REVIEWS: The Optimist

Reviews of my comic strip, The Optimist. Updated May, 2012.

From Art Patient, May 2012…

Today’s comic under inspection is The Optimist by Tom Pappalardo. It is an interesting little gem of the gag strip variety. There is the occasional cuss word. There is some word play. There is some political observation. Some regular life silliness and some sarcasm. And there are podcasts and songs and all kinds of other things. Good things.

But let’s talk about the comic. It’s done in black and white with tones and greys. The effect has a lot of visual punch – like all good comics, it makes you focus on what the creator wants you to focus on. In this comic, it’s almost always the joke. The art has enough of visual hook that it stands out yet doesn’t overpower. Sometimes the joke can be subtle. Estronaut and Anglonaut were pretty catchy, for instance. Mind you, Enditol was somewhat morbid and not so subtle. Many comics today rely solely on sarcasm and rudeness to be amusing – but those are just two tools of many.

It seems to me that comics that stay focused but aren’t afraid to try something new tend to be more entertaining. Think about your favorite newspaper strips – Calvin’s rare episodes as a private eye or Snoopy’s flying adventures were welcome diversions from the more standard, albeit fun fare you expect.

What Did I Learn? Some comics are one trick ponies while others wander far and wide. Sometimes this is due to how the comic is conceptually set up and other times it might be a limitation set by the creator or even by the creator’s current skill level. This is not meant as a reflection on The Optimist, but it can be instructive to consider what you perceive is the intent of the comic and what the results are. If they don’t match, why don’t they? What could be done to adjust things?

Here’s a big 180-comment Reddit thread about The Vowel Movement. I am always surprised by what the Internet will latch onto.

Some reader feedback on a fake ad I published parodying the manipulative language used in pharmaceutical advertising (from the March 29th & April 5th Valley Advocate Letters To The Editor)…

I know the weather is running a month early, but does that mean April Fool’s Day came early, too? That’s the best interpretation I can make of the advertisement that appeared on page 6 of Vol. 40, Issue 11 (March 15, 2012). I don’t know whether your staff missed it, or thought it was funny; but one only has to step back and relax one’s eyes to see that the real product being sold by that ad is suicide (just look at the capitalized words and the product name).

While some may find this funny, I feel that without any context of humor in the surrounding text, it’s in extremely poor taste. I’m in favor of a free press, and you have every right to print what suits you; but be aware that you’ve offended this reader, and I rather hope others, too.

Karl Zimmerman, Amherst


This is in regard to the ad for “Enditol” on page six of the March 15 issue of the Valley Advocate. The ad urges people who are contemplating suicide to “Do it! For your friends! Do it! For your family! Do it! For yourself!” I had to read the ad several times to realize that it was a parody. My guess is that the ad for Enditol was a satire on the ads for anti-depressants that one sees on television. I actually take one myself.

I am an aspiring comedian. Jokes about politicians always make people laugh. A harmless ethnic joke makes it. Even a dirty joke is all right now and then. Suicide is not funny. Neither is AIDS or cancer. I would never make jokes about the aforementioned.

I know personally several people who have committed suicide. The effects of suicide on the immediate families were profound, devastating and never-ending. I have a first cousin who committed suicide in 1977. His surviving twin brother seeks solace by immersing himself in spiritual matters. He hopes to be united with his brother in the afterlife. Please, educate people about suicide. Do not trivialize it.

Tim Leinroth, Sunderland


Recently the Valley Advocate published a fake ad for “Enditol” suicide pills, signifying to readers that this publication tacitly approves of the ad’s insensitive and potentially harmful message. While intended to be humorous, the overt content of the ad nonetheless encouraged suicide and self-harm (“Maybe no one likes you because you’re such a major downer. Maybe you’re a defective human being.” “Do it for your friends. Do it for your family. Do it for yourself.”) Thoughts of inferiority, feeling burdensome to friends and family, and the idea that loved ones would be better off [without one] are all too common among people considering suicide.

These messages—in any context, even satire—can potentially cause devastation if seen by someone contemplating self-harm or suicide. Furthermore, such messaging can bring back feelings of despair, grief, and loss among those who have lost a loved one to suicide, or themselves attempted suicide. The Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention encourages responsible reporting of suicides and compassionate and thoughtful treatment of any media discussion of the subject, including—but not limited to—satire. Such consideration could save someone’s life.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, call the statewide toll-free Samaritans line at 1-877-870-4673 or 1-800-273-TALK.

Peggy Morse, Chair, Berkshire Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention
Jennifer Kelliher, Managing Director, Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention


Today 89 people will kill themselves in the United States. Approximately one person commits suicide each week in each of the four counties of Western Mass. Mocking suicide as was done in the pseudo-advertisement for “Enditol” by Tom Pappalardo in the March 15th edition of the Valley Advocate was unwise, hazardous and negligent. On any day, this ad would be in horrible taste, but following a letter from Elizabeth Reinke, R.N. about her suffering with postpartum depression in the same edition, it was truly distressing.

We have been impressed with Maureen Turner’s excellent coverage on postpartum emotional complications for the last three years. Unfortunately, this dangerous mock ad may have had, or could have, an impact on vulnerable individuals suffering with suicidal thoughts.

For those in our region who are struggling, help is available. Here are resources for you if you are feeling suicidal or have a family member in crisis (please call 911 if you are in immediate crisis):
Clinical and Support Options, covering all of Franklin County and the North Quabbin area: 800-562-0112 or 413-774-5411.
Covering all of Hampshire County: 800-322-0424 or 413-586-5555.
Brien Center, covering all of Berkshire County: 800-252-0227.
Behavioral Health Network, covering all of Hampden County: 800-437-5922 or 413-733-6661

Beth Spong, Executive Director, MotherWoman
Dr. Barry Sarvet, Baystate Medical Center and American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Peggy Morse, Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention
M. Christine MacBeth, The Brien Center
Leslie Tarr Laurie, President/CEO, and Robert Reardon, Director, Tapestry Health
Karin Jeffers, Executive Director, Clinical and Support Options
Sera Davidow, Director, Western Mass. Recovery Learning Community
Susan Karas, Director of Outpatient Service, and
Jim Frutkin, Vice President of Clinical Services, ServiceNet
Susan Fortin and Jon Philips, Pioneer Valley Coalition for Suicide Prevention
Clare Higgins, Executive Director, Community Action of the Franklin, Hampshire and North Quabbin Regions


(T)he mental health community feels very strongly that this ad is distasteful at the least and could be potentially dangerous. Imagine for a second that the next Phoebe Prince saw the paper that day and your words were just the encouragement that sent her over the edge to knowing that there was actually no real help out there. I strongly encourage you to consider pulling this mock ad from circulation in all places where it is. You also may want to seriously consider an apology to the entire community for the recklessness of your satire. I hope that you develop an understanding of the very real power of your words in impacting vulnerable people in our community.

As we all know, satire is serious business. Satirists have had huge impact on the development of social policies, of bringing attention to important issues and to making us laugh when we have lost hope. You are obviously a very gifted artist and have an astute mind. Your illustrations can change the world. Will it be for the better or for the worse? The choice is yours.

Liz Friedman, MotherWoman


The series of letters written assailing Tom Pappalardo’s mock advertisement for “Enditol” which recently appeared in the Advocate beg further scrutiny. First, does anyone really think a person with suicidal intent is reading this paper? Those in crisis and contemplating ending their lives aren’t likely to be kicking back and following local cultural news. And one hopes the lack of perspicacity exemplified by a belief that something like dark humor can directly, or even indirectly, engender suicide is not characteristic of those who work in the field.

Such a reductionistic mentality is troubling in itself, but focusing on the “wrongness” of this satire sadly misses the point Pappalardo is making.

Let’s not overlook the number of phone calls or emails exchanged in coordinating the recent letter by multiple signers. On whose dime was that?

Writing letters about causes makes people feel empowered and activistic, but in this case obfuscates the need for a more intensive conversation about suicide, to include the abject failures of psychiatry, the increasingly isolative, uncompassionate, and stress-riddled American social fabric, militarism, and the unending corporate assaults on human dignity. Nothing about contemporary American life intrinsically makes anyone feel wonderful about themselves, except those who use our nation as a playground for their own narcissism—at the expense of the rest of us. Hopefully, concerned professionals like the signatories to aforementioned letters will invite an interdisciplinary discussion about the phenomenon of suicide.

Greg Merens

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