From its earliest days, America has been home to spiritual seekers.
In 1694, the religious tolerance of the Pennsylvania Colony enticed a Transylvanian monk and his forty followers to cross the Atlantic. Almost two hundred years later, a charismatic preacher founded a utopian community in Oneida, New York, that practiced socialism and free love. In the 1960s and ’70s, a new generation of seekers gathered in vegetarian restaurants in Los Angeles, Satanic coffee shops in New Orleans, and fortified communes in Philadelphia. And in the twenty-first century, gurus use self-help seminars and get-rich-quick schemes to evangelize to their flocks.
Across the decades, Americans in search of divine truths have turned to unconventional prophets for the answers. Some of these prophets have demanded their faith, fortunes, and even their very lives. In American Cult, over twenty cartoonists explore the history of these groups with clarity and empathy—looking beyond the scandalous headlines to find the human stories within.
Featuring the talents of Lara Antal, Brian “Box” Brown, Ryan Carey, Rosa Colón Guerra, Mike Dawson, Lisa Rosalie Eisenberg, Mike Freiheit, Emi Gennis, Andrew Greenstone, Janet Harvey, Josh Kramer, Jesse, Lambert, Ellen Lindner, Lonnie Mann, Ben Passmore, Jim Rugg, Robert Sergel, Vreni Stollberger, Steve Teare, and J.T. Yost.
PW 2021 Graphic Novel Critics Poll – Honorable Mention
2022 Cartoonist Studio Prize Nominee – Print Comics
208 B&W pages; SRP: $24.99
PB ISBN: 978-1-945509-63-6; Diamond: FEB218242
Paperback, published May 2021
A breathtaking panoply of what Philip Roth termed the “indigenous American berserk” is on full display in this detail-packed anthology about American cults. In the introduction, Chapman (Drawing Comics) calls for a critical but human approach—“50% empathy and 50% justice”—to the individuals sucked into such movements. Eighteen stylistically varied pieces avoid tabloid hysterics as much as possible, given the outré subject matter, but are too brief to delve deeper than thumbnail histories. Regardless, they offer fantastic introductions, ranging from Steve Teare’s chapter on the late 17th-century mystics following Johannes Kelpius in the woods outside Philadelphia, to Brian “Box” Brown’s dry mockery of sex cult NXIVM’s leader Keith Raniere (who “enjoyed telling people what was wrong with them [and] having sex with female followers”). The material leans heavily on the last half century and balances obvious subjects (Charles Manson’s gaggle of lost hippie teenagers) with lesser-known movements (Louisa May Alcott’s father dragging the family into a comically disorganized utopian sect). Some chapters are straightforward, but others follow Chapman’s challenge to interrogate the lines between cults and religions, with Josh Kramer—writing about the Cheesecake Factory–funded Sufism Reoriented—asking, “Does it matter?” Though these comics raise more questions than they answer, they sweep admirably through a little-understood phenomenon.
“An engrossing primer on the bizarre and often deadly cults that sprout from American culture like weeds.”