Emerald political cartoonist Brett Hamil’s new collection of all 152 “Sunday Comix” strips reflects Seattle’s frustrating political climate.
by Jas Keimig
Since 2020, comedian and political cartoonist Brett Hamil has been faithfully skewering Seattle politicians and cranks every week for the South Seattle Emerald in his “Sunday Comix” column. From City Hall gadflies who are obsessed with abiding by the infuriatingly slow Seattle process to Seattle police officers who want no consequences and all the funding, Hamil’s work has documented a turbulent and weird past couple of years for our so-called progressive city. Now, he’s compiled all 152 comic strips into a new book Airhorn of Truth: The COMPLETE Sunday Comix which serves as a hilarious and potent reminder of how far Seattle has to go. I called up Hamil this week to chat about the recent City Council election results, his cartooning process, and what hope he has for our mossy city.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
South Seattle Emerald: How are you feeling about the results of the City Council race? Is it prime stuff for a comic?
Brett Hamil: I mean, yes, there are some inherently hilarious characters that are going to be coming into office. It’s kind of like how they said the Trump years are gonna be great for satire or whatever. And it’s like that is the thinnest of silver linings whatsoever. I’m not saying it’s a good thing but, you know, vapid centrist politicians are inherently hilarious because they are always going to get tangled in the contradiction of capitalism which they have no answer for.
How did “Sunday Comix” start at the South Seattle Emerald?
It started during the George Floyd Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. I did a political comedy talk show called Seattle Process for years at Northwest Film Forum and I did political commentary, essays, and videos for the Emerald. Marcus [Harrison Green, founder of the Emerald] has always been a massive supporter and encourager of me to do things for the Emerald since basically its inception. The stuff that was flying around [during the 2020 protests] like a curfew announced for 10 minutes from now I was like, there’s got to be some sort of response to this in a weekly form. It’s something I can do and I got plenty of time because we’re all in lockdown.
Did you grow up reading political cartoonists? Was it part of your political education or diet?
Before I had any political education I would read Bloom County. I just loved comics and cartoons. I clipped out Calvin and Hobbes every day from the paper, so I have a deep love of that world which is basically gone. I used to read Bloom County and be exposed to people like Phyllis Schlafly or something who they would name-check. I’d be like, ‘Yeah, her!!,’ and I had no idea who she was. I was 10 or 11 years old. But that’s what’s great about comics is they insinuate a worldview that you kind of buy into because they’re comics and it’s fun. So, I’m trying to continue that tradition.
What’s your process for creating these comics each week? Do you have something that you wanna do or do you see something and then write about it really quick or does it really depend?
All of the stuff collected in this book was done weekly. They’re not connected by a through-line narrative. So [every week] it was just like, what’s happening in politics? What are the wild hypocrisies I’m seeing? And then how I can make that funny was always one of the first considerations. How can I reason my way through, for example, a centrist point of view to its most logical extreme where it’s silly? Some of the first cartoons were about [former Seattle mayor] Jenny Durkan saying, I just talked with the protesters and we decided to stop crushing people’s balls with a bat or something. It was taking things through to their logical conclusions.
There’s got to be a grain of truth. It can’t just be savagery, like this person’s evil and stupid. And it turns out that a lot of it is more about how mundane the thinking is. For example, Jenny Durkan was hilarious because she was clearly an authoritarian who just wanted power, and this was the route she went to get it. But if she grew up in Alabama she’d be a right-wing demagogue. And Bruce [Harrell, current mayor] — I don’t think Bruce is as hilarious. The funny thing about him is he wants to be liked and he wants to be cool, but he’s pushing the same policies that an authoritarian like Durkan would push.
There’s tension in your comics between Seattle being not as bad as those Bothell dwellers would believe, but also way more conservative and dysfunctional than libs would ever acknowledge. How do you balance depicting those contradictory sides of the Seattle experience?
I mean, it’s infuriating. So many people respond in the comments saying, my mom in Missouri calls me to make sure I’m still alive in the burning husk of Seattle. Seeing how Fox is portraying these lawless blue cities versus like walking down the street and getting a boba tea is ultimately radicalizing because people are like, oh, the mainstream media just lies, and most of them are owned by right-wing conglomerates now anyways. The local news stuff is even worse because you’re in the fucking city. You literally walked 10 blocks down to Third Avenue to portray it as a war zone, you know, and then you stopped and got lunch on the walk back to KING or KIRO or whatever.
Why did you decide to name this collection Air Horn of Truth?
That was from one of the strips I did where the character that’s me honks the ‘airhorn of truth’ anytime someone says Seattle is a progressive city. Because the main barrier to affecting positive change in Seattle is complacent white homeowning moderates who think they live in a progressive city and they have a pride flag, and so our work is done here. But that’s clearly not the case. Also their home values have doubled and they are not acknowledging the like $50 in equity that they accrue every working hour of the week. So how is that progressive? Seattle is such a bellwether, and there’s a reason why people like Chris Rufo cut their teeth here because this is a factory for coming up with sort of fake equity talk that would placate those moderates while pushing forward policies that would please all the corporate interests. This is ground zero for that.
You did this column for three years, what was it like going back and collecting all 152 comics together for this project?
One of the most infuriating things about doing a project like this is seeing how long everything I observed is going to remain evergreen. If I do a cartoon about police accountability, it’s going to stay relevant because there is going to be no progress in that area. I would see something happen in the news and just repost a strip which is still totally relevant. That’s not a ‘Ha ha, I told you so!’ that’s a ‘Damn, none of this has changed.’ It’s depressing how evergreen many of those strips were. Not the specific ones that are about a boat that Andrew Lewis took or something. But the bigger picture, like the suburban view of Seattle, the way that legacy media, especially local TV, news operates. It’s like, damn, none of this has changed. And to be honest, some of them, I was like, damn, this is pretty good. [laughs] I forgot doing this one, you know, like that was fun.
Is there anything that gives you hope about Seattle?
There’s the pessimistic part that says like that the demographic shift that Nikkita Oliver was talking about in their campaign, the fact that so many people have been displaced that the entire electoral makeup is going to be more conservative, more wealthy, more affluent and techy. If that’s the case then yeah, maybe it is a lost cause. On the other hand, you know, this is a city that made Kshama [Sawant] the longest serving City Councilmember. I live in the district that gave Tammy Morales another term after her opponent sent out all these mailers saying that she doesn’t regret defunding the police and stuff. D2 voters saw that and we’re like, all right, whatever and she won.
The whole point of the Seattle process is to grind everyone into boredom so that they just kind of tune out, and then our politicians can do what they really wanted to do and enact their austerity budgets and stuff with no one watching. But when people are roused to that, we’ve had lots of big victories. We did Block the Bunker and stopped them from building the world’s most expensive police precinct. And with the No New Youth Jail movement, [King County] is going to decommission that $242 million prison and they say they’re not gonna use it to incarcerate children anymore. There are these moments of hope. We need more people like Kshama. I was inspired by her. What kind of got me politically engaged was watching her campaign and the things she was doing. We need more people like that.
Jas Keimig is a writer and critic based in Seattle. They previously worked on staff at The Stranger, covering visual art, film, music, and stickers. Their work has also appeared in Crosscut, South Seattle Emerald, i-D, Netflix, and The Ticket. They also co-write Unstreamable for Scarecrow Video, a column and screening series highlighting films you can’t find on streaming services. They won a game show once.
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