Friday, May 17, 2024

Chernobyl: The Fall of Atomgrad, Graphic Novel

All the alleged sins of the capitalist system were committed by the socialist Soviets when they constructed the V. I. Lenin Power Station, a.k.a. Chernobyl. Cut-rate materials were used, because of budget cuts. They did not even bother building containment domes, because safety was a secondary concern (if that). As a result, the project came in under budget and ahead of schedule, so it looked like a “win,” at least for a while. Then when disaster literally struck, the government tried to cover it up, regardless of the danger to average citizens. Readers take a deep dive into the worst nuclear disaster of all-time in Matyas Namai’s graphic novel (or graphic history) Chernobyl: The Fall of Atomgrad, which is now on-sale.

Many people do not realize the Soviet Union also covered up what is now considered the third worst nuclear disaster ever at the Mayak Combine in 1957, but the rest of world did not hear about it until two decades later. Unlike other accounts of the mismanagement at Pripyak (dubbed “Atomgrad”), Namai spends a good deal of time on the construction, explaining how politics and propaganda demands trumped safety. In retrospect, having the same people responsible for agricultural collectives that produced famine shift to constructing nuclear power facilities sounds like a profoundly dangerous proposition.

Once again, nuclear scientist Valery Legasov and Party boss Boris Shcherbina play active roles in the response, but Namai casts them in a far less heroic light than the HBO miniseries. The cover-up is thoroughly documented, fully implicating Gorbachev himself. At every step, it was the average Ukrainians living in Pripyat and the surrounding areas who suffered the most.

Namai provides a detailed and methodical explanation of what happened at every step. It is a damning indictment of a government that valued ideology above all else. There can be no doubt after reading
The Fall of Atomgrad that socialism kills.

Even though many historical figures appear (almost always unflatteringly) in Namai’s narrative, they are rarely developed as characters per se. Namai’s
Chernobyl is text-heavy, but it does not read like a novel. Yet, it is still a gripping page-turner, in the grimmest way possible.

The geometric style of Namai’s art and the color palate evokes vibes of Soviet Constructivism, which is ironically fitting. Yet, there is also a clarity of detail that helps illuminate the events as they transpired. This is a case of the art greatly serving the narrative and written content, even though there are still a number of really cool looking full splash-pages.

Chernobyl will give readers a comprehensive understanding of what happened at the Lenin Power Station—perhaps better than any documentary yet produced. If there is any oversight, it would be a recent epilogue, depicting how Putin’s thuggish forces attacked the still radioactive Lenin plant, attempting to weaponize the Soviets’ past nuclear crimes against the Ukrainian people, yet again. Nevertheless, this is a terrific work of history, in graphic comic form. Very highly recommended, Chernobyl: The Fall of Atomgrad is now on-sale at book and comic retailers.