I’ve had amiable debates with my friend Robbie Conal about political graphics. Playing devil’s advocate, I’d argue that protest imagery does nothing but preach to the converted and, worse, galvanize the opposition. Art used in progressive agendas has never been as effective as the propaganda of war- and hate-mongers. Propaganda art by its nature bypasses the intellectual and inspires a visceral frenzy, be it feeding, buying or fighting. The same tactics are rarely as effective when your goal is passive.
Nevertheless, peace (and the end of the Bush regime) is the goal of the graphics collected in Peace Signs: The Anti-War Movement Illustrated. This full-color book is remarkable for not only its timeliness and volume, but for its commitment to its message. The 200 recent images printed are only a sampling of the global visual protest. And the book itself acts as a portal to the numerous Web resources that originally hosted many of these graphic designs. The back cover encourages copying the pages so long as it’s not for profit, and many of the Web resources post high-res posters to download and reproduce.
Individually, many of the graphics in Peace Signs are simplistic and superficial: Bush bad, Bush=Hitler, bomb bad, dove good, dove die, oil bad, and so on. But take away the skulls, gas masks, McDonald’s logos and Dubya, and some incredible work begins to emerge, images that will probably never rise above the din but are still equal to iconographic anti-war statements such as Seymour Chwast’s “End Bad Breath” and Tomi Ungerer’s “Eat.” Luckily, this book is greatest as a whole, representing the stunning and myriad dissent of graphic artists worldwide. Even if, like me, you believe that protest graphics have never stopped, or even shortened a war, that art such as Guernica, for all its controversy, has had zero impact on international policy, you’ve got to believe, too, that this book, its images and its contributors will be around to remind us of the mess we as a country have made. And maybe that will inspire action before the next war is looming.
PEACE SIGNS: THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT ILLUSTRATED | Edited by JAMES MANN, foreword by Howard Zinn | Edition Olms Zurich 208 pages | $35 paperback