish Democratic Unionist Party to stay in power.

Corbyn, on the other hand, became one of the year’s biggest political and cultural phenomena — the face that launched a thousand memes, feted by UK grime stars, applauded by thousands on the main stage at Glastonbury.

The anthology is a curious mix of sharp satire, rabble-rousing socialist wish fulfilment and a fair bit of cutesy, whimsical silliness. A surprising number of the pieces feature Corbyn making jam — a reference to his appearance on The One Show, where he gifted the presenters with jars of jam, which he had made himself from the fruits he grew on his allotment.

It opens with Anna Trench’s playful take on the modern citizen’s lack of engagement with politics, which has changed with Corbyn’s rise. Hannah Berry lampoons the tabloids’ hyper-sensationalist takes on Corbyn’s statements, while Chicane’s single panel reimagines the famous catfight in front of 10 Downing Street — captured live during a BBC News — as a battle in the greater political war, with incumbent Larry trying his best to keep commie Chairman Meow away from power.

There are more traditional political cartoons by heavyweights such as The Guardian’s Martin Rowson, who depicts Corbyn — complete with red star hat — standing in his allotment taking in the view, when he’s ambushed by laser-toting, red scare slogan-spouting ‘Daily Mail death drones’. Corbyn manages to defeat the drones with — what else? — jam, but is immobilised, covered in ‘brown brexitite’, a reference to Labour’s problematic and oft-criticised ‘soft Brexit’ policy.

Two of the best pieces in the anthology use comic book tropes and superhero genre conventions to great effect, telling lighthearted stories with a political twist. Chris Baker and J Francis Totti’s Lethal Corbyn III depicts an epic showdown in Parliament between Corbyn and Maybot, who feeds on children’s tears and is backed up by her ‘cabinet of doom’. The other is Jonathan Stevenson and Luke Kemp James’ A Man Walks Home At Night, which casts Corbyn as a Tintin-esque vampire hunter, taking on a Tory black mass congregation led by Boris Johnson and the Count Theresa that they have just brought back from the grave.

There are darker takes on contemporary politics. Peter Morey’s dystopian Not Quite Naked, with its exceptional pink-and-black artwork, is a subversive story told from the Tory viewpoint, with David Cameron as a gladiator wielding rhetoric as his blade, and Jezza as the ancient socialist enemy returning at Tory society’s moment of weakness. Perhaps the darkest vision belongs to David Hine and Mark Stafford, in which Uncle Jezza tells his kids about Happyland, a magical place where people do the work they want and get paid ‘a fair wage for a fair day’s work’. But Happyland remains an imaginary escape from the grim world outside Uncle Jezza’s living room where skyscraper-sized ghoulish monsters — May and Johnson — loom over terrified citizens. No amount of ‘closing your eyes’, the writers seem to say, will make the monsters of modern politics go away.

Most of the contributions have a pro-Corbyn and pro-socialism bias, but they’re not Left-wing revolutionary propaganda. A variety of visual styles add to the book’s diversity — traditional comic book aesthetic, minimal sketches and even infographics. The quality of art and writing varies with each piece, and there isn’t much that is revolutionary or radical in what they say. But what we get is a refreshing, insightful and humorous look at Jeremy Corbyn and the invigorating effect his rise has had on Britain’s body politic.

Published on October 27, 2017

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