The Jewish president of a country with a history of antisemitism, Volodymyr Zelensky is now the proud face of resistance against Russian aggression. While this graphic biography from Tidalwave Productions leans more into drama than nuance, it succeeds as an engaging introduction to the life of an unexpected hero and the challenges he faces today. It is meant to be read in real time, as world events rapidly unfold.
The book begins in the present, on February 25, 2022. President Zelensky and his advisors look out at the reader, reciting the terrible facts of their country’s invasion. Zelensky concludes with the now-familiar statement of defiance, “Glory to Ukraine.” Pablo Martinena’s initial images are simple, with relatively few distinguishing details. The next page flashes back to Zelensky’s previous career as the star of a popular comedy, Servant of the People, in which he played a history teacher who is eventually elected president. Michael Frizell demonstrates how history meets fate — how a talented TV star becomes a symbol of uncompromising courage.
The following section goes even further into the past, establishing the core events of Zelensky’s family history: “This is a story about a family of four brothers. Three of them … became victims of the Holocaust.” The surviving brother would become Zelensky’s grandfather. And his grandmother would return to her country after the war, taking in all its ruin. It is here that Martineau’s pictures become subtler, more evocative.
Jewish identity is central to the biography, accurately reflecting Zelensky’s references to the Holocaust in many of his speeches. The author and illustrator do, however, enlist some creative license, featuring an image of him reading the Torah in what appears to be a bar mitzvah ceremony and describing how he has preserved his “faith.” Such details cannot be corroborated; they seem to be used here as a way of translating his strong sense of Jewishness into a visual form.
Another fascinating panel recalls an infamous exchange between Zelensky and President Trump. The American president, depicted as a heavyset figure with blindingly blond hair, reminds Zelensky of the strong relationship between their two countries. Then comes the request to “do us a favor, though,” which appears in a word bubble as Zelensky holds the phone, listening with trepidation. Three pages are devoted to this memorable, increasingly intense event. The US leader becomes more and more determined to bend Zelensky to his will. The contrast between the two leaders’ facial expressions conveys the power imbalance between them, yet it also points out the irony that Zelensky is the more powerful figure today .
The term “propaganda” carries a connotation of lies, but it actually refers to the deliberate use of ideas or information to further a cause. It may be based on misinformation or the truth. Political Power: Volodymyr Zelensky does not disguise its purpose, warning that “as of this writing, the war with Russia continues.”
Emily Schneider writes about literature, feminism, and culture for Tablet, The Forward, The Horn Book, and other publications, and writes about children’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Languages and Literatures.