Comic Strip of the Day: Blame It On My Youth

This Maddie Dai cartoon from the New Yorker struck me at an opportune time, which is to say, just after CXC, which featured a large collection of young cartoonists hawking their books, many, many of which fall into that third category.

I remarked to someone closer to my demographic that it made me once more grateful that they didn’t have the Internet when I was a twentysomething, which is a sentiment I’ve heard from more than one of my contemporaries.

It’s not an unusual conversation, which involves laughter and gratitude that our unformed work is in a desk drawer and not out there all over the universe for the world to see.

But it’s not that simple.

We start with Sturgeon’s Law, which is that “90 percent of everything is crud,” and that, while there’s glory in being in the other 10 percent, it’s perfectly normal to be normal.

And then there was a conversation I had a few years ago with a well-established, high-quality cartoonist during an event at the Center For Cartoon Studies in which I observed the wealth of me-me-me material the students had produced, to which she said, “Well, it takes time to find your voice.”

She was right. And still is.

I had the great good fortune to have my car stolen in the middle of a move back in 1970, which cost me a lot of memorabilia including the majority of things I’d written up to age 20. I’ve often wished it would happen again, because I’m not inclined to clean things out on my own.

But I went back to the university archives a decade or so later and retrieved my writings from the student paper and found bad, unformed work, but, amid the dreck, bits and pieces of the writer I became.

It was a mini-version of Sturgeon’s Law, and so I enjoyed the 10 percent that wasn’t crud and shook my head in affectionate dismay at the 90 percent that was.

The college has since digitized everything, so that my crud is now online after all, and just as obscure as it would have been had I posted it in real time, since I can’t imagine anyone bothering to dig through that tottering pile of student publications searching for ponies.

Which brings us back to table after table of hopeful stories about pretty much nothing, and the other part of Sturgeon’s Law, which is that you should consider 100 percent of everything just in case.


Fortunately, despite living in a world without gatekeepers, Nib-keeper Matt Bors does a bit of sorting, and, while I don’t always agree with his choices, this particular youthful observation is part of the 10 percent that is righteous and brilliant.

Granted, “youthful” is relative, since I poked around trying find out more about Katie Wheeler and discovered that she’s 30, which is not 20 but, then again, it’s about the point when you need to have found a voice beyond me-me-me, even if you still write intensely personal things.

We All Know A Brett,” is an example of the rare skill that comes with finding your voice, which is the ability to tell a personal story such that it reverberates with universal experiences.

That is, even if you grew up as the child of explorers who traveled to exotic places and every day was an adventure, it’s still just boring me-me-me unless you can tell the story in a way that puts the reader there and gives them the feeling of having experienced it themselves.

In this case, she takes a view of the preppy bully up for Supreme Court from her personal experience, not of him but of a composite Brett she’s known all her life, and she captures him brilliantly because I knew that self-centered little bastard myself and can vouch for her accuracy.

And so did you, if you had your eyes open at all. As the title says, “We All Know A Brett.”

It is a much longer piece that you should go read in its entirety, but that third panel above is totally brilliant — it captures his sociopathic self-joy which, at five, you might think could turn around, perhaps with some intervention and gentle advice.

But the real Bretts rarely change, and she’s captured the type from a female perspective, which fits neatly with the ones I knew at Camp Lord O’ The Flies and beyond.


Funny thing: Here’s how I figured out how old Katie Wheeler is, and her advice to her younger self is the same advice I’d give my younger self.

So go read that, too.


The real Bretts grow into something with even less charm than those little five-year-old versions of themselves, and here’s how Peter Brookes captured a pair of them.

One of them was sent off to boarding school because he was incorrigible and his parents couldn’t take anymore, while the other was apparently pampered and sent to a preppie day school because he was one of the Chosen Ones.

Which doesn’t provide much of a parenting road map, since they took disparate routes to the same place, though I’d distinguish “pampering” from “being present for” your kid.

But even that is hard to define and generally comes down to one of those things that you either get or you don’t.


Meanwhile …

(RJ Matson)

One thing emerging from this is that bullying, macho behavior is not the exclusive province of rich, entitled preppies.

Trump’s supporters cheered him last night as he mocked Blasey-Ford’s testimony and proclaimed his view that men are at risk because of all those false claims out there.

You can dismiss it as ignorant, hateful idiocy, but a foolish vote counts as much as a well-grounded one, as we proved in 2016.

Katie Wheeler predicts a voter backlash and I hope she’s right.


Which is to say that I hope the woman in this haunting Pat Bagley piece will do behind the voter’s curtain what she dares not do where her husband can see.

The time for romantic self-deception has passed. Time to find our voices.