I suppose commenting on a book about yourself is a bit much. On the other hand, my not writing about this book – called Parecomic – would dis-serve its author, Sean Michael Wilson, its artist, Carl Thompson, and, the book itself.
Parecomic is a graphic book which tells "The Story of Michael Albert and Participatory Economics." But what is "a graphic book"? You open Parecomic, and like Spiderman or Superman comics that you might see a child reading, the pages have panels of pictures and associated text.
When the author, Wilson, wrote me and said he was experienced at doing such books and would like to do one using various materials of mine as his source to convey lessons and insights salvageable from my political history and views, I was quite taken aback. Luckily, I had literally just finished reading a graphic comic about Bertrand Russell and his ideas. It was brilliantly executed and, quite to my surprise, as a result, did a wonderful job of conveying complex ideas in a congenial and personal manner. As a result, I thought – why not?
So Wilson and Thompson took up the task. Parecomic has 240 pages. Each page, with very few exceptions, has between four and six graphics. Nearly all the graphics have associated text. So there are over 1000 drawings – and almost as many text boxes with usually a dozen or perhaps two dozen words, other times a short paragraph and sometimes at most two. So it was necessary to not just figure out the content to include, but to then find the most succinct ways of expressing it in text, and, of course, of imaging it as well.
Once I realized what they were undertaking, I was worried that these good folks would spend an immense amount of time and energy – and the result just wouldn't be worth it. But thankfully, I was horribly wrong. Indeed, for all the time and energy I have put in over the years, communicating these ideas and experiences, at near endless length – Wilson and Thompson did it in a tighter, more enjoyable, and I think probably for many people more effective manner. Sure, I hope folks who read Parecomic, will be moved to put some time into reading longer works, and, more important, to thinking about the issues for themselves. But that is what I hope long texts will accomplish, too – and I suspect the odds may be better for Parecomic having the desired effect, than the long texts.
If you consider what is happening around the world – Greece, Brazil, Turkey, Spain, and actually a growing list of more places, as well – I think one thing should scream out to everyone looking for lasting lessons. You can't move from passion to a new world without creativity and construction. Humongous, courageous outpourings of desire, dissent, resistance, and rebellion, are cauldrons of learning an sometimes important changes. But the fact remains, until people in motion know what they want, understand unfolding circumstances, and have coherent means to sustain and increasingly manifest their desires for themselves by building and not just protesting – lasting fundamental change won't occur. In that context, hopefully Parecomic can offer or at least prod valuable thoughts and then choices. That would be my hope for it, at any rate – and I do hope folks will give it a chance.
A 'look inside' sneek peek of the contents appears on the amazon page for the print version of Parecomic, and a kindle version can be got there too.
And for folks who are not keen on amazon, the book can be got directly from the publisher, Seven Stories Press or from its distributor, Random House.
Also, if you want a look at some content from inside the book before deciding to get it, there is a link the authors provided for a pdf version of pages 66 to 76 which deals with my views and experiences regarding Noam Chomsky, on there site.
Seven Story's description reads: "PARECOMIC is about Michael Albert and his life's struggle as a US left wing activist, reaching right back to the heady days of 1960's student demos and lifestyle rebellions. From the development of the anti war movement, civil rights, the woman's movement, and the black panthers to the establishment of alternative media like South End Press and ZNet. PARECOMIC shows us Michael's story, and at the same time the ideas and issues that influence both our society and the better alternative that we can build via the anarchist influenced system of participatory economics. Or PARECON for short – hence the title for our book, which rather started out as a joke – but has stuck: PARECOMIC."
It continues: "The idea of parecomic is to address diverse experiences, projects, and ideas about vision and strategy in a personal way, highly congenial to both enjoying the flow of the story and development of Michael's life as an activist. Written by myself, Sean, illustrated by Carl Thompson, with the permission and close collaboration of Michael Albert this is a graphic novel about something that affects us all: the system we live in – what's wrong with it, and how we might be able change it for the better! The recent upsurge in popular protest in the USA and around the world shows that people are not happy with the state of things. The Occupy movements show us that many people would prefer a better system, a model that will work for the 99%, not just the 1%."
I interacted often with Wilson as he was putting together the book both to help verify the authenticity of the scenes and the accuracy of the treatment of ideas. At Wilson's request, I also added a substantial text section at the back of the book about Parecon ideas, and the introduction is by Noam Chomsky, who also appears in the book numerous times. The text throughout the book is massaged from past sources or was written explicitly for Parecomic. But what is really special is the integration of the text and graphics, of course.
I admit that I was nervous when I finally sat down to read the whole book. But it was just my creaking bones worrying, I guess, because the book is incredibly effective, in my view, at creating a friendly path into the ideas it offers. Sure, one can read longer full text books on the topics to get longer full text renditions. But there is something about seeing the images along with the more succinct text that really does help communicate the ideas. Parecomic is fun to read, but no less informative and, I hope challenging, as a result.
Early reviews have been pleasingly positive – certainly more so than for my own text based books.
Publishers Weekly, for example, the main industry trade journal, writes: "As a primer on the history and theory of participatory economics, this title is never short on ideas, tracing the development of Michael Albert’s theories on self-management, social justice, and internationalism, and their origins in the civil disobedience and consciousness-raising movements of the late ’60s and early ’70s. As a student at MIT, Albert was inspired by the culture of activism to found Z Magazine, ZNet, and the International Organization for a Participatory Society. Some readers may wonder why Wilson (AX: Alternative Manga) and Thompson (the webcomie Green Benches) have chosen Albert’s story for treatment as a visual narrative, and that treatment definitely makes some of book’s issues more palatable to a wider audience. Artist Thompson is also very adept at marrying the literal and the symbolic to allow Wilson’s prose, and therefore Albert’s ideas, to resonate with readers. There are moments, though, when the book stalls and readers find themselves wading through lengthy, text-heavy panel sequences featuring shots of Albert discussing a given issue. Still, Thompson and Wilson can be very inventive with their effects. Parecomic is inspired at times, and as a treatise on participatory economics, it’s pretty great. As a comic, though, it’s just pretty good."
Finally, the authors made a short video when they were raising funds to finance the project…and it reveals their intentions quite nicely.