I think the immediate and interesting question is whether or not this is genuine Tea Party merchandise. And while that question is interesting, a better one is what makes someone a genuine Tea Party member, and what makes something a genuine Tea Party product? If an entire organization is largely unhinged and unmanaged, what makes part of it a central authority, and what makes individuals outcasts of the larger philosophy. These are very necessary questions. No other counterculture is allowed a separation from individual members and a movement. For example, no one separated the actions of individual hippies from the larger movement in the 60s. From Joan Baez to the Weathermen, they were all hippies. Even Charles Manson was considered the hippie murderer in the press. No one separated individual punk zines from not speaking for punks in the 80s, etc.
Easily the highlight of the weekend comes from Talking Points Memo securing two denials (Ding! Ding!) from authentic Tea Party organizations. We're clearly never going to get any traction in the way of their endorsing hateful Tea Party literature, so taking the Bizarro-view we thank them for the acknowledgement, and knowing what acknowledgements mean in politics, we thank them for the validating denial.
But this is no place for derisive jokes at this most derisive group. (You can see an interview I did with a Tea Party member in Austin during a Palin event here. Scroll down to "The Tea Partier and the Drunk Girl".)
So - Jumping to the main item. After the first wave of interest in these comix, we received this email, sent at 5am last Thursday.
Subject: TEA PARTY COMIX
Thursday, July 29, 2010 5:23 AM
From: Tom Kalb
To: Ethan Persoff
I have taken all TEA PARTY COMIX OFF of Ebay. I hope you are happy and I hope the world is a little bit better better place in which to live now. ....I do not understand the connection with "big ears" and "racism", and I do not understand how a "dark face" implies racism...... The accusation of "Hate" is true, but it is the hate of an IDEOLGY, not a of race of people..... I understand that the ideology has captured 80 or 90% of the race(s) in question, but it is STILL a AN IDEOLOGY and NOT a "race" that this comic book attacks.... Cartoonists have historically drawn "the enemy" in a negative light... Please search cartoons of Reagan and Bush for instance ( and please see my caracature of Janet Napolatano in Tea Party Comix #2! )..... Think, and you will have to admit there was NO LIMIT placed upon these depictions.... But somehow, ANY negative drawing of Presient Obama is automatically "racist"... Be honest with yourself, if it is possible. ....Think. And maybe admit that you have an advantage that you are taking advantage OF..... In Tea Party Comix #1 there is a strip in which a person handing out Tea Party Comix #1 has an ALAN KEYES tee-shirt... Did you upload THAT strip?? Not that it would matter to people who think that RACE is more important than IDEOLOGY, but I would think that a fair-minded person might include that strip....
You can edit this and make me into any monster you like, that's up to you. We'll see what a moral person you are, and you can live with that. I'm sure you will be safer than I feel tonight, either way......
The undergrounds of the sixties WERE "allowed". Apparently "Tea Party Comix" are NOT allowed.... To any reasonable man, well, this miight give him something to think about, about how far we have "come"..... Is it truely a BETTER world?? You tell ME! - Tom Kalb
Here's a screenshot, which we've slightly redacted since images can go many places:
So there ... is that.
Rachel Maddow's excellent blog has posted their own correspondence with Tom Kalb - showing a remarkable similarity in tone and voice.
We were still on the fence about whether or not to publish the note, even this morning. Talking Points Memo post retains the initial format of the letter as we had it this morning, presented with name withheld.
Anyway, yes, the message above is from the same name stated in many online discussions. And refers to the same online marketplace as a source of distribution. For verification, this letter was sent to us from an identical email address used to first send us issues two and three, and that there are significant similarities in the handwriting on the seller's envelope to the lettering of the comics.
We also want to state a couple things. If these were published in a forum like National Lampoon in the 1970s we'd likely applaud it as daring and hilarious. And I know a lot of people who agree with me. So there is space in this discussion for appreciating Tea Party Comix, even if they're possibly the most racist looking things since, say, Clean Fun Starring Shoogafoot Jones:
The easiest comparison to Obama's depiction in these comics is in this 1940s "Race Laffer" distributed far into the South.
But if these are not satire, but rather jokes directed at an audience willing to laff it up as fuel, the implications sharply shift.
So responding to some points raised in the letter...
In Tea Party Comix #1 there is a strip in which a person handing out Tea Party Comix #1 has an ALAN KEYES tee-shirt... Did you upload THAT strip??
Ah, you do have a point. The artist is referring to the inside front cover of TP#1, which does contain an introduction. Here is that page. But we should point out "O-Bama Lord of the Jungle!" isn't the best counterpoint:
The copyright clearance is interesting and notable, however. Even if it's to bypass problems relating to use of trademarked names and characters. Click to enlarge. Keyes panel is bottom-pocket right of the left page.
( and please see my caracature of Janet Napolatano in Tea Party Comix #2!)
Yes, again. Though we joke that this is very similar to a fussy writer asking an editor why part of their piece got edited from what was published, we will deifinitely include it here:
As for the larger point, which closed this message:
The undergrounds of the sixties WERE "allowed". Apparently "Tea Party Comix" are NOT allowed.... To any reasonable man, well, this miight give him something to think about, about how far we have "come"..... Is it truely a BETTER world?? You tell ME!
Now, now, that's not true at all. The undergrounds of the sixties were not allowed. The larger culture considered them foul and disgusting -- and they had to create an entire secondary distribution method (head shops) to get them out to people. I say, very congenially, if you believe in your work - continue making it. But don't think for a second that other underground culture didn't take risks and face "NOT allowed" signs in getting produced. Nor should you whine about approval or disapproval. I mean, come on.
I should agree with you that "Cartoonists have historically drawn "the enemy" in a negative light... " Absolutely. And know I am most concerned about the comment "safer than I feel", and hope fellow Tea Party members are not abandoning you, or if you're enduring any weird harassment. Hopefully it's just anxiety. If you'd like to describe any situation you're currently enduring (phone calls, emails, etc) I will definitely post them here. But I should say you've been intentionally publishing and distributing these things for close to a year, now. (See our sales record below).
Notes of interest and clues for fun:
1) So really, who is this guy? GOLD MEDAL goes to a commenter on the site Little Green Footballs found that the artist of Tea Party Comix (the person we're redacting) actually signed his name on one of the pages posted. We didn't even see that, and we've had a few of these comix for close to six months. But here, in full disclosure is the panel: