The Art of Destruction: Review of World War 3 Illustrated:Unnatural Disasters

Hueso Taveras Dec 17, 2006

As a voice of radical politics, ideas and people, World War 3 Illustrated is an iconoclast that sticks to underground comics’ roots: the social upheavals of the 1960s. Its latest installment, Unnatural Disasters, continues the publication’s critical stance on political policy and social responsibility, putting it on the fringe of the comics sub-culture.

In Unnatural Disasters, comic writers dissect and analyze the pressing theme of a world overrun with environmental catastrophes rooted in business dealings and government policies. The 19 stories offer a varied catalogue of belligerent and systematic destruction including the U.S. military’s use of depleted uranium in the Middle East, the eradication of coral reefs by dumping toxic waste and the rapidly declining numbers of India’s vultures. Most of the content addresses the growing threat of global warming and its base in our addiction to oil.

The first story, Nicole Schulman’s “Fossil Fuel,” shows the author’s mastery of scratchboard by effortlessly carving out fire, bellowing smoke, and sunbleached bones. Her “It’s a matter of time…” is a high point of Unnatural Disasters, weaving personal stories of breast cancer with the travails of cancer research. Jennifer Camper’s “Garbage is Destiny” is an entertaining and original Kafkaesque story of a post-human world as lived by discriminated rodents and cockroaches, drawn in a cartoony style with stark contrasts. “War is Hell,” written by Rebecca Migdal with photos by Sgt. R, marries a debate between friends with unsettling images of the war in Iraq, creating an unforgettable and immediate story. In “Coming Together,” Christopher Cardinale shows his exceptional draftsmanship in such media as paint, scratchboard and pen and ink, with borderless composition that bolsters the stories of misery, community and renewed hope in post-Katrina New Orleans. Each person is rendered with care and intent, creating a look that pulls the reader deeper.

From Mac McGill’s poetic stippling to Carlo Quispe’s lucid marker renderings to Rebecca Migdal’s collage, this anthology presents a jarring diversity of art styles, easily placing it in the ranks of notable anthologies like Kramer’s Ergot and MOME while offering insight comparable to a radical newspaper’s.

Started in 1980 by Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman, World War 3 Illustrated grew into a hub for politically conscious artists and activists. With an impressive roster that includes Eric Drooker, Sabrina Jones and Steve Brodner, the anthology is a pillar of alternative comics, each one confronting a multitude of issues like feminism, media and globalization.

The publication is a loud call for social change, and as such, many of the stories forfeit complexities for a clear political message, making some feel like essays and educational pamphlets. As it stands, World War 3 Illustrated: Unnatural Disasters is another affirmation of the anthology’s relevance in comics and political discourse and is deserving of a wider read. It makes a reader wish that it came out more often than once a year.

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