In the middle of May 2011 I was pretty upset. It seemed to me that almost everyone I talked to was really jazzed about Osama bin Laden’s death. I couldn’t figure out why it didn’t appear to anyone else like we were all being played. I mean, who wouldn’t re-elect a swell enough guy who finally finished off the world’s biggest mother fucker? Our public schools are broken but let’s recreate bin Laden’s digs and plan his quick but pricy end with Navy Seal precision. We can just add it to the estimated $4 trillion we Americans will have spent, or borrowed rather, on our decade long war on terror. Osama bin Laden being the cherry on top of the 236,000 already dead, who make up this flesh and blood sundae that somebody is getting fat on and nobody wants to talk about. I wanted to understand why I kept seeing so much glee? How did his death heal, protect, or comfort us? My ten-year-old stepson happened to be at a Phillies game the night the story broke, and he got caught up in a stadium chanting USA, his smile so broad retelling a tale he didn’t understand. I was crushed he felt the power of that. I told him that when he grows up and sees people in other countries burning our flags, that sweet chanting nationalism in the face of death, anyone’s death, is the same thing but just looks different, it’s hate.
This leads us to how I fell for the work of editorial cartoonist, Mr. Fish. I had seen his work on Truthdig, a site I read because I think Chris Hedges is cool. I’d smile here or there looking at his cartoons, sometimes agreeing with what I perceived to be the comment I thought Mr. Fish was making, sometimes not getting it but always liking the tone and art. So when I was upset in the days after the big bin Laden kill, he published a cartoon on Truthdig and looking at it I felt something sort of in between an epileptic-seizure—complete with a false pipeline to God—and the sensation that comes when somebody stands behind you and pretends to crack an egg over your head.
The cartoon showed Jesus embracing bin Laden and written above it was, “Jesus Christ pissing off his American constituency by demonstrating the number one value absolutely crucial to understanding his radical, middle eastern philosophy.” Bulls-eye. So began my first stint as a fan. I should like to say I do not believe in fan-ism and neither should you. I have no business with anybody I can’t see with my own eyes or get a read on with my own built-in sincerity meter. But I made an exception and started to pay closer attention to his work after that beautiful cartoon.
He published a book—Go Fish, a collection of cartoons and essays—which I bought on Amazon. I was annoyed it was printed in China and the cover felt like thermal cash register receipts laced with BPA, but nobody’s perfect. What was under that dirty Chinese cover was great. I read those essays like I was eating an almost-the-right-temperature-but-you-still-have-to-blow-on-it bowl of tomato soup. Slow, carefully ingesting each word or idea and how it partnered with the one before and after it. It was bright, filled with dry misery and sticky-sweet vulgarity. Once the book got in the house, I’d hand it to anybody who would sit down at my coffee table, and like a gentle push of dominos, each and every person would be laughing within moments of looking at the cartoons. His work looks and reads like he is the curator of his own carefully catalogued solo member Mr. Fish’s Thought Museum. My only criticism of Mr. Fish is that he is a real name-dropping hero lover, much too often letting you know who inspires him. This reads to me like an Achilles’ Heel-ish point of weakness that made me wonder what he’d be writing if he wasn’t so busy thinking about who to measure his work up against.
Mr. Fish had been posting on his Facebook page about book signings here or there, none that I could make. So I jokingly suggested he have one at the mall food court near me on a weekday at 10am please. Ten days later, we had the book signing in my house. In less than a week, the one before Christmas too, I got a hold of twenty friends to eat, drink, and listen to Mr. Fish share his work with us. To me it felt like my mind’s prom. I got to think about something, like, admire, and respect it and its owner presented their work in MY living room. The Q & A was too brief, I’ll admit I wanted to get his books out of my house and spread his disease into other homes before friends left to releave babysitters, so my natural inclination to hustle actually got in my own way. I never got to ask any of the questions I had. But even without any questions asked this perfect winter night ended up being the very beginning of Mad Question Asking.
Check out Mr. Fish and all his dopeness at www.clowncrack.com
This is a video of Mr. Fish’s presentation with a sliver of Q & A.
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