As some of you may know, I visited Europe last month for the Fumetto Comics Festival in Switzerland. I talked a little about the festival in a previous post which was seriously one of the best comics events I’ve been to ever. But really and truly it’s the country and Europe in general that’s left the best impression on me. I’m still reeling from the culture shock of seeing an entire bike rack outside a gas station where not a single bike was locked, watching a pair of 7 year old girls walking off to school by themselves, or the pay toilet which consisted of a sign that said “Toilet: 1 Swiss franc” hanging over a small cardboard box containing the equivalent of $40 in coins and bills. They say your impression of a country tells you just as much about your own home and if that’s true, what the heck does that say about Oakland?

Well I can tell you, if I left my bag on AC Transit it probably wouldn’t last more than 3 or 4 stops. But luckily it wasn’t AC Transit. The day I arrived, I left my bag on a public bus in Zurich. Monday morning, I wandered down to the police station and there it was waiting for me… with my comics presentation and ipad inside.

But I’m not gonna lie about it being all peaches and cream. It’s frickin’ weird walking around in such a racially homogenous society. I encounter a small percentage of rude people everywhere in every place I’ve been to around the world. But when you’re the only Asian person on a train and someone tells you not to sit next to them or a shopkeeper pretends not to speak English so they don’t have to serve you, man you gotta wonder. Well I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. They were probably just being jerks (as opposed to being racist jerks) but it wouldn’t have even occurred to me and I wouldn’t have wasted all that time thinking about it if I’d seen some other Asian person somewhere milking a cow. Anyway, it made me appreciate multiculturalism which had always been a more abstract concept to me.

At the end of the day, I suppose the biggest culture shock to me as a cartoonist was the insane amount of arts funding sprayed upon every publisher, writer and artist. Again, going back to the idea that perceptions of others actually reveal your own biases, I like the idea of public arts funding but holy smokes I just don’t get it. As an artist, I don’t think the government owes me anything more than they owe, let’s say, a plumber or a barber. Why should I be entitled to more? Yeah, I make art and add culture to society but that’s just my opinion. My value isn’t determined by me or a panel of judges but by consumers who vote with their dollars and, if enough of them agree, provide a living for me.

By contrast, Europeans believe art is an important part of life and culture and deserves to be funded. And by funded, I mean the government will pay you to quit your job and start a publishing company. You don’t have to worry about losing your health insurance because that’s taken care of too. They’ll kick in a significant portion of your costs of printing, distribution and marketing. The artist who writes the book (and who also went to art school for free) gets another grant to cover living expenses as he writes it. When the book comes out, they’ll fly you and your author to a festival, put you up in a hotel, provide you with meals and table space at said festival so that you can complain about all the books you have to sign.

I remember meeting a publisher who complained about all the children who wanted drawings from the cartoonists. “Yes. They want a drawing.” she said. “But why? Do they appreciate it as art? Or do they just want something to show their friends?” Of course they want something to show their friends! And so do I! What a weird frickin’ attitude, lady!

All this brings up a really interesting question. If things are so cushy, why doesn’t everyone in Europe become an artist? Why couldn’t I even name a single Swiss cartoonist until last month? Welp, that’s a whole other can of worms which I hope to tackle in my next post… Some Thoughts on Patronage Part 2: Catching Fire.