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 "SeƱor 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: http://www.rudypark.com/candorville/book1.asp

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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.


Anonymous said...

Writing to my paper now. Keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

I agree will do the same

Anonymous said...

Sent in my note this morning asking them to add Candorville. But this is South Carolina. Don't think they'll run any new comics, unless they're written by Rush Limbaugh.

Erinna said...

I read Candorville in uComics, but maybe I'll start bugging the Buffalo News about carrying it. :)

Darrin Bell said...

Thanks, everyone. Bugging your local paper would be a big help. They do pay attention to their readers. When the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Times dropped Candorville last year, they both brought it back after readers wrote in about it.

Anyone who writes to their paper - and cc's us a copy - asking for Candorville gets a free copy of both Candorville books (if the paper adds Candorville within 1 year), defaced with an autograph and sketch. Same goes for if your paper only runs it on Sundays and you get them to run it during the week, or vice-versa.

kitakaze said...

Too bad my paper is a liberal hold-out >.<. Sonoma County's Press Democrat isn't the best newspaper, but they've never dropped Candorville once they started carrying it. Even after the vocal conservative minority wrote to the newspaper to drop it.

I can be proud of it for that...except for the fact it also carries Prickly City...:shudders:

Anonymous said...

Why aren't there any good conservative political comics? I've read all three, Mallard Fillmore, Prickly City and State of the Union, and they all suck.

My paper, the Washington Post, also added Prickly Shitty when they added Candorville, because they wanted "balance." I guess that meant they wanted to balance a good strip (Candorville) with a bad one!

I wrote to the Washington Times to tell them they should also add Candorville.

Anonymous said...

Kitakaze, I get the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Is that the same thing as Sonoma County Press Democrat?

Santa Rosa's never dropped Candorville either. I'll write to them and thank 'em.

TEM said...

As a native Detroiter, I feel I have to apologize for Mr. Name Withheld.

(Do you think he prefers to be called Mr. Withheld, or is Name okay?)

Most Detroiters want to see your comic dropped from the paper, as you discovered by the write-in campaign to get your strip back into the rotation. Most Detroiters are cowardly; expressing our opinions (negative or positive) behind the cover of anonymity. Most Detroiters are savvy enough to grasp the concept of an ongoing comic strip without cherry-picking through the stuff we don't like or storylines with which we disagree. Most of us are quite happy to have a viewpoint like yours in our local paper and appreciate the way you challenge perceptions and beliefs with humor and intellect.

Keep up the excellent work with your strip, and it's good to see that you have a blog. I'll be writing the paper encouraging them to keep your strip as part of their content and recommending your strip to my friends via my own blog. Wish we had more like you out there.

I also hope that Mr. Withheld (or is it Name?) keeps reading, too. Who knows, he might learn something before you're done. Wouldn't that be fun?

TEM said...

You'll also find that at least one Detroiter can't type worth a damn. Let me correct myself:

Most Detroiters DON'T want to see your comic dropped from the paper.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to my remedial keyboarding class.

Darrin Bell said...

Thanks, Tem. The Free Press will appreciate hearing from you.

BTW, I love your icon. Did you draw it?

TEM said...

I could only wish - my drawing skills don't do justice to stick figures. My cousin did it. He's a very good artist - I'm trying to talk him into putting up a website or blog to display his work. I'll be talking about him on my blog and showing some of my favorite pieces of him in the next week or so. Surf by when you get a chance.

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