A Haiku for Monday, December 5th

Soon, the cold solstice
will spin us back toward the sun.
Until then, I nest.
Posted in Poetry, Rachel Swirsky's poetry | 5 Comments  

Three of My Poems Are Up on BigCityLit

It’s been a while since I’ve had poems accepted by a literary magazine, so I’m really happy that BigCityLit accepted three poems from the sequence, “This Poem Is A Metaphor For Bridge.” Here’s on the of them:


Before you have a chance
to sing a word,
the music stops,
its final note
a pebble dropped
from high above the trees.

The ripple spreads itself
along the path you use
to steer your herd towards home.
Forget the wood you’ve chopped.
Alone, you’ll never build
the necessary fire,

and in this metaphor
you are alone. So place
that sharpened stone
before the altar,
watch the light approach,
and tell us what you see.

What you perceive
is pointless obfuscation.

If you’d like to read the other two, you can find them here.

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments  

Online Piracy Is Not Destroying Cartoonists’ Incomes

(This is a slightly modified thread I wrote on Twitter yesterday).


Here’s the thing: Piracy is not taking money out of our wallets. Getting rid of pirated comics won’t cause readers to spend more money buying comics.

To illustrate why, let me talk about when I was a teen.

I’m Gen X. When I was a teen, I bought a new album every week or two. Everyone once in a while, I saw a concert.

And I had a collection of ten times as many albums as I bought. Mostly on cassettes tapes, illegally recorded from my friend’s albums.

Or they were recorded from someone else’s illegal taped copy, which may itself have been recorded from another illegal copy.

Let’s say that I spent $15 a month back then on music (about $35 in today’s dollars). If all those illegal tapes weren’t available, you know how much I would have been spending on music?

About $15 a month.

Because my music budget wasn’t very elastic.

I had my allowance. I had what I earned working part-time at the grocery store. And I had expenses other than entertainment.

My music budget was determined by how much I could afford to spend on music, not by how much music I listened to.

When cartoonists say “they’d be buying more comics if piracy didn’t exist,” they’re imagining that readers’ comic budgets are determined by how many comics they read.

But that’s wrong. People’s comic budgets are determined by how much they can reasonably spend on comics.

So when I see cartoonists, or really any creator, looking at 1000 people reading a pirated copy of their comic and seemingly thinking “that would have been 1000 sales for me if piracy didn’t exist” – well, no, that’s not how it works.

People have finite budgets for entertainment.

Getting rid of piracy, even if that were possible, wouldn’t change how much most people spend on entertainment.

Incidentally, in the 80s, I didn’t know a single teen who didn’t have illegal tapes of music. Some people had many, some just a few, but NO ONE had none.

How many Gen-Xers huffing about damn kids these days expecting media for free, honestly never had illegal tapes?

Or, for people a decade or so younger, never copied a game or an album from a friend’s digital files?

Or, for kids in this century, have never borrowed a friend’s Netflix password?

Entertainment budgets are finite. Therefore, there’s only two ways people will buy more comics.

First, when comic readers’ incomes grow, their entertainment budgets grow, and they buy more.

Second, if comics get cheaper, readers could buy more comics with the same entertainment budget.

Piracy is not reducing our incomes. Getting rid of piracy won’t make people’s comic-buying budgets any larger. It would only mean people would be reading fewer comics.

(And also, fewer kids will get addicted to reading comics in the first place. Yay!)

Most people spend more on non-pirated media as their budgets grow.

(That’s why middle-aged people buy more non-pirated media than teens; we’re not more moral, we just have more money.)

So kids pirating comics now, is good for cartoonists twenty years from now.

Comics’ problem isn’t piracy. (And it’s not diversity.)

It’s that comics today provide much less bang for the buck than in the past (comic prices have gone up WAY faster than inflation). It’s that the big 2’s products are impenetrable to newbies. It’s that the comics distribution system is amazingly badly designed.1

Middle grade & YA graphic novels are growing much faster than the rest of the comics industry. You know why? It’s not that we do better work. And it’s not that we’re not pirated.

It’s that the book industry doesn’t rely on the Marvel/DC mess, and has better distribution.

P.S. I used to use pirated copies of PhotoShop to make comics. Now I pay for PhotoShop, because I can. I’m pretty sure 1000s of other cartoonists, including some of the ones angry about piracy, did the same.

  1. For those who hate video links, Here’s a long essay – Shut The Fuck Up, Marvel by spacetwinks – going into that in more detail. []
Posted in Cartooning & comics | 8 Comments  

Open Thread and Link Farm, Dancing On Stairs Edition

  1. Cash/Consent: The War on Sex Work | by Lorelei Lee
    This essay is excellent – resisting simplistic narratives about sex work from both anti-sex work crusaders and pro-sex work liberals.
  2. NYC restaurant industry is thriving after $15 minimum wage – Business Insider
    Thanks to Grace for the link!
  3. Northern snakehead: This invasive species can live on land and breathe air. Authorities suggest you kill them on sight. – The Washington Post (And an alternative link.)
    They’re not dangerous to humans (although they do sometimes eat mice), but in the U.S. they’re an invasive species.
  4. These Machines Can Put You in Jail. Don’t Trust Them. – The New York Times (And an alternate link).
    “Alcohol breath tests, a linchpin of the criminal justice system, are often unreliable…”
  5. Did Emma Sulkowicz Get Redpilled?
    It sounds like the answer may be “no, but she’s got new libertarian friends and she was never actually all that political anyway.”
  6. The Adults In The Room: Deadspin
    “A metastasizing swath of media is controlled by private-equity vultures and capricious billionaires and other people who genuinely believe that they are rich because they are smart and that they are smart because they are rich, and that anyone less rich is by definition less smart. They know what they know, and they don’t need to know anything else.”
  7. The Bernie vs. Warren Debate We Need by Eric Levitz.
    This is the best article on the “Warren or Bernie?” debate I’ve read. Even if people don’t agree with the conclusions (and really, Levitz doesn’t come to a conclusion), these are the kinds of questions leftists need to be thinking about.
  8. How online allies joined a trans artist’s street art war
    TERFs and LGBT folks in Oxford fight each other through the medium of anonymous stickers.
  9. No, Obama is Not a Member of the Intellectual Dark Web
  10. Twitter hates me. The Des Moines Register fired me. Here’s what really happened. – Columbia Journalism Review
    This was the reporter who was (unfairly) fired for reporting on some guy’s racist teenage tweets. (Read the story for why I think his firing was unfair). What’s oddest is that the reporter is one of the clearest-cut cases of someone being fired due to outrage on social media – and yet he denies that he was “cancelled.”
  11. If 2020 Democrats Are Going to Be Serious About Climate, They Need to Cut Out Congress – Mother Jones
    What the President can do without Congress’ approval.
  12. How ‘Slings & Arrows’ on Acorn TV made a Shakespeare fest a cult hit – Los Angeles Times
    This decades-old TV show is one of my favorite TV shows ever. But the reason I’m including this in the link farm is that the article mentions that the Slings and Arrows creators are shopping around a prequel to the series. Fingers very much crossed!
  13. The Straw Hat Riot of 1922 – Wikipedia
    In which a relatively harmless tradition of hat-snatching goes overboard.
  14. This 195-Gigapixel Photo of Shanghai Has To Be Seen To Be Believed | IFLScience
    That’s an article about the photo; here’s the photo. I spent a couple of hours just exploring the photo.
  15. One year after Kavanaugh, I can’t go back to SCOTUS.
    A short piece by Dahlia Lithwick. “That is the problem with power: It incentivizes forgiveness and forgetting.”
  16. A Comprehensive Defense of Trans People : musicotic
    A very impressive list of references and links.
  17. James Dean Reborn in CGI for Vietnam War Action-Drama (Exclusive) | Hollywood Reporter
    The movie will co-star a CGI recreation of Dean; all the other parts will be played by living actors. “‘This opens up a whole new opportunity for many of our clients who are no longer with us,’ said Mark Roesler, CEO of CMG Worldwide, which represents Dean’s family alongside more than 1,700 entertainment, sports, music and historical personalities, including the likes of Burt Reynolds, Christopher Reeve, Ingrid Bergman, Neil Armstrong, Bette Davis and Jack Lemmon.”
  18. Disney Is Quietly Placing Classic Fox Movies Into Its Vault, and That’s Worrying
  19. Trump’s Justice Dept. Wants to get rid of old antitrust rules that keep major film studios in check – The Atlantic
    It’s hard to see what possible benefit consumers could get from this. I think the question is not if Disney will buy a major movie theater chain, but when.
  20. Rats learned how to drive tiny cars and it reduced their stress, researchers say – The Washington Post
    “Beyond the adorableness, it has real scientific value” sounds like a New Yorker cartoon caption to me.
  21. The A.V. Club’s 100 best TV shows of the 2010s
  22. Making Sense of Autogynephilia Debates – Julia Serano – Medium
    A readable guide to what Ray Blanchard’s autogynephilia theory is, and why Blanchard is wrong. It’s long, but also well-divided into sections, so you can read just the first section for a basic overview or continue if you want more.
  23. Actually, The SUV-Defeating Rock Is Good
    “It has made it its purpose to demonstrate that a great deal of SUV drivers have no fucking clue what they’re doing and cannot be trusted to drive in public.”
  24. How Rich Would Bill Gates Be Without His Copyright on Windows? | Op-Eds & Columns | CEPR
  25. Why Black Voters Prefer Establishment Candidates Over Liberal Alternatives | FiveThirtyEight
    This article is from early October, before “the squad” endorsed Bernie, but I think it’s still worth reading.
  26. Five Reasons the Diet Soda Myth Won’t Die – The New York Times (Alternate link.)
    I think that at a fundamental level, the idea that diet soda is secretly poisoning us is too good a story, too intuitively correct, for us to drop it merely because it’s not true.
  27. On Race, Genetics, and Pseudoscience – Violent metaphors
    “Describing race as a social construct does not undermine its existence, nor its importance; it merely points out that there is no fundamental biological basis for race.”
  28. OK boomer: The psychology of why baby boomers complain about millenials and Gen Z – VoxMemories are not accurate, and generational personality differences are like astrology.
  29. Hesitant hitmen jailed over botched assassination in China – BBC News
    The case involves a chain of five hitmen, each of whom (but the last one) tried to subcontract the hit to another hitman.
  30. The Art of Power: How Louis XIV Ruled France … With Ballet | Mental Floss
    A French classical musician I sat next to on a plane told me this story, and I had to google it once I got home to make sure he wasn’t pulling my jambe.
  31. This animated gif shows the difference between the “red vs blue” map as it’s currently often presented – showing red counties (i.e., counties where there were more Republican than Democratic votes for President) – versus a map that shows how many actual votes are represented, rather than land mass. I’m not describing it well, but if you look at it, it’s pretty clear.
  32. Ohio Was Set to Purge 235,000 Voters. It Was Wrong About 20%. – The New York Times (Alternate link.)Including about 20,000 voters from a heavily Democratic area who were purged because there was no record of them voting in upcoming elections.
  33. Stephen King’s Maine Home to Become a Museum and writer’s retreat | Mental Floss
  34. According to a new paper, 43% of white students at Harvard are “ALDC”: athletes, legacy, donors’ kids, or children of faculty. (Sci-hub link.)
    In comparison, only 16% of non-white students at Harvard are ALDC. 70% of ALDC students wouldn’t have gotten in without ALDC preferences. Without ALDC preferences, there would be as many or more Asians, Blacks, and Latinx students, but fewer white students.
  35. Painting “Zebra Stripes” on Cows Wards Off Biting Flies | RealClearScience
    Small sample size and not yet replicated, but interesting nonetheless. Also, loved that whoever created the photo illustration decided that it made sense to label the “body” and the “leg,” preventing me from mixing up those body parts. (Okay, probably there’s some sensible reason for that if one reads the study…).
  36. You and a super intelligent snail both get 1 million dollars, and you both become immortal, however you die if the snail touches you. It always knows where you are and slowly crawls toward you. What’s your plan?”
    I really enjoyed reading the answer that got the most “upvotes” (right at the top of the thread).
  37. The backlash against Impossible and Beyond Meat burgers going mainstream – Vox
    Foodies were in favor of the faux-meat burgers until they started being served in fast food restaurants.
  38. Florida GOP leaders finally utter ‘sea level rise,’ lament ‘lost decade’ | Miami Herald
    It’s not so much “we lost” as “we deliberately threw it away.” And more like three decades.
  39. 20 Years Later, and the Women of Angel Still Deserve More | TV Guide
    “With the deaths of Darla, Cordelia, and Fred, Angel says that a woman is a person until she gets pregnant, and that’s the end of her story.” On her Twitter, the woman who played Cordelia praised this article, saying it made her feel seen.
  40. The art at the bottom and top of this post is by French artist Levalet. Check out Levalet’s website. I love their work, which nicely combines whimsical humor with really strong rendering skills.

Posted in Link farms | 35 Comments  

Fat-Shaming is Bad, But…


Help me make more cartoons like this one by supporting my Patreon! A $1 or $2 pledge really helps.


“Fat-shaming is bad, but…” is the fat-acceptance equivalent of “some of my best friends are Jewish.” Or of “I don’t want to sound sexist, but…”

It’s a sign of how much fat acceptance has advanced that many people now feel the need to say “of course fat shaming is bad” right before they say something fat-shaming. I’m not being entirely sarcastic! Just a few years ago, almost no one would have felt the need to put in the disclaimer, after all.

Baby steps are still steps.

I had fun drawing this one. Panel one was especially fun for me – I drew three-point perspective freehand, without even a perspective grid as a safety net. The furniture in panel one may not have totally accurate perspective, but to my eyes it’s lively.

I also had fun trying to make the two characters recognizable in each panel, while giving each of them a new outfit in every panel. I’m relying more and more on google image search to find outfit ideas for my characters, and I think it’s improving the look of my work.

I decided to keep the colors very stark and simple – I think it looks nice and suits the mood of the strip. But I’m not sure I’ll actually have the guts to stick with it – it’s tempting to go in and noodle around with shading and try to make it look prettier. I’m going to wait a few days, to get some distance from it, and then look again and decide about the shading. (Update: One day later, I added a couple of colors. Still pretty stark, though.)

The gag in panel 3, with the woman interrupting by sticking her head in through an open window, I’m pretty sure I swiped from Matt Bors. (If you ever read this, Matt, remember about imitation and flattery!)



This cartoon has four panels.

Panel 1

Two women talk in a living room. One woman is older (possibly the second woman’s mother), with light-colored hair in a bun. This woman is thin. The younger woman has dark hair and is fat.

The younger woman is sitting on a sofa, looking up at the older woman, who is leaning over the arm of the sofa as she talks. The older woman is smiling, the younger woman is listening with a blank expression.

OLDER: I’d never fat-shame, but did you see the gym has a sale on new memberships?

Panel 2

The two woman sit at a table in a restaurant. Both of them have a plate of food and a drinking glass in front of them, and both are holding forks as they eat. The older woman is holding up the forefinger of her other hand, smiling as she makes a point. The younger woman, who is wearing Capri pants with a floral pattern, looks a little bit annoyed.

OLDER: Not to fat-shame, but maybe you should think about how much you order in a place like this?

A caption has two arrows coming from it; the arrows point to each of their plates.

CAPTION: Ordered the exact same thing.

Panel 3

The younger woman in inside a house (presumably her house), and is startled by the older woman, who has stuck her head in through an open window to speak. The younger woman is dropping her smart phone and looks surprised. The older woman looks very concerned.

OLDER: Fat-shaming is bad, but remember, we love you and want you to be with us a long long time.

Panel 4

The two woman sit together at a round table, coffee mugs on the table in front of them. The younger woman is reading aloud from a newspaper. The older woman smiles and places a hand on her chest in a “I am so virtuous” gesture.

YOUNGER: “Studies show that fat shaming makes fat people less healthy and is linked to weight gain.”

OLDER: That’s why I would never fat shame!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Fat, fat and more fat | 64 Comments  

A Haiku for Thursday, November 21st

Winter-whitened sun

makes a cold, pretty morning–

gentle, short-lived light.

Posted in Poetry, Rachel Swirsky's poetry | Leave a comment  

“The Book of Dragons” Announcement

Any time I get to write a story with Ann Leckie is a good time. “We Continue” was called “bee dragons” for most of its draft life, so I’m guessing you can infer what it’s about.

Follow this link to find out more!

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NF Reads Interview

Thanks to NF Reads for hosting me for an interview! I wrote up a bunch of  thoughts on things like titling stories, taking criticism and how emotions influence creativity. 

Here’s a part of it:

People. We’re really cool, and complicated, and weird, and unpredictable, and predictable, and everything else. We invented language, after all. I’m just sort of fascinated by the human condition. One of my undergraduate degrees was in Anthropology and it was a deep pleasure to spend hours delving into the ways other humans organize and experience their lives. It’s the same urge that drives me to writing, I think. Ways to learn about people, to understand them, and to communicate. I want to write about our dreams of ourselves and of the future.”


Click through to read the rest!

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Comedy Is Dead


Help me make more cartoons like this one by supporting my Patreon! A $1 or $2 pledge really helps.


Happy Halloween!

I totally swiped the “comedy is sacred” gag from Alexandra Erin. (With her kind permission).

The inspiration for this cartoon is pretty obvious – the world is full of comedians, and often staggeringly successful comedians, complaining that comedy is being killed by excessive political correctness (or “wokeness,” or “SJWs,” or whatever term they settle on this week). Examples include Dave Chappelle, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Burr, Bill Maher, Kevin Hart, Todd Phillips, Chris Rock, and I’m sure many more.

Comedy isn’t dead – there’s amazing comedy on TV, in movies, and in a seemingly bottomless pile of Netflix stand-up specials, including specials by people complaining that it’s become impossible to do comedy nowadays.

They’re partly right. Some comedy does become harder to perform. (Aziz Ansari talked a lot about this in his recent Netflix special). For example, the prospect of widespread condemnation would deter many comedians from doing openly antiblack or antisemitic bits nowadays. But is that a bad thing? Do we want a society that never moves on, never learns? To paraphrase Ansari, a culture that never looks back at it’s old humor and winces, is a society which hasn’t learned or grown.

* * *

Artwise, this is an unusual one for me. I started this one with an idea of comedians scattered across a floor, each one picked out by a spotlight. I really wasn’t clear on how to arrange them, so I drew all five figures the same size, head to toe, and then played around with different arrangements until I had a composition I thought worked. It’s not my usual approach, but I hope you enjoy the result!

In theory, a cartoon like this is a real time-saver for me – just five figures, done! In theory. But in practice, knowing that I only had to draw five figures led me to lavish much more attention on drawing each figure, so no time actually was saved. Oh well.

* * *

There were only three cartoons in October (so you were only charged for three!). I lost a bunch of time this month attending the Humboldt County Children’s Author Festival. (For those of you who don’t know, I have a second career creating children’s graphic novels). This is a very neat festival – the organizers bring in 25 authors every other year, and they send us to three schools each, so in the end about 75 schools get an author visit.

Most of the schools are schools that otherwise would never have visiting authors. The first school I visited this year, required me being drive 50 minutes up a winding mountain road, to visit a two-room school where I talked to eight kids about creating comics.

It’s a privilege being invited to a festival like this, and it’s also very fun for me, both for the chance to visit kids in schools, and for the chance for me to talk with other authors.

* * *

Thank you so much for supporting these cartoons!  I really couldn’t do it without your support, and frankly the support of all y’all patrons has changed my life.

You’re seeing this cartoon a week or so before anyone else, but if you’re supporting at the $5 level or above, feel free to share it immediately.

Special thanks to $10 donor Jonah Wacholder, who is also thanked on the sidebar! Jonah, if you’d like me to email you a high-res copy of the cartoon, signed to you, for you to print out and hang, just let me know!

* * *


This cartoon has one large panel, plus an tiny extra “kicker” panel below the bottom of the cartoon. The panel shows five people – stand up comics – scattered across an abstract space. Each comedian is being picked out by a spotlight. All five of them have microphones, and all are speaking out, as if they’re talking to an audience. They speak in order from back to front (so each successive comedian is closer to the “camera” than the one before).

The first comedian is a man wearing a button-up shirt and dark jeans, and looks really angry.

FIRST COMEDIAN: If I can’t do rape jokes without getting hissed then comedy is dead! DEAD!

The second comedian is a man with a shaved head. He is wearing a black tee shirt and sitting on a stool, scowling.

SECOND COMEDIAN: Seinfeld won’t even do college campuses anymore. This is how life under Stalin felt!

The third comedian is older than the other comedians, with wide, frightened eyes. He’s wearing a vest and tie; his collar is unbuttoned and his tie is hanging down a bit, not flush against his neck. His tie has a floral pattern.

THIRD COMEDIAN: If I have to drop “women are irrational” and “Asians talk funny” from my set, all I’ll have left is “airline food” and “it’s too hard to program my VCR!”

The fourth comedian is a blonde woman wearing an open button-up sweater over a striped dress and black tights. She looks angry.

FOURTH COMEDIAN: Free speech means the world owes me a living without any $#%!ing criticism!

The fifth comedian has short-cropped hair, an annoyed expression, and a big sneer. He’s wearing a  tee shirt with a logo on it (most of the logo, whatever it is – well, it’s a big exclamation mark – is blocked by word balloons). He’s speaking straight to the reader.

FIFTH COMEDIAN: Comedy is sacred and the work I do is important to society!

FIFTH COMEDIAN: Anyhow, lighten up! They’re just jokes and they don’t mean anything!


The fifth comedian is talking to Barry the cartoonist.

FIFTH COMEDIAN: At least I can still make fun of fatties without much pushback.

BARRY: We’re working on that.


Posted in Cartooning & comics, Media, Media criticism | 6 Comments  


Striped gray cat sitting on a desk

Zephyr is posing for his princely portrait.

Posted in Cats | Leave a comment