Tagged: Trashed

Martha Thomases: If You Create Comics, Do Not Get Sick!

As I write this, the Senate vote on Trump’s health care plan has been postponed. One poll shows that only twelve percent of Americans support the Senate version of the bill.

Personally, I think this is a good thing. Everything I’ve read about the bill, both the House and Senate versions, show that tens of millions of people would lose their health insurance, and almost all would have to find other, more expensive ways to get healthcare. The Obama plan isn’t perfect, but it is better than this.

What does this have to do with comics? I’m glad you asked.

My favorite feature of the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, is that it is possible for unemployed, self-employed people and those with jobs at small businesses to buy health insurance as individuals. This was possible before, but really, really expensive. I remember trying to buy some in the early 2000s, and the policy for my husband and myself was going to be more than $3 thousand a month. Luckily, through New York State, we were able to get coverage for around $800.

A policy that costs $800 a month isn’t cheap. That’s $9600 a year. The other plan would have cost nearly $40 thousand a year. That’s more than I made at my first two full-time jobs combined. And the hospital bills for the cancer that killed my husband ran well into six figures, which would have bankrupted us if we hadn’t had insurance.

Affordable health insurance saves lives.

Less obvious, but just as true, is that affordable health insurance for everyone makes your individual life better, or at least more entertaining. John Backderf recently wrote a post on his Facebook page about how important Obamacare has been for comic book creators. Instead of getting a day job just for health insurance, and making comics on nights and weekends, creators can take a chance and devote themselves to their art.

Surprisingly, there are people who disagree with this. And they said so, in the comment section of the link above. In general, I’m a firm believer in the Internet doctrine which states, “Never read the comments.” In this case, however, I don’t understand what their problem is.

Some took offense at Derf’s description of cubicle jobs as if he was sneering at them as if there was something dirty about working in a cubicle. Needless to say, these people don’t read enough, or they would know that Derf, the author of Trashed, has worked in all kinds of jobs, including the actual dirty job of collecting garbage.

I would also point out that getting that cubicle job is not a sure thing. It’s not easy to find a new job if you are in your 50s or 60s. Coincidentally, these are the years when a lack of healthcare is especially terrifying.

Some seemed to think that wanting to take a chance on a dream was shameful or lazy. I can only assume that these people have never tried to work for themselves, nor have they been the kind of “job creators” praised by the GOP. It takes a high tolerance for risk to start something new, whether that thing is a comic book, a podcast, a dry cleaner or a restaurant.

It seems to me this is a win/win/win. Creators can take a chance on their dreams, there are more day-jobs for people who really want to do them, and we get more comics. As Derf said, “It’s no coincidence, I believe, that this (the ACA) coincided with the golden era of comics we’re currently enjoying. Creators could take a chance on a comics career without dooming themselves to a life as a debt slave if they contracted a serious illness.”

There are some people who think that every person who publishes is rich. They think that a byline on a news article or a comic book or a novel means that person is another Stephen King or J. K. Rowling. These are the same people who think teachers don’t have to work in the summer.

A lot of the comic book professionals I know, people whose names are used in convention advertising and who attract long lines at these shows, could only get health insurance these last few years because they qualified for Medicaid. Without the supplements, they would have no insurance at all. And if they had to get day jobs to get insurance, they wouldn’t have been able to produce the comics the rest of us line up to get signed.

Martha Thomases: Holiday Facts and Checking Facts

How is your holiday shopping going? Mine is mostly finished, because I am a selfish person and don’t give gifts to very many people. However no matter how many people you love or how many people to whom you feel obligated, I’d like to make a suggestion for the perfect present.

The truth.

I don’t mean the excellent graphic novel by Robert Morales and Kyle Baker, although you should definitely consider it if you haven’t already. No, I mean the actual truth.

If the last several months have shown us anything, it is that, to most Americans, the truth is a fungible thing. Anything is true if you want it to be true. Fact-checking is for suckers. This isn’t healthy for us as individuals, nor for the country as a whole.

It certainly doesn’t bode well for our government. And by forcing news-gathering organizations to make profits, we ensure that we will not get the best news, but the most popular. We won’t get the most facts, but we’ll know if Kanye dyed his hair.

(I’m very sorry that I know this.)

It’s important to get the news from reliable sources. My go-to page is The New York Times. They make mistakes, and they have a bias towards their most affluent readers, but they hire good people and give them the space to write real stories. You could do worse than to send someone a subscription.

I don’t just read the Times, however. I read all sorts of things, and you should, too. Your hometown paper could probably use a few more subscribers. It’s useful to check in with the BBC and other international sources. The Week is a magazine that collects and digests news from all over. Full disclosure: I worked for a PR firm that had The Week as a client a decade ago.Different national perspectives are important. So are different cultural perspectives. The overwhelming majority of professional journalists in this country are white. I’m not questioning their commitment to the truth, but no single one of us can represent every single possible perspective. Give yourself a gift this solstice and seek out news and opinions from people who don’t look like you. If I might quote from this fascinating piece:

“… over my relatively short career, I have met so many wildly talented and generous and serious minority journalists who have provided me with emotional and spiritual sup
port that I will never be able to repay. These relationships are still there. The talent is still there. The audience for our work is still there. What’s changed is where we will publish that work and the spaces in which we will foster new friendships and rivalries.

“But, comics!” you wail. “I come to this website to read about comics!” I hear you, Constant Reader. As a comics fan, you have an opportunity to discover lots of important ideas in the very medium you love. For example, Brought to Light is a spectacularly paranoid and well-researched book from 1988 about spies and drugs and American duplicity. It’s a beautiful and bloody masterpiece.

If you want to give something more recent –and slightly more upbeat – I suggest Trashed, an autobiographical discussion about environmental issues, class and capitalism. Not only did this book encourage my efforts at composting, but I also tie up my trash bags much more securely since reading about all the gross things sanitation workers have to put up with.

For your loved ones who enjoy musical theater, you could do worse than give Fun Home, Alison Bechdel’s moving story about her father, her mother, and her own coming of age. It’s the inspiration for the Tony Award winning musical, and it tells a harrowing story about families and how dangerous it is to live in the closet.

I’m learning more about Singapore than I ever knew I wanted to know in The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sonny Liew. This biography of a fictional cartoonist reveals so much about pop culture, colonialism and the twentieth century.

And I didn’t even know this book, Black Women in Sequence: Re-inking Comics, Graphic Novels and Anime even existed, but I sent away for it so I could learn about an area of our beloved medium that is new territory to me. Stay tuned, and I’ll tell you if it’s any good.

It should be obvious that I don’t know every possible gift that can expand your world – or mine. Please leave your suggestions in the comments.


Martha Thomases: Fire and Anger

AIrboyIt’s high political season again, which is catnip to people like me and my fellow ComicMixers. Our meetings would take only half as long as they do if we could skip the ranting and just get down to business.

This year is unusual in the level of anger we see in the electorate. Of course we have seen anger before. I, myself, would occasionally chant “Hey! Hey! LBJ!/ How many kids did you kill today!” In recent memory, the current version of the Tea Party began in rage and paranoia, with lots of murmurs about “secret” Muslims.

This cycle, however, it seems to me to be more. Lots more. Maybe I look at the wrong media, but there is so much fire on all sides.

I think this anger is related somewhat to the continued calls for diversity in all aspects of our modern life. If you read the link above (and I found it to be quite provocative), you’ll see that a great many middle-class and lower middle-class white voters, especially men, feel as if they aren’t being heard.

To anyone who isn’t a white man, this seems, on its face, to be ludicrous. When one is anything but, every story told seems to be from the perspective of white men. They star in most mass media and even when they aren’t the stars, they are most often the writers and producers and directors. They are the acquiring editors, publishers and authors.

But …

Most of us grew up in a world in which white men were the voices of authority, the guides of the narrative. We accepted that as normal. When it changed, some of us celebrated the increased choices, but some of us felt as if something was taken away. We felt lessened, and we want to “take our country back” or make it great “again.”

I’ve been hearing a version of this argument for at least 40 years. Men who played by the rules of their time, who graduated high school and got good (union) factory jobs could expect to build a home and family, with enough for an occasional vacation and a new car. Their wives would take car of the house and kids, and defer major decisions to the Lord of the Castle.

It seems to me this changed radically in the 1970s, and certainly by the 1980s, anyone graduating from high school with such assumptions wasn’t paying attention. However, the increasing income inequality means that the rules have changed (a college degree doesn’t guarantee anything but student debt), and there are more and more people who feel left behind.

Pop culture can’t fix this by itself, and certainly comics, one small part of pop culture, can’t. However, they can help alienated white men feel like they can understand, and even benefit from experiences different from their own.

As a Jewish woman, I’ve loved books written by devout Christians. As a feminist, I’ve enjoyed books by patriarchal men.

The book I’ve read most recently that gave me insight into the experiences of white middle-class (and lower middle-class) men was Trashed. There is no way I would be able to live a life described in those pages (for one thing, I lack the upper body strength), but reading the book made me feel that I knew what it was like.

In other words, my political perspective doesn’t necessarily inform my entertainment choices, and my entertainment choices don’t necessarily affect my political perspective. Sometimes they do, but often they don’t. I’m a big fan of Chuck Dixon‘s, for example, and we don’t agree on much except we love comics.

It’s okay. We can disagree and still tell each other stories.

Martha Thomases Eats Worms


More than three weeks ago, I twisted my knee somehow in a manner that causes it to continue to hurt. A lot. I happened to have a doctor’s appointment that day, and she told me to rest it, take anti-inflammatory medicine, and drink a lot of water.

Which I have. Well, “resting” is a relative term. It’s hard to rest one’s entire leg and still get around the city and do what needs to get done. I put a brace on it. Still hurts.

When I’m in pain like this, I can’t exercise. And when I can’t exercise, I lose my main opportunity think deep thoughts about comics or anything else. I just want to sit on the couch and eat worms.

Anyway, here’s some randomness. Remember, no one suffers like I do.

The New York Comic-Con has come and gone. I went for a few hours on Thursday, and even though it was the middle of a work-day, the place was so crowded that it was impossible to move anywhere. The line for the ladies room in the press area (which requires a special badge) was a half-hour long. I shudder to think what it was like on Saturday.

It was lovely to see my friends – as I left the brand-new subway station, on line to register, at booths, in artists’ alley – and I had a great conversation with the guy hyping The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (which is awesome and you should be watching it). I didn’t get to any panels that day or any day because my knee throbbed just thinking about getting through the crowds that made the hallways impassable.

So I didn’t get to see this. I wish I had. This is the nerd experience I most crave. The rest of the throngs can go see stars log-roll each other at over-hyped TV and movie panels. Let me listen to Paul “The Frother” Krugman talk about Star Trek.

Last year I discovered the Crazy Eight Cartoon Festival and I had a great time. You can read my brilliant insights here. It’s happening again tomorrow. If you are in the New York area, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If I get back in time from my other nerd-quest this weekend, perhaps I’ll see you there.

Very few people have raved about about My Friend Dammer more than I have. I’ve given it away to dozens of people to show them the complex insights and emotions possible in the graphic story format. So you can imagine my excitement to get a galley copy of Derf Backderf’s new book, Trashed, in my Harvey Awards gift-bag.

Trashed is the story of a crew of garbage collectors in a small Ohio town, with lots of data about the environmental impact and long-term costs of our throwaway culture. Derf was a garbage collector a few decades ago and, though he says the story isn’t autobiographical, his experiences lend a gritty (and smelly and sticky) authenticity to his tale.

Although it’s not as emotionally engaging as Dammer, this book is still an amazing accomplishment. Backdoor presents not only an environmental education, but insights into the American class system that are all too rare in any medium. That he does it with humor and grace and affection makes it that much more impressive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my knee hurts and I need to yell at some kids to get off my lawn.

Note: I don’t have a lawn.