Review: Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography by Noah Van Sciver, Paul Buhle, Steve Max and Dave Nance

The colourful Eugene V. Debs would make a wonderful subject for a graphic novel but unfortunately, this is not the book I’d recommend.

A text-heavy graphic novel that cannot decide if it’s “Debs for beginners” or something far more serious. It is filled with half-ideas, people and institutions that pop in for a moment, are never introduced, and who then disappear a moment later. (Will anyone reading it know who Daniel De Leon was? Or for that matter, William Winpisinger?)

Much is done to show Debs as if he was a 21st century politician, far ahead of his time on issues like race and gender, though one wonders how true this is. (The party he led was hardly free of racism and sexism.)

There are passing references, largely uncritical, about the Bolsheviks and their American supporters.

A not insignificant part of the book focusses on American socialism post-Debs, showing Norman Thomas as a rather nice old man and Michael Harrington in a very critical light.

The authors’ political agenda is evident on every page, but the real Eugene Debs does not come alive here. A pity — this was such a great idea for a book.