The satire cuts deep in this latest collection of Tom Tomorrow’s political comic strip This Modern World.
128 pgs., color; $19.99
(W / A: Tom Tomorrow)
If there’s a single phrase that sums up this presidential election, it’s probably “crazy is the new normal.” How appropriate, therefore, that this phrase is also the title of Tom Tomorrow’s latest collection of comics, which contains a selection of his This Modern World strips originally published between 2013 and 2016.
Tom Tomorrow is the pseudonym of Dan Perkins, a cartoonist who has been creating the comic strip This Modern World since the late 1980s. Currently, about 80 newspapers carry the strip, and it also appears on numerous websites. Besides delivering some of the sharpest political satire you can find anywhere, This Modern World is notable for its distinctive look: the art resembles retro clip art (originally, it was clip art), and public figures are recognizable but also look slightly ridiculous (so “Mister Republican Man” looks a lot like Dick Cheney, for instance, but not in a way that the real Dick Cheney would appreciate). The simple nature of the art helps direct attention to the dialogue and captions, which are the primary delivery vehicles for the strip’s satire.
One recurring This Modern World device is the character of Sparky the Wonder Penguin, who wears a red visor and is by far the smartest character in the strip. Sparky often acts as the voice of reason, asking questions of stupid humans and pointing out the absurdities in their statements the way you may wish that real reporters actually would.
The satire in these strips can be brutal, but it’s always grounded in reality, drawing attention to real-life absurdities that might otherwise be overlooked or accepted as normal. Often this does not even require exaggeration, but just quotation, so some apparently ridiculous words in a speech bubble will be accompanied by a footnote indicating where and when the speaker actually said or wrote those words. I’d say it was The Daily Show of comics, but This Modern World has actually been around longer, so it might be more accurate to say that Jon Stewart used to be the Tom Tomorrow of television.
Here’s an example of Tom Tomorrow at work, featuring both direct quotation and Sparky. New York Times columnist David Brooks is bloviating about marijuana—basically, he’s used it himself, realizes that anti-drug laws disproportionately impact poor and minority people, but feels that legalization would create “a moral ecology in which it is a bit harder to be the sort of person most of us want to be” (identified as an actual quote from Brooks’ Jan. 3, 2014 column). Sparky asks if he’s high, and Brooks replies that “I get high on life!…and unexamined privilege.” You know, like not being targeted by police or doing jail time for using a controlled substance, while still thinking that other people should suffer those consequences.
I don’t know if reading Crazy is the New Normal will make you feel better or worse about our political process and the media circus that surrounds it, or for that matter about the world in general. I can predict that you’re almost certain to admire Tom Tomorrow’s insight and ability to find the humor in situations that might otherwise produce tears. Crazy is the New Normal has a street date of Nov. 1, 2016. You can see an excerpt here and learn more about Tom Tomorrow here. | Sarah Boslaugh