Paco Ignacio Taibo and Eko’s graphic novel Pancho Villa toma Zacatecas (Pancho Villa Takes Zacatecas) is a fictional retelling of Villa’s campaign against Zacatecas during the Mexican revolution. The Zacatecas campaign was the middle phase of the war when Villa, Zapata, and Carranza were all allied against Huerta and his federal forces. Zacatecas was the last big northern strong hold for the federal forces and its defeat would pave the way for the eventual invasion of Mexico City.
Paco Ignacio Taibo, the script writer, uses Colonel Montejo as his entry point into the story. It is he who narrates the events of the march to the city, the siege, and the eventual victory against the federal forces arrayed amongst the hills of Zacatecas. Montejo is a brave leader, wise, and intemperate. As stories go, there isn’t much to say. Villas forces take the city. The only real issue at hand is the brutality of the war. It is a brutality that has no room for missteps and plays heavily on personality. Montejo’s eventual fate only serves to show how brutal the war was, even amongst supposed allies.
The real focus of the book is the art. The jacket describes the drawings as work inspired by German expressionism, the graphic socialism of the New Masses, the Mexican populism of the Taller de la Grafica popular, and the drawings of the calaveras. All of it is true. The two strongest influences seem that of the work of Franz Masereel and those of Mexican folk art most often associated with the work of Posada. Printed against black paper the drawings come to you as negative images that reveal everything as a shadow. Drawn with rough and strong lines the elements of the drawings seem to emerge out of a fantastical dark, where movement and being are quick and elemental. It is a style that emphasizes movement, and the momentum of war. It also turns each image into an iconic moment that is less about the precision of a picture and its complexity, but its bold presentation of an image. The iconic nature makes the book much more interesting and its story telling is as much in line with the works of Lynd Ward and Masereel.
My only criticism of the book, as is often the case with graphic novels, the actual story seemed a little light. For all the work that goes into such a book, there is always a feeling of let down when it comes to the briefness of what I’m reading, as if it can’t quite hold up to the drawings. Sometimes words are not enough.
What ever the case, it is a beautiful book that must be read.