As part of our effort to ‘keep up’ with our past Action Speaks panelists, our host/co-executive producer, Marc Levitt shares his review about the new graphic anthology, “Bohemians: A Graphic History“, edited by David Berger and our past panelist, Paul Buhle.
I lived in San Francisco in the early to mid seventies in a time when ‘Underground Comics’ were very much a part of the ‘bohemian’ culture. I had tangential connections to this world, through Bill Griffith a lover of one of my roommates in the Haight and Trina Robbins whose child was part of the Noe Valley Parent Co-op where I taught. When I heard that my friend and occasional panelist on Action Speaks was doing a series of graphic meditations on left wing history I thought, “what a nice idea.” But I wasn’t too interested. Never a fan of the densely packed graphic novel, I thought I’d rather read the book than learn from a comic book whose lines I got lost in.
However, once I got his new, Verso Publications, “Bohemians” I changed my tune. “Bohemians” is a follow up to “The Beats” (Verso, 2007, a wonderfully engrossing comic book journey into the world of American bohemianism from pre-Civil War through the 1940’s and 50’s Beatnik Generation. In “Bohemians”, edited by Paul and David Berger, we are not only re-introduced to those who are already well-known like Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman and Josephine Baker, but exposed to the stories that have been less widely distributed, like Free Lover Julia Branch, the Yiddish satirical puppet theater company, Modicut and the great salonist, Mabel Dodge Luhan.
Put together by a great array of cartoonist and writers “Bohemians” helps us recognize that the story of those whose interests and passions include the pursuit of ‘liberty, equity and democracy’ has precedent. With all the people “Bohemians” covers it is difficult for it to cover some of the more complex issues in the study of bohemianism; the consequences for those whose lives are in intimate contact with those who rebuke ‘convention’ or how bohemianism can serve as a consumerist avant-garde. Nonetheless, Paul and David’s book serves as a great corrective to so much American history that buries its transgressive side beneath a tidal wave of folks who pursue power, wealth and submission to the ‘norm’.