Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 10/29/08



Artist's Statement

On Sunday night I went to a reading by my colleague David Rees, introduced by my favorite political writer, Matt Taibbi. I took along with me a copy of my second book to foist on Taibbi. Unwisely, I had brought no other book with me on the subway, and so I was forced to look at my own cartoons and to read my own prose for the first time in four years. Always it is a uniquely personalized kind of torture, of the sort perfected in the Ironic Punishments Department of Hell, to have to look at all the cartoons that could’ve been better drawn if I’d just spent more time on them instead of whipping them out so I could meet my friends at some bar. Almost as bad was reading cartoons I’d drawn around this time four years ago, like “After the 2004 Election,” which showed George returning to his group home, Dick Cheney retreating to his mountain lair to build a death ray, etc. Even then I knew that this was more an exercise in wishful thinking than an expression of genuine optimism, but even so I couldn’t help but wince in vicarious sympathy for myself of four years past, innocently ignorant of the fact that he would have four more years of this shit to endure and draw cartoons about. A reader of mine who only recently read through my archives wrote me that he began to feel sorrier and sorrier for me as the 2004 Election approached, knowing as he did to what awful foregone conclusion it was headed.

So anyway yes, I realize that this cartoon is 75% old material, essentially no different than one of those ripoff clip episodes of Happy Days where they just edit together a bunch of scenes from old episodes by adding a little connective footage of the gang sitting around in a booth at Arnold’s saying, Hey remember that time Pinky Tuscadero came to town?, episodes that never fooled anyone into thinking they were any better than a re-run even if the Fonz did show up at the last minute with a twin on each arm. The reason I am re-running an old cartoon this week is that, for pretty much the first time in over ten years of meeting a weekly deadline, I just didn’t come up with a cartoon. (I am not counting those occasions back in The Day when I woke up horribly hung over and threw together a chart or diagram or stick-person doodle so I could immediately immerse my entire head in a pitcher of mimosas for restorative purposes.) I started to draw two or three different cartoons, each of which I ultimately judged unfunny or, worse, realized I had already drawn in some other form. I was at work on a cartoon called “The Real America,” complete with a map of the dwindling Red States as a separate nation unto themselves, a Latin motto (Neco Eos Omnes, Deus Sues Agnoscet,*), a picture of some natives in traditional dress, and the Seven Wonders or the Real America (the old fire tower, a very large flag over a car dealership, the Mystery Hole, etc.) when I remembered that I had drawn this same cartoon, complete with natives in traditional dress and the Seven Wonders gag, as “The Scum Belt.” This has happened to me more and more often lately: I even replicated one panel that I’d drawn in “Where Do You Get Your Ideas?” more or less verbatim in a similarly lameassed cartoon called “The Creative Process” a few weeks ago, which so embarrassed me I didn’t even post it. This realization so demoralized me that I just caved. In the end I just reran the cartoon I drew on the eve of the 2004 election, scrawled a new last panel, and slapped it on.

I’m not worried that I’m running out of talent or inspiration; I think I’ve just said everything I have to say about the state of the nation, about the criminality and incompetence of the Bush administration, about the shithead patriots and dingbat fundamentalists of the Slave States. I’ve been saying it over and over in every way I could think of, every week for the last eight years, and I’m sick of it. I’m done. Yesterday, after having failed to turn in an original cartoon, I called my colleague Megan. Megan was my closest counselor and comrade-at-arms throughout the dreadful and depressing Bush years. We sat up late talking in her New York apartment days after 9/11 and went to rallies and marches in New York and DC together, canvassed door-to-door for that useless stuffed shirt John Kerry in Philadelphia the night before the 2004 election. I dedicated my second book to her. About the best I was hoping for was that Megan might be able to offer me some consolation, but she exceeded my expectations and actually gave me absolution. “I don’t blame you,” she said. “I understand exactly how you feel. We’re all sick of it—it’s been going on forever, we’re tired, we’re all just waiting for this election to be over, sorta holding our breaths, still terrified it might not be real.”

She and I have both been reading all the same recent articles in the New York Times--about rednecks in deepest Pennsyltucky telling pollsters, “We’re voting for the nigger,” guys in rust-belt bowling alleys scoffing at Sarah Palin’s patronizing “Joe Sixpack” rhetoric, saying, “I don’t want me in the Oval Office—I want someone smarter,” about the abrupt disintegration of the uncritical consensual certainty in unregulated free markets, and about the long-belated realization that maybe that vast majority of us who don’t live in small towns and aren’t white heterosexual churchgoing small business owners are every bit as much the “real America” as they are—in fact, maybe even realer. Of course Megan and I, both unreconstructed college-educated coastal liberal elites, would read all the same articles in the same insular news sources that tell us what we want to hear, but, as Megan said, smugly quoting a line from Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure: “I like that story.” After all, it’s one we haven’t gotten to hear in a very long time. It’s hard to believe it might really be over, and that some of us, at least, survived.

So now that the whole rest of the country’s grudgingly come round to the opinion that maybe the Republicans were a bunch of fuckups after all, those of us who tried, in our artsy marginal way, to speak up for the things that mattered over the last eight dismal years--the Constitution, the Geneva conventions, democracy, rule of law, common sense and human deceny--with sanity and reasonableness and humor, are finally free to give it a well-deserved rest. Duuring the Q&A after his reading, David Rees mentioned that he was quitting “Get Your War On” after January 20th, and when he asked me later on what I was going to do after Inauguration Day, I said, “I’m quitting, too.” We high-fived. I mean it’s not like I ever set out to be a political cartoonist. Nobody grows up idolizing Pat Oliphant or Jeff MacNelly--in fact I still couldn’t pick either of their cartoons out of a lineup. Who besides dedicated comics weenies ever looks at political cartoons from the Clinton administration, let alone the first Bush administration, or Nixon’s, or Truman’s? Let alone Andrew Jackson’s? I only started drawing political cartoons because American politics had gone completely off the ideological scale into some realm of rampant, lawless, shocking stupidity and meanness and that I’d never imagined possible. No way was I going to quit one day before George Bush did, but no way am I going on one day after he’s gone, either. I certainly won’t stop drawing cartoons, but this weekly topical political work is no longer fun for me. I don’t have any interest in “poking fun” at anyone’s “foibles” or giving my “fractured take” on “the political scene.” Of course since we’re heading into a depression and there’s bound to be more terrorist attacks, plus an eventual resurgence of the Republican Party (remember, Sauron never dies--he always returns in another form) I’ll no doubt make the occasional foray back into politics. But I want to write more, and maybe draw more cartoon stories. I want to go on my book tour and collect on as many beers and groupies as possible in return for all my labors and sacrifices as a cartoonist. I am looking forward to a long and pleasant retirement.

Next week’s cartoon is due the day before the election, but will appear the day after. And somewhere in the next few days I’m going to Philadelphia to canvass for Barack Obama. What will happen, and what will I draw? Do I hedge my bets like I did last time, presenting all the options, or do I assume an Obama victory and risk looking like the Chicago Tribune that Truman held gleefuly up for the cameras? If the former, do I gloat cruelly over Geroge Bush and the shitheads of the Slave States, or do I exult unabashedly in this rare, unprecedented triumph of the forces of Goodness and Blackness? We will see!


*Which I learned isn’t even a Latin translation of “Kil ‘Em All and Let God Sort ‘Em Out” but is in fact the original version of that sentiment, attributed to one Arnaud-Amaury, the Abbot of Citeaux, who was Papal Legate to the Crusaders at the siege of the city of Beziers during the "Albigensian Crusade" against the Cathar heresy in Southern France, apparently some big that was undoubtably thought to be as well worth dying for as the struggle of Sunnis vs. Shiites is today. After the siege was over, the commander of the crusaders pointed out that not everyone in the city was a heretic, some of them had been good Catholics, so how, exactly, were they supposed to know who to spare and who to put to the sword or burn at the stake or whatever? The good abbot, with the wisdom of Solomon, answered: “Kill them all; God will know his own.” He probably said it in medieval French, but the quote became enshrined in Latin, and so it has come down to us in American, to be repeated by the pious and the just to this very day.


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