Monday, March 30, 2009

Graphic Novel Monday: Mr. SPIC Goes to Washington, by Ilan Stavans with illustrations by Roberto Weil


Mr. SPIC Goes to Washington, by Ilan Stavans with illustrations by Roberto Weil. Published 2008 by Soft Skull Press.

Click here to buy Mr. SPIC Goes to Washington from your favorite indie bookstore.

Ilan Stavans' and Roberto Weil's graphic novel Mr. SPIC Goes to Washington is a clever satire of race and politics in the United States. The title is a clear reference to the Frank Capra/James Stewart classic film "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," about a small town man unprepared for the dirty dealings of our nation's capital (and there is a direct allusion to the film late in the book), and Stavans' and Weil's story follows a similar trajectory. Mr. Spic, more properly known as Samuel Patricio Inocencio Cardenas, is the mayor of Los Angeles, struggling to implement various reforms. When California's senator dies suddenly, Mayor Cardenas, or Spic, as he likes to be known, is offered the chance to serve California on the national stage in the U.S. Senate. He accepts.

When he gets there, though, things don't go well for him. Frustrated by the slow pace of reform and by his fellow senators' racism and condescention, he declares a sit-in on the Senate floor. Along the way, we learn about Mr. Spic's background- his youth as a gang member, his immigrant-laborer parents, and his idealism derived from Hispanic activists and leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Che Guevarra. As time passes, and his enemies in the Senate move to have him declared mentally incompetant, Mr. Spic's position deteroriates and in the end his journey is less Frank Capra and more John F. Kennedy.

Writer Ilan Stavans interjects himself into the narrative now and then, as well-wisher and background observer. Stavans is the Jewish son of Russian immigrants to Mexico, who is now a professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts and a prolific author and editor of everything from Resurrecting Hebrew, about the rise of Hebrew as a modern language, to the anthology Tropical Synagogues to The Poetry of Pablo Neruda and Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer. Artist Weil is a painter and artist from Venezuela who has drawn several collections of cartoons and other artwork. You can see his website here. In Mr. SPIC, Weil uses a style that reminds me of a combination of editorial cartoonists like Tom Toles and Dilbert, but his style is uniquely his own. He uses a black and white and gray palette, mixing in photographs and other media and his distortions and contortions reinforce the narrative's satire and black humor.

Enjoyable if a little heavy to be one of my favorites, Mr. SPIC is a clever, smart and well-put-together leftist satire of American politics. The book touches on several hot-button topics- race, immigration, the financial crisis, the slow pace of change and the unreliability of the press. There is some violence but no swearing or sexual content; I think it would be a fine choice for high school students and above, and though there is a fair amount of Spanish dialogue I think it's comprehensible to non-speakers in context. Definitely overtly political with a strong point of view, it gives the reader a lot to think about and discuss.

Rating: BACKLIST


FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from the publisher.

5 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Interesting. What do you think of the use of the name? I understand the co-optation/empowerment thing, but generally I end up cringing anyway!

Marie said...

Rhapsody, it makes me a little uncomfortable- but it's meant to, I think.

Nymeth said...

This sounds like something I'd enjoy, and judging by Weil's website, I think I'll LOVE the art. The title reminds me of what is done with racial stereotypes in American Born Chinese.

The Social Frog said...

Hello Marie,
I am letting you know I have given you an award! Please stop by to pick it up. http://thesocialfrog.com/?p=1601

naida said...

this does sound interesting.
http://thebookworm07.blogspot.com/