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Shaenon K. Garrity
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The Worst Damn Comic in the World: Day by Day 
28th-Apr-2007 10:25 pm
No!
Last time I declared something the Worst Damn Comic in the World, it was with the caveat that the title was liable to change hands at any time, as soon as I encountered another comic that was worse. That day has come. Actually, I've seen plenty of terrible comics since my last Worst Damn Comic post, but this was the first one to obliterate my memory of all other bad comics with a mere three panels of weapons-grade suckiness.

Yes, today I'm looking at a recent installment of Chris Muir's right-wing online comic strip, Day by Day. This particular strip has made its way around the Internets recently, passed along wonderingly by one stunned and speechless blogger after another. I don't think anyone was shocked to see a Day by Day strip sucking, because it's pretty much always bad. But it's usually bad in the way all bad political strips are bad: shaky art, strawman characters, partisan propaganda in place of dialogue. Only occasionally, however, does Day by Day feature all this plus some kind of horrifying crudely-drawn minstrel show.





First off, I'm not objecting to the strip because I'm offended by it. I don't even think it's all that offensive. It is, of course, mind-bogglingly tasteless and badly done, to the point that I can barely stand to look at it before averting my eyes in shame at the idea that I'm of the same species as someone who would draw this and think it was funny. But I understand that cartoonist Chris Muir is clumsily trying to be anti-racist here; the (poorly made) point of the strip is that dressing up in blackface and talking like a character out of Disney's Song of the South are Bad Things. And it'd be awful if Hillary Clinton did that, wouldn't it?

No, I object to the strip on much firmer ground: because it sucks.

I've tried many times to enjoy Day by Day with an open mind. It's been recommended by people whose opinions I respect. Okay, one person, and I suspect that's only because he's conservative and it's either this or Mallard Fillmore. But I'm sorry; it's a bad comic strip. Let's examine the strip above for some specific factors in its badness.

Lazy-ass artwork. Give credit where credit is due: that clock sillhouette in the background of the second panel is pretty spiffy. Otherwise, this thing's a mess. I don't know what's up with the dude's triangular eyes. I don't know what's up with the redhead's spine-cracking pose. Nobody's expressions match their dialogue. Tacky gradient fills replace backgrounds. Panels are arranged with no sense of composition, not that pasting a character into an empty space requires much sense of composition. And check out the last panel, where the pen-and-ink Clinton stands behind a podium created by Pixar circa 1985. I could also rag on the wobbly word balloons, but hell, I draw crappy word balloons myself.

Random pandering cheesecake. Actually, there isn't much in this particular strip, but in general, Day by Day characters spend a surprising amount of time debating politics while lounging in nighties, getting dressed, and sunbathing. The one good part about Muir's fondness for fanservice is that he occasionally draws scantily-clad men, too. The bad part is that both his men and his women are pretty sloppily drawn.

The dialogue isn't even trying to be dialogue. Look at the exchange in the first panel. "Is Hillary trying to be black?" "Literally, it's all she can see." The question and answer don't match up. I wish I could say that this was just an oversight on Muir's part, that he meant to replace the first line with something like, "Does Hillary just see people in terms of race?" and he forgot to make the correction. But almost all Day by Day strips read like they were run through Babelfish a few times. Muir clearly isn't interested in creating human dialogue, or even building a political argument through his characters' give and take. He just wants to cram as many Republican talking points--"Hillary is trying to be black," "Race is all Hillary can see," "Democrats see people as groups, not individuals"--into the strip as possible, and he honestly doesn't give a shit whether the result makes any sense as a comic.

All the characters are Chris Muir. This is the big one. Day by Day is transparently designed to be the conservative answer to Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury, even directly stealing Doonesbury staples like "drawing" four panels of word balloons coming out of the White House. The thing that cartoonists tend to forget when ripping off Doonesbury is that, while Trudeau's own views are clearly liberal, he uses a cast of characters representing a wide range of backgrounds and political opinions. Nor does he portray his liberal characters as angels and his conservative characters as devils. At this point in the strip's long and storied run, Doonesbury's title character is a registered Republican, having grown more conservative in middle age. Longtime conservative foil B.D. is currently one of the most sympathetic characters in the strip. The only radical left-winger remaining in the cast is Mark Slackmeyer, who was until recently dating a Log Cabin Republican. Trudeau writes his characters as people with lives and opinions, not puppets for whatever political point he wants to make. In fact, you could say that Democratic cartoonists see characters as individuals, not groups.

That's not the case with Day by Day. The strip has one "liberal" character, a shrill female journalist (liberal media alert!) who embodies all left-wing stupidity and malice. She is never permitted to be anything but an obnoxious object of ridicule. All the other characters are not only conservatives but conservatives of the exact same political stripe, possessing identical beliefs, opinions, and reactions. They also all speak in the same voice. In this particular strip, you could switch the two characters and make them mouth one another's dialogue, and it wouldn't change a blessed thing.

I'm not racist! I drew a black friend! The protagonist of Day by Day is African-American, mainly so that Muir can use him as a mouthpiece for his opposition to civil rights. Here, for example, he's offended that Hillary Clinton talks to black people about black issues. After all, only rich white liberals care about racial equality; black people have totally gotten over it. Take it from a fictional black man drawn by a white cartoonist.

I'm not saying that white cartoonists shouldn't draw minority characters; on the contrary, I'd like to see more diversity in comics, and it gets boring drawing white people all the time. But using a black character specifically to advance political views with which most black people not currently serving as Secretary of State violently disagree seems...I dunno, a little disingenuous. In fact, I find it faintly ironic that Muir would accuse Clinton of donning political blackface, when the main character in his strip is essentially a blackface version of Chris Muir.

Between this strip and Scott Stantis' Prickly City, I think there are now more black Republicans in conservative comics than there are in the actual Republican Party.

"Democrats see people as groups, not individuals." Okay, I gotta give credit to whatever neoconservative think tank came up with that one and got it out on the airwaves. It's a clever way of making Democrats seem inhuman and craven for working to help disadvantaged groups of people. See, noticing that racism exists makes you a racist! I doubt Muir came up with this line, but he obviously reads the right blogs.

Hillary trying to be black. This is an accusation that comes up pretty frequently in conservative punditry, because both Clinton and Obama spend a fair amount of time talking about civil rights and speaking to black voters, but it's hard to attack Obama for it without seeming, y'know, kind of racist. But Hillary is fair game, because what kind of crazy white person would care about black people?

Since this strip ran on April 26, I'm guessing it was directly inspired not by the fairly outdated "plantation" comment mentioned in panel one, but Rush Limbaugh's April 23 radio broadcast, in which he claimed that Clinton made a "demeaning reference to the fact that [African-Americans are] janitors, or custodial workers, or cleaning people" in a speech to the National Action Network, a civil rights organization. Clinton's audience consisted mostly of black women. Media Matters has a full exegesis, but I want to quote the section of Clinton's speech to which Limbaugh was referring, just to point out how spectacularly and deliberately wrong he got it:

CLINTON: We have to reform our government. The abuses that have gone on in the last six years, I don't think we know the half of it yet. You know, when I walk into the Oval Office in January of 2009, I'm afraid I'm going to lift up the rug and see so much stuff under there. You know, what is it about us always having to clean up after people? But this is not just going to be picking up socks off the floor, this is going to be cleaning up our government. Cleaning out the deadwood and the political cronies, the people who left all of our fellow citizens along the Gulf Coast to fend for themselves, and to this day, have not made a commitment to rebuild New Orleans. We're going to get to the bottom of these no-bid contracts, and all these special interests, and all these favors that have transferred billions of dollars into the pockets of all of these big companies in Washington, the most prominent of which is Halliburton.

Not only is Clinton clearly not saying that her audience is made up of "cleaning people," but the "cleaning" reference is a reference not to race, but to sex. That's why she says "us": she's referring to women's traditional role as housekeepers. And then she goes on to declare that this role is over--from now on, we're going to be cleaning up the government, not the floors.

Clinton's not my fave Democratic candidate, but if encouraging black women to take power in our government is "trying to be black" and worthy of ridicule, well, paint me in blackface and stick me behind a badly-drawn podium.

Okay, analysis be damned: let's just point and laugh. These are all from the month of April; you don't need to dig deep into the Day by Day archives to find sucky strips, although you may have to hunt for a while to find ones coherent enough that you can figure out what the crappy punchline is supposed to be.



Ha ha! What's funnier than gagging a mouthy woman who doesn't know her place? Oh, I know...



Reusing the same gag (ha!) a week and a half later!



Note the careful excision of the "nappy-haired" half of poor, thought-police-afflicted Don Imus's comment. I imagine Muir's readers are mostly cool with misogyny, but do balk just a tiny bit at bald-faced racism. And how nice of Muir's fictional black guy and fictional woman to team up to defend insults aimed at black women! They're awfully good sports, aren't they?



Guy who's lived in America since the age of eight = "foreign student." I'm guessing Muir will take the opposite tack if Schwarzenegger tries to run for President. Oh, wait, Schwarzenegger's white. He belongs in this country.

Again, the "dialogue" doesn't follow any train of thought or conversation, but is simply a collection of things Muir thinks liberals say about gun control. The proof presented by the strip's Evil Retarded Liberal that "guns don't solve anything" is that students were shot to death in a gun-free zone? Huh?



This is one of many, many cases in which I'm not 100% sure what Muir is trying to say. I think his point is that mosques, a.k.a. the Eastern way of seeing Heaven, resemble observatories, a.k.a. the Western way of seeing Heaven. Which is kind of a sweet idea, except that it means Muir thinks Western culture invented astronomy.



Again, this is just me, I could be wrong. But I think it's a little tacky to do strips mocking the idea that sexual harassment could happen in the military at the same time that female officers are coming back from Iraq with reports of rape. Gee, how could they get raped when they're toting those bitchin' M-16s?

Incidentally, this is part of a series of strips set on a military base in Iraq. But you could tell that from the detailed, accurate backgrounds, right?

I do like that the Evil Retarded Liberal looks kind of like Tina Fey, or possibly me.



Man, Muir must've loved that first drawing, since he copied it for panel three and just pasted in a new head. I guess it spoke to him somehow. I'm told great art has that power. Meanwhile, the guy in the middle panel appears to be dead or comatose. My husband's opinion is that Muir should have replaced that panel with a close-up of the redhead's butt, but he's like that.

And there you are. The Worst Damn Comic in the World. I hope to high heaven that it's a good long while before I see something bad enough to replace this one.


P.S. The current runner-up for Worst Damn Comic is 52 #51, wherein the series' big bad guy is revealed to be a new, badass, Alien-inspired version of Mister Mind, the tiny evil genius from the Captain Marvel comics. Mister Mind first appeared in the classic storyline "The Monster Society of Evil," in which Captain Marvel battled a long string of huge, vicious monsters before discovering that their leader was, ironically, an itty-bitty cartoon worm. In 52, the heroes battle a long string of huge, vicious monsters before discovering that their leader is...another huge, vicious monster. This means that today's "mature" and "modern" superhero comics are less sophisticated than comics written for eight-year-olds in 1943.

Comments 
29th-Apr-2007 10:10 am (UTC)
I'm with you, 100%. This strip is sucky in ways that makes Cathy seem inspiring.

"In fact, I find it faintly ironic that Muir would accuse Clinton of donning political blackface, when the main character in his strip is essentially a blackface version of Chris Muir."

EXACTLY. Good call.
29th-Apr-2007 10:31 am (UTC)
Are belly shirts commonly worn on US military bases in war zones? From what I recall of my sister-in-laws navy sweats, the shirt covered the whole body...

For a comic that occasionally shows hints of a conservative base maybe try "The Whiteboard". Though its mostly about paintball, it has had a few extra gung-ho patriotism style strips. There was a furry politically conservative strip I tried to follow for awhile. Very pretty, but just insane characters. I mean like militia compound type mentality far right. Pretty art though. What the hell was the name of it...
29th-Apr-2007 01:32 pm (UTC)
The Whiteboard as Gung-Ho Patriotic? Mm Kinda a stretch I think. Patriotic for sure, but "gung-ho" seems a little out of place. I think its a honest sort of patiotism vs. an over the top kind. But that aside, it CAN be quite the testosterone fest when dealing with paintguns and stuff that goes Boom :) VERY fun comic, and I've never played paintball. Makes we want to try tho :)
29th-Apr-2007 11:27 am (UTC)
You only mentioned Obama briefly, but I have to say that I'm really, really enjoying Amateur Hour in Pundit Land when it comes to him, both for and against.

Okay, so... is everyone only listening to him because he's black, or has he never got a chance of being listened to because he's black? Because half of you are arguing both sides in the same paragraph. Oh wait, I keep forgetting: He's not black. Or black enough, anyway. Better discuss whether or not he qualifies as black at length, right? Cuz it matters.

God, it's like we went to the same high school and he got caught with a Red Hot Chili Peppers CD in his Discman, too.

And you, with the conservative blog: Remind me again that his middle name is Hussein. Bold it. Increase the font size! "B. Hussein Obama." Class! No no, it looks good, really. I'm totally frightened and suspicious, it's that color-coded terrorism risk-o-meter thingie all over again. Y'got me. Paw the flop sweat off your upper lip and post it. Look, they're digging for dirt as fast as they can, this'll just hafta do for now, okay?? POST IT.
29th-Apr-2007 05:23 pm (UTC)

And you, with the conservative blog: Remind me again that his middle name is Hussein. Bold it. Increase the font size!

I often catch Fox News at the gym, and I swear they always, always, ALWAYS include Obama's middle name when referring to him.
29th-Apr-2007 11:34 am (UTC)
Oh god, that was an absolute BLITZ.

I am glad that comics this bad exist so I can read eviscerations this good.
29th-Apr-2007 11:36 am (UTC) - Hello people
Anonymous
Peace people

We love you
29th-Apr-2007 12:27 pm (UTC)
"P.S. The current runner-up for Worst Damn Comic is 52 #51...In 52, the heroes battle a long string of huge, vicious monsters before discovering that their leader is...another huge, vicious monster."

In 52's defense (which I've been enjoying), we don't know how large Mr. Mind is yet. He was only shown once, in a close up, and he fits inside Skeets, who was roughly football sized.
29th-Apr-2007 01:45 pm (UTC)
(linked here from PoE)
I'm not quite sure what the mosque/observatory drawings are meant to express either, but given the rest of his strips I would guess it's suggesting that America looks towards the heavens with a scientific/methodical eye whereas Middle Easterners see the sky in terms of their silly, jihad-loving mythology (nevermind the prevalence of Christianity and its continued efforts to suffocate science in this country ...).
29th-Apr-2007 02:15 pm (UTC) - mosque/observatory drawings
Yeah, that's what I think too.
29th-Apr-2007 01:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, that's exactly the sort of reaction we'd expect from you Frisco Reds.
:-)

I think you're missing Muir's ham-handed point occasionally, though, perhaps because of your leftist filters. The mosque dome versus observatory is clearly a comment on Islamic culture being steeped in mysticism, and western culture being steeped in science. Muir isn't correct on a number of counts (western culture is rife with mysticism, and the sciences aren't ignored in eastern culture, either), but that's another matter.

Just as lefties were desperate to mimic populist-conservative talk radio's success by imitating its form superficially (and thus failed abysmally and embarrassingly), Muir appears desperate to mimic the success of a political comic.

In business, we recommend that people stick to their core strengths. Perhaps there will be some decent conservative commentary in the comic medium one day, but Muir surely isn't it. Andrew is right about focusing on the redhead's butt, though. And the other panel should have featured her rack. Surely that's something on which all of us could agree, right?
:-)
29th-Apr-2007 05:31 pm (UTC)
I think you're missing Muir's ham-handed point occasionally, though, perhaps because of your leftist filters. The mosque dome versus observatory is clearly a comment on Islamic culture being steeped in mysticism, and western culture being steeped in science. Muir isn't correct on a number of counts (western culture is rife with mysticism, and the sciences aren't ignored in eastern culture, either), but that's another matter.

In that case, the strip is even dumber. I was giving Muir the benefit of the doubt and hoping he was trying to be a uniter, not a divider, but maybe I was wrong. And my point still stands: the labeling of an obervatory as "Western" suggests that Muir is unaware that much of the science of astronomy originated in the Mideast and Asia. Or maybe he thinks that's ancient history and doesn't matter.

Yeah, and the Mideast has churches and temples, unlike the civilized West. The hell?
29th-Apr-2007 02:43 pm (UTC) - The Worst Damn Comic in the World
You are right. I agree with you.

I just wanted to say something about Don Imus's comment. I don't think there is anything inherently derogatory or racist about the phrase "nappy-haired". It does indicate race, but it not by itself racist.

Since the women in question are black and he is white, racism is going to be involved. But the insult was more misogynistic than racist. Calling woman athletes whores can only be derogatory. It was a direct attack on them and part of a general attack on women's sexuality and any attempt by women to excel.
29th-Apr-2007 04:02 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
The art isn't so bad... Yeah, it's got some comic-style back-breaking cheesecake to it, and it doesn't match the dialogue, but loose is no problem and -- wait a minute. He's reusing the same art over and over. And not just in the same comic. That one from April 20th has the same guy as the one at the top... And he does it a bunch of other times too. That does look bad. I mean, with such a loose style and all...
29th-Apr-2007 04:02 pm (UTC)
The art isn't so bad... Yeah, it's got some comic-style back-breaking cheesecake to it, and it doesn't match the dialogue, but loose is no problem and -- wait a minute. He's reusing the same art over and over. And not just in the same comic. That one from April 20th has the same guy as the one at the top... And he does it a bunch of other times too. That does look bad. I mean, with such a loose style and all...
29th-Apr-2007 04:12 pm (UTC)
I don't have such a good eye for these things, but it looks like he also just cut and flipped the Black Friend from one strip to another.

It's the there's-no-rape-in-the-armed-forces-that'd-be-silly-and-embarrassing argument that's sickening. As to the bare bellies-- even the lady in the hijad-- if I'm not mistaken-- is showing some midriff where her top swings open.
29th-Apr-2007 05:53 pm (UTC)
As if the "women in the military aren't sexually harassed" comic wasn't offensive enough, today's Arizona Daily Star is running an editorial written by Janet Napolitano, the governor of Arizona. The editorial is all about sexual harassment of women in the military.
29th-Apr-2007 07:33 pm (UTC)
That was truly distinguished in it's awfulness. It kinda reminds me of another "hurr, stoopit libbrullz" comic that you may have heard of... It's called The Leftersons.
29th-Apr-2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
As much as I agree with everything you're saying here, you let liberal bias in just enough that I don't think I can show this to my conservative friend who loves the strip as a good solid deconstruction of why it sucks.

I usually actually enjoy the artwork in the strip, modulo the "expressions on faces never match dialog" bit - but I mostly chalk it down to the fact I can't imagine what look one *would* have on their face while saying this stuff.
30th-Apr-2007 12:46 am (UTC)
Er, not liberal bias - liberal opinions. Saying Shaenon's comments about the strip are "liberally biased" is like saying that P. J. O'Rourke's writing is "conservatively biased." No pretense is made of evenhandedness; the point is to pick apart an awful strip on two levels: as bad craft, and as a dubious political message.

I dislike the use of the phrase "liberal bias" as a talking point. It makes sense to use the phrase when discussing academia or the alternative media (judging by viewing figures, Fox News IS the mainstream media) but why, why, why do people use the phrase when discussing opinion pieces that are openly liberal? That's not bias - that's a STANCE.
(no subject) - Anonymous - Expand
29th-Apr-2007 08:19 pm (UTC)
If one fine day you wake up and feel the need to immediately obliterate the memory of a past "worst comic" just take a look at the current output of Franco-Belgian BDs in the Fantasy or Science Fiction categories. There's a lot of good stuff here and there, sure, but nearly about half of the output is filled with the horror points you mentioned here.
29th-Apr-2007 08:34 pm (UTC)
Oh my god, I honestly had no idea what was going on in half of those strips. It's making my head hurt trying to figure it out.

It's just scary.
30th-Apr-2007 04:17 am (UTC)
"Democrats see people as groups, not individuals." Okay, I gotta give credit to whatever neoconservative think tank came up with that one and got it out on the airwaves. It's a clever way of making Democrats seem inhuman and craven for working to help disadvantaged groups of people.
The fact that he's talking about all Democrats as a group instead of as individuals adds that tiny spice of irony to the mix.
30th-Apr-2007 04:25 am (UTC)

Oh, yes! I meant to mention that, but I forgot. "All Republicans see people as individuals. All Democrats see people as groups. Oh, and I'm a Republican." It's like those logic puzzles with the guard who always lies and the guard who always tells the truth.
30th-Apr-2007 06:14 am (UTC) - Someday, I'd love to see...
...a conservative-leaning comic strip that isn't heavy-handed. (Personally, I'm anything but a conservative, but I'd simply like to know it could be done.)

While we're at it, I'd also like to see a truly liberal, class-oriented comic strip that emphasizes rich vs. poor, especially where economics are concerned, and doesn't kowtow to the Ivy League establishment, Cambridge-Manhattan-Hollywood focus on cultural liberalism.
30th-Apr-2007 10:40 am (UTC)
>.>

Wow... I've never even heard of this comic! And.. I wish I never had!

Srsly.. :\ A problem with a lot of ppl who try to mimic Doonesbury or the Daily Show, is they dun get that successful political comedy involves being able to mock BOTH sides, not just keep backing your own opinions and laughing at your jokes :(

And... I'm tired of (generally) male artists who take every opportunity to put their characters in their underwear to talk about things :\
30th-Apr-2007 01:54 pm (UTC)
Now I feel like I can start a webcomic confident that it won't be the worst one in existence.

30th-Apr-2007 07:06 pm (UTC)
I'd read a lot more webcomics if their creators would take 10 minutes to read up on color theory and figure out how shadows work. The arbitrary shifting lightsources, big splotches of gray all over the place, and overall level of murk (can anyone make out anything in the second panel in the final strip posted? I think the guy's trapped in a smoke-filled underwater garage at 3am, and I'm pretty sure he's been assassinated by snipers) all adds up to an unpleasant experience for the reader.

And if webcomic creators can take another 10 minutes to read some older comics and figure out what makes them work, I'd be pretty happy. Getting back to that final strip again, there's no reason to have a "beat" panel in the middle of the comic, and no reason to have all of the dialogue crammed into the first and third panels. The pacing and the timing don't work. You've got perfectly good booty shots in panel one and three, a dead guy in panel two, and nothing that brings it together into a cohesive package. The artist either needed to expand this into a four-panel strip, contract it into a two-panel strip, or find any reason at all to justify the existence of a third panel.

It looks like he's only got a three-panel template in his arsenal, though, which really limits the types of strips he can write. Jim Davis has used a strict three-panel format for decades (maybe since the beginning), but his crew understands this and knows how to build their jokes around this structure. If you're trying to handle issues that are more complex than cat, dog & owner jokes, however, you should leave yourself a few more options than that.
1st-May-2007 01:11 am (UTC)
Hey, this guy is published in one newspaper, don't lump him in with...I don't want to say 'us' as I'm just a doodler.
1st-May-2007 01:22 am (UTC)
That observatory drawing is nice-looking, except the starry background is inept.

You did a great job nailing every flaw in that blackface cartoon, except one: Not only does the dialog not work, but the progression of panels doesn't support the attempted joke. Panels #2 and #3 both follow logically from #1, but #3 doesn't follow from #2, and #2 doesn't build to the punchline in #3.
1st-May-2007 12:00 pm (UTC) - Wow, I've never posted in a Livejournal before...
Anonymous
Re: "Gung ho"...?

Doc.

(TWB)
1st-May-2007 01:15 pm (UTC)
Whew! For a minute I was afraid that Day by Day (which I'd never heard of before) might get picked up by newspapers. It seems to have stolen the Boondocks style, which would probably give it an "in" with the syndicates.

But man! As soon as I read a strip or two, all my worries vanished. The newspapers may love right-wing comic strips, but they like comprehensibility, too.

I've never seen a comic that was as disjointed as this. It makes me wonder if "Muir" is actually a defective AI comic-writing program, created as an undergraduate thesis project by a particularly dim legacy student.
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