New cartoon hero: The avenging fetus

A comic book for the antiabortion crowd

Published February 9, 2010 7:31PM (EST)

When I first heard about the comic book series Alphonse, I asked myself: Hmm, what might be the motivation behind creating a comic starring a fetus that narrowly escapes abortion and seeks revenge against its mother? This was a rhetorical question, of course, because the answer seemed absurdly self-evident -- and it turns out my suspicions were right. (Love it when that happens.) Artist Matthew Lickona explains his artistic vision in an essay for the Awl, and there are no surprises to be found. It's yet one more attempt to argue for the personhood of a fetus by literally giving it a voice -- in other words, making shit up.

His inspiration came from two other cartoons -- one titled "Umbert the Unborn" and another featuring an aborted fetus that drunk-dials its mother from the Netherworld (for serious, people). These concepts spoke to Lickona, who believes in the "personhood of the fetus from the get-go" -- presumably even in the embryonic stage -- and says his parents have made "patient and tireless efforts on behalf of the unborn." That's Alphonse's true genesis story, but as Lickona admits in his essay, there is another explanation he wishes he could give instead. It is a more thoughtful, nuanced creation story:

I think abortion is "heart-wrenching" because something dies in an abortion -- something that, ordinarily, would eventually grow into what everybody agrees is a human person. Some people think this "something" is a human person from the moment of conception. Others think it is a human person only after it leaves its mother's body. Many others fall somewhere in between, and believe that abortion should be legal, but restricted in this or that way.

Lickona thinks that so many people fall within that gray area "because they’re uncertain" and "from that uncertainty arises moral anxiety." There is no doubt that the question of when a human life meaningfully begins is entangled and profound (it's part of why pro-choicers argue that the decision should be a personal one) and it does set the stage for a compelling moral drama. But, like I said, this is the explanation he wishes he could give for his comic. The reality is much less interesting: Instead of playing with those actual philosophical complexities and ambiguities, he creates an alternate universe in which a fetus has "the faculties of a fully developed adult." Essentially, he's created a caricature of his own moral viewpoint.

That's fine. There's room in this world for fetal cartoonists of all political persuasions, I guess? It just doesn't make for a very original artistic statement. A snarky commenter at the Awl made a more creative suggestion: What about a comic book about "all the poor defenseless sperms who die in condoms"?

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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