Thursday, October 09, 2014

Freshening up

The 2014 edition of "Best American Comics"
has just been released. I'd seen some pre-release chatter but had somewhat discounted it, because this year's edition is edited by Scott McCloud and he's well-connected enough in the comics community that whatever he does is going to be considered news.

But today's Bliss struck me in a particular way that set me up for Michael Cavna's interview with McCloud, and particularly for this:

I think as we age, it’s very easy for us to settle into a particular set of aesthetic criteria that allow us to just shrug off anything genuinely new. Like with music. In college, your roommate is blasting it; they’re playing it in the coffee shops and what not. You can’t get away from that stuff. But then you get control over your own musical environment. And the truth is that with any song or comic that you’re going to learn to love — it takes a few listens or views to power up. On the first viewing, on the first listen, you don’t necessarily get the breadth of what’s going on there. You’ve got to come back and come back. So I try to be diligent. and dive back in again.

Thing is, I have been flailing a bit since Kenosha, which, while I continued to blog and was certainly engaged in the world of cartoons the whole time, still created a break in the action after which I came home to a sort of same-old same-old feeling that, even with the number and variety of comics I go through each morning, I wasn't seeing anything new.

Harry Bliss's gag made me feel that it was okay to be out of the loop on stuff I genuinely don't care about but can't seem to avoid, like "Fashion Week" or who's competing in "Dancing with the Stars" or the latest dumbass Facebook quiz.

Someone posted a quiz the other day that promised to tell you what your "old person name" was, and I replied, "I've already got one."

And there are types of comics that I will never like, not because I'm an old fart but because they are things I have looked at and considered and digested and don't like.


1. Comics that are high on art and low on storytelling and insight. I'll admit I can be temporarily dazzled, but, goddammit, I want a story to go with all that draftsmanship. Wandering around being sad is not a story and wandering around being sad in a graphically rich environment is still just wandering around being sad.

Russian author Ivan Goncharov struck gold in 1859 with his novel "Oblomov," the story of a directionless man so lacking in ambition that he stays in bed for much of the story. The novel not only sparked a national discussion but created a term, "oblomovshchina" for this indolence and the harm it was doing to Russia.

But Goncharov was not embracing oblomovshchina or declaring it inevitable: He provided his antihero with a dynamic friend and a wonderfully energetic girlfriend who worked to rouse Oblomov from his torpor, as well as a lazy servant who failed to serve and estate managers who openly cheated him, knowing he hadn't the energy to challenge their thievery.

Depicting someone who feels life has no meaning requires that you believe it does. Otherwise, you're just producing graphic emo.

2. In the early days of our adulthood, we all have annoying roommates and romantic problems. The trick is to make it universal and somehow significant. That's a damn hard trick.

Try taking them all to a bullfight in Pamplona, only not that because not only has it been done already, but it requires most of your characters -- and certainly you -- to be veterans of a horrific war that wiped out half a generation and more than half of their dreams and illusions.

Otherwise, speaking of things that have been done already ...

Central Perk scene
3. I don't like being fooled into attending lectures that have been disguised as comics. I like documentary comics, and even pointed to Victor Ndula's piece on the Kakuma refugee camp just yesterday. I also really like "War is Boring," a collaboration of Matt Bors and David Axe, and I greatly admire the work of Joe Sacco.

That's not the same thing as drawing pictures of someone delivering a lecture, and there are some emerging non-fiction books out there that are to comics as "Sunrise Semester" was to television.

(How far can you get? At least it won't cost you $25 to find out)

So I just ordered "Best American Comics" and, while I don't expect to like everything in it, I do expect to find a lot to freshen my perspectives.

I can't completely recommend it until I have actually seen it, but I can recommend you keep your powder dry and your perspective up to date. I'd be a little surprised if this volume didn't help you do that.

Yes, it's a niche, but it's a really good niche
Today's Alex made me laugh, but maybe it's only funny if you've spent a lot of time at conventions. Alex is squarely aimed at the business class in a way that Dilbert and On the Fastrack are not.

Those strips are really intended for "people with bad bosses" and get their most intense following from a spot fairly low in the food chain. That's a perfectly acceptable and profitable demographic, but the middle-management crowd Alex targets is one that newspapers in this country would do well to consider.

We talk a lot about how only "old people" buy newspapers, but I can't tell you how many 30- and 40-something people in suits have said to me, "It's getting to be a really fast read," of a paper that would rather run yet more wire copy about the latest Brittany/Miley interchangeable pop-tart than a story about a local economic issue.

Anyway, Alex nailed this one: Most of my memories of attending conventions are of conversations in the hospitality suite after hours or in the vendor alley between sessions. Certainly, 99 percent of the business I ever generated at a convention happened when I wasn't at a breakout session, and sometimes because I had purposely skipped one to talk about something that mattered instead.

And the people who laughed at this have advertising money to spend. Just sayin'

Thanks, Dan!
If you're going to plant an earworm, make it a good one.

(Oh, yeah, and the gag was funny, too.)

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Oh, THAT Bill Watterson

Lead_largeI was a bit coy yesterday about the whole Bill Watterson/Stephan Pastis thing because, at the pre-dawn hour when I was cobbling it together, the story still seemed confined to the insider sites and I didn't want to spoil the surprise for people who had missed the reveal.

About 30 seconds later, it was all over the intertubes and trending on Facebook and there was nothing to spoil.

Well, timing is everything.

But there's still plenty to talk about, because Watterson didn't just step out of the shadows on a lark, and it really isn't much of a surprise to learn that the crossover was actually done in support of Team Cul de Sac, the group of Richard Thompson's friends and fans that has been raising money for Parkinson's research virtually since Thompson was diagnosed.
Here's Michael Cavna's report on it, and here's the Team Cul de Sac explanation.

The bottom line is that Watterson, who has been a Cul de Sac fan from the start, provided the strips as material to be auctioned off in support of Team Cul de Sac, where I'm sure they will raise a pretty penny.

You can go see the original strips, as well as some other pretty snazzy auction-bound comic art, at the HeroesCon, June 20-22, in Charlotte, NC. I'll post more about the auction itself when it happens.

As a struggling freelancer, I'm always a little bit surprised at what other people can afford to do, but I daresay the Watterson works will go for something in the range of jaw-dropping.

PeteyHowever, in the first Team Cul de Sac auction, there was a very pleasant mix of jaw-dropping and affordable items, so don't assume you won't be able to walk away with something delightful.

This link to my report on that event is worth the click, but the bottom line is that, while Watterson's piece went for over $13,000, the average price of original cartoon art was under $250.
Pastis piece
Oh, and the second-highest total was for a piece of art by some fellow named Stephan Pastis.

I got to see some of the original art from that auction in Boston during the 2011 NCS Convention there, because Chris Sparks, who headed up the effort, had the contributions with him at an off-site public event.

At the time, it was kind of going from a well-intentioned dream to something that was by-gawd really happening and the growing excitement was fun to be around.
And so was Richard, with whom I had corresponded for some time but whom I had never met in three dimensions. Here's where I go all fanboy about his strip and him and that day and so forth and so on.
The book in which all that art is gathered, together with the artists' thoughts about Cul de Sac and Richard Thompson, remains available and is still a fundraiser for the effort.

And that's their link, not my usual self-serving one, so even more cha-ching goes in the right direction.
So about the kid and the tiger

I don't post a lot of repeats here except when I do a "classics" discursion, which usually means I'm on the road and wanted something I could advance, or times when a contemporary strip reminds me of an earlier piece.

I guess this is more in line with the latter, because the Watterson/Pastis crossover raised an interesting discussion on a third artist's Facebook feed about what other strips stand in the same circle with Calvin & Hobbes.

It was interesting in part because some people didn't get it (which is why I'm not linking to it) and simply named their favorite comic strips. The fact that they missed the point was the point, because what made C&H such a juggernaut was that you didn't necessarily have to get it all.

So, Peanuts, yes. But other clever, well-drawn strips like Pogo made demands of the reader that shut out the pie-in-the-face fans, while pie-in-the-face strips don't attract fans of more heady gag work.

There simply haven't been a lot of strips that can walk the tightrope Watterson and Schulz were able to navigate, which is why their work exploded on the market as it did.

Here's what I mean:

I had this panel over my desk through one of the most grueling, soul-crushing work experiences I ever endured.

Corporate was pressuring our paper to cut everything but the profits. My supportive publisher had taken early retirement and my equally supportive boss had demanded and taken a buy-out because he didn't want to do the required throat-slashing.

During the six months it took me to find another job,the new beancounting management team took away all the fun parts of my actual duties and ground me down with new, low-skill taskwork in an attempt to get me to quit so they wouldn't have to pay me unemployment and could replace me with a part-timer.

Calvin said it all for me, and with a sense of existential dread and futility that is also contained in the other strip: I had to go. Bad.

But there's actually a second panel to the bus stop strip in which Watterson very uncharacteristically steps on his gag with a throwaway punchline I have since forgotten, something along the lines of "I hate Mondays."

You can read and laugh about Calvin being excused to go to the bathroom and heading home instead without recognizing the level at which he can't be in that classroom for one more minute, and you can laugh at the bus stop gag along the lines of "Yeah, going to work is a drag" without being fully dragged down into the world of Sartre, Camus and Beckett.

SeinfeldWhich makes it different than the last episode of Seinfeld, which fans hated because the writers went over their heads.

You couldn't enjoy and appreciate the wrap up unless, first of all, you recognized that the characters had always been written as unlikeable, self-obsessed assholes, and, second, you caught the Sartre reference and realized that they had died in the plane crash and what followed was the Last Judgement in which they were condemned to the hell of each other's company.

They needed more muffin tops and sponges and other catch-phrases to throw around at the water cooler the next morning.

Calvin provided the gag, not simply to soften the point but to offer almost a second joke.

There were times when Watterson had a point to make that may have whizzed over a lot of heads.

But you don't need a formal grounding in surrealism to get a laugh out of this one.

And Calvin added catch-phrases to the language well before Seinfeld and gang started doing it.

And the interplay between Calvin and his parents, and Calvin and his teachers, was something you could identify with. It was always intelligent humor, but most often was also completely accessible.

Sometimes the insights were deep, but they remained accessible.

And Hobbes was available as a Greek chorus to keep readers aware of the hero's tragic flaws.
Enough. I'm over the TLDNR limit. If you're on Netflix, go watch this movie.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Pleased to meet you, Jacob

One of the oddities of telecommuting is that, even going into six years of living here, my local roots are still pretty shallow and, for instance, I don't run into a lot of people I know at the grocery store or post office.

I know a few of the neighbors along the walk that Vaska and I take when it's time to stretch his legs and shake the computer cobwebs from my eyes, but, mostly, I just know their houses and have a sense of who fusses over the garden, who likes to work on the car, who has a dog that yaps through a window as we go by.

And the same applies to my neighbors here, whose homes we walk past on a cinder track that's wide enough for cars but limited to pedestrian traffic. (It's also wider than the leash is long, so we both pass by with reverence.)

The cemetery goes back to the town's founding in 1761, and so some of the people there hearken back to colonial days. And, just as I can only speculate on my above-ground neighbors' predilections by looking at their houses and cars, so, too, I can only, for the most part, guess at who these neighbors were in their hour upon the stage.

Sometimes, their stories come from comparing the dates within a family group, seeing the children who predeceased their parents and, while saddened at an infant's death, I'm usually more curious at the death of a 15-year-old: Was she sickly her whole life, or was this one of those tragic pre-antibiotic deaths in which a healthy person is taken sick and then dead within a day or two?

And, while all of it is all vain speculation, I can't, for instance, help but think that, while the life of Submit Porter, wife of Arnold, who died in 1849 at the age of 65, may have been happy enough, it was almost certainly not a barrel of laughs.

On the other hand, there are a large number of women, mostly later in the 19th century, buried under their maiden names, as "wife of" though certainly they took his name in marriage. A curious custom I hadn't heard of and certainly a boon to genealogists.

But the center of intrigue on this walk has always been the lonely grave at the right angle under the trees in the map above.

On the outside of the path, by the fence, an area so narrow that there is but one other grave, a child's tiny headstone, I would pause at the GAR medallion that was its only marker.

He wasn't forgotten, clearly, for they came by each year and marked his lonely veteran's grave.

But was he just a name on the cemetery records? If he had family, wouldn't he be in a family plot, and wouldn't someone, sometime have put a headstone over his grave?

There are, after all, besides the many intact markers, shattered stones throughout the old cemetery, stumps, if nothing more, to show where once the mourners had gathered, and where, on Decoration Day, flowers might have been laid.

Some stones tell the soldier's story, if he were from a family that could afford such things.  Captain James B. Perry fell at Fredericksburg, his headstone says, and a little bit of work on Google fills in more, so that now I even have a picture of him and I know something about the highly decorated, deeply devastated unit in which he served.

And then there is the obilesk that marks the graves of the Lathrop family. On one side, Sluman Lathrop, the paterfamilias and a founder of the town, is remembered not with a GAR medallion but one with the image of a Minuteman, marking his service in the Revolution.

(This is a factor not to be underplayed, given that it was at a reunion of New Hampshire's rebels that the cranky but inspiring old Yankee Cincinnatus, General John Stark, said, "Live free or die, boys. Death is not the worst of evils.")

On the other side, marked with a medallion of the Grand Army of the Republic, lies his son, Major Solon Lathrop, who served in the war, only, the carving tells us, to die of yellow fever in 1867 while stationed in Texas.

But without a marker, that lonely veteran down in the far corner didn't even have a name by which to be remembered, and, though I walked past his GAR Medallion nearly every day, I never passed by without wondering about him, and thinking that, of all sad tales in that neighborhood of the dead, his was perhaps the saddest.

And then a few weeks ago, I saw a stake with a bit of plastic ribbon in the ground at his grave, and, looking around, I saw a few others.

As I got up to his grave, I saw, on the stake in Magic Marker, the name "Jackson." And then, when we came by the next day, I saw that his brothers-in-arms in the American Legion had, indeed, not forgotten him.

At last, not only a name, but more: The 16th Massachusetts, which a little searching places at Gettysburg, and which a little more research places, well, damn near everywhere.

No details, however, and now I'm left to wonder, why did Jacob Jackson die, seven years after the war ended, at only 29?

Maybe there was no connection between his service and his death: You could die of nearly anything back then.

But he died young, even by the standards of those days, and he was buried alone, moreso than we all, of course, must be.

Still, he didn't die forgotten after all, and that makes me smile.

Now when we walk past his place, I can finally greet him by name.

I have spoken of some of the men who were near to me among others very near and dear, not because their lives have become historic, but because their lives are the type of what every soldier has known and seen in his own company. In the great democracy of self-devotion private and general stand side by side. Unmarshalled save by their own deeds, the army of the dead sweep before us, "wearing their wounds like stars." It is not because the men I have mentioned were my friends that I have spoken of them, but, I repeat, because they are types. I speak of those whom I have seen. But you all have known such; you, too, remember! -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Memorial Day 1884

Monday, May 19, 2014


I'm just on the point (fingers crossed/wood knocked upon) of having a client sign off on a project that has been a lot of fun, a 14-chapter children's historical fiction serial about a young fellow going off from Lachine, Quebec, into the high country as a voyageur in 1800.

Collaborating artist for the project has been Dylan Meconis, whom, had I not, a few years ago, signed her to a project about six weeks before she graduated from college, I wouldn't have had the brass to approach at this stage of her career.

As I was sorting through the endgame portion of the project, it occurred to me that most of the artists I've worked with have been cartoonists and that, in any case, you, Gentle Reader, might find some reflections on artist/writer collaboration of interest.

And let's start with the cartoonist part: I like working with web cartoonists because I can check up on them before the conversation even starts.

For all the (valid, IMHO) warnings about putting too many selfies of you with a Solo cup on Facebook, there is a distinct benefit of having a potential client/collaborator/partner Google you and find a cartoon that is of consistent quality and is updated regularly.

It's not that I'm insensitive to health issues, missing cats and family reunions, but I'm very sensitive to deadlines and pleasing the client. Never mind a resume: What you post is your resume, and the reward is being picked up by someone who believes in hiring the right person and then getting out of the way.

Which is today's topic.

Dylan, as said, was not even a starving artist yet when we did our first project, but rather a recommendation from my most frequent partner, Christopher Baldwin.

I had an artist drop out of a project late enough that I didn't have time to fiddle around finding a replacement. Chris was too busy, but gave me a couple of leads, high among which was a talented woman who already knew the subject area of mythology.

I don't know what Dylan's final grades were, considering that she squeezed this work in around finals, but she got high honors from me, because I didn't have to explain each story in the series. She already knew them well enough to add nuances that I wouldn't have requested.

I really only had to let her know, for instance, at what points I was breaking the story of Proserpina into separate parts and she would come up with one illustration showing the young girl being lured off into the hands of Pluto, and then another of her grieving mother, Ceres, wandering the world in the guise of an old woman and so forth.
It's not that I don't provide input or feedback. For the current project, Dylan sent me a preliminary sketch of our young man, but the client and I felt he looked too old for the role.

Back he came, younger but still well-muscled as required (voyageurs regularly hauled 90-pound packs on portage, two at a time), but softer, and now carrying the paddle of a milieux rather than a gouvernail

But I'm hesitant to interfere with more global choices and, unless asked, my practice is to send the chapter and let the artist decide what the illustration should be.

In this illustration, the brigade of voyageurs has, though incompetent leadership of a new boss, smashed one of their three canoes, lost two men and seriously injured a third.

As they sit on shore waiting for their boss to decide how to unravel the mess, a hunting part of Beaver comes upon them. This is my favorite illustration in the story, perhaps because, when she submitted the sketches, Dylan warned me not to try to get more of the damaged canoe or unhappy voyageurs into the foreground, and she was, of course, absolutely right.

There was, in the text, a suggestion of puzzled bemusement, but the variation of appearance, pose and reaction among these four hunters is exactly and precisely why the writer needs to shut up, back off and let the artist do what she was brought in to do.

Similarly, when I worked with Marina "Rinacat" Tay on "Ariadne and the Magic Thread," she pulled from the chapter this moment, when the imprisoned Theseus begins to con Ariadne into betraying her country in order to aid his quest.

I generally send reference pictures to the artists, and had mentioned to Rina that, while Minoan women went topless under their vests, that wouldn't fly in American classrooms, so she added the blouse.

The reason I gave Rina that additional guidance is that she's from Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, and while she's pretty well immersed in western pop culture, there were a few gaps from time to time.

Most notably, I kind of assumed everyone was familiar with Greek ships, but she wasn't, and needed reference pics for those.

But the funny part came when Ariadne, marooned on the Greek island of Naxos by the heartless manipulator, Theseus, finds herself alone except for the gifts a friend leaves her of a jug of drinking water, a jar of ointment and a loaf of bread.

Apparently, islands in the Indian Ocean have a lot more beach grass than the ones in the Mediterranean, but that wasn't what cracked me up in the preliminary sketch she sent me: It was what looked like an unsliced loaf of Wonder bread.

Of course! Why would she not think that's what a loaf of bread is supposed to look like to an American audience? As you see, the grass was mowed and the bread made more authentic and life went on, even for a stranded princess.

However, when we did "Fables and Folk Tales," Rina's expertise in manga/anime came to the fore, because the stories featured animals and fairyfolk, right in her roundhouse, and this illustration for the Japanese story of the Sparrow and the Woodpecker could not be finer.

The other artists benefit, I think, from my initial work with Chris, which began over a dozen years ago with this re-telling of the Legend of Perseus.

Again, the fact that he'd updated Bruno so consistently and faithfully for so many years led me to approach him for the venture, and he's never missed a deadline.

He also brings a perfectionism to the work that I appreciate. He immediately decided to consult Grecian urns for a line and style, as seen in this first chapter illustration, as the imprisoned Danae attempts to hide the child, Perseus, from her cruel father.

While I love the line itself, and the shadow of the keys as well as the flicker of the oil lamp, what particularly pleased me was his decision to make Danae look, well ... Greek. I think he's the first artist to draw this Greek woman as a Greek since, I dunno, maybe the fall of Troy.

I really learned to trust the artist, to back off and, if an illo didn't come out as I had expected, to go back to the text and see if the discrepancy was there. I've been known to change text rather than ask for a change in a picture.

However, we did go back and forth in a legendary exchange over this one, in which Perseus descends into the Garden of the Hesperides, over the technical question of how a man being held aloft by the magic sandals of Hermes would hold his legs upon descent.

I don't recall every detail of the exchange, but it involved a bit of stubborness on both sides until I think the fact began to emerge that a man being held aloft by wings on his heels would have enough problems remaining upright that his attitude upon landing was ... up to the artist.

Which is how it should be. And, from time to time, through our exchanges ever since, the issue of Perseus's legs has been brought forward as a reminder to shut up and let the artist do what you brought the artist in to do.

Final case in point: When Nellie Bly made her famous dash around the world, she stopped in France to visit Jules Verne, whose best selling novel of some 20 years earlier had sparked the challenge.

In the course of their dinner and conversation, he showed her the map on his wall that had been his reference for the voyage of Phileas Fogg, and, with a pencil, traced upon it her own itinerary as a comparison.

That's the map. Christopher found it and reproduced it. I kid you not.

He did need to whiten Verne's hair, since the picture he'd found was from an earlier time, but mox nix in the grand scheme of things.

Writers, write. Let the artist be the artist. Your work will be better and you'll both live longer.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Race and sex, but no explosions

The brouhaha over San Diego Clippers owner Donald Sterling took a bad turn for cartoonists yesterday when NBA Commissioner Adam Sterling hit him with a $2.5 million fine (the maximum allowed) and a lifetime ban from the league, meaning that, while they couldn't actually force him to sell the team, they could forbid him to have any interaction with it.

That crisp rustling sound you heard was of hundreds of cartoons being wadded up and tossed into the wastebasket.

Yes, it would be ironic if they hit the rim and bounced out.
It's impossible to know how many cartoons were drawn before Silver's announcement, but enough made it into syndication that it's reasonable to assume others didn't.

There were a couple of post-ruling fails as well, IMNSHO, from those who were upset that the league didn't do more, apparently not realizing that "flogging around the fleet" is no longer permitted, or disappointed that the commissioner, who has been in office since February 1, hadn't acted several years before gaining the position.

The best commentary came, as it happens, neither from cartoonist nor columnist but from Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who has the standing to address the topic and both the insight and the wit to make his opinion well worth reading. (That may be the most rewarding link you click on all week.)

However, not every cartoonist failed. A few didn't get beyond a somewhat tepid "Gee, he and Cliven Bundy could be friends!" level, but there were some who, like Kareem, took a longer view of things.

Jim Morin, for instance.

And Jen Sorensen, whose commentary is not only spot-on in addressing the larger issue of emerging racism, but gives me an excuse to announce that she's won yet another award.

Now, on the one hand, someone giving Jen Sorensen an award is starting to not feel like news anymore. I commented elsewhere that I suspect she's building herself a house made entirely of Lucite plaques.

But the Herblock Prize is not chopped liver, and you can read all about it on Michael Cavna's blog, where he also links to a profile of Sorensen elsewhere in WashPo.

My only quibble being that I really don't care that she's the first woman to ever win the Herblock. On a purely pragmatic level, she's only the 11th cartoonist to win the thing at all, and, given current male/female ratios in the trade, I don't know that a woman laureate was particularly overdue, and both she and Ann Telnaes have been the runner-up in prior years.

Though I didn't sit in on the judging, I highly doubt anyone voted for her in order to honor a woman. I cannot tell you how many times I have mentioned her here and then received a note from some well-regarded cartoonist saying that she's the best in the business, and I don't often get those for mentioning anyone else.

And not one of them ever added "best woman" or "best for a woman" or "despite being a woman."

What I like about her work is that she takes advantage of the extra edge permitted to those who labor in the alternative-press universe, but doesn't then waste it by showing off how far she can push things or by chasing off after little niche gripes.

By the latter, I mean that, for instance, her well-known, Lucite-recognized discussions of health care (here and then here) were not a millenial whine-tasting festival, but instead examined and illuminated the reality of the uninsured in terms that showed how the system affected one person, excluded from the system for economic reasons, in terms that derived their power by their universality, which you don't get with a "poor pitiful me" or even a "poor pitiful us" depiction.

That's not the result of a smart political decision. That's the result of a wise storytelling choice.

Storytellers, regardless of medium, begin with a fundamental choice: Either you go the Tom Clancy route, with a story so dramatic and overblown that technique becomes secondary to explosions, or you go for the John Updike approach and use technique to describe normal life in such a way that your character's experience becomes universal.

Yes, there are gradations and places to be in the middle. But those are the endpoints, and she's a lot closer to the end with the empathy than the one with the bombs.

And lest you think I'm too cynical about recognition, I'm very happy that she's been getting the kind of Lucite recently that comes with a check. (If you didn't realize that, Jen, I hope you haven't thrown out the boxes yet.)

Meanwhile, back at the funny pages


I don't know where this Adam@home arc is going, but yesterday's kick-off was so meta that I almost fell out of my chair, given that Rob Harrell (whose work I greatly admire) inherited the strip five years ago from the original creator, Brian Basset (whose work I greatly admire).

And one of my favorite on-line reruns is "Big Top," which features animals. I'm not sure the distinction between a circus and a carnival, but I'm damn sure that "Big Top" was created by Rob Harrell. And that it ... um ... it's over.

Yeah, this is an arc to watch.

And also


After a significant hiatus, Lost Side of Suburbia has kicked off another graphic novel.

One of the nice things about never getting around to editing my GoComics page is that some moribund choice will suddenly spring to life, and none more welcome than this. And I bring it to your attention because these stories go on for quite a while and can become quite involved, so you'll want to get in soon.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The cartoon normally shown at this time will not be seen ...

... so that we may bring you this message about taste and sensitivity:

About six years ago, I interviewed a fellow in Rangeley, Maine, who had climbed Kilimanjaro, a feat that involves significant conditioning but no technical climbing and is popular among those who can afford to do it. He had sold his pharmacy to Rite Aid and so he could climb Kilimanjaro.

He was a very pleasant fellow, but when I said something about ecotourism and its impact on local economies, he reported that, yes, a lot of men showed up hoping to be hired as bearers, and added that many of them did not have the cold-weather gear required for the job, so that the American tourists often let them borrow clothing.

And then he blandly added that two of the bearers on his climb had died along the way and went back to telling me about his great adventure.

I was literally taken aback -- a phrase that comes from the wind shifting in such a way that the ship stops dead in the water and loses both progress and steering.

I thought of that when the Sherpas of Nepal spoke of cancelling the climbing season in the wake of the avalanche that killed several of them on Everest last week.

Nobody thought that 16 dead Sherpas was funny, or , at least, nobody made cartoons about it. Perhaps, like that fellow in Rangeley, they didn't find it particularly significant.

But I thought of it again this week when the story of a stowaway in the wheel well of an airliner provoked a raft of cartoons about how cramped airline seating is and how you can't bring a bottle of shampoo on the plane.

While I realize he was not a third-world refugee, the overall topic is still unamusing. It's like making a joke about a kid driving drunk down the wrong lane of the expressway because, gosh, it's better than being stuck in traffic.

That aside from the air of what they all "First World Problems."

In lieu of running one of those cartoons, let me make up to the families of those unmourned African men who died on Kilimanjaro, and show some sympathy with the Sherpas, by citing something about desperate people attempting to better their situation:

"Worldwide, there have been 105 known people who stowed away since 1947, according to data kept by the Federal Aviation Administration. Counting the California teen, 25 made it alive, for a survival rate of about 1 in 4.

But the FAA notes that the rate may be lower because people could have stowed away and fallen out of the wheel well without anyone ever knowing."

Sorry about the cramped seating and that discarded three-dollar bottle of Head-and-Shoulders, pal.

And speaking of insensitivity:

There used to be a saying in the black community that there are no rearview mirrors in Cadillacs. I don't know if anyone still says that, but I like Clay Bennett's commentary on yesterday's Supreme Court decision.

I will admit I have not read the decisions, so I can't comment on whether the ruling is a wedge against civil rights, though the executive summary of the Scalia/Thomas response is disquieting. But the SCOTUSblog summary suggests more reasoned and limited views were dominant.

Still, I would have to see specifically what the Michigan statute allowed, because, for example, I know that there are provisions back in my part of the world that give students from rural areas some kind of help in adjusting to college and while, in rural Mississippi, which might apply to a largely black group, but, in northern New York, does not.

And yet that is, in fact, "affirmative action" -- contending that some people who are capable of succeeding are not well-prepared to jump right in. 

I heard Hari Kondabalu interviewed on Fresh Air Monday, and one of the clips they played from his new album, "Waiting for 2024," included a dig at the fact that white people don't see "white" as a very specific thing, but describe their heritage as “I’m 1/3 German, and a 1/4 Irish…and 1/40th Native American for college applications…”

But he also spoke of his respect for what his immigrant parents went through:

And the thing is, a lot of my parents' friends in India are retired now. My parents can't retire, like they have to keep going. So it's funny because I think because I talk about class a lot, I think there's the assumption that I'm a working class kid and that I struggled a ton and that's a lot of what informs my perspective. And the truth is that I was a middle-class kid - an upwardly mobile middle-class kid - and I got what I wanted and I went to rich kid's school and I was informed by that education. And it's not, you know, which is the truth. It doesn't mean I don't have a conscience and I don't talk about things that affect me, but that is also the truth. Sometimes I get bitter, like how come my parents are hogging all the struggle? (Laughter) Rich kids get a trust fund, they get money, they get legacy and they get to go to these nice colleges. Why isn't there a struggle trust fund? Why can't I take some of their struggle to give myself some legitimacy?

The notion that the struggle is over is as wrong now as it was 50 years ago when the Civil Rights Act was passed, and as wrong as it was when the 14th Amendment was passed. Maybe the struggle never ends, but it surely is not over now.
I've heard a lot recently, for instance, from Neal Degrasse Tyson, but also from a woman scientist on another NPR show which I've forgotten, about how people assume black people need more than "a leg up" but are, in fact, unqualified, and how the requirement to keep proving you belong there never ends.

But, while it may explain the bitterness of some people, it does not justify ripping the rearview mirror out of your Cadillac, and, if Clarence Thomas whined about an "electronic lynching" during his confirmation hearings, it was Sotomayer who drew fire for suggesting that perhaps a few different perspectives might improve things.

And it is Sotomayer who remains grateful for the help she got and doesn't feel self-conscious about what she made of the chance.

And who checks the rearview mirror regularly.

Oh, and, whether Michigan's statute was all about race, the question of fresh perspective on the Supreme Court is not. Check out this exchange, as the justices ponder the future of on-line video streaming in American Broadcasting Company vs Aereo:

JUSTICE SCALIA:  Mr. Frederick, your – ­­ your client is -- is just using this for local signals -  ­­
JUSTICE SCALIA:  ­­– right now.  But if we approve that, is there any reason it couldn't be used for distant signals as well?
MR. FREDERICK:  Possibly.
JUSTICE SCALIA:  Possibly what?  There is possibly a reason or it could possibly be used?
MR. FREDERICK:  It can’t be used for distance, but it implicates ­­–
JUSTICE SCALIA:  What would the difference be.  I mean, you could take HBO, right?  You could ­­–you could carry that without ­­ – without performing.
MR. FREDERICK:  No, because HBO is not done over the airwaves. It's done through a private service.
 In other words, Antonin Scalia does not know that HBO is not broadcast over the air. He doesn't know the difference between cable and broadcast, and yet he's sitting in judgment ...

Never mind the rearview mirror. Dude can't even see through the windshield.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The only good cow is a kow kow

Maybe we're making too much of this thing, but it's worth noting that the majority of conservative commentators seem to be either ignoring or mocking Clive Bundy.

Granted, Steve Benson is hardly a conservative, but if this the only style of cartooning on the topic that seems to be out there, then ol' Clive hasn't got one leg -- never mind four -- to stand on.

Well, wait. He has one, and a fairly predictable one.

The whole matter would be better off ignored, as the ridiculous non-event of the Million Trucker March was, except that dangerous anarchist screwballs with guns did actually show up for this and apparently Sean Hannity was promoting it as something admirable or something.

I say "apparently" because I rely on second-hand reports about the activities of people like Miley Cyrus and Sean Hannity.

But other people do not ignore Hannity, which means that Clive Bundy has the ability to become our next Joe the Plumber, only with dangerous armed wackos in his corner rather than just shameful, fact-resistant propagandists.

That is, Joe the Plumber told the president-to-be that he ran his own plumbing company that had a net income in excess of a quarter million dollars, but it turned out his name wasn't Joe, he was not actually a licensed plumber, he didn't own his own business and his income was not only less than a quarter-million net, or even a quarter-million gross, but he was, in fact, not making enough to be able to be current on his child support.

So now we've got Clive Bundy, who says his family has been grazing their cattle on that land in Nevada since 1877, only it turns out that, not only are his views of grazing rights and states' rights completely flawed, but he wasn't even born on the property, given that his family moved to Nevada when he was two, well after the whole matter of grazing rights on federal land had been established.

As they say, "that ol' dog won't hunt."

But once the armed crazies show up, facts and logic have to give way to other considerations. As Samuel Johnson noted, “If a madman were to come into this room with a stick in his hand, no doubt we should pity the state of his mind; but our primary consideration would be to take care of ourselves. We should knock him down first, and pity him afterwards.”

The madmen are here and they have sticks. But there appears to be very little appetite for knocking them down and even less for pitying the state of their minds.

Tom Tomorrow suggests we apply a combination of logic and ridicule, and I'm all in favor of that.

But we should also demand a little bit of history. I heard some clown on the air the other day noting that it was the anniversary of both the Waco standoff and the Oklahoma City bombing, as if that were a coincidence.

Whether or not you feel armed, right-wing anarchists are a threat, you should at least know enough basic history to understand why McVeigh chose that particular day to exercise his First Amendment rights to free speech and mass murder.

If you're going to play the fool, "play" it in the sense of knowing you aren't passing along facts. At least Joe the Plumber and Cliven the Bundy have obvious motivations to say things that don't check out (whether or not they believe the things they say being a separate issue). 

And Sean Hannity has obvious motivations to uncritically repeat the things they say. But if Roger Ailes isn't signing your paycheck, you don't have that excuse.

Though taking money does excuse promoting reprehensible movements. There used to be a joke the punchline of which was, "We've established what you are -- Now we're just haggling over the price."

Apparently, that's no longer an issue, as long as you hold your nose while cashing the check.

Well, misery seeks its own company ...

 ... Kow Kow had heard it said