Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

November 6, 2014

A Very Few Words On James Sturm’s Sponsor Comic

imageSo the cartoonist and educator James Sturm did a comic for The Nib about a young white male cartoonist and an older white male cartoonist working through some basic career neuroses in the form of a steps-program sponsor relationship. The instigating factor for this crisis of faith in first the younger, then the older cartoonist is the success enjoyed by an even younger cartoonist who is female and is good at Kickstarter. This allows the comic to be seen in a way that allows for a very specific gender-conscious critique of white men fearful of the other (female cartoonists). I think that point of view was first offered up in this Colleen Frakes tweet. It's been explored by writers like Sarah Horrocks and Heidi MacDonald.

I've e-mailed James to see if he wants to respond to the rolling conversation -- maybe he has somewhere -- and if he sends something, I'll run it.

My own reaction is kind of all over the place. I thought it was pretty clearly satire, like I don't know how that ridiculous set-up with a sponsor and the person he's sponsoring and the whole exaggeration of it isn't wholly indicative of that. It's not satire like Jonathan Swift (let's eat babies) or Randy Newman (fuck short people) where something is exposed as awful by making a ridiculous and directly false and untenable statement in over-the-top fashion. It seems to me more like Archie Bunker, where someone's extreme reactions to something is clownish and exposes the absurdity of how that reaction has been shaped, while at the same time we might have some sympathy in that what they're reacting to are fears and frailties that are recognizable to us. The Lisa Kudrow show The Comeback seems to me to work in the same way.

So it makes perfect sense to me that some people might find something of themselves in the idea that people younger than them are succeeding where they're not, just as I can't fathom that anyone would look at the two clownish shit-heads in that comic and think that clinging to such thoughts as a primary worldview is something to be endorsed. Then again, a bunch of people thought Archie Bunker a hero, straight-up.

MacDonald's piece floats the interesting notion that the use of a female "nemesis" in the cartoon was just a signifier for "young," which I suppose could be the case. I know from talking to Editor Matt Bors that the critical reading that has developed didn't occur to him while he was going through it -- I hope he doesn't mind me saying so. But I also sort of think the piece is stronger if these sad assholes are so clueless so as to not be aware of, or are helplessly processing without meaning to, the obvious gender issues involved.

The only thing I know I don't agree with is a reading that's interested in James Sturm's intentions and believes they correspond to ideas expressed by cartoon characters to the point at which it's asserted that it's a hit piece on one cartoonist or another and these cartoonists' names are actually tossed out there. That just seems like a super-cynical reading to me to the point of absurdity, although clearly the old guy is the late Stan Goldberg. Okay, I'm just kidding. Although maybe not.

Update: James Sturm got back to CR. "Probably best for the piece to speak for itself."
posted 9:50 pm PST | Permalink

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