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Running Out of Lethal Injection Drugs

Well, I’m back from the wilds of Maine, and it seems like the site is more or less intact. I guess I missed another comments-thread tempest, but, without having had time to really look at the discussion closely, the arguments seem somehow less inherently divisive (with some obvious exceptions) and more like talking past each other (with other obvious exceptions). It would take more time and thought and close attention to respond as fully as I probably should, but the main issue at hand isn’t going anywhere, and will and should be addressed on this site in the future. The overwhelmingly white demographics of North American independent comics creators, when mixed with a very strong tradition of intensely personal comics in which many of the most celebrated works deal in provocation and even deliberate rudeness, unsurprisingly leads to various artistic and social tensions, possibly irresolvable. One reason for hope might be found in noting how the typical depiction of women has changed in comics since the heyday of the undergrounds—sexism is clearly still a live issue, but things aren’t what they used to be, and I have no doubt that the increased and increasing prevalence of female creators [and readers, editors, publishers, etc.] is a big part of that. Anyway, complicated issues here, and ones that likely aren’t going away any time soon, with or without deliberate action—but deliberation rarely hurts.

Joe McCulloch is here, as he is every Tuesday morning, with his indispensable weekly report on the most interesting-looking new titles available in direct-market stores.

After having spent a week without access to the internet, I am way behind on links, but here are a few I noticed while I am catching up:

—Hayao Miyazaki has announced his retirement from feature film-making. His Nausicaä of the Vally of the Wind still seems to be to be one of the great achievements in comics.

—Jeet Heer’s In Love with Art: Françoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman is previewed by Anne Kingston at Maclean’s.

—Ellen Forney’s Marbles is reviewed by John Crace at The Guardian, and Joe Ollmann’s Science Fiction is reviewed by Rob Clough.

The Seattle Weekly has a short profile of Fantagraphics.

—Mark Waid has purchased a comics store.

—Kyle Baker has launched an online comic strip, and Derf has taken his long-running The City to the web.

—I liked this Frank Santoro post on changing tastes.

Saga continues its streak by taking home the Hugo.

—The important and influential science-fiction writer and editor Frederik Pohl has passed away at 93. Christopher Priest at The Guardian has an obituary.

—Dash Shaw speaks to the California College of the Arts:


47 Responses to Running Out of Lethal Injection Drugs

  1. Lawrence R. Ronan says:

    “The overwhelmingly white demographics of North American independent comics creators”

    Source?

  2. patrick ford says:

    Tim’s eyeballs?

  3. Lawrence R. Ronan says:

    Must you comment on every thread?

  4. Stuart says:

    I don’t think it was a racist depiction of Arabs as much as it was an insulting depiction of Al Qaeda/ Taliban terrorists. As such, having just seen the home movies compilation of the 9/11 bombings, I don’t see what’s wrong with this. Unless we’re not allowed to insult Al Qaeda now?

  5. patrick ford says:

    My perception is he was mocking the widely held cultural perception of Muslim’s as scary terrorists.
    These things are easily misread. People may recall Art Spiegelman taking issue with R.Crumb’s story for WEIRDO.
    http://www.darkmoon.me/2011/when-the-goddamn-jews-take-over-america-robert-crumb-cartoon-strip-introduced-by-xanadu/
    Spiegelman understood Crumb’s intent, but felt the strip would be misunderstood by people holding the very attitudes it was mocking.

  6. patrick ford says:

    Crumb’s companion piece with an identical intent. He’s making fun of stupidity, not endorsing it.
    http://www.heretical.com/miscella/rcnoa1b.gif

  7. Lawrence R. Ronan says:

    Still waiting

  8. Tim Hodler says:

    Don’t be obtuse.

  9. Tim Hodler says:

    I have never read a single Jason Karns story, and am not making a comment on his work in the post above. I think the excerpted panels unquestionably deploy racially charged imagery. I also think that sometimes artists use racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive imagery or language in the service of a larger anti-racist or otherwise exculpatory narrative — the most frequently cited example for this is Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. While Karns’s own responses in that thread don’t inspire a lot of confidence, I personally would hesitate to offer a critique of any artwork without experiencing at least a little more of its context.

    That being said, whether or not the Karns story that prompted the exchange is racist is beside my point above — many comics do deploy offensive imagery, and, as any sane person would expect, in consequence some readers take offense. At that point, there comes a choice, engage in a potentially fruitful debate, or try to shut down dissent by shouting down those who disagree with you. (This choice is present for both sides, incidentally.)

    All of this is to say that if an artist traffics in offensive imagery, that same artist should expect debate. And in my opinion, if you believe the work is strong and can hold up to scrutiny, you should actively invite it.

  10. Tim Hodler says:

    More to your point, if you’re right, it could only strengthen your argument if you try to understand why the people who think of those drawings as anti-Muslim do so, and then engage with that viewpoint directly.

  11. Scott Grammel says:

    How in God’s name you can write with any authority about Karn’s “intent”? Your confidence in your supernatural abilities is not, in and of itself, convincing.

  12. Sgt. Lincoln Rockwell says:

    The demographic tables on the KKKomics Reporter.

  13. Greg Fontaine says:

    “My perception is he was mocking the widely held cultural perception of Muslim’s as scary terrorists.”

    That perception was more likely before Karns said in defense of his work: “Are you suggesting that cartoon terrorists shouldn’t be depicted as something that’s relatively close to reality? You do realize it’s not a stretch, right?”

    Like Hodler, I’m not willing to judge Karns’s work without reading it, but that statement seemed to contradict the reading you suggest.

  14. patrick ford says:

    It’s true that without seeing a substantial amount of his work it’s difficult to be sure.
    My guess is he’s working in a way which is similar to what S. Clay Wilson, Johnny Ryan and R. Crumb do.

  15. patrick ford says:

    People might be interested in going back and looking at the interview with Karns which was posted here some time back.
    http://www.tcj.com/an-interview-with-jason-karns/
    Since I haven’t read any of Karns book that interview had a lot to do with how I saw those images in Frank’s review.

  16. R. D. says:

    You people understand that there actually ARE Scary Muslim Terrorists in the world, right?
    Now, if someone implies all Muslims are terrorists, it’s racist and clearly offensive.
    However, if someone is portraying a group of terrorists as Muslims it’s based on reality and shouldn’t be considered offensive.
    All Germans weren’t Nazis, but to portray Nazis as anything other than German would be silly. Same thing here.

  17. “You people understand that there actually ARE Scary Muslim Terrorists in the world, right?
    Now, if someone implies all Muslims are terrorists, it’s racist and clearly offensive.
    However, if someone is portraying a group of terrorists as Muslims it’s based on reality and shouldn’t be considered offensive.”

    However, the use of racial stereotypes (turbans, bad teeth, speaking in vaguely-Arabic-inspired gibberish) is, in fact, racist imagery, regardless of whether it’s equating all Arabs with terrorists or not. Those characteristics aren’t just specifically related to depictions of Arabs as terrorists, but a long history of Western depictions of the Middle East (much in the same manner as depicting “African people,” for lack of a better term, as dumb brutes who all live in mud huts). It’s still racist imagery, which was the point brought up in the first place.

    ” All Germans weren’t Nazis, but to portray Nazis as anything other than German would be silly. Same thing here.”

    Without going into some extensive, pedantic details about the Nazi comparison, I can just point out off the top of my head that it’s not the ‘same thing,’ as terrorism is a universal concept, as demonstrated by the IRA, Timothy McVeigh, the Weather Underground, and the Norwegian terrorist whose name escapes me at the moment.

  18. Alek Trencz says:

    If you were going to do a story about a bunch of US military ninja forces engaged in sadistic and triumphalist brutality, which potential candidates for humiliating defeat would be on your shortlist?

    As for the depiction, aren’t the Team America-esque gibberish and yellow teeth there as part of the contrast between the subject and object of the story? The subject is whiter-than-white US military sovereignty, and perhaps it’s not a comfortable one to identify with – maybe so uncomfortable a position that one might even want to gain distance from it. (I’m talking about how those pages affect me and not some assumption about intent, which I don’t care about. What is of concern is the consciousness of the people who are exposed to the material, however few of them there may be.)
    The rest of the typical drawn signifiers of Middle-Eastern peoples on those pages don’t look any more exaggerated or mean-spirited than those used to signify the WASPish goons who are deployed as protagonists.

    It looks like silly fun with a reflexive barb.
    I know someone who enjoys watching military action movies so I may recommend it to him. Unfortunately, I believe that its lack of overground popularity and commercial rigour will make it less interesting to him than the blockbusters he wolfs down like a ‘kid in a candy store’.
    Too organic; too cottage-industry.

  19. R. D. says:

    Somebody should tell the Taliban, with their turbans, bad teeth, and Arabic gibberish, that they are racist stereotypes. Maybe they’ll shave their beards, buy some nice threads, and stop trying to blow up white people.

    Stereotypes exist because they are real. They’re not made up. If Arab terrorists are offended by this comic, tough shit. Same goes for bleeding heart assholes who have nothing better to do than to look for something to be offended about on behalf of someone else.

  20. Tim Hodler says:

    You think the Taliban speak “Arabic gibberish”? I think there’s an error in your logic.

  21. Unfortunate Reality says:

    If you’re going to be basing your claim to not being a racist on the verifiable factual reality-based nature of your depiction you’d do well to learn which language they speak in the region you are depicting.

  22. Less offended, more throwing out some ideas to consider, but your stubbornness is certainly adorable. Keep “telling it like it is,” slugger.

  23. R. D. says:

    Simply saying ” see! you’re a racist” does not invalidate what I said.
    Nice try boys.

  24. Greg Fontaine says:

    “It looks like silly fun with a reflexive barb.”

    People are dying on both sides of this “silly fun” at the moment in real life. Not my idea of a laff riot.

  25. Tim Hodler says:

    I get where you’re coming from, but speaking personally, I don’t think any subject is inherently out of bounds for humor.

  26. The Team America comparison cropped up a lot in the other thread, which I find interesting. Parker and Stone use racist images quite frequently, but I never find it problematic. Maybe that’s because the cheap animation or, in Team America’s case, the puppets highlight how ridiculous and petty such depictions are. It looks more like the work of a child acting out schoolyard revenge fantasies with their toys, and applying that to the structure of jingoistic action movies or American politics ends up being more humorous.

    Karns’ comic, on the other hand, just looks like straightforward action movie love to me. He adds a lot of “fucks” to the proceedings to make it silly, but it’s still all about looking cool. Seems to me there’s a gulf of difference there.

    I think you’re onto something by saying American military sovereignty is something people are uncomfortable with (especially as we’re gearing up for another Middle East adventure). Personally, I find such celebrations to be dull, even before the addition of lazy stereotypes.

  27. Martin Wisse says:

    To be honest, if Karns really wanted to be offensive and transgressive, rather than just stupid, he should’ve done a comic about the heroic defenders of the ancient Muslim heartlands against the raping, murdering white American oppressors. Give me some Arab ninjas gleefully cutting the throats of some good old southern boys, then it gets interesting. Not very interesting, but a bit more than just aping the lowest sort of mainstream entertainment.

    (Much more on Karns here.)

  28. Alek Trencz says:

    People are dying on either side of Fukitor?

  29. Alek Trencz says:

    ” Maybe that’s because the cheap animation or, in Team America’s case, the puppets highlight how ridiculous and petty such depictions are. ”

    Indeed. Does Fukitor look any less ridiculous or petty, though?

    “[…] but it’s still all about looking cool.”

    It looks cool? It looks childish to me, in terms of its means of appealing: heads being squished with eyeballs bursting out, etc; this is exactly the sort of thing (some) 12 yr old boys get off on*. Put that in the context of the dominant Western approach to portraying inter-cultural conflict and it all starts to look a bit Chris Morris, to me at any rate, ie: it has an enlightening function. Not that I, personally, insist on redeeming ethical values in art/entertainment per se – reception isn’t externally determined – I just find it hard to see that comic as some kind of anti-other political statement, its entire frame of reference seems to be dopey light entertainment and the narrative-functional elements found therein.

    *If it was actually being directly marketed to 12 yr olds, I would probably find it considerably more troublesome. Wouldn’t want them getting erotically fixated on genocide, say.
    So much speculation here. Everyone’s worried about how some imaginary person will recieve that work. Who’s actually buying it, though? How is it being used? What effect has it had?

    Quien Sabe.

  30. Alek Trencz says:

    Yes, just assuage that lurking angst – let’s purge our collective guilt symbolically.

  31. “It looks cool? It looks childish to me, in terms of its means of appealing: heads being squished with eyeballs bursting out, etc; this is exactly the sort of thing (some) 12 yr old boys get off on”

    That’s what I was getting at by saying it was straightforward.

  32. Briany Najar says:

    I see, yep, the media and styles are different: Fukitor’s graphics and surface spectacle are like something favoured by 11-13 yr olds, whereas the marionettes in TA are more like something favoured by 6-9 yr olds.
    Hmm…
    When I was 12, I might have found the former less infantile and more “on the money” than the latter – nowadays however, neither present a style of discourse, in and of themselves, that I find especially credible, at least not without their channeling of some kind of seriously affecting content. In the instances of the particular works mentioned, a degree of implicit affective action is highlighted by subjectively conditioned irony, of a kind very much like black humour. In TA the intentional cues are all there such that one can safely suppose that the irony is meant as a vehicle for satire, whereas with Fukitor the work seems so replete with grotesque farce that the only space for negotiation is within the dynamic self-consciousness of the reader’s own activated responses.
    In other words, although an artist like Karns doesn’t busy himself assuring us that his heart is as pure or that his intentions are as noble as those of sparkling gents like Parker and Stone, perhaps that’s none of our business anyway.
    What impact does the knowing ribaldry of TA have on anyone’s political activity? None. It’s just a comfort provider – we laugh and smile and are happy to note that some rich, successful entertainers are disgusted by brutality. Lovely, I enjoyed it immensely. And what effect does Fukitor have on its readers? Couldn’t say, apart from that a couple of them have been moved to write blog-posts about it.

    Meanwhile, thousands of copies of Frank Miller’s Holy Terror are being peddled by mainsteam booksellers around the world. It’s a very well crafted comic and its author helped to usher in the age of slightly modified 12 yr old boys’ entertainment being aimed squarely at adults – and these adults are absolutely desperate to find as many ways as possible of taking it seriously.

  33. Briany Najar says:

    In case you’re wondering – or indeed getting frustrated – I do get the point about the contrived gracelessness of some elements of Parker & Stone’s body of work. It’s just one of the cues I referred to as guiding our reception.
    Also, I don’t really see Karns’ draughtsmanship as being truly impressive to anyone but a connoisseur of, well, the kind of thing it is. Compare it to any reasonably well distributed colour comic, for instance.

  34. steven samuels says:

    “Spiegelman understood Crumb’s intent, but felt the strip would be misunderstood by people holding the very attitudes it was mocking.”

    And he was right. To this day there are racist web sites that post that strip.

    So there are undeniable real world implications that can’t be shunted aside with the “self-expression” angle. Crumb’s strip is more than a little problematic. That he was surprised by the reception it received by the racists doesn’t speak much for his self-critical abilities.

    I haven’t read Karns’ comic, but I would be seriously surprised if has worked out all through the thorny racial issues before creating it. History matters.

    http://www.newyorker.com/archive/1994/11/14/1994_11_14_048_TNY_CARDS_000370902

    http://www.comicsreporter.com/index.php/idaho_racists_still_like_crumb/

  35. patrick ford says:

    I seriously doubt Crumb would be surprised that racists adopted the strip. If anything he’d probably expect that given his low opinion of them.

  36. steven samuels says:

    “Reached by telephone at his home in France, where he has lived for three years with his wife, cartoonist Aline Kaminsky, and their daughter, Sophie, Crumb expressed surprise that his strips are appearing in a racist publication.”

    A David Armstrong article from twenty years ago. Also cited in this Leonard Rifas essay.

    Granted Crumb did state in the article he expected some people would take it literally, but if he didn’t realize Neo-Nazis would use it then he didn’t work out all the implications beforehand like all good artists are supposed to do.

  37. steven samuels says:

    According to the reviews here, that’s an anti-semetic web site. Thanks for backing up my point beforehand.

  38. patrick ford says:

    It isn’t clear to me he expressed surprise in the sense that he never considered such a possibility. Just the opposite I would say.
    That is a very interesting article though, one I haven’t seen before. Any interview with Crumb is worth my time so I really appreciate your linking to it.

    Here are all the quotes from Crumb:

    “”This is the first I’ve heard about it. Some people don’t get satire. To me, it shows how stupid those people are.”

    “I was sweating when I was doing them. I thought, `Some people are going to take it literally.’ I always have gone close to that line.”

    “An idea like that just comes to me in a flash, I release all that stuff inside myself: taboo words, taboo ideas. It pours out of me as sick as possible. I wouldn’t put it in a comic for children. But I don’t work that mainstream audience.”

    Crumb said he has no plans to sue the fringe group that has appropriated his stories. “I wouldn’t contemplate having anything to do with them,” he said.

    “That these people would take this stuff seriously . It’s unbelievable what’s out there in the world.”

  39. Briany Najar says:

    > ” … he didn’t work out all the implications beforehand like all good artists are supposed to do.”

    ?

    I never knew there was a particular thing thing that all good artists are supposed to do.

    If there was, and that was it, how could you tell if someone was a good artist until all possible contingencies had been exhausted?
    There is no limit to “all the implications” as there is no limit to usage and recontextualisation.

  40. steven samuels says:

    “There is no limit to “all the implications” as there is no limit to usage and recontextualisation.”

    This is true. An artist can never know ahead of time how everyone is going perceive his work. Let me rephrase it. The question is if Crumb did the bare minimum in digesting what he wanted to say before committing it to print. Given that exactly twenty years later the two strips are still of interest to neo-nazis, I’d say the answer is no.

    “I never knew there was a particular thing thing that all good artists are supposed to do.”

    Well, in general terms, yes. They’re supposed to look at their work from as many outside angles as they can think of in the processing of refining it, while guarding against cliches and plagiarism. Self-criticism. The question becomes much less academic when it comes to the loaded subject matter Crumb was playing around with. And in particular that subject matter.

  41. Briany Najar says:

    > “They’re supposed to look at their work from as many outside angles as they can think of in the processing of refining it, while guarding against cliches and plagiarism. Self-criticism. ”

    Sounds like what graphic designers do: considering the meanings, calculating the result, tweaking the message. That’s what any good advertiser or propagandist is supposed to do.
    Some artists would be hobbling their own credo if they behaved in such a way – a dedicated Surrealist, for instance.

    Anyway,
    When the Goddamn Jews… does such a good job imitating the ramblings of a deranged anti-sSemite that perhaps a clearer disclaimer could be present. There is the psychoanalyst’s thought-bubble and, most tellingly, the last panel. Of course there are such damaged people about that even the destruction of civilisation isn’t monstrous enough to clue them in to the ridiculousness of the position portrayed. For such people even something as innocuous as a picture of a Jew who is happy, healthy and successful is enough to stoke their resentment. Likewise, someone who opposes anti-Semitism only has to cast their eye over some typical anti-Semitic writing to have their own opinion confirmed. There is no innocent reader. (I’ve started quoting Barthes now, time to change track.)

    What I want to know is, has that comic strip contributed anything to the anti-Semite’s cause? Has it furthered or buttressed any of their argument, or is it just repeating the standard cliches which can be just as easily read in diametrically opposed ways? Is anyone going to become more anti-Semitic by reading that comic? Does it work as effective anti-Semitic propaganda?

    If a delusional paranoiac enjoys a piece of work for the “wrong reason”, does that make the art bad?

    Is an accurate portrait of stupid thinking a piece of stupidity?

  42. patrick ford says:

    Look at what Crumb said again:

    “This is the first I’ve heard about it. Some people don’t get satire. To me, it shows how stupid those people are.”

    “I was sweating when I was doing them. I thought, `Some people are going to take it literally.’ I always have gone close to that line.”

    “An idea like that just comes to me in a flash, I release all that stuff inside myself: taboo words, taboo ideas. It pours out of me as sick as possible. I wouldn’t put it in a comic for children. But I don’t work that mainstream audience.”

    Crumb said he has no plans to sue the fringe group that has appropriated his stories. “I wouldn’t contemplate having anything to do with them,” he said.

    “That these people would take this stuff seriously . It’s unbelievable what’s out there in the world.”

  43. Briany Najar says:

    Patrick, what are you getting from these statements of Crumb’s? What do you see in them that prompts you to point at them again? It’s not clear to me.

  44. steven samuels says:

    “Sounds like what graphic designers do: considering the meanings, calculating the result, tweaking the message. That’s what any good advertiser or propagandist is supposed to do.
Some artists would be hobbling their own credo if they behaved in such a way – a dedicated Surrealist, for instance.”

    No. Revising and self-editing is what most artists do to one degree or the other. More often than not works of art do not come out of an artist fully formed. Doesn’t matter if its a writer, painter, musician, movie director or what have you. The amount that they do self-edit on any particular work however varies on a case by case basis. It’s the natural process of refining a work of art. They may refine it on paper or in their heads or all of the above. Not to please commerce, but to please themselves and of course to better communicate with the audience. Of course there’s always exceptions but again, speaking in general terms revising to sharpen the effect of a work of art is more than a little common.

  45. patrick ford says:

    Briany, I sounds to me like Crumb was fully aware his strip would be misunderstood. He’s got long term experience with people missing his intent.
    He’d created the Angelfood McSpade character in the ’60s.
    I believe a lot of people see much of Crumb’s work as sexist.

    Personally I’m not primarily interested in creative work which spends a lot of time taking into account who might be offended, or the fact the work might be misunderstood.

  46. My recollection is that Crumb doesn’t disavow the misogynist or sexist label.

  47. spencer says:

    That sounds like a great story idea actually!

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