One of the good things about living in the Upper Valley is that the Center for Cartoon Studies has grown to the point where they are no longer quite as inward-looking as they have been, but are beginning to reach out more often to the community, so that instead of whisking cartoonists in and out of town for sessions with students, they're more able to schedule public events.
So last week it was Alison Bechdel. Last night, it was an intimate evening at a local church hall, in which Dan (Tom Tomorrow) Perkins (right) interviewed Jeff Danziger (left). I don't expect it to continue at quite that pace, but I'll take what I can get.
In his introduction, Vermont Cartoon Laureate Ed Koren quoted Will Rogers, who said, "I don't make jokes. I watch the government and report." Which, in turn, reminds me of Phil Ochs, who used to describe himself as a journalist rather than a "protest singer."
It fits Danziger's vision.
First, unlike Bechdel's presentation, which was geared towards a better understanding of the creative process, this was aimed at the public and, more than that, at an affectionate public who claim Danziger as one of their own. There was a lot of hugging and reunion with people who remembered him from his roots as a regional cartoonist.
Danziger is firmly, and affectionately, rooted in Vermont. In the slide show of cartoons, he noted that this cartoon includes the house in Plainfield where he lived when he was a high school teacher and then a cartoonist for the Time-Argus of Montpelier.
That offset 45 degree window is somewhat common in this part of New England, which adds to the common-man sense that he brings to this cartoon. When you think about it, bringing "common man" sensibility to this particular argument is fairly devastating, given that the opposition is based on the notion that education makes you elite and foolish. Danziger has faith in common sense, but that it makes people smarter, not more readily hornswaggled.
Also, he noted, he had to remember to add lightning rods to the chimneys. Or, as we'd have called them 100 miles or so to the north-northwest, "chimbleys."
It's amusing to me that, despite his national recognition, Danziger is so strongly identified locally with regional humor, but the Q&A indeed brought forth a request that he continue "The Teeds," a deeply regional strip he did for local papers. He described the affectionate regional piece as "more popular than most comic strips, but in fewer papers than most comic strips."
Which could also be said of Francis Dahl, and Danziger doesn't quite shrink from his roots, though he seemed reluctant to talk about the Teeds, even when it came up in the Q&A.
Here's a picture of Mrs. Teed, and a link to a hilarious and affectionate piece Danziger wrote two years ago about the growth of artisinal food in Vermont.
Excuse me if I suspect that his affection for the region has not dissipated.
But Danziger does apply himself to more universal issues, and his take on 9/11 is within the scope of his take on politics and politicians generally, which is that they need to stop preening and talk some truth.
Danziger is not an anarchist, nor is he so steeped in cynicism as to be unable to express an informed opinion: His cynicism, rather, stems from his experience as an intelligence officer in Vietnam, and of his knowledge, since then, of how it all works.
As he said, his viewpoint was less about the war than about the army, about "the things the government couldn't do, no matter how many times they told you they could," including winning the war.
He spoke of interviewing Neil Sheehan about his book, "A Bright Shining Lie," in which Sheehan said, "They'll never be able to do that again" to which Danziger responded, "You know as well as I do that they will do it again."
It is a type of cynicism that defies being categoried as "left" or "right."
Danziger was careful to acknowledge that, for all of his distrust of specific politicians, they serve a need, which is that someone needs to do the job.
For instance, he conceded, with Rudy Giuliani, "You know he's a creep, but somebody had to pull the city together after 9/11."
And, he went on, Chris Christie may be a product of himself or a product of New Jersey, but there he is.
And moreover ...
But it's hardly a "bear trap in the fireplace" knee-jerk Santa piece, and, when he was asked in the Q&A if he had any formulas that he fell back upon when the deadline loomed, he seemed almost confused by the question.
I've never seen a Jeff Danziger cartoon in which two people sat watching TV. I don't think he has an "I give up" mode.
Moreover, he has a dedication to detail that goes beyond the obvious.
Asked about his input, he said that he gets up at 5 am and listens to NPR and the BBC, praising the latter mostly in contrast to the increasingly trivial coverage provided by American media. He reads the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, then checks in with the LA Times and the Chicago Tribune, and maintains subscriptions to the New Yorker and the New York Review of Books.
But it takes more than that, and he noted that, in this panel, it mattered that the food being delivered was Thai. A decade ago, it would have been Chinese take-out. But you have to keep up with the times if you expect to be relevant, and funny.
Meanwhile, here's a video Danziger made in 2008 explaining his work, which is worth a listen:
And this chilling contemporary note: While he was speaking, I thought about my favorite Jeff Danziger cartoon of all time, which, in 2006, I had paired in an educational feature I was writing at the time, along with one of my favorite Ann Telnaes cartoons of all time.
As Rod Serling would say, "Submitted for your approval," and, as I would say, it hasn't become any less relevant, then, has it?