Year of the Beast: What Transmetropolitan Can Teach Us About a Trump PresidencyMain Image by Darick Robertson Comics Features Transmetropolitan
So. We need to talk.
About Spider Jerusalem.
The eminently dislikable protagonist of Warren Ellis and Darick Robertson’s legendary political science-fiction comic series Transmetropolitan, Spider is a shithole of a human being who the reader, at no point, ever really enjoys spending time with. He’s a gonzo journalist of the best Hunter S. Thompson tradition, a black-clad crusader who spells “truth” with a capital T and spends most of the book locked in combat with two successive Presidents of the United States. The first, known only as “the Beast,” is a Berlusconi-style sexocrat, an amoral narcissist swimming with corruption and venereal disease. The second, “the Smiler,” is a sociopath, plain and simple, who sought office explicitly to inflict pain on his constituents.
We have thankfully not yet elected our own Smiler.
We have, however, elected the Beast.
Our Beast, a reality show star who has built his political career on bald-faced lies, racism and xenophobia, is not someone who is going to go away easily. We’ve taken someone who was already a master at both getting and keeping attention and who is so scandalous it’s almost impossible to imagine an actually damaging scandal befalling him, short of being caught smoking crack, and invested him with the most powerful and significant office on earth. He has committed himself to a program centered around mass deportation, promised to imprison his chief political opponent and to prosecute unfavorable press, and rolling back legal protections for both Americans both queer and of color.
He has an orange face and a tiny little mouth, and he is the most powerful man on earth come the 20th of January.
Spider Jerusalem is a deeply unpleasant person in an oddly self-important book steeped in the world of mid-90s social anxieties and alternative culture. His politics can be weirdly regressive; the world of Transmetropolitan is transphobic, and the perversions it presents as normal in Spider’s world are clearly presented both for our judgement and his. He curses (and we are supposed to be impressed), he stomps around like an impatient child (which we are supposed to find subversive and heroic) and he does absolutely horrifying buckets of drugs (which is supposed to hit us in our taboo-laden reptile brains). He is abusive and demeaning to his assistants, who are always young women, and is, all in all, not the sort of person one would normally enjoy reading 60-or-so issues about.
Spider Jerusalem is also a good person.
The key difference between Spider and his opponents, Beast and Smiler alike, is that, at the end of the day, you the reader trust Spider. His pretentious worship of The Truth aside, it is painfully evident that, buried under that stalking, abrasive exterior is, in fact, a beating human heart. He cares. He cares deeply. He’s the sort of cynic you get when an idealist has been disappointed one too many times, but he still has enough of a soul left to know that he has to stick to the fight, do the work and tell the truth about what is going on in his world because it’s the one weapon he has to strike back at the bastards who beat down the weak.
His work, over the course of the series, is varied, but carries one theme across: to ensure nobody can ignore the things they want to ignore. He exposes how political forces conspired with a corrupt cult leader to cause a riot that cost innocent lives, tells the story of how the cryogenically revived are essentially dumped on the street and left to rot in their new lives, tries to help people connect with their rapidly-receding pasts. Again and again and again, Spider uses his position to shine a light where it hasn’t been shone, to encourage—or just as often, to bitterly shame – his readers into living better, fuller, more decent lives. He fights back against the Beast, the Smiler and the tenor they bring to their societies.
At the end of his author’s foreword to V for Vendetta (and I promise you I have read past that page), Alan Moore describes the Thatcherite United Kingdom of 1988. “It’s cold and mean-spirited,” he wrote, “and I don’t like it here anymore.” I’ve certainly voiced that sentiment repeatedly in recent days about my own country, the United States, here at the tail end of 2016. But it’s also true that I know we can do something about this.
And I know what I’m going to do. I’m going to pull a Spider Jerusalem and write.
Each of us, whether comic creator or comic reader, writer, artist, journalist, postcard enthusiast, whatever, has an opportunity to resist. Not simply to resist the coming Trump government, but to resist the Trumpist culture that’s on the way, too. This is the sneering attitude that tells a woman in a hijab that her “time’s almost up” and that has empowered bigots to trot out the word “faggot” toward many of my LGBT friends more often in the last few days than in the entire time since I came out. Trumpism—that regressive, xenophobic, transphobic, racist, sexist, white supremacist mindset—has so many people in this country convinced that the key to making America great again is for the rest of us to sit down, shut up and take it like we deserve.
We have the power to fight this, every single day. Some of us will write. Some will make art, or music. But every act of decency and kindness is an act of resistance to the crass, cruel world Trump wants us to make. That means that, if we want to get through the next four years with the project of advancing the cause of the human spirit intact, we must embrace solidarity with the full measure of our hearts.
It’s the Year of the Beast. Do not fall to his predations.
Magdalene Visaggio is a professional writer and marketer. She’s best known as the creator of the comic Kim & Kim from Black Mask Studios. She lives in Manhattan with her wife Eowyn, and can be found on Twitter @MagsVisaggs.