Wednesday, December 9, 2009


"When a man's best friend is his dog, that dog has a problem." - Edward Abbey

Now here's an interesting evolution in tone for a cartoon that paralleled a corresponding editing of a related image over the course of a couple days. Probably should be grateful that drawing an editorial panel takes a lot longer and takes more thought than it does to shoot off one's ignorant, opinionated mouth.
What touched off this round of ranting was an article about how this year they are going to start drug-testing Iditarod mushers, not so much as to clean up the image of the poster-sport of Alaska as to try and clean up the current poster-boy. One of the top mushers in the field and local hero Lance Mackey has legitimate medical marijuana clearance, and has come right out and said he smokes on the trail, much to the dismay of the morally upright that run on two legs. Conspiracy theories aside, my initial contribution to the on-line discussion was about as sensitive and diplomatic as throwing flaming (dog) poo:
"Six dogs died for our sporting entertainment in last year’s Iditarod: but hey, it’ll be a great relief this year to know that the mushers are clean."
I was motivated by a couple pet peeves: one, the perceived discrepancy in priorities of the race officials, and second, the whole professional sports fetish/celebrity -mania thing that substitutes for more humble and real heroism. And oh yeah, I tend to like animals almost as much as people, some more than others, and nobody likes hearing about dogs dying.
A reply to the above comment used the usual "oh but the dogs love it" which prompted in turn another, harsher reply, though the walkback is already starting to show:
"... you are absolutely correct about the inevitability of Death, but that isn’t much of a justification in this case, and irrelevant to my point about misplaced priorities. It’s also somewhat of a self-fulfilling rationale, as large-scale kennels exist basically as puppy-mills to breed dogs that many of will be euthanized when their prime potential is reached – cyclic thinking. Besides, many dogs love antifreeze and to eat other things that will injure or kill them … the people here are supposed to be smarter and assume responsibility for the animals in their care.

The Committee is set on elevating mushing to the level of other “world-class” sports: ego-driven “professional athletes” in a pointless competition to win at all costs. The vanity of these distance races stand in stark contrast to overwhelming majority of recreational mushers: I have no problem whatsoever with them, and in fact would call the rare folks who mush for practical, functional reasons better “role models.”
The Iditarod is for purely for entertainment purposes as a glamour sport and promoting the brand image of Alaska for marketing purposes, and it’s finally all about the personalities - hence the big names dropped in the article."
And as evidenced by this evolving train of thought in writing, the initial drawing of the editorial panel, seen here below, was also harsher. Actually, in retrospect, showing a dead dog was way over, uh, kill, and that much visual hyperbole was just not needed. So I voluntarily went back and edited both the image and caption to reflect the toning down in attitude, and I much prefer the version posted up above. That one's actually the third version after yet another rewrite of the caption to "where the mushers might be clean... but you can't test for conscience," which is arguably just a damming as either of the other two.

"I love a dog. He does nothing for political reasons." - Will Rogers

And so in turn the corresponding change of heart (not necessarily softening of stance) was duly noted back on the comment thread:
"Aaargh, in retrospect my knee-jerk reaction was inappropriately harsh, and I’ll state a retraction that many individual mushers do incredible charity work promoting good causes; programs like Mush For Kids for example are awesome and these folks deserve support: my apologies. The big races also do a decent job policing their own ranks when it comes to monitoring incidents of animal cruelty.
That said, I still think the Committee needs to stay focused on far more important issues especially in light of last year’s casualty list.
And while freighting tons of supplies around for these media events it’d be wise to keep in mind the current hardships many rural communities are facing this winter with dog food shortages.
There probably aren't going to be any charges of MWI or MUI anytime soon. And who knows, maybe a musher or two will champion NORML as a sponsor this year and everyone will just relax enjoy the ride."
Thing is, working through the process of creating an image can be just as much of an mental/emotional struggle as it is trying to physically draw the silly thing. That's the whole reason for slapping this whole exchange up on the blog - I suppose there are many cartoonists who never try and second guess their work, or simply just don't care about what other people think, or deliberately set out to piss folks off, but that ain't me. On the other hand, I'll be damned if I practise self-censorship just to appease criticism - that's absolutely contrary to what editorial cartooning is about, and is part of the job description. If you don't like conflict then it ain't for you - this is why politics turn a lot of people off. Taking an unpopular stand, especially amidst peer-pressure from acquaintances can be a bitch. Engaging face to face with a friend who passionately disagrees with your position certainly presents more of a challenge than having your opinion disseminated through the mass media secondhand and oftentimes protected by the buffer zone of anonymity. And so I sometimes bounce off potentially iffy panels within the small circle of my ad-hoc vetting committee, which in and of itself is a red flag that maybe I oughta take a second look.
I don't agonize endlessly over every little possible misinterpretation and perceived insult when pushing buttons on sore subjects, but putting yourself in someone else's shoes (or dog booties) as an exercise in empathy is a familiar and valuable skill for many artists. It is a literal tightrope: first too far one way, then overcompensate to the opposite extreme, then back + forth again and again until you arrive at a wobbly balance. It'd probably get real old, real fast if I though I knew everything, was always right, and never had to change my mind to accommodate new information.
"In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn't merely try to train him to be semihuman. The point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog." - Edward Hoagland
If one of my peeves is the self-importance of mushing taking itself so seriously as a sport, then it goes without saying how much I or anyone else should really care about some damn cartoon. But as far as rejection from readers, well, nothing else will get Alaskans to close ranks faster than some schmuck hating on the official state sport, except maybe Sarah Palin.

It only confirms my theory that editorial cartoonists were the original precursor to internet trolls. Besides, cats would never put up with this shit.

Now back to our regularly scheduled dog jokes.

"I've seen a look in dogs' eyes, a quickly vanishing look of amazed contempt, and I am convinced that basically dogs think humans are nuts." - John Steinbeck

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