Grab your picket signs, it’s time for “So You Want To Read Comics”. This is our weekly feature where we take a look at a single topic or genre, then give you two comic book recommendations, perfect for new readers, based on that topic or genre. This week we’re taking a look at the recent events known collectively as Hot Labor Summer.
Whether or not you regularly keep up on the news, passively read headlines, or actively try to avoid current affairs, it’s hard to avoid all that has been going on in 2023 in the world of labor. First coined by the Los Angeles Times, “Hot Labor Summer” is a term that has been both affectionately and derisively applied to the uptick in occurrences of workers striking, forming unions, and engaging in other activities to improve their working conditions. Two of the most well-known news pieces (that are currently ongoing) have been the strikes by the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild, commonly referred to as SAG-AFTRA, which has effectively shut down production in Hollywood. Beyond the world of entertainment, the United Auto Workers have recently gone on strike, while the threat of a strike pushed for a new contract for UPS drivers who were represented by The Teamsters. While only time will tell what the lasting effects of this increase in labor disputes will lead to, some economists have suggested that this is continuing the trend started in 2020 that shows little signs of stopping. There are many great books, TV shows, and movies out there detailing the perils of past strikes and labor movements, but perhaps surprisingly, comic books have also played a role in telling these stories.
Here are a couple of comics to read for those looking for perspective on what’s currently going on, or the history of labor protests.
WOOBLIES!: A GRAPHIC HISTORY OF THE INDUSTRIAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD
In the early 20th century, as the industrial revolution was reaching its peak, the workers fueling that advancement, had next to zero amount of rights. Workers, especially those from minority groups, were being mistreated across the board while the “captains of industry” were making before-then inconceivable amounts of money. Then came the IWW or Industrial Workers of The World. This collection of short comics forms a narrative that tells the story of how the IWW came to be, and through many hardships, how it helped spearhead a lot of the action that would go on to secure many of the labor rights that workers today still benefit from. Now, the art in this collection is a bit rougher looking than your typical comic, having an almost underground look to it, but this grittiness helps paint the image of what trying to work during this time could feel like. This is an excellent read especially if you’re at all interested in the history of labor rights movements.
Writer: Greg Rucka
Artist: Michael Lark
Publisher: Image Comics
One of the great things about comic books is how long some series can be. This length allows for worlds and stories to be told with much greater detail than a lot of other mediums allow. It also allows these stories to touch on a lot of different topics without them feeling out of place. In Lazarus, the world has devolved into a dystopian nightmare where the world and its wealth are controlled by elite families with everyone else being divided into social groups based on their usefulness to the controlling families. Each family has a “Lazarus” in their employ, who is essentially a cyborg assassin. While this series is mostly an action comic book, it does manage to bring up some very interesting questions regarding the balance of power between workers and their bosses and what is a person’s worth beyond the job they can do. This series is currently ongoing, with a quarterly release schedule, but the past issues have been collected in seven volumes.
What did you think of these recommendations? Do you have any of your own? Let us know in the comments section below.