I have said it before here at Broken Frontier and I shall say it again today. I do not believe we can overestimate how invaluable a social document pandemic comics like today’s subject Resistance Sustenance Protection will be in the years to come. Given how so many of them consist of reactions to events as they progressed they capture the realities of these awful months with an immediacy that few other mediums can replicate, taking us directly into the heart of the experiences depicted.
What’s also so vital about these comics accounts is how varied they are in approach. From the gentle humour and raw poignancy of Rachael Smith’s Quarantine Comix to the powerful visual metaphor of Mollie Ray’s At Any Given Time, the indie alt stylings of Alex Graham’s Dog Biscuits through to the DIY meditations of Elizabeth Querstret’s My Grief: Life During Lockdown 2020, I have no doubt they will be written about extensively by comics commentators and academics in the future. In that regard we all owe a debt to those comics creators who have acted as social historians, recording life in lockdown with a dedication that is quite remarkable given how trying the circumstances have been.
Rachael House’s Resistance Sustenance Protection is another important entry in this sub-genre of graphic medicine and notable for the comics activism that sits at its core. It collects one-page comics and illustrative commentary originally posted online between 2020 and 2021 in a handsomely tactile hardcover edition that still retains a small press aura. It’s a book that is in turns cutting, pertinent, self-deprecating, philosophical, angry and sometimes very funny (callbacks to the supposed benefits to the environment with images of dragons returning to the Welsh countryside for example, the simple distracting joy of observing two sparrows “going at it”, or the double entendre inherent in the “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme).
Key to books like this, of course, is the shared experiences they embody. Like many, for the sake of my own mental health, I ended up muting those people on social media in the early days of the pandemic who were obsessively flooding my timeline with a seemingly never-ending series of doom-laden retweets. But, as House sagely points out, for the individuals concerned this was clearly their own way of dealing with their anxiety. Resistance Sustenance Protection brings many of these familiar shared concerns to life including the moral dilemmas we have all faced, like how to balance lockdown/social distancing and still support small businesses.
And then there are the brutally honest and unrepentantly angry sections. Perhaps the one strip in this book that will stick with me the longest (and indeed has done since I first saw it online) is a four-panel entry dealing on a surface level with hygiene but also offering a condemnatory commentary on a Conservative government whose appalling inaction cost hundreds of thousands of people their lives. “However thoroughly you wash your hands if you voted for this government they will never be clean.”
There’s an honesty, an unashamed candidness though, to Resistance Sustenance Protection that ensures we connect with House’s cartooning on a very personal level and not just a political or ethical one. Intermittent strips document the advent of darker moods, an inability to draw, or overt references to mental health breaks, again reminding us of the periods when we too were overwhelmed by our the oppressiveness of our new realities. It’s a seemingly small but crucially important gesture, especially in the context of how this work was originally presented online, serving as a reminder that none of us are/were alone in our moments of despair.
Resistance Sustenance Protection is punctuated by monthly round-ups of news stories and developments that act as a damning indictment on this Conservative government and those who have supported them. Indeed House interweaves the wider political climate of the last months throughout these pages, frequently touching on issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, attacks on trans rights, and queer solidarity. A recurring motif scattered throughout the book is a plea to protect us both from the virus and various insidiously motivated entities, whether that be those who wield power without responsibility or those who only want to see white faces in their media.
The triumph of Resistance Sustenance Protection is how economically House captures the message of each individual page without losing its potency in delivery. Mixing comics with graphic design, symbolism, visual metaphor and single illustration, this is a book that challenges, questions and provokes with a scathing honesty. The kind of work we need to see far more of in a comics small press/self-publishing scene that, dare I say it, in some respects has become far too comfortable and middle class in recent years. Vitally, though, it’s also a very empathetic, compassionate and community-minded venture. Much of the most important comics practice of 2021 has been that which has embodied a defiant sense of social justice. We can add Rachael House’s Resistance Sustenance Protection to that list. Without a doubt, one of the absolute must-read books of 2021.
Rachael House (W/A) • Self-published, £30.00
Review by Andy Oliver