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The ITT List

Wednesday, Sep 26, 2007, 4:21 pm

“Anger and passion slipped inside a fun cartoon coating.”

By Erin Polgreen
Mikhaela B. Reid has publishing political cartoons on InTheseTimes.com for some time now. Her work is witty, literate, tenacious--and well-drawn. (One of my favorites involves a fundamentalist bootcamp.) She's recently published her first book, Attack of the 50 Foot Mikhaela! and was kind enough to answer a few questions for the ITT List.

And if you want to get your mitts on a copy of Attack of the 50 Foot Mikhaela, there's no better time than now. Just make a tax-deductible donation to In These Times, and we'll send you a copy of Mikhaela's book, plus a one-year subscription to our print edition. Click here to contribute!

1.) How long have you been drawing political cartoons?

Since I was an angry, angry toddler! In Attack of the 50-Foot Mikhaela, I include an early example of an innovative "sticker art" political cartoon about the state of cannibalistic giraffes in a modern capitalist consumer society.

Seriously, I was political from an early age. In my family, not being an angry leftwinger would have been an assault on family values. My parents had marched against Vietnam and were Reagan-hating activists. My granddad Zadie Katler was always lecturing me on labor issues and would give me a pile of In These Times and Nation back issues every time I came to visit.

I drew my first proper political cartoon for my high school newspaper as a protest against an overly-restrictive dress code. I followed that up with attacks on high school homophobes—I was president of the Lowell High School Gay/Straight Alliance, and sick of the harassment we were getting from ignorant classmates (and school committee members!).

My original goal was to be a science fiction writer, crafting bleak 1984-style dystopian science fiction. But nothing is more dystopian than reality!

2.) Who are you inspired by?

Leftwing political cartooning is depressing—and without plenty of inspiration, it's hard to keep going week after week. It can be lonely, hunched over your drawing board thinking about torture and gay-bashers and the destruction of the planet week after week.

So I'm inspired by badass, funny, angry, fearless passionate rabble-rousers, writers, activists, musicians and artists who really, really care about challenging the powers that be and who never give up. Especially those of the cartoonist variety—people like Alison Bechdel, Ted Rall and Keith Knight. Last year a bunch of alternative cartoonist friends and I—including Ted, Keith, Stephanie McMillan, Brian McFadden, Masheka Wood and others—got together to form a small collective called Cartoonists With Attitude, and we email and call each other a lot and get together at cartoonist conventions to have obscure conversations about types of ink and who is easier to caricature and which Bushie we hate the most (Condi? Cheney? It's so hard!).

I'm [also] inspired by fan mail. If it weren't for all the awesome emails I get, it'd be hard to keep drawing. I get a smattering of hate mail too, mostly of the poorly-spelled frightening "you liburl terrrists should be annhilated from this erth" variety, but I try not to let it get to me.

3.) Why do you think political cartoons are important?

Political cartoons are subversive—anger and passion slipped inside a fun cartoon coating. They persuade in a way that writing alone and drawing alone can't do. They're fast, accessible and fun—and dangerous. They can be funny, or serious, or terrifying, or gross, or all of the above at once. Tough political cartoons can skewer the powerful and make them look ridiculous and dangerous.

Angry leftwing political cartoons might not convert die-hard Republicans. But they're not just preaching to the choir, either—they're rallying the choir, letting them know they're not alone, they're not insane, and there's a lot of fights that need fighting.

4.) This is your first book. How did you decide what to include?

Editing your own work is always hard—I felt like I was stepping on kittens every time I had to cut something out. I tried to make the book like a Super Special Collectors Edition DVD, with commentary on each cartoon and rarities and special features not found when the cartoons originally ran. I included some stories about bizarre reader reactions (like the reader who found my referring to a pale white person as "pasty" deeply offensive) and some fun illustrations and commissioned cartoons.

For a large part, this book chronicles my anger at the Bush administration, and I'm so thrilled that that particular nightmare is so close to being over. The damage the Bushies have done—the destruction of Iraq, the justification of torture, the gutting of civil liberties and civil rights and the social safety net and education and the environment—it won't be undone overnight. But it'll be hard for even the most determined new president to have that same mixture of evil and stupid.

My other favorite part has been touring with the book. My cartoonist husband Masheka Wood put out a book at the same time, "Deep Doodle", and we've been doing slideshows and signings around the country, starting in San Francisco and going to Detroit, Washington DC, NYC, etc. It's really fun to interact with readers face to face, and to hear them laugh or gasp when you read and show your stuff. (Our next slideshow is at Friday Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. at the Center for New Words in Cambridge, MA.)

5.) What do you have planned next?

It's hard to say—at any given moment there are so many issues to be furious about, I don't know where to start. Most recently, I've been angry about Bush's vow to keep 6 million kids from having health insurance (no child left behind!) In the near future, I'll probably start focusing a little more on the presidential election—I've mostly had fun picking on Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, and I've made a dig or two at the less-than-liberal side of Hillary Clinton, but I might have to get more serious about it.

[Even further] in the future, I'd like to go beyond just the weekly political cartoons and do something more narrative, with characters—but still political, of course. Maybe an angry dystopian science fiction graphic novel! Stay tuned.

Before coming to The Media Consortium in February 2008, Erin was an Associate Publisher for In These Times, where she managed advertising, marketing and outreach. Erin began working with In These Times as an editorial intern in June 2005. That August, she joined the staff as Advertising and Marketing Coordinator and was promoted to Associate Publisher in February 2007.

From August 2004 through May 2005, Erin served with City Year Chicago, an Americorps program. As a Senior Corps member, she co-led a team of literacy tutors at an elementary school on the West side of Chicago.

Erin graduated with departmental honors and a degree in English from Webster University in May 2004.

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