Monday, November 19, 2007
Thursday, November 8, 2007
One of the nicest suprises I discovered in Amsterdam recently is a daily Dutch cartoon strip called "Nicky Saxx", written by Willem Ritstier, and illustrated by Minck Oosterveer. This strip appears daily in De Telegraaf, Holland's largest newspaper, something like a cross between USA Today (splashy color covers, large sports/entertainment section with a lean toward the lurid) and the New York Times (world events/business news/editorials). I kept tearsheets of the Saxx strip for the days I was there, and regretted that I couldn't find it on weekends.
De Telegraaf runs their cartoon strips in a rather large format in the first folio-- about 7 inches wide, which is notably large by most American daily cartoon standards. Most of the Dutch dailies are woefully mediocre, featuring the usual laconic, big bagette-footed blobs with half-lidded eyes, all of them "C" level graduates of the lazy post-Garfield school of cartoon humor. Garfield itself can be found there too, as a matter of fact, like some undying dead horse of a joke. I have to admit, I'll never understand the ongoing European popular fascination with Garfield. If you ever do a book signing in Europe involving children, you'll invariably wind up drawing Garfield and/or the slobbering dog. Montezuma has his revenge, and I guess Jim Davis does too. He must be out on the course right now, swinging his nine irons, laughing and laughing.
Ritstier and Oosterveer's sexy, leggy adventurer Nicky Saxx stands out amongst her daily running mates, towers over them infact. While the others are looking into empty dog dishes and blandly warbling to other bagette-footed blobs, Nicky Saxx is dodging bullets, jumping between moving motorcycles, wrestling sharks, piloting yachts and sipping dry champagne. A true adventure strip in the Modesty Blaise/Cap'n Easy tradition, I can't believe I've never heard of her before. In Oosterveer's work, there is a sense of the characteristically tight inking we see in other Dutch cartoonists, such as Joost Swarte and Dick Mategna, yet the subtle abandon in Oosterveer's brush gives his drawings a slightly more international feel. His art is like a suprising blend of the Italian cartoonist Magnus (whom Americans will remember for the erotic strip Necron), and France's Jean-Claude Forrest (Barbarella). His panel compositions are excellent, the story is communicated briefly and with force. His work is brushy and a bit simple, perfectly suited for daily adventures.
Oosterveer writes of Nicky Saxx on his personal website:
"The Nicky Saxx strip has been running for some years now as a daily in Holland's largest-selling newspaper, "De Telegraaf". Nicky and her friend, Elsa Steiner, are globe-trotting adventurers with a taste for danger, hiring themselves out as troubleshooters and investigators of the paranormal via their organisation, Room 666, which is located in a disused lighthouse on the East Coast of America. Aided by computer expert and technical wizard, Ben Folds, the duo specialise in helping all those people the conventional law-enforcement bodies cannot assist."
I enthusiastically recommend Oosterveer's work to people interested in good European cartooning.
A religious fanatic goes overseas to fight for his God and then returns home to attempt a bloody act of terrorism. As Britons celebrate the capture of Guy Fawkes, a Catholic jihadist who attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605, they might reflect how dismally modern the Gunpowder Plot and Europe's wars of religion now seem in 2007.
Back in the 20th century, most Western politicans and intellectuals (and even some clerics) assumed religion was becoming marginal to public life; faith was largely treated as an irrelevance in foreign policy. Symptomatically, State Department diaries ignored Muslim holidays until the 1990s. In the 21st century, by contrast, religion is playing a central role. From Nigeria to Sri Lanka, from Chechnya to Bagdad, people are being slain in God's name; and money and volunteers are pouring into these religions. Once again, one of the world's great religions has a bloody divide (this time it is Sunnis and Shias, not Catholics and Protestants). And once again, zealotry seems all too relevant to foreign policy.
It does not stop there. Outside Western Europe, religion has forced itself dramatically into the public square. In 1960 John Kennedy pleaded with Americans to treat his Catholicism as irrelevant; now a born-again Christian sits in the White House and his most likely Democrat replacement wants voters to know she prays. An Islamist party rules once-secular Turkey; Hindu nationalists may return to power in India's next election; even more children in Israel and Palestine are attending religious schools that tell them that God granted them the whole Holy Land. On present trends, China, the world's largest Communist dictatorship, will also become the world's largest Christian country-- and perhaps the largest Muslim one too. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, not usually a reliable authority on current affairs, got it right in an open letter to George Bush: "Whether we like it or not," he wrote, "the world is gravitating toward faith in the Almightly."
How frightening is this prospect? The idea that religion has "re-emerged" in pubic life is to some extent an illusion. It never really went away-- certainly not to the extend that French politicans and American college professors imagined. Its new power is mostly the consequence of two changes. The first is the failure of secular creeds; religion's political comeback began in the 1970s, when faith in government everywhere was crumbling. Second, although some theocracies survive in the Islamic world, religion has returned to the stage as a much more democratic, individualistic affair; a bottom-up marketing success, suprisingly in tune with globalisation. Secularism was not as modern as many intellectuals hoped, but pluralism is. Free up religion and ardent believers and ardent atheists both do well.
From a classical liberal point of view, this multiplicity of sects is a good thing. Freedom of conscience is an axiom of liberal thought. If man is, after all, a theotropic beast, inclined to believe in a hereafter, it is surely better that he choses his own faith, rather than follow one his government orders. But this also makes religion a politically difficult force to deal with. In domestic policy, adults who choose to become Pentecostals, Orthodox Jews or Muslim fundamentalists are far less likely to forget those beliefs when it comes to the ballot box. The "culture wars" that America has grown used to may become a global phenomenon. We can expect fierce battles over science, in particular.
Abroad, yes, there is a chance of a full-blown war of religion between states. A conflagration between Iran and Israel would, alas, be seen as a faith-based conflict by millions; so would a war between India and Pakistan. But compared with Guy Fawkes's time, when wars sprang from monarchs throwing their military might at other monarchs of different faiths, religious conflict today is the result as much of popular will as of state sponsorship: it is bottom-up, driven by volunteers not conscripts, their activities blessed by rogue preachers not popes, their fury mostly directed at apostates, not competing civilisations. Ironically, America, the model for much choice-based religion, has often seemed stuck in the secular era, declaring war on state-sponsored terror, only to discover the main weapon of militant Islamism is often the ballot box.
-From "The New Wars Of Religion," lead story in the Nov. 3rd edition of The Economist.