Cartoon and Illustration

Come see me, Geek Out!

This coming Saturday will be my first convention of the 2013 year.  It’s Geek Out, being held at the Sherrill Center of UNC-Asheville, and will run from 10 am to–well, when everyone leaves, I guess (that’s how conventions work).

Geek Out is yet another attempt to revive what appears to be an ailing fan base in the Asheville area.  4 years ago a show called Fanaticon started to much fanfare and with an incredible attendance at the Asheville Art Museum.  However, few retailers and few guest artists seem to have made any money.  The second year we all hoped for better–unfortunately it was much the same scene.  Then last year the backers of Fanaticon decided that they would be better off not trying again, and a handful of fans tried to take the Asheville fan scene to the streets (literally) with a sort of “walking tour” of fannish type places.  Apparently that didn’t go so well either.

My personal opinion of the problem with Asheville shows is that people keep trying to make them “happenings”.  That is, they aren’t so much comic conventions in the typical sense of, “come here and spend money.”  They are more like “comic-ins”, where people show up in costume and listen to loud music and expect to be given things for free.

We’ll have to see if the zeitgeist this coming Saturday is any different.  But if you’re in the area and want to come out and support my efforts, I’ll be glad to see you there.  I’ll be peddling my usual wares.

Meantime I’ve got work to do.  Two comic books to draw!


Cartoon and Illustration

Practical solutions to bullying (part III)

A few more anecdotes and observations on the subject of bullying.

When I entered tenth grade at Tuscola High School I was assigned to take Biology 101.  The first day of class the teacher produced a Bible and began to read from the Creation Account in Genesis.  As a Christian believer, I was familiar with this passage wherein God created Adam and Eve.  But as a child growing up in the 1970s was a bit surprised that this teacher had the temerity to quote from the Bible in public school (after all the various lawsuits brought before the Supreme Court and all the further misunderstandings that those decisions brought on this country).

After reading a portion of this passage, he asked the class:  “Now why can’t that word, Adam, mean mankind?  And why can’t that word, Eve, mean all women?”

Well, I was only fourteen at the time, but I knew enough about context to know that the author of Genesis had in mind one man and one woman.  Not ALL mankind was being specifically referenced in that passage.

And so I told him so.

I think he believed that his question was rhetorical and that none of us would have an objection.

But I was not one to stand for such redefining of words to suit one’s own purposes–even then.

Thus began a series of arguments that took up most of my first term in that class.   I was eventually flunked.

The thing was, if he had simply come into the class that day and said, “This is what Darwin said, and I want you to know that,” then I was perfectly willing to parrot those words back to him.  But as he was trying to change my view on the creation of the world based on changing a meaning of a word here and there I wasn’t going to stand for it.

So he flunked me.

I had to re-take Biology 101 in the winter term.  Fortunately this  under a teacher who was less inflammatory in his teaching style.

At that time I was also a student in the Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, or AFJROTC.  As part of the “flight” I was expected to dress in uniform one day a week, keep my hair cut within military regulations, and do a lot of other duties beyond my regular studies.

Being in ROTC had its perks.  It counted as a couple of credits in Science, we got out of Physical Education, and there were field trips that got us out of class.  I was also a legacy in the program, as my older brother had done well in ROTC a few years prior.

But we were regularly verbally abused and spat upon by kids in the hall.  We were called “Rot-Cee” (rhymes with “nazi”–get it?).  It was not abnormal to be kicked or punched on the bus when one was in uniform, harassed if in uniform and caught out and about in town–so we often did our best not to be seen in uniform before or after school because of this.

The kids who treated us thus thought we had it coming.  How dare we be in military uniform when everyone knew just how rotten the military was?  We in ROTC were to blame for Vietnam you know–in spite of the fact that the war in Vietnam had ended four years before we signed up.  So why not kick and spit and swear at us?

How dare we cut our hair short? How dare we wear those uniforms?  How dare we say defending our country was a good thing?  Hadn’t the news media made it clear that anyone in a uniform was beneath contempt?  Hadn’t the popular media made it clear that anyone in the military was basically just another Hitler?

Eventually the bullying got to me and I tried to quit ROTC.  When tenth grade ended we were given the forms to sign up for the courses we wanted to take in the fall.  I filled mine out with no mention of ROTC anywhere.

When I returned to classes at the end of summer, I was still in ROTC.

I went to the guidance offices to protest and was told that they would “not be doing any ‘drop/add’ for two weeks.”  When I returned at the end of two weeks they told me ” ‘drop/add’ was over two weeks ago.  So I scheduled a meeting with my guidance counselor, who told me that if I could get the permission of the Annual Staff head that I could transfer to that program in the winter quarter.

No problem.  I had that permission by day’s end.

Of course my counselor had been lying to me, and now insisted that I had to go to the Sergeant and get his permission to leave.

Did that too.  Not the easiest thing I’d ever done.  The Sergeant had imagined I was on the fast track like my older brother had been.  I had been promoted to a Flight Sergeant by this point, and he was not happy that I was dropping out.

But eventually–in spite of all the unpleasantness–it was done.

However, the stress of that series of events (and a lot of other things that I won’t get into here) was taking its toll on my health, and I missed a lot of school.  So much, in fact, that my parents had to take me out of school when I turned sixteen.

Frankly, it was a huge relief.

My point?  Here’s my point.

It is possible for people in positions of authority to be bullies by means of their positions of power.  Teachers and guidance counselors can attempt to force people to agree with them by manipulating the meaning of words.

It is also possible for liberals to bully conservatives–and for such bullying to go unnoticed because it would be inconvenient to be noticed.  It would mean the media admitting that they are guilty of stirring up unrest and encouraging intolerance.

So a couple of weeks ago, when a very diverse group of people (from various ethnic and social groups)–numbering around 15,000 calmly marched in Washington in defense of the traditional definition of marriage, and were verbally abused, spat upon, and physically threatened by a group of those in favor or redefining marriage to suit another end

–I wasn’t surprised.

I also wasn’t surprised by the media not making much mention of it.  It would have been inconvenient for the media to notice.

This notion, presently being touted by most major media, that conservative views are equal to hatred and bigotry–and that bullying is always the purview of social conservatives and never of “progressives” is an out and out lie.

I don’t condone bullying on anyone’s part–no Christian should.  But citing certain instances of it (while ignoring others) as an excuse for redefining words and legal terms, or creating special classes of protected people is ridiculous.

We’re living in what is supposed to be a civil society.  Tolerance cuts in both directions.

I know a number of people who have been following my blog lately are going to be disappointed that I am not in line with their beliefs on this subject.  But I resent the attempt to railroad the debate on The Defense of Marriage Act (and similar issues).  How many people are presently being bullied because they hold to a traditional view of marriage?  Why doesn’t this sort of bullying make the headlines?

Cartoon and Illustration

Practical solutions to bullying (Part II)

Here in Haywood County, NC there were two High Schools when I was growing up.  They were of the exact same design, having been commissioned by the school board in the mid 1960s to replace the previous High Schools that were reaching the point of overcrowding. The two High Schools were designated Tuscola and Pisgah–and living in the West of Haywood County, my brothers and I were bound toward Tuscola.

In spite of the fact that both High Schools were practically the same, the fact that the kids from both the West and East sides of the county were in all respects the same, one day my older brother came home from school singing a new “fight song” he’d learned at that week’s pep rally:

“On the banks of Pigeon River, in a field of rye; stands an old deserted outhouse, known as Pisgah High.”

This was nothing new.  Every since I’d started public schools I’d been taught this rivalry between the two sides of the county.  It’s just how things were.

So when the YMCA in Canton, NC offered to let kids from Hazelwood Elementary School (a feeder to Tuscola High) visit their facilities, all the arrangements were made.  We got permission from our parents, and after school one day we all loaded on a special bus that would take us over to “The Y”.

Along the way we had to make a stop at the Clyde Elementary School (a feeder for Pisgah High) to pick up more kids.  None of us knew this was going to happen ahead of time, and so, being kids, we threw a fit.  For something like ten minutes we chanted: “We want our own bus!  We want our own bus!”

You know, making the Clyde kids feel as welcome as an open sewer pipe.

Eventually some school administrator (probably the principal) came out and told us that we would indeed be getting our own bus, not because of our protest, but because we were incredibly rude and insensitive.

And he was right to say so.  Good for him.

But considering the fact that other school officials were spending an hour or so every week trying to whip our older brothers and sisters into a frenzy when it came to Football games, Basketball games, and various other sports wherein kids from Tuscola (and their feeder schools) were called to deride kids from Pisgah (et al.)–should he have been surprised?

By the time I got to Tuscola I had long sense been indoctrinated into the idea that we were “Tuscola Mountaineers” and in every way superior to the “Pisgah Bears”.  Weekly we were herded into the gymnasium and treated to entertainments such as hanging Teddy Bears in effigy.  

Once a wrecked car was provided by the local junk yard.  This car was painted in the colors of our rival school and left for display on the edge of the student parking lot for a week or so.  On the Friday evening before the big game students stayed after classes to beat this car with baseball bats, it was then doused with gasoline, set afire, and then when it had cooled–was pushed off the precipice that formed the edge of the student parking area.

I’m sorry, but was this supposed to be healthy behavior?

If, in the name of “school spirit” we were being taught that we shouldn’t even have any respect for kids–whose only crime, it seemed, was living fifteen miles East of us–should the teachers, administrators, and school board be surprised when we acted like animals to those in our own ranks?

I tried to keep a more open mind than many.  Having been more often bullied than bully myself, I felt shy around such crowds and so was relieved that my parents were usually unwilling for me to participate in such after school activities as car burnings.

Yet the problem ran very deep.  When a girl or boy in our class would admit to dating someone from Pisgah–you could practically feel the air being sucked out of the room.  The feeling was not so much “How DARE they?” but rather “How did they dare?”  There was both a sense of dread and awe for any classmate that would do such a thing. 

Now, admittedly that was the 1970s.  Things have supposedly changed.  But I wouldn’t count on it.

Kids still do a lot of what their older siblings demonstrate to them.  They also fall in line with a lot of what they’re taught by school officials–whether those things are right or wrong.

So, once again I submit to you that public school administrators, teachers, coaches, etc. should be held to a much higher standard than what I believe they are–generally speaking.  Admittedly, being involved in public education is hard work.  I don’t envy anyone in those jobs.

But seriously?  Come on–hanging Teddy Bears in effigy?  Bashing and burning cars in the name of Football?

No wonder team sports has such a bad reputation.

I’m in favor of team sports as a concept.  They can be the foundation of a good physical education program at any school.  Such programs can teach children to take care of their health and well being by vigorous exercise, and build character, self-esteem, and teach teamwork.

But I think we may be getting the cart before the horse when we let the Sports programs drive Physical Education programs.

I know we’re getting the cart before the horse when we whip kids into a frenzy in the name of “school spirit”.

I suspect that some people are reading this and thinking:  “Well, that sort of thing wouldn’t happen if OUR party was in charge of things.” Or worse: “That sort of thing doesn’t happen now that OUR party IS in charge of things.”  

This problem is not solved by politics. 

The solution (or part of it) lies in personal responsibility.  Each person must constantly examine himself (or herself) to see if he is doing something that is misleading other people–children especially.  And each individual should also be responsible to the authority that he is under.  If a coach, teacher or administrator should be called to account for a bad action on their part, the first reaction should not be, “How can I protest being censured?” Rather, it should be, “How can I fix this?”

More on this later.



Cartoon and Illustration

Practical solutions to Bullying

This thing of bullying has become something of a “hot-button” topic in recent months and I’ve been giving it a lot of thought–both as a victim and practictioner of bullying during my formative years.

I will submit (and have submitted in the past) that nearly everyone can lay claim to having been bullied, and having taken part in bullying during their lives.  So let’s begin by admitting that none of us is without sin in this respect.

Having said that, I think that if this nation really wants to do something about the phenomenon of bullying in the public schools a lot could be done by firing around 90% of the coaches, physical ed teachers, guidance counselors, and a fair number of administrators to boot.

I know that may sound harsh.  I am not completely against the idea of physical education.  During my time in public schools I can recall one coach in particular who was a fine man.  He engaged the interest of our entire 6th grade class with his easy-going manner, and made us think that perhaps we could truly train our bodies and build a higher level of health for ourselves by applying what he taught us.  To you, Coach Mann, my hat is off–you made us look forward to our middle school years of formal “P.E.”

The reality of the following years was somewhat different.

My next half-dozen coaches appeared to be bitter men with little respect for anyone else, and rather than foster cooperation through team sports seemed to want to ridicule anyone except a few chosen kids who they felt worthy of their precious time.

They didn’t discourage bullying, they were–in fact–the ring-leaders.  They set up little pyramids of sports-related hierarchy, wherein only the most morally sound among the athletic students resisted the call to abuse all the academic and artistically-minded students.

I can recall several athletes who didn’t bow to this and continued to treat me and others like me with respect.  Interestingly, they were also the very folks that excelled on the sports field–apparently in spite of the training they were doubtless being subjected to by the bitter coaches.

But such friends were too few and far between.  I am thankful for those who resisted, but I still got pushed around a lot by the others.

The coaches themselves are probably not entirely to blame for this phenomenon, and perhaps living where I did (and still do) has something to do with the problem.  You see, in the mountains of western North Carolina there are two institutions that affect the school systems directly–one is Football, the other is Western Carolina University.

Now, I’m not against people liking Football or WCU.  If you like that sort of thing, or you went there–no problem.  Both have done a lot for the community.  But let’s face it, many boys have grown up wanting to play football professionally, and have spent their youth in pursuit of that.  Fine.  Assuming they made it through high school without getting permanently side-lined by some injury, they tried to get a college scholarship on the basis of Football (other team sports will likely work in this equation too, Football is just the model I’m most familiar with).

But the big name schools take only the top individuals.  And WCU is not a big name school.  It runs the roost in this little corner of NC, but it’s not anything to compare to NC State, or UNC, Furman, Clemson, or on and on.  (See, I don’t even like the sport, but it’s so pervasive around here that even I know who’s the bigger fish in the pond).

So a when would-be professional player gets picked up on a Football scholarship by WCU his chances of getting picked for the pro draft by the time he’s done with his Bachelors is already pretty slim.  He may get a partial “free-ride” but the chances of going pro are already significantly diminished before his first game is played.

Now we need to back up a little in history.  WCU started out as Western Carolina Teachers College.  It was designed to train teachers for the public school system, and in many ways it continues in that legacy.  WCU creates teachers.

This mindset is actually part of the problem.

Let’s follow that student who has gotten a Football scholarship to study at WCU.  Unless something truly unusual happens that makes said student/football player stand out from the crowd (he grows rockets in his feet, angels dance on his head after a touchdown, that sort of thing) he will upon receiving his Bachelors be employable almost nowhere except the public schools.

He’s studied Physical Education for four years while trying to win Football games in the fall and winter months.  Even when he graduates from WCU he’s still not employable by the public schools because he hasn’t got a teaching certificate.

Hey, no problem!  WCU has a fast track program for that in the summer for all those students who weren’t planning to teach but now find it’s the only career option open to them that doesn’t involve spatulas and paper hats.  Six weeks and they too can join the growing ranks of student teachers helping out in area public schools.

So what should we expect from a bunch of guys who have had their dreams of being professional Football players squashed, and who now find themselves employed as P.E. coaches to a lot of whiney school kids?  If he makes it through that (teaching the occasional class in some other subject that he has to remain justified in his role as assistant coach) he might get moved up to head coach, or into a job as guidance counselor, or pushing documents around in administration.

All of which seem the perfect environment for resentment and frustration–you know the Petri dish that breeds bullying?

Of course we don’t call it “bullying” when it’s a coach doing it.  It’s “building character”.  It’s teaching boys to “be tough”.

This is not to say that I’m against strength of character.  But what I mostly got from my coaches was derision.

And when guidance counselors do it we call it “being steadfast”–not trying to push kids into the track you think they should follow (or living out one’s own shattered dreams vicariously).

Am I bitter about this?  Sure.  Not as much as I used to be–but still reasonably bitter.

My point, however, is valid in spite of any rage on my own part.

Before we go trying to deny people of Religious faith their right to dissent (as guaranteed by the First Amendment) and then blaming them as a group for supposed bullying, we ought to look at some of the groups that aren’t constitutionally protected as such yet seem to gather themselves into large numbers with an inordinate amount of influence.

You know, bureaucrats–defined as public officials and employees of the state with personal axes to grind.  (Not ALL public officials, nor ALL state employees–just some).

I’m saying that we ought to hold those folks to a higher standard because of their great influence.  An influence that can cut in two directions.  It can build up or it can tear down.

We need to encourage the building–not of governmental institutions–but of individuals in general.  And if that means we need to do more to review the effectiveness of some state employees, then we really need to consider it before we go denying the right of dissent by individuals.

(A couple of points: 1) Actually, we should never deny that right of a sound and reasoned dissent. 2) I’m not suggesting that we throw more money at the problem.)

Well, I have more to say on this subject, but this probably ought to get enough people angry at me as it is.

I’ll come back to this later after I’ve cooled down.

Cartoon and Illustration

Flammable Water

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the concept of Flammable Water recently.

Years ago the Muppets did a bit wherein Doctor Bunsen Honeydew and his assistant Beaker had developed “Flammable Water”.  While the hilarity that ensued was in part due to the performances, the basis of the humor was (at least in part) due to the oxymoronic nature of the term “Flammable Water”.

The humor results from the fact that while it is possible to combine all manner of various words in the English language, some are mutually exclusive to one another.  We all understand (or should understand) this intrinsically.

Water is not flammable.  It can never be flammable.

True, it can be used to dilute various flammable compounds which are so volatile in themselves that they will combust–but the water itself simply slows the rate of combustion, turns to steam and goes off to condense elsewhere–remaining water all the time.

Even if sent into the heat of the sun water does not burn.  It must be reduced to its two constituent elements, Hydrogen and Oxygen, in order for those to be burned–but in the process it ceases to be water.

So by definition, water is inflammable.  It will always be inflammable.  It doesn’t matter what label one wishes to put on it–in order for it to be what water is, it must be inflammable.  (I’m not saying that’s ALL it is, but it is part of what makes water, water.)

We do damage to the concept of water if we, in any seriousness, try to make it something it is not.