Cartoon: This is Your Brain on a Diet

Support the making of these cartoon by supporting my Patreon! If you do, you will always be wise and good looking and your omelettes will never stick to the pan.

Full disclosure: Some of this post I’ve cut-and-pasted from an online debate I had with Helen Pluckrose.)

In the New York Times, neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt wrote about why weight loss diets almost always fail in the long run:

The root of the problem is not willpower but neuroscience. Metabolic suppression is one of several powerful tools that the brain uses to keep the body within a certain weight range, called the set point. The range, which varies from person to person, is determined by genes and life experience. When dieters’ weight drops below it, they not only burn fewer calories but also produce more hunger-inducing hormones and find eating more rewarding.

The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you, whether or not your doctor agrees. If someone starts at 120 pounds and drops to 80, her brain rightfully declares a starvation state of emergency, using every method available to get that weight back up to normal. The same thing happens to someone who starts at 300 pounds and diets down to 200, as the “Biggest Loser” participants discovered.

This coordinated brain response is a major reason that dieters find weight loss so hard to achieve and maintain.

Weight loss diets don’t work in the long term, for the vast majority of people. (This is true of all weight loss plans, including “lifestyle changes”). Especially if “work” means “turn a fat person into a non-fat person.”

And that simple fact, if it were accepted, turns nearly all of our society’s discussion of fat and “the obesity crisis” upside down.

What should fat people who are concerned about their health, or want to improve their health, do? The default answer, in our society, is “stop being fat.” Lose weight. But for most fat people, that’s nonsensical advice – and worst, actively harmful advice – because we don’t know how to make fat people stop being fat. At least, not in any way that lasts and works for most people.

Am I saying fat people who want to be healthier should give up? Absolutely not. I’m saying that for most fat people, becoming healthier doesn’t require futile attempts to lose weight. Take a look at this graph:

(Source.) The graph shows likelihood of mortality as it relates to weight and four other characteristics: fruit and vegetable intake, tobacco use, exercise, and alcohol. These are sometimes called the “healthy habits.”

On the left side of the graph, fat people who practice zero “healthy habits” – smoking, no veggies, immoderate drinking, no exercise – have a much higher mortality risk than so-called “normal” weight people with unhealthy habits (although the “normals” have elevated risk too).

On the right end of the graph, fat people who practice all four healthy habits have a mortality risk that’s just barely higher than their thinner counterparts. More importantly, we can see that fat people who practice all four healthy habits benefit enormously, compared to fat people who don’t. (“Normals” benefit enormously from these healthy habits, too.)

Most fat people can’t permanently lose enough weight to stop being fat. But most fat people can eat more veggies, can not smoke, can limit ourselves to one glass of hootch a day, can add moderate exercise to our lives. These things aren’t always easy, but they are all much more achievable, for most fat people, than stopping being fat.

Achievable advice is better than unachievable advice. There’s a positive way forward for most fat people who want to be healthier – one that’s more likely to work, and less likely to encourage self-hatred, than trying to stop being fat.

I find the idea of a anthropomorphic brain inherently funny; if we cut it open, would we find another, smaller brain inside?

I’m unusually happy with how this cartoon looks. Mainly for the brain, which was so much fun to draw (although time-consuming) and I think came out well. To make up for how time-consuming the brain was to draw, the little hormone-servants also look really good (in my opinion), and took virtually no effort or time to draw.

When I was working on this strip, I posted my design for the brain character on social media, to see if people would get that it’s a brain.

Nearly everyone got that it’s a brain (although a few guessed it was a raison, and I can kind of see that). But I had decided to use the cerebellum as pantaloons, and several people thought they were the brain’s balls. And that is why my final brain design has no cerebellum.


This cartoon has six panels, plus an additional tiny “kicker” panel below the bottom of the cartoon.

At the top of the entire cartoon is a large caption, which says THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON A DIET.

The first five panels show a human brain, but anthropomorphized: It has arms, legs, hands (gloved with three fingers, a la Mickey Mouse) huge eyes and a pointy crown. It’s in some sort of dimly lit round space.

The brain is speaking to a cell-like creature, with little blobs of oil falling off of it, and this creature has also been anthropomorphized, and has a mouth and two big eyes. The cell-like creature is wearing a black bowler hat.


The brain is speaking a bit imperiously to the cell-like creature, who is named Mr. Ghrelin.  Ghrelin looks a little nervious.

BRAIN: Mr. Ghrelin, you have a report?

GHRELIN: Your majesty, I bring word from the stomach! We’ve been getting less food and we’re losing fat!


A close-up of the brain. The brain is looking up thoughtfully into the hair, one finger pressed to the side of what I’ll call its cheek, as if its trying to remember something.

BRAIN: Less food? Losing fat? There’s a word for this…

BRAIN: What’s that word? It’s something I learned millions of years ago in evolution school…


The brain has jumped up, holding the sides of its, er, head and with an extremely panicked expression; Mr Ghrelin is in turn surprised by the brain’s reaction. The word “starvation” is written in huge red letters.


BRAIN: This is called STARVATION!


A shot of the brain, raising its fists high as it yells, with a determined expression on its face. The background has disappeared, replaced by bright yellow, with waves of action lines (indicating great energy) shooting out from the brain.

BRAIN: I’m declaring a state of emergency!

BRAIN: Slow down metabolism! We must preserve our precious fat!


The brain is now surrounded by a bunch of Ghrelin-types, each of who looks the same, except they’re wearing different hats (we can see: bowler hat, top hat, cabbie cap, 50s dad hat). The brain, still yelling, is pointing decisively as it gives marching orders.

BRAIN: Release the stress hormones! Have them produce constant, extreme hunger! And store all the fat we can! Just in case!

BRAIN: We’ll keep this up for years if necessary!


A fat man sites on a sofa. Next to him, on an endtable, are a lamp, a drinking glass, and a pen. On his other side is a cell phone and a throw pillow. On the back of the sofa, there’s a folded blanket and, lying on the blanket, an orange cat. He’s wearing fuzzy slippers that are designed to look like mice, with little ears sticking up.

He’s holding a book; we can see the book’s cover, with the title “THE COMMON SENSE DIET.” A caption above the book shows what he’s reading in the book.

CAPTION: Just eat less! It’s easy!


Mr. Ghrelin is speaking to the brain again; the brain is facing away and looking anxious.

GHRELIN: Good news! We’re getting normal amounts of food again.

BRAIN: But for how long? Better store more fat.

This cartoon on Patreon

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Fat, fat and more fat | 3 Comments  

Cartoon: What We Can Afford

This comic is by myself and Kevin Moore.

Kevin comments:

I’ve always found it a crime against society that we spend so much money on our defense budget, when so much of that money goes to the military industrial complex, corporations that hardly pay any taxes at all, companies that profit off of the deaths and dismemberment of innocent people around the world, and all of it at the expense of social programs that would actually do our society good like healthcare, education, housing, universal basic income, etc..

So I really enjoyed drawing big stacks of money on dump trucks and cargo ships.

IF you like these cartoons, support them like a suspension bridge after the holidays but before three shakes of a cat’s tale of woe by supporting my patreon!

The point the cartoon makes has literally been frustrating me since I was in high school. It’s a foundational belief of U.S.. politics – anything that can actually help ordinary people will always be dismissed as unaffordable. Including things that would actually save money in the long run. And at the same time, affordability never seems to be a barrier for throwing money by the bucketful to the wealthy, and shooting money out a firehose at the military.

The amount of money we spend on the military, in particular, is large beyond comprehension. To give an example, President Biden’s pandemic “preparedness” plan was originally scheduled to cost $65 billion over “7 to 10” years. Assuming ten years (to make the math easy), that’s $6.5 billion a year for preventing or mitigating potential future pandemics. Which frankly seems like a bargain when compared to the economic damage (not to mention loss of life) Covid has caused.

But Congress – meaning all Republicans in congress and many Democrats – have balked at that. $65 billion over ten years is too much; some have suggested $30 billion instead. Some have suggested $5 billion instead. Meanwhile, scientists have suggested $100 billion over ten years is what’s actually needed, but no one is arguing for that in Congress.

Meanwhile, the US military budget over the next ten years will be approximately $7.67 trillion dollars.


This cartoon has six panels. Each panel shows the same two people talking, a middle-aged male politician type wearing a well-tailored suit, and a younger woman wearing a jeans jacket over an untucked yellow shirt.  We’ll call the two characters “SENATOR” and “ACTIVIST” for purposes of this transcript.


Senator and Activist are talking, although the Senator doesn’t look like he wants to be in this conversation – he’s looking at his cell phone. The activist is facing him and looks serious, holding a palm up in a “here’s the point I’m making” gesture.

ACTIVIST: Good welfare programs can actually save the government money. Homes for the homeless, health care for children and pregnant women, free pre-K education, good vocational education in prison… All these programs save us money in the long run.


A close-up of Activist, smiling and pressing a forefinger to the side of her head.

ACTIVIST: We should do these tings because they’re the right thing to do… But they’re also the smart thing to do.


The camera has backed up enough so that we can see that the two of them are standing on a big pile of cash. The senator is smiling and shrugging. The activist is gesturing at the cash they’re standing on.

SENATOR: Even if that’s true, we just can’t afford it! The debt, the deficit… The country’s broke!

ACTIVIST: What is this we’re standing on?


The “camera” has pulled back even more, and we can now see that the two of them are standing on top of a huge load of money being carried by an enormous dump truck. There’s so much money that it rises high above the sides of the truck’s, um, you know, that space that big trucks have that they carry their loads in. I’m sure there’s a word for it, but I don’t know what that word is. Anyway, the pile of money rises high above whatever we call that.

(The word “Moola” is painted on the front of the truck).

SENATOR: This? One of our daily dump trucks full of money for huge tax breaks for rich people and big corporations.

ACTIVIST: And what is the truck standing on?


The “camera” has pulled back even more, and now we can see that the dump truck full of money is parked on top of a pile of money that’s huge even when compared to a giant dump truck. The money is on top of a cargo ship, which is floating on the ocean.

Se can still make out the Senator and the Activist, but the camera is now pulled back so far that they’re little more than tiny dots.

SENATOR: Let’s see… The truck is on top of one of our daily cargo ships full of money for the military.


The “camera” has zoomed back in to a close shot of the two people. The Senator is talking with a neutral expression. The activist is face-palming.

SENATOR: Why? What’s your point?

This cartoon on Patreon

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Economics and the like | 6 Comments  

Cartoon: How Could It Be Hard To Get Voter I.D.?

If you enjoy these cartoons, help us make more by embracing world atheism, becoming a witch, accepting contradictions, and supporting my patreon!

I think my first official government ID was a passport at age fourteen or so, when my family took a trip to Italy. I didn’t arrange my own passport, of course – probably my mom took care of that.

At age fifteen I took driving lessons and got a learner’s permit, and I had parents and school to pay for and handhold me through that process.

Since then I’ve almost always had a passport and either a driver’s license or a state non-driver ID. And even when they lapsed, I’ve always been in a position to renew them when I needed to. Renewing is always easier than getting new.

(Although there was one time when I was broke and couldn’t renew without a copy of my birth certificate which I couldn’t afford at first and when I finally could it took months for New York to mail it to me.)

For someone like me, it can be hard to imagine why some people find it hard to get a government photo ID. It’s (almost) always been easy for me, right?

There are two ways to go from there. First is to actually do some research. Listen to the stories of people who have had trouble getting ID.

Alternatively, one could just assume that anyone who doesn’t have a photo ID is stupid and lazy. Which seems to be the favorite response on the right.

Warning: This post is going to be really long, because I want to paste in some of the quotes I found.

The big problem writing this cartoon, for me, was that real stories are messy and nuanced and don’t fit into a word balloon with room for 35 words at most. (And it’s better to use less words, since when readers see a big block of text many of them skim or skip).

For instance, I really wanted to include this story, from Samantha Adams, who has married twice and divorced once. When she moved to Indiana she found out she couldn’t get an ID without legal documentation, not just for her current name, but for each name change she’d been through.

I would have to provide a copy of my 1st marriage license, divorce papers and copy of my 2nd marriage license. Really? We just moved! Had no idea where to find the first two docs. She told me I’d have to request copies from the courts who have them. That’s not free or fast. […]

I worked with seniors. Think about little old ladies who don’t have drivers licenses. How could they possibly jump through all these hoops and get all these documents? What about poor folks? Copies of legal documents aren’t free.   Voter ID laws do suppress votes. I get it now.

Researching this cartoon, I found a legal ruling, Veasey v. Perry, which documented stories from many Americans who had trouble getting ID in Texas.

One thing that you find, when you research this, is that a surprising number of people (especially older people) were never issued birth certificates. Quoting Texas Representative Martinez Fischer:

In our subcommittee, gosh, we went down to Brownsville and we took testimony on the very issue that you heard from Mr. Lara earlier, which was people—a lot of people, especially in rural areas or along the border who were birthed by midwives or were born on farms, didn’t have the requisite birth certificates and were in limbo.

A transgender woman named Stephanie Lynn Dees was in the process of legally changing her name – a process that can be opaque, expensive and slow. She worried about being turned away from the polls because “I don’t really match my photograph and you always get people who just don’t like transgender people….”

Transportation is a big issue:

Some of the Plaintiffs without SB 14 ID do not have the ability or the means to drive. Four of them—Ms. Clark, Mr. Gandy, Mr. Benjamin, and Mr. Taylor—rely almost exclusively on public transportation. The lack of personal transportation adds to both the time and the cost of collecting the underlying documents. Mr. Taylor, who was recently homeless, declared that he sometimes cannot afford a bus pass.

And for those who can afford the fare, like Mr. Gandy, it can take an hour to reach the nearest DPS office. Others, like Mr. Estrada and Mrs. Espinoza are forced to rely on the kindness of family and friends to move about town, much less for a 60–mile roundtrip ride to the nearest DPS station. Mr. Lara, who is nearing his eightieth birthday, testified that he has to ride his bicycle when he is unable to find a car ride.

As is cost. (Unsurprisingly, all of these barriers are more likely to come up for Black and Latin Americans – one reason the GOP is so eager to have voter ID required.)

Kristina Mora worked for a non-profit organization in Dallas, Texas, The Stew Pot, which assists the homeless who are trying to get a photo ID to obtain jobs or housing. She testified that her indigent clients regularly number 50 to 70 per day….

According to Ms. Mora, these clients confront four general barriers to getting necessary ID: (1) understanding and navigating the process; (2) financial hardship; (3) investment of time; and (4) facing DPS or any type of law enforcement The Stew Pot and CAM, exist in part, to help with the first barrier and to an extent, the second barrier. These two witnesses testified that it costs on average, $45.00 to $100.00 per person in document and transportation costs to get a photo ID.

It generally takes an individual two trips to obtain the necessary documents to get an ID. Many homeless individuals do not have a birth certificate or other underlying documents because they have nowhere to secure them and they get lost, stolen, or confiscated by police. Furthermore, most are not in communication with their families and cannot get assistance with any part of this process. Ms. Mora testified that it generally takes about one hour to get to DPS or the necessary office, one hour to stand in line and be served, and one hour to return to the shelter. This generally has to be done in the morning because homeless shelters have early afternoon curfews.

The $45.00 cost to obtain a Texas ID card is equivalent to what these clients would pay for a two-week stay in a shelter.

From a story reported by Sari Horwitz for The Washington Post:

In his wallet, Anthony Settles carries an expired Texas identification card, his Social Security card and an old student ID from the University of Houston, where he studied math and physics decades ago. What he does not have is the one thing that he needs to vote this presidential election: a current Texas photo ID.

For Settles to get one of those, his name has to match his birth certificate — and it doesn’t. In 1964, when he was 14, his mother married and changed his last name. After Texas passed a new voter-ID law, officials told Settles he had to show them his name-change certificate from 1964 to qualify for a new identification card to vote.

So with the help of several lawyers, Settles tried to find it, searching records in courthouses in the D.C. area, where he grew up. But they could not find it. To obtain a new document changing his name to the one he has used for 51 years, Settles has to go to court, a process that would cost him more than $250 — more than he is willing to pay….

After Texas implemented its new law, Randall went to the Department of Public Safety (the Texas agency that handles driver’s licenses and identification cards) three times to try to get a photo ID to vote. Each time Randall was told he needed different items. First, he was told he needed three forms of identification. He came back and brought his Medicaid card, bills and a current voter registration card from voting in past elections.

“I thought that because I was on record for voting, I could vote again,” Randall said.

But he was told he still needed more documentation, such as a certified copy of his birth certificate.

Records of births before 1950, such as Randall’s, are not on a central computer and are located only in the county clerk’s office where the person was born.

For Randall, that meant an hour-long drive to Huntsville, where his lawyers found a copy of his birth certificate.

But that wasn’t enough. With his birth certificate in hand, Randall went to the DPS office in Houston with all the necessary documents. But, DPS officials still would not issue him a photo ID because of a clerical mistake on his birth certificate. One letter was off in his last name — “Randell” instead of “Randall” — so his last name was spelled slightly different than on all his other documents.

And Voter ID laws, harmful as they are, are far from the only or even the worst anti-Democracy measures the GOP is pursuing.

Update: I changed panel 3. Here’s the original panel 3.

Someone pointed out to me that deliver drivers pretty much have to have a drivers license in order to get that job.  D’oh!

And apparently I messed up when I wrote that a birth certificate costs $80 – in the more expensive states, it’s more like $30. Depending on the state, a driver’s license can cost up to $89. (I googled these costs in May 2022, of course they’ll change over time).


This cartoon has four panels, each showing a different scene. In addition, there’s a small “kicker” panel under the fourth panel.


The panel shows a counter at a fast food restaurant. We can see a couple of customers, and a couple of workers. The workers are wearing hats that very vaguely resemble hamburger buns. A sign on the wall shows a smiling hamburger with eyes, below the caption “Soilent Green YUM.” A smaller sign says “SAFETY” in larger letters followed by tiny print, which says “is a word we use a lot so you can’t sue us.”

The worker at the cash register is turning to speak directly to the reader.

WORKER: To get an official photo I.D., I have to go to the nearest government office, which is 90 miles away, and I don’t have a car, and even if I did my boss won’t give me a weekday off.


We’re in what looks like someone’s back yard. In the foreground is a garden, with some sort of plant being grown in tidy rows. An elderly woman is kneeling on the ground in front of the garden, wearing a floppy straw hat, an apron with a floral patter, and holding a trowel. She speaks directly to the reader.

WOMAN: I can’t get I.D. without a birth certificate. But when I was born home births didn’t get birth certificates.


A mover wearing jeans and a black tank top is carrying a sofa as he’s talking to the reader. (Presumably someone else is carrying the other end of the sofa, but that person is outside the panel border). It’s a little dark out, and this appears to be a residential area – he’s on a sidewalk, and there’s some grass and trees and an outdoor wall in the background.

MOVER: The state charges $60 for a driver’s license…. but first I’d need a copy of my birth certificate, which is $30. I can’t afford 90 dollars to vote!


This panel shows the interior of a coffee shop. There are round tables, a big window showing some houses across the street, and a mural of a smiling coffee mug on the wall. A man and a woman sit together at a table, with mugs of coffee on the table. He is reading from a tablet he’s holding and looking annoyed as he talks. She is looking at a laptop, and doesn’t look up as she responds.

MAN: Why wouldn’t anyone be able to get an I.D.? Idiots!

WOMAN: People like that don’t deserve to vote.


The man from panel 4 is yelling a bit at a drawing of Barry (the cartoonist).

MAN: If it’s easy for me it must be easy for everybody! That’s just science!

This cartoon on Patreon

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Elections and politics | 23 Comments  

Cartoon: Abortion Should Be Decided By The States

If you like these cartoons, then support them on Patreon, where every day is hat day!

Obviously abortion rights are on everybody’s mind this week. The Supreme Court’s upcoming decision overturning Roe is horrifying but not surprising.

One argument that’s touched on in the draft opinion – an argument many anti-choice activists and politicians have been making for decades – is that abortion’s legality should be decided by the legislature of each state, not by the federal government. “Let each state decide.”

Their bad faith is as subtle as a herd of elephants. Republicans in Congress have never hesitated to use federal law to limit abortion access nationwide – such as when they passed the so-called “partial birth” abortion ban. Every member of the Supreme Court, and every Republican in Congress, knows that without Roe in their way they’re going to propose more nationwide bans.

But no matter what they do – and they will do enormous harm – this is not the end of abortion access in America.

Anna North writes:

…People who want to end a pregnancy [won’t] be completely without options. Abortion funds around the country would continue their work, in some cases helping patients travel to blue states to get the procedure. Community-based providers, who perform abortions outside the official medical system, would likely continue to operate. And self-managed abortion, in which people perform their own abortions with pills, would take a bigger role.

Preparing for that reality will require a lot from advocates and providers, from raising money to campaigning against laws that can send people to jail for self-managing an abortion. But people have been ending their pregnancies in America since long before Roe v. Wade or even abortion clinics existed, and a court decision isn’t going to stop them. It’s just going to change what their options — and the risks involved — look like.

In pragmatic terms, abortion bans can never truly ban abortion; but they can make abortion less available and more dangerous. That’s something anti-abortion activists seem perfectly comfortable with.

Abortion is way too large an issue to cover in one cartoon, and this cartoon is obviously narrowly focused on one specific wrinkle. I’m sure I’ll be producing more cartoons about abortion rights in the months ahead.

No promises (I’m not very good at controlling where my inspiration goes), but if there’s a particular facet of abortion rights you’d like to see a cartoon about, feel free to let me know in comments.

I’m not at all sure it comes across, but attempting to draw 1980s hair in panel one was so much fun. And yes, Reagan’s campaign did use the slogan “Let’s make America great again.” (The only thing Republicans believe in recycling is ideas.)


This cartoon has four panels. Each panel shows a different scene, with a different person or group of people talking to the viewer.


A man with a “Reagan ’80: Make American Great Again” t-shirt and blonde hair in a mullet is talking with a somewhat angry expression, raising a forefinger to make his point. Next to him, a concerned-looking woman with a leather jacket and ENORMOUS hair is speaking with her hands clasped together.

CAPTION: 40 years before Roe v Wade is overturned.

MAN: Roe is wrong! Abortion is too important for the federal government to decide for everyone.

WOMAN: We should leave it to the states.


A woman stands alone in front of a sidewalk; behind her is a patch of grass, a couple of trees, and a stone wall. She’s wearing a red skirt with a pattern of circles, and a t-shirt that says “GORE is a BORE.”  She’s smiling and talking with her palms out.

CAPTION: 20 years before Roe is overturned.

WOMAN: Without Roe, every state could make its own abortion policies.

WOMAN: Which is how it should be!


This panel shows a crowd of white men. All of the men are wearing dress shirts, jackets, and neckties, except for one man who is in “Tea Party” cosplay, including a tricorn hat, although I’m not sure that anyone can tell it’s a tricorn hat because it turns out that tricorn hats are hard to draw.

In the center of the panel, one man is grinning big and speaking to the readers. He has glasses and parted blonde hair.

CAPTION: 10 years before Roe is overturned.

MAN: Let the states decide. That’s all we’re saying.


A man and a women, both dressed in gender-typical business wear, are speaking to reporters; the reporters aren’t in panel, but we can see their hands holding microphones, which are pointed at the speakers. We can see in the background that we’re on the steps of some sort of fancy, large building with pillars and arches (I’m hoping people will see that and assume it’s a government building of some sort).

The man is smiling big and holding a little stack of papers. The woman is clasping her hands and speaking with an earnest expression.

CAPTION: Ten minutes after Roe is overturned.

MAN: Our new law bans abortion nationwide.

WOMAN: Abortion’s too important to be left to the states!

This cartoon on Patreon

Posted in Abortion & reproductive rights, Cartooning & comics | 30 Comments  

Cartoon: Nobody Back Then Knew Slavery Was Wrong!

If you like these cartoons, help us make more by supporting my Patreon! Or by casting helpful spells!

This cartoon is, of course, drawn by Becky Hawkins, who did her usual wonderful job.

Becky says:

I feel like a dick saying “I had so much fun doing goofy drawings about the horror of slavery,” but I had so much fun on this cartoon. As soon as I read the script, I asked Barry if I could take this one. I was excited about the challenge of drawing recognizable historical figures, in a big-headed cartoony style, with occasional goofy body language to match Barry’s dialogue. I’d looked up photos of John Brown after listening to the Behind the Bastards episode about him. His face had so many delightful lines to dig into! When I was drawing and coloring this, I kept leaving John Brown for last, as a treat.

I spent the most time looking for clothing references for Panel 1. When I looked for pictures of enslaved people in America, I found a lot of photographs and paintings from the 1860s, 150 years after that panel takes place. I also found some movie stills, but I didn’t want an outfit to be recognizable as “that dress from 12 Years a Slave” or something. And I wanted the women to belong in the same cartoony world as panels 2-4 without looking like an Aunt Jemima caricature. Also, some of the 18th-century paintings left me zooming in and trying to guess how the clothes were put together. (Is that shawl tied in the front? pinned? sewn together?) In the end, I did my best guess from a combination of drawings and paintings.

It was easy to find portraits of the historical figures in panels 2-3. (John Brown was the subject of photographs, oil paintings, political cartoons and news illustrations!) So I could recreate those outfits and hairstyles, and even use the color picker tool in Photoshop to copy the colors from the paintings. Jefferson and Washington are in Independence Hall in Philadelphia in panel 2. So if you look at this panel and get a song from 1776 stuck in your head…Me, too.

I drew the guy in panel 4 with a shaved head, T-shirt and jeans, and rimless glasses so that everything about him would scream “modern.” But he accidentally looks like a great guy who used to come to Drawing Nights at my house, so…sorry, Ryan. Also, thank you to my image-conscious coworkers on Zoom meetings. You added the phrase “ring light” to my vocabulary, so I could look up the proper YouTuber equipment!

The reference images Becky used when drawing this cartoon:

After Becky finished drawing the strip, I realized that John Brown had a beard in 1859. But Becky and I decided we could somehow live with that historical inaccuracy.

Frederick Douglass and John Brown really did have a secret meeting in 1859. On Route 30 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, there’s a historical marker, which says:


The two abolitionists met at a stone quarry here, Aug. 19-21, 1859, and discussed Brown’s plans to raid the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. He urged Douglass to join an armed demonstration against slavery. Douglass refused, warning the raid would fail; the Oct. 16, 1859 attack confirmed his fears. Brown was captured with his surviving followers and was executed Dec. 2, 1859.

Douglass wrote about the meeting over 20 years later: “…all his arguments, and all his descriptions of the place, convinced me that he was going into a perfect steel-trap, and that once in he would never get out alive.”

Reading that reminded me of a cartoon I’d written a few years ago, but then put aside, unhappy with it. I got overly fancy with the layout, trying to make it work as one big panel with characters receding from the viewer in perspective, with the more distant characters temporally being the ones who were drawn as being furthest away from the viewer.

It was a convoluted idea and I wasn’t able to convince myself it worked. But after reading about the secret Douglass and Brown meeting, I went back to the idea and realized that it would work much better as with a simple four-panel approach.

While Becky was drawing this cartoon, I was interviewed by the Where We Go Next podcast, and we discussed laying out for comic books versus laying out political cartoons  (the episode hasn’t been released yet). When drawing or writing long-form comic books, I often try to think of interesting layouts.

But I don’t do that much in political cartoons. Political cartoons generally just try to communicate a single idea, and hopefully communicate it strongly. Anything that makes the cartoon less “transparent” to readers – that calls attention to what I as a cartoonist am doing, rather than to the idea the comic is conveying – is a distraction and might be making the cartoon weaker.

In an op-ed in The Washington Examiner, Louis Sarkozy – son of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (which is irrelevant but also somehow too odd a piece of trivia for me to leave out)  – wrote:

…as a product of one’s own time, then it is challenging to morally condemn an individual born in 1750, when slavery was regarded as ethically okay, legally permissible, and widely practiced (even by African slave owners).

But that slavery was morally odious wasn’t unknown in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The slaves knew it, the abolitionists knew it. The “founding fathers” themselves objected to what they called Britain’s “enslavement” of the colonies, and they were well aware of criticisms of their own hypocrisy.

Unrelatedly, I read aloud “Eight Arms To Hold You,” a sweet and funny jailbreak short story starring an octopus, by Angela Teagardner, for the Cast of Wonders podcast. You can read the story, or listen to me read it, here.


This cartoon has four panels; each panel shows a different scene with different characters.


A caption at the top of the panel says “1710.”

A Black woman sits on the front steps of a ramshackle wooden house; a small boy is sitting next to her on the steps, and she’s bandaging an injury on his hand. She’s wearing a yellow kerchief wrapped around her hair and tied in back, and speaking to the viewer with an earnest expression.

Standing next to her is another Black woman, speaking a bit angrily to the viewer, with her fists on her hips. She’s wearing a red kerchief over her hair, tied on top, and a yellow dress with an apron.

Both of the dresses are modest and plain, and look old-fashioned by today’s standards.

RED KERCHIEF: Slavery is crushing our lives, our children’s lives…

YELLOW KERCHIEF: It’s simply evil!


A caption at the top of the panel says “1776.”

The panel shows Thomas Jefferson and George Washington standing in Independence Hall, dressed in revolutionary-era men’s finery. Jefferson is smirking while leaning back against a table, and Washington is speaking more seriously, spreading his arms to make his point.

JEFFERSON: Even we know slavery is a horror!

WASHINGTON: And we’re super racist slaveowners!


A caption at the top of the panel says “1859.”

Frederick Douglass, wearing a fine looking suit, and John Brown, wearing a rougher looking outfit and carrying a rifle, are standing in a clearing in a wooded area, talking to the viewer. Douglass has a serious expression; with one hand he’s covering his mouth, as if to keep Brown from hearing what he says, and with his other hand he’s pointing to Brown with a thumb. Brown is grinning and pumping a fist into the air.

BROWN: I hate slavery! So I’m gonna capture an armory and start a huge slave rebellion!

DOUGLASS: I’d do anything to end slavery. Except his stupid plan, because it won’t work and he’ll definitely be killed.

BROWN: Worth it!


A caption at the top of the panel says “TODAY.”

A man with a shaved head and a scruffy beard is speaking to a smartphone mounted on a tripod. The tripod is also holding a ring light. There’s a blue sheet behind the man providing a background – what I’m saying is, this guy is a podcaster. He has an orange t shirt with an image of a hand with a raised middle finger and the caption “Cancel This.” The podcaster is holding one hand palm up, and pointing up with his other hand, as if to make a point.

SCRUFFY: It’s unfair to judge slave owners by today’s standards! Nobody back then knew slavery was wrong!

This cartoon on Patreon

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Race, racism and related issues, Racism | 6 Comments  

Cartoon: Another Reason College Conservatives Are Afraid

Help me make more cartoons by robbing a bank and pledging all the money to my Patreon!

A couple of studies have found that conservative students are more likely than liberal students to say that they’ve self-censored on campus – although both liberal and conservative students say that they’ve self-censored.

What does this mean? It’s hard to say. For one thing, not all self-censorship is bad; everyone self-censors at one time or another. If I decide not to bring up a political argument in a statistics class because it would be off-topic when we’re talking about Bernoulli distributions, that’s self-censorship, but it might be the right choice.

An environment where no one ever self-censors would be like Twitter. That’s not ideal.

But – even if some self-censorship is appropriate – what about the finding that conservative students are more likely to self-censor than liberal students?

Some of that is probably reality-based, in that students are more likely to be left- than right-wing, and so people are more likely to push back on conservative than on liberal opinions. I’m sure that this does deter some conservative students from speaking their opinions freely. (I know liberals who have worked or lived in highly conservative environments, and they also are choosey about when they share their opinions.)

Furthermore, let’s face it – some student lefties are dogmatic and harsh when dealing with disagreement, and that could deter speech also. (This isn’t at all unique to student lefties – dogmatics and harsh people are found in any political group.)

But although that’s real, it’s also vastly exaggerated. The vast majority of students, both left and right, aren’t evil or malicious or looking to attack other students.

And much of the fear simply isn’t based in reality at all.

As Jeffrey Sachs points out, conservative students are far more likely to worry that their professors will give them lower grades due to their political opinions – but the fear is baseless.

…fully 21 percent of students who say they’ve self-censored in the classroom report doing so because they fear receiving a lower grade from their professor. And, again, conservatives are much more likely than liberals to report this fear….

This fear is clearly real. It does not, however, have any basis in reality. According to all the available evidence, faculty do not give conservatives lower grades than liberals for equivalent work.

Researchers have tackled this issue from a couple of angles. In one experiment, students were asked to compose two essays, one on the Democratic Party (its values, goals, etc.) and the other on the Republican Party. These were then given to a mix of Democratic and Republican teaching assistants for grading. The students were told that the essays were voluntary and their identities would be kept secret, giving them no reason to self-censor. The result? Neither the partisan affiliations of the students nor of the teaching assistants made any difference in how the essays were graded.

So if it’s not based on reality, then where are conservative students learning that leftist professors are ready to punish them for being conservatives?

I think a lot of it is that conservatives (and their anti-woke “centrist” allies) have been working overtime to create a moral panic about free speech on campus. For example, Charlie Kirk – a conservative with 1.7 million Twitter followers – tweeted:

I get countless of messages from students who say professors are lowering their grades & penalizing them for being conservative

Leftists dominating higher education represent a grave threat to our country & culture.

Conservative students shouldn’t be targeted for disagreeing.

Kirk is the founder of Turning Point USA, a right-wing organization that specializes in reaching out to conservative students. And he’s far from the only major right-winger who has been telling conservative students that they should be afraid. For example, then-President Trump said:

Under the guise of speech codes and safe spaces and trigger warnings, these universities have tried to restrict free thought, impose total conformity and shutdown the voices of great young Americans.

Frankly, it would be weird if the enormous right-wing media panic about intolerance of conservative students didn’t make conservative students afraid. (Just as watching violence on TV makes people more afraid of violent crime.) But this is an aspect of conservative student fear I almost never see discussed.

On an impulse, when I was drawing this one, I decided to go for a deliberately cruder and (even) less realistic character design than my usual. I would like to say that there was some deep thematic reason for making that choice, but really, I just thought it might be fun to draw ridiculously huge eyeballs.


This cartoon has four panels. All the panels show the same thing: A man in an orange button-up shirt, seated at a table. There’s a laptop, a cell phone, and a coffee mug on the table. He’s wearing big headphones, and a professional-looking microphone suspended on a metal arm is pointed towards his mouth. In other words, he’s a podcaster.

In all four panels, the man appears to be yelling loudly, and is drawn with huge, popping eyes.


MAN: These radical “woke” professors running colleges hate conservatives! That’s why conservative students are bullied and cancelled!


MAN: You know it’s true because Newsmax and Fox and OAN and radio hosts and magazine columnists and podcasters have told you so! Again and again!


Although the other panels all show the man in medium shot, this panel is such an extreme close-up that his entire head doesn’t even fit in panel; he’s cut off mid-mouth.

MAN: We’ve all told you — the woke at college are inhuman totalitarian monsters who will destroy your life if they ever find out your real views!


The man has picked up his cell phone and is looking at its screen as he speaks.

MAN: And look at this! A new survey says conservative  students are afraid to say what they think!

This cartoon on Patreon

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Conservative zaniness, right-wingers, etc. | 3 Comments  

Cartoon: Touch My Face, Dammit!

If you like these cartoons, help us make more by supporting my patreon! Every dollar of support goes directly to neighborhood goats who eat them and poop out sustainable rainbows.

I sometimes read forums for disabled people (ones that are open for anyone to read). One complaint I’ve seen fairly often, which surprised me at first, is that many able-bodied people feel way too free to touch the bodies of disabled people – even disabled people they don’t know. (Not unlike how some white people will touch Black people’s hair).

One specific subgenre of this is sighted people who think that Blind people want to touch our faces – or will even try to force the issue. As one person wrote on Reddit:

I’ve done it only once and I felt awkward during the entire ordeal, mainly because the person just grabbed my hand and was like, here is my forehead, here are my cheeks. Feel them good. Pure cringe.

Another person wrote:

I don’t know where people got this idea that we want to touch their faces or that we even care what they look like, but I’ve always found it really embarrassing. Especially after a stranger grabbed my hand and plopped it right on her face in public. It was extremely gross and weird for me.

Many Blind folks have written that it’s cringy even to be asked. So if this cartoon serves no other purpose, maybe it’ll let sighted people like me that no, Blind people don’t want to feel our faces.

There was nothing especially challenging about drawing this strip, but it was fun. Panel 3 was probably the most fun, because I rarely get the chance to draw two characters actually being physical with each other.


This cartoon has four panels.


Two women are on a sidewalk. One – let’s call her “Collar” – has straight shoulder-length hair and is wearing a button shirt with a collar, partly unbuttoned over a long-sleeved tee shirt with red stripes. The other woman – let’s call her “Jeans” – has a long white cane (with a rad portion near the bottom and a black portion near the top) which she’s sweeping over the ground in front of her, has curly hair, and is wearing a hoodie and fashionably torn jeans. Collar has an expression of delight and is looking down towards Jeans’ cane. Jeans looks a little taken aback.

COLLAR: Oh, you’re blind! Would you like to touch my face?

JEANS: Er… no. No thank you.


A closer shot of the two women. Collar, still smiling, is leaning forward, shoving her face close to Jeans. Jeans is holding up a hand protectively and leaning back.

COLLAR: No, really, touch my face. It’s okay.

JEANS: That’s a myth. Blind people don’t go around touching stranger’s faces.


Collar has grabbed Jeans’ wrist and is attempting to pull Jeans’ hand to her face (Jeans is still holding her cane in her other hand); Jeans is pulling away, looking angry. Both are speaking loudly.




A change of scene – a comfortable looking apartment. In the background, a short-haired woman is seated on a small sofa, looking up from the book she was reading. There’s a coffee table in front of her. In the foreground, Jeans is stomping in, looking angry and holding her hands away from her body.

SHORT-HAIRED WOMAN: Hi, Honey! How was your–


This cartoon on Patreon

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Disability Issues, Disabled Rights & Issues | 13 Comments  

Some Publication News

It’s been a very long time since I have posted here, but, in the event that there are still some readers who recall the conversations we used to have about sexual violence against men and boys, and in case there are new readers here who might be interested, I wanted to share with you that an essay it took me thirty years to write, “The First Time I Told Someone,” was published earlier this month at Solstice: A Magazine Of Diverse Voices. The essay connects the first time I tried to tell someone that I’d been violated to the first time I actually told someone, bringing in along the way the feminist origins of my healing, the poetry of e. e. cummings, my experience with hardcore heterosexual pornography, and more.

I wrote on my own blog about why it took me thirty years to complete this essay. I’ve rewritten that slightly to make it fit the time I spent posting here on Alas:

I first started work on what eventually became The First Time I Told Someone in the 1990s, though I do not remember the title it had back then. I was encouraged by two men who have long since disappeared from my life: Rory MacDonald, who was my therapist at the time, and Peter Nevraumont, an editor with whom Rory put me in touch. Peter in particular was very excited by the idea that I would write a collection of personal essays about manhood and masculinity rooted in the feminist perspective I brought to my experience. I even found an agent who was very enthusiastic about the project. Unfortunately, while almost all the editors to whom she sent my proposal found the writing and the subject matter compelling, none were willing to take it on because—and this was the refrain we heard over and over again—“men’s books just don’t sell.”

When the agent eventually dropped me—she had to make a living, after all—I set the book project aside and turned my full attention as a writer to being a poet, channeling my energies into the poems that eventually became The Silence Of Men and, ten or so years later, Words For What Those Men Have Done. I also started blogging during that time. I sometimes repurposed material from the book manuscript for my blog posts–some of which appeared here on Alas–and would occasionally pull the old essays out to see if that project would rekindle itself in my imagination, but it never did.

The 1990s were the era of Robert Bly’s Iron John and what was called at the time the mythopoetic men’s movement. A lot of what I wrote had been framed as a critical response to that movement’s agenda, which had gone stale by the 2000s, at least in terms of the mainstream attention it had been getting, and so men’s mythopoesis no longer had the relevance that initially gave my essays some of their bite. More importantly, though, I had changed. I was in my 30s when I wrote those essays, and by 2006, when The Silence Of Men was published, my perspective had changed significantly, as it has changed several times in the nearly two decades since. The person I am now simply cannot stand behind much of what I wrote back then.

I decided to return to the pages that became The First Time I Told Someone—almost the entire first section of which dates, with very few changes, from the original 1990s draft—because I read, though I cannot now remember where, that most men of mine and previous generations who were sexually violated as children (I’m 60) usually wait three or four, and sometimes more decades before disclosing that fact even to their closest loved ones. The first time I told someone was just four years or so after the second sexual assault I experienced and less than ten years after the first. I attribute this difference from the generalization I read about to the anger the women’s movement gifted me when I started in the 1980s and 1990s to read writers like Adrienne Rich and June Jordan. No matter how much shame I might have felt over what the men who violated me did to me, the fierce and uncompromising feminist position that a perpetrator of sexual violence is the only person responsible and accountable for that act gave me a kind of strength I could not have found anywhere else at a time when no one, and I mean no one, was talking publicly about the sexual abuse of boys.

The formal problem I had to solve before I could finish writing The First Time I Told Someone” was a knotty one I had been struggling with since I started the essay in the 1990s: how to tell about each experience of abuse that I suffered without being redundant or stringing them together in a way that risked devolving into a kind of trauma porn. I solved that problem once I realized I’d been approaching the question of how to tell my story ass backwards. When I first began writing, given the culture wars around gender that were roiling at the time, it was very important to me to establish the material’s feminist bona fides,” not to insulate myself from criticism, but to make clear from the start that I was writing from a profeminist position. Inevitably, this resulted in my privileging argument over narrative in a way that made it hard to tell both stories on their own terms. Instead of showing how feminism accounted for my experience, I realized, I needed to show how feminism helped me come to terms with that experience, even if that process didn’t always fit neatly into a feminist mold.

The result is an essay I would not have been able to write fifteen, much less thirty years ago. More to the point, though, telling my story in this way has opened up the space for me to write, as a companion piece, the argument that has been implicit in this material from the start. I’m just about finished with The First Time I Said It In Public,” which takes as its starting point a story I told in a blog post I wrote in 2017 called My Students First Taught Me to Claim the Politics of My Survival.” Hopefully that essay will find a publisher soon after it’s done. I will let you know when it does.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments  

Link Farm and Open Thread, (accidental) TBA Edition

  1. We asked Texas Republicans banning books to define pornography. Here’s what they told us.
  2. Sex Isn’t Binary And Immutable, But It Wouldn’t Matter (For Trans Rights) If It Was | by Katy Montgomerie | Mar, 2022 | Medium
  3. Cancel Culture in 1832 Sounded Pretty Fierce – Jamelle Bouie
    What Alexis de Tocqueville wrote about cancel culture and democracy.
  4. The Legacy of ‘90s Teen Girl Murder Films | Features | Roger Ebert
  5. Analysis: Rejecting 23,000 Texas mail ballots is vote suppression | The Texas Tribune
  6. Absentee ballot envelope design, the Texas debacle, and the one coming to Georgia | Election Law Blog
  7. In Defense of Debate – Jill Filipovic
    “…whether I like it or not, abortion rights are up for debate. My choice is not whether I live in this world or my ideal one; it is whether I show up in the world I live in to defend abortion rights or not.”
  8. The Look of Gentrification – by Darrell Owens
    “If you think of gentrification as coffee shops and bike lanes then you don’t understand gentrification at all. It’s about what’s inside, not outside.”
  9. The promise — and problem — of restorative justice – Vox
    “If we’re going to think about forgiveness in terms of restorative justice, the only morally and politically careful way to do that is to recognize the legitimacy of the unforgiving victim.”
  10. His software sang the words of God. Then it went silent.
    A really interesting article about a widely-used program used to train people to sing Torah – but after the creator died, the software wasn’t updated and it seemingly died as well. Good news that came up after the article was finished: People are developing emulators.
  11. An Afternoon at the Roxy, for the Last Time – Eater Portland
    I’m still in shock about this. I haven’t eaten at the Roxy in years, but I used to eat there all the time: Decent diner food and sensational atmosphere.
  12. Opinion | The Senate approved Daylight Saving Time year-round accidentally. Blame Putin. – The Washington PostI had no idea that the year-round Daylight Saving Time amendment was sneaked through the Senate this way. It’s appalling behavior (and maybe unlikely to get through the House?), but also, I’m amused.
  13. The SAT Isn’t What’s Unfair – The Atlantic
    Maybe I missed it, but I don’t think the author compared “top tenth” style programs to SATs, in terms of increasing admissions for low-income students. Nonetheless, an interesting article.
Posted in Link farms | 62 Comments  

Barry interviewed on “Where We Go Next”

I was interviewed by Michael Callahan on Where We Go Next!

This is a long interview (a bit over an hour and a half!), focused on cartooning, comics and craft. I had so much fun doing this one.

Posted in Mind-blowing Miscellania and other Neat Stuff | Leave a comment