Real Stuff: Memoirs of a Fightin' Missionary

"In Walla Walla, the most popular pastime for the town toughs was 'Whitty bashing.' A carload of young drunks would pull up alongside the campus, and a crew would hop out and beat up some unlucky Whitman student." From Real Stuff #2 (Fantagraphics, March 1991).

Read the other Real Stuff stories and listen to Mark's interview with Dennis Eichhorn here.



          1. Other than the bullies, who were the ones doing the lynching, and the father whose response to his son getting rebuked for lynching people was attempted murder, my main problem with this story is with the behavior of the police. Instead of doing their jobs and building a case against the bullies before bystanders had to get involved, they just thanked the narrator for doing a job he never should have had to in the first place, then, AFAIK, went on their merry way leaving the bullies to their own devices. Good on the narrator for coming to the victim’s defense. Not so good on the police for making it necessary.

            Of course, whether this story actually happened we don’t know. And, if it did, all we’ve actually seen is the narrator’s side of events. Evaluated on its own merits, however, the narrator and the victim are the only ones who acted morally, insofar as the victim is blameless.

          2. That’s basically my take on it. The cops didn’t protect the Whitman students who were constantly getting beat up by the townies, and seemed happy to stand by while things escalated.

          3. As someone who’s had facial reconstructive surgery after being assaulted on the street, I don’t find the idea of alpha males duking it out to be particularly comforting. The behavior of the police is reminiscent of prisons, where the guards just let the inmates ‘sort things out’.

      1. In this case, violence demonstrably ended violence. In boxing matches, violence begins and ends on a bell. In the animal kingdom, violence is part of the food chain. In aggravated assault, violence is inflicted on a victim. In rape, violence is used to dominate and humiliate. Violence is not black and white. It can be used for good, either in self-defense or defense of others, or it can be used for evil. Usually it’s used for evil.

        Does the character seem indecently happy about pummeling the town bully? I’d say so, but then I look at defense as a solemn occasion, not a cause for celebration. Or maybe he’s just happy he didn’t get punished for being a good samaritan. Either way, his willingness to render aid, even if that means disabling an attacker, is not something I would discourage in others. In this case, the attacker was physically intimidating to him. Holding back would have been incredibly stupid.

        That said, I would have no qualms about hurting someone who was coming at me because I interrupted their regularly scheduled fun. When someone is beating up, raping or otherwise assaulting another person, the priority is stopping them without getting the crap beat out of yourself. Their safety is highly secondary. If their safety was so important, they shouldn’t have started the fight. There is nothing immoral about ending it.

        1. Yeah, see, to me, vigilante justice is just  damn scary. The mob gets things wrong. Granted this was 1964 and “things were different back then” but why didn’t the police do more? Why didn’t they arrest the father and son earlier and prevent the violence in the first place? So many questions I have!

          1. Good questions. I share them. But to play devil’s advocate, “authority” justice is also damn scary, particularly in this era of increasing abuses. Sometimes I wonder if vigilantes are held more accountable than officers of the law. And, even in a world of perfect “street-wise Earth police to fight the rise in crime” sometimes the cops won’t be there to help when someone needs it.

            I’ve studied martial arts since I was a young child, and taught them since I was a teenager. One thing I try to instill in my students is that knowing how to fight comes with two responsibilities, to render aid if they’re the only one who can and to be aware of the power they have and apply it judiciously. But that restraint should never be so great that it puts them in danger themselves.

            Athletes who aren’t trained how to fight are often in the position of having the strength, speed, reflexes and kinesthetic awareness of a fighter, without the knowledge of what that can do to the human body. It’s not unlike someone carrying a firearm without proper training. Just as I’m a fan of requiring (or at least strongly encouraging) all firearms carriers to obtain proper training, so to could I see much to recommend integrating martial arts into athletic programs. There is sometimes a misconception that traditional martial arts is about violence, but in fact it’s about minimizing violence through self-discipline and knowing when and in what ways it’s safe to exercise restraint if your opponent cannot be deterred from violence.

            I do think there’s a difference between someone going out and looking for trouble, and trouble finding someone. As much as I share you apprehension for vigilante justice, I wouldn’t want to live in a world where that apprehension deterred people who are able to from coming to each others aid.

        2. Too often we equate strength with violence. What you’re talking about is strength: Strength to stand up to injustices and do what has to be done, but make no mistake, violence is a weakness. If you find yourself resorting to violence, you’ve failed.

          1. Do you really believe those guys who “resorted to violence” in order to win World War II “failed”?

          2. Of course it was a failure.  There’s no war in history that couldn’t have been prevented by foresight and a willingness to undertake some very reasonable steps to ensure peace.

            Saying violence is a failure doesn’t imply that you have to sit there and let somebody kill you.  Nor does it imply that the victim is at fault.  But the world is a better place if you take your best shot at using the rule of law rather than just throwing punches.

          3. The guys who resorted to violence in order to end World War I, aka “The War To End All Wars”?  They failed badly, bringing us WW II.

            And the way they ended WW II was a major cause of the Cold War.

          4. The root of the word violence comes from the Latin word for strength/force: vis. It is not itself a value-judgement word, and deeming it to be so misunderstands the decent of the word. You are, of course, free to redefine it within the scope of your own vocabulary.

            As a lifelong practitioner of kendo, jujitsu and, more recently, aikido, much of my personal philosophy is based on bushido, which in turn is greatly influenced by Zen Buddhism. A central tenant of bushido is that the apex of martial skill is to defeat your opponent without fighting, and to deprive them of the chance to start a fight if they haven’t already.

            Concepts in Eastern philosophies often do not translate well into single English terms. I knew this before, but my partner, who is an Asian business translator and interpreter specilizing in Mandarin, has been a great resource to me in illuminating the full extent to which Westerners often misunderstand Eastern concepts due to overly simplistic translations.

            That said, I remain an empiricist. Semantic arguments are fine, but, to me at least, the true test of moral reasoning is in actions and consequences.

          5. Ah, semantics.

            That’s a great response. I agree completely.

            This sums it up for me: “…the apex of martial skill is to defeat your opponent without fighting, and to deprive them of the chance to start a fight…”

          6. I’m reminded of the man who told me that “perception is reality”.  I pointed out to him that the runaway truck he doesn’t perceive is more likely to kill him dead than the one he does.  He did not respond gracefully.

            Likewise this high-falutin’ moralizing seems to have little relation to the raw realities of human existence, where one often does not have the opportunity to prevent violence in advance.  If other people posting here have perfect foresight and omnipresence that’s all very well and good for them, but I have had violence inflicted on me without warning several times, and there was no non-violent action available to me other than passively accepting maiming or disfigurement – and I’m not a Quaker.

            I will continue to study, and perhaps one day I too will achieve such powerful omniscience that I can criticize the violent actions of others.

      2. The moral of the story is that the violence and arbitrary tribalism in sports crosses over into real life, and kids nowadays can’t tell the difference between reality and their imagination. In the end, what’s important is that you have the ref on your side. Oh, and that you must keep playing sports, because in life as in college, that’s all that really matters.

      3. I think if you’re drawing the conclusion that the author thought this was all perfectly okay, you’re just completely failing to read between the lines. His fear of his own temper in the aftermath sounds pretty clear to me. 

        Can’t tell the difference between portraying something and promoting it? *sigh* It’s okay, neither can a lot of people, apparently.

          1. I agree. That last panel was the one that really flipped the thing around in my head as far as where the author was coming from.

            Then again, I guess it could be a deliberate facade that he’s putting on, and we’re supposed to read yet deeper between the lines. It just…. didn’t look like it.

          2.  I took that to be a very succinct illustration of how nobody thinks they’re a bad guy, so we tell the story our way, wink and  move on.

          3. Am I the only one who took the wink to be a suggestion that this might be a tall tale by the old man?

        1. Git off your high horse. I can not like violence begetting violence regardless of the parties involved or what you view as the subtext of the story. 
          The story reads to me as a fun story an old man tells while drinking about “the good old days” – he winks at the end, he loves this story because he’s the hero, didn’t get hurt and didn’t get in trouble for taking a guys eye out! My father was/is a guy like this, drunk, aggressive, and a story teller with lots of stories like these where he gets away with one thing or another. Its not a fun or good story, and I’m allowed to dislike it. 

    1. Tell you what, when you’re in that situation, you can go ahead and go out of your way to avoid some violent giant’s eye. I’m gonna kick what I can.

      1. Biblical violence is the best violence.

        Seriously. I’m trying to fund Tarantino’s “Old Testament” but the fucker won’t take my money.

        1. I’d be amazed if Tarantino didn’t ruin it.  He’ll probably add an extra nemesis like a giant white orc or something equally stupid.

  1. Let’s see…

    First guy likes to beat up innocent people.  Second guy just wants to play football at school.  First guy goes around beating people up.  Second guy  goes around minding his own business and being a good neighbour.  Chances of First guy blinding or permanently injuring someone:  high.  Chances of Second guy injuring someone: low.  First guy loses an eye and his dad gets locked in prison.  Second guy completes university. 

    Sounds like a legit morality story straight out of Aesop.

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    1. Summary: Jason Baker is confronted with his own prejudice against “rednecks”, learns nothing, film at 11.

      Hope that helped. 

    1. Like a lot of other artists in the Fantagraphics “stable” at the time (most of whom ended up contributing to Eichhorn’s books), J.R. Williams is a fine cartoonist in his own right.

  2. Hmmm.

    I’m a small businessman…have a workshop, three employees, struggle to make payroll every Friday.  About a month ago…on a Sunday…I was at my workshop and heard a commotion outside, so I opened up the small door to see what the hell was going on.  Some well-dresses, perhaps college student assholes were dumping a pickup truck’s worth of garbage into MY dumpster…the one for which I pay about $175.00 a month to see it empty every Tuesday morning.   I went OFF on these guys.   “Pull that shit out of MY dumpster and put it back into your goddam truck!”  And every one of the four or five guys had thirty pounds and four inches of height on me…  And then I noticed that across the street was a neighbor…another small business guy trying to get along, and he was just watching me and smiling…and covering my ass.   I talked to him about a week later.  Turns out he had his hand in his pocket on a .38.   He’s an ex-cop.  He thought that what I did…just jumping into it…was the coolest thing he’d seen on the block in a long time.   Attitude is everything.

  3. I assume the story didn’t end with the truck pushed in the river and four dead jocks in the dumpster, right? Trash disposal begets trash disposal!

  4. The ultimate moral: an individual human life isn’t worth shit on its own, it is context that applies any apparent worth to it, and that context is, in turn, supplied by individual humans who aren’t worth shit, and I’ve shot myself in the face.


  5. Note to readers: although it’s not a constant, quite a few of Eichhorn’s stories feature violence, both by him and witnessed by him. 

    1. Just like the last time, the first one is blurry for me. It’s slightly larger than the others, so probably not at its appropriate size.

  6. I don’t think you can kick somebody’s eye out in real life.  I’ve been accidentally stabbed in the eye a couple of times and once had my eye gouged out in a drunken brawl, but I recovered each time within a month or two.

    If the story’s real, then either there was some other unusual factor or the local ophthalmologist decided to let the town bully lose an eye to teach him a lesson.  The way it’s drawn you’d snap the bully’s neck before you’d applied enough force to do the eye irremediable damage.

    Mashiro’s Black Medicine probably would have something to say about it, but my copy’s gone missing.

    1. You can definitely pop someone’s eye out with a strike to the side of the head. If it’s undamaged (as in still-attached), you can just stick it back in hope for no sequelae.

      1. Sorry to reply all the way down here, but I just wanted to say that this:

        Saying violence is a failure doesn’t imply that you have to sit there and let somebody kill you.  Nor does it imply that the victim is at fault.  But the world is a better place if you take your best shot at using the rule of law rather than just throwing punches.

        …is very, very well said and a sentiment I can get behind entirely. Also, I get what you said about being uneasy with regards to people sorting each other out. Might doesn’t make right, which is why defense, while wholly justified, is not a systemic solution, it’s a last resort when society fails to uphold the rule of law. If anything I said made it seem I thought otherwise, I want to be clear that I do not.

      2. Maybe my eyes are exceptionally beady and deep-set, or something, but I’ve been hit hard enough to damage vertebrae and knock me unconscious without losing an eye.  And the time I had one gouged out the guy had to dig around pretty hard with his thumb first.

        They do go back in quite easily, though; the cord’s very tough and elastic.  And if you pop, puncture or plow a gouge across your eye that lets the fluid out, it will heal and refill by itself remarkably rapidly as long as there’s no infection.

        So it seems to me that even if you kicked somebody so hard their eye popped out of the socket, it still wouldn’t be destroyed.  Unless there was some other unknown factor involved, you’d have to repeatedly kick them in the face incredibly hard after they were down, which is not quite what the comic shows.

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