Cartoon: Say I’m Not A Racist!

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This cartoon was inspired by a public argument in Congress back in February:

Cohen accused Trump of being “a racist” as a way to establish that Trump was a bad person. Meadows countered it by pointing out an individual black person close to Trump: former Trump Organization employee and current Housing and Urban Development official Lynne Patton.

This is not is a helpful way to talk about racism. But when Tlaib and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) pointed this out during their questioning, they were accused of violating congressional decorum.

Tlaib said Meadows’s use of Patton as a “prop” was a “racist act” — an accusation Meadows took as an allegation that he himself was a racist. Meadows’s ensuing effort to defend himself against the accusation Tlaib wasn’t making culminated with an awkward profession that he counts Committee Chair Elijah Cummings, who is black, as a friend.

So what should have been a discussion of racism turned into a discussion of how Representative Meadows is Definitely Not Black and he has Black friends and Black neices and it went on and on.

What was unusual about this exchange wasn’t that it turned into a white person demanding that people of color affirm that he’s not racist. That happens all the time. What’s unusual is that this time it happened on C-Span.

Around the time I was writing this cartoon, I also saw some White people getting defensive about the (often harsh) criticisms of the movie Green Book‘s racial politics (it was in the news because Green Book had just won the Oscar for best movie). I used that controversy, rather than the fight in D.C., as the “setting” for this cartoon, because this cartoon really is about everyday White defensiveness and fragility, not just about one argument in Congress.

(Plus, of course, I usually try to do my cartoons as “evergreens”; that is, to make the cartoons about lasting issues, even when they’re inspired by current events. I think this makes the cartoons less commercial, but I also think doing cartoons about these evergreen topics is worthwhile.)

I found this cartoon tough to draw; I always find it hard to draw people sitting at tables (and please don’t look too closely at how the chairs are constructed!). And there’s so much going on in this cartoon in the foreground, visually, that I felt I’d better leave the background blank, even though a scene-setting panel would have been nice.

The fun part to draw was the body language, especially in panel 3. People yelling and overreacting and flinching is always fun to draw.

Transcript of Cartoon

This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same three people – a Black man, a Black woman, and a white man – sitting around a round cafe table. They have coffee cups and a muffin on small plates in front of them.

On the left, the Black man is wearing glasses, and a green tee shirt with an exclamation point design. He has a van dyke beard and mustache, so we’ll call him “Beard.” In the middle, the Black woman is wearing black tights, a black tank top, and an orange hair band. We’ll call her “Hair Band.” On the right, the white man has blonde hair pulled back in a pony tail, and is wearing jeans and an orange striped tee shirt. We’ll call him “Pony Tail.”


Beard is talking intently, leaning forward a bit to make a point. Hair Band is about to bite into a muffin. Pony Tail is raising a hand to interrupt Beard, looking wide-eyed and a bit panicked.

BEARD: Awards aside, that movie was racist. Look at how the Black character was-

PONY TAIL: I liked that movie. Are you saying I’m racist?


Beard raises a hand, palm outward, in a “no, no, that’s not what I meant” gesture. Pony Tail is even more panicked, and is yanking his own hair a bit.

BEARD: Nah, not what I meant. Anyway-

PONY TAIL: I have Black friends. I have a Black niece. I can’t be racist!

PONY TAIL: You agree I’m not a racist, right? RIGHT?


Beard and Hair Band are both leaning way away from Pony Tail, who has stood up and grabbed the front of Beard’s tee shirt. Pony Tail is now screaming loudly, still looking panicked. The table is tipping over, coffee cups and muffin spilling.


HAIR BAND: He’s gonna blow!


The table has been knocked over. Beard, looking annoyed, gestures at Pony Tail. Hair Band looks shocked, one hand held to her chest. Pony Tail’s corpse is now slumped back in his chair; he is missing all of his head above his chin. Little puffs of smoke are rising out of the hole where his head used to be.

BEARD: See, this is why I don’t usually hang out with white people.

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues | 7 Comments  

My patrons helped save my life

I just posted the following to my patreon and wanted to share it here as well:

Dear Patrons,

Thanks for helping to save my life.
As you know, I recently hit my head. I tripped on the rainy walkway up to our house and hit my head on the edge of a concrete stair leading to our porch.
I was massively lucky. The injury sliced across my forehead. It required sixteen surface stitches and three deep muscle tissue stitches, and went down to my skull. Yet despite all this, I had no concussion, no brain injury. My skull stayed intact. My catscan was clean. I never lost consciousness or got alarmingly confused. Even the scar, while extremely long, is tucked up at my hairline where it can be missed or covered if necessary.
I am also extremely lucky because of your help. We have health insurance, but it’s got a high deductible. The emergency room doctor and nurses, along with the ambulance staff were amazing — but it cost them a lot of time, while I also needed things like a catscan.
My husband and I are treading along financially at a fragile sustainability, and the medical bills could have thrown us for a loop. But again, I’m extremely lucky. The amount we needed was almost exactly my patreon balance.
It turns out I use my head for a lot of things, like writing and thinking and blinking. It would be very difficult to produce fiction without it.
Thank you so much for your help. I am enduringly grateful.

My patrons helped save my life

I just posted the following to my patreon and wanted to share it here as well:

Dear Patrons,

Thanks for helping to save my life.
As you know, I recently hit my head. I tripped on the rainy walkway up to our house and hit my head on the edge of a concrete stair leading to our porch.
I was massively lucky. The injury sliced across my forehead. It required sixteen surface stitches and three deep muscle tissue stitches, and went down to my skull. Yet despite all this, I had no concussion, no brain injury. My skull stayed intact. My catscan was clean. I never lost consciousness or got alarmingly confused. Even the scar, while extremely long, is tucked up at my hairline where it can be missed or covered if necessary.
I am also extremely lucky because of your help. We have health insurance, but it’s got a high deductible. The emergency room doctor and nurses, along with the ambulance staff were amazing — but it cost them a lot of time, while I also needed things like a catscan.
My husband and I are treading along financially at a fragile sustainability, and the medical bills could have thrown us for a loop. But again, I’m extremely lucky. The amount we needed was almost exactly my patreon balance.
It turns out I use my head for a lot of things, like writing and thinking and blinking. It would be very difficult to produce fiction without it.
Thank you so much for your help. I am enduringly grateful.
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Silly Interview with E. J. Fischer, Winner of the Imaginative Long Jump

(This interview was first posted to my patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

EJ2016E. J. Fischer

RS: I love the story “New Mother.” Can you talk about the genesis for a moment?

EJF: Sure. “The New Mother” had a very long gestation period. The premise of communicable parthenogenesis was inspired by Wolbachia, a bacterial organism that can have complex effects on the reproductive machinery of insects. I learned about it when I was still an undergraduate, probably around 2006. I’d read plenty of excellent SF about parthenogenesis, but was pretty sure that using an infectious model would be an original twist.

I was also pretty sure I wasn’t a good enough writer yet to do the idea justice, so I sat on it for five years and felt nervous someone would beat me to it whenever Wolbachia turned up in a popular science article. In 2011 I began a fiction MFA at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and figured I’d be wasting my time if I avoided the hard problems, so I got started on what I thought was going to be a short story. Three years and seven major drafts later I had the published version of the novella.

RS: I know you already told me some about this in private email, but can you describe the process you used to nail down a female perspective so beautifully?

EJF: First, thank you again for the kind assessment. The process was iterative and organic; spend a lot of time thinking about how to do X, Y, and Z well, do a lot of reading to justify your assumptions, test your best effort against the judgement of others, incorporate feedback and repeat. I can’t give a step-by-step description, but I can talk about things that helped.

The first thing I did was to try to identify predictable failure modes to be avoided. There were obvious things, like knowing that a story about women negotiating the difference between personal constructions of identity and cultural signifiers thereof would be undermined by male gaze-y objectification. But there were less obvious ones too, like the need to write from the body in a non-objectifying way. Bodies are a huge component of the amalgam process of identity construction, and weight our every moment-to-moment experience. Not sharing anatomy with your characters is no excuse to write as if they are just floating loci of cognition; you must write from the body, both as physically inhabited and as perceived by the world. That’s where a lot of the work comes in.

One crucial part was reading things written by women. Fiction, critical theory, memoir, blog posts, tweets. Everything. If there are people who have access to areas of experience to which you are attempting to make an imaginative leap, read what they have to say. (The main character of “The New Mother” is pregnant. I have read so many mommy blogs.) You will learn a lot, and much of it will be contradictory, and that’s okay; being confronted with the heterogeneity of human experience inoculates you against reductive generalization. The contradictions are almost never arbitrary, so think about what factors lead different people to their respective attitudes, and what implications that has for your characters.

I was very lucky to be writing “The New Mother” at a time in my life when I had access to feedback from a lot of women writers. There were teachers like Lan Samantha Chang and Julie Orringer, and classmates and friends like Carmen Machado, Amy Parker, Elizabeth Weiss, Debbie Kennedy, Naomi Jackson, Susanna Shive, Aamina Ahmad, Rebecca Rukeyser, Meghan McCarron, Kat Howard, and Amal El-Mohtar. I could go on, that’s not an exhaustive list. They looked at my drafts and gave me very generous feedback, each with her own areas of focus and concern; moms told me about being pregnant, queer friends told me about outsider perspectives of gender roles within their relationships, multiethnic friends told me about generational pressures and assimilation. It’s like reading for research but better, because it’s customized to the specific work you’re doing. And again, not everyone will agree, but the contradictions are themselves illustrative of things worth being attentive to.

So then you take all you’ve learned, and you start in on the next draft, and try to hit your goals more successfully than you did before. No amount of research and feedback eliminates the need for imaginative invention, and when you are seated at the keyboard trying to synthesize everything you’ve learned, it’s worthwhile finally to focus not on the ways in which people are all different, but the ways they are the same. I don’t have breasts or a uterus, will never be discomfited or surprised by my own body in the exact ways that Tess from “The New Mother” is. But having a body has often left me discomfited and surprised, and I believe that for all the universes of nuance that make individual experiences of life distinct from one another, the broad architecture of what it is like to be a human being remains similar enough for differences to be bridgeable by the imagination. Not trivially bridgeable, but it can be done.

RS: If I have my timing right, you went to Clarion West before you went to your MFA. So did I. How do you think your experience at Iowa was influenced by having gone to CW, if it was?

EJF: Actually, I attended Clarion at UCSD, not Clarion West [Ed note: Whoops. Sorry.], but that was indeed before I sought my MFA. Without the former, I never would have done the latter. In 2008 I had figured out that I didn’t want to use my physics degree to become a physicist, but it was still an open question whether I would continue my education in creative writing or mathematics. I applied to Clarion as a sort of test; if I could get accepted there, maybe my writing was something worth seriously pursuing. If not, I’d intended to start applying to math PhD programs.

One effect of having already been through Clarion by the time I started my MFA was confidence in myself as a writer and the value of speculative fiction. I used exclusively speculative fiction to apply to grad school, on the theory that I wanted to be rejected by any program unwilling to be supportive of that kind of writing. While I was open to falling in love with new kinds of literature, I was uninterested in working with people who couldn’t value the lit I already loved. (And I did fall in love with a new kind of literature. Iowa gave me a much greater appreciation for the artistry that goes into realist fiction, and read a lot more of it now than I used to.)

The other big effect was that Clarion quickly connects you to the SF field. By the time got to grad school a few years later I had been to conventions, made friends with lots of writers and editors, published some stories, and generally had a sense of how the field works. As such I was able to develop a course on writing science fiction for the University of Iowa that offered students not only a writing workshop, but also exposure to modern published work, info on the business side of the field, and visits (via internet video or in person) from working SF writers. The classes were well-received, and let me negotiate for the creation of an adjunct position after I graduated to keep teaching them. So in a very practical sense, having gone to Clarion first let me stay at Iowa a year longer than I otherwise would have.

RS: What’s the most bizarre piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

EJF: This is surprisingly difficult to answer. I walked away from my email for hours hoping that by the time I got back, something would have come to me, and I’ve still got nothing. I guess whenever someone gives me really weird advice, I think, “oh, that’s worthless,” and fail to commit it to memory. In lieu of wacky advice, here’s an anecdote about how this practice of ignoring it once got embarrassing.

The first draft of “The New Mother” was the first thing I workshopped at Iowa, and that initial workshop was a group of stunningly clever people. I didn’t want to miss a word of their commentary, so I brought in my computer and typed everything they said as they spoke. Almost. There was a single classmate who didn’t get what I was doing, had misread the goals of the piece, and gave feedback that was profoundly irrelevant to my project. (This is not an uncommon workshop experience; the surprising thing is that there was only one.) So when that classmate spoke I stopped typing. But then I worried that the sudden silence of my keyboard would hurt feelings, so instead of just waiting it out, I rubbed my fingertips lightly over the keys to try to simulate the sound of rapt note-taking. After the workshop, another student came up to me at the bar and asked, “So, when [classmate] was talking… were you just pretending to type?” Apparently those two sounds are not as similar as I’d hoped.

RS: Tell me about the best nail polish.

EJF: Even after years of wearing the stuff, I’m still a novice. There’s a whole nail polish subculture out there, and I’ve barely chipped the topcoat. The world contains some deep magicians of nail art, like Lady Crappo. I still mostly go for single shades, leaning toward those with interesting optical effects. Probably my favorite polish in my collection is a Nubar polish called Indigo Illusion. It’s trichromatic, and can appear green, purple, or a bronzy brown depending on the ambient lighting conditions. The one I’ve worn the most is Chanel’s Peridot, a gold and green duochrome, which was very popular right around the time I started painting my nails.

RS: Got anything else to chat about? Write now, or forever hold your keyboard.

EJF: How about I recommend some books? I mentioned earlier that I read a lot more widely than I did before grad school. The last novel I read was The New and Improved Romie Futch by Julia Elliott, her first, following a debut collection called The Wilds. Both books are excellent science fiction, though neither of them are being marketed that way. Her collection includes things like powered exoskeletons for the elderly and mutated forms of toxoplasmosis that cause internet addiction. The novel is a story of artificially augmented intelligence in a society of satirically amok capitalism. Like if Flowers for Algernon were a self-aware comedy, or even more like if Camp Concentration was a southern gothic farce. Science fiction fans should be reading Julia Elliott. (Unlike the other writers I’ve mentioned here, I don’t know her personally. I just think she’s doing cool work.)

Update from 2019:

It’s been an eventful few years. Later in 2016 “The New Mother” won the Tiptree Award, came in 2nd for the Sturgeon Award, and was a Nebula nominee. In 2017 Arrate Hidalgo translated it into Spanish and it was published in Spain as Nueva Madre, a paperback from Editorial Cerbero. In 2018 Nueva Madre was a finalist for the Ignotus, which is sort of Spain’s equivalent of the Hugo award. I’m currently in talks about a possible television adaptation.
I’ve not published much fiction since our interview. I had an original story, “My Time Among the Bridge Blowers,” in Tachyon’s The New Voices of Fantasy, a wonderful book which won the World Fantasy Award for Best Anthology last year. I have a realist story about infirmity of which I am tremendously proud, but it’s fairly graphic and has not yet found a home. I’m currently about 6,000 words into a very strange story about Betty Boop, with a ways to go yet. If I had to guess, that’ll probably be the next one that actually gets published.
I’ve been busier away from the keyboard. In 2017 I bought a house and moved in with my partner. This past September we got engaged, and I spent the holiday season in New Zealand, meeting her extended family. Now we’re deep into the logistics of wedding planning, living in our cute little house with our fluffy little dog and our loud little canary. Personal life is just disgustingly happy. Which is nice, given that seemingly everything else in the world has, since 2016, become a horrible brainmelting shitshow of corruption and cruelty. Dealing with the outrages of these last couple years has meant spending a lot more time in my living room, and a lot less at the computer.
Posted in Interviews | Leave a comment  

Drawing for April 2, 2019: Wentworth

This is Wentworth, a scheming dachshund that I designed as a character for a role playing game about cats and dogs living together (called Cats and Dogs Living Together).
In his thirteen years, Wentworth has fully explored what he wants from life–accumulating large amounts of food and coveted objects, particularly stolen ones. The eleven pound miniature dachshund isn’t brilliant, but he is devious, and likes manipulating other animals to get what he wants or cause a stir. However, he has a weakness for puppies, kittens, and children.
His goals are to steal, manipulate, and enjoy the good things in life.
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Just in case you were wondering…

Here’s definitive proof that poets are in it for the money—which, I hasten to add, takes away not a single iota of my gratitude to CavanKerry Press for keeping my book alive 13 years after it was published. I have always believed that poetry does its work very slowly, one book and one reader (and sometimes one poem and one reader) at a time. I don’t know who bought these two copies of The Silence of Men, but I hope the poems are bringing them not just pleasure, but meaning and fulfillment. It makes me very happy that the book is still finding its way into readers’ hands.

Posted in Writing | 3 Comments  

Trains, Brains, and Computers

When I teach my speculative fiction class (there’s a section this weekend, by the way!), I like to talk to the students about the most popular varieties of speculative poetry. A lot of speculative poetry is narrative, or works with imagery from mythology and folk tales.

One of my favorite varieties is poetry that uses science as a metaphor for understanding the human condition. Using sciencey science–the kind we teach in the classroom–may be relatively recent in the scope of human history, but as far as I can tell, people have used elements of the natural world to describe their inner lives as far back as we can track.

Concrete descriptions of the external world provide a way of translating ineffable internal states into concrete, shared experiences. I may not be able to point to the sensation of happiness, but I can point to grass–or photosynthesis–as something that exists outside myself in the world we share.

As our understanding of the world grows to incorporate more science and technology, our metaphors grow to include them. The static human behavior of looking outside to understand ourselves combines with an evolving society to give us reference points that shift over time and cultures. I love the throughlines like this we can see through human history, the ways in which we stay the same and also become different.

Here’s a cool example–apparently when we’re trying to talk about the human brain (at least in Western culture over the past couple of centuries), we tend to analogize it to cutting edge new technology.

Right now, computers are a dominant metaphor. We might talk about broad anatomical restraints as being similar to hardware, while software installation represents training that occurs within the anatomical structure. We run various programs to accomplish various tasks–our email helps us communicate, our search functions help us shuffle through data recorded in our memory banks, etc.

Before computers, there were other ascendant technologies, such as trains. Instead of comparing mental functions to hardware and software, they’re described as engine parts, or infrastructure. The things that keep trains on track become metaphors for the things that keep the human brain ticking.

In some ways, these are useful, clarifying metaphors. In other ways, they elide the plasticity of the brain. To risk extending the computer metaphor in the wrong direction, our software changes our hardware and vice versa. If we think of ourselves too strictly as machines, we risk ignoring the many other ways in which humans are not predictable systems of inputs leading to outputs. Like all metaphors, brain-as-technology rides a line between clarifying and confusing.

Science fiction wrestles with how to figure out the universe and our place in it. Poetry allows writers to focus on metaphors and internal states. Science fiction poetry can get straight to the point and ask, “What can we learn about ourselves from the world around us?”

Here’s a poem I wrote using the moon as a metaphor:

Moon, part II

like the blankness
of a page.

like friends
I’ve lost,

Like time
that’s passed,

Like youth
whose optimism winnowed
into the finite.

against the stars
with no one to call,
no man, no lady, no rabbit,

only the footprints of men
who won’t return.

You can register for the class here:

Posted in brains, Essays, metaphior, Poetry, Rachel Swirsky's poetry, science, SFF, Verses of Sky & Stars, Writing | Leave a comment  

Cartoon: If A Fetus Could Talk

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Okay, this one is probably in bad taste. But every friend I showed this to while I was working on it laughed.

The “fetus” in this strip – who is, like the pro-life illustrations I’m lampooning, drawn unrealistically to look like a born baby – is of course speaking my views, just as the talking fetuses in pro-life cartoons speak those cartoonists’ views. Because fetuses don’t have views of their own.

I’m going to quote a blog post I wrote years ago, on this subject. Head over to that post if you’d like to read more and see some supporting links.

Here’s what “personhood” means to me: the ability to subjectively  experience consciousness; to have thoughts and feel emotions; to have a  personality. This ability, in humans, is located in the cortex of the  brain, where all our thoughts and emotions take place.

Why am I so focused on the brain as the center of what we are?  Because the brain is the only part of a person’s body that cannot be  destroyed while leaving the person still alive.

To see what I mean, imagine that you get an emergency call: Someone  close to you has been in a terrible accident. You rush to the hospital,  and are told that your friend’s heart has been destroyed. However, a  tourist from Belgium happened to die the same day, in the same hospital,  and luckily is a tissue match for your friend. (Luckily for your friend, not so luckily for the dead Belgian).

Repeat the same thought exercise, except this time imagine different  body parts being replaced with a part from the unfortunate Belgian. A  hand transplant. A kidney. Ears. Hair. Lungs. No matter which part is  replaced, it’s still your friend. You’re not mistaken to feel you have an ongoing relationship with this person, despite the new  heart/hand/kidney/ear/hair/whatever.

Now imagine that the doctors say your friend’s brain was utterly destroyed in the accident. But not to worry – they have put in  the Belgian’s brain. The doctors tell you that your friend now remembers  an entirely different life, speaks a different native language, and has  a completely new personality; but other than that, she’s still the same person you know.

Does that make any sense? Is this the same person you considered your  friend? Most people would say no. The survivor of that operation wasn’t your friend; it was the Belgian tourist.

In science fiction movies like The Man With Two Brains, some  people can be reduced to brains in jar, but they’re still themselves,  and audiences have no trouble accepting that notion. Why does that ring true with us?

Because it gets at a core truth. Our brains – and in  particular, the personality imprinted in the cortex – is the one part of  a person that cannot be destroyed and still leave the person in any  sense intact. But as long as that part is retained, we are still, in a meaningful sense, the same person.

So when does personhood begin? I don’t know. But I know that it can’t possibly happen before the fetus has a fully functioning cerebral cortex, capable of supporting thought.

In particular, it’s not possible for there to be any thought or  awareness before the emergence of pyramidal cell dendritic spines on  neurons, which happens relatively abruptly at about the 28th week. Pre-dendritic spines, the cerebral cortex might as well be a pile of gray slush, in terms of how well it can actually function.

Once the dendritic spines are in place, does the fetus become a  person that instant? I doubt it. I think a working cerebral cortex is a necessary condition of personhood (in human beings, anyhow – maybe  Vulcans are different), but I don’t think it’s sufficient. Once a fetus  has a fully working cerebral cortex, to some extent that’s like having a blank hard drive; the hardware is all in place, but the data is still to come.

Nonetheless, as far as abortion is concerned, I find the science reassuring. Personhood, as I understand it, can’t even begin to exist until at least the 28th week – and probably doesn’t exist in any  meaningful form until well after that point. But virtually all abortions  – even those abortions usually referred to as “late term” abortions –  take place long before the 28th week of pregnancy.

The first panel is true  – I really did have this conversation, with my housemate Sarah, which inspired this strip.

The art in this strip was very easy: I drew a cartoon baby with no clothes or background six times. But to do anything more, in any of those panels, would have detracted from the cartoon. To make up for it, I put a lot of work into drawing panel 1: Dumpster, litter, bricks drawn in perspective, etc.

Panel 7 – “notice who they’re leaving out?” – describes nearly all pro-life arguments.


This cartoon has eight panels.

Panel 1

A woman and a man are walking down a city sidewalk, chatting. The woman is looking a little irritated; the man is holding up a finger in a “that gives me an idea!” gesture.

WOMAN: You know the genre of political cartoon I hate? Pro-life cartoons with a fetus lecturing from inside a womb!

MAN: I should draw one of those!

Panel 2

This panel, and almost all the remaining panels, show a fetus inside a vaguely drawn womb shape, which is itself in a blank void. The fetus, who is drawn to look like a baby rather than like a fetus, is smiling and talking directly to the reader.

FETUS: Hi folks! I’m Frank the friendly fetus, talking from inside the womb!

Panel 3

A close-up  of the smiling fetus’ face. He’s pointing at his head with one finger.

FETUS: Except not really, because you know what? My cerebral cortex isn’t functioning yet!

Panel 4

FETUS: So I can’t talk! Or think! Or feel anything at all – not even pain!

Panel 5

The fetus is giving the “thumbs up” gesture with both hands.

FETUS: So if you need an abortion, go for it! It’s okay! I literally feel nothing and have no preferences!

Panel 6

For the first time, the fetus looks serious rather than smiling. It’s raising a forefinger to make a point.

FETUS: I’m not a person! But the pregnant person is! So it’s up to them to decide!

Panel 7

This panel shows a dark-haired pregnant woman, in a dress and carrying a purse, walking through what looks like a park. The word balloon leads down to her pregnant stomach.

FETUS: Speaking of which, pro-life cartoons often show wombs floating in a blank void. Notice who they’re leaving out?

Panel 8

A shot of the smiling fetus, who is holding up a medical instrument in one hand.

FETUS: In summary: Abort me! Or don’t! It’s your choice!

FETUS: Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Posted in Abortion & reproductive rights, Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc | 16 Comments  

Cartoon: Dear (Some Of) My Fellow Lefties

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When Trump won the Republican nomination, I wasn’t worried about what he’d do as President, because I was confident that Clinton would win. (If the 2016 election taught me anything, it’s not to trust my own abilities as a prognosticator.) Instead, I was dreading the inevitable fat jokes about Donald Trump I’d hear coming from the left until November.

And there have been fat jokes. (But many fewer, I think, than I would have heard ten years earlier. The fat acceptance movement has made some progress.)

But it’s still pretty common for me to hear fellow lefties say things that make me inwardly wince. Not every time I talk to a lefty, not even most of the time, but often enough so it’s not surprising. Sometimes I say something to them. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed to admit, I don’t feel up to a possible conflict, or I don’t want to be a killjoy, so I let it go by.

Once after a comic-con, I was hanging out with some other cartoonists as we prepared to go home. We were talking about a cartoonist who was not present, and who has a rep for being full of himself and hard to deal with.  And one of the other cartoonists – a woman who I have loads of respect for, and who is extremely “woke”  – included “fat” on a list of the third cartoonist’s bad traits. I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something like “that smug, lying, fat, entitled jerk.”

I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to bring the mood down, and anyhow I was exhausted and I like this woman. Honestly, it happens pretty commonly, and I generally shrug it off. But that doesn’t mean I don’t notice it.

What was extraordinary about this occasion is that the cartoonist wrote me that night, unprompted, to apologize. That’s never happened to me before. She said she should have known better, because she’s read my cartoons.

Wow. Now, that made me feel good. (And made my respect for this cartoonist rise.)

It’s not just fat jokes, of course. This cartoon touches on a bunch of areas, and I could have included more. (I didn’t because I figured that eight panels of lefties saying bad things is as many I could do without causing readers to sigh and skim the strip).

I don’t mean the final panel, of course. The “personality” of my comic strips is often harsher than I am in person; political cartoons work best when they’re not wishy-washy. I don’t want everyone who’s ever said one of these things to get off my side. (I’ve said some of these things, in my life. Maybe you have too.) All of us mess up sometimes. And we can all – like my friend who used “fat” as an insult – take the opportunity to do better. That’s what I want.

Strips like this one, with a different character in each panel, are the most fun strips to draw, and I usually enjoy looking at them once I’ve finished. In this strip, since I’m teasing people on the left for a change, I decided to draw caricatures of the kind of folks I see around Portland. (Yes, there really are people who look like the dude in panel 3!).

(Quick aside: Once I was waiting at the bus stop across the street from my studio, with a middle-aged lady I didn’t know. While we were waiting there, six or seven bike riders, all naked, whizzed past us. After a few moments, the woman sighed deeply and said “Portland.”)

The guy sitting on the sidewalk, in the second-to-last panel, originally had round eyeglasses. But they made him look even more like a muppet, so I erased them.

Do you like the spot reds? I don’t do that often, but maybe I should be doing it more often. In this case, there’s no symbolism in which objects I colored red; I just did it to make the art pop a bit more.


This comic strip has nine panels. The first eight panels each show a single character (a different character in each panel), speaking to the viewer.


There is a caption at the top of panel 1.

CAPTION: Dear (some of) my fellow lefties:

The art shows a man sitting at a desk, laughing. He’s wearing a white collared shirt and a necktie.

MAN: Ann Coulter is a man! Haw haw!


An older woman, with white hair and a floral-print blouse, is holding up her hands and laughing, as if she’s telling a joke.

WOMAN: Clarence Thomas’ parents should have named him “Tom.” Get it? Like Uncle Tom?\

WOMAN: As a white liberal, it’s totally my place to say that!


A man with an enormous beard, wearing sunglasses, a bowler hat, and a coat with big puffs around the collar and wrists, speaks to the viewer, smiling. There’s a bike parked next to him.

MAN: I bet all these anti-gay conservatives are secretly gay!

MAN: Let’s laugh at them for being gay!

MAN: (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)


A thin woman, wearing a red knit cap, a hoodie, and hoop earrings, is speaking angrily.

WOMAN: Trump just keeps pulling lies out of his big fat ass!

WOMAN: God fat people disgust me!

WOMAN: Er… I meant, Trump disgusts me!

WOMAN: Whichever!


A man, wearing glasses and a “this is what a feminist looks like” tee shirt, stands pointing to something on the screen of his tablet. There’s a hillside with paths and a couple of trees behind him.

MAN: When I see pro-life women, I think, who’d even want to get them pregnant?


A person sits at a small round table, a coffee mug in front of them. They have heavily tattooed arms, the side of their head is shaved, and they’re wearing a small ring on their nose and several more in their ear. They’re smiling and holding one hand up to their mouth as if telling a dirty joke.

PERSON: Guys obsessed with protecting big guns are just making up for they lack downstairs, ifyaknowwhatImean.

PERSON: You do know what I mean, right?

PERSON: I mean penises!


A woman stands outdoors, dressed for a cool day. She’s got a jacket, a scarf, and a big knit hat. She’s looking a bit aggravated as she speaks.

WOMAN: You know who votes Republican? Inbred, flyover state hillbilly retards!


A redheaded man sits on a curb, leaning on one hand. He’s wearing a button-up collared shirt, open, over a striped long-sleeved tee. He’s grinning.

MAN: I love it when right-wingers get sent to prison. “Don’t drop the soap!” Ha!


There is no art in this panel. Instead, the entire panel is black, except for a caption in big white letters.

CAPTION: Shut up and get the hell off my side.

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 39 Comments  

Silly Interview with Debra Jess and Her Incredibly Handsome & Hunky Sidekick

RS: In your bio, you say that your writing combines your love of fairy tales and Star Wars. You also write in a bunch of different genres. Do you write them singly or mix them up?

DJ: This was a question I had to give a lot of thought to. I don’t really mix-up genres so much as I dig deep into subgenres.

In the taxonomy of genre fiction, there is science-fiction, fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, western, and inspirational. Every single one of these genres has subgenres

When I decided to write Blood Surfer, I knew two things: 1) it would have superheroes and 2) it would have a romance. I didn’t give much thought as to which romance subgenre it would fall into until I had finished the manuscript. At that point I needed to figure out how I was going to market it. Around that same time I received an invitation to join the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. Before I could join, they needed to know if Blood Surfer was a science fiction romance, as opposed to a fantasy romance. When I looked back over my manuscript I realized I had created superheroes whose powers are created by their biology. There’s no magic involved, no arcane symbols, no mysterious shadows. I don’t spend a lot of pages detailing the biology, but it still falls into the genre of romance and the subgenre of science fiction.

Blood Surfer is also has thriller elements in that it’s very fast-paced, there’s a really big bad bang that will happen if the heroes don’t prevail, and a rip-roaring fight at the end.


RS) What kinds of things do you see in romance that you wish there was more of in science fiction?

DJ: HEA, or Happily Ever Afters, even if it’s not a romantic HEA. If not that, then HFN, Happy for Now (used when writing a series). Growing up in the 70s, I had a rude awakening after watching Star Wars. My dad, who worked for a newspaper, would buy boxes of books whenever the newspaper would sell the books mailed in for review. There were a lot of science fiction in those boxes because he knew how much I loved Star Wars, but every single one of the books he gave me ended with the hero dead, or these long, drawn-out pyrrhic victories that left me feeling disappointed or distressed. I was too young at the time to understand Star Was was more space fantasy or space opera than traditional science fiction. Luckily, my father didn’t give too much thought to what he was buying me, so there were also boxes filled with romances, mostly regencies or contemporaries. With maturity, I began to appreciate a less than HEA in a book, but I still prefer the HEAs you get with romances.

RS) What is your superhero name?

DJ: Agent Jess, International Woman of Mystery.

RS) Tell me about the first issue of the comic book based on your secret life as a superhero.

DJ: I first report to headquarters where my boss gives me a new assignment: stop Eric the Evil from wrecking havoc all over some exotic locale (preferably some place with beaches). Then I swing by a swanky bachelor pad to pick up my incredibly handsome and hunky sidekick (because what’s the point of having a sidekick if he isn’t handsome and hunky). We climb aboard our private jet aircraft (using our government issued credit cards) and plot how to take down EtE while enjoying several rounds of fruity drinks. Upon arrival, we track down EtE where I give him and his hench-horts (a cross between henchmen and cohorts) a big, bloody beatdown while engaging in witty repartee with my sidekick who’s busy protecting the civilians who gaze in awe at my prowess. Finally, EtE surrenders, exhausted of all witty comebacks. Then I toss EtE over to my still handsome and hunky sidekick who secures him in our indestructible and highly secure bounce house. The sidekick and I retire for a late afternoon stroll on the beach hand-in-hand (I did mention I write romances, remember?).

RS) You say that you write about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. What is it about that combination that appeals to you?

DJ: The idea that anyone, anywhere, at any time can rise to the occasion and save the day. Superhero storylines use this device all the time. Steve Rogers tried so hard to become a soldier, knowing deep down he already had the heart and the attitude of one. When he becomes Captain America, he’s already a superhero, but now his outsides matches his insides. Alternatively, Superman can leap tall buildings in a single bound, but Clark Kent still needs a day job to his pay rent and buy groceries. They are mirror images of ordinary people in extraordinary situations.

In Blood Surfer, Hannah was born with her Alt power. She can cure anyone of any wound or illness without a second thought, but she’s on the run from those who would abuse her powers. Scott has no powers when he meets Hannah, but he still disobeys orders and protects her when he knows he’s supposed to arrest her. Scott makes a brave choice knowing he could lose everything he’s worked so hard to achieve: a job he loves, his home, and his friends. That’s what heroes, not just superheroes, do.

RS) Any projects or anything else you’d like to talk about?

DJ: I’m having a lot of fun playing with my Thunder City superhero series. A Secret Rose and Blood Hunter (books 1.5 and 2) are now available. This year, I’ll be releasing A Secret Life and A Secret Love (books 2.5. and 2.6) and next year, I hope release book 3 currently titled Blood Avenger.

In the meantime, I have a couple of short stories available: Shaped By You is available in the December 2018 issue of Heart’s Kiss magazine, and Blood & Armor which is available in the Fragments of Darkness anthology.

If anyone is interested in exploring the Science Fiction Romance subgenre, I would recommend Portals published by the Science Fiction Romance Brigade. There are seven volumes of first chapters written by SFR authors. All seven volumes are free, so you can get a taste of what SFR has to offer.

Posted in debra jess, interview, Interviews | Leave a comment