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A graphic biography of socialist labor legend Eugene V. Debs Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party in the early twentieth-century to federal and state office across the country, helped to pioneer a fighting union politics that organized all workers, and became the beloved figurehead of American radicalism. Imprisoned for speaking out against World War I, Debs ran for p A graphic biography of socialist labor legend Eugene V. Debs Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party in the early twentieth-century to federal and state office across the country, helped to pioneer a fighting union politics that organized all workers, and became the beloved figurehead of American radicalism. Imprisoned for speaking out against World War I, Debs ran for president from prison, receiving over one million votes. Debs's story is the story of labor battles in industrializing America, of a socialist politics grown directly out of the American Midwest heartland, and of a distinctly American vision of socialism. With the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the rise of mass movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, and the Wall Street Crash of 2008, socialism has once again made itself felt in American politics. This graphic biography, published in collaboration with the Democratic Socialists of America--whose growing membership, spurred by Trump's election and Bernie Sanders' campaign, has reached heights not seen among socialist parties since the 1920s--is geared toward a new generation exploring socialist and working-class radicalism in the past and the present. Noah Van Sciver's dynamic illustrations are paired with short, accessible framing essays by Paul Buhle, noted historian of the U.S. left, with Dave Nance and Steve Max.


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A graphic biography of socialist labor legend Eugene V. Debs Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party in the early twentieth-century to federal and state office across the country, helped to pioneer a fighting union politics that organized all workers, and became the beloved figurehead of American radicalism. Imprisoned for speaking out against World War I, Debs ran for p A graphic biography of socialist labor legend Eugene V. Debs Eugene Victor Debs led the Socialist Party in the early twentieth-century to federal and state office across the country, helped to pioneer a fighting union politics that organized all workers, and became the beloved figurehead of American radicalism. Imprisoned for speaking out against World War I, Debs ran for president from prison, receiving over one million votes. Debs's story is the story of labor battles in industrializing America, of a socialist politics grown directly out of the American Midwest heartland, and of a distinctly American vision of socialism. With the campaign of Bernie Sanders, the rise of mass movements like Occupy and Black Lives Matter, and the Wall Street Crash of 2008, socialism has once again made itself felt in American politics. This graphic biography, published in collaboration with the Democratic Socialists of America--whose growing membership, spurred by Trump's election and Bernie Sanders' campaign, has reached heights not seen among socialist parties since the 1920s--is geared toward a new generation exploring socialist and working-class radicalism in the past and the present. Noah Van Sciver's dynamic illustrations are paired with short, accessible framing essays by Paul Buhle, noted historian of the U.S. left, with Dave Nance and Steve Max.

30 review for Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    David Schaafsma

    Okay, there are some problems with this biography of the great Democratic Socialist and labor activist Eugene Debs but I am going to encourage lefties and righties alike to check it out. I read it because 1) Noah Van Sciver illustrated it (a second serious nineteenth century political biography for him, after Lincoln: The Hypo); 2) I'm an old union guy, and you cut your teeth in union history on Debs; 3) I have written about Jane Addams, who was very involved in the Pullman Strike here in Chicag Okay, there are some problems with this biography of the great Democratic Socialist and labor activist Eugene Debs but I am going to encourage lefties and righties alike to check it out. I read it because 1) Noah Van Sciver illustrated it (a second serious nineteenth century political biography for him, after Lincoln: The Hypo); 2) I'm an old union guy, and you cut your teeth in union history on Debs; 3) I have written about Jane Addams, who was very involved in the Pullman Strike here in Chicago, and I was curious to see what Buhle (a labor and radical progressive historian) and Van Sciver would have to say about Debs' involvement there. There's both too much and not enough text crowding Van Sciver's tight black and white panels. Too much in that it is crowded with information, and also not enough text to make it fully clear what all the references are for readers who don't know Debs or the period. I wish, too, it were either more or less about Debs. It doesn't reveal all that much about Debs, and I wanted more, but then I also wanted to know more of the labor history than I got, too. I think I would have chosen (as Van Sciver did with Lincoln) a couple focused incidents to help us understand what Debs was really about. Instead we get a lot of facts--such as, that Debs ran for President from prison a century ago and got a million votes--but not enough depth about why it was folks would have voted for him. It is interesting that for opposing the war Deb was sent to prison for ten years (Teddy Roosevelt said all people disloyal enough to the country to oppose the war should be shot), and it is interesting to note that the Democratic Socialists saw the war as detrimental to the poor and working class who would fight it for the rich, but I wanted to dig deeper there. The last part about Debs deals with another trial he lost, without much analysis. There's also a later section that touches on the Democratic Socialists after Debs such as Norman Thomas, Michael Harrington, and Bernie Sanders, but there's not much on any of them, really. There are framing essays in the volume, so this is useful. It's not a perfect book, but I still recommend it to those who are interested in labor history and radical progressives like Debs, who was once very popular, fighting many of the same issues that we are fighting a century later.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Peacegal

    Great topic for a graphic bio on a vitally important subject. Ideas championed by Debs continue to be widely discussed, argued, and championed to this day. I agree with the other reviewers who said there is a lot of skipping around that can get confusing if you already aren't familiar with Debs and his causes.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    The parts of this book that were actually about Mr. Debs were interesting and informative. Oddly, the book wanders away from his life for the last few years of it, and skips over his meeting with President Harding, after being released from prison. Instead, his story ends with a very anti-climactic incident, and we lose out on the final five years of his life in favor of stories about later efforts at continuing his political efforts. Also, the author tended to hold grudges against some historic The parts of this book that were actually about Mr. Debs were interesting and informative. Oddly, the book wanders away from his life for the last few years of it, and skips over his meeting with President Harding, after being released from prison. Instead, his story ends with a very anti-climactic incident, and we lose out on the final five years of his life in favor of stories about later efforts at continuing his political efforts. Also, the author tended to hold grudges against some historic figures, like Samuel Gompers...not just once, but as an ongoing thing. To me the text segments, while informative, kind of interrupted the flow of the history in the story, and made the format feel a bit odd. It wasn't bad, and the artwork by Noah Van Sciver was not wonderful, but was pretty good. It felt like good underground commix artwork, rather than something more polished, but that fit the subject. Thus, I can recommend this book for readers interested in the history of American politics more than for the biography of Eugene V. Debs. It's not a bad book, but perhaps could have been better focused on his life and beliefs.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Eric Lee

    The colourful Eugene V. Debs would make a wonderful subject for a graphic novel but unfortunately, this is not the book I'd recommend. A text-heavy graphic novel that cannot decide if it's "Debs for beginners" or something far more serious. It is filled with half-ideas, people and institutions that pop in for a moment, are never introduced, and who then disappear a moment later. (Will anyone reading it know who Daniel De Leon was? Or for that matter, William Winpisinger?) Much is done to show De The colourful Eugene V. Debs would make a wonderful subject for a graphic novel but unfortunately, this is not the book I'd recommend. A text-heavy graphic novel that cannot decide if it's "Debs for beginners" or something far more serious. It is filled with half-ideas, people and institutions that pop in for a moment, are never introduced, and who then disappear a moment later. (Will anyone reading it know who Daniel De Leon was? Or for that matter, William Winpisinger?) Much is done to show Debs as if he was a 21st century politician, far ahead of his time on issues like race and gender, though one wonders how true this is. (The party he led was hardly free of racism and sexism.) There are passing references, largely uncritical, about the Bolsheviks and their American supporters. A not insignificant part of the book focusses on American socialism post-Debs, showing Norman Thomas as a rather nice old man and Michael Harrington in a very critical light. The authors' political agenda is evident on every page, but the real Eugene Debs does not come alive here. A pity -- this was such a great idea for a book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael Daines

    This book is so painfully scattered. If you already know most of the history, you might grasp things as a series of highlights, but there is no clear narrative. It would be rather difficult to come away from this book having learned more than a few facts about Debs. If anything, it might inspire one to look up details elsewhere ... which is exactly what I don't expect from a graphic novel. Lots of name dropping, but then no follow up on who they are. The end of the book goes off on its own path This book is so painfully scattered. If you already know most of the history, you might grasp things as a series of highlights, but there is no clear narrative. It would be rather difficult to come away from this book having learned more than a few facts about Debs. If anything, it might inspire one to look up details elsewhere ... which is exactly what I don't expect from a graphic novel. Lots of name dropping, but then no follow up on who they are. The end of the book goes off on its own path to connect Debs to the DSA, not even bothering to mention when Debs died.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Meepelous

    Finding out that this book was written by three people does make me feel slightly better about the fact that I didn't really feel like the personality of the author came through - which I do prefer in my nonfiction as I feel like I get a better idea of the biases they are bringing to bear on the subject. That said, I still don't like it. Not only am I left feeling unsure about what is (for example) being left out or brushed over, and I feel like having more writer personality would have made the Finding out that this book was written by three people does make me feel slightly better about the fact that I didn't really feel like the personality of the author came through - which I do prefer in my nonfiction as I feel like I get a better idea of the biases they are bringing to bear on the subject. That said, I still don't like it. Not only am I left feeling unsure about what is (for example) being left out or brushed over, and I feel like having more writer personality would have made the book at least a little bit more interesting. Very Democratic Socialists of America centrist, I do wonder what a IWW perspective on one of its founding members would be. As far as the more technical side of the volume. I have to admit that this volume does a lot of things right where previous leftist nonfiction books have tripped up. The essays were done in a book font, not a comic font, and the lines are broken into two columns. Maybe a bit extreme, but better then another book (that I don't remember the title of right now) that had super long lines that were hard to read in the proper order. And while I didn't think that the essays were terribly engaging but I didn't feel like I was being beaten over the head with condensation. As far as gender and sexuality are involved, while queer people have always existed, their inclusion was probably the least offensive over site. There is some inclusion of the ways white women's suffrage related to the overall socialist movement in America. As far as race is concerned, nearing the end of the book I was wondering if the only obviously Black people would be random characters in prison but then there's 2 frames of MLK and company a few more random black background characters, and another frame of of John Lewis and Cornel West. With one small frame that looks like sleeping Guatemalans but they are probably dead because it's next to dialog admitting that Norman Thomas was mistaken to support the CIA overthrowing of that country. Going back to the beginning I was relieved to see that there is a frame at least dedicated to A Philip Randolph and W.E.B. DeBois. That said, this is not enough! While I feel like women's suffrage probably did't get that much more room, if any, having it concentrated into one part with clear connections between the movement outlined left me feeling like white women were prioritized above Black men. Let alone the complete lack of Black women! The representation is so scattered and highlighted such obvious choices. This total oversight certainly played a big role in my final rating for this book. Flipping through all the other reviews on goodreads I was not surprised that many people did enjoy this, but I was reassured by a couple of other people thinking it's too scattered. I don't have top notch reading comprehension so I was thinking maybe it was just a me thing. Definitely more of an overview of the strictly socialist party's history in america, there's too much GREAT MEN OF HISTORY going on in this book for me to be very comfortable at all. Writing up this review, I am constantly being reminded of how much better "Ginger Goodwin: A Worker's Friend" by Laura Ellyn. Which felt like it was more about "common" people. Moving on to how class was treated in the book, while Eugene certainly came from more humble means and gave away much of what he had I still felt like this book lost its way. Circling back to the great men of history way things were presented, the way this creates hierarchy detracts from any working class representation. Kind of like the "I'm not like other girls" trope if that make sense? Ability vs disability wasn't very represented. I guess it did hit the very low bar of showing people age and getting sick at different points in their life. I still think it's important to realistically depict the toll that being so politically active can have on a person but still not sure if it counts to much.

  7. 5 out of 5

    David

    Wonderful! Something to cheer you up! About a great American... also has nuance

  8. 5 out of 5

    Tanroop

    I found this to be quite strange- there seemed to be little flow to the book, and the panels often felt disjointed and devoid of wider context. There were multiple times that I had to check if I had missed a page because I found transitions so jarring. The best parts were when Debs was being quoted directly.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Clare

    In the interest of seeing whether it would be worth doing another graphic novel book club to follow up on the success (not mine) of the Red Rosa event in January, I borrowed Paul M. Buhle et al's Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography, published by Verso earlier this year. One cool thing about this book is that it's a joint publication between Verso Books and the DSA Fund, a little 501(c)(3) subsidiary of the national org that's dedicated to political education. So that's pretty cool, if you're In the interest of seeing whether it would be worth doing another graphic novel book club to follow up on the success (not mine) of the Red Rosa event in January, I borrowed Paul M. Buhle et al's Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography, published by Verso earlier this year. One cool thing about this book is that it's a joint publication between Verso Books and the DSA Fund, a little 501(c)(3) subsidiary of the national org that's dedicated to political education. So that's pretty cool, if you're a DSA member heavily involved in political education projects, such as me. Overall, I quite liked the book -- Eugene Debs is a giant of American history, and if you don't know much about his life, which I didn't, this book will fix that pretty quick. He seems to have had a pretty exciting time of it; there's lots of strikes, moving speeches, going to prison, running for president, and generally causing trouble with the IWW. Lots of interesting historical characters pop up, including some memorable cameos by Big Bill Haywood, who is always a fun time. Debs' career is put in context of the rise and fall of the socialist party; of the interactions between the socialist movement and other reform movements; and of the disastrous effect of World War One on... well, everything. The book is split into several parts, each prefaced by a short essay that sets it in context. This is a bit disruptive to the graphic novel format, but basically fine. Somewhat more disruptive is that the graphic novel itself is a little more disjointed and hard to follow than Red Rosa; they are both trying to pack a lot of life into a very short piece, but the Luxemburg one doesn't assume any prior understanding of the characters and issues involved. The Debs one is pitched for an American audience and about American history, but I think they might have overestimated how much Americans are likely to recognize literally anybody at all, up to and including U.S. presidents. I think a little more time to actually explain stuff and smooth out the transitions might have been freed up if the book had severely condensed or even nixed the final section on the Debs' legacy, which starts off fine with a mini-bio of the career of Norman Thomas, but then goes on to also discuss the career of Michael Harrington, which seems a bit self-indulgent; then of Bernie Sanders, which I'm pretty sure most of the readers remember pretty clearly but which I guess might be interesting in 20 years; and then the rise of the "new" DSA. Which... I mean, I know we paid for it, but do we have to make it so obvious that we paid for it? Can't we pay for a thing just because it's educational and cool without using it to advertise ourselves? We're a socialist group; do we really have to do content marketing? Can we not have the damn humility to just say we're striving to follow in the tradition of Debs without painting ourselves as part of an unbroken and direct line of successors that are mysteriously the only folks on that family tree? Anyways, apart from the sour note it ends on, it's a fun, readable little primer on American socialist history, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone whose knowledge of U.S. socialist history is very limited, which, the U.S. being what it is, is probably most of us. There's some important lessons on what made Debs such an effective figure, and it has its share of charming moments. Originally posted at Debsian socialism.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emma Soucy

    This book was a phenomenal disappointment. Firstly, it is certainly not a biography of Eugene V. Debs, so much as a overview of the American Labor movement with a light emphasis on Debs. The written (not graphic) portions of this book maybe saw one editor, given some of the grammatical typos found. The anti-Communist bias is also adamant at various points, giving into a sort of left-punching that betrays the character of Debs himself. 2 stars is literally only because the graphics are cute and ca This book was a phenomenal disappointment. Firstly, it is certainly not a biography of Eugene V. Debs, so much as a overview of the American Labor movement with a light emphasis on Debs. The written (not graphic) portions of this book maybe saw one editor, given some of the grammatical typos found. The anti-Communist bias is also adamant at various points, giving into a sort of left-punching that betrays the character of Debs himself. 2 stars is literally only because the graphics are cute and captured historical figures' likenesses well.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    Pretty confusing and the text sections do nothing to illuminate what follows.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ian Hyzy

    A scattered hagiography of Debs mixed with a lot of non-debs socialist history

  13. 4 out of 5

    Toby

    More of a What's What and Who's Who of 19th and 20th century socialism than a straightforward narrative. Perhaps most effective as a primer, or if you haven't been able to read 'Red Rosa' yet.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Stange

    Wanted to love this but found the narrative thread disjointed and hard to follow.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sally Sugarman

    Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography- Art by Noah Van Sciver, Script by Paul Buhle and Steve Max with David Nance This book is divided into text sections and graphic sections, with each graphic section introduced by text with a few illustrations. There is a time line of Debs’ life and suggested further reading as well as acknowledgements and a list of sustaining contributors. Debs is an important figure in American history who has been pretty much ignored as has all labor history. Both the text a Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography- Art by Noah Van Sciver, Script by Paul Buhle and Steve Max with David Nance This book is divided into text sections and graphic sections, with each graphic section introduced by text with a few illustrations. There is a time line of Debs’ life and suggested further reading as well as acknowledgements and a list of sustaining contributors. Debs is an important figure in American history who has been pretty much ignored as has all labor history. Both the text and images are informative about this individual and the period. The black and white images are particularly effective in dramatizing the struggles of the time. Socialism is not new to the United States despite what some current politicians would like to pretend. The late 19th century and early 20th century were exciting times in the country’s history as women and working people fought for a different vision of the country’s possibilities. These views were repressed by the first World War which was an excuse to imprison many such as Debs for talking against the war effort. Speaking about peace was subversive. Debs ran for president five times on a socialist platform, the fifth time from prison. He received a million votes while in prison. He comes across as a decent man of integrity who did not wish to be treated differently than others. Even in prison, he wanted no special treatment. The graphic novel form is well suited to introducing history and should be utilized more often in our schools. The last chapter about the legacy of Debs is probably the least successful since it tries to cram too much into a short space recording the history from Norman Thomas through to Bernie Sanders. This is a book that should encourage its readers to learn more about the man and the period.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Harris

    Not unlike their previous collaboration on Johnny Appleseed, the graphic novel discussing the historical figure of John Chapman and his evolution into one of the United State’s most interesting folk legends, this graphic novel discussing the fascinating activist Eugene V. Debs by Paul Buhle and Noah van Sciver was less interesting than its source material. Buhle is obviously passionate about Debs and his role in the Socialist Party of America , and van Sciver’s artwork is great for depicting per Not unlike their previous collaboration on Johnny Appleseed, the graphic novel discussing the historical figure of John Chapman and his evolution into one of the United State’s most interesting folk legends, this graphic novel discussing the fascinating activist Eugene V. Debs by Paul Buhle and Noah van Sciver was less interesting than its source material. Buhle is obviously passionate about Debs and his role in the Socialist Party of America , and van Sciver’s artwork is great for depicting period details, but I feel like it does not quite work as a biography, neither sketching out the specifics of Debs’ beliefs nor providing a dramatic reading of his life through comics. It is neither as in depth as one would hope for in such a dynamic and important figure of labor history and social thought as Debs, nor is it an interesting comic. For the most part, we see talking heads, illustrated nicely by van Sciver, spout off contrived statements to deliver exposition about the time period and political movements being discussed in way that never feels natural. The prose portions separating the chapters provide only a broad overview which leaves readers fairly cut adrift when other historical figures or events appear with little context. This is unfortunate, I feel, as Debs’ ideas are extremely topical currently, and could be a great inspiration for people, young and old alike, who are interested in how Socialist thought could improve conditions in the United States and its rich history here as well. Sadly, this graphic biography feels a bit dull and scattered.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Joe Dantona

    It was surprisingly tough to rate this little book. I settled on just above middle of the road for two main reasons. While the book itself was in many ways a delight, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I feel these two critiques are necessary: 1. The book often feels disjointed, as if panels are missing. There is much breadth but little depth in the graphic pages, and this is a disappointment in my opinion. I would have preferred a more detailed analysis of Debs's life than what this work offers, and I It was surprisingly tough to rate this little book. I settled on just above middle of the road for two main reasons. While the book itself was in many ways a delight, and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I feel these two critiques are necessary: 1. The book often feels disjointed, as if panels are missing. There is much breadth but little depth in the graphic pages, and this is a disappointment in my opinion. I would have preferred a more detailed analysis of Debs's life than what this work offers, and I think it could've been accomplished. My second critique has something to do with this. 2. The last chapter of the book is dedicated to the history of American socialism post-Debs, finishing up with some panels on Bernie Sanders. Being this was published in 2019, I can only assume it was meant to plug for the Bernie 2020 campaign. This space could have served a better purpose. I think this space would have been more useful if it had been filled with more info about Debs himself. I understand the desire to show continuity between Debs and today, but I think it was a bit rushed, heavy-handed, and off-topic. The history condensed to the last chapter could easily have been a sequel, and may have been better served as one.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Dakota Morgan

    This graphic biography is more a scattered history of socialism than a straight biography of Eugene Debs. The biography portions, illustrated by Noah Scriver, barely manage to detail the man's life, instead offering a pastiche of events in which Deb took part or that occurred during Deb's lifetime (and beyond). As you might imagine, it's very hard to follow. The book also features quite a bit of text for a "graphic" biography. Scholarly articles about socialism precede every chapter, often coveri This graphic biography is more a scattered history of socialism than a straight biography of Eugene Debs. The biography portions, illustrated by Noah Scriver, barely manage to detail the man's life, instead offering a pastiche of events in which Deb took part or that occurred during Deb's lifetime (and beyond). As you might imagine, it's very hard to follow. The book also features quite a bit of text for a "graphic" biography. Scholarly articles about socialism precede every chapter, often covering the same bits as the art. For hardcore socialists, the book will probably satisfy, but for readers curious about Debs, it will disappoint.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dale

    3.5 stars. It’s ok, seems to be aimed at young adults, spends too much time with the characters announcing themselves and who they are, doesn’t focus enough on Debs himself. I found it informative and good for a quick primer on his life and the political climate in America in general, but not by any means the most details biography or graphic novel.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jordan Phizacklea-Cullen

    Eugene Debs' life story set down in graphic novel form should sound perfect, but this is a highly uneven treatment that can't seem to decide whether it's an introductory text or preaching to the choir, and there is hardly any treatment given to Debs' final years. A great subject, but perhaps the makings of a greater graphic biography are there too.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chris D'Antonio

    I love a good graphic novel, particularly one that succinctly resurrects an integral but forgotten piece of our country's heritage. Here's hoping we can rise to an appreciation of Debs' message once again.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    Great artwork and info, but this seems to gloss over a lot of context and for those with basically no knowledge of the American left in the early 20th Century this can leave you on the edges a wee bit.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Danny Gibson

    This graphic biography doesn't really tell Debs's story through through illustration and dialogue. Instead the story is told through brief chapters explaining the life of Debs and the Socialist movement, with illustrations of scenes from those chapters.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Stewart

    Excellent!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Bear Paw

    An excellent read.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

    A solid book overall, but a bit breathless in its pacing. A good primer before something weightier and more in depth.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Iosephvs Bibliothecarivs

    Less a biography of Debs and more a history of American socialism which highlights Debs's story within it.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bob Peterson

    Interesting format as it is a mix of graphic novel and regular writing intermixed. Covers a large amount of time right up to Bernie Sanders race in 2016. I learned a lot and it was a quick fun read.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Edward Sullivan

    An unfortunately sketchy and disjointed graphic biography of the socialist labor leader.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Erden

    Captivating biography of America's most famous socialist (at least before Bernie)

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