Published in 1969, this Argentine graphic biography about Ernesto Che Guevara was an instant bestseller. Banned by a military dictatorship, and almost lost, it has never been available in English until now.
Ernesto 'Che' Guevara may be a timeless revolutionary icon, but that doesn’t mean his biography is necessarily a story for our time. If Héctor Germán Oesterheld weren’t a remarkable writer, it probably wouldn’t be ... Other biographers have grappled with Guevara’s brutality and ruthlessness, condemning or excusing him according to their own ideological predispositions. Oesterheld crafts an ode to a larger-than-life figure and the principles he believed in — even if Guevara didn’t always embody them ... This approach might seem jejune, even inhumane, were it not for Oesterheld’s own life story and the story of this book ... Alberto’s panels don’t have the propulsive 'bam, pow!' commonly associated with comics. They’re a sequence of separate artworks, each vibrating on its own frequency ... The ferocity of the Breccias’ art serves as an ironical counterweight to Oesterheld’s and Guevara’s idealism ... Oesterheld’s depiction of Guevara is too forgiving, a hagiography rather than a proper work of history. Still, at a moment that eludes any ideology Guevara would recognize, the ideals underlying this 50-year-old book are stubbornly affecting.
Memorable lines abound ... There’s also a healthy dose of wit in this telling ... While the storytelling is impressionistic, the artwork, by father and son Alberto and Enrique Breccia, is pure expressionism ... The use of woodcuts, too, chimes perfectly with its subject matter. The technique, associated with early 20th century leftist artists—socialists and anarchists—lends a purity of form, almost abstract in its blocky simplicity, to the episodes on the battlegrounds of Bolivia ... The final three pages of Life of Che are extraordinary. They unfurl like a roll of film, gradually zooming in on the murdered Che’s visage, crosshatched like scars, with a bullet hole above his right eye. That visage stares back at its viewers, daring them to take up his unfinished revolutionary mission.
Oesterheld’s lyrical text barrels through Ernesto 'Che' Guevara’s life (1928-1967) like a prose poem, often drifting midthought from historical facts to Guevara’s internal monologue ... Using collage, splattery ink, and even finger-painting, he creates rapturous scenes that brim with kinetic energy and impressive technical prowess. His son draws like he’s composing woodcuts, offering chiaroscuro scenes laden with heavy shadow. If occasionally muddled, the narrative is still inspired, accentuated by essays that contextualize the history ... This lore transforms the book from a mere comic to something that feels like a World War II–era samizdat, a legendary underground manuscript that we’re lucky to have available ... A mesmerizing historical comic with a storied past.