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Race, Space, and New Right Editorial Cartoons in the United States

By Patrick Lynn Rivers

New Right conservatives in the United States have been circuitously linked to the “new racism.” The association tends to focus upon New Right positions on issues like affirmative action, immigration, war, and welfare. New Right editorial cartoons, though, provide a forum where New Right thinkers can, for example, articulate New Right arguments about race and racism in the United States that expand the terms of political debate and minimize the sting of contemporary politics so marked by polarizing – “left”–”right” – discourse. This article is about how three very different New Right editorial cartoonists – Bruce Tinsley (Mallard Fillmore), Chris Muir (Day by Day), and Scott Stantis (Prickly City) – make use of space to navigate the politics of talking about race and racism in the United States.

The link between a brand of conservatism dubbed “New Right” and a particular kind of racism dubbed “new racism” is not novel. As early as the mid-1970s, social scientists started to quantitatively connect shifts in racial attitudes to partisan political realignment in the aftermath of 1960s U.S. civil rights struggles. Scholarly studies by McConahay and Hough, McConahy, Kinder and Sears, and Crosby, Bromley and Saxe linked this attitudinal change and political realignment to what started to be understood as “covert racism” and “symbolic racism.” These scholars started to suggest that covert racism emerged as it became unacceptable to be forthrightly against the advancement of people of color and more acceptable to discretely intimate that black disadvantage in particular resulted from black values not being in synch with dominant (white) American values. In a recent historical study, looking to the 1960s and 1970s, Matthew D. Lassiter specifically traced this new conservative racial thinking to “white flight” from central cities to the suburbs and an ensuing racial politics in which whites started to understand their material advantages to be the result of their hard work and worthiness as opposed to an endemic racism. This was what helped to birth the “silent majority” tapped by a conservative politician like Barry Goldwater in 1964 and directly courted by Richard Nixon by the late 1960s and early 1970s in reaction to the growing role of the federal government, especially as it pertained to civil rights and wealth redistribution.1 Sociologist Jerome Himmelstein linked this new popular conservatism Lassiter located in suburbia to the thinking and writings of U.S. conservative intellectuals like William F. Buckley and Frank Meyer who significantly used a magazine favored by Ronald Reagan, The National Review, to promote a racial politics dependent upon colorblind ideals (147-148).

Though the very existence of a “new racism” was empirically challenged by Sniderman et al. using survey data gathered in the mid-1980s, academics like Kimberlé W. Crenshaw and Adolph Reed, Jr. continued to articulate New Right to “new racism” in the late 1980s and early 1990s when trying to make sense of the popular political forces and intellectual conservatism underlying the 1980s and 1990s rollbacks in, for example, affirmative action. (Reed has used The Nation, a counterpoint to The National Review, in order to offer his New Right critique.) While it is important to underline that Crenshaw did not contend that the New Right’s ideological disposition is in and of itself racist, she did insist that the New Right’s heralding of a colorblind society without first eradicating racism depended upon an uncritical acceptance of constitutional and American values that she has understood to be inherently racist. Reed was not so diplomatic in a review of Richard J. Herrenstein and Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, as Crenshaw’s scholarly tone gave way to Reed’s injection of the “r” word – “racism,” not just “race” – into the conversation. Reed mocked Herrenstein and Murray’s social scientific and, thus, supposedly colorblind conclusion that welfare programs are futile because the IQs of recipients marked them as inherently inferior and unworthy. Reed castigated Herrenstein and Murray, even as he thought that it was “both beneath [his] dignity and politically unacceptable to engage in a debate that treats as an open question that [he] might be a monkey” (661). For both Crenshaw and Reed, though, beneath colorblindness and race neutrality of New Right and “new racism”, rested a white “retrenchment” argument not at all inconsistent with that described by Lassiter, Himmelstein, and Amy Elizabeth Ansell in her 1990 book New Right, New Racism: Race and Reaction in the United States and Great Britain. (Ansell wrote of a race in New Right thinking dependent upon a combination of individualism and moral panic racialized in a postindustrial context in which the material security of whites was increasingly understood to be threatened and where the racial “other” could easily become a scapegoat.)

More recent scholarship on the “new racism” follows a trajectory very similar to the scholarship going back to the 1970s even as, beyond the “culture wars” of the 1980s and 1990s, the scholarly rhetoric is not as virulent. For example, Marci Bounds Littlefield and Abby L. Ferber reflected upon the prevalence of racialized and sexualized constructions of African Americans as inherently inferior, making the colorblind ideal just that, an ideal. By contrast, Patricia Hill Collins offered a less-standard (post–”culture war”) critique of the “new racism.” In addition to “new racism” being more subtle, Collins asserted that African Americans themselves have become a party to “new racism” as, for example, class differences amongst blacks lead blacks in the middle class to pursue a politics of respectability resulting in a heightened misogyny and sexism towards poor women of color, homophobia and heterosexism towards sexual minorities understood to be “deviant.”

The three strips centered in this article fit within this larger scholarly debate about New Right and “new racism” in a very particular way. Namely, I argue that editorial cartooning, as art, uniquely enables some New Right cartoonists to speak and be heard across the political spectrum (“left” to “right” and back) by using space to complicate their political perspective and point of view while simultaneously blunting the possibility of any kind of intimation that New Right and “new racism” are synonyms. Space in this article differs from a recent study used to contend that temporal and spatial qualities – e.g., whether or not a cartoon is on a broadsheet or in tabloid form – significantly shape the way that readers comprehend cartoons (Forceville). This article also diverges from recent scholarship used to think about space in a popular animated cartoon like South Park, in which the author argues that space is deployed to negatively accentuate racial difference instead of progressively challenging racial constructs underlying racism (Chaney). Both Forceville and Chaney downplay the significance of the cartoon itself as drawn image. By contrast, I contend that, using space, Muir (Day by Day) and Stantis (Prickly City) in particular depolarize the politics of colorblindness by spatially creating cartoons with figurative qualities not unlike the qualities in the paintings and drawings of a respected figurative artist like William Bailey.

Muir and Stantis use space, not unlike Bailey who, for example, paints and draws the space between the arm and an inanimate object like a table instead of the arm itself in isolation and the table itself in isolation. As a result, Bailey’s viewer clearly recognizes the arm and table in Bailey’s art, but with a difference. Instead of being “named” – and “naming” is critical, here – the relational existence between the arm and table being depicted in Bailey’s paintings and drawings come to the fore. (This is in contrast to our more usual “naming” of a flat surface supported by four legs as being a “table,” or, separately, a bodily appendage that we readily identify as an “arm” without even thinking about it.) The end result in Bailey’s art is a more subtle image – a more subtle representation – allowing the viewer to look beyond the usual way that we cognitively recognize an arm and a table, because the image is differently composed. In effect, Bailey changes the way that we engage the genre in which he works. Muir and Stantis similarly create a space in their work that helps to make perspectival shifts easier as well as to facilitate the judging of different points of view. And, significantly, Muir and Stantis do this with image and word. I am not arguing that Muir and Stantis strictly paint and draw spaces in the technical way that Bailey and other figurative artists paint and draw; Muir and Stantis, though, conceptually achieve something key to Bailey’s work when they defer “naming” more contentious racial politics at the onset of a given strip, which makes it easier to address contentious political points later in a given strip without reproducing the polarizing “left”–”right” divide that are unfortunately so normal in U.S. political debate. (For more on Bailey’s figurative method and approach, see Kimball; Bailey and Strand; Panero.)

In broad terms, and when placed in conversation with William Bailey, the editorial cartoons drawn by Tinsley, Muir, and Stantis through 2006 work like this. Specifically, Tinsley does not necessarily use space in his cartoon so as to make cross-ideological dialogue conducive, and productive. For example, technically speaking, Tinsley’s work appears in black-and-white. In a world of color, black-and-white, as one trade publication points out, makes it more difficult to draw attention to the strip and capture subtle contrasts in content and form beyond literal contrasts (Astor 1997, 2005). Further, in textural terms, Tinsley limits his deployment of caricature, visually depicting “liberals” in particularly grotesque and predictable terms and using a rather static script of New Right discourse right down to the repetition of phrases in the text which often have a monologic quality. Tinsley, using clean lines in his drawings and static wording, explicitly “names” race without humor and without moving beyond what readers (especially “left” readers) already know and expect from New Right racial politics.

By contrast, Muir and Stantis defer such “naming.” Technically speaking, Muir’s Day by Day uses color to great effect. (Muir uses a Wacom 11 x 16 tablet to produce his strip, using Adobe Illustrator which gets sent as a “gif” in Photoshop (Esmay 2003). Granted, Muir has more color options than both Tinsley and Stantis because Day by Day is a blogged cartoon as opposed to a syndicated strip running in daily newspapers. Nevertheless, Muir uses various fixed head poses (which are pre-drawn using clean lines and inserted as needed), but with body poses and backgrounds noticeably varying from strip-to-strip. This variety, however slight, is an indication of how space is used as Day by Day characters, frequently through humorous dialogue, fall outside the expected racial, gender, and class scripts. Making the image text vary even more, Muir’s word text frequently defers any explicit “naming” of his characters, especially as it involves fixing the ideological disposition of his characters. This, in effect, helps to give Muir’s blogged cartoon, with its ensemble cast, that figurative quality underlying the art of someone like Bailey, for whom the relationality of that which is being represented is at least as important as that which is being represented itself. Stantis’ Prickly City, not unlike Muir’s Day by Day, deploys color on Sundays in his minimalist strip to illustrate a simple but not at all simplistic narrative. Stantis humorously and roughly draws his two main characters so that they look somewhat unfinished, with no clean line being used to “finish” (or “name”) the characters who might be considered to be approximations (as opposed to stereotypes). In this vein, one of the two primary characters in Prickly City is racially ambiguous, even though, not unlike in a figurative painting by William Bailey, we are able to safely assume that she is a Latina child if for no other reason than the larger social context in which the character is situated. Stantis stresses dialogue between the two main characters in Prickly City that helps to portray these characters in relational terms, even as their ideological perspectives diverge, but not always diametrically diverge.

Bruce Tinsley and Mallard Fillmore

In terms of content, topics in Mallard Fillmore (syndicated since 1994 and running in almost 400 newspapers) constitute a somewhat standard range of New Right concerns. Mallard, thus, frequently becomes a forum to critique “liberal” positions, as was the case in several strips appearing early in 2000 that were critical of the “liberal lexicon 2000.” This “lexicon,” as presented in the cartoon, includes the use of “community” as a “word liberals put at random into sentences in order to sound enlightened and tolerant” (01/18/00) while “religious right” is used to characterize “judgmental zealots who subscribe to the ridiculous notion that innocent babies…have more ‘right to life’ than, say, rapists, kidnappers and murderers (01/20/00).” Beyond this critique of “liberals,” Mallard Fillmore is a strip where, with disdain, Earth Day celebrations in public schools are understood to replace (Christian) expressions of faith in public schools (09/13/05). “Liberal” media bias and arrogance – especially epitomized by the late ABC News anchor Peter Jennings (e.g. 10/03/05) and a fictional character who is a cross between Jennings and the Ted Knight (anchor) character on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (e.g. 01/19/06) – serve as fodder. Nods to New Right patriotism come through in Mallard Fillmore when broaching – or, not directly broaching – the war in Iraq. Specifically, references to the Iraq War are infrequent and indirect. For example, violating Saddam Hussein’s rights are inconsequential when compared to Saddam’s crimes. Thus, there are no reasonable grounds to criticize the U. S. military for photographing Saddam upon his 2003 capture, and releasing these photos to the public (01/07/04).

Affirmative action is a recurrent target for Tinsley. Early strips focus upon affirmative action in higher education. For example, Mallard (a duck, and reporter, frustrated by “liberal” media and politics) becomes a conduit to express disapproval of what is portrayed as the discounting of standardized admissions tests in order to boost the enrollment of racial minorities (06/01//99). Court cases stemming from University of Michigan admissions policies and practices particularly provide much material. Strips in this series are not at all unlike other Mallard strips, as they are in black and white, with little visual contrast, except for the change in focus on Mallard himself in the different frames. Beyond this, Tinsley’s lines are clean. The word text follows the visual text, with Mallard, not unlike many other Mallard strips, reading directly from a newspaper with the news of the day, which leads him to think in predictable ways. In one strip from the Michigan series, Mallard reads a newspaper story reporting that General Motors filed a legal brief supporting the university. This prompts Mallard to assert that GM is “supporting racial discrimination at the University of Michigan…which denied a white girl admission based on race!” A couple of frames follow, with nothing substantive added, culminating in a frame where outrage is expressed in a way that is not unlike many other Mallard strips: “Oh, excuse me. I was just waiting for the howls of outrage from civil rights leaders and the media” (08/26/00). Other strips in the Michigan series contain black-and-white descriptions of admissions officers at Michigan and elsewhere as “racist” (e.g., 08/29/00), “liberals” who racially slur Asians (08/31/00), Nazis (09/02/00) not unlike the Colonel Klink character on the television show Hogan’s Heroes (02/21/03), and “bigots” (07/21/01).2

Figure 1. Mallard Fillmore 08/26/00.

While affirmative action is used to define unequal treatment, some Mallard strips highlight how race, which Mallard understands in biological terms and not in socially-constructed ways (see, e.g., 07/23/03), should work. Mallard’s modernist racial constructs parallel the flatness of the strip’s images and words. For example, a series of early cartoons revolve around the naming of African Americans. Mallard’s boss, Mr. Noseworthy (a media “liberal”), objects to the use of “colored” in National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, saying that “people of color” can be said on air but not “colored” (08/24/99, 08/25/99, 08/27/99). Mr. Noseworthy asks Chantel, someone who also works in Mallard’s newsroom, about the use of “colored people.” Chantel, who is black and who rarely appears in the strip, responds by saying that “this African-American is primarily offended….by her colleagues assuming that she can speak for all African-Americans” (08/26/99). While critical of what gets dubbed as “liberal” racial essentialism, image and word in Mallard don’t go much further in underlining the constructedness and political “play” that is race in the United States and elsewhere. Similar cartooning lies at what is presented to be the stereotyping of black conservatives, namely that African Americans can’t be black and conservative in a New Right vein. Mallard, a stand-in for the angry white male, reads, “‘African American:’ American black person (or honorary black person), as long as he or she is liberal. Used in a sentence by Professor Limpley: ‘Condoleeza Rice isn’t African American; Howard Dean is'” (03/03/05). Tinsley, with relatively fixed images and words implies that “liberals” are not open to ideological diversity. New Right thinking, by contrast, as projected in the strip, allows the individual to be an individual even as Tinsley rejects the social context marking “color,” “colored,” and difference in general.3

Chris Muir and Day by Day

Major themes in Day by Day (blogged since 2002, and mostly set in an office, until the nameless and generic firm closed in 2007) are similar to the themes in Mallard Fillmore. George W. Bush, in Day by Day, is minimally competent (e.g., 03/03/03) and unable to put on a t-shirt straight without presidential aide Karl Rove (06/08/06) who is regularly drawn as a rogue (e.g., 12/31/02, 10/07/03, 07/19/04, 08/20/05). There is hope for President Bush, though, as Damon, the lead character in Day by Day, and a black Republican, jokingly tells Jan (a Latina and “liberal” foil) that “we can rebuild him, make him coherent,” a-la-The Six Million Dollar Man television show from the 1970s (08/31/04). While critical of Bush and what is described as porkbarrel Republican politicking (e.g., 10/25/05), Democrats receive the bulk of Chris Muir’s lampooning. Damon compares Rev. Jesse Jackson not to Jesus but to the two thieves crucified with Jesus (12/05/03) and calls Rev. Al Sharpton a hypocrite “with wack hair” (10/20/03). In the strip, Bill Clinton is a chronic sexual harasser (e.g., 01/09/06, 01/14/06) and Hillary Rodham Clinton is an opportunist who attempts to pay for gasoline with a “race card” (01/19/06) or dons blackface if it helped garner votes (04/26/07). Day by Day, not unlike Mallard, is also a strip critical of what is projected to be a “liberal” media bias, in which Knight-Ridder (the media company now a part of the McClatchy Company) is likened to “Night Riders” who terrorized blacks in the early 20th century (08/11/04). The strip comes across as mixed on the war in Iraq; it is used to critique the motive of a war in which Dick Cheney’s former company, Halliburton, profits, but never to do so in a way that criticizes the military command and its charges (e.g., 04/18/03). Another recurrent theme in Day by Day – and “political” in a very different way – involves what Chris Muir in an interview characterized as “the age-old dynamic betwixt men and women” (Esmay). In examining sex and gender relations, Muir tends to simultaneously make fun of patriarchal gender norms while also being critical of those unable to laugh about sex, sexuality, and gender (e.g., 03/26/03, 05/09/03, 05/11/03, 05/29/04, 01/08/05, 01/11/05, 01/09/06).

Immigration debates give Muir a space to articulate his thinking about race. Strips on immigration particularly emerge as immigration (especially Latino immigration) claims national headlines. For Muir, one recurrent visual reference is the ubiquity of Latin American national flags at spring 2006 pro-immigration demonstrations and rallies in the United States. Muir makes pointed use of the symbolism of the U.S. flag by drawing the Mexican flag flying above a U.S. flag which is upside down (05/01/06), and, in a different cartoon, drawing the Mexican and U. S. flags flying above the White House (06/18/06). In fact, one of the characters in Day by Day, Zed (a political “moderate” who is white), basically says in one strip that those who fly other flags above the U.S. flag have “absolutely no idea of what it is they’re getting in to.” To which Sam (a “moderate” who is a woman and “hapa,” half Asian and half white), quips, “Violence, you mean?” Zed: “No, the idea of America” (04/12/06).

Figure 2. Day by Day 04/12/06.

Unlike Tinsley in Mallard Fillmore, Muir draws his characters in such a way so as to be racially ambiguous, until the characters racially construct themselves. So much so that, for example, the supposedly telltale racial indicator-skin color-is not at all a reliable marker in Muir’s color cartoon. (For Muir, as Stuart Hall (1983, 1986) might suggest, race comes “without guarantees.Ó) Instead, Day by Day subsequently emphasizes the relationships between characters, not so much the characters themselves, or the race of the characters. Moreover, Muir does this in Day by Day without erasing race itself and racial difference. The rich relationships between characters – as inflected by race, gender, political orientation, humor, ambition – allow Muir to broach a controversial topic like immigration in a manner that is not so dogmatic. This permits Muir to not so much express anti-immigrant sentiment as express little tolerance for the loss of Zed’s “idea of America” – an “idea” that is not necessarily xenophobic, or racist, as is the rhetoric of, for example, vigilante groups using the U.S.-Mexico border as prop. In one immigration strip, a “liberal” character, Jan, accuses Zed of being afraid of change. Jan, a Latina, suggests to Zed that “Spanish-speaking peoples threaten whites like you.” Zed responds that the U.S. is not about “classes of people.” “It’s about,” Zed continues, “the individual. Not Mexican. Not la Raza! Not black. Not white.” Zed concludes, “It is the first country made for the individual citizen so he can pursue life, liber-…” Zed does not conclude his thought, as Jan, in a different framed space yet still very communicative, chides Zed for his use of the masculine pronoun “he” (04/15/06). With comic timing highlighting the politically antagonistic yet casual social relationship between Jan and Zed, a white male and Latina, Muir defuses a controversy. Here, humor makes even the “liberal” laugh at himself (or herself).

Figure 3. Day by Day 4/16/06.

It is the use of space in Day by Day that allows Muir to articulate the individualism underlying New Right thinking on a range of issues. This individualism – and its perceived loss at the hands of “liberals” – frequently emanates from the strip’s central character, Damon, a black man, as opposed to daily strips in Mallard Fillmore featuring whites, “model minorities,” or the odd strip where Tinsley uses a black character other than Chantel (e.g., 05/26/06) to critique “liberalism.” Whereas Muir uses recent immigration debates to show where racial politics has gone wrong, he uses affirmative action, and Damon’s thinking on affirmative action, in order to deconstruct “liberal” racial values. Jan, for example, tells Damon “there’s no social justice in ending affirmative action.” Damon replies, “Whose justice?,” adding that Jan, a Latina, is “projecting white guilt onto a social matrix” (05/31/03). In a later strip, Damon lightens the tone of the affirmative action debate in Day by Day even after Jan says that he is “practically a fascist,” to which Damon replies, “I prefer the term ‘Red Stater'” (07/13/03). Not “naming” race, politics, or racial politics in absolute ways, Jan and Damon are actually lovers and, at one point, the storyline suggested that she was pregnant with his baby having a child without being married. (Turns out she was not pregnant.) Not “naming” racial politics in predictable ways, Muir’s Damon rejects being racially stereotyped by “liberals” like Jan who, as represented in the strip, think that blacks cannot be Republican just as Jan claims that “only Democrats fight racial stereotyping” (11/04/02). Not “naming” in the usual way, a key theme in Muir’s work is that political difference does not necessarily equal political hatred. In fact, ideological difference becomes the basis of friendship, even romance.4

Scott Stantis and Prickly City

The general subject matter of Scott Stantis’ Prickly City resembles that of both Mallard Fillmore and Day by Day. (Stantis is editorial page cartoonist for the Birmingham NewsPrickly and his other work appear in over 400 newspapers.) Dan Rather (e.g., 09/29/04, 10/06/04, 04/16/05), the National Organization for Women (e.g., 11/11/04), Senator Edward Kennedy (e.g., 02/07/05), MTV (e.g., 02/22/05), and PBS (e.g., 05/23/05) embody “liberalism” and much of what, in Prickly City, is wrong with the United States. Though critical of “liberals,” President Bush and the Republican Congress (before the 2006 mid-term elections) are the subject of Prickly critique based on allegations of corruption (e.g., 01/21/05, 02/15/05) and what is understood to be a lack of commitment to the “conservative” ideals of Ronald Reagan (e.g., 08/18/05, 12/20/05, 04/16/06). “Conservative” decline, here, includes criticism of the burgeoning “surveillance” society (e.g., 04/05/06, 03/12/05) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security depicted, after Hurricane Katrina, as being upside down and unable to move (09/20/05, 09/23/05). Stantis, though, is probably best known for a series of intensely serious and provocative, and oddly humorous, Prickly cartoons on the Terri Schiavo case in Florida which primarily pitted a husband’s right to exercise “choice” as it pertained to the life of his (brain dead) wife and socially “conservative” principles on the “right to life” (e.g., 10/11/04, 10/12/04, 10/14/04, 03/29/05, 03/30/05, 03/31/05, 04/05/05, 04/07/05, 04/09/05). For example, Winslow, in one strip, seeks to pull the “plug” when Carmen has a cold (10/12/04) but ends up, instead, pulling the plug of a clock radio (10/13/04).

Of the three cartoons featured in this article, Prickly City is probably the least concerned with affirmative action. The closest Prickly really gets to affirmative action is in the unfettered praise extended to Rosa Parks and Betty Friedan (see, e.g., 02/21/05, 11/7/05, 11/8/05) – less polarizing as civil rights and feminist figures, now, as opposed to, say, Angela Davis or Gloria Steinem. Stantis, in lieu of becoming entangled in the affirmative action debate, recurrently features immigration as theme. This is not surprising given that the strip is set in a desert in the U.S. southwest where border concerns are acrimonious and more immediate. For instance, Winslow, the “liberal” coyote in Prickly City, hires someone to speak for him who does not speak English (4/12/05). Perhaps the real power of Prickly City is the way that Stantis plays with words and meanings, not unlike Muir, in order to let down the audience’s reactionary guard so that the audience is able to look at the familiar in new ways. Using space in order to talk about race in one series of strips, Winslow tells the “conservative” Carmen why his pack recently hired “undocumented” coyotes, “undocumented,” here, being the “naming” device of liberals. To which Carmen, a precocious little girl, replies, “Undocumented coyotes?” (04/10/06). The next day’s strip has Winslow specifying what the “undocumented” coyotes do: “They howl at the moon for us and other stuff we don’t wanna do. What’s wrong with that?” Carmen replies, “They’re illegal;” “illegal,” exclaims Carmen, “means against the law” (4/11/06). A couple of days later, Winslow’s coyote “double” ends up being deported, only to have the “double” re-enter the United States without “documents,” albeit making it back across the border not as quickly as usual. The entire exchange, of course, takes place as Stantis plays with “undocumented” and “illegal,” in which Winslow the coyote hires a coyote “double” to howl for him, “coyote” also being the term used to name those who help to smuggle “undocumented” / “illegal” persons across the border.

Able to understand the fluidity of racial identity but not necessarily the enduring career of racism, Stantis, not unlike Muir, interrogates the contours of racial identity as understood by “liberals.” For example, Carmen, in one strip, proudly announces that Texas is the fourth state to have a non-white majority. Winslow adds that the U.S. will have a non-white majority by 2050, which leads him to ask Carmen “what the heck are you anyway?!?!” Carmen responds, “An American apparently” (09/25/05). Carmen’s comeback reiterates the ambiguity of Carmen’s racial identity as constructed by Stantis’ images and words – she is drawn as a morena in the strip, sort of, but not explicitly Latina – an identity shifting between Latina and “American.” A more common way that Stantis deals with changes in the meaning of “race,” though, comes through his recurrent interrogation of “liberal” constructions of blackness. Not unlike Tinsley and Muir, a few of Stantis’ strips revolve around whether or not African Americans can be both black and “conservative” with Winslow “saying you can’t” and Carmen “saying you can.” Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell frequently become the black “conservatives” in question (e.g., 02/06/05, 11/09/05). In a biting strip, Carmen sarcastically counters Harry Belafonte’s claim that Rice and Powell are “house negroes.” Carmen expresses outrage at the remark saying that Rice and Powell “have ascended to the highest levels on their merits! They’re role models.” “But they’re…you know…Republicans,” says Winslow. Carmen rejoins, “So long as they don’t get too uppity…” (02/06/05).

Figure 4. Prickly City (08/01/04).

The visual geography of Prickly City mimics the shifting word and image play and shifting racial identities in the cartoon. In the above strip, not unlike in his other strips, Stantis utilizes space in order to present a big picture with many parts that can be particularized but still exists within a whole. Race in the spaces created by Stantis has a similar template, in which racial particularities exist within a whole, but always working in ways that recognize a racial past fluid enough to give way to something new, and better.


Mallard FillmoreDay by Day, and Prickly City are instructive. These three cartoons, when comparatively considered, open up the ways in which space might be understood to operate in cartoons. This conceptualization of space depends on more than the method and approach of the critic or scholar as writer primarily fixated on the published cartoon as final product. Instead, space in this article attempts to make a gesture – small as it may be – towards the artist and the artist’s process. In this article, this process comes to be as the artist draws spaces, as the artist names or defers “naming” something, all in an attempt to shift the perspective in which something might be viewed, and grasped.

What do Mallard FillmoreDay by Day, and Prickly City teach us about politics? From a political perspective, the work of Muir in Day by Day and Stantis in Prickly City functions on two levels, which can both trouble and encourage the “liberal” and “progressive.” Muir and Stantis in particular use their art to promote New Right values, without leading to the “liberal” or “progressive” tuning out as would be the case after digesting the work of Tinsley and his Mallard Fillmore. The “liberal” or “progressive,” thus, easily sees Muir and Stantis as slyly heralding an ideology whose values contradict core values of the politico at the center or left of center. Muir and Stantis, at a certain level, offer a New Right conservatism that can become as palatable, but yet realizable, as the “compassionate conservatism” fed to voters in the United States during the 2000 election cycle. On the other hand, and in an encouraging way, Muir and Stantis represent what politics can be. That is, their New Right politics exists without the dogmatism making politics something difficult, painful, unfulfilling, and, ultimately, shallow and unsuccessful.

Perhaps, today, in 2009, we are seeing Barack Obama use space in a way that Muir and Stantis might recognize. In this new bipartisan space, we may have differences, but that does not mean that we do not have points of agreement. We may have passions about our beliefs, but these passions do not have to make our politics bitter. For Barack Obama, as for Muir and Stantis, it might be about deferring the “naming” of our differences and placing our most unproductive passions to the side, so that a new politics might emerge.


[1] Race and sex at work as rhetoric condemning sexual immorality might be understood to be a proxy for race in a context in which, after the 1960s, there were acceptable and unacceptable modes in which to talk about race. The imbrication of race and sex is discussed in a recent article by Whitney Strub. Strub traced censorship norms in postwar Memphis, 1940s-1970s. According to Strub, the mayor of Memphis, in the late 1960s, “used public outcries over pornography as a discursive displacement of the issue of race, which loomed large over late ’60s Memphis, ultimately finding in pornography an effective replacement for his former and by-then-discredited language of segregation in shoring up white voters and preserving the status quo. As race grew less embedded in the conceptualization of obscenity, it remained implicated in the engineering of pornography as a topic of social significance” (Strub 707).
[2] Tinsley places characterizations of admissions “liberals” next to strips featuring Asian Americans from the working class – never whites, unless they are female – presented as affirmative action victims. One such character is Ping. Ping’s parents are immigrants who “came here from Cambodia with nothing.” Ping continues in this particular strip: “(My parents) always said that here (in the United States), I could be whatever I wanted…and now I know what I want to be…’Black,’ ‘Hispanic,’ or ‘Native American'” (07/17/03) in order to benefit from affirmative action.
Figure 5. Mallard Fillmore 07/17/03.
[3] An example of the unidimensional form of Tinsley is on display when Mallard is used to promote changes to the social security system in the U. S. Specifically, Democrats, as the “party of compassion,” receive criticism for not endorsing the privatization of social security. The logic is that some minority groups, like African Americans, live fewer years, reclaim less of their social security contributions than groups with longer life expectancies, and, therefore, African Americans and the Democratic Party should favor privatization which would supposedly allow blacks to keep more of their money (10/02/01). Never a part of the analysis in Mallard is the possibility that doing something to equalize life expectancy might be more preferable to African Americans than the privatization of social security.
[4] Damon refuses to be typed by white “liberals” or the head of the local NAACP. An NAACP official depicted by Muir in a series of strips as a black nationalist refuses to shake Damon’s hand because he is Republican. Damon quips that he did not become a Republican “from shaking hands” (11/08/02). Ultimately, Damon relies on himself, as he points to his individual ability to secure $100,000 in Treasury notes (11/10/02), and sell his tech business for $200,000 (11/22/05). Not on anyone’s perceptions of him, or anyone’s racial or political norm.
Figure 6. Day by Day 11/08/02.


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