A Cone for a Steeple, a Scoop for a Cross
What happens when a political cartoon just keeps going? When an absurd five-panel situation designed to illuminate a small portion of the awful, unholy world of POLITICS continues to dig and persist, and snowballs into something grander and more transcendent than the initial idea of "Political Cartoon" and creates a whole new form unto itself: the political cartoon essay?

This HYPOTHETICAL thing - this political-cartoon-that-becomes-a-world-that-becomes-a-statement - is still in its initial stages in graphic art. I can point to no ACTUAL, SELF-CONSCIOUS examples.

But if you want to see a stab at it that goes somewhere, and will make you smile along the way perhaps as many as fifteen times, I Am the President of Ice Cream, written and illustrated by Austin's Geoff Sebesta, is as fair an attempt as I've ever seen.

Also, it is free and available here for now: http://community.livejournal.com/iamthepresident/2007/08/21/

One can extrapolate from Sebesta's art that he prefers vanilla to chocolate, and that tells you something about a man. He is probably not a drug dealer, and most likely has a full time job and likes the local sports team (the Austin Ice Bats).

Here is the first strip of I Am the President of Ice Cream: a simple cartoon that could stand alone as a simple treatise on the meaning of power, and the tension between abstractions (government) and tangible goods (ice cream) in a world where children still ride simple tricycles and eat simple ice cream cones (1993) instead of sending each other naked drawings of Disney's Pocahontas on their Blackberries while disrespecting Jesus (2008):

Innocence destroyed! Ice cream misappropriated! Presidential authority invoked!

Note that ice cream is not actually stolen. That was not the point of this crime. Such a crime would be understandable; innocent in its own right. No, this ice cream was purposefully and willfully destroyed, as a pointless exercise of power. Is that the joke? Is such a thing funny? To paraphrase Frank Herbert, is the ability to destroy something the only real signifier of control?

Is that how we are proving to ourselves that humans run the world? And when will we stop?

But this initial cartoon is only the beginning, and as the story continues, you will soon find yourself asking deeper questions, tasting the infinite, and searching for the flavor cosmic.

I Am the President of Ice Cream follows the career of the eponymous title character, a shadowy dictator, as he attempts to use his leverage over one of the world's most popular confections to seize power, kill homeless people, thwart organic farming, and centralize authority. In the course of his journey, he will be killed himself, and another will take his place. But the new leader will not be able to stop the things the first President has set in motion, showing us that it is not the person, but the power itself - symbolized by ice cream - that leads to decay. Decadence is created in the same way that sugar and milk blended together and consumed in vast quantities create holes in teeth and lead to the corrupt fat-filled faces of slavish followers that are as bleak and unsettling as they are distended.

Speaking of slaves:

Ice cream moderately consumed = joy. Ice cream centralized, controlled, and rationed = hell on Earth.

The story features the reigns of several different ice cream Presidents. Deep mysteries regarding the nature of ice cream (and its plan for us all) are revealed. At times, the story arc and dialogue are uneven, but it is always entertaining to see ice cream lead to so much blood, and the art often makes up for the herky-jerky pace, showcasing a range of styles that allows one to feel the plastic promise of this universe.

Yes, it is certain - the power-hungry are as ridiculous as the ice-cream hungry. And there is no reason we should all have power: we could all have ice cream instead. But if power were ice cream, posits Sebesta, there would still be people after it - because it is the nature of humanity to become addicted to the symbols that promise immortality.

The story skewers and dissects the modern methods that the agents of control employ to gain their ends: force, consumption, audacity, and glee. There is real anger here behind the gags, but it never becomes cynicism. In the great tradition of political cartoonists, the way out is not to join up, but to leave the comic universe altogether and throw one's weight in with actual causes.

At times, the non sequiturs of Sebesta's ice cream universe can be distracting, but one has to keep the groundbreaking format in mind, and attune one's critical capacity to the nature of the game: a political cartoon must not be skimmed, but should be analyzed deeply to determine relationships between components. The paradoxes must be jiggled free! A political cartoon is generally more biting and illuminating than the editorial it accompanies, and here we have a cartoon gigantic in its ambitions - a political cartoon to accompany Marx, perhaps, or Lord Acton.

For this reason, I Am the President of Ice Cream should be savored like ice cream itself - not too quickly or your brain will freeze, but not too slowly or it will melt all over your hands, and when you rub them on the sides of your pants to clean them, you will curse your laziness.

Is ice cream to be trusted? What is power? Is power the pivot that the irrational use to gain control over the intelligent by tapping into fears that cannot be named? Is it a force from beyond that guides and shapes human destiny? Or is it obsession that people accept and abide, because it is easier than standing up and fighting?

There once was a time when I would have gladly become a powerful avatar of ice cream, and not considered the consequences. But now I am not so sure, and for that, I blame Sebesta. Maybe you will be seduced by his offer instead. You will at least fall in love with the possibilities that his comic offers.

Posted by miracle on Thu, 28 Feb 2008 21:59:46 -0500 -- permanent link

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