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.