Every Bullet Fired: Twilight Of the Assholes

Posted by on February 28th, 2011 at 5:37 AM

Rob reviews Tim Krieder’s collection of political cartoons from 2005-2008, Twilight Of The Assholes (Fantagraphics).

Among the many alternate-world scenarios to consider if Al Gore had won the 2000 Presidential election (or rather, had won the Supreme Court decision) is the one where Tim Kreider had never become a political cartoonist.  Indeed, prior to the Bush reign, he was an observational cartoonist in the vein of B.Kliban by way of Jules Feiffer.  In a sense, he was also an autobiographical cartoonist, using his own problems and his friends as fodder for comedy.  His work was scathing, nasty, occasionally disgusting and invariably hilarious.  This cartoon, for example, came from prior to the election in 2000:

As he noted in one of his no-holds-barred “artist’s statements” (more like rants), he never set out to be a political cartoonist.  However, he became what he described as a “conscript” in the uphill battle against the excesses, stupidities, lies, manipulations and outright crimes of the Bush administration.  Kreider turned his impressive talent to spin vitriol on the party in power not so much as a partisan move (he saves plenty of invective for the ineffectualness of the Democrats), but rather as one man literally attempting to speak truth to power.

Battling an administration that smugly created their own reality, even if (and sometimes, especially if) it flew in the face of reason, morality and/or common sense, Kreider employed a vicious, scorched-earth set of tactics that matched the passionate intensity of the right, only embued with a wicked and outrageous sense of humor to go with a keen sense of observation.  Whether or not one agreed with all of Kreider’s observations about American culture (and I certainly don’t, especially his conflation of non-urban areas with where he lives in Maryland), the sheer relentlessness of Kreider’s attacks combined with the elegance and intensity of his line carried a certain punishing quality.

The book’s title refers to the time period of the cartoons and essays collected: 2005-2008, or the lame duck, twilight years of the Bush administration.  I read these one-page, usually four-panel cartoons online every Wednesday; a new The Pain strip was always a cause for celebration.  For me, the strip served precisely as Kreider hoped: a beacon of sanity for those who wondered why everyone around them had gone crazy, as well as someone who could be truly, incredibly, unfairly mean to Bush and his cronies.  Kreider’s depiction of Bush as an almost lovable simpleton, Dick Cheney as a sort of hand-wringing villain and (most hilariously) Vladimir Putin as Doctor Doom gave his strips a sort of through-line narrative that typical political cartoons lack.

The other through-line in these strips is that of Kreider continuing to do an autobiographical gag strip.  He frequently depicts himself and his friends as a sort of Greek chorus, the butt of jokes or as a shorthand way of depicting a particular political or cultural point.  Reading this collection buttressed a feeling I had when I read these strips online: as the years went by, the strips lost some of their power and humor.

Kreider was obviously starting to burn out, and it affected not only the inspiration for his ideas, but his cartooning as well.  Kreider got better as a draftsman over the course of the 00s but his strips started to get fussier and less elegant in terms of their design.  There were notable exceptions. “Show Yer Tits”, from September 2005, is a powerful, awful and hilarious indictment of Bush’s reaction to Hurricane Katrina. “We Even Yet?” combines the sort of quick-punch image of traditional political cartooning with a bit of his own irreverence.  “Our Secret Weapon” is a hilarious image of Bill Clinton seducing Sarah Palin so as to knock her up.  Kreider’s gift for caricature is especially on display here, expressing a sort of emotional verisimilitude for these figures he draws.

By 2008, Kreider started to run out of steam, and he mostly quit cartooning altogether in early 2009.  As he notes in the book, he was burned out from having to mine the same material week after week.  Swimming in bile for that long has to have a corrosive effect on one’s own system.  Perhaps Kreider would have wound up quitting anyway; a weekly deadline can be tough for any cartoonist, especially one like Kreider whose line is clearly work-intensive.  I look forward to his forthcoming collection of essays, which will no doubt be funny, revealing and mean.  That said, my last resentment of the Bush years is that they eventually took him away from comics, even if it made him a better cartoonist for a long time.   Kreider simply fired every bullet he had in his rhetorical armory and threw the gun at his target for good measure.

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One Response to “Every Bullet Fired: Twilight Of the Assholes

  1. patford says:

    For a moment I thought this post was going to address the recent past at TCJ.com.