Okay, so this time our comic is not really "Stupid", but rather an interesting work by one of comics' better draftsmen, in the service of an industry that, at the time was huge, but now is fading away slowly. However, we don't have a feature called "Interestingly Anachronistic Comics," so this is where it's going. And now sit back and get ready to get edumacated!!
When I was in sixth grade I was staying after school for some reason and the office I was in also had a big of comics in the corner. To my 11 year old eyes this was like a big box of pirate treasure. I was informed that they were free educational comics and that I could take as many as I wanted, and that's what I did. Most of them were Popeye Career Comics, but buried in the pile was this exciting work that promised to tell us all about the majesty of the simple check. How could I resist?
Hands down the best part about this is the great John Severin artwork. Nobody draws snappy Mad Men-era businessmen like Severin! Especially snappy Mad Men-era businessmen with freakish cartoony heads who want to tell us about one of the most important pieces of paper in the world... the check!
The Hendersons are a typical American family who has suddenly realized that they bought something that they don't have the money to pay for. This is why we had a recession, people! But wait - Mrs. Henderson can just write a check and kick that can down the road a little.
By merely writing her name on a piece of paper, Mrs. Henderson spends $24.95 as easily as if it was floppy dirty cash, and the cheerful delivery man - remember when everybody in any sort of service position wore a natty uniform? The milkman, the postal worker, the ice man, the coal delivery man, the Western Union man, the strike-breaking Pinkerton and the railroad police all dressed snappy and looked sharp. Those were the good old days, if you were a cop or a fink. Anyway the cheerful delivery man just takes that check and goes on his merry way to probably bust up a civil rights demonstration or topple a freely elected Latin American government or something.
Thank goodness Mrs. Henderson has a checking account! But does she ever think about how checks do their job? Or does Mrs. Henderson, like millions of fellow Americans, merely take the miracle of paper checks for granted? She sure does.
How did this whole business of paying for things with pieces of paper that aren't paper money but replacements for paper money begin? Well, we have to go back to the Babylonians, who claimed the whole idea of "money" was given to them by a "fish man" who "came from the sky". That's right - capitalism is an evil alien plot from outer space! But checks. Oh yeah. Experts aren't sure, but they think it was either the Romans in 352 BC or Amsterdam in 1500 AD. That's quite a range there, experts. Why not try to narrow that down a tad, and we'll get back to you?
One thing the experts are sure about is that John Severin was going to have to draw a lot of guys in period outfits. Lucky for them, John Severin was a history buff who spent years drawing amazing historical war and adventure comics for the legendary EC Comics publishing company under the detail-oriented editorial direction of Harvey Kurtzman. So if you want floppy hats, mustaches, ornate draperies, and the kinds of floppy boots and plumes people gave up sometime before the Industrial Revolution, Severin's your man!
Anyway, turns out rather than haul lots of heavy gold around everywhere to pay for everything, people realized they could leave the gold in one place and use cheap, light replacements to represent the valuable metal, saving wear and tear on your horses and carts and what not. This was the beginning of what we would later call "checks", though it was the mid 20th century before the check reached its modern form - the giant novelty check used for fundraising and/or lottery winning photographs.
By the time of the Civil War, there were more checks in circulation than bank note currency! That's bad news for Jesse James and the Younger Gang, who were beginning their career of bank and stagecoach robbery on the wrong end of the curve. Better switch to check forging, Jesse!
Wait a minute - banks charging out-of-town customers a "fee" for doing business with them? Surely this terrible 19th century injustice would be wiped out and firm legislation would prevent banks from ever doing this again, says the guy getting charged FIVE FREAKIN' DOLLARS for using a Wells Fargo ATM last week on vacation.
Checks had to go from bank to bank to bank to bank before reaching their final destination! Checks were bored, tired, torn, and whiskery! How can we make things more efficient for these poor, amusingly anthropomorphisized checks?
Why, we'll make a Federal Reserve System that eliminates the lengthy routing and re-routing and re-re-rerouting of paper checks, and also gives conspiracy nuts a convenient boogey man to blame all their personal problems on.
But let's see how this modern system of checking payments works.
Mrs. Henderson decides to support the arts and buys a painting of... okay, it's 1970, let's not kid ourselves, she's buying a big-eye Margaret Keane painting. Anyway, she sends the check to Sacramento, they put it in their bank. That bank puts the check in the SF Federal Reserve bank. The SF Fed sends the check to the NY Fed, who sends the check to Mrs. Henderson's Albany bank, which deducts the amount of the check from Mrs. Henderson's account, which is now overdrawn, whoops. Right as Mrs. Henderson is deciding to hang the Margaret Keane painting smack dab in the middl of the living room where it will embarrass visitors and family alike, the first of many overdraft charges arrives. Isn't banking fun?
Just think about how many paper checks flow through the Federal Reserve Bank of New York! Government checks! Personal checks! Checks for parking tickets, for alimony, for blackmail, for the euphemistically described 'services rendered'! Yes, checks are a great, anonymous way to make problems go away.
I don't have anything funny to say about this page, I just wanted to share this great John Severin drawing of a giant check sorting machine using robot hands and the occasional robot foot to sort millions and millions of cartoony paper checks, some of whom seem to be suffering from the popular comic book malady "injury to the eye."
Look at this big parade of rejected checks! Some are improperly endorsed, some are dated ahead of time (don't bother trying this one, kids, it doesn't work and never did), and some are total forgeries, something that was a LOT easier to do back in the day before everybody had photo ID. That's progress, I suppose.
But the future... what does the future hold for checks?
Some people foresee the day when most payments will be handled completely by COMPUTERS linked together in some sort of ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATIONS NETWORK. Like, say the one we all keep in our pockets now, the one that ensures your work can always find you and that your Facebook stalker knows where you are right this minute. Welcome to the future.
Perhaps in this amazing future Mrs. Henderson be able to purchase kitschy art for her home without ever having to write a paper check - and then once a month the bank will mail her a paper statement of all her transactions. Kitschy art bought & paid for online? It's eerie how this short promotional comic book is so clearly able to predict my exact lifestyle.
I see Mrs. Henderson is getting 1.5 percent interest on her checking account. That beats what I'm getting - I'm switching to Blank Bank!
And so we close the Story Of Checks with this valuable guide on how, exactly, to write a check. Remember that post-dated checks aren't a thing and never were, that you need to spell my name correctly when you write me that check, that you enter the amount of the check in both words and numbers, that you sign the check with your name and not your nickname or a funny epithet, and that if you goof up you need to start over with a whole new check. Or hey, it's 2017, use the Paypal button on the front page of Mister Kitty dot Org, we got bills to pay and kitschy art to buy too!
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