Comic books and oppressive regimes
As the years pass by, people start to notice that life isn’t like they saw it when they were children. When we’re children, life is as simple as black and white. There is good and evil, and there are things we should and shouldn’t do. Children believe the world is made up of good people and bad people—there’s no grey area. In our childhood years, we move around in this dichotomous world.
These dichotomous situations exist in comic books as well. Superheroes go up against the bad guys and defeat them. However, not all comic books are made up of superheroes and their archenemies. Examples like Corto Maltese contain distinctive and intriguing characters, which we can understand after a certain age, just as we come to understand the grey areas in life.
Sometimes comic books are the best weapons against oppressive regimes, martial law, and dictatorships. There are even some comic books that may help us to remember the evil of the past as we face similar situations today.
One of these is Maus, written by Art Spiegelman and based on his conversations with his father, Vladek. Maus is about Polish Jews, and it tells the story of how Vladek escaped the Holocaust. The story moves back and forth between World War II and Art Spiegelman talking with his father in New York. The stories Vladek tells his son are first hand, and he describes his experiences, how people changed, and how at one point, everyone was only thinking of themselves.
In Maus, the Jews are depicted as mice and the Nazis are cats. The Polish people who remained in Poland look like pigs. Outside of this, everything that happens is a true story. From this striking and highly influential comic book, people can understand even better what happened during World War II, the atrocities that took place, people’s struggle to survive, and the Nazi’s inconceivable cruelty as they attempted to eradicate the Jews.
One of the most stunning things about Maus is how it shows that the Nazis didn’t start pressuring the Jews all at once. People weren’t taken to concentration camps right away; instead, they were imprisoned in shrinking ghettos first, and then they were sent to the camps later on. A shred of hope remains until the final moment.
Hector German Oesterheld’s comic book Eternaut is an unforgettable tale of the military dictatorship in Argentina following the junta’s overthrow of the elected government. Hugely important in Latin America, Eternaut was written as a science fiction story due to the political situation at the time, but it’s actually a political story, just like Galip Tekin’s story of being tortured after the coup in Turkey was first released as science fiction. Tekin’s aliens torture the captured Earthlings the same way that the military dictatorship tortured prisoners.
Eternaut is the story told to a professor by a person from the future who suddenly appears in the professor’s house. In the story, it snows one night in Buenos Aires, and everything changes. In fact, it’s not really snow but a substance that kills any living thing it comes into contact with. Juan Salvo and his friends are playing a card game at home. They see what’s happening and find a way to protect themselves. After a while, they realize they are under an alien attack. Juan and his friends join the resistance against the aliens, and the war begins.
The aliens they are fighting are led by a group that is never seen, called “Them,” just like Argentina’s junta soldiers fighting the leftist groups took their orders from somewhere else. Eventually, the main characters—Juan, his wife, and their daughter—board an alien spaceship. By accident, they press a time-travel button and each one is sent to a different time.
An interesting detail about Eternaut is that Hector German Oesterheld’s daughter was involved with leftist guerrillas. Oesterheld was spotted in prison in 1977, and after that, he vanished. It is generally believed that the writer was tortured, killed, and disappeared. Like all other oppressive regimes, the Argentinian junta didn’t much care for writers and illustrators.
These days, one of the most interesting ideas for a political comic comes from Equatorial Guinea, a country not many people know a lot about. Despite the tremendous wealth the country has earned from oil, a majority of the population lives in abject poverty. President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has been in charge of the country for a long time. As in many countries, Obiang, his family, and those in his closest circles are very rich. The comic criticises Obiang and takes place in Equatorial Guinea, where the Internet is state-controlled and people can only access information with great difficulty. A Kickstarter campaign has been started to fund the project.
The book is called Obi’s Nightmare, and the illustrator who brought it to life is Ramón Esono Ebalé. Obi’s Nightmare is about a president who wakes up one morning to find that he is one of the regular poor people in his country. Two cartoons critical of Obiang are what started the book project, but these criticisms can be applied to any president around the world. For example, when Obiang is called a dictator, he says, “Come on, let’s be serious now please. By calling me a dictator, do you all think the country will change? I have what the international community wants. And you all attack me by calling me a dictator? My god! Do something a little more original. At this rate, I’ll be able to organize five African Union summits...” In another cartoon, he defends his wealth and that of his family and close associates by saying that he has devoted his entire life to the country and that wealth is the natural result.
There are other comic books criticising other oppressive regimes. The masked hero Zorro is an early example of this. Zorro fights against Monastario, the bad commander who uses his authority for personal gain.
Throughout history, there have always been cruel leaders across the world, and there still are. However, there have also always been people who write about the leaders’ ruthlessness and evil deeds. People who are labelled as outlaws, terrorists, and criminals may be seen as heroes like Zorro in the future because the truth has a bad habit of rearing its head one day.