Sunday, April 30, 2006

Outrage over the American National Anthem in Spanish

When I'm deluged with hate-mail (usually about a cartoon dealing with either immigration or homosexuality), a lot of it seems to come from people who've either misinterpreted the strip, or haven't even read it. Sometimes this is the result of organized protests: someone with an agenda manages to stir up a bunch of other ummm... I'll just say "easily influenced" people. Other times, people just want to vent their outrage, and it doesn't matter if it's not even tangentially related to what the cartoon in question is actually saying. An irrational person can always manage to convince himself that a cartoon says what it doesn't say, and signifies what it doesn't mean. This disorder is so widespread among the human population that it even has a clinical name: "Counterfactual Reinforcing Associational Psychosis."

CRAP is a disorder that isn't just relegated to the comics page, either. For instance, an outbreak of CRAP is almost certainly behind the latest hysteria regarding illegal immigrants: the uproar over the new Spanish version of the American National Anthem. Our wise and allegedly-sober President has weighed in on the topic, condemning those who would dare to sing the anthem in another language. But more disturbing has been the tone of outraged callers to talk shows around the nation, who, after wiping the foam from their mouths, bemoan the "anti-Americanism" of these "America-hating" "America-haters."

I'm willing to bet a whole case of A&W root beer that not one of these callers - nor the President himself - has bothered to listen to the lyrics of this despicable anti-American anthem. Here they are, in Spanish and in their English translation:

Lyrics to 'Nuestro Himno' ('Our Anthem')
Amanece, lo veis?, a la luz de la aurora?
lo que tanto aclamamos la noche caer?
sus estrellas sus franjas
flotaban ayer
en el fiero combate
en señal de victoria,
fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.
Por la noche decían:
"Se va defendiendo!"
Oh decid! Despliega aún
Voz a su hermosura estrellada,
sobre tierra de libres,
la bandera sagrada?
Sus estrellas, sus franjas,
la libertad, somos iguales.
Somos hermanos, en nuestro himno.
En el fiero combate en señal de victoria,
Fulgor de lucha, al paso de la libertada.
Mi gente sigue luchando.
Ya es tiempo de romper las cadenas.
Por la noche decían: "!Se va defendiendo!"
Oh decid! Despliega aún su hermosura estrellada
sobre tierra de libres,
la bandera sagrada?

English translation:
By the light of the dawn, do you see arising,
what we proudly hailed at twilight's last fall?
Its stars, its stripes
yesterday streamed
above fierce combat
a gleaming emblem of victory
and the struggle toward liberty.
Throughout the night, they proclaimed:
"We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
Its stars, its stripes,
liberty, we are the same.
We are brothers in our anthem.
In fierce combat, a gleaming emblem of victory
and the struggle toward liberty.
My people fight on.
The time has come to break the chains.
Throughout the night they proclaimed, "We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
...Oh yeah, somebody lock up these anti-American scoundrels before they can carry out their wicked plans, whatever they may be.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Reader Mailbag - Distressed in Detroit

A reader in Detroit recently wrote to the Free Press begging them to drop Candorville, and the Free Press asked me to respond. As I often do, I responded with an incredibly long-winded e-mail designed to 1) intimidate the complainer into silence with its sheer volume, and 2) if that fails, give him something that'll take him so long to read that by the end, he'll have already forgotten what it was about and why he was angry. Sometimes that doesn't work, and they actually manage to write back. In those cases, I resort to Plan B: I respond with an even longer and more detailed e-mail, only this time I include footnotes, and links to sources in arcane scholastic journals, government reports, newspaper articles and Wikipedia. At that point, they either sue me for harassment or they admit defeat.

In this case, the reader has cheated. He's cleverly robbed me of my ability to resort to Plan B by not basing any of his comments on facts, and not disagreeing with any facts that I've presented in Candorville. He apparently can't argue with any of the political satire, so he has decided not to play my game and has brilliantly restricted his comments to, basically, "I'm bored."

To Whom this May Concern,
Is there a way that you can replace "Candorville" with another comic such as "Sherman's Lagoon," "Big Top," or "Herb and Jamaal?" Candorville is the same Bush-bashing comic strip that gets old really fast. The author clearly needs to give up writing his strip or come up with new material. I just get tired of the same stupid attempts to be funny at the same topic.
Thank you,
(Name Witheld)

My response (let's hope this works, because now I have no Plan B):
Dear Mr. (Name Witheld),

John Smyntek at the Detroit Free Press forwarded your e-mail to me. You wrote: "Candorville is the same Bush-bashing comic strip that gets old really fast. The author clearly needs to give up writing his strip or come up with new material. I just get tired of the same stupid attempts to be funny at the same topic." First of all, let me thank you for reading Candorville regularly, Mr. (Name Witheld). Whether you love it or hate it, you apparently read it and I appreciate that (I assume you're a regular reader, since you're commenting on what you seem to think is Candorville's ongoing theme).

I may be mistaken here, but your e-mail seems to imply that you either think political satire (which you call "Bush-bashing") is either the only topic Candorville explores, or the predominant one. I find that odd, considering the following:

In just the past month, here's what's happened in Candorville (each sentence is a separate strip):

Lemont discovered he fathered the child of a woman he doesn't like. Susan confronted him about it, telling him how disappointed she is and that she always thought he was the responsible one. Two homeless men joked about how the average income shot up to $100,000 when a filthy rich woman walked by. Clyde announced to Lemont that he was taking a 6-month sabbatical, and then Lemont reminded him he didn't have a job. Lemont bemoaned fulfilling a stereotype about Black men by fathering an illegitimate child. Clyde explained to Lemont why he thinks the existence of stereotypes gives him an excuse to act however he wants (since people will see him negatively anyway, he figures, why not?). Clyde gave Lemont a bit of advice on how he should meet his responsibility as a new father: by changing his name and moving to Cleveland. Susan tried (and failed) to impress upon Lemont that marrying the "crazy vegetarian chick" would be a bad idea. Lemont reminds Susan how he grew up without a father, and says he refuses to let his kid go through the same experience, "even if it means (Lemont will) descend into a putrid abyss of misery, anger and regret... a dark and musty cave of despair." The next day, Lemont called BellSouth and got the run around because they've merged and been bought out so many times, that nobody knows which number he should call. Lemont finally got through to Bellsouth and asked them why they were trying to force New Orleans to stop providing free emergency wireless internet access to hurricane victims. A BellSouth spokesman swore that Bellsouth would never do such a thing (because their lobbyists are trying to get the Louisiana state legislature to do it for them). Lemont's telephone and Internet service went off-line just as he was about to publish a critical article on his blog about his telephone and Internet service provider (coincidence?). Susan Garcia met at the ad agency with her new client, BellSouth, who wanted an ad that would soften their image. Susan came up with an ad campaign that wasn't "jazzy" enough for them. The next day, an Anglo American is thinking about how something should be done about illegal immigrants (and so is a Sioux Indian). Susan meets with a member of Congress who wants an ad campaign that will make their bill that would criminalize aid to illegal immigrants look more "compassionate." Susan's boss, Mr. Fitzhugh, warns Susan that her job may be in jeopardy if she doesn't start giving clients she disagrees with good service. That evening, Lemont, in a poorly-phrased pep talk, tells Susan she should go ahead and compromise her principles for money, since she's so good at it. Susan calls her father, and we find out that her anger over the felony provisions of the immigration bill stem from the fact that her own parents were illegal immigrants. Lemont and Susan joke about how Congress is only going to work 97 days in 2006. A tax agent at H&R Block tells a homeless man that cardboard is not deductible. A few days later, Lemont asked Susan if she's read his latest blog entry, and he hoped she would lie to him and say "no" if she read it and didn't like it -- while at the same time Susan could tell he wanted her to lie (a commentary on how good friends can communicate one thing with their eyes and body language, even while they're saying something else entirely with their mouths). The next day, Clyde asked a reluctant Lemont to proof-read his latest rap, and Lemont was shocked to find there was no profanity, it was smart and positive -- to which a dejected Clyde replied "I'm slipping."

(whew!) That's a huge block of text. I wouldn't blame you if you didn't read the whole thing. Before I continue with the synopsis, let me just reiterate how large a block of text that was. I think I may have developed carpal tunnel syndrome trying to type the whole thing. Also, did I mention how HUGE that block of text happened to be? Now, let's get to the "Bush-bashing," which you say is the only thing Candorville does:

Lemont got a phone call from someone at the White House leaking information about how Scooter Libby, who fingered Bush as the source of leaks, just might be an illegal immigrant from Mexico. Scott McClellan denied that the White House leaked info to bloggers in order to discredit "Señor Libby." McClellan continued to deny it the next day, by parsing his language in response to direct questions. A few days later, Lemont was hospitalized after having a panic attack while trying to cover all the White House scandals. He met a conservative blogger who was hospitalized while trying to refute all the White House scandals.

That's it. That's what you've seen in Candorville in the past month, to date. Look at those two blocks of text, and ask yourself honestly: what is the ratio of "Bush-bashing" to other material? You will find, if you go back through the last 2+ years of Candorville, the ratio will be about the same: about 5 to 1 in favor of character and social commentary to political commentary.

If you are claiming that "Bush-bashing" is literally (or even predominantly) all there is to Candorville, that is just patently false, as I've demonstrated above. If, however, you're claiming that you FEEL like "Bush-bashing" is all you see, that's probably because you disagree with the satire or, for whatever reason, you would rather not see ANY satire aimed at the White House. People who dislike Garfield often say it does nothing but show him eating lasagna and smashing spiders, when in reality, it deals with many other topics. People who dislike Candorville, such as yourself, will also focus on the one theme that sticks out (to them) and exaggerate it in their minds to the point where they think it defines the strip. To you, that's "Bush-bashing" (which polite society has usually called "political satire"). To another displeased reader who threatened to call the NAACP, it's Clyde's ignorantly casual use of the N-word. Similarly, when readers LIKE a strip, they often focus on the one theme that sticks out to them. One reader who writes to me regularly seems to think Candorville is a comic strip about Star Trek, since Lemont is always wearing a Starfleet t-shirt. Another regular e-mailer seems to believe Candorville is a story of unrequited love between Susan and Lemont, and doesn't seem to even notice the political commentary. Another regular reader seems to believe it's a rousing and positive buddy strip about Lemont and Clyde, who are two different sides of the same coin.

What you get out of a comic strip depends on your own biases. If you're able to read a month of Candorville strips (or the whole 2+ year run to date) and come away feeling like the only thing that was discussed was Bush, then that reveals much more about you than it does about Candorville. And if you feel that even the social commentary is still somehow "Bush-bashing," that may be because he's the President of the United States, his party is in control of Congress, and what they do affects pretty much all aspects of life in America. "Corporate shenanigans? He must be talking about Bush." "Homeless people? He must be talking about Bush." "Anti-gay bigotry? He must be talking about Bush." "Outsourcing? He must be talking about Bush." I suppose that is a reasonable assumption, because whoever guides the ship of state is responsible when it runs into the rocks -- our leaders (whomever they are) are largely to blame for the ills of society, because they are in a unique position to remedy them. After 2008, if Hillary Clinton becomes our next President and we have a Democratic Congress, someone's going to write in to the Free Press suggesting they drop "that 'Hillary-bashing' comic strip Candorville."

All that said, perhaps you were using "Bush-bashing" as shorthand for political satire in general. If that's the case, I'll point out to you that the comics section has ALWAYS been host to four different types of comics: Family strips, gag strips, serial strips and socio-political satire strips. The very first American comic strip, The Yellow Kid, dealt with political and social satire. Pogo, Gordo and Krazy Kat, the next generation of comics, also dealt with those issues either directly or through allusion. They were succeeded by Doonesbury and Bloom County. Now the next generation, Boondocks, Prickly City and Candorville are grabbing that baton and running with it. Political satire on the comics page is an American tradition (as is complaining about it).

Speaking on behalf of all satirists, I'm thankful that opinions about what constitutes "funny" are diverse, and even, sometimes, diametrically opposed. The beauty of the comics page is, if you don't like one comic strip, you can read another. If you don't like social or political commentary, you can skip Candorville and read Garfield (if that's in the Free Press). If Garfield readers are tired of what they feel is a non-stop parade of spider-squishing and lasagna-guzzling, they can skip that and read Candorville. If everyone appreciated the same type of humor, newspapers wouldn't need more than one comic strip.

Thanks for taking the time to write, and I hope you'll notice more in Candorville from now on. If not, I hope you'll find other comics on the page that are more to your liking.


Darrin Bell
Cartoonist, "Candorville"
BUY an autographed (with sketch) copy of the first CANDORVILLE BOOK! - "Thank God for Culture Clash", by clicking here:

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You'll get news, updates and discussion with other Candorville readers, and you'll be notified about appearances/signings in your area.
If Plan A doesn't work, I'm screwed.

Incidentally, don't forget to write to your local paper and tell them you enjoy reading Candorville. People usually only write to a paper when they're upset about something in the paper. Papers don't hear enough from people who like what they see.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Neil Young's "Living With War" has a blog

The media have been buzzing the past two weeks about rocker Neil Young's upcoming album. Now there's a blog about it. Pretty soon, we'll see talking heads on Fox, and other people who think certain citizens shouldn't be allowed to voice their opinions, telling us how artists & musicians aren't qualified to comment on politics and should just shut the hell up. I hope I'm wrong.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Star Trek Back in 2008

If you understand the phrase "like Spock rising from the dead on the Genesis planet," read on...

After a three year break, Star Trek will return in 2008 with a new film directed by J.J. Abrams, and written by his same team that cranked out "Mission: Impossible III." I would be thrilled about this, if it weren't for the fact that I saw a ten minute clip from Mission Impossible III at Wondercon in San Francisco. I'm not exaggerating here when I saw that nearly the entire clip was one long string of crashes, gunfire and explosions, none of it particularly interesting. It felt like a ten minute parody of an action movie, which I'm almost sure was not the intention of the creative team. At the end, I was left wondering why they didn't show us the little things -- things like plot, character development, etc... Things that would appeal to anyone over the age of eight.

Don't get me wrong, I love action as much as the next red-blooded Star Wars-raised American male. Deep Space Nine was my favorite Trek, and it also happened to be the most action-packed, devoting its last few seasons to a major interstellar war that almost destroyed the Federation. But if I were to go through and pick any 30-second battle sequence from DS9, I'm absolutely certain it would demonstrate more heart, innovation and story than that 10 minute explosion they showed us from Mission Impossible.

On the other hand, Abrams is responsible for two of the best TV shows (supposedly -- I haven't watched either) in recent years: Alias and Lost. Hopefully he'll forego the emptiness of that MI:III trailer and stick to the intrigue and mystery that have made those shows work.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Liar is Dead, Long Live the Liar

Thomas Nast took down Tammany Hall. Herblock and Conrad helped take down Nixon (ok, along with a couple obscure reporters and the rest of the country) . Now Candorville has claimed its first victim: White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.

Of course, the White House will spin this to try and convince us all that McClellan quit for personal reasons. They'll tell us he's simply tired of toying with, and telling blatant lies to, an increasingly indignant press corps. They'll say he's tired of trivializing Dick Cheney's tendency to shoot friends in the face, even while he knew that friend had suffered a heart attack as a result. He's tired of rationalizing Mr. Bush's non-response to Hurricane Katrina, of lying (or being kept in the dark) about White House leaks. He's tired of lying about Mr. Bush's record and ducking legitimate questions about important matters. He's tired of having his ass handed to him over and over again by a woman old enough to be his grandmother (who happened to be the only reporter in the press corps who was never intimidated by the White House's bullying tactics). He's tired of demanding apologies from legitimate news organizations for their despicable tendency to have reporters occasionally report on the Administration, and their underhanded practice of reporting on how the President's war is going.

McClellan's frustration with the Media is understandable. They spoiled this Administration by not asking tough questions, by allowing themselves to be intimidated, by fearing that they'll be called "liberal," or even find their access to sources pulled, if they appeared too confrontational. Then, one day, the White House press corps woke up from its four and a half year coma, and without so much as a word from Scotty, completely changed the rules on him. From that point on, it's been all downhill for the embattled Press Secretary. One bungled crisis after another, one scandal come to light after another. It's enough to make a man want to spend more time with his family. And that's exactly what the White House will tell us.

But obviously, all this is just a smokescreen. We all know McClellan resigned just to spite Candorville. This is a blatant attempt to rob a humble comic strip of one of its most effective recurring devices: Scott McClellan as the embodiment of the most hilariously mendacious White House in modern history.

What they didn't count on was that the satire gods always step in to rescue columnists and stand-up comics, talk show hosts and even forsaken cartoonists: Fox News is reporting that Tony Snow, a Fox News reporter, is in the running to become the next White House spokesman. As Josh Micah Marshall put it today, "isn't this more of an interdepartmental transfer?"

If our leaders are going to keep writing the cartoons for me, I'm going to have to send them royalties.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Candorville Nation

It's been a good couple months. Candorville is spreading like mad cow, and recently debuted in papers in Indianapolis, Muncie and Florida.

Today, Candorville also debuts in the Kansas City Star. What's surprised me over the past 2 1/2 years is that Candorville plays just as well in the Heartland as it does on the Coasts. There's just as much of a hunger for diverse points of view in red states as there is in the blue. Maybe Barrack Obama was right. Maybe America isn't red or blue, it's purple. Or violet. Whatever.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Science:3, Intelligent Design: 0

First a court in Dover, PA rejects the religious indoctrination of students (on the taxpayer dime), then a school board that approved the teaching of ID gets their asses handed to them in an election. And now scientists believe they've found the most important Missing Link - the fish that learned to walk on land.

It hasn't been a very good year for those who still believe the Earth is only 6000 years old.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Cool and Useless

People I love forward me a lot of crap I don't need to read -- e-mails like one I received last week that told me how much the world loved me, and that if I didn't forward the message to 20 of my closest friends, I would suffer a horrible fate.

Every once in a while, though, I get something that's as cool as it is useless, like today:

On Wednesday of this week, at two minutes and three seconds after 1:00 in the morning, the time and date will be 01:02:03 04/05/06! That won't ever happen again... ever. You may now return to your "normal?) life.

EDIT: A reader just pointed out that this happens every 100 years. Dang. Well, for most of us that means it'll only happen once in our lifetime, and this is it. Still cool, just not as cool.