Pretty Young Things, part 2 UNCENSORED
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July 7th, 2009

Pretty Young Things, part 2 UNCENSORED

My editor sent me an email a few days before today’s strip was going to press saying “I can’t let you do this.” It had all the urgency of an intervention. My editor was refusing to let me OD. She was pouring my vodka down the drain. Apparently jokes about pedophilia, even mild ones like this, aren’t allowed on the comics page. But thank God for the Web!

Here’s the CENSORED version (below). I had to come up with something that would fit the existing art and I had about ten minutes in which to do that. It still works. In fact, all I did was replace the offending last two panels with an earlier draft of the strip, so this is still something I wanted to say. I like it more than I did when I grabbed it from my notes in a mad rush to meet the deadline. You might even prefer it:

This is the CENSORED version of today's strip. See the Director's Cut at

This is the CENSORED version of today's strip. See the Director's Cut at

The edited version of today’s strip removes all jocular (funny word to use, considering… oh never mind) references to Michael Jackson’s questionable relationship with small boys. In fact, they even removed “your possible depravity” from panel three in a second round of censoring (I’m not going to spend time doing the same here, but I will for the version that’ll go in a book collection). Some believe that’s for the best, because he was never convicted and because he’s dead and should be left alone.

But the uncensored version of the strip doesn’t assert that he was guilty. What it does is acknowledge that people have questions about him that are impossible to answer because of his own actions. He went through a child molestation trial and settled out of court for $20 million. Whether he was innocent or not, inviting young boys to sleep with him AFTER having gone through that was a stupid and naive decision. I bought his story. But I have to admit that as much as I admire him and his music, he handed people who don’t believe him plenty of reason to doubt his veracity. And I’ve never believed that we should only speak well of the dead. That’s dishonest.

**EDIT: Several of you have asked if I could make a poster available composed of the entire Michael Jackson/Lemont series. I’ve created an order button. If enough of you order to cover the production costs, I’ll go ahead and order a print run. If not, I’ll refund the money. Profits will be donated to Aids Project Los Angeles. Here’s how to order:

Domestic Orders: $15 (includes s&h)

International Orders: $15 (includes s&h)

Discussion (29)¬

  1. Cezar says:

    Interesting comic, thanks

  2. […] Darrin Bell posts his Michael Jackson comic strip that had to be rewritten before it could go out to papers. Darrin calls it “censorsed” on his blog. The topic is […]

  3. TCO says:

    He was a weirdo. Carving his face up and bleaching his skin and straightening hids hair to look white. Good riddance

    • Darrin Bell says:

      Michael Jackson gave a good response to this in that Martin Bashir interview from (I think it was) 2004. He pointed out the millions of white people who crawl into tanning booths, spray on tan, and get their skin chemically darkened, and said most people don't call any of them weirdos or freaks. Why, then, if a black person wants to look lighter, is it ok to call him a freak? Sometimes people aren't happy with the way they look, for whatever reason, and want to change it.

      That was a good point, but putting on my armchair psychologist hat, pipe and beard, it seems clear to me there was a lot of self-loathing wrapped up in that in his case. I just found it sad, not repulsive.

    • Ken says:

      Taking time out of a Saturday afternoon to attack someone who just died strikes me as a little weird.

  4. @danlyke says:

    Add this to the list of exhibits on why newspapers are dying. This is yet another thing that I can read online that I can't get if I get a big pile of dead trees that I have to figure out how to dispose of flopped on my doorstep every morning. If newspapers stopped pandering to the most milquetoast of the 60+ crowd and grew a pair, I might start reading them again.

    To the discussions above, "Not Guilty" and "Guilty" are legal terms and although they hopefully have something to do with whether the defendant did or did not do the acts of which they are accused, it is no guarantee.

  5. @bradspace says:

    I am disgusted that our society is so politically correct that your strip had to be censored. I definitely prefer the uncensored one. MUCH funnier. A DJ that I know often says that tragedy+time=comedy. MJ created and lived in situations that lend themselves to speed up the clock that may otherwise take a few more weeks.

  6. Anjilyn says:

    Poor Michael. The whole thing confused me. I don't know a lot about psychology or anything but I wonder how he would have turned out if Joe didn't fuck him up as a child?

  7. I think he grew up literally SO fast that he never got past a childlike innocence as related to the world. He never HAD to deal with the world on a normal person's terms. maybe he even had a touch of Asperger's and didn't relate to cultural and conversational subtexts the way most people do. I don't believe he did anything out of malice as much as out of a honest inability to understand how others could read more into a situation than what he did. He still WAS a kid in so many ways. so I say, maybe smoke, but no fire.

  8. Peacezgood says:

    The published version is funnier because it says a lot in fewer words. Also, I don't think that the published version substantially changed the meaning of the cartoon. I actually like it better because you can read what you want into it. And the "what, what" at the end is more consistent with your other cartoons which have the "what, what" at the end. I like it. I can see why you liked the original one but with the fewer words, the drawings are more pronounced, and I love your drawings.

    • Peacezgood says:

      Also, in the third box thing, there are too many "YOU" messages in the original. I like the "I" message that was published better.

    • Darrin Bell says:

      Thanks. I'm a little confused, I think you may have it backward: The one that was published in papers is the smaller one above. The larger one at the top of this page (which ends in them both saying "What?") is the one that they didn't allow.

  9. jonthebru says:

    Censorship in this case is not logic, its just trying to avoid controversy. Either version is good, if I had seen the censored version first I would not have thought about anything else. Your craft is an amazing one, creating new content constantly must keep you on your toes.

  10. Aengil says:

    Firstly, apologies for confusing you with your character. Easy to do, but I should know better. Sorry.

    Secondly, *technically*, "not guilty" in a system that presumes innocence until proven guilty does mean "innocent", but I take your point that in practice it may not. However, I'd also urge against taking a stance where anyone accused of something, no matter how baseless the accusations and weak the case against them, is forevermore considered more guilty than someone never accused.

    Essentially, accusations of paedophilia seem to be the modern-day witch-hunt. We do after all live in a world where a paediatrician was labelled a 'paedo' in a name and shame campaign.

    And here's my point. It's not really about MJ from my point of view. It's about a society where any innocent behaviour that *could* be considered suspicious is no longer innocent. Where the possibility of depravity becomes the probability of depravity. How many teachers refuse to comfort a crying child for fear of being accused of inappropriate behaviour? How many parents already refuse to let their children share their beds when they're scared, etc., for fear of it being misconstrued?

    If an innocent teacher hugs an upset child and is later accused of touching them inappropriately, should they never hug an upset child again? If they do, should that really be considered reason to question whether they were truly innocent? Are they naive, or are they just refusing to let the fear and paranoia of others stop them doing what they know is innocent?

    Similarly if the MJ sleepovers were innocent, should he really have stopped them after a false accusation? I do not think it's right to wonder whether he was telling the truth when he said nothing happened because he continued doing something which, if he was indeed telling the truth, was perfectly innocent.

    (Actually, if he had stopped them, I would not have been surprised in the slightest if people then said "he must have thought there was something wrong with what he was doing, otherwise he wouldn't have stopped.")

    Don't get me wrong. I agree that Lemont has the right to question MJ's veracity. But while he might have the right to do that, I don't think he is right to do so.

    I simply don't believe that accusations found to be baseless and the mere possibility of inappropriate behaviour are cause to continually question someone's innocence. I think the reason that MJ's innocence is still continually questioned is not because there is reasonable cause to question his innocence but simply because 'mud sticks'. And I think that's a shame.

    I think a world where people stop doing good things out of fear of being misunderstood is poorer for it.

    But perhaps I'm just naive?

    • ActionPhoto says:

      Perhaps you should do a little research on "presumed innocence". From a wikipedia article: "Although the Constitution of the United States does not cite it explicitly, presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th, 6th and 14th amendments. See also Coffin v. United States". The article essentially states that "presumption of innocence" means "the burden of proof falls on the accuser, not the denier".

      Having said that, I agree with out about the teacher issue. It's just another example of our litigious society screwing up something useful for many because of the actions of a few.

      Back to Lemont and MJ: is Lemont "right" to question MJ's veracity? Feelings are neither right nor wrong. Most of the people can't know whether or not MJ was guilty. Neither can they know if OJ or WKS were guilty. We form opinions based on the information we've gotten. And we have no way of validating the information or doing our own investigation. Being famous has its benefits and its drawbacks. Included in the drawbacks: everything you do is up for public scrutiny. And the fact that MJ was wealthy and susceptible to parents who might want to make up stories for profit. It's all the more reason to question MJ's decisions following the first incident.

    • Darrin Bell says:

      ActionPhoto said pretty much what I was about to post, so I won't repeat most of it.

      Lemont's curious about it. He's conflicted, as he told Michael; and since this is the only chance he'll ever get to work out his conflicted feelings, he's taking it. In his mind, now that Michael's leaving and it's just the two of them alone, he might be willing to give Lemont a candid answer (either a confession, or he'll look him in the eye and say "no, I didn't do it."). MJ so far has responded with annoyance because he's sick and tired of the question.

      I too agree about false accusations being ruinous and about how adults have to worry about them more than they should. But I don't know where to draw the line here. Am I wrong to believe the Bush administration lied to us about several important matters simply because it was never proven in a court of law? Am I wrong to believe OJ Simpson murdered Nicole and her friend? Am I wrong to believe some of our elected officials are certifiably insane even though they haven't been certified as such? Am I wrong to believe Bill Clinton lied under oath even though he was never actually convicted of perjury? Am I wrong to believe the many first hand accounts that certain American corporations funded anti-union death squads throughout Central America, even though that was never even brought to court?

      I don't know. I can believe with all my heart and intellect that those things happened, but if I were on a jury and they didn't present an airtight case against any of those people or companies, I would have to hold my nose and vote "not guilty."

      While it's wrong for people to punish those who haven't been proven guilty of a crime, it's human for them to be skeptical unless they ARE proven innocent. In this case, MJ settled out of court for an insanely huge amount of money. He didn't prove his innocence, he just tried to make the whole thing go away, and there are consequences for that. When you plead the fifth, or when you settle out of court, you're escaping punishment but you're also surrendering your chance to dispel doubts and those doubts are going to linger. When it's a public figure, that means there are millions of people who're going to be left with doubt. It's not fair, but it's life.

      • Aengil says:

        I think the difference between the examples you offer and the Michael Jackson allegations is the evidence behind them.

        Put it this way, if I ask someone who believes the Bush administration lied, "Why do you think they lied?" I can pretty much guarantee I get a more substantial answer than if I ask someone who believes Michael Jackson molested children, "Why do you think that?"

        But having said that, I take the points on board and you're right, I can't really say the individual isn't right to question, given the information they've received – which is likely to be largely sensationalist conjecture from the media (I'm not going to argue the details of the settlement of the original civil suit now by the way, but I will say there was more to it than your comment suggests).

        Before suggesting – distinct from merely asking the question – that someone is/was a paedophile, or outright saying they were like a certain congressman on youtube has, we should have more than just a vague impression gleaned from the media, that doesn't stand up when what evidence there is (or isn't) is considered objectively. I really disagree with the idea that a celebrity – or anyone – should have to change their life if falsely accused of something, or forever be suspected. I do recognize that in our society that is sadly the case. But I'll still keep on objecting to it.

        Although in this instance I think I did overreact somewhat, for which I apologise. It's probably down to the sheer amount of dubious commentary in the media as a whole and I think I mentioned a certain congressman…

        By the way, thanks for taking the time to reply to those comments, I appreciate it.

  11. reyna25 says:

    I just think the published version is funnier.

    • Darrin Bell says:

      I honestly don't know which version I think is funnier. The main reason I initially passed on the published version (which was an earlier draft of the strip) was it just felt too wordy & because I hadn't done a misunderstanding strip in a while.

  12. Arlene Kelly says:

    I like the old Scot's verdict, used in New England for awhile (including at the Lizzie Borden Trial): Not Proven. It meant: not guilty but don't do it again.

  13. Ken says:

    I agree about the right to questions Jackson's veracity. I have doubts about the timing. Fans will be debating those difficult issues for years and gradually resolving how they want to regard Jackson. I' don't think most fans are ready to think seriously about his flaws this week

    • Darrin Bell says:

      I know. And I thought of that. But then I realized I'm a Jackson fan and I'm ready. More than that, I'll probably be tired of thinking about it by next week (I already avoid the cable news because I've seen one too many MJ specials and heard too much about his will), so this, for me, is the only time to do it.

      • Ken says:

        You might be right. However, I'm watching too many people on television cry. You and I may be different kind of fans and quicker to reconcile our Jackson issues than the many other.
        Also, I have the feeling we'll be experiencing aftershocks for some time. I think MJ reporting, books, and memorabilia, etc will become the economic stimulus that replaces Obama merchandise.

  14. Arlene Kelly says:

    I always liked the old Scottish verdict, used in New England for awile, "Not Proven" which a Scottish relative of mine said meant: not guilty but don't do it again.

  15. Aengil says:

    Mmm… I wouldn't say the questions are impossible to answer, just impossible to answer definitively. But then I can't say that you haven't abused children either. Does that mean I should say you might have?

    Just how much weight should we give to accusations? Michael Jackson wasn't just accused, he was tried, and found innocent. CBS's chief legal correspondant Andrew Cohen attended the trial and wrote afterwards, ""The case against Jackson was so bad that even you [directed at those upset with the verdict] would have acquitted him based solely upon the evidence. Yes, it was that bad." Note the trial included evidence from the 1993 accusations as well.

    Of course, it's not like Michael Jackson was so wealthy that manipulative parents, with a history of grifting, might have coerced their children into making up stories in order to try and profit… oh, wait…

    So sure, the question technically can't be answered definitively. But objectively, Michael Jackson was tried and found innocent. The question "did he abuse children" isn't impossible to answer, it was asked, investigated, and answered, "no, he didn't", and can be answered accordingly thereafter.

    I don't think we should only speak well of the dead either. But when the question was asked and answered, why keep asking the question?

    Do you believe there's no smoke without fire as well?

    • Darrin Bell says:

      No, but then he was never found "innocent," he was found "not guilty." The terms are not interchangeable. For instance, even though I believed they committed the crimes of which they were accused, I would've found William Kennedy Smith and OJ Simpson "not guilty" too because those cases were tainted and full of holes.

      Unlike Lemont, I am willing to buy Michael Jackson's story. Unlike a lot of his critics, I do agree that people make too big a deal out of adults' normal interactions with kids. When I was a kid, teachers wouldn't lose their jobs for hugging us. I agreed with what Jackson said in that Martin Bashir interview at the time and I still do.

      But I also cringed at it because of the context. Here was a man who'd been tried on child molestation charges and settled out of court for a reported $20 million. That's not an admission of guilt, but to THEN invite young boys into his bed after going through something like that was the stupidest, most naive decision imaginable, and it gave people the right to wonder whether he was really innocent. I think he was, because from what I've seen, he was a child who never really grew up and I buy that he was just playing and "camping out" with people he may have considered his real peers, just like I did when I was ten. But I understand that that's just my opinion, and he's given ample cause for other people to arrive at the opposite opinion, and for people like Lemont to have no conclusive opinion at all.

      So while I understand the temptation to shoot the messenger here, I think your analogy with me ignores that context. If I'd been put on trial for that sort of thing and then later invited kids to sleep with me, you would be right to wonder whether I was telling the truth when I said nothing happened. But since that hasn't happened, then you'd be making up accusations out of thin air, and that's wrong. Because of the context, Lemont has every right to question Michael Jackson's veracity.