Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Len, A Lawyer in History: A Graphic Biography of Radical Attorney Leonard Weinglass

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Len, A Lawyer in History: A Graphic Biography of Radical Attorney Leonard Weinglass

Article excerpt

Seth Tobocman, Len, A Lawyer in History: A Graphic Biography of Radical Attorney Leonard Weinglass Chico, CA and Edinburgh: AK Press, 2016; 200pp; ISBN 9781849352406

Seth Tobocman's signature graphic style tends toward the gestural. His black inked crowd scenes and claustrophobic, uncanny cityscapes evoke the jam-packed frames of Frans Masereel's pre-Weimar woodcuts. Stories in pencil and wash coalesce and disperse like old memories. Clayboard works proffer a few hyper-accurate lines supplemented with faint familiar strokes. On the whole, his entire visual repertoire leaves the audience ample creative space to enter into and interpret the work. Len, Tobocman's biography of radical attorney Leonard Weinglass, supplements Tobocman's visual modes with spare narrative vignettes, in which all that is said is scrupulously accurate - but much is left unsaid. Thus, modelling sound anarchist principles, Tobocman deftly nails the balancing act of the graphic novel, giving us a book in which the graphic and the novel elements operate not in competition, but mutual support.

Each chronologically-arranged chapter highlights one of Len's legal battles. In one corner are working-class communities of colour, activists, those whose associations, beliefs, or very existence has been criminalised. In the other corner is the state, often lip-locked with real estate or corporate capital. And standing as a bulwark between: Len, our sleep-deprived friend with a law degree and a schmutzig suit.

The book is a wonderful point of entry into the life of Leonard Weinglass, a 'shmatas to nachas' story of a Lower East Side Jew who made it into Yale, spent his life acquiring moral victories rather than wealth, and died as many of the gains for which he fought were viciously dismantled.

It is also a fantastic invitation into the history of the battle for American civil liberties. An illustrated history of the infamous Chicago trial of Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale, or the Newark tenants uprising, will hold few surprises for students of legal history or the New York left. But Tobocman grounds these stories in meticulous research, and broadcasts just how much detail remains to be seen. The compelling taste he gives will surely move readers to learn more, once they have set down this particular volume.

In a clever, intuitive move, each vignette functions like a judicial precedent in the cumulative history of Len's life. …

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