Sean Martin

Okay, let's talk

Filed By Sean Martin | July 30, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Doc and Raider

No cartoon today, guys (please, hold your applause). Instead, a little story.

As some of you know, I moved to Canada in the mid-80s, and the simple act of crossing that border had a profound impact on my view of the world, not the least of which was watching the nightly news on that quaint old-school medium, the television. This was, after all, the mid-80s, long before the Internet was an accepted form of getting information and news about the world around you.

I left the US partly in fulfillment of a promise to someone no longer with us and partly for political reasons. After seeing this country thrown into the wringer by the Reagan, Carter, and Bush I regimes, I decided I'd had it. It didn'tt appear things were going to change all that much, not at the governmental level anyway, so off I went.

Seeing Canada now as a resident on his way to citizenship as opposed to a casual visitor, I was almost immediately struck by one very big shift in attitude. And what made that apparent was the evening news.

(Bear with me. This is all relevant.)

I'm an information junkie, no doubt about it. Politics, pop cuture, even (shudder!) sports -- you name it: I love it all. So while the CBS Evening News was part of my old regimen, the CBC Evening News was part of my new one. And what surprised me almost immediately was how American news broadcasts were very US-centric, while Canadian news was more international, with information shared from news agencies and networks like BBC World Report. A crisis in Southeast Asia wasn't seen for the impact it might have on Wall Street: it was reported for the impact it would have on the citizens of that specific country. If a plane crashed in Europe, you didn't find the focus to be on the three Americans aboard, but the 247 people from around the world who died because it happened.

Now, don't misunderstand: yes, it makes sense that the US would want to focus on itself when telling us about these things. But here's the difference: when you're in the US, all you know is what's going on in the US and its impact here. When you're outside the US, to be blunt, it's no longer just about this one country.

And that was never more apparent than when I moved temporarily back to North Carolina. Thanks to the Internet, I could keep up with the stories involving Canada and Finland and Japan and South Africa. I didn't have to listen to an endless stream of now-repetitive "news" about GOP gaffes and Democrat blunders and the never-ending wars in the Middle East -- which, let's face it, don't even need to be reported anymore. All three of those have brought "cut and paste news" to a new, very low level.

The Wall Street-generated economic meltdown impacted more than the poor and middle class here, but you'd never really know it, would you? How banks across Europe got snookered into derivatives, and what the resulting fall-out did internationally was somehow lost in the shuffle because, to most Americans, it didn't matter. The frame of reference stopped at the border.

Sometimes, when working on "Doc and Raider," I forget that some folks don't look at things outside their immediate sphere, and cultural obscurity can result. Yes, there has been a Barbie movie -- eight of them, actually, all of which are pretty dreadful with downright weird CG animation. But they must be huge sellers, for some bewildering reason, because Mattel keeps making them.

Yes, there's a guy named George ("I Guarantee It!") Zimmer who runs a nation-wide company called Men's Warehouse -- it's been around for decades and advertises extensively not only on TV but in print and the Net. The clothes are of marginally acceptable quality for those in a mid-business career and pretty much epitomize the "upwardly mobile businessman" in a frighteningly shallow and simplistic way: you won't find much beyond gray pinstripe -- and yet the chain, like the Barbie movies, has been wildly successful, carving out its own spot on American culture. It's the McDonald's of tailored suits.

I cite those two examples because comments coming back from some folks here, some privately, some not, find the recent cartoons "bewildering" and "stupid" because they didn't get the references. Initially, that surprised me, seriously, until I stopped, thought about it, and realized that Bilerico, like many other places on the web, is, through no fault of its own, sometimes very inward-looking. Face it: with few exceptions, a lot of the discussion here centers around ENDA, DADT, NOM, and... well, for the most part, that's about it. That's not surprising: those are major issues for the GLBT community here. But to be honest, I find it difficult to get worked up about them because Canada, like other enlightened countries around the world, has moved beyond these issues and resolved them... and so have I.

Now hold off on the torches and pitchforks, okay? You guys know where I stand on ENDA and DOMA and DADT and how I feel that the chance of any of those getting handled straight-up runs the equivalent of that proverbial snowball's chances in the lower levels of Hell. I will be shocked if DADT is dealt with anytime before January 2013, if then. I find the delays unsurprising -- and unavoidable, given the political climate in this country. So forgive my lack of shock when Pelosi puts them on the back shelf yet again.

Does this mean I'm insensitive to the plight of folks in the States? No. Does it mean that, as an artist, I ignore my obligation to help fight the good fight? Not at all. Anyone who reads the comic at the blogsite knows that DnR takes on these issues -- and more. But I'm not going to be handcuffed by them either.

It's a big world out there, folks -- one with social injustice and piss-poor Barbie movies. The latter may not seem like much to you, but, through my little character Didi, I can take a slight jab at their utter ridiculousness in their presentation of women. "Doc and Raider" isn't an editorial cartoon, nor was it ever meant to be. Rather, it's my sometimes cynical bewilderment at what the world in toto has become.

I have a lot of stories to tell about these folks: about a woman realizing she can be more than a downtrodden housewife, about a couple separated by not only an international border but language itself. These are not LGBT issues per se: they are the kinds of things that affect us all, whether straight or gay or black or white or Christian or Muslim.

But more than anything else, DnR is a reflective work, my holding a small mirror up to the world around it and reflecting back in my own unique way. "But it's not funny!" I hear on occasion as well. Well, sometimes it's not because it's not meant to be. Sometimes it's just an observation, like sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

Yes, when it started running here, I was pretty concerned at the lack of response (right, Bil?). I was told, for example, "It's all CG and I hate that so I never read it". Yeah, that stung (who doesn't want their work at least considered before dismissed so out of hand?), but I've resolved that within myself as well. If you get it and want to tell me so, great. If not, that's okay too. If it's bewildering and stupid and you think it should come with annotations, yup, that's okay too.

As for the future of the strip, I have no plans to change it: it will still remain bewildering and stupid to some readers. That's because I have no intention of following the well-trod paths of strips like Troy, which by the way is a fun comic. Still, that wouldn't be me -- that would be me trying to be like the guy who creates Troy, and I'd prefer not to do that, if it's all the same to you.

For whatever its response, Doc and Raider will continue to be something that looks at society and politics and pop culture and even (shudder!) sports, as well as the GLBT community... and even Barbie movies. If you get it, great. If not... well, in the Grand Scheme of Things, it probably doesn't matter, does it?

If you've been staying with the current bewildering storyline, it'll be resolved on the blogsite this weekend. That's

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I absolutely love your cartoons Sean. I always click on them but seldom comment because ... well I'm not sure Doc or Raider would be thrilled by me saying "nice pose". Maybe you could introduce their female neighbor into the series. You know...the one who is a bit ditzy on Gay issues but still thinks they are wonderful and fun neighbors.

Keep up the great work.

Thanks, Deena. Didi was actually introduced some time ago, and there *is* a whole story to her in the planning stages. She's gone from the mousy housewife to... well, something very different. :-) And it's something that I'm considering as a spin-off strip, because it's - well, pretty out there. Literally. :-)

Different? You mean it will be revealed that she's an early transitioning Trans woman?

Or maybe Intersexed, and surgically assigned female at birth? Especially if she's just found that out... as many do, later in life.

No, not quite... :-) This is something a little more... hmm... universal in scale. :-)

I love Doc & Raider. Also, I live in America and I've seen commercials for Men's Wearhouse and Barbie movies. I can't imagine who would be confused by references to those things.

Also, what's wrong with Jimmy Carter? I may be biased because he left office before I was born, but he's always seemed like a good guy to me. Why did you lump him in with Reagan and Bush?

Honestly, there's nothing wrong with Carter: he was a good guy. He just had a bunch of lousy advisors who led him down too wrong paths, and he got blamed for everything that happened as a result. Since leaving office, he's done far more good for the world than he ever did during those four years... and I chalk that up to the fact that he doesnt have a bunch of people telling him what to do. Carter is perhaps one of the best ex-presidents the US has ever had.

And thanks, all, for the kind words. They're appreciated more than you can possibly know.


Every "American (Both North & South)" should visit another country just to see the slant placed on the news in your own country! Not many from the United States of America understand English Humor. It seems that we often miss satire also! You say a lot in your comic Keep it up! (Not Just the comic)

LOL -- I will do my very best, ma'am... on *both* counts!

Now if we can just get "Keeping Up Appearances" back in production...

From an Australian viewpoint... these differences between various North Americans are most entertaining.

Seriously, they are. And funny too, not in a mocking way, but an entertaining one.

I would imagine, Zoe, that it's like folks lumping Australians and New Zealanders in the same pile... although, having met a few from both countries, I certainly wouldnt be adverse to that. :-)

Whenever I see DnR on here, I click and read. I have the blog bookmarked. And I often pass on the comics via the "share on FB" button. Sometimes I get comments, sometimes not. Either way, I greatly enjoy Doc, Raider, and all of their companions.

And I agree--as a Hoosier, I grew up hearing those Men's Warehouse commercials all the time. I can practically recite them in my sleep. And I've seen at least one Barbie movie. I guess I can see the Barbie movies passing beneath some people's radar, but those MW commercials are *everywhere*!

Anyway, I probably should comment more often, but so often I find the comic expressing my sentiments so closely that a comment doesn't seem necessary.

Keep up the good work!

Thanks, Jenny. That's really appreciated.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | July 31, 2010 4:33 AM

Sean, no criticism of the strip, but I found your commentary on media infinitely more interesting. You should write more. Now, how about an elder GLBT as a character on the strip giving perspective rather than a ditsy homo loving neighbor? ;) I loves me some issues!

Living outside the states gives one a perspective unheard of in America. I would wish that some of our passionate reader/commenters were to read George Orwell's "Animal Farm" or "1984" or even try to decipher Marshall McLuhan's "The Medium is the Message." But, I forget, they don't want to read.

Most of the world has to react to America, but it does not mean that they care about America, and that is going to come round to bite us in the posterior harder, faster and sooner than anyone expects. Canada is better for us than the United States, but she is far from perfect. Canada does not allow foreign partners of same sex couples enter easily. A friend from Ottawa is moving here for that reason. Thailand serves as an island of freedom for another couple I know from Moscow and Los Angeles. Thanks for sharing this posting and I hope it is not the last of it's type.

I dont know that it's that people dont want to read (a double negative: my English teaching mother would have a heart attack right about now), but the web has made us so much more *visually* oriented than *verbally*. But to add to your list of books that are quickly becoming overlooked, "Brave New World" and, also by Huxley and perhaps even more germaine these days, "Ape and Essence".

And no, Canada isnt completely perfect -- not yet, anyway. :-) But they're working on it. The issue of cross-border relationships is one I'm exploring now -- and a storyline I'll be returning to on the blogsite... again, because of the sheer length of it. The last time Elliot and Gilles were together, it was twenty episodes, and I dont think that kind of long-format storytelling works here.

So you might want to keep an eye out over at the blog. As I said, we're just about to kick that one back up again -- Elliot's just about to get his landed immigrant status... maybe. :-)

I don't think the issue is that the references this week (and I think we're just talking about this week) were too cosmopolitan and intellectual for Bilerico readers to understand. If anything, Men's Wearhouse is the contrary for me - as someone pointed out above, they're a particularly Hoosier institution, and many of our readers are from Indiana, so we should really have no problem with that.

But Tuesday's comic:

There's really nothing there to inform readers that those two guys in suits are from the Men's Wearhouse. They're in suits, yes, but lots of people wear suits for lots of reasons. They aren't throwing around the Men's Wearhouse slogan ("I guarantee it!"), they don't mention the Men's Wearhouse or massed produced men's business attire, and they don't particularly look like George Zimmer:

I think readers who don't know that you're referring to the Men's Wearhouse on Tuesday could be forgiven.

As for the Barbie movies, the character from that on Wednesday from that movie did at least mention she was from there:

But, again, I don't think that many people on this site have actually watched all of the Barbie movies, and usually insightful pop culture references stick to what the audience would actually be familiar with.

I'll be the brave one to say that I've never seen any of the Barbie movies, but I take it you'd have to have seen them to understand what's going on on Thursday?

I couldn't parse the text and had no idea what was going on, but, again, I have never seen any of the Barbie movies. If everyone else here has watched them all, then I guess I'm the odd duck.

No one's asking for annotations or footnotes, just for some basic explanations as to what everyone is supposed to be.

To everyone else: Please leave positive comments on Sean's posts if you like his comic from that day! Posting on a blog and getting no response from people can make you think that you're speaking into the ether, or, worse, that everyone's watching and judging. Feel free to leave a "Hahaha" or a "Great one, Sean!" every now and then. It makes everyone's job easier and more likely for Sean to continue doing his work.

Part of it, Alex, is just set up, particularly with Mik and Kai in the suits. When I wrote out Tuesday's comic, I wasnt sure where it was going, so having the first mention of Mr. Zimmer's fine institution was just as much a surprise to me as it was to you.

And I'm proud to say I have *never* seen a Barbie movie... only the trailers, which were frightening enough. :-) So Thursday's was just having a bit of fun with the whole idea of the star diva holding up everyone else on the set -- which, let's face it, Miss Barbie is very good at.

I guess part of the problem is that folks who read the strip on the blog are probably far more aware of who all these people are than here at Bilerico... which is my fault. Mik and Kai havent really been around here since February, while they've been a regular part of the crew at the blogspot. And during the long storyline of Elliot and his boyfriend Gilles, I was prepping other strips for this place, because I wasnt sure how a long-arc story would be received here -- except that it means no one here knows who Elliot is. And sometimes I forget that fact -- my apologies.

But let me please make one thing clear, if I may: the purpose of this post isnt a desperate plea for comments. Sure, it'd be nice to get feedback, good, bad, or indifferent... but I've come to realize recently that it doesnt always work that way for cartoonists. I was talking about this Thursday night with one of my favs, and he said his site gets about 35,000 hits every day -- and out of those, maybe 40 leave comments. That's, like, 0.01% if my math is correct. So it was a good dose of very cold water. As long as folks are enjoying it, great. If it sparks some discussion along the way, even better.

But I'm curious about one thing in your post, Alex. It arrived "unmoderated". I was happy to approve it, of course, but does this mean there's some truth to that rumour about you and that policeman outside that resto in Montmarte?

Sean, your setting out the egotistical attitude of Americans is an uncomfortable truth. It's fine to be proud of one's home but not to the exclusion of the good and bad across the world that we are all a part of. Doc and Raider are excellent at showing us our foolish side and pushing us to look at where we stand in the great scheme of things. A little reality is good for the soul, and if you can do it with a little humor, all the better.

Well, thanks, Lin. I too am proud, in my own way, of my home... but sometimes... yeah, we forget there's a whole world out there. Not to push too much more into the political, but I find it disheartening to see how embarrassing the US can become, what with "freedom fries" et al. I do sometimes feel that this country is a huge traffic accident just waiting to happen.

But thanks again. Not to be coy about things, but I have a feeling you'll like next week's little series. :-)

Chitown Kev | July 31, 2010 10:04 AM

I'll finish reading this post later (I skimmed through this) but I will always credit growing up watching the CBC as one of the many reason for me being very open minded (I was born and raised in Detroit).

For example, watching the 1976 Montreal Olympics on both ABC and CBC, the BBC-like news telecasts (which were not American or...really, not even too Canadian focused, really), Hockey Night in Canada EVERY Saturday night...

And so...yes, I've been out of the country many many many times to Windsor and even when I was young, I knew that there was a big world out there that wasn't all that far away really (just a ride in the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel, really).

One of the things I always found vaguely amusing, Kev, is how most Canadians live so close to the US border... but not many want to come down for the visit. :-) "Come on North!" we say, waving our arms and smiling. But when invited to come South, we keep smiling and nod our heads and say "Hey, that'd be great... sometime!" LOL

I must admit to being often totally bewildered by your cartoons. I have to also admit I am a bit put off by the smug insider "I'm smarter than you" feeling I get sometimes. I'm sure you're perfectly nice in person, but somehow online I get the feeling that nothing and nobody's good enough.

That's a fair critique, and I appreciate it. The only thing I will say in my defence is that my targets are all chosen carefully -- not just big businesses and politics, but the increasingly absurdity of our pop culture... and God knows, the religious right, which could use a bit more tweaking of the nose every now and then. As for the "smug insider" aspect... well, if anything, Jodie, my little bunch and their creator are all OUTsiders, to a large degree, folks who dont quite live within the world so much as look at it in amazement and wonder... and not always of the best sort of amazement and wonder, I might add. "Smug"? Could be, but I hope not. But now that you've raised the issue, I'll look to be a little more sensitive to it in the future. But I'm sure you can always expect a certain amount of "world weary jadedness"; is that a fair deal? :-)

You wrote:

"But to be honest, I find it difficult to get worked up about them because Canada, like other enlightened countries around the world, has moved beyond these issues and resolved them... and so have I."

And meanwhile we can count on you to lobby your MP to support the trans rights Bill C-389, and pushing your friends and community to do the same?

Just asking.

Of course, Mercedes! And I say that with straight-up honesty. Just because Canada has met some goals doesnt mean the race to the top is over.

You are so absolutley right in america's lack of an international view. I was fortunate to live outside the US in Germany in the early 1980s before it was united. I realized then how much of an egocentric view this county had and how little Americans knew of the rest of the world. I know that that was a long time ago. But, the minute view remains. I truly love DnR. Never change anything about your subject matter. We need that jab to help us wake up and see that 300 million of us is very time compared to the near 6 billion of them. I toy with the idea of "migrating" to the Great White North. Any suggestions? Take care and don't change a thing!

Oh, Rick, you should know that there is no one more passionate about a cause than a convert, and when it comes to Canada, I cannot praise this country highly enough. Do it, bud. Yes, Canada has its own issues, but here's the thing: it has the good sense to keep them inside its own borders and not inflict them on the rest of the world. The current party in power is far from perfect, God knows, but it still has, in its own way, a sensitivity to the people it governs that I find seriously lacking south of the border.

When I emigrated, the process was a lot simpler than it is now, I'm sure. A few forms, a medical exam, and a lot of waiting time: it was almost a year and a half between the time I filed the first form to getting that document that said I was in. Now I'm sure it's a lot longer and more convoluted... but trust me: it's like angling after that hot guy in the bar that everyone wants -- with enough patience, you can get there.

And not to gush about my adopted land, but having traveled a fair bit, I can tell you there is nothing like seeing a border guard's smile when he sees that Canadian passport. Our country is much loved around the world, something I find very humbling.

So yes. Do it. And if I can help in any way, ask.

Sean, where I live we are inundated with Canadians from about Sept 15th thru May 15th each year. They are welcome as are the Germans, French, British, Norwegians, Chinese and anyone else who wants to enjoy a bit of sun during the winter months in the northern hemisphere. This year we are featuring a special called "find the gulf oil on the beaches". The winner who finds the biggest glob will get a free trip to New York City to appear on the David Letterman show but its a one way ticket.

Didi, in fact, inherited a condo not too far from where I live. I heard that the last time she was down here she was at the jacuzzi late one night. There are rumors that while she was intrigued by a particularly fit hunk her evening took a strange twist when someone else took an interest in her. Ah, but you probably know more about that than I do.

My best to you.

I'll admit to being puzzled about the Men's Warehouse guys. I couldn't figure out if they actually had an app using those characters and you were peeved or if they were your characters or what.

That said, I think I'm one of your biggest fans on the site and I've always wondered why you got so few comments on the strips. We've tried changing your daily time, putting the strip before the jump or after, all sorts of things. I hope some of the commenters will jump in with more suggestions on how to make it easier for them to comment. Everyone likes to feel appreciated occasionally!

Thanks, Bil. That's much, much appreciated.