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Drawing inspiration

Anarchist Seth Tobocman brings radical comic-book to the Lucy Parsons Center
By VALERIE VANDE PANNE  |  June 16, 2010

"Die, yuppie scum," chants the long-haired man, to the beat of a pounding drum. "You don't need to fuck people over to survive."

The chanter is Seth Tobocman, anarchist and radical comic-book artist. You Don't Need To Fuck People Over To Survive is also the title of his best-known graphic novel. Tonight, a rainy Saturday, he is telling a story to a packed room of ruffians at the Lucy Parsons Center, the South End book collective.

As he speaks, a slide show of his distinctive inked artwork flips by on a large screen. Eric Blitz thumps rhythmically on a drum and cymbal, as he has in the past with punk icons like Greg Ginn of Black Flag.

The story Tobocman tells is about a woman who loses her home in a foreclosure. She, along with her family of 12 and her community, has a standoff with the police. She wins, the police leave, and she keeps her home.

It's a true story.

The room is enraptured by the tale. More graphics flip by, one reading, OBAMA TO BANKS: MY ADMINISTRATION IS THE ONLY THING BETWEEN YOU AND THE PITCHFORKS. Illustration after illustration comes to light: punks with mohawks, as Tobocman repeats, "It's our fucking park" over and over again. He is telling the story of New York City's Tompkins's Square Park protests and squatting of the 1980s.

Tobocman is a master of performance-art/lecture/spoken word, and his fodder is the evils of the US government and capitalism. "Men who trade in human blood," he says.

Tobocman is telling these stories as part of his current book tour, promoting his latest graphic novel, Understanding the Crash, a concise and easy-to-follow guide to how we got into this economic crisis — and how we can get out of it.

"It changes if you talk about solutions," says Tobocman. "It becomes much more incendiary. The media presents problems as unsolvable, and that leads to despair."

Tobocman has been illustrating the problems of the United States — with his suggested solutions — since 1979, when he started the groundbreaking comic book World War 3 Illustrated with Peter Kuper. Thirty years later, World War 3 still rages, an intergenerational collective of street-savvy activists.

For Understanding the Crash, Tobocman collaborated with finance journalist Eric Laursen and Jessica Wehrle to take on the economic crisis.

"Housing is how we define class," says Laursen. "The crash was not just on Wall Street. It was a human tragedy resulting from the housing bubble, which resulted in social collapse in places like Cleveland and Miami."

"Washington doesn't see an urgency in solving the housing collapse," he continues, "so solving it is up to communities, to organize to keep their homes, and to push for a system built around helping people, rather than banks."

All of this is dynamically illustrated in Understanding the Crash, with striking images and clear language. It includes a political history of finance in the US, and exquisitely covers the last 80 years of finance regulation and reform.

As the event draws to a close, a black-and-white illustration of Thomas Jefferson appears on the screen, along with this quote: "Whenever there is in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right."

And so Tobocman chants, drum still beating, a heart driving the ragamuffins: "It's our fucking land . . . We can't lose . . . there are millions of us."

For more info and tour dates, go to

  Topics: News Features , Barack Obama, Business, Economic Issues,  More more >
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