I hate national tragedies.
Of course, yes, in the large sense, I hate them just like everyone does. I was obsessed and devastated by the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt.
And just starting to write this paragraph, the mental image of that Sandy Hook classroom flickered across my imagination, and made me physically cringe. As a dad, I can't even stand the thought for more than the split second before I banish it from my mind.
But I'm speaking professionally. I'm a cartoonist whose weekly comic strip ("Tom the Dancing Bug") often deals with topical issues. So while I join the nation in mourning, and feeling real, knee-buckling grief, I have the infuriating chore of thinking about how I'm going to deal with the issue in my humorous comic strip. I'm not in a comedy mood, and neither are you.
The week after the Newtown tragedy, I punted. My readers may have found it strange to see a Christmas Carol satire of the Supreme Court; I just couldn't stomach trying to grapple with the tragedy at that moment.
And in particular, I couldn't stomach trying to come up with yet another take on how our nation's insane gun laws have taken yet another monstrous toll on young lives. I'd done that after Columbine. And after Virginia Tech. And many, many other times.
And however clever, cute or scathing my little scribblings were, the realization that I'd have to keep coming up with fresh, new ones each time our nation's political system failed dozens of newly murdered innocents was too depressing to contemplate.
So this time, I decided to deal with the issue head on: For the first time in my career, not as a satirist, but as an advocate.
This issue feels different and more urgent to me, both in terms of the stakes, and the precarious policy balance that can be shifted with enough voices.
I joined a team at Mayors Against Illegal Guns's "Demand Action" campaign, to organize a video showcasing cartoonists standing up to fight gun violence.
When I contacted other cartoonists to try to enlist them to contribute illustrations for the video, I was shocked at how many were as eager as I was to shed, for this singular issue, our humorist/satirist/storyteller badges, and get involved in this politically charged issue.
The great children's book author Mo Willems responded to my invitation to participate simply with, "I'm in. Tell me what you want and when." He pointed me to a blog post he had just written:
"I realize I am in no way an expert on the debate over weapons in our society. I make simple books for children. As such, I try very hard not to discuss my political or social opinions.
"I hope you will excuse this singular exception, which I have granted myself because the people I write for, my audience, are being slaughtered with remarkably little effort because of the easy access that people have to very powerful weapons."
Roz Chast, one of the preeminent New Yorker cartoonists, wrote back to me that she lived not far from Newtown, and was deeply affected by the tragedy. She also simply wanted to know what she could do to help.
I was astounded as I asked for this favor from an stellar array of cartoonists -- Art Spiegelman, Garry Trudeau, etc. (a list of the participating cartoonists follows the article) -- and their response was to thank me for taking on the task, and for including them.
We were able to enlist the enthusiastic participation of Academy Award-winning producer/director Peggy Stern, animators from Buffalo Pictures, and the composer Ron Sadoff.
And talent was no less supportive when it came time to find the video's narrators. For what other issue could you hope to team up Philip Seymour Hoffman with "The Family Circus"? Or Julianne Moore with "Zits"?
I stood in amazement as Pulitzer Prize winners, best-selling authors, award-winning actors and filmmakers, all simply and gratefully said, "Yes!" when approached to help fight gun violence. Not humorously commenting, satirizing, or telling metaphorical stories -- actually advocating and demanding political action.
I think this is representative of a real change in the national mood. We're all tired of allowing one special interest group shove our country into an insane and unimaginatively destructive legislative position. We all see that so much good could be done by banding together to fight our way out of this.
It's this singular issue that has spurred this group of cartoonists and artists to stop merely hating these national tragedies, but to stand up from our drawing boards and say, "Enough."
The cartoonists who contributed to the Cartoonists Demand Action To End Gun Violence video are: