A. D. Condo and J. W. Raper
Outbursts of Everett True
Introduction by Trevor Blake
Baltimore: Underworld Amusements, 2015
There are many things about Chicago of which I am not proud: our glum acceptance of the ten percent sales tax; liberal North Siders’ wheedling attempts to be “down” with the South Side (while avoiding that part of Chiraq out of pure self-preservation); or our continual reelection of machine politicians, including the current dirty habit of repeatedly voting for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s repugnant smirk.
In some ways, we’re always the bottom.
But there is a tradition—perhaps not upheld in City Hall, but indulged across the centuries upon the boardwalks and sidewalks and perennially shit-strewn boulevards—of telling the sort of cretin that the local dialect labels “jagbags” to stuff it.
New York City, our plastic sibling, is famous for its no-nonsense attitude. Sort of. If you scratch the surface, New Yorkers have always been—and are increasingly, as the city grows blatantly unlivable for anyone not related to a millionaire—little bitches.
They don’t take care of business—they kick off needless hostility. New Yorker assholes start fights. Chicago assholes finish them. Only a nitwit mistakes Midwestern “nice” for a gullibility that goes bone deep. Trust us, you don’t want to know what’s under the affable veneer. But even some Midwesterners are stupid enough to keep needling till they find out . . . and how.
This is a longstanding tradition, as evidenced by the Underworld Amusements imprint’s recent glorious collection of comics from the turn of the last century: Outbursts of Everett True.
Drawn in lurid, cartoon-realist strokes by A. D. Condo and J. W. Raper during the opening acts of the 20th century—you know: the 100 years during which the dignity culture evaporated like a fond dream—the Everett True character was a larger-than life bully-killer.
In a typical two-panel cartoon, he would be confronted by someone who was obliviously or maliciously being a jag—interrupting his enjoyment of the Art Institute by spouting aesthetic theory, for instance—and proceed to kick, beat, or punch them in a most satisfying fashion while emitting a plain-spoken quip (“There’s always some lunatic like you hanging around an art gallery!”).
According to this volume’s entertaining introduction by Trevor Blake, Everett True was a character whom his inventors felt driven to invent as a sort of proto-superhero. There were too many people walking four abreast on the sidewalk, and Chicago needed a man who wasn’t afraid to walk right over them.
True didn’t look much like future superheroes: a rotund, grotesquely scowling figure, dressed for the office and usually drawn in the act of bashing some rude cur’s silly hat down around his shoulders.
And the “victims” of his vigilantism never committed a crime. Instead they smirkingly got up to some deed they could get away with: kicking a dog, cutting across a lawn, abusing a scut-worker, affecting a jaunty angle with their hats (the “jaunty hat” was apparently the precursor to the backwards baseball cap), or blathering about their trips to “Noo Yawk.” As Trevor Blake sums it up:
Bruce Wayne thought of criminals as a cowardly lot, so he donned a mask to punish them. Everett True thought of cowards as a criminal lot, and he punished them face to face.
When too many people want to visit him too often, True nails a “SMALL POX” sign to his front door. People who tell him jokes at work are met with projectiles. And woe betide anyone who wants to make small talk on the street. His only ally is his wife: though she dutifully gives dinners in order to prop up the (notably childless) couple’s status as members of the community—that very organism which True is hard at work simultaneously protecting and alienating—she is complicit with a smirk and a handshake when her husband plots to sweep away the mealtime freeloaders. If he’s the Batman of bad manners, she’s Robin.
Too often, now and probably in True’s era as well, we neglect or even deride the virtues of hatred. Sure, the towelheads and teabags and other assorted yahoos are foaming at the mouth now as ever. But meanwhile, as the space-hogs hog and the petty butt in line and the sanctimonious slumlords give aid to foreigners rather than cleaning up their own tenement buildings, those of us who would be civilized settle into depression rather than anger.
Or to put it less clinically, the righteous fire of telling off the booboisie is subsumed by an overcivilized sigh at their bloody-minded auto-phila.
Everett True is here to remind us that scum and villainy are not limited to felons, and offenders should be bopped over the head in any case . . . or punished in whatever fashion we can get away with. I suppose we must be as imaginative about skirting the law as the enemy.