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October 18, 2004

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David and Dale were at the 2005 Mocca Art Festival in NYC June 10 and 11th.

A Lesson Is Learned has been nominated in a bunch of categories in 2005 Cartoonists Choice Awards.

Dale has written a review for Mcsweeney’s in their Reviews of New Food section.


Interviewed by Xenex.org, David and Dale reveal their true ugly natures.

Dale has contributed to Ryan North's collaborative web comic project, Whispered Apologies.


Christopher B. Dino has kindly reviewed our comic in his blog, Totally Jawesome.

Here A Lesson Is Learned is discussed in a lively debate over conceptual webcomics.

There is a review of A Lesson Is Learned in The Webcomics Examiner.



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Archaic creature climbs out of primordial ooze. Dreams of new life for disgusting ooze covered family.

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Dale, who writes the comics.

paper bag roses
cake in clear plastic

Lesson Irreversible again, welcome readers. Stay awhile. Speak in our forums. I want to apologize to the website.

Website, let's sit down.

Website, in recent weeks I've made the worst mistake a writer can make, which is to get a job, and discard my idleness like it was the worthless wrapper of my life. I'm so sorry. But I'll still climb in to bed with you late at night and feel around for you there. OK? ok.


The monkey let out of the cage for a minute spies freedom and sees the people in the park, delights at the little moments he reads about in books in monkey prison, and experiences what he remembers as a child jumping from loop to loop on the Amazonian vine.

He checks his watch: 48 hours. The tree shivering in the warm wind, sunlight at an angle he's usually indoors for, a long car ride listening to the radio. Then it's back to earn the big banana.

The election sweats on.

The heated passion of a long married couple bumping beside the radiator in the winter, brief necessity. Outside the four panes of glass that makes a window, grass below melting snow.

Honestly, I can't imagine Bush, who strains so much, to suddenly unclench his fist and be rendered impotent. He exists for me as a character bobbing buoyantly at the top, unable to be pushed down because of his supreme position. If he were just a man again how plain he would be! And yet at the same time, he would remain selfish and petty, not representing the selfishness and pettiness of a nation but his own personal diminutives. What would he become? An informed commentator on world events? An ineloquent pundit for Fox news? I feel as he does when he speaks, searching for those lines that he gnaws on, trapped in one of those little red boxes in your tv screen.
What would it look like on election night if he loses? Would his face go slack and his little mouth crinkle up like a ball of paper, as it looked in the footage of him getting whispered the big secret, the "don't tell the children but..." Here, open your books to page one.
And the Bush daughters, his own little twin towers. Does he worry about terrorists flying planes in to them, screaming and burning?

A flock of birds discussed plans. How are eggs made? Is the softer part made until it hardens?


You start speaking with your mouth. You start taking hard shells up high and letting them drop to crack them. Fumbling in the pockets of expensive suits. What's missing?

Can you find:

the scissors?
the old hat?
the spoon?
the boat?

There is a riddle that Heraclitus says stumped even Homer, the wisest of the Greeks:

Homer is walking home from a lavish party, laurelled and a little drunk. The morning star, behind him, begins to grind its axles. Blind, he knows the bumps on every wall, and walks with one hand extended. It was a good gig; and they paid him a length of smooth cloth. He was thinking about what he sang, the death of Achilles, and how the ankles swelled as Hector dragged his body around the length of Troy. He's feeling the bolt’s texture, guessing at its color when he hears the padded steps of children coming to greet him. At first they want some from him, each shouting at their own grasping hand. But Homer bargains them down to answering a riddle which was common in those days. So the kids think about it for a minute, and begin to yell fragments of easy stuff, Zeus' nose, the seven dolphins of Dionysus, etc. But still Homer can barely respond to so many. He tells them to come up with just one and let the oldest tell it. He overhears their arguments. But after a thin minute a voice from the back pipes up in a fall of silence, "What we perceive and what we grasp, it's these things we leave behind. What we don't perceive and can't grasp, it's these things we take with us."
That confounds Homer, who has to lean against a public fountain to steady himself. He pulls at his beard, closer to answer than he thinks, and waves his hand to say he doesn't know.
The kids, already threading their fingers through their hair, searching in the shape of that ache, respond in a cacophony, happy at seeming smart, "Our lice!"
In the end, Homer gives them a song. One he rarely sings, which concerns all the precious jewels adorning Helen's neck, unparalleled in beauty. They draw a gentle and gleaming slope, like a brook which breaks and thaws in that verdant advertisement which is the transition from winter to spring. There, etched on the largest, is an exphrasis of the chariot race of Oenomous, which spells out her conditional love, as his wheels loosened his will and broke his neck.


your friend,


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David, who draws the comics.

Catch me; I'm appalling!

How would you like me to say something relevant? It was on my mind; I might try. Dale remarked on a range of topics, including the coming election, which affects us all. But I have nothing on my mind except the comic, and finally getting it published, and empathetically enjoying the relief of the innumerable readers whose faith has been tested for lo these many days. No more will visitors frown and tuck their beaks into their chest feathers upon arrival at our site. On the contrary! Everyone will be glad.

And so shall I be: with certainty glad!

Since I can think of nothing else until the comic is posted, I might as well remark about the comic itself. At first this struck me as narcissistic, though I guess it’s why we’re all here.

For me!

For all the previous comics, I’ve had a pretty clear idea of what I’ve wanted to get across. Sometimes I think I’m overly literal in plotting the thematic/symbolic structure, although hopefully the subtler qualities of the work -- all the unpredictable, expressive irregularities of the pen -- add another level of ambiguity. This comic is different. There are so many thematic and structural switcheroos that it perplexes even me. And yet, the more time I spend with it, the more the ideas resonate. And even though I’m finally getting a grip on it, it remains ambiguous in this marvelous hovering way. The song won’t resolve to its tonic, and the longer it holds that seven chord, the more I love it.

From whence emanates the mystery? From a fisherman’s pipe? From a tear in a old sail? Nay: neither/nor! From within, aye. From the shattered and rotting hull of my own sick mind, ‘tis a pirate’s life for me. This boy of mop and bucket, bent at work on pitching deck, by my stern council shaped -- in time I learned that he myself once was! He indeed, with selfsame blood as I convey in fine canals through every limb and ligament of this selfsame bodily predicament.

Bathroom break.

Sometimes we recognize certain aspects of ourselves only in others. As I worked on the comic, gradually I recognized myself.

I’ve written down some specific things. I know a lot of people don’t like interpretations, particularly the artist’s own. If that describes you, you are about to suffer.

Actually, if you’ve only read the comic once and have any inclination to read it again, I suggest you stop reading. This will be here later. Forever, in fact.

The comic is all about the relationship of an individual to groups of people. It’s about the discomfort of belonging, the importance of autonomy, and the loneliness of self-awareness. It’s about the sometimes irrational and destructive need to explore the darkness of one’s mind. Bang! Put that on a cereal box!

One of the nice things about parties -- like in the summer at night -- is wandering away and looking at the lights and people from outside the warm swirl. I like standing in a place where the wind and the party music are both a whisper. I get this really good melancholic feeling. Music can be very persuasive, but the wind makes no argument and will never have to.

This comic is about that kind of thing. It’s about being alive in the pulsing warmth of humanity versus weird, melancholic, existential uncertainty.

I realize that for many, this is a non-issue.

In the comic, Dale choses the wind, but in horror discovers his inevitable implication in the grotesque theater of social ritual, and the subjugation of his perception to the perception of the crowd.

This idea of reversal -- inside or outside, being watched or watching, high or low, alive or dead -- appears a lot in the comic.

An obvious example: when dale goes underground, the story flows left, not right. This is the sort of thing you have to do to get to the underworld.

Another reversal occurs in the wall at the end of the field. Through its arch, Dale enters the underground. But it looks like Dale is entering from the far side of the wall. The arch is both a contiguous part of the wall face we see extending from the distance, and also its reverse, the interior. We make sense of this in parts: 1. There is a wall, 2. Dale approaches an arch, 3. Dale follows the water into the underground. But the way these parts come together is not logical. They cohere; they are intelligible. But at the same time, their association is impressionistic. (This is how we think, most recognizably in dreams, but really all the time, it seems to me.)

Dale first spies the phantom theater through a rippling pool. But space fluidly changes, and a moment later, Dale is behind some pillars in the same room as the audience.

Happening upon the phantom theater, Dale peers in from the outside -- literally from outside the panel structure, like he’s reading the comic. This is the most forceful assertion of his role as observer.

When Dale turns to address Ghost Dog, saying “that’s so sad,” Ghost Dog is out of the picture, and Dale almost seems to address the reader. The absence of Ghost Dog creates unease -- has our guide abandoned us in this strange, dark place? And because Ghost Dog is not around to receive Dale’s gaze, the reader gets it.

I like that Dale says it’s “sad,” because there are a lot of other conceivable reactions, like fear or curiosity. His interpretation reflects on himself. In a lapse of omniscient self-awareness, he pities the crowd of ghosts when he’s really pitying himself for that same error: trading people for phantoms.

This is the moment which makes him part of the crowd. Dale sympathizes with the ghosts, but fails to see what his sympathy says about himself. Failing to see the whole, he becomes a subject of the whole. But if he had seen the big picture, recognizing that his reaction reflects on his own behavior and also makes him a part of the crowd, that realization itself would have brought him into the fold. He’s human, no matter what.

In the next moment, we see Dale from the other side, and the panels which he was, with us, peering into, are now architectural elements of the phantom theater. This is another reversal. Yet another occurs in the palette: black and blue trade roles. Those squarish windows really look like a comic strip. The final image offers a closer view. Black and blue are reversed again, back to how they were when the columns were more panel separators than elements of a scene. This image reinforces Dale’s changed role, somehow sucked into the comic, no longer in a position to observe, but being observed and judged. The audience applauds him, but for a misunderstanding -- unless Dale really is part of the show.

The largest hands in the applause panel are emphasized and separated from the crowd. This is partially for clarity, a bold representative of the crowd’s collective action to help the reader understand the scene. But it’s also a link between the comic and the reader. Just as in the previous panel, where the absence of Ghost Dog directed Dale’s remark directly to the reader, the absence of a head or any kind of body to go with those big hands leaves an open window between the scene and the reader. Like Dale, who is suddenly involved in something he would rather just watch, the reader is literally part of an audience (albeit a scattered internet audience). The hands deepen the ambiguity about watching versus being part of the action.

There’s something else going on here about the reader’s eventual role relative to Dale, how they are both drawn in, but in different ways. But this analysis is starting to feel like a pyramid of spandex-wearing people. And by that I mean, it’s built up on itself and it’s silly.

Another thing is how Ghost Dog says that he couldn’t express himself when he was alive, but he can now that he’s dead. If we equate living with the party and death with the solitary thing, then we can observe that being part of the group robs Ghost Dog of his voice. But again, even autonomous, there’s that sympathy, as Ghost Dog says “I think and feel just as much as you.”

Oh, I forgot to mention that Paul’s apartment, with the curtains, is like the stage, with the curtains. And also that we view the apartment from within, the curved edge emphasizing that it surrounds us, while we view the stage from afar. But that’s pretty obvious.

I’ve been obsessing over this in isolation all day, and I’m starting to feel like Dale in the comic. I went for a run tonight, and it started to hail. Someone was playing a flute under the bridge as the traffic passed.

It feels weird to post an elaborate explanation along with a fresh work, but I’ve written it so I might as well post it. My intent is to invite those curious into my thinking, but definitely not to bar readers from their own interpretations.

Dale will probably hate this.

Please join the discussion in the forum if you have any desire.


Fancifully yours,
Not really,

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(c) David Hellman and Dale Beran 2005