Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 4/25/07

Artist's Statement

Years ago I drew a cartoon called "Don’t Mind Grandpa," showing myself as an old man, appalling my adult children by using the word "pets" in front of my grandchildren and crankily defending the practice of pet ownership. I’ve thought a lot about the things for which we condemn our ancestors of only a few generations ago—opposing women’s suffrage and civil rights, slave ownership—pretending to a moral superiority that I’m not sure is justified. It's not like human nature has undergone any radical improvement in the last century. I think that history will judge us unforgivingly for our heartless treatment of animals as commodities, and for the mass extinctions we’re heedlessly causing. The world’s frogs and bees are inexplicably dying off. We have driven the elephants insane with grief. I'm not suggesting that animals are as intelligent or worthy of the same legal rights as human beings, but they do have a capacity for suffering--they certainly experience pain and fear, and, as someone who has to get his cat in a box to move twice a year, I would also argue dread--and so, as beings with the capacity for empathy and compassion, we should maybe take pause at imprisoning and torturing them. See David Foster Wallace’s essay "Consider the Lobster," from the collection of the same title, for a troubling meditation on this issue. As someone who considers steamed crabs in summer one of life’s greatest pleasures, I try not to think about this much.

Still, I also believe that our prehistoric ancestors would look on our maudlin concern for vanishing species like the Bengal Tiger with incomprehension. Like: You mean you’ve finally killed off the tigers? Hooray! Excellent! Congratulations--what a noble people you must be! You have made a paradise on earth!

It may be that all the crimes of humanity for its entire history--its savage wars, the slavery and rapine and torture, the extermination of races and eradication of cultures--will pale in comparison to the ruination of the planet now being perpetrated by us. We are squandering the world’s resources on trips to the mall for more junk food and toys, heedlessly wrecking the place like drunk frat boys trashing a hotel room on spring break. Our economy is based on a model of infinite expansion; unfortunately, we live in a finite world. It is what Kim Stanley Robinson calls "an imaginary relationship to a real situation." My ex-girlfriend Sandi, now a science reporter for NPR, tells me that someone recently did a rough accounting of the sum total of copper on the planet, and calculated that approximately one third of the copper is still in the ground, another third is currently in use in construction, computers, etc., and the last third is in landfills. Did you catch that? One-third of the existing copper on this planet has been thrown out. Lately I’ve started feeling creepy every time I toss out a plastic coffee stirrer or shopping bag I bought three minutes earlier. This lifestyle of waste is starting to seem not just stupid and irresponsible but something more like sinful. My friend Megan told me about a trip she and her husband made to a computer recycling facility here in New York; they were aghast at the towering heaps of obsolete computers, keyboards, monitors, printers, and scanners. The anxious, guilty feeling I keep getting about not only my own life but about Our Way of Life is: this can’t last. My friend Rob is uprooting his whole life and moving to Ohio to join an energy-independent community, believing that after all the oil runs out industrial civilization will just plain collapse. Even I am giving some thought to putting solar panels on my cabin. The great task of our generation and the ones to come after us will not be defeating Islamic terrorism---I mean come one, if those penny-ante losers actually won they’d all kill each other off in fourteen days flat--it’s figuring out how to build a modern but sustainable way of life that we can pass down to our descendants. What’s called Permaculture. We do know how to do this, of course—we did it for millions of years before industrialization. (See Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael for further details.) It’s how to do it with six billion people on the planet without all of them living in squalid poverty and sickness that’s the trick. One thing we know is that we’re not all going to get to live the way we Americans have been living for the last fifty years. Which is why I don’t see Americans being the pioneers in this great societal project. At some point in the last hundred years we went from being a nation of fearless dreamers and inventors and explorers to fatassed infantile consumers. No generation in the history of Man has ever been more ill-equipped to take care of itself. I have explained to my friend Rob that in the event of the global collapse he envisions, my contingency plan is: To die. I am a frivolous person and will not last long in the post-industrial environment. If his predictions are right, we’ll all eat our pets and then die about two weeks after the supermarkets are looted.

Panel 3 is an idea I first drew three years ago, based on H.G. Wells’ the Time Machine, of redneck conservatives devolved into the grunting, bestial Morlocks and hippie liberals into the frail, feckless Eloi. (Yes that is a Skynyrd shirt on the Morlock on the right.) I am pleased to have finally found a place for it. My colleague Ruben Bolling also drew a cartoon years ago brilliantly illustrating the exponential effect of stupid people reproducing more than smart people. It showed one guy saying, "Maybe I’d better get a condom," and, one generation later, his offspring saying "Maybe I’d better get a condom." In the other column, another guy was saying, "No way! I don’t use those things," and, a generation later, his eight offspring were all saying "No way! I don’t use those things!" Also see the single-joke but nonetheless hilarious film Idiocracy, by Mike Judge, director of Office Space, for a more exhaustive elaboration of this theme. (Steve Sailer, film critic and pseudoscientist, insinuates in The American Conservative that Fox studios suppressed Idiocracy because it broaches the controversial subject of dysgenics, the degeneration of the gene pool due to overbreeding by inferior groups. As if anybody in America could spell "dysgenics" on a picket sign. )

Panel 4 is a commentary on the caprices of aesthetic fashion, which once considered Conrad a writer of boys’ adventure books and forgot all about Herman Melville for thirty years. The Victorian prose of a hundred years ago sounds ridiculously purple and turgid to us; perhaps our post-Hemingway minimalism will sound as affected and foolish. Who knows what aesthetic crimes we’ll be judged guilty of a hundred years from now? Hailing the likes of Elvis and the Beatles as geniuses while dismissing the great composers of our era, Manilow and Diamond, as kitsch? Paying millions for abstract expressionist paintings a gibbon could’ve done while our unacknowledged geniuses scraped together cash to rent booths at regional arts fairs? Giving awards to the dull hacks in family dailies who draw elephants and donkeys with labels on them while ignoring me? (Sorry. The Pulitzers were announced last week, which always puts me in a foul mood.)

Aficionados of The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension will not need to be reminded that the end title of that film promised a never-to-be-seen sequel, Buckaroo Banzai vs. the World Crime League. (See the FAQ page of for further information.) I will freely confess that in 1984, when this film came out, I considered its batshit New Wave nth costumes to be the height of fashion and adapted them as my own, even pushing the sleeves of my blazers up to my elbows in emulation of the great Dr. Banzai. I still have my skinny ties; they hang dormant now, awaiting the day when they will be cool again.

This may be the last cartoon posted for a few weeks, or, possibly, ever; I am traveling to China and Tibet from the 27th until May 12th. In the unlikely even that I am not killed, The Pain will resume running on May 23rd.

BACK TO The Pain Homepage

Webmaster's Disclaimer