June 7, 2016

Twenty-Five Years of Tomorrow: Perkins Scales Mt. Cartoon

This, I think, was the hardest book I have ever read.

It’s cartoons, but so many words.

Even more specifically, the physical format was such that for me at least, you couldn’t hold it up and read it while you sat on the couch. It meant that for me, I had to read it as a bedside book, grabbing it off the stand as I went to sleep and trying to read as much as I could until I started getting the nods. It took a while to get through everything – and there’s a lot here. Perkins (Nom de guerre de “Tom Tomorrow”) packs in more than twenty five years of content here from his earliest pastiches (collages) to the children’s book he wrote that has nothing at all to do with George Bush.

I first became aware of Perkins’ work when I was in grad school about ten years ago, so some of the more contemporary cartoons were re-reading things I had seen before. More pleasant was finding the trove of all the new things that were actually old.

Well, it maybe wasn’t pleasant. One of the hard things about reading the book is that from someone to the left of the main stream of political discourse as I am, it seems that we are having the same fights over and over, resolving nothing. I was reading the cartoons of the Clinton years at the same time I read a couple other books that gave those cartoons perspective - Rall’s “Bernie” and Frank’s “Listen, Liberal”. Both reflected on what a horrible choice having a Clinton back in the running is – and this was only reinforced in my reading because those cartoons were a primary text of left-wing anger with the Clintons and all the fun New Democrat stuff they were doing (Triangulation, NAFTA, Ending “Welfare as we know it”, etc.) So that when liberals just tell the left to shut up and accept this version of evil that is not as evil as the other guy over there, it makes me all punchy. It just makes me sad for Perkins in that he will have to resurrect some of his cartoons to make more sequels for cartoons that he already wrote twenty years ago. 

The best thing about this book is that it allows the reader to get a full sense of the development of Perkins as an artist and a story-teller, and you can get a sense of the process he goes through both in the text that accompanies the cartoons (included are prefaces to the smaller anthologies he put out over the year) and the cartoons themselves. You can see how characters go in and out of favor as he tries to just make sense of the week’s happenings in greater context. You can also see when he had a deadline and was short an idea – but even Homer slumbered.