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Don’t Be That Guy: Political Campaign Edition

One of the major hazards of politics is that the closer we get to Election Day, the more politicians seek to boil down their platforms down into memorable sound bites, and in the process, they can get downright insulting. That’s the case with a mailer sent out by Maryland State Senator Nancy King, which depicts three kids reading comic books as the terrifying consequence of a failed education system:

This ad was brought to my attention by comic writer/artist Dean Trippe, who posted a well-reasoned open letter in response:

Attacks on my industry have always come from those who haven’t picked up a comic, and the policies that have damaged our educational system always come from those who haven’t set foot in a classroom in decades. So let me recommend to you the anthology Reading with Pictures, part of a non-profit effort to offer students and teachers comics specifically suited to lesson plans on variety of subjects. Comics combine art and literature to create an incredible new art form. And in fact, telling stories in pictures predates the written word and is used in safety instruction labels precisely because of its ability to simply convey ideas and actions. Your offensive mailer is just another wrong-headed generalization, attacking a genre that gives children heroes that don’t kill (like Superman, seen in the image you used, likely without the rights to do so) and fight against intolerance (like the X-Men, also featured in your mailer, presumably without permission), as well as a medium that anyone, including children, can tell stories in with tools as simple as a pencil and paper.

Like Trippe, I’m pretty sure I’d agree with Senator King on a lot of issues, including support for teachers. After all, my mother’s been teaching English for over thirty years — during which, by the way, she’s used everything from “Maus” to “Spider-Man” in the classroom in order to help foster a love of reading in her students. And that’s what’s so frustrating about this ad. That’s not a picture of kids languishing from a lack of education; that is literally a picture of children reading. And yet, Senator King’s mailer chooses to overshadow that fact because they’re reading comic books.

Well, except the poor kid on the right who got stuck with “Marvel Previews.” He only got the solicitations.

The message King’s sending to her constituents — and to me, Dean Trippe and our entire industry — is that comics are a terrifying consequence, that reading them is the equivalent of not having teachers. That they are, in fact, the opposite of education. It’s a “This could happen… TO YOU!” scare tactic that, again, literally uses children reading as the consequence that we have to elect her to avoid, and that just blows my mind.

What’s the worst that could happen from kids reading comics? Watch out, they might learn to enjoy reading! Be careful, they could learn new words like “sepulchre” or “fission,” two that I picked up as a kid reading Batman stories. They might even learn to use their imaginations to create stories of their own, and then what a world we’d be living in.

But I’m sure that none of those things ever crossed Senator King’s mind, because when she thought “comic books,” she didn’t think about storytelling or art or imagination. She, like far too many people, just saw the “low art” of the gutter and decided that it couldn’t possibly be worthwhile in any way, shape, or form. Well, either that or she just doesn’t like “Grounded” and that vampire story running in “X-Men,” and I’ve got to admit that I can sympathize there.

Either way, it sends a message that’s both ludicrous and insulting, and it does less to lump her in with people who genuinely care about education than to liken her to the people who railed against that lewd, lascivious rock ‘n’ roll music all the kids are listening to these days.

Come on, Senator King. Don’t be that guy.

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