Taxes, the Tea Party and Those Revolting Rebels: A History in Comics of the American Revolution

By Stan Mack (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-56163-697-6

It has long been a truism of the creative arts that the most effective, efficient and economical method of instruction and training has been the comic strip. Advertising mavens have, for over a century, exploited the easy impact of words wedded to evocative pictures, and public information materials frequently use sequential narrative to get hard messages over quickly and simply.

Additionally, since World War II, carefully crafted strips have been constantly used as training materials in every aspect of adult life from school careers advice to various branches of military service – utilising the talents of comics giants as varied as Milton Caniff, Will Eisner (who spent decades producing reams of comic manuals for the US army and other government departments), Kurt Schaffenberger and Neil Adams.

These days the educational value and merit of comics is a given. Larry Gonick in particular has been using the strip medium to stuff learning and entertainment in equal amounts into the weary brains of jaded students with such tomes as The Cartoon History of the Universe, The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon Guide to… series (Genetics, Sex, Computers, Non-Communication, Physics, Statistics, the Environment and more).

Japan uses a huge number of manga text books in its schools and universities and has even released government reports and business prospectuses as comic books to get around the public’s apathy towards reading large dreary screeds of public information.

So do we, and so do the Americans. I’ve even produced one or two myself, back in my freelancing years…

Here the medium has been used by an acclaimed master to comprehensively recapitulate the most pivotal period in the history of democracy in a manner both inviting and astoundingly effective – as is clear by the pages of testimonials from satisfied teachers…

Former art director for the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Stan Mack is also a writer, artist and cartoonist with a long history of turning strips into documentary, commentary and reportage: see for example his controversial Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies (Village Voice), Stan Mack’s Out-takes (Adweek) and books like Fight for Freedom, Hard Time, Janet & Me, The Road to Revolution, and The Story of the Jews: A 4,000-Year Adventure.

In 1994 he released a stunningly addictive pictorial treatment of those convoluted times, characters and events which explosively combined to create the libertarian utopia of the United States of America. The recently re-released saga examined background and context, laid out key events and the causes of them: tracing the tricky path from sidelined and dissatisfied colonial possession to new nation and it was done with wit, understanding and a determined effort to demystify and desanctify the affair, undoing two centuries of spin and revisionism…

It all starts with a charming Introduction, explaining the origins of this superb monochrome hardback tome (164 mm x 240 mm) and tale: laying out the ground rules for use and the ethos behind the project.

Thereafter the fact-packed fun unfolds in section one ‘1761-1775 Monarchy and Mobs’ which covers – in smart, snappy, efficiently short and phenomenally memorable vignettes – ‘1761 The Writs of Assistance’ and ‘1763 The Colonies’ setting the scene whilst the heinous money-making schemes of English bean-counting Prime Minister George Grenville (whose swingeing taxes and tariffs kickstart the rebellion) are seen in action through ‘1764 Sugar Act’ and ‘1765 Stamp Act’ before his successor ramped up the grief with ‘1767 Townsend Duties’ resulting in ‘1770 Boston Massacre’

Thus we come to the truth about the ‘1773 Boston Tea Party’, and the ‘1774 1st Continental Congress’ before at last shedding blood at ‘1775 Lexington & Concord’

Throughout the chapter and the book Mack is scrupulous in pointing out that all the talk of equality, liberty and self-determination only applies to white males, not slaves (or freed Africans), Indigenous people and women; the results of which we are still living through and something that still needs addressing…

The second section then counts down ‘1775-1781 Redcoats & Guerrillas’, ‘1775’s ‘2nd Continental Congress’, ‘Bunker Hill’, ‘George Washington’ and the potential escalations at ‘Ticonderoga/Canada’ as well as 1776’s ‘Declaration of Independence’, before following the war from ‘Long Island to Trenton’.

A catalogue of battles follows: ‘1777 Saratoga’ and ‘1778 Valley Forge’; ‘1779 Trouble at Home’, ‘1781 West Point’ before examining ‘1780 War in the South’ and ‘1781 Yorktown’.

The third and final section explores how the war was won but victory led only to factional infighting: a cold war for hearts and minds between Federalists and Constitutionalists such as Washington, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison Jr. on one side and conservative Anti-Federalists on the other. Seeing as all the familiar names are on one side; guess who won?

Apparently each faction was as concerned with wealth as well-being and freedom…

In ‘1782-1789 Profit & Virtue’ explores the changing state of world trade with the new nation, as the architects of America focussed on consolidation in ‘1782 The Confederation’, almost having their work undone by ‘1786 Shay’s Rebellion’ finally leading to ‘1786 Constitutional Convention’ and ultimately the ‘1789 Bill of Rights’

Potently enthralling, beguiling succinct and astoundingly matter-of-fact, Mack offers an eyes-wide-open account of events and motives that make this book an absolute must-have for any student, political exponent or tub-thumping pub expert.

And it’s bloody well drawn and rather funny too…
© 1994, 2012 Stan Mack.