Our Featured Cartoon
"Another Day, Another Dollar" (1994)
This cartoon may well have been responsible for my not having gotten one of the only real jobs I ever interviewed for. It was a job I might actually have liked, writing press releases for the Hubble Space Telescope Institute. It was my girlfriend at the time, now a well-known science reporter, who urged me to apply. I remember I was so nervous the morning of the interview I accidentally brushed my teeth with Deep Heat. (My girlfriend, who was trying to sleep in the other room, later said she thought I would never stop spitting.)
My interview seemed to go well at first--I impressed my first interviewer by name-dropping Charon (Pluto's first known satellite, and unsung hero of my cartoon "The Sorrows of Pluto") and referencing the Drake equation (formula for estimting number of technological civilizations in the galaxy). My second interview was with an intimidatingly beautiful woman who was also a serious fiction reader. It's one of the few times in my life it's occurred to me to check and see whether someone was wearing a wedding ring. Things hit an awkward snag when she asked me whether I had any experience with the internet (this was 1994, remember). I said, without really thinking this line of inquiry through, that in fact I had my own website. "What's the url?" she asked me, and rolled her office chair on its little casters over to her computer. I began backpedaling. "Oh, I don't know the exact address," I said. "It's a friend of mine to maintains the site, I just send him updates..." "Well, what are the keywords?" she asked, her fingers poised over the keyboard. I could see already that I had made a grave error, but could see no way of extricating myself now. "Well," I said, "You could try typing in Kreider... and... 'pain'..." She typed it in and up popped thepaincomics.com. Back in those days, the website displayed thumbnail details of drawings, any one of which you could click on to see the complete cartoon. As fate would have it, the one she clicked on was the above drawing. Download speeds were slower back then, so we both got to watch as the image resolved in excruciating increments out of unintelligible pixels into full damning clarity. Each of us looked at it, thinking our own thoughts. "That's just a--it's really not-- "No no," she said. "Honesty is the best policy." I didn't get the job.
It's hard to be too sorry about this now, though I've had the occasional spasm of regret about it over the years--mostly about the parallel-universe workplace affair I never got to have. But it's pretty obvious in retrospect that a job was not for me.
Recently a fellow cartoonist read aloud to me a letter Gustave Flaubert wrote to his mother from Egypt after she'd once again urged him, like moms from time immemorial, to consider getting a job:
"What is the sense of this: that I must have a job--'a small job,' you say. I defy you to find me one, to specify in what field, what it would consist in. Frankly, and without deluding yourself, is there a single one that I am capable of filling? You add: 'One that wouldn't take up much of your time and wouldn't prevent you from doing other things.' There's the delusion! That's... what I told myself when I began law, which only just failed to kill me with bottled-up fury. When one does something, one must do it wholly and well. Those bastard existences where you sell suet all day and write poetry at night are made for mediocre minds--like those horses that are equally good for saddle and carriage, the worst kind, that can neither jump a ditch nor pull a plow.
"In short, it seems to me that one takes a job for money, for honors, or as an escape from idleness. Now you'll grant me, darling, (1) that I keep busy enough not to have to go looking for something to do; and (2) if it's a question of honors, my vanity is such that I'm incapable of feeling myself honored by anything: a position, however high it might be (and that isn't the kind you speak of) wil never give me the satisfaction that I derive from my self-respect when I have accomplished something well in my own way, and finally, if it's for money, any jobs or job that I could have would bring in too little to make much difference to my income. Weigh all these considerations: don't knock your head against a hollow idea. Is there any position in which I'd be closer to you, more yours? And isn't not to be bored one of the principal goals of life?
This is, first of all, a fusillade of bullshit par excellence that you have to applaud. Madame Bovary may be one of the classics of world literature, but it takes a truly great writer to shut up his mom. And yet, like any master bullshit artist laying down a defensive cover of excuses and counterattacks, he knows how to use the odd stray truth to his strategic advantage. "Isn't not to be bored one of the principal goals of life?" Who would disagree with this proposition? (A: Boring people.) It's always endeared Pierre Bonnard to me that he did not set out in his career with a strong vocation to be an artist. What he wanted was to avoid the tedium of employment, and being a painter seemed like his most viable option. This seems to me to be a perfectly respectable goal. Of course it helped that Bonnard turned out to be good at what he did.
Recently another cartoonist friend of mine, whose husband's been laid off from his job, found herself once again questioning her career decision to devote her life to an art form that's never going to make any money. I myself have often rued that it's no longer possible to make even a modest living as a cartoonist (thanks, in large part, to the internet's destruction of print media and inherent hostility to artists) but never for one passing moment have I second-guessed my resolve not to get a real job. For me, this is my personal First Amendment: a founding, bedrock principle, indispensable to our very identity, one that we never consider repealing or modifying no matter how regrettable some of its unforeseen consequences (Japanese schoolgirl/tentacle porn, Glenn Beck, etc.).
Of course the extent to which I've succeeded in realizing this ideal has been way more a matter of privilege and luck than any virtue on my part. Unlike just about every other artist on earth, I had parents who were totally supportive of my artistic ambitions and unconventional life choices, which might have looked to the objective observer like plain old indolence. It could be argued that this is not necessarily the best thing for an artist. Still, at least I never had to go anywhere with fluorescent lighting and wear a tie and be yelled at.
One of the reasons I remain friends wth The Evil Ben Walker, despite his countless betrayals, failings, and unconsionable fuckings-over, is our shared committnent to never, ever getting real jobs, getting married, or having kids. What most people think of as "a normal life" has never looked to either of us like anything other than an obvious trap, a sucker's game, strictly for rubes and losers--pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a man short of imprisonment or conscription. Last year at Ben's 38th birthday party I remembered when we were feckless young losers together, drinking in the afternoons and ogling ladies in the park, making minicomics and scheming to become trillionaires, and it occurred to me how strange and unlikely it was that now, 13 years later, we had both ended up doing more or less what we wanted--I had a book deal, and Ben has a podcast on iTunes--and neither of us had ever ended up Making Sandwiches at the Mall, which was our deepest fear.
If I am hit by a cab later today, I assure you that among my last thoughts (along with aw shit and oh Jesus the pain and I wish I'da fucked ol' Kristin at Ocean City/ Jovi on Earth Day/ Marcie at Burning Man, [list will continue until brain death]) will be the self-congratulatory exultation: "I did it--I never had to get a job." As my colleague David Paleo once wrote me: "The important thing is to avoid honest work." Amen.