Reading Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy felt like an important act. After finishing another contentious election season where it was clear many politicians wanted to limit how many people could vote, finding any source of hope with fresh new ideas is important. While Unrig lays out in frank, informative detail all the ways our democracy is ailing, remedying these problems seems challenging at best.

Published by First Second as the first of a new graphic nonfiction series called World Citizen Comics, Unrig is written by government accountability expert Daniel Newman. Newman is depicted in cartoon form throughout the book as the voice that guides us through various problems with our democracy and some of the solutions. George O’Connor is the artist and he draws Newman consistently throughout the book. His lines are simple and clean and it is easy to follow what is happening. When he draws a real person, it is usually a good likeness. Choosing to write this book as a comic indicates that the authors hope to connect a wider, possibly younger audience to many reform ideas from around the country.

The first chapter starts in a promising way by laying out how difficult it is for regular people to run for office because of how expensive and time consuming it is. It focuses on the Seattle area and an innovative program involving democracy vouchers. Each citizen receives vouchers that they can donate to a political candidate whether they have a lot of money or not and the vouchers translate into real money for candidates. This allows people who don’t usually get to participate in democracy to have their voices and interests heard. Younger citizen activists who may have student loan debt may be viable candidates if they can get enough vouchers. It’s an inspiring idea and a good way to start the book.

Later chapters focus on lobbying, gerrymandering, something Newman calls the “wealth hoarders,” and how our Democracy does and doesn’t work. Possible solutions that get discussed are ranked choice voting, early voting, same day registration and on-ad disclosure statements. All of the solutions discussed are good ideas and worth implementing, but the problems he discusses are so enormous, that these solutions seem like grains of sand in a sandstorm. The artist consistently depicts the big moneyed interests as a dark, tentacled creature that is subsuming our whole system. It’s clear from the final chapter that they want to spur more citizen action as they give several ways that people can make positive changes, including visiting their website, unrigbook.com. My worry is that they paint so bleak a picture that people may stop reading or give up before they get to the end. Devoting more time to individuals who are successfully making changes might provide more inspiration. 

This book and series is a welcome addition to the growing graphic nonfiction scene. It could easily go in a teen or adult nonfiction section in any library, or a nonfiction comics section if you have one. There is an extensive well researched notes section in the back as well with a lot of ideas for next steps. I’m hopeful that future volumes provide a little more inspiration and hope along with outlining our problems.


Unrig: How to Fix Our Broken Democracy
By Daniel Newman
Art by George O’Connor
ISBN: 9781250295309
First Second, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: (Teen 13+)
Series ISBNS and Order

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Related to…: Book to Comic

  • Mark

    | He/Him Young Adult Librarian, Cedar Mill Library

    Reviewer

    Mark Richardson is the Young Adult Librarian at the Cedar Mill Library in Portland Oregon where he selects adult and young adult graphic novels, YA fiction & nonfiction, video games and adult music for the library. He also plans lots of activities for local teens ranging from art contests to teen trivia to Pokemon parties. If this sounds like a dream job, it is. Sometimes he has to pinch himself to make sure he really gets to do all of this. He’s been reading comics for as long as he can remember and has been known to present an occasional conference sessions on graphic novels at the Oregon Library Association’s annual conference.

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