Below is the latest The Pain -- When Will It End?
Updated 06/25/08


Artist's Statement

Another cartoon inspired by an artist’s statement (see statement accompanying “My Dirty Little Secrets,” 6/11/08). I’m afraid I should’ve waited another few weeks or months for this premise to ripen, but I found myself up against a deadline with no better ideas and I had to force it. I would advise young cartoonists against this bad habit. It feels like trying to sculpt a pieta out of brie. You can bring all your craft and experience to bear on something and maybe pull off a B+ effort, but it’s no substitute for inspiration. As I’ve tried to explain many times, being lazy actually ends up being far more work than being hardworking. I’ve always liked the story of Rossini, who composed in bed, accidentally dropping a page he was working on and rewriting it from the beginning rather than get out of bed to retrieve the old one. Rossini was my kind of guy.

This cartoon illustrates a problem I will hopefully have to grapple with in the future, assuming the Democrats win back the White House and my own life continues to improve: how to make good things funny? Humor is generally something you use to endure adversity; how to employ it in the service of happiness? I’m afraid I mostly put the question off this time. In at least two of these panels I defaulted to the attitude, which used to be my authentic conviction but at this point has become more of a pose or shtick, that what looks like technological or societal progress will inevitably, given human nature, be more of the same. Frederic Raphael, in speaking of Stanley Kubrick, described this as “an amused pessimism at the idea that people are capable of change.” I have to confess I am feeling hopeful about the future right now, perhaps only because of Obama’s candidacy, or all the Bary White and Stevie Wonder I’ve been listening to, or because I have a perscription for Percocet because of a root canal. Will humor become obsolete in The Future?

I do tend to be genuinely curmudgeonly about the new communications technologies. I was one of the last people I know to give up writing letters on paper and get an email account; I still have a rotary dial phone at my Undisclosed Location. I get just as addicted to this crap as anyone else but I’m still not convinced that anyone actually needs a cellphone more than twice a year, or that the internet is inherently superior to the World Book encyclopedia as a source of information.

Interested readers may look up pica for themselves. For the record, the word I was looking for is either cthonophagia or geophagia.

Although it’s a disgrace that we still deny full civil rights to some of our citizens in this country, I have to say that, as I have written previously, it does seem curious to me that homosexuals are clamoring for entry into our society’s most restrictive and trammeling institutions, marriage and the armed forces, from which they have always been happily exempt. Being legally barred from marriage would have served me as an airtight excuse on more than one occasion. Doubtless homosexuals will find marriage to be just as rich and fulfilling a journey as heterosexuals have always found it to be. I believe it’s in “The Kreuzer Sonata” that Tolstoy likens marriage to the bearded lady tent at the carnival. A hawker outside is loudly proclaiming this to be the most astonishing sight you will ever have beheld, trying to entice the crowds in, and after you’ve paid your money you see the bearded lady and it’s obviously a woman in a fake beard. But as you walk out, feeling like a sap, knowing you’ve been taken for a rube, the hawker accosts you in front of the crowds: “Sir! Was that not the most incredible thing you have ever seen?” And you say: “Yes… yes, indeed, it was extraordinary! Amazing!” Because the only consolations available to you now are to fool yourself into believing it really was something, after all, and to bilk others into following you. Come to think of it, I think this must be how the armed forces keep recruiting generation after generation, too.

Another conundrum I’m hopefully going to have figure out, if I continue drawing political cartoons, is how to make Barack Obama a figure of fun without succumbing to racial stereotypes. For example, I decided he should be saying “the state of the Union is fucked up” not because blacks are any more profane or vulgar than anyone else but because he’s the first candidate who’s actually won his party’s nomination whom I’ve ever heard say anything that was 1.) taboo but 2.) obviously true. Like that someone can be a racist and yet not a thoroughly reprehensible person. No president in my lifetime has ever begun a State of the Union with any words other than “the state of the Union is strong,” no matter how hopeless and doomed things have actually seemed.

So I drew this cartoon in restless little sittings at the dining room table of my friend Jenny Boylan’s lake house in Maine. I was up visiting Jenny on the occasion of her fiftieth birthday. We went for boat rides on the lake and saw a rare scarlet tanager, looking gaudily tropical in the dark, coniferous Maine wetlands, like a movie star dressed for a red carpet premiere fueling up at a 7-11. We ate waffles and spare ribs for breakfast. We broke open a celebratory bottle of my homemade dandelion wine, which caused Jenny to dance to the Grateful Dead and then lie in her inflatable pool chair on the floor, as if drifting down a lazy river in her mind. I ate half a flaming duck. I ended up trying to capture my surprisingly-difficult-to-draw colleague Tom Hart’s likeness while drunk on Margaritas and watching Singin’ in the Rain with Jenny and her family.

I’m afraid a certain antisocial, borderline autistic, obsessive-compulsive tendency might be, if not quite indispensable, definitely as asset in becoming a really first-rate cartoonist. And the truth is that I enjoy real life a lot more than drawing cartoons. I am torn between 1.) my desire not to draw cartoons but to go and have drinks with friends or do something else fun and 2.) my cringing dismay at having to look back, years later, on the hurried, indifferent, half-assed work this slovenly ethic produces. But since the rewards of blowing off work and going out for drinks are immediate and the punishment of regretting your substandard work lies years in the future, it’s the former that usually wins the day.


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