Che Lives!

The bearded visage of Ernesto “Che” Guevara is ubiquitous, gazing heavily from t-shirts and dorm room posters world-wide. Now the subject of a two-part, epic film from director Stephen Sonderbergh starring Benicio del Toro, Guevera is a potent symbol of revolutionary action and counter culture merchandising, inflaming passions on all sides of the ideological spectrum.  The life behind this image is documented in Che, veteran cartoonist Spain Rodriguez’s biography of the handsome rebel who was born in Argentina, fought in Cuba and was killed in Bolivia in 1967. Rodriguez personalizes the man, finding the sources of his compassion and anger. He sketches Guevera’s early life and travels across South America as chronicled in Walter Salle’s excellent 2004 film The Motorcycle Diaries, then delves more deeply into his involvement with the Cuban revolution before following him to Africa and South America.  The book doesn’t over glamorize Guevara’s life. His shortcomings—ill health, a weakness for cigars and women, his struggles as a bureaucrat—are fairly presented (his insistence on executing enemies is given brief treatment, with an emphasis on the preceding fair trials). Nor does Rodriguez over play Guevara’s sometimes foolish, even suicidal  bravery in the face of overwhelming odds, portraying him as more comfortable in the fight than the aftermath. The book also reminds us of the horrors of pre-revolutionary Cuba, something often forgotten in the constant din emanating from the anti-Castro forces. Boldly drawn and progressing at a pace that makes it easy to read in a single sitting, Che is a serious introduction–in comic form– to an influential cultural and political figure. A closing essay by Sarah Seidman and Paul Buhle discusses the irony of the commercialization of the Marxist guerilla’s image.—Cabbage Rabbit