The Fish
for 14 May 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.
 
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Tiny Little Penis 5.7.01

Dear Tiny Little Penis,

"These angry, dysfunctional intellectualizers spend most of their time slicing and dicing their experiences in their minds. Everything that happens to them is transformed almost immediately into a detailed, dramatic story. Every challenge they face has several different interpretations, with a wide range of causes, people to blame, people who don't get it, along with all the reasons and causes surrounding why they don't get it, why shit, in general, happens, and a myriad of metaphors to each and every example, experience, wave of emotion, etc. In other words, these people are writing all the time, in their heads. In other words, these people are insufferable fuckers."

WOW! This sounds like me. Especially the dysfunctional part. And I am definitely angry. I'm not a writer though. I still feel, however, that I have not found my true career path. Instead I have been struggling in the tediousness of the special effects industry. I'm hoping that animation will be my salvation from utter boredome, if not a higher paycheck. Perhaps this is not my true calling though. Maybe I should become a writer. I'm not sure. What should I do? How can I find out if writing is my true career path?

Dysfunctional and angry,

Scott

Dear Scott,

Is writing your true career path? No, because writing isn't a career path. Technical writing is a career path. PR writing is a career path. Magazine editing is a career path. Writing a novel is about as safe a bet, career-wise, as interpretive dancing. For this reason, you have to make your decision about whether or not to write based on whether or not you find yourself wanting to write.

When you feel lonely and anxious, do you write? Do you have notebooks with your writing in them around the house? Do you type fast? Do you ever write something and chuckle over how clever or insightful it is? Do you enjoy being alone for long stretches of time? Is your stomach tolerant to very strong coffee?

If you're thinking about writing, spend some time writing. My hunch, based on your letter, is that you don't necessarily want to make writing your sole source of income. You may well make a very good writer down the road, but for right now, you're just dysfunctional, angry, and wondering about what your true career path is. I'd say your first step is to go see a therapist.

Or you could just get really into gaming. Whichever.

Your friend,

Tiny Little Penis

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Dear TLP,

I can't believe your email address is actually tinylittlepenis@suck.com. There's no way you're a man.

If you are a man, you must be huge!

Randy B.

Dear Randy,

Whatever works for you, buddy. Go ahead and visualize whatever floats your boat.

Best wishes,

Tiny Little Penis

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Hooked On Crank

A whole essay on crank cartoonists who vent their spleen on major subcategories of humanity... and not one line for Diane DiMassa?

Sheesh.

Karen Bowe
<karen@spies.com>

Nope. Not one line. This is the hall of fame we're talking about Karen, and while DiMassa's "Hothead Paisan" puts her squarely into the crank category, it's definitely a seniority system. Certainly there's lots of cranks out there: Joe Matt, Trina Robbins, and Ivan Brunetti are all bright prospects for the hall. Why, Suck's own Peter Bagge is hall bound for sure (see his last Suck piece on Seattle) but Hothead DiMassa's just a young punk (literally and figuratively) compared to the likes of Hot Lead Gould and the Old Crumbola. She's on her way, though, as the opening blurb to her web site indicates: "Dis is the Official Website of Hothead Paisan, homicidal lesbian terrorist, avenger of scum and patron saint of freaks and misfits. Rage therapy like you've never seen it. Shed all guilt and repeat after us: "They deserve it!" And her cat, Chicken, too! Because not everyone WANTS to be in a bad mood..."

Hothead Paisan

Yep, sounds just like the young Chester Gould, doesn't it? Pure rage therapy and she's selling Hothead Pasian candy bars. It's like seeing an anarcho-dyke Orphan Annie on a box of Ovaltine. And even at this early stage Dimassa is getting nonsensical. Why, we'd like to know, is anyone avenging the scum? Wouldn't you want revenge on the scum? Wouldn't you be seeking to avenge the victims of the scum? I mean, simple, common sense would dictate that you'd want to, to .... ah, now these cartoonists are making me cranky.

Bertolt

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

I enjoyed your take on comics cranks. If you've not seen it, you should know about a mag called The Imp, the creator of which I've totally forgotten. Each issue analyzes a different comics creator — Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, and, the reason you should check it out, Jack Chick. The Imp covers Chick and his worldview exhaustively, with fascinating, horrifying detail and lots of fair-use illustrations. After reading it, I had horrifying dreams in Chick drawings and symbolism.

It's probably at your local comics shop. If not, I'd be happy to pick up a copy and send it. It's that good.

Levi Stahl, Chicago
<lts@press.uchicago.edu>

Hi Levi.

First, I love The Imp and have plugged it on Suck in the past. Much of the Chick information in my essay comes from Dan Raeburn's monograph on Chick. I hear he's got another Imp he wants to get out this summer and I know he's been writing for The Baffler, too.

Bertha Blechta

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

I'm sorry, but where were the superheroes in Ditko's "Black Kiss"? Sure, there are transsexuals, Satanists, incest, gang rape, necrophilia, and lots of other "immoral" behavior, but no muscle-bound oafs in tights.

For that matter, no one ridicules another's immorality, either. EVERYONE in "Black Kiss" is immoral, from the "hero" private eye who fucks his own niece to the transsexual's cop boyfriend who doesn't mind the absence of one usable hole. (There are others, after all...)

And Dave Sim had a lot of anti-Feminist rhetoric in the pages of "Cerebus" long before issue 265. The Cirinists (feminist fundamentalists) are far more oppressive than any other governing power in the book, and they seized power around issue 100. 165 months of anti-Feminism doesn't qualify him as a crank, but 16 pages does?

I think you guys are reaching for topics.

Seedy Edgewick
<seedyedgewick@mac.com>

Seedy,

No need to apologize, especially since "Black Kiss" was not Ditko's comic but Howard Chaykin's.

As for Sim, working the Cirinists into one of his leviathan storylines wouldn't necessarily make him as a crank. But fifteen pages of prose that drones on endlessly about his celibacy, women eavesdropping on him, theories of women as "emotion based" creatures, women leading the Civil Rights Movement astray — certainly does. What's all that got to do with his aardvark? It's his comic, he can do what he likes (which is why my basic premise on why cranks like comics) but he certainly qualifies as a crank.

Blecht Kiss Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

Bert,

I just spend a bunch of time out of my life to read Sim's Tangents yesterday (at work! life is good...), and now I got to read a Suck piece about how big a crank he is. Which makes me feel better, since that was exactly the word I'd used to describe him to my girlfriend last night. What amazes me about the man is that very occasionally in Tangents, you can almost see a worthwhile point glimmer, and then it's buried under a bunch of emotional pointless prose. The central idiocy of the rant — that it is written so emotionally while decrying "emotion based beings" as being a lower form of life — shines through and proves Sim's crankiness. I've known the guy was a kook since #186 — the infamous Reads book — but I've continued to read his work. It's too bad I feel kind of guilty about giving the guy my money. Anyway, great work.

Joshua Buergel
<joshb@nwlink.com>

Yep, I'd have called Sim's "Tangents" a rant or a screed, but those words sound like the guy's all worked up and passionate. Yet Sim's essay (worked up as he no doubt is) is a slo-motion wade through mud. Of all the cranks I wrote about, he's the most inarticulate, which is weird for a guy who obviously has such big vocabulary. And doubly so for a guy who has a real talent for complex and innovative page layouts, which requires you to think things through. Maybe it's just the subject of women, uh, I mean, "feminists," that get him so emotional, I mean, "logical."

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

I enjoyed your piece. I like all your pieces. But you left out one of my favorite comic cranks, Milt Canniff, of "Terry and the Pirates" and "Steve Canyon". I grew up in an Air Force family during the fifties, so I enjoyed the factual howlers, just as any doctor's kid would like "Rex Morgan, MD". Canniff had a healthy dose of "that's what's wrong with kids these days" (not to mention a relationship with his tomboy niece(?) Poteet at least as questionable as Bruce Wayne's with his "ward"). These elements were combined with a powerful White Man's Burden/Manifest Destiny foreign policy. Most entertaining, however, were cultural stereotypes, especially Asians, that nobody could print in a mass-market publication today. Caniff had particularly bought into the contemporary Hollywood convention that foreigners — when speaking to other foreigners on their home turf in their native languages — still spoke in virtually indecipherable accents and used incredibly awkward pidgin constructs. I remember one Viet Cong saying to another guy coming into camp something like, "Hark! What obtains?"

Michael Jennison, Washington DC
<Michael.B.Jennison@faa.gov>

Hi Michael.

Well, here's my thing about Caniff — while you're right, he did push a political point of view, he was writing a strip about the American military. Like Capp in his heyday or Garry Trudeau today, these strips are meant to have a point of view. Had Caniff been doing a strip about a private detective who kept battling Viet Cong and such, I'd agree with you. I don't call him a crank because how could Steve Canyon, US Air Force pilot, not be involved in Vietnam? And how could that not take on political contexts? Whereas, in "Little Orphan Annie," you had to wonder eventually why this comic about an orphan kid was so involved in Daddy's business theories about labor and FDR.

For Caniff's critics, the fact that Canyon was there at all meant Caniff was gung-ho for that war. I interviewed Caniff in the mid-80s and he told me he never actually felt all that comfortable with the USA in Vietnam (although he did support our troops there). He was actually raising questions in "Steve Canyon" about our involvement in Korea while that war was being fought. Still, he told me, Canyon was a soldier and did his job and that was that. Most of his stories use places like Vietnam as a backdrop for his characters. Like Bob Hope's idea of political humor (another Ohio Republican, btw) it's not so much about scoring political points as getting laughs, or in Caniff's case, telling a story.

As for the ethnic stuff, yeah, Caniff definitely showed some classic small town provincialism there. I remember one mid-80s storyline with Canyon in the Middle East and the term "towel heads" being tossed around. Too bad, especially for a guy who liked sending his characters off to foreign countries all the time. Maybe Caniff should have spent some more time in the real world himself.

As for Caniff's use of incomprehensible pidgin English, well, Dave Sim is still using it to write about women, if you miss it.

Thanks for writing,

Col. Bert Blecht

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 

"Although he never did quite reconcile how a strip about self-reliance always relied on a billionaire to bail Annie out of trouble."

Those with the best backers always cry loudest for self-reliance.

"...it always shifted back to how dumb the kids were, not how wrong they were."

It always does. Most people just think everyone else is wrong, especially when they know they themselves are wrong. It is always more convenient and self-gratifying to discount the opposition as flat-out wrong than to engage in debate. And that's why I do it.

I can't really agree that Crumb and McCay are true cranks. Part of being a crank, one would think, is that you yourself believe that your are correct or have some sort of truth to impart. Crumb is anything but. He readily admits he is a lunatic and would probably be the first to ban his own books given half a chance.

McCay's work was brilliant — even the best psychedelic work in the 1960's can't touch his drug-induced fantastical images — but why was he a crank? Did everything he draw point to some sort of religions or political position? His work seems about as positionless as could be at the time, even with the occasional big-lipped sambo in the background.

Shill Biddingsley

I didn't say McCay was a crank. I wrote quite the opposite. Was McCay's stuff drug induced? I just assumed he had an imagination.

As for Crumb, you're restating my opinion of him. Like Gould and Gray, Crumb created cartoon worlds starring, among others, Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, to express a lot of his opinions. But when it came down to the most personal expressions, the kind that bubble up in Gray and Gould and Chick and seem so out of place, Crumb created the biographical-essay comic. These are the comics where Crumb draws himself speaking directly to us, telling us over and over again (a classic crank habit) about his love of big butted wimmen and loathing of modern pop culture. It's as if Crumb looked at the Goulds and Grays and realized the kind of obsessive personality type it takes to create this stuff and then used that image to portray himself. By adding the actual cartoonist to the mix, Crumb pushed the whole thing to another level. Crumb knows he's not being fair or reasonable, but that doesn't mean he feels any different. Crumb makes himself more palatable, as Capp did, by being funny. It doesn't mean he's any less cranky. Crumb is willing to do what Gray and Chick could never do, which is admit that he might be wrong. Or, that he is definitely wrong, but that he just can't help himself. He knows, unlike the others, that this isn't just plain ol' common sense, but in many cases, simple obsession and compulsion. I doubt it ever crossed Chester Gould's mind that shooting down a criminal was at all questionable. And I'm sure it never did that his desire to do so had more to do with his hysterical fear of them than a rational law and order response.

Bert

 
[Mr. McFeely Speedy Delivery My Ass]
 



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Physical Strength and How to Obtain It, by Eugen Sandow
Bamboozled, A Spectacular New Film by Mr. Spike Lee
G. Beato's all-new Soundbitten
William Demarest, Sultan of Snarl, in The Lady Eve (1941), The Palm Beach Story (1942), and The Miracle of Morgan's Creek (1944)
George Wallace: Settin' The Woods On Fire, directed by Daniel McCabe and Paul Stekler
1995
Bobby Darin, Darin at the Copa (Atlantic)
Shinji-San in the floating world of indeterminate duration, by Peter Richardson
American Pharaoh: Mayor Richard J. Daley: His Battle for Chicago and the Nation, by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor
Neutral Milk Hotel, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1996, Merge)
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Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards, Singing in the Rain (ASV)
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