Suzie Q

Large grey cat with yellow eyes and a grumpy expression. Text reads: “Suzie Q”

Suzy Q is a character I drew for a role-playing game I was sketching out called Cats and Dogs Living Together. She is a sixteen-year-old Scottish Fold whose thick grey fur makes her look even larger than her twenty pounds. After years of indulgence by a previous owner, she has a constant hankering for table scraps. At her age, she can’t jump higher than a barstool anymore, but she can still get up to high speeds when excited. She is very clever, and very impatient with those who aren’t. She enjoys puzzles, mysteries, and not being pestered.

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Essay About “Dinosaur” by Camestros Felapton

This was really neat to read! I always love seeing how people engage so thoughtfully with my stories.

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Cartoon: The Existence of Trains Debate

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This one was a bit challenging to draw – I normally like having my characters move around a bit and “talk with their hands” and so on,  That really wasn’t a possibility here, so I had to rely on moving the “camera” around and facial expressions to keep things visually active.

I’m really happy with the “Crash” lettering – that was fun – except that I don’t like the way one leg of the “A” was drawn. I’m resisting the urge to go redraw that bit, because one great bit of advice for comics is “once a page is done don’t finish it.” But I might give in to the urge, if that “A” is still bugging me a few months from now.

Global warming is such a frustrating issue because we – liberals and conservatives – are tied together. And if you’re tied to someone who refuses to move, chances are, you’re not moving.

Republicans, by and large, are wedded to denying that human-caused climate change is happening at all. (This is very much President Trump’s opinion). This cartoon was me trying to get that “we’re tied together and that means even those of us who aren’t lost to all reason are screwed” feeling into a cartoon.

Transcript of Cartoon

This cartoon has nine panels, arranged in a three by three grid, with a small “kicker” panel under the bottom of the cartoon.

Panel 1

We see two people on the train tracks. They are not tied to the tracks, but they are tied together, so neither one could move without the other. One person has black hair in a pony tail; the other has wavy hair and is wearing capri pants. Ponytail has a panicked expression, while Capri looks wryly amused.

PONYTAIL: I can’t believe we’re tied together on the train tracks.

CAPRI: Are we sure these are train tracks?

Panel 2

Ponytail turns her head back towards Capri to urgently suggest a plan.

PONYTAIL: If we work together, we can crawl off before a train comes.

CAPRI: There’s no evidence any train is coming.

Panel 3

Ponytail shouts a bit, angry, and Capri laughs.

PONYTAIL: The train comes at this time every day!

CAPRI: HA! What’s happened in the past can’t predict the future.

Panel 4

Ponytail panics, yelling, and Capri responds with amused dismissal.

PONYTAIL: The tracks are shaking!

CAPRI: it’s natural shaking. Haven’t you heard of earthquakes.

Panel 5

Ponytail angrily yells, and Capri sneers. (It’s a mix of a grin and a sneer).

PONYTAIL: LISTEN TO ME! I’m a train engineer, and

CAPRI: Pfft! “Engineers” are just in it for the money.

Panel 6

A close up of their heads. Ponytail is terrified now, sweat droplets flying off her. Capri remains amused.

PONYTAIL: Let’s get off the tracks, just in case! HURRY!

CAPRI: Expend all that effort over what might be nothing?

Panel 7 

Ponytail yells, her eyes as big as dessert plates.


CAPRI: You’re being hysterical.

Panel 8

This panel contains only a sound effect, in big overlapping letters, with stars flying around: CRASH

Panel 9

The same two characters are hovering in the sky, in angel outfits, including wings and halos.  Capri is shrugging but still smiling; Ponytail is yelling angrily.

CAPRI ANGEL: Okay, maybe there was a train.


Small kicker panel under the bottom of the cartoon.

A bald guy talks to a fat guy with a ponytail and glasses (i.e., me, the cartoonist).

BALD GUY: Cute cartoon, but what if some readers don’t get that it’s a metaphor for global warming denial?

BARRY: I’ll find some subtle way to let them know!

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Environmental issues | 4 Comments  

A Haiku For Monday, August 19th

Dripping, drooping, weak.

The skin and the rain: both grey.

An unrestful sleep.

Posted in Poetry, Rachel Swirsky's poetry | Leave a comment  

Cartoon: Everything Is Problematic!

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Sometimes I like doing cartoons making fun of my “own side.”

Part of being a progressive these days, it seems, is realizing that every piece of art or entertainment we might enjoy or love is somehow problematic, or if not, could be revealed to be problematic at any moment.

And that’s how it goes. When it comes to older works, that’s how it should go. If we never look at old works and go “yipes,” that means no progress has been made. If we never look at things that artists and public figures once got away with – Roman Polaski comes right to mind – and say “that’s not acceptable,” that means no progress has been made.

But it’s still an odd-feeling situation. And, from a certain perspective, a funny one.


This cartoon has five panels, with the same two characters – a young woman wearing glasses and a pink scarf, and another young woman wearing a long yellow jacket. In the first two panels, the two are sitting around an apartment, on a couch.

Panel 1 

Scarf woman is reading a comic book, and speaks enthusiastically to Jacket woman, who looks unconvinced.

SCARF: Have you read this comic? It’s really awesome.

JACKET: I heard the creator was arrested for beating his girlfriend.

Panel 2 

Scarf tosses the comic over her shoulder. Jacket looks a bit angry as she talks, waving a hand in the air.

SCARF: Screw comics, then. We’ll just browse the internet.

JACKET: Yeah! We can google how the workers who make our devices are horribly abused.

Panel 3 

Scarf tries again, but Jacket rejects the idea again, standing up with her arms crossed, turning her back on Jacket.

SCARF: Let’s watch an old movie. Something made before the internet.

JACKET: Hitchcock, Kubrick, Bertolucci… Lots of directors abused their actresses back then. Just like today.

Panel 4

The two characters, after a quick back and forth, both yell to the sky (or ceiling) in abject frustration.

SCARF: Music?

JACKET: R. Kelly.

SCARF: Disney?

JACKET: Are you joking?


Panel 5 

The two characters are now out in a beautiful, sprawling park, with trees and rolling hills, sitting on a  hillside. Scarf is smiling and leaning back; Jacket has her arms crossed on her knees and still looks crabby.

SCARF: Isn’t it great out here, enjoying clean, unproblematic nature?

JACKET: Stolen land.

Posted in Cartooning & comics | 8 Comments  

Silly Interview with Naomi Rubin and her brigade of robot, synthetic, and AI characters

Happy woman raising her hand

Self-Portrait by Naomi Rubin

Rachel Swirsky: You lived in Japan for a while, doing things including translation and a television show. What’s the most glamorous story you have?

Naomi Rubin: I guess I tend to compartmentalize glamour as something other people seek and not something that I can experience for myself, but maybe I can reconsider what feels glamorous to me.

There are two experiences that come to mind: The first was when I joined in on a TV-shoot for the French channel “Canal Plus” with my friend and co-producer La Carmina shortly before we started working together formally. La Carmina was hosting a special with a French comedian named Antoine de Caunes that focused on a broad range of Japanese sub-cultures, and included a scene where De Caunes dressed up in a strange outfit for a colorful cyber-scene party in Tokyo. In the show, I was one of three “scene kids” who, along with La Carmina, cajoled De Caunes into becoming part of the party. Having a somewhat rote part of my life (dressing up and going to this party) now treated as urgent and specialized had a certain awe to it. I pushed my outfit further than I would usually, and inhabited a more specifically extroverted version of my personality.

The other time was at Dr. Sketchy’s in Tokyo (Dr. Sketchy’s is a life drawing event that exists in many major cities around the world). I was a translator and organizer for the event at the time, and always revered the art-models, who came primarily from Tokyo’s burlesque community, as paragons of personal style and body-positive showiness. At my last event before leaving Japan, the Sketchy’s crew asked if I would do a short modeling session, and I still feel empowered that I could even reach toward the type of self-assured presentation that the other performers had.

RS: You have an amazing sense of fashion that includes combining patterns and styles that aren’t often paired. How do you think about assembling outfits, and combining patterns?

NR: Why thank you! As a trans woman, I basically started over with all clothing in my mid-twenties. Shortly before this, I had studied abroad in Tokyo and spent a lot of my time with women classmates who were digging deep into Harajuku fashion brands, specifically gothic lolita – both the very cotton candy and brit-punk sides of that spectrum. I would like to say that I took this and combined it with an elegant, modern-utilitarian goth chic that I needed for more day-to-day work, but I’m still working on it. Even though I really love fashion, for me clothing still often feels like something I don’t have enough time for. I’m still working on letting myself take that time.

One thing that I still don’t know how to do is dress for my height. Tall femmes who like shopping – get at me.

RS: Your work combines text and art to create narratives. what about sequential art appeals to you more than working in one medium alone?

NR: I would say I’m a visual artist first, but I don’t think the stories I can tell with just images are enough for me. I want jokes, sweetness, and hurt that characters can convey with dialogue. I like languages and in a fantasy setting, the way characters talk is a big part of the environment for me. Even in compositions themselves, I like to think graphically about the interaction between text and visuals.

RS:You recently gave a lecture on robots and the ways they can be used to express trans narratives. I wrote a story like this in 2005 which I didn’t end up publishing. (At the time, someone noted my story could also be read as a metaphor for body dysmorphia, which I think has an insightful edge, since body dysmorphia is a part of the common trans experience that strongly resonates with my life.) I realize you can’t replicate your entire lecture here, but can you give us a tantalizing precis?

NR: Sure! Robot, synthetic, and AI characters basically give us the opportunity to reevaluate gender from scratch, and question how and why we use gender as we apply it to these characters and, increasingly, real-life inventions and intelligences. Can a robot choose their gender, or is it pre-programmed? How does finding gender work with a character that can completely reformat themself as many times, and as quickly, as they like? In a recent panel at Queers and Comics in New York, Eric Alexander Arroyo and Hunter M also brought up the idea of robot mechs/avatars that can also act as disempowering constraints on the users’ identity, depending on how they might be used in an authoritative setting.

These and many more topics are explored on my talk that you can watch on YouTube!

The most recent panel should be up in video form soon, too.

RS: Your parents are television writers. What would their proposal be for a tv sitcom based on your life? (Alternately or additionally, what’s yours?)

While my parents have done a few writing projects together, I think they would play to their strengths to come up with unique premises:


There is no doubt that my mom would do a wish-fulfillment story about being a grandma. However I would like to throw two wrenches in the air: I am already a grandma at heart, and my mom flourishes when writing in a very unfamiliar setting, so the pitch I am green-lighting is: Two (Or More?) Grandmas On a Spaceship.


If my dad had the right consultants on the team, I think he would write an excellent workplace comedy about a Japanese comic company trying to create the next big series, and failing spectacularly in most episodes. Each episode could have a humorous new title that the company is trying to get off the ground. I would be the beleaguered translator who is inexplicably doing like 3 other jobs, and is always told to “make it more funny!” instead of going for accuracy. My catch phrase would be “You’re reading it wrong!”

RS: You sometimes do comics on personal topics, and sometimes on fantastical ones. What do you get out of the different approaches? Are they the same, or different, or both?

NR: They are mostly the same. At first, I thought I was exploring fantasy because I was interested in myth and bending the boundaries of reality to create new types of stories, but I mostly just want to write about self-discovery, gender, and relationships. Rather, I use fantasy to create settings and magic that I either want to exist (or want to draw), but the themes are really similar.

RS: What projects are you working on?

Painted Comic Cover that reads “Moonsprout Station, Story 1 Only Echoes, Naomi Rubin”. There is a covered bus stop, with two people standing on a balcony in the distance.

Cover art for Moonsprout Station

NR: My ongoing queer fantasy series is Moonsprout Station! It’s free to read online, but on Patreon you get access to a weekly art blog with three or more drawings per week, the chance to get a portrait commission, and more!

In addition to some secret comic pitches that I can’t really talk about, I’m also working on a few digital art tools that will be announced more formally soon, and “Rise of the Eagle Princess!” an upcoming feminist JRPG (for PC/Mac and iPad) in the post apocalypse future Mongolian empire, for which I am a background artist and character designer.

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A Haiku For Wednesday, August 14th

The willow droops black
against a lavender sky,
a still precipice.

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Cartoon: CEOs, Except With Subtitles

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I hope you like this cartoon! Labor rights is an issue that too often drops out of view on the left, and that’s a shame. There’s been no greater boon to Republicans – and to corporate power in general – than how U.S. unions have become weaker over the decades.

Drawing this one, the challenge was definitely finding ways to make a person sitting at a desk talking and doing nothing else for six panels, visually interesting. I was trying for an effect of increasing fakeness as the cartoon went along. Begin with the character looking warmly at the viewer, then show him on a TV screen (one level of fakeness), then a TV in a room full of employees who are being forced to watch the video (two levels of fakeness), then a side shot showing that the CEO has very professional A/V equipment surrounding him (a third level), and finally back to the original shot for the ending.

Did it work? I guess that depends on the reader. But it’s interesting to me to try.

After I was finished drawing this cartoon, I realized the CEO looks like a caricature of “Principal Snyder” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, who was played by the wonderful character actor Armin Shimerman. But now that I’ve seen it, I can’t unsee it. (There’s a picture of Shimerman as Principal Snyder at the bottom of this post.)


This cartoon has six panels.


This panel contains nothing but the title of the cartoon, in large, friendly letters.



This panel shows a friendly-looking man, seated behind a desk, wearing a three-piece suit and talking directly to the viewer. He is the CEO. In this panel, and in all the following panels, the CEOs dialog is at the top of the panel in a comic book font, while there’s a subtitle “translating” what he’s saying in a more mechanical font at the bottom of the panel.

CEO: Greetings! As CEO, I want to talk to our entire company family about a serious issue: Unionization.

SUBTITLE: Listen up, serfs!


The panel shows a wall-mounted flatscreen TV; on the TV, the CEO, in the same shot as panel 1, is talking, his right hand on his chest over his heart.

CEO: I think of us as more a family than a business.

SUBTITLE: A family where papa gets paid 271 times as much.


A room is filled with people watching the CEO on a wall-mounted TV. The TV is flanked by a security guard on one side, and a manager-looking woman on the other, both watching the crowd in an unfriendly manner. On TV, the CEO has raised his hands and looks angry.

CEO: We don’t need union outsiders in our family!

SUBTITLE:  “Outsiders” like pro-union workers who have worked here for decades.


A shot of the CEO in his office. We’re now off a bit to one side, so we can see the camera the CEO is talking to, a boom microphone, and the corner of a big photography light aimed at the CEO. The CEO is raising an index finger and looking stern.

CEO: The consequences of unionization could be terrible for all our company’s workers.

SUBTITLE: We will be illegally firing union organizers.


The same shot as panel one, with the CEO looking straight at the viewer and smiling, his arms folded on the desk in front of him.

CEO: In closing, to the union, I say: You don’t scare me!

SUBTITLE: In all the universe, nothing frightens me more than unionization. I literally just peed my pants.

Posted in Cartooning & comics, Union Issues | 1 Comment  

Serpent of Smarm

simple watercolor image of a human head with four horns growing out of his temples, on top of a snakes body

Sometimes I draw a head and then I don’t want to draw a body so the neck becomes something else. A snake is often that something. 


This guy would totally try to sell you on an apple.

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A Haiku For Friday, August 9th

A startle of wet
briskly awakens my skin.
I am thinking flesh.

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