Holy Demographic Backlash, Batman. I had no idea. Apologies, apologies - I did not mean to suggest that that readers born in the late 70s or early days of the Age of Reagan had no recollection of the service station alert-ropes I described yesterday. One faithful reader remarked that she felt as though Id condescended to this portion of the audience, and that made me wince; I intended no such disrespect. Sorry.
Now get off my lawn.
Kidding. Today I had some photos taken for the New Improved Backfence, with 100 % less reader input. The Sunday columns will now consist entirely of my blatherings, and will run on the front of the section. Which is nice. When we discussed what graphics to use, I had a Brilliant Idea. Most photos of columnists are inherently irritating - theyre either smug dorks, glum dorks, concerned dorks, decent dorks who happen to have a smile that makes them look like a serial killer, etc. Im actually happy with my standard graphic; it sums up exactly how I felt when I got the job. Happy. But for the new column I wanted to try something else. So we shot some standard photos of me, which will be posted on the web with the request that the readership deface them. Every week I want my graphic to look abused. I want devil horns, hitler mustaches, arrows through the head, Yoda ears, Harry Knowles curls, etc. If all goes well Ill get a FARK link, and the vast & talented legions of amateur photoshoppers will make me look ridiculous in ways I could never have predicted. Ill post a link when its ready to roll. Credit will be given, of course.
My column runs in the Variety section, which is where the comics appear. I read every comic every day. Some of the comics I read because I have been genetically encoded to do so. Must - read - Blondie - despite - absence - of - humor. The persistence of Blondie is heartening, in a way; its one of the few throwbacks to the 30s style of cartooning that remains on the page. Surely Blondie is the only character whose maiden name was Boopadoop, which ought to count for something. Despite attempts to upgrade the subject matter (lets not forget the epochal Blondie-gets-a-job story line from ten years ago) and scattered bits of modern technology around the strip, it still has the look of a 30s cartoon, and one of the more sophisticated ones at that. But the strip seems to have shed half its cast in the last few years. I cant remember the last time we witnessed a really good mailman collision, or the appearance of Elmo, the small brat-child from down the street.
Id guess most readers dont know the strips history - when it first started, Dagwood was a millionaires son, and Blondie was a flapper of lowly birth. They were married; he was disinherited. It's a nifty tale, if you're interested in such things.
There are strips I read because I like them - Darby Conleys Get Fuzzy is pretty good. It never puts the punchline in the same place; sometimes it skips the punchline altogether, and the three characters are drawn in different styles. Best dog and cat act on the page for my money, but it leaves some stone cold. The Norms Sunday strips always show Jantzes love of fonts and graphic design. (AND the man understands the value of a good flip-take.)
Toilet paper graphics, and Busytown? Applause.
Cathy - well, ack. Or rather ACKKK! Blob-characters throwing off gigantic drops of sweat. Our paper carries a new strip called Cleats, a comic strip devoted entirely to childrens soccer. Its drawn by the guy who draws Tank MacNamara, which I remember as a rather clever strip, but this one gives me hives: all the characters have these big odd cross-eyed expressions. Plus, its about soccer. Theres Boondocks - like Blondie, it seems to have cast off most of its characters and abandoned the fish-out-of-water premises. Anyone remember the last time we saw the little white girl? The mixed-race married couple? Now its just stumpy blunt characters making obvious and often witless political jokes, usually while slumped in front of a TV. The drawing style has completely ossified, too. Walt Kelly he aint. Dilbert? I read it, but Ive been there, done that, leafed through the remaindered page-a-day calendar.
Doonesbury? Nah. At some point the quality of the humor seemed insufficient to make me overlook the fact that the characters have cigar boxes for noses. I looked at it today - the Sam Donaldson TV guy is interviewing a suicide bomber, ho ho. Last time I checked the Hunter Thompson guy was doing something with the Chinese woman in the background, and they were talking to some Iraqi guy who was naturally more articulate, Westernized and worldly than anyone else. Rule of thumb in a Doonie cartoon: if the main character encounters anyone from another country, no matter how primitive or different, that person will have the deadpan ironic character of an American college student. (Rule two: in Doonesbury, all American college students are IDIOTS.) I dont blame him for settling into the comfy rut; he had a great run. But his new Bush caricature is a headless floating Roman helmet with an asterisk, and it just says I can't draw Bush." It makes you wonder whether hes bothered to draw anything new since the Ronald Reagan Max Headroom character.
Our newest strip is Lalo Alcaraz La Cucaracha, aka the Hispanic Boondocks. Its edgy! Its in your face! Its so oddly drawn that I didnt know one of the characters was supposed to be a cockroach until we ran a long interview with the artist. I just thought he had his hair slicked back in an unusual way. Supposedly Cuco the Angry Political Cockroach is the conscience of Eddie, the main character, who is more relaxed about the world. I actually like the style of the strip - its loose and jangly, and has a bartender who wears a Mexican wrestlers mask. Is hit and miss, like all the others, but when it gets political it's just embarassing. It's college-paper level stuff. It's like Hagar the Horrible sacking a town, and shouting "of course I want your gold, I'm a Democrat, and now I will give it to crack addicts!"
One of the strips that made peoples eyes cross had a white character signing an angry letter Aryan McCracker, Whitesville USA. Ho ho! I remember looking at that and feeling very, very tired. Turns out it was a little private joke with Aaron McGruder, who does Boondocks. Get it. Aryan McCracker, Aaron McGruder? Got it. But if you dont know that, well, it kinda looks like Rastus Washington, Nigraville, or Kikie Yiddovich, Hymietown.
I dont have a lot of hope for La Cuch, because the guys in his thirties, and he thinks this is brave and clever.
Did I miss something? Did I miss the press conference when Republican leaders - or anyone from any party, for that matter - said anything about the Jayson Blair story? I know, I know - its what the Republican leaders really think, because theyre racist fiends. Theyre so obsessed with race they probably think that Hispanic people are best represented as cockroaches -
Uh - anyway. This brings us to that infamous cartoon that everyone was het up about the other day, the hook-nosed Sharon with a Star of David on his jacket, leering at the money Bush put before him. Real subtle. The cartoonist has taken some grief for it. Rightly so. I dont think the intention was malevolent. I think the guy just didnt know what he was doing. We give these guys credit because they appear in newspapers. (See also Me, Career of.) The number of cartoonists who have a distinct and engaging style and a BS detector tuned to all the bands is quite small. I have my favorites (my old college friend Jack Ohman is one; I love the way he draws) and you have yours. But today my paper ran this cartoon, which I found . . . instructive.
It wasnt the drawing that impressed me, or the point it made, which was fatuous. It was the way in which a meme takes root and flowers. The BBC Jessica Lynch story + Robert Scheers ravings + the stories based on edited excerpts of the Wolfowitz interview = Bush Lied. Thats the New Truth. Bush Lied.
The day my paper ran the first Scheer editorial about the faked Lynch rescue, my wife was in the park and overheard two women discussing the story. They were a little surprised to learn the rescue had been completely faked; isnt that just horrible? You cant trust these people. Its now part of their mental furniture, and I doubt any letters to the editors will dislodge the idea. It fits. It sounds right. Its what they want to believe.
Good job, editorial pages! Bravo, Auth! But one small point:
I read today of another mass grave discovered in Iraq. This one was reserved for children.
I repeat: this was a special mass grave for children.
The article said that dolls were found among the bodies. Which meant that the little girls were clutching their dolls when they died.
Or they dropped them in terror at the edge of a grave. The soldiers kicked them in.
I dont even know if the story will make the papers. If it does, some editorial cartoonist might turn that horror into a powerful piece of art. Most cartoonists will turn the page. I did Iraq yesterday; todays its tax cuts. I know - weapons of mass deductions! Pulitzer, here I come.
Sorry, kids. Your bones had the misfortune of being unearthed in the same week Martha Stewart did a perp walk. Thats good material. Dead kids are a comedy killer, and if editorial cartoons are about anything these days, its the grins.
There are all unfair overgeneralizations, of course; Im just in a crunchy mood. Go cheer yourself up with some Muir. Click on the June 2 cartoon. Someone syndicate this fellow, please? If Cathy must die so these character can live, so be it. Such is the circle of life.
New for-real email account - lileks -AT- mac.com. I hope it works. Ignore the old address; its dead and overgrown. Fire away, and have a fine Wednesday.