“You should be a politician!”
This sentence constitutes the most offered piece of casual career advice I ever receive. I got it from my parents when I was a kid, from my friends and relatives when I was growing up, and I get it from most people I know nowadays at least once apiece. “You just explained it clearly and convincingly,” or equivalent phrase is the most common addition after it. I’ve gotten it more frequently than ever since I started drawing a comic that is, ostensibly, about what’s making the news. I’ll let you flip back through the comic annotations and judge whether you think it’s true for yourself. I’m not convinced, personally.
But I have never had even the slightest interest in joining politics. My general justification is that my skills lie elsewhere – if I want to have an effect on anything in the political spectrum, I’m far better off drawing comics about it than I am campaigning and filibustering. I’d love to say that’s all there is to it and leave it there, but I can’t quite convince myself that’s entirely true.
Do I believe that artists have power in politics? Of course I believe that. Artists have power over ideas; it’s inherently what they do. Look at Brecht and epic theatre. Go back to ancient Greece if you have to. But if you want to look at me specifically – and I do, we all care about our place in the world – I don’t know if that’s honestly my justification.
Robert and I, in writing these comics, try to remain a step back from whatever we’re writing about. We try and call things as we see them, put our cards on the table, then focus on making you laugh in three panels. We made the active decision that this comic was not a soapbox. But it’s exactly that act of removing myself from the system that nags me at the back of my mind when “you should be a politician!” echoes past.
The role of the critic is important in keeping systems working their best, but as someone who is also a peddler of laughs, I sometimes feel like I am taking the selfish option. It is easier to point out the flaws in other people’s solutions than it is to implement solutions of your own, and it’s similarly easier to look down with scorn upon the people you are satirizing than it is to look up at them with admiration.
I get to stand on the outside and look in, never getting off my high horse to help effect direct change like they do. As a critic I can lord it over everybody, even if they’re the President of the United States. By enrolling myself in the system, I’d lose that sense of lateral equality – I’d be entering into a pecking order and starting right at the local level. It’s a long row to hoe. Plus, people like cartoonists; they hate politicians. That’s why, regardless of the importance of artists in the political spectrum, I always feel like I’m dismissing the possibility out of selfishness.
I’m not making sweeping statements about critics or cartoonists or artists in general here. I’m talking about me. Their role is important. But is mine? I can never escape those six echoing words. “You should have been a politician!”
We did three comics in advance for different potential outcomes of the election, and then I coloured the winning one. I’ll post the other two tomorrow.