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The Patron Saint of Superheroes

Chris Gavaler Explores the Multiverse of Comics, Pop Culture, and Politics

Monthly Archives: November 2020

Sweet Time and Other Stories GN #1-1ST NM 2020 Stock Image

It’s a little too early to announce my favorite comic of 2020, so I’ll just say Weng Pixin’s Sweet Time & Other Stories is one-hell-of-a contender.

Though the art of Sweet Time is by definition comics art, it stands impressively far apart from most of the conventions and genre expectations of the medium’s mainstream publishing history. In terms of form, Pixin is a comics artist—because she is composing sequences of juxtaposed images—but the visual impact of her artwork escapes the norms of most other graphic literature.

Exclusive Excerpt: "Infatuation" from Weng Pixin's SWEET TIME & OTHER  STORIES - SOLRAD

This is true despite her working with traditional panels and gutters. Though how often does a comics artist carefully construct and layer strips of paper to form gutters that are as visually engaging as the content of the images they frame? How often does a comics artist focus attention on the qualities of her brushwork as her impressionist dabs widen into the thick swaths of an expressionist? How often is a comics viewer able to appreciate the texture of the paper absorbing the watercolors? It might be more accurate to simply call Pixin an artist, one who happens to be working in the comics form.

Book Giveaway: "Sweet Time" by Weng Pixin

Categorizing Sweet Time is pleasantly difficult too.  What do you term something that combines fiction and nonfiction—though maybe doesn’t? Graphic memoirs are sometimes called graphic novels despite prose novels indicating fictional content. Whatever the nature of Pixin’s content, the second half of her title, & Other Stories, implies a collection, so even the more recent and inclusive term graphic narrative falls short.

The fifteen subtitled subsections range from four to thirty pages, though most hover in the teens. Four are sequences of visual diaries organized by place: New York, Argentina, Lampung, Home. Other sections strike an autobiographical tone: a childhood crush, conversations with boyfriends, meeting a stranger in a bar, lots of mildly disturbing sex. The scene between an anthropomorphic frog and an anthropomorphic cat is obviously fantastical, though the flavor of its dream logic seems grounded in experience. But the young couple in the row boat who float past a burning funeral pyre, is that a dream too?

Sweet Time by Weng Pixin – GiantRobotStore

The one wordless section, “Past Basement for Gold,” transcends the fiction/nonfiction dichotomy in the way any painting or sequence of paintings avoids such literary analysis.  No one asks if an O’Keefe or a Rothko is autobiographical. While most of Pixin’s images are representational, sometimes the degree of abstraction is so high, they begin to dissolve into pure form. That’s a real rarity in traditional comics, and one of the many strengths of Pixin’s.

Technically there’s no difference between the abstractions of fine arts painting (Picasso’s cubist distortions, for example) and the abstractions of comics cartooning. Both simplify and exaggerate. Pixin brings them even further together by employing an aggressively abstract style to repeating figures that, even though they appear in comic strips, resist the clichés of cartoons. Her blocky shapes and wonky perspectives are so rudimentary they can evoke children’s drawings at times, and yet their consistency and precision are equally striking. I especially admire the full-page paintings in the longest sequence, “The Boat,” for capturing nuances of emotion through the figures’ facial expressions, while also emphasizing the formal effects of the brushstrokes that create them. Better still, the textures of the strokes on the page, while not directly representing anything in the story-world, evoke emotional qualities in themselves, doubling the overall impact of the images. That’s arguably what people mean when they distinguish something as “art.” Form and substance combine to achieve something that transcends each individually.

Sweet Time | Books | Illustrated Picture Books | Woods in the Books

Pixin makes the most of the comics form, while literally turning it sideways. Though Sweet Time is a standard size and shape for book publishing, its rectangular pages are wider than they are tall, and so the spine attaches at what would be the top edge of most other books. The internal panels run left-to-right, most often two to a page, but some of the collection’s best sequences compress a dozen panels across three rows, each image only slightly larger than a postage stamp. The result should be cramped, but Pixin’s improbable combination of precision and looseness gives each page a feel of natural balance, as though no other formal approach would suffice. She also arranges three of the sequences as columns instead of rows, requiring the viewer to rotate the book and flip the pages like a calendar, before rotating it back again for the next sequence.

Pixin’s narrative style is equally eclectic. Each diary entry is a stand-alone semi-distorted snapshot-slice-of-life with no overarching plot or thematic focus unifying the progression, and yet the artistic effect is still unified. Her presumably fictional “stories” do share subject matter, as their similarly drawn protagonists navigate some thorny moment of a relationship, whether long-term or newly formed.

Drawn & Quarterly's latest graphic novels are a balm for our troubled times  | Georgia Straight Vancouver's News & Entertainment Weekly

The archetypal figures and nudity made me want to read “Roses” as a riff on Adam and Eve, a continuous visual motif undercut by the couple’s eventual break-up and the woman’s wandering out into the wilderness alone. “Pairs” concludes both more positively (no break-up) and more darkly (the gray watercolors of the woman’s dying father interweave with the couple’s love-making). The title story concludes the collection with a love-making scene that literally dissolves into pure abstraction, before rebooting the next morning for a cringingly precise second bout followed by a one-panel scene of estranged coffee.

Others are harder to summarize, which is appropriate. No summary of a painting or a poem is ever adequate. That’s the point. Whatever you call Sweet Time, it’s a welcome expansion to the practical definition of comics as an art form.

At Home with Weng Pixin - YouTube

A week before the election, I gathered and posted conglomerate polling numbers from FiveThirtyEight (updated October 26) for the ten battleground states. Here they are again, now with the actual outcomes:


Polls: Biden up 8.

Results: Biden by 3.

Difference: 5 for Trump


Polls: Biden up 6.7.

Results: Biden by .6. 

Difference: 6.1 for Trump


Polls: Biden up 5.6.

Results: Biden by 1.

Difference: 4.6 for Trump.


Polls: Biden up 3.0.

Results: Biden by .3.

Difference: 2.7 for Trump.

North Carolina

Polls: Biden up 2.5.

Results: Trump by 1.3.

Difference: 3.8 for Trump.


Polls: Biden up 2.4.

Results: Trump by 3. 

Difference: 5.4 for Trump.


Polls: Biden up 1.2.

Results: Trump by 8.2.

Difference: 9.4 for Trump.


Polls: Biden up .4.

Results: Biden by .3.

Difference: .1 for Trump. 


Polls: Biden up .1.

Results: Trump by 5.7.

Difference: 5.8 for Trump. 


Polls: Trump up 1.5.

Results: Trump by 8.

Difference: 9.5 for Trump. 


So the one good moment for the state polls:

threading the Georgia needle by .1.

The worst moments:

missing Iowa and Ohio by almost double digits.

Even worse:

missing seven of the ten states by more than four points. 

Worst overall:

under polling Trump every time. 

Okay, but what about the national polls? 

On the day before the election, Biden was up by 8.4 at FiveThirtyEight, and by 7.2 at RealClearPolitics. The national vote results are still dribbling in, but Biden has at least 3.7, and FiveThirtyEight projects an eventual 4.3. So the least possible mistake is 2.5 for Trump, falling barely within a 3-point margin of error. At worst, the mistake is 4.7 for Trump. 

That’s a lot worse than in 2016, when the RealClearPolitics final average put Clinton up by 3.2, and then she won the popular vote the next day by 2.1. That difference of 1.1 is pretty good. The mistakes in 2016 were only in some states polls, and, like with the popular vote, those mistakes only grew in 2020. 

Pollsters have at least one line of defense: their margins of error were often 5 points. I wrote here two weeks before the election:

“Placing states with Biden or Trump leads under 5% as toss-ups, on Tuesday October 20, two weeks before Election Day, the state polls put Biden at 259 electoral votes.”

Only Michigan and Wisconsin were outside a 5-point margin of error. So according to the October 20 polls, the Electoral College was a toss-up–though with a massive Biden advantage. But a week later I wrote: 

“As of today, Monday October 26, eight days before the Election, the polls would put Biden at 279 by including Pennsylvania. All of the other battleground states remain in the toss-up column’s margin of error.”

And that’s what happened. Biden won Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, with contested leads in Arizona and Georgia.

Of course that doesn’t explain the mistakes always falling in the same direction. If these were just garden-variety sampling errors, at least some should have favored Biden. None did.  

It’s not clear why the polls were wrong. Michael Moore offered one rationale a week before the election:

“Don’t believe these polls … the Trump vote is always being undercounted. Pollsters, when they actually call a real Trump voter, the Trump voter’s very suspicious of the ‘Deep State’ calling them and asking them who they’re voting for. It’s all fake news to them, remember. It’s not an accurate count. I think the safe thing to do, this is not scientific … whatever they’re saying the Biden lead is, cut it in half, right now, in your head. Cut it in half, and now you’re within the four-point margin of error.”

Is Moore right? Do Trump voters lie to deep-state pollsters?

Maybe. His “not scientific” cut-it-in-half methodology proved about right, but there’s no test for evaluating the accuracy for his explanation. And yet Nate Cohn (the Nate who replaced Nate Silver at the New York Times) now echoes Moore:

“It’s hard not to wonder whether the president’s supporters became less likely to respond to surveys as their skepticism of institutions mounted, leaving the polls in a worse spot than they were four years ago.”

Cohn also wonders about a mirror effect from progressives:

“the resistance became likelier to respond to political surveys, controlling for their demographic characteristics… Like most of the other theories presented here, there’s no hard evidence for it — but it does fit with some well-established facts about propensity to respond to surveys.”

The pandemic may have influenced that even further with a “post-Covid jump in response rates among Dems” because they “just started taking surveys, because they were locked at home and didn’t have anything else to do.” Cohn also wonders whether the high turn-out helped Trump, with the polls’ focus on “likely voters” (where Biden was up much higher) missing the actual votes of the less likely but registered voters who did show up on election day after all. 

So bottom line: the 2020 state polls were as bad as the 2016 state polls, the 2020 national polls were worse than the 2016 national polls, and we don’t know why.

If you ignore the margins of victory in each battleground state, the 2020 forecasts did much better. They all predicted Biden, though with a wide range of differing Electoral College totals. 

First, to their credit, all of the forecasters correctly placed Wisconsin and Michigan in the Biden column, giving him a minimum of 259. 

Politico said Biden would win with 279 electoral votes by taking Pennsylvania, but they left Arizona in the toss-up category and incorrectly predicted Georgia for Trump. So they missed two states, one for Biden, one for Trump, and dodged calling five states, including three (Florida, Ohio, Iowa) that Trump won easily. 

Crystal Ball, Cook Political Report, CNN, and NPR all said Biden would win with 290 votes, correctly predicting that he would take not only Pennsylvania but also Arizona, leaving five states in the toss-ups.

U.S. News predicted Biden with 290 too, but they also correctly placed Iowa and incorrectly placed Georgia in the Trump column. 

Things go down hill from there:

Inside Elections gave Biden 319 by adding Florida to his column.

The Economist gave him 323 by including Florida and North Carolina but not the toss-up Arizona.

Decision Desk, PredictIt Market Probabilities, and FiveThirtyEight all gave Biden 334, giving him Florida and North Carolina.

JHK Forecasts and Princeton Election Consortium predicted 335, the extra one point coming from Maine’s second district.

Since Biden’s actual count is now 306 (the same as Trump’s self-described 2016 “historic landslide”), just over half, seven out of the thirteen forecasters, overshot.

That’s mainly because they all incorrectly predicted Florida for Trump. Since Trump won Florida by a safe three points, Florida is both the polls’ and the forecasters’ biggest 2020 failure.

Five of the forecasts also gave North Carolina to Biden, but since Trump won it by only 1.3, North Carolina seems legitimately purple. Though not the incandescent purple of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Arizona where Biden’s margin was under 1%, very similar to Trump’s 2016 margins. 

So, like in 2016, the final map hides how close the Electoral College race was. 

Of course if we elected our presidents by national popular vote, a Biden 4-point margin of victory isn’t close at all. 

I wrote this nonsense four years ago:

“Before the election, I had a vision of the U.S. coming together. I fantasized that Clinton would announce in her acceptance speech that she would fill half of her cabinet positions with Republicans and challenge Congress to send her only bills co-authored by Republicans and Democrats or face her veto. I was imagining a Democratic-controlled Senate too, but instead of shoving a leftwing Justice down the remaining throats of the GOP (as they so deeply deserved for refusing to vote on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee last March), I wanted Clinton to renominate moderate Merrick Garland in a show of compromise and goodwill. I wanted this despite the fact that my personal political beliefs are over there with Bernie Sanders and the rest of those Socialist-hugging, LGBQT-loving, Wall-Street-regulating, Climate-Apocalypse-fighting do-gooders. I actually believed that being part of a democracy meant accepting and even celebrating that fact that I should only get what I want about half of the time. That even some of my cherished principles come second to the national need for our government to work from the center, to bridge extremes and find common ground. I was a Radical Moderate.

“Until November 9th.two-face-origin-story-part-3

“Law-abiding District Attorney Dent, AKA Two-Face, became a supervillain after a thug threw acid in his face. Which is also how Donald Trump cured me of Moderatism. Though technically I don’t think Dent ought to be labeled a supervillain, since half of his actions should end up doing good. When faced with a tough choice, Two-Face flips a two-headed coin. I know that sounds like a rigged decision-making system (something the majority-losing President-Elect no longer talks about), but Two-Face carved a giant “X” through one of George Washington’s faces. Which is a perfect metaphor for the U.S. right now.

“I’ve literally put myself inside that two-faced quarter, and I will stay there until Trump and all of his rock-throwing GOP punks are gone–via resignation, impeachment, or nuclear Armageddon, I really don’t care. If you would also like to make a Two-Faced version of yourself, I’ve included step-by-step instructions:

“Step 1. Watch country elect pussy-grabbing bigot for president.

“Step 2. Stop shaving.

“Step 3. Shave right half of face.

“Step 4. Take selfie.

“Step 5. Shit around with selfie in Word Paint while country plummets into moral abyss.

“Step 6. Vow vengeance in 2018.”


It’s four years later, and Biden came pretty close to the acceptance speech I fantasized for Clinton:

“It is time to put away the harsh rhetoric, lower the temperature, see each other again, listen to each other again, and to make progress, we have to stop treating our opponents as an enemy. They are not our enemies: They are Americans — they are Americans.

“Folks, I am a proud Democrat. But I will govern as an American president. I will work as hard for those who didn’t vote for me as those who did. Let this grim era of demonization in America begin to end here and now. Refusal of Democrats and Republicans to cooperate with one another is not some mysterious force beyond our control; it is a decision, a choice we make.

“If we decide not to cooperate, we can decide to cooperate. I believe this is part of the mandate given to us from the American people. They want us to cooperate in their interests. That is the choice I will make. I will call on Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — to make that choice with me.”

Of all the things that are changing, this is the absolute least important. After Biden’s speech, I went on Facebook and changed my profile image from the Two-Face selfie to this arty nonsense:

Four years ago, I also made this bumper sticker:

Of all the things that I could have focused on after Trump won, I decided gerrymandering was Job One. In retrospect, that seems more than a little bizarre. But it wasn’t stupid: draw fair maps and Democrats win. And sometimes they win anyway. In 2017, the GOP’s gerrymandered supermajority dwindled to a single seat (determined by a literal coin toss), and the 2019 blue wave (see “Vow Vengeance” above) flipped the legislature to Democratic control. Having seen their future as the minority party, the GOP had already started the process of amending the Virginia constitution with a redistricting commission that would prevent the majority party from rigging the maps the way the GOP did for the last decade. The referendum passed last week.

The fight to end gerrymandering in Virginia is over.

Which brings me to the second least important change in the U.S.. Over the weekend I switched my Facebook book cover from the End Crooked Districts bumper sticker to this:

Those are some of my actual book covers. The last one, Creating Comics, is due out in January, between Georgia’s two Senate-majority-determining run-off elections and Biden’s inauguration.

Which is to say: quit shitting around and get back to work.

I’m sure as hell no superhero (or supervillain), but this fifty-something, straight, cis-gendered, white guy is damn proud to be a member of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ legion of 75,000,000 sidekicks. I wanted a landslide last week. As the last votes peter in, it looks like they won the popular vote by 2.9%, up from Clinton’s 2.1% in 2016. That will do, but it’s nowhere near the double-digit wave of redemption I needed to feel good about my country. 70,000,000 Americans want another four years of Trump, either despite of or because of his bigotry and misogyny. A few thousand votes here, a few thousand votes there, and the Electoral College tips either direction.

That’s a brutal quarter edge to balance a nation.




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