June 2, 2010

Delay, excuses, flu, hot weather, pen sliding out of hand, etc. Oh, here’s a comic too. Inspiration: my reading of the book Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson.


157 Responses to “Stairs”

  1. Dheginsea Says:

    I have to say, this is probably one of the best comics I’ve seen (not just from you). If it were up to me, I’d make this something that is mandatory reading in schools. The whole message of little steps/practice/small compromise after small compromise leading to great OR catastrophic results is… critically important. I salute your (as usual) clever insight and effective way of communicating (hey, sometimes “too many words” is a good thing).

  2. DoubleW Says:

    “Practice makes perfect” is a cliche thrown around so lightly that it’s nice to see someone unpackage it and put it in a larger context than just learning some new skill. Brain plasticity affects most every aspect of our existence, and it would be wonderful if we would acknowledge this instead of assuming that everything is innate.

  3. Kaeneyese Says:

    This comic really helped, thanks a lot! I just needed to be reminded of this in such a clear way right now.
    Always looking forward to whatever you cook up next.

  4. MoshiYama Says:

    This comic really struck a chord with me as a student learning about social justice movements. Your breakdown of the ‘steps’ people take to do both good and evil is very thought provoking, and I especially dig the ending. What I’m left wondering is how to inspire the glance down that brings the realization at just how far a problem has risen.

  5. Caitlin Says:

    I just wanted to say that this comic really touched me. It’s probably the best thing I’ve read in weeks, and I swear your comics just keep getting better. They really are works of art in so many ways.

    This one really made me think about some of my more recent regrets, but also gave me hope for the future as well. The ending of course also really made me happy, of course (:

    Also I totally have a craving for pho now!

  6. Sheedy Says:


    I’ve been reading for years but never posted before. This is an excellent comic.

    Well done.

  7. GoSign Says:

    The message about how we need to keep a close watch on ourselves, because good people do bad things with stairs, is a very important one. If you believe only truly bad people do very bad things, then you won’t watch your steps carefully enough to prevent yourself from doing evil. Thank you for this VERY well done explanation of this, and all the rest of it!

  8. Justfew Says:

    Men, this comic is cool but text is long..

  9. tilk1010 Says:

    Excellent comic again.One of the best.

    Whats the peterson analogy? Can someone give a link to some info

  10. Hazza Says:

    Hooray for lesbians! 😀

  11. bullestock Says:

    Yet another excellent comic.

    It reminded me of an excellent book, ‘Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)’ which, among other things, also discusses the ‘slippery slope’ which leads to good people doing bad things.

  12. GlitterBerri Says:

    I love you, Winston Rowntree.

  13. Christopher Norton Says:

    I think this is my favorite comic so far, and the fact that you put it together while suffering from the flu just goes to show how talented you are.

  14. Zach Says:

    Perhaps this is the best one you have done yet; I have a terrible memory. Either way, another amazing comic by my favourite comic artist.

  15. Dominic Says:

    Great comic; loved your analogies. That dialogue resolved some of the questions that bothered my for several years now, thanks a lot!

  16. GerryB Says:

    See, if I’d read this years before I made the mistakes I’ve already made that may or may have led to the good decisions that brought me where I am today I … can’t maze through that logic, but lovely comic.

    Doesn’t seem to be on the front page, only via the RSS – might want to tell the accidental world it’s time to re-gorge their subnormality gland.

  17. Leak Says:

    @bullestock: that might be because Winston explicitly mentioned this book being his inspiration in the text at the top of this very page… 😀

  18. yoche Says:

    Really touching and brilliant!

  19. Questo's Dad Says:

    Three thumbs up! Don’t ask. Plastic surgery gone horribly wrong.

  20. hellblade Says:

    I was expecting a big punchline at the end, so i was thrown off by the ending. then i read it again, and realized that every wall of text is right on the money. the same thoughts were going around my head too, but they are really well written here.

  21. Alex R. Says:

    Wow. I think that is the second best comic you have ever done (nothing will beat The Line, although that’s not even necessarily a comic). Seriously, you have outdone yourself. The whole time I was wondering why this Saturday evening was “in the future” and then the end just made everything clear, and I couldn’t smile and laugh a little. When a specific comic that isn’t meant to be funny still makes you laugh because of a point it makes, I’d say it’s damn successful. Well done sir, and I’m going to remember this the next time I’m having a rough day, that it’s just a series of steps that led me to that. And if you don’t mind, I’m going to use the stair analogy in future conversations with people, because it’s just so brilliantly formed. I might also pick up that book, it sounds interesting. Thank you for continuing to inspire me with your art. I don’t usually comment, but I’d like to speak for all your loyal non-commenting readers when I say that every one of your comics is a great pleasure to read. But once in a while, a comic of yours really touches or inspires me, so I have to comment. Keep up the good work!

  22. Alex R. Says:

    Oops, sorry for the double post. I meant to say I couldn’t HELP BUT smile and laugh a little.

  23. Kim Says:

    Winst, I think this is one of my favorite Subnormality pieces of all time (and I’ve read them all!) It’s both cautionary and inspiring, and I think it’s going to be one of those things I mentally refer back to every time I’m feeling discouraged or intimidated by the seemingly impossible.

    I also love how you took those two characters from previous strips (I tend to think of them as the “philosophical debate girls”) and showed them being older (are they actually married now [in the future]?) I also love the “Peterson Analogy & Metaphor” sign. 😀

    Sometimes I get anxious checking the Subnormality homepage to find that there isn’t a new comic, but then I find every couple of weeks you produce something truly worth waiting for. Keep up the great work. 😀

  24. Thomas Says:

    Ah, the ability of a wall of text to sum up what life is about never ceases to amaze me.

    Well done.

  25. msr Says:

    God I love this comic. I check it every day compulsively. Just hoping.. and this comic is a perfect example of why I love it so much.

  26. sam Says:

    You’re a good man, Mr Rowntree. I like this one a lot.

    It always amazes me how we humans, finding ourselves in a new group, can really vault up those stairs unawares because the norms in our environment have changed.
    I guess the good trick, then, in life is to find the group that has you slaloming back down the stair unawares.

  27. In. Freaking. Credible. The last panel just blew me a way. I totally didn’t see it coming. It’s nice to see a thoughtful, positive comic!

  28. Lolcat Says:

    One of the best comic I’ve ever seen (not only here), somehow really motivating. The opening picture reminded me of Stanisław Jerzy Lec’s saying:
    Suppose you succeed in breaking the wall with your head. And what, then, will you do in the next cell?

  29. Jeff Says:

    Bravo! Woopie! Winston! Winston! Winston!

  30. Stephen J. Anderson Says:

    I always follow the link to the latest comic with trepidation…I’m thinking “aargh, what if it’s another giant wall of text?”

    But it’s always rewarding, and sometimes, it’s just damn awesome.

  31. Willow Says:

    Thank you

  32. anon Says:

    so DB cooper was a time traveler. Things like, “where did his body go?” make more sense now.

  33. Bill Says:

    I have to say, this was so indescribably awesome. Its both scares me and fills me with hope on the duality of human nature, and how both truly great or horrendously evil things can be accomplished. Its one of those things in the back of everyone’s mind, even if they don’t realize it, but this strip puts it right out there for all to see.

  34. Hrtk Says:

    I love you.
    Thanks for all,you made my day.

  35. Melvazord Says:

    To quote Lo Pan: “Indeeeeed”

  36. Drgals Says:

    Thanks for the comic, really made a difference. Keep up the good work!!

  37. Ceno Says:

    Damn man. Just… damn.

  38. The_Clamps Says:

    Nice strip today. Uplifting. I’m going to do series of small, nice things for myself today.

  39. Illuminatus Says:

    This has turned a good day into an outstanding day. This should be used in schools.

  40. blank mind Says:

    You know, I had a thought whilst reading this entry.

    One could make a show based on this comic, SUBNORMALITY, and every episode be based around a comic that you have made, and I bet it would be a success. Add in some ancillary characters, with your oversight, and you’ve got a receipt for greatness.

  41. Melanie Says:

    I totally agree with Illuminatus. I’m sending the link to everyone I know!

  42. Eric Says:

    Wonderful comic! Great job.

  43. Alex Says:

    @blank, i agree, the idea behind this comic is really amazing! and it’s a mentality that i think it’s worth spreading, I’m actually planning to start a web show and while it’s not gonna be based on this comic, subnormality has been a great influence in my artistic life, keep doing what you do.

  44. Julie K. Says:

    You put into words what I have been thinking about for a long time now. Thank you for illustrating in an amazingly simple way the complexity of human behaviors. Intelligent and warm for the soul. Let’s hope we are all climbing more good stairs than evil ones.

  45. BKred Says:

    I agree with the thoughts that this is your best comic yet. It is truly phenomenal. I’ve posted it around to a few places to get it some visibility (Digg: and Fark mostly)

  46. bm32 Says:


  47. johnny Says:

    you, sir, are brilliant.

  48. Iris Says:

    You just brought me about ten steps down from a terrible, terrible mood. Thank you.

  49. Marty Says:

    I spent a good 20 minutes trying to find this website again (the bookmark isn’t on this pc in work) and I’m so glad I made the effort.

    What a profoundly satisfying read! And a genuinely heart warming ending. I love all your comic strips. Thank you.

  50. M.S.F. Says:

    Ah, I can’t remember where those two ladies have appeared before! Anyone got the link?

  51. Lynn Says:

    Wow, that was an amazing comic. It actually made me realize how close I was to becoming something I vowed never to become. I took immediate steps to reverse it, and am feeling great.

  52. George Says:

    I’m surprised I’m the only one who’s noticed that we’ve seen these girls before, you’re getting better at incorporating previous characters into your stories.

    It’s also weird, after reading the strip I linked to, their lesbianism was also implied. You’ve gotten better, though I think the wall of text is hindering you. Less words are more words in comics, and I think you’re forgetting that.

  53. Isaac Says:

    hey that was really great, i don’t have the most impressive attention span but i always find your comics worth the read!

  54. Josh Says:

    I’m just popping by the comments board to say that I think this was one of your best strips in a while. You’ve shown us something most of us, on one level or another, already knew…but had probably never formalized as well as you’ve done it here. You’re a philosopher. =)

    Keep it up!

  55. seanmlocke Says:

    I was reading this comic and was thinking mostly about myself. Of course, right? I have goals, things that will require small steps to accomplish. I want to get in shape. I want to write a novel. There are certain small steps that one must take to accomplish things like that. And there are certain small steps one can take in order to make those things impossible.

    The comic was delicious enough when I was merely thinking of myself and my own personal goals.

    And then you give us those last two panels, and all of a sudden by god it wasn’t just about me anymore, and I had a double dose of deliciousness. Thanks, man. I really appreciate this comic.

  56. most impressive, Rowntree.

    most impressive…

  57. localvagrant Says:

    Bad days are 90% your fault and 10% circumstance.

  58. Zoe Brain Says:

    I work in “Defence Science”. Better ways to kill people.

    I’m also Intersexed, and thus regarded as a third class citizen in most places. My existence is illegal in several countries.

    Of the two lessons… for me, it’s the Road to Hell that’s most important. If you’re not constantly questioning whether you’re doing the right thing, then you’re probably not.

    And yes, the best episode since the Line.

  59. OjnoTheRed Says:

    Another great honest yet endearingly hopeful look at ourselves. Great comic, great story. Also, I saw on previous comments you posted in reply that you are getting self conscious at only drawing “hot” women – well here are two endearing women who look like people I meet and like every day. The ending touched my heart.

  60. ChronoSamurai Says:


    I couldn’t help making a SB&HJ reference. In all seriousness though, this was an amazing comic. The wall of text puts me off at first but after the first few lines BOOM I’m hooked onto your delicious word gravy.

  61. Malk'Zameth Says:

    Winston Rowntree, I could explain in long detail how amazing I’ve found that last comic of yours, using a long wall of text along the way, but after reading it the Nth time around I decided that it would be more apt to just become one more step in the whole stair of praise that will surely cheer you up, so:

    “Thanks for the amazing comic”

  62. Tarliman Says:

    Excellent work. Well illustrated and explained. I’ve sent the permalink around to a number of people who could do with reading this.

  63. Meghana K Says:

    Thats brilliant… I like the way it leads to the end.
    Many of us are so hard bound by conventional thoughts and learnings of how human beings and society must been, that its difficult for them to accept that there can be something better than what has been happening for so long. They are so convinced by the righteousness of this way of life that its impossible to make them believe otherwise.
    This comic is truly brilliant, and I hope this comes true in the future…

  64. E. Dejeva Says:

    Hey Winston,

    You owe a little bit of something to the honorable public. And by that, I mean a close-up of the stairs leading to the swastika door.

    (Come to think of it, the labels being unreadable makes sense, philosophically, but still, you wrote words and people want to know what these words are.)

  65. Otter Says:

    Actually I feel kind of sad now, but not really because of the metaphor rather that there is no way people ever going to talk this intelligently around me (maybe expectation is my family) but like I am going to university and the people are so dumb there and of course I become the black sheep. Oh well… not that I didn’t got used to it.

  66. Brad Says:

    The opening of the comic is a little confusing. I read the entire thing thinking that the two characters were men, who just happen to look like women because that’s the fashion of the future. :\

  67. FennecFoxz Says:

    @Brad, IMO it’s the two girls who were already featured way back in subnormality, you know, the one who used to have her hair dyed in pink and the homeless chick, I think they also somehow got married
    Asides from the possible interpretations of the canon, the comic itself is pure gold,truly enlightening I really to read something like this, Thanks Rowntree, keep it up, you know we’ll always be here lurking on Mondays even though we’re kinda used to take Wednesdays as 2nd Mondays as well.

  68. Seth Says:

    @ E. Dejeva

    From what I can make out, I think the steps say the same thing as the list she is giving to the left: authority, scapegoating, easy answers, etc.

    Anyways, I love this one (well, I love most of them, but still). Also, as has been mentioned, I love how these two ladies are the future-selves of previously used characters.

  69. benS. Says:

    Holy Bat Fangs* !

    The aftermath of a Swedish influenca ?
    Slipping pen ? See what you mean ! I can imagine an artistic, 40C fever peak in frame 7 (the cubistic? face of the speckled girl-lady). Interesting.
    The lady in black seems nice and ..well.. wise for her age (40 straight?).

    * Partly stolen from
    AliceHatt, sub151

    Holy molars !
    Keep it up Winston !


    P.s. Suppose I, somehow, luckily invited them for lunch ! What the hell could we talk about ? Carpentry ?

  70. Wow, what an age we live in! We have same sex marriage and yet still are transphobic enough to requrire trans women to dress stereotypically femme to get estrogen! Ah, the modern world…

  71. valy Says:

    this comic, somehow, sounded to me as a cautionary tale…it’s something i should keep in mind, never to find something so “stupid” i couldn’t do it. If i don’t keep in mind my values and don’t forget who am i, maybe i could end in some situation so far from what i’ve wanted that i couldn’t believe it’s that bad. But as you say in the end, this can be good too, progression takes you to the “impossible” so out of reach…

    great comic as always, and this one with a good lesson for life

  72. E. Dejeva : The text on the stairs starts by just repeating the stuff she says about conformity and trusting authority and such, and then trails off into unreadable scribbles, because i don’t claim to know ALL the steps. I feel it’s the most significant staircase, if you will, in the history of modern western society, and the debate over what all the steps were will continue for decades.

  73. Jamie Says:

    God damn man, every week i expect something good, but that’s one of the best, thank you kindly for the hard work man, few words describe how glad i am you didn’t end up in some dark damp office grinding your soul away. Instead you manage to give real social commentary, particularly without being a pretentious asshole.
    So again, thanks kindly dude, and keep em coming.

  74. James Says:

    Seems to me that the orange|green concept doodle leading June 1st’s strip is perfect T-shirt/hoodie/baseball cap material.

    Bonus points if it becomes representative of “the strip that occasionally has massive walls of text”, having no words itself.

  75. jan d Says:

    Thank you! Just keep doing your thing please.
    And consider posting in higher resolution for the future … im squinting alot reading your wonderful comics.

  76. Joe Says:

    Dude you really need to get some easier to read print..

  77. DaveB Says:

    Thanks for another wonderful strip, dude. Wait, that could be taken the wrong way…

  78. Sebastian. Says:

    … and that’s why i love and hate humans.

  79. John Says:

    “@Brad, IMO it’s the two girls who were already featured way back in subnormality, you know, the one who used to have her hair dyed in pink and the homeless chick, I think they also somehow got married”

    I believe they are the creepy story girl and the homeless chick. Man, what an awesome marry would that be!
    As always, a wonderful comic man 😀

  80. Micah Says:

    ** excellent **

    thanks for this.

  81. Mike Says:

    You’ve outdone yourself this time. Very well done.

  82. Al Says:

    Thank you so much.

  83. Martin Says:

    Awesome comic, Perfect wording, quite long but shorter then I could have explained the concept of incrementalism. I will most definitely pass this on to my friends.

  84. Jade Says:

    I like all of your comics, but Stairs is definitely my favorite. It’s an amazing concept that you explain really well. I want to print out the fifth row and put it on my wall to keep me reminded of it. ^^

    Anyway, thank you, and I hope you feel better!

  85. Lije Says:


  86. Themata Says:

    It was 5:20pm when I stumbled across your comic. I loved it, and so then read the next… and then the next… and then the next…

    It’s now 6:58pm, and I’ve had more entertainment the past hour-and-a-bit than pretty much any movie has ever offered me.

    I wish the entire world had some resemblance to your perception of the world.
    We’d be a far more enlightened race, all with the common consciousness of wishing a giant Sphynx with an attractive girl’s head actually existed and had conversations with us.

    Thank you, for such wonderful art.

  87. Dusty668 Says:

    I’ve seen a lot of folks use the small steps to evil before, but not small steps to better. It’s obvious now that you’ve shown a light on it, and I thank you.

    Lovin the comic as always!

  88. Mellon Says:

    My major hobby consists of repeatedly hitting my face into the brickwall of the het-norm. I rarely notice it moving.

    You really made me feel like I am making a difference. Thank you!

  89. Richter Says:

    That was beautiful Mr Rowntree. Thanks. I hope we’ll see those two girls in the future again.

    Who’s the “her” the black-haired woman is talking about?

  90. Richter Says:

    That was beautiful Mr Rowntree. Thanks. I hope we’ll see those two girls in the future again.

    Who’s the “her” the black-haired woman is talking about? Mother? Daugther?

  91. Hafwit Says:

    That was a lovely comic. It genuinely cheered me up.

  92. gridsleep Says:

    This is the greatest single comic in the history of human civilization. This needs to be posted in every classroom in the country, and in the office of every politician. And on billboards in every city and every highway. Just a coincidence, but I see a lot of Scott McCloud in this. And the little red/green/green/red panels? That would make a fabulous t-shirt, front and back. Think about it. I’d buy some.

  93. Jack Cookie Says:

    Uh, wow… thanks. I needed that.

  94. Leo. W Says:

    this was beautiful.

    i’m on the verge of tears.

    also, i makes me feel like i shouldn’t give up on life, cheers winston!

  95. D Hue Says:

    Too many words, but they always leave you wanting more. Insightful, as always, good sir.

  96. Diego Says:

    First time here as well, I very much enjoy your artistic style and the thoughtfulness of your dialogue even though I disagree with some of it (though not all). As much as this will not make me popular I offer an alternative to the second-to-last panel:

    “How about this: A few decades ago it would have been illegal for you and I to get married in most places, here included, which just seems surreal now, I mean it’s hard to get your mind around it, but thanks to a persistent politically-correct anti-establishment liberal media and pop culture we’re now so far from where we used to be that it’s hard to believe society used to hold the idea of marriage to a higher standard than what the secular culture wants it to become. And I bet people never thought we’d be able to make an entire generation think it can redefine an institution based on procreation of the species, but the media and secular structure has corrupted enough well-meaning young minds… it was just a matter of time.”

    I would also submit that the realization that ‘same-sex marriage’ is a popular but ultimately regressive idea will need several steps to be taken to re-educate people to why it never caught on in other cultures including Rome, arguably the most pro-homosexual pagan empire in history. But those are steps I’m willing to take.

    Yeah I’m one of those old-fashioned types. Sue me. But then again, that’s diversity: a group of people who aren’t the same sharing opinions and perspectives.

  97. Pantera Says:

    I personally liked the throwaway joke at the beginning more than the comic (The idea that D. B Cooper was a time-traveler, classic).

  98. Eric Says:


    What’s the matter? Not enough billy goats passed over your bridge this week so you felt the need to pick a fight?

    “A higher standard” for marriage, eh? Last I checked there were plenty of heterosexual marriages that were viciously unhappy and/or adulterous and/or abusive and/or constantly broken and/or divorced. Many of these were established well within a given religious institution.

    Also, why is this “regressive?” You express that it was something that historically never occurred before yet consider it something regressive.

    “[…] why it never caught on in other cultures including Rome, arguably the most pro-homosexual pagan empire in history. But those are steps I’m willing to take.”

    Because Pagan cultures had the same hang-ups about marriage as Christians… right. Also, I’m sure the Romans had tax breaks and other incentives for marriage to add to the debate.

    “Yeah I’m one of those old-fashioned types. Sue me. But then again, that’s diversity: a group of people who aren’t the same sharing opinions and perspectives.”

    So you’re hiding your bigotry behind the notion of “everyone’s different?” Maybe you should have better reasons for believing something than merely being contrary.

  99. Diego: I do appreciate the relatively polite tone of your argument, but as Eric said you have to concede that it’s wholly disingenuous to say that marriage has until now been held to a high standard, because it’s only maintained at the standard of the two individuals participating in it- and if you want to talk about diversity then it’s been a pretty diverse range of people getting married and a pretty diverse range of standards.

    But let’s not pretend we’re really debating the institution of marriage here (The procreation of the species? Is that really what must be protected? Because birth rates worldwide are dangerously low you mean, so we simply can’t take the chance? Because non-heterosexual women are incapable of giving birth? Because non-heterosexual men are incapable of procreating?). What this is about is basic human rights and it’s about the fight to remind the world that people’s sexuality is completely irrelevant to their rights and their character. That’s the goal. It is quite simply the least regressive thing ever.

    I will not attack you for being old-fashioned, I will instead say to you that you should go make some non-heteronormative acquaintances and then take another run at your stance on same-sex marriage because what so many anti-same-sex marriage people are lacking is a face to associate with the aspect of humanity that they are arguing against. Find a face, and then see if you can repeat your beliefs to it. See if you can tell an actual person to their face that they don’t deserve what you deserve. See if you can dehumanize someone in person. And I only suggest it because i doubt you can, i doubt you have no soul. That’s what i choose to believe.

    Maybe i’m being naively optimistic here (or just hopeful) but I don’t want to beat you into the ground, I want to convince you that not only are you treading a sinister path but you’re missing out too. When you exclude, you exclude millions of potential friends.

  100. Miguel Says:

    I’ve recently been thinking about how parents mess up their kids. We’re this antisocial indifferent generation raised by divorcees that were in turn raised by a generation of abusers or hippies or what have you. It feels like there’s a reason we’re the way we are, but that’s just an excuse because we didn’t feel loved, even though the fact that we’re alive is evidence that someone cared for us in some way.

    Parent’s don’t love their kids the way the kids wanna be loved because they weren’t loved by their parents the way they wanted to be when they were kids. It kinda just sucks the optimism out of you.

    This comic talks about small steps that lead us to some kind of progress. But what about when you’re stuck in a situation without options, when there are no small steps like “feel loved” or “listen to each other”? So much of the human experience is intangible.

    If you’re born into something you cant understand how do you change it? Is that why we’re so messed up, because we simply CAN’T understand the reasons we think or feel the way we do? Not all of us are deep, not all of us are profound or educated. Where’s the hope in a planet of that?

    I’m a first time reader. Brilliant stuff.

  101. tkarin Says:

    Amazing comic. I agree with the commenter who said this should be taught in schools.

    The only thing I can think of that I didn’t agree with is that I thought perhaps the first few stairs in the Nazi scenario needed rearranging– it seems a pretty big jump to “tolerating prejudice” on the second step, and I imagine most people would find it a strange step to jump onto for no reason, though it’d still not be very high on the staircase. I think “trusting authority” is a more likely second or even first step.

  102. Navajo MX Says:

    Disregarding all the Big World intonations this has for societal change and stuff I really appreciate this comix for what it means to each of us personally. My favorite frame is the one with the stairs that say “practice, practice, practice, practice…” on them leading to an easel.
    I’m not that impatient for a 16 year old but famously , life seems too slow for us. I like the new perspective this has given me for long term and short term (the bad day to good day steps) and I will definately be sharing this with some of my friends.

    Thanks again and keep ’em coming!

  103. David Says:

    You’re truely amazing. I’ve been reading your comics for a little while now, re-read all of them and I just find you absolutely fantastic. I repeatedly get goosebumps from your comics. Keep up the unbelieveable work 🙂

  104. Richter Says:

    @ D Hue… this is not a dig against you…

    Every time I see the “too many words” argument about this comic, it reminds me of the movie Amadeus and people telling Mozart his stuff has ‘too many notes’.

    Ain’t no such thing. 🙂

  105. Bright Says:

    Well, I have to say that this one really made me think.

    And it is great on its own as well.

  106. bullestock Says:

    @Leak: Oh 🙂 My excuse is that the text does not show up in the RSS feed.

  107. Diello Says:

    That was an unusually good one!

  108. NoVan Says:

    Damn, nicely done. I think this one wasn’t heavy-handed at all, because it wasn’t trying to point fingers at anyone, and I really like that. It was worth the extra wait. I did have to increase my screen resolution to read it though… 😀

    Some people have complained, in the past, about walls of text, even though I like them – they have asked why you cannot say things with fewer words – but I realized that I identify with using this many words to get my mind around a topic. Are you like me, WR – do you go through issues in your head so substantially, and so often? I would guess that you do, since you’ve said that you over-think things sometimes, but I don’t want to assume.

  109. NoVan: Yeah, i’m totally like you. I definitely do go through issues in my head, substantially and often. Often while in the bathroom. Or while someone is talking to me (apologies to everyone i know). If you identify with using a lot of words it’s because that’s how people think and that’s how people talk and so that’s how i write.

  110. Spike Gomes Says:


    One of my closest friends is gay and in the past, under the influence of alcohol, lack of female company and/or boredom I’ve experimented a bit, so one could say I’ve been pretty close to gays before on a social level.

    That said vis a vis Diego, I really don’t think much of the issue at all, though of course my gay friends get on me about it. The way I see it is this: Okay, so say the government extends “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” as some American States and Municipalities have in the past, which pretty much offers the same legal coverage of marriage (in the case of civil unions) while having the grammatical fig leaf of not being actual marriage for the various God-bothering types.

    My gay friends are pretty much divided between those who see it as a step towards their end goal, and those who see it as a throwback to “separate but equal” Jim Crow status and thus to be vigorously combated. I alone say “Just take it and be done with it.”

    Why? Because it’s just grammar. Functionally it’s the same, and to reject it means that gay couples continue to suffer lack of legal coverage in regards to property and civil law. “marriage” has become symbolic, and to put the utilitarian value of people’s comfort below a symbol is madness.

    So it comes down to that.
    So, say the government offers “civil unions” and it has enough support to pass, but “marriage” does not, and will not for the foreseeable future. Does one take it or not?

    What’s also interesting is that for the most part, “gay marriage” as a legal entity wasn’t really a question for the gay rights movement until the 90s at least in America (yes, I am aware of Baker versus Nelson, but one must look at the context in which it was filed). It wasn’t even discussed by the Mattachine Society or the Daughters of Bilitis, and in fact when the GLF was the foremost group, the idea of marriage and family was seen as part of the traditional oppressive gender roles!

    So what’s my point?
    That gay marriage is a hot button topic and thus apt to provoke ideological stupidity in people.

    As for myself, as a conservative, I’m a marriage privitizationist. It’s none of the gummits business if I marry a man, five stern-faced women in old-timey dresses, or a blow-up Hello Kitty sexdoll which constantly recites Harlan Ellison stories, so long as both parties consent.

  111. Sean Says:

    Oh, Wow.
    Thank you.
    Awesome comic.

  112. Sean Says:

    You are not a conservative, you are a libertarian.
    A friend of mine, an old time libertarian, wobbly and protester (Leslie Fish
    said that she can easily partition the libertarian and the conservatives: the L’s are for mind you own business, and the cons are against anything that the religious right hates. Ask about abortion, the L’s will speak of a womans right to her own bod, and the C’s will condemn.


  113. canneddirt Says:

    Beautiful comic. Brilliantly told. Thank you for making my month!

  114. Spike Gomes Says:

    No, I’m pretty distinctly not a “Libertarian” or libertarian. I think Austrian Economics is bunk, corporations are a destructive homogenizing force against societies and that the average person if denied a strong ethical and moral lodestone that is easy to comprehend will quickly revert to the lowest common denominator.

    I’m basically a decentralist Paleocon who chooses to live a personally open lifestyle. Anything in the liberal tradition be it socialist or libertarian is far too optimistic and tabula rasa for the likes of my jaded self.

    In other words, I’m an anti-Hobbsian Hobbsian. Ah, the joy of contrarianism!

  115. Jackie Says:

    Joining the masses to say thanks for an excellent comic. Definitely an excellent and thought-provoking piece. It’s something I wish more people would think about, but most don’t seem to want to be self-aware.

    Thanks again. I love your comic.

  116. Stefan Says:

    Thank you.

  117. Robin Says:

    wow I’ve been reading for a while and always thought your work was great, but this both brought a smile to my face and a tear to my eye.
    Superb, amazing, uplifting, rewarding work Winston I duly doff my hat to you.

  118. Coleman Says:

    I have been following the comic for a while now, and have yet to be disappointed.
    Great work yet again.

  119. Chip chip away. It’s easy to forget that it takes a series of little steps to reach that big goal.

  120. sigrunic Says:

    How Aristotelian of you! I approve, I think more people need to go back to the classical thinkers who we base so much of our modern philosophy on, but ignore in favour of market ethics– that more is best. This also really helps me for my upcoming philosophy exam. 😀

  121. arkonbey Says:

    waiiiiiit a minute!

    I may be mistaken, but that might have been the least fatalistic and pessimistic comic yet…

  122. benS. Says:

    One pair in your hand is better than ten Royal Flush in Poker Heaven?

    Moby D.
    (could’ve been)

  123. Rylan Bowers Says:

    Great comic! I love your progression, logic and dialogue.

  124. Nick Says:

    This was just an awesome comic and I did not see the ending coming at all. kudos to you

  125. Ross Says:

    Ha ha, the metaphor phone number is for my region. I thought you were in Cananda, that’s for southwest Virginia!

  126. Tristan Says:

    Okay, so when are we going to be able to buy this as a nice big 24×36″ poster, that I will then frame, put on my home office wall, and remind myself every day, and make my husband (illegal in 32 states) read it as well? So the first step is to realize that you really *can* make posters… ~_^

  127. Steven Says:

    Winston Rowntree, you are mt idol, and your comics are amazing. I personally (along with everyone else here) loved stairs, and was deeply moved by it. This is probrably the seventh time I’ve gone back to read it. It’s so good. It leaves me hungry for change. And chili sauce.

  128. Anon2 Says:

    VERY pro.
    The philosophical diatribe, the “Surprise ending” and the red/green metaphor was just fantastic.

    Of course, i happen to agree with pretty much everything you said, so that may be a factor 😛

  129. Ross Says:

    Brilliantly put. Reminds me (in it’s own way) of Romans 1. We start out suppressing the truth because we find it distasteful. Eventually we laugh at the thought that it ever was true because we have suppressed so long, incrementally,and thoroughly.

    The argument falls apart, however, on the perception of what is good. If there are no absolutes, what is ‘boiling’ for the frog? Any water temperature is fine, since it becomes fine as the frog gets used to it. No harm is possible to the individual as long as it gradually adapts. Nothing is wrong, for while a given person may start out thinking that killing, or preferring one’s own ‘rights’ over the rights of others, is bad, eventually they come to think that no, that wasn’t really all that important. And if there are no absolutes, why can’t they be just as correct and appropriate as the person who insists that others’ rights must be respected? Isn’t it just two different beliefs? Without a standard to reliably compare to, we can’t evaluate at all. Without an objective reality which says, ‘amphibian cells are destroyed at this temperature’ the frog can never boil.

  130. Rai Fox Says:

    You know…if we really wanted to make the world just work a bit better…we could just make it mandatory for anyone taking a position of leadership or power in the world to read Sub-Normality, start to finish, first.

  131. Blondeh Says:

    It’s 4 am where I live. I can’t sleep so I thought I’d catch up on some old reliable feel good net reading material of mine and fell back on your comics. I have to tell you that this particular one hit me really hard tonight. You are so talented and so profound that I just can’t thank you enough for doing what you do. You’ve put a solid beautiful thought in my head to go to sleep too and as I head to another day of work dealing with people who far too often resemble the antagonists of your comics, I’ll have this positive thought in my head. One small step. 🙂 Thank you. You’re fantastic.

    Oh and when you draw your servers, give them a little more credit. We’re not all self-hating pessimists. A lot of us are students, parents, or just people persons trying to take small steps to improve our situations and make our lives a little bit better on to a much better status quo.

  132. nekatomenos Says:

    Mr Rowntree, besides the request that you marry me, like, now [it’s small steps to it not being illegal!] I would also like to request permission to translate this. I’m not kidding. Not even gonna make money out of it. :]

  133. Hagure Says:

    I consume information mostly on my phone these days, so I miss a comic every once in a while (+1 on the higher resolution request).

    But man… as an unemployed (bout a year now) twenty-something having trouble finding motivation—scratch that, as a human being this really spoke to me.

    No amount of rereading “Getting Things Done” ever made the idea of

    (Small Steps)x ∞ = Big Things

    ..really ever click.

    Thanks again. Onward to more consumption, in the form of posters!

    PS: I recently saw some of your work on a Cracked video about Back to the Future. I’m glad your gig there has expanded.

  134. Griff Says:

    so they’re lesbians? ZOMG what a tweest!

  135. PWS Says:

    Beautiful. As a lesbian, this brought tears to my eyes.

    I especially liked the final panel: The way the white-haired woman took a morsel of food from her partner’s plate was just– touching.

  136. Keefee Says:

    I love this concept of stairs – I teach the Holocaust to Gr. 8s. We talk about the very things you bring up in your comic. I will use this as an interactive way for the students to explore the concept even further. We will actually build our own sets of stairs – I use a lot of symbolism and drama in my class. Also I introduced my students to “A Complaint Free World” campaign. It echoes the same concept of giving energy to positivity to combat inaction/whining. Thank you. I will let you know how I present this idea (not the actual comic as the first part is too sexually graphic) I will include the gay marriage piece though – so important for our society. Great work!

  137. Steve Nordquist Says:

    Romans I fans can chuck their heads out with the next salt collection, because of keen social absolutes shaved up upon by comics and sometimes science or other ways of knowing. Read the ‘No Mo Dykes’ series and know 10% moral despair (those are tough standards!) Such a spoiler and surprise that boiling a frog takes around 9 kW (ten times through transmission lines and losses in a real saucepan) and the environmental and farm costs of the frog harvest, minus the cheesy eats benefit.

  138. Mr Gask Says:

    I know you hate old people and all, but could you consider using higher resolution scans. The walls of tiny text are taxing.

  139. Ib Says:

    this is in regards to subnormality, the button led me here so i don’t even know if this will be read by the right people but fuck it.

    I have just finished the 500th page in one sitting. I feel like i am getting progressively smarter with each following page and am simultaneously entertained by the sphinx’s antics in a simplified real world. Keep up the great work and enjoy what little i can offer in the form of a spot on my bookmarks.

    Also, first class should be exactly that.

  140. Hawbes Says:

    Or you could just avoid going up and down stairs all together. Lao Tzu has a good metaphor; “You’re never as stable going up and down a ladder compared to having both feet firmly planted on the ground.”

    I suppose ancient wisdom is no longer applicable to us modern folks, right? ;P

  141. Doktor Says:

    This made me tear up!
    Just lovely, I’m thinking I should print it out and post it to my corkboard.

  142. Abel Stearns Says:

    In addition to being an amazing storyteller you have a gift for communicating complex ideas in way-accessible ways. You have put in to words and picture something I have been thinking a lot about for 10 months in something that I could read and see in 10 minutes. You are really good at what you do!!!

  143. Roger Butterfield Says:

    Thank you for this, from the bottom of my heart. It comes at a time in my life when I’m really struggling with my inadequacies and failures despite what is probably my potential. This is wonderful.

  144. Sleepless Dire Says:

    A good tune is temporarily enjoyable.
    Good lyrics, however, resonate.
    I read and hear.

  145. Loximann Says:

    It always takes me months to get back to your comic strip… Used to stuff my brain with whatever easy piece of crap information I find in a news feed, now facing your “walls of text” feels like a titanic effort. However, every time I come back, I don’t regret it. At all. Thanks for bringing me back for a moment to the time when I was not a lazy internet-addicted bastard.

  146. Peterotooled Says:

    How wonderful of you to use Ripley as your avatar of a strong committed person!

    I’ve just found this site and have spent several hours reading your whole archive. You are as good as Alison Bechdel of Dykes To Watch Out For. This is a fantastic and brilliant comic, as are many of the others. My favorite so far is The Line, but this runs a close second. Thanks so much for this stuff

  147. Bob from Accounts Says:

    extremely thought provoking – the ending seemed a little tacked-on at first, but thinking about it I realised it was an appropriate way to end it. It has certainly made me more optimistic.

  148. Jessica Says:

    I love it. All around love it. I like how you can take it and learn lessons from it, and there at the end it applies it to a current issue.

    And it’s 100% true.

  149. Paddy Says:

    So much truth in this…

    And now I have to go do some small steps.

  150. David Says:

    Hey, just wanted to tell you that there have been at leas a few days (6 that I can remember) where I’ve been feeling like shit and I’ve found my way to your site and after reading for a bit found myself in a better mood. I’ve read and reread A Saturday Evening in the Future (#152) and it always redirects my thoughts towards what I could be doing rather than wallowing in self-pity. Thanks for being the conversation that brings me back to reality. (btw is there a way that I could get a 24×20 poster of that comic? It’s not one of the one’s that you have in your store and I was hoping it would be possible to work out a way to get one.)

  151. CW Says:

    Thank you.

  152. Everton Foster Says:

    So… those are the future selves of those two girls who always hang out together. I think the last one they were in was the elevator comic. Or is that like an alternate reality? Great comic, thats a good way to look at life.

  153. marcocap Says:

    I just read this comic (I recently discovered “subnormality” and I’m slowly reading every comic from the first one) and I have to say, it just clicked with me. It sounded exactly like the last conversation I had with a psycologist I’m seeing because of not been “good enough” at dealing with my life. Nothing bad about it, but nothing good too. And, you know, this comic had the answer to my questions. Thank you very, very, very much.

  154. DCC Says:

    I see one problem with this.

    The readership of this webcomic is, by and large, pretty well inoculated against becoming Nazis. Many are extremely unlikely to take even the first step up any staircase that leads in any right-wing direction, much less the most extreme path.

    That doesn’t necessarily make you immune to killing children in concentration camps.

    (Assuming the problem with Nazis is the concentration camps part, not the right-wing part. There are people who don’t seem to agree that’s the offensive part. Hint: if you honestly think Sarah Palin is a worse person than Josef Stalin, then it’s probably not the concentration camps part that bothers you.)

    The steps in your case could be something like: Resisting becoming Nazis; Not tolerating prejudice; Punishing prejudice; Removing all prejudice from society; Removing all prejudiced people from society; Removing people who would be prejudiced if you let them grow up. And you’re past the children in camps door.

    In fact, refusing on principle to take the first step up the staircase to the swastika door (something like, “Grudgingly admitting a right-winger might have a point”)–can be the first step up a different staircase; and some of those do lead to concentration camps.

    (And here’s the darkest part: You’d never be a Nazi–but would you ever be willing to kill kids in the camps for being Nazis? Maybe…the whole point of the staircase is that you can gradually find yourself somewhere you never thought you’d go. Even more to the point of this strip: if all the Christian Fundamentalists…went away…it really honestly would be a lot easier to get gay marriage accepted. And a lot of other desirable social reforms. No sarcasm–it really would be. And that would be a Good Thing, right?)


    This comic has already taken a step or two up a potentially bad staircase–there are strips pointing out that George W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher are nonhuman monsters, and that people who voted for Bush have subhuman intelligence. Dehumanizing your opponent, anyone?

    (Yes, it’s satire. Dehumanizing your foes as a joke is a lower stairstep than dehumanizing them and meaning it– but it’s not ground level either.)

    But definitely not up to the swastika door. Very emphatically not.


    The upside of this: people usually don’t go very far up the stairs. The enormous vast majority of people who tell racist jokes (or who despise people who tell racist jokes) will never even consider punching their targets, much less murdering anyone, much less killing kids in concentration camps.

    So one praise: I think a staircase is a better analogy than a slippery slope. It takes some effort to get up a staircase, even if it’s less than climbing straight up the wall.

    • Bill W Says:

      I think what the comic is getting at is that allowing injustice to happen by saying “what can I do, it’s out of my control” is as bad as committing the act. For example, most people wouldn’t have taken part in the killing in Nazi Germany, but a majority of the population did let the Nazi authorities know where Jewish people were hiding out, or even just didn’t do as much as they could to help those poor people escape or hide out. Realistically, a nation with a 1 million population(example) might have a 75,000 strong army, and if that army is doing wrong, then there are about 900,000 who should be standing up and saying “we are not gonna let this happen”

  155. Maze88 Says:

    I like that you used the “slippery slope” argument to not only to show small things can end up bad, but how it can give us perspective when small things can happen that change our daily life. When we feel “justified” about an action and don’t really think about it, we lose control of it.

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