Last summer, cartoonist Ted Rall ("Search and Destroy") began soliciting artists for his second anthology, Attitude 2: The New Subversive Alternative Cartoonists. On Thursday, April 29, nine of the 21 cartoonists included gathered at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art in New York City to celebrate the book's release. I was one of them.
Also in attendance were some five or six artists who contributed to Rall's first, more politically minded, anthologyamong them Tom Tomorrow. Owing to the fact that "This Modern World," runs in the Scene, the reader might already know that the ubiquitous and unapologetically political Mr. Tomorrow currently dominates the alternative cartoon world. His sustained success has spawned a new breed of alternative cartooniststhe worst of whom, unlike their predecessor, avoid any discernible attempt at humor and seem almost consciously to steer clear of the uncomfortable circumstance of original thought. These cartoonists are, in fact, well enough dispersed throughout the nation's alternative weeklies that one may be inclined to view the appellation "alternative" as an intentionally ironic misnomer, like an ugly man named Handsome.
I might suggest to readers, as another alternative, that they take up cartooning themselves, a feat made simple by strict adherence to the unwritten rules of the form, wherein the artist draws a man wearing a suitgenerally indicated by a look of bewilderment and the letter "W" to be the villainwith words coming out of his mouth that suggest what his detractors think he would say if suddenly forced by an unseen hand to tell the truth (generally, "I want to kill Iraqi children and give fat contracts to Halliburton"). Within a panel or two, the amateur cartoonist will have successfully reproduced any number of strips currently running in weekly papers across the country. Not to impugn the use of cartoons to discuss politics, but it seems not unfair to expect that when an art form a few steps removed from stick-men is applied to something as inane as the world of politics, the results should be, if not entertaining, then at least unpredictable.
When I learned, therefore, that Tom Tomorrow, to whom I unfairly attribute this unfortunate trend, would be in attendance at last month's book-release, it was not with a small sense of responsibility that I accepted the invitation. Tom Tomorrow has stated his case and the majority have sided with him. I saw in my own attendance an opportunity to confront the many-headed hydra and force it to relinquish its stranglehold on the alternative cartoon world. I was offered free cheese and beer besides.
The Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art left me with the impression that there must be some sense of the word "museum," with which I was unfamiliar, in which it is used to mean "empty room." There were 10 or 12 prints hanging on one of the walls, representative of the visiting artists, but they were mostly of the one-note political variety. The two prints I had sent for display (one of which tastefully advocated that homeless people be mashed up and used for food) were suspiciously absent. A fellow cartoonist whose work likewise was missing theorized that it had probably been lost in the mail, but I suspected something more sinister. I began to understand that I was a sheep among wolves.
The cartoonists were seated along a row of tables so that visitors could more easily shake their hands and feign interest in their work. I was toward the end. On my left was Emily Flake, famed artist of "Lulu Eightball," who, in a perfect world, would have already won the designation of "Second Funniest Cartoonist in America"or at least would be termed "famed" by someone other than a lesser-known colleague. I counted her as a confederate for the two reasons that she tends to avoid politics and is actually funnyanathema to most political/alternative cartoonists. I figured she would have my back if it came to eye-gouging or bloodshed, or degenerated further into hurtful barbs and name-calling.
On my right was David Rees. I guessed he might be trouble. His strip, "Get Your War On," consists almost exclusively of clip art and profanity, and, though it is of a political bent, is distinguished from the better part of its brethren by a tendency to entertain. I introduced myself to Mr. Rees and asked if he knew where the toilet was, which was of course my own cryptic way of saying "I am your DOOM." He said that the restrooms were very hard to find and very far away, which I reasonably assumed was his own way of saying "likewise," but learned later that it was in fact an honest and accurate description of the building's schematics.
The consensus was that Tom Tomorrow was seated at the opposite end, but few I asked could identify him and those who could found his seat mysteriously and consistently empty.
Around 7 p.m., the crowds began to move in. Some would say it was out of genuine curiosity, but I am as yet unconvinced that their arrival wasn't merely a convenient method of keeping me from my object. Consider the following exchange, not untypical:
FAN: Would you sign my book?
ME: I'm not in this book.
Sadly, by the time the crowd began to die down, some two hours later, word came that Tom Tomorrow had already made his escape. Perhaps it was for the best, as I had not formulated a plan of action past making his acquaintance. I had a vague impression that one of us would have challenged the other to a duel or maybe an intense high-speed race across the country, culminating in me taking a rapier thrust to the shoulder, or, thanks to the ungentlemanly practice of bribing highway law enforcement, being the first to reach Los Angeles. In either case, the question likely on Tom Tomorrow's lips would have been something along the lines of, "Who are you again?"
And so it was that the two brave representatives of opposing alternative cartoon philosophies each went his own way, and the first of many meetings in what promises to be an epic struggle must be put down for posterity as a draw.