I always had a bit of a man-crush on Che Guevara, since way before I knew who he was properly or had read any of his writings. I first heard the name in the David Bowie track ‘Panic in Detroit’, ‘He looked a lot like Che Guevara’, which had been around me since I was a child. I’d be willing to bet that, in my left-wing household I would have seen Che’s image on badges on friends of my parents, or at the very least on the various marches we attended every so often*. Later I had a brilliant portrait of him laughing by Henri Cartier-Bresson on my wall for years and then not so long ago I remember laughing ruefully when a) my mum bought me Che Guevara cufflinks for work and b) Che T-shirts went on sale in Gap.
So it goes, there hasn’t been anything so angry, so iconoclastic, so revolutionary that it can’t be co-opted to make a fast buck for someone further down the line. Maybe that is the ultimate socio-economic truth** Nazism aside, you can commodify everything after 50 years. Especially when it comes wrapped in a package as cool looking as Che, let’s face it the man looked like a rock star and it’s very easy to see how he became the very personification of revolution; not only that but young revolution – whether against entrenched perceived capitalist injustices in South America, or your parents not lending you the car at the weekend.
But I digress, I’ve read big chunks of Che’s writings and writings about him, The Motorcycle Diaries remains a classic, the front cover quote ‘Easy Rider meets Das Kapital’ sums it up better than ever I could, it’s such a young man’s book and such a great read too. My other favourite is a really good book by Patrick Symes called Chasing Che, where he recreated his motorcycle journey almost 50 years later, looking at his legacy – a great piece of travel writing and more.
Now don’t misunderstand me I’m no revolutionary Marxist, I’m a fully paid-up member of the bourgeoisie and I’m well aware of Guevara’s failings; his of-the-time-but-even-then-very-dodgy views on racial characteristics, the fact that he liked to live up to his own image, the fact that after the revolution he was of little use in Cuba other than as a figurehead – the minutiae of running a nation, was either beyond him, or just flat-out bored him^ and the fact that he was arguably not much of a tactical commander in the field either. I’ve no interest in hagiography.
Which brings us by a long, tortuous process to Spain Rodriguez Che: A Graphic Biography, from 2008. I knew Rodriguez work with Harvey Pekar on my beloved American Splendor series, so when I spotted this one going cheap I grabbed it. I have always loved the clean, neat lines Rodriguez brings to his work, his compositions are always great. What I really like about this graphic novel is the fact that Rodriguez, whilst obviously admiring Che very deeply, resists the temptation to worship.
I really enjoyed this one as a biography, a comic and a cultural history.
Hasta la Victoria Siempre!
508 Down (still)
PS – Spain Rodriguez having written the comic Zodiac Mindwarp, where a certain love dictator took his name from.
*one result of which is that I could say ‘Nuclear Power? No Thanks!’, in 7 different languages before I was 10. That’s a proper education.
**as I sit here drinking coffee from my Sex Pistols mug.
^I’m simplifying hugely, as is my want.