Note: There is an excellent new photo
of me up on our Photos page.
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
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.
Our donation button directly below.