Che: the graphic biography

Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon (the pair who produced the bestselling graphic adaptation of the 9-11 Commission Report) have a new book out: Che: A Graphic Biography.

In addition to narrating the remarkable story of Guevara's life, Che is a very good backgrounder on the geopolitics that gave rise to Guevara's pan-Americanism, the Cuban revolution, and his tragic and brutal execution (the press that published Che, Hill & Wang, were last mentioned here for their graphic biography of Leon Trotsky).

The graphic format is especially well-suited to these geopolitical sequences, in which multi-page spreads are used to connect the dots between historical events and nations to give a compact but extremely informative tour through the complex story of Latin American colonization and independence as well as the Cold War.

This background also sets the stage for the complex story of Che, the man; and Che, the symbol. Both are fraught — Che, the man, was fierce, brilliant, flawed, vicious, and compassionate. As a symbol, Che has become a revolutionary icon devoid of any substance, for sale on mugs and t-shirts (a warped mirror of Guevara's veneration in Cuba itself, where his larger-than-life image has likewise become an ideological icon).

As with every biography, the biographers have had to take sides, and, by and large, they side with Che. They don't whitewash his actions in war, or the disastrous blunders in Africa; but they also give just appreciation to Guevara's bravery, his commitment to justice, and his integrity.

The contemporary popular narrative of Che has two grossly oversimplified sides: sneering neocons who dismiss him as a butcher or a fool and denigrate those who sport Che badges as naive kids; and the worshipful reification of Che as a kind of revolutionary saint who could do no wrong.

The reality is subtler and more important than either position has it. The colonial story is one of immense greed and profit-taking by rich countries at the expense of the poor; it's the story of corruption and brutal repression, and it's the story of revolutions attempted, betrayed, and destroyed by internal and external forces. Guevara's life is a lens for understanding what colonialism does to its participants — as Guevara says, "imperialism bestialises men."

Che: A Graphic Biography