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‘A MOST IMPERFECT UNION': ‘La Cucaracha’ cartoonist takes on a nation’s ‘dead white men’

“A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States,” by Ilan Stavans and Lalo Alcaraz (Basic).


LALO ALCARAZ, as a cartoonist, can’t help but ring out with irreverence.

In time for Independence Day, Alcaraz — perhaps best known for sociopolitical comic strip “La Cucaracha” — is the illustrator of a new book about the republic, “A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States,” which re-teams the California-based cartoonist with Amherst College professor Ilan Stavans. The artist of Latino descent and the Mexican-born Jewish immigrant first collaborated in 2000 for “Latino USA”; they consider “A Most Imperfect Union” as a prequel, of sort, to their debut joint book.

Stavans is an engaging writer, and what he most brings to the narrative is a professorial sense of story and anecdote. But by opening with the cheeky jacket-flap salvo “Enough with the dead white men!,” what “Imperfect Union” aims to do, too, is win you over with humor. That’s where Alcaraz so often comes in.

Besides supplying the visuals, the artist supplies his own avatar — a wise-cracking jokester who often undercuts the history with verbal “peanut gallery” jabs from the vantage point of his drafting table. The comic tension generated by this call-and-response commentary helps propel the narrative from Amerigo Vespucci and Native Americans through to modern-day politics.

Alcaraz — who is also a politcal podcaster and a writer on the forthcoming Seth MacFarlane TV comedy “Bordertown” — blends the cartoon realism of historic figures with a loose-and-goofy style for his contemporary characters — which at times helps this feel like a “Mystery Science Theater 3000″ dynamic applied to the panorama of American history. To read my full review of Alcaraz and Stavans’s new book, just click HERE.



“A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States,” by Ilan Stavans and Lalo Alcaraz (Basic).
Writer/artist/visual storyteller Michael Cavna is creator of the "Comic Riffs" column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World. He relishes sharp-eyed satire in most any form.



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Michael Cavna · June 29, 2014

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