As folks who come here with any frequency quickly learn, we think Mr. Fish [or Dwayne Booth, according to his driver’s license] is the best editorial cartoonist of the age — or at least that part of it crossing our gaze.
On the surface his images, are generally graphically simple — more like wall posters than the typical newspaper cartoon, the works of Mr. Fish sear themselves into the visual cortex and worm themselves deeper into the brain, koans of interlinked images and words. [For a comprehensive look at his works see his website, Clowncrack., where you can also buy his books and other icthyous paraphernalia]
When Chris Hedges sat down with Mr. Fish for an extended interview of Days of Revolt, we knew we were in for a treat, and we came away with an even deeper appreciation for the artistry and complexity that is Mr. Fish.
We were at first surprised to learn that before he took up the graphic arts, Dayne Booth saw himself as a provocative philosopher in the making, reading deeply in the field, a heritage that helps us understand the deeper complexity beneath the surface of his works.
So sit back, set the gear knob to a high definition resolution, click the image to full screen, and prepare for a provocative pleasure.
HEDGES: Why do you, why do you run into such friction, do you think?
BOOTH: I think because it’s difficult to–when you have an image, right, when you have an image that is inflammatory in any way, it’s really difficult to, to recast that in such a way that it, to contain it. To contain it. Once an image is released, like I said, it resonates with people and it looks like reality. So it’s really difficult to verbally contain an image once it is, it is released. And so what images tend to do, since they are not verbal and they are not intellectualized, until after the fact, is they enter into a person’s, into a person’s mind. And it explodes your belief, and it turns your comprehension of what is being addressed in the drawing into shrapnel, and then you have to put it back together again.
And you have to put it back together in a way where you have to question your previous thoughts before you looked at the image. And that’s, people don’t want to do that. People like to base their political opinions on, on fashion, on allegiance to a, a, to your team.
HEDGES: Well, also, you’re imploding the very meticulously managed image that these figures in power have created for themselves at great cost, expense, and time.
BOOTH: Yeah. Yeah. And they’re also, it’s interesting, you just made me think. If you look at society, okay, where this is sort of a broad analogy. If you look at society as a chess match, right, we’ve got power represented by certain people, and we’ve got people who have less power. And they function in the rules of this game, right, that’s how society works. Art does not–it doesn’t have to rely on the rules of the game and all the expectations that people have, because it’s thinking outside, it’s questioning the folly of the game in a way that is unique, right.
So I try to do cartoons that look at that chess board, right, and make it a tragedy to understand that you cannot play chess with somebody where you’re not forced to sacrifice some of your own players, where you’re not going to–you have to, you have to attack the other opponent. Right, those are the rules of society, right.
So if you’re looking, and you’re living inside of a society that functions like that, it’s the job of the artist, or even just the radical thinker, to question the folly of this game. And with images when you show the brutality of how this game is played, that’s when people are going to see it as being much more believable than if you’re trying to convince them with an intellectual argument.
HEDGES: You’ve spent a lot of time illustrating the American military machine. That, you know, seeps into a lot of your work.
BOOTH: Yeah. Because it’s a difficult conversation for people to have. I did cartoons leading up to the invasion of Iraq that I never got any hate mail about. This is before the invasion. So I was questioning the obvious catastrophe that was about to happen. And I was also questioning the job of the, of the soldier. When the, when the invasion was, began, that’s when I started to get death threats, because I continued questioning what the, what, you know, how do we perceive the troops? You can’t just, okay, we have to support the troops.
And I did a cartoon that depicted individual troops. And I wrote, good guy, good guy, good guy, good guy, good guy, and I put a big bracket around it to group them all, and I said bad guys. Because the conversation is such that it’s not an easy conversation to have. And if you’re a responsible cartoonist and you know how to do that, you know not to, to–. As a cartoonist and a joke-teller, you have license to step outside of the box. It’s what humor does. And if you’re a good humorist, the stuff that you do is not funny. Because I think that great satire, and great art that is under the umbrella of satire, you have the responsibility to avoid making it just about finding the punchline. Because mirth cripples rage. And when you’re trying to inspire people to recognize what’s wrong with the government and do something about it, and get–put bodies in, to step out into the street and raise your first in the air, you can’t give people the phys–their physiological, the relief of the laugh.
HEDGES: That’s like the fool in King Lear.
HEDGES: Who speaks the most naked truth about Lear, throughout the play.
HEDGES: Which, you know, is coming from a point of satire, but also is, because it is a naked truth, twinned with a kind of painful recognition. Which I think is what your work does.
BOOTH: Yeah, and I think that people want to see that, because it does feel more honest. You know, I think people in their private moments, when they’re deliberating on these notions and on the reality of history and what’s happening in the world right now, they know that it’s screwed up. They know that there’s a problem and they know that there’s a lot of pain, right. Once you move into a public space where it’s impolite to complain as loudly as you want to complain, and when you want to speak truth to power, which is considered impolite, there’s a time and a place, you become much more conservative than you really are at heart.
So showing people art and getting them to look at an image, it happens internally. When you look at an image, your reaction to it is inside yourself.