World War 3 Illustrated
Cover of Issue Number One, Published in 1980, Cover Art by Ben Hillman
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World War 3 Illustrated is an American comics anthology magazine with a left-wing political focus, founded in 1980 by New York comic book artists Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman, and painter Christof Kohlhofer, and subsequently produced by a collective with a rotating editorship. Other frequent contributors, mostly based in New York City, include Isabella Bannerman, Sue Coe, Scott Cunningham, Eric Drooker, Sandy Jimenez, Sabrina Jones, Mac McGill, Kevin Pyle, James Romberger.
The magazine initially began as a home for comic book work and graphic/illustrated story telling that was anti-establishment and aggressively critical of the social and political right-wing conservatism in ascension after the election of President Ronald Reagan. In the spirit of the then burgeoning DIY approach prevalent among independent punk and hardcore bands and musicians, the magazine took control of the means of production and distribution, foregoing possible relationships with established publishing institutions or companies for the sake of its own editorial integrity and political independence.
In the first decade of the magazine, its focus ranged from the global, to the hyper local, specifically addressing the politics and concerns affecting the neighborhoods of the Lower East Side of Manhattan: housing rights; gentrification; police brutality; racism; economic oppression. The Tompkins Square Park Riot (1988) was a watershed event for the magazine’s founders and artistic contributors as much of the work in the anthology had focused squarely on the political issues leading to the riot, such as the city government’s policies towards squatters and the homeless. When tensions brought the riot to its most dangerous points across the two day conflict, much of the notable imagery associated with the grassroots resistance on improvised signage and wheat-pasted posters was appropriated from published work in the magazine created by Eric Drooker, Seth Tobocman, and others.
The late 1980s and 1990s saw an increasing diversity in both the number of new individual artists and writers contributing original comic book stories to World War 3 Illustrated, and a widening of the range in subject matter. This period is also marked by an explosive expansion in distribution, as Ruth Schwartz of Mordam Records took on the magazine’s circulation fulfillment ensuring that it would be present in any and all outlets that already carried the notable music punk ‘zine Maximum RocknRoll. This distribution agreement took World War 3 Illustrated’s issues international, as they were carried by Tower Records in all territories. The partnership with Mordam records continued late into the 1990s until World War 3 Illustrated handed its distribution over to Chris Staros of Top Shelf Productions and Diamond Comic Distributors, an arrangement which continues today.
Content and editorial profile
A predominantly black-and-white printed comic book story anthology, World War 3 Illustrated has featured full color covers and occasional special color sections “within book.” It has historically carried advertising of less than ten pages total per issue and has ranged in total page count from 80 pages to 138 in recent issues of the last decade. Typical World War 3 Illustrated issues are focused on a single political issue, theme or broad subject decided upon by the editorial staff. Artists and writers are then invited to develop material addressing the issue’s subject. This approach of incubating material around a different political concern or specific topic every single issue has made the magazine an extremely diverse and unpredictable periodical anthology in the world of comics and possibly the longest-running of its kind in print, at over 30 years of publication.
Unlike other comic book anthology-format magazines like Heavy Metal or the defunct Epic Illustrated, World War 3 Illustrated is known more for the sustained or recurring presence of certain artists, than any ongoing series across issues of character-based episodic features such as in Mad magazine. Sandy Jimenez's "Shit House Poet", running exclusively in World War 3 Illustrated since 1991, is the exception, as the longest-running recurring feature with an identifiable single cast of characters. 2011 marked its twenty-first year in the magazine.
The magazine's look is greatly informed by the work of its original founders, and also the era and context in which the anthology was initially developed: the 1980s DIY culture and grassroots activism. Much of the earlier work was created for the magazine with an eye toward visuals that could be easily reproduced in other media, such as silk screened banners, posters and tee shirts. In the past decade, the magazine has increasingly published work that is more varied in its graphic approach, with increasing use of half-tones, grayscaling and fine line work alongside the established hardline work and photo collage of years past. The magazine’s logo, an image of a globe superimposed over a blazing matchstick, is indicative of the magazine’s philosophy concerning the need for vigilance and recognition of perennial conflicts and systems of ongoing oppression all over the world.
Contributors and controversy
World War 3 Illustrated has provided an ongoing platform for many writers and artists active in the worlds of grassroots and leftist politics over the past 30 years. It has also published work by controversial political figures, including journalism and essays by controversial thinkers, critics and academics, at times assigning its veteran cartoonists to illustrate certain works. Imprisoned activists and writers like Mumia Abu-Jamal and embattled cartoonist Mike Diana have published work in the magazine.
- ""A Magazine Rooted In The East Village" A New York Times Article by Colin Moynihan reviewing the New York City EXIT ART show "Graphical Radicals"". The New York Times. January 28, 2011.
- ""Graphic Radicals’: ‘30 Years of World War 3 Illustrated" A New York Times Article by Holland Cotter chronicling the history of the magazine and reviewing the New York City EXIT ART show "Graphical Radicals"". The New York Times. January 13, 2011.
- Green, Karen. "Comic Adventures in Academia Blog: The Rapidograph Is Mightier Than the Sword". Retrieved 4 February 2011.
- World War 3 Illustrated 1980-1988. (1989). Fantagraphics Books. ISBN 1-56097-002-2
- Confrontational Comics. (1995). Four Walls Eight Windows. ISBN 1-56858-039-8