Ook Ook Eek Eek!
I just moved to Canada and so I feel I’m qualified to be objective about American politics when I’m not running around and shouting "Commies! Pinkies!" at the natives here.
I’m kidding, of course, but how easy it is it for you to tell that without reading anything but that first sentence? So you’ll pardon me for not knowing myself exactly how much other people are kidding when they talk politics. And they do, despite one of the cardinal rules of polite society being "Never discuss politics or religion" ever. OK, maybe excepting political or religious meetings or with like-minded people. Or at the zoo with your neighborhood Bonobo, you get the point.
Even when you agree with someone’s politics, that doesn’t mean anything. Semantics, interpretations, and even quantity of fervor can cause more chaos than wild monkeys loose in the streets of New York City, and are also at least 70% less fun. So, with all this ground fraught with peril and misunderstanding, why is it so common to find political discussion (read: flamewars) so rampant in online comics, especially with the creators?
Because humor is a dangerous rhesus tool. Rhetoric. I mean rhetoric.
Look at Canada’s favorite documentary on American politics right now â€“ Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11. The movie conveys ideas and thoughts that aren’t new, and neither do people normally think of going to a documentary for a good time, let alone a political documentary. What makes it palatable and popular beyond the publicity? Humor. Say what you will about Moore (and howler monkeys do), he’s funny when he wants to be. Which is more than you can say about the detractors who write columns titled "Less is Moore".
Humor is a sly vehicle for most anything, and when used in rhetoric or debate, it is a powerful tool. You can use humor to get people to actually listen to things they would normally tune out. Or you use it to attack and fall back on the "It was just a joke" defense. The latter is deplorable behavior, much like flinging your own feces, but it works more often than not.
Then there’s the longstanding tradition of political comics. Politicians have to take themselves seriously, which makes them prime targets for fun and jokes, and when you have such classic animals as the
mdonkey and the elephant standing in for the political parties, how can anyone resist making cartoons about politics?
Or perhaps more to the point, why shouldn’t they? If humor is so accommodating for expressing political thought and able to both inform and entertain, why isn’t it prevalent in webcomics, where everyone has the space to set up their own little soap box? Jon Rosenberg of Goats recently said on the comic’s main page that "[c]omics are the perfect outlet for political speech and I’m saddened that they’ve become a playground for soft, mushy minds that would rather ponder the behavior of their pets than of their government". I don’t know if it’s as endemic as that, political cartoonists may even outnumber the ones in the funny pages of newspapers, but you don’t see the same trend on the Internet. If I may hazard a guess, and I obviously will, I’d say it’s because of "TEH DRAMA"!
Years ago, just before I joined the online comics scene, there was a renowned fiasco on some cartoonist email group. It caused the founding of ecartoonists, which later had a branch off for some "conservative cartoonists" list. No, this is not a list of political cartoonists, but regular old funnytellers and storytellers.
Yet somehow politics came up, and not only came up, but split the community. Twice. Politics causes drama and yelling and grudges and all sorts of unpleasantness, more so than any other topic. Not even
macaques micropayments or copyright infringement comes close.
But for all the negative effects of letting politics take a front seat to comics, readers seem to take it the same way they take anything creators do â€“ either they can disassociate the creator from the comic or they can’t. How many people dislike Scott Kurtz, but still read his comic every day? I personally love quite a few comics that don’t jive with my own personal beliefs, comics that run the gamut from political cartoonist Mike Luckovich to Doonesbury to Superosity.
I emailed Chris Crosby for his thoughts on the matter, as his two comics, Superosity and Sore Thumbs, deal with politics â€“ both in very different ways. Sore Thumbs in particular has been dismissed solely in reviews on the grounds of its political leanings, despite making fun and belittling almost everything associated with politics equally. Crosby himself says that he puts a lot more of his personal leanings into Superosity than in Sore Thumbs, saying " I’m actually detached from any particular point of view when writing SORE THUMBS, though it obviously doesn’t seem that way to some outside observers."
His own focus seems to be on Entertainment over Messaging in the comic, but regulates his personal opinions to elsewhere on the comics’ sites. You can read in his leanings in the comics, though I’ve heard people say they thought Baby Bush (in Superosity) was portrayed as a sympathetic character. I asked about the inclusion of Bush in the comic and Crosby responded "When the 2000 election rolled around, it became just too hard to resist. How could I not? George W. Bush is both the most laughable and the most frightening political figure in US historyâ€¦ [T]he drunk driving was what got to me the most, which is why my "Baby Bush" take on him is so booze-related. He’s got an artificial heart that manufactures booze. Obviously, as with SORE THUMBS, it’s not supposed to be biting political satire, just a bit of a laugh loosely related to reality."
For Crosby, anyway, the entertainment value of tackling politics outweighs the controversy. "The political element [in Sore Thumbs] just seemed to fit and I thought it would be fun to write. I knew it would probably hurt the strip’s readership, but I couldn’t resist. I was trying to create a hit strip, but I wasn’t going to go CRAZY about it."
Unfortunately, Crosby neglected to mention monkeys throughout the entire interview and a family group of proboscis monkeys are en route to South Dakota even now. Further details at 11.
Meaghan Quinn is a contributing columnist for Comixpedia.