Anyone who has ever known me knows that I have always been profoundly proud of my rural Kentucky roots. I spent all my childhood between my family’s failing dairy farm in Berry and my grandfather’s tobacco farm in Cynthiana. Growing up in a hardworking family struggling to make ends meet has instilled a lifelong do-it-yourself work outlook that has led me to tenaciously chase my dreams, primarily to tell stories in comic books, like my work drawing “The Walking Dead.” Becoming a Kentucky Colonel was one of the proudest moments of my career, as not only recognition of my work, but as the honor of following in the footsteps of so many before me, including my own grandfather.
So, when I read that Governor Matt Bevin decided to put “The Walking Dead” on blast, I was particularly wounded. He posits that it is a “celebration of death,” and such media is a societal ill, responsible for this ongoing wave of shootings and violence. This line didn’t fly in the ‘80s when Tipper Gore tried it, and it doesn’t fly with me now. As a nerdy kid on an isolated farm, I grew up a fan of escapism. Horror movies and comics, over the top action movies, comics, and video games. Heavy metal and gangsta rap music, Dungeons & Dragons, you name it, I was in. I wear these influences unashamed, and they spill out into my work all the time. As a kid, my high school principal called me into the office, concerned about the nefarious mind-bending effects of roleplaying games, despite his knowing that I was at the top of my class with nothing but awards and service in my record. Thankfully, my mother didn’t throttle my media intake, and I was a sponge for it all, using it as grist for my creative mill. These things swirled in my little mind and formed me into the person I am today, which includes being a community-minded citizen, and devoted husband and father. Bevin’s words paint fandom as a degenerate sensibility, when I have only ever known kindness and generosity from them.
So, now in this uneasy age, when people are more racially and politically divided than I have seen in my lifetime, Governor Bevin decides to trot out this tired old garbage position and accuse our creation of being the root of society’s problems. These stories, as many others in the genre, are generally viewed as being about the strength of the human spirit in the face of phenomenally bleak circumstances. I think this is ultimately why they resonate with people so much. If he wants to talk about a culture of death, perhaps Governor Bevin should inspect his record on dialing back Medicaid expansion to thousands of vulnerable Kentuckians, or cutting worker safety regulations and union protections in the state, likely in response to the violations his own family’s bell factory incurred. His actions prove that he clearly holds the dollar as the almighty, and that the price he places on a human life is not a very high one. Perhaps he’d like to explain his science-denying environmental policy, or maybe just his speaking at a pro-cockfighting rally.
This attack, from the same Governor Bevin who howled that modern American conservatism may need to be protected with actual bloodshed. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Bevin paraphrased Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Implying that under a liberal administration, it could be a likely necessity for a new civil war, a literal armed insurrection murdering Americans, to protect his political ideology. The irony of invoking Martin Niemöller’s poem, “First They Came...” when his own party’s preliminary targets are socialist programs and unions, is positively deafening. Well-spoken as he may be, his comments boiled down to little more than fearmongering and crypto-fascist war drumming.
So, if Governor Bevin wants to point the finger at simple escapism, at stories that celebrate survival and hope, that celebrate LIFE, and denounce them as the cause of violence, perhaps he needs to have a good long look in the mirror to see what the face of a culture celebrating death truly looks like.