The Chinese Fire Drill

Monday, December 12, 2011

Same Comic, Same Characters...Re-Named Title

When I was in seventh grade, I went roller-skating with a couple friends and one of their parents.  As we drove home in a dark, drizzly spray of mist, one of those friends, Chad, begged his dad to let us do a Chinese Fire Drill.  I had never heard of such a thing, and I was ALWAYS one of those kids who were just too worried about the consequences to do anything close to fun (I didn’t drink until I turned 21…yeah I was that nerdy).  So I sat in the middle of the back seat and watched Chad, my other friend Mike, Chad’s dad, Chad’s uncle, Chad’s sister, and who knows who else dance crazily around the enormous, late-70’s, vomit green Buick (or Oldsmobile or Chevy) while the stoplight burned red.  It was utter chaos, but it also looked like a lot of fun.

Years later, after the idealism of teaching had given way to exasperation; I would refer to that moment as an apocryphal metaphor for every moment that seemed illogical to the point of stupidity, and inside a public school system, such instances spring forth in multitudes.

“If this place were a VW Bug,” I’d say in frustration, “there’d be a Chinese Fire Drill at every intersection.”  The uproarious laughter I’d get motivated me to repeat the line year after year. Each time I did, I was only referencing it only to that rainy night when I was 12 years old.

When someone first suggested that the title of my comic strip was racist, I was sort of taken aback. Racist? But that can’t be? I’m not racist.  After all, my girlfriend is Korean (true) and her twin daughters are half-Korean (obviously).  How can I be racist if I’m in a serious relationship with an Asian woman? 

Wendi, that amazing woman who was born in Seoul, adopted at 6-months old, and raised in Indiana as a full-blooded Midwesterner then pointed out the obvious: I am not a racist, but the title of the comic is.

I took a foolishly naïve attitude when I first titled the comic.  I wanted to cling to the nostalgic importance of the “perfect metaphor,” at all costs.  However, I realize now that it’s not the perfect metaphor, and it’s not worth the cost of alienating readers who would otherwise enjoy the comic.  This thing has been an evolving work since the beginning.  It took a while to develop my core four teacher protagonists; I’m still developing Whipple’s love-hate relationship with Noman; and I suppose finding the right title is part of that process.

So, it’s time to change that title.  I asked my friends on Facebook (I was too embarrassed to ask on Twitter), and I got a lot of good suggestions.  But I still wanted something metaphorical.  What I realized was the new title (one that actually has a more deeply rooted connection to all that’s happening to both education and to the 99%’ers in this nation) was right in front of me as I drew every strip.

My characters all work at the fictional McCarthy High School, so named after the infamous Wisconsin senator who scourged the 20th Century history books with his persecution and zealous witch-hunting of America’s artistic community searching for those evil Reds.  McCarthy operated in an “ends-justifies-the-means” world, a world where (if you can bully enough of the people who would stop you) you can do anything you want.  That is the “Educational McCarthyism” that is now public education, and it’s happening in almost every school, and in almost every state, across the country.

Soon, when I post/release my 98th comic in the strip, the files on my hard drive will still say “CFD,” but the name on the blog will now be McCarthy’s Law.  I know…it’s appears vague, but if you know anything about the man who terrorized innocent Americans going on 70 years ago, then you’ll understand what it means.  My characters share the same fear of blind, overreaching authority as the real teachers who give of themselves every day.  My characters, like real teachers, want their students to rise above their circumstances and become greater people than anyone could imagine, and (like real teachers) they neither want nor expect anything in return.  All my characters want to do is find some way to do some good in the world, even while everyone with ill intentions steps on their backs using them for selfish political advancement.

On the masters in my hard drive, the titles have already been changed, and the reposting will take place during Christmas Break.

To all those honestly offended by the title of the comic, I am sorry.  Deeply, genuinely sorry.  I love a lot of people who are, like “white” people, just various shades of brown, and I REALLY love one in particular.

However, if you’re a staunch, devout Joe McCarthy Fan and the new title offends you now… Well…Go to Hell.

Thank you,


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