In This Edition
Interview with cartoonist Mikhaela Reid
In Other News
Continuing to bring you the under-covered stories of the day, The NewStandard published 19 original stories this week â€“ and not one mentioned a certain incident involving a certain vice president and some unwitting birds.
Collective member Catherine Komp closed out the week exploring the world of community-owned energy companies and other alternatives, looking into just how their rates stay so significantly lower than those offered by their for-profit counterparts.
Meanwhile, Bush administration efforts to trim costs at the EPA are putting the Agencyâ€™s network libraries, used widely by government and public researchers, at risk. And, with public comments closed on proposed changes to the reporting requirements for the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), which catalogs the amount and type of industrial pollutants dumped into the environment each year, an environmental groupâ€™s research found that the TRI already ignores at least ten toxins.
At the national and state levels, important healthcare issues came to light this week. On Tuesday, contributor Erin Cassin told of pharmaceutical companies profiting off of senior citizens getting shafted under the Medicare prescription-drug plan. A related report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that the White House budget would shift even more of the Medicaid burden onto states.
It was another week of victories and setbacks in the fights for reproductive choice and queer peopleâ€™s equality. In an effort to force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade, South Dakotaâ€™s House of Representatives approved a bill that would ban abortion outright. Neighboring Nebraska hosted a challenge to its recently approved restrictions on gay coupling, and halfway across the country, the Massachusetts Pharmacy Boardâ€™s decision to require Wal-Mart to stock emergency contraception spurred-on a national push for the company to do so in all 50 states.
We also reported on several tales of propaganda, ethics and other questionable acts by our national leaders throughout the week. On Monday, we to a critical look at congressional efforts on ethics reform. Wednesday we highlighted the administrationâ€™s head-turning expenditures on propaganda and the mixed results of a federal investigation into an Energy Department whistleblowerâ€™s case. And Thursday brought news that the Justice Department indicated it may begin to release information relating to its deliberations on the NSA domestic-spying program.
We also showed you two different ways the government and corporate media continue to whitewash the horrors of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. First we revealed how new photographic evidence of abuse at Abu Ghraib publicized this week slipped under our national radar until an Australian network scooped reluctant American outlets. Meanwhile, anti-war groups decried what they saw as a perverse irony behind a State Department decision to bar two Iraqi women from entering the United States after American forces killed their families.
Continuing our regular coverage of the welfare of the nationâ€™s workforce, we brought you news about Californiaâ€™s official workplace safety watchdog aiding and abetting the underreporting of worker injuries and Washington Stateâ€™s possible â€œfair share health careâ€� legislation. The week also witnessed the birth of a grassroots Gulf Coast reconstruction contract watchdog group. In addition, we reported on a study showing that the nationâ€™s much-denigrated day laborers are among the most at-risk for workplace injuries and other abuses.
Rounding out our news articles this week was a union call for changes to Michiganâ€™s convicted sex-offender list after several teachersâ€™ names popped up erroneously on the list, leaving them with the possibility of losing their livelihoods.
And remember thereâ€™s more to TNS than just hard news. Check out our cartoons (which didnâ€™t shy away from the Cheney shooting affair), take our poll, and on our staff blog, see Brian Dominickâ€™s assessment of how the Washington press gaggle finally (sort of) got around to noting the blame owned by Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff over the disastrous federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
Mikhaela Reid: From high-school rabble-rouser to comic agitator
As one of the many improvements weâ€™re making to The NewStandard, we are enhancing TNS Weekend with various types of exclusive features, such as like media analysis, interviews with contributors, and other content especially for our Premium Members, Mixing it up from week to week. In this edition, weâ€™re pleased to present an exclusive interview with cartoonist Mikhaela Reid on her art, her inspiration and even her hate-mail. Collective member Catherine Komp conducted the interview. We hope you enjoy this behind-the-strip look at the woman whose witty, provocative comics have brought color and insight to the new TNS.
TNS: When did you do your first political cartoon and what was the subject matter?
Mikhaela Reid: I drew my first political for my high school newspaper because as a punk-rock girl, I was disgusted by the school dress code. I went to a large urban public high school and we had this bizarre, vague dress code warning that clothes couldnâ€™t be "too tight," "too short" or "too baggy." It was usually enforced against boys wearing baggy hip-hop clothes and girls wearing tank tops â€“ no one ever sent me home for my torn-up Dead Kennedys shirts.
Back in the â€™60s, my motherâ€™s high school principal made all the girls kneel on their way into school to be sure their skirt hems touched the ground. So I thought, "Hell, here we are in the 1990s, and we're still behaving like finger-wagging Puritans â€“ weâ€™ve come a long way!"
But my first really good cartoon was about gay rights. I was president of my high school Gay/Straight Alliance and we were getting a lot of harassment â€“ kids defaced our posters; hell, an elderly school committee member even tried to tear down our rainbow flag (he called it a "fag flag"). So I drew a long cartoon editorial in response about high school homophobia and got a ton of great responses. Even people who disagreed with the cartoon thought it was awesome that I drew it. I was hooked.
TNS: You studied anthropology and photography during college. How did these areas help shape your cartooning style and approach?
MR: Photography teaches you how to see things intensely, how to frame, how to look. A cartoonist has to think like a camerawoman: "Should I use a close-up or a wide-angle shot?" "What details do I need to include to tell the story?"
The difference, of course, is that cartooning gives you more options: you only draw the details you need or want, and you can exaggerate as much as you want; you can draw realistically or use a simplified style. And you can just make stuff up. Youâ€™re a casting director and a scriptwriter and a camerawoman rolled into one.
The guiding principle of good social and cultural anthropology â€“ and good cartooning â€“ is "make the strange normal and the normal strange." In other words, the cultural practices and behaviors that seem strange or "exotic" to outsiders make perfect sense to insiders, and are worth trying to understand from their point of view. And that maybe the things we take for granted as normal and everyday are pretty damn weird.
TNS: Your artistic style is really eye-catching; itâ€™s bold, colorful, and often seems inspired by retro magazine advertisements. Could you share your design influences and how you solidified this unique look to your cartoons?
MR: I've spent more time studying graphic design than I have cartooning. My shelves are overflowing with books on poster design, retro fashions, typography and lettering, and vintage fabrics and patterns. I just love that stuff. In fact, I dress in the same colors I color my cartoons with: bright orange, teal, chartreuse, you name it. I am one of those New Yorkers you will never catch wearing all black. I'm a loud, aggressive person and my cartoon style reflects that.
TNS: Whatâ€™s difficult or challenging about political cartooning?
MR: As a weekly cartoonist, my biggest problem is not having enough time or space to attack all the issues that are pissing me off. Every week I'm like, "Goddamn: the world is overheating, thereâ€™s war in Iraq, President Bush said something stupid, the US just bombed some innocent civilians, people are dying in Darfur, gay rights are under attack, right-wing zealots are trying to overturn Roe, women are getting their toes cut off to fit into pointy-toed shoes, ackk!" Fifty-two cartoons a year just arenâ€™t enough.
And then once I do have an idea, thereâ€™s a million possible ways to draw it, and I always worry, "What if I picked the wrong one?" But you just have to let it go, or you'll never make deadline.
TNS: Living in New York, amongst countless types of people, personalities, and political persuasions, do you find yourself eavesdropping to get ideas for your cartoons?
MR: I always find myself scrambling for a piece of tissue or bubblegum wrapper and a pencil to scrawl ideas down on. Although in retrospect those scraps of conversation often make no sense the next day. And I read overheardinnewyork.com compulsively.
But thatâ€™s less for political cartoons, and more for my dream of eventually drawing (in addition), a politically charged comic strip about a group of twenty- and thirty-something characters living in Brooklyn.
TNS: Youâ€™ve received much praise for your work, including "one of Americaâ€™s sharpest political cartoonists" and "way too good to be so young." And your work has appeared in both mainstream and independent publications. Do you think your cartoons are beginning to resonate with a broad range of people?
I can only hope. But compared to the big shots, my cartoons are seen by relatively few readers. I spend so much time drawing and thinking that I neglect PR and business stuff.
TNS: Being a political cartoonist, you probably get a fair share of "hate mail." Could you share any favorite excerpts?
MR: Sure thing. Hereâ€™s my favorite, it came with the subject line "u suck":
your dry, unwitty, tired, boring stabs at people suck, u suck, youâ€™re a complete failure. Your worthless being should be anihilated [sic]. May u rot in hatred hell forever....
Aw, I love you too.
TNS: If you had the chance to be in every major US daily paper for one day, what topic or issue would you address?
Transgender rights, and discrimination and hate crimes against transgendered people. Itâ€™s something 99 percent of the people in this country just seem totally ignorant of, and I don't know a single mainstream editorial cartoonist whoâ€™s ever drawn a damn thing on this subject.
FOR AN ADDITIONAL EXCHANGE with Mikhaela about the ongoing Mohammad cartoon controversy and protests, see the TNS staff weblog.
Have an idea for a new feature youâ€™d like to see in TNS Weekend? Reply to this email and let us know!
In Other News...
If youâ€™ve ever wondered where our Homeland Security budget goes, journalist Saadia Iqbal will be investigating the billion-dollar immigrant detention industry and the key players who stand to gain from the escalating crackdown on the foreign-born.
Correspondent Kari Lyderson is reporting from on-the-ground in New Orleans, to catch a side of the troubled city that is steadily being eclipsed by the approaching Mardi Gras revelry.
Andrew Steltzer will also be in the trenches covering Hurricane Katrinaâ€™s aftermath, peering into how the official "recovery" effort in Biloxi, Mississippi has forsaken a vital community center and the residents who depend on it.
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