Tagged: Politics

Save It For Later by Nate Powell

The personal is political. It always was, and always will be. When someone’s identity is a reason to suppress or attack them, from “will not replace us” to bathroom bills, it’s never just personal. 

There’s a meme I’ve seen a number of times, about what is political – that arguments about taxes and land development and budgets are, but arguments about whether someone should be allowed to live are not. I want to agree with that, but, in the real world, arguments about people’s lives and existence are aligned with partisan politics. The people trying to de-humanize huge swaths of humanity know what they’re doing, and aren’t going to stop because the other side makes clever memes.

Nate Powell understands all of that. (Better than I do, I expect.) His 2021 book Save It For Later  is explicitly about confronting the rising tide of fascism, authoritarianism, leader-principle, and white nationalism in the USA, placing those concerns in a parenting context: how do you talk to your children about fascists? How do you think about fascists to focus on what you can do, especially as one family in a deep-red state? And how do you survive when you’re surrounded by horrible, mean, vindictive people? (Who may not actually be fascists themselves, but are perfectly happy in their smug self-satisfaction to sign up for every last fascist ideal.)

My children were much older at the 2016 election: eighteen and fifteen. I was lucky: I didn’t need to explain that this was bad, that, as Powell put it, “the bad guy won.” Powell seems to have two kids like I do, but they were much younger – I think the older one was five on that horrible night. So the parenting piece was much larger for him.

He’d also just come off a big non-fiction graphic novel series with Congressman John Lewis, explicitly about protest and fighting against white supremacy. It’s called March: you may have heard of it. So this was important to Powell, and central to how he saw his life and work, in a way that it isn’t for most Americans.

Save It For Later collects seven essays in comics form, all on that same cluster of topics, created during 2019 and 2020. I’ve seen at least one of them before – I think on The Nib – so it’s possible they all appeared elsewhere first. But they clearly were designed to work together; they circle the same concerns and thoughts in a consistent way.

I’ve always loved Powell’s work, since I first saw his magisterial fiction graphic novel Swallow Me Whole. He particularly has a knack for black-background pages, with hand-lettered white type and splashes of light color for vignettes of activity. His comics pages often seem to be on the verge of apocalypse, personal or societal – that darkness sweeping in and inundating the pages, his energetic lettering, especially on sound effects, the tone of concern and fear and distress.

This is a book for an immediate moment. I hope it will seem strident or ridiculous in five years. (I bet Powell would, too.) It probably won’t, though: fascism doesn’t go away that quickly or that easily, and the “will not replace us” crowd is loud and central and has captured most of one of America’s major parties. What any one person can do during that moment is small and feels inadequate: vote, speak up, model good behavior, deflect as much anger from more vulnerable people as you can. And, most of all, think about those vulnerable people first: who are the fascists trying to hurt? How can you help to foil or counter or even just slow down those efforts?

Because the fascists are always out there. And they’re always focused on hurting people.

Osta Doximycin netistä – ilman lääkemääräystä

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists edited by Ted Rall

Any book with “new” in the title will age really badly: it’s just inherent. If what it’s trying to do is present something fresh and immediate, that will just be less compelling fifteen years later. No one can do anything about that effect.

So it’s a pretty quixotic thing to read Attitude 3: The New Subversive Online Cartoonists  in 2021, since it’s a book from 2006 about a world that was fast-moving at that point and has only sped up since then. Attitude 3 was the last of the series — the first Attitude profiled new political cartoonists and the second one new “alternative” cartoonists” (primarily those of the weekly newspapers that flourished in the ’90s, I think), and all of them were edited by Ted Rall, at a moment in his career when he seemed to be working more as a connector than he looks to be doing now.

(Parenthetically, Rall – as the sourest, most uncompromising and most ideologically leftist cartoonist in the US – now looks like an odd person to do something this broad and inclusive, but, again, fifteen years can change people and worlds and industries. Early-Aughts Rall is not the same person he is today; none of us are.)

So Attitude 3 interviews and profiles twenty-one relatively prominent webcartoonists of the time, mostly focusing on political/personal cartoons – things closer to the editorial end of the world, or gag-a-day in some cases, rather than the kind of webcomics that are basically long serialized stories formatted as comic-book pages presented in electronic form. Some of them will be familiar

, some of them will be lost to the mists of time. (Well, they were for me; you might be intimately familiar with every single one of these and know exactly what they’ve all done in the fifteen years since. If so, you are creepy and I am unobtrusively moving away from you.)

Cartoonists I recognize/follow/enjoy include Richard Stevens of Diesel Sweeties, Matt Bors (more recently of The Nib), Dorothy Gambrell of Cat and Girl, Nicholas Gurewitch of Perry Bible Fellowship, and Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. A couple of others – Mark Fiore in particular – are names I’ve seen since then. But the majority of the book was made up of cartoons and creators I’d never seen before and hadn’t heard of: my guess is that some of them are still going, in their own corners of the Internet, and some have moved on to other art-adjacent things, and most have moved on to work that’s nothing like making pictures on the WWW.

Each cartoonist has five or six pages, including a decent selection of cartoons in black-and-white – this is an issue for some, since most were in color on the ‘net, for obvious reasons – and the interview with Rall. It’s all professional and well-done and informative, but it does feel like a moment frozen in amber this many years later.

I think we’re at the wrong time to look at a book like this again. One the one hand, it’s too long for most of these people to still be doing the same work, though a few are. On the other, they were all very young then (mostly mid-twenties) and so now are mostly in the middle of their careers – so it’s too early for this to be useful as parallax to evaluate anything like their whole oeuvre.

Still, it’s a moderately heroic book, trying to gather a vast, massively-distributed world and get it between two covers for posterity. It is a serious accomplishment, and it will be there for that re-evaluation in another thirty years or so, if any of us are there to look at it again.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.

Book-A-Day 2018 #285: High Society by Dave Sim

I don’t have an accurate record of when Dave Sim first said Cerebus would run for 300 issues. But my guess is that his plans became real during this storyline.

The first volume of Cerebus, which I covered last month , saw Sim moving rapidly from an amusing Thomas/Smith Conan parody with an oddly funny-animal main character to something more detailed and particular, and those twenty-five issues moved from standalone stories to trilogies and ongoing continuous plotlines.

No one expected Sim would then embark on a new story that would be as long as all of Cerebus to date. My guess is that not even Sim knew, when he was writing and drawing issue #26, “High Society,” that that would be the title for a much longer story. Somewhere in those first few High Society  issues, though, it clicked: he wasn’t just making a somewhat longer story: his narrative would stick around the city-state of Iest for more than two years of serial comics, over five hundred pages, and more political machinations than anyone had ever seen on the comics page.

So it became High Society. And a storyline many times longer than the previous ones posed a problem to Sim in the mid-80s. He was already a pioneer in reprinting his comics in permanent book editions, with the Swords of Cerebus series. But the sixth volume of that was already longer than the previous ones, reprinting five issues instead of four. Swords of Cerebus Seven would either be five times as long as the previous book or would break in the middle of the story.

Obviously it didn’t. Instead, Sim invented the “phone book” format — one little-used by other creators since, mostly because very few comics-makers have series with multiple five-hundred-page long plotlines to begin with. (He also annoyed the comics distribution network by going entirely direct-to-consumer for the High Society first printing, an innovation that made him money immediately but caused hassles for a while afterward.)

We tend to forget all of the business things Sim pioneered in independent comics, but there’s no Image without Sim, without that model of doing your comics your way, and then collecting them permanently. And this is the era when Sim was still exciting and vital and fizzy and Zeitgest-y, telling his own story and making sarcastic comments on the current comics scene at the same time.

High Society is probably the single highest point of Cerebus: a graphic novel that can stand alone and that a new reader can come into cold. Cerebus is this guy arriving in a new city, and then stuff happens to him: you don’t need to know more than that, and the first page tells you that much.

“Stuff happens” gets very baroque very quickly: Cerebus is caught up in other people’s schemes, as had been more and more central as the comic Cerebus went on the early ’80s, and the ultimate mover of those schemes was Sim’s brilliant re-imagining of Groucho Marx as Lord Julius, ruler of Palnu. [1]

High Society is a story about money and power, and particularly the power of money. Palnu is the only fiscally sound city-state in the entire Feldwar valley; every other country is running massive deficits and getting further and further in debt to Julius. Cerebus is the perfect counterweight to Palnu’s soft power, since he’s instinctively a creature of hard power: he knows armies and mercenaries and war tactics deeply, and his first instinct in any situation is to find and army and conquer something.

(This is not a good impulse in a modern world, obviously. But that raises the question of how modern Cerebus‘s world is. Is it modern enough that wars of conquest primarily smash economic activity and leave everyone poorer, or is it still medieval enough that conquest can be lasting and profitable?)

So Cerebus is first the Ranking Diplomatic Representative of Palnu to Iest, named as such without his knowledge. And then there’s a confusing plot where he’s running to keep that title, even though it’s pretty obviously a role that is going to always be in the direct remit of the ruler of the sending country. (How could it be otherwise?)

But that campaign ends up being the warm-up for the real one: Cerebus runs for Prime Minister of Iest, a job that has first slowly and then suddenly transformed from being a minor adjunct to a theocracy to being the center of secular power in the city-state. And that “suddenly” is because of Cerebus personally, in the sideways complicated manner common to Cerebus plots.

Like the best Cerebus plots, High Society is a one-damn-thing-after-another story. Cerebus is always his own worst enemy; he’s never satisfied with what he has and is the epitome of the guy who hits on sixteen every damn time. And Sim was notably never on Cerebus’s side, which is rare for a creator so closely identified with a single character. Cerebus is a horrible person in a whole host of ways, and was like that right from the beginning: Sim made him that way, and kept putting him in plots that exploited his flaws and worst tendencies. For about the first half of his adventures, Cerebus is the greatest anti-hero in comics.

Alongside all of the politics and plotting is Sim’s characteristic humor: he was the most consistently funny comics humorist of the early ’80s, and this volume has a string of his greatest hits. Sure, a lot of that humor was odd adaptations of other people’s characters — every funny character in Cerebus is based on a comedian or outside source — but Sim turned it all into comics, made it all work in his specific invented world, and gave all of those characters new, setting-appropriate jokes to tell. It’s hugely idiosyncratic, but it works amazingly well.

If you’ve never read Cerebus, and you’re willing to give Dave Sim one shot, this is the shot to take. Some parts of it are more meaningful, or funnier, if you’ve read the stories in the first collection, but I don’t think anything will be incomprehensible or particularly obscure. This is a great story about a grumpy, self-destructive guy who falls into politics in the worst way, in a vaguely late-medieval world where parts are rapidly modernizing, and has a masterful mix of humor and seriousness. If any of that sounds appealing, give it a try.

[1] Julius would make an interesting contrast to Terry Pratchett’s Patrician: both rule completely and capriciously, and both are shown to be master manipulators who always come out on top. But the Patrician works by extreme clarity and veiled threats, while Julius is his world’s master obfuscator and equivocator and either is the most Machiavellian planner of all time or just extremely good at thinking on his feet.

Reposted from The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.