Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful

Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful

Darryl Cunningham‘s latest is a well-done, depressing read. Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful combines three brief biographies: the stories of Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, and Jeff Bezos, key players in our new gilded age. Cunningham wants to examine the changes the super-rich have made in our politics and our world, for the worse.

Murdoch’s media empire started as an inheritance from a privileged background. He expanded from Australia into UK newspapers (made popular through “sex, scandal, and sport”), then television, then US media. He busted unions, traded on political favors, and took advantage of influence and connections. Cunningham details all these deals and acquisitions, some made unethically, but I’m not sure that matters at this point. Knowing that the voice behind the untrustworthy Fox News has a history of behaving that way doesn’t change the problem.

The Koch brothers, Charles and David, oil company heirs, attempted to make the Republican Party more Libertarian through abuse of campaign funds and donations. I didn’t realize that their father co-founded the John Birch Society, a paranoid, far-right, anti-Communist group. This chapter is a sad list of environmental damage and political fear-mongering.

Billionaires: The Lives of the Rich and Powerful

The Jeff Bezos chapter is really a history of and its relentless acquisitions and poor treatment of employees and competitors. A short afterword states Cunningham’s desire to show us how extreme wealth distorts economies and perpetuates inequalities. He wants government intervention to remedy the situation and make a better world for the majority.

The black, white, and brick red art is stark. The coloring makes it all uncomfortable and abrasive, in keeping with the subject matter. It’s a disturbing read, as intended to be, and a challenging one, as all these facts, piled up in unadorned fashion, can seem overwhelming. I hope this raises awareness and changes minds, but I suspect the likely reader already knows something about these issues, if not every comprehensive detail.

Billionaires was first published in 2019 in the UK by Myriad Editions. This is the Drawn & Quarterly North American reprint. I’ve seen both. The new edition is lettered in a smaller print, with lowercase text used for dialogue in the comics. It also includes a few pages of updates about Fox News’ irresponsible reporting on coronavirus and immigration during the Trump years.

(To end on a lighter note, also, every time I look at the cover, I get the ABC song stuck in my head.)

(The publisher provided a review copy.)

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