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To Inspire Antifascism, Graphic Novel Imagines a Successful Coup
It’s been two years since the violent attack on the U.S. capitol in Washington, D.C., when thousands of supporters of then-president Donald Trump stormed the building during the certification of the electoral college to “Stop the Steal.” The insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, resulted in at least seven deaths and came dangerously close to overturning the 2020 election. It spawned multiple investigations, criminal trials, congressional hearings, and, most recently, a graphic novel.
A four-part comic book series titled 1/6: What if the Attack on the U.S. Capitol Succeeded? imagines an alternative timeline—one where the pro-Trump mob triumphs and imposes martial law. Amid this dark dystopia, it also visualizes how a grassroots antifascist opposition works in tandem with tenacious, honest journalism to offer an antidote to authoritarianism.
“After the insurrection, I found myself waking up in a cold sweat at 3 a.m. for many weeks worrying about our democracy, worrying about the fact that we had already as a nation begun to move on from this cataclysmic event,” says Alan Jenkins, one of the authors of the graphic novel. Jenkins is a Harvard University law professor and the co-founder of The Opportunity Agenda, a social-justice-oriented communication lab working to shift cultural narratives around racial justice and equity.
Jenkins says his lifelong love of comic books informed his idea to create a graphic novel “in the tradition of speculative fiction, envisioning what could have happened if the insurrection had been successful.”
Co-author Gan Golan is an activist, illustrator, and The New York Times bestselling author whose works include the critically acclaimed graphic novel The Adventures of Unemployed Man. Golan says he fears “how close we came on Jan. 6 to … entering into an alternative timeline.” He adds, “Democracy is always a very precarious proposition in history, and it requires constant vigilance to protect it.”
Golan and Jenkins partnered with acclaimed illustrator Will Rosado—whose portfolio includes work for Marvel and DC Comics—to visually depict the post-1/6 dystopian world in print. The first issue in their series, which was released—not coincidentally—on Jan. 6, 2023, opens with scenes of an unnamed young Black woman scaling a building. She is reminiscent of Bree Newsome Bass, the real-life activist who pulled down the Confederate flag outside South Carolina’s state capitol.
Jenkins confirms that the fictional antifascist protagonists in 1/6 are indeed inspired by real-life resisters. “If you look at … the history of pro-democracy movements around the world, it’s always activists and artists and young people who are at the forefront of restoring democracy and also envisioning a broader world, a new nation,” says Jenkins.
As the series’ panels render the nation’s capital being overrun by military tanks amid calls to “stamp out the Antifa menace,” the scene shifts to a D.C. newsroom, where readers are introduced to Sage, a Black journalist who barely escapes with his life as his colleagues are gunned down by fatigues-clad forces. The fictional attackers claim they are acting “under the authority of the Fair and Balanced Media Act of 2021.”
Golan argues that such a scene is not far-fetched. “We’ve already entered into the realm of the unimaginable,” he says, given that Trump and his supporters—many of whom are armed—have routinely referred to the media as the “enemy of the people.” Insurrectionists who breached the capitol on Jan. 6 scrawled the words “Murder the media” on a set of doors inside the building, and physically assaulted members of the press covering the attack.
“When you see authoritarian regimes in other countries having seized power through coups or other violent means, and seized the apparatus of the state, control over the media becomes first and foremost,” Golan explains.
While the graphic novel clearly takes a pro-democracy stance, Jenkins and Golan have crafted nuanced portraits of characters across the political spectrum. An older, MAGA-hat-wearing white man whose son is killed (under circumstances that may be revealed in later issues) finds, to his dismay, that the pro-Trump mob politicizes his child’s death in order to demonize left-leaning social movements like Black Lives Matter.
Golan says the author’s motivation was to highlight how some among the pro-Trump mob were “victims of a very concerted effort to … immerse them in disinformation and lies.” As such, he posits that some may not have fully understood the gravity of the anti-democratic actions they participated in.
Watch the full interview with Alan Jenkins and Gan Golan about their four-part graphic novel series, 1/6: What if the Attack on the U.S. Capitol Succeeded?
In 1/6, the authors hope to capture the challenges and complexity of countering authoritarianism. “In future issues, we’re going to see [lead characters] disagreeing about what the struggle ought to be,” says Jenkins. “Just as we who are activists often disagree and yet find ways to move forward together.”
“Like all good speculative fiction, it’s also a warning,” says Jenkins of the fable he’s co-authored. “It’s a call to action for the threats that still remain.”
Sonali Kolhatkar is currently the racial justice editor at YES! Media and a writing fellow with Independent Media Institute. She was previously a weekly columnist for Truthdig.com. She is also the host and creator of Rising Up with Sonali, a nationally syndicated television and radio program airing on Free Speech TV and dozens of independent and community radio stations. Sonali won First Place at the Los Angeles Press Club Annual Awards for Best Election Commentary in 2016. She also won numerous awards including Best TV Anchor from the LA Press Club and has also been nominated as Best Radio Anchor 4 years in a row. She is the author of Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence, and the co-director of the nonprofit group, Afghan Women's Mission. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights, 2023). She has a Master’s in Astronomy from the University of Hawai’i, and two undergraduate degrees in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Texas at Austin. She reflects on her professional path in her 2014 TEDx talk, “My Journey From Astrophysicist to Radio Host.” She can be reached at sonalikolhatkar.com