What Could’ve Happened Here

The first installment of a four-issue, foundation-funded, high-profile comic series bears the subtitle, “What if the attack on the U.S. Capitol succeeded?”

That pretty much capsulizes the storyline. I am a little surprised, and not just as a nonfiction comics editor and critic, that so little discussion of that dark possibility seems to still linger in the air. Perhaps we all breathed such a deep sigh of relief when the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol failed that we chose not to think in those terms. The pursuit of criminal indictments against at least some of the perpetrators seems to have taken up all the oxygen.

In 1/6: The Graphic Novel, we have a well-paced narrative in the superhero or noir styles of mainstream comic books today, which makes sense, given the graphic novel’s creators—Alan Jenkins, Gan Golan, and Will Rosado. That it comes with publicity urging the reader to check out additional resources available in a study and action guide underlines the seriousness of the project, but it also points to a certain limitation: the absence of anything like humor or irony. The Adventures of Unemployed Man (2012), by Golan and Erich Origen, a projection of superheroes out of work, had an abundance of both and proved stronger for it.

Never mind. The subject is indeed deadly serious. Our protagonists, trapped in Washington, D.C., after a successful coup, uncover the Electoral College ballots that may be “the last evidence of our democracy.” A multiracial, multicultural band of young people—including a newscaster caught in the middle of a TV broadcast—heads out into the street to find a Confederate flag draped over Abe Lincoln’s statue; armed rightwingers are in charge, prowling for supposed traitors.

That is about as far as we get, presumably leaving us eager for the next installments. And I am indeed enthused, at the very least, by this experiment in comic art as a format for antifascist mobilization. The nonprofit research organization Western States Center, which is attached to the project, proposes that readers look to the guides Confronting White Nationalism in Libraries: A ToolkitConfronting White Nationalism in Schools: A ToolkitA Community Guide for Opposing Hate, and Southern Poverty Law Center materials.

I am not yet sure about the connections that this comic actually makes, or can make, between the casual reader and taking action in today’s United States. We know that the antifascist comic books of the 1940s generated enthusiasm for the Allied cause (or more directly, the actions of the American military did, as a big chunk of the readership was overseas or at home in the military effort). We know that the “Underground Comix” of the 1960s and 1970s—with their dope-smoking, peacenik mien—helped expand the anti-war sentiments of young folks beyond college campuses. We also know that the antifascism sentiment inscribed in Art Spiegelman’s 1992 Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus may very well be the most influential comic book of all time.

On the whole, 1/6: The Graphic Novel is a solid effort to rouse consciousness. Let us hope that it does just that. And that, in future installments, a little humor sneaks through the much-needed message.