It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Mailbag Douchebag. (My faves are here, here and here.) My leaving for Afghanistan brought overwhelmingly positive e-mail and humbling financial support from readers. But the Douchebags came out of their holes to opine. One reader inquired as to my exact location so he could turn my coordinates over to the Taliban to murder me. A more forgiving critic, Thomas, simply wants me to find gainful employment:
Perhaps you should tryworking for the Taliban and creating some of their anti-Americanleaflets? This would be a good position for you since you obviouslythink that Afghan people and their culture is preferable to that ofthe United States. Go live amongst the Afghan people and spread the anti-Americanism there…
I looked into this while I was overseas. Given the high unemployment level in Afghanistan, however, the Taliban leafleting centers are unwilling to hire an illegal immigrant like myself despite my fluency in English, illustration skills and knowledge of Photoshop.
Speaking of Anti-Americanism, check out the Revolutionary Guard building in Tehran!
On Sunday The Oregonian ran an essay I wrote about my trip to Afghanistan along with a number of sketches and comics.
In August, I embarked on my first trip outside the United States, trading the calm of Portland for the chaos of Afghanistan, as election violence and deployed NATO troops reached their zenith. Along with Ted Rall and Steven Cloud, two fellow cartoonists, we traveled unembedded and without the support of any media organization (or security) to get an up-close look at Afghan life nine years after the U.S. invasion. I brought a lot of sketchbooks.
I’d been wanting to escape my drawing table — escape my comfort — and reduce the number of filters to zero between me and the country I’d been reading so much about. So I went. The trip was uncomfortable, disturbing, dirty, wonderful. The people were eager to talk and laugh and host. On the surface, smiles; underneath, life on a knife’s edge. They gracefully endure living conditions that would break most of us. I managed to learn a lot about Afghanistan and a few things about myself, but after a month you only realize how much more there is to see.
Read the rest at Oregonlive.com.
This week will be the last week of comics from Afghanistan. There will be a few syndicated strips along with some writing and sketchbook pages. Next Monday we jump back into American politics!
I’ve avoided doing a wrap-up post about the trip mainly because I’m focusing my thoughts into some comics that will be released online in early November. I’ve also written a short essay for The Oregonian that will appear this Sunday in the Op-Ed section.
There’s nothing like a visit to a third world war zone to bring into sharp focus the irrelevancy of the 24-hour news cycle to most of our lives. I knew it before. Now I’m practically in despair over it. After continually monitoring the daily news for years, I’m finding it hard to jump back in. I don’t care about Christine O’Donnell. She means nothing. And yet I know in another week I’ll be back to normal, penning the kinds of cartoons I was a month ago, my complaints about life limited to deadlines and some girl not texting me back as quickly as I would have preferred. Republicans will be busy destroying the country, Democrats will be letting them and someone will have said something stupid that everyone–including me!–will be talking about.
A man in Florida threatens to burn the Quran and he’s an outrageous oddball to draw cartoons about and watch John Stewart masterfully mock. Then, when you are in a country like Afghanistan while this is going on, you realize that this lunatic, along with the media that elevated him to a global sensation, are directly threatening your life.
The situation flamed up–oh, I can feel the editorial cartoonist in me coming back–just as we were trekking by land into the safe and welcoming arms of Iran before the riots started. A number of Afghans died, but a number of Afghans always die. They don’t get the box every day in the paper ticking away each loss.
The Iranians told us we were the first Americans to cross by land from Afghanistan since the revolution. They were nice enough considering we were three American journalists. They didn’t search or scan our bags. Not even a pat down. They said it would be rude. While boarding a train to Tehran we flashed our passports and were ushered through security, all of our bags unmolested. Of course, it’s all to put a nice face on their police state for foreigners, but hey, it sure was appreciated! I kept wondering if we’d treat an Iranian visitor the same.
And then you’re on a plane watching Up and wondering what the hell you were doing for a month.
So now I know what Afghanistan is like. It’s a real place with real people and you can get on a plane (or two or four) and go there. A few weeks ago I was in a war-torn country where people have next to nothing. Today I can walk to the store and choose from 47 kinds of toothbrushes. It’s completely insane the way we live, but come to think of it, the bristles on my toothbrush are all smushed down and I know my tooth brushing experience could be slightly better than it currently is. America is good at solving these kinds of problems. I think I’ll head to the store.
Here’s a little slice of life encounter from the streets of Kabul.
Here’s a picture Cloud took of Sheraz while I drew him.
Here’s the latest comic from my Afghanistan trip. Check back Friday for another one.
I’ve updated my archives up to this point. I did a little rearranging–all the syndicated cartoons that ran while I was overseas run first. The Afghanistan comics run after, so they can all be read in sequence. The first one is here. (Special thanks to Stephanie McMillan for coloring three of them.)
I’m going to write a little wrap-up to my trip soon, but I wanted to point out the great work my travel companions did as well as discuss flies.
Steven Cloud took some amazing photographs and compiled them into collections from each city we visited. I especially recommend the one from Chagcharan, the smallest town we stayed in. Not only does it show some of the sketchier accommodations we had during the trip–the airport, the bullet hole in our hotel room window, the toilet–but includes this picture of me pretending to be a badass on a motorcycle.
Like any third world country where sewage flows in the streets, flies are in abundance. In our Chaghcharan hotel room, the flies were so overwhelming all we could do was laugh and make up crazy stories about them. Afghan flies even seemed more aggressive, flying directly into our eyeballs and up our noses. So, under constant assault from flies, we did a jam comic.
I sent in some reruns to my syndicate before I left as back ups in case I had a problem filing from the ground in Afghanistan. Luckily that wasn’t the case. But since they are related to Afghanistan, I thought I’d post them here for people who have been following the trip but haven’t seen these before.
Just checking in to let you know that I still exist. Sketchbook pages will slow down as I turn my focus over to syndicated cartoons and some longer pieces in the next few weeks and months. The trip is nearing the end and it won’t be long until I’m back in Portland, where I’m actually looking forward to the rain (and beer).
Alison Hallett of the Portland Mercury has an interview with me.
Are you approaching this journalistically, or more like your editorial cartoons? (ie to what extent are you going for objectivity, insofar as that is possible?)
All I can do is present the situation as honestly as possible. I don’t imagine the cartoons that come from this will have the normal humorous tone of my editorial cartoons, but I’m also not pretending to be an objective journalist. I wouldn’t want that anyway. “Objective journalists” have been reporting from Afghanistan for nine years and they rarely venture out of Kabul or their embed program. Our main goal is to see how Afgans outside of these areas actually live.