I Shot the Devil (Chon’s laziness works out in everyone’s favor — and heals a broken nation)

Ronald Reagan died last Saturday, and I pretty much swore I’d save this section of what all the cool kids are calling “The Arb” for self-indulgent goofball antics and stay away from the topical stuff, but Hell; I also swore I’d never use old material here either.

…So there you go.

Anyway, my feeling is that it’s probably for the best that he’s passed on. Even after having a neighbor with Alzheimer’s as a youngster, I still can’t begin to imagine the anguish President Reagan and his family went through. But all that’s over now. He was a 93 year-old man who accomplished pretty much everything he set out to accomplish, for better or for worse. It was just his time.

I’m not going to waste my time ripping on Reagan, because Alzheimer’s is a terrible punishment. Not only do you have to suffer; your loved ones have to suffer with you. Besides, why kick the dead when there are plenty of living douche bags willing to take the foot of anger?

But all the Reagan-bashing has nothing — and the Rock means NOTHING — on the way neo-cons are exploiting this broken-down old man to further their goals. Then again, they’d probably been planning his memorial for 10 years, the morbid cretins that they are. They want to put his face on everything from Mount Rushmore to the $10 bill to California license plates — it’s like when he died his copyright lapsed and now he’s public domain for every right-wing WASP in fly-over country.

Watching Sean P-Diddy Hannity and his useless liberal counterpart Alan Puffy Colmes tip a 40 in Notorious R.O.N.’s memory was about as cheap and manipulative as the last 90 minutes of Titanic — this as they asked guests like Fred Thomspon, the poor man’s Joe Don Baker, and Gray “You have just been Governated” Davis questions like (and I’m paraphrasing here):

“Wouldn’t Mr. Reagan also be fighting the war on terror?”

“If Mr. Reagan were running for President, wouldn’t he still win California, despite being a Republican?”

“If Mr. Reagan were to take a monster dump in your mouth, isn’t it true that his advanced digestive system would’ve converted the feces into a very tasty raspberry yogurt?

“Let’s say Mr. Reagan was from Krypton — and I’m not saying he’s not, folks. If he were to battle a man made of solid Kryptonite, isn’t it true that Mr. Reagan would’ve castrated Kryptonite Man and beat him with his green crystalline nutsack?”

OK. I made the last two up, but you get the picture.

And I can’t be the only one waiting to see how the new Boss uses the death of the old Boss to his advantage. I can just imagine the Republican Convention now, a row of Midwesterners convulsing with sobs as they watch a slick video package of poor old Dutch, accompanied by heart-wrenching music (“Love lifts us up where we bellahwong… Where the eeeeagles flah on a mountain hah…”), while party loyalists urge the masses to “win one for the Gipper.”

This kind of canonization is enough to make one sick to one’s stomach, but Reagan’s just one of those guys that gross historical revisionism was invented for, I guess. To paraphrase Saul of Tarsus in The Last Temptation of Christ, “If Reagan didn’t exist, I’d have to invent him.” Wait’ll Charlton Heston passes away. They’ll try to turn the Second Amendment into the Second Commandment.

I’m running an old piece I wrote for a site that was like Reagan in many ways — it polarized the public, certain people wanted it to die, and it also was involved in an arms for hostages deal. I’m rerunning it because it’s simply one of the best comics ever written and it’s a fitting tribute to the memory of our recently departed Statesman.

Tom Hart
Top Shelf Productions
ISBN 1-891830-17-1

Tom Hart keeps it real, and not in that “Bulls On Parade-Fuck Tha Police” sort of way that “keeping it real” entails for all those white, middle-class rebels we all know and love. He understands all of that sloganeering, punk rock strutting garbage has been appropriated by the machines the cool kids rage against. He knows that the Sex Pistols were formed so that Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood could sell some clothes and that Rock the Vote is just another excuse for MTV to show Kid Rock clowning with strippers, albeit strippers in star-spangled thongs, for a bunch of kids who don’t even know who the Vice President of these United States is. He sees the irony of V.I. Lenin shirts being sold at the mall and Woodstock’s 30th anniversary concert being turned into a kegger / riot / rapefest.

This is anger not reserved for something stupid and trivial like comics. Hart’s anger is focused on the world, and the privileged few that would claim to own it… .

You know — stuff that actually matters.

A biting social satire of the highest quality, HUTCH OWEN is about a drifter / philosopher who declares war on corporate America, embodied by the charmingly evil Dennis Worner, C.E.O. of Worner Products, one of those omnipresent multinational corporations with a filthy finger in every pie we consume. It’s also what social commentary should look like when put into comic form.

The first two stories, OWEN’S WORKING HARD and EMERGING MARKETS, are very pointed critiques on how cultures and revolutions are co-opted by the establishment. Anyone who’s rolled their eyes at those Mitsubishi commercials featuring college rock™ will appreciate Hart’s scathing parody of those stupid ads:

“Dude — this is one kick-ass, cutting edge, hardcore, in your face, red hot chill out, motherfucking Punk Rock car!!! … Punk Car: Get Angry for it.”

It’s so accurately dead-on that it’s scary. This is what makes THE COLLECTED HUTCH OWEN so brilliant. Hart sees the irony in stupidity such as this, and he’s probably really fun to watch the news with. The interactive one-upsmanship between Hutch and Worner is extremely fun to watch, like a hybrid between the soul-sucking corporate starkness of BRAZIL mingled with madcap cat-and-mouse struggles of Bugs Bunny Yosemite Sam.

The last two tales, STOCKS ARE SURGING and THE ROAD TO SELF, are caustically funny hate-letters to Gen-X yuppie culture, the type of idiots who wear Jerry Garcia ties to work (Oh, dear God, let the culling begin soon) and used to talk endlessly about the almighty NASDAQ (HAHAHAHAHA!).

Hart’s “crude” cartooning is extremely evocative and effective. His characters feel very real, despite their funny appearance, and their whimsical look does nothing to diminish the power of his message. A story like this could have only been told in a cartoony style, as something slick and photorealistic would have sucked a lot of the charm and power out of the concept. His unique style makes the occasional proselytizing palatable. It’s always interesting to see cartooning and serious issues crash against one another, such as in MAUS and Osamu Tezuka’s PHOENIX, because exaggeration of the features augment the power of the story itself. As we’re dealing here with the abstract, for someone to try and concretize this would only hurt it.

Hutch is an amazing character. Like some kind of mad Charlie Brown-Che Guevara amalgam, his refusal to become another interchangeable part in society’s machine is believable, amusing, and intensely applicable at the same time. While he may be a horribly irascible slob, we can still relate to this drifter’s rage in a way we usually can’t with “Everyman” characters of this type. He’s never talking down to us, just validating what we know to be true.

And as great a character as Hutch is, Worner matches him word for word, action for action. Hart gives him the feel of an evil corporate fatcat archetype without falling into the clichés and familiar tropes of an evil corporate fatcat archetype. He’s evil, engaging, and thoroughly likable in a way that only villains can be.

He gives us the greatest soda slogan of all time in “He died for your thirst,” and when his underlings fear reprisal from the Vatican, he bellows, “Christ ain’t copyrighted! I did my Senior thesis on it at HBA!!!”

It’s also interesting to note that Hart keeps his satire of consumerism and corporate heartlessness in the “real” world, as opposed to some dystopian futuristic wasteland ruled by iron-fisted fascists, which would have been the easy way out. This is the creator trying to work out the world’s real-life problems without resorting to the preening and strutting of a petulant 17 year-old who just heard his first Bad Religion album.

We live in a world where “Lust For Life” is used to sell Caribbean cruises and “London Calling” is a marketing jingle for Jaguar. Multi-national corporations start wars and dictate foreign policy. Kids don’t know who their own congressmen are, yet they know every American Idol’s favorite color. Political lobbies run commercials blaming drug users for the 9-11 tragedy, yet say nothing about how our mainlining of fossil fuels has done more to line the pockets of terrorism than some kid selling domestically grown weed.

Fuck the future. The present’s even more horrible than anything some sci-fi doomsayer’s going to contrive, and it’s nice to see that somebody in comics recognizes this. This book isn’t escapism; it’s a well thought-out denunciation against the evil of those who want us to sign the social contract without reading the fine print.

If you want to be a rebel, then maybe you should try saying something — oh, I don’t know — revolutionary. Tom Hart takes this to heart, and that is why Tom Hart keeps it real.

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I used to be at the Savant meatwagon until we imploded and I've written for this site, on and off, since it was the Continuity Pages. I've created comics published by Moderntales and E-volution and have published my own S.P.I.R.I.T. '76. Why have you never heard of these, you ask? It's because the millions (and I do mean millions) who've read these awesome comics have decided they were so awesome that they should be kept a secret amongst themselves. The uninitiated must never know, or their minds will be blown. So you see, it's for your own good.

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