Monday, December 29, 2008


It was the tail-end of what had been a great Saturday spent with my dad, my sister and my two nephews and I had a quiet evening with my girlfriend to look forward to when I foolishly looked at my e-mail. I opened up a letter from the editor of Worcester Magazine, a man by the name of Jim Keogh, who I've worked with at a newspaper called The Landmark years ago, and only since August of 2008 has been at the editorial helm of what's supposed to be the "alternative" newspaper in Worcester: Worcester Magazine.

In this e-mail, Jim informs me that my bi-weekly, twice a month editorial cartoon by the name of "Action Geek" is going to be cancelled. He tells me that the current publisher wanted to eliminate the cartoon immediately when The Landmark Corporation purchased Worcester Magazine back at the end of July and shit-canned most of its staff. But because of an impassioned impromptu phone call I made to Jim Keogh, not knowing of the publisher's desire to shit-can me as well, Jim decided to keep "Action Geek" as a part of the newspaper.

I had argued that if Worcester Magazine wanted to be "edgier" then keeping "Action Geek" only makes sense because in the comic strip, I'm a straight-shooting, no holds barred, take no shit cartoonist willing to say things as I see them, no matter how harsh the position I'm taking. And I've really come up with some doozies.

I argued that "Action Geek" was very unique in that no local newspaper around has anything like what "Action Geek" is. No one. I dare you to find a strip like mine. This isn't just slight bragging, but truth as well. Find a strip like mine. Isn't that the definition of unique?

I argued that not only was "Action Geek" a strong, no quarter asked none taken editorial comic strip, but also that no one else in Worcester does what I do. I drive a taxi cab 5 nights a week and create an editorial cartoon with a bite based on real life, real observations based on things seen, heard, experienced, thought about while in my taxicab. I've often invited Worcester City Councillors to come see the REAL Worcester by riding shotgun with me in the cab for a few hours some night. I've had a lengthy conversation with Mayor Lukes about real issues that were (are) facing my neighborhood and then she actually went and did something about it, that being an increase in police coverage in the Tatnuck Square area later at night. "Action Geek" doesn't just bitch about things, but actually has some small degree of "pull" in Worcester.

But "as we enter a new year, the idea is to start getting some new voices into the paper like we've been doing in the Arts and Entertainment section", says Mr. Keogh in this e-mail to me. "New voices". That's all fine and nice, but as I said before, isn't it UNIQUE to have an editorial in visual form (that being my "Action Geek" strip) by a local guy like me? The new additions to the Arts & Entertainment section haven't really made WoMag any more "edgy" than it was BEFORE the entire staff with the exception of Scott Zoback was fired and replaced by others. If anything, Worcester Magazine just continues to gut away all the things that COULD make it a real alternative, a real fun, creative, lively, essential read to Worcester people in general, but whatever...

This blog will be seen as just me whining.

There are those who have hated my strip for a long time (I've only done over 134 cartoons for Worcester Magazine, the first one was on Thursday, October 16, 2003) but continue to read it just the same who will be jumping up & down saying good riddance. So be it. I didn't do the strip to gain friends. I did it as an open, honest expression of my opinion on things. Maybe I spouted off stuff others didn't feel comfortable saying. Isn't one of the definitions of "edgy" - uncomfortable?

There are also those who will miss "Action Geek" for a while until it, like so many Worcester things, just fades into obscure memory of a few. I have a regular cab customer who works at Showcase North Cinemas who regularly reads "Action Geek" and talks the issues with me and from whom I've gotten alot of ideas from in return. Oh my god... a comic strip that helps to create an exchange of thoughts and ideas? Who woulda thunk?

This cancellation gets back to a general, continual Worcester theme in that talented, creative people who ARE edgy and opinionated and against the grain and not of the norm and who stand out and who don't care what you think and who will continue to create artwork regardless of what the bland mainstream majority think... creative people like this are pushed OUT of Worcester. The very things, the very people that Worcester NEEDS, Worcester rejects by way of its power brokers: the media, the hoity-toity arts event gurus who are accepted and venerated by their higher-up buddies in local government.

Want something in print and have used up all the local media in town? Good luck. You can try publishing something on your own and maybe make a little bit of an impact, but nothing quite like the impact you had through high volume publication on a weekly basis. The Worcester Telegram has no use for you as they are shrinking day by day into an eventual online only presence. Worcester Magazine continues to churn out weekly issues that I'm sure the average person breezes through in 15 minutes or less and then throws away / recycles, UNLESS there is some sort of mention of THEM in that particular issue, be it a review of their bar or band or restaurant or whatever... In City Times might be an option, as I, too, am being marginalized by the big boys of Worcester print media and therefore relegated to kook status for even daring to stand up for myself and defend my "Action Geek" strip as being a unique, vital editorial voice in Worcester.

And then there's the money end of things. I'm sure it's even easier for Worcester Magazine to wave goodbye to me when they can be saving $50 a cartoon, $100 a month by eliminating my strip from within their pages of mostly non-edgy fluff. Now they can bring in "new voices" for free. And now I can scramble around even more to figure out how the hell to support myself on even less money per month. Thanks, Worcester Magazine!

I'm anxiously awaiting seeing what they get to "replace" me as they have with all the other more talented folks that the newspaper has eliminated over the years. Brian Goslow should, by all rights, still be writing for WoMag. Hell, Phil MacNamara should be writing reviews of local bands in Worcester. There should be a whole back page devoted to local art / cartoonists, etc. There should be MORE actual, weekly coverage of what the hell our elected officials are doing down there at City Hall and to hold them accountable for their decisions by printing what each and every one of them is for or against or working on or whatever EVERY WEEK. There is no one who does that, as boring as it may sound, but through this kind of coverage, there can be more of a bridge between the average person and their local government. Imagine a local newspaper being actually ESSENTIAL to its population and helping to make it more informed and more a part of the whole process instead of what Worcester Magazine does right now which is just to create a weekly window into whatever that can be flipped through, easily ignored and then tossed out... back to reality again.

There WAS a time when a newspaper could have actual IMPACT on its environment, but as of late, it's easier just to be an easily palatable vehicle for advertisement instead of a hard-hitting, gutsy, opinionated, essential part of living where we live.

This cancellation came as a real blow to me. After I read this e-mail, I dashed off some rather harsh replies which will probably be replied with silence, but I don't care. That's the way Worcester's elite operate. When they want to get rid of that pesky fly that's been bugging them for some time, they'll do so with well chosen politically correct phrasing and cold emotionless sentances and end things with "even though you've done good work in the past" or "i'm available if you want to talk", etc. but what they're really saying is, "just go away quietly, okay?", which I certainly won't do.

After reading the e-mail, I ranted and pontificated and was very upset and my girlfriend told me that she's run into quite a few talented, creative types in Worcester who really feel that Worcester tends to repel rather than attract the creative. Places like Providence, Lowell, Northampton, Burlington, etc. all seem to be more accepting and nurturing of artists and of the stuff that makes for a truly "creative city", but not Worcester. The city I love loves to present obstacles instead of opportunities. And not just for me, but for all creative people. Only those whose work is so watered-down as to be non-wave-making, non-trouble-making, socially acceptable artwork... these are the artists that stay. Sorry if that comes off as being harsh, but it's true. And those artists with any edge to them whatsoever are pretty much called kooks and pariahs and relegated to the loony bin, brought out periodically like a zoo exhibit and then sent back to the sidelines.

I'll probably end up moving at some point. And I really don't want to, but Worcester's just getting worse and worse on so many levels.

After reading the e-mail, my girlfriend and I went out for yummy Vietnamese food at Da Lat. We bought a six pack of obscure weird beers (Devil Dancer and Breakfast Stout by Founders, Double Dog and Gonzo Imperial Porter by Flying Dog Ales, Optimator by Spaten, and Oatmeal Stout by Young's) at Mass Liquors on Chandler Street. We went to Showcase North and watched a crappy yet very stylishly produced movie (The Spirit). And then we went home, read some comics, and curled up together and went to sleep.

This cancellation won't kill me. It just reaffirms in me what I've thought all along about how things work in Worcester. And you wonder why I never really do any "happy" comics.

Action Geek cartoons in Worcester Magazine


Mike said...

Man, this sucks.

Paulie's Point of View said...

I think this is less about driving creative folks away amd more that the general population in Worcester is fairly homogenous..we do not have an very large edgy, alternative community..

The goal is to keep the newspaper alive guys..unless you have owned a business it is hard to understand....when one is paying the bills $100 becomes a lot of money..

I can't make any money in his community..I am self employed in a edgy, alternative business:>)

4rilla said...

I'll be the first to admit I did not always agree with your comics, but I certainly would read it every two weeks without fail.

Action Geek did put a unique and timely spin on Worcester in a short, interesting and different format and it is a shame that they are giving the comic the ax.

Your style stood out on their pages and was a needed social commentary for the city.

CK said...

Sorry to hear it Doug, at first the strip turned me off because it seemed reflexively negative, but over time I grew to like it quite a bit.

Chris K

Anonymous said...

Hey Doug-
Before you get too down on the "new" direction of WoMag-- Noah Bombard (editor before Jim) asked me if I'd consider doing a local comic strip to replace yours, because they felt it was stale-- and so did the editor before him.

So this has been in the works for nearly two years. Be glad it ran as long as it did.

I couldn't do it because I can't work essentially for free.

Stop being so down on everyone else, and take some responsibility for your own situation.

You complain about making it as an artist and then you charge $50 a strip?? How the hell can you pay the bills on that? That's why you have to drive a cab, man.

Many years ago you did an Annual Manual cover for WoMag, and I had done the three previous ones, when I asked them why you got it instead of me they said because you did it for $100! I was getting $1500!

No hard feelings about it then or now, but you priced yourself out of business years ago.

Grab yourself a graphic artists guild book and learn how to price. You want to be a professional then start acting like one.