World War 3 Illustrated, #51: The World We Are Fighting For

Chris Gavaler , Pop Matters, September 28, 2020
In spite of everything that’s happened since Trump joined the stage of the 2016 Republican presidential debates, even just a year ago it might have been difficult to imagine a comics magazine with a taste for futuristic political dystopia overshadowed by the actual Armageddon of daily headlines. In the US alone, September news reports have been an apocalyptic smorgasbord: the West Coast is in flames, the pandemic death count is nearing one million, there are yet more tear-gassed protestors, and the president is still fanning his weekly scandals without repercussion on Twitter. Cartoon science fiction and political parodies seem pleasantly quaint in comparison.
Of course, when World War 3 Illustrated took its name in 1980, the world braced itself for yet more trouble as the US political landscape shifted hard to the right, upending the Cold War with it. Comics authors and editors Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman found their archvillain in Ronald Reagan—a president whom even Democrats might now embrace, if forced to choose, to at least avoid another stranger-than-science-fiction term of Donald Trump.
As the Reagan era fades into the recent past, World War 3 Illustrated has continued to evolve as a living political document expressing the struggles and aspirations of its leftist activist-artists. Like the two previous issues, #51 is a book-sized annual, compiling a dizzying array of work by nearly 40 creators. After 2019’s Shameless Feminists and 2018’s Now Is the Time of Monsters, the editors (founders Kuper and Tobocman are joined by Ethan Heitner) envisioned something uplifting: a tribute to “the humane socialist vision of Bernie Sanders”, who last fall, when the issue was planned, appeared to be on his way to claiming the Democratic nomination and a November face-off with “the fascist future of Donald Trump.”
That alternative timeline diverged with an even more unimaginable premise: the Biden-Harris ticket. The distance between our actual political present and the one World War 3 Illustrated longs for makes The World We Are Fighting For that much more compelling. The COVID-19 pandemic and the international Black Lives Matters protests might represent instabilities in society, but they are also opportunities. “Another world ACTUALLY IS possible,” the editors argue, and, more importantly: “That world is up for grabs.”
The 220-page issue features several artists that previous readers of the series will appreciate: Sue CoeEric DrookerBen KatchorKevin Pyle, and of course, the editors themselves. The comics vary widely in length, from the single-digit sequences of Elizabeth HaidleJackie LimaTerry Tapp, to the double-digit narratives of Sandy Jimenez and, the longest, Tobocman’s 26-page retrospective.
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