Penguin Soup For The Soul

Introduction by Tom Tomorrow

I'm a weekly cartoonist. I produce 52 cartoons a year, which are primarily syndicated throughout the alternative press. I also am an occasional contributor to The Nation, and -- improbably enough -- briefly had a regular spot in that most staid of mainstream news magazines, US News & World Report. But that's about it. I've always resisted increasing my output much beyond this level for fear of becoming what I loathe, another banal cartoonist forced by the pressure of imminent deadlines into churning out superficial jokes about the day's events. The trade-off, of course, is that I'll never be a contender for the title of World's Most Prolific Cartoonist, but I can live with that. And anyway, I've got Wordiest clinched, hands down.

The point is, these books of mine only come out once every two years, after I've accumulated enough work to fill 119 pages -- and in many ways, these two year intervals have come to demarcate the phases of my life. Two years ago, I was not a particularly happy camper. I was spending my days rushing to beat The Wrath of Sparky's publication deadline, and then going home at night to spend my evenings sorting through the accumulated detritus of more than ten years in San Francisco -- and those who know me can attest to the fact that I am quite an accomplished accumulator, so this was no mean feat -- in preparation for a rapidly-approaching cross-country move.

I probably love the Bay Area more than any place on earth, and indeed, after two years away, still dream at night about the intensity of the light, the perpetual hint of an ocean breeze hanging in the air, the sheer physical beauty of the place. But ten years anywhere can leave you ready for a change, particularly when a vague yet chronic sense of low-level dissatisfaction is coupled with that old standby of life-altering events, the long-distance relationship. There's more to the story, of course -- there always is -- but what it boils down to is this: at the ripe old age of 35, I put my cats on an airplane and my photocopier in the trunk of a rental car and took a blind leap of faith into an uncertain future, because, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

And so this time around, I'm sitting in a sunny Tribeca studio on a glorious spring day in New York City, mulling over what is, it suddenly occurs to me, the last Tom Tomorrow collection of the millenium. Some of these cartoons really stirred up some shit over the past couple of years, which is gratifying in theory -- it is better to be denounced than ignored, after all. Unfortunately the controversies have either revolved around topics which are inconsequential at best , such as my less-than-earth-shattering argument that Scott Adams may not be the hero of the information-age working class he is widely perceived to be ( p. 38) ... or they've been the result of a complete misreading of the cartoon in question, such as the time my intentionally ironic use of the word "Negroes" (p. 35) led politicians in Connecticut to denounce me as a rascist.

But far and away the most ludicrous brouhaha of the past two years -- of what I laughingly refer to as my career, for that matter -- was triggered by a recent meditation on the media's excessive coverage of the presidential sex scandals (p. 114) ... or more accurately, triggered by the visual metaphor with which I attempted to represent these excesses, an admittedly envelope-pushing orgy scene taken from 18th-century engravings. Papers across the country received a deluge of complaints from readers shocked and appalled by this "so-called comic"; as one typical correspondent noted, "If this is what the modern world is about, I can see Satan is having a field day." And while the cartoon in question ended with a mocking reference to "media elitists (who) seem to believe that Americans won't pay attention to anything unless it involves sex," hindsight forces me to acknowledge that the disproportionately vehement response of these readers has rendered my point invalid. Satire has been transformed into a simple statement of fact: as it turns out, there really are a lot of people out there who don't pay attention to anything unless it involves sex. Ironically, most of them seem to be conservative Christians.

The center of the storm was in Oklahoma City, where oddly-named State Representative Forrest Claunch, along with a group of knuckleheaded right-wingers calling themselves Oklahomans for Children and Family, went so far as to file an obscenity complaint with the local police against the paper which ran my cartoon there, the Oklahoma Gazette. (The district attorney, apparently having some passing familiarity with the Constitution, declined to prosecute.) And while OCAF executive director Bob Anderson admitted to a reporter that the cartoon did not in fact arouse his prurient interest -- one legal definition of pornography -- he worried that it might appeal to others. "It might teach a girl to try oral sex with another girl. Or someone might say, 'I haven't tried anal sex.' It might turn someone else on." (Impressionable readers may at this point wish to either carefully avoid page 114 of this book, or to quickly turn to it, depending on personal preference.)

The paper, in what I believe to be a misguided attempt to placate these yahoos, quickly dropped my cartoon (and one thing I sure wouldn't have anticipated two years ago was that I would be someday be banned in Oklahoma City as a pornographer) -- but it didn't end there. The Gazette's publisher is an attorney whose firm represents school boards, and as of this writing he's lost at least one major client as a result of community pressure. As OCAF's Anderson helpfully explained to Salon magazine, "If he is representing the school and a little girl is raped in the restroom and he's the type of guy that runs this cartoon in the newspaper, whose side do you think he'll be on? I think he'd be very biased."

As Sparky might say, you just can't argue with logic like that. 

* * *

Finally, while there are many people to whom I am indebted for their friendship and support, I particularly want to thank all the editors who continue to give me space each week to do what I do, even when it occasionally blows up in their faces. Since I'm not really qualified to do much of anything else at this point, they're basically all that stands between me and a job at the local copy shop.

Special thanks are also due to Bill Lennan (who reads This Modern World online from his home in London) for suggesting the title of this book. 

And as for that cross-country relationship, which by all rights should have crashed and burned within weeks once we were forced to discard our long-distance fantasies and confront the day-to-day reality of one another -- instead it has flourished and grown, and although it is an inadequate gesture which does not begin to convey the sheer astonishment I feel each day, this book is nonetheless dedicated to Beverly, whose wit and insight informs much of the work which follows.

Dan Perkins

("Tom Tomorrow")

New York City

May, 1998

1. Editor Jim Fallows was a fan of my work, though as it turned out, publisher Mort Zuckerman was not, and I was quickly given the boot. Apparently there were irreconcilable differences between my worldview and that of a wealthy New York real estate magnate. Go Figure.

2. That one ran in January of 1997, but to this day I still get email from outraged Dilbert fanatics taking me to task for daring to speak such heresy which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that some of you people have way too much time on your hands.

3. OCAF is the same group which convinced an Oklahoma judge that the Academy Award-winning film The Tin Drum was pornographic. It was pulled from local video shelves, and Oklahoma’s finest were actually dispatched to retrieve rented copies from people’s homes. In one of those bizarre twists that serve to remind us that reality is stranger than satire, one of the copies had been rented by the development director of the local ACLU, who of course promptly filed suit.