By Kirk Anderson; Molotov Comix, 2008, 199 pp.
One of the definitions of the term "banana republic" that prefaces the pages of cartoonist Kirk Anderson’s new book, Banana Republic: Adventures in Amnesia, informs us that O. Henry, the short story writer famous for his use of surprise endings, was the person who coined the pejorative expression in 1904 in his only novel, Cabbages and Kings, wherein he described his fictional version of Honduras, named "Anchuria," as a desperate Latin American country plagued by the corrupt political machinations of the "Vesuvius Fruit Company," an obvious reference to the exploitative U.S. neocolonialism of the United Fruit Company.
Similarly, Anderson portrays the most recent American political landscape amid the fictional trials and tribulations of the beleaguered denizens of Amnesia, "the small backward Third World nation with hearts of silver and mines of gold." With the rabid rationalizations of the ruling juntas’ Generalissimo Wally, Anderson has been able to successfully savage the profligate policies of the Bush administration while avoiding the use of any polarizing caricature of President Bush.
Banana Republic reproduces Anderson’s complete collection of graphic political commentary that he serialized in weekly op-ed installments of the Minneapolis Star Tribune from October 2005 to November 2007, a surprisingly scathing pictorial indictment of some of the worst excesses of George W. Bush to have been featured in the pages of one of this country’s most respected "family" newspapers for such a long run.
Anderson often personalizes his material by depicting the hardships suffered by Rita and Diego Meza, fictional characters who are nominal citizens living in Generalissimo Wally’s world. Throughout the series we follow the Mezas as they first cope with and then later confront the dreadful dystopia they inhabit. Diego eventually becomes trapped in the fictional state’s torture apparatus and Rita struggles to find help to fight the system and save Diego from repeated bouts of melon-balling. Several funny episodes revolve around Rita’s unsuccessful efforts to rouse the Democratic members of Amnesia’s government-in-exile, aka "Los Cause," who spinelessly carp about their dictator’s excesses in the art deco splendor of their favorite greasy spoon, Miguel’s Dining Car, fashioned after one of St. Paul’s iconic restaurants.
Anderson’s multi-panel, comic book styled cartoons, reproduced here in chronological order, provide a refreshing contrast to the rather tepid, single panel editorial cartoons that regularly appear on the editorial pages in most of today’s newspapers.
The cartoons collected in Anderson’s new book aren’t concerned so much with making jokes about the fickle fates or just deserts of transient political and cultural personalities as they are with shedding light on the misdeeds of our government. For readers unfamiliar with recent current events, each episode is flanked by a short introduction and explanation of the various news topics addressed in the cartoon that follows. National political concerns are not the only issues covered. Many of the cartoons also reference certain deplorable local issues, such as the Minnesota Vikings’ "sex boat scandal," NorthWest Airlines’ labor unrest, and the extravagant lifestyle of a certain Twin Cities’ mega-church pastor who espouses a decidedly free market gospel.
This collection is full of cartoons that will both delight and incense readers through many successive viewings. Anderson’s attention to detail is among the many reasons why Banana Republic is such an engrossing graphic commentary. In one panel the name of a pictured newspaper, the Post-News-Stenographer, speaks volumes about Anderson’s opinion of the feeble efforts of our republic’s so-called "fourth estate." Another panel shows soldiers reminiscent of Robocop, with "War-Mart" labels on their chest armor, standing in for Blackwater mercenaries at a company retreat, with such agenda items as "Meet & Greet," "Making Your Brutality Work For You," "Q&A: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome," and "Finding Time For Family."
Howard Zinn recently described Kirk Anderson an "outrageously bold and talented cartoonist" for his ability to inform and amuse readers with his "hilarious characters and funny dialogue, along with an education in recent history."
With our own banana republic’s most recent regime change, it is still too early to tell whether the political conditions that Anderson wryly depicts will be remembered as snapshots recollected from a perilous time or as cautionary tales about the dangerous excesses inherent in any imperial presidency, but it is certain that Kirk Anderson’s magnum opus will be well remembered in the annals of political cartooning for its timeless pertinence, artistic craft, and astute editorial assessments.