Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?

Updated 03/25/09


Artist's Statement

This is the last cartoon I'll send in to the Baltimore City Paper, where I have appeared weekly since 1997. Endings always make one melancholy, even if they're timely and natural, or even long overdue. I just watched the series finale of Battlestar Galactica with some friends, a show I’d lost interest in about a season ago, when the allegory to contemporary America fell away and it got wrapped up in its own internal mythology and they stopped ever having space battles, but watching it end still made me sort of maudlin and wistful, since we’ve lived with those characters for years now and we’ll never see them again. A TV show creates an artificial family group, it's serial and ritualistic, and it lasts over a sizable fraction of your lifespan, so it’s much better at evoking this feeling of time and finality than even long movies or books--even if that series is as silly and trivial as Cheers. (I still get all nostalgic for a certain era of my life and circle of friends whenever I see an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.) It makes you mournful for a whole phase of your life, even if it's only just ending and you didn't even notice it was a phase while you were in it--a sort of nostalgia for the ever-vanishing present. Also I had a big crush on Laura Roslyn.

When The Pain started running in the City Paper I was thirty, living in a row house in Fell’s Point with my friends Jim and Sarah, writing letters to Bill Clinton to invite him out for the Giant Fish Sandwich ($3.00!) at a now long-defunct seafood place in Broadway Market. The intervening twelve years encompassed the entire Era of Darkness—9/11, the Bush doctrine of preëmptive war, the gung-ho idiocy of Freedom Fries and “Have You Forgotten?”, the useless mass protests and marches and rallies in Washington and New York, the invasion of Iraq as unstoppable as stupidity itself, the deepening hopelessness and disbelief, the sense that maybe truth really was irrelevant and "the reality-based community" obsolete, the wretched shame of Abu Ghraib and ugly tragedy of Katrina, the endless impotent guttering out of the Bush administration and slow-motion implosion of the global economy, and the brief, moon-landing euphoria of the Obama election. Now I'm forty-two, and trying to get used to an America in which I don't have to feel like a fugitive alien anymore.

I feel a little untethered now. It was nice, when I made the preposterous claim to be a cartoonist and people tentatively asked me where they might see my work in print—in kind of the same tone that grownups used to ask you if they could see your talking dragon friend--I could say, “The Baltimore City Paper.” (I generally allowed them to assume that this meant something respectable like the Baltimore Sun rather than the alternative weekly with all the phone sex ads.) Now when those people ask me the same question, what do I say?--“My work appears on the Internet.” I’m of an age where print still seems legitimate to me and the internet somewhere on the prestige scale between vanity presses and men's-room graffiti, since there is some vetting process for publication but any moron can (and does) post his bad art, political rants, or photos of his kids online. I can start to understand why Charles Schulz kept drawing Peanuts until he could physically no longer hold a pen.

I quit the weekly strip for a combination of reasons: the end of the Bush administration obviated my raison d’etre as a political cartoonist, and now that money is an increasing worry for all of us $20 a week just wasn’t enough incentive to put in two full days of drawing each week. But freak not, internet readers! The Pain will continue on a weekly basis, more or less uninterrupted. Once a month or so I might be too hung over or too busy entertaining ladies to draw a cartoon, but I intend to entice myself with little rewards to keep up the weekly deadline. Unfortunately these rewards will most likely take the form of drinks or ladies, so you can see the potential for a problematic loop. I also intend to pursue more serious writing and longer cartoon essays like "The Stabbing Story." (Look for my op-ed on drinking and age in the New York Times' "Proof" series soon.)

Not because this is some grand farewell but just because it is fun and good for the soul to express gratitude, I’m going to take this opportunity to thank various people who have been helpful in my cartooning career, such as it’s been:

  • Andy Markowitz, the editor of the City Paper who first hired me and attempted to explain to shocked and provisionally outraged readers the unbelievably grotesque and obscene cartoons I was drawing a decade ago;
  • Lee Gardner, his successor, who unrelentingly supported my work through the most humorless, chauvanistic, and censorious of the Bush years;
  • Joe MacLeod, the art director who rendered my exasperatingly dense, detailed, fine-lined drawings legible for our readers in the smoky, dimly-lit bars of Baltimore;
  • Webmaster Dave, who helped me White-out and Xerox the very first issue of The Pain minicomic in 1994, and later created and for years maintained and updated this website;
  • My former interness, Ms. Phelætia Czochula-Hautpänz, who turns out, too late, to have been indispensable;
  • The friends from whom I stole all my best ideas, the most frequent "collaborators" being Boyd, Dave , Chris (the League of Indecency), Jim, Aaron, Carolyn, Jim and later Jenny, and Michael;
  • James the Large, Ruler of the Lands Between Cool Branch Road and Rt. 54 (fearéd be His name), for drawing my birthday cartoon every year, which everyone always seemed to prefer to my own cartoons;
  • My friend Steve, who, unlike me, actually understands politics and the economy, and whose insights I appropriated over cocktails;
  • The girlfriends who actually took my work more or less seriously and encouraged me in it despite the near-total indifference of the real world—Nell, Allison, Louise, and Ellen;
  • My beloved groupies, who know who they are;
  • My esteemed colleague Emily Flake, who spent many a night before deadline on the phone with me, both of us lying on our respective floors in despair, with not a single funny idea in either of our heads;
  • Megan Kelso, comrade-at-arms through the darkest of the Bush days, confidante and counsel in matters artistic, professional, and personal;
  • Tom Hart, who organized the "Laugh While You Can" book tour three years ago, and whose passion for artistic and intellectual questions is a reminder that life is potentially interesting and fun;
  • Gary Groth, who published both my collections in a gesture artistically heroic and fiscally Quixotic;
  • The writers who graced me with blurbs so extravagantly generous I would've been embarrassed to forge them--Myla Goldberg, Jenny Boylan, Mark Miller, and the late Dave Wallace;
  • And, lastly, all of you who have written to thank me for my work and encourage me not to give up. It has been the most precious reward this job offers me. I mean, besides the groupies. Also, of course, my thanks to those of you who have made contributions to the website or the Church of the Blesséd Tile. Keep them coming. Our donation button below.

And, before you ask, yes: "Ass Swami" T-shirts will be made available shortly.

“For own part, regret nothing. Have lived life, free from compromise, and step into the shadow now without complaint.”

    –Rorschach, November 1st, 1985



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