Bazooko’s Circus

Fear And Loathing at the New York Stock Exchange

This cartoon sure was a lotta fun to draw, but extremely time-consuming to color.

I have a feeling both were the result of trying to adopt for it the extremely loose drawing style of Ralph Steadman, the British cartoonist who often accompanied self-styled “gonzo” journalist and Second Amendment aficionado Hunter S. Thompson, both in person and on the page.

This style lends itself well to physical ink and paint, provided the artist has spent enough time with the materials to get a feel for them, but the digital coloring media and techniques I’m familiar with don’t really seem to leave as much room for randomness, particularly in a scene that features as many overlapping figures, objects, and planes as this one does.

I definitely need to break the habit I have of using masks to carefully plot out distinct forms and even specific color regions in the flatting stage. It makes fine-tuning shapes and colors easier, in the long run, but that’s antithetical to energetic, Ralph Steadman-style drawing, anyway, so I doubt it was worth the extra time, here.

Perhaps Photoshop isn’t ideal for coloring cartoon and comic art? I’ve heard a lot of political cartoonists use Corel Painter instead, but since Adobe will be nearly doubling my subscription fee for their suite in less than a week (grrr), and no one regularly pays me for this work, it’s not like I can really afford to drop several hundred dollars on yet another piece of software whose ultimate utility to me is a question mark.

Anyway, this cartoon addresses recent efforts by r/WallStreetBets to put the squeeze on hedge funds and short sellers who were attempting to profit by betting on the collapse of Gamestop Corp.

Hedge funds were chief among the culprits who caused the 2008 financial crash and ensuing Great Recession, by similarly pillaging other areas of society then—and for the most part, they got away with it scot-free.

Indeed, rather than punish them, the Federal government practically rewarded them for their rapaciousness, so of course the only lesson they learned was that they could keep doing it without fear of personal consequences, right up until the present day. Massive harm, but no foul.

Reddit has long had a reputation as a haven for freewheeling, anarchic libertarianism—I seem to recall it being the birthplace of the “Ron Paul Revolution” back in 2008—so I could certainly see this current push being constructed from a broad coalition of users with widely varied but overlapping motives, some of whom took part out of a sense of justice, moral outrage, or a desire to stick it to the man, others for reasons of pure greed not much different from their nominal enemies in this battle, and some simply because they like Gamestop and wanted to do whatever they could to save it from the wolves.

Meanwhile, many professional Wall Street investors have long viewed themselves as inherently “better than” common folk, that belief in the sub-humanity of the Other surely being a crucial enabler of their above-noted economic crimes, just as it enabled slavery and the Holocaust, not to mention countless wars and other genocides throughout history.

There’s this notion that, because their gambling takes place inside the New York Stock Exchange instead of a casino or at a horserace, it’s more respectable, but I don’t entirely buy it. At the very least, short sellers who profit by dismembering companies on the floor of the Stock Exchange like meat-packers butchering cows in a slaughterhouse are certainly no better than scammers in the nearby Broad Street station who trick naive subway passengers into games of three-card monte.

In both cases, the game is rigged—it’s a big club, and you ain’t in it!

I mentioned Ralph Steadman and Hunter S. Thompson, earlier. My cartoon combines a scene in Thompson’s most well-known work, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (illustrated by Steadman), with my musings about Reddit and comparisons of the stock market to gambling. The scene in question concerns a visit to the Circus Circus casino (“Bazooko’s Circus” in the movie adaptation) by Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo—avatars for Thompson himself and his personal attorney at the time, Oscar Zeta Acosta—during a meandering, drug-fueled “search for the American Dream.”

The two huff ether and then stumble into the casino like “village drunkards in some early Irish novel,” with the interior of the place described as alternatingly absurd or nightmarish. Thompson observes that, “Ether is the perfect drug for Las Vegas. In this town they love a drunk. Fresh meat,” but later the two make such nuisances of themselves—“burning the locals, abusing the tourists, terrifying the help”—that perhaps Vegas as a whole comes to regret initially underestimating them as the kinds of suckers it usually takes advantage of. The victimizer becomes the victim.

I thought all of this might appropriately summarize the factors which culminated in the Gamestop short-squeeze, as well as following many of the recurring themes in Thompson’s writing, despite being a little less accessible than a more generic casino gag.

And like I said at the beginning, I figured it would be fun to draw! Hopefully it’s also more fun to look at.

This entry was posted on Friday, February 5th, 2021 at 10:56 pm and is filed under Cartoons & Commentary. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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