I have gotten a little feedback that my comics present Trump as a lovable buffoon. So that leaves me asking myself questions, and here are two of them:
Are we so used to seeing negative portrayals of Trump that are so extremely monstrous that my attempt to show him as a horrible human being are too subtle?
Are my attempts to portray Trump with nuance and subtlety not working?
My instinct is to remember that people – no matter how awful the things they say and do – are human beings and not monsters. My upbringing in the Episcopal church helped nurture my compassionate worldview and, ironically, influenced my eventual embrace of secularism and humanism over the conservative Christianity I was raised with.
But, that’s just where I’m coming from – it doesn’t mean my comics are any good. What I need to do is make sure my portrayals of Trump are neither glib about his negative impact on the world nor cowardly about telling it like it is.
As a cartoonist, I want my comics to show that even with subtlety and nuance, Trump is still a bad human being who is bringing out the worst in a lot of people and seriously harming what decent moral standing the United States still has in the world.
Back to Blaming Hillary
Since I was a young conservative person in Oklahoma, I have been aware of the thriving, multimillion-dollar industry built around loathing Hillary Clinton. When I was younger, it seemed kind of mean. Certainly un-Christian. But as I got older and watched the industry achieve its ultimate goal of keeping Hillary out of power in 2016, this anti-Hillary movement became for me a symbol of many troublesome things about slices of American culture – sexism, male fragility, rage at the diminishing role of traditional Christianity in American life, demonizing those who disagree with you, scapegoating…
So, my hope is that Trump loses in November 2020, but, sadly, I expect that he will likely pick up where he left off with bullying everyone he can, including ol’ Hillary. (Not that she is a blameless victim herself, but, come on, can’t we do better than enabling the empire of Hating Hillary?)
You’ve got to hand it to Trump: he has a face that can be entrancing in its ability to contort and display emotion. If Trump were a mime (and imagine a world where we didn’t have to hear him speak…) his body and facial language would put him at the top of the mime hierarchy. He would win miming. Because he is a winner.
Also, regardless of the outcome of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, who else sees a Pence/Scott 2024 GOP ticket? Can you imagine how persuasive that would be to American conservatives? Pence, the sturdy white Christian man who helped white evangelicals feel like they could publicly support Trump, and the man who will still have Trump’s stench on him so that the MAGA constituency will still vote. Tim Scott, the sturdy black Republican senator who made a passionate case for Trump 2020? Seriously, this is a strong ticket.
It’s strange what circumstance will do to your outlook. If you’d asked me five years ago, the idea of an evangelical Christian as vice president would not exactly have shocked me, but I wouldn’t have taken much comfort from it either. Now that we’ve been living in a world with a president who handles American institutions and values so haphazardly, I have come to see Pence as a voice of decency and even reason.
So, in the brief evolution of my comic strip, it was natural for Pence to become Dean Martin to Trump’s Jerry Lewis. I think it’s funny to give Pence a chance to try on Trump’s cartoonishly angry face and mob boss public persona.
Also, we finally have a strip with a full-black background in a panel! The constraints of the four-panel comic make little moments like this exciting for me. How much can a person do with four (usually) black and white drawings? Each cartoonist is on her own little journey to find out.
I wouldn’t be surprised if face masks that feature Trump’s face already exist; I didn’t check, because for me it’s beside the point whether they exist or not. And I don’t want the comic to be influenced too much by stuff that’s already out there. I think Bill Watterson said that he resisted looking up reference photos when drawing dinosaurs because he was after something bigger than accuracy. I’m paraphrasing big time, and I’m not looking up that quote either, for the same reason!
I like joking about Trump’s narcissism, but it’s just as fun to explore evangelical attitudes as I lived them when I was a kid growing up in the Bible Belt during the Satanic Panic 80s. Mike Pence may or may not share these views, but the Pence in Trump After Trump embodies what I see as the American evangelical’s strange blend of piety and naïveté.
But all of this is just a setup to get to a joke about Trump’s most reliable source of political support, which is the white evangelical. I grew up as an Oklahoma Christian, so this fact about the support base of our amoral, divisive president is both disappointing and not surprising, which is a great source of comic strip punchlines!
One of my top five novels of all time it The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell. This book is so good that my friend Sean and I both read it twice in a row. If you want to hear more about why it’s such a wonderful book, just read it; I bring it up today because there is a scene in the book that I just love, which inspired this comic.
A colonial-era Dutch ship captain has taken his gout down to the ship surgeon for some symptom relief. The captain’s foot is swollen and tender, and the surgeon prepares a draft for relief. When the captain suggests that Mr. Nash, the surgeon, should consider turning apothecary when they reach the shore, we read this:
“Men of commerce, sir”–Nash counts out laudanum drops into the pewter beaker–“for the most part, had their consciences cut out at birth. Better an honest drowning than slow death by hypocrisy, law, or debt.”
What a searing and pithy summation of the blinding-influence that profiteering can have on otherwise compassionate people! I consider Trump, at best, amoral, and whether the soul-corruption led to a life of chasing dollars and attention or the other way around, I find Nash’s attitude to be on the nose.
I said as much as I have to say right now about masking in the age of COVID-19 and the age of Trump in Trump After Trump no. 15.
On an entirely different note, the practice of daily cartooning is making it painfully clear to me that drawing your characters so that they look the same in each strip – in each panel, for that matter – takes a lot of practice. Way more practice than I have put in, apparently.
My hope for now is that you, my small, scrappy cohort of readers, will bear with me, and maybe even find some charm in the clearly hand-made and aspirational quality of my likenesses!
I’ve made “two weeks” worth of comics – I publish every three days but pretend that I’m creating a highly-syndicated daily – and have not acknowledged that we are all living in a historic and life-changing pandemic. I think the first I heard of the new coronavirus (which has had me working remotely for the past six months) was around Christmas 2019 when there was a news story about an epidemic in China. I did not pay much attention to it, and my guess is that I imagined masked Asian faces and moved on.
That image of masked people in Asia, from memories of the SARS and MERS epidemics, is something I think about these days because I realize that mask-wearing seemed to me like an Asian practice, not something that Americans do. Now that the pandemic continues to batter America, I am wearing my mask, along with most of the people in my community, and I am happy that there is a cheap, easy and effective way to slow the spread. But, I think back to my pre-COVID-19 feeling that wearing masks is something that Asian people do, and I recognize in myself the individualistic spirit that has so defined American history and culture since the Europeans arrived here. It goes something like, “Asian people do what their governments say, but Americans do what we want, damn it!”
I am thankful that the vast majority of Americans support and practice masking, and I also feel disappointed that American individualism contains a strain of egotism and disregard for others. The rhetoric of people who decry mask-wearing as an incursion on their personal freedom and another example of tyrannical government overreach is a bummer. Also, what I just said about American individualism and its egotistical and selfish facets reminds me of someone…
Trump’s public statements and actions about the pandemic say all that needs to be said about the shortcomings of American individualism. So, I give you a “week” of face mask gags!