Top Shelf Productions
Cartoonist: Sofia Warren
After the 2016 presidential election happened, it became easy to get swept away in politics. The Trump Presidency led to many changes, especially when it comes to the ways that people and politicians opposed the White House’s policies and the fascist movements that were empowered by them. Still, even those who are familiar with national politics will be forgiven for not knowing what is happening in a state that they don’t even live in.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is the biggest name to come out of New York politics after the Trump election. It led to a shift in what people thought were possible. More significantly, it changed what was possible for democratic socialists who are interested in running for office.
At New York’s state senate level, Julia Salazar was motivated by her friends and colleagues with the Democratic Socialists of America to run against Martin Dilan, with a promise to advocate for tenants in Brooklyn. After her victory, cartoonist Sofia Warren contacted her to be a fly on the wall and write a graphic memoir chronicling her first year in office. Radical: My Year With a Socialist Senator is that graphic memoir.
At over 300 pages, Radical is as thorough as can be when it comes to chronicling that first year. Warren practically disguises Radical as a graphic memoir, even though it teaches like a textbook. It’s much more than a memoir about Warren and Salazar’s time together. It’s a thorough look at how politics work at all levels, especially the state level. It’s as analytical as it is informative, with information that is capable of teaching just about everyone at least one new thing about politics.
Of course, it’s also an intimate look at Salazar, a figure who has received tons of attention, both positive and negative. According to Warren in the graphic memoir, Salazar gave Warren complete access to her team. From the quiet moments where everyone is answering emails in a room to heated discussions and assemblies, Warren saw it all. Warren allows for readers to get to know most of Salazar’s staff quite intimately in a way that wouldn’t be otherwise possible. She lets readers learn about bills that were important to Salazar, especially the “Good Cause Bill.”
As a cartoonist, Warren utilizes many tools to make the consumption of all of this information easy for readers. Various graphics and newspaper headlines are placed throughout the pages to take away the feeling of this being a textbook or manual. Every bit of knowledge is juxtaposed with cute characters that don’t have tons of detail but are remarkably expressive.
While there isn’t color in Radical, Warren still uses shading to effectively add depth to the art. More importantly, the shading evokes emotion. The tones shift throughout Radical as readers navigate Salazar’s year, and the shading is a big contributor to the feels. There are also many pages with creative lettering that allow for the narrative to shift in tone rather quickly. Expressions, moods, and tones are clear thanks to both the faces, body language, and impressive lettering throughout the story.
One would expect a political story to be dry, but the script has as much humor as the art has life. Even the panel layouts keep the story moving along nicely, with creative ways to show flashbacks, constituent stories, and successful movements.
Everything in Radical: My Year With a Socialist Senator comes together to create a fun, riveting, and educational graphic memoir. Warren’s year with Salazar translates perfectly to this medium, and Radical should be considered one of the best nonfiction graphic memoirs in recent memory.
Radical: My Year With a Socialist Senator
Radical: My Year With a Socialist Senator is one of the best nonfiction comics to hit the medium in years.