Pretty Young Things, conclusion
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July 10th, 2009

Pretty Young Things, conclusion

A week and a half ago, when I heard Michael Jackson had passed, it felt as if my childhood had passed with him. When I was eight, I tried to jheri curl my hair with mousse. Then by not washing the shampoo out of my hair. Then by appropriating the grease from the kitchen. I taught myself the moonwalk. I talked my mom into buying me a red jacket with too many zippers. Like tens of millions of other kids, I wanted to be Michael Jackson.

I also cringed because I just knew most of my fellow cartoonists were going to draw Michael Jackson moonwalking through the Pearly Gates. I swore on Twitter I’d hunt down any cartoonist who did that and beat them senseless with a sock full of quarters. Of course, as soon as I posted that, I realized I had to deal with it myself and I’d just ruled out a whole range of angles. For me, it was a blessing. I decided, instead of a simple tribute, to take a week to work out the conflicted feelings so many have about Michael Jackson, and that so many don’t want to acknowledge. It was important, I felt, that it be Lemont who’s conflicted about this, because contrary to what Al Sharpton’s been saying, being conflicted about Michael is not a racial matter. And it was important to me to finally get to the heart of the matter, that I don’t believe Michael ever meant anyone any harm. In the end, as happens to us all in our final moment, we’re reduced to the essence of what we are. In his case, that would be a little boy who never really grew up.

Whether you loved this series or hated it, you have to admit, at least it’s more interesting than another “moonwalking through the Pearly Gates” cartoon.

As for me, my childhood’s still here. As long as Eddie Murphy, Prince, Cosby, Mr. T and Ricky Schroder are still alive, I don’t really have to grow up.

**EDIT- I woke up this morning to find more than a dozen requests for posters composed of the entire Michael Jackson/Lemont series. I’ll put up an order button, and if enough orders come in to cover the printing and shipping costs, I’ll go ahead and order a print run of posters (keep in mind it takes about 2 weeks to order a batch of posters and mail them out). 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: $25 (includes s&h)

  • Jenifer

    What can I add but a tearful "thank you" to both Darrin and Michael. Truly stunning. I'm reminded of abused and neglected children I worked with several years ago, who lost their childhoods but were still children, and I remember their faces and their names, looking at that last panel. I wonder where they are now and if someone is hugging them.

  • Lee Wertman

    That last strip was one of the most moving, remarkable and poignant strips I've ever seen and I'm a huge fan of the genre. This was much more than a comic strip.

    • Darrin Bell

      Sorry, any president who uses the same rationale the NAZIS tried to use in order to excuse war crimes has earned himself at least a week of mockery, whether he's a great and brilliant man from Chicago or a usurper from Texas.

  • Denae

    This is the 1st time a comic strip has ever made me cry. Over the last 2 weeks so much has been written and said about MIchael Jackson but this was an absolutely beautiful tribute. Thank you Darrin…

  • Childhood

    Written and composed by michael jackson.
    Produced by michael jackson.

    Have you seen my childhood?
    I’m searching for the world that I come from
    ’cause I’ve been looking around
    In the lost and found of my heart…
    No one understands me
    They view it as such strange eccentricities…
    ’cause I keep kidding around
    Like a child, but pardon me…

    People say I’m not okay
    ’cause I love such elementary things…
    It’s been my fate to compensate,
    For the childhood
    I’ve never known…

    Have you seen my childhood?
    I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
    Like pirates in adventurous dreams,
    Of conquest and kings on the throne…

    Before you judge me, try hard to love me,
    Look within your heart then ask,
    Have you seen my childhood?

    People say I’m strange that way
    ’cause I love such elementary things,
    It’s been my fate to compensate,
    For the childhood I’ve never known…

    Have you seen my childhood?
    I’m searching for that wonder in my youth
    Like fantastical stories to share
    The dreams I would dare, watch me fly…

    Before you judge me, try hard to love me.
    The painful youth I’ve had

    Have you seen my childhood….

  • And Lemont is still on his train of life, traveling.

  • "The end of the line". What will catch any of us in a trap door at the end of our line? Will we all be reborn as an innocent child? Makes one think.

  • labradog

    Darrin, that Pretty Young Things series was amazing.
    I wasn't a big MJ fan at all, liked a couple of his J5 songs enough to learn the bass part; not a hater.
    I'm a 56 year old white guy, and I teared up reading these last two (I didn't know how you'd top the lullaby strip. Jesus H., guy, you just barely did.)
    My wife and I both read you every day. Hope I'm not fuckin' up your youth cred, here.

  • LBurgess

    dangit! I'm getting the keyboard wet…

  • Lou Thomas

    Your strip has been the edgiest out there for a while, but insights like those in today's installment are what separate the true artist from the clever commentator.

    The mask of a white person on a defenseless little black kid brings to mind all of the reasons that an African-American might decide under pressure to be anything but who he is. Every night on the news people of color are shown being chased into prison by police. The prisons fill up with these "excess" persons for whom this unimaginative, racist society can offer no better purpose. For black males, blaming of the victim goes beyond blame to demonization. But a little safe area of "good" black people is created in sports and entertainment and, for a few, in politics, just to "prove" that society is not really racist, and that therefore those other victims of racist policies do, indeed, have "no one to blame but themselves."

    Jackson was an amazing talent, but for role models we'll have to look past him to those who have had the courage to stand up to the attacks upon their identity and continue to be who they are. Your commentary, however, evokes the compassion that is appropriate toward those who, like Jackson, were too frail to avoid being warped by those unremitting pressures. It also evokes a sense of loss regarding the kind of artist that Jackson might have become in a less oppressive environment.

  • I so appreciate these strips about Michael. To me, ever since Thriller period, I've always just thought of him as "Michael", like he was a personal friend. Seeing what he did to himself over the years, turning my back on the entertainer I adored as a pre-teen when those allegations were made and that interview with Martin Bashir that made me cringe…all the scary and bad stuff receded when he died. It's taken me 2 weeks to work through a lot of my feelings about him, and your last comic strip is the perfect ending. Brings tears to my eyes and a sigh of relief to think of him free of all the obvious self-hatred he had and the life that seemed painful. Perfect ending, Mr. Bell. Thank you for your insight.

  • Bill Campbell

    Beautiful work there, Darrin. Period. Brought tears to my eyes.

    • Thanks, Bill. It did the same to me when I drew it.

  • You are being featured on Five Star Friday —

  • Anjilyn

    Can I have your red leather jacket with too many zippers if you're not going to wear it? I swear I can find an outfit to make it work for me! (And of course, the tribute strip is great. But seriously, about that jacket…)

    • I wish I could give it to you, but unless memory fails me, I think I traded that jacket for a kiss about 25 years ago.

  • Marie

    Ah, this strip had a perfect story arc. The build up, the tension and horror, then the *ah!* of an unexpected conclusion that feels just right. Nearly made me cry at the end.

  • SteveS

    That captured exactly what's been missing the last several years. I think Michael had lost himself in all his attempts to remake himself over the years.

  • [pt. 2]
    Anyway, thank you for this series. Though I should imagine some people might give you crap about removing the gaunt and ghoulish head of the adult MJ, I think we'd all be happier to think of him as the beautiful, talented young black boy, free of everything that made him such a broken man.

  • I grew up with the adult MJ, the one who mutilated his face and bleached his skin more and more the older I got. It wasn't until his death that I started seeing a lot of the photos from when he was a kid singing and dancing with his brothers at Motown. I was astounded by how absolutely adorable he was as a child; I'd heard, but I really had no idea. And he was a beautiful young man before he started the plastic surgery. It's insane to think that no one stood in front of him, told him he was beautiful, and told him to stop. For all of the fuss at the funeral, I kept thinking, if they all loved him so much, why didn't they do anything to stop what he was doing to himself? (Never mind the weirdness beyond what he did to his face.) I know there's only so much a person can do when someone they love is bent on self-destruction, but, still.

  • Tim Jackson

    Lots of meaning in that last image!

  • Arlene Kelly

    Wonderful strip-the strip, including the censored strip, have been first class.

  • I have to admit that I was taken aback at the third panel until I stepped back and looked at the whole strip at once.