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“The Sponsor”: A Fourteen-Step Problem Comic

Online tweets/posts/etc. about comics (or any subject, really) often seem like futile skirmishes in an unwinnable war. Each critic takes a narrow position and holds that territory, refusing to grant any validity to divergent arguments. Isn’t it possible, especially when talking about art, that different and even contradictory interpretations can be equally valid, that a short comic strip, for example, can communicate its meanings (if that’s ever the right word to use when talking about art) in opposing ways? In other words, isn't it possible that a comic can simultaneously express X and Not X, with both interpretive camps being right? I think so.

Recently, James Sturm’s online strip “The Sponsor” (read it here) has generated a lot of commentary that takes the form of “It clearly can mean only X.”  Making no effort to look for evidence that complicates or undermines their claims, these writers lack "interpretive sympathy": they fail to identify with readers whose experiences lead them to very different conclusions. They also overlook a basic fact about reading comics: one element — a line of dialogue, a facial expression, a subtitle — can simultaneously suggest numerous interpretations.

Below are fourteen responses to “The Sponsor." While writing each, I tried to imagine what it was about the comic that would lead a critic to view this reading as the “correct” one. When I first read the strip, it seemed fairly transparent in its message (which is never the right word to use when talking about art). But now I’m unsure that my initial response was anything like “true” or “accurate.” (Doubt can be a positive interpretive approach.)

As of today, I don’t agree with all — or even most of the claims — I make below. But trying to understand each as I was writing it — to act for a moment as if it were true — was instructive. To me at least.


1. The comic is explicitly about gender; to say otherwise is to ignore the fact that only the male characters have the “problem” referred to in the subtitle. The young male cartoonist has an older male sponsor and neither can cope with the fact that a women — especially a young woman — is far more successful than they are. The comic replays the anxiety rampant among patriarchal males who, in the democratic internet-era, must confront the fact that they are becoming dinosaurs, that they no longer control things: everyone has access to “the means of production.” The comic and its author explicitly mock insecure males, especially those who fail to embrace new technologies. Many readers neglect the fact that the subtitle tells us that it is men who need to seek help.

2. Gender is not the focus here. The comic portrays the common emotion/response of jealousy. Though the particular vocation depicted is cartooning, to think the comic is only relevant to cartoonists or males or male cartoonists is naïve; it applies to all people and professions. While the jealous characters are male, reading the comic as making as a specific point about gender — about men and “male nature” — is needlessly restrictive. This position requires us to assume that women and girls do not frequently envy successful females and males, which, you know, they do. In Alcoholics Anonymous, sponsors are usually the same gender as those they work with: while it’s not required, it is strongly recommended. And a sponsor must have his/her own sponsor.  This is why the “problem” cartoonists in the strip are the same gender. Readers are jumping to conclusions before thinking through the comic’s premise.

3. The author’s views are clearly the older character’s views. Like the main character, he is a cartoonist and teacher. Online, people have suggested that the author has voiced negative views like this. The comic, then, is just another male whining aloud about women: it looks exactly like something we have seen a million times before, going back centuries. And if the author didn’t want the “this comic is hostile to women” reaction, he would have switched up the genders. And he wouldn’t have made the main character so much like himself in terms of age, gender, and profession.

4. The comic is the comic and the author is author: they are not the same thing. What he may or may not have said in public is irrelevant. We do art a disservice when we think it must be an exact reflection of the author’s views. So often a work of art is smarter and more interesting than its creator.

5. Many readers refer to the comic’s two male characters, but they forget the third male, Ron — the sponsor’s sponsor — who’s mentioned only in the last panel. By naming a third generation of hostile male cartoonists, the comic makes it clear that the problem of male power and resentment is long-running and ongoing: this is how it has been and will be. The comic shows that, in a capitalist patriarchy, the power differential always works in the male’s favor. It’s built into the system.

6. Are you sure? The power in the comic is fully in the hands of the female cartoonist, Tessa. She has the monetary capital — $350,000 is a ton of cash — and she has the cultural capital — her comic is being released by Drawn & Quarterly, one of North America’s two most important and prestigious comics publishers. The power differential clearly favors her and cartoonists like her, who embrace new ways of raising money and have more access to publishing opportunities. He is the past — She is the future.

7. The comic sympathizes with all of its characters, even while it mocks some of them. The “gender war” is not in the comic, but outside of it, in the reader. Trained by the internet to be hostile and simplistic, readers impose their agenda on a comic: “It means what I say it means. All other reactions are wrong.” For the sake of argument, let’s say the cartoonist is hostile to young female creators who have had more success than he has; isn’t is possible that he can mock himself for those views? People are complicated, you know. Sometimes they make fun of themselves, aware that their values are silly and wrongheaded.

8. I haven’t seen anyone talk about the comic’s artwork. When trying to interpret this or any other comic, we need to focus on the visual elements. To interpret a comic without addressing the art is like writing a restaurant review that ignores the food and just talks about the service. We must take into account the totality of the work, especially the drawing choices. Look at the way the author draws the male characters; they are tired, distressed, and at times even hysterical. Since he draws the eldest — and most patriarchal — male as a bitter, ugly old man, he clearly wants us to view him as the comic’s villain: this approach to moral physiognomy is a staple of cartooning.

SPimage (1)Yet ... maybe the author draws him this way because he wants us to sympathize with the sponsor as someone who devoted his life to the endlessly wearying but noble task of helping — or “sponsoring” — younger cartoonists, as the author has. Now I’m confused.

9. Like so many established male cartoonists, this cartoonist is hostile to webcomics and the internet, which has helped many young artists — especially females — publish and profit from their work. The older male is unambiguous about his position when he refers to online material as “crap.” But wait a second ... This comic is also an online comic. Does the writer think his own online comic is crap, or only other people’s (females’?) online comics? Now I’m confused. Is this comic some kind of hoax? Why are we spending so much time talking about it when Chris Ware has an online strip at the Guardian?

10. The comic fails because it simplistically and inartistically equates cartooning with alcoholism, two completely different things. By calling the comic “The Sponsor,” the author treats the process of recovery from an addiction glibly — and he doesn’t explore the premise in any meaningful way; it’s just a facile gag. But, let me think about this for a second ... given that so many cartoonists have talked about the difficulties of their life and profession, describing how the compulsion to draw makes them feel as if they’re chained to the drawing board with back and hand problems, how their social life continually suffers, all of the disappointment and rejection, etc. maybe an addiction/disease like alcoholism is the perfect analogy for life as a cartoonist. Maybe it’s not that the author treats alcoholism glibly, but that he takes cartooning seriously .  . .

11. The comic never equates cartooning with alcoholism. It equates jealousy with alcoholism, an important distinction, showing that intense envy can have a debilitating, disease-like effect. But more importantly, most people are completely misreading the comic’s tone, taking it way too seriously. Look at the opening scene. It’s clearly a parody of the Made-for-TV schlock approach to “serious issues”:  “Honey, I have to go! ... Casey’s in trouble.” Ha! And the sponsor runs to Casey’s rescue at a coffee shop (the preferred hangout of failed artists) at night and in the rain! Whenever a crappy movie wants to amp up the drama, it sets the scene at night and in the rain. The comic’s author is mocking his characters for taking themselves so super-seriously. I don’t get that readers can’t see this: are they all tone-deaf? Do they want to be offended? The whole setup is an obvious parody. Of course, if readers take themselves and their opinions super-seriously (which sometimes happens on the internet), they’ll miss that they are being made fun of, too.

12. The comic does not equate alcoholism with either cartooning or jealousy — it compares them. It’s a metaphor, a conceit. When Lucilla writes, “He is a flower, blossoming,” she is not saying he is the same as a flower in every way, that boy and plant are objectively equal. She is poetically observing that he has some of a flower’s traits. He is like a flower — which, if you think about it a little, hints at the fact that he must be unlike one in some ways, too. Literalism is the enemy of interpretation.

13. The comic is not successful because it allows for too many — and often contradictory — readings. The cartoonist is clearly not in control of his material. He tried to do in one page something that required a few pages, if not many more.

14. Perhaps the comic is successful, or at least possibly interesting, because it allows for, even encourages, so many all-over-the-map interpretations. It allows each of us to see in it what we want to see — and perhaps even what we need to see. Is this comic good or bad, who knows? That’s up to you. But Art, both good and bad, can’t be reduced to a clear-cut, easy-to-express “position.” And some readers take this reductive, deadening approach to interpretation.

Whether we want it to or not, Art defeats paraphrase.

Ken Parille is editor of The Daniel Clowes Reader: A Critical Edition of Ghost World and Other Stories, with Essays, Interviews, and Annotations. He teaches at East Carolina University and is the author of 50 Essential Guitar Lessons.

28 Responses to “The Sponsor”: A Fourteen-Step Problem Comic

  1. I actually thought these were all real people and this was an actual situation. I admit it’s an understatement to say I’d be a little bit jealous if anyone like “Tessa” existed. Does gender have anything to do with it? I don’t know. I’ve heard the criticism that it’s a couple men complaining that a woman is more successful than them, but if it is I think that’s the point. Even when we support equal pay and are ashamed of that catcall video, we white men cling to our security blankets whether we realize we are or not.

  2. DJM says:

    As a Latino man with multi-racial co-workers (I work in structural steel), not just white men, but all men have similar moments in their life. In moments of perceived inferiority, frustration, and futility, we all want to get mad at the other, be it race or age or gender or job or income or government or a combination of them all, to justify our own failed goals. Maybe not failed (although, maybe), but not nearly close enough to where we want them to be. The other always seems to surpass us on our “own” domain, whatever that maybe. Moments like these in the comic are healthy I believe. To feel angry and lash out in a safe environment with safe, level-headed people helps a person to learn and accept and move on. Well, it helps me (and it’s why I go to a group sometimes). It’s what I took away from the piece. And as an educator, I think Sturm sees a lot of this.

  3. Uland says:

    As a rational, sane human being who is also literate, I feel embarrassed by/for everyone involved in indie comics for even being associated with anyone who could possibly see “the patriarchy” at work in this comic, much less claim that’s what this comic is “about”.
    *disgusted, hour-long sigh*

  4. Uland says:

    My take on why Sturm made the successful cartoonist a female: he wanted , as a progressive, to appeal to an anti-sexist sensibility. A male cartoonist would’ve worked just as well for purpose he pursued (as an object of envy), but why not make it a female? That way, I can include women in the narrative & signal female success/power. That he didn’t choose to make either of the two recovering envy-ers female suggests this wasn’t altogether arbitrary, which reveals it as at the very least near-tokenism.
    What Sturm didn’t realize is that to a sizable number of millennial comics people, anything a white, straight, older male says/does is suspect & the nature of his being precludes him from being able to scrutinize himself & others in an equitable way. This is why any suspicion of sexism can be made with impunity; the subject, by mounting any argument, proves the claim ; He cannot recognize his own “privilege” & thereby disqualifies himself.
    The irony is, of course, it’s difficult to not see these rigged-attacks as being motivated by envy.

  5. Jack says:

    Well, I think the three-guys-versus-a-younger-woman breakdown and the mention of Crumb were probably meant as nods to changing demographics in comics. It mostly reminded me of Alison Bechdel getting that genius grant (although she’s middle aged).

  6. Kim O'Connor says:

    Hi Ken, I couldn’t agree more with your premise that art is interpretive. My background is in studying poetry, where ambiguity is everything. I share your skepticism of correctness, sureness, and critical bravado. What people call misreadings are, very often, simply different points of view. You’re right to call people on their reluctance to acknowledge art’s function as a sort of Rorschach test.

    And yet, as someone who interpreted the comic pretty narrowly (I read it as successful satire), I’d argue the opposite of your conclusion here.

    Satire is an unusual genre in that it doesn’t much traffic in ambiguity. In satire, sharpness is a virtue. For me the most ready example is political cartooning, where fuzziness is a liability; political satire that supported 14 conflicting interpretations would be a failure. Or, to borrow an example from another medium, confusing Stephen Colbert the character with Colbert the person would be a mistake, objectively.

    Clarity of message (btw, is “message” such a bad word when it comes to satire? Doesn’t satire tend to have a message?) requires a precision that is difficult to execute. Matt Bors makes it look easy. But I’ve read an awful lot of inscrutable Ted Rall cartoons.

    Anyway, that’s how I square my clear and confident reading of this comic’s meaning with my deep allegiance to ambiguity. It’s good to be careful when talking about meaning and message in art. But satire, by design, communicates meaning and message in a way that’s relatively plain (though not necessarily simplistic).

  7. Jack says:

    I’m not convinced that satire has to lack ambiguity and deliver a clear message in order to be successful. I know Ted Rall is actually proud of the fact that some of his cartoons can be taken in various ways, and while I dislike a lot of his work, that seems like a valid point of view. Similarly, I recently listened to an interview with some writers for The Simpsons who said their favorite episode was the early one about banning cartoon violence, because it made a number of points that cancelled each other out. Colbert has done plenty of jokes that lack a clear satirical target, and some of my favorite Onion articles are the same way–I’m not sure what “Point and Counterpoint: Life Begins at Conception vs. Life Begins at 40!” is saying about abortion, for example. Maybe it comes down to your definition of satire. Vladimir Nabokov hated being called a satirist and said, “Satire is a lecture, parody is a game.”

  8. Uland says:

    Jack – But Crumb is spoken of as being so great he wouldnt feel the kind of envy the kid is feeling.
    Also, are demographics changing? It seems like there’s more of every demographic. I’ve never heard anything about a perception that women are suddenly surging.

  9. Ken Parille says:

    Hi Kim,

    In most cases, I think you are right about satire and the objectivity of its message. But I also agree with Jack’s thoughts above.

    I think that when we label a work a given genre, we often are not stating a fact but rather making an interpretive claim. For example, some people classify Poe stories like “Ligeia” and “Usher” as “supernatural stories” – other believe that Poe was creating a particular form of “realistic fiction” in which the supernatural elements can be explained as products of the narrators/characters’ diseased imaginations. Both genre labels make sense to me, even though some people might see them as mutually exclusive.

    The same holds true for something like Daniel Clowes’s The Death-Ray, which works as a straight/serious superhero story, an arch superhero satire, or a kind of parody in terms of Jack’s mention of Nabokov. Clowes takes this genre-blurring approach to many of his short stories (I discuss this in The Clowes Reader . . .).

    You mention Colbert, and his satire is also signaled by context (he’s on Comedy Central, for ex.) But when satire misfires, as it did for Colbert when he did his “mock-Chinese” bit a while back, what is it then? Some people saw the bit as anti-racist satire, some saw it as satire turned racist, some as not satire at all but pure racism. Same thing, different messages.

    Back to “The Sponsor.” Let’s agree for a second that it is a satire (something many don’t believe). But what is its message? A general commentary about the universal envy of jealousy? A gendered satire about men, power, envy? Many would say it can’t be both, that one reading (the reading the person who say it can’t be both disagrees with) is a willful, biased misreading of the comic. Both readings makes sense to me, with evidence in the comic to support either. So even when something is satire, I think its messages are open to interpretation; a satirist or author may think they have made only one “point” but in many cases — perhaps even in all cases — smart readers can see much more.

    And we use the term satire to cover so many, and often very different, things—we could read the comic as a light satire of envy or a viscous satire of men. So the kind of satire it is is open ended, too. I think, that within “Satire,” there are many subgenres.

    I believe that some people, myself included, didn’t think through the comic’s gender aspect as fully as we could have. In my piece above I talk about AA sponsorship and gender, an idea that came to me late in the game. Some could say that, for the premise of the comic to work in a realistic way, the ‘troubled’ characters need to be the same gender; this is how it so often is in the real world in AA. If Sturm had a young male cartoonist call an older female, who in turn called a male, it would mess up the metaphor of the comic and not “feel true.” He was not literately constrained to have the characters be the same gender, but he was kind of figuratively constrained by the comic’s guiding metaphor. f he didn’t call it “The Sponsor” and have the AA allusion in the subtitle, things might have been different, he might have had more leeway with character gender.

  10. Ken Parille says:

    When I said “When I first read the strip, it seemed fairly transparent in its “message” (which is never the right word to use when talking about art),” maybe I should have said something more like: “which is never the best word to use when talking about art).

  11. Colbert Indig-Nation says:

    “But when satire misfires, as it did for Colbert when he did his “mock-Chinese” bit a while back, what is it then?”

    Oh, brother. A humorless attention-seeking “hashtag activist” deliberately pretended not to understand a premise, extracted an allegedly offending detail out of context because “[topic] is never funny,” got hammered online by wave after wave of people who rejected this well-flogged brand of prepackaged fill-in-the-outrage… and it’s COLBERT who misfired?

    ” Some people saw the bit as anti-racist satire, some saw it as satire turned racist, some as not satire at all but pure racism.”

    Very few people were in Group B and Group C. Even fewer of them were sincere. And they were all full of it.

  12. Kim O'Connor says:

    Yeah, obviously genre is not absolute. But that doesn’t mean it’s never discernible or germane. I feel comfortable labeling that Colbert thing as satire, too.

  13. Mike Hunter says:

    If I had to pick one interpretation, clearly Ken’s #11 is the most on-target:

    …The comic’s author is mocking his characters for taking themselves so super-seriously. I don’t get that readers can’t see this: are they all tone-deaf? Do they want to be offended? The whole setup is an obvious parody. Of course, if readers take themselves and their opinions super-seriously (which sometimes happens on the internet), they’ll miss that they are being made fun of, too.

    “The Sponsor” is a delightful satire; deftly mocking the insecurities and envy of creative folks, as well as the far-from-solid terrain of online cartooning, where making money is elusive, popularity (amassing “hits”) as valuable as artistic substance. That “…except for the day Scott McCloud linked to my site I’ve had like no traffic” line is painfully tragicomic. Pathetic and risible in equal parts.

    This exchange is a comedy gem:

    “Can you imagine Crumb worrying about how many hits he got? It’s absurd!”

    “Raising $350,000 on Kickstarter is NOT absurd.”


    “She did it in three days.”

    (Damn, now I’m envious…)

    And envious of Sturm, too; that’s some sharp, hilarious dialogue! That “she did it in three days” is the clincher.

    As for readers who take themselves and their opinions super-seriously, one can certainly include those “perpetually enraged at The Injustice of It All” folks. (Of course they “want to be offended”!) Who will narrow the wide-ranging aspects of Sturm’s satire — the emotional dynamics of which could fit most any group of creative people — to fit the constricted limits of their favored outrage, the Procrustean Bed upon which they mangle the world.


    “It’s all about RACE!!! The characters are all white…”

    “”It’s all about ABLEISM!!! The characters can walk, talk, they’re not blind…”

    “It’s all about Anglo cultural hegemony!!! The characters are in a Western setting, speaking English…”

    And no, I’m not saying that horrendous injustices don’t exist, or denying their vileness. But, just like the Stalinists who attacked other Communists criticizing the murderous policies of Uncle Joe as being traitorous tools of Capitalism, for True Believers anyone finding fault with their extremist arguments must be the epitome of evil; hence the disclaimer.

  14. Tim Hodler says:

    @Mike. You do realize that right here, in your own comment, you are choosing exactly one interpretation as the correct one, and expressing contempt for those who disagree with you, right?

  15. Ken Parille says:

    Kim said: “But that doesn’t mean it’s never discernible or germane.” I agree completely. I teach a lot of children’s literature surveys and the guiding premise for the course is genre/genre conventions.

  16. BPP says:

    Meh, ejits on twitter getting het up about nothing. Just like the Matt Taylor / Philae Probe ‘sexist shirt’ thing.. someone shouts, everyone rushes in.. You’ll lose the war for fighting shadows.

  17. I saw the irony meant in Colbert’s bit about using racism to make fun of racism and found it to be funny. It goes back to a long tradition since before ‘Blazing Saddles’. I can even laugh (though uncomfortably) when I see racial caricatures in 1930’s cartoons. One thing I have learned not to do, however, is say “It’s meant to make fun of someone who would do that and you don’t get it so shut up”. I can understand someone constantly victimized not appreciating something no matter what the context and not appreciate being told “You see, it’s satire”. You can’t call someone humorless when you don’t have to walk in their shoes. I don’t see what Parille said as hashtag activism as much as an objective observation of how different people see something depending on the lens they’ve seen things all their lives.

  18. Ken Parille says:

    Sam, thanks — that’s very well said.

  19. Mike Hunter says:

    Tim Hodler says:

    @Mike. You do realize that right here, in your own comment, you are choosing exactly one interpretation as the correct one, and expressing contempt for those who disagree with you, right?

    You mean I actually argued that I was right, and other people were wrong?? The horror! What could be more totally against the “everything is just an opinion, and everybody else’s is equally valid” TCJ attitude?

    Pfui! Check out my what I actually said, not that simplistic caricature:

    “If I had to pick one interpretation, clearly Ken’s #11 is the most on-target…”

    First, there’s the “If I HAD to pick one interpretation,” indicating a reluctance to narrow things down to just one…

    And, “…is the most on-target” indicates that other interpretations can be partially accurate, but that #11 is the “most” — not totally, not COMPLETELY, but proportionately greater than the others — valid.

    Don’t just take my word for it:


    1: greatest in quantity, extent, or degree

    2: the majority of

    Indeed, other interpretations accurately cover aspects of “The Sponsor.” Who could argue with perceptions like “The comic is the comic and the author is author: they are not the same thing,” or “Though the particular vocation depicted is cartooning, to think the comic is only relevant to cartoonists or males or male cartoonists is naïve; it applies to all people and professions…reading the comic as making as a specific point about gender…is needlessly restrictive,” and many others?

    However, #11 has the greater amount of incisive perceptions about “The Sponsor” squeezed in there. “Clearly”!

  20. R. Fiore says:

    The intent of the Colbert segment was so transparent that even the most humorless civil rights advocate would appreciate it. But really, that was about 99% a fake controversy ginned up by right wing goons acting in bad faith. Angelfood McSpade is ambiguous, that wasn’t.

    You’d be surprised, and probably shocked, at how much racial humor there was in the National Lampoon of the 1970s. If you were a young radical type in those days you figured you were entitled to the presumption that you were on the side of the angels, and any racial humor you indulged in was a satire and exposure of racism.

  21. Tim Hodler says:

    The point, Mike, is that’s a pretty funny thing to do while complaining that others are Stalinists for only allowing one interpretation.

  22. I have a complete collection of National Lampoon and am aware of the slash and burn style of humor in the first five years. I’ve gotten into so many arguments with people my own age that it wasn’t always the frat-boy sex rag they remember from high school. I’d agree with everything about the Colbert sketch except for the word *would*. I’d say “should appreciate” instead. The right did initiate outrage about this particular non-issue and took advantage of Political Correctness 2.0 by being the provocateurs bringing out peoples’ inner social justice warrior. They have a way of not liking someone for their politics and trying to create outrage over something else (see Lena Dunham/molestation “controversy”) There’s humor that just wouldn’t fly today among the left, though. Comes with tolerance. Not my fault if people can’t understand irony but if they have experiences I couldn’t imagine I don’t hold it against them. No need to tell me acknowledgement of an act does not make it the subject of the joke. No need to tell me they’d be in for a rude awakening if they saw what was mainstream 40 years ago. There was a reference to rape recently on the Simpsons/Family Guy crossover that wasn’t a joke about rape at all but meta-humor about telling a joke. A rape victim might still be offended by it and the last thing they’d want to hear is someone explaining it to them. I just think being wrong doesn’t make someone wrong. We all have different ways of compartmentalizing.

    Back to ‘The Sponsor’: since it was done for the computer, it should have been interactive so that maybe when you click on peoples’ names, you see examples of their (fictional) work. Also, what city does this take place in? There was a Rocketship in Brooklyn and I think there’s one in San Francisco.

  23. Mike Hunter says:

    Scott McCloud says:
    In other news, Randy Newman DOES NOT ACTUALLY HATE SHORT PEOPLE.
    Hah! More at

  24. R. Fiore says:

    I don’t care any more for that Social Justice Warrior thing than I did for “gay” as a universal pejorative. SJW to me is redolent of begging the question; there are after all social injustices that call for war. The term I would use for this sort of thing is “commissar.” A commissar was a party operative whose sole task was to enforce proper ideology in every phase of life. The test here is does the putative commissar claim authority he’s not entitled to, and does he do his work through coercion?

    Making people’s subjective feelings the measure of all things gives the person with subjective feelings absolute authority. I think there’s a two part test for racism. First, does the accused thing express racial hostility? (Corollary: Is racial hostility embedded within, like a rock in a snowball?) Second, and more important, does the accused thing base its argument on the superiority or inferiority of one race to another? Pass either test and you win. Anyone who defines racist as anything that doesn’t adhere to their particular strategy to cure racism is a commissar.

    The dirty little secret is that racial humor is funny. If you could go to Hell as quickly for lying as you can for stealing, would you deny that it’s funny to call arson “Jewish Lightning”? Not a humorous skewering of some else’s racial prejudices, but funny in and of itself? You do sometimes get the idea from the old Lampoon that they were using the exposure of racism to get the racist laugh. (“Jewish Lightning” came from the Lampoon, by the way.)

    P.S.: The short person humor in “Short People” is funny.

    P.P.S.: After “Short People” became the biggest hit in his career, Randy Newman said: “I’m going to go home and go to work on a broader insult.”

  25. Back to this strip instead of talking about PC: I kind of wish I had a sponsor. I’ve been both Casey and Alan at times. I’ve seen as people that consider me an influence become more successful than me, I’ve seen my own marquee value go up and down, people younger than me (which isn’t that hard) being invited to participate in things by people who never heard of me. I don’t consider myself a misogynist at all but have found myself saying “She wouldn’t be anywhere if she weren’t X’s girlfriend”. I’ve also seen others acting this way too and it’s made me snap out of this way of thinking. I’ve seen others who have made even bigger names for themselves go through the same things and so on. In five years, Tessa won’t exactly be Norma Desmond, but she’ll go through times of self-doubt and jealousy herself. No matter what anyone’s achieved, they still need to be talked off a building ledge sometimes. Cartooning is feast or famine whether you’re male or female. If Casey continues to be bitter it will show in his work and what he says. It’s no way to go through life. Success doesn’t just land in your lap by magic. Just remind me if I forget that again.

  26. Kristine says:

    I love this comic, and the series of interpretations it has opened up.

    My take: Life is hard, cartooning is really hard, and making a living as a cartoonist is insanely hard. Reach out for help sometimes.

    We’re social animals that need contact and validation, and comics generally don’t supply that to their creators. (They do offer complete creative control/autonomy and, in my opinion as a reader, the most satisfying way to put art and stories/ideas directly into my brain.) Everyone should have a sponsor and/or peer group to commiserate with, and cartoonists probably need this more than other people.
    I had the privilege of seeing Mimi Pond talk about her book Over Easy on Friday, and she admitted that she originally tried to do it as a novel. (Extending the AA/NA analogy, let’s call this “the easier, softer way”.) I’m glad that didn’t pan out, even if it was a lot more work for her, because it’s great as a graphic novel.
    I’m happy every time I see cartoonists supporting each other: Dan Clowes, Richard Sala and Adrian Tomine were beautiful on their weekly jaunts. I loved seeing Janelle Hessig and Chris Cilla and Jason Miles together in a Facebook photo this weekend. Go forth and compliment each other (and offer constructive criticism too), and then make stuff for me to read! Thanks.

    So where does this put me? In the #12 camp? Or maybe #14?

  27. Ken Parille says:


    Maybe that puts you in a little of 12 and 14; or maybe we need another section . . .

  28. Mike Hunter says:

    Some scattershots:

    11. …Whenever a crappy movie wants to amp up the drama, it sets the scene at night and in the rain.

    (Or a good one, too.) …And don’t forget that Expressionist “camera angle”!

    BTW, the mention of Crumb in “The Sponsor” makes one wonder. In this era of crowdfunding and the supposedly-crucial importance of maintaining a lively, interactive online presence, tweeting away to one’s fans constantly, where does that leave new creators who’ve not created a “name” and are unsociable and introverted, like Crumb?

    Re “not getting” satire, from the Nov. 24 “The New Yorker”:

    Early in “Rosewater,” Jon Stewart’s first film as a feature director, an Iranian-born journalist, Maziar Bahari…has a brief meeting in a Tehran café with a comedian …who “interviews” him for an American TV program. …The comedian, grinning, pretends to be a spy and asks Bahari why Iran is such a terrifying place; Bahari, who is based in London and is a contributor to the BBC and Newsweek, laughs and doesn’t answer. The Iranian secret police, however, operate with an undernourished capacity for comedy; they see the interview and put Bahari in prison…

    [In] totalitarian regimes…the dissenter must …rectify any discordant remarks he has made so that they’re in line with the “truth”—in this case, the unitary discourse offered by holy texts and propounded by the Supreme Leader. By definition, irony is impossible; speech can have only one state-defined meaning. A man who talks to someone who is speaking the language of a “spy” must be a spy himself. Why else would he be speaking that way? In all, theocrats make bad comics and a lousy audience for comedy. Bahari tells Rosewater that Newsweek is so far behind the times that he’s not worth torturing. The tormentor doesn’t get that one, either.

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