Interview with Stephanie McMillan, cartoonist and activist, author of “The Beginning of the American Fall”

1) How does it feel to be one of the few women in the cartoon world?

It’s hard to make a living as a cartoonist, no matter the gender. In the
last decade or so, being female has become much less of a novelty in the
cartoon/comics world. I actually don’t think about that very much. In some
instances it has probably been one factor (secondary, among others) when
I’ve been passed over for jobs or received lower pay, but I can’t control
that, so I move on, and keep trying a lot of different things to get my
work seen and to find ways of making an income from it. My (far left)
political views are actually much more of an obstacle to achieving the
traditional view of “success” than anything else. Not to mention the
collapse of print media. These have been much more significant factors for
me.

 2) Politics and cartoons. An uneasy bond?

Some people make comics for entertainment, and they tend to keep politics
out of it in order to build the broadest audience possible. Cartoonists
have even told me they don’t say what they really think in their work,
because it wouldn’t sell as well. To me, this is a criminal waste of
talent. But I blame the capitalist system, not those forced to make
unpleasant decisions in order to survive within it.

My background, however, is not in comics but in editorial cartoons, which
must be aggressively political and opinionated to be effective. This has
been discouraged in recent years (since newspapers have collapsed) by
timid editors who have become afraid of “rocking the boat” and losing
their jobs. Most have decided that it’s better to run bland and
inoffensive cartoons that illustrate, rather than comment upon, world
events. But this has been a loss for editorial cartooning, and for
readers. The best cartoons make sharp, even harsh, points that stir up
thinking, debate and controversy.

3) You once said that this system cannot be reformed. What’s the alternative?

Capitalism is inherently exploitative, ecocidal, and expansionist. Even
the nicest capitalists in the world can’t change its miserable and
destructive nature. For me, to put it bluntly, the only alternative that
can decisively eliminate capitalism is for the working class to liberate
itself – to seize political power and control over the means of production
– and eliminate surplus value (which is how capital reproduces) by
abolishing wages and private accumulation. Only this can lead to the end
of class-divided society, and to the atrocities that capitalism inherently
generates.

4) You co-wrote the book The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad. What do you think about the current events in India?

Patriarchy, and the violence used to enforce it – particularly rape and
the threat of rape – is a deep-rooted global horror. All forms of
oppression, of women and other social groups, are not to be tolerated,
must be resisted and combatted—both for their own sake, and because they
widen the divisions among the masses and strengthen the domination of the
ruling class over us.

In fact, when Derrick Jensen and I discussed writing the novel, we were
directly inspired by the Gulabi Gang – the group of women in India who
organize resistance to the oppression of women, including by beating men
who abuse their wives. A similar form of organization existed in Mao’s
China.  We wrote the book to spread the example of, and to encourage,
organized resistance to oppression and domination.

5) Is there a chance for the environment or we ‘re done?

So much of the environment is already done. 94% of the ocean’s large fish
are done. 78% of the world’s old-growth forests are done. The million
people who die of pollution-related causes are done. It’s too late to save
the 200 species who went extinct today, or un-ruin the lives of those
already destroyed by global warming.

The question today should be, can any life on Earth still be saved? I fear
not, but this is no excuse to give up. We can’t understand the interplay
of all the variables and the possible surprises that may be favorable. The
future is unwritten, as they say. As long as we are not yet dead, we must
fight for life to continue.

6) How difficult is it for you to sketch from an independent perspective
about something you believe in?

It’s not difficult at all; it comes naturally. I love doing work that I
believe in. It makes me feel that my life has meaning and purpose. The
hard part is when, to survive, I need to take a job I don’t believe in.
Nothing is more tedious and boring to me than producing work that doesn’t
further the goals I care about. It feels like a terrible waste of time,
though it’s unfortunately sometimes necessary.

7) Is the “Occupy” movement alive or dead?

The answer to that depends on how you define “Occupy” – is it encampments,
or a mood? Certainly the states have effectively defeated and removed the
camps that were Occupy’s initial physical manifestation. This has led to
many people becoming pessimistic and becoming inactive, but many others
cannot go back to sleep. They are continuing to oppose and resist the
system in many creative ways. The desire for radical transformation is
there.

I don’t think “Occupy” had developed into a real movement, but rather it
was a global mobilization, an uprising. A lot of work remains to be done
to build the kind of movements that will be necessary to defeat capitalism
and imperialism. People are out there trying to do that, but they are up
against an extremely organized and ruthless enemy. It will be a hard road,
with no guarantees.

But doing the work to build these movements is our only option. Certainly
the social contradictions that sparked Occupy are still there, and not
going away. Life for the majority of the world’s people will only get
worse, unless we defeat this evil system that feeds off our blood and
sweat.

8) How did you see the reelection of Obama?

Unfortunately I think it contributed to the de-mobilization and
pacification of the people in the US. Obama is a ruthless tool of
capitalism/imperialism (as all their politicians are – that is their job),
but the system’s propaganda machine has been successful in portraying him
as a (the only) progressive alternative to the frightening and ruthless
Republicans. Presented with this awful non-choice, many understandably
chose what they considered the “lesser evil.” But this is a mistake,
because it lets the system off the hook.

This is the fault of the Left. We are too weak, as yet, to present a real
alternative to what capitalism is offering. People have allowed themselves
to be content with slight enlargements of bourgeois democracy, such as gay
marriage and allowing women into combat. These are not real advances. As
if it’s a victory for women, to be “allowed” to fight for imperialism! No,
thank you.

Now that Obama is solidly back in office, and he continues killing people
and destroying the world for capitalists interests, his spell will
hopefully wear off and people can assume the necessary mindset for
building a real movement that can challenge the system.

9) From a financial point of view, how difficult is it to be an
independent cartoonist?

It’s frankly awful. Many people assume that with several books published,
and cartoons that are fairly popular, that I’m able to make a good living.
The reality is that for the last several years (my “most successful” years
as a cartoonist in terms of work and awards), I haven’t been able to even
afford to rent an apartment or buy health insurance. And this is after
working about 12-14 hours a day. I once figured out how much I make per
hour, and it turned out to be about half of the minimum wage. Last week, I
applied for a part-time job unrelated to my field. I don’t want to take
the time away from my organizing and cartoon work, but may have no choice.

A small number of cartoonists are able to “make it big” or manage a good
living, but they are a tiny minority. Most of my colleagues are struggling
to keep their heads above water, especially since the collapse of print
media. This is the situation in many creative fields, not just cartooning.

10)  What kind of feedback you get from your readers?

My readers keep me going. They are wonderful, so supportive and
encouraging. When they tell me that my work helps them to understand a
political reality or a theoretical point that helps them in their
struggle, then I feel very satisfied and happy. This is what my work is
for.

When active organizers or protesters use one of my cartoons on a leaflet,
or on a poster at a demonstration, that is so wonderful to me. Right now,
I’m putting together a series of cartoons paired with short, accessible
texts about what capitalism is and how it works, intended for use in
presentations and discussions, for organizing. It’s called, “Capitalism
Must Die! How to Kill Capitalism Before It Kills Us.”

I also get negative feedback – my share of online trolling, insults and
even death threats. But usually I don’t even read those. It does nothing
positive for my state of mind. Those types of comments don’t strengthen
me, so I ignore them. I have a mission to fulfill, and avoid distractions
when I can.

11)  Is there a funny side in everything?

This depends on how large your capacity is for grim humor! Personally, I
do see a lot of humor in life, and I laugh a lot. If one can manage to
have a generally positive temperament, life feels better, and we don’t
give in to despair. Despair is defeat. Instead we can strive to view
obstacles as challenges, and crisis as opportunity.

kaylawhata:

Please take a moment to sign this petition regarding state aid to public libraries! Today is the LAST DAY to make your voice heard! There is information on the website, and below are more reasons why you should support House Items 239 #1h and 239 #2h, and Senate Item 293…
satanic-capitalist:

randomactsofchaos:

Stephanie McMillan/Minimum Security (01/28/2013)

Why I support environmentalists

Stephanie McMillan is the author of “The Beginning of the American Fall”

satanic-capitalist:

randomactsofchaos:

Stephanie McMillan/Minimum Security (01/28/2013)

Why I support environmentalists

Stephanie McMillan is the author of “The Beginning of the American Fall”

Congrats to Andri Magnason, his novel LoveStar has been nominated for the 2012 Philip K. Dick Award, which is among the highest recognitions for literature in the science fiction genre authors can receive in the U.S.

Congrats to Andri Magnason, his novel LoveStar has been nominated for the 2012 Philip K. Dick Awardwhich is among the highest recognitions for literature in the science fiction genre authors can receive in the U.S.

The anti-plotters: Venezuela Vice-President Nicolas Maduro (and likely next President) was sent by President Hugo Chavez to meet the Greg Palast Investigative team at our offices in 2004. The topic:  US coup plots against Venezuela’s government. “Why does Bush hate us?” Answer:  It’s the oil.
The anti-plotters: Venezuela Vice-President Nicolas Maduro (and likely next President) was sent by President Hugo Chavez to meet the Greg Palast Investigative team at our offices in 2004. The topic:  US coup plots against Venezuela’s government. “Why does Bush hate us?” Answer:  It’s the oil.

Inside Story Americas - Which stories did the media ignore this year?

There are stories that have enormous consequences on the lives of Americans but are regularly under-reported or misrepresented by the mainstream media. Project Censored, the US media watchdog group, has released their annual report examining the shortcomings of reporting in 2012, Censored 2013: Dispatches From the Media Revolution.

(Source: youtube.com)

A Different Mirror for Young People by Ronald Takaki, adapted by Rebecca Steffof“The young people’s version of A Different Mirror puts profound concepts in a simple form, making it easy to grasp the gravity of the historical events it describes. This 375-page book would be an excellent way to include multi-ethnic materials in the classroom as a way to ensure that your students see their unique identities reflected in their coursework.” (Review in Skipping Stones, International Multicultural & Literary Magazine)

A Different Mirror for Young People by Ronald Takaki, adapted by Rebecca Steffof
“The young people’s version of A Different Mirror puts profound concepts in a simple form, making it easy to grasp the gravity of the historical events it describes. This 375-page book would be an excellent way to include multi-ethnic materials in the classroom as a way to ensure that your students see their unique identities reflected in their coursework.” (Review in Skipping Stones, International Multicultural & Literary Magazine)

The Fiscal Cliff of 1932 = Today (Finger’s Crossed)

Sep. 24, 1932: Gov. Franklin D. Roosevelt of New York waves to crowd at Hollywood Bowl during his campaign for President. (Los Angeles Times)

In a thought-provoking Op-Ed in the Los Angeles Times, Sam Pizzigati, author of The Rich Don’t Always Win: The Forgotten Triumph over Plutocracy that Created the American Middle Class, 1900-1970 compares the build-up and result of the fiscal cliff of ‘32 to today’s attention-grabbing fiscal crisis. He rightly points out that if it weren’t for the proletariat demanding higher taxes on the wealthy and greater income inequality, the rich would have remained tightly in control of most of the nation’s wealth into the 40s. Here’s hoping that history repeats itself!

Close your eyes in Washington these days and you can almost hear the echoes of 1932. Eighty years ago, just like today, a fiscal crisis almost totally dominated the nation’s capital.

Then, as now, fiscal conservatives demanded immediate action to fix a federal budget awash in red ink. And then, as now, average Americans wondered why all the fuss about deficits. The Depression was in its third year, and millions had no jobs. Why were politicians haggling about balancing the budget?

Is history simply repeating? If so, bring that repeat on, with the same final result. That 1932 fiscal crisis produced an unexpected, and stunning, watershed in U.S. history, the moment when America’s rich and powerful began to lose their lock-grip on the nation’s political pulse.

In New York, an ambitious governor took notice. Just two weeks after the tax battle, Franklin D. Roosevelt, a candidate for the 1932 Democratic presidential nomination, would begin a series of addresses that aligned his candidacy with the grass-roots push against plutocracy.

"Do what we may have to do to inject life into our ailing economic order," FDR would explain, "we cannot make it endure for long unless we can bring about a wiser, more equitable distribution of the national income."

The New Deal had begun.

What will we begin?

Read the entire article here.

Check out this great video of Icelandic author Andri Magnason talking about how traditional Icelandic folk tales inspired his children’s book, The Story of the Blue Planet.

(Source: vimeo.com)

The Graphic Canon #1 on Brain Pickings “Best Graphic Novels of 2012”

We’re so happy that Volume 2 of The Graphic Canon was chosen as the #1 pick on Brain Pickings Best Graphic Novels of 2012!

"Earlier this year, Russ Kick gave us the the first installment of his Graphic Canon trilogy, which culls illustrated adaptations of 190 classic literary works from more than 130 contemporary graphic artists. This season, he followed up with The Graphic Canon, Vol. 2: From “Kubla Khan” to the Brontë Sisters to The Picture of Dorian Gray (UKpublic library), which covers a remarkable spectrum of literature since 1800 and spans everything from “the bad boys of Romanticism” — Keats, Byron, and Shelley — to cornerstones of science and philosophy like Darwin’s On the Origin of Species and Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra to prior favorites like Matt Kish’s Moby-Dick illustrations. The tome is the best thing in literary comics since Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant and a fine complement to the best graphic nonfiction of the past few years.”

Read the entire article here.