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In 1971, the philosopher Judith Jarvis Thomson wrote “A Defense of Abortion,” in which she used the example of a person waking up in a hospital, with medical equipment attaching them to a world famous violinist, to illustrate a point: Even if we accept that a fetus is a person with rights (which I don’t), it doesn’t follow that enforced childbirth is morally acceptable. It might be nice of me to allow the violinist to use my body for nine months, because that’s the only way to save the violinist’s life, but a world in which such extreme charity was enforced would be a nightmare.
This cartoon is an attempt to make that nightmarish aspect of what pro-lifers want visceral. It’s ironic, of course, that one way to make the nightmare clear is to imagine a man being put in the position that pro-lifers want to put women in.
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This cartoon was written in a swimming pool. I usually go to a aqua fit class at a gym two or three times a week, and one of the ways I pass the time while exercising is to try and write political cartoons in my head.
Usually it doesn’t work; aqua fit isn’t really an ideal environment for brainstorming. (The best place for me to think of ideas is sitting on a public park bench watching kids play; because of that, it’s easier for me to write in warm weather. Seriously!) But sometimes an idea comes to me, and this is one.
I remember I described the idea to Emily, who I think is a patron here (hi Emily!), and from her reaction I thought it could be a good idea.
An idea isn’t enough, of course. There’s a lot of editing and refining. In this case, I got very far along in the process – actually finishing the pencils – before I decided to restructure the cartoon in a major way. Here’s the earlier version of this cartoon:
At first I was tickled at how much I’d managed to fit into just six panels. But then it started feeling cramped to me. And I couldn’t help thinking that the final panel should somehow be different than the others.
Then I thought about longtime patron Bonnie Warford (hi Bonnie!) commenting that she likes it when I break out of the grid. So I started to think of how I could do that with this comic, which eventually led to the idea of the first six panels being a giant word balloon, indicating that this was a story being told by the main character in the final panel.
The way the cartoon is set up, I think this cartoon will “work” even for readers who miss the “giant word balloon” aspect. But for me, that aspect adds a lot to this cartoon, visually.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has seven panels, arranged in a grid of six small panels (three across, two down), followed by a final panel which is quite large.
Panels 1-6 are colored in a minimalist color scheme featuring shades of brown and yellow.
Panel 1 shows a close-up of man with a van dyke beard with his head on a pillow, snoring. A voice speaks from off-panel.
OFF PANEL VOICE: Wake him up.
Panels 2 and 3 have a continuous background, showing a bedroom. In panel 2, Man is still asleep in bed, but a man in a solider-or-guard-like uniform is standing over him, with a hand on his shoulder.
SOLDIER: Get up! You’re going to the hospital!
The man is now out of bed, with another soldier handcuffing him. The man is dressed only in a tee shirt and underwear. In front of him, a middle-aged woman, wearing a jacket and skirt, with a bun and a clipboard, is addressing him.
MAN: What’s HAPPENING?
CLIPBOARD: We’re taking your kidney.
A close-up of Man and Clipboard. Man is wide-eyed with shock and fear; Clipboard is officious.
MAN: What? WHY?
CLIPBOARD: Your son is ill. He needs your kidney to live.
We’ve changed locations; Man is now strapped won to an operating table. His tee-shirt is gone, and he’s yelling, futility. Two people in surgical gowns, gloves and masks – one of whom is Clipboard – stand over him. Clipboard is pointing to something on her clipboard.
MAN: But I don’t HAVE a son!
CLIPBOARD: You do. He’s from a one-night stand 20 years ago.
No dialog in this panel. We see Man’s terrified face and, in the foreground, a gloved hand holding a scalpel.
The bottom border of the above six panels forms a word balloon, which is pointing to MAN in panel 7, indicating that the first six panels are a story that Man is telling in panel 7.
The same man from the first six panels. He is now standing in a parking lot in front of a building, cheerfully telling a story to another man. Man and his friend are both holding signs that say “PRO LIFE” in big letters. They are surrounded by at least five other protesters, both men and women, also holding “PRO LIFE” signs.
Unlike the first six panels, this panel is in full color.
MAN: And that’s when I woke up. Thank goodness it was only a terrible nightmare!