They secretly infiltrated and coordinated the Capitol riots.
They have a limitless supply of cement milkshakes.
And they’re heading off in school buses to raise hell in your town.
They’re antifa, the radical leftist collective, and according to most conservative politicians and pundits, the chief antagonists of polite society today. Despite all known evidence contradicting such claims and revealing antifa as merely the latest all-purpose right-wing scapegoat, the myth of their supervillainy still persists. In a clever subversion, however, political cartoonist Matt Lubchansky‘s new graphic novel, The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook, vividly depicts a world in which not only is all the scaremongering about antifa super-soldiers completely accurate, but so is every other dubious aspect of the Fox News mindset reinforcing it.
“I spend a lot of time in real-life, left organizing spaces,” says Lubchansky, “and it’s just so funny to think about antifa as a paramilitary organization when actual anarchists or anarcho-communists or whoever spend a lot more time voting on motions to form committees to deliver free lettuce to people in your community.”
In an incredible coincidence, somehow an activist movement committed to fighting fascism became increasingly demonized during an administration oft accused of perpetuating fascism. The Trump years saw antifa go from scourge of sparsely attended local Nazi marches to nearly being designated an official terrorist organization. Why, it’s almost as if certain people felt the surging threat of far-right extremism needed an equivalent, looming evil on the other side!
“This is one of the longer periods of sustained left protest in America since maybe the sixties,” Lubchanksy says. “The Black Panthers were the bogeyman then, and [the FBI] ruined their lives and murdered them until they disbanded basically. So I think they had to come up with a new bogeyman for a new generation of sustained left pressure on things like the police and entrenched cruelty in American politics.”
The political discourse, which is a rather generous way of describing a Twitter cacophony of galaxy brain farts, is always rife with misinformation about what antifa is and what it does—but perhaps never more so than during last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. It was during this tumultuous time that the inspiration for Lubchansky’s book struck.
In early June, two Buffalo police officers shoved an elderly protester, who then stumbled a few steps before falling to the ground and cracking his head open. Afterward, there was only one way conservatives could spin what had happened: Clearly, the 75-year old victim was an antifa plant who intentionally took one for the team in order to make the police look bad. Within days, this ridiculous conspiracy theory reached the president, who then amplified it through his since-rescinded megaphone to many millions more.
Avi Ehrlich, head of the gonzo indie publisher Silver Sprocket, observed this galling incident and realized the treachery regularly ascribed to antifa was a ripe target for long-form mockery. He came up with the title The Antifa Super-Soldier Cookbook, a nod to a foundational counterculture text of the 1970s and a conspiracy theory of the late 2010s, and brought it to Lubchansky, a political cartoonist with whom he’d previously collaborated. Lubchansky then took the concept of antifa affiliates as Robocop/Inspector Gadget-type cyborg agents of chaos and ran with it, asking himself: If this were true, what else would be?
The resulting graphic novel is a bold, hilarious vision of the world we currently inhabit, nimbly straddling the line between political satire and speculative fiction. Although, in reality, the antifa movement has no actual structure, in Lubchansky’s Verhoevenian fever dream, the president of antifa is a real person, who holds court in underground chamber meetings with a George Soros-like billionaire, a Democratic Party surrogate who looks suspiciously like Ronald Reagan, a masked marauder called The Real Racist, and of course, Plucky, antifa’s Gritty-esque mascot. (The latter is an in-group nod to the late-2018 moment when Gritty was memed into having leftist bona fides.)
While Lubchansky lavishly aggrandizes the motivation, tactics and funding of antifa super-soldiers, who occasionally call for “full cancellation, 100% censorship,” they simultaneously ground in reality the dystopian strategy of the police. The cops in this Cookbook use military-grade equipment such as facial recognition software, sound cannons, and x-ray vans, which sound like embellishments on par with super-soldiers but are not. Which is, obviously, a major part of the point. The only way the power imbalance between police and their protesters can be resolved is in the Koch-funded fantasia this book cheekily punctures.
But that’s not even what the right-wing talking points machine gets most wrong about the movement.
“The biggest misconception out there [about antifa] is probably the violent aims,” Lubchansky says. “Which is not to say there aren’t people with violent aims that are anti-fascist, but most anarchists I know spend all their time basically doing the job of the government in my community. You feed them and clothe them and keep them warm and safe, and it’s all mutual aid stuff like that. That’s what the anarchists and the antifa people are doing: Taking care of each other and hoping for a better world.”
Although the reality of antifa is largely left out of the book in order to fit Lubchansky’s conceit, the author concludes with a fact sheet outlining the verifiable reality behind their depiction of police. It’s a momentary crumbling of the facade of satire, an educational pill in the peanut butter of parody.
“People don’t change their minds after reading a comic,” Lubchansky says, “but maybe there’s a way you can make one where you can be a part of the process of somebody realigning their thinking.”