A Harvard Law School professor, a veteran graphic novelist, and a veteran graphic novel illustrator walk into a room. While a potentially inauspicious union, Alan Jenkins, Gan Golan, and William Rosado prove to be just the opposite of elitist assumptions and concoct one of the most chillingly memorable works to come out all year. The first issue of their comic strip, aptly titled 1/6, opens days after an alternate present where January 6th succeeded. What is depicted is probably one of the most memorably insidious, and dare one say hyper-realistic articulations of a post-America in the image of Donald J. Trump.
However, the images of tanks driving down to the center of DC, and martial law being declared across the land represents less of a mad monarchy and more of a neo-fascist, paleo-conservative nightmare gone to hell. The panels making up the subtitled What if the Attack on the U.S. Capitol Succeeded? are enshrouded by a hypothetical realism that doesn’t allow one to enjoy this simply as escapism on any, conscious level. This closeness to a terrifying reality isn’t news to Professor Jenkins, who is appropriately blunt and straightforward about his insights regarding Trump’s attempted coup on a day that will be counted among the most infamous in American history.
“(President Trump)’s supporters were significantly in control at that point, but they were not fully in control,” he remarked in an interview with Washingtonian. “The protections and guardrails of our democracy stayed in place, but they were almost broken. The more research I’ve done in cowriting this graphic novel, the more chilling it’s become. We still have 40 percent of Americans wrongly believing that the 2020 election was stolen. Hate crimes are on the rise, anti-Semitism is on the rise, transphobia, attacks on Asian Americans and people of color. And those are all of a piece. That kind of bigotry, in my experience, is a multi-headed beast. And it leads back to the same monster.”
The proclaimed monster is the increasingly normalized, populist movement Trump helped move from the fringes of society into the mainstream public square. No image in the book better illustrates this than the Lincoln Memorial statue, complete with a confederate flag draped behind it. The image is at once horrific, and heartbreaking. Like any good piece of art, what Jenkins, Golan, and Rosado are able to do is immediately provide immersion into a fictitious narrative, whilst simultaneously holding up a mirror to the present.
The coopting of the word ‘patriot’ is probably one of the most tragic outcomes of this entire ordeal the country has been facing, and will continue to face next year if we’re not careful. The images in the opening panels of What if the Attack on the U.S. Capitol Succeeded? have splashes of familiar, social justice movements – some monstrously coopted by those supportive of the president’s initiative to overturn the election. The juxtaposition is not only effective, but helps communicate a message that doesn’t exist in some hypothetical overworld. The issues are here and now, and more urgent than ever.