A graphic novel recently made it to the top of my TBR pile, and I’m ashamed it took this long for it to cross my desk. Even as I was writing this I saw it has been selected by The New York Times as one of 2020’s Best Graphic Novels! Jeff Trexler, Interim Executive Director of CBLDF, has said to me something along the lines of “I think it should be required reading for every law student.” R. Sikoryak’s Illustrated Constitution is a must-read not only for the legal-minded but also for comics fans and United States Citizens. The graphic novel was originally published in July by Drawn & Quarterly. They’ve previously published some of Sikoryak’s previous works, including Terms and Conditions and The Unquotable Trump.
Sikoryak’s Illustrated Constitution contains the Constitution of the United States as well as the Bill of Rights and the additional seventeen amendments. The Constitution is reprinted with no commentary outside of the visual imagery presented on each page. Sikoryak kept the original text retaining the grammatical hiccups of the original document. Each page features a little digestible piece of the Constitution paired with an illuminating cartoon in his signature pastiche, or parody as he refers to it.
In an interview with The Beat, Sikoryak spoke a bit about the origins of the project.
“Well, I wanted to speak to the political moment, but I didn’t want to do anything so topical and urgent that it might be irrelevant by the time it was published. […] I went back to my usual way of working, which is to adapt classic or famous texts that people (including me) feel they “ought” to read. And we often hear, from one pundit or another, that the Constitution is under attack, regardless of who is President. I’m certainly sensitive to that, and it definitely feels true to me now. So illustrating the Constitution seemed like a natural project. And the process really made me look deeply at the text for the first time.”Interview from The Beat 8/28/2020
Each of the parody illustrations feature creators originally from the U.S. and spans the history of comics referencing work as far back as The Yellow Kid and the Katzenjammer Kids to current artists like Noelle Stevenson and Raina Telgemeier. To speak to the many voices the Constitution is for, Sikoryak drew from a wide variety of comics creators.
Why It’s a Great Read
I’ve already read through the Constitution Illustrated twice, and after listening to a recent interview with Sikoryak on The Virtual Memories Podcast, I feel like it’s time for another read. The combination of text and art creates a brilliant synthesis regarding the comprehension of the presented material. Reading the text, seeing how the image relates to it, and then adding the knowledge of what artist is being parodied add multiple layers of thought. (Don’t worry, a page-by-page reference guide is included in the back.)
If I had a nickel for every time I was told the Constitution is a living document, I’d be rich. This presentation of the Constitution is the first time I’ve felt its malleable nature and understood, even at its conception, that it is a document meant to breathe and be refined for the people. This graphic novel is a great look at our Constitution warts and all and a fabulous example of the comics medium being used to convey complex ideas.
Cartoonist R. Sikoryak is the author of Masterpiece Comics, Terms and Conditions, and The Unquotable Trump. He adapts the classics for various anthologies, including The Graphic Canon, Fable Comics, and more.
His comics and illustrations have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Nation, The Onion, MAD, and SpongeBob Comics, as well as on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. He’s done storyboards and character designs for Augenblick Studios on various animated projects.
Sikoryak teaches in the illustration department at Parsons The New School for Design and previously at The Center for Cartoon Studies. Since 1997, he’s presented his live cartoon slide show series, Carousel, around the United States and Canada.
He lives in New York City with his wife, Kriota Willberg.
What I’m Reading is part of a series written by editor Jordan Smith. The goal is to highlight books related to the comics community that resonate with the mission of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.