Is September 11th a Laughing Matter?
The Graphic Novel “United States of Banana” Tackles Taboo Subjects
Daniel A. Oliva
United States of Banana: A Graphic Novel, a geopolitical tragicomedy, depicts the collapse of the World Trade Center on September 11th as the fall of the American empire. Puerto Rican author Giannina Braschi and Swedish cartoonist Joakim Lindengren teamed up on this scathing critique of American colonialism. Through comic book format they take to task state sanctioned violence, mass incarceration, mass deportation, and financial terrorism in post-9/11 American culture.
“I was a monument to immigration—now I’m a border control cop,” confesses the Statue of Liberty.
This new graphic novel, from Latinographix at Madcreek Books, is based on Braschi’s epic manifesto by the same title. Zarathustra, Hamlet, and Giannina rescue the Puerto Rican political prisoner Segismundo from under the skirt of the Statue of Liberty. Throughout their quest, the characters debate far-ranging political and philosophical subjects, spanning terrorism, global warming, revolution, and love. The Marx Brothers, Pablo Neruda, Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Disney characters and more make appearances in this stirring call to overthrow empire, liberate the imprisoned masses, and build a new country rooted in friendship, art, poetry, and laughter.
ABOUT THE PLOT
“The plot of United States of Banana unfolds in the following way: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Nietzsche’s Zarathustra and a character named Giannina decide to cross the Hudson to go to Liberty Island, penetrate the Statue of Liberty and free Segismundo, subsequently freeing Puerto Rico from its colonial captivity. This act of defiance produces a response from Gertrude – Hamlet’s mother – who concocts a plan to marry Basilio, free Segismundo, and bring him into the same family as Hamlet as the only possible way to save the ancien régime of imperial United States of Banana from collapsing. As part of her plan, Gertrude convinces Basilio that Puerto Rico should be granted admission into the United States of Banana, that all illegal immigrants shall be granted citizenship, and that the borders of the United States of Banana shall be opened. However, her efforts to mitigate the revolution by granting concessions to Giannina and the other insurgents fail, who declare unilaterally the independence of Puerto Rico after realizing that the changes in the United States of Banana’s policies towards Puerto Rico and Latin America were an attempt to perpetuate a sort of imperial Pax Banana under the joint leadership of Basilio and Gertrude.War erupts between Puerto Rico, Cuba (which has claims to Puerto Rico and seeks to create its own Caribbean empire), and the United States of Banana; Giannina and her comrades can only rely on coconuts and philosophical conversation to fight the soldiers of the empire. But the timely intervention of China – the United States creditor – secures the independence of Puerto Rico and brings Braschi’s geo-political comedy to a close.” –Ronald Mendoza-de Jesús (Assistant Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature, University of Southern California).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
The Library of Congress defined Giannina Braschi as “cutting-edge, influential and even revolutionary,” and described United States of Banana as “experimental, revolutionary and profoundly philosophical. It is to be read as The Wasteland of the 21st century.” She is the subject of the new book Poets, Philosophers, Lovers: On the Writings of Giannina Braschi, a collection of essays edited by Frederick Luis Aldama and Tess O’Dwyer with a vivacious foreword in Spanglish by Ilan Stavans (Latinx and Latin American Profiles, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020). Born in San Juan and based in New York, she is the author of Empire of Dreams and the Spanglish classic novel Yo-Yo Boing! Her radical texts works have opened the literary canon to a wider range of Latino/a literature in the United States.
ABOUT THE CARTOONIST
Swedish comic book creator Joakim Lindengren is based in Gothenberg. He is famous for his character Kapten Stofil, a grumpy superhero whose power is to conjure 1950s and 60s nostalgia. His comic strips are often drawn in a deliberate Silver Age style. However, in response to the matrix of literary references in Braschi’s novel, he brought to United States of Banana a dense overlay of quotes from iconic paintings, photojournalism, movies, illustrations, and cartoons. He riffed on iconic images by Picasso, Dalí, Magritte, Escher, Tom of Finland, and Walt Disney to align with Braschi’s treatment of pop culture and literary history.
Frederick Luis Aldama is the series editor of Latinographix at The Ohio State University Press which showcases politically radical and emotionally charged graphic novels, illustrated memoirs, and comic books by Latinx writers and artists. Latinographix pushes boundaries and celebrates hybridity, experimentation, innovation, and humor. Highlighted titles include Drawing on Anger: Portraits of U.S. Hypocrisy by Eric J. Garcia and Tales from la Vida: A Latinx Comics Anthology. In the introduction to United States of Banana, Amanda Smith and Amy Sheeran explain how this graphic novel illuminates hard hitting social issues that impact the future of Puerto Rico and the United States. The graphic novel comes with a teacher’s guide for classroom discussions on Spanish theater, Latinx literature, U.S. politics, and Puerto Rican culture.
THE OHIO STATE UNIVERSITY PRESS
GIANNINA BRASCHI AND JOAKIM LINDENGREN
INTRO BY AMANDA M. SMITH AND AMY SHEERAN