“The Day the Klan Came to Town,” by Bill Campbell and Bizhan Kodabandeh

“The Day the Klan Came to Town.” Written by Bill Campbell, illustrated by Bizhan Khodabandeh. PM Press, $15.95. August 2021. 128 pp. Teen to adult. (My 9- and 12-year-olds loved it, but be aware that the book includes some violent and disturbing images.)

Disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book, and contributed to its Kickstarter campaign.

Thanks to Fables Books, 215 South Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for providing Commons Comics with books to review.

Check Fables out online at www.fablesbooks.com, order over the phone at 574-534-1984, or email at fablesbooks@gmail.com.

“I’m not a big fan of writing heroic tales,” claims author and publisher Bill Campbell in a recent interview for Fanbase Press. This statement might sound odd coming from the author of “The Day the Klan Came to Town,” a fictionalized account of a historic day in Carnegie, Pennsylvania, in the early 1920s. The mixed immigrant neighborhood of this small town outside of Pittsburgh banded together to resist and expel a violent Ku Klux Klan rally. If these scrappy townspeople aren’t heroic, then who is?

Campbell adheres to the more traditional sense of the term “heroic,” however. What he rejects aren’t stories about heroes, per se, but stories about oversimplified, unrealistically independent heroes, who triumph by means of their own sheer will and determination. While Campbell’s book does follow a main protagonist, Sicilian immigrant Primo Salerno, Campbell and his illustrator, Bizhan Khodabandeh, who works under the name Mended Arrow, make it clear that the story of Carnegie in in August 1923 is a story of collective, not individual, resistance, as well as a story that refuses narratives of victimization:

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Chicago Comics Immersion: Three Exhibits to Visit Now

“Cartooning is a form of world-making,” reads the introductory text to the current comics exhibit at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Museum exhibits create immersive worlds, too, and I highly recommend three mini comics worlds contained in Chicago, listed below in order of how soon they’re going to disappear:

“Chicago Comics: 1960 to Now,” Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) https://mcachicago.org/Exhibitions/2021/Chicago-Comics-1960s-To-Now, $15, through October 3

“Marvel Universe of Super Heroes,” Museum of Science and Industry https://www.msichicago.org/explore/whats-here/exhibits/marvel-universe-of-super-heroes/, $18, in addition to standard admission, through October 24 (some weekends are sold out)

“Chicago: Where Comics Came to Life (1880-1960),” Chicago Cultural Center, plus BONUS: MCA overflow exhibit in the Buddy space on the first floor, https://www.chicago.gov/city/en/depts/dca/supp_info/comics.html, free, limited hours, through January 9

If you’re not familiar with Chicago comics, your first question might be, why Chicago rather than the coasts? The Cultural Center exhibit delves into the industrial history that made Chicago a national center of paper production in the mid-1800s, saving publishers in the Midwest and west from having to import paper from east coast mills. This foundational shift in supply lines led not only to a fount of newspapers in Chicago, but also to the freedom to innovate, especially evident in the weird, edgy, and experimental comics produced by publications like the Tribune and the African-American Chicago Defender.

As acclaimed Chicago cartoonist and co-curator Chris Ware explains in a recent New Yorker article, technical innovations also fueled the development of groundbreaking comics in Chicago papers. A Chicago engraver in the late 1800s first developed the ability to insert images within columns of newspaper text, and color printing techniques developed and continued to improve, eventually leading to stunning visual explosions like this:

From “American Vernacular,” by Chris Ware, The New Yorker, 28 Aug 2021. Image courtesy of Peter Maresca.

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Comics Against Racism: Asian-American Edition

“They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei, with Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker. Top Shelf, July 2019. 208 pp. Paperback, $19.99. Middle to high school.

Also mentioned in this post: “Superman Smashes the Klan,” by Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru. DC Comics, May 2020. 240 pp. Paperback, $16.99. 12 and up.

Thanks to Fables Books, 215 South Main Street in downtown Goshen, Indiana, for providing Commons Comics with books to review.

COVID-19 PROTOCOL: Please wear a mask as required by local mandate, and follow store guidelines. You may enter at either the front or back entrances. High risk customers can still make browsing appointments before or after hours, and all customers can continue to order online at fablesbooks.com, over the phone 574-534-1984, or via email fablesbooks@gmail.com.

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—I’m working on a BIG manuscript about representations of women’s bodies in graphic fiction, so I won’t be posting new content until the summer. In the meantime, here’s a re-post from 2019 of George Takei’s “They Called Us Enemy,” about his and his family’s experience in internment camps for Japanese Americans.

If you enjoy this post, you might also appreciate my most recent post about “Superman Smashes the Klan,” by comics master and all-around-awesome human, Gene Luen Yang.

How do you decide whether to stand for your principles or protect your family? It’s not a decision any parent should be forced to make, but actor and activist George Takei lived the consequences of his parents’ honesty. Fortunately for Takei—and for his massive fanbase, many of whom have followed him from the first “Star Trek” to his more recent roles in shows from “Furturama” and “Archer” to “Kim Possible”—he not only survived, but eventually thrived.

Now 82, this isn’t the first time that Takei has told the story of his family’s time in US internment camps for Japanese Americans. His memoir “To the Stars” also inspired the musical, “Allegiance.” The graphic memoir “They Called Us Enemy” is the most recent version of this thankfully brief chapter in his life, published by Top Shelf, best known for US congressman John Lewis’s graphic memoir trilogy “March.” Co-writers Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott helped Takei translate the narrative to comics form, and the art of Harmony Becker—subtle and manga-inflected (see, for example, the backgrounds and the giant tears on the page below)—transforms the story into a work of art.

When Takei and his family were first imprisoned in May 1942, they didn’t have any choices to make at all: US soldiers came to the door with bayonets to kick them out of their house. They had ten minutes to pack.

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