The history of South America in the past century, even before—all of Latin America, really. Hell, anything south of Texas—is not common curriculum up here in the north.

We get broad strokes of European colonization, of the Spanish Conquest, and of bits and pieces of the Aztec, Inca, and Maya peoples at that time, but not much more. Anything else is usually up to the individual to discover, be it on their own or through post-secondary education. And the occasional piece of entertainment. It leaves a pretty large hole of knowledge about our own hemisphere.

Much of what we see in Canada is passively filtered through an American viewpoint. Sometimes romanticized. More often demonized. It leads to a schism in thought about some of the figures and events. Like Che Guevara, idealized by many as a kind of romantic freedom fighter. And the Cuban Revolution, often viewed negatively in retrospect.

Life of Che

It makes works like Life of Che: An Impressionistic Biography by Héctor Germán Oesterheld, Alberto Breccia, and Enrique Breccia, as translated by Erica Mena, all the more important. A work originally published close to the actual events, by people who lived through them, using original sources, to tell the story

The diseases he really wants to cure aren’t typhus, malaria, leprosy, but hunger, exploitation, injustice.”

Part of what stands out to me about Life of Che is how this story is told by Oesterheld, Breccia, and Breccia. It’s broken into two primary threads that alternate throughout the book. The first of Guevara’s last days in Bolivia. And the second of a detailed account of his life starting from childhood leading up to that point.

The art for the Bolivian sections are done by Enrique Breccia and this is perhaps what inspired the subtitle for the work as an “impressionistic” biography. The artwork is heavy on thick shadows, exaggerated faces for antagonist soldiers, and dripping in mood. Dialogue and narration are sparse, adding to the overall minimalism of the segments. It gives it kind of a raw, in the moment feel.

Which stands in contrast to the second thread, with art by Alberto Breccia, that is filled with narration of Che’s life. More fact-based and historical, presenting a more traditional style biography along with a more realism-based style from the elder Breccia. It’s here that we get the bulk of the narrative of Guevara’s life as a revolutionary, his desires for freedom, his role in the Cuban Revolution, and the conflict with and interference by the CIA.

I love the juxtaposition of the two styles. Both in Oesterheld’s writing and in the stylistic approaches by the Breccias. It’s fascinating to see the comparative techniques used in this book and how both artists’ styles change in works elsewhere. It’s an amazing exhibition of choosing a style to suit your subject matter.

Cease fire! I am Che Guevara! I’m worth more alive than dead.”

I really quite like what Fantagraphics has been doing with the Alberto Breccia Library publications, of which Life of Che: An Impressionistic Biography from Oesterheld, Breccia, and Breccia is the fifth volume. It’s great to see the works themselves in print, for some the first time ever in English. For the quality of the stories they’re telling and for historical significance.

In addition in this volume, it includes brief biographies of the creators and an afterword, written by Pablo Turnes, that goes into some of the details and context of the work itself. It gives a very welcome expansion on the events surrounding what’s told of Guevara’s life here, the broader politics in Argentina and beyond, and what Oesterheld and the Breccias brought to the project. Particularly in how important this was to Oesterheld.

Life of Che

Classic Comic Compendium: LIFE OF CHE

Life of Che: An Impressionistic Biography (The Alberto Breccia Library – Volume 5)
Writer: Héctor Germán Oesterheld
Artists: Alberto Breccia & Enrique Breccia
Translator: Erica Mena
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Release Date: March 15 2022

Read past entries in the Classic Comic Compendium!