The Occupy movement that started in New York and spread rapidly around the world has already succeeded. It doesn’t matter if it goes on to become a long-term political force or disappears in a few weeks; it has put the old socialist issues of inequality, economic injustice and the deficiencies of capitalism back at the heart of public debate. This is a stunning achievement, when socialism was thought to be dead and buried, and the Occupy posters reproduced here typify a confidence and clarity that has changed the language of politics.
They are nostalgic in that they resemble the posters of Paris 1968, or Spain 1936. Expressionist graphics, decisive slogans and modernist wit pervade these images. Yet if the abstract design of a red tower calling on the 99% to Occupy London makes you think of Soviet revolutionary art, the really fascinating thing about the posters is not these echoes of the 20th century but their connection with today’s comics or graphic novels.
Famously, the Guy Fawkes mask used by protesters comes from the graphic novel (and subsequent bad film) V for Vendetta, and this face makes its appearance on posters too. The strong black-and-white style used against coloured backgrounds by Occupy the Streets with its striding woman, Occupy Philly with its Liberty Bell, and Occupy Portland with its face of a young woman representing the 99%, all share the aesthetics of comic book artists such as Art Spiegelman and Charles Burns.
Such comics tend to portray a noirish and Kafkaesque version of the modern world. In Burns’s graphic novel Black Hole, for example, a group of shallow teens are sucked into a nightmarish existential horror when their community is infected by a bizarre plague. It seems from these posters that the bleak, disturbing visions of comic books have shaped the radical culture of this generation. While mainstream culture was validating conservative economic and social values in the 1990s and early 21st century, the underground culture of graphic fiction was popularising a deeply alienated view of contemporary society. V for Vendetta, after all, celebrates the bombing of Big Ben and the Post Office tower. In these posters, those wild visual fantasies fuel a very real anger.
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