March 01, 2022

Reading about Putin and Poetry

Reading about Putin and Poetry

How graphic novels and graphic nonfiction work is something like the way documentaries do, but slower. We look: A face, an action, a series of actions are laid out boldly, dramatically. Pow! Wham! We look again, we read. Does “graphic biography” mean really just a comic book? Sure. But comics can be provocative and indelible.

Darryl Cunningham is a British journalist who reports and editorializes in cartoon-format. His pictures are simple, drawn seemingly on a computer from photographs. He is not interested in the human being that must be hidden under the hide of Putin, and for a cartoonist, he has no knack for satire. Instead of making fun of Putin, he catalogues the decades of authoritarianism and murder, which are the earthquakes setting off Cunningham’s and perhaps our tsunami of anger: “Do nothing and Putin will strengthen his grip on our world. Take action and we will both encourage the stirrings of democracy in Russia, and stop his regime spreading corruption to other countries, including our own.”

Sincere and angry, Cunningham is not a biographer so much as an effective prosecutor. He expresses no wonder or fascination about how this little, unimpressive KGB agent climbed his way to the throne of the largest country in the world: “The Russian government’s anti-gay policies are the flip side of Putin’s absurd macho posturing and need to portray himself as Russia’s patriotic strongman.”

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