Che Guevara: A Manga Biography (Penguin)

The legendary revolutionary’s life story gets the manga treatment, courtesy of Kiyoshi Konno and Chie Shimano.



192 pgs., B&W; $19.95
(W: Kiyoshi Konno; A: Chie Shimano)
Che Guevara was many things. A traveler. A doctor. A revolutionary. A diplomat. A prolific author. A ruthless executioner to some, a savior of the people to others. At the end of the day, he was a man. In the grand scheme of things, he is a man that has since descended into the hazy fog of myth, separated from this mortal coil by a drunk military man’s bullet and tied to it by a million tchochkes bearing his name. Adored by many, despised by others, Che Guevara was quite a polarizing figure in his day. Reading this comic, I hope that, somewhere, he still has the power to stir the hearts of man just a little. It’d be a shame to see such a passionate crusader for literacy and equality turned into just another design I can get on a Warhol-style poster.
If Kiyoshi Konno wanted to tell the story of a noble martyr set on saving the populace from the evils of money and tyranny at any cost, it was well done. If Kiyoshi Konno wanted to tell the story of a human being with flaws, like the rest of us, who happened to have some adventures and did some good stuff and possibly some ill-advised stuff and really just wanted to make the world a better place, it was not so well done. Fair and balanced this book is not and, somehow, Konno wants us to believe that every act of Guevara’s, right down to divorcing his first wife and abandoning his second one and their children to go fight someone else’s battles, was serving some higher purpose. I’m torn: on one hand, Guevara truly wanted to improve things and did, in some cases, but on the other hand, call a spade a spade—dude was a bit autocratic, even though he was second-in-command. Perhaps that’s why he abandoned Cuba to go try to spark a million little wars?
We’ll never know because Konno doesn’t bother to look into those things. Konno tells the story, skews it Che’s way, and makes everyone else to be the bad guys all the time. There’s not much analysis in here and, honestly, it’s a story that deserves a little better than that. The highs aren’t quite as high without the lows, in my opinion. For example: did you know that many of Guevara’s last raids in Bolivia were conducted in order to procure medicine to treat the chronic asthma he’d had since childhood? I bet not. And Konno touches lightly on the asthma but makes Guevara blithely unconcerned about it, soldiering on through something that was deeply troubling for him, tossing away a careless explanation to explain the presence of his perpetual cigar. The story is fairly dry and tends to get a bit pedantic in places but, honestly, that’s something that can hardly be avoided and is interesting in parts. It seems that Konno referenced Guevara’s writing heavily for the early part of the story and, frankly, those are the most interesting parts; Guevara starts his life as a world-shifter young and that idealism spills off the page during the first part of the book. He assists at a leper colony, he is mocked by some peers, he meets a beautiful girl, and these are the parts of the book that make me want to read more.
This seems to be relatively early in their careers for both Konno and Chie Shimano, the artist put in charge of rendering a revolution in manga’s friendly format. Not to be daunted, Shimano’s art serves the story well, making Guevara into kind of a hottie and delicately rendering battlefield scenes but somehow still managing to capture some of the grit one finds in such places. The book is broken down in chronological chapters, helping to split up some of the weighty material within. Honestly, I can’t help but feel like I would like this book a little more if Konno spent a little more time telling us about Che and a little less about Comandante Guevara. Guevara was a noble man who wanted to save the world and I sure would like to get to know him a little better. | Erin Jameson


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