Opus 341 (June 30, 2015). Once again, it’s our annual Open Access Month. All the usual $ubscriber walls and barricades are down, and you and anyone in your family (or neighborhood) (or country) can peruse all of Rants & Raves (including archives) at leisure without having to pay a fee. For the next thirty days, you can join us in hoppin’ down the bunny trail where, this time, we examine a sample of the DC Comics’ Convergence self-indulgence, report on the oppression of cartoonists in other lands (an Iranian artist is facing 12.5 years in prison for drawing a picture critical of the government and a Malaysian cartoonist could get 43 years in prison for the same exercise of free expression), ponder editoons on the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision, the white supremacy of the Confederate flag and gun control (with accompanying discussion and rant), and review graphic novels—two of Moore’s Nemo books, Geary’s Louise Brooks: Detective; and Tardi’s Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell. And more, always more. (And if you like what you find here, consider joining us as a $ubscriber for merely $3.95/quarter after an initial $3.95 introductory month fee.)

            Here’s what’s here, by department, in order—:





Rampant Plagiarism

Iran Sentences Critical Artist to Twelve Years

Amnesty International’s Report

Cartoonists Rights Network International Protests


Zunar Might Face 43 Years in Prison

Thought Police Threaten in California

Australia Salutes Charlie Hebdo


Odds & Addenda

A Miscellany of News, Including—:

New Comic-Con in Ohio

Billboarding Muhammad in St. Louis

Tintin Ownership?

“Fun Home” Wins Tony


Song and Dance Cat (Garfield, Of Course)

Getting Conned in Denver

Silberkleit’s Anti-Bullying Con



A Review of the Month’s Editorial Cartoons on—:

Supreme’s Verdict on Obamacare and

Same-Sex Marriage

Charleston and the Confederate Flag

Symbol of White Supremacy: A History

Gun Control Laws (Another Rant)

Beginning the Two-Year Campaign for the White House



Iran’s Anti-ISIS Cartoon Contest

Peanuts Movie Poster and Stills



More Shenanigans in the Funnies

Syndicated Cartoonist Complains about Editorial Timidity



Reviews of Comic Book People and

Announcements of Coming Attractions—:

Crankshaft, Frank Miller and Batman, Kate Beaton

Mineshaft, A Vestige of Comix


(Reviews of Graphic Novels)

Nemo: Heart of Ice                          

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

Louise Brooks: Detective (Geary)

Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell (Tardi)




DC’s Convergence Scam—:

Shazam, Plastic Man and Others

The New Black Canary



Harold LeDoux (Judge Parker)

Joel Kauffman (Pontius’ Puddle)




If Not of A Lifetime

“Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.”—Kurt Vonnegut



Our Motto: It takes all kinds. Live and let live.

Wear glasses if you need ’em.

But it’s hard to live by this axiom in the Age of Tea Baggers,

so we’ve added another motto:.


Seven days without comics makes one weak.

(You can’t have too many mottos.)


And our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu, then, here we go—:





Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits



The Montgomery Sentinnel, a community newspaper covering Montgomery County in suburban Washington, D.C., has been publishing cartoons stolen by a mysterious “William Charles” who passes off the work of others as his own. Reported by Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs.com, it may be the most blatant case of plagiarism in recent memory: “Charles” (the pen name of an anonymous contributor who has yet to be identified) simply changes the caption of a cartoon he likes, obliterates the signature of the creator, and then signs his name, “Charles.” Sometimes he alters the artwork slightly—or even cuts and pastes together the work of two or more cartoonists. He has stolen from almost a dozen different cartoonists, which means his oeuvre at the Sentinnel is stylistically varied in the extreme.

            One of those whose work “Charles” appropriated, Jeff Parker, formerly with Florida Today, now drawing the comic strip Dustin for Steve Kelley’s gags, put the matter succinctly: “Where were the Sentinnel’s editors? How bad are you at editing that you couldn’t notice your ‘cartoonist’ has been wildly swinging from one style to another,like Tarzan on Red Bull?”

            The Sentinnel has removed the stolen goods from its website, told its readers of the theft,  and presumably won’t be taking any more submissions from “Charles,” who contributed to the paper gratis. Here’s an example of the way “Charles” works.




Artist Imprisoned and Beaten for Lampooning the Government

Despite Iran’s sponsoring a commendable anti-Cutthroat CalipHATE cartoon contest (see Rancid Raves Gallery below), the tyrannical theocracy can’t seem to refrain from very nearly doing some of the things it objects to when the CalipHATE does them. Atena Farghadani, a 28-year-old artist and activist, was recently sentenced to 12.5 years in prison for posting drawings and content critical of the government on her Facebook page. She drew members of the country’s parliament as monkeys and cows because of their vote to restrict contraception and ban certain methods of birth-control. 

            Nick Kowsar, an Iranian cartoonist who now lives and works in the U.S., fled his country because he was jailed 15 years ago for drawing cartoons critical of Iran’s leaders and feared for his life. Kowsar explained the significance of what Karghadani had done:

            “Atena is being punished for something many of us have been doing in Iran: drawing politicians as animals, without naming them,” Kowsar told Comic Riffs. “Of course, I drew a crocodile and made a name that rhymed with the name of powerful Ayatollah, and caused a national security crisis in 2000. What Atena drew was just an innocent take on what the parliamentarians are doing, and based on the Iranian culture, monkeys are considered the followers and imitators, [and] cows are the stupid ones. Many members of the Iranian parliament are just following the leaders without any thoughts.”

            According to some sources, the longest that Farghadani can legally be imprisoned is seven years and six months. She had twenty days to appeal her sentence, but the twenty days ran out by the last week in June, and as of this writing (June 27), I don’t know what has become of her appeal. But I have little hope in the restraint of Iranian judicial system: after visiting his client on June 10, her lawyer was arrested for shaking her hand, according to a report on Global Village.

            The charges upon which Farghadanil’s sentence is based include gathering and colluding against national security, spreading propaganda against the system, insulting members of parliament through paintings, and insulting her interrogators.

            Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs summarized the history of the case: “Farghadani, a former fine-arts student who has expressed her opinions prominently through provocative works, was arrested last August and held for months. She was released for several weeks late last year before being rearrested after she spoke out about her mistreatment at the hands of guards. During her second incarceration, in Tehran’s infamous Evin Prison, she went on a hunger strike in February, reportedly suffered a heart attack and at one point lost consciousness.”

            Amnesty International posted the following timeline detailing the brutal and corrosive treatment Farghadani has endured (in italics)—:

            Atena Farghadani is a prisoner of conscience, sentenced to over 12 years in prison for her peaceful activism. The 28-year-old Atena was tried on 19 May on charges including ‘spreading propaganda against the system’ and ‘insulting members of parliament through paintings.’ Before her trial, more than 33,000 signed our petition to the Iranian authorities calling for Atena's release. We continue to call on Iran's Supreme Leader and Head of the Judiciary to release Atenda immediately. She has committed no crime. The fight for her freedom continues.

            Last August, 12 members of the Revolutionary Guards came to Atena’s house. They confiscated her personal belongings, blindfolded her and took her to Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. She was to be punished for her peaceful acts of political defiance, including meeting the families of political prisoners and for posting on Facebook a cartoon she’d drawn that was critical of members of the Iranian parliament.

            Iran is currently creating a law that will roll back women’s rights in the country by restricting access to contraception and criminalising voluntary sterilisation. Atena’s cartoon, which depicted politicians in favour of this Bill, is now being held against her. One of the charges she has been convicted of is ‘insulting members of parliament through paintings.’

            While in prison last year, Atena flattened paper cups to use them as a surface to paint on. When the prison guards realised what she had been doing, they confiscated her paintings and stopped giving her paper cups. When Atena found some cups in the bathroom, she smuggled them into her cell. Soon after, she was beaten by prison guards, when she refused to strip naked for a full body search. Atena says that they knew about her taking the cups because they had installed cameras in the toilet and bathroom facilities – cameras detainees had been told were not operating.

       Atena was released in November last year, but rearrested just six weeks later. In the time that she was released, she gave media interviews and posted a video on YouTube describing how the prison guards had interrogated her for nine hours every day for six weeks. She said that female prison guards had beaten her and subjected her to degrading body searches.

Just weeks after posting her YouTube video, Atena was once again arrested – possibly as reprisal for speaking out. ...

            Atena is a prisoner of conscience – she has committed no real crime. She is being unfairly punished simply for exercising her right to free speech, association and assembly.

       Atena was kept in solitary confinement for over two weeks when she was detained last year in Tehran’s notorious Evin Prison. During that time she was denied access to her lawyer or family. After her release from detention, she said that she’d been beaten by prison guards.

Three weeks after she was rearrested in January this year, Atena went on hunger strike to protest that she was being held in extremely poor prison conditions, in a jail that does not have a section for political prisoners. Atena’s health suffered considerably as a result; her lawyer told us that the 28-year-old had suffered a heart attack and briefly lost consciousness in late February as a result of her hunger strike.

            Atena has since been moved to another detention centre and stopped her hunger strike, but we remain worried about her health.



THE NORTHERN VIRGINIA-BASED Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) sent an open letter to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Khamenei; President Hassan Rouhani; and Head of Judiciary, Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, with copies to Gholamali Khoshroo, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations, and Hamid Babaei, Third Counsellor, Press Office, Islamic Republic of Iran UN Mission. Here is the letter—:

            Your Excellencies:

            We understand Iranian artist Atena Farghadani has been sentenced to 12 years 9 months in prison, her appeal to take place within twenty days, and with regard to that appeal we would hope you take the following into consideration.

            The Islamic Republic of Iran is a party to various Articles within UN International Human Rights Conventions, including Article 19 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “the right to freedom of opinion and expression,” and Articles 19, 21 and 22 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights mandating “the right to express an opinion and freedom of expression” and “the right to freedom of association.”

            We are particularly concerned that that right to freedom of opinion and expression through the drawing of a cartoon should be attacked by the Iranian authorities, especially since — as noted by Atena Farghadani’s lawyer — “activities on social networks on the Internet [in Iran] are not recognized as crimes.” In addition to that, President Rouhani himself has pledged “support for the Freedom of Speech in Iran’s newspapers, magazines and websites,” with the Minister of Culture reiterating such encouragement. Foreign Minister Zarif also noted during a TV interview that: “We do not jail people for their opinions.”

            Many Human Rights organizations and the UN believe that arresting, charging and sentencing Atena Farghadani for such activities contravenes the above-mentioned rights, and it is of concern to the international community as it moves into a new era of international co-operation with Iran.

            The United Nations and World Human Rights organizations, consider Atena Farghadani to be a prisoner of conscience, presently held for the peaceful exercise of her rights to freedom of expression and association. Being a party to the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, we would hope you could see that too.

            Since news of Atena Farghadani’s sentence has been announced and circulated internationally, many people and organizations are expressing concern that it does not correspond with the direction Iran stated it was taking with regard to Human Rights — and cannot understand how such could continue, in particular with relation to the international co-operation now developing between Iran and other nations, which, as with Iran, would be rightly challenged when injustices occur within their own legal systems.

            To inform the world that Iran, as with fellow co-signatories, is complying with the Articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, it would be hoped that you would reconsider the sentence on appeal, and that the conviction and sentence would be quashed. The world looks on — hoping Iran will, in good faith, free Atena Farghadani in this era of international co-operation — and in so doing prove that Iran is indeed a supporter of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, along with other internationally accepted human rights, a vital condition and component within this new era of international co-operation that we are hopefully heading towards.

            With best regards,

            Dr. Robert Russell, Executive Director

            Cartoonists Rights Network International



A KEY FACTOR in Farghadani’s case, fellow Iranian cartoonist Kowsar believes, is judicial discrimination. “She’s not a relative or a person close to powerful people,” Kowsar says. “Atena does not have any real support coming from the reformists and the politicians close to the Rouhani government.”

            Koswar believes that Farghadani’s case has also been hurt by the fact Iran’s judicial system lacks juries. “Judge [Abolghassem] Salavati, the same person in charge of [jailed Washington Post journalist] Jason Rezaian’s case, is known to be ruthless,” he told ComicRiffs, “and I believe Atena is a victim of the judicial system, Salavati, and people who should have supported her — all together.”

            “Everyone at CRNI is stunned and saddened by the developments,” Joel Pett, the human-rights group’s president, told the Post’s ComicRiffs. “I’m personally heartbroken and angry that we were not able to do more to help,” adds Pett, the Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

            ComicRiffs launched a campaign among cartoonists to post cartoons protesting Atena’s treatment; a few of those, I’ve posted here.





Iran is scarcely the only country that attacks cartoonists and/or artists for expressing dissent. Malaysian political cartoonist Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque, also known as “Zunar,” is facing nine simultaneous charges over his tweets on 10 February criticizing the judiciary after opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim was jailed on sodomy charges. Amnesty International reports that “a court hearing is set for 7 July and should he be found guilty at the end of his trial, he could face up to 43 years in prison. He has been charged under the Sedition Act, a colonial-era law that clamps down on freedom of expression under the guise of protecting national security and deterring racial or religious unrest.”

            As we’ve reported several times over the last months, Zunar has been repeatedly harassed by his country’s authorities. Amnesty continues: “Zunar has already been detained twice under this law— in September 2010 for two days, and on 10 February for three days. Five of his cartoon books have been banned by the Malaysian government pm the grounds that their content is ‘detrimental to public order.’ His office in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, has been raided several times and thousands of his cartoon books have been confiscated.

            “The printers, vendors and bookshops around the country that carry his publications have also been harassed. Their premises have been raided and they have been warned by the Malaysian authorities not to print or carry any of Zunar’s books, or their licence will be revoked. Three of Zunar’s assistants were arrested in October 2014 and taken to the police station for selling his books. The webmaster who manages Zunar’s website and online bookshop has also been called in by police for questioning. The online gateway that handled payments for Zunar’s books online was forced to disclose to the police the list of customers who had purchased books through Zunar’s official website, www.zunar.my.



Meanwhile, Here in the Land of the Free—




Objecting to Anything That Might Challenge the Most Conventional Ideas

A 20-YEAR-OLD COLLEGE STUDENT in Yucaipa, California is protesting the inclusion of four landmark graphic novels in an English class that she took during the recently-finished Spring 2015 semester at Crafton Hills College, reported Maren Williams at Comic Book Legal Defense Fund on June 13. According to the Redlands Daily Facts newspaper, Tara Shultz and her parents object to four of the ten books offered in the course—Persepolis, Fun Home, Y: The Last ManVol. 1, and The Sandman Vol. 2: The Doll’s House as “pornography” and “garbage.”

            Shultz, who is working towards an Associate of Arts in English at the public community college, signed up for English 250: Fiction because it fulfills one part of her degree requirements. She was apparently aware that the specific focus of the class was graphic novels, but she told the newspaper that “I expected Batman and Robin, not pornography.”

            She and her father say the course professor failed to warn students about the books’ salacious content, but they just weren’t paying attention: “the school requires instructors (p. 20) to distribute a detailed syllabus on the first day of the term–and ample time to withdraw with no effect on her grade.”

            And Scultz could have taken any of fourteen other courses that would fulfill the same degree requirement as English 250.

            Her father also objects to the availability of these sinful tomes in the campus bookstore when “there are under-aged kids here at this campus.” (One must wonder if he knows what is in the library and on the Internet for free!—MW)

            Happily, Williams reported subsequently, that Crafton Hills College, “facing the wrath of the Internet,” declined to “eradicate” any graphic novels from its English 250 course as 20-year-old student Tara Shultz and her parents had demanded. The Shultz family disagrees with the college’s defense of academic freedom and the gather, Greg Schultz, announced that he now plans to speak to the San Bernardino Community College District Board of Directors which oversees Crafton Hills, and he has also contacted state lawmakers.

            And here’s the plug I’ve been leading up to: CBLDF applauds Crafton Hills administrators for standing by their curriculum and their commitment to academic freedom. We will be watching for an equal display of backbone from the board of directors!

            Help support CBLDF’s important First Amendment work by visiting the Rewards Zone, making a donation, or becoming a member of CBLDF!

            Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.




Back in April, Australia’s foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop presented to the staff of Charlie Hebdo a framed original cartoon to hang on the office walls, reported at smh.com.su. Drawn by Canberra Times editoonist David Pope in the immediate aftermath of the murder of Charlie cartoonists and staff in January, the stark image with its potent double-meaning went viral within hours. Bishop called the cartoon a “love your work” gesture, an “expression of sympthy and admiration from the people of Australia.”

            Charlie cartoonist and managing editor Laurent Sourisseau (“Riss”) said: “Having someone visit us from afar is a very good testimony of the fact that what happened to us has been heard and see abroad.” The Pope cartoon “is something we could have drawn, each and every one of us here, because this is exactly how we felt and how we feel. It’s been extremely difficult for all of us indeed, but we had to carry on because it’s all that we can do, and all we love to do. This newspaper is all our lives. The support and the fact our readers are now waiting for the newspaper to be published is a good reason to carry on. But it’s also now a bigger responsibility now that so much is on lus.”

            Bishop said it was humbling to be among people who had been through such a horrific attack.





Anita Thompson, the widow of Hunter S., is working to turn Owl Farm, his home for 30 years on Woody Creek near Aspen, Colorado, into a museum dedicated to the gonzo journalist. She’s left the rooms in the house the way they were when Thompson was alive: “It’s history,” she said. ... Drawn & Quarterly is celebrating its 25th anniversary with the publication of a 776-page compendium of new or rare work by its cartoonists (including Adrian Tomine, Chester Brown, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Joe Sacco, Art Spiegelman and others), plus photographs, reminiscences, interviews and essays: Drawn & Quarterly: Twenty-Five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels. ... Dick Tracy is promoting anti-bullying in the current continuity. ... T Lewis and Michael Fry’s comic strip Over the Hedge has hit the 20 year mark in the funny pages. ... Barney Google and Snuffy Smith cartoonist John Rose recently received with the Lum and Abner Memorial Award by the National Lum and Abner Society for his contributions to rural humor through the strip; “Lum and Abner” was a popular network radio comedy program that aired from 1931 to 1954. ... JimRomenesko.com reports that the Worcester Telegram-Gazette has laid off its long-time editoonist David Hitch in yet another newspaper budget cut. With Hitch’s departure, the number of full-time staff editorial cartoonists in this country stands at 50; it had been 102 just seven years ago. ... Disneyland turns 60 on July 17. ... David Berona, a comics scholar who specialized (and led the way) in studying wordless books, died at the end of May; his “unparalleled collection,” said Caitlin McGurk, “is now safely cared for at OSU’s Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.”

            ■ The ComicsReporter’s Tom Spurgeon recently moved to Columbus, Ohio to join the Bones’ Jeff Smith in staging a new comic convention; called Cartoon Crossroads Columbus (CXC), it’s inauguration takes place in Columbus, October 1-3, and will feature such guests as Art Spiegelman, Kate Benton, Craig Thompson, Bill Griffith, Francoise Mouly and others. Smith is both a featured guest and CXC’s President and Artistic Director; Spurgeon is Executive Director. An annual CXC may eventually replace the triennial Festival of Cartoon Art, sponsored by the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum on the campus of Ohio State University. Its founder, Lucy Caswell, is on CXC’s executive committee and board.

            ■ The American Freedom Defense Initiative, not content with disturbing the peace in Garland, Texas, where the AFDI Muhammad cartoon contest led to the death of two Cutthroat CalipHATE hooligans, has launched a new campaign, reports local12.com. They’ve rented billboard space from a private company in St. Louis and posted thereon all across town a cartoon drawing of the Prophet Muhammad. It’s another chapter in the AFDI’s provocative free speech campaign. Some residents are outraged by what they see. But the American Freedom Defense Initiative says no matter how offensive to some, free speech is still guaranteed.

            ■ Surprise evidence in a Dutch court case could shift some or all rights to Tintin, one of the world's most valuable comic properties, from organizations controlled by the heirs of Tintin creator Herge to his publisher. In settling a dispute between a fan group and the custodian of commercial rights to the property, a 1942 contract was produced in which Herge had assigned his rights to his publisher, Casterman. “What this means for the overall rights to the property is uncertain,” speculates ComicsReporter. “Much of Herge's ouevre was created after 1942, and the document could have been modified by agreement at a later date. But the newly surfaced document from the middle of the World War then convulsing Europe certainly raises new questions that, given the amount of money involved, someone will want to investigate.”

            ■ The Broadway musical based upon Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home, has won the Tony Award for best new musical. It was a Pulitzer finalist for drama a year ago and received Obie and Lucille Lortel awards (best musical) for its Public Theater run that ended in 2014. Said Michael Paulson at the New York Times: “The Tony is always a boon for the winning show. But for ‘Fun Home,’ the award is likely to be a major turning point, allowing the production to reach new markets, and new audiences, that might have been initially put off by its searing exploration of sexuality and suicide.”

            ■ “Kick-ass couples” reads one of the headlines in January 16's Entertainment Weekly article about husband-and-wife teams producing comics. Starting with Kelly Sue  DeConnick and husband Matt Fraction (known collectively as DeFraction)—who are pictured—Kat Ward goes on to listTerry and Rachel Dodson (and all this time, I thought they were siblings, not spouses; ah well, you can’t win ’em all), Mike and Laura Allread, Walter and Louise Simonson, Stuart and Kathryn Immonen, and Amanda Conner and Jimmy Palmiotti.

            ■ Media Group’s “Sun News” was born four years ago in Canada in an effort to bring the legends and lies for which Fox News is celebrated south of the border to Canadians hungry for bias and rank conservative slant in news coverage and eager to watch blonde anchors read teleprompters. Alas, Canadians, it is claimed, are not stupid enough to buy into Sun News and ratings never added up, so the enterprise went dark in February, as reported by Charles Topher at ifyouonlynews.com. Alas, we missed this report when it first surfaced, but it’s never too late to pass around party hats and tin whistles to celebrate.




On his birthday, June 19, Jim Davis’s Garfield celebrated with the opening of “Garfield: The Musical with Cattitude” at the Adventure Theatre in Glen Echo Park, Maryland. Davis, who was was involved with theater long before the lasagna-loving cat took over his life, says doing a musical about his cat “was on my bucket list.” Still, according to Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs, he resisted the blandishments of Michael J. Bobbit who approached him years ago about it.

            “I said no because I had done the book on a [would-be] Broadway or off-Broadway production,” Davis said. “We had great music and a great book. But the company was under-capitalized.”

            But Bobbit kept after Davis until the cat meister finally caved in, and the two agreed to do the script together.

            “It was a great collaboration,” said Bobbitt. “No ego at all. Every time we made adjustments, it just got better.”

            “It’s just a classic, simple story,” Davis says of the creative result. “Garfield has a birthday and he’s waiting for a marching band [to celebrate]. And even worse, it’s on a Monday. So we follow this adventure as [the disappointed] Garfield runs away from home. [Ultimately] he realizes: ‘Wait a minute — it’s not so bad at home.’ It’s a fun adventure, and we put a lot of gags in it.”

            In the production, lanky star Evan Casey plays the titular feline, and Emily Zickler plays Arlene, Garfield’s would-be paramour, supplying what Davis says is the true source of situational humor: “Sexual tension.”

            The musical runs through the summer until August 23. For more about Garfield’s birthday this year, scroll down to Newspaper Comics Page Vigil.




Snapshots of the Denver Comic-Con, May 23-25, 2015—Memorial Day weekend. Reported attendance was 101,500, making it the third largest in the nation. Hefty program, 400 tables in Artists “Valley” (as they call Artists Alley in deference to the nearby mountain ranges; the exhibit booth area is called “Merchants Mesa”), more booths selling comic books this year than last, but the over-all emphasis is still “popular culture” (meaning tv and movies mostly, buttons, t-shirts, steampunk—but not so much as last year— and gewgaws to a fare-thee-well for sale; one booth sells socks). It is, as my wife says, a craft show and costume parade—with only a tangential connection to funnybooks.





With Anti-Bullying Message

WHILE ALL THE FOLKS AT ARCHIE COMICS were drumming up publicity for the “new” Archie (No.1 due out in July), co-publisher Nancy Silberkleit advanced her anti-bullying campaign into the comic-con realm. Her first overt effort in this campaign was publishing her “heartfelt comic book, Rise Again,” penciled by the late Stan Goldberg and written by John Wilcox. Then she organized the first White Plains (NY) comic-con with an anti-bullying theme, “It’s Time.” 

            “My idea behind this con was to emphasize the anti-bully message,” she wrote me. “Many organizations are working very hard to stop person-to-person as well as group acts of bullying. Any individual or group that acts to target an individual with aggression or creates an environment of humiliation is wrong. For the past decade there has been a very strong vocal movement to put an end to all of that and to understand the behavior so when it starts we know how not to let it escalate. Personally I promote graphic literacy as a way to communicate tough topics such as bullying. The rich graphics are filled with information that can prompt the reader to internalize the visual information and begin to form their owns values in a manner that makes sense to themselves.”

            Being, now, in the comics industry for six years, Silberkleit has connections that she reached out to, asking them to attend the White Plains fandango—“and bring along their talents and utilize their graphics to communicate anti- bullying messages.”

            Stan Lee helped out by recording a brief but forceful (everything Stan says is forcefully said) message on video, which was played throughout the day. At least 25 comic book artists and creators joined in—including artists from Papercutz, Archie Comics, Beetle Bailey Comics, Valiant and others. Three panel discussions were featured, examining how comic books are made and how they can benefit learning.

            The Con convened May 16 on the upper floor of the White Plains Public Library, and it was, according to exhibiting artist J.M. DeSantis, “packed with people for a good portion of the day, and even the mayor of White Plains (Thomas Roach) came down to meet all of the artists and vendors. I have to honestly say, of all the conventions I have been to, this one seemed to have the largest outpouring of support for those who were exhibiting at the show.”

            Another of the exhibiting artists, Michelle Witchipoo, reported that “the moment the doors opened, the entire library was packed. The crowds got to see indie artists, panels and a tiny bit of cosplay. The purpose of this comic con was to raise awareness for bullying.”

            The Con was “well organized,” DeSantis said, “—especially considering this was its first year. I attribute that both to Ms. Silberkleit’s desire to make everyone feel comfortable and at home. She even, personally, stopped by everyone’s table to check on how they were doing with an offer of refreshments—unheard of at a convention, though it would be great if more con hosts did this, in some form or another. [Actually, the Denver Comic-Con does something along this line: operatives come around Artists Alley offering bottles of water to cartoonists trapped at their tables.—RCH] Also, there was the obviously wonderful advice and support she received from my friend, Ray Felix (yes, the same guy who runs Bronx Heroes), who was honored with an award at the culmination of the show because of his help organizing the convention.”

            DeSantis reported that she was pleased at the number of people who attended (an unspecified number but enough, as she says, to keep the venue packed all day long) and is glad to know that the Con will return next year.




Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing segment is culled from articles eventually indexed at rpi.edu/~bulloj/comxbib.html, the Comics Research Bibliography, maintained by Michael Rhode and John Bullough, which covers comic books, comic strips, animation, caricature, cartoons, bandes dessinees and related topics. It also provides links to numerous other sites that delve deeply into cartooning topics. For even more comics news, consult these four other sites: Mark Evanier’s povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s DailyCartoonist.com, Tom Spurgeon’s comicsreporter.com, and Michael Cavna at voices.washingtonpost.com./comic-riffs . For delving into the history of our beloved medium, you can’t go wrong by visiting Allan Holtz’s strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Allan regularly posts rare findings from his forays into the vast reaches of newspaper microfilm files hither and yon.



Quotes and Mots

            “We tried tall, good-lookin’, smart, nice, great family. Vote for me. We’re not going down that road again.”—Lindsay Graham    

            “Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of Jackals by Jackasses.” —Henry Louis Mencken

            “In my lifetime, we’re gone from Eisenhower to George W. Bush. We’ve gone from John F. Kennedy to Al Gore. If this is evolution, I believe that in twelve years, we’ll be voting for plants.”—Lewis Black

            “Politicians are the same the world over. They promise to build a bridge even when there’s no river.”—Nikita Krushchev





The Mock in Democracy


MEANDERING ACROSS THE CALENDAR, June looked anemic in the world-shattering news department—until the last week, when a number of worlds were shattered by a trio of momentous events. We’ll start with the big newsstories of the month and finish with the petty ones (the machinations of people running for President much too early).

            The most consequential of the events took place at the Court of the Supremes. At the upper left in the accompanying exhibit, Scott Stantis captures the essence of the week with an image of Justice Antonin Scalia as a supremely bad loser. Both of the week’s big decisions—on Obamacare subsidies and same-sex marriage—went contrary to the caustic conservative’s wishes, and once he gets home and out of the public eye, he reveals that he is absolutely unable to control his temper, just like a spoiled brat. Next around the clock, Tom Toles resorts to an operating room image where Chief Justice Roberts’ remark shows exactly why Roberts joined the liberal justices to uphold the Affordable Care Act: if they found for the plaintiffs, ACA would die under the knife.

            Nick Anderson, just below Toles, offers a metaphor that strenuously implies that the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm is not likely to abandon the hunt but will persist in trying to kill Obamacare. Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab is a perfect stand-in for the GOP’s right wing-nuts: as obsessive on the ACA as Ahab was about Moby Dick, they’ll doubtless keep right on passing laws repealing it, knowing, all the while, that the legislation will never get through the Senate (and, even if it does, Bronco Bama will never sign it into law). Doing something over and over, each time expecting different results—isn’t that the working definition of insanity?

            Matt Davies at the lower left tackles the irrational persistence of the GOP by invoking imagery and language that remind us of another of the week’s momentous events (about the Confederate flag) as well as the certainty that Obamacare will be on the perpetually irrelevant Republicon platform come 2016.

            Our next visual aid takes up the same-sex marriage victory and the issue of the Confederate flag. At the upper left, Pat Bagley gets us off on the right foot with a metaphor in which a spoiled child having a temper tantrum over a infinitesimally trivial matter is compared to those who think same-sex marriage will destroy the “sacred institution” of marriage. Seems to me that it’s a little difficult (not to say hypocritical) to stump for the sanctity of marriage in a country where the half the marriages end in divorce: if marriage were all that sacred, why do we as a society tolerate so much violent tampering with it? But that doesn’t silence those who oppose gay marriage because they see it as “an affront in the face of Almighty God ... it’s about outlawing Christianity. That’s what’s coming”; it’s a “depravity, degradation and what the Bible calls sexual perversion.” In citing the Bible as their moral authority, such zealots ignore the Good Book’s championing of slavery, circumcision and dietary restrictions. No matter. A little inconsequential nonsequiturianism. Life goes on. And so must we.

            In the next cartoon clockwise, Justice Scalia is Jim Morin’s star. In Morin’s imagery, Scalia’s choice of words to describe equality in marriage laws belittles the equality, scarcely admirable behavior in a Supreme Court justice—who ought to support the idea of equality, not belittle it, and whose language ought to be more restrained. But there’s more in Morin’s image. Scalia is a perfect example of a man starving for attention: to attract the spotlight, he resorts to the most extreme lingo when rendering a decision—in this case, an infantile phrase that aptly characterizes Scalia himself.

            An equal right to marriage will not end the gay struggle: it’s a good start, but there are other barricades to surmount. Gays are still discriminated against in many areas of American life—in employment, housing, financial dealings “and other regular actions not protected under the Supreme Court’s ruling.” Most recently, reported last night’s CBS News, some county clerks in rabid conservative jurisdictions are declining to issue marriage licenses to gay couples because same-sex marriage violates the clerks’ newly created religious right to deny public services to people whose behaviors don’t comport with the public servant’s religious beliefs. Geez.



Love was never an exclusively straight thing; it’s a human thing.—Anon



THEN WE GET TO CHARLESTON, where, as we all know, nine African American members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were murdered in cold blood on Wednesday evening, June 17, by a 21-year-old white supremacist named Dylann Storm Roof, who joined their Bible study class for an hour before taking out a gun and methodically killing all but one of the ten people there as he exclaimed they were “taking over the country” and “raping all our women,” invoking memories of the most repulsive of racist attitudes.

            In one early account, based upon the supposed testimony of the only eye witness, Roof asked to sit next to Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor and a state senator, who, as the shooting started, tried to talk Roof out of doing it.

            The horror of the act, taking place in a historic black church that was founded, like many black churches in the South, as a place of refuge both spiritually and physically, swept the country. As the depravity of Roof’s racism became known, some began to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from its place of honor at a Civil War memorial on the grounds of South Carolina’s state house, the flag being seen by most African Americans as a symbol of white supremacy. But as John Cole notes in his cartoon, the GOP candidates for President—candidates for the nation’s leader!—were slow to take any but the most equivocal of positions. Fearful of alienating the party’s precious “white Southern base,” they waited to see how the wind was blowing.

            It was Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate for Prez in 2012, who led the way, tweeting on Saturday morning, June 20, that the flag should be taken down, a view he has held publically since at least 2008. Jeb Bush followed a few hours later with a Facebook post, reminding us that when governor of Florida, he had removed the flag from the statehouse grounds and installed it in a museum, “where it belonged.”

            Then on Monday, June 22, South Carolina’s governor, Nikki Haley, called for the state legislature to take down the flag and put it in a museum. The legislature acted almost at once to approve a debate on the subject. Until they decide—if they do—the Confederate flag continues to fly on the statehouse grounds in South Carolina. Haley provided the political cover for timid presidential candidates, who suddenly all say they “respected” her decision (by which locution they avoided actually saying what they think about the matter).

            While there are doubtless many in the South and across this nation who see the Confederate flag (technically the “battle flag”) as a quaint nostalgic reminder of supposed genteel plantation life in the old South that was destroyed by the Civil War—ignoring the fact that the gentility of that life was wholly supported by enslaving and systematically degrading human beings— many also see the flag, correctly, as a banner in what seems to be an everlasting struggle to sustain white supremacy. Many deny this function for the flag. But Libby Nelson has attempted to educate us. (If you want to play hooky from this little history lecture, you can skip down to the next paragraph that beings with ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.)



The Confederate Flag and White Supremacy. “The Confederate flag has always been about white supremacy,” writes Libby Nelson at Vox.com. And she goes on to quote South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who began her call to disown the flag by admitting that for many, the flag was "a way to honor ancestors who came to the service of their state during the time of conflict. That is not hate, nor is it racism."

            Nelson begins her essay at that point, and we herewith quote sections of it—:

            The history, though, is clear: from the Civil War through the civil rights movement, the flag has always been about white supremacy. The only thing that has changed is how the rest of the country sees the cause it represents.

            The Confederacy itself was founded to preserve slavery and promote white supremacy. See, for example, Mississippi's declaration of secession: "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world," or the speech from the Confederacy's vice president that declared the Confederacy's cornerstone "rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition.”

            And from the moment the design of its best-known flag was proposed, some Southerners began imbuing it with the symbolism of their cause.

            The flag was based on the saltire, a common flag symbol sometimes called the Southern Cross. ... Southerners weren't shy about enlisting the design in the cause of white supremacy. In 1863, the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger wrote that the flag's Southern Cross pointed to "the destiny of the Southern master and his African slave" — the Confederacy's hoped-for expansion of slavery into Latin America. ...

            Like other vestiges of the Confederacy, the flag outlived the Civil War. At first, white Southerners mostly displayed it at Civil War cemeteries and at memorials and veterans' reunions. That use of the flag is the crux of the "heritage, not hate" argument—that the Confederate flag is simply about honoring the South's past, its dead, and its culture.

            In the interest of reuniting white Americans, the narrative around the Civil War changed in its aftermath. And the new story was more flattering to the South. ... The invented memory brought together white Northerners and Southerners to emphasize the valor, courage, and sacrifice of soldiers on both sides. Slavery was sidelined as the war's primary cause in favor of the vaguer term "state's rights" (the right to own slaves). Those are the kind of historical interpretations that make the Confederate flag seem like a harmless symbol of regional heritage.

            The "heritage, not hate" argument is predicated on this national amnesia. And that amnesia came at the expense of black Americans.

            The Confederate flag began enjoying unprecedented national popularity and became a cultural symbol after World War II, just as the federal government began trying to make good on its Reconstruction-era civil rights promises.

            [So] it's not a coincidence that white Southerners were embracing the Confederate battle flag just as the South's system of violently enforced white supremacy was under its first real threat since Reconstruction. President Truman had vowed to do more to promote civil rights, integrating the military and telling the NAACP that civil rights could not wait.

            In response, the Ku Klux Klan surged. Southern politicians displayed the Confederate battle flag when they railed against Truman.

            And when Southerners at the time said the flag represented their culture, they made it very clear whose culture they meant: "It means the Southern cause," Roy Harris, a legendary Georgia politician, said in 1951: "It is becoming … the symbol of the white race and the cause of the white people."

            The civil rights movement didn't change the flag's meaning — it simply made the hate underlying the heritage more explicit. After the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education, white Southerners used the Confederate flag to intimidate civil rights activists and demonstrate states' willingness to protect segregation at all costs.

            The flag no longer represented just a 19th-century battle to preserve white supremacy, but a 20th-century one as well.

            When Southern states gave the flags pride of place in their capitols, it was to signal support for segregation. The same Georgia state legislature that considered closing the state's schools rather than integrating them also changed the state flag to include the Confederate symbol. ... The South Carolina state Capitol began flying the battle flag in 1962 and never stopped. ...

            The flag is ... a symbol of how successfully the Civil War has been misremembered so that "heritage" and "hate" could be disentangled from each other.

            [Thus] the Confederate flag was adopted to represent a short-lived rebellion to extend and protect white supremacy and black slavery. For 75 years, it was used as a reminder of the nobility of that cause. Then it became a symbol of resistance to black civil rights leaders and to the federal government that was finally trying to enforce the law of the land.

            End of Nelson’s essay.



IN THE AFTERMATH of the Charleston murders, many who agree with Nelson began to call for the removal of the Confederate flag from the places of honor it has occupied for decades. Officials in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina and Tennessee urged that the image of the controversial flag be removed from license plates. In Mississippi, there’s talk of taking the flag image off the state flag; in Kentucky and Texas, some want statues of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, taken down; in Tennessee, many want to remove from an alcove outside the Senate chamber of the statehouse the statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and a founder of the Ku Klux Klan.

            Walmart withdrew all its Confederate flag goods; ditto Sears and other big box companies. And at least one firm that makes the flags announced it would make no more.

            In the last cartoon of our display, Bob Gorrell gives the Confederate flag a make-over that accurately describes the banner’s current status.

            “Symbols are important, wrote Mollie Hemingwayk in TheFederalist.com, quoted in The Week, but let’s not mistake the week’s events for actual social progress. We can lower and burn every last Confederate flag and topple every statue in the South, but the dead of Charleston will still be dead while the “scourge of racism” will still be alive.   



THE FIRST post-Charleston issue of The New Yorker is covered with a drawing by the magazine’s favorite cover artist, Barry Blitt, he of the perpetual tentative line. Here, his line is strong and confident for a change. He pictures the Emanuel AME Church where the murders took place. Entitled “Nine,” it depicts nine souls taking flight, a nicely religious sentiment to commemorate the tragedy. Inside the magazine, Blitt gets more page-size exposure with a “sketchbook” picture of Rachel Dolezal, a sarcastic statement about her identity which seems, here, about to be determined through a paint-by-numbers exercise. Perhaps, had Charleston not occurred, this drawing would have been on the magazine’s cover.

            Opening the magazine with Talk of the Town, Jelani Cobb ponders the absence of the word terrorism in the initial reactions of politicians to the mass murder in Charleston. But it surely was an act of terrorism, Cobb says: Dylann Roof “apparently based his acts on vintage rationalizations for terrorist violence in American history.” Among the most conspicuous of our history’s domestic terrorists—the Klu Klux Klan, which emerged in the Reconstruction period after the Civil War “in response to the growing political power of blacks in the postbellum South—people who, from the Klan’s vantage point, were “taking over the country” (deploying one of Roof’s memorable locutions). Cobb concludes:

            “Another word has remained absent from the discussion of the events in Charleston: Obama. The President is an unnamed but implicit factor in the paranoid assertion—attributed to Roof but certainly not limited to him—that blacks are taking over the country. In January 2008, Barack Obama won the South Carolina Democratic primary, largely on the strength of the Africa-American votes; a state in the Deep South gave a black candidate a crucial push in his campaign for the White House. The recalcitrant pledges to ‘take our country back’ that began after the Inauguration were simply more genteel expressions of the sentiments that Roof articulated.

            “The fact that Roof appears to have acted without accomplices will inevitably be taken as solace. He will be dismissed as deranged loner, connected to nothing broader. This is untrue. Even if he acted by himself, he was not alone.”



THE MASS MURDERS in Charleston revived, somewhat, the perpetual debate over gun control. In his first remarks after the slaughter, Prez Obama bemoaned Congress’s failure to act on gun control. In his eloquent and moving eulogy for Pinckney, Obama again called for action: “The majority of Americans—the majority of gun owners—want to do something about this.”

            (Here, again, I’m about to plow into a diatribe that, if you’re tired of hearing it, you can avoid and get to more editorial cartoons by scrolling down to the next paragraph beginning with ALL CAPS. But some of the diatribe contains a novelty or two that you’d miss. Sigh.)

            Most efforts to increase control over gun ownership are defeated by the drumbeat rhetoric of the National Rambo Association. Time after time—mass murder after mass murder— the NRA claims that none of the laws proposed would have prevented the latest carnage. And they’re right, time after time. But some statistics point the other way.

            E.J. Dionne Jr. at the Washington Post cites a study by the Center for Gun Policy and Research at Johns Hopkins University that “found a 1995 Connecticut law requiring a permit or license contingent on passing a background check was associated with a 40 percent drop in gun homicides.

            “But,” Dionne concludes, “as long as gun control is a cause linked to ideology and party—and as long as the NRA and its allies claim a monopoly on individual rights arguments—reasonable steps of this sort will be ground to death by the Washington Obstruction Machine.”

            Probably. But the basic problem in this country is not so much permissive gun laws as it is the culture of violence that fosters the use of guns. And the culture of violence is pervasive. It informs even our entertainments. Here, for instance, is Marty Grosser, editor of Previews, the catalog listing and annotating the comic book offerings of the month; he talks about the last time he played his favorite video game, River City Ransom:

            “In it, you play as a street-smart martial artist whose girlfriend is kidnapped by a rival gang, and you (and a friend) must punch, kick and bowl over wave after wave of punks, thugs, and toughs to rescue your gal, as you side-scroll your way across the city. The game allows you to pick up objects like chains, baseball bats, barrels, and lead pipes, to use as weapons. It also allows you to use said weapons on your co-op buddy. This leads to many moments where ‘friendly fire’ strikes become deliberate attacks, which basically become hilarious fights that end with both characters pummeling each other into unconsciousness! We laughed ourselves silly, and eventually beat the game ... as the first rays of sunrise began to leak through the window blinds. Yep, we’d played all night long. And it was the best damn time I’d had playing video games pretty much ever since.”

            Violence—with chains, baseball bats and lead pipes as weapons—is “hilarious.” The best damn time.

            Gun laws won’t end gun violence. But they will help to create an atmosphere that is at least disapproving, however vaguely, of violence and gunplay. Such laws would be a small—but important—step in turning down the fiery flame of violence worship that burns so bright in our culture. MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, did not end DUI. But it reduced the number of such incidents. Better gun laws won’t end violence, but they will help to dethrone the NRA, which for too long has dictated the terms of survival in our society, and they will make violence seem less attractive. It will take generations, but it seems worth trying.



IN OUR PENULTIMATE VISUAL AID, the Charleston tragedy inspired several editooners to return to gun laws. Jim Morin begins with a sad assessment of the futility of crusading for gun laws. It’s all happened before, and Morin’s multi-panel mode suggests a ritual that will doubtless be repeated yet agin. Next, Clay Bennett offers an image that combines both the flag and gun issues; the amount of the guy’s armament is in ridiculous contrast to the tiny flag—but it’s the flag that has sparked public outcry. How sad.

            From here, we move on to the trivial and the petty. First is Rachel Dolezal, born white who claims to “identify as black.” The statement seems absurd—until we realize that she was raised with three adopted siblings, all of whom were black. And so, understandably, as she says, “I was drawing self-portraits with the brown crayon instead of the peach crayon.” Her offense, however, was not in passing as black—but in lying about not being white.

            In her defense, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, writing a column in Time, manages to reduce the “crime” to triviality. He begins by admitting that he, too, has been living a lie: “I’ve been claiming to be 7 ft 2 in for many decades, [but] the truth is that I’m 5 ft 8in.” A lie, need we say, that is immediately disproven by his appearance; ditto, he implies, for Dolezal’s lie.

            “As far as Dolelzal is concerned,” Abdul-Jabbar continues, “since there is technically no such thing as race, she merely selected the cultural group with which she most identifies. [Thanks to her parents who adopted black siblings for her.] Who can blame her? ...

            “Does it really matter whether Rachel Dolezal is black or white? Dr. King said we should be judged by the content of our character rather than the color of our skins. ... [Okay: she lied. But] this seems more of a case of her standing up and saying, ‘I am Spartacus,’ rather than a conspiracy to defraud. Let’s give her a get-out-of-jail-free card on this one and let her return to doing what she clearly does exceptionally well—making America more American.”

            And then we have Mike Luckovich, implying the same question some might ask of Dolezal: why would you choose to identify with a discriminated-against population?

            And that, the persecuted population, brings us to a privileged population—politicians, all dashing around in a run for the White House. Two years before one of them might be inaugurated as President. Two years! Can we stand it? It’s the great American sport for pundits, no question. But do any of the rest of us care this early? Not much.

            In Denver on June 28, retired surgeon candidate Ben Carson won the Western Conservative Summit’s straw poll; Carly Fiorina came in second; Scott Walker, third; and Jeb Bush, 14th out of the 18 in the running. Ben Carson? Does he stand even a remote chance of winning the GOP nomination? Does Fiorina? Straw polls have forever been unreliable. In 2012, Herman Cain won 48 percent of the poll 18 months before the election; Mitt Romney, the eventual nominee, collected a mere 10 percent. Meaningless polls.

            Except for the gasbag population, which, thanks to cable tv’s insatiable appetite for content, gets to expel their fumes on and on about every wink and twerk of every self-proclaimed candidate.

            No matter. Editoonists join in the fun as our final exhibit reveals. Tom Toles participates only insofar as to ridicule the number of Republicons who’ve tossed themselves into the fray. One of whom, Ted Cruz, is demonstrably (to cartoonist Tim Eagan) a non-starter as is laughably proclaimed by his performance as a canonball candidate. Spectacular flourishes but no splash. A memorable image of someone altogether failing to make an impression. Next around the clock, Clay Bennett collects the fictitious images of the candidates’ logos, some of which suggest more about the candidate than Hilary’s thrusting arrow. Cruz is a stop sign; Christie employs a road sign, advising that the lanes ahead are closed (a not very subtle reminder of the blot on his escutcheon); Walker, a Koch (pronounced “kook”) Enterprises logo, signaling the $ource of his political power. And so on.

            Finally, Jim Morin shows the efficacy of Jeb Bush’s campaign logo. Others have turned the period at the bottom of the exclamation point into a weight labeled George W. that Jeb will have carry; in one such image, the period is a ball at the end of a chain fastened to Jeb. No question—Jeb has an image problem, but it’s his brother’s image. Still, my bet is that Jeb will get the GOP nomination.





Jonathan Franzen, in a Profile of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert for The New Yorker in 2003, wrote, “When I asked Hastert how he felt about the impeachment of Bill Clinton, four and a half years after, he described Clinton’s loss of credibility as ‘a personal tragedy.’ Later, I asked him about Watergate and Richard Nixon. ‘A tragedy,’ he said. The legal woes of Illinois Governor George Ryan? ‘A tragedy.'”

            To which some wag (perhaps Franzen) added: Maybe Hastert sees his own case that way. But whose tragedy is it? The larger problem comes when Washington is so full of tragedies that it begins to look like one great farce.





Pictures Without Too Many Words

HERE ARE TWO MORE entries in Iran’s anti-ISIS contest, which calls for drawings of“crimes committed by the Islamic State” (i.e., the Cutthroat CalipHATE). More than 1,000 cartoons have been submitted; 270 were chosen for the competition. The top drawing shows members of the CalipHATE leaving their brains and hearts at the door; the other shows the Cutthroat hooligans destroying historic artifacts as they have done in places like Mosul in Northern Iraq.



AND HERE is the poster for the new Peanuts movie, due November 6, plus a couple of stills.





From the Guide to Laughing at Sex

            About experimenting with sex, Robert Benchley wrote: “We tried sex twice, and it worked both times.”

            “It was never dirty to me. After all, God gave us the equipment and the opportunity. There’s that old saying: ‘If God had meant for us to fly, he’d have given us wings.’ Well, look what he did give us.”—Dolly Parton

            “Men in power always seem to get involved in sex scandals but women don’t even have a word for ‘male bimbo.’ Except maybe ‘senator.’”—Elayne Boosler   





The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping


LAST TIME (in Opus 340), we speculated about Val’s marital future in Jan Eliot’s Stone Soup. Just to drop the other shoe: Val finally got over her heebie-jeebies about marrying Phil, and, as you can see in the two strips at the top near here, they're well on their way to the altar, Phil, albeit, on crutches. Word play distinguishes the next two strips posted here. Ruthie's logic in Rick Detorie's One Big Happy is indisputable. And in the second panel of Tom Batiuk's Funky Winkerbean is a beaut of a different sort: a simile that will stand careful examination.

            Finally, Sherman the shark in J.P. Toomey’s Sherman’s Lagoon strays from the lagoon long enough to inspect the great floating gyre of garbage (mostly plastic that doesn’t degrade) in the Pacific Ocean, thereby drawing public attention to a huge environmental dilemma that doesn’t seem amendable to fixing. Where are we going to throw our garbage if we stop using the ocean? Ah—there’s space, a vastness seemingly inexhaustible as a garbage dump.



ANYONE WHO’S BEEN FOLLOWING Greg Evans’ Luann knew that as soon as Evans aged his heroine into adolescence, sex was bound to come up. After all, this is the strip that confronted human sexuality when Luann had her first menstrual period; it would scarcely be unusual for Evans to lead her to her first experience of sexual intercourse. And she’s become pretty serious about her Australian boyfriend, Quill. So it seems inevitable that, sooner or later, the two must face the, er, inevitable. And during the first week of June, they did—in what must be an unprecedented sequence in American comics.


            Evans handles this touchy subject with great delicacy and taste. And humor. As always, his strip faces life’s vicissitudes with sensitivity for both his characters and for his readers. By the end of the third strip in the series, it’s obvious (from the disarray of their clothing) that Luann and Quill have been doing some pretty heavy petting. And on the next day, they begin to discuss their situation. In the last panel, Evans gives them speeches that reveal the characters’ maturity as well as their candor. Luann’s hormones are ready, she says, but her head and heart aren’t.

            “Are you?” she asks Quill. And he makes the canny observation that he’s not ready if she isn’t: “This is a couple’s event,” he says. Nicely insightful.

            And then, after discussing their predicament and resolving it, for now, comedy re-asserts itself: Luann does what she did at the beginning of the sequence—she turns out the light so they may resume their necking.



AS USUAL, Jim Davis’ Garfield celebrated his birthday for several days in June, leading up to the actual date. The fat cat turned 37 on the 19th, as you can tell from the top strip at hand. But just to make another point, we’ve posted below that daily strip the ensuing Sunday: Davis is often accused of producing a visually static comic strip wherein the humor arises entirely from talking heads, and about a good number of Garfield, that’s true. But Davis also produces gems like this one in which the comedy resides mostly in the pictures.




Confronting the Inhibitions of Timid Editors/Readers

From the blog of Rina Piccola, creator of the daily comic strip Tina’s Groove:

            I had the comic strip you see here slotted to run on May 5th, but it never got passed my editor’s desk. You can guess why. Can we still run it if I cover up his ass bottom? I asked. I was told to replace the strip with another one, just to be “safe.”

            Safe. That seems to be the strategy for newspaper comics. The thing is, I’m all for safe. I think safe is a good policy. What I have a problem with is too safe. Too safe is what gets me. It’s having the comics page get so circumspect that, often, all the best humor is washed away and scrubbed clean, or replaced entirely with something less spicy. I think readers will agree that, at least in some cases, ‘too safe’ often means boring.

            I’m thankful to have a couple of good editors at King Features that look out for me. If the strip above was given the green light, it may have cost me. Although my experience in syndication has ingrained in me the finer points of PG-rated content, I was surprised that this strip was pulled.

            PG To The Power Of Ten. It goes without saying that newspapers have to be very careful with content in the comics — if it’s not PG they will not run a strip. And in extreme cases, they will cancel the feature altogether and replace it with a safer one— one that takes no risks. I understand the rules, and have long accepted them. But — and you knew there was a but coming— it’s when PG becomes PG to the power of 10 that I have reason to rant a little bit, and test the waters to see what others think.

            Some Insights. Most readers would be surprised to know how little leeway newspaper strip cartoonists are allowed in terms of content. Let me put it to you this way: a typical 1990s episode of the TV show “The Golden Girls” would most likely have a few things in it that would raise a flag if depicted on the comics page. I’m not kidding—the funny dialogue between four elderly women would need serious revision.

            This Tastes Like Crap. Newspaper comic artists are not permitted to make references to sex, race, or religion— even if the reference is not deemed offensive in other areas of the publishing and entertainment world. We’re not permitted to write lines like “go to hell,” or “this tastes like crap.” There are even constraints on “gross” gags—for instance, a scene where somebody farts would be seriously questioned. (I once had to change a sound effect from “fart!” to “Brapp!” The sound effect was not from a character, but from a garbage incinerator. Wow. You’d have to be truly uptight to be offended by a garbage incinerator that makes a farting noise.)

            Who’s That Uptight? You might be thinking — God Sheesh, what’s with those newspaper editors? Can’t they lighten up a bit? Where are they living— Andy Griffith’s Mayberry? Well, no— it’s nothing like that. I don’t have to tell you that newspaper editors are a pretty normal bunch of people who laugh at the same jokes that we all laugh at. It’s not them we should be looking at. What we should shift our focus to is a very small percentage of people who write letters, and call newspaper offices threatening to cancel their subscription because Marmaduke crapped doo-dooed on the floor that day. (Apologies to Brad Anderson.)

            All kidding aside, some people get very heated about what they see on the newspaper comics page. My editor [the late] Jay Kennedy once told me that a reader had complained to a newspaper editor about a cartoon that depicted a dog drinking from the toilet. It was, the reader said, “offensive to dogs.” Wow.

            The Question Now Becomes: why do a meager percentage of readers have this much power over how a comics page is curated?

            Are newspaper editors this afraid of losing subscriptions? Yes. And I don’t blame them. In fact, I can relate. I myself agreed to red light the above strip because I, too, am afraid of losing newspapers. Do you see the wild cycle? Do you see the rock and the hard place?

            The Mainstream Does Not Include Tina’s Groove? I think it really sucks that newspaper comic artists are not allowed to use words, and depict scenarios that are commonly accepted in today’s mainstream comedy. This degree of stuffiness is the one thing that holds me back from giving my readers my best humor. The strip above was the funniest daily in my bag for that week, and having it flagged was, at the very least, disheartening. Why? Why can’t I run it? Because it might raise an eyebrow? UGH….

            Do You Agree? The truth about the cartoon above is that no one is injured or harmed in it. It doesn’t insult any group, or religious faith. And if I changed it so that the guy’s ass rear end is covered by a normal pair of pants, the strip would not be overly explicit. All in all, the humor here is just a little edgy. Most readers, I believe, would get a chuckle out of it. Most readers, I think, crave a little edginess in their comic strip diet. Read the strip again. I think you’ll agree that we’ve seen edgier humor in a typical night of television.

            So Who Is To Blame? Not the Syndicate — the syndicate is simply giving the newspapers, our clients, what they want. We can’t blame the newspapers either — the editors are just making their customers happy—and that means all of their customers, even the select few in question here.

            I believe the people to blame are those few readers who can’t handle the phrase, “Hey, this sucks,” or the phrase, “Oh my God.”

            I’m talking about a tiny portion of the reader-public who would be incapable of reading this very blog post without crapping their pants losing their heads over the words I’m using. What gets me is that this small portion of the readership, it seems, wields the most command over what everybody else gets to read. They are the real editors. They are the real curators of your newspaper comics page. Wow!

            A Personal Re-Awakening. This is not a complaint. This is a personal re-awakening to just how damn darn safe newspaper comics are, and how little we’ve allowed ourselves—as a business—to keep up with the competition (Webcomics, Alt comics, Radio, Podcasts, Youtube, TV, Magazines.) I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to be screwed up really upset about it.

            Can I Cause Real Change? Probably not. But I do have a fantasy. In my fantasy newspaper editors take a stand against the unreasonable letter-writer, and defend the cartoons that they themselves had hand-picked to run in their paper. In my fantasy it’s not the cartoonist who is stifled, but the uptight reader who complains about a piece of humor that, if it were shown anywhere else, would not garner any complaints that would be taken seriously. In my fantasy, I – and other syndicated comic artists—have the same creative freedoms that prime time TV sitcom writers have. Is that an unreasonable fantasy? Is it?

            The Bright End To All Of This? Thanks to the web, I can talk frankly to you, my readers, and tell you about this behind-the-scene stuff that you would not otherwise hear about. Oh, and the best part is— I can show you the censored strip that priggish letter-writing readers don’t want me to show you. I can put the flagged comic on Twitter and Facebook… where it will be forgotten two minutes after it’s read. Yes, that’s right— where it will be forgotten two minutes after it’s read—as it should be. Why? Because the comic is not that edgy. The comic is not that risqué. In any forum outside of the newspaper comics page this comic is run-of-the-mill mainstream safe.

            Do you see it this way, or am I way out of bounds? Please tell my your thoughts.          

            End of Rina’s rant.



■ RCH again. What to tell “offended” readers who phone in to object to a comic character saying “Screw you”? Tell them what comics editor Amy Lago at Washington Post Writers Group used to say: “If you can’t take a joke, what are you doing on the comics page?” My favorite reposite.

            Somewhat more seriously, I suspect Piccolo, whose syndicate is King Features, is being subjected to rules that some other syndicates have forsaken in recent years. Take, for instance, the visual aid at hand.

            In the strip at the top, Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine, a character is employing an expression (“screw you”) widely verboten until recent years. Pastis makes a cottage industry out of formulating comedy that is edgy to the point of over-the-cliff. And he gets away with it.

            In Funky Winkerbean, Tom Batiuk says “fart”—although not in the flatulent sense; but he gets away with what in a more timid syndicate wouldn’t be permitted. And Rick Detorie in One Big Happy lets Joe discuss the family dog’s alimentary difficulties on a cold day, not something that would be permitted in days of yore. (Nor, probably, in Piccolo’s syndicate.) And Luann in Greg Evans’ strip is having her face molded in paper mache; she and her boyfriend, Quill, have agreed on hand signals for Luann. She can’t talk while her face is being molded, so hand signals enable her to communicate. One finger for “yes”; two for “no.” In this trying circumstance, it is probably understandable that she flips the bird, a gesture no doubt unacceptable in decent tea-sipping society.

            In short—as those of you who’ve perused this department in Rancid Raves over the months know because strips like these appear here frequently—the newspaper comics environment is not quite as squeaky clean pure as Piccolo thinks it is. My suspicion is that her predicament has its origins in her syndicate’s offices not with tut-tutting newspaper readers. (Although there are plenty of those, enough to give newspaper editors headaches and queasy stomachs.)

            None of these strips, by the way, are distributed by King Features —although one of them, Funky Winkerbean, is syndicated by North American, a subsidiary of King.

            Finally, to finish this topic, we have Pastis again, making the point that Piccolo would doubtless agree with.





            “Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards.”—Soren Kierkegaard

            “Sometimes memories sneak out of my eyes and roll down my cheeks.” (Thanks to Scott Shepard)                                                      

            We have a constipated Congress that can’t pass laws. Dunno who said it, but it seems markedly appropriate these days.—RCH           





Peter de Sève, an illustrator and character designer for feature films whose work often appears on the covers of The New Yorker, has produced the poster for the 2015 Library of Congress National Book Festival. As you can see here, the poster features a young girl absorbed in reading her book and performing a variety of contortions on an overstuffed chair. It is a scenario that old fogies like moi have seen before in the brilliant black-and-white oeuvre of Gluyas Williams, which appears in our visual aid cheek-by-jowl with de Seve’s.

            Says de Seve, who is clearly not familiar with Williams’ cartoon, drawn several decades ago: “The poster is absolutely inspired by my two daughters, Paulina, 14 years old, and Fia, 9 years old. They are both voracious readers and, frankly, my heart swells every time I see one of them curled up with a book, which is basically always. More specifically, the girl on the poster is Fia, whom I have found reading in almost every position you see on the poster. For her, reading is practically an Olympic sport.”

            Lately, we’ve seen other instances in which echoes of previous work occur. In his Gasoline Alley, Jim Scancarelli re-tells what has been dubbed “the world’s funniest joke.” In its original form (for which, consult Opus 333), the actors were Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, with Holmes delivering the punchline.

            And in Brian Crane’s Pickles, we have, word for word, a scrap of Internet comedy that has been circulating through the electronic ether and eventually dropped through the transom here at Rancid Raves under the heading “Ramblings of a Retired Mind.”

            In the same ramble was this: I was thinking about how a status symbol of today is those cell phones that everyone has clipped onto their belt or purse. I can’t afford one. So I’m wearing my garage door opener.

            You gotta love it.





One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.


THE LATEST FALSE ALARM. Another capitalistic conspiracy has slipped in among us, wholly undetected until now. It’s the devising of the toothpaste and toothbrush cabal. How many of you (rise your hands) use toothpaste? And when you apply it to your toothbrush, do you lay out the ribbon of paste so it covers the bristles, fore and aft, completely? Just like in the illustrations in the adverts? Of course you do. Did you know that the tooth brush people have been slowly increasing the length of the row of bristles? Well, they have. In collusion with the toothpaste people, the toothbrush people are thus forcing us to use more toothpaste. The longer the length of the row of bristles, the more toothpaste we’ll use to make that picturesque ribbon. And so the toothpaste people will sell more toothpaste. They then divvy up the increased profit with the toothbrush manufacturers to cover their cost in retooling their toothbrush assembly machinery. Well, I told you it was a conspiracy, didn’t I?



■ The number of Americans who self-identify as Christian has dropped nearly 8 points over the last seven years to about 70 percent, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey; the number of citizens who claim no religious affiliation has hit an all-time high of 23 percent—and among them, fully 31 percent consider themselves either atheist or agnostic. The collapse, reported Rod Dreher in AmericanConservative.com, is apparent across all age groups and ethnicities, but it is most pronounced among Millennials.



Some statistics for you. The Committee to Protect Journalists’ year-end census counted 30 journalists in Iranian prisons out of 221 imprisoned world-wide. As of December 16, 2014—2,215 U.S. troops had died in Afghanistan and 19,945 had been wounded; in Iraq, 4,491 died and 32,244 were wounded. An estimated 1.3 million Americans who went to war—more than half of those deployed—are now fighting the physical and mental effects of their service. And how much help are they getting as opposed to quantities of red tape to untangle?

            But deaths among U.S. contractors working in the two countries aren’t tracked; estimates, however, peg the number at an equivalent 6,800. An absolutely unknown number have been wounded—tens of thousands, no doubt; and they don’t get veterans’ benefits. A group of them have filed a class action suit against Blackwater, KBR, DyknCorp and the rest, alleging that they were denied medical care. But surely the responsibility rests with the federal government, which “has increasingly delegated to the private sector the responsibility to stand in harm’s way and, if required, to die for America” (saith Steven Schooner, a former White House military procurement official who studies contractor policy at George Washington University).





Short Reviews and Proclamations of Coming Attractions

This department works like a visit to the bookstore. When you browse in a bookstore, you don’t critique books. You don’t even read books: you pick up one, riffle its pages, and stop here and there to look at whatever has momentarily attracted your eye. You may read the first page or glance through the table of contents. All of that is what we do here, starting with—:



Comic Book People: Photographs from the 1970s and 1980s

By Jackie Estrada

160 9x12-inch pages, b/w plus color section; 2014 Exhibit A Press hardcover, $34.95

WHEN I FIRST HEARD OF THIS BOOK, I thought, Well, sure—but what’s so fascinating about a bunch of old photographs? And then I witnessed a copy at the Exhibit A table during the Denver Comic-Con, and—wow!—was I wrong. My first error was in supposing that this tome would consist solely of photos; but Estrada has captioned each photo, supplying information about the person in the pic and dating it. Captions and photos together make the volume a fascinating nostalgic trip into the history of comic-cons, San Diego’s in particular. Fifteen chapters are mustered under thematic titles— The Giants (Eisner, Feiffer, Kirby), Golden and Silver Age Comic Book People, Writers, Artists, Writer/Artists, Comic Strips, Cartoonists, Animators, etc. So I bought a copy. And I’ll buy Volume 2, too; it comes out in time for the Sandy Eggo Con in July, and about then, it ought to be available at exhibitapress.com; and in September (it sez here), in bookstores and comics shops.



CRANKSHAFT, THE EPONYMOUS PROTAGONIST of the comic strip by Tom Batiuk and drawn by Chuck Ayers, emerges from newsprint in a new collection of comic strip reprints entitled Roses in December. The book offers two Crankshaft storylines about characters who find themselves dealing with the incurable condition of Alzheimer’s disease. Batiuk has delved into sensitive subjects like this before, notably, the death from cancer of Lisa, a character in his other strip, Funky Winkerbean. I think sometimes that Batiuk is a bit too enamored of the serious work that comic strips can do, but he is undeniably doing a service to many of his readers. The book includes a resource guide for caregivers, patients, and practitioners.



FRANK MILLER, WHO DEFINED BATMAN for a generation of comics readers—and set the pace for darkly flawed superheroes—is coming back for another turn with the Cowled Crusader in The Dark Knight III: The Master Race. This 8-part series concludes a trilogy that started with the 1986 limited series The Dark Knight Returns and continued in 2001-02 with The Dark Knight Strikes Again. Miller, who wrote as well as drew these two titles, is working with co-writer Brian Azzarello (Wonder Woman, 100 Bullets) on the concluding title.

            "Batman remains my favorite comic book hero and a sequel to Dark Knight is going to be daunting," Miller said in a statement, "but we'll do our best."

            Azzarello added: "It's been an amazing experience collaborating with Frank these past six months. I think we have an epic story that these characters truly deserve."



KATE BEATON HAS A SEQUEL to her best selling Hark! A Vagrant. Entitled Step Aside, Pops, it will come out in the fall. Here’s what Beaton says about it (in italics)—:

            The comics in the new book are more varied than in the first, playing with form and moving away more from the history/literature parody type stuff more often. There are definitely more comics that focus on things like feminist jokes. It’s all just about what I’m interested in making at the time, so it changes. ...

            And a lot of times, if you’re telling a woman’s story from the past, there’s going to be something in there about how she was overlooked by her peers or over time. It’s just there. But these women, underdogs sometimes, are usually someone’s hero, someone who wants their story to be told. So I make these comics about women, and I get a lot of mail that’s like, “Check this other person out!! YOU WILL LOVE HER I LOVE HER!!!”

            And I’m thrown all these stories, and of course they are interesting. And when you get into it, you get all riled up, like— yeah, people should know about this person! And this person! And this person! Why didn’t I know about this person?

            I think it started a long time ago, specifically, when I made a comic about Rosalind Franklin. Lots of mail from people trying to get me to read about this female scientist or that who was maligned by history or in her time. Really passionate. It’s very touching, in the end, telling these stories is just sharing the love you have. That love is contagious.

            I mean history is huge, you’re not going to know everyone, but with women, you really are going to know less. So I find out about people like Ida Wells or Sara Josephine Baker and I’m pacing the room thinking, “I gotta make a comic! People have to know!!”

            And I start to look at my work, and I’m thinking that if you leave out these people whose lives were hard and who were overlooked in history, and instead you just go for the easy targets, you’re just making comics about dead white presidents and leaving stories like Ida’s out yet again. It’s not like my comics are some kind of cultural masterpiece, they’re just dinky comics, but you know what I mean? So I made comics about Ida, and they are in the book, and I hope I did a good job because I wanted to celebrate her.



I AM CHAGRINED to admit that I didn’t realize that various fugitives from the underground comix of yesteryear—and some of their present-day fellow travelers— are still actively producing comics. I suspect Jay Lynch is behind the assembly of Mineshaft, a small (60 6x9-inch pages, b/w) but earnest magazine of sketches and an occasional comic strip. And it’s been going for some time: the issue I’ve laid hands on is No.31. It features R. Crumb’s Dream Diary, Billy Childish at the Oakwood Mental Hospital, Art Spiegelman’s Sketchbook, Plot Robot by Kim Deitch, and even Bill Griffith’s Zippy, plus work by Nina Bunjevac, Justin Green, Christoph Mueller, David Collier, Tony O’Neill, Pat Moriarity, Aleksandar Todorovic, Aaron Lange, Rika Deryckere, and William Crook, Jr. Here are some sample pages.


            Not much here of the outrageously offensive convention-shattering oeuvre of that deliriously stoned yesteryear, but enough, withal, to be interesting, engaging—even provocative. Back issues are available; see mineshaftmagazine.com—which is worth visiting solely to view covers of previous issues by all those renowned personages we’ve come to know and love. And subscriptions (three issues for $27) can be had by sending the money to Gioia Palmieri, c/o Mineshaft, P.O. Box 1226, Durham, NC 27702. (So maybe Palmieri is the driving force: this issue’s 1,500 copies were printed by Grass Roots Press in Raleigh, less than 50 miles from Durham. And it’s an excellent printing, too.)





            “The point to remember is that what the government gives it must first take away.”—John Strider Coleman

            “There is a demand today for men who can make wrong appear right.”—Terrance, circa  190-159 B.C.

            “Nothing doth more hurt in a state than that cunning men pass for wise.”—Frances Bacon

            “For those who govern, the first thing required is indifference to newspapers.”—Louis Aldophe Thiers, 1797-1877





Called Graphic Novels for the Sake of Status



Nemo: Heart of Ice

By Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill

56 7x10-inch pages, color; 2013 Top Shelf hardcover, $14.95

Nemo: The Roses of Berlin

By Moore and O”Neill

56 7x10-inch pages, color; 2014 Top Shelf hardcover, $14.95

TWO MORE VOLUMES IN WHAT IS BECOMING an increasingly tiresome series under the heading of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Moore’s playground for toying with the characters created by someone else, thereby hitchhiking on others’ creativity. In the first of the line, the characters were those who appeared in some classic late 19th century adventure books. In the latest books, however, all of those heroes are dead, and the poached characters are borrowed from early 20th century British boys’ books (Moore is a Brit) and allusions (if any) to their exploits elsewhere are lost entirely upon an American readership.

            No matter: Moore has never made much use of his petty theft. It seems to me that if you’re going to import into your work a character from another enterprise, that character should contribute to your story something he and only he is capable of—much in the fashion of superhero teams where the Human Torch, say, rescues his cohorts from a flood by burning up all the water. Moore has never done anything of the kind, as far as I know, and so his appropriations are meaningless. They perhaps stimulate his creative juices but none of the rest of us are much engaged. In playing with others’ characters, Moore has wound up playing with himself—much to the bemused alarm of a mildly shocked audience. (Well, you must decipher the double entendre, kimo sabe.)

            In Heart of Ice, the pirate daughter of the Nautilis’s Captain Nemo, Janni Dakkar, steals some valuables from the African Queen, Ayesha (from H. Rider Haggard’s renowned She), thereby incurring the wrath of publishing mogul Kane (from Orson Wells’ movie “Citizen Kane”). Then Dakkar decides to give up pirating and take up exploring, heading off in the Nautilis to the Antarctica, the scene of her father’s only failure in this sort of endeavor. Kane sends some henchmen (Reade and Styles, from British boys’ books) after Dakkar, and a chase across the frozen wastes ensues. Several are killed in what some more acute observer than I calls an H.P. Lovecraftian climax.

            Several pages are devoted to gigantic pictures of monsters or monstrous landscapes in O’Neill’s usual angular, pointy style, which, modestly capable of portraying people and the ordinary accouterments of life, is ill-suited to depicting unfamiliar scenes or alien beings. The pages devoted to this excess are therefore wasted because they are nearly incomprehensible. They serve the narrative only as a sort of crescendo punctuation mark every so often. In color and space, they are the equivalent of an explosion on a movie screen—all sound and light, proclaiming excitement whether justified or not. 

            The same meaningless extravagance is indulged in Roses of Berlin, Heart’s sequel (and the second volume in a trilogy). The initiating event occurs when Dakkar learns that her daughter, Hira, and her husband, the aerial warlord Jean Robur, have been captured and are being held prisoner in Berlin. Accompanied by her aging lover (or, perhaps, husband?), Broad Arrow Jack, Dakkar dashes off to the German capital, entering through a figurative back door—only to fall into the hands of Werner Mabuse, one of the country’s fabled “Twilight Heroes,” who, after telling them that Hira is dead, helps them find Ayesha, who now reigns over some mysterious abcess in the mechanical nightmare that is the city under the 1941 deranged rule of the dictator Adenoid Hynkel. Jack attacks Ayesha and tries to kill her with his bare hands only to have his skull split by one of the robots that attend the African Queen.

            Much of the motivation undergirding this proceeding is willfully obscured by Moore’s fatuous affront to his readers: whenever the Germans appear, they talk German, rendering their thoughts and plans and maneuvers unintelligible to us all. But perhaps it doesn’t matter: odious as this authorial affectation is, even if we knew what they were saying, it probably wouldn’t help us much in understanding anything beyond the lunging action of the storyline.

            After rescuing Robur, Dakkar engages Ayesha in a duel with swords, which ends when Dakkar cuts off Ayesha’s head. The duel, which goes on for five pages, forfeits every shred of threat and danger by the prurient visual maneuver of having Ayesha’s costume during her exertions slip slowly down her front, finally exposing the nipples on her breasts. Titillated (you should pardon the expression), our prurient interest holds us in thrall, a distraction that undermines whatever suspense usually attends a fight between two opponents. Sigh.

            Then Hira shows up, not dead after all.

            Moore has legions of fans, and they will all doubtless feast upon these books—and upon the concluding chapter in the trilogy, River of Ghosts. But I, obviously, am not one of their number, and after the vacuous action of these two books, I don’t think I’ll be cruising down any rivers, however wraithlike they may be.



Louise Brooks: Detective

By Rick Geary

80 6x9-inch pages, b/w; 2015 NBM hardcover, $15.99

IN THIS BOOK, Geary, who is established as an interpreter of history with a long-running series of true crime murder mysteries, turns to outright fiction. Louise Brooks, as a helpful one-page text biogaphy tells us, was an actual person, a professional dancer and movie actress on the brink of stardom, whose well-known bobbed hair-do, the unofficial party-girl cut of the Roaring Twenties, inspired a comic strip heroine, Dixie Dugan—who was not, by any means, the sexual outlaw and famed nude dancer that “Brooksie” was. (The interconnected stories of Brooks, Dugan and Joe Palooka—??!!—are retailed in Opus 177.)

            This isn’t Geary’s first work of fiction: he created Blanche, an adventurous early 20th century woman, whose exploits are deftly recorded in a 2009 collection from Dark Horse, The Adventures of Blanche (104 6x9-inch pages, b/w hardcover, $15.95), which, someday, I’ll extol hereabouts. (Until then, I say only that it is excellent, a beautiful example of Geary’s earlier artistry.)

            In the work at hand, Louise Brooks, at the end of her celluloid career, returns to her hometown, Wichita, Kansas (also the town in which Geary grew up), and sets up a dance studio. Meanwhile, the town is agog over the murder of a local spinster, a classic “locked door” mystery. After a year-and-a-half, Louise’s dance studio fails but not before she’s met and become friends with Helen, a clerk at the store where Louise buys the latest dance records for her studio. Louise decides she might become a writer and drives to a nearby town to consult with a retired albeit famous writer, Thurgood Ellis, who lives there. Before she gets to Ellis’ house, her car develops a flat tire, and because the lug wrench is missing, Louise is unable to change the tire; instead, she walks down the road, arriving, finally, at Ellis’ home. There, she finds herself in the middle of a murder mystery, the plot of which, because of the flat tire, she very nearly upsets.

            Louise is finally able to solve that mystery and that of the locked door murder, together a tangle of motives and assumed personalities and false leads and mistaken conclusions—a minor masterpiece of convoluted plotting that Geary pulls off with aplomb. Absorbing as the mysteries are, my pervading fascination is with Geary’s unique fustian drawing style, as pleasing to the eye as the final solution of the mysteries is to the mind.


            The real Louise Brooks dropped out of sight in the 1930s (at about the time this book ends). But she did become a writer of sorts. She worked variously in non-theatrical jobs, was kept by admiring moguls from time to time, and, at the end of her life, wrote articles about her adventures in filmland. Collected, eventually, in Lulu in Hollywood, the articles reveal an engaging writing talent, “an ambiguous lyricism coupled to candid revelations,” dripping with insightful anecdotes about the actors and writers she hobnobbed with.



Run Like Crazy, Run Like Hell

By Jacque Tardi, adapting The Mad and the Bad, a 1972 novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette

102 7½ x10½ -inch pages, b/w; 2015 Fantagraphics hardcover, $19.99

THE DEADLY CHASE, which is the narrative in this book, begins innocently enough: a wealthy man, Michael Hartog, hires a nanny for his 8-year-old nephew Peter; the woman, Julie Ballanger, has just been released from a mental asylum. Julie scarcely has time to get to know her charge before they are both kidnaped by a band of thugs headed by a professional hit man named Thompson. Their assignment is to kill both Julie and Peter, making it look as if the woman killed the boy before killing herself. Thompson, it develops, has been hired by Hartog whose wealth is actually his nephew’s; killing the boy will vastly enrich the uncle.

            But Julie escapes with Peter before the thugs can kill them, and the rest of the book records the chase, becoming more violent as it goes on in an ascending spiral of brutality. Along the way, the relationship between Julie and the annoying Peter develops, and in defending the boy and engineering their repeated escapes, the woman shows herself to be every bit as tough and cold-blooded as the relentless Thompson.

            In adapting Manchette’s novel, Tardi tried to retain as much of the feel of the original’s taut, methodical style as possible, and since the original is prose fiction, Tardi’s graphic novel is awash in narrative captions, often ladling in words where they are superfluous to the visual narrative however much they may evoke Manchette’s manner. In the page at hand, we learn that Julie is out of breath, that her teeth chattered and that she is thirsty—among several other things about her state of mind and body.

            All of this information adds a dimension to the narrative, but it’s Manchette’s dimension, not Tardi’s—a text dimension not a pictorial one. And that’s fine: the book is, after all, an adaptation from Manchette. But the words are not essential to the action depicted on the page.

            In other instances, Tardi inserts into captions the brand name of the firearm being used or of the automobile being drive. In a prose narrative, such details lend verisimilitude to the proceedings; in a graphic novel, however, they are not necessary because the pictures convey the information.

            But Tardi also relies upon pictures to tell his story realistically—as in the page next to the one I’ve just remarked upon. Julie’s attack on the man is depicted without much verbiage, but once she’s dispatched him, Tardi completes the episode in a flood of words—accurately reflecting Manchette, no doubt, but extraneous to the narrative itself.

            As our next visual aid shows, Tardi can conduct the story with sparing use of verbal content—the more action, the fewer words, a formula he deploys again and again to powerful narrative effect. Why mention, though, that it’s a Beretta that Thompson is firing? Because Manchette doubtless did.

            None of this quibbling is intended to diminish the book or fault Tardi’s storytelling. At key moments, he deploys the medium with panache, building effectively to dramatic action incidents by blending words and pictures. And over-all, the book is a persuasive example of a graphic novel performed by a master of the medium, sometimes deploying words to do what pictures cannot: in this case, the words convey some of the ambiance they embody in the prose original.

            The book shows one of the ways that adapting a work of prose to a verbal-visual mode can reveal its verbal origins. A less accomplished artist might well err on the side of verbal excess, letting the text in captions tell the whole story and using pictures merely decoratively. Tardi switches deftly back and forth, alternating verbal narrative and visual narrative.

            The final moments of the book’s chase are brutal and bloody, Tardi’s pictures triumphant in depicting otherwise nearly unspeakable acts.





From Harper’s Index

■ Minimum amount New York City has spent to remove wet wipes from the sewer system since 2010: $18,000,000

■ Estimated value of the metal particules in U.S. sewage: $3,316,000,000

■ Estimated number of people forced into marriage in the United States between 2009 and 2011: 3,000

■ Number of times that Republican state attorneys general filed lawsuits against the Clinton Administration: 5

■ Against the Obama Administration: 68





Welcome to our sentimental section where I muse and marvel about antique volumes on the shelf and rare finds in old bookstores and the like. Nothing major. Skip over this if you’re busy.            


Gremlin Gus was a character who appeared in two- and three-page adventures in Nos.33-41 of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. Inspired by stories of “gremlins” that infested war planes during World War II and caused malfunctions (which were probably caused, actually, by human error in maintenance), Gremlin Gus was drawn for most of this incarnation by Walt Kelly. I didn’t know that at the time: I was only five or six. But I fell in love with the little critter anyhow. And my father, a man of many talents—including drawing, painting, and woodworking of all sorts—carved a Gremlin Gus for me. Near here are some photographs of this objet d’art, which I still possess. I was so smitten with the little figurine that I carried it around all day long for a couple days. It was so constantly in my hand that my thumb melted the paint on Gus’s back, leaving a thumb-sized imprint (which is not visible in any of these specimens, but it’s there; take my word for it).



AND, CORRECTING LAST TIME wherein the illustraton discussed below went missing, herewith—:


HERE'S A RARE CULLING from Jim Ivey's cARToon Museum. As the caption explains, this version of Bud Fisher's A. Mutt was drawn by Russ Westover, who took over the strip at the San Francisco Chronicle when Fisher left for greener pa$tures at Wm. R. Hearst's SF Examiner a few weeks after the strip's debut. Because Fisher had taken the precaution of proclaiming his copyright on the strip when he drew the last one for the Chronicle, he and Hearst were able to get the Chronicle and Westover to cease and desist after a few weeks of legal saber-rattling. Westover would eventually go on to fame and fortune with Tillie the Toiler. Boy! Talk about raw palpitating history! The strip, courtesy the late and dedicated Bill Blackbeard (as noted thereon).





            “I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”—E.B. White

            “[America is] the only country in the world where failing to promote yourself is regarded as being arrogant.” —Garry Trudeau

            “If you’re black, you got to look at America a little bit different. You got to look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college but molested you.”—Chris Rock

            “The reason they call it the American Dream is because you have to be asleep to believe it.”—George Carlin





Four-color Frolics

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.


THE TITLE CHARACTER DOESN’T SHOW UP until the last page of the first issue of James Robinson and Greg Hinkle’s Airboy, which isn’t much about Airboy. The conceit is that writer Robinson is assigned to reboot the Golden Age character “who’s sort of forgotten but with a name everybody remembers.”  Robinson, whose first name is Paul in the story James is telling, can’t think of anything to do with Airboy, so he convinces artist Hinkle to hang out with him in the expectation that together, they’ll think of something. They don’t.

            Instead, they get drunk and then snort coke, ending the night of debauchery in bed with an overweight whore. Then, suddenly—amid the haze of their hangovers—Airboy appears, saying, “This behavior will not stand.”

            The entire issue is a complete seedy episode, and it reveals that the two creative assholes are, indeed, assholes. There are no imponderable mysteries except the one on the last page: is Airboy real? Or is he a figment of the drug-addled minds of Robinson and Hinkle?

            That, alone, is not enough to bring me back. But with Hinkle’s visuals, I want more. His drawings perch on the cusp of realism without falling over. They’re almost cartoony but not quite. “Stylistic” is what Robinson calls Hinkle’s manner of rendering. He’s a “stylist.” The tilt to cartoony permits comical exaggeration, a capacity that Hinkle happily exploits.

            And the coloring adds yet another dimension. Most of the book is in duotone—black outlines and shading with blue tones accented with beige. Except when the two creative geniuses fall into the sack with the blimpy bimbo: then the color is purple.

            But when Airboy shows up, full color bursts onto the page.

            Reality vs fantasy. But which is which? Maybe we’ll find out in the next issue.    



AS I WRITE THIS, I have read only one of the DC “Convergence” titles—namely, Shazam, another in a long line of miserable attempts to reincarnate Fawcett’s fabulous Captain Marvel. And this one fails for the same reason that all the others have flopped: the original Captain Marvel—the one by C.C. Beck and writer Otto Binder—was created for a juvenile readership, and all the subsequent tries at reviving the character have aimed at today’s readership, not a juvenile audience at all. And the Convergence Captain Marvel joins the same misguided club.

            Convergence Shazam No.1 is also a veritable poster child for badly done first issues. It violates all the principles in the litany that introduces this department. It’s mystery is never quite explained. What is the “dome” that has seemingly prevented Billy Batson’s invocation of old Shazam’s name from turning the boy into the super-powered man, Captain Marvel? Is this dome like the one in the tv series, “The Dome”? Apparently. But we get no actual explanation.

            Instead, we get a parade of the old Fawcett Marvel characters—Mary Marvel, Captain Marvel Jr (the only character in comics who could never say his name), the buffoonish Uncle Marvel (Dudley), Tawny the talking tiger, Ibac, King Kull, Mr. Atom and, of course, the champion mad evil scientist, Dr. Sivana (not to mention Bulletman and Bulletgirl, who aren’t even part of the Marvel, er, universe)—who show up for no apparent reason (except to evoke today’s readers’ nonexistent memories of the Fawcett characters). It seems that Sivana has switched identities among some of this roster, and the dome is preventing them from resuming their usual personages. Except—

            Except that as the issue closes, their transformative words once again act to change them into...?

            I give up. Nothing in this title—or in this title’s second and concluding issue—makes sense in a narrative manner. It’s all episodes and action without much meaning. Except—

            Except Evan “Doc” Shaner’s pictures. Here is a worthy successor to the Beck tradition of simplicity in rendering comic book characters. During Beck’s brief return (circa 1973-75) to the four-color world, he railed against the prevailing trend of rendering superheroes by flaying the flesh away from muscles to impart a sense of physical prowess. No one was listening, of course, and Beck soon went back into the retirement from which DC had recruited him for the first reincarnation of Captain Marvel.

            Shaner, however, seems to understand the traditional Captain Marvel rendering technique. Not that he draws as simply as Beck did. Shaner’s work is a step in the direction of realistic rendering, but he eschews feathering, shading, and flaying.The result is a refreshingly spare visualization, as you can readily see in the montage we’ve posted near here. Alas, after two issues of Convergence Shazam, Shaner may —what? Disappear? Is Captain Marvel back for good? Again? Will Shaner surface again, limning the Big Red Cheese?

            Who knows?



IN AN IMPOSSIBLE ATTEMPT to understand Convergence, I consulted St. Wikipedia, who divulged the following (among many other things, equally impossible of understanding by normal intelligence):

            Convergence is a two-month weekly limited series, published by DC Comics, that ran from April 2015 to May 2015. Convergence spins out of the final issues of the weekly series, Earth 2: World's End and The New 52: Futures End. The story involves Brainiac collecting cities and inhabitants from various timelines that have ended, trapping them in domes on a planet outside of time and space and opening them up to see what happens. Notable during this event is the return of DC characters from before the 2011 "Flashpoint" storyline that led to the creation of The New 52 DC Universe. ...

            Over a number of decades in the 20th century, DC Comics reimagined its staple characters and concepts and acquired comic book properties from rival publishers. Classic characters which had been replaced were then brought back, and explained as residing on Earth-Two, while those of other publishers lived on fanciful worlds such as Earth-S and Earth-X. This storytelling device, positing an infinite "Multiverse" of worlds full of heroes and villains, fed many DC stories for some time. In 1985 however, DC chose to simplify its continuity with a crossover story called Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which all of the Multiverse was combined into a single world with one amalgamated history.

            Subsequent "crisis" storylines have seen reality threatened and reshaped again, often as a way of adjusting the fictional history of the setting of DC's stories. Stories like this include Zero Hour: Crisis in Time (1994); Infinite Crisis (2004), which brought back the Multiverse concept, this time with 52 finite worlds; Final Crisis (2008), in which the destruction of the Multiverse was narrowly arverted; and Flashpoint (2011), which resulted in the 52-world Multiverse resetting, and bringing about the contemporary setting of DC Comics, published until Convergence under the branding "The New 52".

            The Grant Morrison comic book The Multiversity (2014–2015) also explored the complete meta-history of the Multiverse in further depth, and mapped out a majority of the 52 worlds which make it up since Flashpoint.

            In the run-up to Convergence, DC published two weekly series, Earth 2: Worlds End and The New 52: Futures End, which led directly into the crossover story. Additionally, the 2014 Futures End Booster Gold one-off comic depicts the classic Superman villain Brainiac, having assimilated his parallel counterparts from across the Multiverse, extracting from time travelling hero Booster Gold the location of Vanishing Point, a moment at the end of the universe from which all of history, including prior to each of DC's crises, can be accessed. From there, he sets about collecting various cities on various worlds prior to those worlds' destruction; he attempts to do this to a possible future of DC's main New 52 setting in the narrative of Futures End, but is narrowly defeated by that world's combined heroes and imprisoned. ...

            ... the time traveller Waverider summons Brainiac back, who reveals he was the pre-Flashpoint Brainiac, who, surviving that event, sought to explore the history of the Multiverse, but became caught in that history and mutated by the effects of the previous crises. He realizes what a monster he has become and wishes to put things right.

            He prepares to send everyone back where they came from, but is prevented by the damaging effects of the original crisis in Crisis on Infinite Earths. The heroes resolve to change the outcome of that Crisis. As Brainiac sends Supergirl and Barry Allen back to meet their fates in the original Crisis story, pre-Flashpoint Superman and Zero Hour Parallax (seeking redemption) volunteer to go with them, changing the outcome of the crisis. Brainiac explains that this has brought changes to the Multiverse, causing everything to "return to what it was before I [Brainiac] brought you here."

            The old worlds of the classic Multiverse live on in the modernized forms depicted in The Multiversity. The Earth 2 team are left behind on the planet but Telos, the man, transports the planet into Earth 2's universe. He appears in the sky to tell the Wonders that he has remembered his real name and where his family is, and that the planet will be their New Earth 2. Once again able to channel the power of the Green, Alan terraforms the planet and makes contact with the space fleet carrying the displaced Earth 2 refugees, leading them to their new home.

            RCH: Okay. Got that? Good. Now we can plunge, so to speak, forward, to get in over our heads even more than we are after trying to decipher the foregoing encyclopedic argot.   



IN ANOTHER OF THIS GOBBLEDEGOOK CONVERGENCE series, Convergence: Plastic Man and the Freedom Fighters, we are regaled with more thinly justified action, page after page, as the title characters confront Nazis, who, on Earth-X, have won World War II and are in the act of subjecting “our beloved New York City” to fascist rule. All of the heroes (and villains), however, have been deprived of their superpowers because NYC is under one of those debilitating domes. Plas is accompanied by the Freedom Fighters of yore—namely, Doll Man, the Human Bomb, the Ray, Phantom Lady (not voluptuous enough to fully exploit her skimpy costume, alas), and Uncle Sam. And with that, believe it or not, the Convergence conceit begins to make sense.

            The idea, apparently, is to conjure up all the characters that DC possesses—those it acquired from one-time rival publishers like Quality Comics (Plas and the Freedom Fighters) and Fawcett (the Marvels and Bulletman et al)—and bring them on stage to “converge” in yet another of DC’s seemingly endless parade of alternative universes, but in this one, the new one, the “continuity aspect” of the DC worlds will be abandoned forever in the new “convergence” of casts and characters, who, presumably occupying the same time and space, will act together to make the world a better place.

            I say the idea is “apparent” but it’s not obvious. Only by inference can we discern, after much painful cogitation, the theme of this series. And it’s an inference that can be drawn easily only by fanboys deeply into the continuities that have infected DC titles for decades. In other words, the Convergence series is not for the general public: it’s for specialists, compulsive obsessives who’ve been hooked on DC all their lives. If DC imagines that Convergence is going to clear the decks and sweep away the cobwebs to make its books comprehensible to new arriving readers, they’ve wandered off into yet another pointless universe.

            Unlike the Captain Marvel title, the narrative nonsense of this one is not redeemed by the visuals. Simon Oliver’s story, which nicknames Plastic Man “Plastic” instead of “Plas,” is ably illustrated by John McCrea, but his style with its heavy-handed feathering, pleasing though it is to these old orbs, does not evoke the classic imagery of Jack Cole, who invented Plas, and therefore the pictures fall short of reincarnating the principal hero who has been mustered for the event. And Plastic Man himself fails in his function. Plas finally defeats the Nazi hero, the Silver Ghost, by rubber-banding him out of existence, but otherwise, neither Oliver nor McCrea can find a way of utilizing Plastic Man’s unique power. In many panels, Plas’s plasticity is displayed in limbs that are all wiggly but not wiggly to a purpose.

            Too bad. But this elastic failure is not unique to this endeavor: no one, with the exception of Ramona Fradon and Hilary Barta, has ever captured Cole’s manner of rendering the character; and no one has ever successfully mimicked the antic concepts of Cole’s imaginative melding of pictures and plotting. He was, after all, a cartoonist, who thought and created in words and pictures, not a team of writer and artist, each working individually on separate aspects of the art, never happily integrated as they are in the mind of a cartoonist like Cole.

            Judging from the confused albeit action-packed narrative, Plas survives his encounter with the neo-Nazis and will, presumably, continue to have adventures in the “New” DC Universe that will arise from the ashes of the Convergence. Ditto the Marvel family. The Convergence exercise, in other words, is not intended to eliminate any of the superheroes of other planets and universes: it aims only to combine them all into one happy cosmology. They will all converge as the alternative universes implode.



BOTH CAPTAIN MARVEL and PLASTIC MAN books have, in the first of the two-issue series, a two-page summary of the heroes’ multi-universe lives—in text with illustrative panels. In the second issue of each title, an 8-page diversion interrupts the main narrative to advertise the forthcoming “New” DC Universe by parading before us some of “new’s” inhabitants. No.2 of each also concludes with another 8-page segment: dubbed “Divergence,” it offers a “sneak peek” at a portion of the “New” DC Universe.

            I peeked into several other Convergence issues, seeking clarification but finding very little in the pages of the books themselves. In Convergence: Detective No.1, Earth 30's Robin has become the new Batman, and Superman works for Russia. One page is devoted to an argument between “Robin” and the Huntress about the efficacy of their costumes. A whole page!

            How are we to be persuaded that the end of the world as we know it is at hand when our saviors take time to quibble about the fashion statements of their wardrobes?

            Elsewhere, in Convergence Nos.1 and 2, we meet Telos, the man, who sets out the rules of the game: only one of the rival cities (Metropolis and Gotham?) can survive, so the heroes must battle each other to determine which city is the victor. (All this is, I assume, code for “only one of DC’s numerous universes will remain after the Convergence.”) Telos repeats this formulation several times. There are several characters in these two titles that I’ve never seen before. But then, I’m not big on the “continuity” that has festered in DC titles for many many years.

            In Convergence: World’s Finest, the Seven Soldiers of Victory—another gang that rampaged through World War II on the side of the Allies—or at least a couple of them, the Vigilante and Sir Justine, the Shining Knight, battle a flock of red-suited clones called Weaponers. But to no avail: seemingly, the Seven Soldiers have lost and their city is destroyed. This two-issue series’ only saving grace is the incorporation of Sheldon Mayer’s semi-autobiographical thoroughly comical character Scribbly as the “reporter” recording events. Talk about obscure allusions, this is the champion of the lot.

            In almost all of these titles, the villains are proclaimed rather than explained—the battles therefore scarcely justified—and most of the pages are devoted to depicting apocalyptic events—explosions and earthquakes and the like—more effectively staged in movies with sound and light than in the static medium of funnybooks. In sum, there is a sameness to all of this earth-rending activity that soon pales.

            The Convergence series may accomplish its purpose for the fanboys who write the stories, but it cannot possibly appeal to new readers, those for whose allegiance the fanboy writers are clearing the decks of ancient and now-meaningless continuity. What new reader, lured into buying a Convergence title by his/her happier experience watching a superhero movie, can make any sense of what is transpiring within?

            This entire series is more off-putting than welcoming. Even with the help of St. Wikipedia—a dubious agglutination of obscurities at best—I’m lost, wandering lonely as a cloud.

            But if, as I read somewhere, future post-Convergence DC Comics titles will be self-contained, one-issue stories devoid of the issue-spanning cross-over continuities that annoy rather than entertain, then maybe the otherwise baffling Convergence effort will not be in vain.

            Meanwhile, so what’s with Batman No.40? Is Batman dead? Which Batman? The Bruce Wayne Batman or the Thomas Wayne Batman? Or some other? Bruce, I guess. Doesn’t matter. Batman won’t be dead for long. Presumably, a new, clean-cut post-Miller Batman will converge and amaze us all. But the cover of No.40 is one for the history books: Greg Capullo’s rendering of a knight-like Batman symbolically about to dispatch the menacing dragon of everyone’s nightmares.

            We’ll see. (If, that is, I can bring myself to buy another DC comic book.)

            Meanwhile, over at Marvel, another series has commenced. “Secret Wars.” Is that it? I can’t keep them all straight. And at DC, barely out of Convergence, we have “Truth.”



OKAY: I BOUGHT ANOTHER DC BOOK. Several, in fact—mostly of the post-Convergence variety, just to see how that’s working out. Maybe I’ll review some of them next time, but for now, there’s the new Black Canary, Brenden Fletcher’s, in which Black Canary is the name of a band that the “old” Black Canary, Dinah Drake, is the singer with. Dinah Drake, you’ll remember (and if you can’t, what are you doing in this miasma of age-old continuity nostalgia?), is the Golden Age Black Canary not the later manifestation, Dinah Lance, Dinah Drake’s daughter—see how confusing this is? And I’ve been around comics awhile, kimo sabe: imagine what kind of experience a newcomer has with this title. But no one in the band knows Dinah’s history as a crime fighter. As the band’s singer she deploys her famed “sonic scream” as a musical number. But she is ruining the band. Although not with screaming. The band (or Dinah) is being dogged by some other-worldly types, and when they show up, the Black Canary fights them—and in the process, wrecks the band’s venue.

            The issue’s central episode is one of the fights, and it shows Black Canary as accomplished as ever at the fighting-bad-guys dodge. But who are these baddies after? The band? Dinah? Tune in next time.

            So much for the new DC Comics being stand-alone, one-issue stories.

            The real treat in Black Canary is Annie Wu’s artwork. Crisp, uncluttered pure linear pictures. And the Black Canary’s traditional fishnet hose has fashionable rips and tears. Who could ask for more?



ELSEWHERE, Dan Panosian, whose work on Conan Red Sonja I admired, is now, as of No.3, doing just the cover; the interior is Randy Green’s, inked by Rick Ketcham. They’re entirely competent, but I loved Panosian’s freewheeling line. In this issue, by the way, Conan and Red Sonja almost—but not quite—consummate their relationship in that routine rhythmic manner of man-woman relationships that has rocked the world throughout time. But not quite. Alas, their coitus is interrupted as Conan breaks out in some sort of nasty skin rash.

            And Dark Horse has launched Rebels, a recounting of the American Revolutionary War in which the battleground scenes alternate with the romance between one of the rebels, Seth Abbott, and Mercy Tucker, whose marriage is tried when Seth joins Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, resulting in his being away from home a lot. Oddly, comics publishers have typically steered clear of this subject. Perhaps they know their readers have grown weary of this aspect of American history due to the repeated rehearsals of it in grade school classes. What can be interesting about this old stuff? Writer Brian Wood is about to tell us, and Andrea Mutti is doing his story justice with her art. And the Green Mountain Boys, a legendary crew, offers ample opportunity for exploring seldom recounted exploits of derring-do, ripped from the pages of our very own history.





At some point, Americans decided they were going to be offended by everything. The problem with this kind of prefabricated reaction is not that it emboldens haters but that it crowds out legitimate grievances. Everything begins to stink of politics, and we start sounding like a bunch of humorless protesters. There is nothing wrong with calling out people for the things they say, but there is something fundmentally illiberal about a mob’s hounding people for every stupid tweet or making snap judgments about entire careers based on a few comments. Most often, the purpose is to chill speech. And, I guess, that’s what really offends me the most.”—David Harsany in NationalReview.com




The Thing of It Is ...



■ With maybe 19 candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, the GOP problem is how to decide which of them gets to be on stage for the promised series of debates. So far, the solution suggested is to base eligibility upon standing in polls. But Bill Scher at RealClearPolitics.com has another idea: party leaders should “follow their own logic” on campaign finance and allow only the top 12 fundraisers to debate. Republicans have rejoiced over the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United that money is a form of speech, so if that’s the case, surely those who raise the most money have earned the most speech.



■ Will Durst on Ted Cruz: “He’s a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law and a Dominionist who surfs the crest of his constituency’s ignorance.” Or maybe it’s Cruz’s ignorance: after a 21-hour filibuster during which “he read Dr. Seuss’s Geen Eggs and Ham on the floor of the Senate, Cruz proceeded, in front of the whole country, to misinterpret the moral of a book aimed at kindergarteners.” Then again: Cruz recently compared himself to Galileo, “claiming to be similarly attacked for his belief that global warming doesn’t exist. And it’s an apt comparison. Except Galileo was a scientist refuting the teachings of the Church, and Cruz is a religious man denying the teachings of science. Other than that—spot on.”




Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

But I’m so glad I ran into you---

Tell the people that you saw me, passin’ through



Harold LeDoux, 1926 - 2015

The man who inherited the comic strip Judge Parker and drew it for 52 years died June 7, according to thescoopblog.dallasnews.com. LeDoux, born in Port Arthur, Texas and graduating from high school there in 1944, was a Merchant Marine during World War II before moving to Chicago to attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Daughter Lorraine Gachelin says he became friends there with cartoonist George Booth, not yet a New Yorker legend, and moved to Manhattan, where he found work at Famous Funnies (considered the first-ever comic book) and Movie Love magazine, where he illustrated famous faces of the 1940s and 1950s.

            Psychiatrist-turned-comics writer Nick Dallis (who also created Rex Morgan, M.D. and Apartment 3-G) and illustrator Dan Heilman launched Judge Parker, a soapy strip about a hunky widower judge named Alan Parker with two kids, November 24, 1952. Beginning in 1953, LeDoux was one of a succession of Heilman’s assistants, and when Heilman, who reportedly suffered from a drinking problem, left in 1965, LeDoux inherited the strip. His drawing mannerism was somewhat more labored, wooden even, than Heilman’s crisp styling, but he made the strip his own and kept it going until he retired in 2006.

             He was succeeded by famed comic-book illustrator Eduardo Barreto, then Mike Manley, who continues to work on the strip. On his blog, Manley wrote that Judge Parker “was also a pretty copy heavy strip, but LeDoux kept your eye moving with good black placements and a slick, bold brush line.”

            According to his daughter, LeDoux worked out of his home studio from early morning until late in the evening, six days a week. Dallis sent his scripts from Arizona until he retired in 1990 and was replaced by writer Woody Wilson, who LeDoux saw in person just once during their 16 years together.



Joel Kauffmann, 1950 - 2015

A WORLD-FAMOUS UNKNOWN CARTOONIST, Kauffmann died on May 8 at the South Bend Memorial Hospital. A resident since 1970 of Goshen just south of Elkhart in northern Indiana, Kauffmann produced his comic strip Pontius’ Puddle, the protagonist of which is a crowned frog named Pontius who comments on matters of faith and the world from his perspective in a puddle; the strip appeared worldwide in about 200 newspapers, probably not dailies—and maybe a lot of church publications. In short, Pontius’ Puddle was not in general circulation—although maybe it should have been.

            A screenwriter for numerous films, including “The Radicals” and the award-winning Disney movie “Miracle in Lane 2” (which he co-wrote with Don Yost), Kauffmann announced in December 2014 that he was discontinuing the comic strip after a 31-year run in order to concentrate on other faith-oriented endeavors, chief among them, content coordinator for the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C.

            For the Museum, he developed content for a handheld device that visitors will carry through the museum to give them greater access to and insight into the artifacts and wrote the scripts for an 8,000 square foot recreation of first century Nazareth. The handheld will allow visitors to see virtual, three-dimensional first century villagers and animals at work and play in the streets of Nazareth.

            When he announced that Pontius’ Puddle would cease at the end of the year, Kauffmann was interviewed by the Elkhart Truth; parts of that interview follow.

            Kauffmann began by explaining that he got interested in newspaper comic strips (rather than comic books, which he wasn’t allowed to have when he was young) as a kid, laying the paper on the livingroom floor and, propped up on his elbows, reading the strips.

            “I think Peanuts was what got me most interested,” Kauffmann said. “It was the first strip that seemed to have something to say about the life I experienced. Others, like the Bazooka bubblegum wrappers were just jokes, but Peanuts talked about life, faith, relationships, God, etc. I think that lit a fire in me. I believe that our sense of humor is from God, and I never understood why we put it away when we think about religion. With my cartoons, I try and combine the two things I value most — faith and humor. I also think humor helps people to think more honestly about faith issues — not just say what they think they are supposed to say.

            “I grew up in a family with a great sense of humor,” he continued. “However, we were expected to check our laughter at the sanctuary door. But to me, laughter seemed a gift from God. Humor lowers tensions, breaks down walls and creates windows that allow individuals to consider another point of view.

            “So,” he went on, “—I created Pontius’ Puddle to see if I could give the combined forces of faith and humor a common voice. I set two goals: 1) Every strip should be faith-affirming, and 2) My own shortcomings, not those of others, should be the bulls-eye of each barb. I view Pontius as a creature who shares our collective strengths and shortcomings. As a cartoonist, I tend to ignore the strengths and hone in on the shortcomings, such as our tendency to see the small, shallow, muddy wallows we inhabit as the center of the universe.

            “I chose Pontius as my protagonist’s name because the biblical Pontius Pilate shares our most human trait: the desire to do good, but the failure to follow through.”

            He continued: “The basic idea for the strip is that Pontius’ lives in one small puddle, and sees the whole world in relation to that. He is not aware that the world is muchlarger and grander than the small mud puddle he calls home. I see this as a problem for many people — we think our family, town, state, nation is the only thing that matters and fail to realize that all God’s creatures are important.”

            Kauffmann’s favorite strip is the first one on the visual aid at the corner of your eye. “This cartoon,” he said, “has been used hundreds of times all over the world.” And you can see why.


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Opus 340 (May 30, 2015). With this hoppy posting, our 340th, we finish the 16th year of Rancid Raves. That’s right: we’ve been doing this for sixteen years. HOOrah! That probably makes us one of the longest-running websites on comics. In fact, if we add a few qualifiers—we are definitely the longest-running website of comics news and reviews, cartooning history and lore being operated by two cartoonists. Amazing what a few qualifiers can do for one’s ego. And the other cartoonist, our webmaster, Jeremy Lambros, and I are on the cusp of adding a new feature to the enterprise—about which, more when we get closer.

            In the meantime, we celebrate this anniversary with an opus that rambles conversationally from one topic to another as we think of them. The longest ramble takes us through the thicket of issues prompted by Garry Trudeau’s reaction to the Charlie Hebdo murders—whether freedom of expression should be limited by ordinary politeness to reduce or  eliminate offensiveness. Cartoonists reaction to Trudeau’s remarks had barely died down when PEN revived the foofaraw by planning to give Charlie Hebdo an award for courage that some PEN members objected to, saying it would “valorize” offensive cartooning. Isn’t satire inherently offensive—to someone? What, then, of the future of satire? And before the award could be given, a Muslim hate group’s Draw Muhammad cartoon contest was attacked by Cutthroat CalipHATE hooligans of the home-grown sort, who were killed in their attempt.

            Engaging as such a discussion on the nature of cartooning and free expression is, that’s not all we offer in Opus 340. In fact, it’s a whopper of a posting. We encourage you to scan the list of topics and articles that comes next in order to pick those that interest you—rather than trying the impossible, reading the whole enchilada at one sitting. So here’s what’s here, in order by department—:




Summer Super Flicks

Archie Kickstarts then Kickstops

Denver Comic-Con Passes 100,000

Maus Banned in Moscow




Tom and Jerry

Born Loser



Roundup of the Month’s Crop



Trudeau’s Punching Up and Down

Charlie’s Hate Speech

Dozens of Cartoonists Describe Their “Red Lines”

Charlie’s Luz Quits

Cartoonists Draw Their “Red Lines”

Trudeau’s Response on “Meet the Press”



Members Oppose Giving Charlie an Award for Courage

200 Sign a Petition

Others Protest the Protesters

Charlie Hebdo Jabs at PEN

The Myopia of the Writing Class

Art Spiegelman Musters the Opposition

Alison Bechdel, Neil Gaiman, Gene Luen Yang, Jules Feiffer




Two Cutthroat CalipHATE Hooligans Killed at Cartoon Exhibit

Sponsor’s Pamela Geller Triumphant

Cartoonists React in Cartoons


PEN’s Courage Award Given

Spiegelman Comments on the Role of Cartoons


What I Think About Hate Speech and Offensive Cartoons



How Editooning Fares in LDS Country


AAEC Condemns Shootings at Contest Exhibit

Pamela Geller Marches On with Ads for Buses in D.C.

Iran Runs Anti-Isis Cartoon Contest



A Selection of Comic Strips that Amaze and Amuse



Goodbye God? by Hunt Emerson

Weird Al’s Mad



The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson, Vol. 1

Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss XXXmas in July



Unusual Mutt and Jeff (not by Bud Fisher)

Caricatures by Milton Caniff

RCH Interviews Mort Walker, Brian Walker, and Jules Feiffer



The Big Con Job

Tales from the Con

Daredevil Resists Donning TV’s Duds

Red One by Terry and Rachel Dodson


PEN Letters Quoted in Full



Our Motto: It takes all kinds. Live and let live.

Wear glasses if you need ’em.

But it’s hard to live by this axiom in the Age of Tea Baggers,

so we’ve added another motto:.


Seven days without comics makes one weak.

(You can’t have too many mottos.)


And our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu, then, here we go—:





Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits


THE SUMMER’S OFFERINGS of superhero flicks got off to a spectacular start April 30-May 1 with the opening of “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” which pulled in $84.5 million, besting the $80.8 million debut of the first Avengers film in 2012, according to Disney estimates, which predict the “Ultron” movie will eventually beat the first Avengers’ all-time record of $207.4 million.

            The summer’s supers schedule resumed on May 15 with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” to be  followed by “Jurassic World” (June 12), “Disney/Pixar’s Inside Out” (June 19), “Terminator: Genisys” (July 1), “Ant-Man” (July 17), and “Fantastic Four” (August 7).





Riding the crest of a wave of fan enthusiasm about the forthcoming revamped Archie, the first issue of which is due in July, Archie Comics decided to catapult that popularity into revamps of other characters, scheduling three new titles: a new Kevin Keller-starring series from Dan Parent and J. Bone (Life With Kevin), a new Jughead-oriented series with Chip Zdarsky writing and an artist to be named later (Jughead), and a Betty and Veronica-oriented series by the creator Adam Hughes (Betty and Veronica).

            Co-publisher Jon Goldwater wanted to get the new books onto the newsstands fast in order to hitch onto the success of the new Archie, written by Mark Waid and drawn in an entirely different style by Fiona Staples. Goldwater, who has overseen other revamps and new directions in his company in the last few years, was eager to continue to get attention “for the company and our creators, to celebrate our 75th anniversary and to really jazz our audience.”

            But Archie Comics had just signed a deal to supply Wal-Mart and Target with digest titles, and that project sucked up financial resources. So to fund the new titles, Goldwater launched a Kickstarter campaign.

            “Normally, we could put these books out over time,” Goldwater explained to Tom Spurgeon at comicsreporter.com. “We'd just have to sprinkle them out over a few years, as opposed to fast-tracking them. The Kickstarter allows us to build on the expected success of Archie No.1 in a more meaningful way while also offering some cool rewards for our fans who choose to back the Kickstarter. ... The idea is to make them happen faster because we know fans want them faster.”

            Makes sense to me. And Goldwater is bubbling over with excitement and hype. The plan was to raise $350,000. The rewards for donors to Kickstarter consist, it seems, mostly of copies of the new titles when they come out. Maybe a few sweeteners, too. It all seemed a grand way to celebrate Archie’s 75th anniversary.

            Problem was: crowdfunding is usually launched by entrepreneurs “in need,” not major publishing houses like Archie Comics. Goldwater assured Spurgeon that the company was not in financial difficulty. He just wanted the new books out fast in order to feed and foster the kind of fan interest that the new Archie has stimulated.

            Goldwater said over and over again, his company was a bold, innovating company, and resorting to Kickstarter was just more evidence of the “new Archie”—the Archie Comics that had married Archie to both Betty and Veronica, then killed the redhead, introduced the first openly gay character, and launched a zombie title in Afterlife with Archie. Bold. Try anything once.

            But as soon as the Kickstarter program started, Archie Comics was assaulted with questions and concerns from fans and retailers. The company has only just begun to get into comic book shops, and the shop owners wondered about how the Kickstarted titles would feed into their system. It looked as if they’d be cut out of the equation as the publisher began distributing titles directly to readership via the Kickstarter rewards system. And there were other concerns, on all hands.

            At first, Archie responded by revamping and expanding the rewards. But that didn’t quell the concerns. Finally, it was too much. Archie Comics cancelled its Kickstarter.

            The decision to pull the Kickstarter, Goldwater told comicbookresources.com, came after the Internet conversation was no longer about the books themselves. Instead of talk about the new titles and writers and artists, social media brimmed with criticism of crowdfunding products by a major publishser.

            "Once that happened,” Goldwater said, “we decided it was time to stop. While we don’t mind putting ourselves under the microscope or answering questions, the creators involved didn’t deserve that level of negative attention. Though we fully expected to get funded, we felt it was time to step back."

            The new books will still be published, said Goldwater. “It’ll just take a beat, and we won't be able to create this movement or wave of comics over the next year and change.”

            Jughead No.1, for instance, was originally scheduled for September, and has now moved back at least a month.

            "Very broadly, Jughead will come first, sooner than you'd think," Goldwater told CBR News. "Probably October. Then we'll take a pause, figure out the rollout of the other two and how to best position them in the market. It's going to take longer than we'd hoped, obviously, but these titles are top priority for us, and we want to make sure our fans get the best books possible."

            Meanwhile, the company will thank the donors who jumped on board with a special thank-you gift.





It was a heppy heppy weekend (May 23-25) at the Denver Comic-Con, which, according to BleedingCool.com, broke the 100,000 attendance mark, the number that had been anticipated due to enthusiastic advance registrations. The official announcement, made by DCC factotum Jason Jansky, pegged the final number at 101,500 (up from last year's 86,500, which, in turn, topped the previous year's attendance). In a mere four years, DCC is within striking distance of unseating the record-holder, the San Diego Con.

            BleedingCool also reported that the programming was “the most extensive” he/she’d ever seen—and 400 tables in Artists Alley (which is dubbed “Artists Valley” here due to the proximity of the mountains).

            Like most comic-cons in recent years that are not devoted to movies and tv shows, the DCC is part “craft show” (the artists in Artists Valley sell jewelry and t-shirts, buttons and bows, not just drawings of comic book characters) and part “costume parade.”

            But the DCC is determinedly a family show and has aggressively discouraged costumes that show too much skin. Still, the real world has started invading cosplay. For the first time I realized it, I saw several alleged men dressed as women. Transgender is on the moves, kimo sabe.





“Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel about the Holocaust, Maus, has some very memorable cover art,” said Robert Siegel at npr.org: “It pictures a pair of mice — representing Jews — huddling beneath a cat-like caricature of Adolf Hitler. Behind the feline Hitler is a large swastika. That last element has become a problem for Maus this spring. For Russian observances of Victory Day, the holiday commemorating the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany, Moscow has purged itself of swastikas. In an effort to comply, Russian bookstores cleared copies of Maus from their shelves.”

            Asked what he thought of this development, Spiegelman replied: “I think it's rather well-intentioned stupidity on many levels. I'm afraid that this is a harbinger of the new arbitrariness of rules in Russia. And the result will be like what happened in the obscenity rulings that closed down a lot of theater plays. It's arbitrary rulings that make playwrights and theater owners afraid to put anything on that has an obscenity in it. ... Be very careful if you're writing about anything else we decide is the red line this week. So this is a way in which I fear that Maus has been instrumentalized to ends I don't approve of.”

            This isn’t the first time Maus’s swastika cover has caused trouble, Spiegelman said. When the book was offered to a German publisher—“way back when Maus was not a known entity”—the publisher cited a German law against displaying the swastika on the covers of books. But the publisher found a loophole: the government can make an exception for “works of sserious scholarly import.”

            Siegel wanted to know just how important the cover can be. Said he: “As we all know, you can't judge a book by its cover.” So what’s the big deal?

            To which Spiegelman said: “Well, the whole point of what we're calling graphic novels is the melding of visual and verbal information—to sound professorial for a second. And part of that information starts with the first thing you see.”

            He recalled that Pantheon didn’t want to give him the right to do the cover back 1986 when the first volume was published. “I was sputtering,” Spiegelman continued. “How can you do that? The cover's part of the book, of course. And then my friend up at Pantheon, Louise Fili, the superstar art director of Pantheon at the time, said shut up and don't worry about it. You'll do the cover. It goes through me. So I did. I got a separate paycheck on top of the relatively small advance. And when the second book came out, they insisted that I do the cover so I don't get any extra money,” he finished with a laugh.

            But in Moscow, you didn’t see Maus covers for a while.




Animated cartoons on prime-time tv rank as the longest-running sitcoms: “Family Guy” racked up 250 episodes recently, saith Time, and “The Simpsons,” with 574 (and a two-year renewal in hand) will easily pass 600. The nearest competitor is the vintage 1950s live-action “Ozzie and Harriet” with 435 episodes; “Cheers” lasted for 11 seasons but achieved only 275 episodes.

            ■ Scholastic has lately secured a grant from the Herb Block Foundation to start an editorial cartooning category in the Scholastic Awards. ... In 2013, a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, Fun Home, was mounted at the Public Theater in New York with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori. In March 2015, “Fun Home” moved to Circle in the Square Theatre and opened to rave reviews on April 19th.




Disney’s much acclaimed attempt at turning animated cartoons into film artistry, “Fantasia,” is 75 this year. According to John Wenzel at the Denver Post, “The 1940 film, which interprets eight different pieces of classical music through lush, hand-drawn animation, arrived as flagship character Mickey Mouse was slumping in popularity.” The inspirational heart of “Fantasia” was, then, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” segment in which Mickey stars: this would, it was hoped, revive the character’s standing among fans, who’d been slowly won over to Donald Duck since the quacker’s first appearance in “The Wise Little Hen” in 1934. The eight-part “Fantasia” grew out of Mickey’s appearance.

            But the “Fantasia” we see today is not the “Fantasia” of 1940. It has been modified, tweaked, and changed here and there as it aged. Says Wenzel: “For esxample, early versions of the segment for Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral Symphony’ featured black centaurettes polishing the hooves of white centaurs. These scenes were removed in the late 1960s for fear of perpetuating racist stereotypes.”




MGM’S TOM AND JERRY are 75 this year, too. The first of the duo’s 163 adventures on the screen arrived February 10, 1940. Entitled “Puss Gets the Boot,” the debut cartoon features Tom and Jerry but Tom is called “Jasper” and Jerry has no name. (He was called “Jinx” around the studio, but the name isn’t used in the final film.) No one attached any special significance to the one-shot cartoon until, later that year, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Short Subjects, Cartoons. Producer Fred Quimby promptly pulled creators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera off other projects and put them to work making more Tom and Jerry cartoons.

            The Tom and Jerry cartoons have been de-racistized in later years: the only human in the series was “Mammy Two Shoes,” a heavy-set African American maid. Although her face is never shown (we see only her chubby body below the neck—and, of course, her shoes), by accent and the color of her hands and harms, she’s clearly identified as black. Because the mammy stereotype is now regarded as racist, her appearances in the televised cartoons have been edited out—or she has been re-animated as a slender white woman. Saith St. Wikipedia: “She was restored in the DVD releases of the cartoons, with an introduction by Whoopi Goldberg explaining the importance of African Americn representation in cartoon series, however stereotyped.”




ART SAMSON’s Born Loser is 50 this month, having debuted May 10, 1965. Since Art’s death in 1991, his son Chip has been running the misadventures of Brutus Thornapple, the hapless loser of the title.

Herewith, the Sunday anniversary strip and a daily (May 6) from the run-up week. The anniversary is being celebrated and Universal/Uclick’s website, GoComics.com, where you can enter a contest to win a “high quality” print of the strip if you’re one of the lucky contestants. You can also print out a “Born Loser” certificate, which has a blank spot for you to insert your name. Or you can print out the one that accompanies this announcement.

            Here’s Chip’s account of his career as his father’s successor—:

            “My career as a cartoonist began in 1977. My dad, Art Sansom, created The Born Loser in 1965 and by 1977, he was looking for an assistant so he could ease up his heavy workload, especially with the gag writing. I had started a career in the business world immediately after I graduated from college four years earlier, and by this time I had become disenchanted with that career path and was looking for something more creative. Sounds like a perfect match, right? Except I never dreamed I could be a cartoonist, because I believed I was a terrible artist. I think I was intimidated by the fact that both my mother and father were fabulous artists. There was no way I could live up to the high bar they had set, so I decided at an early age not to try. This is not to say they did anything to make me feel this way: it was all in my head.

            “Believe it or not, I never took an art class in college, high school or even junior high school. In retrospect, I think if I had taken art classes, I probably wouldn’t have been all that bad and certainly would have learned many things that I would find helpful to this day. On the other hand, I was an English major in college and had loved creative writing from an early age, so I was confident I could help my dad out with the writing on the strip. I started by submitting a series of gags to him, as had multiple other professional writers. They were all talented, but they didn’t know The Born Loser like I did. I grew up watching my dad create the strip in his studio in our home. I knew it so well, my gags worked better for the strip than those of the other writers.

            “Dad offered to hire me as an apprentice and teach me the art side of things while I was writing gags for him. I accepted under the condition that I work for free on a trial basis for one year, while still working my other job. I passed the audition to the satisfaction of both of us and started my official apprenticeship one year later.

            “Dad taught me every aspect of producing the comic strip exactly as he did. The artwork progressed slowly but surely. I found that even though I was unable to quickly draw the characters, my eye was trained to know what they should look like and I would keep working on my drawings until they passed my eye test. By the time Dad passed away in 1991, I was able to take over the complete production of The Born Loser by myself. I still felt I wasn’t a great artist, but I believed I could produce The Born Loser better than any other living person. I have made a conscious effort to continue the comic strip in the style Dad taught me. As a tribute to him, I still sign both of our names to every strip.”

            Chip said that “at a very young age,” he was a fan of Dennis the Menace. Maybe that accounts for Hurrican Hattie, the juvenile terror of The Born Loser. Chip was never into comic book superheroes, but when he discovered Carl Barks, everything else took a back seat.




Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing segment is culled from articles eventually indexed at rpi.edu/~bulloj/comxbib.html, the Comics Research Bibliography, maintained by Michael Rhode and John Bullough, which covers comic books, comic strips, animation, caricature, cartoons, bandes dessinees and related topics. It also provides links to numerous other sites that delve deeply into cartooning topics. For even more comics news, consult these four other sites: Mark Evanier’s povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s DailyCartoonist.com, Tom Spurgeon’s comicsreporter.com, and Michael Cavna at voices.washingtonpost.com./comic-riffs . For delving into the history of our beloved medium, you can’t go wrong by visiting Allan Holtz’s strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Allan regularly posts rare findings from his forays into the vast reaches of newspaper microfilm files hither and yon.





            “I don’t judge people based on color, race, religion, sexuality, gender, ability or size. I base my judgement on whether or not they’re an asshole.”—A. Nonymous

            “The rich are not the job creators. The job creators are the vast middle class and everyone aspiring to join them, whose money businesses need in order to justify expanding and hiring.”—Ex-Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich

            “If Obama came forward with a cure for cancer, they [the everlasting GOP] would oppose it.” —Joseph Cirincion in The Washington Spectator





The Mock in Democracy

STACKED UP WITH BOOK REVIEWS last time, we skipped over this department in order to finish a posting within readable range. I’m not sure, upon reflection, that we accomplished the latter goal, but we’re back with Editoonery again this time anyhow.

            Surprisingly, we’ve missed little in terms of developments worthy of the editoonist’s pen. Jon Stewart says that he’s quitting “The Daily Show” because, among other things, of boredom with American politics. Every day, it’s the same old shit. And as I look back over the crop of editoons from the last two months, I see a lot of familiar events: the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm is still hypocritically attacking Obama over and over again for doing exactly what the GOP would do were it in the White House, the House has voted—pointlessly, again, for the 59th time?—to repeal Obamacare; otherwise Congress does nothing, “failing to govern” (in the favorite GOP phrase) in all directions at once; racism continues to roil in American streets, the Cutthroat CalipHATE persists, with cartoonists still the targets. The only thing that changes is the contortions the Prez must perform in order to execute the laws he’s obliged to execute.

            Despite a certain sameness, editorial cartoonists persist in exploring the resources of their visual medium to expose pettifoggery and other kinds of political mummery. In our first visual aid, at the upper left, Signe Wilkinson’s visual of a roadside billboard captures succinctly the situation in the Israeli-Palestinian standoff. Unhappily, it ain’t funny: it is, in fact, a fairly accurate prediction of what the next century or so will look like.

            Next around the clock, Jeff Danziger gives us a hysterically comical image of “Israeli Leadership,” ludicrously leading the way to suicide—as if the only way to combat terrorism is to blow oneself up by “lousing up” the Iran deal. Immediately below, Matt Davies manages to ridicule both Netanyahu and the GOP in a single image. Bibi, revealed on the eve of the Israeli election as motivated only by crass political self-interest, stakes his future on the supposed support of the American GOP-controlled Congress, which, in a single comment, reveals itself to be as naive about Middle Eastern politics as Bibi is about American politics. Who is being “played” is a good question.

            At the lower left, Pat Bagley gives GOP’s pecksniffering hypocrisy the spotlight it deserves. The cartoon is more verbal than it is a blend of word and picture, but the pictured “mess” gives the words their ironic satirical edge.

            Galumphing GOP folly is Joe Heller’s subject, opening our next exhibit at the upper left. In two successive panels, he reveals the Pachyderm’s hypocrisy in faulting Hillary for doing exactly what the GOP Senate did by writing a letter to Iran, undercutting Bronco Bama’s nuclear negotiation. The sameness of the image from panel to panel emphasizes the two-facedness.

            As for Hillary’s supposed criminality in dodging government e-mail mechanisms, she joins a number of GOP presidential aspirants in the practice: Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Jeb Bush (not to mention former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice) who have all admitted trying to avoid government oversight by conducting business through private e-mail accounts. As Will Durst put it: “It’s become such a boring predictable dance, Lady Gaga will probably write a song about it soon.”

            But it’s Jeff Danziger’s imagery for the infamous letter to the mullahs that best captures, for me, the nature of the “crime”: the 47 senators who signed the letter did not, exactly, commit treason (although there are enough of the political opposition who say they did to make the charge seem momentarily credible), but they did usher in a new era of American foreign policy-making, one that is about as guaranteed of success as wading off into the ocean is both uncertain and unproductive.

            There’s a reason that the writers of the Constitution left foreign policy to the Prez: he speaks with one voice, while the Senate, in this instance, speaks with 47 of the 100 possible voices.

            Below Danziger, Nick Anderson provides an apt visual metaphor for how the Iran deal is being viewed from two American perspectives: for Obama, it’s the happy ending of an Easter-egg hunt; for Congress, it’s just another meal, waiting to be fried out of existence. Finally, Tom Toles at the lower left reveals—as if it needed revealing—the GOP policy with respect to the Prez. But this time, the irony—mostly verbal—reverberates across both domestic and foreign affairs.

            Next up, images of the Congress. Clay Bennet starts us off at the upper left with a deft visual metaphor of the work of the 113th Congress, the one that left town after last fall’s election. A colorful ribbon wrapped around nothing. Walt Handelsman, next around the clock, supplies a suitable image for the arrival of the 114th Congress. Just another weight for Obama to bear.

            Chan Lowe shifts to another subject—the emerging U.S.-Cuba relationship—at the lower right with his imagery of American tourists invading the island nation. And at the lower left, Bennett is back with one of his potent images, this time vividly showing us where the “path to citizenship” goes.

            The fate of the GOP, its plans and other obscene behaviors, is the topic in our next display.  It’s Paul Combs’ deliciously detailed comical artwork that gives his cartoons their bite. Here, he refers to the GOP attempts—with its invitation to Netanyahu and the Senators’ letter to Iran—to give itself power that it Constitutionally doesn’t have. The fine print on the elephant’s blanket says “Power Grab Show.” It’s the portrayal of the teetering elephant that makes its behavior laughable.

            Next, Clay Bennett invokes a standard cultural image of horror to remind us of just how the Republicons’ bid for minority support must look to the minorities whose lives the GOP policies affect. And below, Chan Lowe’s metaphor of a hairy, big-footed cave man suggests how primitive (and therefore transparent and crass) the GOP’s attempt to garner women’s votes is.

            Finally, we have Tom Toles, who, in four panels, presents the ludicrousness of the GOP lie about Obamacare. It’s a circular argument that goes nowhere, but, laughably enough, the Republicons behave as if they don’t see the illogic in their repeated lies.

            Iconoclastic comedian Bill Maher, interviewed in the May issue of Playboy, calls these effusions “zombie lies—lies that live forever even though they’re not true. They’re the undead of politics. I noticed Iowa Republican senator Joni Ernst referring to the Keystone jobs program in the Republican response to Barack Obama’s State of the Union address this year. Okay, we’ve proved for a couple of years now that the Keystone jobs program would create only 35 jobs. As one senator said, you’d create more jobs by opening a single McDonald’s. Trickle-down economics is another zombie lie: give the rich tax breaks and the poor will thrive. Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas, destroyed his state’s entire economy selling that zombie.”

            Meanwhile, the 2016 Presidential Campaign has already begun. (In fact, if you had your head about you, you would have noticed that it began the day after the results of the 2012 election were announced. No wonder Stewart is bored.) Tom Toles’ opening shot at the upper left of our next visual aid depends upon an actual fact: the dome of the capital building is being renovated.Toles gives the dome a new look more in keeping with the present condition of electioneering. Next, Lisa Benson pokes at Hillary (who has lost her last name lately), to whose inevitability the Democrats have hitched their hopes for the White House in 2016; unhappily, Hillary, being the inevitable target for GOP slings and arrows, finds her campaign crumbling as the Clinton Foundation is being attacked, and she therefore threatens to take the Democrat Party over the cliff with her.

            Clay Bennett takes a look at Jeb Bush’s incipient campaign and anticipates the difficulty he’ll have in courting the Tea Baggers in the GOP (who look like the disease Jeb doubtless thinks they are). And then Ted Rall fires off a broadside, finding Jeb’s religious faith shallow to the point of nonexistent.

            Religion is the topic in Jeff Danziger’s shocking orange cartoon that opens the next exhibit. He depicts all the GOP candidates trying to associate themselves with a popular religious figure while at the same time proposing to disown Jeb Bush, presumably because he isn’t sufficiently religious to appeal to Tea Baggers, among whom are many evangelical fanatics (who Maher characterizes as “snake handlers and flat-Earthers who make up the party’s base”). Danziger is one of the hardest-hitting editoonists around these days, but he can’t caricature worth a toot, and here, he confesses his shortcoming by listing all the GOP candidates by name in the lower left corner of the cartoon—admitting that his pictures of them are not convincing themselves. Too bad. But I still admire his ability to visualize the chicanery of politics in a vivid and memorable way.

            During his Playboy interview, Maher was asked about the Presidential campaign. “The real question mark,” he said, “is what the Repupblicans will run on because they can’t run on jobs; unemployment is too low. I suspect we’ll see the batshit campaign tactics we saw with the last few Bush runs: John McCain had a black baby; Willie Horton came out of nowhere; John Kerry went somehow from a war hero to a despicable coward in that insane turnaround. It’s going to be some made-up issue that the Republicans will harp on. Remember Jeb Bush’s father running in 1988? We had these rumors about Kitty Dukakis burning the American flag and all that shit about Michael Dukakis not cleaning up Boston Harbor. If things are still going well, we’ll have some pictures of Hillary scratching her ass at Mount Rushmore in 1975. That’s all the Republicans can run on at this point.”

            The fate of gay marriage is next under fire on the exhibit at hand. Chris Britt offers one of his patented hysterical panicky bigots to chastise the anti-gay crowd. David Horsey asks the question no one is asking. Would a baker forced to bake a cake for a gay couple poison the batter first? Finally, Chip Bok ponders a Supreme Court that refuses to bake the cake for a gay wedding. I’m not sure the metaphor translates into a cohesive comment but that is doubtless because of my pro-gay marriage bias.

            The justices seem to be adopting the attitude of bakers who refuse to bake wedding cakes for same-sex couples. What’s the answer to the question Chief Justice Roberts poses? What will happen? Nothing? What?

            The Court’s decision will supply the answer. 

            Still, where is Bok on the issue? By turning the proposition on its head in this fashion, Bok seems to be making a case against forcing the populace to accept same-sex marriage. In other words, he’s against gay marriage. That anyone intelligent enough to be a editorial cartoonist could hold that opinion these days seems outlandish, and so I have trouble translating Bok’s cartoon into a statement.

            But maybe he’s just having a little fun, poking both sides in the eye with a stick of imponderability. In any event, Bok’s caricatures alone are worth the posting.

            Baltimore is the subject of the next display. At the upper left, Pat Bagley starts us off with classic imagery about the race relations between African American communities and the police departments that protect and serve them. Reflected in their glasses is what each party sees when they look at the other: the black guy sees a sheeted Ku Klux Klanner; the cop sees a hulking thug. The imagery, reflections of reality, is powerful.  Bagley is back next on the clock with another tellingly sad image: “silence” would seem to mean absence of life as well as absence of sound.

            And then Lisa Benson lands on the one bright spot in the Baltimore brouhaha—the single mother of six, Toya Graham, who chased her son out of the protesting mob and back home, where, she alleged, he belongs. At least there, he’d stay out of trouble.

            "I was pretty much just telling him, 'How dare you do this,'" Graham said.

            When she first saw the video of herself, she thought, "'Oh my god, my pastor is going to have a fit.' That's it."

            At the end of the day, she told cbsnews.com, her intention was to bring her son to safety. She said when she saw her only son with a rock in his hand, she just lost it. “He has been in trouble before, and he knows right from wrong. He's just like the other teenagers that don't have the perfect relationship with the police officers in Baltimore City, but you will not be throwing rocks and stones at police officers," Graham said. "At some point, who's to say that they don't have to come and protect me from something, you know? ... Two wrongs don't make a right, and at the end of the day I just wanted to make sure I had gotten my son home."

            Graham represents the power in most African American communities where fathers are hard to find. In attempting to solve the so-called “problem” of the fatherless black family, we have undoubtedly been looking in the wrong place: we keep trying to re-engage black men, fathers; we should be looking for ways to enhance the power of the existing power structure, the mothers.

            Almost immediately, numerous of the saintly population jumped all over Graham for physically abusing her son. Sigh.

            Finally, in a bitter recognition of a reality we seem to be living with, Humor Times, leading up to its 25th anniversary, reprinted the Joel Pett cartoon it published on the front page of its first issue, April 1991. As we see, the problem of police brutality has been with us for a long time. Humor Times is a monthly newspaper printing chiefly editorial cartoons, plus a couple of columns (by Will Durst and Jim Hightower). You can get a sample copy through its website, humortimes.com, for a buck (shipping and handling charge); a year’s subscription is $24.95 for 12 issues of the print paper; $9.95 for a downloadable digital version. I recommend it, either way.

            Next, a little untrammeled recreation—three cartoons by Flash Rosenberg, who muses on everyday preoccupations in the most fanciful visuals. She doesn’t say anything political or, even, stupifyingly profound, but the decorative embroidery on life is refreshing.

            And then we have a few cartoons by Patrick Chappatte, whose international perspective gives his observations a detachment that is often bitting. At the upper left, Chappatte asks the question that no one else seems to be asking—and it’s a crucial question. In “Teenage Crisis,” he pairs a couple of near look-alike portraits for a comment on our present troubles; we thought we had it bad “then.” Below that, he shows us “Race in America”—a black man as Prez watching black riots in Ferguson; bitterly ironic. And finally, in the last image, we have soccer offered as a panacea for starving populations. I don’t remember what, precisely, this cartoon addresses, but it’s a beautifully rendered image, and its truth is undeniable.

            Turning next to other current issues, we come first upon Keith Tucker’s panels about the impending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, aimed at facilitating and improving trade and, hence, national revenues. A dozen or so nations around the Pacific rim are engaged in negotiations on the TPP, and while Bronco Bama has spoken forcefully in favor of it recently, the issue Tucker highlights here is only recently getting much attention. How true is it? Dunno. But even a casual Google on the topic brings up articles that illuminate the difficulty in the ways Tucker does here.

            Unhappily, most of the information on TPP is based upon leaked documents or fragmentary statements on matters still being negotiated; nothing is final, so it’s impossible to say whether Tucker is being reasonable or alarmist. The best alternative is Elizabeth Warren’s: let’s open up the talks and discuss it all. Negotiators resist transparency at this stage because the secrecy permits hesitant countries to confront issues that would otherwise drive them away from the table.

            Immediately below Tucker are two Prickly City strips by Scott Stantis, generally a conservative editoonist who grinds his axe in the strip by deploying in the desert two charming seemingly innocent characters, a little homeless girl named Carmen and her coyote buddy Winslow. Lately a pink-eared bunny rabbit has invaded the premises, and, judging from its (her?) comments here, the long-eared character is a stand-in for Hillary. Stantis’ sarcasm coupled to funny pictures is enough to amuse even me, flaming liberal that I doubtless am.

            Back to the top right of the visual aid, we get to cartoonists’ reactions to the most recent terrorism, this time, in the U.S. “homeland.” As usual, inspired by cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, a brace of AK-47 toting adherents of the Cutthroat CalipHATE attacked an helpless exhibit of Muhammad drawings in Texas, a suburb of Dallas. More about this incident ’way down below. Here, Ted Rall kicks off with a few snide remarks prompted by Garry Trudeau’s comment last month that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists wandered into hate speech (quoted at some length below). Rall has turned Trudeau’s notion into raw comedy (“Marked for a Pulitzer or Marked for Death?” “Death? Or slow death?”) by depicting an imaginary “Jihadi Art Critics Circle.”

            Below Rall, Jimmy Margulies assumes an imaginary Muslim attitude to explain the prohibition against depicting the Prophet: Muhammad is too embarrassed by the antics of the Cutthroat CalipHATE to show his face.

            With that, we conclude our sermon on editorial cartooning this time—and leap, forthwith, into the latest Charlie controversies—:




Trudeau’s Charlie, PEN’s Charlie, and Geller’s Charlie


WE HAD THOUGHT, until a few days ago, that the monstrous Charlie Hebdo issue had slipped into a forgotten past, like most matters that are urgent only as long as they sell newspapers or enhance tv viewership. But Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau, prompted by the need to say something in accepting the George Polk Career Award (see Opus 339) in early April, said things about Charlie that created no little stir in cartooning circles. We have posted the entire speech at Opus 339, but here below we repeat those of his remarks that caused the stir (all in italics):

            Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

            By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies [of the magazine] that were published following the killings [of Charlie staff] did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

            The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another. [France has a law prohibiting anti-semiticism.]

            What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.

            I’m aware that I make these observations from a special position, one of safety. In America, no one goes into cartooning for the adrenaline. As Jon Stewart said in the aftermath of the killings, comedy in a free society shouldn’t take courage.

            Writing satire is a privilege I’ve never taken lightly. And I’m still trying to get it right.             Doonesbury remains a work in progress, an imperfect chronicle of human imperfection. It is work, though, that only exists because of the remarkable license that commentators enjoy in this country. That license has been stretched beyond recognition in the digital age. It’s not easy figuring out where the red line is for satire anymore. But it’s always worth asking this question: Is anyone, anyone at all, laughing? If not, maybe you crossed it.



WHAT TRUDEAU CLEARLY BELIEVED was a humane and thoughtful re-consideration of the Charlie cartoons—by American standards, unusually gross and vulgar in flinging their satiric barbs—suddenly looked as if he were blaming the victims: the Charlie cartoonists brought on their own murders by drawing those outrageously offensive cartoons.

            Cartoonists immediately took sides. Some supported Trudeau; others did not. Rueben Bolling was among the latter in his Tom the Dancing Bug. Bolling, who likes and respects Trudeau, was troubled by his impulse to criticize him, as he explained at his blog at GoComics.com (in italics):

            So why would I draw this cartoon, attacking the position on Charlie Hebdo he presented in his speech accepting the George Polk Award? Well, I'm fascinated with the issue, and when his speech was released, I found that I disagreed with him in a way I thought was interesting. Of course, when America's most prominent cartoon satirist provocatively weighs in on a huge global story about the most important tragedy in cartooning satire history, I'd say it's worthy of our attention.

            I wrote a few tweets about his speech. And then, as I thought about it, I came up with this comic, using the example of America's abortion debate to show that it's not always clear whether a satirist is punching up or down, or why that should matter. In Charlie Hebdo's case, poking fun at religious authority, and violent religious fundamentalists, could certainly be seen as punching up.

            Anyway, once I had the comic sort-of written, I felt it would be dishonorable or even cowardly to scuttle it because I didn't want to anger Garry Trudeau, or because I wanted to be sure to be in his good graces. We're satirists, and we should be able to disagree with each other through our chosen medium (which doesn't lend itself to nuance or equivocation).

            Also, to be honest, once I have a comic I like in mind, it's very hard for me to shift gears and change subjects. As I try to write another comic, my mind will keep wandering back. I'm like a dog with a chew toy; I can't let it go. ...

            Well, I will email Garry and explain that while I disagree with him, I do so respectfully, but I suspect he won't be happy about this comic. And that genuinely bothers me. But I guess if I can write satire about newsmakers whom I don't know and respect, it's only fair that I don't back away from writing satire about newsmakers whom I do.

            Here's the original opening panel, showing Trudeau's stand-in Mike Doonesbury making the speech. I decided I needed to give the reader more background with a fuller explanatory panel (one of the weaknesses of this comic), so I substituted in the B.D. / Zonker panel.

            Editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes is another who disagrees with the notion of “red-lining” editorial cartoons. At a presentation at the Library of Congress on April 30 (reported by Sukrana Uddin at Young DC.org), Telnaes said that limiting oneself according to other individuals’ “red line” of comfort would eventually box in a cartoonist’s free speech and creativity. Reported Uddin: “Adhering to stern censorship rules stifles a cartoonist’s job of provoking thought and conversations. Rules would eventually restrict true free speech. She had produced a cartoon as long ago as 2006 that vividly illustrates the dangers of red-lining.” Too many red lines make that box we’re trying to avoid.

            Telnaes co-presenter, Signe Wilkinson (who, like Telnaes, is a Pulitzer-winning editoonist), agreed: “Each group has something sacred. The question is whether we can let each group decide for everyone else what is sacred. And if we do, we will not be drawing [editorial] cartoons.”



OTHER CARTOONISTS responded to a ComicsRiff survey conducted on April 27 by Michael Cavna, who wanted to know if any of them hold any potential targets as truly, personally taboo. Said Cavna: “In other words: If editorial cartoonists are surgeons of satire, is there anything that is off their operating table? When they cut so incisively, are there any ‘red lines’ each of them prefers not to cross? Here is how 15 of America’s leading cartoonists responded”—:

            Nick Anderson (Houston Chronicle): I don’t think in terms of red lines; I tend to think in terms of context, which requires judgment. What is over the line in one context might not be over the line in another. If I’m drawing a really outrageous cartoon, it is probably because I’m trying to employ a fitting metaphor for a situation that I find particularly outrageous.

            That being said, I can’t say I’ve ever felt the need to attack or belittle the founder of a religion — Jesus Christ, Muhammad, etc.. I prefer to attack and belittle their followers, who often willfully misinterpret the words of the founders for their own twisted ends. I agree with Trudeau that “because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must.” And this does not mean that criticizing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons puts one in league with the Charlie Hebdo murderers. One should be able to cross the line in a free society without fear of violent reprisal. The answer to speech that crosses the line is more speech.

            Pat Bagley (Salt Lake Tribune): I’ve cartooned for decades in a state that comes as close to a theocracy as any in the United States of America. Garry Trudeau said in [his] speech that “the French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace” — suggesting it was impossible to grasp and there should be a role for censorship. The Mormon tradition of “freedom” and “choice” suffers from the same contradiction. When I went to BYU in the ’70s, the running joke was that the university motto was “Free Choice; and How to Enforce It.” I thank whatever Enlightenment thinker — probably French — came up with the idea of free speech, now enshrined in our U.S. Constitution. Otherwise the 90-percent Mormon, white, privileged male Utah legislature would be tempted to dictate my choices.



(RCH: Okay, Bagley doesn’t seem to be addressing the question. Does he have any personal red lines? I interviewed him years ago, and I’m posting some pertinent parts at the end of this segment under the heading “Pat Bagley Redux.” The short answer—well, there is no short answer. See for yourself down the scroll.)



            Nate Beeler (Columbus Dispatch): Personally, I generally think it’s unwise to publicly set “red lines” for what you won’t draw. Every controversial cartoon idea needs to be judged on merit within its context, and that’s both a personal and editorial decision on whether to go forward. Each cartoonist must decide what type of reputation he or she wants to cultivate.

            I agree with much of Trudeau’s speech, particularly with the notion that “because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must.” But I take serious issue with Trudeau giving rhetorical cover to terrorists who murdered his cartooning compatriots. … People everywhere have the inherent right to freely express themselves in “childish” and “unserious” ways — which is lucky for Garry Trudeau. …

            I can tell you that you’ll never see me draw a cartoon about Garry Trudeau being savagely beheaded by free-speech absolutists.

            Darrin Bell (Washington Post Writers Group): I won’t blame religion for anything in my cartoons. Fanatics are fair game. People who cherry-pick from their religion in order to justify the denial of equal rights to others are fair game. People who use religion as an excuse for tribal fighting and slaughter are fair game. Holier-than-thou hypocrites are fair game. But so far I’ve never depicted an entire religion as being fundamentally flawed.

            I don’t draw that line because I think religions are above reproach; I draw that line because I feel blaming religion itself lets the bigots, the hypocrites and the ignoramuses off the hook. Religion is a tool. Some use it to build discriminatory laws. Others use it to build civil-rights movements. I’d rather focus on the carpenter than on the tool.



(RCH: Incidentally, if you haven’t noticed, Bell is back doing editorial cartoons, the work he did while in college. He does three a week for WPWG, plus writing and drawing two 7-day comic strips in syndication, Rudy Park and Candorville. Glutton for punishment. He also has an 18-month-old son. And he just won the Robert F. Kennedy Award for editorial cartooning. Obviously, he never sleeps. )



            Matt Bors (Medium’s The Nib; Universal Uclick): Obviously, I think satirists should punch up and not down when choosing targets, including scolding dead cartoonists.

I use my best judgment and try not to gauge what I do based on the most easily offended or quick-to-murder reader.

            Steve Breen (Union-Tribune, San Diego): I thought that what Garry Trudeau said was right on. It seems to me, from what I have read, that the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were pushed by their editor to cross red lines…to become, as Trudeau put it, fanatics for free speech.

It seems to me a good editor pushes us [cartoonists] to be as accurate, clever, clear and concise as possible. He or she should help you affect people but not intentionally enrage them. When people are enraged, they hate you — and when they hate you, they’re no longer able to be objective when they consider your point of view.

            I don’t operate in terms of specific red lines, but I do rely on the filters in my head, as well as the guidance of my editor to look at something and say: “Whoa, this might be a red zone we should steer away from — why not try making the same point in a powerful but less-inflammatory way?”

            Mike Luckovich (Atlanta Journal Constitution): Great question. I view my mission differently than the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo. I don’t set out to provoke. My goal is to get my point across. If it upsets one group or another, so be it. I’m nominally Catholic. During the pedophilia scandals, I hit the church repeatedly and was criticized for it. However, my red line is never drawing a cartoon mocking Jesus Christ or any other religious icon to make a point about a particular faith. I won’t negatively caricature Muhammad to slam Islamic radicalism.

            Jimmy Margulies (King Features): The question of which topics or issue I would shy away from in my editorial cartoons is somewhat difficult to answer. Personally, I try to distinguish between things which people have no control over or choice in — such as nationality, race, ethnicity, disability — and those which they do have a conscious role in, such as thoughts, beliefs, actions, policies, etc. The former in my opinion are not fair game, but the latter are.

I say that the question is somewhat difficult to answer because in reality, the red lines are not set by cartoonists themselves, but by an editor who decides what is suitable for publication.

            Whether an editorial cartoonist is employed by a newspaper or draws for syndication, it is always the decision of the editor what gets published. So the question of what a cartoonist may decide is acceptable makes for a very stimulating discussion. Ultimately it becomes an academic exercise, since the cartoonist does not have the final say. When I was employed at the Record in New Jersey, my editor would not permit cartoons which ridiculed Governor [Chris] Christie for his weight. I never proposed any that targeted him for his weight alone — they were always in conjunction with something else for which I was criticizing him. But the mere suggestion of poking fun at his size was always an obstacle to getting approval.

            Jack Ohman (Sacramento Bee): I think any cartoonists who work on daily newspapers stay within what are commonly accepted parameters. Offhand, I wouldn’t say there were subjects I wouldn’t or can’t comment on. I do try not to be derogatory about a person’s religion. I will comment on a religion if I disagree with a position the leadership of that religion has taken. While cartooning is extremely reductionist, there are taste boundaries, and those boundaries are stretched constantly. One example for me was Governor Jerry Brown’s use of the word “fart,” in describing Governor Rick Perry. That was the first time I went in that particular direction.

            Joel Pett (Lexington Herald-Leader): Where to draw the line when drawing lines?…Okay, I personally, would never draw anything that might get large numbers of people killed. This also applies to “maimed” and “imprisoned for life at the mercy of Dick Cheney.” … Unless, of course, I could select the individuals from the ranks of corporate and government evildoers past and present against whom I harbor grievance.

            I would also never criticize a cartoonist of Garry Trudeau’s stature, whom I respect for many reasons. Major red line! I would graciously, but not obsequiously, concur with some of his major points, like “punching up” and that writing satire in a free society is a privilege, one that comes with attendant responsibility. I would downplay the holes in his speech, giving him the benefit of the doubt, assuming that something was lost in translation, or lack of inflection or facial expression or the like. Examples of these would be: 1) that “free speech absolutists…denounced using judgment and common sense”; and 2) the usefulness of his conclusion about “whether anyone at all is laughing.”

            Never one to nitpick, I’d just smile and internalize my thoughts about how “absolutists” merely defend the right of people to say dumb things, and that some idiots will laugh at almost anything. Also, small point, but the lines aren’t red at all, and in fact they have more shades of grey than “insert S&M joke.”

            I might mention that all of the highly publicized battles over free speech involve parties acting irresponsibly, or at least doing and saying things that most of us wouldn’t dream of. Like publishing Hustler, donning swastikas and marching in Jewish communities, picketing military funerals with signs reading, “God hates f—“, drawing the prophet for a nonprofit, or simply being Rush Limbaugh.

            Please do not translate this into any other language, hand-letter onto a scroll or chisel into a tablet, as something may get lost over the centuries, causing untold misunderstanding. Thank you.

            Rob Rogers (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette): I consider myself a free-speech absolutist in the sense that I don’t believe anyone should be murdered or even jailed for expressing themselves. I don’t think any kind of speech, no matter how offensive or “taboo,” should result in a death sentence. Once we begin to allow certain people or groups to dictate what is okay to say or draw, it is only a matter of time until those exceptions become more and more restrictive. It is a slippery slope to ultimate suppression. By criticizing the content of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, and there is certainly plenty to criticize, we run the risk of blaming the victim. If only they hadn’t drawn the prophet Muhammad. ... If only the rape victim hadn’t worn that short skirt. … These kind of arguments only embolden the attackers and those who think their actions were justified.

            Also, while I would never draw the kind of shocking images found in Charlie Hebdo, I think it is also a big leap to say that by depicting Muhammad in an unflattering way, those cartoonists were attacking a powerless disenfranchised minority of Muslims. I read it as them attacking a religious taboo, not a group of people.

            My own personal moral code is certainly one of not punching downward. My goal is to create satire that champions justice and equality, and I try to avoid images that may undermine that purpose. I believe in going after the oppressors, not the oppressed. I attack the hypocritical and corrupt, the rich and powerful, the cruel and pompous rulers—not their poor followers. While I don’t think I have any red lines, per se, because I would never want to put those kinds of restrictions on my creativity, I probably do have some pink lines. I avoid images that could be seen as racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc., because they would be antithetical to my intended message.

            In 2014, I was called anti-Semitic for a cartoon I drew about Gaza that criticized Israel’s use of military force in the region. My particular cartoon style includes large, bulbous noses on all my characters. I don’t think my depiction was anti-Semitic, but in the future, I will be more sensitive when drawing cartoons about Israel.

            Jen Sorensen (Fusion and Austin Chronicle, et al.): I’ve been asked this question a lot over the past year, and I’d suggest that the phrase “red lines I won’t cross” is somewhat flawed. People crave absolutes, but there are no lines — only specific contexts and circumstances. Also, the phrase seems to imply that I’m repressing something I *should* be saying.

            I’ve often said that being a political cartoonist is like being a doctor; I try to heed the golden rule of “do no harm.” Will my work contribute to hatred and misunderstanding? Or does it serve to illuminate and defend the less-powerful in society? The only subject I won’t draw about is one about which I have no good cartoon ideas. Rather than follow lines, I follow my conscience. And in the U.S., I’m fortunate to have tremendous freedom to do that.

            I may be in the minority among my colleagues, but I greatly admired Garry Trudeau’s speech on Charlie Hebdo. Garry gets it. There are ways to criticize terrorism and religious extremism without humiliating and alienating an entire people at the bottom of the power structure.

            Scott Stantis (Chicago Tribune): [I have] no hard and fast “red lines.” Like the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on pornography: I’ll know it when I see it. I would also ask Garry [Trudeau] or any others defending the pretext of the Charlie Hebdo attack exactly what “punching down” the people at the kosher deli, where the attackers went next, were guilty of?…

            [Trudeau’s] point seemed to be that the satirist’s first obligation must be to sensitivity and not to moral outrage. Apparently, one of the Charlie Hebdo covers that really set off the attackers ridiculed radical Islam, going as far as renaming the publication Sharia Hebdo. If that’s “punching down” then more satirists ought to do it.

            I am also aghast at his sneering label of “free-speech absolutists.” Count me as one of those as well.

            Signe Wilkinson (Philly.com; Philadelphia Daily News): Different people have different lines, which is why no ONE person should be able to declare crossing a particular line to be a death-penalty offense. Personally, I work for two newspapers with general-interest audiences with wide tastes. I don’t do nudity, profanity or graphic violence. My line on religion is that when a religious group starts asking for special favors from the state — whether it’s tax privileges for their schools or exemptions from regulations everyone else must abide by — or acting in ways that affect others — abusing kids, cutting off apostates’ heads — they become part of the political process, and should be treated as the political players they are.

            As much as I respect Garry Trudeau, I disagree with his argument on Charlie Hebdo. Like Trudeau, I wouldn’t have drawn most of the cartoons they published, and didn’t follow their publication. However, their cartoons did not kill people. Humorless religious fanatics did. It is the assassins we should be worried about, not a bunch of cartoonists whose work was largely being ignored by non-terrorists.

            Adam Zyglis (Buffalo News; this year’s Pulitzer winner): As Trudeau mentioned in his speech, I, too, believe my role as a cartoonist is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” My goal is to express an opinion to my readers in a way that’s honest about what I believe to be right and wrong. If in the process I provoke anger or vitriol, then so be it. But to needlessly provoke is to reduce what I do to public shouting. I suppose that’s my red line: Do not be gratuitously offensive.

            I don’t have any topics that are off the table in my commentary. I let my editors do the editing, and I’m lucky that in my case, I’m given free rein in terms of message. With imagery, my paper used to be sensitive to depictions of the Pope and the Catholic Church [in light of the abuse scandals], but I still found ways to make my point.

            Free speech has its limits, and producing work for a mainstream newspaper means certain images will needlessly provoke. Religious symbols, such as the cross or a depiction of Muhammad, need to be handled with care when crafting cartoons. It doesn’t mean they’re off the table — it just means you must use them responsibly. The same is true for racially charged imagery.

            The cartoons of mine that have been the most controversial have been ones immediately following a tragedy. For instance, after a Buffalo plane crash in 2009, I was highly critical of the poorly trained pilot and the sub-par safety standards of the regional airline industry. The cartoons were circulated around the airline industry to many who weren’t regular consumers of satire. The reaction was overwhelming — so many people were offended because they didn’t know cartoons aren’t always like Garfield. But since then, I’m more cognizant of the timing of my cartoons.



WRITING AT HIS BLOG, Daryl Cagle, editoonist and owner of his syndicage, Cagle Cartoons, expounded even more, starting with his observations about Charlie cartoonist Rénald “Luz” Luzier, who drew for the first post-killings issue of Charlie Hebdo the now-famous cover caricature of Muhammad with a tear running down his face, saying“Tout est pardonné,” or “All is forgiven.” Luz decided at the end of April that he would no longer draw Muhammad cartoons.

            “He no longer interests me,” Luzier  told French magazine Les Inrockuptibles. “I am tired of him, just like [former French President Nicolas] Sarkozy. I am not going to spend my life drawing them.”

            To which news Cagle responded (in italics): I can sympathize with Luz’s choice: since he’s now “typecast” as the premier Muhammad cartoonist, it seems reasonable that Luz wouldn’t want his career to be boiled down to being the “Muhammad cartoon guy.”

            I’m an editorial cartoonist; I haven’t drawn a Muhammad cartoon myself, because I haven’t been inspired to do so. I shy away from drawing cartoons that some people would find offensive. I don’t use four letter words, or the “N-word” in my cartoons. I don’t draw sexually explicit cartoons. Offensive subject matter in cartoons can be so loud that it drowns out anything else I might want to say in a cartoon, except, “Look, I have the freedom to draw something offensive.”

            Many cartoonists have drawn Muhammad cartoons, and racist cartoons, and dirty cartoons; that’s fine, that’s their business—but drawing offensive stuff just to draw attention to myself, or to prove that I have the right to do so, just looks like lousy cartooning to me. The Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were doing more than that; they were addressing issues in French culture that were important to them, and rejecting all religions that they felt didn’t fit with their secular society.

            I knew three of the five Charlie Hebdo cartoonists who were murdered earlier this year and I got to know more of them at French cartoon festivals. They have a genuine passion for their issues and our conversations always turned to a discussion of their religion-bashing cartoons. Here in America we’re not faced with the same social pressures and similar cartoons here should seem out of place.

            It doesn’t matter that I personally don’t choose to draw Muhammad cartoons, or that most cartoonists don’t care to draw offensive cartoons, all editorial cartoonists are now being seen as recklessly poking surly Islamic beasts. My profession is being painted with the Muhammad cartoon broad-brush.

            I was recently asked to speak at a local college, and I met the college president; the first thing he said to me was, “Now, don’t show any of those Muhammad cartoons.” This is not unusual. Casual conversations with editorial cartoonists often start with, “So, do you draw those Muhammad cartoons too?”

            Like Luz was typecast, it seems we’re all typecast now.



A MONTH AFTER GIVING UP drawing Muhammad, Luz announced that he was leaving Charlie Hebdo. According to Inquisitir.com, the stress of being Charlie’s only cartoonist combined with media pressure and a need to rebuild his life following the attack have convinced him to part ways with the publication. Said Luz:

            “The time came when it was just all too much to bear. There was next to nobody to draw the cartoons. I ended up doing three of every four front-pages. … Each issue is torture because the others are gone. Spending sleepless nights summoning the dead, wondering what Charb, Cabu, Honore, Tignous would have done is exhausting.”

            Charb, Cabu, Honore and Tignous are the pen names of the cartoonists killed on January  7.  As was their custom, they and other staff members were gathered that day around a table, concocting the next issue of the paper through a group dynamic of creative contributions. On that fateful day, Luz was running late—and was therefore not in the Charlie’s Paris office when the murderous Islamic hooligans stormed in. The rest of the survivors now live under police protection, including Luz’s colleagues at other newspapers.

            Luz hinted that inspiration has been elusive since the tragedy and that he’s lost interest in “returning to normal life as a news cartoonist.”

            “We’re not heroes,” he said, “—we never were and we never wanted to be.” He stuck around, he explained, only because he survived the attack, to “continue in solidarity, to let nobody down. Except that at one point, it was too much to bear.”

            Leaving Charlie, Luz said, was a “very personal choice” that will help him “to rebuild, to take back control” of himself.

            “You don’t know anymore which Luz you are speaking for,” he said, “—the one born on Jan. 7, 1972 or the one that was born for France on the 7th of January 2015.”



EDITOONISTS IN VARIOUS VENUES of the realm pondered Trudeau’s punching and red-lining. At The Nib, the cartooning corner of Medium.com, Kevin Moore conjured up a helpful guide to appropriate targets for punching—at the upper left of the first of the two accompanying visual aids.

And James Van Otto, next around the clock, provides a vividly visual interpretation of the red line prohibition. Immediately below, Signe Wilkinson shows the best response to offensive cartoons, a theme continued on the next exhibit.

            At the upper left of the second exhibit, Van Otto continues to play with the red line notion, suggesting a way a cartoonist may gauge the offensiveness of his/her cartoons. Next, John Trever offers a memorable image of the knee-jerk response of Islamic hooligans to whatever offends them, in this instance, the classic endorsement of freedom of expression. And Phil Hands’ visual shows us that while many Muslims might be offended by cartoons of the Prophet, only a tiny minority resort to violence to express their objection.

            In his response to Cavna’s survey, Rob Rogers alludes to a red-line caution that is probably more to the point than discussions about religious taboos. He said he “avoids images that ... could be antithetical to my intended message.” If an image so outrages readers that they focus only on the cause of their ire and therefore miss on the cartoonist’s message, then the cartoon is rendered useless. To a great extent, this is exactly the problem with Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons when being viewed by people not familiar with either the issues in France or the devices of French cartooning—as we’ll explain at painful length further on.



Trudeau’s Response

IN THE ENSUING BROUHAHA, Trudeau was sufficiently embarrassed to do something he rarely does. He consented (or arranged for) an April 26 interview on tv by NBC’s “Meet the Press” moderator, a very friendly Chuck Todd, to whom the cartoonist, looking every bit as chagrined as he clearly was, explained that he was “not at all” blaming the victims and that he “should have made it a little clearer” that he was “as outraged as the rest of the world at the time. I mourn them deeply,” he said—a sentiment not apparent in anything he said in his Polk acceptance speech. (He could not have made his feelings “a little clearer” because they weren’t even slightly evident to begin with.)

            So affected was he by the Paris tragedy, Trudeau continued, that he produced a special Sunday Doonesbury, memorializing the slaughtered cartoonists. In this March 8 production, Trudeau was on firm ground: he was determinedly respectful of the work of his French colleagues, and he finished with a wry antic flourish, a little self-satire, flagrantly referencing the prohibition against picturing Muhammad that Charlie Hebdo so frequently flouted. But in his Polk speech, he had another agenda.

             The “powerless, disenfranchised minority” on whose behalf he spoke are the millions of French Muslims who immigrated to France from northern Africa and the one-time French colony Algiers but who have not yet, for one reason or another, been assimilated into their new home. They live in abject ghettos around the fringes of large cities.

            Their separateness and isolation is partly self-imposed: many French Muslims wish to continue Islam’s religious practices in conduct and dress, thereby invading the French public square with religion in a way that the French have rigorously opposed. In freeing itself from centuries of Catholic Church dominance in private and public life, the French have erected an insurmountable wall to keep church separate from state. To the French, then, their Muslim countrymen threaten a hard-won tradition that the French treasure zealously.

            It is possible, as Trudeau has demonstrated, to see Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons as striking back at a French Muslim population’s insistence on making religion an active and evident part of daily life, something the French tradition and law strictly forbids—despite Charlie’s repeated claim that the magazine was, in Trudeau’s terms, “punching up.”

            Charlie Hebdo maintains that in mocking religion their aim has been not to attack religion itself, but rather the role of religion in politics and the blurring of lines in-between, which they see as promoting totalitarianism—an argument some have made about the incursion of religion into American politics. And most, if not all, of Charlie’s cartoons can be understood in that context.

            The paper sees itself as an equal opportunity offender: past covers showed retired Pope Benedict XVI in amorous embrace with a Vatican guard, former French president Sarkozy looking like a sick vampire, and an Orthodox Jew kissing a Nazi soldier. The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik described the cover of a special Christmas issue  entitled “The True Story of Baby Jesus”; it was “a drawing of a startled Mary giving notably frontal birth to her child.”

            But if the pictures in Charlie Hebdo are offensive to some, they are also intended to make us laugh, to see the absurd follies of human hypocrisy running rampant through our so-called civilization.

            “The aim is to laugh,” said Charlie journalist Laurent Lege (quoted by Megan Gibson at time.com). “We want to laugh at the extremists—every extremist. They can be Muslim, Jewish, Catholic. Everyone can be religious, but extremist thoughts and acts we cannot accept.”

            “We’re a newspaper against religions as soon as they enter into the political and public realm,” editor-in-chief Gerard Biard told the New York Times in 2012, adding that religious leaders, and Islamic leaders in particular, have manipulated their followers for political purposes. As Signe Wilkinson said in Cavna’s survey: once a religious group “becomes part of the political process, they should be treated as the political players they are.”

            Trudeau, however, sees it differently. In his “Meet the Press” interview, he returned to the ideas in his Polk speech. (What follows is quoted from a report at TheNib.com. I could not find these remarks in either the broadcast interview or in the extended version of it streamed at nbc.com; but what I’m quoting seems consistent with those of Trudeau’s remarks I could find. Perhaps the elaboration that appears herewith came during remarks Trudeau made at the Richmond Forum in January.)

            “I was as outraged as the rest of the world at the time [of the Paris killing of the Charlie cartoonists]. I mourn them deeply. We’re a very small fraternity of political cartoonists around the globe. ... What I didn’t do is necessarily agree with the decisions they made that brought a world of pain to France. I think that in France the wider Muslim community feels disempowered and disenfranchised in ways I’m sure is also true in this country. And that while I would imagine only a tiny fraction were sympathetic to the acts that were carried out and the killings, I think probably the vast majority shared in the outrage. Certainly that seems to be what people are hearing in the schoolyards in France now. They’re finding common cause at least with the issue if not with the action. I think that’s bad for France, it’s unfortunate. It’s a tragedy that could have been avoided. But everybody has to decide where the red lines are for themselves.”

            On the one hand, Trudeau says “no, not at all” does he blame the victims; he blames only “the decisions they made.” In other words—on the other hand— he blames the victims.

            Writing dialogue for his Amazon Prime political tv show, “Alpha House,” has evidently equipped Trudeau with all of the argot of equivocation deployed by the pandering politician who is adept at saying one thing and then contradicting himself in the next breath in order to appeal to a different audience—or to cover his/her butt—all the while, failing to see that he/she has reduced communication to blather by committing blatant hypocrisy.

            Suddenly, Trudeau the master satirist is guilty of some of the sins he so deftly skewers in politicians.

            Then he was rescued as the journalistic spotlight turned to PEN and its hypocrisies—:



The Hypocrisies of PEN

PEN IS AN INTERNATIONAL, NON-GOVERNMENTAL organization for writers and others actively engaged in any branch of literary endeavor; PEN has consultative relations with UNESCO and with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Founded in 1921 in London, its first president was John Galsworthy; among its earliest members were Joseph Conrad, Elizabeth Craig, George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. PEN’s stated aims are:

            To promote intellectual co-operation and understanding among writers.

            To create a world community of writers that would emphasize the central role of literature in the development of world culture.

            To defend literature against the many threats to its survival which the modern world poses.

            Although headquartered in London, PEN has autonomous centers in over 100 countries, one of them, the United States.

            Just as Trudeau was digging a deeper hole for himself on “Meet the Press,” members of the American PEN Center were circulating a letter protesting the organization’s plan to honor Charlie Hebdo by presenting it with PEN’s first Free Expression Courage Award during the annual gala on May 5.

            It all began when six members of PEN withdrew as table hosts because they believe many of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons are racist and bigoted, and they don’t want to honor racism and bigotry. Caleb Crain succinctly stated their position at his steamthing.com: “Yes, technically, a cartoonist killed for a racist or bigoted cartoon was being courageous if he drew it knowing that he might be killed for it [which accurately describes the Charlie situation]. But no, it isn’t right to honor him.”

            The writer Deborah Eisenberg elaborated on the reasons for the protest in a letter to PEN’s Executive Director Suzanne Nossel, and Nossel responded—both at great and carefully reasoned length—and Eisenberg replied to Nossel, and we’ve quoted all three letters in their entirety at the end of this Opus. Here are a few excerpts—:

            From Eisenberg’s first letter: It is clear and inarguable that the January slaughter of 10 Charlie Hebdo staff members as well as 2 policemen in the Charlie Hebdo offices is sickening and tragic. What is neither clear nor inarguable is the decision to confer an award for courageous freedom of expression on Charlie Hebdo, or what criteria, exactly, were used to make that decision. ... I doubt there are many who consider the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to be models of wit, but what is at issue is obviously not the value of the cartoons. What is at issue are the various – confused, vague, and sometimes contradictory – symbolic meanings with which the magazine has been freighted in recent months, and exactly which of those symbolic meanings PEN is intending to applaud. ...

            I can hardly be alone in considering Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons that satirize Islam to be not merely tasteless and brainless but brainlessly reckless as well. To a Muslim population in France that is already embattled, marginalized, impoverished, and victimized, in large part a devout population that clings to its religion for support, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as intended to cause further humiliation and suffering. ...

            Apparently PEN has reasoned that it is the spectacularly offensive nature of Charlie Hebdo’s expression in itself that makes the magazine the ideal recipient for the Courage Award. ... Is there not a difference—a critical difference—between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable and enthusiastically awarding such expression? ...

            To which, Nossel responded (in part): We believe that honoring Charlie Hebdo affords us an opportunity to inflect global opinion on an issue of longstanding concern to PEN and to free expression advocates worldwide, including many in the Muslim world: namely, efforts to devalue, ban, or punish acts deemed to constitute the defamation of religion. ... I worked on this issue for more than 18 months as an official of the U.S. State Department during the Obama Administration. At the time, certain delegations, led by Pakistan, were waging a powerful global campaign to try to secure an international treaty banning the so-called defamation of religion. Their efforts, they explained to me, were fueled by a sense of deep grievance by ordinary citizens in their countries toward the West and toward insults against their religion. ...

            I heard from officials who admitted that they did not believe that international bans on blasphemy were the right answer to the problems and pressure they were facing. They shared concerns that campaigns for such bans gave a kind of license to those assailants, including rioters in Kabul and assassins in Islamabad, who treated insults to Mohammed as grounds for violent reprisals. In making an award to Charlie Hebdo, we call attention the fact that such policies are abhorrent and extremely dangerous. ...

            The reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings, which united many governments, religious leaders and civil society organizations in a joint expression of solidarity, drew global attention to the dangers of intolerance for criticism of religion. ... The idea that no words, no matter how offensive or insulting, can ever justify violence seems basic to us here, but is honored in the breach in many parts of the world. We see honoring Charlie Hebdo as a potent way to affirm and elevate that principle at a moment when the world is paying attention. ...

            We also believe strongly in upholding and defending the role of satire in free societies. Satire is, by definition, disrespectful and often insulting. Based on Charlie Hebdo’s history, their statements and the accounts of those within PEN who have personally known and worked with the magazine, we believe that it sits firmly within the tradition of French satire. ...

            The new editor of Charlie Hebdo has said that in mocking religion their aim has been not to attack religion itself, but rather the role of religion in politics and the blurring of lines in-between, which they see as promoting totalitarianism—an argument some have made about the incursion of religion into American politics. As we look through the cartoons we think most if not all can be understood in that context. In pushing the boundaries of discourse as the best satirists do—American, European, or otherwise— Charlie Hebdo broke taboos, raised questions and sparked debates that expanded the space for expression and the exchange of ideas. They paid a heavy price for doing so, and then pressed on despite heartbreak and devastation. We think that shows a powerful commitment to free expression no matter the costs, and it is that commitment that we wish to honor. ...

            In sum, we are honoring Charlie Hebdo not because of the material you find offensive, but because of their fearless defense of their right to express themselves, a defense that has made our spines stiffen here at PEN and throughout the free expression community as we recognize the depth of our obligation to stand firm in the force of powerful and dangerous interests.

            Eisenberg, however, was not convinced: Here is a point [she said] on which we differ. Or at least as I understand it, this is something that you and PEN are asserting: that people who are murdered for expressing themselves are automatically deserving of praise. Really? Why is that? A person who is murdered (or threatened or harassed) for his or her views is by definition a victim – but not by definition a hero. He or she may be a hero or not. Let us say that a man considers his wife to be inferior to him and derides her repeatedly, and that she then murders him in his sleep. I think most of us would agree that it is wrong to murder the husband, but I hope few of us would agree that the husband deserves an award. ... Terrorism seeks to inhibit and control behavior and even ideas through the simple and very effective expedient of violence, so it is critical to respond by maintaining our autonomy, both in refusing to be silenced by threats or acts and also by refusing to let fear and intimidation interfere with our ideas and responses to the world around us—which is of course a subtler, vaguer, and more easily manipulated business.

            Like you, I greatly admire the courage of those who retain their autonomy and hold fast to reasoned ideals in the face of intimidation. But by the same token, I do not believe that a repudiation of terrorism obliges me to join forces with prejudices I find repugnant. If I were to follow PEN’s line of thought in this instance – the equating of free expression with offensiveness – to its logical conclusion, I would have to distort my own inclinations and convictions and devote myself to drawing incredibly offensive magazine covers. And that, in my view, would be as much a capitulation to terrorism as silence would be. ...

            The Muslim population of France, so much of which feels despised and out of place in their own home, is very aware that the non-Muslim population of France is reading and enjoying mockery of their religion, and they are very unlikely to care what objectives Charlie Hebdo ascribes to itself, however lofty those objectives may be. A person wounded by ridicule is unlikely to much care what the ridiculer intended – to care whether the goal of the ridicule was to stimulate insight or to inflict humiliation. ...

            What actually matters most in this instance, in my opinion, is what people believe is being awarded: What does PEN wish to convey by presenting this prestigious award to Charlie Hebdo? And that is still not one bit clear to me. Charlie Hebdo is undeniably courageous in that it has continued irrepressibly to ridicule Islam and its adherents, who include a conspicuously and ruthlessly dangerous faction. But ridicule of Islam and Muslims cannot in itself be considered courageous at this moment, because ridicule of Islam and Muslims is now increasingly considered acceptable in the West. However its staff and friends see it, Charlie Hebdo could well be providing many, many people with an opportunity to comfortably assume a position that they were formerly ashamed to admit. This is not a voice of dissent, this is the voice of a mob.



More PEN Uproar

THE FULL TEXT of the Eisenberg-Nossel correspondence appears, as I said, at the end of this Opus. Among the table hosts who withdrew was a former president of PEN, Francine Prose, who wrote:

            “The award is for writers and journalists who tell us the truth about the world in which we live, not drawing rude caricatures and mocking religion. ... Let me emphasize how strongly I believe in the ideals of PEN; for two years I was president of the PEN American Center. I believe in the indivisibility of the right to free speech, regardless of what – however racist, blasphemous, or in any way disagreeable – is being said. I was horrified by the tragic murders at the Charlie Hebdo office; I have nothing but sympathy for the victims and survivors. I abhor censorship of every kind and I despise the use of violence as a means of enforcing silence. I believe that Charlie Hebdo has every right to publish whatever they wish.

            “But that is not the same as feeling that Charlie Hebdo deserves an award. As a friend wrote me: the First Amendment guarantees the right of the neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, but we don’t give them an award. The bestowing of an award suggests to me a certain respect and admiration for the work that has been done, and for the value of that work and though I admire the courage with which Charlie Hebdo has insisted on its right to provoke and challenge the doctrinaire, I don’t feel that their work has the importance – the necessity – that would deserve such an honor. ...

            “Our job, in presenting an award, is to honor writers and journalists who are saying things that need to be said, who are working actively to tell us the truth about the world in which we live. That is important work that requires perseverance and courage. And this is not quite the same as drawing crude caricatures and mocking religion.”

            Salman Rushdie, the Indian author who spent years in hiding after a fatwa was issued against him for some of the content in his 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses, was appalled by the defections:

            “The award will be given. PEN is holding firm. Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character,” Rushdie wrote on Twitter on April 27. “If PEN as a free-speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name,” he said.

            Others took the decidedly opposite tack. Acclaimed New Yorker cartoonist and author Liza Donnelly (Women on Men) says she cannot salute PEN’s decision to award Charlie Hebdo with an honor.

            “I believe in the right of cartoonists around the world to draw freely without fear,” Donnelly told Michael Cavna at his blog at the Washington Post. “As a political cartoonist and supportive member of PEN, I am in solidarity with the signers of the PEN letter. I believe in absolute freedom of speech. We need all voices at the table,” said Donnelly, who is also a political cartoonist at Medium.com, as well as a cartoon editor and creator of WorldInk.org. “Yet as I wrote in my editorial for the New York Times, I believe that cartoonists have a responsibility to use their pens carefully. Because cartoons are visual and thus uniquely universal, they are extremely powerful. In a world that is increasingly interconnected, I believe it’s important to consider the possible global ramifications when wielding such power.”

            In other words, Prose and Donnelly and their ilk support freedom of expression but only so long as the expressions are decent and don’t offend anyone. A pretty puny championing of free speech, if you ask me. Those who take this position are as guilty of sniveling hypocrisy as any craven political panderer: they say freedom of speech is absolutely essential (but only some of it).



THE “PEN LETTER” TO WHICH DONNELLY REFERS is a petition that was eventually signed by more than 200 members of PEN. The petitioners oppose giving Charlie the courage award because such an honor necessarily “valorizes” the nasty content of Charlie’s cartoons. Officially, that’s scarcely the case, as President Andrew Solomon explained in an op-ed in the New York Times on May 2:

            “In offering this award, PEN does not endorse the content or quality of the cartoons, except to say that we do not believe they constitute hate speech. The question for us is not whether the cartoons deserve an award for literary merit, but whether they disqualify Charlie Hebdo from a hard-earned award for courage. Charlie Hebdo’s murdered editorial director, Stéphane Charbonnier, said he aimed to ‘banalize’ all areas of discourse that were too fraught to discuss. He maintained that generations of satire of Catholicism had made the lampooning of it — and thereby, the legitimate discussion of it — unobjectionable, and he felt that the same could be achieved with Islam and other topics.

            “That the cartoons were not intentionally racist does not preclude their being experienced as racist. Cartoons can and do offend. Yet Christiane Taubira, the black French justice minister who was parodied as a monkey in a cringe-worthy cartoon, delivered a poignant elegy at the funeral of one of her supposed tormentors, Bernard Verlhac, known as Tignous, saying that ‘Tignous and his companions were sentinels, lookouts, those who watched over democracy,’ preventing it from being lulled into complacency.

            “The leading French anti-racism organization, SOS Racisme, has called Charlie Hebdo “the greatest anti-racist weekly in this country.” Its current editor, Gérard Biard, says it deplores all forms of racism. According to Le Monde, of 523 Charlie Hebdo covers published from 2005 to 2015, only seven singled out Islam for ridicule (ten were cited as mocking multiple religions); many more mocked Christianity and the racism of the French right.

            “Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons resist religious extremists’ attempts to redraw the boundaries of free speech by using violence. They do so in defense of norms to which free societies subscribe. Anti-Muslim prejudice in the West is a serious matter. So is fundamentalism, Islamist or otherwise. Feeding off one another, both ills threaten civil liberties and tear at social fabrics. But a statement or an award that addresses one problem does not thereby deny or acquiesce to the other. The distressing absence of broad respect toward Muslims in France does not undercut Charlie Hebdo’s bravery in defending the right to be disrespectful. ...

            “Great satirists — Jonathan Swift, Rabelais, Voltaire, Alexander Pope, Mark Twain, Stanley Kubrick — have all offended and been excoriated for it; Daumier was imprisoned after depicting a grossly overweight king excreting favors. Satire is often vulnerable to being construed as hate speech, especially at first blush. Many contemporary American voices jeer at vulnerabilities as a means of unmasking them — think of Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Louis C.K., ‘South Park’ or ‘The Colbert Report.’

            “Charlie Hebdo’s staff members knew that producing satire aimed at venerated targets was dangerous. Their valor lies in their dauntless fortitude patrolling the outer precincts of free speech. While many question the defense of that far-flung territory because of the bigotry that can lurk there, Charlie Hebdo has guarded it vigilantly, keeping it open for all should a time come when we, too, may need to challenge taboos and risk sacrilege. Without those who stake out the border provinces, we would all be forced to dwell in an ever-shrinking expressive terrain.”



AT THENATION.COM, KATHA POLLITT continued in the same vein only somewhat less restrained:

            “This was a magazine that kept publishing after its offices were firebombed by Islamists in 2011, and kept publishing after nine staffers were horribly murdered by Islamists in January. Compare that to, say, Yale University Press, which dropped the illustrations for Jytte Clausen's book about the Danish Muhammed cartoons after the book's first printing, or Random House, which canceled publication of Sherry Jones's The Jewel of Medina, a historical novel about Muhammed's wife Aisha. Both publishing houses cited fears of violence by Muslim extremists. Those fears were not irrational. The head of the British publishing house that picked up Jones's novel had his house firebombed—and the book was dropped. Violence works.”

            Pollitt talked with Francine Prose, who told her “Charlie Hebdo’s work is not important. It’s not interesting. It’s a racist publication, let’s not beat about the bush.” To which Pollitt responded:

            “I've known Francine since we were in college, and admire her and her writing enormously. I agree with her that there's a distinction between supporting the freedom to speak and write, as we both do, and honoring the speech itself. ... I don't agree that the drawings of Muhammed are in a different key than the magazine's rude caricatures of the Pope or Hasidic rabbis or the Virgin Mary just after being raped by the three kings, but maybe that's in the eye of the beholder. ...

            “Garry Trudeau accused Charlie Hebdo of punching down—i.e., making jokes at the expense of the weak and powerless. In a long letter to PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel, the short-story writer Deborah Eisenberg said the same thing. There's something to that—why make struggling people unhappy?—but not enough. It's basically saying you can make fun of Christianity, but Islam is out of bounds. Furthermore, Charlie doesn't mock Muslim people—the shopkeeper who runs the corner store, the woman working in a call center, the boys hanging out in the street. It mocks fundamentalism—the narrow, bigoted, superstitious version of Islam that lies behind actually rather a lot of violence against writers.”

            Pollitt cites the protestors’ objection to Charlie: “‘There is a critical difference between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable,’ they argue, ‘and enthusiastically rewarding such expression.’ Well, sure, but excuse me: violates the acceptable? The acceptable what? And don't we need writing and artwork that pushes the boundary of what the acceptable is?”

            At newyorker.com, Adam Gopnik joined the anti-protest chorus. Some PEN protestors suggested that “maybe we could find someone better to honor than those inclined to print cartoons of Muhammad sodomizing his followers. We can regret their deaths without honoring their views—which some find bigoted or, at least, to use the word of the decade, insensitive.

            “This badly misunderstands the actual views, history, and practices of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. Their work, as I’ve written, was not for those who like subtlety and suavity in their satire—it was not entirely to my own taste—but they were still radically democratic and egalitarian in their views, with their one passionate dislike being, simply, the hypocrisies of any organized religion. Few groups in recent French history have been more passionately ‘minoritarian’—more marginalized or on the outs with the political establishment, more vitriolic in their mockery of power, more courageous in ridiculing people of far greater influence and power. They were always punching up at idols and authorities. No one in France has, for example, been more relentlessly, courageously contemptuous of the extreme right-wing Le Pens, père et fille.”

            At his 33revolutionsperminute.wordpress.com, author Dorian Lynskey joined the chorus protesting the initial six protestors.

            “One of the great fallacies in the debate about Charlie Hebdo, articulated by Garry Trudeau, is the binary distinction between punching up and punching down, as if there were a ladder of power and a simple diagram to decide between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ satire. If you think the magazine was only attacking French Muslims, then it was punching down, but its obvious target was religious fundamentalism. In the era of Islamic State, Boko Haram and Wahhabism, it’s idiotic to equate religious extremism with powerlessness. ...

            “And isn’t there something insidious about suggesting that mocking religion is unworthy? Unnecessary? Progressives usually go to the barricades to insist that mocking religion is a valid form of freedom of speech.

            “I’ve genuinely been trying to understand why these six writers feel compelled to take a stand against Charlie Hebdo — why they cannot bear even to sit in the same room while the award is being presented. ... Charlie Hebdo is not being honoured because it was doing the bravest, most important work in the world — braver and more important than the work of [other] preferred candidates, including Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. It is not being honoured for its unfailingly progressive values and always punching in the ‘right’ direction. It is being honoured because nine staff members and contributors were murdered in cold blood by fanatics who found their cartoons offensive. I struggle to come up with a definition of freedom of speech, or of courage, that doesn’t cover what they did, and the price they paid for it. ...

            “My question for the six boycotters is this: if you cannot physically bear to sit in a room and show solidarity with people who have been murdered for drawing cartoons — murder being the most terminal form of censorship — then what is the point of belonging to PEN at all?”



A PEN Interlude: Another Victim

IN THE MIDST of the PEN brouhaha, Charlie Hebdo itself weighed in, reported Jennifer Schuessler and Rachel Donadio at the New York Times. The cover of that week’s issue, released on Wednesday, April 29, featured a double-entendre referencing the PEN fracas and the continuing political family feud between Marine Le Pen, the leader of the right-wing, anti-immigrant National Front, and her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder (now defrocked) of the political party.

            The cover shows the Le Pens, daughter and pater, in contorted profile, shouting “Croak, Le Pen!” at each other. It was a jab at current events on both sides of the Atlantic: Ms. Le Pen had just suspended her father from the party he founded, prompting him to say she should “change her name.” Inside, a center spread offered articles and cartoons addresses the PEN controversy.

            In an opinion column written in a serious tone in contrast to the comic cartoons surrounding it, Philippe Lançon, a journalist shot in the face in January attack, expresses his surprise at the PEN dissenters. “He writes that he understands that some writers might want to distance themselves from PEN, and that the magazine itself mistrusts such institutions, ‘so as not to become one itself — one of those places where it’s indispensable to show how bien-pensant you are in order to get ahead and believe you’re loved.’

            “‘It’s not their abstention that shocks me,’ Lancon continued, ‘—it’s the nature of their arguments. That novelists of such quality — Peter Carey, Michael Ondaatje, Francine Prose, Teju Cole, Rachel Kushner, Taiye Selasi — come to say so many misinformed stupidities in so few words, with all the vanity of good souls, is what saddens the reader in me.’

            “During the PEN controversy, defenders of the magazine have charged its critics with ignorance of the magazine’s contents and context. Charlie Hebdo, they pointed out, is a leftist magazine with a longstanding history of anti-racist activism, and in fact has pilloried the anti-immigrant policies of the National Front far more often than it mocked Islam.”

            End of interlude; diatribe continues—:


The Myopia of the Writing Class

PART OF PEN’s problem is that its members are mostly writers, wordsmiths not picture-makers. Michael Cavna observed that among the 200-plus signers of the petition, he could find the name of no “true” cartoonist. (A possible exception may be Liz Donnelly, who sides with the signers but perhaps had not actually signed the document. Some cartoonists, like Donnelly, are members of PEN but apparently none of them have joined in the protest.) With only a writer’s verbal perspective, many (if not most) of the PEN protesters doubtless don’t understand the cartoons because in cartoons the verbal is blended to the visual for a meaning neither has alone without the other.

            The New Yorker’s art director, French-born Francoise Mouly, who is co-hosting a table, emphasizes this difference, in suggesting that some writers and editors don’t fully appreciate the cartoonist’s art, and so might judge Charlie Hebdo with less perception. “Some people’s intelligence is narrow, within their own ‘language’ and mode of communication,” Mouly told Cavna. “Cartoonists are canny because they work on both fronts. They can do a mental dance. And there is a concision that cartoonists bring. They speak in symbols — that’s what they’ve trained their mind to do.”

            Her husband, Pulitzer-winning graphic novelist Art Spiegelman, agrees: “The problem is cartooning is as much a literary form as it is a visual form, and it requires a great degree of sophistication to grapple with it. It builds on symbols, metaphor, irony, and one has to have a fair amount of cultural context to know what you’re looking at. It’s easy therefore to misread and misunderstand, and I found that some of my cohorts and brethren in PEN are really good misreaders.”

            Moreover, as I pointed out in Opus 336, French cartoonists deploy the medium in ways Americans don’t often see and, consequently, cannot readily appreciate. The French use a bludgeon; American cartoonists use barbs and needles. Charlie’s cartoons seem to us crude and vulgar. (Even more so if you’re a writer looking at pictures that seem inexplicably gross and just a little nauseating.)

            Caleb Crain at steamthing.com confronted this aspect of the dilemma as well as the cultural divide:

            “The cartoons in Charlie Hebdo are captioned in French, and they depend for their meaning on memes that won’t be familiar to anyone who isn’t a regular reader of French newspapers and watcher of French television. I can read French, but I don’t keep up on French domestic politics, and I draw a complete blank when I first look at most Charlie Hebdo cartoons. In the past week, many people have said they aren’t funny, and yeah, I have to agree. They aren’t funny. I think there are two reasons.

            “First, they’re puerile—pitched at roughly a Mad magazine level of sophistication—and in the American ecosystem, editorial cartoons are usually a little more tony, and don’t seem to have as broad a permission to engage with racial imagery as movies and comics do. Taste is to a great extent learned, and I’m afraid that an American reader of my ilk just isn’t likely to find vulgar and puerile cartoons about politics much to his taste.

            “But second, and more globally, Americans can’t find these cartoons funny simply because the cartoons always have to be explained to us. We don’t recognize the political figures being caricatured; we don’t know the political slogans being tampered with; and we haven’t surfed the particular waves of enthusiasm and disgust that have been flooding French political life lately, and on the surge of whose waves these cartoons sprang into being.”

            Without a familiarity with French politics and cultural surgings, we can scarcely understand what Charlie’s cartoonists are saying—let alone appreciate the nature of the satire on display. I attempted explanation of some of the more outrageous cartoons in Opus 336, but since that was posted, a website, understandingcharliehebdo.com, has been launched to do the explication—and much better than I did (even though I was relying upon others to piece together explanations). Often, as Cavna observes, the cartoons “are shown to have meanings the opposite of what has been assumed by Anglophones.”

            Alison Bechdel, author of the award-winning Fun Home graphic novel, agrees: “Satire is a powerful weapon,” she wrote at her blog, “but it’s also extremely culturally specific, and often doesn’t work when it’s the slightest bit out of context.”

            So—members of the American PEN are baffled from the start: they don’t understand the cartooning medium—particularly as practiced by the cartoonists who are more heavy-handed than their American counterparts—and they are utterly unfamiliar with the French domestic landscape that is addressed by the Charlie cartoonists. No wonder some of them are objecting to honoring the magazine. But only “some.” The number of petitioners, 200, seems a robust turn-out—and it is if we remember that the protest began with only 6 malcontents— but there are about 4,000 PEN members, so the signers represent only a pittling 5 percent of the membership.



AND WHILE THERE WERE APPARENTLY NO CARTOONIST NAMES on the petition, PEN counts a few cartoonists among its members. And one of them, Spiegelman, was not sitting on his hands. When he heard that some PEN members had floated the idea of standing up and turning their backs when the award was presented— or hissing— he thought: “That’s obscene,” he told Cavna. So he talked to few friends, inviting them to attend the gala and sit at a table with him and his wife, symbolically occupying some of the six empty chairs.

            “It seemed necessary as a corrective to what I saw as boneheaded reasons for the pullout,” he told Kirsten Salyer at time.com the day after the award ceremony. “I decided to accept an invitation to host a table that I’d passed on before because black tie galas aren’t my thing, and I had something else I was supposed to do that night. But after those six authors, who I’ve come to think of as a kind of superhero team called the Sanctimonious Six, pulled out, I just felt that it was necessary to be a corrective and invite other sympathetic people to be there to shout, ‘Cartoonist lives matter.’”

            Asked why it is important to give Charlie Hebdo the Courage Award, Spiegelman said:

“One point that was made over and over again was that this is an award for courage. And it’s hard to be more courageous than going back to work after your office has been bombed and your comrades have been slaughtered. On those grounds alone, one would think, ‘It’s a no brainer. They get the award.’

            “Beyond that,” he contilnued, “the magazine was getting a really bum rap. It’s actually anything but a racist magazine. One of the most touching things for me during the award ceremony last night was having the head of SOS Racisme, a French organization that combats racist activity, very movingly talk about Charlie Hebdo being a great force against racism in France. They received the award for using their particular vocabulary and medium to stir debate on issues, not to create mischief, and they did it estimably, even when people didn’t agree with them. As one of the editors pointed out yesterday, the Charlie Hebdo editors don’t even agree with each other. The point of these cartoons is to start conversations about these issues. And these issues are not trivial.”

            So Spiegelman phoned a few friends, he told Cavna. “Neil Gaiman [The Sandman] was game to change his plans and come along. And Alison Bechdel, who is now so involved in the world of a Tony Awards whirlwind [the musical adaptation of Fun Home just received 12 nominations], said she’d come and be at the table. Matt Groening [creator of ‘The Simpsons’] tried to come but he was in production this week.”

            “Cartoonists tend to stick together because they have to,” Cavna said, adding, as Gaiman pointed out, that their work is disproportionately singled out for suppression both abroad and in the U.S., while at the same time often regarded as not “serious” enough to deserve a full-throttle defense.

            Cavna went on: “Cartoonists are particularly vulnerable when addressing Islam, as some (but not all) Muslims believe that it is sacrilegious to depict their prophet visually in any way. This is not a threat limited to Europe. Earlier this year, CNN reported that the Seattle cartoonist Molly Norris is still in hiding, four years after she attracted death threats for drawing non-satirical images of Mohammed on a teacup and thimble and domino. Her name recently appeared on the most-wanted list of the al-Qaida magazine Inspire.”

            “It seems irrational to me not to attend,” Gaiman said to Cavna, “— I spent 12 years on the board of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, for which I was fighting on a daily basis to keep people who had written, drawn, published, sold or owned comics out of prison and from losing their livelihood for having drawn something that upset somebody. It’s really, really easy in comics for one image to be taken out of context,” he added.

            Said Cavna: “Cartoons and comics are a symbiosis of images and text, and sometimes viewers don’t — or, because of language and cultural barriers, can’t — absorb the meaning of the words before reacting to the images.”

            This kind of misreading happened, Gaiman said, in every court case he’s been involved with. In one CBLDF case, he recalled for Cavna, everything boiled down to a single drawing of the artist Picasso, depicted walking around his studio naked, as was the painter’s wont. “There was an argument over whether this tiny Picasso penis was erect or just flapping up as he walked. You’re laughing, but we had to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for this. It was fucking nuts.”

            Gaiman, who has been researching Charlie Hebdo since agreeing to act as a table host at the gala, added: “I don’t know that I would have said ‘yes’ any less enthusiastically if Charlie Hebdo really were this straw man publication described by some of the people who write to me online, a publication that does nothing but anti-Islamic cartoons. From what I’ve read, that does not seem to be the case. But for fuck’s sake, they drew somebody, and they [al-Qaida] shot them, and you don’t get to do that.”

            Talking with Cavna, Spiegelman reported that his wife regards the campaign against the award as a form of snobbery. “She said, ‘Now I get it: PEN is a union, a literary guild, and they want to keep the barbarians out.’”

            As Gaiman put it to Cavna, “Cartoonists, and especially cartoonists outside of whatever world you grew up — we’re in the gutter. And that’s fine.” Similar cases, he points, might have been made against other PEN-award recipients who work in other forms. “It’s that thing where people look at it and say, ‘I could draw that. It’s not real art, is it?’”

            Some Charlie Hebdo critics have insisted that this debate is rife with subtle distinctions and interpretations.

            Cavna quoted Gaimen again: “Some people say, ‘You don’t understand the nuances.’ I don’t give a f— about the nuances. Charlie Hebdo showed up to work in 2011 after they were firebombed, and kept working to put out an issue. And they continued and put out an issue after 12 murders. As far as I’m concerned, this is the [precise criteria for an] award for courage for cartoonists.”

            None of the Spiegelman ensemble like all of Charlie’s cartoons. “Things can get pretty crude and sophomoric,” Bechdel wrote at her blog. “It’s not my kind of humor. [But] just because I wouldn’t do [Charlie Hebdo's] kind of cartoon doesn’t mean I want to live in a world where no one is allowed to. Making space for this type of expression seems vital.”

            The content of the cartoons is beside the point for Gaiman: “The work is not to my taste and it’s not a magazine that I read,” he told Cavna. “But as far as I can see, this is not an award for quality. This an award for courage and turning up after your offices have been firebombed. Turning up after 12 people in your office have been murdered. Just turning up, putting out the next issue. The amount of courage in that is something that I find incomprehensible.”

            Spiegelman acknowledged to Cavna that, while “not the greatest thing since Chris Ware,” the magazine has been the work of cartoonists who often “wield their power intelligently. They know how to boil things down to that essence.”

            As a PEN member, Mouly is in an uncommon position because, Cavna explains, as a French native, she brings a deep and personal understanding of the cultural context of Charlie Hebdo.

            “When I was young, I read Charlie Hebdo for the cartoons,” Mouly said. “I was shaped by their courage, and they had influence on me when I was a teenager — it was attached to history,” adding how important the magazine was to her “1968 generation” amid protests in Paris.

            But, Mouly said to Cavna, just because she read the satirical weekly didn’t mean she liked a lot of it, let alone agree with it: “When I was a kid, it made me terribly uncomfortable to read Charlie Hebdo. When I was a young woman, in the ’70s, they were taking on feminism. … Women were their main target. It was uncomfortable, not funny—raunchy and sexist stuff. But it was an important part of France – the dynamic of the satire. That is something that I relate to.”

            Gene Luen Yang, the cartoonist, educator and two-time National Book Award finalist (American Born Chinese and Boxers & Saints), echoes the sentiments of fellow PEN members Spiegelman and Mouly in registering his reservations about Charlie Hebdo’s work — even as he defends the magazine’s right to free speech.

            “As someone who cares deeply about the representation of minorities in cartooning, and as someone who is a practicing Roman Catholic, I find many of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons downright horrific,” Yang told Cavna. “But that’s the whole point of free speech, isn’t it? People get to speak — and draw and write — things that are downright horrific, and the way we’re supposed to fight it is by speaking ourselves. Free speech is a radical condemnation of violence.

            “I see Charlie Hebdo’s PEN Award through that prism: PEN isn’t condoning all, or any, their cartoons — PEN is honoring them as a symbol of that radical condemnation of violence.”

            Jules Feiffer, the Pulitzer-winning political cartoonist, screenwriter and graphic novelist, says he cannot strongly enough underscore the word courage in the award’s very name: “I think the Charlie Hebdo courage award is really a symbolic act,” he said to Cavna. “It’s not about the quality of their work, but about carrying on in the face of mass murder. That’s probably more courage than any others who signed the petition are likely to have exhibited in a lifetime. I’ve certainly never been challenged that way. … To pick up and continue after mass murder is deserving of any courage award.

            “I might have my reservations” about Hebdo’s work, he said, in character as a curmudgeonly commentator, “but I have reservations about nine out of every 10 cartoons I see.”



And then, suddenly,




at a conference center in Garland, Texas, where the

the American Freedom Defense Initiative

was deliberately staging a perversely provocative exhibit of—:



More Drawings of Muhammad   

TWO AMERICAN MUSLIM residents of Phoenix, Arizona, drove 900 miles to Garland, a suburb of Dallas, to protest the blasphemy of depicting the Prophet. Arriving at the Garland school board’s Curtis Cullwell Center about 7 p.m. on Sunday, May 3—just two days before the PEN gala was to take place—the two Islamic hooligans, inspired, it is said, by the Cutthroat CalipHATE, were heavily armed and armored—three pistols, three assault rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and body armor. Unhappily for this duo of homegrown terrorists, the AFDI and local authorities had anticipated trouble, surrounding the Center with more than 40 law enforcement officers. The would-be terrorists never got into the building: they got off a shot or two, hitting an unarmed guard in the ankle, then, reported nbcdfw.com, five officers responded, killing them both.

            The exhibit consisted of a couple dozen or so drawings, the finalists in the AFDI-sponsored “cartoon contest” featuring pictures of Muhammad. The contest, which opened February 11 and closed April 5, was conceived to honor the murdered Charlie cartoonists—in effect, thumbing the nose at Muslims who don’t think the Prophet should be visualized. Pamela Geller, a 57-year-old former car salesman, invented AFDI as a way of protesting what she calls “the Islamization of America.”

            According to Geller, explained Tina Susman at latimes.com, every time we as a nation behave in ways that Muslims approve—like refraining from drawing Muhammad—we become, by tiny increments, more Muslim than secular, slowly adopting Islam as our national religion. Crusading as an advocate for free speech and expression, Geller objects—vociferously and all around the country.

            She began her tirade after 9/11 by starting to rant at her blog.

            In 2006, Geller was incensed and ashamed that American news media would not publish any of the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, claiming deference to the Islam religious beliefs.

            Said Geller, quoted at the Washington Post: “If the Western media ran the Danish cartoons back when this Islamic supremacist movement first started gaining steam, the editorial staff of Charlie Hebdo would be alive today. European press ran the Hebdo cartoons in the wake of that jihad slaughter. But the American press would not. The beacon of freedom, the shining light on a hill, is running scared. Well, that’s not who we are. The elites do not represent the people.”

            From her blog (now called AtlasShrugs in deference to Ayn Rand, doubtless Geller’s guiding light), she branched out, starting AFDI with Robert Spencer. The AFDI website says its mission is to “act against the treason being committed by national state and local government officials, the mainstream media and others in their capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, the ever-encroaching and unconstitutional power of the federal government and the rapid moving attempts to impose socialism and Marxism upon the American people.”

            From this catalogue of bogeymen, it might be supposed that Geller is not only right-wing but slightly crazed and just a tense hypocritical. A good Tea Bagger, in other words.

            In June 2010, said Alan Feuer at the New York Times, Geller organized a group of maybe 5,000 protesters (her count) to march in objection to plans for building an Islamic community center, which she dubbed “Ground Zero Mosque,” near where the World Trade Center had been destroyed. Plans were subsequently abandoned.

            The next year, she tried to block the Qatar-based tv-network Al Jazeera from expanding into the U.S., scarcely the act of a free speech advocate. She lost. Late last year, Feuer reported, her AFDI made headlines when she sued to get the New York’s Transit Authority to permit her to buy ads on buses and subway trains that trumpeted the evils of jihad and Sharia law. One of the ads reads (in part): “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us closer to Allah” (attributed to Hamas MTV).

            Geller said the ads were intended to educate the public; her growing band of critics, however, call them hateful anti-Muslim/anti-Arab propaganda. This time in court, she won. Briefly. The Transit Authority subsequently banned all “political advertising.”

            Raised in a Jewish household in Long Island, Geller “champions Israel as a ‘beacon of freedom in a very oppressed and violent region,’” said Meghan Barr at the Washington  Post. Geller married Michael Oshry in 1990, and the couple owned a luxury auto dealership on Long Island, according to the Los Angles Times. They divorced in 2007, and “Oshry died the following year as the dealership was being investigated in connection with an alleged identity theft and fraud scheme. Prosecutors said the scam supplied drug dealers, gang leaders and pimps with luxury cars bought using stolen identities. Mrs. Oshry was never charged.”

            The New York Times reported that Geller received nearly $4 million in her divorce settlement, plus some of the proceeds from the sale of the couple’s $1.8 million home. The AFDI enables Geller to continue to live in the style to which she became accustomed: the organization took in $960,000 in donations in 2011; Geller paid herself a salary of $192,500.

            Early in her career, Geller worked briefly in the business departments of the New York Daily News and the New York Observer. But she found her calling as a publicist, opposing the Islamization of America. And the cartoon contest in Garland is the latest platform for her campaign to manipulate news media into giving her the publicity that inspires donations to her cause. Or so I suppose.

            Said syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker: “Waging a one-woman crusade against the Muslim world, Geller says she wanted to draw a line in the sand and demonstrate to terrorists that, when it comes to free speech, America bows to no one. ... And Geller’s contribution to these [free speech] protections and our unwavering dedication to their preservation is, exactly, what? A taunt.”

            Parker continues: “Geller is a media creature and knows how to bait a media field as well. Make a noise and the media will come. Draw a crowd and the cameras will roll. Become the ‘victim’ of death threats—in essence, a fatwa —and, voila, you’re on television.”

            Geller sees it differently.

            “We’re holding this cartoon contest and exhibit to show how insane the world has become,” Geller told Bob Price at Breitbart Texas, “ — with people in the free world tiptoeing in terror around supremacist thugs who actually commit murder over cartoons. If we can’t stand up for the freedom of speech, we will lose it — and with it, free society.”

            For Geller, the cartoon contest was an obvious next step. “This event will stand for free speech and show that Americans will not be cowed by violent Islamic intimidation,” she stated. “That is a crucial stand to take as Islamic assaults on the freedom of speech, our most fundamental freedom, are growing more insistent.”

            Bill Maher agrees. (And who would not?) “The contest is obviously a provocation,” Maher said on his “Real Time” HBO program. “But this is America. Do we not have the right to draw whatever we want?”

            He also critiqued the opinion that those who provoke Muslims are ultimately to blame for the violence that ensues. “This assumes that we just have to accept that Muslims are unable to control themselves the way we would ask everyone else in the world. To me that’s bigotry. That’s the soft bigotry of low expectations.”



THE RULES FOR THE AFDI CONTEST at freedomdefense.typepad.com go on for pages—six when printed off my computer. Most of it is legalistic boilerplate. In this vein comes this happy circular argument: “In order to enter the Contest, you must agree to the Rules. ... You agree that submission of an entry in the Contest constitutes agreement to these rules.”

            Writing a “guest editorial” at some undisclosed website (quoted at rpi.edu/~bulloj/comxbib.html, the Comics Research Bibliography), Kathy Mannix noted an inherent contradiction in Rule 5: “AFDI will assume that all art entered for consideration does not infringe upon the copyright of a third party. The artist shall assume all liability if an infringement claim is made."

            To which Mannix responds: “It sure seems that the estate of Norman Rockwell has an infringement claim for the event poster AFDI used at the event and has for sale from its site for $50. It doesn't seem within the realm of parody to replace the triple image of Rockwell with a triple image of Muhammad.”

            You can see this image—and a picture of the winning cartoon—at pamelageller.com.

            The judges, whose identities are not disclosed, were to pick ten “finalists” whose work would be displayed at the Cullwell Center. The judges then picked a winner. Then those attending the exhibit voted to select “the people’s choice.”

            Attendees at the event paid an admission fee: $25 for standing room, $50 for an assigned seat at a table; $100 for “premium seating,” plus an autographed copy of Geller’s book and a copy of the poster; for $250, you get “VIP seating,” meet-and-greet cocktails with the event organizers and cartoonists (if any are in attendance; their presence was not required) and an autographed copy of the winning cartoon. Reportedly, 200 people attended.

            Bosch Fawstin, a former Muslim who says he’s now an atheist, won both the contest and the fan favorite vote, collecting $10,000 for the first; $2,500 for the second. Fawstin (which may not be his actual name) admits he’s received death threats and wouldn’t reveal to reporters where he lives. But he denies he’s gone into hiding.

            Fawstin calls himself “a recovered Muslim,” adding: “That is, if Muslims don’t kill me for leaving Islam, which it requires them to do. That’s just one of the reasons I’ve been writing and drawing against Islam and its jihad for a number of years now. But fortunately for us, Islam hasn’t been able to make every Muslim its slave just as Nazism wasn’t able to turn every German into a Nazi. So there is Islam and there are Muslims, Muslims who take Islam seriously are at war with us and Muslims who don’t.”

            The day after collecting his award money, Fawstin tweeted: “They came to kill us and died for it. Justice.”

            The Southern Poverty Law Center plans to add Fawstin to its list of hate mongers. When he heard this, Reuters reported, Fawstin laughed: “So they want to put a cartoonist on there who doesn’t act out violently? Go for it.”



THE CONTEST ATTRACTED SOME 350 ENTRIES, but only about 30 were displayed on easels at the Cullwell Center. One cartoon depicted a pencil shoved through Muhammad’s body; in another, Muhammad’s turban is shaped like a bomb, with a lit fuse protruding from the top (a reproduction of the image of one of the most infamous of the Danish cartoons.)

            Mannix, who viewed them all while they were still in a slideshow at Photobucket (now inaccessible), remembers from her only view of the cartoons that “one was a scan of stick figures on looseleaf paper, most were assemblages of stock images, and fewer than five came from the drawingboards or computers of professional artists or editorial cartoonists,” only one of whose work she recognized.

            Mannix quotes from that cartoonist’s April blog, in part: “AFDI is an anti-Muslim right-wing hate group that is intent on picking a fight with whatever right-wing Muslim hate group will take their bait,” remarks that had the cartoonist included in his/her entry would have disqualified it.

            After the shooting at the Cullwell Center, Geller seemed somehow triumphant. She had provoked violence and got it—along with a lot of national and international publicity.

            And she had no regrets.

            Meghan Barr reported that Geller believes “she probably saved lives by hosting the event”: had they been successful, the two dead gunmen would have picked another soft target and killed innocent people. “Would you regret saving lives?” she asked.

            Geller plans to have more events of a similar nature—“with one difference: next time, she’ll be wearing a bulletproof vest.”

            She argued that “any blame should be focused on extremists who can’t be criticized or lampooned without resorting to violence.

            “My event was about freedom of speech, period,” she said. She rejected the notion that it was irresponsible to host such an event in light of the Charlie Hebdo attacks and scoffed at the supposed danger: “It’s dangerous because we’re increasingly abridging our freedom of speech so as not to offend savages. ... No one is saying there aren’t peaceful Muslims,” she added. “But there is a problem in Islam as illustrated last night, and anyone who addresses it gets attacked.”

            Here, again, Bill Maher seems to agree. In his May Playboy interview, Maher said, in response to questions about his reaction to the Charlie killings:

            “If there are this many bad apples, there’s something wrong with the orchard. The fact remains that Islam is a uniquely intolerant and violent religion at this point in our history. ... The vast, vast vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists. But here’s the point people don’t bring up: they’re not terrorists, but they share some very bad ideas with terrorists, and bad ideas lead to bad behavior. You couldn’t put the Muslim equivalent of ‘The Book of Mormon’ on Broadway. You can’t write a book like The Satanic Verses without millions going jihadi on you. You couldn’t have an art exhibit like ‘Piss Christ,’ which made Giuliani mad in the 1990s. [I think it was dung on a painting of the Virgin Mary that most notoriously angered Giuliani, but Maher’s point is still operative.—RCH] Hundreds of millions of Muslims believe that if you leave the religion you should get killed for that. Try walking down the street in Muslim areas—even in more tolerant places like Amman, Jordan—wearing shorty shorts or a t-shirt that says ‘Hey, I am Gay.’ That shit is not going to fly, not at all. ...

            “Thus just doesn’t happen with Episcopalians,” Maher finished.



A DAY AFTER THE SHOOTING, Geller, quoted in the New York Times, said: “This incident shows how much needed our event really was. Freedom of speech is under violent assault here in our nation. The question now before us is: will we stand and defend it, or bow to violence, thuggery and savagery?”

            “Cartoons are political critique,” she said to Meghan Barr. “It’s a cartoon. Is that what we want to outlaw? We want to outlaw humor? We want to outlaw comedy? If you want to know who rules over you, find out who you cannot criticize.”

            On their face, these are sensible statements. And when I cursorily dipped into Geller’s websites, I found nothing that one couldn’t find any right-wing political extremist saying; she blames Bronco Bama for nearly every disaster of modern times, but many postings are simply news reports of menacing events around the world.

            But other, perhaps more dedicated, observers evidently know more than I know (or could find out by browsing Geller’s websites). Many find Geller highly objectionable, the result, doubtless, of her earlier vituperative campaigns against “Ground Zero Mosque” and Al Jazeera. Susman at latimes.com said Geller has earned a slot in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s extremist files as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead. She’s relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-based denunciations of Islam.” The AFDI is listed on SPLC’s national list of hate groups as “an active anti-Muslim group” according to Feuer at the New York Times.

            In an editorial, the New York Times said Geller “has a long history of declarations and actions motivated purely by hatred for Muslims” and called the Garland event “an exercise in bigotry and hatred posing as a blow for freedom. ... Those two men were would-be murderers. But their thwarted attack, or the murderous rampage of the Charlie Hebdo killers, or even the greater threat posed by the barbaric killers of the islamic State or Al Qaeda, cannot justify blatantly Islamophobic provocations like the Garland event. These can serve only to exacerbate tensions and to give extremists more fuel.

            “Some of those who draw cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad may earnestly believe that they are striking a blow for freedom of expression though it is hard to see how that goal is advanced by inflicting deliberate anguish on millions of devout Muslims who have nothing to do with terrorism. As for the Garland event, to pretend it was motivated by anything other than hate is simply hogwash.”

            Art Spiegelman, quoted by Kirsten Salyer at time.com, said unequivocally: “The American Freedom Defense Initiative is racist organization. It’s exactly the nightmare version that the writers who were protesting the PEN award thought Charlie was. But Charlie is an anti-racist, political magazine that does not have an agenda that consists of wanting to bait or trouble Muslims. Pam Geller’s organization is intentionally trying to start war of culture with Islam by saying that all Muslims are terrorists under the surface, and we’re going to prove it. Do the group members deserve free speech protection? Of course. But they’re hiding behind that banner with things that have very little to do with free speech and a lot to do with race hate.

            “Je suis Charlie, mais je ne suis pas Pam Geller,” he went on. “She and her dim-witted, ugly organization deserve the protection of the free speech mantle that they wrap themselves in. But would I ever give them a courage award? Hardly. Would I ever want to be in the same room with them? No. Do I wish they would stop? Yes.”

             The Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the Garland attack, calling it “more insulting to our faith than any cartoon, however defamatory.” But, Susman continued, the group blamed Geller and like-minded activists also:

            “Unfortunately, human history shows us that hatred breeds more hatred and extremism leads to more extremism. Pamela Geller ... and the perpetrators of yesterday’s attack all seek to provoke a downward spiral of mutual hostility and mistrust in America and around the world.”



HERE ARE A FEW REACTIONS to the AFDI contest from American editoonists.

Clay Jones gets us going with a cartoon that turns Geller’s strategy on its head by baiting the instigator of the baiting contest. Milt Priggee is next with a stunning if grisly metaphor that not only depicts the contest as a trap (well, the cheese in the trap) but portrays the Islamic hooligans as the rats attracted by the cheese. Next around the clock, Stuart Carlson shows us how “everybody wins” with the cartoon contest: Geller (in another hideous caricature) gets publicity; Islamic hooligans get martyred. Then Steve Sack supplies another memorable image in the same vein as Priggee’s rat trap. The logic of the poke-a-rattlesnake context is precisely the logic of the AFDI Muhammad contest.

            In the next display, Jimmy Margulies’s nicely ironic image shows how unflattering Islamic hooliganism is for Islam. Next, Gary Varvel mocks the AFDI “Rockwell” poster with another Rockwell image, this one focused on the Cutthroat CalipHATE, not the AFDI contest: in painting a self-portrait, the terrorist produces a picture of the devil. Below Varvel, Ted Rall produces another of his comic strips that piles up its indictment, panel-by-panel.

            Giving his strip a bitter but pointed poignancy is his incorporation of the rhythms and syntactic logic of German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous formulation about the cowardice of German intellectuals as the Nazis purged the country of various allegedly undesirable groups. Miemoller’s words reveal the dangers of political apathy:

            “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Socialist; then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Trade Unionist; then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

            Rall’s target here is the cartoonist who is so considerate of reader sensibilities that he/she avoids all commentary altogether. And with that, he/she forfeits his very livelihood.

            At the lower left, Steve Benson’s image touts the power of the editorial cartoon. About his cartoon, Benson wrote the following to accompany the its publication in the Arizona Republic: “Whatever one thinks, the pen is mightier than the sword; that’s why nuts are now trying assault weapons. That said, those terrorists wouldn’t have been killed if it wasn’t for the fact that they were trying to kill cartoonists and/or their supporters. Besides, you can’t kill cartoon ideas, even if you can kill cartoonists. Their ideas live on. That’s why their pen is mightier than the sword.”

            In our last visual aid for the nonce, Clay Bennett takes a moment to be wholly realistic about what his red lines are. (I’m sympathetic because my red line on Muhammad caricatures is the same as his.) Going clockwise, Jim Morin offers a symbolic explanation of his editorial cartooning goal on Muhammad cartoons. Next, Gary Varvel is back with a terrifying image of the future of editorial cartooning.

            Finally, changing the subject altogether and bringing us up-to-date on the latest horrors in a gun-packing nation, Clay Jones ties the AFDI cartoon contest to the biker shoot-out in Waco with a thoroughly laughable statement. The joke doesn’t arise from blending words and pictures—the comedy is mostly verbal—but after all the recent bloodshed in the name of ideology, it’s comforting to know we can still find something in the so-called societal order that’s worth a laugh with no obvious political axe to grind.



PEN’s Courage Award

THE AWARD WAS CONFERRED AS SCHEDULED on Tuesday, May 5, at a gala event at the Museum of Natural History in New York. Because of the presence of Charlie staffers and the recent shootings at Garland, security was enhanced: guests passed through metal detectors and a gauntlet of armed police, reported Hillel Italie at the Associated Press. Police cars lined the street outside the museum's main entrance. Despite these encumbrances, the award was presented, accepted, and applauded.

            Charlie’s editor-in-chief Gerard Biard and critic-essayist Jean-Baptiste Thore accepted the award to a standing ovation. In his remarks, Biard noted the magazine's history of shocking readers with its irreverent drawings of religious figures.

            "Growing up to be a citizen is to learn that some ideas, some words, some images, can be shocking," he said. "Being shocked is a part of democratic debate. Being shot is not."

            While virtually everyone stood and clapped for Hebdo, not everyone was an unabashed admirer. Roz Chast, the best-selling author and New Yorker cartoonist, called the Charlie drawings "sort of stupid and ham-handed. But if I didn't support their right to publish them I wouldn't be here," she told Italie.

            Italie summed up the evening: “The Hebdo award made the PEN gala the most controversial in recent memory, but also the best attended. More than 800 came for the event, at $1,250 a ticket, compared with around 700 a year ago. Expression itself was the real guest of honor.

            “PEN president Andrew Solomon said the Hebdo award, and dispute, were reminders that the ‘defense of people murdered for their exercise of free speech is at the heart of what PEN stands for, so is the unfettered articulation of opposing viewpoints.’

            Spiegelman was struck by the role of cartoons in the debate, telling Kirsten Salyer: “It’s interesting to me that cartoons have been so central to it. Cartoons are so much more immediate than prose. They have a visceral power that doesn’t require you to slow down, but it does require you to slow down if you want to understand them. They have a deceptive directness that writers can only envy. They deploy the same tools that writers often use: symbolism, irony, metaphor. Cartoons enter your eye in a blink, and can’t be unseen after they’re seen. But to understand some of these cartoons requires a lot of culture immersion and symbol reading and a lot of analysis.”

            He continued: “There was a New Yorker cover back in the beginning of my time at the magazine that helped change the magazine’s DNA enough to embrace controversial images. It was in the wake of the Crown Heights race riots in which the West Indian black community and the Hasidic Jew community came to bloody blows. As I was doodling I wondered, ‘What would the guy with the monocle [Eustace Tilley] look like if he were Hasidic?’ And then I had a black woman kiss him. [It was for the Valentine’s Day issue, February 15, 1993.] When the cover came out, it created a riot of its own—as much indignation on both sides as possible in the world before the Internet. 

            “Among the letters that came in to the magazine,” he went on, “was a letter from a young woman saying that she thought it was really sweet that on Abe Lincoln’s birthday there was a picture of Lincoln kissing a slave. What’s so amazing about that is that it gets right to the heart of the problem that some of the protesting PEN writers have: learning to read images. They’re very easy to misread without enough information, and some of my writing brethren are great mis-readers.”

            Asked what was so wrong-headed about not publishing images that could be deemed offensive, Spiegelman said: “[Because] there’s no stopping it. What would it be based on? Would it be based on when someone takes up arms against the image? Would it be based on when someone thinks it’s offensive? God knows where the line would be drawn. It can’t be drawn that way. There is an incredible efficiency cartoons have, once you learn to read them, in clarifying the issues at hand, making them memorable.

            “There’s something basic about cartoons,” he said. “They work they way the brain works. We think in small, iconic images. An infant can recognize a smiley face before it can recognize its mother’s smile. We think in little bursts of language. This is how cartoons are structured. They’re structured to talk to something deep inside our brains. A cartoon becomes a new kind of word that didn’t exist before. It’s interesting how little respect they get. ‘Oh, anyone could draw that crude, vulgar scrawl,’ said a number of critics of Charlie Hedbo. That’s not quite true. They’re not totally dismissible. If a writer had made some of the points that Charlie Hebdo had made, I don’t think the writers protesting PEN would have been so condescending and dismissive.”

            Let me give the penultimate words on the ongoing controversy over the award for Charlie to Francoise Mouly, who said to Cavna: “I hope this fuels an ongoing conversation about freedom of expression for cartoonists. Because unwittingly, this controversy has served as a kind of coronation for the importance of cartooning.”

            The last words, of course, are mine.



What I Think About Hate Speech and Offensive Cartoons

ACCORDING TO ST. WIKIPEDIA: "In law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing, or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or prejudicial action against or by a protected individual or group, or because it disparages or intimidates a protected individual or group." So any cartoon that "disparages" a "protected group" is, ipso facto, "hate speech." Depending upon on how elastic the term "protected group" is, it might be hard to find work as an editorial cartoonist.

            On the other hand, since I don't think Muslims in France are a "protected group," I suspect Garry Trudeau wandered onto shaky ground by accusing Charlie Hebdo of hate speech.

            Is "offensive speech" the same as "hate speech"? Ever since Freud, we've recognized that humor is essentially aggressive and is therefore likely to offend whoever is the butt of the joke. By this twist of logic, then, all satire is "hate speech" and all editorial cartoonists are out of work.

            Clearly, we don’t, as a society, wish to go that far. But we do want to go as far as possible in supporting and promoting freedom of expression.

            Being a free speech/expression absolutist, I don’t think we can have “a little” free speech. It’s all or nothing. We can’t have freedom of expression except for matters concerning Islam. Or Roman Catholicism. Or Tea Baggery. Or the sexual orientation of Bert and Ernie. As a matter of law and societal custom, free speech must be wholly unfettered. After that, it’s a matter of personal taste. We may choose, personally, not to ridicule gay people. Or Muslims. Or Muhammad. But such choices are personal, not legal or institutional. We can’t establish a universal “shalt not” rule that serves everyone in every circumstance. So leave it up to the individual cartoonists. That’s how it ought to be. 

            Now for a few loose ends—:





I interviewed Bagley in April 1991 in his office at the Salt Lake Tribune. The Gulf War had just concluded, and George H.W. Bush was Prez. Here are excerpts—:

            Working in the community dominated by the Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) imposes certain constraints upon the editorial cartoonist, but Bagley sees quite another side to his situation.

            “Doing political cartooning in Utah is not ... hard,” he said (pausing to select the most appropriate descriptive term), “because there are things that come up in Utah consistently that made good cartoons. This latest issue about the abortion controversy is the kind of thing Utah puts on itself all the time. The state legislature is very moralistic, and they see themselves as being in the forefront of the fight against creeping moral decay in America. So I can count on them at least twice a year to give me something to do.”

            “Something that will keep you supplied with material for weeks, you mean?” I said.

            “Yes,” he said grinning impishly. “It’s kind of like shooting fish in a barrel.”

            But the blessing is not unalloyed. “The Church has a huge influence here,” Bagley went on. “And it’s a two-edged sword. It’s good in some respects in that I can do cartoons that wouldn’t make any sense anywhere else because the humor is sort of ‘in the family.’ If you’re from Utah, you understand what I’m getting at. On the other hand, the thing that’s bad is that the Church wields such influence in the state that the paper is hesitant to publish a lot of those kinds of cartoons. My guess is that one of every three that have to do with the LDS Church get printed; the others never see the light of day.”

            [These days, I suspect Bagley’s published percentage is a lot higher: he’s been cartooning at the Tribune for over 36 years, and he’s an institution in Salt Lake City. You don’t get that kind of longevity by misfiring 30% of the time.—RCH]

            A lot of those “others” of the early 1990s have been published by Signature Books of Salt Lake City in two paperback collections of Bagley’s cartoons: Treasures of Half-Truth in 1986 and Oh My Heck in 1988. The books are unusual in several respects.

            First, their content breaches decorum. (Joyfully— with such carefree abandon that there’s a kind of innocence about it.) The cartoons in them are almost all based upon aspects of the Mormon faith, and joking about religion— particularly an oft-persecuted sect— was, until quite recently, a firmly held taboo almost everywhere. Secondly, understanding the cartoons requires special knowledge. The jokes are so specific to tenets and practices of the Mormon religion that many of them cannot be understood without knowing something about the LDS Church. Finally, in spite of these seeming obstacles to success— or, perhaps, because of them— the books sell very well. Probably better than most collections of editorial cartoons. Bagley said he’s heard that Oliphant’s annual collections sell about 7,000 copies; each of Bagley’s two books has sold better than 15,000.

            For all the aura of innocence that infects the books, the cartoons have bite. Their joyousness is not gentle. And some of them are downright wicked in their assault on Mormon sensibilities. So how does Bagley get away with it? How does he survive, going around blithely treading on the sensitive religious toes of his readers?

            To begin with, he was raised Mormon. Although he grew up in Southern California (which, he says, “explains a lot”), he was born in Salt Lake City. And he did the customary missionary duty (serving in the Bolivia La Paz Mission 1975-77). Thus, his cartoons are, as he puts it, “in-house humor— it’s all in the family.”

            [At the time of this interview, Bagley said he was a “semi-retired” Mormon. Nowadays, he calls himself “Mormon emeritus,” by which he signals a certain separation from the faith. But he recognizes that the Mormon Church played a huge role in his life, and he regards the Church with great affection.]

            As I told Bagley, seeing the cartoons in the books was, for me, something of a revelation:

            “I grew up in this part of the country,” I said, “— in Denver, Colorado— and I knew the Mormons were over the other side of the mountains in Utah. And I always felt Mormons were a particularly serious, dedicated bunch— scarcely the sort of people who would laugh at themselves. And yet they must be doing just that when they buy and read these books, or else you’d be vilified in the streets. People would come after you with sharp sticks and other kinds of weapons— ”

            “Well, that happens,” Bagley laughed. “Not the weapons part but being vilified. I’ve had nasty letters and phone calls and vaguely threatening letters because some people don’t appreciate how I’m portraying the Church. They think it’s sacrilegious. It’s wrong— ”

            I chimed in: “And some people will write in and say, You’re got it right on the button, I suppose.”

            Bagley nodded. “I know that the cartoon has hit the nail on the head when I show it to a Mormon neighbor of mine. He’s fairly orthodox, fairly straight. His first reaction— if he laughs, you can see something registering in the back of his brain: I really shouldn’t be laughing at this— ”

            “And that’s your measure of success!”

            “Yeah— he’ll laugh and then say, ‘Well I don’t know— this may be going a little bit too far.’ And that’s just what I want to do.”

            And here is a sampling of the Bagley cartoons that appeared in those two subversive volumes in the late 1980s.





The Dallas Morning News reports that cartoonist Bosch Fawstin, the winner of the Draw Muhammad contest for the best depiction of the Prophet Muhammad, created a two part comic book called The Infidel, released through Comixology. Fawstin described the plot thusly:

            “The Infidel is about twin brothers Killian Duke and Salaam Duka whose Muslim background comes to the forefront of their lives on 9/11. It’s Recovered Muslim vs Born Again Muslim. Killian responds to the atrocity by creating an ex-Muslim counter-jihad superhero comic book called Pigman, as Salaam fully surrenders to Islam. Pigman’s battle against his archenemy SuperJihad is echoed by the escalating conflict between the twins.”



The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists posted the following official statement condemning the recent shooting attempt in at the AFDI contest exhibit—:

            The shootings in Texas once again demonstrate that art is provocative, but we must not cower in the face of threats to this profession or to free expression. Political art, be it cartoons, paintings, sculpture, or anything else, is protected speech under the First Amendment. The group that sponsored the “art contest” has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The leader of the group seems to have her own tasteless and ignorant agenda. However, a group’s political agenda, whether we agree with its goals or not, is subject to the same constitutional protections we all enjoy. Cartoons are powerful, as has been repeatedly shown in the past few months, and the AAEC condemns this senseless attack.





At last report (May 28), Geller had submitted the contest winning cartoon as an ad to be posted in the Washington, D.C. area metro stations and in buses. Quoted in the Washington Post, Geller said: “There is nothing about this cartoon that incites violence. It is within the established American tradition of satire. If America surrenders on this point, the freedom of speech is a relic of history.”

            Fawstin’s drawing depicts a sword-wielding Prophet Muhammad shouting, “You can’t draw me.” At the bottom of the drawing, hands wield a pencil and the off-camera artist says, “That’s why I draw you.”

            Unhappily for Geller (or perhaps not: she garners publicity no matter what happens), the Metro’s Board of Directors decided, shortly after she submitted her ad, to “temporarily ban issue-oriented ads on Metrorail and buses until the end of the year,” reported Matt Cohen at dcist.com. “Issue-oriented advertising ... includes political, religious, and advocacy advertising.”

            The Board claims its decision was made independently of Geller’s submission: a Metro spokesman said the AFDI “did not come up in the discussion.”

            Another spokesman, however, said: “My view is, you put that ad up on the side of a bus, you turn that bus into a terrorism target.”

            In an e-mail to cdist.com, Geller waxed sarcastic: “The Washington MTA suspended all issue-oriented ads through the end of the year after we submitted our free speech ad. Oh, the irony. These cowards may claim they are making people safer, but I submit to you the opposite. They are making it far more dangerous for Americans everywhere. Rewarding terror with submission is defeat. Absolute and complete defeat. More demands, more violence will certainly follow. This is sharia in America.”





Meanwhile, Iran is running an anti-Isis cartoon competition, reported independent.co.uk, “inviting submissions from around the world that mock the militant group and the atrocities it has committed.

            “Mohammad Habibi, the executive secretary of the contest, said 280 works had been selected from 800 submissions, including entries from over 40 countries such as Brazil, Australia and Indonesia. Habibi told the Tehran Times that some foreign cartoonists were attending the contest, but that they had been forced to travel under pseudonyms due to security concerns.”

            He told Iran’s Press TV: “Nowadays everyone around the world knows about the parasite by the name of Isis and what crimes they have committed against humanity and art and culture. Artists now have the duty to raise public awareness about this group by participating in such events.”

            And here, at your eye’s elbow, is what I assume to be some of the contesting submissions.





            “Today, we tend to think of Jim Crow’s legal barriers [to the integration of the races] as merely the expression of secular prejudice. But de jure segregation reflected pervasive religious beliefs in the inequality of races and divinely commanded social order.”—Patricia Williams in The Washington Spectator

            “Religion serves the common good when it cries out against injustice not when it dictates personal morality.”—Rev. William J. Barber II and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in The Washington Spectator





The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping


IN THE COMIC STRIP Frazz, the title character is a millionaire song writer who has lots of spare time, so he takes work as a custodian in an elementary school; his full name is Edwin Frazier but everyone calls him Frazz. He’s also a physical fitness enthusiast and a dedicated bicycle rider. So there’s plenty of opportunity for joking about his interactions with the faculty at the school and the pupils, each of whom has his/her own distinctive personality. (“You’re unique—just like everyone else,” as Michael Jantze once put it in his masterful strip, Norm.)

            Jef Mallett (who doubles every letter in his name except the obvious— a misguided practice he perpetuates in his protagonist’s name, which should have only one ‘Z’ instead of two) is a brilliant practitioner of the cartooning arts as the few examples posted here reveal. He frequently plays with the comic strip form on Sundays, as we see here. The gag calls for kids being far enough apart to throw the ball back and forth, and so Mallett elongates the panels to dramatize the distance between them.

            But word play is also Mallett’s forte. Because the kids don’t often catch the ball their throwing, they’re playing “throw” not “catch.” The same sense of play animates the dailies. In the first at hand, Frazz is running with one of the teachers (the African American, as it happens), who notices how pale Frazz’s legs are. So pale that they don’t even show up in the pictures, a comedic maneuver that’s possible in a visual medium. And then Mallett enriches the gag with a bit of language as picturesque as the drawings.

            Finally, the kid in the bottom strip takes Mrs. Olsen at her word. If she asks if there are questions, he, naturally, has one. Not one pertinent to Mrs. Olsen’s concerns as his instructor but one that has no doubt been plaguing the kid for weeks, days—even hours. The kid is Caulfield, who is a genius. He tries to convince Mrs. Olsen that he’s a disadvantaged child but his father is finishing a Ph.D in pharmocology and his mother is a civil engineer. Mallett regards Caulfield as the hero of the strip: “He won’t give up the joy of learning for the sake of a test score.”

            Mallett says the strip is not really about the school or about Frazz: it’s about discovery. And we all get to participate.



SEX REARED its tantalizing head in Greg Evans’ Luann as Tiffany invited Gunther, the strip’s resident nerd, into her dorm room at college. The two have just returned for a field trip in the woods, where Tiffany suffered ant bits all up and down her legs. Gunther applied mud and “cured” her. Upon her return to her dorm room, Tiffany promptly showered, and now, she emerges clad in robe and towel—“au naturel,” as she says.

            But then what happens? The room temperature goes up, but does Gunther? Did the lascivious Tiff seduce the hapless Gunth? As we see in the third strip, Gunther ain’t talkin’. More to come, no doubt.

            Meanwhile, Dagwood goes in for one of his periodic haircuts, a recurring gag setting over the last few years—making fun of Dagwood’s weird hair-do. What about his eyes? No one else in the strip has such large, elliptical eyeballs.

            More Dagwood in the final strip on this exhibit. Exquisite word play.



AT THE END OF APRIL, Jan Eliot started a continuity in her Stone Soup strip. At first, it looked as if it would be a tragic story about how death affects the survivors. But within a couple days, death was no longer on the table, as we see in the second strip posted near here. Eliot builds suspense, though, from the very first—the top strip posted here, dated April 29. “P. Jackson” is Phil, a motorcycle cop who, after years of dating working mother (with two young daughters) Val, the chief protagonist in the strip, finally proposed last December. And Val accepted. By the end of the last week in April, we know Phil survived the accident. And then Eliot eases into the theme of the series.

            Val visits Phil, but very soon, she manifests uneasiness about their impending marriage. Val is a widow, and her first husband died and left her with two children. As her mother notes in the fifth strip down the page, Val is “afraid of losing” another husband. And Phil’s accident dramatizes the possibility that, as a policeman, he might get killed.

            For the next week or so, Val is paralyzed with anxiety, not knowing, exactly, what to do. She told Phil that she “isn’t sure” she wants to marry him, but Phil in his hospital bed has fallen asleep and doesn’t hear her. Val’s sister Joan (the dark-haired woman in the top strip) learns of Val’s anxiety and tells her that not marrying Phil will be the biggest mistake of her life. Then Val’s mother flies in from South Africa, where she lives with her new husband, and lays it out for Val, as we see in the last strip here.

            Dunno if that’s the end of the story, but it’s clearly not been about biking. It’s about second marriages.

            Eliot was a single working mother for 10 years, during which she started Stone Soup, in which two single mothers are the principals. Eliot made a trip to South Africa a few years ago, and soon thereafter, Val’s mother visited the country (where she met and eventually married Arnold). Since starting the strip, Eliot has married again. And now it appears she’s passing along to her readers some of what she’s learned. She does that consistently.


WILEY MILLER, whose regular gig is the comic strip Non Sequitur, spent a few years doing editorial cartoons, which he gave up when he sold the strip into syndication. (Unlike many editoonists at the time, he figured he shouldn’t be simultaneously occupying two of those scarce cartooning slots; one was enough.) But he’s never got editooning out of his system, and it creeps into the strip every so often. Here is a portion of a week that he spent at Flo’s Diner, where Flo has to deal with a couple religious zealots who are attempting to force upon everyone else their Religious Freedom rights under law. Eddie the lobsterman gets the last, er, word, and a fitting end to the episode—and the editooning. For the nonce.

            But the fever returneth before long. After Eddie's departure, comes a duel in the streets by which a gaggle of zealots are trying to settle the question of whose religion is the one true religion. Notice that the disputants are arrayed in a circle, so once they start banging away, there's a fair chance most of them will kill each other.

            Then, finally, we have a brief assault on stick figures— who leave the real work to others. (I'm not sure that's precisely what Miller had in mind; but I like this interpretation.)




Previews and Proclamations of Coming Attractions

This department works like a visit to the bookstore. When you browse in a bookstore, you don’t critique books. You don’t even read books: you pick up one, riffle its pages, and stop here and there to look at whatever has momentarily attracted your eye. You may read the first page or glance through the table of contents. All of that is what we do here, starting with—:



Goodbye God?

By Sean Michael Wilson and Hunt Emerson

120 6x9-inch pages, b/w; May 2015 New Internationalist paperback, $12.30

EMERSON IS ONE OF BRITAIN’S iconoclastic cartoonists, author of graphic novel adaptations of such classics as Dante’s Inferno and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and this book is another feather in his bad-boy cap. Under the subtitle “A Visual Exploration of Science vs Religion,” writer Wilson takes a look at the science vs religion debate in what he supposes is a graphic novel format and brings together a wealth of facts, figures and the views of some distinguished scientists, philosophers and atheists—and Emerson draws up this vision, filling pages with single panel and comic strip depictions of various personages looking at the arguments that rage over Creationism vs evolution, belief vs atheism, etc.

            The exploration is mostly verbal; Emerson’s pictures, while, as always, amusingly antic, contribute no substance to the arguments raging. He pictures Darwin, for instance, and Darwin utters one of his utterances in a speech balloon. It would be more graphic novel-like if Darwin were shown fishing and suddenly catching a fish with legs about to walk onto dry land.

            Instead, Emerson’s pictures are mostly just decorations for Wilson’s words. And that’s too bad because the cartoonist’s own views on the topics under consideration would doubtless add to Wilson’s explications.

            Talking with reporter David Bentley at birminghammail.co.uk, Emerson says the notion that a divine being created the world is "a dangerous and retrograde idea that should not be imposed on children’s minds" and argues that state education should be entirely secular.

            Emerson, named one of the 75 European Masters of Cartooning of the 20th Century by the noted French Comics Academy, explained how he came to collaborate with Wilson on this new tome exploring the age-old debate of whether God exists and where life came from.

            Said he: "I got involved in the Goodbye God? project for three main reasons. The first is straightforward: it was paid work, and in the comics business we cannot afford to be too choosy about that. Secondly, I am always interested in the ways that comics can be used as a medium, and this project is one of the more radical and intriguing that I have come across. The third reason is that I am very opposed to the teaching of Fundamentalist, Creationist views to children. I think Creationism is wrong, is contrary to scientific truth, and is a dangerous and retrograde idea that should not be imposed on children’s minds."

            He added: "Further than that, I disagree strongly with the teaching of any religious beliefs in school, and in so-called faith schools of whatever creed. State education should be secular—and, of course, free—and should not be dictated or shaped by the demands of patriarchal, morally authoritarian institutions whose primary purpose is to further their own views and beliefs at the expense of truth and freedom of thought."

            So, Bentley wanted to know, is Hunt Emerson himself a total non-believer?

            Said Emerson: "Am I an atheist? I suppose I am, though I don’t like to make a big fuss about it. I was raised in an average, not fanatical, Methodist household, and I hope that I carry the morals, gentleness and wisdom of those concepts. I have no regrets about it— but I can’t in all honesty believe in the supernatural basis for that or any religion."



Mad, No.353: June 2015

56 8x10.5-inch page magazine, color; E.C. Publications, $5.99 (cheap)

WEIRD AL YANKOVIC is guest “editor,” but I wonder what that means. I doubt that he “edited” much of anything. He supplied some copy for a few features in which he is the star, and he may have helped decide some of the other content. Otherwise, Weird Al’s most evident contribution to the issue is his well-known visage on the cover.

            His face dominates the opening page’s Weird Al comic strip in which Al talks about editing the magazine; he answers the letters; and he follows the usual “Fundalini Pages” of snippets and squibs with “The Weird Al-ini Pages”—but he didn’t write any of the snippets and squibs thereupon: no, he says he “suckered” famous and talented friends to perform this “thankless job.”

            The only big Weird Al feature is a 6-page tour of his Notebook which contains ideas for song parodies. “You’ve Got a Friend” becomes “You’ve Got Depends”; “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” becomes “Belushi Eating Fries with Diamond” (accompanied by a picture of John Belushi having lunch with Neil Diamond).

            Weird Al “stars” in Al Jaffee’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” but only as the visual. Next, a two-page spread depicts a manic Weird Al Concert. And Weird Al, as ostensible editor, chooses a vintage Mad piece from No.93, March 1965, parodying tv kiddie shows. The show here is entitled “Uncle Nutzy Clubhouse.” Al says he loved it. And always has. But since there are no tv kiddie shows of this ilk anymore, I doubt that any of Mad’s pre-adolescent readership will get the jokes. In other words, poor choice, Weird.

            Weird Al also picks the movie for parodying, “American Sniper.” But the movie doesn’t actually show up. Instead we have “American Sniping” with Michael Moore and Sarah Palin making snide remarks about the movie.                                                                       

            Otherwise, the content is largely the usual gang of features—among them, the eternal Sergio Aragones “looks at California” for 4 pages of his patented pantomime strips; Spy vs Spy; and “The Strip Club” aggregation of comic strips on random subjects; Jaffee’s fold-in.

            I don’t see Mad regularly as a doctrinal matter: the comedy is too infantile for even me. But I look in every once and a while, and I’m often shocked (SHOCKED!) by the license Mad’s writers and cartoonists enjoy these days—on sex and profanity and other traditional unmentionables. In this issue, we have a feature called “Things to Ask Your Sex Ed Teacher,” in which a gaggle of young people fling questions of dubious taste at their teacher. One asks about “pulling out”; another, about taking photos of his “junk”; others, about condoms, pregnancy, and so on. Not your Harvey Kurtzman comedy, aristotle.





With daily headlines alternating between alleged police brutality in Baltimore and the trial in Denver of the shooter who killed 12 and wounded 70 innocent movie-goers at a Batman movie in suburban Aurora in 2012, this might be a good time to remember how superbly the police responded to the Aurora tragedy, arriving on the scene in minutes, evacuating the theater, separating the dead from the wounded, and transporting the injured to hospitals.

            Some of the testimony at the trial—so far, from survivors and first responders—is gut-wrenching. There was blood everywhere. Police officers carried many of the wounded out of the theater, but holding onto them was a struggle because the bodies were slippery with blood. The testimony that is heart-rending came from an officer who was guarding the deserted building after the victims had been cleared out. He recalled hearing the cellphones left behind in the empty theater starting to ring. “One by one, you would hear a vibrate or a ring tone, songs people had as ring tones. It went on all morning.”




Critiques & Crotchets


The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson, Volume 1:

Pirates in the Hearthland

Edited by Patrick Rosenkranz

232 8x11-inch pages, b/w and some color; 2014 Fantagraphics hardcover, $34.99

ALTHOUGH THE CONTENT is mostly a healthy dose of Wilson’s art from c. 1968-75, plus a few of his more than one thousand comic strips drawn while a teenager and some photographs, many in color, Rosenkranz has manufactured a biographical text from interviews he conducted with many of Wilson’s friends. The narrative takes Wilson from his college career at the University of Nebraska to his arrival in San Francisco, hub of the underground comix movement, with an 18-month detour en route at the University of Kansas.

            “It took him five years to get his bachelor’s degree in fine arts since his education involved more than attending classes and earning grades. During his college years [1959-65], he experienced the exhilaration of freedom that leaving home offers. ... He also became familiar with the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) and the long arm of the military industrial complex, expanded his artistic repertoire, grew his hair long [much to the consternation of his sergeant in the ROTC] bought a motorcycle, found girls who liked to party, communed with dead Indians, smoked pot with Allen Ginsberg, and in time because a more confident and aware young man,” says Rosenkranz.

            Robert Crumb may be the icon of comix, but Wilson was its creative goad. Rosenkranz quotes Crumb: “I was immediately overwhelmed by the force of his personality. I’d never met anyone like him before. He struck me right away as a larger-than-life, archetypal character, a synthesis of the boisterous, expansive, beer-swilling Midwestern American and a decadent, eccentric, dandified aesthete. I studied the portfolio of drawings he had handed to me as he kept up a rapid, inspired patter, full of white-hot enthusiasm for a vast gamut of cultural subjects. ... In fact, I was being blasted away, dissolved, atomized! ... I was never quite the same after meeting Wilson.”

            Crumb continues: “The drawings were rough, crazy, lurid, coarse, deeply American, a taint of white-trash degeneracy. Every inch of space was packed solid with action and crazy details. The content was something like I’d never seen before, anywhere, the level of mayhem, violence, dismemberment, naked women, loose body parts, huge, obscene sex organs, a nightmare vision of hell-on-earth never so graphically illustrated before in the history of art. After the breakthrough that Wilson had somehow made, I no longer saw any reason to hold back my own depraved id in my work.”

            Victor Moscoso is also quoted: “He came over to my house and gave me one of his purple portfolios, which I still have. I looked at it and said, wow, this is far out. It’s like crude and weird but really impressive. This guy is really into what he’s into even though what he was into—pirates chopping each other up—wasn’t quite my thing. Still, I was impressed.”

            About one of Wilson’s stories, “Head First,” Moscoso said: “I can imagine someone having this fantasy. I can even imagine someone drawing this fantasy. I could not imagine something publishing that fantasy. It was at that point I realized—not only I, all the other artists saw it too—that I had been censoring myself. Every artist censors himself, and Wilson blew the doors off the church. Bada boom. Crumb set up the form, and Wilson came along and put it into earth orbit.”

            Robert Williams agreed: “He had such an enormous effect on underground comix. He liberated underground comix and make them truly liberated. If it were not for S. Clay Wilson, Robert Crumb would still be doing funny animals to this day. It was Wilson that freed us all, and it’s a debt that I owe that dipshit.”

            Most of those Rosenkranz interviewed spoke about Wilson’s charismatic personality and his reckless partying. The text is crammed with anecdotes about excessive drinking and other wild behaviors.

             Insightful as these textual interludes are about the craziness of Wilson’s social life and peccadilloes, it’s the pictures that show us how his mind works. Rosenkranz’s description attempts the impossible—and succeeds: “Wilson’s comic stories go full bore from the first frame to the last. ... His gleefully pornographic scenes of sexual frenzy and wanton slaughter are often insightful interpretations of the base desires that fuel man’s inhumanity to man. His characters are propelled by greed, lust, and villainy: the basic fuels for our primal urges. ... Yet even in the midst of th goriest carnage or worst exceess of the flesh, there is always humor—at someone’s expense, of course.

            “Not jokes, not punch lines, but anatomical exaggeration and giddy violence, the burst of ecstasy at seeing your enemies humiliated, along with authentically brutal dialogue that baldly declares what most of us are loath to admit. ... Wilson amazed his fans with the increasing complexity of his minutely  detailed ‘dense packs’—his intricate single-page compositions that had to be studied carefully to determine who was dong what with which and to whom.”

            But Wilson has the final word, the truth of personal testimony: “I’m doing these things because I like drawing dirty pictures. It’s enjoyable because it’s dirty. It’s the idea of breaking a taboo.”

            The two-page tale “Ball in the Bung Hole” that we’ve posted near here is an early work (from Zap No.4, 1969) and typical of Wilson’s graphic imagination, which envisioned a human anatomy in which every orifice was connected to every other orifice. But the most extravagant in this mode is a parody entitled “Pudocchio,” which was written by Karin Green, Justin Green’s sister. She was Wilson’s squeeze after Nadra Dangerfield (who’d come to San Francisco with Wilson) left him because their life styles would not coincide (she wanted to go to college and acquire a degree).

            Pudocchio is a philandering youth whose wooden pecker, like Pinocchio’s nose, grows longer with each lie he tells his girlfriends. As he lies and fucks Sally, his cock grows inside her, progressing from her cunt up through her insides until it protrudes from her mouth—and into Pudocchio’s, whereupon it lengthens its way through his body until it emerges from his asshole. An anatomical impossibility that Wilson’s pictures persuade us is possible. After all, seeing is believing.


            Volume 2 of the Wilson saga is due sometime this summer.

            Not until Howard Chaykin’s Satellite Sam, or, more recently—and more exactly— Black Kiss XXXmas in July , have oozing cunts and spurting cocks been so flagrantly a feature of comics stories, as you can readily ascertain by perusing the accompanying sample pages from Black Kiss. Stimulating as such a pictorial frenzy may be, the most interesting of this comic book’s content are the two pages at the end wherein Chaykin demonstrates how he constructs the art, using computer-generated models for the backgrounds. He’s clearly enamored of this process, and although it lends the pictures an aura of realism heretofore not evident in comics, it also clutters up the visuals with a plethora of distracting detail. Making sense of Chaykin’s narrative these days requires the microscopic discernment of a jeweler. Us comic book readers are left, alas, behind.





Why Jim Steranko left comics, in his own words: “I felt I’d achieved a certain measure of my vision and found new areas to challenge my imagination. I’ve always been drive by the tyranny of my visions and never being satisfied with anything. I’m like a shark which must swim or die. I have no choice in the matter but to keep creating compulsively almost every waking minute. It’s a curse and a gift at the same time.”





Welcome to our sentimental section where I muse and marvel about antique volumes on the shelf and rare finds in old bookstores and the like. Nothing major. Skip over this if you’re busy.


HERE'S A RARE CULLING from Jim Ivey's cARToon Museum. As the caption explains, this version of Bud Fisher's A. Mutt was drawn by Russ Westover, who took over the strip at the San Francisco Chronicle when Fisher left for greener pa$tures at Wm. R. Hearst's SF Examiner a few weeks after the strip's debut. Because Fisher had taken the precaution of proclaiming his copyright on the strip when he drew the last one for the Chronicle, he and Hearst were able to get the Chronicle and Westover to cease and desist after a few weeks of legal saber-rattling. Westover would eventually go on to fame and fortune with Tillie the Toiler. Boy! Talk about raw palpitating history! The strip, courtesy Bill Blackbeard (as noted).



ANOTHER ENTRY from Jim Ivey's cARToon Museum. Milton Caniff left Columbus, Ohio, for New York in the spring of 1932, starting at the feature department of the Associated Press on April 1. One of his jobs was drawing pictures of all the presidential candidates— about thirty, he recalled. (So times haven't changed all that much.) But he also did such celebrities as those depicted here. (The date under Adolf's picture is clearly wrong: by 1936, Caniff was deeply into Terry and the Pirates with no time for portrait-making— and no longer in the AP feature department either.) Caniff prevailed upon the AP photo lab to do blow-up photographs of his subjects faces, then he traced them onto pebbleboard. Two of the presidential candidates "were particularly hard to draw," he remembered— Hoover and Roosevelt.





Last month, I wandered away from this keyboard and backlit screen to journey to Connecticut and environs to interview cartoonists for Tom Tanquary's documentary on newspaper comic strips. Among our victims were Mort Walker and Brian Walker. And here are photos of our visit at Mort's studio in Stamford.



ANOTHER CARTOONIST we interviewed during our Eastern ramble was Jules Feiffer.

Here are pictures of him working at his East Hampton studio. Doing his first graphic novel, Kill My Mother, for which he uncorked as many plot devices from noir fiction as he could, Feiffer found he enjoyed the medium immensely. In effect, the cartoonist within was born again. And now he's working on a sequel, a page of which appears in one of the photos at the corner of your eye.





Ireland voted on May 22 to change the country’s constitution to define marriage as a union between two people, regardless of their sex. Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton declared the victory “a magical moving moment, when the world’s beating heart is in Ireland.”





Four-color Frolics

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.



LEADING UP TO THE COMIC-CON SEASON, we have [Jimmy] Palmiotti & [Matt] Brady’s The Big Con Job, an adventure muscularly drawn by Dominike “Domo” Stanton. In the first issue of a 4-issue series, we meet a small gaggle of elderly actors who once played superheroes in movies and on tv. Having lost their sex appeal, they no longer work as actors. Instead, they make the rounds of comic-cons for a living. But they’ve lost their lustre. The comic-con audience is changing: the fans are younger. When they were older, they remembered the characters the old actors played, but the younger fans have no such nostalgic recall. To attract them, convention management goes after the young stars of current hot shows. The old timers used to get up-front money and guarantees; no longer. No up-front money, the only money they make is by selling autographs

            And that’s not enough. In one of the completed episodes herein, washed-up Danny Dean returns to his motel room after a show and finds that he’s locked out because he can’t pay. He goes to visit another old actor, Poach Brewster, and the two of then drink themselves into unconsciousness. The next morning, Poach finds Danny dead, a suicide. The night before, he’d said he couldn’t take it anymore.

            At the end of the book, Poach and his old actor friends are at another comic-con where the management hasn’t even booked hotel rooms for them. Then they meet Tony King, a young promoter, who suggests a way they can make some money: he proposes that they rob the San Diego Comic-Con.

            And that’s where we leave them for this issue.

            And that’s enough to bring me back.

            The story brims with knowing glances at the comic-con business—Palmiotti at least knows it well. And it’s fun for those of us who attend such shindigs to find ourselves on such familiar ground.

            There’s also a tender scene involving Poach, whose young live-in actress friend decides to leave him because her career is still ahead of her—and Poach, whose career is now behind him, can no longer help her. They still love each other, and their parting is painful; still, Poach knows she is right to leave him. But the next morning, awakening alonein his bed, her fragrance clings to the bedclothes, and Poach embraces the blanket in a poignant moment.

            Stanton’s drawing style, angular anatomy with heavy outlines, is a little clunky but still pleasing. And it’s cartoony enough that all the characters are easily recognizable.



ANOTHER ENTRY in the comic-con comic book trials is the second issue of Tales from the Con, a title that debuted last year. Chris Giarrusso’s squared-off comedic drawing style is, as before, refreshing and funny. But Brad Guigar’s jokes veer off into the obscure reference realm a little too much for me. Then again, I’m an old coot and I can’t keep up with every new nuance of comic-conning or comic bookery, so maybe the jokes aren’t so obscure to more informed—and younger—witnesses. Here are a few that even I understood.




NOW THAT MARVEL’S DAREDEVIL has begun streaming through Netflix wearing a black costume, I cringed to think that us funnybook fans would soon see his apparel in print modified to conform to the tv duds. That’s the way these things play out. As soon as Captain America showed up on the Big Screen in something suitable for the hero in a movie—something different than star-spangled tights—we saw the comic book Cap wearing something akin to the uniform worn by the motion picture incarnation. Hence, for Daredevil in the comic books, red is surely destined to give way to black.

            How we’ll be able to see DD, who usually works at night, is another problem, seems to me. It’s hard enough to see him on Netflix but his being in motion helps: we see movement and discern that it is he. But in the static imagery of comics? In black, he’ll be lost.

            The so-called thinking governing the tv costume is probably that red is too visible for a crime-fighter who fights at night to wear: like a crimson flag, a red costume draws attention to its wearer. Or so it would seem. But red is not especially visible at night: as the color of a costume, it isn’t like a neon sign.

            Unexpectedly, then, Mark Waid and Chris Samnee, who control DD’s fate in the funnybooks, have so far declined to adhere to this new pattern. Daredevil, now working in San Francisco, is known to be Matt Murdock: he gave up the secret of his civilian identity. And he is now, as a result, a highly public figure. And in No.14 of the title, Murdock shows up in court in a new suit that flaunts his alternate identity as Daredevil.

            Wonderful. Waid and Samnee have, so far, resisted the temptation to conform to newly emerged custom. No motion picture garb for them.



FOR ALL OF US who like Terry Dodson’s exquisite pictures of delectably beautiful women (as inked by his sister, Rachel), Red One enjoys a welcoming arrival at the comic book store. The plot is simple enough: a Russian female agent, Vera Yelnikov, is sent to America to eliminate a costumed do-gooder named The Carpenter, who is idolized by a Puritanical movement that threatens, er, world order, I assume. Vera is one of Dodson’s delections. In the first issue, she displays her physical prowess (and her figure) and accepts her assignment to go undercover in the U.S. In the second issue, she’s in the U.S., working as a chauffeur and helper to a old movie maker. In both issues, she takes on various baddies and handily whips them. At the end of the second issue, she finally confronts The Carpenter in physical combat. But the issue ends before the combat does.

            Xavier Dorison’s story is infused with light-hearted humor, some of which involves Vera’s sex appeal (and, even, her enjoyment of canoodling). But there are other laughs, too. Even the fight sequences sparkle with wit, both verbal and pictorial.

            Based entirely on the Dodsons reputations, the first two issues of Red One are being re-issued as a hardcover book this summer. Presumably, there’s a third issue a-borning somewhere, but I haven’t seen hide nor hair of it yet, what with all the hype about the hardcover.

            The Dodsons pictures are beautiful and highly competent. Attention to detail is masterful. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the title, however, is how small most of the pictures are. Pages are full of panels—many of them tiny close-ups of faces or aspects of the action. Most pages have one somewhat large panel in which Vera (or “Alabama Jane” as she styles herself) is depicted. But most of the action and the narrative takes place in the small panels.

            Dunno whether the page layouts are a direct result of the script by Xavier Dorison or not; I assume, though, that they are. The Dodsons are fully capable of telling the story under these circumstances, but their drawings suffer from the reduction in size. Dorison is not capitalizing on the Dodsons’ forte as much as he could with fewer panels to a page and larger pictorial content in each panel. Still, it’s fun to look at all of the tiny detail, panel after panel, and the Dodsons are such expert renderers that their pictures are always engaging.





The Thing of It Is ...

DAVID REMNICK, editor of The New Yorker, wrote a long piece about Barack Obama about 18 months ago. I underlined parts of it, hoping to have occasion to quote them. Now, having no occasion at all, here they are:

            “The Republican Party is living through the late-mannerist phase of [the Reagan Revolution], fuelled less by ideas than by resentments. ... Rejection is all. Obama can never be opposed vehemently enough. ... For the moment, the opposition party is content to define itself, precisely, by its opposition.”

            And he quotes Obama on the racism that seems to infect opinions about him: “There’s no doubt that there’s some folks who just really dislike me because they don’t like the idea of a black President. Now, the flip side of it is there are some black folks and maybe some white folks who really like me and give me the benefit of the doubt precisely because I’m a black President.”

            It seems a crying shame to me that when we at last have a thoughtful, articulate, dignified-looking, patriotic and wholly admirable, decent and moral man as Prez, he faces blind, knee-jerk opposition in virtually everything he would like to do for the good of the country.


AS FOR THE MUSLIM UNREST in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Syria—In his Playboy interview, Bill Maher had a suggestion: “The long-term solution to radical Islam is to let them have the civil war they need to have between themselves. Let the people who want to walk into the 21st century stand up against the people who want to stay in the seventh century. ... You wonder if we hadn’t opened Guantanamo Bay after 9/11 and started wars in Iraq and Afghanistan whether disaffected Muslims would have settled this differently. As long as our armed forces are in their countries and in their lives and killing them with drones, they don’t get to have this internecine warfare that intelligent observers agree they need to have. They need to take out their own trash.”

            In short, we should get the hell out of there and let them fight among themselves until they have settled their differences or worn themselves to death. Maher is scarcely a model of diplomatic sensitivity, and while I enjoy his comedy and his biting commentaries on social as well as political issues, I’m not sure I’d nominate him for Grand High Poohbah of International Politics. But on this, I think he’s right. It’s their fight; they’ve been at it a long time, and we haven’t a clue about how to get them to reconcile. And refereeing by gunpoint is no long-term solution. So let’s stop trying. Let them have the fight they’ve been aching for all these centuries.




Below are the key documents giving rise to the controversy that has erupted inside PEN America over the award the group is bestowing on Charlie Hebdo. They include the correspondence between the writer Deborah Eisenberg and PEN’s Executive Director Suzanne Nossel, which sparked the controversy.


Eisenberg letter to Nossel, March 26, 2015

What a wonderful thing to give an award to some person or institution that courageously exemplifies freedom of expression – and how entirely in keeping with the objectives of PEN. But as a member, up until now anyhow, of PEN, I would like to express myself freely on PEN’s decision to confer the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award on the magazine Charlie Hebdo.

            It is clear and inarguable that the January slaughter of 10 Charlie Hebdo staff members as well as 2 policemen in the Charlie Hebdo offices is sickening and tragic. What is neither clear nor inarguable is the decision to confer an award for courageous freedom of expression on Charlie Hebdo, or what criteria, exactly were used to make that decision. Indeed, the matter is fraught, complex, and very troubling.

            I doubt there are many who consider the Charlie Hebdo cartoons to be models of wit, but what is at issue is obviously not the value of the cartoons. What is at issue are the various – confused, vague, and sometimes contradictory – symbolic meanings with which the magazine has been freighted in recent months, and exactly which of those symbolic meanings PEN is intending to applaud.

            An award for courage is inevitably an award for the value in whose service courage has been exercised. In the case of the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award that value is “freedom of expression.” But freedom of expression too, is a very broad designation. Anything at all can be expressed, and just because something is expressed doesn’t ensure that it has either virtue or meaning.

            I have read – and heard – that “equal opportunity offense” is the aspiration of Charlie Hebdo. But how is such an aspiration to be fulfilled unless the disparate “targets” of offense occupy an equal position and have an equivalent meaning within the dominant culture?

            I don’t doubt that the Charlie Hebdo staff is, and was, entirely sincere in its anarchic expressions of principled disdain toward organized religion. But although the magazine apparently disdains all organized religion, certain expressions of anti-Semitism are illegal in France, so Judaism is out of bounds for satire. In fact, the author of a purported anti-Semitic slur in a 2008 Charlie Hebdo column was fired. Therefore, in pursuing its goal of inclusive mockery of large organized religions, at least those that have a conspicuous presence in France, Charlie Hebdo has been more or less confined to Catholicism and Islam.

            But those two religions hold very different positions in France, as well as in most of the Western world. Catholicism, in its most regrettable European roles, has represented centuries of authoritarian repressiveness and the abuse of power, whereas Islam, in modern Europe, has represented a few decades of powerlessness and disenfranchisement. So in a contemporary European context, satires of Catholicism and satires of Islam do not balance out on a scale.

            Additionally, an insult particular to Islam lies in a visual portrayal of the Prophet, which is in itself interdicted. Christianity, on the other hand, not only condones, but actually encourages visual portrayals of the sanctified – in fact, for hundreds of years Christian artists painted little else but Jesus and His mother.

            I can hardly be alone in considering Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons that satirize Islam to be not merely tasteless and brainless but brainlessly reckless as well. To a Muslim population in France that is already embattled, marginalized, impoverished, and victimized, in large part a devout population that clings to its religion for support, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons of the Prophet must be seen as intended to cause further humiliation and suffering.

            Was it the primary purpose of the magazine to mortify and inflame a marginalized demographic? It would seem not. And yet the staff apparently considered the context of their satire and its wide-ranging potential consequences to be insignificant, or even an inducement to redouble their efforts – as if it were of paramount importance to demonstrate the right to smoke a cigarette by dropping your lit match into a dry forest.

            It is difficult and painful to support the protection of offensive expression, but it is necessary; freedom of expression must be indivisible. The point of protecting all kinds of expression is that neither you nor I get to determine what attitudes are acceptable – to ensure that expression cannot be subordinated to powerful interests. But does that mean that courage in expression is to be measured by its offensiveness?

            Apparently according to PEN it does. Apparently PEN has reasoned that it is the spectacularly offensive nature of Charlie Hebdo’s expression in itself that makes the magazine the ideal recipient for the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award – that awarding Charlie Hebdo underscores the very indivisibility of the principle of freedom of expression and the laws that protect it.

            But in that case, one has to ask, is Charlie Hebdo really the most tasteless, brainless, and reckless example of free expression that can be found? Is it more deserving of the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award than other example of tasteless, brainless recklessness?

            What about the racist chapters of SAE and other fraternities right here in our own country? I would say that they meet the criteria. We have our own reviled population, under constant threat of police brutality, prison and the like. So, are our racist fraternities not equally deserving of the Award? We are PEN America after all, not PEN France, and the fraternity brothers have expressed their views – even in humorous (to them) song – with great clarity and force.

            And France itself offers compellingly meritorious alternatives to Charlie Hebdo for the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award. What about those recently responsible for the desecrations of a Jewish cemetery? Were there no virulently anti-Semitic graffiti to be found in that ravaged cemetery that should be considered outstanding examples of courageous free expression? Or what about giving the award retroactively to Julius Streicher’s “Der Stürmer” and its satirical anti-Semitic cartoons? Streicher’s actual purpose was to mobilize popular sentiment against a vilified demographic, so perhaps those cartoons could be considered even more valorous than the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, which, although they do mobilize popular sentiment against a vilified demographic, are intended merely as representative mockery of any and all religions.

            In short: is there not a difference – a critical difference – between staunchly supporting expression that violates the acceptable and enthusiastically awarding such expression? Maybe not – maybe I’m confused. To me, in my confusion, the decision to confer the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award on Charlie Hebdo almost looks less like an endorsement of free expression than like an opportunistic exploitation of the horrible murders in Paris to justify and glorify offensive material expressing anti-Islamic and nationalistic sentiments already widely shared in the Western world.

            In these times when provisions of the amorphous Patriot Act can be invoked to stifle and severely punish the dissemination of information, PEN could have chosen to confer its PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award upon any of a number of journalists and whistleblowers who have risked, and sometimes lost, their freedom in order to bring information to the rest of us. Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden are familiar examples, though there are many others. There are also those who have courageously served as conduits for the information such people have unearthed, such as Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. And there are the many journalists who have gone to the Middle East in an attempt to clarify the tangle of horrors that has been unleashed there over the last 20 years or so, including the American, Japanese, and British journalists who have been brutishly beheaded by raging fundamentalist Islamic State terrorists.
Certainly no one could assert that the Charlie Hebdo staff are not, and were not, courageous. They had been threatened for years with violence at the hands of fundamentalist Islamic extremists, and yet they continued to pursue what they considered be their mission. Thus they expended their courage, and ten of them lost their lives, in what was essentially a parochial, irrelevant, misconceived, misdirected, relatively trivial, and more or less obsolete campaign against clericalism. It is also courageous to bait a hallucinating and armed soldier, to walk around naked in the dead of winter, to jump off a roof, to drink from a sewer, or to attempt sexual intercourse with a wild boar.

            Those journalists and whistleblowers who exemplify the principles of free expression are also supremely courageous, but their courage has been fastidiously exercised for the good of humanity. Evidently, however, PEN seems to have reasoned that it would undermine the fundamental principle of free expression and cheapen the Award to give it to those whose purposes are noble, intelligent, and selfless rather than pitiful, foolish, and immensely destructive.


Deborah Eisenberg
Jew and atheist


Nossel reply to Eisneberg, March 27

Dear Deborah (if I may):

Thanks for your note and your thoughtful reflections on our decision to confer the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award on Charlie Hebdo. I’d be happy to talk through your concerns by phone, but I am taking the opportunity to respond in writing so that you and those on your cc list can see the points as well. I very much appreciate the thought and rigor that went into your message and want to try to give it its due. As you say, these questions are certainly complex and matters on which reasonable people disagree. At PEN we have never shied away from controversy. I am not sure I can convince you that this was the right decision, but I do want to share just some of our thinking.

            We believe that honoring Charlie Hebdo affords us an opportunity to inflect global opinion on an issue of longstanding concern to PEN and to free expression advocates worldwide, including many in the Muslim world: namely, efforts to devalue, ban, or punish acts deemed to constitute the defamation of religion. Such assaults come both from governments and from vigilantes, and they are not acceptable in either context. Moreover, the actions of governments have sometimes served to enable or urge on vigilantes, and vis-versa, an interplay which is particularly concerning. I worked on this issue for more than 18 months as an official of the U.S. State Department during the Obama Administration. At the time, certain delegations, led by Pakistan, were waging a powerful global campaign to try to secure an international treaty banning the so-called defamation of religion.

            Their efforts, they explained to me, were fueled by a sense of deep grievance by ordinary citizens in their countries toward the West and toward insults against their religion. This sense of frustration and anger fueled the deadly protests in Afghanistan after copies of the Koran were disposed of inappropriately at Guantanamo as well as the assassinations of several moderate figures promoting religious reconciliation in Pakistan, including the Minister of Minority Affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. Bhatti was murdered in 2011 because he was a “blasphemer of Mohammed.” In private discussions with diplomats from multiple Islamic governments, including at the Pakistani foreign ministry in Islamabad, I heard from officials who admitted that they did not believe that international bans on blasphemy were the right answer to the problems and pressure they were facing. They shared concerns that campaigns for such bans gave a kind of license to those assailants, including rioters in Kabul and assassins in Islamabad, who treated insults to Mohammed as grounds for violent reprisals. In making an award to Charlie Hebdo, we call attention the fact that such policies are abhorrent and extremely dangerous.

            There are a range of views about the prohibition on depictions of Mohammed. In a position that has emerged fairly widely in the aftermath of the Hebdo attacks, even some Muslim government officials I spoke to rejected the notion that such a prohibition is universal or enshrined in Islam. Some did say, however, that they thought that insults to the Prophet should be unlawful, and that banning them was perfectly consistent with free speech. Their understanding of the principles of free speech was different than our own. They were willing to listen, and over time we found common ground. The Organization of the Islamic Conference ultimately decided to work very closely with us in trying to steer the debate in a new direction, precisely because they thought that banning and protesting such offensive speech was contrary to free expression and was contributing to violence. Our diplomatic efforts also took me to places such as Paris, London, Geneva, Brasilia, Santiago and Buenos Aires. At the UN, changing course on a human rights issue requires very broad consensus: the Europeans had to bend on their unwillingness to recognize legitimate concerns about respect for religious differences; Islamic delegations had to back off their proposals to ban speech; and moderate Latin and African delegations were needed to provide a measure of political cover to both sides. We worked to convince delegations that the right answer to the efforts to ban defamation of religion was not to vote the Pakistani-backed resolution down and defeat it, but rather to work with all delegations on a compromise approach that would unite the international community behind practical measures – like interfaith dialogue, education, effective hate crimes (as distinct from hate speech) prosecutions, etc.—in place of the proposed bans.

            This effort at compromise was successful, culminating in passage of a consensus resolution to replace the defamation of religions resolutions in 2011. This piece recounts some of what happened. Unfortunately, while the compromise has held the matter cannot be said to be resolved. Efforts to ban insults to religion have continued to rear their heads in other places:

            The reaction to the Charlie Hebdo killings, which united many governments, religious leaders and civil society organizations in a joint expression of solidarity, drew global attention to the dangers of intolerance for criticism of religion. It awakened even some devout Muslim leaders with poor track records of respect for free speech to the dangers of declaring such insults out-of-bounds, or condoning open season on those who draw or publish them. The idea that no words, no matter how offensive or insulting, can ever justify violence seems basic to us here, but is honored in the breach in many parts of the world. We see honoring Charlie Hebdo as a potent way to affirm and elevate that principle at a moment when the world is paying attention. We see a chance to promote and defend a global definition of free speech that is broad enough to encompass all speech except that which falls outside the U.S.’s First Amendment, namely incitement to imminent violence; speech such as the calls to genocide over the Rwandan airwaves (the European standard is different, and there are some prohibitions on speech – such as bans on Holocaust denial and blasphemy laws still on the books in places like Ireland – that we reject). Our doing this protests the rash of attacks on others such as Kurt Wetgaard and Finn Nørgaard in Denmark and Avijit Roy in Bangladesh.

            We also believe strongly in upholding and defending the role of satire in free societies. Satire is, by definition, disrespectful and often insulting. Based on Charlie Hebdo’s history, their statements and the accounts of those within PEN who have personally known and worked with the magazine, we believe that it sits firmly within the tradition of French satire (see in particular http://www.wsj.com/articles/charlie-hebdo-is-heir-to-the-french-tradition-of-religious-mockery-1420842456). They mocked religions, but also prejudices against religion, racial prejudices, ethnocentric attitudes and a whole range of other targets: Boko Harm, Brits, Jews (while I don’t know all the facts but I think the incident you described did happen, but they also published other cartoons targeting Jews. Including quite a few by Stephane Charbonnier, the murdered Hebdo editor), gays etc. They defined their role as pushing boundaries, questioning orthodoxy, casting light on obscured motives and ensuring that nothing was above comment or debate.

            We have spoken since the attacks to several American cartoonists who have said that, in contrast to Charlie Hebdo, they see their role as to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” meaning that they would not publish cartoons that could be seen as offensive to Muslims, precisely because Muslims are discriminated against, targeted and marginalized within Western societies. In my own view, it is a very good thing that many or most cartoonists and satirists feel that way in that it allows Muslims to feel a greater sense of comfort and acceptance. But a commitment to free expression must make room for those who do not accept rules of prudence or political correctness, and who define their own moral obligations differently. A rule that all satirists must only target for offense those who enjoy a concomitant or equal level of security or prestige within a society would surely take too much off limits.

            The new editor of Charlie Hebdo has said that in mocking religion their aim has been not to attack religion itself, but rather the role of religion in politics and the blurring of lines in-between, which they see as promoting totalitarianism—an argument some have made about the incursion of religion into American politics. As we look through the cartoons we think most if not all can be understood in that context.

            In pushing the boundaries of discourse as the best satirists do—American, European, or otherwise— Charlie Hebdo broke taboos, raised questions and sparked debates that expanded the space for expression and the exchange of ideas. They paid a heavy price for doing so, and then pressed on despite heartbreak and devastation. We think that shows a powerful commitment to free expression no matter the costs, and it is that commitment that we wish to honor. We don’t see this award as legitimizing or applauding everything Charlie Hebdo has written or depicted; the very premise of their own magazine is that nothing enjoys sanctity and everything is a fair object of critique.

            We also don’t believe, on the basis of written statements from and interviews with the magazine’s surviving staff, and on the opinions of PEN members who know them, that the editors of Charlie Hebdo intended to cause humiliation or suffering by printing the cartoons. The outcry by a great many Muslim groups in the aftermath of the attacks also reflects a view that satirists should have liberty to express their views, and that these cartoonists were not motivated by cruelty. We have heard from Muslims, many of whom reject the prohibitions on the depiction of Mohammed, actually decrying the discussion about Muslim grievances in the wake of Charlie Hebdo. They believe this line of discourse legitimizes Muslim extremism, which they see as a far greater danger to Muslims than Western anti-Muslim sentiment. This segment on Chinese TV displays two diametrically opposing Muslim views on the topic. (For what it’s worth, the man rejecting the discourse on marginalization is a former officer of Canadian PEN). Personally, I do think it is important to talk about Hebdo in the context of the precarious position of Muslims in French society; I reject the idea that such points should be off-limits in an explication of Hebdo. But I am very cognizant of the diversity of Muslim views on these questions so don’t see those very real issues as grounds not to honor Hebdo. Above all and vitally, we don’t accept the characterization of Hebdo as merchants of hate in the vein of a Streicher or a cemetery vandal; you may disagree but that’s not who we believe they are.

            The January attacks also made vivid the types of threats that cartoonists and writers around the world face daily; these issues suddenly became front page news of concern to a much wider constituency than tends to be the case when individual, unknown writers are jailed or killed in far off places. Part of our job here at PEN is to put free expression issues front and center in the global debate. Charlie Hebdo’s notoriety and the impassioned global response evoked by the attacks thus offers the opportunity to draw into PEN’s mission new supporters who have been moved by the attacks and their aftermath. This can be a point of entry that leads new people to explore and become involved with our other work. We saw this in our membership trends, online and social media campaigning after the attacks. For those directly involved in planning the Gala and Awards there was a feeling that including Charlie Hebdo would have a mobilizing effect on PEN’s work more broadly. I understand that it can seem self-serving for an organization like ours to build on a high-profile event to generate support for our cause. But we only do it when we judge that the events and those involved are firmly consonant with our mission.

            The evidence that the Hebdo attacks have energized PEN’s core constituency of writers is tangible. Here are a few examples of what new PEN members wrote as part of the spike in membership applications that we received in the immediate aftermath of the attack:

            “In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris, I am reminded that freedom of expression is a vital element of our humanity.”

            “I have had “join PEN” on my calendar for awhile, but the tragedy in Paris at the offices of Charlie Hebdo this past week reminded me of the importance of being part of this community.”

            “After reading a Facebook post from a colleague who shared the message of PEN in the wake of the Paris terror attack, I was moved to join.”

            “I have meant to join for several years but the recent tragedy in Paris was a catalyst.”

            “I’ve been meaning to join PEN for some time but after the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo I believe we need to support freedom of expression more than ever.”

            “While I have long written about freedom of speech issues, the recent massacre of staffers at Charlie Hebdo was a real wake-up call. I figured that purchasing an overseas subscription to the newspaper (in spite of my shaky French) and joining PEN were the least I could do.”

            In sum, we are honoring Charlie Hebdo not because of the material you find offensive, but because of their fearless defense of their right to express themselves, a defense that has made our spines stiffen here at PEN and throughout the free expression community as we recognize the depth of our obligation to stand firm in the force of powerful and dangerous interests.

            There are indeed a great many other great examples of courageous champions of free speech worldwide. It has not yet been announced, but this year’s PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award will go to Khadija Ismayilova, an intrepid Azerbaijani journalist now in jail. Her bravery is extraordinary and will be a focal point of the Gala and the advocacy action we all take there together. As Pussy Riot helped do for Ilham Tohti, so we hope Charlie Hebdo will help raise Khadija’s profile and make her the 36th winner (out of 40) of the Goldsmith prize to be released from prison. Last year Laura Poitras accepted our invitation to give the Annual Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture (long before she won the Pulitzer or the Oscar) but then withdrew to our great disappointment because she was finishing the documentary and did not feel she could travel. We have held panels on U.S. whistleblowers and are doing a forthcoming report on the topic. Glenn Greenwald was, via Skype, the keynote speaker at a major symposium we held 18 months ago on NSA surveillance. We are inspired by them all. We have also stepped up significantly our work here at PEN spotlighting free expression challenges here in the United States, ranging from an original report on press freedom violations in Ferguson to two landmark reports on NSA surveillance to a series of events on Guantanamo to a new lawsuit filed two weeks ago challenging the U.S. intelligence agencies’ Upstream program.

            Deborah, I hope this very long note helps shed light on our reasoning. I appreciate very much your taking the time to read it, and to consider our logic. We very much value you as a member of PEN, and are especially grateful for your involvement in our upcoming Guantanamo event in Montclair which will be amazing. A great friend of mine, Diane Archer, had the privilege of sitting with you at last year’s Gala and had such a wonderful time. We definitely don’t want to lose you here at PEN.

            I am happy to discuss any and all of the above by phone.


All my best,


Suzanne Nossel

Executive Director, PEN American Center



Eisenberg reply to Nossel, April 10

Dear Suzanne,

I’m sorry to be so long getting back to you about your detailed response to my letter of March 26 – I’ve come back home to New York after long travels, and have been swamped by chores. In any event, thank you very much for your letter and for your generous offer to talk through my concerns by phone. Unfortunately, though, allaying my concerns would entail altering the state of the world, which I doubt you and I could manage to do on the phone.

            But I do want to clarify a few things about which I evidently expressed myself confusingly and to try to disentangle various considerations that have inevitably come up in our correspondence about the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award.

            On many or most points I’m in complete agreement with you. I agree unreservedly that an expression of views, whether satirical or not, and however disagreeable, is not to be answered by murder. I agree unreservedly that the free expression of views should not be banned. And I agree unreservedly that threats of violence let alone actual violence against people who express their views must be vigorously and vociferously opposed.

            You made the very interesting point that laws against blasphemy might encourage independent vigilantes; that certainly seems plausible to me, but, as I’ve never thought there should be laws against blasphemy, I’m not sure how it applies to what I said, unless I gave you the impression that I do think there should be such laws – which I assure you is very far from the case.

            But here is a point on which we differ. Or at least as I understand it, this is something that you and PEN are asserting: that people who are murdered for expressing themselves are automatically deserving of praise.

            Really? Why is that? A person who is murdered (or threatened or harassed) for his or her views is by definition a victim – but not by definition a hero. He or she may be a hero or not. Let us say that a man considers his wife to be inferior to him and derides her repeatedly, and that she then murders him in his sleep. I think most of us would agree that it is wrong to murder the husband, but I hope few of us would agree that the husband deserves an award.

            Your account of international negotiations regarding the differing concepts underpinning laws that regulate limits on expression is interesting and informative, but insofar is it applies to my letter to you, it seems to underscore rather than contravene my conviction that satire is largely dependent for its meaning and effect on context and cultural norms.

            You say: “A rule that all satirists must only target for offense those who enjoy a concomitant or equal level of security or prestige within a society would surely take too much off limits.” I agree with that statement, too, as far as it goes. But in actual practice the matter goes very much farther than that wholesale abstract formulation, and the potential ramifications and nuances occasioned by any concrete instance of satire are likely to be ample.

            Satire might be thought of as sort of a free zone, where potentially dangerous or destabilizing ideas can be safely sent out to play, or to perform for us, and social inequities are implicitly an element in most satire – though it is the parties thought to be holding disproportionate power or prestige who are the usual object of successful satire. It seems to me that power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire, and that to ignore very real inequities between the person holding the mighty pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen, risks making empty and self-serving nonsense of the discussion. In any case, your apparent assumption that I fail to recognize the value of satire is puzzling, given that I made liberal use of it in my letter of March 26.

            Even leaving aside the vast and murky area that concerns freedoms, satire, and norms, at the basis of our discussion, I suppose, are – also vast and murky but urgent – questions of how to confront terrorism. And there, too, you and I are bound to stand on some common ground. Terrorism seeks to inhibit and control behavior and even ideas through the simple and very effective expedient of violence, so it is critical to respond by maintaining our autonomy, both in refusing to be silenced by threats or acts and also by refusing to let fear and intimidation interfere with our ideas and responses to the world around us -which is of course a subtler, vaguer, and more easily manipulated business.

            Like you, I greatly admire the courage of those who retain their autonomy and hold fast to reasoned ideals in the face of intimidation. But by the same token, I do not believe that a repudiation of terrorism obliges me to join forces with prejudices I find repugnant. If I were to follow PEN’s line of thought in this instance – the equating of free expression with offensiveness – to its logical conclusion, I would have to distort my own inclinations and convictions and devote myself to drawing incredibly offensive magazine covers. And that, in my view, would be as much a capitulation to terrorism as silence would be.

            The issue of objectives you raise in the case of Charlie Hebdo seems to me be critical, and I believe that confusion about it has obfuscated the general discussion. You inform me that the “new editor of Charlie Hebdo has said that in mocking religion their aim has been not to attack religion itself, but rather the role of religion in politics and the blurring of lines in-between, which they see as promoting totalitarianism . . . “ and that the editors (I believe that’s who you’re referring to) “defined their role as pushing boundaries, questioning orthodoxy, casting light on obscured motives and ensuring that nothing was above comment or debate.”

            These are truly laudable objectives. And I am quite willing to accept your characterization of the Hebdo staff. But my belief, as I’ve indicated, is that Charlie Hebdo’s objectives are entirely beside the point.

            It is the work available to us, not the objectives behind it, which we experience and judge. If, for example, I read a book that strikes me as worthless, my opinion of it will not go up simply because the author tells me that she had wanted it to be better than War and Peace. And further, the subjects of a satire are bound to have a different relationship to that satire than those who are only peripherally involved or who have the same set of cultural assumptions as the satire’s author. The Muslim population of France, so much of which feels despised and out of place in their own home, is very aware that the non-Muslim population of France is reading and enjoying mockery of their religion, and they are very unlikely to care what objectives Charlie Hebdo ascribes to itself, however lofty those objectives may be. A person wounded by ridicule is unlikely to much care what the ridiculer intended – to care whether the goal of the ridicule was to stimulate insight or to inflict humiliation.

            But presumably the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award is being awarded to Charlie Hebdo for its actual publications, not for its stated aspirations. So those aspirations are as immaterial to PEN’s choice as they are irrelevant to the Muslim population of France. What actually matters most in this instance, in my opinion, is what people believe is being awarded: What does PEN wish to convey by presenting this prestigious award to Charlie Hebdo? And that is still not one bit clear to me.

            Charlie Hebdo is undeniably courageous in that it has continued irrepressibly to ridicule Islam and its adherents, who include a conspicuously and ruthlessly dangerous faction. But ridicule of Islam and Muslims cannot in itself be considered courageous at this moment, because ridicule of Islam and Muslims is now increasingly considered acceptable in the West. However its staff and friends see it, Charlie Hebdo could well be providing many, many people with an opportunity to comfortably assume a position that they were formerly ashamed to admit. This is not a voice of dissent, this is the voice of a mob.

            Here I am, piping up again, and re-stating some of the things I’ve already said. And how good it would be if you and I could sort out and settle all these issues and those that are attached to them in the exchange of a few letters! But obviously these matters are not easily sorted out, let alone settled – and they are not easily discussed, either. They do, however, call for discussion – for examination, for re-examination, for endless, painstaking vigilance and continual efforts at clear thinking.

            You seek to persuade me that Charlie Hebdo was a judicious choice to receive the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award by telling me people are flocking to join PEN because of its support for Charlie Hebdo – but that only redoubles the anxieties I described in my first letter. I can only wonder what exactly is so alluring to these new dues-payers: are they indeed demonstrating enthusiasm for PEN’s long-standing support of free and courageous expression, or are they demonstrating enthusiasm for a license that is being offered by PEN to openly rally behind a popular prejudice that has suddenly been legitimized and made palatable by the January atrocities?

            In short, it is not Charlie Hebdo I’m writing to you about, it is PEN. I would be very sorry if this essential organization were to alter radically in character, from one that supports and protects endangered voices of dissent to one that encourages voices of intolerance.


All the best,


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