The Artists of World War 3 Illustrated put Comics in the Spotlight

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The Artists of World War 3 Illustrated put Comics in the Spotlight

Artists Peter Kuper, Seth Tobocman and fellow World War 3 Illustrated veteran Sabrina Jones (jump to interview), will be coming to Grand Forks as part of the 2011 Arts & Culture Conference. The Conference, whose theme is "Politics and the Graphic Image" features Kuper, Tobocman, Jones, 2002 Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett and the exhibition "Graphic Radicals: 30 Years of World War 3 Illustrated."

The exhibition features paintings, comics, film, animation and drawings from over 40 artists that have contributed to World War 3 Illustrated throughout the last 30 years. The exhibition runs Sept. 30-Oct. 31 at two galleries in Grand Forks: the Colonel Eugene E. Myers Gallery at the Hughes Fine Arts Center on the UND campus and the Third Street Gallery on Kittson. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

The exhibit, "Graphic Radicals: 30 Years of World War 3 Illustrated," features highlights from the independent political cartooning magazine, which was launched by artistic activists and lifelong friends Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman in 1979-1980 as an anti-establishment response to social problems of the day. The exhibit includes original artwork about global and hyper-local events that artists have scrutinized, documented and participated in such as the Iran-Contra affair, Tomkins Square Riot, Gulf War, genocide in the Balkins, 9/11, the War on Terrorism and Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.

The exhibit features paintings, comics, murals, film, animation and drawings from 40 artists that contributed to World War 3 Illustrated. Among the artists represented in the exhibition are Jones, Art Speigelman, Sue Coe, Eric Drooker, Mac McGill, Keven Pyle, Rebecca Migdal, James Romberg and Marguerite Van Cook. There are more than 150 works of art included in the exhibition; the work is presented in a thematic, chronological manner.Kuper and Tobocman established World War 3 Illustrated following the election of President Ronald Regan and a perceived tilt toward conservatism in America. Since that time, the publication -- produced annually -- has included artwork – created by a collective of artists who confront social and political issues on a specific theme. Themes addressed in World War 3 Illustrated include varied subjects such as racism, prison, AIDS, religion, sex and war.

The artists were kind enough to submit to an interview prior to their visit next week.

What was the Genesis of WW3 Illustrated?

Sabrina Jones: Fan-boy pals Peter and Seth grew up and moved to the big city. Instead of ditching their youthful enthusiasms, they applied them to the crazy real world around them.

Peter Kuper: Seth Tobocman and I had grown up together in Cleveland Ohio and had been avid comic fans.

We published our first fanzine in 1970 when we were around 11.We both ended up in NYC and at Pratt Institute. At that time there were very few outlets for the kind of comics we were producing. Since we had self-published zines before, we understood the process and decided to do so again. Ronald Reagan was on his way to becoming president during a hostage crisis in Iran. This and the tensions between the US and Russia inspired the title World War 3 illustrated.

Seth Tobocman: There were several events in the late 1970s, which led me to want to publish a political comic book. First, were the White Nights, the riots in the wake of the assassination of Gay politician Harvey Milk. Second the meltdown of the nuclear reactor at 3-mile island, very close to New York City, then the placement of U.S. nuclear missiles in Europe, and finally the Iran Hostage Crisis.

On a more personal level, putting out World War 3 reflected a renewed interest in comics on my part. I had been a comic fan and fanzine publisher in Junior high school, but had lost interest by the time I went to college. I then tried, pretty unsuccessfully to make films and got involved in the 70s Punk scene. So World War 3 was also about an attempt to re-enter comics, and to try to make comics more relevant to the world as I saw it.

How is WW3 Illustrated different than other publications that deal with similar issues?

ST: At the time we started out there were no regularly published American comic books that focused on political issues. There were a lot of left wing magazines, which were not visually exciting. Today there are a lot of political graphic novels. I think one thing that still makes WW3 special is the degree to which our artists and writers tend to be directly involved in organizing. We are not spectators. We don't pretend to be objective. We are partisan and engaged.

Sabrina Jones: Unlike other political magazines, it is bursting with juicy graphics. Unlike other comics anthologies, it is full of substantial content.

WW3 is unique in combining innovative visual narrative with impassioned advocacy and social criticism. Often, the artists speak from first hand experience, reporting on movements we have participated in.

PK: We use comics to address political issues and very often they are based on the personal experiences of the artists.

There are really no other publications in the US like WW3.

How has the magazine changed over its 30 year run?

ST: When we started the magazine, it was like raising a banner. A couple of young guys were doing a comic book against the whole ethos of the Reagan era. And all kinds of people flocked to that banner Squatters, AIDS activists, Feminists, Black Nationalists, Anarchists. And those people taught us things, which deepened out analysis. So the magazine is richer, more diverse and complex. For example the upcoming issue includes work by Arab cartoonists involved in the Jasmine revolution.

SJ: Early on, there was a focus on the threat of nuclear war, which meshed well with the founders' science fiction sensibilities. Soon, the apocalyptic urban environment of the 1980s exerted its influence, and a social realist strain was introduced. Greater inclusion of women and minorities brought diverse personal styles and voices. Now we have more international contributors. There are many more people today who are doing serious comics, so we have more talent to choose from. In short, it keeps getting better.

PK: The group of artists involved has expanded and we have more contributions from artists in other countries. After creating work like this for so many years we have also gotten better at our craft.

How does the visual image function in your work and in the process of activism?

PK: Comics are driven by the visuals, even to the extent that there may be no text and the art becomes its own language that requires no translation. WW3 creates a connection between people and a sense of solidarity. The first step in forming a movement is recognition that you are not alone, shouting in the wilderness.

ST: The visual image puts flesh on ideas. It gets at the emotional and visceral meaning. Images communicate to your heart while words go to your brain. So pictures tend to unite people and connect us to our common humanity while words often divide people.

SJ: The visuals are the heart, and the writing is the brains. As in any living organism, they work best in tandem.

What is your favorite issue?

PK: The September 11th issue. At that moment in history it was especially important that we had a platform so we could address the impact and discuss both our personal experiences and examine our governments' reaction without having to wait for mainstream publications to offer a forum (which they rarely did).

ST: My favorite issue is usually the one I'm working on.

SJ: This is an impossible question!

Peter Kuper, Seth Tobocman and Sabrina Jones will be on campus Tuesday, Oct. 25th and Wednesday Oct. 26th the artists will be part of a panel on World War 3 Illustrated held at 3:00pm on Tuesday , Oct. 25th in the River Valley Room of the UND Memorial Union.

Special closing receptions for the artists also are set for 4:00 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 26, at the Col. Eugene E. Myers Gallery, then at 7 p.m., at the Third Street Gallery in downtown Grand Forks. The artists will be in attendance.

For more information, contact: Kim W. Fink, (701) 777-2905 or Joel Jonientz, (701) 777-3395

30 Years of World War 3 Illustrated

“Graphic Radicals: 30 Years of World War 3 Illustrated” is on loan from the Exit Art cultural center in New York. Exit Art presents experimental, historical and unique exhibitions of aesthetic, social, political and environmental issues. The World War 3 Illustratedexhibit is curated by Kuper, Tobocman and Susan Willmarth.

The exhibit is supported in part by a grant from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, which received funding from the state legislature and the National Endowment of the Arts, as well as, the UND Departments of Art and Design, UND Communication Program, the UND College of Arts & Sciences, the UND Office of the Provost and The Myers Foundations.

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