Editorial cartooning doesn’t typically get reviewed, and until I was assigned Matt Bors’ “Can We Stop Worrying About the Millennials Yet?” strip for CNN, I admittedly hadn’t thought much about that. On a personal level, I’d say it’s related to why we critics don’t cover a lot of humor strips, which my compatriot Daniel Elkin and I touched on when we reviewed Phil McAndrew’s Crying in Front of Your Dog and Other Stories for Comics Bulletin, a book we highly recommended even as we confronted our own prejudices around gag strips and single panel cartooning. The going theory is that unlike comics and graphic novels, strips are by their nature built for easy consumption and not necessarily suited for closer examination. The obvious exceptions that get brought up by anyone stating this theory are things like Peanuts or Pogo or [insert classic comic strip that is more than half a century old here] and that has everything to do with cultural saturation and history.
But as I mentioned in that Crying in Front of Your Dog review, webcomics have proven there’s a lot of life left in the strip format, and as more web comics make the transition to general visibility, it’s not surprising that strips are entering far more critical conversations.
Stylistically, Matt Bors’ editorial on the victimization of the poorly named Millenial generation– a generation that I should probably tell you I (and Bors himself, but more on that later) am a part of, out of respect for full disclosure– has a lot more in common with Gabrielle Bell’s The Voyeurs than the stereotypical inky editorial comic I imagine you have in your head right now, or even with a more narrative strip like, say, Doonesbury. There are diagrams and charts, infographs and quotes, but there are also character designs with a clear Peter Bagge influence, as well as a journal tone throughout, like Bors was just writing a rant on tumblr and it haphazardly evolved into a full on comic. The result is an editorial cartoon with a whole lot of life, humor and freshness, which puts it in direct contrast with so many of its peers.
Generation slagging of course isn’t new (as Bors even points out), but it sure seems like it has ascended to a whole other level with our generation, as entire shows (I’m looking at you Newsroom) and movies (ditto God Bless America) are focused on a war of generational insult escalation, as well as the neverending stream of articles devoted to the matter. I’m not alone in viewing the hipster debate as an extension of this but it’s perplexing to see this two pronged assault on a generation that arguably hasn’t even had a chance to prove itself let alone fail yet continue to build to a crescendo. It’s to the point where there’s demand for and construction of an entire industry devoted to helping workplaces deal with “the millenial problem,” something that extends to hilarious About.com essays and 100% real “millenial training videos.”
As infuriating and insulting as it is to watch this play out, it’s not difficult to understand why it’s happening. We’re living in a time where resources— in a real and metaphorical sense— are stretched thin, and since we’re too civilized to actually devour our young in order to keep ourselves alive, we’ve evolved to do so in a less literal fashion. We don’t munch on our teenagers, or make sausages of our sons and daughters in law, instead we just cut out their opportunities, pillage their futures and then blame them for the collapse of society. It’s a handy way of avoiding real conversations about the state of the world and a tried and proven method for keeping everyone too distracted and agitated to work together on anything.
Bors’ status as a member of the generation he’s defending is clear, which perhaps gives him more incentive than normal for an editorial cartoonist — this isn’t some guy mocking a presidential gaffe — but when you factor in Bors’ past, it’s kind of amazing that this comic isn’t a straight-up rage comic. This is, after all, a guy who held the record for being the youngest syndicated cartoonist in the country when he was 23, and who has become a leading figure in the comics journalism field (by which I mean journalism told through comics). If anyone stands as the perfect comics counterargument to the whole “worst.generation.ever.” nonsense, it’s Bors, but the fact that he tackles the debate in a logical, evenhanded and patient manner while also maintaining a clear sense of humor is fucking miraculous. Short as this read is, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t stand out as one of the best and most worthwhile comics of the year.
PS- I am totally aware of the metairony of this comic getting published as an editorial on CNN, but go ahead and point it out.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with Dylan Garsee on twitter: @Nick_Hanover