Mary SanGiovanni (sitting across from me on the couch because we are both working from our living room today) brought to my attention this article by Clovis Whitman, which is two years old now (the internet equivalent of a century) but a fascinating read, regardless. In it, he links to a survey conducted by the National Center for Educational Statistics. There is a lot to unpack in that data, but what really struck me was that “approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population scores high on the standard literacy test. That is, they can not only read simple text and do simple functions like total an entry on a deposit slip or find the time and place of a meeting but they can navigate through complex text of the English language. These Americans are typically employed and earning comparatively high wages. They tend to have more than a high school degree, meaning at least some college education and frequently a four-year college degree, and they are often within the 40 to 54 age range as well as self-identify as white.”
I bring this up because we are heading into election season, and your corporate news channel of choice will be hitting you over the head with data from surveys twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And I want to remind you that data from polls and surveys is ALWAYS flawed. I know this because I used to work as a pollster, and I used to work for Arbitron (who conduct the terrestrial radio ratings), and I have first hand knowledge in both cases of how absolutely fucked the methods they use to reach that data really are.
And I have firsthand knowledge of why that quote above is wrong, as well. I have met the people reading my books. For the last twenty years I’ve been crisscrossing the country and signing books in small Kentucky bookstores and big Manhattan bookstores and convention halls and college campuses from Berkeley, California to Langley, Virginia. And I know for a fact that many of you are blue collar and struggling to make ends meet, and some of you don’t have a high school diploma let alone a college degree, and that you range in age from 14 to 84, and that you self-identify as black, brown, white, male, female, they, straight, gay, trans, Conservative, Progressive, Republican, Democrat, Green, Libertarian, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Pagan, and all other walks of life. And when we gather at these events or online, despite the fact that you identify as part of these groups, you have always — ALWAYS — been respectful of one another. Sure, we’ve had a troll or two over the years, but 99.9% of the time, y’all have been kind and supportive of one another.
I want you to know that I appreciate that. I appreciate you. Your support. Your purchasing of my work. Your Tweets and emails and comments in person. But more importantly, I appreciate that you appreciate each other.
Hold on to that, and keep it up. Our society is at a crossroads, and people are at each other’s throats. You see it happening in all aspects of our culture. Yesterday and today it’s happening in comics, where a bunch of stupid people on both the Left and the Right are tearing each other apart over the most recent Chelsea Cain controversy — a controversy that I can sum up in two sentences. You ready?
*No artist – including Chelsea Cain – should be beholden to the dictations of the public or what individuals feel the art should represent.
*No artist – including Chelsea Cain – should belittle or bully an individual in response to that person’s criticism of their art.
There ya go. Finished. Were I a comic critic, I could write a 2,000 word essay about it, like my dear friend Jude Terror did (yes, I know there are a metric fuckton of other think-pieces about it out there, on sites that lean Left and sites that lean Right, but I choose to give Jude the clicks because he’s always done right by me) but I’m not going to write a 2,000 word essay about it because there’s no money in comics criticism and I have mouths to feed.
And tomorrow there will probably be a controversy about Star Wars or football or some pop star, and this will fall by the wayside.
But I digress.
I appreciate all of you. And I appreciate that you are kind to each other, even when you adamantly disagree on important issues. Let’s try to continue doing that, because this world is looking more and more like Snake Plissken and Mad Max had a baby with each passing day, and it’s not our political process or our institutions or our isms. It’s our fellow human beings. It’s the people around us.
The center cannot hold, but I’m damn sure holding on.
There’s not much else an individual can do.
But I know that I’m not holding on alone. You are here with me.
I know it’s scary, but you want to know a secret? I’m scared too. But the more people we bring with us, the more we can push back against the encroaching darkness.