A call to arms

Andy Singer’s cartoons provoke thought and challenge assumptions.

Tom Horgen

Right now, Disney is paying some kid in Haiti two bucks a day to sew Mickey Mouse T-shirts so another kid in suburbia can remember his vacation.

At the same time, other corporate leviathans are spreading their tentacles across the globe, cultivating new consumers and suffocating the cultural specificities of the nations they assimilate.

Sounds like suitable fodder for the funny pages, right? Local cartoonist Andy Singer thinks so. His comics, most notably “No Exit,” a single-panel cartoon that appears in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and about 20 alternative weeklies around the nation, regularly engage political issues such as globalization.

Singer’s most reprinted cartoon depicts Mickey Mouse and the Disney fleet invading a foreign country D-Day style. They’re rounding up the locals as battleships fire Coke cans onto the beach while a group of Goofy soldiers raise a Microsoft flag like they just took Iwo Jima.

Singer said his cartoon represents Disney’s push into new markets. Though a more biting analysis might be “cultural imperialism.”

Either way, this image is a perfect introduction to Singer’s art. He’s always funny, sometimes political and when you get down to it, his work is a powerful example of how profound the funnies can be. For him, comics are a perfect tool for getting a point across.

“The combination of words and images is kind of a philosophical shorthand,” Singer said. “I can say or articulate a complex idea in a single panel that would take me 400 or 500 words to write down.”

In a recent “No Exit” cartoon, a boy playing with toy soldiers and tanks asks his apprehensive playmate: “Wanna play ‘God?’ ” The point is crystal clear.

Singer started “No Exit” more than a decade ago at the Daily Californian, the University of California-Berkeley’s college paper (he attended Cornell University in Ithaca, New York). Since then, he’s managed to push his comic into a steady number of newspapers and weeklies. And while Singer isn’t struggling, he’s isn’t laughing all the way to the bank either. “No Exit” has yet to be picked up by any of the major syndicates that distribute cartoons to newspapers nationally.

“The impediments for getting into the market are pretty huge,” he said. “It’s hard to get into a paper, if you’re not represented by a syndicate. So pretty much all that’s left is the alternative weeklies.”

While “No Exit” is his bread and butter, Singer has published two other projects. His self-published “Funk” is a two-issue comic book collecting his multi-panel strips (most notably, the hilarious “Comics for Vegetables,” which stars two plants sitting on a windowsill discussing, in the subtlest way possible, issues such as abortion).

And in 2001, he made “CARtoons,” a 100-page book of cartoons and essays that present his case against cars.

“I’m into alternative transportation issues,” he said. “I don’t own a car.”

True enough, Singer rode off to his honeymoon on a bicycle.

While politics are always on his mind, the cartoonist insists his primary cartoon, “No Exit,” is only political half the time. But it’s apparent that his passions for environmental issues, U.S. politics and the well-being of everyone in general, do bring out the best in his work. There are some issues, though, he’s eased up on. He was recently dropped by three papers for an inflammatory cartoon that critiqued Israel’s controversial security wall.

Singer wants to stay a well-rounded cartoonist so that he doesn’t fall prey to our culture’s obsession with categorizing. For him, the doldrums of

being a niche cartoonist are analogous to a one-note musician.

“If you only write songs about politics, then you stop looking at the trees and the birds,” he said. “Or vice versa, if you become pigeonholed as a love-song writer, then you can’t be a political person.”

True indeed. But it sure would be exciting to open the funny pages and see more comics such as “No Exit” and the equally subversive “The Boondocks,” rather than vapid relics such as “The Family Circus” and “Garfield.”