My father religiously read the newspaper each day. He subscribed to the evening edition and parsing the pages was a given in his daily routine. He would change from his suit into khaki pants and an undershirt and then lie back on the couch with his face hidden by the newsprint pages that he inspected with total interest. Now and again he would notice me watching him from across the room and ask if I wanted to see what the comics had to say. I would eagerly sit next to him as we laughed at the daily series of humor in graphic form.
After my father died I followed the cartoon page for years in his honor. Over time my tastes changed from Dennis the Menace to Peanuts to The Far Side but I always remembered how wonderful it had been chuckling with my daddy who had a wicked sense of humor that I am certain I inherited. I suppose that my favorite comics these days are satirical which no doubt would have pleased my dad because Pogo was his absolute favorite. Back then I did not understand the underlying jokes of that incredible series of commentaries about government. I just thought it was a goofy presentation of swamp animals who said silly things that made little sense to me. How prescient the cartoonist had been because it seems to me that there are still swamp creatures holding office in our government and so much of what they say is absurd.
I’m glad that I live in a country that allows satire to run free. I know that some humor is very dark and insulting but most of the time it is an acceptable way to point out the flaws in our humanity. Our hypocrisy as people is so much more vividly revealed under the pen of a gifted cartoonist. Sometimes one picture is worth a thousand words. When it tickles our funny bones the effect is even more powerful. We remember humor and it makes us think in ways that a heated debate never accomplishes.
Our political system has been tested to the limit these days and with it has come phenomenal editorial satire. Gifted artists pick up on the ridiculousness of our leaders in their feigned appearances and their questionable actions. They capture silliness in memorable images that cause us to understand the madness that surrounds us. I would so love to be able to sit with my father once again and study today’s comics together. I know we would surely laugh but we might also enjoy remarkable discussions about the state of the world. I missed out on being able to do that with him, one of the biggest regrets of my life. I think that we would have truly enjoyed learning from each other.
The current situation in our democratic republic is so bizarre that it lends itself to the most remarkable comical cartoons. I have found myself laughing hysterically on a daily basis but then I realize the seriousness of our situation and I want to cry. Our way of governing has been seriously damaged in ways that will haunt our nation for decades to come. Most seriously has been the harm inflicted on our election processes. I am heartbroken by what I have witnessed and I think back to Russian taunts from my childhood that boasted of eventually destroying our country from within. Somehow as a nation we have unwittingly fallen victim to the lure of hoaxes and frauds to an extent that large numbers among us question our very foundations. The fact that they have been led by the President himself is concerning beyond anything I might ever before have imagined. Surely our enemies are crowing with delight as they watch us tearing one another apart.
There is wisdom to be found in the comics. Political cartoons have been around far longer than we might imagine. When I toured Yorkminster cathedral a couple of springs ago the guide pointed out satirical images that the builders had left behind in the stonework and some that had made their way into the stained glass. We human have been sending messages through the imagination and creativity of imagery for hundreds of years. Amazingly the ideas are understandable even centuries later.
I have found myself more and more often turning to the comics even before looking at the news. I find not only great wit but incredible foresight in them, much of which translates into a universal and timeless language. Peanuts and its characters are as meaningful today as they were fifty years ago. Pogo might have been created fifteen minutes ago. Mad Magazine and The Far Side continue to be relevant.
Comics are my favorite way of tuning in to the pulse of society. Why not have a good laugh along with a cry? The balance of emotions has a way of putting everything into perspective. Laughter is indeed one of the best medicines that we possess.