Whoever Knows Fear Burns at the Corndog’s Touch!!; or, Confessions of a Comic Book Vegetarian.

faked by Tuesday, January 10th, 2006


New Year’s 2006 marks the tenth anniversary of when I became a vegetarian. I’m not sure what I told people at the time why I did it. But I’ll tell you the truth now: it was because of comic books.

My mom bought me my first comic, Star Wars #71, at Forestdale Pharmacy, in 1983. I was eight years old. There was a teaser on the cover that Luke and Lando had found the block of carbonite in which Han Solo was frozen.

That they had found Han wasn’t just important to me as an eight year old: it consumed my life. My absolute first memories are of Star Wars, and the toys were my favorite. I knew in my heart that the fevered years after Empire were spent by Han’s friends searching for him. My cousin and I eagerly discussed what was then called Revenge of the Jedi (later dropped because true Jedi don’t seek revenge) and we knew that they just had to find Han.

The best thing was, in the comics, you got to read about all the cool stuff they were up to in between the movies. Even though at the end of issue 71 they find out that it’s not Han, it’s an old pal named Chido (from Greedo’s race), I was hooked. I still am.

(As an aside, I saw Return of the Jedi 4 ½ times at the movie theater. The precious “half” is because the electricity got knocked out at the Century Plaza movie theater we were out, right when the speeder bike scene started on Endor. We got rainchecks).

But what excited an 8 year-old Gorjus is scarcely noticed by the surfer-mulleted 14-year-old secretly-Metallica-obssessed Gorjus. Sometime when Pinky was ice skating I wandered into the Homewood Toy & Hobby Shoppe, which kept consecutive issues on the shelf, in a manner none of my normal haunts (Forestdale Pharmacy, Brooklere Pharmacy, and the A & P) did. If you had the cash, you could get a story arc that spanned several months all at one pop.

That’s where I first picked up a comic by Grant Morrison. I’d toyed with DC Comics’ Doom Patrol years earlier; I liked the they’re-all-dead-mythology of the first team, and John Byrne had done their Secret Origins issue, and he was, by far, my favorite artist growing up. Super-realistic Steve Lightle had started out on the series, but been replaced by the McFarlane-as-cartoon Erik Larsen (whom I hated), and I dropped it. I saved my cash for Avengers and X-Men and back issues of Legion of Super-Heroes.

The new issues of Doom Patrol were drawn by some guy named Richard Case, and they were somewhat crude, but . . . the story just flowed, and the art fit the realistic-yet-bizarre world the characters lived in. The best member of the new team was named Crazy Jane. She had multiple personalities, with a different power for each one. But she was oddly scary, which was off-base for all superheroes (Claremont’s Wolverine exudes a particularly cuddly form of psychopathy unique to him). I wasn’t sure I even liked Crazy Jane.

I’d later realize Grant peppered the series with references to the great music of his youth: Jane’s personality Driver 8 was named for the R.E.M. song; the early (and creepy) enemy of the Doom Patrol , the Butterfly Collector, named for a song by the Jam. While the X-Men fought the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, the Doom Patrol fought the Brotherhood of Dada. The stories became more and more bizarre, most likely culminating in the legendary, possibly homosexual kiss between Monsieur Mallah, the Communist ape with a genius intellect, and his creator, the bodiless Brain. That I cheered when it happened tells you how far round the bend I’d been corrupted/enlightened by the series.

The Doom Patrol made me weird, but it was Grant’s run on DC’s Animal Man that changed my life. Buddy Baker was a sixth-rate Aryan comic stereotype—a husky white blonde male with a crewcut who had animal powers. Ho-hum.

Yet under Grant’s mythic eye, he became . . . a normal, dorky guy, who was out of work, who wasn’t very good at being a superhero, but who loved his two kids. He drank beer with his friends, and his wife was an illustrator who saved his ass once by kicking a bad guy in the balls. Seriously.

Late in the series, a shadowy Cheneyesque government has his beloved family killed. Other superheroes gnash their teeth and swear vengeance under these circumstances: young Bruce Wayne took a blood oath on the grave of his murdered parents to destroy crime; the pre-Crisis Superman takes a similar oath to protect humanity when his human parents pass away.

Grant’s Buddy Baker was simply brokenhearted. A few days after their funeral he downed a bottle of sleeping pills and killed himself. The cover featured him in the fetal position on the floor, curled by the toilet, with a shattered photograph of his family nearby.

Yeah. “Comics aren’t just for kids,” indeed. But long before that macabre scene, Buddy Baker went on a “super-hero” mission where he encounters some grossly-mutated animals, tested upon by scientists. When Buddy heads home, he shocked the hell out his wife (and me):




Pencils by Chas Truog; inks by Doug Hazlewood; letters by John Costanza; colors by Tatjana Wood.

Then, in the next issue he met up with his best pal:



I had never contemplated that issue before. Rarely did the series address the topic so overtly. Mostly the discussion took place in the letters page, with literate and passionate fans on either side of the issue (and some in the middle) analyzing the pros and cons of vegetarianism and, often, the morality of radical movements that actually attacked testing labs and vivisectionists to free animals. It was like a philosophy class and a bang-up adventure (and later on, meta-adventure), all for a couple of bucks. (I heartily suggest buying the individual issues, if you can track them down, instead of the trades, as this dialogue, and Grant’s occasional participation, is wonderful outside of the work itself).

I didn’t give up meat immediately after reading Animal Man. It took years more, and the decision was made more quietly than anything else I’ve ever done. When I gave up the DGC (dead God’s children), it was once and for all, with no regrets.

I rarely, if ever, discuss the underpinnings of my vegetarianism. I still can’t tell you how I feel about animal testing, or where I stand on the issues of sentience or species equality; I just don’t know, and after years of contemplation I’m no further down one path then another. And my favorite jacket is still the leather one my parents gave me when I turned nineteen. Perhaps naïvely, I still have that gut feeling Buddy has: “these are dead animals.”

Hell, I don’t know where this is going. I felt like there were a lot of things I wanted to tell you, but that’s probably just the wine talking, or “Beat Surrender” in the background keeping my adrenaline up. Like at the very end of Grant’s run, I feel sometimes like the real world is in black and white, and our fiction, our myths, are in color. The way we feel, the way we want to be, is more real then what we are.

What that has to do with talking robots who poke me with corn-dogs, causing me to burst into flames, I don’t know.

Dear Grant,

Thanks.

xo,
gorjus

For more information on the later stories in Animal Man where Buddy becomes aware of his status as a fictional character, and for specific information on which issues Grant wrote (which are available in two trade paperbacks), visit SeqArt.
For more information on vegetarianism and veganism, visit PETA’s “Go Veg.”

14 Responses to “Whoever Knows Fear Burns at the Corndog’s Touch!!; or, Confessions of a Comic Book Vegetarian.”

  1. This is an abso-damn-lutely lovely tribute to the power and possibilities of comics, to the tremendously under-recognized power a comic can have to shape a reader’s worldview. I can’t point to so specific an issue, but I know that the seeds of my eventual liberalism were sown in the old Zeck/DeMatteis Captain Americas of the early 80s—the place I got my first meaningful glimpse of debates over free speech, the constitution, and the social roots of crime and poverty. And, you know, Cap fighting a guy with a head in his stomach cavity who wanted to clone Hitler. I don’t think it’s going too far to say that the comic book is a medium uniquely capable of fomenting this type of critical thinking, this internal debate, in readers before their worldviews ossify and stabilize, before they (we, I) become comfortable in our own hypocrisies.

    The last two issues of Morrison’s Animal Man run are maybe my favorite comics ever. The tenderness and affection that Morrison reveals for his creations—or, more accurately, the creations that he is allowed to play with for a while, who never know he’s there and who won’t even remember him when he’s gone—just breaks my heart.

  2. Dr. Wagner says:

    Glad to see you return to form and publish a comic. I like polaroids and all, but cartoons are the bestest.

    It’s weird how I know some people who are vegetarians and that is about 90% of their personality. It’s almost the entire focus of their life. But with my pal gorj, sometimes I forget. Its just a part of him.

    And Animal Man is probably one of the greatest things ever done with a character. It so elevated him to a new level from a very low-end b-list guy. What a great series, but I must say that I was a tad disappointed in the coyote story…after reading all the glowing descriptions of it in the letters pages of later issues.

  3. Mr. Mooch says:

    you know, Doc Wags has me thinking. I don’t care for people that are consumed with their meat eating either. I have never understood why people sometimes take it as an afront if you don’t eat meat. they don’t act that way if you say “oh, i don’t eat mustard”. it’s like you’re offending them somehow. I mean, how minimally ‘invasive’ is it for someone NOT to eat the food you like?

    as for the cartoon…MORE…as for the subject above…I can tell you why you did THAT one. the One meat product you miss most is a hot dog, and corndogs are the tasty version of the venerable hot dog. it burns you because you know you’d want it.

  4. Sally says:

    Ooh! I didn’t notice before that while the cornydog burns you, touching you actually cooks it! Now it is a delicious, healthy treat for all meat-eaters.

    Also, Buddy Baker is gay.

  5. Jaxxie says:

    Er, I was about to say Buddy is kind of hot despite his unfortunate wardrobe choices – it WAS the 80s. Something about the sincerity and the perpetual S shape of his eyebrows.

  6. Mr. Mooch says:

    anyone notice the slight changes in Gorj’s look? last time he was a little “Archie” looking. this time a little more roundy-headed Charlie Brown looking. Hey Gorj, are the changes purposeful or just a matter of circumstance?

    BTW, as much as i’ve never cared a bit about Man-Thing (and as much as i DID like Swamp Thing), he sure had a great ’slogan/saying’ associated w/ the character.

  7. [...] « Whoever Knows Fear Burns at the Corndog’s Touch!!; or, Confessions of a Comic Book Vegetarian. [...]

  8. [...] who killed his wife. Even at eight years old, I wanted to know Why Not? I told you how I became a vegetarian because of comics, and Professor Fury has detailed the role of comics in awakening in him the i [...]

  9. Thomas says:

    If you think becoming vegetarian after reading a comic book is slightly embrassaring, try this on for size: I gave up meat some ten years ago after watching The Simpson’s episode where Lisa turns vegetarian and Paul and Linda McCartney are guest stars. (You meat eaters probably remember it as the “It’s just a little air borne, it’s still good, it’s still good” episode.)

    Like the Animal Man issue for Gorjus, that episode presented the topic to me in such as way that I couldn’t help but contemplate the moral ramifications of what I eat.

    I think it really speaks to the power of pop culture products like comic books and cartoons that they were able to influence our lives, and the lives of all the thousands of animals who will note die because of our choice of diet, in such a profound way.

    Great essay Gorjus.

  10. [...] “more-556”> This one dovetails with my recent post about how the comic book Animal Man compelled me to become a vegetarian. Go, vegan Spider-Man!! Kick that meat eater’s rear!! “Carnivorous anima [...]

  11. Maldoror says:

    By no means embarrassing. More exacting, it is a ready display of the potential potency and prowess that the comic medium exhibits.

  12. roger says:

    My problem with Animal Man comes from what he side the next page of that comic: “why is more important a rat lab that a person?”. Hard words.

    If I was ther I would have asked him: “If you have to choose between saving a rat or your daughter, what will you do?”. Sometimes Buddy seemed a little radical to me.

  13. Night says:

    You’re a knob. Eat a steak.

  14. Kemmysunshine says:

    I loved Grant’s Animal too and was overjoyed to find that someone else contemplated the “big question”.

    Rationally speaking there is no one species more important than any other on this planet.
    Step aside from personal emotional attachments and assumptions of species superiority for even just a second and the reality of this hits you like a sledghammer It’s not radical at all; it’s just a simple fact.

    The difficult part of this is how you live with it after the realisation.
    The hardest bit of all is other people’s complete inability to even grasp the basic concept of it. Their reaction is usually hostile (see above) or, as I see it. simply choosing to not want to try to understand because it’s frightening.