Tag Archives: class

How and Where I Enter

american salvage template my class comic_edited-1

According to my insider sources, all the 1 percenters read standing up whilst wearing tiaras.

There are a lot of ways of looking at any piece of fiction. After rewriting and illustrating 30 of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s short stories and telling her story about writing American Salvage, it seemed like I could/should write my story (apology?) about making these comics. A little piece of it anyway, which was much harder to tell than I thought it would be. It took all week to finalize the text; my first draft would have filled the entire page with words and never even got past panel 4. I guess I’ll have to write another comic about growing up in the North Shore of Chicago when you’re just not like the other humanoids, because John Hughes never got too deep into that story.

I think I mentioned the details about panel 2 in a previous blog post, although I can’t seem to find it, but Ferris Bueller, Michael Jordan, &c: true story. Panel 3 depicts “Hassle Castle,” which is what we called the admin building at Antioch College. The building, we were always told, was designed by the same guy who designed the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, DC. The side I drew was originally built as the front door of the school, at which time it faced a railroad station and only had 2 buildings behind it. Later, the train line was shut down and the school expanded behind the Castle and now this is the back of the Castle, facing 1000 acres of protected wilderness (nice backyard!) and the old back of the Castle is now considered its front.

Panel 3 has a little backstory. I’m not sure I ever ate Stove Top Stuffing in my life; if I did, it certainly wasn’t at my mother’s house. We didn’t use boxed matzah ball mix either, but Antioch College is in a tiny town in southwestern Ohio, so I couldn’t necessarily be particular about ingredients while I was at school. Anyway, I was cooking it in the minuscule shared kitchenette in Birch Hall. At Antioch, I met a number of lovely and academically talented people who referred to themselves with some degree of pride as “white trash,” and one of these people came in to use the kitchen at the same time. She saw the box and asked me what the heck it was. I explained matzah balls and then added, “I’m cooking from my culture,” and she indicated her box of Stove Top Stuffing and said, “I’m cooking from my culture.” So that happened.

Even as a starving artist, I’ll always be an outsider to American Salvage, but I hope I got into it pretty well.

 

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Monday Gratitude: Class Consciousness

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This macro image obviously has nothing to do with this blog post. I’m sure I could concoct some convoluted metaphor that would tie together tiny bugs and class stratification in America, but I won’t lay all that weight on this poor little bug’s exoskeleton.

[Artists] are acquainted with all classes of society, and for that very reason dangerous.

Had to do a little digging on this quote, which has been attributed, in a slightly altered form, to Joe McCarthy and Queen Victoria, but apparently it was actually written to Victoria by her uncle, Leopold, the King of Belgium. He concludes that artists are “hardly ever satisfied” and spending too much time around them gives one ennui.

Ennui is probably not a side effect of art, but of having too much money and not enough to do with oneself. This reminds me of a passage from an Louisa May Alcott book, An Old Fashioned Girl, in which wealthy Fanny, who has lived the life of a debutant for several years, feels prematurely aged as a result of her glamorous but pointless existence. Because she is rich and sheltered, she is also clueless, and she confides her problems to Polly, her one working-class friend, who never judges her (out loud).

“A little poverty would do you good, Fan; just enough necessity to keep you busy till you find how good work is; and when you once learn that, you won’t complain of ennui any more,” returned Polly, who had taken kindly the hard lesson which twenty years of cheerful poverty had taught her.

“Mercy, no, I should hate that; but I wish some one would invent a new amusement for rich people. I’m dead sick of parties, and flirtations, trying to out-dress my neighbors, and going the same round year after year, like a squirrel in a cage.”

In case you’re wondering, Fan loses her fortune a few chapters later and spends a while learning how to live in genteel poverty, before marrying the richest guy in the book.

Artists aren’t satisfied because they have the vision to see how much better things could be. I don’t know if all artists associate with all classes of society. If you have not, it’s hard to understand how vast the chasm between the wealthy and the underprivileged actually is.

I accidentally went to what I heard referred to as a “socialite” party last night. I didn’t realize that’s what it was until after I found myself watching a bouncer check my name off a list and usher me into a 10,000 square foot house full of exquisitely dressed models where nobody, and I mean nobody was talking about politics. They were talking about the 3 swimming pools and how many selfies they needed to take, but they weren’t talking about the plight of the immigrant in America, or the destruction of the environment, or Russian interference in the election, which in itself set it apart from every gathering I’ve attended this year. And I was thinking about how many refugees could have been comfortably housed in that building, and how I escaped the culture of material worship and ostentatious wealth. Which I guess makes me dangerous.

I’ve talked to plenty of people who lived in giant houses, and I’ve talked to plenty of people who lived on the street. And, although the knowledge of inequality’s depth is heavy, it’s never a source of ennui. And I’m grateful that I can see the big picture, no matter how frightening the big picture is when you get the whole thing into frame and focused. I’m grateful for the privilege that gives me this perspective.

If you’re satisfied with the way the world is, you probably haven’t seen that much of it. You’ve just been dazzled by the sparkly parts that were bright enough to blind you to the details.

Washing Machines

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But tell me again about how all kids have equal opportunity to achieve the American dream.

American public schools are structural inequality in motion. Rich kids go to well-funded institutions, and they attend prepared to learn. Many poor children don’t have that option. Here’s the source: One Answer to School Attendance: Washing Machines. We live in a world where little kids miss out on whatever advantages might be available to them because they’re afraid other kids will make fun of their clothes. And some people are OK with this. The solution is so simple, but society doesn’t consider clean clothes the right of poor children, apparently.

But some people do care.

Anyway, I felt like that story needed a little boost.

Elementary Class Consciousness, 2016

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The times are tough now, just getting tougher/This old world is rough, it’s just getting rougher

The first place I ever encountered the phrase “class consciousness” was in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Of course. “I’m really awfully glad I’m a Beta.” Everyone in that book is conditioned to be happy with where they are and what they have. In the real world, you meet a lot of discontent people. Some of them seem to achieve everything with little effort but never feel like they’ve acquired enough. Some of them seem to throw themselves full throttle into their own survival and barely earn enough to subsist.

And then, because we aren’t conditioned to like where we are, but rather to believe that we deserve to go further, and can if we just put our backs into it, sometimes the masses notice that all their hard work only enriches those who have more and do less, and then they rise up against their oppressors in class warfare. That’s the theory, anyway.

In my imagination, all 4 panels should have been a contiguous street scene where the management lady interacted with the hourly laborer in front of a building where the disabled veteran sat and the limousine was parked, but my art-fu has not advanced that far. Perspective is like a foreign language to me.

Merry Christmas. It’s not my holiday, and I don’t understand it, but it seems like an especially depressing proposition this year.

Check, Please

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I can also validate your parking if you like. But I can’t validate you as a human being. 

I predict that this comic will perform well across all platforms except for the ones where people celebrate their own lack of diversity and feel threatened when anyone questions their dominant paradigm. You know who you are. But amongst my friend, 99% of whom are academically trained lefties and front line civil rights activists, I expect a warm reception.

Or not. Who knows what people like? Not me.

I went to this bar last night. We were coming back from the Girl’s musical performance and I got a text from Misses Kitty that read, “queer munch now, 3 mins from your place.” There were no follow-up texts. Fortunately, I could read the secret bestie code and guessed that she wanted us to meet, and where, so we did, and found her sitting with about 20 people, maybe half of whom I recognized.

One woman called me over and said, “I can’t even tell you how I got there, but I was reading your blog.” But, as it eventuated, she hadn’t been reading my blog. She had been reading my old homepage, from about 10 years ago, so I’m actually really curious how she, or anyone else for that matter, could have ended up there, and also awed and amazed. She didn’t look familiar to me, but mentioned that we had met at a party about 3 years earlier. That’s pretty typical; The Man takes me to a lot of parties and I’m terrible at recognizing faces. Certainly, she hadn’t been searching for me when she stumbled upon my work, but rather clicked through and recognized me afterward.

She went on. “I’m Israeli, and I was reading your essay about Israel.”

The essay about Israel is 20 pages long, and I wrote it over 15 years ago, when I was a lot more sarcastic. “Oh, man, I hope you weren’t offended!” I said.

“No, I loved it!”

It’s nice to be recognized, and to know that people are actually reading. With pleasure. Even 15 years later. When I told the Rabbit this story, she told me about a friend of hers who write an essay 8 years ago that was suddenly picked up by a major media market this week. She was like, “Uh, OK.” But writing on the Internet is enduring. If it’s relevant, it doesn’t matter how old it is.

Which reminds me: I need to rehost some essays that I wrote for an old project that the Rabbit and the Bear and I did about 10 years ago, on a site that vanished because we stopped paying for it even though it was still getting 70+ hits a day when it hadn’t been updated in 3 years. You never know when someone’s going to need my extremely tongue-in-cheek but also technically accurate guide to pleading the insanity defense for murder, or my rant about Internet trolls.

 

Dragon Comics 88

Also, dragons are so pretty they'll get everything for free.

Also, dragons are so pretty they’ll get everything for free.

This comic is about privilege. White privilege, class privilege, cis privilege, hetero privilege, whatever. It’s pretty much all the same. I should know, because while people who know me will attest that I’m a freak on, like, a lot of levels, to the casual observer all of that is hidden. What shows on the surface are the lucky accidents of birth. I’m super-privileged.

I think about it a lot, even if I’m not talking about it. But it happened again yesterday: I got waved through to the pre-screen security line in one of the world’s largest airports. I didn’t have to wait in line, I didn’t have to take off my shoes or my jacket or take out my computer or my phone. A guy sized me up as I took 3 steps toward him and determined I was not a security risk and forced a privilege upon me.

And it occurred to me that this happens as often as not in any big airport. I’ve gotten waved through to the special lane lots of times, and I never get pulled out for extra scrutiny. The only time my luggage has ever been searched was when I borrowed someone else’s suitcase, and unbeknownst to me, this person had left a 6-inch switchblade in the side pocket. The TSA agent pulled it out, laughed, said, “This isn’t yours is it?” and let me go.

I was caught carrying a switchblade through airport security, and the federal employee whose job it is to address crime took a single glance at me, determined I was not capable of criminal activity, and laughed it off. We laughed about it together. There was a heartbeat when I thought, “Well, I’m not going to LA today; I’m going to jail.” But I look white, and female, and straight, and well-off, and not like a security risk, so that TSA agent never suspected that I have carried contraband through airport security on more than one occasion.

And then there’s all the times in my life that I was doing something illegal and cops didn’t even bother to look twice.

Privilege means knowing that mistakes are going to be made in your favor. It’s the freedom to assume that the rules don’t apply to you. It’s a careless security.