As one of the converted to whom Tom Tomorrow preaches, I feel awkward criticizing his comic, “This Modern World.” Calling “TMW” wordy and graphically uninteresting is like saying Ralph Nader is adenoidal and needs a haircut. But the air-quotes irony of Tomorrow’s 1950s clip-art style is played out, and some of his more verbose and — dare I utter the buzzword? — strident strips have all the subtlety of a Jack Chick tract. As media-saturated, wisecracking alter egos go, Sparky the Penguin finishes behind the Zippy-Griffy duo from Bill Griffith’s “Zippy the Pinhead,” a funnier and more sympathetic, if less pointedly political, skewering of this modern world. Even Aaron McGruder’s “Boondocks” is in a way ballsier than “TMW,” if only because its occasionally aggressive stance is displayed on the daily funny pages, where it might actually meet with opposition, not tucked safely onto the editorial pages of left-leaning alternative weeklies.
What’s most important, though, is that Tomorrow eagerly tackles issues most journalists (never mind cartoonists) won’t touch. It’s unfortunately faint praise to say Tomorrow is one of the best editorial cartoonists working. The field is sadly flaccid, full of softball jabs and cheap pop-culture references masquerading as political commentary, as well as cutesy drawings that make Tomorrow’s appear at least novel. It’s one thing to pen a touching response to the latest school shooting. It’s another thing to, as Tomorrow does, attack cable news networks for bragging to advertisers about the increased viewers they “deliver” when such a tragedy occurs, or to link the event via quotes swiped from Newsweek to the sickening fetishization of guns, even by the father of one of the victims. If chatterbox Tomorrow has a lot to say, it’s because he’s picking up the slack for his contemporaries who have nothing to say at all
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