February 7, 2013
Stephanie McMillan, author and cartoonist of The Beginning of the American Fall, just did an interview with the Athen’s daily Eleftherotypia. Take a sneak-peak below to get to know Stephanie!
1) How does it feel to be one of the few women in the cartoon world?
It’s hard to make a living as a cartoonist, no matter the gender. In the last decade or so, being female has become much less of a novelty in the cartoon/comics world. I actually don’t think about that very much. In some instances it has probably been one factor (secondary, among others) when I’ve been passed over for jobs or received lower pay, but I can’t control that, so I move on, and keep trying a lot of different things to get my work seen and to find ways of making an income from it. My (far left) political views are actually much more of an obstacle to achieving the traditional view of “success” than anything else. Not to mention the collapse of print media. These have been much more significant factors for
2) Politics and cartoons. An uneasy bond?
Some people make comics for entertainment, and they tend to keep politics out of it in order to build the broadest audience possible. Cartoonists have even told me they don’t say what they really think in their work, because it wouldn’t sell as well. To me, this is a criminal waste of talent. But I blame the capitalist system, not those forced to make unpleasant decisions in order to survive within it.
My background, however, is not in comics but in editorial cartoons, which must be aggressively political and opinionated to be effective. This has been discouraged in recent years (since newspapers have collapsed) by timid editors who have become afraid of “rocking the boat” and losing their jobs. Most have decided that it’s better to run bland and inoffensive cartoons that illustrate, rather than comment upon, world events. But this has been a loss for editorial cartooning, and for readers. The best cartoons make sharp, even harsh, points that stir up thinking, debate and controversy.
3) You once said that this system cannot be reformed. What’s the alternative?
Capitalism is inherently exploitative, ecocidal, and expansionist. Even the nicest capitalists in the world can’t change its miserable and destructive nature. For me, to put it bluntly, the only alternative that can decisively eliminate capitalism is for the working class to liberate itself – to seize political power and control over the means of production – and eliminate surplus value (which is how capital reproduces) by abolishing wages and private accumulation. Only this can lead to the end of class-divided society, and to the atrocities that capitalism inherently generates.
4) You co-wrote the book “The Knitting Circle Rapist Annihilation Squad”. What do you think about the current events in India?
Patriarchy, and the violence used to enforce it – particularly rape and the threat of rape – is a deep-rooted global horror. All forms of oppression, of women and other social groups, are not to be tolerated,
must be resisted and combatted—both for their own sake, and because they widen the divisions among the masses and strengthen the domination of the ruling class over us.
In fact, when Derrick Jensen and I discussed writing the novel, we were directly inspired by the Gulabi Gang – the group of women in India who organize resistance to the oppression of women, including by beating men who abuse their wives. A similar form of organization existed in Mao’s China. We wrote the book to spread the example of, and to encourage, organized resistance to oppression and domination.
5) Is there a chance for the environment or we ‘re done?
So much of the environment is already done. 94% of the ocean’s large fish are done. 78% of the world’s old-growth forests are done. The million people who die of pollution-related causes are done. It’s too late to save the 200 species who went extinct today, or un-ruin the lives of those already destroyed by global warming.
The question today should be, can any life on Earth still be saved? I fear not, but this is no excuse to give up. We can’t understand the interplay of all the variables and the possible surprises that may be favorable. The future is unwritten, as they say. As long as we are not yet dead, we must fight for life to continue.
6) How difficult is it for you to sketch from an independent perspective about something you believe in?
It’s not difficult at all; it comes naturally. I love doing work that I believe in. It makes me feel that my life has meaning and purpose. The hard part is when, to survive, I need to take a job I don’t believe in. Nothing is more tedious and boring to me than producing work that doesn’t further the goals I care about. It feels like a terrible waste of time, though it’s unfortunately sometimes necessary.
7) Is the “Occupy” movement alive or dead?
The answer to that depends on how you define “Occupy” – is it encampments, or a mood? Certainly the states have effectively defeated and removed the camps that were Occupy’s initial physical manifestation. This has led to many people becoming pessimistic and becoming inactive, but many others cannot go back to sleep. They are continuing to oppose and resist the system in many creative ways. The desire for radical transformation is there.
I don’t think “Occupy” had developed into a real movement, but rather it was a global mobilization, an uprising. A lot of work remains to be done to build the kind of movements that will be necessary to defeat capitalism and imperialism. People are out there trying to do that, but they are up against an extremely organized and ruthless enemy. It will be a hard road, with no guarantees.
But doing the work to build these movements is our only option. Certainly the social contradictions that sparked Occupy are still there, and not going away. Life for the majority of the world’s people will only get worse, unless we defeat this evil system that feeds off our blood and sweat.
8) How did you see the reelection of Obama?
Unfortunately I think it contributed to the de-mobilization and pacification of the people in the US. Obama is a ruthless tool of capitalism/imperialism (as all their politicians are – that is their job), but the system’s propaganda machine has been successful in portraying him as a (the only) progressive alternative to the frightening and ruthless Republicans. Presented with this awful non-choice, many understandably chose what they considered the “lesser evil.” But this is a mistake, because it lets the system off the hook.
This is the fault of the Left. We are too weak, as yet, to present a real alternative to what capitalism is offering. People have allowed themselves to be content with slight enlargements of bourgeois democracy, such as gay marriage and allowing women into combat. These are not real advances. As if it’s a victory for women, to be “allowed” to fight for imperialism! No, thank you.
Now that Obama is solidly back in office, and he continues killing people and destroying the world for capitalists interests, his spell will hopefully wear off and people can assume the necessary mindset for building a real movement that can challenge the system.
9) From a financial point of view, how difficult is it to be an independent cartoonist?
It’s frankly awful. Many people assume that with several books published, and cartoons that are fairly popular, that I’m able to make a good living. The reality is that for the last several years (my “most successful” years as a cartoonist in terms of work and awards), I haven’t been able to even afford to rent an apartment or buy health insurance. And this is after working about 12-14 hours a day. I once figured out how much I make per hour, and it turned out to be about half of the minimum wage. Last week, I applied for a part-time job unrelated to my field. I don’t want to take the time away from my organizing and cartoon work, but may have no choice.
A small number of cartoonists are able to “make it big” or manage a good living, but they are a tiny minority. Most of my colleagues are struggling to keep their heads above water, especially since the collapse of print media. This is the situation in many creative fields, not just cartooning.
10) What kind of feedback you get from your readers?
My readers keep me going. They are wonderful, so supportive and encouraging. When they tell me that my work helps them to understand a political reality or a theoretical point that helps them in their struggle, then I feel very satisfied and happy. This is what my work is for.
When active organizers or protesters use one of my cartoons on a leaflet, or on a poster at a demonstration, that is so wonderful to me. Right now, I’m putting together a series of cartoons paired with short, accessible texts about what capitalism is and how it works, intended for use in presentations and discussions, for organizing. It’s called, “Capitalism Must Die! How to Kill Capitalism Before It Kills Us.”
I also get negative feedback – my share of online trolling, insults and even death threats. But usually I don’t even read those. It does nothing positive for my state of mind. Those types of comments don’t strengthen me, so I ignore them. I have a mission to fulfill, and avoid distractions when I can.
11) Is there a funny side in everything?
This depends on how large your capacity is for grim humor! Personally, I do see a lot of humor in life, and I laugh a lot. If one can manage to have a generally positive temperament, life feels better, and we don’t give in to despair. Despair is defeat. Instead we can strive to view obstacles as challenges, and crisis as opportunity.