TCJ ARCHIVE

The Tom Tomorrow Interview

From The Comics Journal #165 (January 1994)

The entity Tom Tomorrow first appeared to the public within the pages of Processed Word, San Francisco’s infamous corporate conformity-subverting journal. His focus was originally on America’s rampant, runaway consumerism, but now Tomorrow, the “nom de plume” of one Dan Perkins, is concentrating his caustic satire on that grandest of American whipping-boys, national politics. Gary Groth spoke with the left-leaning Tomorow both before and after the 1992 Presidential election about comics, politics, and many other matters vital to national security.

THE WORLD OF TOMORROW — TODAY!

GARY GROTH: Are you a San Francisco native?
TOM TOMORROW: No, I mostly grew up in Iowa City, Iowa. It’s a lovely little college town and if it weren’t for the horrible Midwestern weather, I’d probably like to move back to it at some point. My folks split up so I moved around a lot; I lived in a lot of different places: Georgia, Florida, Arkansas, I went and lived in New York for a couple of years, in my late teens, early 20s.
GROTH: Manhattan?
TOMORROW: Yeah, working on one of your competitors at the time, a short-lived magazine called, what was it? The Comic Times.
GROTH: Yeah, yeah I remember. About 12 or 13 years ago?
TOMORROW: Yeah. I worked a lot of crappy minimum wage jobs, went back to Iowa for a few years, I was going to school before that and after, which I never really finished, and eventually moved out here. I moved to San Francisco in 1984. This is probably the longest I’ve lived in any one place in my entire life. My folks moved around a lot. I just chose the place where I was going to stay and, by God, stayed there!
GROTH: So you were interested in comics at least 13 years ago.
TOMORROW: Oh yeah, I drew cartoons ever since I was a little kid. Mad magazine-style things. I was reading Mad magazine as far back as I can remember. I’ve always been interested in comics. This stuff that I do incorporates a lot of collage and that sort of came in later. For a while I was just playing with collage while going to art school and screwing around with this stuff, and eventually combined the two interests.
GROTH: When did you actually develop enough of an interest in comics to think you could really be a cartoonist?
TOMORROW: When I was in junior high I would draw these Mad magazine-style parodies of magazines with a #2 pencil on that notebook paper you have. So it was always just something I did. I was never going to … I don’t know.
GROTH: Was there a certain point at which you said, “This is where my talent lies and I think I’ll pursue it?”
TOMORROW: To a certain extent. But you know there were always people a lot better than me — I was hanging around a lot of people who wanted to draw for Marvel Comics and that sort of thing that were much better than me in terms of rendering. Had I become aware of say, Matt Groening a few years earlier, I think I would have had a little more confidence to just do what I did. But it wasn’t ever anything I actually thought I would make a living at, particularly; it was just an ongoing evolution. I just started playing around with this idea of appropriating these obscenely cheerful advertising images and giving them new messages — at that time I was more focused on consumerism, and that gradually segued into politics. A cartoonist, if you do work and nobody reads it, it’s like a tree falling in a forest — it doesn’t matter if it makes a sound or not. So I was just trying to do this thing and trying to get it published more than actually trying to make a living. I mean, I was still just working at temp jobs or crappy paste up jobs or things like that while doing this at home.
GROTH: Where did you get published first?
TOMORROW: A magazine called Processed World in San Francisco, which is sort of a journal for radical and disenfranchised office workers, focusing on what they call “The underbelly of the information age.” They were the first ones to actually publish my stuff, it was a very appropriate thing. Processed World would do stories on office sabotage and things like this — they weren’t gentle in their critique of office work, so if that was how you were making your money, you didn’t necessarily want your bosses to know you were associated with this magazine advocating occasionally dumping coffee in your computer keyboard or something. So there were a lot of pen names, and that’s how I ended with mine. When I started making the transition into the weekly papers, I took the pen name with me because I was kind of used to it at that point. So now I’m constantly saying, “My name is Dan Perkins, I do this comic strip under the name ‘Tom Tomorrow,’” rather than just being able to say, “I’m Dan Perkins.” So what could be just a simple introduction turns into a half-hour soliloquy.

groth_tomorrowA

GROTH: Are you ever going to dump “Tom Tomorrow?” Has it become a burden?
TOMORROW: I think I’m kind of stuck with it now. But it’s like Dr. Science — everyone knows that’s not his real name, it’s actually Dan Coffey. Or another Duck’s Breath [Mystery Theater] alumni, Ian Schoales, who is actually named Merle Kessler. Mark Twain, Samuel Clemens — famous pen names throughout history. It’s sort of a mnemonic. I think it’s easier for people to remember when they haven’t necessarily read a lot of my stuff. It adds this quirky note to it.
GROTH: I know we published an eight-page strip by you a long time ago in Centrifugal Bumble-Puppy.
TOMORROW: Yeah, that was pretty early on.
GROTH: How did you evolve your critique of politics and consumer society? Where did that come from?
TOMORROW: A few different things worked towards this. Part of it was just that the more I became aware of politics, the more I studied up on things, the more I became confident in my own ability to express my opinions and a turning point, because that was the point at which I actually realized I really did have people reading my comic strip — because it had just started running in San Francisco, and so readership was less an abstract concept suddenly. Also the paper that started running it, one of the local weeklies, was putting it on their editorial page. So it started me thinking in terms of actually being on this editorial page, having a political focus. One of the cartoons in the book is about the Gulf War TV coverage, it’s one of the first ones I did that helped me to consciously realize that things I was angry about I could actually express, that I had this public forum. I had been out protesting with my girlfriend and maybe a hundred thousand people on one of the Saturdays right when that whole horrible thing started. And I went home, and the TV coverage of it was such that you had ten seconds of footage of a hundred thousand protesters, or maybe 20 seconds, and then an equal segment on the half dozen pro-war protesters in some suburban community burning an Iraqi flag. And these two things were like, well here’s the crazy anti-war protesters and here’s the good Americans and they were presented as if they were equal on the scale. So I went and called the station and yelled at the voice mail and that wasn’t really the most viscerally satisfying thing to do. Then I realized I had this comic strip and yes, people read it. So I went into my studio and did this one that night. And that was one turning point. Now politics is what spurs me on to stay interested in doing this thing every week because … I don’t know how anyone does it daily. It’s a really slow process for me. I’ll sit and stare at a wall all day before I come up with an idea, and then I’ll spend another day getting the words exactly the way they need to be in order to convey what I’m trying to convey. Because if you read my stuff, often times in the four panels, each panel makes a separate point, all of which builds up to the larger point. So it’s sort of like one of those sliding puzzles where you have to put everything in exactly the right place for the whole thing to make the picture.

groth_tomorrowG GROTH: Where did your left-leaning politics comes from? Were they inherited, or — ?
TOMORROW: Oh God, good question. When I was a kid, I was in a college town at the time of Vietnam War protests, so that was something that was just going on around me, like the weather. My folks were not necessarily politically radical by any means. But the more I talk to my dad now, the more I realize he has this real common-sense Midwestern liberal view of the world. He saw the S&L thing coming, for instance. He’s pretty smart about finances and it’s not really liberal or conservative, but just if you look at what’s going on and say, “OK, we’re living on credit cards,” which is what Reagan and Bush had been doing, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that sooner or later there’s going to be a bill in the mail. Your ideology determines whether or not you admit that fact or not. And my dad has enough common sense to admit that, which I suppose makes him liberal. And I remember him reading newspaper stories a lot and saying, “OK, what they’re really doing here is …” So I guess just from osmosis I learned to not just read the media, but try to figure out whose agenda is at work here.
GROTH: But he’s nowhere near as dissenting as you are.
TOMORROW: No, not in the least. I would put him a lot more in the middle of the road, but in this country, the debate extends from the extreme right-wing to the middle of the road. That’s it. The left is just excluded.
GROTH: And what about your critique of consumerism? Where did that come from, how did that evolve?
TOMORROW: I couldn’t even tell you. It just seems like there were a lot of people doing that at that point. That was right when punk was at its heyday, and there were a lot of those punk fanzines and consumer society is a pretty easy thing to do on an intuitive level. The advertising images I appropriate — that I steal, basically — they’re so blatant. Advertising has gotten a lot more sophisticated over the years. But you read through these old magazines — I have one old ad in my files at home where there’s a woman coughing and the caption is, “He won’t love you if you cough.” When you’re in a society where people are saying, “If you buy this, you’ll be happy,” it’s a pretty easy thing to make fun of, especially using the old images. I think what I ended up doing was then taking the same images and saying, “If you believe in trickle down economics, you’ll be happy.” It’s the same thing, it’s all this happy talk.
GROTH: Now, it’s clearly a calculated decision to use all of these cheerful ’50s advertising images to subvert the messages by placing them into a modern context. Do you ever feel like you’re running out of satirical steam using that strategy?
TOMORROW: Well, I’ve thought about that from time to time, yeah. I wonder if society will change to the point where the images no longer have the effect. It’s not happening at this point. I’ve introduced this penguin. I’ve also just brought in a Weekly World News space alien as sort of an observer on society, because sometimes I’m watching things and I feel like I’m from Mars, and I thought that he would be a good way to convey that feeling. So I’m throwing in these other things. But if that happens, I hope I can adapt and change and do something new. Sometimes I worry that there’s a certain visual sameness to the strip, but you read some of these — without mentioning any names — things in the daily comics page, and those people might as well just have four drawings of their characters that they’re Xeroxing and putting in every time. I try to make every strip I do look unlike any other one, even if the differences are subtle. I don’t always succeed, but I try. I try to keep it varied and different.
groth_tomorrowC GROTH: I was unsure how much you actually draw the strip and how much of it is photo-referenced.
TOMORROW: It varies from strip to strip. Most of the time I’ll draw in people’s bodies and their hands if they’re holding things, that sort of thing. The main thing that is photo-referenced at this point are the faces because it’s a certain look and it’s a hard thing to mimic this photocopied look, which is a deliberate thing that I’m trying to put in. The penguin and the space alien are always drawn freehand.
GROTH: This isn’t meant as an insult, but I was wondering how well you drew.
TOMORROW: Oh, it’s atrophied a lot, so I don’t really know how anymore. I’m certainly no Paul Mavrides, I’ll put it that way. But I can do what I need to do to make the strip work.
GROTH: One of the many sources of depression, as far as I’m concerned, is even though I love the work you do, and the work Tom Toles or Bill Griffith does, it doesn’t seem to me that it actually changes anything. Do you actually write and draw this with that in mind? Trying to affect the world, trying to affect the people who read it? Or are you giving solace to the people who agree with you?
TOMORROW: I have always only viewed it as something that is comforting the afflicted. Because as I say, when the debate ends at the middle of the road, to even get a more progressive perspective in print, I think, gives people a certain amount of comfort. There’s just a constant battle of ideology in this country: “You can’t print that! You can’t print that!” The religious right are especially bad about that. I think the left tends to be more, “OK, you print your thing, but for Chrissakes, let us get a word in edgewise occasionally.” Of course the right just cannot tolerate dissent. “You simply cannot print that,” and most of the time they get their way, whether they realize it or not. It’s continually amusing to me that conservatives go on about the liberal media bias. I mean it bloody well hasn’t kept the conservatives from running the country for 12 years, has it? So occasionally I get a letter from somebody who says, “I’ve always voted Republican but you really made a good point here,” and that’s nice, but it’s nothing I expect at all.
GROTH: You have one interesting strip in there where you actually address the problem of reductionism in comic strips.
TOMORROW: The one where I jam all the words into the one panel? Well, that was one where I actually did get a letter from someone.
GROTH: You actually defend the practice.
TOMORROW: Yeah, well, look how many words I use in any given comic strip. I mean, yes, I know there are Democrats involved in the Savings and Loan fiasco. I know it was not entirely Republicans. I know it’s a very complex issue. I’ve read entire books on the subject, and many articles. What I will do, I don’t just throw something out when I don’t know what I’m talking about, I tend to read a lot. Before I did this comic I read the Pizzo book, Inside Job [by Stephen Pizzo, Mary Flicker, and Paul Muold], the one about the looting of the S&L industry, and William Greider had some terrific articles in Rolling Stone, and there was another guy who did a good thing in Harper’s that really helped put everything into perspective. So I understand that it was a bipartisan thing. I think the case could be made that it was largely the fault of Republican mentality which came in and said, “Let’s deregulate everything because that will be good for the economy.” Well, we can see how well that’s worked out, now can’t we? In fact, right now the banks are about to collapse entirely, according to William Greider, due to deregulation, and everyone is doing the same thing they did with the S&Ls: avoiding the subject until after the election. And then, “Oh, by the way, here’s another 50 trillion dollar bill for you!” So this was addressing that, that there’s only so much room in a four-panel cartoon. I have to start out with certain assumptions and hope my readers have read at least some of the things I’ve read or hope that they’ll at least trust me to have read these things and not just be making things up. Because there is only so much you can squeeze in.
groth_tomorrowR GROTH: The implied criticism, as stated in there and generally about comic strips, is that reductionism is in itself a disservice to readers. Do you think that makes sense?
TOMORROW: I have largely ignored any advice anyone has ever given me, and a lot of the advice I have gotten from people is, “Use fewer words. Reduce it down. Don’t try to cram so much copy into it.” That’s the sort of input you get from mainstream editors at syndicates. There’s one editorial cartoonist who does progressive work — I don’t know him actually, I know his work — who signed up with Chronicle Features Syndicate, and I met his editor at this conference of opinion page editors that was in town a couple of days ago, and she was saying, “Oh, I’m constantly telling him to take out words.” And I’m thinking, “Jesus, this poor guy,” because I effectively turned down an offer from United Media because I did not want to have some 50-year-old woman who wears pearls telling me that I use too many words. I don’t know any of the people at United Media, I’m not meaning to put them down, that’s not the point. Just in general, I don’t want someone who wouldn’t necessarily understand my work telling me how to do it. I mean, here you have a room full of people and 70% of them were over the age of 50. It was basically a roomful of people who think The Far Side is pretty out there. So I’m coming in, I’m from Mars, you know. I’ve got stuff that I’ve done on hieroglyphic tablets or something as far as they’re concerned. “Here! Look at this!”
GROTH: That sounds dismal.
TOMORROW: Yeah, but there are always exceptions. There are a few editors at daily papers who sort of understand what I’m doing, and I’m certainly grateful for them, but overall I’m just awfully grateful, I’m just awfully happy and thankful, that there’s an alternative press in this country, or I would not be doing anywhere near as well as I’m doing.
GROTH: Well now, even given the number of words that you do use these days, do you think there’s a sense in which by reducing complex issues, you’re actually playing into the worst aspects of modernity and the requirements of the mass media?
TOMORROW: It’s not really about the requirements of the mass media as much as the fact that I have four panels to make a point as effectively as possible. And my way of doing that is generally to use more words than almost anybody else — but I have faith in readers. I mean, that’s why they’re called readers — they read. If I were playing into it, I’d be reducing everything down to maybe one or two words per panel, like Jim Davis or someone — who, incidentally, is rumored to be considering the purchase of United Media, according to Editor & Publisher magazine.
GROTH: It think it probably won’t change much.
TOMORROW: [Laughs.] No, they won’t. Well, they were interested in picking me up …
SINK OR SWIM
GROTH: You distribute yourself.
TOMORROW: Yeah.
GROTH: How many papers?
TOMORROW: Sixty. Maybe a couple over. I just found someone to handle college papers for me, so he’s been adding some papers, but it’s right around 60.
GROTH: Are these mostly alternative papers?
TOMORROW: Mostly alternative weeklies.
GROTH: How difficult is it to syndicate yourself?
TOMORROW: Oh, gosh. Getting it set up and convincing the papers to run it is just hell.
GROTH: How do you do that?
TOMORROW: Years and years of pestering people, and eventually they see your work enough and other papers run it and it develops a credibility and then they’re more willing to pick it up themselves. But that just takes forever. I feel like what you had was a first wave of people like Matt Groening and Lynda Barry who went through uncharted territory and made a mark. And then I came along as maybe the next wave after that, and Matt and Lynda and a few other people pretty well had the spaces staked out, so it was hard to get in, but at the same time they had opened up the territories. So eventually I’ll be able to get a fair number myself. I think for people just starting out today, it’s really tough, because these things build exponentially and now everyone sees the alternatives as another way to possibly break in to avoid the syndicates. And I talk to these editors and they say now they’re getting hundreds of submissions. It would be really hard if you were just starting out to just stand out from that crowd; you have to be really, really good, I think, or have a real unique sense of what you’re doing. I wouldn’t want to discourage anybody though, because the only way I picked up all these papers was by just not listening to anyone; I really had a sense of what I wanted to do and continued to push it, and continued to pester people.
GROTH: What’s interesting is that most of the alternative syndicated strips by artists like Charles Burns, Kim Deitch, Michael Dougan, a couple of others, are all really of substantial quality, and what hasn’t happened yet, which almost always happens, is that that market niche would get flooded with a lot of crap. That, miraculously, hasn’t happened.
TOMORROW: I think that the weekly editors are filtering out the crap because they don’t have enough space. You may question some of their judgments sometimes, there are a few things out there that I’m not thrilled about, but overall, they don’t have enough space to run the crap. It’s not like “product.” For the dailies, comics are product. They’ve got to fill this page. They’ve got to suck the readers in. Period.
GROTH: You mentioned Barry and Matt Groening. Did you have any artists that you looked up to when you first started cartooning that you wanted to —
TOMORROW: Different people at different stages. When I was a kid, when I was very young, Charles Schulz had a remarkable effect on me. I still think he does fine work, considering how long he’s been doing it. But his work, when I was a kid at that point, it just had this wonderful surrealism to it, you know? Snoopy’s doghouse would have a Van Gogh painting inside. Or the Red Baron stuff, or whatever.
GROTH: What period did you read that strip? The early ’70s?
TOMORROW: The mid-’60s. Mid- to late-’60s. I remember reading it as a kid and it really awakened something in me. There was a real spirit to it that maybe only Calvin and Hobbes equals today in its own way. And then I went on from that to the various Mad magazine artists. Bill Griffith has been — and this may sound a bit disingenuous because he wrote the introduction to my book, but I wouldn’t have asked him to do that if it wasn’t something that meant something to me — his work for a long time has just, in its uniqueness and intelligence, been a real source of inspiration.
GROTH: Were you ever interested in comic books? Did you read comics?
TOMORROW:
There’s sort of the missing link, I suppose. I had a friend who had a lot of the early Marvels, so I read a lot of the very first Spider-Mans and the very first Daredevils and the old Jack Kirby stuff, and those sorts of comics that I thought were really wonderful. And I went from that to undergrounds — Robert Crumb, Griffith … There was a comic book called Meep! and another called The Balloon Vendor, put out by Dave Sheridan and Fred Schrier, which I really loved … And of course the Freak Brothers. Basically I’d read any underground I could get my hands on, though.
GROTH: Was that in the early ’70s?
TOMORROW: I was reading them in the mid- to late-’70s, but they were reprints and that was still when there were head shops around the country and you could go in and buy them, so they were fairly accessible.
GROTH: Back in the good ol’ days.
TOMORROW: Yeah, well, those were the pre-comic book shops days, so the underground comics were only available in the paraphernalia shops — not that I ever went into any of those for any other reason … [Laughs.]
GROTH: And if you did, you never inhaled.
TOMORROW: Right.
GROTH: Do you go into comic book shops today? Do you look at cartooning much?
TOMORROW: Well, what I look at today is the newspaper stuff. I don’t follow comic books so much as the editorial comics, most of which I despise, though there are a few that I think are brilliant. Tom Toles is just a real genius. There’s an artist named Matt Wuerker who’s up in Portland who’s mostly in the progressive, alternative-type press. He does really good work. I think he’s sort of a Thomas Nast for our day and age, basically. He does these wonderful caricatures, and he’s got a book out from a small publisher, Thunder’s Mouth Press. You guys ought to do something on that. I don’t see his stuff that much, and I think he does really marvelous work. He needs more exposure. I follow people like that. When I go into a comic book shop I just can’t figure it out anymore. I get overwhelmed, because I don’t really want any of the superhero stuff, and I can’t figure out what else is good, and I get depressed and I leave without buying anything. [Laughs.] I used to have a roommate who was more into it and would buy these things and bring them back to the apartment and then I could read them. When I no longer had that situation is when I stopped following comics to a large degree.
GROTH: You lost your filter.
TOMORROW: Yeah, exactly.
GROTH: Have you ever had the interest in doing longer strips?
TOMORROW: The thing now is that I have these deadlines, I do two a week—I’m weekly but I do an extra each week for the Examiner. So that fills up a lot of my time, that and the administrative/small business-type stuff that I have to deal with every week. Lately I’ve been doing all these signings and interviews because of the book and I’m been feeling really swamped. So it’s partly a time problem, and it’s partly that I think in four panels now, you know: bomp-bomp-bomp-punchline.
GROTH: Get a rhythm down.
TOMORROW: I’ve got the rhythm down and it becomes an intuitive thing and that’s a rhythm that I’m real comfortable with.
GROTH: What is entailed in syndicating your own work — do you have to bill every paper?
TOMORROW: Well, what I tend to do is rely on the kindness of strangers, as Blanche du Bois said. I tend to pretty much say, “Put me on your automatic payment plan.” And 99% of the time there’s no problem with that, and I keep track of everything by occasionally going through my books and making sure everybody’s paying me, and I’ll write them a letter if they’re not, and then they do.
GROTH: Find a deadbeat from three years back?
TOMORROW: Yeah, and then it’s nice because you get a $300 check or something. [Laughs.] So I try to keep track of it with as little effort as possible, so I don’t really like to invoice.
GROTH: And you can just mail 60 stats of your work to each paper?
TOMORROW: Actually, high-quality Xerox. I think most cartoonists are mailing out Xeroxes these days. I think that’s pretty much what everybody sends out. The quality is as good as a stat.
GROTH: Do you keep in contact with the newspapers?
TOMORROW: Yeah, to varying degrees. There are some editors that I talk to almost every week or every couple of weeks. We develop these phone relationships with people. There are others that I just almost don’t know anyone at the paper.
GROTH: Do you supplement your income doing any other work?
TOMORROW: I used to have to. Right now I’m at a point where I’m able to pay my bills just from the comic strip. That could change. I hope it doesn’t, it’s a nice way to live.

HARD TIMES

groth_tomorrowHGROTH: Do you see this country’s priorities changing in any way?
TOMORROW: Well, it’s finally what progressives and liberals have been saying for 12 years: “God, maybe this election, things will be so bad that people will see they’ve got to vote for Democrats this time.”
GROTH: Do you think that will make much difference?
TOMORROW: I don’t think so, really. But I think that what small difference it makes will matter a lot. I can’t remember the exact number, but there are a couple hundred judges that will be appointed one way or another depending on who gets elected. Noam Chomsky said in Rolling Stone a few months ago that it’s all pretty much a horse race and it doesn’t really matter — except that if Bush wins we’re going to have a fascist judiciary in the country, basically. So for abortion, that’s where it really matters. I know there are a lot of people on the left who think they should just sit the election out because the Democrats and Republicans are just the two wings of the national business party, and that’s effectively true, but for what little difference it makes, it matters.
GROTH: Yeah, it seems to me that Clinton could mitigate the slide a bit.
TOMORROW: Yeah, but the thing is, Clinton is not going to be able to turn this thing around in four years, and so then he might get blamed for the continuing fallout of Reaganomics and then we might end up with another 12 years of Republicans and again playing this game of, “How bad does it have to get before people will finally wise up?”
GROTH: It shouldn’t be allowed to get worse.
TOMORROW: Yeah, I mean, how “worse” does it get? It’s like, OK, maybe by the time that nine people out of ten are unemployed, then people will realize. Maybe by the year 2052 people will finally realize they’ve got to stop voting for Republican greedheads. I mean, you could play that game forever.
GROTH: Could you give me what you think are the top three or four or five most sinister problems facing this country and its citizens?
TOMORROW: Oh golly. The top problem is to what extent corporate America sets the agenda. Because corporations are this weird thing: they’re made up of people who probably … You know, the North American Free Trade Agreement is a good case in point. You have the Maquilaporos, along the Texas-Mexico border, where there’s already a free trade agreement along this certain stretch of the border, so US corporations have gone down, completely ignored environmental regulations, and are paying these people I think 60 or 75 cents an hour and they’ve so polluted the environment, that for instance, babies are being born without brains. So you take some guy from Bechtel or something, some mid-level manager, and he’s probably got a family, and you say, “Hey, do you want babies to be born without brains?” He’s probably going to say, “No, of course not.” And mean it. But there’s this thing where these people all band together into a corporation and the corporation just takes on a life of its own and it becomes a living entity; it’s own survival is the main focus no matter if babies are being born without brains or not. You see this battle being constantly fought everywhere, of the corporation versus the individual, which I find very ironic because the corporations are nothing more than collections of individuals. But of course the whole corporate mentality is, as anyone who’s ever worked in an office knows, to subjugate your individuality into this greater good. It’s a very fascist sort of thing.
GROTH: Yeah. Brilliant in its own way.
TOMORROW: It’s something I think … I think the misplaced priorities of corporate America and the willingness of government to go along if not actively abet in that is the top five problems in America.
GROTH: Isn’t the bottom line that people will have to understand that there are certain limitations on luxury and comfort and that their standard of living may have to go down if we’re to live in a civilized environment? I mean, Carter made the mistake once of saying that Americans have to realize certain limitations exist and of course he was booted right out. No politician has made that mistake since.
TOMORROW: Our economy is supposedly based on this model of continual growth, and the only thing that grows continually is cancer. There have to be limitations, and I think our generation is the one that’s going to get hit by that the hardest. I think the next generation will understand it better, but we’re the ones who grew up thinking, “Oh, we get to have more than our parents.” I don’t think so. I don’t know too many people who own houses, for instance, especially in the Bay Area where it’s just so out of reach. My dad had probably been through his first couple of houses and cars by the time he was my age.
GROTH: That’s something that can’t continue ad infinitum.
TOMORROW: Barlett and Steele did that book, America: What Went Wrong, a series of articles from The Philadelphia Inquirer, and something that they addressed at length was how a combination of things caused this, including a deliberate shifting of the tax burden from the rich to the poor. This is demonstrable, there are graphs, there are charts, this happened. This is a fact, this is not an arguable point. The tax burden has shifted from the rich to the poor and middle class. It’s shifted downward so the rich can buy more yachts and the rest of us cannot conceive of buying the most basic things that our parents could buy.
GROTH: The conservative argument being that it employs yacht-builders. TOMORROW: [Laughs.] Right! So maybe the yacht-builders can afford to buy a house. GROTH: Do you have a theory as to why … you know, Clinton has proposed, I think, that the top 50% income-earners gets taxed more, so that the burden of public expenditures is carried by people who won’t suffer therefrom. And the Republicans are actually using this as another one of those “liberals just want to tax people” scare strategies, and people seem to be falling for this.
TOMORROW: It’s a funny thing — Republicans are really good at that, at cutting top income tax rates, which means that everyone else has to pay higher taxes, and yet saying that they’re cutting everyone’s taxes. And I think what happens is that in America everyone identifies with the elite. Everyone thinks that maybe they could end up being rich, and if so, at that point they’d want to keep their money. So they’ll pay more of their taxes now in the hopes … And it’s something the Republicans have been very good at. It’s a very peculiar type of propaganda which has you identifying with the problems of the rich. I mean, the logical outcome of that would be to have middle-class people sitting around complaining about how hard it is to get good help. [Laughs.]
GROTH: How do you explain that? It almost seems too stupid to be true. That the entire middle class can assume one day it’s going to be part of the rich. It’s such an insane proposition it’s hard to believe.
TOMORROW: Well, that’s part of it, and I think on a more basic level people just don’t think that much about it and so the other thing that politicians in general, particularly Republicans, are really good at is that sort Nazi big lie of saying over and over again, “Democrats will raise taxes, Democrats will raise taxes.” So people think, “Oh, Democrats are tax-and-spend,” when the Republicans are the bloody tax-and-spend people with their military build-up. And so forth.
GROTH: Right. Well now, how much of a Populist are you? In other words, what is your —
TOMORROW: I did not support H. Ross Perot, if that’s the question.
GROTH: [Laughs.] Well, it wasn’t. That’s certainly an interesting avenue. What did you think of Perot?
TOMORROW: I think that he was a sort of an interesting side show in American politics. I mean, a Populist billionaire. What can you say? That’s ridiculous. Right now he’s one of these people who is telling us — he’s going to maybe reenter the campaign, supposedly just so he can be allowed to buy ad time to tell the rest of us how we’ve got to tighten our belts. I just did a cartoon about this. What we’ve got is a situation where the upper income people in this country have been feeding at the treasury like pigs at a public trough for the last 12 years. And now that the trough is emptied out, they’re telling the rest of us how we’ve got to tighten our belts. And Perot is one of those people saying, “Oh! You’ve got to do that!” You know, Tsongas and Rudman have teamed up to go out and tell everyone that the real problem with this economy is entitlement programs.
groth_tomorrowP GROTH: Who is doing this?
TOMORROW: Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman. It’s a bipartisan effort to let the country know that social security recipients are to blame for our problems. I just think that’s so absurd. They’ve bled us dry and now they’re trying to make us pay to make up the difference.
GROTH: Tsongas?
TOMORROW: Yes, he was sort of a Republican in Democrat’s clothing all along.
GROTH: Well, let me get back to the Populist question: How much of this problem is due to the acquiescence of the American public — and not only the acquiescence, but the innate greed of the individual?
TOMORROW: I think largely it’s just a matter that people are living their lives and they do not follow events as closely as probably you do or I do. Most people just turn on the evening news. I mean, one thing I remember was I was in the bank around the time of the Thomas hearings, and for some reason the teller was looking at my checks and saying, “What do you do?” because I had this pile of checks from newspapers. I said I was a cartoonist, a political cartoonist. And she said, “Oh, are you going to do something on that guy? That judge guy?” And you know, I think a lot of people just don’t pay that close of attention. So it’s a matter of who can win the propaganda war, and the Republicans have been pretty good at that. It’s just that this year the results of their policies are, I mean it’s so obvious that it’s impossible to ignore, which has given the Democrats a bit of an edge in their own propaganda.
GROTH: Do you think it’s that, or do you think the middle class is just finally being economically squeezed enough to notice?
TOMORROW: Well, it’s the same thing.
GROTH: Yes, but it’s self-interest that’s motivating it, not —
TOMORROW: Probably. Because what else would explain the whole Reagan thing if not self-interest?
GROTH: I always wondered why blue collar workers voted overwhelmingly for Reagan, when they were going to be screwed the most by Republican policies.
TOMORROW: I just watched the Republican convention, and what I had forgotten is just how charismatic Reagan is.
GROTH: You thought he was still?
TOMORROW: Yeah, I mean, no matter how much you hate him, he has this innate charisma he projects. And he can be blaming the problems of the country on welfare mothers and just do it in this incredibly likable manner. If we didn’t have a two-term limit, he would still be president. No one else would have a chance until he died. Bush is just such a whiner that nobody really likes him that much anyway, so when things start to go wrong, it’s not that hard to write him off.
GROTH: You actually attack the stupidity of the average American in your strips. Like Toles, you don’t really let voters and citizens off the hook. Is it a bit despairing that you’re opposed to all these political machinations but in a way you’re also opposed to the electorate?
TOMORROW: [Laughs]
GROTH: You really are in the minority here. It seems like a legitimate point of view to me, but it also is pretty despairing …
TOMORROW: Yeah, for a long time it’s been like primal scream therapy. Don’t think it’s Californian like that, remember I’m a Midwesterner, but it’s just, “Here’s how I feel, goddamn it.”
GROTH: Given how the media functions and how the economy functions, and what the media has to do to pander to that economic self-interest, do you think the American public could ever be educated to the extent that they see long-term interests —
TOMORROW: Well, that’s a lot of it. Media bias is … There’s a group called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting that I work with from time to time — they did that famous Nightline survey in which it was proven that an overwhelming majority of the people on the show were white male administration sources and they’d have debates between say, Henry Kissinger and Al Haig or something. And something that I try to bring attention to a lot is that that’s always going to be the way it is, so think about it. Read two or three newspapers. Read the alternative press. Think for yourself. Think about what it means when NBC is running a pro-nuclear power documentary and they’re owned by GE, or they’re doing news coverage on nuclear power and it doesn’t seem to be very hard-hitting. You know, just think about the sources of information. I was just talking to Jeff Cohen at FAIR and the thing is, when he goes on a show like Crossfire or something, he’s always basically handcuffed to some right-wing lunatic like Reed Irvine whose basic point is, “The media are all Communists and we should have an American Pravda which just prints what the government tells them to.” And Cohen was complaining to me, “My God, I go out, I can’t get on these shows unless I’ve got a right-wing lunatic following me around,” because they’ve always got to “balance” his point of view. I saw him on Crossfire once, paired up with one of those right-wingers, and basically Kinsley and Sununu, neither of whom I have much respect for, just sort of said, “Oh, these guys are both crazy.” [Laughs.]
GROTH: Now, ideally, what would you like — if Tom Tomorrow ran the world, what kind of government would we have ? What kind of economic system?
TOMORROW: You know, Sparky the Penguin™ is running for president, and about the only platform he has put out is, “Tax the rich and feed the hungry.” I don’t have answers for everything. It’s silly to expect a cartoonist to have any answers for anything, for that matter. I think really my point in doing this thing, the reason for me to do this is to continue to bring things into the public debate that might otherwise be overlooked. I’m a gadfly on the body politic. It’s not really my place to have answers so much as to be an irritant and fight complacency.
GROTH: Right.
groth_tomorrowTM

THE NUMBERS RACKET

TOMORROW: We should talk about comic syndication a bit. Ask me about comic syndication. [Laughs.]
GROTH: You mean daily newspaper syndication?
TOMORROW: Yeah, I mean, I went through the whole process, with the offer from United Media.
GROTH: Did you try to get syndicated?
TOMORROW: Well, at one point about a year ago when I was first running in the Examiner, I thought, “Oh, maybe I should try to hook up with a syndicate if I can, that would be a good thing to get into more dailies.” Because I knew at that point that it was going to be much harder to get into dailies than into weeklies. So I sent out a blind packet to most of the major syndicates, and most of them could not reject it quickly enough. But Sarah Gilespie of United Media did like it and was interested in it. I certainly don’t want to disparage her here, because I had good talks with her, but she was sort of constrained by the system in which she’s working.
GROTH: So it’s not her fault.
TOMORROW: Yeah. I mean, it’s not her fault in particular, it’s just the way it’s set up. The thing with syndicates is you have to realize that they’re basically a literary agent. They basically mediate between the artist and the newspapers in the way that an agent mediates between the author and the publisher — except a literary agent takes 10% of what the author gets, and the syndicates take 50% after their expenses. That’s absurd. They also demand a lot of control — United Media, when we first started negotiating, wanted to take my bloody copyright! “You people are out of your minds!” was my response. “Of course you can’t have my copyright. That’s ridiculous!” And I was in a privileged position because I was already paying my rent off these things, so I wasn’t like 99% of the cartoonists who either sign on the dotted line or forget about being a cartoonist. And there’s the chance that if you sign with them you could take off big, but a lot of strips also fail. I didn’t want to end up losing what I had because of the syndicate. Another major problem — and there were a lot of problems — in the contract was that they have the right to bring in another author or another cartoonist to do your strip if they don’t like the work you’re doing — and then charge you for the cost of this. I mean, you get this contract which is yea big, I don’t know, 20 or 30 pages just full of gems like that. The thing that killed it was that they were uncomfortable with the fact that in papers where I’d been running for years and years in a certain city, I wanted that paper to have it exclusively. I didn’t want the syndicate to be able to come into, say Baltimore, where I’ve been running in a weekly for a long time, and sell it to The Baltimore Sun, you know? It’s one thing if you’re doing daily strips and the weekly only runs one of them, there’s a certain argument to be made there. But for me, I’m doing one weekly strip and these papers that I’ve built these relationships up with, I don’t want to just trash all that. There are 1,500 daily papers in this country; the cities where exclusivity would be a problem, we’re talking about 30 or 40 tops, and maybe not even that. But they just couldn’t go for that. I was down at the American Booksellers Association convention where we talked — they’ve got a publishing deal with one of the publishers, and I walked up on a conversation with one of the very biggest bigwigs, I can’t think of his name, from this syndicate and a cartoonist who goes through him, and they were basically, at that moment I walked up, talking about this crazy cartoonist who had all these outrageous demands — me. I tried to point out that all I wanted to do was treat my long-term papers fairly, that there is a right way and a wrong way to do these things. But it just went by him, he didn’t seem to understand a word I was saying.
GROTH: Did every syndicate reject you except United?
TOMORROW: Yeah, and they’d just say, “I don’t think we can sell this at this time,” you know, those sorts of rejections.
GROTH: A form letter type thing?
TOMORROW: No, I would get personal letters from the people saying they liked the work but they didn’t think they could sell it. And they may have been right. And maybe United couldn’t have sold it, maybe none of them could. That’s why I didn’t want to give up the ground I’d gained.
GROTH: Sounds like you probably did the right thing. How do you explain an exception like Bill Griffith?
TOMORROW: I don’t know. Bill is just in a category of his own.
GROTH: There are three or four comic strips in the paper that are readable and Bill’s is one of them.
TOMORROW: It’s just remarkable that he can do what he does on a daily basis. It’s an amazing thing. He is really the exception to the rule.
GROTH: What are a couple of other strips you follow? Do you follow any strips at all?
TOMORROW: Some of them I read and just sort of grit my teeth and can’t believe how awful they are. But the ones I like in the daily paper would be Calvin and Hobbes and Doonesbury. That’s about it, really. And I’m not including editorial people.
GROTH: What about Feiffer? Do you follow him?
TOMORROW: Oh yeah. I wasn’t thinking in terms of weeklies. Yeah, I like Feiffer’s work. Mark Stamaty, who does Washingtoons, is another … I admire his complete originality.
GROTH: Are there political cartoonists like Toles that you’re really into?
TOMORROW: The thing with political cartoonists that I have to say is that too many of them just don’t think. We were talking about media bias earlier, and too many of them play right into that. During the Gulf War they did cartoons about Saddam Hussein being worse than Hitler — whether you believe it or not, it doesn’t help anybody here to do that cartoon. That’s just propaganda. That’s just saying, “Hurray for our side!” I don’t care what the country’s going through, that is not the point of an editorial cartoonist; it’s not their purpose to say, “Hurray for our side!” When they did cartoons about how smart the  smart bombs are, “They’re reading books,” ha-ha-ha. I don’t have time for that, I don’t need that.
GROTH: They’re reducing a political cartoon down to the level of a gag cartoon.
TOMORROW: Just a gag cartoon that makes no point. I mean, if it’s a gag, it’s fine if there’s an underlying comprehension of the news and of reality. There was a cartoon by a guy that was reprinted in The New York Times a few weeks ago showing Clinton, and it said, “Look for the union label,” or something like that, and the label of Clinton’s jacket read, “Whatever you guys (meaning the union) say.” And that is so far from the truth that it’s pathetic. It plays on this stereotype of Democrats being in the pocket of unions, and it’s easy to do a cartoon on a stereotype, I mean you could show Jesse Jackson eating watermelon, it would be on the same level, it’s just a stupid stereotype. The point with that is the Democratic platform did not mention unions, it was this totally pro-corporate document. The DLC, which Clinton helped found, the Democratic Leadership Council, its main purpose has been to move the Democratic party to the right. The unions basically endorse Clinton because he went to them and said, “You’re stuck with me — it’s either me or Bush. Take me or leave me.” And so they endorsed him. But it is superficial to take that and then do a cartoon saying that Clinton is going to be in the pocket of unions.
GROTH: Yeah, considering that the unions are impotent. I mean, even if he was in the pocket —
TOMORROW: Yeah, so that was one that just aggravated me because it wasn’t even that I disagreed with the underlying ideology, it’s just that it had nothing to do with reality.
GROTH: Would you argue that no right-wing point of view has anything to do with reality?
TOMORROW: No, I would not argue that. You can make the arguments, I can disagree with them, but if you have a well-thought-out base, a well-thought-out philosophy, then at least there is some belief there. And you may piss me off thoroughly —
GROTH: But you wouldn’t go so far as to say any right-wing point of view is per se thoughtless.
TOMORROW: No. I mean, it’s a close call. [Laughs.] It is pretty thoughtless when you try to blame society’s problems on welfare mothers or that sort of thing. But if you’re saying you believe the capital gains tax cuts honestly will spur investment and growth, I look at the economy and I would have a different point of view. I would tend to think that’s not really true. But at least you’ve given it some thought and thought it out — the capital gains tax cut gives the guy more money which he invests which creates jobs, I mean you have at least thought that through and you believe it, however wrong-headedly.
GROTH: It seems to me though, that almost any incredibly stupid point of view or any point of view expressed by some ignoramus will eventually find intellectual justification.
TOMORROW: That’s true. That’s what all those guys on CNN, like Sununu and Buchanan, (before he decided he was presidential material), their whole thing is they’re these paid lackeys who defend these indefensible things.
GROTH: Yeah, I’ve heard Buckley defend McCarthyism, and you figure someone who’d defend McCarthyism could defend anything.
TOMORROW: Yeah, and Buchanan is a big fan of Franco.
GROTH: There you go.
TOMORROW: So yeah, maybe you’re right, maybe we can just make a blanket statement that right-wingers are complete idiots. I was trying to be a little accommodating, but you know, maybe …
GROTH: This is The Comics Journal. There’s room for blanket statements like that.
TOMORROW: Yeah, OK, Republicans are fools, I think they should take them all out and shoot them, it’s as simple as that, Gary. [Laughs.]
GROTH: There’s the kind of quote I like.
TOMORROW: There’s a pull-quote for you! [Laughs.]
GROTH: That’s right. Just the sort of thing that got you to read the Todd McFarlane interview. That’s what we have to resort to in this day and age.
TOMORROW: [Laughs.] Yeah, you and your shoddy tabloid journalism.

EPILOGUE: A BETTER TOMORROW

GROTH: The first interview was conducted a few months before the election. The election has now come and gone … What were your feelings as to the outcome?
TOMORROW: I was reading over the transcript of that interview and one of the things that struck me, I don’t think I come across as overly optimistic about Clinton, but even at that, I made some comments about how Clinton might not be able to turn things around in four years, and then we’d get another Republican president, which implied that at the time I believed on some level that he would turn things around if he could. That may have been a bit naive on my part because I think Clinton is just as in thrall to the corporate powers that be as Bush ever was. Which is not exactly a surprise, I knew it at the time — but I was still somewhat optimistic, though I should point out that it was optimism tempered by a great deal of cynicism. In fact, I did one cartoon — I was running in color in the Examiner’s Sunday supplement magazine Image (which incidentally just folded), and due to the printer’s requirements I was working about a month ahead. So for the issue which was going to come out the week after the election, I had Sparky concede his own defeat and make some comment to the effect that a corporate-financed white guy had won the election, which I thought was a good way to handle the fact that I didn’t know who had won ahead of time, because it seemed like that was going to be true no matter what! [Laughs.] An interesting side note to that little story is that the “liberal” editor of that magazine at the time wouldn’t run that cartoon — he was a very wishy-washy Michael Kinsley sort of liberal, and he wouldn’t run it because he thought it was too radical, which is really ironic because I think most people assumed during those days that I was probably getting the most trouble in my daily papers with my Bush-bashing stuff, but the only time I was actually ever censored was by a middle-of-the-road liberal defending Clinton. Especially right after he got elected, there was a sense that we can’t attack him, whatever he does, we’ve got to stand by him. Even now people are saying that labor unions just have to defend Clinton anyway because the alternative is so much worse — but I think the left should be his harshest critic. The left is supposedly his constituency, at least to some degree. I don’t think it behooves anyone to remain silent. I think we have to speak out as much as possible.
groth_tomorrowOGROTH: Did you happen to read the interview with Clinton in the latest issue of Rolling Stone?
TOMORROW: Yeah.
GROTH: Toward the end of it, during that last tirade of frustration —
TOMORROW: When he blew up at the liberal press?
GROTH: Yeah. What did you think of that?
TOMORROW: Well, I did a cartoon recently based on a thing I read in The Nation about how Disneyland has just installed an audio animatronic Bill Clinton robot which actually gives a speech, and in my cartoon, Sparky has snuck in and switched the tape so Bill Clinton is saying, “I supported NAFTA, I’m returning Haitian refugees and I’m even joining George Bush in decrying the liberal press. Basically there’s hardly any difference between Democrats and Republicans any more — the only difference is between outsiders like you and insiders like me.” I think it’s absurd that he decries the liberal press. It was especially ironic because that came out the week the “liberal” press had been praising him to high heaven for supporting NAFTA.
GROTH: Aside from NAFTA, can you give me examples of policy decisions he’s made that reflect his slavishness to corporate power?
TOMORROW: Well, NAFTA is certainly the best example of that. Another thing, which is insidious because it’s being painted the other way, is his health care reform. The media perception has been that Bill Clinton is taking on the insurance industry. The fact of the matter is, what Bill Clinton is taking on is medium-sized insurers who will probably be wiped out if his reform happens as is. But his plan is embraced by the top five or six insurance companies in the country, the really major ones, because they’re buying up all the HMOs, they’re going to run the whole show. They’re going to make incredible profits on this whole thing. So it’s pretty disingenuous when Hillary Clinton goes on TV and says, “We’ve got to stand up against these insurers,” because as Norman Soloman the media critic has pointed out, their plan could eventually be called the Health Insurance Preservation Act. But it’s a really insidious thing because you get the Rush Limbaugh listeners calling in and complaining about how it’s socialized medicine. Reality gets so skewed.
GROTH: Do you think Clinton’s health care reform is worse than what we’ve got now?
TOMORROW: It’s hard to imagine anything worse than what we have now. I was talking to a filmmaker from Canada who called me up to talk about working on a project together, and I got him on the subject of health care and he was completely befuddled by our system, it made no sense to him whatsoever that we have these middle men, the insurance industry, standing between the patient and the doctor for no point except to line their own pockets. He just couldn’t comprehend the point. I realized he viewed health care in much the same way as we view the police department: pay your taxes, it’s there, you don’t think about it, and you don’t have to mortgage your house if you need their services.
GROTH: Well, actually health care is very much like the police department insofar as the police don’t protect the poor either.
TOMORROW: Wow! [Laughs.] OK, the police department in the best of all possible worlds. Maybe that’s a bad analogy, but you see what I’m getting at. And the thing with health care is that it’s perfect Clinton because he should have come in pushing for a single payer system and then maybe allowed himself to be compromised down to this managed competition plan. But by coming in and putting out managed competition as the first proposal, then this thing, as flawed as it is, is going to be chipped way out and weakened even further by all the various special interests who are reluctant to give up any of the cash cow they’ve been milking for many decades. So it’s a very frustrating thing to watch. He’s just a bad poker player, basically — he puts all his cards on the table from the start. I mean, maybe he’s giving himself room to bluff here, maybe he considers managed competition just an opening bid—but if that’s the case, we’re in more trouble than we know.
The thing with Clinton is, he doesn’t stand up for anything. The incident with Salman Rushdie was perfect Clinton — he has a meeting with Salman Rushdie, which is the right thing to do, but then he backs off as soon as anyone gets mad at him. He says, “Oh, we didn’t really have a meeting, we just sort of passed each other in the hallway.”
groth_tomorrowB GROTH: Right, that was pretty contemptible even by his compromised standards. Let me ask you a minor philosophical question which is, assuming you weren’t as naive as you were about Clinton, and you knew what was going to happen, do you think the best course of action would have been to vote for him anyway, or would you have abstained altogether?
TOMORROW: The point is we’ve got him now so we’ve got to push him as much as we can. But what choice did we have? Bush or Perot? I mean, choose the least of three evils. I know plenty of people who just didn’t vote because they didn’t want anything to do with it. But I would still stand by what I said a year ago, that the differences are pretty marginal, but you sort of have to take what you can get sometimes.
GROTH: Not withstanding the one cartoon being rejected from that one paper, how is the strip being received? Are you adding papers?
TOMORROW: Yeah, I’ve added about 20 papers in the last year.
GROTH: So Tom Tomorrow is a growth industry.
TOMORROW: [Laughs.] Yeah, I’m thinking of taking it public.
GROTH: Has the strip changed in any way over the last year? Have you changed?
TOMORROW: I think I try to constantly experiment with it, but I don’t know if it’s changing so much as just evolving.
GROTH: Do you have any new venues for the strip?
TOMORROW: I’m going to start doing a monthly strip for Spin magazine which I’m excited about, for the broader scope, appearing in a national magazine which has a pretty hip, educated audience. I think it’s going to be a good thing.
GROTH: Their audience is Generation X?
TOMORROW: I guess that’s how you’d put it.
GROTH: What is your feeling as to the potential of Generation X? There is a question about whether they’re all just a bunch of slackers …
TOMORROW: No, I don’t buy that at all. I have a problem with identifying a whole segment of the American population by their birth date. In fact, the first one I did for Spin is about how the media try to pigeonhole potential consumers in this way for the benefit of their advertisers. If you’ve been reading these trend stories, the whole Generation X thing started about ten years ago when I was 22, and now it’s used to identify people who are now 22. So the whole thing is very malleable depending on who’s writing the article, and what point they want to make. There’s a young cartoonist here in San Francisco named Dave Eggers who’s starting up a magazine aimed at that age group, but he’s taking a real different tact — he faxed over one of the articles, a very funny put-down of the lifestyle articles—it’s How to Write a Generation X Article, and it goes through all the clichés, and concludes by saying, “Don’t forget the obligatory disclaimer, such as, ‘The only thing one can really predict about Xers is their unpredictability.’” I think that too often this whole generational identity thing is just a media fiction being exploited by self-promoting hucksters. There was a real good article in The Nation a few months back called, “Me and My Zeitgeist,” about what the writer called the Zeitgeist industry — particularly these guys in this organization Lead or Leave, which professes to be a grass roots organization in which 20-somethings are organizing around the problem of the deficit. In other words, they’re trying to sell the idea that there’s a spontaneous youth movement around whether or not people in their 20s will get Social Security when they’re in their 60s, which doesn’t seem like the most natural topic for a youth movement to anyone who gives it a second’s worth of thought. But the media have bought right into it. Part of the reason for that is that it’s got this real sexy hook because it’s generational warfare, they’re going along with the Paul Tsongas and Warren Rudman line that the main problem with our society is greedy Social Security recipients and their entitlements. I happen to think that a civilized society takes care of its weakest members. I know my aged grandparents lived on Social Security and would have been in serious trouble if they hadn’t had it. I think it’s one of the better social programs. It may have its problems, but I think it’s a darned good thing.
groth_tomorrowYIt’s really ironic when you consider the military budget right now. All of Clinton’s supposedly enormous cuts to the military budget have left us with just 10% less than George Bush’s Cold War budget. We’re still just basically burning billions of dollars so we can fight two or three wars at once. It looks like we’re going to build another nuclear submarine that we have no need for. There’s pork just being thrown out across the land and these morons in Lead or Leave are saying how we balance the budget is by cutting Social Security. I don’t have the statistics on this for sure, but someone told me recently that Harper’s Index noted that the Pentagon loses 40 billion dollars just on overcharges and contractor fraud every year. Why not a youth movement which says: what we need to do is rearrange our societal priorities, that we need to take some of the military budget and start paying off this deficit. There’s also just a great fallacy — our deficit actually is smaller as a percentage of GNP than it was in the ’40s, which not many people realize. It’s smaller than France’s or Italy’s. What this Nation writer pointed out is that paying off the deficit quickly would enrich wealthy bondholders of all ages at everyone else’s expense — that, in other words, it is a class issue, not a generational issue. I mean, it must be great fun to set yourself up as the voice of your generation, but frankly, I don’t think there are a lot of people in their 20s waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat thinking, “Oh my god, the deficit!”
GROTH: So regarding this strip in Spin, are you changing the focus of the strip slightly to aim at that audience?
TOMORROW: I’m not really sure. I never really have any kind of far-reaching plans for the strip. I’m really just going week to week or in this case, month to month.
GROTH: Is this a full page, by the way?
TOMORROW: No, it’s going to be four panels, I’m not sure how big they’re going to run it, I just wanted to do it in my usual size. The first one I did is about how the media manipulates youth trends, youth movements. I imagine that I will tend to focus on things that might be of more interest to Spin’s audience. The thing with an opportunity like this is I’ve got this audience that I know will understand the pop culture references that I’m making, so it gives me a sort of freedom. So I’m going to aim it at them but I’m going to do what I’m going to do. It’s quite an intelligent magazine. I was just reading the new issue and they’ve got an interview with Neil Postman and a big article on the aftermath of nuclear testing in the ’50s — it’s not just some mindless music magazine by any means. •
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One Response to The Tom Tomorrow Interview

  1. Mike Hunter says:

    So much has changed — and remains the same — since that interview! Most painful is that the once-thriving ecosystem of alternative newspapers which provided exposure and sustenance to many talents is now a barren wasteland. Needless to say, political chicanery remains, as does the simple-mindedness Tomorrow rightly skewered in the interview:

    TOMORROW: The thing with political cartoonists that I have to say is that too many of them just don’t think…During the Gulf War they did cartoons about Saddam Hussein being worse than Hitler…That’s just propaganda….When they did cartoons about how smart the smart bombs are, “They’re reading books,” ha-ha-ha. I don’t have time for that, I don’t need that.

    Tomorrow’s comic strip approach makes for less iconically powerful images. However, what a multi-panel format makes possible is for him to expose processes, make a more comprehensive analysis or thoroughly devastating exploding of malevolence or idiocy.

    Through the years he’s become even more adept, winning (and deservedly so!) the 2013 Herblock Award for editorial cartooning excellence: http://www.herbblockfoundation.org/herblock-prize-winner/965 .

    (His newest cartoon can be seen Mondays at the comics page of the Daily Kos; http://www.dailykos.com/blog/comics …)

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