The Communist Manifesto: A Graphic Novel

Tuesday, September 18th, 2018

Gord Doctorow reviews British graphic novelist Martin Rowson’s illustrated adaptation of The Communist Manifesto:

The preface describes how the middle-aged Rowson became smitten by Marx and Engels’ exciting prose when he was only 16. Aside from expressing his great admiration for Marx’s writing, as well as his own critical stance, he furnishes the reader with some historical backdrop to the completion of The Manifesto. Marx had been commissioned to write it by a socialist group in the summer of 1847, but, under pressure, succeeded in producing it at the beginning of 1848. Significantly, that was before the outbreak of revolutionary movements in Europe later on in 1848. Rowson goes on to explain that the initial publication failed to attract the attention of many people. Only after the events of the Paris Commune in 1871 did the pamphlet receive a wide audience and a publication renewal.

The illustrations create an atmospheric accompaniment to the Marx figures whose speaking balloons relay the text of The Manifesto. The graphics pair nicely with the text with dense images that impart the feeling of the clashes of historical forces (classes) or with the dramatic rendering of the first lines of The Manifesto in which a spectre appears, so Hamlet-like in two dark and foreboding images to haunt the reader’s mind. There is plenty of theatricality too: images of Marx interacting from a stage with a hostile audience (Rowson’s added flourishes added to enhance the exposition in a stimulating theatrical way).

The Communist Manifesto A Graphic Novel

As a literary work, the illustrations do justice to the marvelously compressed, yet sweeping, literary quality of Marx’s verbal imagery and present readers. Though I had read The Manifesto years ago, I found the adaptation to be both a refresher and newly insightful.

Quite… uncritical.


  1. Harry Jones says:

    It’s what he does best. He’s a cartoonist, not an analyst. If you take it too seriously, you’ve already missed the point.

    I loved his mashup of Eliot and Chandler. Tiresias as a pervy hobo…

  2. Faze says:

    The Communist Manifesto was mainly Engels’ work, if I’m not mistaken.

    It is a brilliant piece of literary work, filled with deathless phrases and a pleasure to read. It describes the raw vigor of capitalism attractively and accurately. It can be read as a poetic meditation — if you can forget the murderous mayhem that it unleashed in later years. There is no reason to turn this swell piece of prose into a comic book.

    Marx’s The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon can also be read for interest, if not pleasure. However, anyone who thinks the Marx was a great writer, should read Das Capital. It is of the school of higher gobbledygook. And it is long.

    This cartoonist should spend the next several years reading Das Capital turning into a comic book. That will be his punishment for doing this silly work.

  3. Isegoria says:

    I finally got around to reading The Communist Manifesto 14 years ago. It’s odd. Quite odd.

  4. Lucklucky says:

    And then was born Social Supremacism, where absolute power over others is the Final Solution. No self constraints. No power checks.

    That primitivism of absolute power is the reason that most murdered Communists were by other Communists. And the reason that Marxism is nothing more than a reactionary movement against Modernity (power restraint).

  5. Kirk says:

    One awaits with disgust the likely future similatly sympathetic treatment of Mein Kampf and Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.

    People who produce this sort of propaganda ought to be treated in precisely the manner that the multitudinous victims of these pernicious ideologies were, each and every time they have been emanentized by their believers. Deportation to Venezuela comes to mind, as a just solution. Let them actually dwell in the hellholes their ideologies create, and suffer the consequences accordingly.

  6. Wang Wei Lin says:

    Kirk, They will never dwell in the hellhole of their ideologies as shown by the steak eating Maduro. Socialism fully implemented in the US would be no different for the little people while the young socialist leaders would wear $3500 suits and old socialist leaders would live in walled and gated estates.

  7. Kirk says:

    In a rational world, killing a socialist the moment they self-identified would be as socially acceptable as killing a pedophile you found raping a child…

    It absolutely disgusts me that we spent the decades from 1941 on fighting international and national socialism, only to find the fifth column within our so-called “intelligentsia” and elites had not only surrendered to them already, but were engaged in going them one better in all respects. Sadly, the smartest thing we could have done back in the ’50s was probably to surrender entirely, let them take over, and by now, the entire sorry enterprise would have collapsed. The only thing that’s kept socialism going as an idea has been the guilt-driven support lent it by our well-off, who seem to think that it’s a bad idea to emulate that which made their parents successful…

Leave a Reply