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Philadelphia City Paper Interview
by Neil Gladstone
April 10, 1998
A violent government overthrow: Ted Rall, 34, thinks itís the only way the problems of wage disparity,
homelessness and healthcare will ever be fixed. People in power "aren't willing to do dick for poor people,"
he says. Is Rall just another angry lunatic ready to take a shot at the president? Yes and no. As a widely
syndicated political cartoonist, he takes plenty of pot shots at the President. But he's not a nut - he's just
disgusted with America's policy makers.
But that's not all Rall's pissed about. Thumb through his latest collection of essays and cartoons, Revenge of the
Latchkey Kids (Workman), and you'll find a vociferous Gen Xer itching to sound off about his deadbeat dad, corrupt
corporations, overpriced colleges and self-centered Baby Boomers. Rall grew up in Dayton, OH, and then moved to New
York City to study engineering at Columbia University in the early '80s. The Ivy League institution expelled Rall in
'84 because of his poor grades and his underground newspaper that featured nudie pictures. He returned six years later
and eventually graduated with a
liberal arts degree. Today his cartoons can be found in the New York
Times, Time magazine and the Philadelphia Daily News. In 1996, he was a
finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
-Your characters almost look like they belong in a cubist painting.
Oh, that's probably the askew eyes. I developed that style when I
started owning birds. When you have birds you stare at them a lot and
their eyes are recessed on their head. When they look at something they
tilt their head in a quizzical expression. It occurred to me that my
outlook tends to be like those birds. I sort've wondered: What the fuck
are people doing? What are they thinking? Things that seem really
self-evident to a lot of people such as "Free trade is a good idea" seem
really fuckin' stupid to me. Human behavior, in general, just makes me
feel like I'm not a member of the club. It's a graphic way of
representing that feeling.
-A good portion of the book is devoted to the anger you feel towards your
Dad for abandoning the family when you were just a few years old. Was it
therapeutic to write about him?
I didn't realize how therapeutic it would be. I used to wake up every
day and think of some way he'd slighted me. Now that I've sent this
thing out into the world I hardly ever think about my Dad. You don't
even know all of the stuff that was cut from the book because it was too
harsh. Once I held the book in my hands and realized it was going to be
a big print run, I figured I'd gotten even with the guy. That's it.
There are books all over the country that let everyone know that my
father was an unadulterated prick. I feel that pretty much at this
point, I win. He impoverished me when I was growing up. When a student
loan bill came in, I used to think: Fuck him, if it weren't for that
asshole evading his responsibility and living high on the hog, I
wouldn't have to worry about this stupid bill. Now, I'm doing fine
financially. Money stress is what used to remind me of my Dad most.
-Do you have any thoughts about the Jonesboro shootings?
Well, this is a really bizarre story, so I don't blame you if you don't
believe it. I had a friend who had a cat. She calls me up one morning
andtells me she's just been released from the hospital. The day before,
the cat was on her lap taking a nap. Then all of a sudden its eyes flew
open and it attacked her. She kicked it off and it kept jumping up
towards her and backed her into the bathroom. The neighbors heard the
fracas, called 911, the police came, knocked down the door, the cat
attacked them. They couldn't shake it off and they had to shoot it.
Apparently it happens all the time. Pets lose it and go nuts. I think
that's what happened with the kids. They just lost it. I think there are
things you can't blame on TV violence or the gun culture. Sometimes car
engines explode. It just can't be explained.
-Do you have any thoughts on Dilbert?
I guess you're referring to The Trouble with Dilbert book [which
criticizes Dilbert for not being nearly as anti-corporate as it purports
to be]? I think Dilbert is actually a radical strip. I know that Tom
Tomorrow has taken [Dilbert cartoonist] Scott Adams to task for being
wealthy and letting the cube-oids make fun of the boss so they won't
want to form unions. Well, Dilbert isn't stopping anyone from engaging
in collective bargaining. The first step to stringing the boss up from a
lamppost is saying the boss is a moron. At this point, American workers
are pretty respectful of the bosses they loathe. So I think Dilbert's a
really great strip. As a cartoonist, I think it's gotten fucking
repetitive. But that's also because it's a daily strip and daily strips
get that way.
-There's a strong anti-Baby Boomer sentiment in your book. Is there
anything you think Gen Xers can do better than boomers?
I think we're doing lots of things better. Baby Boomers talked a lot
about racial equality, but I think Xers, without talking about it, seem
to be dating and marrying interracially and they hang out with people of
different races and it's just a cool low-key thing. I think we're the
first generation to successfully integrate American society. It's
revolutionary. I think our divorce rate is bound to be less. We marry
later so we're bound to be more careful about who we marry. I think
we're likely to make better bosses because we suffer from a lack of
mentoring. The boomers are not into mentoring. I think the 40-something
middle manager types hoard information and keep it to themselves. It's
just a selfish, self-involved generation. It's the Me Generation. They d
on't want to give anything back. It's true that things probably are
better in a lot of ways because of the boomers. Sexual liberation and
the fact that they flirted with revolution - all of those things are
important. But I think Xers have a more practical outlook.
-Have any politicians contacted you about your work?
Orrin Hatch was the keynote speaker at the last meeting of the
Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. He sought me out because
he was a fan. I was thinking he had confused me with someone else. We
ended up talking in the hotel bar for over two hours, which was really
cool. He said "Even though we don't agree politically I really enjoy
your work." It's really interesting, I've gotten more respect from
right-wingers than I ever had from the left. Even though I'm a leftist.
I think the left eats its own. I once got a call from one of Senator
[Al] D'Amato's aides. They had just proposed a bill to ban drive-through
mastectomies [when the hospital doesn't allow a patient to stay the
night after a mastectomy because of restrictions imposed by the
insurance company]. I did a brutal cartoon that appeared in the New York
Times and showed the patient's chest bleeding. D'Amato used the cartoon
during a speech he was giving the congressmen and according to the aid,
the audience wasn't paying much attention until they projected the
cartoon on screen.
-Is it rewarding to hear that story?
Not really. The best thing about being a cartoonist is to walk into a
bar or someone's apartment and they don't know you, but they've taped
one of your pieces up. That's the shit. That's why you do it. That's 15
Copyright © 1998, CP Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.
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