One of the comics I regularly read these days is Chris Harding's We The Robots. I generally find his work enjoyable, as he often provides absurdly cynical social commentary in an intelligently simple, metaphoric manner. But his last comic from Tuesday has been bothering me, and I'm writing about it here in the hopes to provide a sort of catharsis for me.
First, here's the comic in question...
In terms of the style and type of humor, it's about on par with his other comics. I'm not overly prone to bodily function gags, as a rule, but the vomiting here doesn't bother me. It's a route to his point, not the joke in and of itself.
I'm actually bothered by the set-up in the first two panels. It makes perfect sense for the message of the strip and works well from a critical perspective. But it also shoots right to the darkest depths of my subconscious, and grabs hold of one of my life-motivating fears: willfully losing my self-control.
(This is where I get into all sorts of fun personal insights about me, and starts shying away from actual comics discussion. You've been warned.)
I firmly believe in free will. I believe that I, and I alone, choose what decisions I make and what actions I take. I, and I alone, am wholly responsible for my actions at all times and under all circumstances. I made a conscious and deliberate decision when I was still in my teens that I would not partake in alcohol precisely because I do not want to lose any of my cognitive judgment capabilities in any capacity for any period of time. In fact, I'm such a strong believer in free will that I can't logically reconcile that belief at all with any sort of divine entity. And that means that a lot that goes on in this world is entirely out of anyone's control, and all I can do is act/react the best that I can to whatever situations get thrown at me. Which reinforces a need for me to be in control of what I do actually have control over: myself.
Let me make a distinction here. I'm not a control-freak and feel the need to direct everything that my life touches. The only control that I'm concerned about is what I say or do. There will always be parts of my life that I will never have full control over. My employer, through no fault of my own, could go belly up. Some idiot could get drunk and plow his car into my living room. A cougar could get loose from the local zoo and kill my dog while he's in the back yard. Those are the types of things that Life throws at people from time to time, and I can't really do anything about that but try to continue on with my life.
But that notion of losing self-control scares the crap out of me. Of being unable to stop myself from doing something that I recognize I shouldn't be doing. Of being unable to take responsibility for my own actions. I find that prospect absolutely terrifying at very primal level.
And that's what those first two panels of We The Robots speaks to. He clearly recognizes that he's full and should stop eating, but doesn't have the willpower to be able to. He's succumbing to his gluttony over his rational thought. He's checked his responsibility at the door, and has willingly given up his self-control.
That control, in my mind, is all we really have in life. Without it, we're nothing more than zombies. Whether it's the way he actually intended it or not, it's how I interpret Jack Kirby's Anti-Life Equation. Going through the motions of living without actually doing so.
I fully realize -- and accept -- that it is a deep fear of mine. And fear, by it's very nature, is very irrational. But I know that and take the fear with me as a subconscious motivator. I try to use it to my advantage, by working harder to continually improve myself and have more control over my words and actions. For example, it's actually made me, I think, a much better writer than I might otherwise be because I'm more conscious of what I write, of which words I choose, of how I portray myself linguistically. I'm a better writer because I've trained myself to be in command of the English language. I'm a better drummer than I might otherwise be because I'm very conscious of what my limbs are doing while I'm playing, of what sounds and rhythms I'm trying to produce and how best to produce them. So, despite this irrational fear, I don't let it's inherent irrationality hamper my rational decision-making abilities.
Now, did Harding intend for his comic to be an emotional dredger, giving his readers an opportunity for root-level self-reflection? I'm pretty sure he didn't. And I'm pretty sure most people didn't have quite the same deeply seated, almost pathological reaction to it.
But, when confronted with any piece of art that elicits such a visceral reaction, I think it's important to really examine the piece of art, as well as yourself, to understand why you reacted the way you did. I've done plenty of naval-gazing in the past, so it didn't take me long to understand what was going on when I read Harding's strip the other day, but the emotions it touches on are so much a part of who I am that I felt the need to address it more directly and openly than usual here.
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