Every week around the nation Tom Tomorrow evokes laughter in those who are confounded and depressed about the trajectory of our nation. His new collection of comics in Hell in a Handbasket: Dispatches from the Country Formerly Known as America is simply that: a chronological collection of his comic This Modern World. Hell in a Handbasket can provide coffee table funnies for your guests but if read from cover to cover, it can prove both wearing and revealing at once.
If you've made it this far into Boise Weekly, there isn't much point in describing to you the style of Tomorrow's comics. You probably noticed this week's installment in the paper on your way here. The full color of Hell in a Handbasket, however, is worth noting. The vivid pastel colors combine with a slight narrative effect of a comics-made-into-a-book full of individual strips to turn the cast of characters into, well ... real characters. Instead of uncanny resemblances to Bush and company, right-wing pundits, and bearded liberal men, Tomorrow's comics contain characters unto themselves. His Bush becomes a living mockery of the man, though complete with his own quirks that echo the real Bush.
In fact, we witness five distinct sets of characters develop throughout this book. The Republican leaders tug on reality as if it's a rope, pulling it to the right for their own gain by instilling fear in their constituents. Their tug pulls blinders over the eyes of the Republican masses, cartoonish exaggerations of their real-world counterparts. The masses froth at the mouth and buy into every ounce of hysteria that the administration feeds them.
The Democratic leaders are engaged in a tug-of-war with the Republican leaders. They have obviously been defeated and have been dragged along on the rope into the territory of submission and cowardice. On the other hand, the Democratic masses are severely pissed off. They are ignored by pre-occupied leaders and when they approach the masses they are brushed off as America-haters as they stammer for words. The media plays a dysfunctional mediator through all of this. Though enthusiastic talking heads are mere cheer-leaders here for the administration, the Republican masses constantly rant about the media's supposed "liberal" bias.
This picture that Tomorrow paints for us is at least a few steps back from reality. Tomorrow's world is one in which a parallel America elects a "small, cute dog" as president, conservatives rally to attack the moon, and Bush uses a Ouija board for intelligence on Iraq. Despite this blatant embellishment of reality, Tomorrow's comics manage to maintain a poignancy that matters in the real world. Bush holds a director's megaphone in one strip that casts Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein as friends in a fake movie called Lethal Buddies. Despite its outlandishness, such commentary draws it's humor from disturbing trends ever evident in the Bush administration.
At it's core, Hell in a Handbasket is stuck in the "preaching to the choir" category. Like Ann Coulter (who, according to the back cover, found "nothing remotely funny" about the book), most conservative folk will turn their noses up in the presence of Tomorrow's sharp humor. Hell in a Handbasket is only for the bookshelves of devout liberals.