Creating comics that are open to interpretation

Today I published a comic without text. This kind of comic is open to interpretation. You walk a tight rope when publishing comics like this, because people will naturally fit the images into whatever worldview they subscribe to.

The first panel pictured the United States with a neutral face and lots of colors. In the second panel you see an angry person speaking to a angry crowd, and they’re all one color. Then you see this same crowd incited to riot, and boarding boats toward a city with rainbow colors. The last panel is the USA again, with a perturbed, fuming face, and the rainbow colors are found on boats leaving the shores. I called this comic “Toxic“:

Why write a blog post about interpretation of this comic?

The comments across many social media channels in response to this comic were revealing of people’s tendency to associate themselves vehemently with a given interpretation. What’s happening in this comic, really? What does it mean? Why are people fighting with each other on the comment threads? Why do people attack me for making it in the first place? The answers to all these questions are dubbed “political” because they are likely to be answers that likewise adhere to a partisan viewpoint.

To be honest, I enjoy the chaos of interpretation. It shows people’s true colors. There is nothing in this comic but angry people of one color pushing out the rest of the colors from the US, but nearly everyone sees it in much more specific terms. My intentions in this comic aside, how did most people interpret it? I’m writing this blog post for no other reason than it interests me to talk about.

Who are the players?

Consensus is that the angry man is Trump. Everyone seems to agree on that except for a few objective voices. Objectively, the references to Trump would be big eyebrows and a suit, but nothing more.

What do the colors represent? Some people interpreted this comic as criticizing opponents of the “gay agenda”, as they call it. That would assume that all rainbows are symbolic for homosexuality. Others see the rainbow as representative of diversity in general, and the monotone of the angry masses represents white supremacy.

Some readers thought that the monotone masses were Trump supporters. Others recognized the monotones not as Trump supporters, but as representing bigoted voices within the US.

What is happening?

I noticed two veins of interpretation insofar as what’s actually happening in the comic. Some suggested that a homogeneous minority was pushing out a diverse majority. Others said that the “Trump movement” gave public voice to what everyone already wanted to hear, which would assume that a majority of Americans believe in that rhetoric. There are other ways to interpret this comic.

My intentions

Here’s the meat of this blog post. What the hell was I trying to say with this comic? Well, for one thing, I expected the vitriol. For some terrible reason, you can’t make anything these days that says something of value without someone getting offended. Most of the commentary was not constructive. People attacked each other, recoiled from something “political”, or just spewed nonsense. One commenter brushed aside any interpretation of this comic to instead draw attention to his disgust at transgender conversations. That’s an example of someone who has already made up their mind about absolutely everything.

My intention was simple. I wanted to rock the boat to see what moved. Most is already tied down. People are set in their ways, and the attacks from all sides are filled with rancor.

I’ve made decidedly anti-Trump comics in the past. This isn’t one of them. This is a representation of the anger that I’ve seen rally against diversity. That’s all. Nothing else. Trump might be an instigator to make the angry sects of society bolder, but this isn’t a comic about him. This is about that very bold bigotry that promotes disenfranchising anyone different. Nor is this comic about white supremacy. It’s about drawing attention to the danger of movements bound together by mutual hate. It is not about the partisan divide. The monotone masses are not republicans. The rainbows are not democrats. It’s an exaggerated, fast-forwarded demonstration of what a country can look like if hate and anger rule the day–ugly.

So if you are not a bigot and you find yourself offended by this comic, don’t be; it’s not meant for you. If you are in fact a bigot, then take a breather and look what you’re doing to my country–you’re shitting all over it.

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