One of the more interesting sensations is speaking to others, whether with your words or through your art, and actually seeing them LISTEN to you. It can be frightening, but it can also be quite a kick. In David Lester’s new graphic novel, The Listener, we see the story of an artist who chose to stop being a “speaker” and act as a “listener” after someone followed her work too far. Lester contrasts this with a famed speaker who fully embraced the power he had to shape minds and manipulate them – Adolf Hitler. In this striking mixture of fiction and history, Lester makes a compelling argument for the need to continue to speak to others through your political artwork. Along the way, of course, Lester also gives us a lot of great artwork, strong characterizations and a fascinating look into the way Hitler rose to power in Germany in 1933.
The protagonist of the book is an artist named Louise. A Canadian-born artist living in England, Louise does political artwork.
However, after a man inspired by her work dies while hanging a protest banner…
Well, let’s just say that Louise does not take it well.
She heads off on a journey through Europe to see the great art works of Europe in various museums across the continent.
Along the way, she meets a variety of people, and as she meets them, we learn new things about the history of art and heck, of society as a whole. It’s a very informative piece of work, but Lester makes sure not to make it come across too much like a textbook. Much like how various characters in Brian K. Vaughan comics all happen to know lots of arcane (but interesting) trivia about history, so, too does Louise meet travelers on her journey like that.
One of the more harrowing experiences is when Louise visits a concentration camp…
Haunting artwork by Lester.
In any event, among the most important people that Louise meets is an elderly couple named Marie and Rudolph. They tell her a little-known tale of an election in the small German state of Lippe (only about 100,000 inhabitants) in January of 1933. You see, at the time, while the Nazis were the largest political party in Germany, being the largest party in a plurality does not necessarily mean much if you can’t DO anything with your power. And while they remained the largest party, the Nazis had begun to lose seats and their momentum was beginning to wane (and as you all know, a large part of Hitler’s power was harnessing forward momentum). So when Lippe held a parliamentary election in 1933, the Nazis through everything they had into winning the election to keep up their momentum. Marie and Rudolph tell the story of the underhanded spin-doctoring that was used to secure that election for Hitler and therefore solidifying their power in Germany, eventually leading to World War II.
Rudolph and Marie, naturally, regret not doing anything to stop Hitler then (or their party, the DNVP (German National People’s Party), who wanted a return to the monarchy).
Through this story and more importantly, upon meeting a friend of the man who died at the beginning of the story, Louise learns why it is important to continue to speak out on political issues.
Occasionally, the text of the comic can be on the dry side, but the sentiment and the narrative as a whole is so powerful and heartfelt that it easily gets past that. And as you can see, Lester tries a variety of art styles for the book.
You can read more about The Listener here, including more sample pages and where to buy a copy!
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