Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
Cartoony 'Monica's Story'
is appropriately surreal


February 25, 1999
By Franklin Harris

I plead guilty to being a political junky.

I was a political science major in college. I once managed a campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. I even once ran for the House, myself, but I won't go into how that turned out.

''Here is Love, in all its absurd poetry and demeaning sweetness!''

Courtesy Photo
"Here is Love, in all its absurd poetry and demeaning sweetness!"

So, when I learned that a comic book based on the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal was coming out, I laughed that little Beavis and Butt-Head laugh and said, "I'm there, dude."

"Monica's Story" boils the Starr Report down to 33 pages. The comic's opening proclaims, "Here is Love, in all its absurd poetry and demeaning sweetness!"

Well, not exactly.

It's absurd and demeaning, but it leaves you still asking, "Where's the love?"

It's all in Monica's head.

The comic's script is officially by Anonymous, but high-placed sources have informed me that the author is really a fellow by the name of Jon Lewis, who has written several small-press comics, but whose easiest-to-find work has been published in "Oni Double Feature."

The character designs and pencil art are by James Kochalka, writer/artist of "The Horrible Truth about Comics," and Tom Hart provides the inks.

The script is based on the Starr Report, and, to the extent that the report remains unchallenged, is, I guess, something akin to the truth.

Lewis is to be commended. It couldn't have been an easy job to sift through the Starr Report and cobble together an entertaining narrative, but he has done so.

It's all there: from the first flash of panties, to secret gropes in the Oval Office hallway, to distracted telephone conversations with Alabama congressman Sonny Callahan. Even the infamous cigar incident is included, with a strategically placed presidential seal keeping the comic to merely an R-rated affair.

Kochalka and Hart's cartoony art seems, at first blush, a bit much, but it fits the subject matter perfectly. The story is so surreal that a more realistic art style would have seemed, paradoxically, less realistic. Bill Clinton comes across as the sleazy caricature he's become, while Monica Lewinsky is visually reminiscent of Cathy, from Cathy Guisewite's comic strip.

"Monica's Story" depicts a president worthy of the nickname given him Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, "the creep." He strings Monica along, even hinting that he'll leave the First Lady to marry her.

Monica comes out even worse. She's alternately lovestruck and vindictive. And she's always delusional.

A visual medium almost always has a more visceral impact than does mere print. And, after "Monica's Story," I can only wonder if the nation would have been as forgiving of the president's behavior if it seen the comic instead of Ken Starr's tome.

Ditko's world

Of course, if politics were only about scandals, I wouldn't be interested in it. Where there is vice, there is always virtue shining its disinfecting light.

For the past several decades, virtue has been an interest of Steve Ditko, the comic artist best known for helping create Spider-Man and Dr. Strange for Marvel Comics back in the '60s.

Although he occasionally pops up to do a story or two for one of the major comics publishers, Ditko has spent most of the '80s and '90s self-publishing his philosophical tales of good, evil and our ability to choose between the two.

If Ayn Rand wrote more like Ambrose Bierce and could draw like Jack Kirby, she might have produced something like Ditko's latest magnum opus, "Steve Ditko's 160-Page Package."

The "Package" contains over a dozen short stories and several single-page strips, all completely written and drawn by Ditko.

Fans of Ditko's recent work will quickly recognize the crime noir settings, sometimes peppered with science fiction or fantasy elements. And, in almost every one, Ditko's characters are given weighty moral dilemmas.

Ditko's world is a morality play decorated in black and white, and in which wrong choices bring only destruction.

In a day when political expediency can lead to juvenile debates over the meaning of a word like "is," Ditko's steadfast belief in moral absolutes -- the virtues of reason, productivity and respect for the individual -- is refreshing.

Reading Ditko is like reading "Atlas Shrugged" minus the drama-killing speeches.

Still, Ditko's old-fashioned style of storytelling may seem a little claustrophobic to younger readers. Few of his panels are without word balloons. It's as if Ditko doesn't understand the narrative value of occasional silence. As with Rand, Ditko's characters talk too much.

On the other hand, there isn't much time to pause in a philosophy-heavy six- or eight-page short story.

And America could use a bracing dose of philosophy nowadays.

Copies of "Monica's Story" are still available from Alternative Comics, 611 N.W. 34th Drive, Gainesville, FL 32607, or www.indyworld.com/altcomics. "Steve Ditko's 160-Page Package" is available from Robin Snyder, 2284 Yew St. Rd. No. B6, Bellingham, WA 98226, or RSComics@aol.com.

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