Phoenix: the Ford Pinto Story is a nonfiction account of Ford’s infamous Pinto automobile. In this educational comic book, I detail the car’s conception, design, and shortcomings. I also introduce the casual reader to such topics as federal safety regulations, auto-industry lobbying, and tort law. Appendices include additional notes and references on the automotive industry’s strengths and failures.
This work serves as an introduction. I am not trying to create a feature-film pitch or an entire graphic novel. Rather, I want to lend some clarity to something which the passage of time has muddled.
Some might find comics to be a poor choice of medium to tell such an ultimately tragic tale. They might view the anthropomorphizing of “Phoenix” as even more unsettling. Let me emphasize that I don’t do these things to make light of the situation–they exist to make the story more interesting and thus more easily understood. I told this story as an educational comic book because comics are an excellent way to explain complex ideas.
This brings up an important point: I wanted to make this the most factual, true-to-events story that I could, within reason. Any quoted dialogue was taken from that specific person (and though the scene might be different, I always tried to present the speech in context). I was so concerned with accuracy that in several instances, fact eclipsed storytelling as the most important element. That being said, I tried to utilize any vehicle I could to propel the narrative along. Fantastical elements helped me to share complicated ideas with a wider audience. (I by no means invented this concept; a successful example is the children’s show The Magic School Bus. In fact, fantastic/factual juxtapositions can be found in virtually any children’s show worth watching.)
Upon learning about the Ford Pinto (at first through The Gift, a book by Lewis Hyde), I was shocked that I’d never heard of it all before. What’s more, I realized that no one I spoke to–at least of my generation–was aware of it, either. Because of this, I thought it’d make a worthwhile project.
In the course of my research, I learned that much of the public knowledge on the Pinto controversy was wrong. For instance, five to six hundred people did not die as a result of Ford’s wrongdoing, as both Lewis Hyde and Mother Jones mistakenly claim. (The former having gleaned this information from the latter’s article, “Pinto Madness.”) From the media’s point of view, more fatalities make for a more exciting story. But as I was trying to present a factual account, I couldn’t afford myself this luxury.
Please note that what follows is not a complete retelling of everything having to do with the Pinto. The criminal trial itself is the subject of at least two dense books, and countless other writings have been generated on the subject.
You may read a full PDF of the book below: