Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 07/23/08


Note: this week I'll be posting each panel of the week's cartoon individually, one a day. No good reason. Just mixing things up a little. 



ANNOUNCEMENTS: A reminder about my planned reading tour to promote my next collection, Fuck Them All: A Chronicle of the Era of Darkness, Volume II next spring. If you have at any time rashly offered lodging, liquor, or less savory forms of hospitality to me and have not thought better of it since, please reiterate those offers now so that I can plan my route. And if you know of a good bookstore in your vicinity that might be interested in hosting a slideshow and reading, please recommend it.

I've finallly updated the letters pages for the last three months. Sorry it took so long. These little administrative chores are not my forte, and with Ms. C.-H. gone they take about sixteen times longer.

Also I went back and revised a panel of "We're Living in the Future." I've added more Martians, which cannot help but improve anything.


Artist's Statement

Truly, we are in the summer doldrums of the news. Look at the front pages these days: Sports scandals. Bank failures. Obama in the Middle East. Nothing’s happening. It’s enough to make you wish for an exciting catastrophe. As a comedian I once heard said: “I don’t give a shit about the budget. I don’t care what country the fucking Pope is in. But you show me a hospital on fire and people on crutches screaming and jumping off the roof and I’m a happy guy!”

Panel 1: Professional propagandists in the media are starting to use words like “inevitable” to describe the military confrontation with Iran they’re trying to provoke. Of course Iran isn’t helping matters by firing off missiles and making with the supervillain rhetoric about wiping Israel off the map. It’s like watching a crazy drunk guy with a knife keep waving the knife and sob incoherent threats as a cop, steadily leveling a gun at him, tells him for the third and last time to put down the weapon. Leaving aside the strategic inadvisability and logistical implausibility of opening yet a third front in the War on Terror, it just seems like not enough time has passed since the last war to persuade people that another one would be a good idea. As a rule, you usually have to wait for an ignorant new generation to come along that doesn’t remember the previous war before you can get them whipped into a jingoistic frenzy over the new one. I think what finally overcame our national “Vietnam Syndrome”—the realization that invading countries on the other side of the planet with no clear strategy or objective was a bad idea after all, which passing spasm of sanity was diagnosed by conservatives as a kind of post-traumatic stress disorder or malaise of the national will—was the accumulation of a critical mass of citizens who didn’t know shit about Vietnam, so that when the administration cranked up another Gulf of Tonkin hoax and said, Come on, everybody, we gotta contain [terrorism] or there’ll be, like, a domino effect, they said, The fuck yeah!

I’m only forty-one, but I’ve already seen two war propaganda campaigns, and I can already tell you how they go: Specious proof of the enemy’s ill intent will be waved before us and then whipped away before anyone can get a good look at it. The spectre of more calamitious attacks on U.S. soil is invoked. The kinds of dudes who like to chant “U.S.A.!” will chant “U.S.A.!” The rhetorical point will be made that freedom is not free. Second-tier country stars will make some quick money with bellicose ass-kicking anthems. Liberals and other such peaceniks are branded cowards, America-haters, al Qaeda’s fifth column. Unrealistic ultimatums will be offered, and will, unsurprisingly, pass unmet. The motions will be gone through in congress and at the U.N. Then a lot of people will get killed, no one will like us, and it’ll be a big fiasco, like it always is, every time, and a few years later the dudes who used to chant “U.S.A.!” will be angrily demanding to know what the fuck happened and blaming liberals for their defeat. Wait ten years. Repeat.

Liberals are as easily conditioned as conservatives (well, okay, not quite, but they’re no less prone to knee-jerk reaction), and it’s quite possible that our by-now-well-justified mistrust of the Bush administration will keep us skeptical and unsupportive from of a military action that might actually be advisable for once. Maybe Iran is building nuclear weapons and the first thing they intend to do with them is nuke Jerusalem. Who knows? Not me, but also not our intelligence agencies. It’s not like I actually knew for certain that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction back in '03. All I knew was that the Bush administration didn’t know, as they claimed to, that he did. Bill Mauldin, no fan of war, said that “[Pacifists] are right ninety percent of the time. It’s that other ten percent that worries me.”

CORRECTION: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's notorious phrase quoted above, about the state of Israel being "wiped off the map," is apparently a mistranslation. The sense of the original Arabic is closer to "vanish from the page of time," and refers specifically to the present Israeli regime. I regreet having repearted the misinformation. Ahmadinejad is still a dangerous fruitcake, of course, but probably no more so than George Bush. Please bear in mind that my interest in Middle Eastern politics is minimal and that when the whole issue of Israel vs. the Arabic world comes up I am prone to rolling my eyes and making the "yap-yap-yap" motion behind people's backs.

That’s a nostalgic portrait of me and my colleague Megan, who was my comrade-at-arms in the war-protest days of 2002 and '03. Hi, Megan.

Panel 2: Having already drawn “Reasons to Look Forward to the Next Terrorist Attack” I was at something of a loss to know how to make the second panel funny or at interesting until I thought of a sort of parody of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima, with the incumbent and two candidates playing King of the Hill atop a heap of burning rubble. (Please note my superb pile of rubble.) If there is another terrorist attack in the months leading up to the election, the political posturing will be insufferable. Impossible to say at this point what the fallout (ha, ha!) from another attack would be in the election. It seems obscene even to consider such a thing, though no doubt there have been late-night conversations at high levels in both campaigns on this subject. Historically, people have flocked back to the big abusive daddy party to protect them when they're frightened, but since the Bush administration has proven itself incapable of managing an occupation, evacuating U.S. citizens from a disaster area, or even rebuilding a couple of skyscrapers, maybe the myth of the Republican party as at least hardheaded and competent, even if they are if brutal and callous, has finally died. But I am perhaps overestimating the intelligence of the American voter. More likely if there's another terrorist attack Barack Obama's middle name will become a terminal liability and we'll elect an old man whose solution to the problem of al Qaeda is to win the Vietman War once and for all.

Panel 3: See Matt Taibbi’s sobering essay on the imminent collapse of the economy, which political leaders and media are either oblivious to or politely trying to ignore. (In fact please just read everything Taibbi writes so I don’t have to tiresomely remind you every month.) According to my doomsaying friend Rob, we may expect things to get worse before they get better, except without getting better. He outlines the near future thusly: "the US banking and financial system collapses... followed by runs on ordinary savings accounts, then followed in turn very soon by gasoline and diesel shortages, followed shortly thereafter by food shortages." I myself am unconcerned about any of these things because we know that one economic reality will remain constant despite whatever upheavals and calamities may come: the world needs laughter. So I'm all set.

I have no idea why Boyd, dressed as a cartoon Depression-era hobo, is speaking like a cockney here. His line just popped nonsensically into my head, and regarding such matters I tend to go with my instincts. The little Buster Brown pooch also seemed somehow obligatory.

PANEL 4: Yes this panel is about the imagined assassination of Obama. There’s a sort of taboo against talking or even thinking about this, a sort of knock-on-wood superstition against somehow magically invoking it, but I suspect that most editorial cartoonists have secretly thought about what they might draw if it happens. (I have no doubt that some of those family-daily hacks are thinking of it as a big, once-in-a-career Pulitzer opportunity.) I know that my own first instinct will be to write America off as an unreconstructed nation of racist killers. But I’ve promised myself that I’m not going to yield to that impulse in print. If the unspeakable does happen, the last thing we’ll need is anyone like me making us feel any worse. So I’m trying to exorcise my bleakly cynical cartoon here. (Yes that is a lynching victim strung up from the arm of Liberty. You may click here for an enlarged detail, if that’s your idea of a good time.) But what I might actually draw that could be at all uplifting or redemptive in the face of such ghastly disillusionment I cannot yet imagine.


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