Vice Grip
Weak admonitions to stay away from corporate alcohol sites if you're not (yet!) 21 rank between "Be Cool, Stay In School" and "Don't Shake the Baby" in the realm of useless messages.
Five years ago today in Suck.

Cranky as the old guard could be, they rarely lost sight of themselves as entertainers who tried their best to weave their views into entertaining stories. Angry or not, this was still a job. Not so for their brethren in the low rent world of the comic book, Steve Ditko and Jack Chick.

After co-creating Marvel's Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, Ditko left Stan Lee's snappy comebacks to super-villains stories for rinky dink indies and Charlton comics and the chance to fully express his devotion to Ayn Rand and her theories. His new heroes (Mr. A, The Mocker, and Killjoy among them) love ridiculing the weak and immoral about the holes in their thinking, such as one when villain offers Ditko's boy a deal. "Ha! Ha! A 'deal'," replies the voice of justice, "The magic words of the corruptor. My deal is no deal with your kind. You betrayed your own identity as a rational being ... sold out life to anti-life! You are nothing human, have nothing human to offer, what is a nothing from a nothing?"

Ditko left Marvel at the height of his commercial success to reach his creative peak. His refusal to abandon the superhero genre makes his vision a Can't Look Away blend of intellect and the inane that no one has ever matched.

Ditko's singular vision is matched by one man and one man only, the king cartoon crank of all time, Jack Chick, creator of the born again Chick tracts. Chick's tracts are found at train stations, bus stops, laundromats, and kiosks the globe over. Designed as spiritual viruses, they sit, waiting for the right readers to come along and be converted to Christ while their underwear hits spincycle.

And yet, that in itself isn't a crank. He's driven, he's on a mission, he's got a message — but that's every preacher. Chick's crankiness presents itself within Christianity. Over and over again Chick's hatred of the Catholic church ("the Great Whore of Babylon") and dismissal of all false religions rears up (not Judaism, though, as Chick feels history condemns all nations and people who mistreat Jews). Theories of Jesuits controlling evangelical America seem to come up all the time. "Those Christians," he has said, "Always trying to tell me what to do. You know, I'd rather hang out with bikers." It's Chick and God against the world — a crank's favorite illusion — meaning Chick can't even deal with his core supporters.

Up until the 1960s, cartoon cranks created worlds that propped up their oddball theories and inconsistencies. But the '60s brought forth another hall of famer, Robert Crumb. From the beginning Crumb sought the same as Gould and Jack Chick — a cartoon world all his own. But unlike them, Crumb's ego is tempered by his humility, his recognition that his uglier impulses toward violence and mankind in general aren't justified. That doesn't stop him from feeling it all the same, but unlike Gould, Crumb at least worries about what a nut he is when dealing with his violent sexual fantasies and racial stereotyping. Where every other cartoonist builds a world that cheats and tells half-truths in order to make sense, Crumb does the inverse. He draws himself simply talking to us, no fictional pretense at all. Instead of propping up a world on the narrow shoulders of his narrow views, he draws himself getting crushed by our real world. Oh, it's never realistic (he's often standing next to eight foot tall bird women) but his vacillations between Harold Gray Angry Man and complete spineless breakdown make his work brilliantly funny. And unlike Capp or Ditko, Crumb knows he's a crank; he just can't help himself.

Which, of course, brings us to the present. Like Harold Gray, Johnny Hart created a successful strip that he outgrew. B.C. was never meant as Christian theology, but as Hart got older and his beliefs deeper, the style and wit of B.C. as caveman sit-com weren't enough anymore. This year, his Easter strip, showing a Jewish menorah morphing into a cross the way Little Nemo's bed grows legs, doesn't even feature a B.C. character. No, Oog. Just Him. Readers might agree or not, but still, they wonder — why is Hart talking about Jesus, especially in a strip called B.C.?

As for Dave Sim, his more specific comic book audience allows him more creative freedom. But even his penchant for cranky editorials prepared no one for the crank's home run of this month's "Tangents." Meant as his final word on the subject of Feminism — a big issue for cartoons about talking barbarian aardvarks — Sim broke with his cartooning brothers by not even bothering to do his essay in comic form. Sim unloads on irritating former employees who liked to be called "assistants" instead of "secretaries" (which Sim sees as feminist terminology), his own celibacy ("If you learn to leave your penis alone, I discovered, your penis will learn to leave you alone" — italics his). And then there's the absolute zero impact of anyone else's point of view: "Walking away is not relevant. Rolling one's eyes theatrically is not relevant. Snorting derisively is not relevant," he writes, all in a preemptive strike to trivialize anyone disagreeing with him, another favorite crank habit, since cranks often find themselves in disagreement with the world.

Now, it's not important whether you agree or disagree with Sim, just so you marvel at the sheer depth of his obsession. Jack Chick cuts the Pope more slack than Sim does women. Some might say it's not women, but Feminist ideology — but what's that got to do with Sim leaving his dick alone? And it could be said that this is taking things out of context, but since the only context here is Sim, not the window dressing that there's a real issue here, what difference does it make? Like Chick, Sim wants his word out. The inside back cover of Cerebus 265 makes "Tangents" a public domain property, one you should feel to distribute, as long as you do it in its entirety, unedited. Like any cartoonist crank, Sim wants it all his way.

What Sim and Hart remind us is that cartooning is still the most personal art form. And it's no coincidence that the cranks are often the best at it. They're not just hacking it out for the check. They're creating the worlds they want to live in. "We are definitely at the Alice in Wonderland point for western civilization, and it's one of the reasons that I'm so happy to retreat into 'Cerebus.' I spend 75 percent of my life in this fictional world and 25 percent in the ostensible real world ... " Sim has said. These are driven artists, and in order to make their point, to make that world on paper comply where ours won't, they cheat, tell half-truths, spew, rant, and play out their dramas with ideological stick figure villains and even skinnier ideological heroes. They create cartoons in the worst sense of the word. But they also create the most unique, complete visions any artist can put on paper.

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