It’s my intention that I use this forum to write about some of the great comics that artists out there are doing, and I totally intend to do that. Today, however, I want to talk a bit more abstractly about comic art and humor as a tradition and where I hope to fit in that narrative.
What brings this introspection on? Is it the fact that my yearly life crisis approaches in the form of my birthday and I start freaking out about my legacy? Maybe. But it’s pretty impertinent of you to ask, and I’m instead going to focus on the news. Most specifically, Charlie Hebdo. Earlier this week the artist El Rhazoui stated she would be leaving the French satire magazine as she feels the weekly has gone soft on Islamist extremism. If this is the case, I for one cannot blame them as it has now been two years since Hebdo’s offices were stormed by two Algerian brothers who killed twelve in response to inflammatory cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.
I’m not a faithful follower of Charlie Hebdo and my near complete lack of fluency in French means any subtleties are lost in the translation, yet I don’t know that I could see myself becoming a fan. What I have looked at doesn’t seem to contain any subtleties. Over the top colors, hectic art and what seems to me to be a healthy dose of self righteousness gives me a distaste for what little work I’ve seen. Satire, like so many other arts, is a deadly serious business to the French. Contrast this to the torch bearer of American satire, which is known for taking nothing seriously, least of all Mad itself.
Which prompts the question (boy there are a lot of those today): Is satire what I aim for as an artist? Maybe. A little. I aim to share with you, my dozens of loyal readers, those things that strike me funny. Sure there is some rooting in the real world, but my head has never spent a whole lot of time there. I hope to be more Charles Addams or Gary Larson than El Rhazoui or Mort Drucker. Of course, anyone who tries to make a joke can always draw the ire of someone somewhere. Gary Larson once drew a cartoon about Jane Goodall that was hated by all her fans and ironically loved by Jane Goodall. I see this as the opposite of the situation where Mr. Sulu was made a gay character in the new Star Trek universe to “honor” George Takei against his wishes.
If I have any end goal in my mind of my artistic hopes and dreams, it would be to do at least one comic that equals Garry Trudeau at his prime. During the Vietnam War, Doonesbury approached the most serious subjects known to man with such a gentle good humor that the strip never actually achieved having a villain. How could you not have a soft spot in your heart for Phred the Terrorist? The same essential harmlessness was embodied in Bloom County, though the emotions, in comparison to Doonesbury, went up to 11.
What do I want to do as a cartoonist? I want to be able to talk about things I think are weird or funny or stupid or interesting and, regardless of your feelings on the joke, I want you to think Martin is a nice guy. I might have a few issues to work out, but as far as I can see, I’m in the best place to do it.
What do some of you look for in a comic strip? Drop in and I’ll give you a figurative penny for your thoughts.