Cartoon: How Banning the Abortion Pill Works

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I can’t always say what inspires any particular cartoon. But in this case, I know exactly. Jessica Valenti tweeted this:

Not one anti-choice legislator has answered this question: If a woman  shows up at a hospital, losing her pregnancy – how will you determine  who is having a miscarriage and who deliberately ended it? Pregnancy  loss from taking an abortion pill is indistinguishable from miscarriage.

Building off of Jessica’s point, Lindsay Beyerstein wrote a thread on Twitter, beginning with this tweet:

If history is any guide, they’ll put cops in hospital rooms to quiz  bleeding, drugged-up women; they’ll subpoena phone and internet records;  they’ll grill and threaten friends and coworkers to turn on her; you know, the usual criminal justice stuff.

I checked with Jessica and Lindsay, both of whom very nicely told me to go ahead, and then I wrote this strip.

It’s easy to ignore the kind of police state methods that will be necessary to enforce laws about something as personal as how people reproduce. This is especially the case with banning “the abortion pill,” a drug that should ideally be taken under a doctor’s supervision, but can be taken in private.

Not every cop is abusive, and not every D.A. is abusive. But enough of them are, and the justice system has evolved to accommodate the abuse and protect the abusers. Laws banning mifepristone are inevitably going to target patients who are at their most vulnerable. For something that should never be illegal in the first place.

* * *

Scripting this one took a while. My first drafts, following on Lindsey’s tweets, also talked about how forensic “science” will be used to prosecute, regardless of if it’s reliable. We think of forensics as a very reliable science – just look at what they do with it on CSI! But in practice, it’s a field that’s bursting with pseudoscience, corruption, and guesswork disguised as certainty. To give just one example, identifying people based on bite-marks is completely unreliable – but one that’s been used to prosecute people. There are horrifying stories of dubious convictions based on unscientific nonsense about burn patterns – including at least one execution. Bloodstain analysis, which seems so certain on Dexter, is anything but. Even fingerprints are less reliable than Sherlock Holmes believed.

But trying to explain how unreliable forensic evidence actually is ended up being too much to fit into one cartoon. The script was overloaded and clunky, and so I streamlined by getting rid of the forensic angle. Maybe I’ll return to that in a future strip.

Then, what should the situation be? I knew I wanted the gag to be a ban proponent telling the horrifying truth about what a  mifepristone ban would look like, and then correcting himself in the final panel. My first thought was a Senator at a press conference, telling the truth in thought balloons but then saying the sanitized version aloud; then I tried a Senator being briefed by a pro-life lobbyist.

In the end, seeking to simplify and streamline, I went with the “ask me anything” forum. I liked the device of having him type in an answer, and then deleting and rewording – because it just felt so relatable. Who among us hasn’t done that?

* * *

Folks supporting my patreon got to see this strip a week ago! I’m just saying.

* * *


This cartoon has nine panels, arranged in a three by three grid. Every panel shows the same subject: A man wearing glasses and a polo shirt, sitting at a small table, with a laptop computer open in front of him.


The man sits typing on his laptop. There’s a “tap tap tap” sound effect for his typing. Above him, in Ariel font (a font commonly used for computer text), we can see what he’s typing. He is smiling and looks relaxed.

MAN (typing): Hello, “ask me anything” forum. I wrote proposed legislation to make using Mifepristone, also known as “the abortion pill,” a felony. Ask me anything!


The man speaks aloud (in the usual faux-handwritten comic book font I use), looking pleasantly surprised.

MAN: I wonder how long it takes for… Oh, someone’s asked me a question already!


The man reads aloud from his laptop screen. (Again, regular comic book font.)

MAN: “Pregnancy loss from taking an abortion pill is indistinguishable from miscarriage. How will you know who to arrest?”


The man, still smiling and looking relaxed, types on his laptop.

MAN (types): Great question! First, we’ll tell doctors and nurses to immediately call the police if they think a miscarriage is suspicious.


The same scene, but closer up. His smile looks creepier, however.

MAN (types): Cops will show up and grill women while they’re still bleeding and drugged. The perfect time to get a confession!


Even closer up. His smile looks downright malicious now.

MAN (types): Experience suggests that certain classes of women- like poor women and black women -will more often be seen as “suspicious.” That shouldn’t bother you becau


The man leans back from the laptop and puts a hand on the side of his face as he thinks. He’s no longer smiling.


Leaning forward again, frowning, the man hits the “delete” key a few times. We know this because of the sound effect, which says: “Delete! Delete! Delete!”


The man types again, once more looking relaxed.

MAN (types): Great question! We’ll know who to arrest through good old-fashioned police work.

Posted in Abortion & reproductive rights, Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc | 5 Comments  

Haiku Round-up #3

Time for another round-up of my recent haiku! (Here is an explanation about why I’ve been writing and posting haiku.)

A day for walking,
but I sit and try to work.
My thoughts are so slow.

Cats watch the birds cry.
A window divides their worlds,
but watching is fun.

Clouds whiten the sky,
swaddling snug and restrictive,
the arms of autumn.

Cold drives off the bugs.
We shiver, but no bug bites
afflict our bonfire.

Brisk air on my arms.
Colder days come, and the dark,
but this day: fresh, calm.

The chilly blue skies
make the world bright as summer.
Leaves, trees, flowers, friends.

Colder than it looks.
The wind sways me with the trees.
So hard to stay still.

The leaves keep blowing,
tethered to branches and trunk,
brought short by their leash.

Dry leaves, restless wind,
all these things I’ve seen before,
trapped in recurrence.

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

Open Thread and Link Farm: Divine Knew Edition

  1. Graysexuality | Thing of Things
    “Graysexuality is fascinating because we get to watch the process of a new orientation being constructed in real time.”
  2. The Optimizer’s Curse & Wrong-Way Reductions | Confusopoly
    An interesting discussion of the limits of how Effective Altruists choose between charities. (Via.)
  3. Schools Are Full of Hungry Kids Who Aren’t Learning Anything. Why Don’t We Feed Them? | Center For Global Development
    Free lunches for schoolkids in the developing world could be an effective way of improving educational outcomes. (For one thing, feeding kids is an effective way of increasing school attendance.) (Via).
  4. On #MeToo’s Anniversary, ‘Mattress Girl’ Doesn’t Need You to Believe Her
    Emma Sulkowicz seems to have moved to a “restorative justice” position, although they don’t use that phrase in this article.
  5. This fifteen second video of someone drawing eleven lines (not counting some little hash marks) is extremely satisfying to watch.
    Also enjoyable, in a different way, are the many responses in which people posted their (usually) failed attempts at drawing the same eleven lines.
  6. When a Town Takes Uber Instead of Public Transit – CityLab
    An article about a Canadian town that found that adding a bus system would be too expensive, so they decided to subsidize Uber trips instead. But the program was so popular that they’re having to limit it to cut costs. (I think that, whether it’s Uber or traditional, most cities should be spending a lot more subsidizing public transit.)
  7. Kilogram, redefined: Why the world’s new definition of mass is such a big achievement – Vox
  8. No, I Will Not Debate You – Laurie Penny
    “To refuse to debate someone is an act of discourtesy. It is rude. It implies that you do not consider that person’s ideas or behavior worthy of basic respect.”
  9. julia serano – a transgender glossary of sorts
    The glossary is very useful (well, not for everyone, obviously). But I’m also linking it for the introduction, where Serano argues against word-elimination strategies: “This approach ignores the fact that most words are highly contextual, exhibiting multiple meanings or differing connotations depending upon the context. Many words and phrases can be used in both positive and negative ways, or in productive and disparaging ways. Yet, word elimination strategies insist that any negative usage (whether present or past, commonplace or occasional, real or perceived) automatically trumps all potentially neutral, positive, or productive uses of the term.”
  10. What It’s Like To Drive The Worst Car Ever Built
    Which is the 1951 Hoffman. “It’s not a piece of shit, build-quality-wise. It’s just that every possible design decision made on this car is somehow the absolute worst decision you could make.”
  11. Notre Dame fire: a historian on rebuilding the cathedral – Vox
    One interesting question (asked but not answered in this article): The spire that burned down was not the original spire. When they rebuild, do they rebuild the spire we’re used to, try and approximate what the original spire looked like, or create a new spire?
  12. The Centr of Controversy – Kivan Bay – Medium
    Kivan very much opposes the use of the fat suit in Endgame.
  13. Dain Yoon’s Twitter feed.
    Korean body paint artist Dain Yoon paints amazing and beautiful optical illusions on her face.
  14. No more ‘shortcuts’ in prescribing opioids for chronic pain – STAT
    The CDC is, depending on your view, either walking back or clarifying its previous instructions on prescribing opioids. They’re saying they’ve been misinterpreted and that they don’t want chronic pain patients to be involuntarily forced to cut down or cease opioid use.
  15. The problems with one-size-fits-all laws on opioid prescriptions – The Washington Post
    Presidential candidate Kristin Gillibrand has been forced to walk her position back after proposing a terrible opioid control bill.
  16. AMERICAN THEATRE | All Sizes Fit All: The Case for Normalizing Fatness Onstage
  17. A History Of Violence – Pop culture news, movie, TV, music and gaming reviews. | The A.V. Club
    If you’re a fan of action movies, Tom Breihan’s series of article, with his choice for the most important action films year by year, is very entertaining reading. (Or I found it so.) And will almost certainly add some new titles to your “I wanna watch this” list.
  18. Back in 1896 men didn’t call women sluts. They called them “bicycle face”.
    “Why? Because bicycles helped women make their own dating choices. IOW bikes were the first dating app. That scared men.” Interesting thread on Twitter.
  19. Licensing Reform Opponents Say Unlicensed Barbers Would Be as Dangerous as Unlicensed Chefs. Chefs Aren’t Licensed.
  20. (140) GOPRO Goes on Japanese Sushi Conveyor Belt (Beautiful Slice of Japanese Life) – YouTube
    Gets a lot less interesting after the plot twist at 3:40. I really enjoyed this on first viewiing – all those little slices of life contained in restaurant booths – but also had some doubts about the ethics of making such a film, especially after reading this article.
  21. “The Prostitution Problem”: Claims, Evidence, and Policy Outcomes” (pdf link)
    A readable journal paper, giving an overview of the debate and evidence about sex work.
  22. Velocity is strangling baseball — and its grip keeps tightening – The Washington Post
    More pitchers are throwing faster balls – and the result is a(n even) duller game.

Posted in Link farms | 11 Comments  

Cartoon: Token White Male Character

I can only make these cartoons because of my supporters on Patreon! If you can spare it, please join them! A $1 pledge really matters.

If you don’t pay attention to online discussions of diversity in media, well then: Good for you. You’re getting outraged less often. Your blood pressure is lower. You’re not involved in endless debates about if Rey is more a Mary Sue than Luke was a Gary Stu. You may even be blessedly unaware of what “Mary Sue” even means.

The only downside is, this comic strip might not make sense to you.

But, briefly: In the last several years, online groups of (mostly) male, (mostly) white fans in various parts of nerd culture – gamergate, sad/rabid puppies, comicsgate, and possibly some others – have been really really angry at the increase in female and non-white characters in nerd media.

And they always say the same thing. “I have nothing against Black/gay/female/trans/etc characters! I just want them to be in the story for a reason, instead of having diversity shoved down my throat!”

And then, if it’s a fantasy genre like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones (please don’t spoil me!), comes the inevitable claim that it’s unrealistic to have non-white characters in a European based fantasy culture, that it’s unrealistic to have female characters who can stand up to men in combat, that it’s unrealistic to have openly queer characters, etc etc etc..

Sometimes it’s not as unrealistic as they think. But also: Why should we care? If we can enjoy fantasy worlds with spells and dragons and flying heroes and all sorts of unrealistic creatures, then why can’t we also have diverse characters, if that’s what the author wants?

* * *

This one took weirdly long to write and draw. I mean, partly it was because the first time I penciled it, I then lost the entire file to a computer glitch. (And yes, I do backups in the cloud while I work to prevent this from happening. But this time the backup didn’t work.)

But, when I started on it again, I found it took me a long time to draw anything. Eventually, I decided it needed some rewriting, and I think that helped. (Very often, when I’m having trouble drawing a comic, it’s because some subconscious part of my mind is unhappy with the script).

My big storytelling concern, drawing this, was the gargoyle. I needed to have it be just a setting element, and not a character, for the first three panels; but still noticed enough so that when the gargoyle moves in panel 4, readers will be going “oh the gargoyle is a living creature!” rather than “where did that thing come from all of a sudden?”

It’s largely because of the need for the gargoyle to be a consistent and recognizable element that all four panels are shown from the same angle. But having all four panels at the same angle made it feel very “Doonesbury” to me as I was drawing it. (The gag is fairly Doonesbury-esque too).


This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows the same corner of a rooftop in some “high fantasy” sort of setting. The rooftop is rough-hewn but fancy, with three small gargoyles, like snakes with animal heads, and one larger gargoyle, which looks somewhat dragon-ish.

There are two people on the rooftop: A human male, who is white. He wears no shirt and a red cloak. Next to him is an elf woman, who has facial tattoos, large pointy ears, wide eyes, and is wearing a flowing purple gown.


The human is looking down at something that’s visible from the roof, stroking his chin thoughtfully, with a serious expression. The elf is positioned as if she was just looking in the same direction, but then looked out the corner of her eyes at him instead. She’s raised one hand in a “just a second” gesture.

HUMAN: If we break into Lord Vezox’s warbase at nightfall-

ELF: Just a moment. What’s the story purpose of your being a white male?


The human and elf have turned so they’re directly facing each other. The human is a bit surprised looking; the elf looks a bit angry and is “talking with her hands.”

HUMAN: Er… What?

ELF: If there’s no reason your character needs to be a white male, then you’re just a token!


The human is looking annoyed, crossing his arms. The elf is angrily yelling, holding up a hand in a “stop that” gesture.

HUMAN: But what about white male representation? What about-

ELF: Don’t bring in that SJW garbage! It’s just not realistic to have a white man in this setting!


The large gargoyle has turned its head to speak to the human. The human is surprised looking. The Elf looks pleased.

GARGOYLE: And if we aren’t strictly realistic, fans won’t accept the story!

ELF: Yeah!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Feminism, sexism, etc, Media, Media criticism, Race, racism and related issues | 9 Comments  

Silly Interview with Jenna Katerin Moran, who knows what Russian servers to hack


Here’s me! The outfit is Miranda Harrell’s version of the clothing style for the villains (?) of my RPG, Nobilis: A Game of Sovereign Powers

Here’s my website!
Rachel Swirsky: You have a PhD in computer science. What made you fall in love with the subject?

Jenna Katerin Moran: We’re one of those rare Tinder success stories! You would not believe how many clunkers I had to date through to get there, though.

(Example: trossulography. Trossulography tried to have like five PhD students just in one city alone without telling any of us about one another … and it probably would have worked fine, too, except we all had to submit to the same journals.)

RS: How does your academic training in computer science affect how you write role playing games?

JKM: There are some really good discussions out there of marketing techniques, cultural trends, and American gamer purchasing habits if you know which Russian servers to hack.

RS: I’m sure you get this question all the time, but I feel like it’s pretty relevant for an audience of people who aren’t all tabletop gamers. How and why did you end up falling into writing table top RPGs?

JKM: So it was like the year 1997? Ish? I don’t know. A little before Y2K, when I would have had to get out of the field of computer science (for, like, obvious reasons) anyway. And I was looking for something good to write because, y’know, it’s not like one can stop the writing, right? I mean, one tries, right, one goes and, like, tries to pursue other careers, or, curls up in one’s closet and wails in despair, or, moves to China and tries to become a foreign pop idol—like, Jenna Starlight Sparkles; whatever—but then one has barely turned around again before discovering that one has just been writing. I mean, y’know? (It is only when one has sighed and given in and accepted that one must be a writer that there is a possibility, er, uh, probability, … near-certainty? Uh, that the words will stop.) But, anyway, so, I was looking for something good to write, and naturally I settled on pornography; only, being a … regrettably … uh, prudish? person, I had to use fairly roundabout and esoteric euphemisms for everything. Long story short, it accidentally came out as an urban fantasy roleplaying game about people with conceptual powers in a world under existential threat from the inhabitants of the beyond. (If you know what I mean, and I think you do.) Only, in fact, despite that parenthetical that I have just shared with you, hardly anybody knew what I meant, or, at least, I think they didn’t? and once it got popular, I was way, way too embarrassed to ever tell anyone. I had thought that, like, 2000-era fanfic would have sensitized people to it? You know, to, uh, roundabout euphemisms? Like, what with, you know, all that, “his melancholy duck quacked down into the shimmering epilimnion of her pond” kind of thing that was, like, the style of the time? but apparently “each player designs a player character (PC for short), one of the protagonists in the story” was just one bridge too far. So now, suddenly, instead of taking my pornography into the bedroom, people were, y’know, propping it up on the coffee table and showing it to their parents and inviting groups of friends and strangers to their houses to talk about it together and I thought suddenly, wait. What if I just did this as a business and wrote for RPGs instead?

RS: Your cat, Kennedy, prefers that you pay attention to her at all times. What do you think is her current inner monologue as you do this interview? (Illustrating with photographs is highly encouraged!)

JKM: I suspect she is wondering if she is sleeping correctly. She is wondering if, perhaps, there is some proper way of sleeping that she was meant to be practicing, but which no one has ever explicitly explained to her, only making allusions to it, talking about “catnaps,” and sleeping awkwardly in her vicinity instead, and leaving her with no recourse but to guess.

Perhaps that is why (she thinks) she is sometimes left alone, to wither and wail in her hopeless misery, while her emotional comfort hominid cavorts beyond the gates with the other cat. Perhaps her failing at proper sleeping is the reason, there—

But if that is why, it is so unfair!

It is not her fault that nobody has taught her how to sleep correctly. It is not her fault that nobody has explained how to get past the top shelf of the bookshelf to the notional higher height that she knows must, logically, exist— for it would not make sense for a mathematical series to carry itself to the top of the bookshelf and then stop— or what the exact rules as to when she may use the two litterboxes that are reserved entirely for her use, that she has access to 24/7, are. It is not her fault that the correct propitiation to the household gods to allow her to go upstairs sans incident has not been made; if the upstairs cat would just tell her what the format of that ritual is supposed to be …

But, enough dwelling on the other cat. Let us return to the puzzle of the litterboxes; as noxious a thing as they may be, still, to her they are more sweet.

It is obvious, she believes, that there must be rules as to their use, because they cannot be used by a single cat, alone. A single cat, alone, entering the litterbox, enters a kind of quantum state— nobody has ever given her a proper explanation of quantum physics, so physicists must forgive her if she gets this wrong— enters a kind of “quantum state” where one may exist, in the outside world, or one may not. Arguably, when one enters into the box, as a fully defined and differentiated entity, one ceases therewith to be. The only anodyne to this noisome quandary is witness: to be witnessed, to have independent affirmation of one’s existence, to have an external force creating continuity from one’s entrance into the box … to one’s exit. But much of the time, this warrant cannot be obtained; no witness can be pressed into service; and the litterboxes, therefore, must lie fallow: the proper rules for this are, as yet, unknown.

Outside the window, in the vaster, greater world, where monsters roam— she knows this; one presses its face against the window, sometimes, at night— there may be entities that know the rules to all such things. Outside the window, one day, if the hominids would only leave the window open at all times as she has asked them to, she may smell and hear as one such beast walks past:

A nebulous, smoke-stack figure in the distance, made of words and bleeding doctrine.

When she sees it, smells it, hears it; when the wind carries to her the shadows of its words— again, if the window has been properly left open

Then she may, finally, begin to know.

RS: What projects are you currently working on? 

JKM: My major project right now is Glitch: A Story of the Not, which is an RPG about surprisingly relatable evil gods who don’t actually know what they’re doing with their lives but are pretty sure that it shouldn’t actually be bringing an end to everything like they had previously thought. I guess the central thesis of the game is something like, “So, there’s an intrinsic universal characteristic of suffering— what do you do?” Only, unlike some RPGs, you can’t then roll for initiative against the intrinsic universal characteristic of suffering, because Glitch uses a cost-based system instead of dice.

Queued up behind that is A Book of Golden Hours, which represents a quixotic effort to break character arcs down into eight basic stories, split that again based on whether the character is getting cooperation, active interference, or neither from the world, and turn the result into twenty-four character classes with powers abstract and high-level enough that each can actually handle the roughly 4% of fictional characters that they wind up representing. It’s not just an RPG supplement, it’s also a unique work of orphic cubist literary criticism!

Then there’s Adventures on the Far Roofs, which is about fighting god-monsters with heroic talking rats at your side up on the rooftops out where the roofs start to blend together until you can’t be sure there are actually any houses underneath. That one’s been written for a long time, but it uses content from A Book of Golden Hours so it can’t come first.

For my patreon consumers I’ve been building a campaign—a set of pre-made characters and stories—for my game, the Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine RPG. I’ve also lately been sharing a mildly updated version of an old cyberpunk setting of mine. Those’ll both be wanting to go into print sometime after they’re done.

Finally, I have a novel—the Night-Bird’s Feather—that’s gone temporarily back into editing at the moment after some new reader feedback. It’s a book of stories about cross-time dream magic and the mental origins of valuation. I’m really excited about it!

Oh, and tonight I was thinking of making soup?

OK, that’s all.

Posted in Interviews, Jenna Moran | Leave a comment  

Learn the Rules Before You Break Them. Or Don’t.

I’m teaching my class on how to break the rules on Saturday, May 25th. Rules can put fiction in a box; let’s talk about ways to explode out of it.

There’s an old adage: Learn the rules before you break them.

I grew up with that rule. I learned it for the first time in an art class when I was probably still in single age digits. My art teacher painted abstracts, but her classes were aimed at giving children a strong grounding in composition and sketching. Why? Because we needed to know the rules before we went searching for our own styles of breaking them.

I like this rule. It’s a good rule. It’s generally useful.

And you should feel free to break it.

The thing is: if you insist that everyone know the rules before breaking them, you end up smothering a lot of innovation. Not all innovation! Many people are quite capable of learning rules and then doing completely strange and new things afterward.

But remember people like the outsider artists. The ones who, knowing nothing about what’s going on in the broader conversation of their art, pursue (usually) obsessive projects with their own ideas and aesthetics they’ve grown from the ground up.

Their stuff is weird and often unsettling and I think we would be poorer without it.

I also see plenty of students and young or new writers breaking rules without seeming to realize that’s what they’re doing, or what the rule is they’re breaking, or why it’s there. Usually, that fails. Think about evolution — most significant mutations aren’t beneficial, and may even be fatal. But every once in a while, one is amazing.

I’m not sure if Lily Yu knew all the rules when she wrote “The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees” but it’s an absolutely amazing story that breaks a ridiculous number of rules. It’s beautiful, and it’s stirring, and it’s unique. It’s one of the best stories in the past decade. It established Lily as a passionate, brilliant writer all in a single swoop. Do you know how unusual that is? (You probably do!) It’s not uncommon for people to become lightning strikes with a single novel–but for a single short story to provide that much light and electricity? Totally shocking. A wonderful black swan.

While I was still trying to learn the rules as fast and as well as I could, there was often a freedom to my writing which is much more restricted now. Now, when I’m writing, and I’m trying to figure out to do, I can list the traditional options, I can elucidate the rules governing the situation, and why they work, and the usual ways of breaking them–and the consequences thereof. I pick the one that makes most sense for me. All very tidy.

Before, I had to grab at something uncertain. Maybe it was the right tool for the job–the one I’d use now–or maybe it wasn’t. Sometimes when you write with the wrong tools, you find that you’ve made something beautifully unexpected, something you couldn’t even have predicted in yourself. Things you don’t intend can evolve into wildness, into tangles, into novelty.

If you watch reality shows, think about the unconventional materials challenges. Clothing designs made out of candy, or seatbelts, are often the best outfits of the season. The hairdressers, assigned to use hedge clippers, figure out ways to work around it.

There’s always someone complaining that it’s unreasonable to be expected to make a dress out of candy. At home, they know the rules. If they want to make a dress, they’re going to use the right material. It’s flowing so it will be jersey, or it needs the nap of velvet, or the shine of silk.

Sometimes when the rules aren’t yet deep down in your body, when you don’t know that you should search the fabric store for the shiniest silk — sometimes, you grab the cellophane instead.

And most of the time it’s going to be awkward and unattractive.

And sometimes, you’re going to make a cellophane dress that will dazzle the runway.

Writers who know all the rules might still choose to make a cellophane dress. If they’re very good at this sort of thing, it might still have the sense of unexpected freedom as the dress made by the person who ended up with cellophane because they didn’t understand fabric yet. But ultimately, the art of someone fumbling to explore, and the art of someone aiming at their goals with precision, don’t usually look the same.

I want dresses made of cellophane. I want Lily Yu to take my breath away with possibilities I hadn’t imagined. I also want to read the older Lily, too, the one who writes now with a sharper breadth of knowledge–because she’s amazing. But I wouldn’t trade away her earlier stories.

So, it’s useful to know the rules before you break them. It’s a good guideline. But sometimes, by breaking the rule you didn’t even know was there, by wandering the path less traveled by, you can find something astonishing.

(Here, again, is the link to my class:

Posted in classes, Essays, Writing Advice | 3 Comments  


Zippy is a character I drew for a role-playing game I was sketching out called Cats and Dogs Living Together.

When she’s full grown, Zippy will fit in a teacup. At three months old, she’s even smaller. She’s noisy, playful, and brimming with energy. Sometimes she gets so excited wriggling in circles that she forgets to use her legs and falls down. (Sometimes she forgets to control her bladder, too.) She’s whip-smart, and learns new things quickly–including tricks, a surprising number of human words, and bad habits.

(originally posted on my Patreon)

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Cartoon: Debate Us You Cowards!

Help me make more cartoons by supporting my Patreon! A $1 pledge really matters to me.

This one was fun to draw! Probably the most challenging thing to draw was the coffee shop counter in panel 3. As a cartoonist, there’s a balance to be found here: You want to draw enough detail so that it’ll feel right and recognizable to readers without them having to think about it, but not so much detail that readers look at the setting more than at the characters.

I’m never going to be great at drawing backgrounds, but I’m getting better, and that feeling of gradual growth is honestly so much fun. I’m so lucky to have this job! (Thank you, patrons!)

* * *

There’s a funny cartoon I’ve seen around, mocking the kind of political cartoon where we see the characters speaking for the point of view the cartoonist disagrees with, yelling and waving their hands and being angry, while the opposing character – the one the cartoonist agrees with – is calm and reasonable.

And when I say “I’ve seen it around,” I mean that people have posted it on social media as a response to cartoons I’ve drawn that fit that pattern.

(I really wish I could find this cartoon to show it to you here! But I can’t find it at the moment. “Political cartoons about political cartoons that show their political opponents as angry” just isn’t a fruitful google search string.)

Anyway, yes, guilty as charged – it’s a trope I’ve used a lot. So I wanted to do a cartoon in which the characters I disagree with are calm and collected, while the characters I agree with were angry arm-wavers.

And the “civil debate” issue – the constant demand that even bad-faith trolls, or outright racists, must be accommodated whenever they ask to debate – is perfect for that framing.

Look: I LOVE debate. I was obsessed with competitive parliamentary debate in college. I used to spend ten or twenty hours a week debating people online. I have to discipline myself NOT to do that nowadays, because I want to get other things done. (Although I admit, I’m not as fond of debate as I used to be).

But no one is obligated to debate anything. In particular, no one is required to debate their own human dignity with anyone. “I’m not going to debate that with you” is a perfectly reasonable response, even when said angrily.

Journalist Jesse Singal recently got egg on his face on Twitter, responding to someone asking if slaves should have debated slave owners by implying it would have been disastrous if former slave abolitionists had said “I refuse to debate with people who don’t see me as human.”

(I think Singal eventually deleted his tweet, while denying that he had been mistaken in any way, but the tweet was preserved in screen captures, such as this one of Noah Berlatsky responding to Singal).

Singal is a very prominent and admired voice, and his attitudes are not unusual. The “debate me!” crowd really seems to have no idea of how change actually happens – nor of how debilitating such debates can feel.

By the way, in case anyone thinks the argument I attribute to the Jordan Peterson fan in panel two is a strawman: It’s not a strawman. (At some point, I might do a cartoon of nothing but ridiculous, extreme things Jordan Peterson has said.)


This cartoon has four panels, each of which takes place in a different setting, and with a different set of characters.


A man wearing a polo shirt and jeans follows a woman down the street. The woman is wearing a hoodie and is walking a small dog. The man is talking cheerfully, doing the “explaining with my hands” palms up gesture; the woman is looking back at him out of the corner of her eye and has raised her voice testily.

POLO SHIRT: So you see, when you “transgenders” insist you’re women, that’s you forcing society to along with your delusions. Let’s discuss this.


DOG (in thought balloon): Jerk!


A woman and man are walking on a path in a park, the woman walking away from the man. The man is bald-headed with a van dyke beard, and is wearing a t-shirt with a big exclamation point on it, and an open black vest over the shirt. The woman has tattoos and blue hair.

The man has a friendly smile and has raised one forefinger in a “professor explaining a point” style; the woman is holding up a smartphone and speaking angrily.

VEST DUDE: When men aren’t allowed to hit women, men have no means of controlling crazy women. If I may quote Professor Jordan Peterson-



A customer at a coffee shop, a blonde woman with curly blonde hair, is chatting with a friendly expression with the barista. The barista, who is Black and wearing cat’s eye glasses, is waving their hands and yelling. The customer has a “Q,” in the same font as the “Quilette” logo, on the back of her shirt.

CUSTOMER: There’s no need to get mad. I just want to politely debate whether or not Black people have genes that make them stupid.



Three characters from the previous three panels – Polo Shirt, Vest Dude, and Customer – are sitting around a round table with coffee cups on it. They are all looking annoyed and unhappy.

POLO SHIRT: These “identitarians” are so rude!

CUSTOMER: Why won’t they debate us?

VEST DUDE: They’re cowards!

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 106 Comments  

Cartoon: Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

If you enjoy my cartoons, help me make more by supporting my patreon. A $1 pledge really helps!

This is a cartoon from July, but I can’t find it on “Alas” or on, so I suspect I forgot to ever post it.

America is different from the rest of the wealthy world; we’re less generous, less willing to pay for a safety net, less supportive of our citizens at every stage of our lives. And research suggests that the reason for that is racism.

So this cartoon is an attempt to translate that research finding into a four panel gag. I do this every once in a while; translating social science research into cartoons can be hard to do, but a lot of my favorite cartoons began that way.

I like some of the art for this one; I like the use of multiple angles and camera distances, and the backgrounds (which, I hope, find the right balance between “enough to be satisfying” and “so eye catching that they detract from the cartoon”). And the expression of the blonde character in the final panel really works for me. :-)

(Other things in the art work less well for me, like the blonde character’s body language in the first three panels, which looks kind of stiff to me. That’s how it goes. I never get to the point that I really like all my art, but I hope my batting average is improving over the years.)

And hey! I made it! Four cartoons in two weeks. (Pant, pant, pant.)

(Hey, Barry, if you could do four cartoons in two weeks, doesn’t that mean you could be doing eight cartoons per month instead of just four?)

(Hey, Voice-in-my-head, please shut up.)

Transcript of Cartoon

This cartoon has four panels.


Two women, a dark-haired woman with glasses (who I was thinking of as Latina when I drew her, but looking at the finished drawing I have to admit she looks racially ambiguous) and a blonde white woman in a polka-dot skirt, are standing outside, talking on a sidewalk. Glasses is saying something enthusiastically; Polka is listening with a hand on her chin.

GLASSES: No regular person can afford a million dollars in medical bills if their kid is in an accident. So we’d ALL be helped by Medicare For All.

POLKA: That makes sense.


The two are walking as they talk.

GLASSES: We need food stamps  and rent subsidies. Because no one in a rich country should be hungry or homeless.

POLKA: I hear you.


GLASSES: And maybe we need some sort of federal job guarantee, so everyone who wants to work, can.

POLKA: That would have helped me a lot last year.


Glasses continues to talk happily, hands outspread in a “it’s all so reasonable” gesture, but Polka is angrily yelling, pointing one finger into the air.

GLASSES: Plus, these programs can do a lot for groups like the Black-


Posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues | 17 Comments  

New Anthology!

There’s a new anthology of mythology-inspired stories and retellings coming out next week! My story about Iphigenia, “A Memory of Wind,” is in there, along with some other great stories. It’s available May 14th, and you can preorder it now.

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