Guerilla Green is an original graphic novel written by Cookie Kalkair & Ophélie Damblé with illustrations by Kalkair, English translation by Edward Gauvin, and letters by Jim Campbell. It was originally published in French by Steinkis BD. The English edition is published by BOOM! Studios’ imprint BOOM! Box.
Guerilla Green is essentially a visual manifesto and instruction guide on how Damblé believes individuals can help save the planet through rogue urban greening. Most of the world’s municipalities and their ordinances are trapped in an archaic notion of property, beauty, city planning, and public flora that results in acres upon acres of useless and wasteful grassland that Damblé believes can, and must, be used to prevent environmental collapse, repair damaged ecosystems, and feed communities. Through cheeky and self-inserting cartoonism, she explains the hows and whys of the Guerilla Green movement through the expertise of her friends, her own experience, and historical context.
It’s a very tricky thing, discerning the balance between individual responsibility and corporate/government responsibility to reverse climate change. As Damblé makes clear, one one hand, even if every person on the planet started planting native species and vegetables around their cities’ vacant land, as Guerilla Green encourages at its core, we still wouldn’t make the dent necessary in curbing emissions and destroying the environment. Yet, even the most effective advocacy for policy changes or the strongest votes with our wallets seem dauntingly unlikely to make the necessary impact fast enough. Hence my trouble with the book as a whole. For as much as I am an advocate of completely rethinking the way our communal space and food systems operate, I can’t help but wonder both who this book is for and how I would get the right people to take the right lessons from it.
This book is full-on socialist, leaning towards anarchism, and would not be welcome in any school library or classroom I’ve worked in. A shame, obviously, given kids have as much a right as any to learn about different ways of thinking, and they’re truly the ones who most need to understand our systems are broken, so they don’t grow up to perpetuate them. Nonetheless, the wonderful reading guides at the end of the book feel like they’ll only fall on the ears of kids whose parents happen to be very liberal already.
Then, for folks who work in city planning, environmental, or food security fields like myself, well, the book basically is encouraging people to break the law to prove a point about how dumb the laws are. Again, absolutely on board, but the folks on the vanguard of these movements are already on board, and the old guard has a propensity to, well, guard what is old. I could spend a decade working in my city working to make the necessary radical changes to the way we use our vacant spaces. Even if I did succeed, how much more work would still need to be done to truly eliminate hunger and reverse climate change?
I’m not intending to be a downer on the book itself. I quite enjoy the book’s style. Its text is easy to follow, albeit at times a bit dense to understand. And the illustration is perfect for the type of narration, feeling like I’m getting invaluable lessons straight from Damblé herself, personality and all. Campbell’s lettering perfectly matches Damblé’s tone and the illustration at every turn. The trouble I have is merely with the context, not the content. For rogue urban greening to make a substantial impact, it must be coupled with education, mutual aid, and concrete policy demands. All of these are things that Damblé exemplifies throughout Guerilla Green, but too sparsely and too close to the end for me to feel like it’s making clear enough the essentiality of those components.
Additionally, I cannot abide by the whitewashed and near-sited history of urban agriculture as rebellion the book begins with. Yes, white folks in feudal England and elsewhere grew all sorts of illicit gardens to sustain themselves and outwit tax collectors until the feudal system was replaced by capitalism and so forth. But it was most certainly not just white folks in England who had the idea. Urban agriculture or agriculture are rebellion were lifelines for slaves in the United States and continue to be for communities of color today. Growing food in places not meant for growing food has been a way people have survived for hundreds of years, and assuredly, they did not get their ideas from English peasants or anarchists. I would have greatly appreciated if the book had demonstrated the ways that all different communities of color use gardening as means of resistance and sustenance. Rather, their stories are reduced to anecdotes within laundry lists and mere asides. This omission alone makes it difficult for me to recommend the book as an education tool.
Ultimately, as a type of memoir, Guerilla Green is good. I appreciate how Damblé tells her truth and inspires you to get invested in bettering your community and saving the planet. But as a tool for either educating youth or recruiting folks into the fight to change our cities and save our planet, I just can’t get behind it. Even with novel ideas and fairly nuanced and creative thinking, there is too much missing from the picture, namely people of color and a larger emphasis on the coinciding action folks need to take to make radical greening a matter of policy rather than just a consumer and individual choice.
Guerilla Green is available wherever comics are sold.
Ultimately, as a type of memoir, Guerilla Green is good. I appreciate how Damblé tells her truth and inspires you to get invested in bettering your community and saving the planet. But as a tool for either educating youth or recruiting folks into the fight to change our cities and save our planet, I just can’t get behind it.