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Empire Strikes Back

Illustration by Paul Sahre

In Empire: nozone ix, the most recent installment of Nozone, a periodic zine of political cartoons, comics, photomontages, assemblages and brief essays, you will find a definition for the splendid Greek concept hegemony. The dominant culture penetrates every fiber of our consciousness without our being aware of it. Connectivity is everything. “Data, capital, cargo, media and marketing flow around us with dizzying speed and dexterity,” Nozone proclaims, and they are the true engines that power the American Imperium, circa 2004. The effort here is to expose the fiber-optic web that encourages us to believe that the people of Iraq not only deserve, but desire, Nikes.

At times didactic, at times darkly humorous, Empire, which was founded by Nicholas Blechman (former art director of the New York Times op-ed page), matches a newshound’s capacity to recall just the right quote with a draftsman’s keen eye for the detail that reveals the soul. Some of the panels are familiar, such as Edward Sorel’s acerbic wit and MK Mabry’s Picasso-like figures gulping down barrels of oil. Others not. Paul Sahre’s pencil drawing of Condoleezza Rice’s gap-tooth smile evokes just the right combination of smug and condescending; on the facing page she is quoted: “We need a common enemy to unite us.” The pairing is apt. The presumptuousness of Rice’s aphorism is reflected perfectly in her visage. The 14 pages of “Empirical Data” assembled by Wink — hugely enlarged newsprint photos captioned with information like “1 in every 4 Americans will appear on television” — can no longer shock us, but they are followed by a sly caveat: “All facts and figures are meant for entertainment purposes only. They were collected from numerous Web sites of varying reputations and are not meant to be taken literally.” We are back where we started, in an epistemological twister, not sure if we are breathing “Empirical” (i.e., Empire’s) Data or exhaling it.

Elsewhere in Empire, the obvious is brutally obvious. George Hardie employs the familiar trick of black-and-white inversion, in “Theirs/Ours,” a map of the world in which Muslim squares off against Christian. The “line” separating one side from the other traces the shapes, in one view, of castles and crosses and skyscrapers but, turned upside down, of minarets and crescents and mosques. It is simple, and perhaps simplistic, but the point is easily overlooked. Viewed alongside an excerpt from a proclamation issued to the inhabitants of Baghdad by the British on March 19, 1917, Hardie’s depiction doesn’t come across as quite so black and white.

A useful companion to Empire is Attitude 2, a compilation of cartoons that are less globally topical, and a bit more ecumenical in their subversive servings. From styles inspired by clip art to R. Crumb–like material, no aspect of daily life goes unscathed. Some are light wit, like Jennifer Berman’s ditties, as in “Adjusted for Inflation,” in which the proselytizer carries a sign reading “Jesus Likes You.” Max Cannon’s “Red Meat” strips ooze with scatological schadenfreude. And so it goes, down the list of more than a dozen cartoonists, most of them hidden from general view in alternative papers nationwide.

EMPIRE: Nozone IX | Princeton Architectural Press, New York 168 pages | $19.95

ATTITUDE 2 | Edited by TED RALL | Nantier Beall Minoustchine 128 pages | $13.95


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