Constitution Illustrated by R. Sikoryak from Drawn+Quarterly pairs a foundational legal document with pop art from dozens of comics. Sikoryak is a master illustrator able to duplicate seemingly any style. His work is seen broadly, even if the viewer is not aware it is his. Appearances range from The New Yorker, The Nation, The Onion, MAD, and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. This chameleon ability allows him to bring a new perspective into something that is often talked about, but rarely understood: the Constitution of the United States.
The text in Constitution Illustrated is straightforward enough: the literal prose of the legal base of the U.S. government. As with any legal document, it can get cumbersome and say some surprising things. With evergreen importance, the populace talks a good deal about the Constitution and defending it, even though many of them may have missed out on finer details during Civics class.
For example, there are those who blame Congress for actions even though it is policy set by the Executive branch, and vice-versa. Some people arguing self-defense in the Second Amendment may forget the restrictions in Article II, Section I that states cannot organize militia unless it is a time of war.
With such importance of knowing what the document actually says, Sikoryak makes the legalese palatable with illustrations from a century of comics styling. From Flash Gordon to Uncle Scrooge to the Muppet Babies and even Finn and Jake, Sikoryak showcases well over 100 illustrations pulled from all over American comics art. Rather than just including sample characters, the images are pulled directly from famous pieces, such as the cover of G.I. Joe, splash pages of Fritz the Cat or Sin City, and panels of Calvin & Hobbes and Peanuts. The choices are elegantly connected to the content on the page, such as the 1973 cover of Luke Cage breaking chains fitting with the liberation of the Thirteenth Amendment.
To heighten the parody on each of the page of Constitution Illustrated, the characters are drawn wearing the fashion of the day when the item was passed. This gives a sense of reality to the cartoons, tying them to the moment in history while giving a new perspective through comics. Of course, means that the vast majority of the characters are in 1780s garb from the Constitution and Bill of Rights. It also highlights the gaps between the amendments and the exciting political times in the 1860s and 1910-1920s when several were passed in bunches.
Constitution Illustrated is a great reminder of the power of the relatively short original document that defined American federal power. On the one side, it shows that the rules established over two centuries ago are still effective in making fair rule through checks and balances. On the other, the inclusion of the amendments shows that the document is not infallible and can and should be updated. The Twenty-First Amendment of course shows that even those updates may not be perfect. Constant vigilance and foundational knowledge are key to maintaining what the Constitution set out in the preamble to create: a more perfect Union.