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AttitudeReview - Attitude
The New Subversive Political Cartoonists
by Ted Rall (editor)
NBM Publishing, 2002
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Aug 9th 2002 (Volume 6, Issue 32)

In Attitude, Ted Rall has collected together 20 like-minded artists to create a state-of-the-art introduction to political cartoons.  Probably the best known name among them is Tom Tomorrow, whose work appears often in the New Yorker and The New York Times as well as city publications such as the Village Voice. But there’s a good chance that anyone who is somewhat media-savvy will have seen the work of Derf, Ward Sutton, Bill Brown, Scott Bateman, Rall himself, and several other of the artists included.  Each artist has 5 or 6 pages devoted to his or her work, along with an interview. 

All of the artists are irreverent and make fun of politicians, celebrities, TV, multinational corporations and people in positions of authority.  A number of cartoons specifically mention the protests against the World Trade Organization and the way that the press portrayed the protestors as trouble-makers rather than honorable fighters raising awareness about the excesses of capitalism.  Most of the cartoons are taken from recent years, some being very recent, concerning terrorism, the war against terrorism, and civil liberties. 

The interviews with the artists (all conducted by Ted Rall, except the one with him, which is done by Ruben Bolling) seem like they were conducted by e-mail.  They get a little predictable if one is reading the book methodically from start to finish, although Rall does try to mix it up by throwing in odd questions such as, “Name your least-favorite board game,” “Describe your strangest first date,” “Describe one moment of perfect joy,” and “Name your five favorite bands.”  But mostly Rall asks artists about what motivates them to do their work and what their political views are, and mostly they prove to be wise-cracking alternative types who believe that if the American public really knew some basic facts about who has the power in society and how they abuse it, it would be outraged.

There’s little reference to mental illness here.  Rall asks Peter Kuper about experience of depression, and Kuper gives the memorable reply, “Being an artist and trying to do work from the heart is a short path to insanity.”  Joe Sharpnack says the greed of the medical industry really pisses him off.  A few of the cartoons refer to Prozac or antidepressants and suggest that people take pills as a way of avoiding the real causes of alienation in contemporary society.  But I didn’t spot any cartoons about HMOs, children taking Ritalin, or the treatment of the homeless mentally ill.  That’s odd, since those are rich areas for satirists to mine for material. 

A problem with alternative cartoons focusing on politics is that they can tend to preach to the converted, and if they lack a real spark of humor or innovation in their style, even their fans end up reading them out of a sense of obligation rather than enjoyment.  Nearly all of the work here is good, but it’s not going to appeal to everyone.  It’s likely that the more rewarding parts will be the discovery of previously unfamiliar artists.  For myself, I will be seeking out more examples of the work of Stephanie McMillan, whose work has a straightforward outrage mixed with a slyly comical drawing style.  This is a nicely produced book, and will be welcomed by radicals and even liberals with some sense of fun.

 

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© 2002 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is editor of Metapsychology Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in psychiatry. He is especially interested in exploring how philosophers can play a greater role in public life, and he is keen to help foster communication between philosophers, mental health professionals, and the general public.


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