A not-too-comic portrayal of Che

Issue 

Che: A Graphic Biography

by Spain Rodriguez

Verso Books, 2008

120 pages, $29.95 (pb)

"Che Guevara was impulsive, stubborn and ahead of his time, but always focussed on the suffering of those who produce in order to maintain others on their high perch.

"To the chagrin of the servants of these blood suckers, his name is revered around the world. May it always be so.", says Spain Rodriguez in Che: A Graphic Biography.

Since his death in 1967, Ernesto "Che" Guevara has become a universally known revolutionary icon and political figure whose image is among the most recognisable in the world.

This graphic novel gives an overview of Che's life and the experiences that shaped him. It begins in his childhood, moving through his motorcycle journey through Latin America, his rise to prominence as a leader in the July 26 Movement, his travels in Africa, his involvement in the insurgency that led to his death in Bolivia, as well as detailing his extraordinary legacy.

One of the strengths of this book is that the Che is cast in a very human light, with his failings presented alongside his triumphs. He is cast as an accessible person with real emotions and who is constantly refining his thoughts, moving away from the popular "deified" presentation of him as some kind of perfect rebel.

Rodriguez's artwork is expressive and detailed, as well as having a distinctly dark nature to it, perfectly reflecting the harshness of the times. Characters are drawn in an almost-cartoonish, almost-ugly style, but still remain very human.

Rodriguez is one of the most well-known "underground" comic book artists in the US and has been making political comics since the 1960s. Influenced by his working-class background, Rodriguez is famous for the Trashman series, detailing the adventures of a Marxist superhero fighting for the working class.

He has also created many other political comics, including historical and autobiographical works.

Rodriguez comes from a radical background as a biker and activist in the 1960s and was a one-time supporter of the DeLeonist US Socialist Labor Party.

It is obvious from this book that he is a staunch supporter of the Cuban revolution while still acknowledging some of its weaknesses.

He even makes space to take swipes at the gusano ("worm") mafia in Miami, highlighting their corrupt origins, thuggish nature and hypocrisy.

Obviously, this is a far from comprehensive biography, given its short nature. Rodriguez does remarkably well to include as much background information as he does, although in some sections his analysis seems oversimplified. But as a general overview of Che's life, this book fares very well.

It is ideal as an introductory text for people who don't feel like sitting through a 500-page prose biography.

The volume concludes with a short essay by academics Sarah Seidman and Paul Buhle about the iconic presentation of Che in modern society — particularly the famous image taken by the photographer Alberto Korda — focussing on how the meaning of this image has changed over time.

They chart the popularisation of Che with revolutionary organisations in the US as well as liberation movements in Third world countries, and note the way this symbol of Marxist revolution became watered-down to a symbol of mere "rebellion" and eventually commercialsed.

"Amidst the continuing controversy around Che's life, the use of his image has increasingly been defended as meaningless or harmless in order to justify its continued commercial exploitation."

However, Che has begun to be reclaimed in recent times in the revolutionary movements across Latin America and in several films. His revolutionary life continues to inspire millions.

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