I think there is a rule somewhere that if a person writes nine blog posts in a row that mostly focus on the intended subject, the tenth can contain a bit of rambling nonsense. If you’re reading my work, hopefully you’ll be invested enough to indulge me. I’m tired and a bit cranky, so I’m finally going to take a minute to rant about a problem I’ve been experiencing, which is the small writing found in
many comics. Maybe my bad vision is to blame. I’ve worn glasses since I was in second grade and graduated to bifocals over a year ago. While I have no problem picking a novel or book of poetry off my shelf and reading it, many of the comics assigned during both semesters have been a struggle. I have to bring the page close to my face to read the words, and then the images lose focus. As a result, I feel like I’m not getting the full experience of the comic. It feels disjointed, and I don’t connect with the work as much as I should.
I’ve had this struggle with our last reading, Ben Passmore’s Your Black Friend and Other Strangers. However, the importance of the comic’s subject matter, which in part focuses on microaggressions, oppression, racism, and politics, doesn’t deserve a diminished response just because I’m feeling frustrated with the reading experience and having a bad day. There are twenty comics in the collection, and Passmore includes an introduction that states it is mostly “about how to be a funny, dangerous failure.” He admits we all fail, but “we just have to learn how to fail upward.” That idea reminds me of another work about racism and microaggressions, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen. She stated her book was not so much about race, but in the way we fail one another. The connection between Rankine and Passmore is most apparent in the comic “Your Black Friend.” Both authors have written about the police being called for seeing a “suspicious” black man in a neighborhood the alarmed person doesn’t think he belongs in. Passmore’s man turns out to live in the house he was seen at. Rankine’s was a visiting friend, at the house watching someone’s children if I remember correctly. He was out front, pacing the sidewalk while making a phone call.
In Rankine’s story, when the homeowner rushes home, she tells the man maybe next time he should make the call in the backyard – blaming him, in essence, for the way society views him. Failing him. Passmore’s character is angered when no one admonishes the lady in his story for calling the police on the homeowner. He writes:
Your black friend would like to say something but doesn’t want to appear “angry.” He knows this type of person expects that of him and he will lose before he begins. This is why he has white friends, he thinks. While people are allowed to be angry when he is expected to be calm and reasonable.
But the white friend says nothing. She fails him.
Passmore and Rankine have other similarities. Rankine writes about Hennessy Youngman, who capitalizes on being the angry black artist. Passmore makes a similar statement about himself, noting “if you’re a professional at being an outraged black cartoonist, that’s the way they want to keep you.” Both authors also make bold statements on the sad and absurd reality that a black man wearing a hoodie equates danger. But Passmore pushes a type of action not seen in Rankine’s work – outright anarchy. His commentary reveals the peaceful protests aren’t working and states that diverse tactics may have to be used to overcome racists. This is accompanied by a black fist punching Donald Trump in the face. Later in the book, Passmore takes an even darker turn in a story with two black women who kill a police officer and laugh it off as “reparations.” The final comic in the collection is Passmore, setting himself on fire and running, kamikaze style, at two police officers. Passmore can be seen as condoning violence as a means of change, or possibly just portraying his fear that only rebellion through these radical means will stop us from failing one another.
While contemplating all this, my friend Rahn calls. He’s a black man from New York City that now lives in Oklahoma, so he’s seen more than his fair share of confederate flags lately. I discuss the book with him. He brings up the ridiculousness of white people who argue the confederate statues should stay and the flag still wave out of an obligation to history. He laughs, calling them out for celebrating being losers. He argues it all comes down to white people being afraid of losing power. I don’t disagree. But what he really wants to talk about are the children being taken from their immigrant parents and held in detainment camps. Rahn argues how the “right” are anti-abortion, but after that they don’t give a damn what happens to children. Again, I don’t disagree.
After that conversation, I listened to a recording published online by The Atlantic of children in a detention center screaming for their moms and dads. I looked at an old Dr. Seuss cartoon about the United States denying safe-haven to European Jews during the Holocaust, because, after all, America doesn’t care about “foreign children.” I read an article about a protest outside the tents set up in the Texas heat where over 100 teenage boys are being detained, without their parents, for immigration violations. We are failing each other, and Passmore’s right – peaceful protests are doing nothing.
And here I was, complaining about the print size inside a comic book.
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