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Category: Cartoons

Save the Fool
I get a little nervous when they start murdering cartoonists. I’d feel that way even if I weren’t a cartoonist, but it’s reassuring that so many other people seem to feel that there is something especially wrong with the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Cartoonists, I think, enjoy a special reputation, even among their fellow satirists. They are the modern incarnation of the Fool, or close to it. Like that archetype, they are often seen as innocents and as truth-tellers. In fact, the reliability (and forgivability) of their truthfulness is rooted in that innocence.

In his purest form, the Fool acts as a mirror to the world around him. He blurts out what he sees in the way that madmen do — without regard to manners or custom. He simply reflects the unvarnished, often painful truth right there in front of us. Sometimes that truth is so obvious that the rest of us miss it. It catches us by surprise, and it makes us laugh.

The Fool is not reasoned, nor earnest, nor moral, but he does have an eye for absurdity and a nose for bullshit. He adds no analysis of his own; that is left to those who are foolish enough to call themselves wise.

The reaction to the French terrorists has become a little more diffuse since the Charlie Hebdo story. Since then, a kosher market and some unlucky hostages have been added to the list of bloody outrages in France. The sharpest sting for me, though, remains the murder of the cartoonists. I take it personally. It forces me to examine my own efforts as a satirist.

My first reaction was something like guilt. Those cartoonists were brave; I am a coward. I should be making drawings that push the edge and challenge the darkest, most dangerous forces in this world. Cartoonists in much more threatening surroundings than mine do it all the time, so why can’t I? I should be doing work, in other words, that makes people want to kill me.

I have since backed off that position. I am a coward, after all. Instead, I’ve decided to try and be a better Fool. Of the host of cartoons drawn in sympathy with Charlie Hebdo, my favorites have been the least angry. R. Crumb also labeled himself a coward, but he did draw “the hairy ass of Mohamid” (as only Crumb could), noting it belonged to his friend Mohamid Bakhsh of L.A. And I especially liked Charlie Hebdo’s first cover after the shooting: a head shot of Mohammed shedding a tear and holding a sign reading “Je Suis Charlie.” Innocent, simple, human, real. Defiant, yet sympathetic to non-radical Muslims (if not their faith). The epitome of a Fool.

I’m not Charlie, but I wish I were.
Celebritoons
If you’re like me, you prefer to get your opinions on the important issues of the day from celebrities. I like to think, however, that I am pretty selective about which famous folk I look to for leadership.

If Daffy Duck were alive today, for instance, I would certainly be paying attention to his views on public policy. He is, after all, my favorite animated cartoon character of all time. At the very least, I’d follow him on Twitter and hang on his every raspberried lisp.

By contrast, I don’t think I’d give much weight to Woody Woodpecker’s tweets. I never liked his laugh, and that was pretty much the whole thing with him. Donald Duck had a funny voice, but Donald’s issues with anger are well documented, and I don’t want a political philosophy founded on rage.

Bugs Bunny, for all his savvy wackiness, is a little too ironic to be trusted as a source of political wisdom. Goofy, of course, is plenty sincere, but his level of sophistication would be more at home in the Tea Party… and I cannot go there. Nor is Foghorn Leghorn on my go-to list. His arrogant, blowhard style follows the traditional Republican model. He’s a rooster’s rooster, for sure — exactly the kind of bonehead who took us into Iraq.

Mickey Mouse seems to be a decent sort, but I’m not interested in hearing his take on income inequality. He (along with other nice-guy heroes like Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Mighty Mouse, and Crusader Rabbit) is simply too boring. I like to see some passion in my thought leaders. Plus, they’re all teetotalers. I can’t imagine having a beer with any of them.

None of the sprawling constellation of Hanna Barbera characters is my list, either. Not only are Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and their made-for-TV ilk too poorly animated to be taken seriously, they just aren’t funny. Worse yet, they lack the gravitas and capacity for self-reflection we’ve come to expect from good cartoons.

The Simpsons and Family Guy characters are certainly amusing, but they aren’t really cartoon characters at all. Instead, they are illustrations cast in human roles. Same with Popeye, Betty Boop, or Farmer Alfalfa; if I want insight from a human celebrity (and I don’t), I’d prefer to hear it from a living, three-dimensional version, thank you.

No, Daffy is my guy. A bit of a drama queen, but what do you expect from a Hollywood superstar? He’s got a cranky libertarian side, too, but I’m okay with that. Besides, you can’t deny the passion — even if it’s phony. And he’d be great to have a drink with. A drink or two, perhaps. Maybe go bar-hopping. Who knows? We might even go on a ten-day bender and wake up in the hold of Marvin the Martian’s spaceship bound for Planet X.

Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind hearing Marvin’s position on alternative energy sources. He seems like a pretty sharp dude.
Subconscious Everlasting, Amen
I recently went past the halfway point with Subconscious Comics. I’ve been posting it on this site for almost ten years now, starting with the last episode I cranked out in 2000 and moving backward through time toward the very first one I drew. I’m just getting into 1989 now, and some time in 2022 I expect to be posting that first strip from way back in 1981.

That, as I so often find myself saying these days, was a long time ago.

I promise I’m not going to launch into a reverie about what a long, strange trip it’s been; I will leave that to the team of biographers I have placed on retainer. I will, however, take note of one truth I have learned about art. While life and history seem to bring change with every breath, art does not. Once it is created, it freezes a moment and holds it up for that ever-morphing world to ponder, theoretically forever.

Yes, theoretically. What I have been wondering as I post these old cartoons is whether anyone will ever look at my frozen moments after I am gone.

Here’s a story: Somewhere in France there is an undiscovered limestone cave filled with the most gorgeous, moving paintings ever created, but they are not art. Or rather, they are no longer art. To the creativity-crazed caveman who secretly made them fifteen thousand years ago, they were definitely art. They gave shape and meaning to his life. Then, one day, he got cheeky with the wrong mastodon and got duly stomped before he ever got a chance to show his art to anyone else. That day, his masterwork ceased to exist as a work of art.

I’m saying that art is only art if someone is creating it, looking at it, or thinking about it. A hundred years from now, my comics may still reside in some dusty anteroom of the internet, but if no one sees them, if no one is affected by them, then they will no longer exist as art. And that is probably what will happen with Subconscious Comics. After I die, give it a generation to rattle around in the minds of people who read it fresh. After they die — poof! — it will no longer exist.

I tried to stay away from the topical with Subconscious Comics because I wanted to do something distinct from my political cartoons, something that would not depend on a knowledge of history to have meaning — art, in other words, that could stand up to time. They’re only cartoons, I know, but I wanted those frozen moments to last. I’ve known all long that my little dream of immortality had no chance. I have accepted that my frozen bits will probably not survive once I’m not there to pay for the refrigeration.

Or perhaps they will survive. It could happen. They (or maybe just one really good one) might outlast the Great Pyramid of Giza or the temple at Gobekli Tepe or the caves at Lascaux. Or not. Either way, I’m okay with it. After all, what’s the point in being immortal if you’re not going to be around to enjoy it?
The Future of Political Cartooning
So newspapers are dying. So what? Good riddance, I say. The quality of reproduction on newsprint has always been lousy. The cartoons have been too small, the registration has been sloppy, and they’ve been routinely under-inked. I won’t say all those trees died in vain, but to go on using them when we have a better alternative is crazy. Paper used to be the place to store knowledge, but it’s now been pre-empted by The Cloud. It’s had a great run, but the printed page is no longer needed.

On the bright side, editors will also be obsolete. They were bound for extinction anyway, since writing is no longer offered in our public schools. The demise of newspapers will finish off these word people once and for all, and they will finally go the way of the Doodoo bird. I hope I’ve spelled that correctly.

(Let me explain right here that any observations I have about editors are given with love. I count a number of these people among my dearest friends — although, come to think of it, I’ve never had one to my house for dinner.)

In fact, we should see the demise of newspapers and books as a golden opportunity for us picture people. To capitalize, however, we will need the help of the very folk who put us in this fix in the first place. Silicon Valley is responsible for our peril; it is up to them to give us with a way out. They should begin immediately on this modest list of projects:

A pithiness algorithm. With those tiresome word people out of the way, we will still need some mechanism to sort out the wheat from the cartooning chaff. We need to develop an algorithm that will screen drawings for meatiness and for their capacity to separate readers from preconceived notions, however briefly. Humor (or searing emotional pain, if humor is not available) would also need to be measured by the formula. As to artistic merit… well, we are talking about cartoons here.

Here’s another one: how about a 9 by 12, high-resolution panel that hangs on your wall and connects wirelessly to an endless stream of large, vivid political cartoons? I already want it!

I call on Google to move beyond Google Glass to Google Glass Bubble (or “Gubble”). With a Gubble, wearers could live virtually in an environment of their choice, including universes populated entirely by political cartoon characters. Welcome to our world.

Eventually, we will see life-sized holograms of caricatured public figures mingling with flesh and blood humans in Times Square (or Twitter Square, as it will come to be called). Enormous, iridescent word balloons frolic among clouds tinted and shaped to our specifications. Students, fresh from their classes in Ironic Studies, look skyward and smile at our cross-cultural double entendres and amusing renderings of abnormally large noses.

Yes, it will be a beautiful world, but do I think that cartoonists themselves will need move forward as well. Many of the go-to standards of cartoon iconography will have to be abandoned. Pinocchio, Frankenstein, King Kong and other timeworn references should all be off the drawing table. Any depiction of large, ugly monsters labeled as Recession, Inflation, or The National Debt will be forbidden, although creatures identified as Unhealthy Eating Habits or Continued Resistance to the Obvious will be allowed. One famous-dead-person-at-the-Pearly-Gates cartoon will be permitted each year, but it must be generic — somebody lived, somebody got famous, and then they died. Never mind who or what they did.

Furthermore, I want to make it clear that I don’t think all forms of printed material should go away. Paper is still the best delivery system for images, particularly cartoons. You can recycle that Gutenberg Bible, in other words, but hang onto your tattered copy of Mad Strikes Back!

I am so certain of the value of cartoons on paper that I predict someday the top eight cartoons of each day (as determined by the pithiness algorithm) will be printed in large format on archival paper. Line work will be reproduced in the densest black, color will be lush and true, and copies of this broadsheet will be delivered each morning to everyone in the country — all at public expense.

Newspapers, at last, will have found their true destiny.
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee