Greetings From This Modern World

Foreword by Tom Tomorrow

Yes, Tom Tomorrow is a pseudonym.

It's not because I'm in the witness protection program, nor to protect my secret identity as a costumed crime fighter. It goes back to This Modern World's earliest incarnation, a satire on technology and consumerism gone awry set in a visual clip-art world of fifties futurism, which first appeared in a San Francisco-based magazine called Processed World. PW is a sort of journal for radical and disenfranchised office workers and other proletariat of the information age. It often features brutally honest critiques of the angst, despair, and drudgery of the office routine, and examines the small ways in which people trapped in those routines fight back and try to maintain their sanity. There was, at that point, a sense that perhaps it would be best if your boss was not aware of the things you were writing for this magazines, lest you lose your job or get blacklisted by your temp agency as a result of your "bad attitude" -- so pen names abounded. Mine stuck.

This Modern World's transition from its focus on consumer society to its current incarnation as a strip of media criticism and political satire was a gradual one, and is documented somewhat by this book. However, there was one event which, in retrospect, marked the trasnformation into my current, somewhat uneasy identity as a "political cartoonist."

It was the first Saturday after the start of that six-week spasm of mindless patriotic fervor known as the Gulf War, and after spending the day doing my bit for participatory democracy, expressing my opinion in the streets of San Francisco with 100,000 or so of my fellow citizens, I went home and turned on the TV -- because, of course, nothing is real in This Modern World until it's been viewed through the eyes of a TV anchorperson. The anchorperson I tuned into reported on the protestors for a minute or two, and then *quickly cut away* to a segment of equal or greater length on the antics of a dozen or so *pro-war* protesters in some conservative bedroom community outside the city. And that was the end of the report. I was outraged at this effective trivialization of the opinions of some 100,000 Americans. My first reaction was to phone the station and lambast a recording machine, which turned out to be less than satisfying ... and then it occurred to me that I had a public forum. I went into my studio and wrote the strip that appears on page 53 of this book, and, for better or worse, set foot on a slippery slope from which I have yet to recover.

I've made one more change to the strip since then -- the addition of a bitter, sarcastic, wise-cracking penguin named Sparky. I found that I had set a sort of trap for myself within the parameters of the clip-art world I had established. My characters had always been culled from old advertisements (through a collage-and-copy, pen-and-ink process). I had appropriated their obscene cheerfulness for my own ends, but for the satire to be effective, they had to stay in character ("Gosh, Biff, isn't the President's new policy terrific?"). I wanted to be more blunt sometimes, and so Sparky was born, unafraid to point out that, for instance, the President is a wanker. (I was recently gratified to learn that Sparky's angry attitude is actually scientifically on target; The New York Times reports that "popular opinion notwithstanding, these are not friendly birds. They're strong, tough and aggressive, qualities essential to survival in such a hostile environment." The Times was referring to the hostile environment of the Antarctic, but life under three successive Republican administrations hasn't exactly been a cakewalk for Spark -- or me either, for that matter.)

Every day, one reads of new outrages, acts of hypocrisy and greed and cynicism committed in the name of goodness, or morality, of the national interest. I think everyone has a different defense mechanism for dealing with these bleak dispatches, defined largely by the circumstances of his or her life -- from self-serving rationalizations to utter, impotent rage. There's a street person who spends every day on a bench at the end of Market Street in San Francisco, shouting unintelligibly at the tourists waiting in line at the cable car turnaround. He'll sit quietly for a moment and then suddenly and with no apparent provocation, explode: "BlitherdegrumbledeblatherGEORGEBUSH mumbledeblatherdeblither CIA!!" He repeats the same phrase all day long, at maybe thirty-second intervals, and is back the next day with a new and equally cryptic message. I've often thought that if I didn't have the comic strip, that's how I would have eventually ended up -- screaming at the world with such bottled-up rage and frustration that the words themselves are made irrelevent. Fortunately for my loved ones, I *do* have the comic strip, and have learned to channel my anger through it -- and I hope that to some extent it serves this purpose for my readers as well. I seriously doubt that reading This Modern World is going to lead Robert Novak or Pat Buchanan, or any of their ilk, to reexamine their underlying ideological assumptions, but maybe -- just maybe -- it will help readers with a world-view similar to my own to turn *their* rage at the world into a laugh -- rather than an ulcer ...

Dan Perkins
("Tom Tomorrow")
San Francisco
March, 1992