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

Updated 12/24/08


Note: There is an excellent new photo of me up on our Photos page.

Artist's Statement

This week we salute those ordinary people, some of them nameless, who committed absurd and heroic acts of defiance against the forces of humorless authority over the last eight years, who yelled the rude truth over the drone of official lies or committed hilarious blasphemies in the most solemn shrines of Assholism, cheering our hearts and buoying our spirits in a dark and deeply unfunny time.

Were it not for a lapse in compositional foresight I would have placed Muntader al-Zaidi in the first panel, and not only because he is the most recent and highest-profile hero of the Bush years. As I said last week, the only news story I am currently following with any interest is the fate of this bold shoe-hurling spokesman for the injured and insulted people of Iraq. His trial is set to begin December 31st. According to The Hindu (this is an Indian newspaper, not a shady informant I know) Al-Zaidi’s brother claims he has been tortured in custody and was forced to write a letter of apology, but that he (al-Zaidi) insists he would do it again. The Iraqi Minister of Justice denies the accusation. Meanwhile, al-Zaidi has been offered a bride by a wealthy Lebanese family. So that’s one way to get a girl. As generally happens in these cases, the more you learn about the situation, the more complicated and unappealing it gets (it turns out Al-Zaidi has Baathist party sympathies, which I find a little hard to get behind) but the beauty of his gesture cannot be denied. It was an altogether fitting coda to the ignominious career of George Bush. Blessed be the name of Muntader al-Zaidi, and may St. Hubbins smile upon him.

Dr. Ben Marble, whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, became briefly famous for repeatedly yelling at Vice-President Dick Cheney, who was conducting a television interview in his neighborhood: “Hey Mister Cheney--go fuck yourself!” (The incident and an interview with Marble are featured in Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levee Breaks.) When questioned by the Secret Service, he innocently offered the defense that he was only quoting Mr. Cheney’s own words, famously snarled at Patrick Leahey on the Senate floor. My evil friend Ben Walker interviewed Marble shortly after the incident and learned, to his awe and delight, that at the time of his impromptu protest he happened to be wearing a T-shirt that bore the glowering face of Mr. T and the legend, “I PITY THE FOOL.” Another of those increasingly frequent moments when real life has defeated the best efforts of satirists. Dr. Marble has his own website, if you’re interested, featuring not only the media coverage of his “go fuck yourself” episode but his writing, art, and music.

An article detailing the grave-dancing incident at the Reagan library can be viewed here. You can also read a kind note sent to me from the anonymous dancer in the August 2005 letters pages. We at The Pain are protecting what little information we have regarding his identity as he may still be sought by the Fun Police.

I didn’t include him because he’s a pretty thoroughly sung hero already, but I do want to commend for honorable mention Stephen Colbert’s speech at the National Press Club dinner. At the time, his speech was greeted with the kind of rigid silence that only an entire ballroom full of asses with sticks jammed way up inside them can produce. The official word was that Colbert’s routine had been an embarrassing flop until it was seen on YouTube by people outside the Washington Press Corps. It was not so much hilarious as jaw-dropping in its face-to-face damnation not only of the incompetence and criminality of the Bush administration but of the obsequious sycophancy and negligence of the press. (Hence the somewhat tepid response.) All with George Bush, whose sense of humor is more given to cruelty than self-deprecation, sitting about twelve feet away, trying to imitate an expression of good-natured indulgence. It was like watching Mussolini endure a celebrity roast. It may also have been the only time in his two terms that George Bush was exposed to anything like the truth.

In my last panel I honor those cartoonists who have been my ideological allies and comrades-at-arms over the last eight grueling, dismal years. I’ll take this opportunity to salute some of them by name: Ruben Bolling, Steve Bell, Steve Brodner, Tom Hart, Ted Rall, David Rees and Jen Sorensen all did intelligent, funny, and artful work that cut through conservative bullshit like a charged particle beam through cheap drywall. I wish there’d be a big awards ceremony where we’d all line up onstage and get medals and everyone would clap, like at the end of Star Wars.

I don’t think that most of us set out to be political cartoonists. I mean, what kind of kid is so nerdy and pathetic that he grows up idolizing Herblock or Pat Oliphant? It’s dreary work drawing old white men in suits week after week, and the art form has a dispiritingly brief half-life. But the Bush administration wasn’t just the opposition party; they were an historical aberration, completely off any ideological spectrum, hostile to democracy and indifferent to governance. They cheated and bullied their way into power and used it to loot the treasury for their campaign donors. They lied without shame and threw away the lives of a lot of poor kids from small towns to get more oil for the companies they owned. They were, in one of the rare appropriate uses of the term, anti-American. I, like a lot of artists, felt more or less ethically conscripted into duty for the duration of their regime.

Unfortunately their hold on power long outlasted my passion. Despite the symbolic redemption offered by the Obama victory, I don’t think I’ll ever forgive my fellow Americans for the 2004 election. I suppose I shouldn’t complain about the Bush years—I am, after all, one of the very few people who derived any benefit from them at all. And I'll admit it was even fun for a while, kind of like being a landscape painter at Krakatoa. But it stopped being funny around the time people started getting killed, and it went on, like the most inept comedy, much too long. Like Cincinnatus, I will be happy to lay down my weapons and return to a quieter, more dignified civilian life.

Which seems like the apppropriate place to announce that I'm retiring my weekly cartoon from the Baltimore City Paper, where I've run since 1998, sometime soon after Inauguration Day. I've gotten burned out on politics, and most weeks I just don't feel like drawing a cartoon. Since this work doesn't pay anything it at least ought to have the advantage of being fun, and if it isn't anymore it's time to quit. And that's the other thing: frankly, at a rate of twenty dollars for two solid days of work, I can't afford to keep doing this. Crass and embarrassing to admit, but these are hard times even for people with valuable skills, much less silly useless persons like myself. I'm going to be looking for more lucrative markets for my comics and writing. I will still be drawing cartoons, of course, and when I do I'll post them here. The support of my readers has meant more to me than I can say, and I thank you for it. But I'm afraid you'll have to look to The Onion or Emily Flake for your regular Wednesday fix.

It’s been axiomatic for me, a sort of defense mechanism during thesse hopeless years, that I wasn’t going to change anyone’s minds with cartoons. The best I could hope for, I told myself, was to give some voice and solace to the like-minded, to let sane and reasonable people out there know that they weren’t alone, that no, It Wasn’t Just Them, they hadn’t gone insane, the rest of the country had. But last week I got a donation from a young man at a military academy who wrote that he used to be a Republican and an evangelical Christian, a supporter of President Bush and an opponent of gay marriage, but has since come around to being one of us, a dissenting and blasphemous secular liberal—as Falstaff says, “little better than one of the wicked.” And one of the influences he cited on that evolution was my own work. So go figure. We can’t know what effect we have in this world. You just keep beaming your messages into space, and one day, if you’re lucky enough to live to see it, maybe the aliens will come. Except hopefully not with their terrible death rays.

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