Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It
Ms. C.-H. has relayed to me all the messages she received during my recent hiatus, ranging in tone from the genuinely concerned to the rather snarky. Please know that I am ever mindful of the fact that you all pay good money for your subscriptions to this website and have every right to expect a new cartoon weekly, and I work tirelessly to keep to that schedule.
A fairly high-concept cartoon this week, one that came to me, as they sometimes do, while I was half-asleep. A little unabashedly childish wish-fulfillment, re-envisioning the political downfalls of various Bush administration henchmen in the more gratifying form of the grisly deaths of Dick Tracy villains. In fact, as the comics cognoscenti will immediately recognize, all the elaborate demises featured here are identical to the fates of specific Dick Tracy villains: Flattop drowned while caught on the rusty spike of an underwater piling; 88 Keys, hiding in a railroad shed, was dispatched when a uniformed cop expeditiously cut an X in the door with his tommy gun; The Brow got his eponymous forehead caught in the slow-closing clockwork vise of a spike machine* of his own nefarious device (which did not kill him, by the way--he actually escaped this Goldbergian torture only to be pummeled senseless against an electric fence by Tracy); and it was my own personal favorite, Pruneface, who, barricaded and freezing to death in a house whose heat had been cut off by the cops, was taking tremulous aim at the detective from a broken window when a shard of glass fell on his wrist. And always Dick Tracy would make some grim pronouncement about justice over their corpses. Having been raised by pacifist Mennonites, who mildly disapproved of the doctors on M*A*S*H because they were abetting a war effort, my encounter at age nine with these unbelievably violent comics was not unlike the child of vegans discovering Snickers bars or bacon. A whole childhood of Tigger and Charlie Brown and Bugs Bunny, and then, suddenly, deformed guys getting shot through the throat. My panels in this cartoon are in fact more or less exact reproductions, drawn from memory, of the tableaux in which these infamous hit men, gangsters, and spies met final justice. A comparison to the originals will only demonstrate to the reader how unnecessarily labored, cluttered and fussy my own drawing is compared to the inimitably stark, spare style of Chester Gould, as instantly legible as an instruction manual or stained-glass window.
Itís strangely unsatisfying to see the Bush administration unraveling. Unsatisfying, for one reason, because itís taken much too long, like your first girlfriend apologizing for dumping you so ungraciously ten years later. Itís also unsatisfying because thereís never any explicit admission of wrongdoing; the criminals are always caught on some technicality, like Al Capone going to jail for tax evasion instead of for, say, gunning down dozens of his business competitors in the street. Alberto Gonzales is taken sternly to taskóin a symbolic, nonbinding resolution--for a complicated and boring political scandal that only true wonks can stand to follow in any detail, instead of for flouting the Geneva Conventions and the Constitution, legitimizing torture, spying on U.S. citizens, and dragging the United States of America down to the moral stature of a fourteen-year-old Congolese warlord. Paul Wolfowitz is forced to resign over a non-issue that itís hard for even his enemies to fake indignation over instead of his instrumental advocacy for a pointless war thatís now cost over three thousand Americans and at least ten times as many Iraqis their lives. (An aside: Wolfowitz was professor of international relations and dean of the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, whereas I, as an undergraduate at the same institution, drank too much, read almost nothing assigned, and doodled inattentively through History of Occidental Civilization 1650-Present. So how come he was wrong about Iraq and I was right? Why are we supposed to take this world-class fuckup seriously as some sort of geopolitical visionary?) And what are the consequences? Everybody gets a public pat on the back from the President and goes on to makes even more money as fellows at right-wing propaganda mills.
And George Bush, public enemy #1? Heíll never get his just desserts, or even confess. Last week I saw Frost/ Nixon, the Broadway play based on the famous interviews between the British broadcaster and the former President. The play, particularly Frank Langellaís performance, contrasts Nixonís outward stonewalling, his denial of any criminal intent and inability to admit error or apologize to the American people, with his inward self-castigation. I do not believe that George Bush is smart or complex or self-aware enough to feel this way. Iíve read accounts that he intends to spend his ex-Presidency not, like certain other ex-Presidents, building houses for the destitute or preventing the spread of AIDS in Africa, but defending and furthering the same disastrous policies heís pursued in office, setting up some think tank to continue fighting the global threat of Islamofascism and encouraging the spread of Democracy in the Middle East. Of all the wrongheaded, misbegotten, and aborted sentences ever to burble out of George W. Bushís mouth, the creepiest and most frightening, the one that reminds me of a cold-blooded serial killer, is his boast that he sleeps better than youíd think. As my colleague Tom Hart says, George Bush has already had his conversion experience, back when he quit drinking and accepted Christ. Heís not about to have another one. Thereíll be no anagnoresis for that dipwad, no matter how many bodies he piles up around him.
You canít help but wish that earthly justice took a more immediate and unambiguous form--e.g., that of a relentless, hawk-faced detective growling, "Come on, you mugs--eat a little of this!" while spraying them all with death from a Thompson.
*An historical aside: My friend Ben Walker and I, while horribly hung over in our youth, used to like quoting The Brow from this scene: "Ow! Help! Somebody stop the spike machine!"