There Oughta Be a Cartoon. (Comics)

Article excerpt

Lloyd Dangle is looking for the funny side of MTBE. To most people, the gasoline additive--once considered a boon that would make California's cars run cleaner, but now recognized as a poison that has contaminated groundwater throughout the state--is a depressing and disappointing example of unintended consequences. To cartoonist Dangle, it's perfect fodder for his weekly strip, Troubletown, which runs in two dozen newspapers and magazines around the country, as well as the Web magazine Slate. "This is a case of monumental idiocy," Dangle says as he sits in the backyard studio of his Oakland, California, home, mulling over ideas for illustrating the complex crisis in nine panels using scratchy characters and balloon quotes. "I look for the humor on the other side of anger and tragedy."

Environmental issues often fit Dangle's criteria as "funny-slash-tragic," including recycled computer monitors (low-paid Third World disassemblers are exposed to the machines' toxic insides), hydrogen fuel cells (in one proposal, the newest and cleanest technology will be dependent on one of the oldest and dirtiest, oil), and logging in national forests (timber companies propose clearcutting to "salvage" the forest).

Like any good political cartoonist, Dangle knows to "follow the money," and has found a wealth of material in the Enron bankruptcy and the Bush administration's industry-friendly energy plan. A recent Dangle cartoon shows Enron execs frantically transferring bags of money out of a pipeline and into a truck while an administration official apologetically tells them that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney won't intervene on the company's behalf: "It might give a bad impression ... especially since they built that pipeline for you."

As he offers me a cup of coffee in an official Troubletown mug ("Kills anthrax on contact!" it proclaims), Dangle tells me his style is to "stay close to what's true, but push it to make it funny." He'll take nuggets of fact--the closed-door deliberations and unchecked power of the World Trade Organization, for example--and explore the absurdities. "Anything that prevents human gene trademarking restricts growth! Saving king salmon stymies export demand!" free-trade leaders assert in Dangle's fictive rendition of the 1999 WTO proceedings in Seattle.

An ability to turn the frightening into the laughable is the hallmark of good satire; think Stanley Kubrick's romp through the threat of nuclear holocaust in Dr. …