Brief Overview of World War 3 Illustrated and Its Network Visualization*
World War 3 Illustrated is a political comics series started by Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman in 1979. Based in New York City, there have been 46 issues from 1979-2015 with no definitive end in sight. Started as an anti-war comic in connection to grassroots activism, World War 3 is a more diverse publication from its inception, not only including the populations we often think of when we evoke diversity—people of color, LGBTQ folks, and—when it comes to comics—women—but also incorporating other marginalized voices like incarcerated and homeless people.
Over its nearly four decades, World War 3 features over 500 voices in its pages. This network graph that I’ve created from manually inputting the tables of contents for all 46 issues features both the visual artists and their sometimes textual collaborators alongside those people responsible for the production of the issue, when those folks are named. Of all the people involved in World War 3, nearly 75% contribute just once, while over 85% contribute just once or twice. This high number of infrequent contributors bespeaks World War 3’s coalitional politics practiced in every issue where a thematic approach from the “L.A. Riots” (#17, 1992) to the “9/11 Issue” (#32, 2001) to “Youth and Climate Change” (#46, 2015) draws in new contributors and audiences. Of those contributing just once or twice, a number of individuals known more prominently in other contexts are featured, from underground comix artists like Howard Cruse and Trina Robbins to AIDS activists and artists like Brian Damage and David Wojnarowicz to contemporary comics artists like Joe Sacco and Kyle Baker.
How would turning our attention to a series like World War 3, which receives remarkably little academic attention, despite its long-run and the expansive community it includes, change our understanding not only of genealogies of comics, but also of comics’s relationship to other visual media? What new stories could we tell through the use of this network visualization and other digital tools?
*Note: this text and this network visualization originated in an MLA 2016 panel that I co-organized, “The Counterpublics of Underground Comix.”