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I’m not disabled, so the first time I heard a disabled person say that ablebodied people repeatedly tell them “I’d rather be dead!,” it boggled my mind. I actually wondered if that disabled person could be an unlucky outlier, someone who had run into an extraordinarily large number of ablebodied jerks through sheer chance. (Every statistical group has clusters and outliers, right?)
But then I saw it again, online, in a forum for disabled people, and I read the comments – person after person saying “oh, yeah, that happens to me, I’m sick of it.” And then I saw a similar thread on Twitter.
And then I finally thought, “hey, this should be a political cartoon.” (I’m sometimes not the swiftest.)
Once I had that thought, the cartoon was very easy to write. This general structure – a series of repetitive events showing how stigma or prejudice cumulatively wears down its targets – is one I’ve done several times before, including in the cartoon I posted here yesterday.
This doesn’t bother me; many cartoonists I admire have themes they return to again and again. The trick is finding new angles for exploring the same theme.
* * *
Embarrassingly, exactly as I wrote the words “new angles,” I remembered a cartoon I did four years ago that’s almost exactly like this one, about white people’s habit of touching Black people’s hair. What I wrote back then, about that cartoon, also applies to this one:
Part of what I wanted to get at, with this cartoon, is the cumulative nature of these small indignities (aka microaggressions). It’s simple for the character, in panel 1, to repel the request with at least an appearance of good cheer. But when it comes again and again and again and again and again, it’s not so easy. Things add up; pressure builds. What if it were just one person might be “wow, that person was really awkward, what was up with that?” becomes a pattern of small assaults to one’s dignity.
If I had remembered that four-years-old cartoon, I would have tried to find a different angle for this one.
So am I sorry I did this one? I admit, I’m not. If some readers (especially disabled readers) enjoy seeing the “I’d rather be dead” cliche made fun of in a cartoon, and feel that the cartoon at least partly reflects their own life, then for me that completely justifies making this cartoon.
It’s interesting (to me at least) to compare the art of the two cartoons. The script is very similar, but the layout and the drawing style are radically different. I definitely put a lot more work into drawing this one.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon has six panels. The first five panel shows a woman with blue hair with a thin pink streak, thin oval glasses, and arms that end slightly above where her elbows would be. In each panel she appears, she’s in a different setting talking to a different person. I’m going to call her GLASSES.
A caption at the top of the panel says “Monday.” A brown-haired woman, hands clutched together in front of her chin, is anxiously staring at Glasses. Glasses, who was walking and is wearing a backpack, turns back to look at the woman.
ANXIOUS: You’re so brave. I’d rather die than live like that!
GLASSES: Um… Thank you?
A caption says “Tuesday.” In a grocery store, a muscular man in a sleeveless tee, who is pushing a grocery cart, talks loudly at Glasses. He is between Glasses and the shelf, and Glasses is gesturing towards the shelf behind him, looking a little annoyed.
MUSCLES: I can’t imagine being you. I’d rather be dead.
GLASSES: Dude, I just want some Pop Tarts.
A caption says “Wednesday.” Glasses is seating in the… what do you call those things? The sort of built-in stadium seating some college lecture halls have, with a series of long curved benches and desks, each one on a higher level as they get further from the front of the room, so everyone has a good view of the professor. Glasses has a laptop open on the desk in front of her. We can see a couple of bored looking students in the row behind Glasses. Next to Glasses is a man wearing a jacket, one of those “image of a necktie” tee shirts, with his black hair in a long ponytail and an expression of extreme disgust. Glasses looks very annoyed as she responds to him.
PONYTAIL: I couldn’t stand not wiping my own butt. I’d die first!
GLASSES: Shockingly, butt wiping isn’t actually the pinnacle of human existence.
A caption says “Thursday.” Glasses walks down a city sidewalk, a cartoon cloud indicating grumpiness floating above her. Behind her, a man wearing sandals and pants with torn knees, and carrying a shopping bag, grins as he talks at her; she doesn’t even bother turning back to look.
SANDALS: It’s inspiring that you haven’t committed suicide.
A caption says “Friday.” An older couple, a man and a woman, are looking at Glasses; the man, wide-eyed, is speaking, but is cut off by Glasses yelling at him, leaning forward angrily.
MAN: I’d rather be dead than-
GLASSES: I don’t want to die. I have a great life! Except for ablebodied people telling me my life isn’t worth living!
The “camera” pulls back to show the man and woman now standing by themselves; Glasses, it is implied, has stomped off and left the scene. The man and woman look annoyed as they look in the direction Glasses went.
MAN: Those people are so rude!
WOMAN: Obviously it’s the disability that makes her so angry.