If you sometimes find yourself with twinges of hope even two years into the calamitous Trump presidency, the first page of The Antifa Comic Book: 100 Years of Fascism and Antifa Movements isn’t going to help you keep that mood. The section, which defines fascism, uses some descriptions that in the head of our orange-faced leader ring true. And while it too often seems like our president is a fascist, that doesn’t mean that every institution in the country has capitulated to his desires. A fascist leader does not a fascist state make, it turns out. At least for now.
But history is against that kind of outcome and Gord Hill, a member of the Kwakwaka’wakw nation in Western Canada, takes great measure to make that clear. All it takes is the right kind of pain and the right kind of rage and the right kind of paranoia to mobilize at just the right moment and soon enough, a leader will find plenty of forceful followers to make a fascist agenda the new normal for any country. Where’s the Justice League when you need them?
Well, it turns out they might be wearing black masks and gong under the name Antifa. They scare the hell out of conservatives and liberals clutch their pearls and say they go too far, but that’s what they said about Spider-Man, right? All it takes is one J. Jonah Jameson to get the propaganda going daily, and anyone with a backbone ready to stand up to fascism can be painted with a crooked brush.
And if you’ve read any of the DC comics in which Lex Luthor is the president of the United States, then you know that reality can reflect fiction in some alarming ways.
The original Antifa was an effort by the German Communist Party to push back the Nazis, but the more recent version appeared in Germany in the 1980s, the work of anarchists opposing an encroaching far-right movement. Well, the far right hasn’t gone away, and neither has Antifa. In America, most people encountered them for the first time during Occupy Wall Street, and they’ve not gone away since. But if we’re focused on who they are, we should be equally concerned with who they are against.
Hill traces that enemy starting with its rise under Mussolini in Italy including the appearance of the Arditi Del Popolo in 1921 who rose to oppose the fascists after two years of slumber on the left. It’s a meticulous, detail-filled, and thoughtful recounting of Italian history brought to life through Hill’s colorful artwork. An equally compelling history of the Nazis follows and includes those who fought against them long before World War 2, including the Red Front, the Edelweiss Pirates, and the White Rose, and those who appeared during the conflict, like the Polish and Yugoslavian Partisans.
Hill also recounts the circumstance of the Spanish Civil War, which in some ways provided a preamble of idealism to World War II, and the spreading of fascism as movements in England, including the National Front.
All this history, though, is pointed to one specific thing — now. Following the rise of European neo-Nazis in the 1990s and a British branch of Antifa to combat them on the ground, and with a segue into the German origins of the modern Antifa movement in general and a survey of the 21st Century fascist movements in places like France, Sweden, Italy, Greece, and other countries, it becomes obvious that the idea that fascism had been defeated more than half a century ago. It was a sickness that festered. Like the Black Death, it breaks out in deadly clusters. And sometimes, you’re not immediately clear its the same plague reappearing until it’s too late.
There’s a focused section at the end on neo-Nazi movements in the United States and Canada, tracing the recent enthusiasm directly to our current leadership, and Hill is unable to provide any clean ending for us. It’s an ongoing battle, they make plain, and this vigorous recounting of why does a great job of not only getting its message across but doing so in a way that far-left and radical comics often don’t achieve.
Rather than descending into rage-filled experimentation, a sober and organized narrative is combined with straightforward color work that bursts out of the panels with its energy and detail, especially when rendering the continual conflicts, from protests to street fights to war battles while still making them about the people in these situations
This is accessible radical history and, unfortunately, living history that is still necessary to attend to. Hill does an amazing job at giving you the information you need to combat the pandemic of modern Fascism, often marked by cheap red hats.