Originally presented online via that great platform for graphic journalism The Nib, Tom Humberstone’s I’m a Luddite (And So Can You!) & Other Tales from The Nib brings some of his politically conscious comic strips to print. You many, of course, recognise Humberstone’s name from his recent graphic biography Suzanne: The Jazz Age Goddess of Tennis which we covered here at BF. Those of us of a certain vintage will remember him, though, as the editorial force behind the seminal indie anthology series Solipsistic Pop which, arguably, kicked off the new Golden Age of UK small press publishing around a decade and a half ago.
I’m a Luddite (And So Can You!) covers a range of topics of great historical and contemporary importance. The longest offering in the line-up is the titular investigation into the inextricable link between technological innovation and capitalist stranglehold. Using the 19th century Luddite movement – worker uprisings popularly remembered for their machinery-smashing rebellion – as an exploratory foundation, Humberstone traces the centuries-old relationship between workforce exploitation and alleged advances in automation.
Obviously intensively researched with a number of pithy soundbites from noted historical figures scattered throughout, it’s a warning that technological development and employee control often go hand in hand. From early reflections on Luddism as not an attack on technology per se but rather the oppressive capitalist use of it, Humberstone’s visual essay underlines for us us that progress must be humanity-centred first and foremost.
It’s a fascinating trip through history spotlighting the way that technology is manipulated not for the greater good but for the benefit of the wealthy. One that feels especially relevant when it touches on issues like AI art (or as Humberstone more aptly terms it here “algorithmically generated art theft”) in the last year. A telling reminder that we need to question and resist the excesses of an automated future.
In two other strips Humberstone examines the racist origins of Mickey Mouse and the character’s genesis in the minstrel stereotype, and also the history of political protest in sport. In that latter account he again reminds us of the role of capitalism in attempting to suppress overt displays of dissent in the sporting world, and how sport and politics have always been profoundly interconnected. From the diplomatic reasons behind the original classical Olympic Games to Jesse Owens destroying the fascist ideal of Aryan superiority in the 1936 Olympics, through to the corruption inherent in organisations like FIFA, Humberstone makes a compelling and intelligent case.
Interspersed are one-page illustrations with the running title ‘Items of Questionable Provenance’ which depict stolen treasures from across the globe, claimed in the name of the British Empire. Short quotes from those who ransacked and destroyed their original locations, or those who were so appallingly affected, add an extra shiver of revulsion to the means to their acquisition.
Humberstone’s art mixes realism and iconography with great clarity and accessibility throughout. The relative lack of overtly political small press work in the UK continues to be a source of great puzzlement to me in these most dystopian of times. Thankfully there is still material like I’m a Luddite to challenge authority and make us question what we may erroneously perceive as societal norms.
Tom Humberstone (W/A) • Self-published, £6.00
Review by Andy Oliver