As a fan of underground and alternative comics, I frequently read New York Press and The Comics Journal. Recently, there has been some controversy on TCJ's message board over a recent Mike Wartella strip, but I have not seen the strip running in New York Press lately (or is it just that I can't find it?) and therefore don't know what the controversy is all about.
What gives? I miss the weekly absurdities that Mike Wartella is so good at dishing out. Please say you haven't dropped him!
Name Withheld, Brooklyn
The editors reply: A few issues back, Wartella began a new strip for New York Press that will run most weeks in MUGGER's column.
Yes, President Clinton's Kwanzaa message last month was truly silly ("Minister Clinton's Kwanzaa Homily," 12/29). It was also brainless and uninformed. "With roots in the ancient history and cultural traditions of Africa"?evidently the Rhodes scholar and first black president doesn't know that Kwanzaa was invented on Dec. 26, 1966 (sorry, I don't know what time), by Ron Karenga, an American black allegedly with a serious prison record, today a professor at California State University. It was an attempt to create a black holiday, as opposed to the prevailing "white" holiday traditions, and also a way to encourage blacks not to patronize white businesses, especially during the Christmas season. It's not even at the right time of year for a supposed harvest celebration. The word "Kwanzaa" is taken from Swahili, although most blacks in America are from West Africa, which is not a Swahili-speaking area. It's "traditionally African" to about the same extent that the black Muslims are Muslims?i.e., it's not. It's an American tradition, started by a guy who probably knew about as much about Africa and its traditions as W.D. Fard and Elijah Poole (aka Elijah Muhammad) knew about Islam?about zero.
If people want to celebrate Kwanzaa that's their business, but it's got a long way to go before it qualifies as an ancient tradition. Seems to me that an ancient tradition should at least predate the Rolling Stones.
In the same issue, I was amused by Chris Caldwell's passionate dissection of Charles Schulz and "Peanuts" ("Hill of Beans"). It was interesting, but also kind of like a thesis on the potato chip. Is Schulz really "an artist of towering abilities"? If you say so, pal, but I have my doubts. I read "Peanuts" religiously when I was a kid; I remember thinking that Schulz's kids didn't talk at all like kids?they sounded much too sophisticated, too much like adults. True, after a point the strip was worthless, but that's the usual career path for comic strip artists. (Especially ones who rake in $60 million a year?a sure prescription for comic strip death.) It's very unusual if they're not washed up after two years. People run out of ideas.
Now if someone were to go on and on like this about Mark Alan Stamaty, who used to draw for the Village Voice years ago, I would understand completely. Stamaty was absolutely out of his mind. His strips would be crawling with ideas; stuff would be overflowing the panel and dripping down the page. It was incredible. And he was brilliant, very funny and original. The guy had enough talent for two artists.
But even Stamaty simmered down over time. His strips gradually became less work-intensive. I think as he got a bit older he just didn't have the same physical energy. Today he's calmed down to the level of a reasonable person. But if there's such a thing as genius in the world of comics, then it's in those early Stamaty strips.
Joe Rodrigue, New Haven
In the Name of The Mother
How dare you print Christen Clifford's disgusting fantasies about her poor mother ("First Person," 12/22)? I've heard of Oedipal complexes, but Clifford surely takes the cake. Has she heard the term "elder abuse"? What about "parent abuse" or even "incest"? I hope you will have the good sense to never publish her again.
Jeanne Harber, Brooklyn
Thank God for Christen Clifford and her Italian Stallion! I have missed Amy Sohn's column so much?even while she was writing it, actually. Toward the end Sohn was just whining a lot. But here's a girl who loves sex! And not only does she tell about it, but we get funny memories, too. And what's this about her "not-quite-heterosexuality"? Oh, please. Let us hear more from her.
A.B. Clayton, Brooklyn
Down on Me
I felt unusually compelled to write in response to Christen Clifford's 12/22 story. I started off hating this piece?yet another depressing "dating in the 90s" commentary that makes you wonder if there are any sensitive, sensual single people left on the planet. But then the sun broke through the clouds and a moment of raw, revealing humanity emerged on the jump page. Clifford's poignant description of her fleeting desire to bring pleasure to her ailing mother was a voice I haven't heard before. I'd certainly like to read more work like this?frustrating, maybe even odd, but ultimately thought-provoking.
Cheryl Magiera, Brooklyn
This letter is in response to the op-ed entitled "Hate Story," by Tom Scocca ("Opinion," 12/22). Scocca couldn't be more wrong with his assessment of the media's indifference (for the most part) to the murder of a 13-year-old boy by two homosexuals in Arkansas last year. It is indeed a consequence of the overbearing hysterical voices coming from "gay rights" organizations that many media outlets treat any and all news stories containing gay overtones with kid gloves. It would seem that the 1990s will be remembered as the queer decade, and perhaps those coming of age at the turn of this century will be referred to as Generation Transgendered.
Contrary to Scocca's wishes, homosexuality is not the norm. It is by definition an aberration. That is not to say it cannot be tolerated, but it certainly shouldn't be held up as a laudable lifestyle. Love of self-image is neither a natural nor worthwhile thing. It's a dead end. (So to speak.) Scocca bemoans the fact that "we used to call each other faggots, back in high school." Well, there is a lot of pain and humiliation associated with those years for many individuals. It's a process of assimilation. Most people join the larger group, either wholeheartedly or simply for the sake of convenience. Those who don't, stand on the outside, and often?as they enter adulthood?they end up as distinctive voices in what are commonly referred to as "the arts." It's obvious Scocca is of the opinion that normal rites of passage should be somehow legislated out of our society. Talk about mind control.
Truth be told, Scocca and his ilk should be content with the undeniable fact that gays and drag queens have somehow acquired an exalted status in our culture. Many of the images we are force-fed on a daily basis are gay-inspired, from the anorexic models on bus-stop shelters to the toned boys in underwear ads. The frivolous and vacuous preoccupations that rule in gay culture?how you dress, how you look, who you know, who you were seen with?have now been embraced by American mainstream culture.
What the new breed of ever-so-politically correct queer should understand is that being a homosexual means you're different. Gays should accept their uniqueness and forget about trying to force the rest of society to accept them as normal. In my humble opinion, of course.
Brian O'Hara, Manhattan
We Laugh at Don Hazen
Re: The 12/8 MUGGER. It's really late, and I had to stretch, but I managed to come up with four funny left-wing writers: Calvin Trillin, Molly Ivins, Michael Kinsley and Lewis Lapham. Okay, so Lewis Lapham isn't actually funny, but I get the impression he's trying to be, in his painfully dry manner.
Eric Fredericksen, Seattle
Russ Smith replies: Thanks for the arduous brain-twist, but I can't agree with a single one of your picks. Molly Ivins is a mean-spirited, overrated blowhard; her Texas cornpone should be outlawed. George W. Bush might put on his cowboy boots and drop his "g's" at the end of sentences, but next to Ivins he looks like, well, a Yalie. Calvin Trillin is not funny in the least. If he were a New York Times writer he'd have been Rosenthaled by now. Trillin's a typical mainstream hack who recycles his lame jokes for numerous publications. An incredible fraud. Michael Kinsley may one of the few Americans who don't possess funny bones. I doubt he's ever laughed in sincerity. Finally, Lewis Lapham? You're right: that's the biggest stretch of all.