How to cram the boxcar-hopping, boss-bedeviling Wobblies into two dimensions? With its songs, soapbox speeches, and larger-than-life hobohemian characters, the Industrial Workers of the World was inherently multimedia. Take the 1913 Madison Square demonstration organized by John Reed. Posters beckoned Paterson laborers across the river to Gotham’s second-tallest tower (decked in 10-foot-tall “IWW” letters) for a pageant-like protest. Strikers performed a mock funeral, spattering “workers’ blood” (1,000 red carnations) on a casket.
To tell this and other stories, labor historian Paul Buhle and World War III Illustrated‘s Nicole Schulman put together Wobblies!, a graphic smorgasbord of all things IWW. It chronicles the romantic highlights and underbelly sores of the working poor’s history, much of which—100 years after the union’s founding—continues to be obscured by mainstream American politics.
Even the name Wobblies has a dimly lit history. Did it describe the way laborers hobbled around or their struggle for untethered life? Was it a pun of the Aye-Double-You-Double-You verbal totter or just a bastardization of Aussie laborers’ label Wallabies?
Wobblies! illuminates labor’s history with story illustrations by such notables as Fly, Sabrina Jones (who inked the carnation tale), and Peter Kuper, paired with text and punctuated by Josh MacPhee’s bold spray-paint portraits of labor leaders such as Joe Hill and “Big Bill” Haywood. The result is part L.E.S. noir and part Missoula mountain folk. Comic moments are rare in these politically tinged panels, but Buhle and Schulman’s creation is captivating in the way your U.S. history text wasn’t—the way that stack of Fantastic Four was (and still is).