No one reading Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography could doubt that authors Paul Buhle and Steve Max have accessibility in mind ... Unfortunately, in this case the authors' decision to illustrate Debs' life seems driven less by an appreciation of the artistic possibilities as by a hope of attracting a spectrum of readers ... It's hard to know how much artist Noah Van Sciver had to do with this book's shortcomings ... Buhle and Max seem to think you make someone heroic by scrubbing them clean of flaws and having them deliver stirring oratory, so poor Sciver had to copy out line upon line of speeches. There's even a hand-drawn chart comparing the 1932 Socialist platform with programs adopted by the Roosevelt administration ... 35 years after [Irving] Howe pondered [why labor history is boring], it remains as formidable as ever.
Eugene Debs was certainly the most important figure in the movement and Eugene V. Debs: A Graphic Biography does an excellent job of describing Debs’ life and work, his passion and purpose ... The text makes [it esier to cover so much material] by introducing each section with an overview written like a standard history, followed by details made evocative and accessible by the graphic format. Granted, some of the prose tends to be purple ... The one major drawback is the academic backmatter one expects from a subject that was so well-researched. Though there's a 'further reading' page, there is no bibliography. There is a timeline, but no quotations. Are the words put in Debs' mouth actual quotes or invented dialog? Many readers won't care, but teachers and librarians who might use this book in high school classes will miss that layer of academic assurance.
This ragged polemic is worth reading mostly because of the dense and slightly grotesque art of Van Sciver ... The choppy story is marked by individuals spitting rhetoric instead of dialogue, and characters that are introduced quickly and then dropped at a maddening pace. Van Sciver humanizes Debs with sensitive character design and a knack for depicting the gritty details of the past; the socialist hero comes across as passionate but physically frail. But with the work’s focus split among biography, history, and political tract, it’s not successful as any of these things.