Monday, February 07, 2005

Gay Abe in The Nation

The "Babe Lincoln" imbroglio at The Nation magazine rages on, the latest big controversy in the world of comics! You can get the gist of it from Doug Ireland , one of the heavyweight journalists taking the lead in condemning the disgusting image, and encouraging people to email Katrina Vanden Heuvel to express their outrage.

The cartoonist, Robert Grossman, took a riff off of one the funniest stories around, "The Intimate Life of Abraham Lincoln," a book in which the author, C. A. Tripp, strings together historical information to make the case that the Great Emancipator was a closeted gay man. Well, not closeted really, he was open about sleeping with other guys at the Old Soldiers' home, and, according to the author, the label of homosexuality hadn't come into being yet, making the need for widespread closet use unnecessary.

The cartoon is admittedly a bit odd, especially if you analyze it too much, as intellectual Nation readers are of a mind to do. Is "Babe" a cross dresser? If so, why do the breasts look so real? Why the axe? Is he transgender? Is he a post-op transsexual? As a practitioner of cartoonery myself I watch controversies like these with keen interest, knowing that, there but for the grace of Barney Google go I.

Why is it that cartoons stir such powerful and weird reactions? Only Susan Sontag might have been able to explain why Grossman's cartoon registered as hateful instead of campy? One can imagine a swishy Abe Lincoln character coming out in drag on Saturday Night Live, as Rudy Giuliani once did, to great roars of laughter, queer and straight alike. Or he could be lisping and prancing and calling Stephan A Douglas a bitch and scratching him with his nails during one of the famous debates. People would love that.

Jon Stewart or Dave Chappelle could do a fake historical segment called "Pricilla, Presidential Whistle Stop Train of the Frontier," where several famous presidents enjoy campy drag-queen antics aboard a crazy pink train traveling across Antebellum American. In one hilarious scene, Pricilla is taken over at a pass by a band of marauding Cherokees: Lincoln screeches, "Come back here with my wig, you savage! You mess one hair on that $40 Erica and I'll pull your tail feathers so you never forget it!" Damn, I'd win an Emmy for that if only I was a TV writer.

But yet, Grossman's kinda-lame cartoon has brought a state of turmoil to leftist America and made the cartoonist persona non grata anywhere below 23rd Street on the east side in New York City. I don't get it.

I courted controversy with my "Gay Abe" cartoon, above, but didn't get as much as Robert Grossman did with "Babe Lincoln" in the Nation Magazine, featuring Honest Abe as a buxom, bowlegged, bearded lady man. I guess I'm lucky that The Nation never publishes my stuff. The L.A. Weekly picked this one up though, in addition to my regular papers, and so far I'm not deluged with hate mail any more that usual.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought your cartoon on the Gay Abe was a hoot. You're the best thing about the Mercury paper in Portland, Oregon.

4:55 PM  
Blogger John E said...

"I thought your cartoon on the Gay Abe issue was a hoot. You're the best thing about the Mercury paper in Portland, Oregon."

Ditto and BIG ditto.

4:29 PM  

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