Cartoon: Doctor Austerity

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Austerity – the policy of cutting government social spending in order to appease fiscal hawks (and investors and creditors) – is arguably the most harmful economic policy in the world. The economist Paul Krugman describes what was going on in 2010:

…elites all across the western world were gripped by austerity fever, a strange malady that combined extravagant fear with blithe optimism. Every country running significant budget deficits – as nearly all were in the aftermath of the financial crisis – was deemed at imminent risk of becoming another Greece unless it immediately began cutting spending and raising taxes. Concerns that imposing such austerity in already depressed economies would deepen their depression and delay recovery were airily dismissed; fiscal probity, we were assured, would inspire business-boosting confidence, and all would be well. …

Since the global turn to austerity in 2010, every country that introduced significant austerity has seen its economy suffer, with the depth of the suffering closely related to the harshness of the austerity.

And it’s important to understand that even countries that wouldn’t choose austerity policies for themselves, can have those policies forced on them. (This thought is what inspired my cartoon). Creditors from larger, more powerful economies can insist on austerity policies. Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, regarding the economic disaster in Greece, wrote:

Of course, the economics behind the program that the “troika” (the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund) foisted on Greece five years ago has been abysmal, resulting in a 25 percent decline in the country’s GDP. I can think of no depression, ever, that has been so deliberate and had such catastrophic consequences: Greece’s rate of youth unemployment, for example, now exceeds 60 percent.

It is startling that the troika has refused to accept responsibility for any of this or admit how bad its forecasts and models have been. But what is even more surprising is that Europe’s leaders have not even learned. The troika is still demanding that Greece achieve a primary budget surplus (excluding interest payments) of 3.5 percent of GDP by 2018.

I think the reason austerity policies have such a hold on certain economic elites (turns and glares at Germany), as well as on many ordinary citizens, is that it tells a story which makes intuitive sense to us. Austerity is a morality play: If a country’s economy is bad, it’s because that country has been spending too much. So the solution is to starve for a while. Tighten your belt, Greece!

But at a country level, belt-tightening is the very worst thing a country can do in a recession. When governments slash spending, that means less people have work; when less people have work, they spend less, and recessions become worse. And if the recession getting worse leads to creditors demanding further cuts, a country can get caught in a vicious cycle.

In the Krugman article I linked to, written in 2015, Krugman wrote that no one believes in austerity anymore. But the idea – or, rather, the ideology – hasn’t gone away, and is currently causing great suffering in the UK.

In the U.S., any time the economy takes a downturn, the austerity ideologues emerge and call for cuts, cuts and more cuts. The more influence they have the next time we’re in a recession, the longer it’ll take us to recover.

In his article “How Austerity Ripped The World Apart,” Umair Haque takes a big-picture view, arguing that austerity is ultimately derived from economic thinking developed in slave-owning America. I don’t agree with everything Haque says, but his definition of austerity really struck me.

Austerity simply means a lack of investment by societies in themselves, in people, in public goods. Things like healthcare, education, transport, energy, retirement, decent jobs, incomes, savings. The problem is that all those things are what underpin the stability of societies, by ensuring that prosperity is something that is realized by all — not just something greedily seized by a tiny few.



This cartoon has four panels. All four panels are set in a doctor’s office. There are three people in each panel. The first is an extremely wealthy looking man – he looks like a stereotypical banker – in a three-piece suit, smoking a pipe. The second man is the patient, a disheveled and emaciated man in boxer shorts and a sleeveless shirt. The third man is Doctor Austerity. Doctor Austerity wears a white doctor’s coat, a stethoscope, and a head mirror. (That’s what they’re called, honest!). Doctor Austerity is a huge, hulking, powerful looking man, with large hands and deep-set eyes.

A caption at the bottom of the cartoon says “DOCTOR AUSTERITY.”


The Banker and Doctor Austerity talk. Both are patting the Patient on the shoulder. The Patient is sitting on the examination table.

BANKER: Doctor Austerity, my friend’s economy is weak. Could you give him your treatment?

DOCTOR AUSTERITY: Of course! My treatment never fails!


Doctor Austerity has his hands around the patients neck, squeezing hard, and has lifted the patient right off the examination table. The patient has wide eyes and his tongue is sticking out of his mouth.

PATIENT: Choke! Ack!

DOCTOR AUSTERITY: Soon he’ll be completely better!


Doctor Austerity has let go of the patient; the patient is bent over, panting and gasping for air. The Banker peers at the patient; Doctor Austerity thinks hard, with one hand on his chin.

BANKER: That’s odd… He’s getting worse.



Doctor Austerity and the Banker smile at each other, chatting, while the doctor resumes choking the patient to death.

BANKER: Better apply more treatment.


Posted in Cartooning & comics, Economics and the like | 5 Comments  

On Appropriation: Anders Carlson-Wee’s “How-To”

Last summer, The Nation published a poem called “How-To,” by white poet Anders Carlson-Wee, in which the speaker, a homeless person who speaks African American Vernacular English (AAVE), which is also sometimes called Black English, gives advice on how most effectively to beg for money on the street. The poem’s publication unleashed what The New York Times called “a firestorm of criticism on social media.” This criticism focused on two main issues: charges that, in writing “How-To,” Carlson-Wee had engaged in a performance of literary blackface and that, in publishing the poem, The Nation’s poetry editors had supported him in doing so.1

In response, those editors, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith, issued an apology, which then became the focus of its own controversy. Katha Pollitt, who writes for The Nation, tweeted her disappointment, calling the apology “craven.” Grace Schulman, who was The Nation’s poetry editor from 1971-2006 wrote an op ed in the Times, in which she argued that the editors’ apology betrayed “a value that is precious to me and to a free society: the freedom to write and to publish views that may be offensive to some readers.” The editors responded quite thoughtfully to their critics here—you need to scroll to the bottom—but the debate about the role, responsibility, and accountability of literary editors, while crucially important, does not address the question of precisely how, from the point of view of literary craft, Carlson-Wee’s poem fails. That’s what I’m interested in writing about here.


Responding to the poem in a Twitter thread—I have strung several tweets together into a single paragraph—Roxane Gay wrote this:

The reality is that when most white writers use AAVE they do so badly. They do so without understanding that it is a language with rules. Instead, they use AAVE to denote that there is a black character in their story because they understand blackness as a monolith. Framing blackness as monolithic is racist. It is lazy. And using AAVE badly is lazy so I am entirely comfortable suggesting that writers stay in their lane when it comes to dialect. The great thing about writing is that you can develop new lanes through research, immersion and…effort. There was none of that in this poem.

So presumably, if Carlson-Wee had gotten it right, if he had indeed developed a “new lane” for himself in which he could write what Gay experienced as an authentic AAVE-speaking Black character, she would not have found the poem objectionable on these particular grounds. In other words, the problem was not the fact that a white poet had chosen to write such a character; it was the failure of craft that Gay saw in what she perceived as Carlson-Wee’s “lazy” use of AAVE that led her to call the poem racist. Here is Carlson-Wee’s poem:


If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,
say you’re pregnant––nobody gonna lower
themselves to listen for the kick. People
passing fast. Splay your legs, cock a knee
funny. It’s the littlest shames they’re likely
to comprehend. Don’t say homeless, they know
you is. What they don’t know is what opens
a wallet, what stops em from counting
what they drop. If you’re young say younger.
Old say older. If you’re crippled don’t
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough
Christians to notice. Don’t say you pray,
say you sin. It’s about who they believe
they is. You hardly even there.

In a very thoughtful piece in The Atlantic, John McWhorter, a professor of linguistics at Columbia University who has “studied Black English a fair amount over the past 25 years,” disagrees with Gay’s assessment. He argues, providing specific examples, that “the Black English Carlson-Wee uses…is true and ordinary black speech.”

I’m going to defer to McWhorter’s linguistic expertise and take him at his word in this respect: that there is nothing syntactically or semantically incorrect, nothing exaggerated, willfully flamboyant or mocking, in Carlson-Wee’s deployment of AAVE in this poem. That does not mean, however, that he was not, as Gay said, “lazy” in writing it. In fact, his apology, which I can now find nowhere except in The New York Times, suggests that he might even agree with that assessment: “Treading anywhere close to blackface is horrifying to me,” Carlson-Wee wrote, “and I am profoundly regretful.”


While the wording of that apology at least implies that Carlson-Wee intended his speaker to be Black, when I first read “How-To,” I did not see it that way. Probably because there are no other obvious racial markers and because I have heard white people speak non-standard English in a way that, in my memory at least, bears a strong resemblance to what Carlson-Wee wrote, I defaulted to the unmarked case and assumed the speaker was white. I still thought “How-To” was not a very good poem, though. Continue reading

  1. Others were critical of the poem for being ableist—a conversation that is also important to have—but I am going to focus in this post on the racial critique. []
Posted in Writing | 4 Comments  

Cartoon: Inheriting The Economy

This cartoon was drawn by Becky Hawkins. who I’ve collaborated with several times before.

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Becky and I started work on this comic in December of 2014. I wrote a strip, liked it. I suggested to Becky that she should draw it – very possibly because I hate drawing cars. Becky did a rough sketch of the cartoon, and I emailed it to my editors at Dollars & Sense Magazine.

And they had a bunch of suggestions… all of which came down to, the idea of the strip wasn’t coming across to them.

We tried reworking it and resketching it, but the new version didn’t work either.

So we put this strip aside and did this one for Dollars & Sense instead. And every now and then I’d look at the drafts again, because I really liked the idea of this strip, it just wasn’t fitting together right.

Fast forward to February of 2019, when I looked at the two cartoons and realized that if we took the top two panels of version one, and the bottom two panels of version two, we’d have a strip that worked! How did I never notice that before?

Becky drew it, and – a first for Becky – colored it on computer.

I especially love that rabbit in panel 2 – but I have no idea which of us came up with that idea back in 2014. I do know for sure that having the car burst into flames in panel four was Becky’s idea (because she only thought of that last week!). And the amazing 1970s fashions in the first two panels are all Becky.


There are four panels in this cartoon.


Two youngish adults, a man and a woman, are thrilled as they look at a yellow sports car with a big red bow wrapped around it. Their clothes and hairdos both suggest the 1970s.

MAN: Wow! What a GREAT economy we’ve inherited.


The two of them are speeding along in the car, going so fast that the car is several feet above the ground. A rabbit flees in terror. He is grinning; she is throwing a fist into the air.

MAN: Zoom! ZOOM!

WOMAN: Whoopie!


The same man and woman, but now looking in their 60s (and with updated wardrobe and hair), are standing by the now completely wrecked and smoking car. They’ve put a red bow on the wreckage, and they look very cheerful, maybe even proud. There’s a young man and a young woman, looking like they’re in shock. The older man holds out car keys to the young man.

MAN: Okay, kids, take the keys! It’s all yours now!


The older man and woman talk to each other. In the background, the yellow sports car wreckage has burst into flames; the young woman looks shocked, and the young man, unnoticed by the older couple, is giving them the finger.

MAN: Why don’t they drive like we did?

WOMAN: Millennials are so lazy.


Posted in Cartooning & comics, Economics and the like | 2 Comments  

Open Thread And Link Farm: Skull on the Shelf Edition

  1. The severed feet found on beaches near Seattle and Vancouver, explained – Vox
    “The 15th human foot in a decade washed up in Washington State. Don’t be alarmed.”
  2. Amazon Ring Teaming Up With Police in War on “Dirtbag Criminals”
    As far as I know nothing terrible has happened with Ring yet – but the blurring of the lines between corporate overlords and police overlords is disquieting.
  3. Dolphins Seem to Use Toxic Pufferfish to Get High | Smart News | Smithsonian
  4. (132) Sexual Assault of Men Played for Laughs – YouTubeA video essay by Pop Culture Detective about male-on-male rape – most frequently, prison rape – played for laughs in movies and on TV. His next video will be about female-on-male rape played for laughs.
  5. The Cost of Universal Basic Income is the Net Transfer Amount, Not the Gross Price Tag
  6. Why we should all have a basic income | World Economic Forum
  7. Protests Inside Freezing MDC Jail Met With Reprisals
    For example, prisoners on a hunger strike had their toilets shut off for a week, or a prisoner being put into solitary confinement for asking when heat would come back on. In addition to the inhumanity, there’s a real free speech issue here.
  8. Androgynous aerial acrobat & 1920s female impersonator, the great ‘Barbette’
    Lots of cool photos, too.
  9. 2019 Minimum Wage Act Would Help Black Workers More Than White
    Here’s something I hadn’t realized: “The black working class is more likely to work in jobs that pay less than the proposed $15 minimum, but geography has even bigger impact on workers’ pay—black workers are far less likely to work in states with their own minimum wage laws.”
  10. How To Speak About The Israel Lobby In A Non-Anti-Semitic Way – The Forward
  11. Fat Monica on “Friends” Was The TV Role Model I Never Expected
  12. Study: More restrictive use of force policies reduce police-involved killings, and reduce police fatalities.(pdf)
    “These results suggest that advocacy efforts focused on pushing police departments to adopt more restrictive use of force policies can produce meaningful reductions in the number of police-involved killings… Officers in police departments with more restrictive policies in place are actually less likely to be killed in the line of duty [and] less likely to be assaulted…”
  13. The Bat and Ball Problem Revisited – drossbucket
    “…the paper is basically a series of increasingly desperate attempts to get people to actually think about the question.” (Via.)
  14. I Was A Cable Guy. I Saw The Worst Of America. | HuffPost
    Content warning for… I mean, for so much. Dead cat, sexual harassment, homophobia, Dick Cheney, and a generally bleak world. (Via.)
  15. Performance and Selfhood in ‘Alita: Battle Angel’ – J. Rosenfield – Medium
    “She has no real understanding of herself or the world around her. And yet she knows that her body is wrong.” I completely loved this movie, by the way.
  16. The U.S. Fertility Rate Is Down, Yet More Women Are Mothers – The New York Times
    The likelihood of women becoming mothers in their lifetime, measured by how many women in the age 40-44 age group have ever had children, has had a recent upturn.
  17. A Mother’s Promise: You Can Be Yourself – Video –
    A beautiful short animated piece.
  18. Financial Windfalls: 15 Stories of Gifts, Wins, Inheritances, and The Money That Changed Everything | Topic
  19. Building a Bigger Action Hero – Inside Hollywood’s Muscle Factory – Men’s Journal
    How all the male movie stars suddenly got so ripped.
  20. Hilde Lysiak, 12-year-old journalist, films Arizona cop threatening her – The Washington Post
  21. “Hilde is a force of nature. One can only imagine what sort of stories she will be turning out once she has a driver’s license.”
  22. A Dutch Church Held A 96-Day Service To Stop A Refugee Family’s Deportation
  23. Opinion | It’s Not That Men Don’t Know What Consent Is – The New York Times
    “When they realized that their actions conflicted with that benchmark, though, they expanded their definition of consent rather than question their conduct.”
  24. When Does an Accident Become a Crime? – Texas Monthly
    When a DA is determined enough, is the short answer.
  25. Emma Thompson’s letter to Skydance: Why I can’t work for John Lasseter – Los Angeles Times
    The actress quit work on an animated movie she’d been cast in.
  26. How America Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Deficits and Debt – The New York Times
    The long-predicted consequences of deficit don’t seem to have come about, and putting off investments in infrastructure is harmful in the long run, various people argue. (Alternative link.)
  27. The Fake Sex Doctor Who Conned the Media Into Publicizing His Bizarre Research on Suicide, Butt-Fisting, and Bestiality 
  28. Rich Must Embrace Deficits to Escape Taxes – Bloomberg
  29. With FOSTA Already Leading to Censorship, Plaintiffs Are Seeking Reinstatement Of Their Lawsuit Challenging the Law’s Constitutionality | Electronic Frontier Foundation
  30. The paradox of Patriot Prayer – Justin Ward – Medium
    There are a handful of non-white members of The Proud Boys and other racist organizations. That doesn’t magically make them not racist.
  31. Opinion | The Electoral College Is the Greatest Threat to Our Democracy – The New York Times
    The headline is irrelevant clickbait, because nothing in Jamelle Bouie’s excellent overview is making a case about what is “the greatest threat.” (Probably Bouie didn’t write the headline). But the electoral college is definitely anti-democracy, and the arguments in its defense make zero sense.  (Alternate link.)
  32. BNYT columnist Bret Stephens inadvertently explains why women don’t report sexual harassment – Vox
    If young journalists can face career-damaging blowback for just making a rude comment on Twitter, is it any wonder victims of sexual harassment (a category that does include some men, Vox!) hesitate to report their abusers?

Posted in Link farms | 9 Comments  

The First Full Working Draft Is Complete!

Posted in Writing | 2 Comments  

Silly Interview with Henry Lien, but Also Lots of Cute Bird Pictures

(This interview was originally posted on my Patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

RS: You own birds. Tell us about the birds. Provide pictures of the birds.

I can only speak about the parrot family. Parrots, including small parrots like my two conures (miniature parrots), give us a fascinating glimpse into evolution. They are like a combination between dogs and cats. They are so smart, like little dogs that can fly and sing or talk and they are very relational, including with their humans. They have huge personalities for just 30-50 grams of pet. On the other hand, their moods and emotional landscapes are so complicated and swiftly changing, like cats. But because they are as relational to humans as dogs, they are never aloof. When they are pissed at you, they don’t go off and sulk. They let you know it and aggressively punish you for it. They are very good at communicating their moods to you with every method of expression they have, including calls, songs, and biting. When you spend time with parrots, it is easy to imagine that some form of dinosaur might have evolved to human-level intelligence in the past 65 million years if that asteroid hadn’t struck. I, for one, would welcome a planet ruled by parrot  overlords.

Pictures of my parrot overlords attached.  

RS: Can I come meet the birds sometime? Do they like people? I promise not to bring the cats.

They love human visitors! They have free reign of my house, so they will land on you and answer when you talk to them and generally be very social and relational. Until you do something that startles them and then they will fly away and scream because you have turned into a horrible monster. Their worlds are filled with drama.

RS: Your fiction often takes place in a fictional Hong Kong where a number of East Asian cultures are blended. What does this allow you to do, and what challenges does it cause for you?

It’s more of a fictional Taiwan that I call the island of Pearl. The blending of East Asian cultures is intentional and authentic. Taiwan was colonized by the Japanese for fifty years. My parents’ generation grew up with Japanese names and spoke Japanese and love Japanese food, music, etc. The relationship between China and Taiwan is very complex. When the Nationalists came over from mainland China and took over from the Japanese, they massacred tens of thousands of intellectuals and other figures perceived as threats in the Taiwanese populace. So Taiwan is a complicated, divided culture, which I find so interesting, and I reflect that in Pearl. Further, I feel strongly that fantasy writers of East Asian descent should be allowed to experiment and blend and play with East Asian culture. Writers of Western fantasy get to mix influences from multiple European cultures at once into their invented cultures. Neighboring cultures influence each other. The patterns of trade, war, conquest, and interaction mean that it is unrealistic to expect any but the most unusually isolated of cultures to remain uninfluenced by neighboring cultures. I love exploring cultural fusion in my life and in my writing.

RS: Skating is a major theme in your young adult novel. Do you skate?

I took figure skating and kung fu lessons as research for my stories set in the world of Pearl, including the PEASPROUT CHEN novels, which features a form of martial arts on bladed skates. My skills in both sports were appalling. But that was instructive. I learned that those are two sports where balance and flexibility are at least as important as brute strength and that there are things that lithe girls and young women can do that no man could ever do. I wanted to invent a sport that played to girls’ strengths and how girls are physically different from boys. My failures on the ice helped me write a book that was all about girl power. Also, the books are actually middle grade, not young adult, although they read like YA because they are intensely ambitious and the prose is quite elevated.

RS: Can you link to one of your favorite artists and describe what you love about their work?

I hope this isn’t spammy but actually, my Dad. I make my living as an author now but still deal art for fun on the side and he’s my top-selling artist. He does photography, including infrared photography. I’m a wordy person but it’s hard to put into words the emotion in his work. Here are a few images:

He only started less than three years ago, after he retired from being an engineer, but he’s taken off like a rocket. His work is already in museum and corporate collections. Art has given him a new life at this late stage of life and our relationship is so much richer because of it. I call him The Artist Formerly Known As Dad. Here’s his website:

RS: What’s the most adventurous thing you’ve ever done?

Hard question. I’m a shy, introspective, cautious, and solitary person by nature. But I also know that my life will be richer if I force myself to widen my comfort zone. I’ve made some whiplash career changes, including going from lawyering to dealing art and now to be a working author. I would say that the most adventurous thing I ever did was enter into a relationship with my former partner knowing at the outset that he had terminal cancer and then devising a logical, working system to continue communicating with him after he died. And then sharing that story very publicly. You can read it here. Every bold and frightening life decision I have made has enriched my life. They have given me the sense that the world is filled with mystery and meaning and adventure, if you decide that it is going to be so.

RS: My favorite thing about “The Ladies’ Aquatic Gardening Society” is the wealth of rich, often disturbing detail you collected from the Gilded Age. Can you describe how you did that research? Was there anything amazing that didn’t make it onto the page?

I did a lot of reading about the social lives of the Grandes Dames of the Gilded Age and spent a lot of time at the spectacular Huntington Library and Gardens. The research wrote much of the story for me, because every one of the outrageous, excessive, repulsive parties depicted in the story was real. The breathtaking arrogance of the Gilded Age towards animals, the environment, and the working class and other disenfranchised populations provided such fertile, infuriating material to work with. The suffocating social strictures placed on women of this class were also great material. It was fascinating and depressing to learn what women of clear intelligence and talent did when they were allowed no meaningful endeavor towards which to employ their gifts. Nothing amazing failed to make it onto the page, but one thing almost failed to get included because I didn’t know about it. Connie Willis mentored me on this story at Clarion West. She was the one who told me the true story about the dinner party held by a society dame where the table was lined with a sand dune in which were buried real emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, which the guests were to search for with a shovel and bucket, as party favors. Thanks for that one, Connie. The story is available for free in print and podcast form here.

RS: Will you provide us with a vegan recipe?

I love sharing vegan recipes! The problem is that I never measure anything. I just look and taste. Here is a three course Taiwanese meal that I made recently. All vegan, soy-free, gluten-free, lowish-carb. Picture attached. If anyone is really interested, email me atinfo [at] henrylien [dot] com and I will jot down measurements next time I make it.

a. Cucumbers marinated in Bragg liquid amino (soy and gluten free soy sauce alternative), sesame oil, chopped garlic, and red pepper flakes.

b. Bean sprouts, celery, shiitake mushrooms, peanuts, scallions, stir-fried in sauce made of Bragg, sesame, white pepper, and star anise, garnished with cilantro.

c. Green beans stir-fried with button mushrooms, scallions, Beyond Beef pea protein beefless ground, stir-fried with white wine, Bragg, sesame oil, sriracha.

RS: Anything else you’d like to say? Say it loud, say it proud, say it here.

I’m really proud of my first novel PEASPROUT CHEN, FUTURE LEGEND OF SKATE AND SWORD, which the New York Times described as “Hermione Granger meets Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets the Ice Capades meets Mean Girls.” And the sequel PEASPROUT CHEN: BATTLE OF CHAMPIONS is even better. I write theme songs to accompany the PEASPROUT CHEN books and Idina Menzel, the star of Frozen, Wicked, Rent, and Glee, sang one of them with me at my book launch in April. I’d be honored if you’d take a look at the video of us singing it here:

RS: Now, dear reader, as your reward — have more parrot pictures.

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Cartoon: The Five Stages Of Finding Out Your Fave Is Trash

Help me keep drawing cartoons by supporting my Patreon! A $1 pledge helps, and is greatly appreciated.

This cartoon is particularly salient, I think, on the left. I think virtually everyone on the left has had the experience of finding out that someone we admire has done something terrible; has been abusive, in one way or another; has leched at his underlings; or refused to hear “no”; or had a long term relationship with an underage girl; or habitually masturbates in front of surprised and unwilling women. Etcetera, etcetera… the list is depressingly long.

Most of us are very attached to our favorite artists (how could we not be)? It’s genuinely hard to find out that someone who has given me so much pleasure, so much to think about, and in many cases communicated a humane and warm viewpoint, is also someone who has harassed and taken advantage and assaulted and harmed.

It’s a kind of grief. And thinking about that led to this cartoon, mashing the famous “five stages of grief” with finding out that yet another celebrity has turned out to be trash. I can relate to this cartoon, and maybe some of you can as well.

The art in this cartoon is a bit unusual for my work. Inspired by some of my favorite cartoonists – Edward Sorel, Barbara Yelin, Posy Simmonds, and others – I wanted to try drawing a cartoon with a loose, sketchy surface, not hiding my construction lines, and held together by the colors.

To tell you the truth, I chickened out a lot. I left some construction lines in, but I erased many, many more. But it was still at least a bit freeing, and I had a lot of fun doing more modelling of form with linework than I’d usually take the time for. And being able to use light, sketchy lines, rather than feeling obliged to make all the lines crisp and black, made the party scene drawing in panel five come out much better.

I might come back to this style again – it’s good to try and shake things up now and again.


This cartoon has six panels.


There is nothing in this panel but title lettering. The title lettering is done in large, friendly white lettering, but the letters are casting some gritty-looking shadows.



This panel shows a woman with black hair yelling angrily at something she’s read on her tablet. She’s holding the tablet in one hand and pointing angrily to something on screen with the other hand.


BLACK HAIRED WOMAN: Unfounded rumors! Jealous attention seekers!


A man sits in front of his laptop. His hair is messy and his eyes are wide, and he looks desperate as he taps taps taps at the keyboard.


MAN (typing): What he did was bad. But not Weinstein or Polanski bad, right? Right?


A person lies in bad, with the bedsheet pulled up high enough so that all of their face is covered. They are, however, holding one hand up, forefinger extended, in a “making a point” gesture. Next to the bed, a somewhat bored-looking friend sits in a chair, her face resting on one of her hands.


PERSON (in a shaky word balloon): I never want to see a movie again. Or read a book. Or look at a picture. Or…

FRIEND: Er… Wanna try hiking?


A cocktail party in an art gallery. We can see people milling about and chatting to each other in the background. In the foreground, a person wearing a bowtie is speaking somewhat self-importantly to a couple of other party goers.


PERSON: I never liked his work.


Two women are in this panel. One, with curly hair, is looking inside a large book of art. Behind her, the black-haired woman from panel one, still holding her tablet, leans towards the curly-haired woman.

CURLY HAIRED WOMAN: Wow, these paintings are amazing!

BLACK HAIRED WOMAN: They are! Too bad the painter’s a creep.

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 115 Comments  

If Taxation WERE Just Like Theft

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This cartoon has six panels, with a caption underneath the bottom of the strip.

Two women pull back in shock from a mugger holding a gun pointed at them. They are all on a sidewalk; there’s a cracked wall behind them, covered with graffiti. The mugger is dressed like a very stereotypical criminal: Black knit cap, dark sweatshirt, and even a domino mask.

MUGGER: Hand over your money!

The mugger walks down a sidewalk, cheerfully talking to himself and holding a wad of cash. There’s some grassy hills and trees next to the sidewalk; it might be a park.

MUGGER: Phew! That was a long day of stealing! Now to go use this money!

The mugger is handing a wad of cash to a workman; the workman is carrying a shovel and wearing a hardhat. They are on a city street, with a sidewalk and alleyway behind them; there are a few large potholes visible on the sidewalk. Both are smiling.

MUGGER: Here’s some money. So you’ll fill in these potholes?
WORKMAN: That’s the job!

In a supermarket, a mom, pushing a nearly empty shopping cart, is talking to her son. The mugger is nearby, holding out a wad of money to her.

MOM: I don’t know how we’ll afford groceries this month, sweetie.
MUGGER: Pardon me, I’m your mugger. Here’s some money for food.

The mugger and a businessman in a suit are in a boardroom type place. The mugger is leaning forward on the table to look intently at a big diagram of a missile; there’s also a stack of papers on the table next to him. The businessman is speaking, with a slightly predatory smile on his face, raising a forefinger as if making a point. Both mugger and businessman are seating in plush chairs. There’s a huge window behind them, with a view of the cityscape beyond.

BUSINESSMAN: We have drone missiles that can flatten a city block from half a world away.
MUGGER: Impressive. I’ll buy ten thousand.

The mugger (still wearing his domino mask, as he has been the entire strip) is standing on A little stage platform in a park. Next to him is a man wearing a hoodie and a ski mask. Both are speaking into microphones; a little crowd is listening to them. The ski mask guy is holding out a hand dramatically; the mugger is holding a hand to his chest in an “I’m just a regular guy” sort of gesture.

SKI MASK DUDE: I’ve got the experience to be your next mugger!
MUGGER: Which mugger would you rather have a beer with? Me!

Below the entire strip is a caption. The caption says: IF TAXATION WERE JUST LIKE THEFT.

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Libertarianism | 20 Comments  

Silly Interview with Krystal Claxton, Universe’s Foremost Expert on U.S. Geography

(This interview was originally posted on my Patreon. Thank you, patrons!)

A few years ago, I put together some silly interviews full of silly questions for my fellow authors. A number of them fell through the publication cracks then, so I’m running them now with updates.

(Krystal Claxton)

RS: Heinlein’s rules! In your bio itself, you mention that you “frequently disobeys Heinlein’s Rules.” Me, too. Which ones do you disobey most? Do any of them get on your nerves and jump up and down?

KC: I’m pretty bad at following Rule #3 “refrain from rewriting.” I tend to both write out of order and write way, way too many words for a given story and both of these leave me with an inclination for tinkering.

But let’s be honest. We all know #1 “You must write” is hardest. That blank page. The mocking blink of the cursor. A notebook full of endless blue college rule. We’ve seen the end and it’s an empty text file you were sure had something in it, berating you while you stand on the stage in the high school cafetorium. In your underwear.

KC2019: I overcame my difficulty with Rule 1 by instituting a policy of writing 100 words (or more, if inclined) every day. My longest streak to date is 572 days. I no longer fear a blank page, but I do still break Heinlein’s Rules.

There’s something kind of dickish about them despite the pithiness that made them stick. I’ve become wary of any advice that dictates One True Process and I’m afraid that Rules 3 and 5 aren’t viable for everyone. Rewrite if it’s part of your process. Don’t send out a story that you feel is no longer indicative of your ability or personal values. Even Rule 4 sounds iffy to me. Sometimes it’s good to write for yourself. Practice and love will benefit your more commercial endeavours. 

RS: Heh, “refrain from rewriting” is definitely one I disobey. But I admit it’s the one I was thinking about when I asked if any of them get on your nerves. It gets on mine. 😉

Moving on–apparently, you were “born with a miscalibrated sense of humor.” So–I must ask–what is your favorite joke?

KC: My biggest hurdle in telling a joke is remembering to provide context. I love a joke that takes two hours to set up. For instance, there’s an episode of Futurama “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back” that is essentially 22 minutes of setting Bender up to tell this joke:

“I am Bender. Please insert girder.”

Hilarious, right?

I’ll supply you with some of my favorite jokes, but since I don’t want to take up your whole day, I can’t promise they’ll make sense:

“Do you like bread?” -Eddie Izzard
“Write it or I’ll break it off!” -Fletcher Reede
“And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn’t any feet.” -Lewis Caroll

KC2019: Heh, those are still great jokes. Have you seen The Good Place? COMEDY GOLD. New favorites:

And, obviously:

RS: You lived in nine states before you turned thirteen, which you write caused you to have “an oscillating accent.” What extremes does it oscillate between?

KC: Most oscillation occurs primarily between minute variations of Southern, though here’s a sentence you might reasonably expect to hear me say: “I’m fixin’ to toss these clothes in the warsher then put on my sneakers and go for a soda.”


RS: Per above, are you really good at US geography?


Uhh. Yes. I’m so fantastic at Geography that it would blow your mind. Which is why it’s imperative that you never ask me to prove how awesome I am at Geography. For your own safety.

KC2019: Still don’t ask.

RS: What research topic has caught your attention just now?

KC: Techniques for sewing a Blind Hem/Slip Stitch with a sewing machine. Coffee brewing and cultivation. How to write good sex scenes. Myself for this interview.

KC2019: Reader, I decided on black tea instead of coffee.

RS: A lot of your short stories have been podcast. What’s rewarding about having fiction out in audio form?

KC: The indiscriminate tastes of podcast editors! No, no, I kid. Initially I was just looking for reprint markets and podcasts tend to be very open to previously-published works. Then Tina Connolly podcasted one of my stories on Toasted Cake and I discovered that it’s unbelievably fun to hear someone else read the words I arranged. Writing is just repackaging a free, abundant resource (words) into new shapes that you can con people into paying for. With podcasting those same words I arranged take on new life every time someone performs them. It’s fairly mind-blowing to observe how differently the story is in someone else’s head.

KC2019: BWHAHAHAHA. Oh dramatic irony of ironies. I’m now the special guest co-editor of PodCastle’s Artemis Rising 5 coming out in March!

RS: What’s upcoming for you? Please share!

KC: Speaking of podcasts.

My stories “Planar Ghosts” and “Heartless” are set to appear in Cast of Wonders and Far Fetched Fables, respectively later this year (KC2019: “Planar Ghosts” was a 2016 CoW staff pick ^_^). Once these come out, everything I’ve ever published will have also been podcast. So that’s neat.

In “Bitter Remedy” the titular character is a second-class superheroine with a secret: she’s also a mother. It’s just been republished by StarShipSofa with narration by Karen Bovenmyer and a feature on genre history from Dr. Amy H. Sturgis.

KC2019: Sadly, despite best laid plans at time of writing, I have stories published that have not been podcast… But that’s because I published new stories! Plot twist!

“Presently Me” is currently available to subscribers in Factor Four’s Issue 1.

“Life, hacked” is up to read for free at Nature: Futures. (Though I must suggest Nature’s podcast version performed by Shamini Bundell, also free.)

And “900 Seconds of Cognizance And Counting” is free to read in Factor Four Magazine Issue 4.


New Book! And new reward tiers on my Patreon.

New book!

I’m so excited about this!

I’ve been working like crazy since New Year’s, putting together a book collecting all my 2018 political cartoons. Here are the details:

  • You Only Drew This To Get Laid
  • Over 90 pages, in color.
  • 8″ x 10.5″ squarebound paperback
  • Includes every political cartoon I published in 2018, plus commentary and dozens of never-before-seen images. The new images are mostly drawings-in-progress, but also include some panels that didn’t make it to the final cartoon.
  • The image above is just a mock-up; those aren’t necessarily the final colors, and the real book won’t be that thick.

I’ve never self-published a book like this before, so I don’t know exactly when it’ll be out. But think I will be able to mail out copies in April or May.

And going forward, I plan to do a new book every year, collecting the previous year’s cartoons.

New Reward Tiers!

I’ve also added new reward tiers to my patreon.

But first, let me say: You can safely ignore all this if you’re a patron who would like your pledge to stay what it’s been. I’ll be honest – I’m hoping that some current patrons will find the book tempting enough to increase their pledge. :-)  But I’m incredibly grateful for every single patron’s support, at whatever level.

Here’s what the tiers now are:

50 cent tier– No one new can sign up for this level (because Patreon changed the minimum to $1).  But for you folks already pledging at the fifty cent level, don’t worry! You’re “grandfathered” in at that pledge level, and can stay at it as long as you like!

$1 tier – You get to see most of the cartoons a few days before I post them in public.

$3 tier – You’ll get a pdf copy of each year’s cartoon collection, as they come out. This way you’ll get a pdf file with all the year’s cartoons, rather than just a few a year when I happen to remember to do it (and let’s face it, I haven’t been great about that). And the pdf file will be high enough res so you can print cartoons out if you want.

$5 tier – You can share most of my cartoons even before I post them in public! Plus, of course, you’ll get the pdf copy of the book.

$8 tier – Here’s where it gets really exciting. At $8, you’ll get a PAPER copy of each year’s book mailed to you.

$10 tier – You, or a person or organization of your choice, will be thanked in the sidebar of one or two cartoons a year! (This could be an awesome gift for a loved one who likes political cartoons.)  PLUS you’ll get the paper copy of each year’s book.

$12 tier – This is just like the $10 pledge, except that I’ll hand-sign your copy of the book to you. (Or to whoever you designate).

$15 tier – You’ll get everything listed above. Plus, I’ll draw a a one-of-a-kind sketch in your book! I’m not talking about a 2-second head sketch either – I’ll take some time and make it nice.

Note: For new patrons at the paper-book-levels, I’ll wait a bit before mailing your books. (This is to protect me from people who pledge for a single payment and then cancel. I’m sorry about this, but if I don’t do this, I could actually lose money on these books. :-(   )

* * *

That’s it!

I really can’t wait to hold this book in my hands. I hope some of you are looking forward to that, as well!

For my patrons, thank you all for supporting these cartoons. I’ve gone from six cartoons a year to 45 cartoons a year – an incredible increase, and one that I could never have done without all your help. You folks are awesome!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, My publications | Leave a comment