February 12, 2013


Heyy, comix return. And dude here was previously seen in comix 79 and 196, for anyone wondering.

Back again asap. The whole comix every 3-4 weeks thing has been lame, i know– i’m gonna see what i can do about that. Got stories need tellin’.


Thanks to Slate.com and the Center For Cartoon Studies for bringing some badly-needed attention to webcomics by announcing a new comics prize that features an equal category for online comix alongside the traditional print stuff. They’ve nominated some really good stuff too (and me). I’d vote for Boulet if i were voting– dude has skills.


The new comic over at Akimbo is a fine thing too. This medium got wheels.



126 Responses to “karma”

  1. damnit winston i already follow 20+ webcomics, why you have to show me more cool stuff?

  2. blingus Says:

    This one made me cry too.

  3. The Bullied Says:


    Thank you.

    I’d like to publicly thank the bullies who made my school days an absolute misery. They taught me resilience, how to plan for tomorrow’s happiness from today’s pain, how to recognise a true friend and gave me fantastic lessons in how to manage bullies without having to resort to violence. My favourite was walking out on a client meeting, pulling a six figure deal, after telling the CIO of a major multinational company that he could explain to his board himself why his primary supplier on a bet-the-business contract had walked away because I refused to work with a racist, misogynistic, homophobic, narcissistic, bullying arse. We’d been having a coffee before the final signing meeting when he was having a “joke” about some of the people on my team, thinking that my stereotypical look of early 40s white male senior management in the corporate environment would obviously agree with him.

    The best part of 30 years later, I thoroughly enjoy seeing the bullies back in my home town still living in their shitty existences on state benefits while I’ve moved on, made a massive success of my life and am married to a fantastic wife. My wife has never heard these stories but would be shocked as she’s seen how fast I can reduce a bully to looking like a cowardly shell regardless of high up they are in the corporate world.

    So, again, *applause*

    • Luis Says:

      THIS is exactly what I’m talking about. Once you understand how the bully’s mind works, it’s easy to deal with them. They’re just cowards looking for an easy target to make them look good. Turn the tables and fear will paralyze them.

  4. michael e Says:

    I like it. You really hit the mark with this one.

  5. MalcolmPF Says:

    Woo, Elite Force cap!

  6. monsterzero Says:

    Nah, karma is when you get reincarnated as all the people you picked on.

    Another super-enjoyable strip. Extra kudos for no sideways-scrolling!

  7. Erlend Says:

    Subnormality has got me believing in gods again. It’s people like you, Mr. Rowntree. You make the world better by putting stuff into it that nobody even asked you to make. In my opinion, that’s as close to divinity we humans can get.

    Thank you!

  8. Sergeant Major Tom Says:

    Damn – is it just me, or have you given Pete a retroactive double-nerfing here? If someone were extrapolating from his first appearance, they’d (quite possibly) have assumed he’d be better to the bullied kid than he was; from his second appearance, I had the impression that the band had gotten somewhere, at least enough to be making a living from. Hence, my original question, and sincerely, not rhetorically.

    (To be clear, don’t take the above complaint to be about anything other than arguable mistreatment of a favoured character. It was a good premise, fleshed out nicely and well executed, as is the way of Subnormality.)

    • mort Says:

      Well, in 79 Pete economic aspirations are to “live in a cargo van” and in 196 he has a bit torn uniform standing in front of a poster bragging about The Generals being “Western Canada’s premier rap-novelty band” which I guess means you can make a living out of it if you are content to live in a cargo van. So I think it matches his current lifestyle.

      On the topic of Steve, well that is what happens soemtimes. He wanted to be nice to Steve, and he was. But he realised that he rather wanted not to end up being Steve so he backstabbed him. Not a saint, just staying alive in the hell that school often is.

    • Sergeant Major Tom Says:

      I’ll admit, it was rather late last night when I read/posted. To not post is to risk not seeing the reply you need to see, though.

    • Oh, the band has gotten somewhere– the modern incarnation of band success is just somewhat different from in the past. The arts are in the shitter right now, basically, so if you can get three people in Shithole County to book your novely rap-metal band for shows then you’re not doing too bad in the overall picture, i reckon… (and make no mistake, general pete loves his job)

  9. Will Says:

    Based on personal experience, he is still so very going to get laid now.

  10. Scott Says:

    Incredibly moving. When am I going to learn that I can’t read these things at work.

  11. toaster_pimp Says:

    interesting choice to have him take of his hat there…

  12. Jorpho Says:

    I don’t really get the “comix return” thing – the comix don’t return, as they’re never really gone, says I. 3-4 weeks might be an odd schedule, but at least it’s a schedule! A darn sight better than a lot of other things, like say Hark A Vagrant or Zebra Girl (though it’s gotten a lot better lately).

    If you ever go on an extended hiatus, maybe I’ll finally be pressed to sit down and read Captain Estar.

    • magicdragon Says:

      Read it. It’s worth it. I’ve read it 4-5 times now, and it’s still just as good.

    • I dunno, i just hate being away for however long i’m away. I’d update weekly if it were possible, it just isn’t because of various bills-payin’ stuff i need to take on, plus the art takes longer these days (but hopefully looks better). It’s a constant balance between multiple things, but i really would like to get back to comix every two weeks at the very least. An extended hiatus is The Thing I Am Least Interested In, i’ll say that.

  13. never commented before but this one hit me just right. I was that kid in school. Still waiting to find that level of happiness though

  14. The Mailman Says:

    That was beautiful.

    Thank you, Rowntree.

  15. spideycow Says:

    Your comics always make me feel emotion!

  16. Great moral to that story. What I’ve observed is that high school is like DC Comics’ Bizarro World. Everything is backwards and upside down. Beware of being too successful in Bizarro World because you turn 18 and end up in the real world.

    I was a tormented kid in my high school. My main tormentor became a fifth rate never-was in Hollywood. That has got to be the tenth ring of hell. The jocks and cheerleaders ended up with boring lives. The freaks and geeks ended up doing strange and wonderful things. I’m doing things I love (mostly renewable energy) and living the good life.

    The bullied don’t take friendship or love or kindness for granted. We have an attitude of gratitude, and that works.

  17. The Old Wolf Says:

    As one who is intimately interested in the phenomenon of bullying and how to grow past it as a society, this strip really hit home. Superb as usual – thanks so much, Winston.

  18. SuckMyComment Says:

    loved it. a thousand words says a picture. that’s why i love subnormality. the message is subtly woven into a conversation. it roots the message in reality. it doesn’t try to say it all quickly in a single abstract image. (well lately it kinda has been) but not this one! this one’s perfect. spot on.

  19. PO8 Says:

    Y’know, if you’re going to do a wall of text, you should do an awesome wall of text. And nobody, nobody in webcomics, nobody in print comics, does a wall of text better than you. Amazing art, fascinating story, wonderful moral. Who tells stories with a moral in 2013? You, you do. Great work as always. Thanks huge.

  20. TentacledBeast Says:

    I wish that were true; but it isn’t. Life is unfair. The victims bear feelings of powerlessness, impotent rage, bitterness and hatred that hold them back for the rest of their lives, while the bullies are empowered; they gain confidence through bullying that persists and can lead them to success, and their loose morality means they can cheat their way up, as they often do.

    • Luis Says:

      Allow me to disagree. I was bullied in school, and I count it as one of the best things that ever happened to me. It lasted for a year, and only stopped because I acted on it. I was a wuss before, and therefore perfect bullying material. When I started fighting back, it stopped. Bullies are cowards. Even if they’re 10 times your size, throw a punch at them and they never come near you again. That lesson worked wonders for me throughout life, there’s bullying in adulthood too, but if you know how to respond you won’t have any trouble.

    • Steve (no, seriously) Says:

      I was bullied and yes I do have moments of impotent rage when all I can think about is kicking the living shit out of people I went to school with, but for the most part I’m happy to have just put all that behind me and – oh god, cliche of all cliches – found love. I’m lucky to be surounded by awesome people these days. Some people aren’t, granted.
      I dunno where I was going with this. Kids are little shits, pretty much. Someone needs to set them straight from an early age.

  21. dusty668 Says:

    Super damn comic!

    What’s up with the zoomy page thing? you only putting that on certain comics now or what?

  22. OldBrit Says:

    So, he achieved his childhood ambition, and apparently will live to eighty still in the band, but he’s not as happy as bullied Steve is.
    Still, he’s doing better than the others from #79 who are living their lives in cube-farms.

    Also, I had a severe case of eye-watering while reading this one.
    Thanks again for a comic that really makes me think.

  23. Adam Says:

    Is it wrong that i’m sort of attracted to the red headed chick?

  24. Red headed girl reminded me of Florence Whelch….

  25. steamr0ller Says:

    Bully for you, Winston. I was wondering if we would ever see more of The Generals! Excellent comic as always, thanks for doing what you do.

  26. justanotherlurker Says:

    You know I used to come to this comic for a few chuckles and because I like the art style. Now I come here for a sermon, and I love it. Keep up the good work.

  27. mirhond Says:

    Generals need either Soviet Army banner or soviet admiral uniform, to fit Soviet Navy banner.

  28. Stranger Says:

    Too bad it didnt work that way for me. Its 10 years later, and Im still bitter and spiteful. Whenever I hear these stories about hope and rising above it all it just fills me with contempt. The people who made my life hell got to go on and have normal, fulfilling lives, and Im still trapped in the mud. No, these stories arent uplifting, theyre a spit in the face to those of us who COULDNT move past high school.

    • Well i’m definitely not happy to hear that. Regarding the comic, i’ll just say that above all it’s a character study based on true events, and that if there’s a message i would hope that primarily it’s “Dont’ bully people.” Because it’s fucking horrible.

    • Luis Says:

      Then, I’m sorry, but you didn’t learn anything. Being bullied teaches you to overcome your fears… If you can be brave enough to face them.

    • Stranger Says:

      No I learned, I learned that the world never cares about you when you actually need it, and then tries to patch you up with pathetic slogans and feel good campaigns. The damage is done, and Im left to stew in my own misery for the remainder of my life. But no, its totally my own fault that I was damaged from the start. All Im doing right now is waiting until my resentment and misery finally outweighs my sense of self preservation.

      So yeah, all you self important dickheads out there who feel youre SO awesome because bullying somehow made you stronger or gave you discipline or whatever, remember this: Those of us who werent you, are still stuck in the dirt, where the world left us.

      You make me sick.

    • Luis Says:

      Dude I’m not saying it’s your fault! I’m just saying that you probably could have done some things differently, but you can learn from what didn’t work out well just as much as from what did. I don’t blame myself for being bullied, I just acknowledge that something about my personality made me a juicy target.
      What did they do to you anyway? And what is so wrong with your life right now that you can’t do anything about?

  29. kyle renner Says:

    Got to love all the losers whinging about being bullied in high school- hey guys? If you’re still bitter about high school and “being bullied” then you’re doing something wrong with your lives.
    Life is full of bullies and karma isn’t real. Deal with it.

    • Dom Says:

      ‘Deal with it’ is such a cop out for any argument.

    • Frank Says:

      Obviously you have never been relentlessly bullied. How ’bout when they ‘deal with it’ by shooting up a school full of kids? Some people get broken by bullying, I was one of them. Do you know what it is like to wake up in the morning and have… nothing. A lifetime of bullying took away my ability to form any sort of social bond, I simply hadn’t developed the skills. So there were no parties, no bars or clubs, no hope of finding a girlfriend or even just someone to talk to. I had fully intended to go to my 10 year reunion and take my vengeance on each and every one of those who bullied and those who stood by and did nothing.
      Funnily enough, being aggressive, lack of emotional connections and having no need to take time for friendships has actually made me quite successful in the world of business, go figure. Turns out I was a model employee and made it to department manager quicker than anyone else. All the rage just boils away when you actually have something to do with your life which is kind of the point to this book I appear to have written. You can say ‘just deal with it’ but you have no idea what these people have been through and what it has done to them. Sure some of them can put it behind them and go on to turn those flaws into strengths, but some don’t have that opportunity and grow more sullen and angry each day. Then idiots like you wring their hands over the next shooting and say ‘but why did it happen’ not realising that you ARE the reason it happened. We need to give those who were bullied a reason to keep going, something to make them want to live and above all cut them some slack over how bad their lives have been thanks to bullying, otherwise one day we are going to be looking at a mushroom cloud over New York or Washington with disbelief and people like you will be the reason why.

    • Stranger Says:

      Alright, I’ll just get a gun and look up my former tormentors, and deal with it that way, sound good? Got nothing else, might as well make sure they dont have anything either, by your logic

    • Luis Says:

      Shooting your tormentors in the face is still cowardly. You’re not really exposing yourself to them, are you? I would, however, advocate finding one of them and punching him in the face.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      “Shooting your tormentors in the face is still cowardly. You’re not really exposing yourself to them, are you? I would, however, advocate finding one of them and punching him in the face.”

      The notion of a “fair fight” is absurd. It’s a contradiction in terms. Fighting CANNOT be fair – the strongest wins, and that’s it.

      When you attack someone, you do it to win. There is no point in exposing yourself to them. If you feel the need to give them a chance to fight back, you’re just being an idiot.

      (Just to be clear, I’m not saying “shoot them”…)

    • Luis Says:

      Then you don’t understand bullying at all. Bullies are cowards. That’s why they bully. If you stand up to them, they’ll fear you and move on. They only pick on people who they’re confident won’t fight back. At 13 years old, I was like a little child and my bullies would pass for 30 year olds (I’m not kidding, many grown men would love to have that much hair on them). They tormented me until the day I started beating them back. Sure, I got my ass kicked once or twice (kid vs grown men and all) but then I wasn’t just worth the trouble. I went on to use this tactic in adult life to great success. But if you don’t expose yourself, you’ll never overcome the fear of getting your ass kicked.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      But not everyone can do that. Not everyone is brave enough to take a beating. I don’t understand why you say that bullying taught you a life lesson; you were strong and tough enough to fight back, that’s all. You didn’t “learn” anything.

      It’s the weak and the cowardly and the sensitive people who suffer.

    • Luis Says:

      No I wasn’t. That’s my point. I wasn’t strong or tough. I was a wuss. I was scared to death of those guys. I was the fat kid. If the bullying hadn’t been so relentless over the course of a year, I’d never have done anything about it. I just kept waiting for it to go away. It just came to a point where I was so desperate that I didn’t care anymore. I didn’t care if they killed me as long as I hurt them a little. And then guess what. They didn’t kill me, and I felt awesome. I thought I’d have to get into a fight everyday from then on, but they stopped bothering me after a couple of times.

      Look, I’m not saying being bullied is awesome or anything. But there are certain personality types that attract bullies. And those people can learn valuable lessons from bullying.

      The thing about bullying is that it doesn’t just happen in school. When you get to adult life, professional life, you are pretty much vulnerable to bullying if you don’t know how to defend yourself. It’s usually not physical, and it can’t be dealt with by throwing punches, but it’s there. I know my first year in my career would have been hell if I wasn’t prepared to deal with it. There was this older guy who didn’t like me for some reason and kept trying to make me look bad at every opportunity. I was starting to feel miserable until I realized I was being bullied! So I stepped up. I started preparing myself for him. When I had to present something in meetings, I’d prepare for possible things he’d pick on and prepare responses that would make me look good and make him look bad in the process. Needless to say, after some time he never bothered me again. Please note that this guy had a 30 year career and was one of the top dogs at the place. He could have trounced me. But I knew he wouldn’t, because he was a bully, and bullies are cowards. When I showed him some teeth, he just backed off.

      Who knows how long I would have endured this if it wasn’t for my previous experience, and the lessons I took from it. The thing is, if you’re bullied at some point in your life, you probably have a personality that attracts it. Either you learn how to deal with it, or you’ll go through it over and over and over again.

      I’m not that strong. I tend to avoid confrontations at all costs. But I’ve come to realize there are some situations where you can’t avoid a fight, and there are people who can’t be reasoned with. In those situations, you better come out blazing even if the other guy seems bigger and meaner. Don’t be the dude who doesn’t put up a fight.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      Either way, it comes down to toughness. I don’t see any “lesson” here. Getting tougher is indeed an achievement, but not an intellectual one. And in any case, you can’t *expect* people to get tough. Some will just turn their aggression towards themselves, like by turning to drugs. If you believe that everyone *should* be able to do what you did, you’re essentially condemning certain personality types.

      And by the way, there are environments where bullying is virtually nonexistent. It isn’t a “fact of life”.

    • Luis Says:

      But there is a lesson! The lesson is: recognize bullying (not every antagonism is bullying), and act accordingly, knowing the bully won’t trounce you like you’d think he would, because he’s a coward. I don’t want to condemn anybody! You don’t *need* to be brave, you need to know the bully is not as dangerous as he seems.

      And what bully-free environments are those? I’d think my area is as bully-free as they come, and yet once in a while they rear their ugly heads.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      But you got beat up. So your conclusion is wrong. You did get hurt.

      What’s your area? The most “bully-free” domain of human activity I can think of would probably be academia.

    • Luis Says:

      I wouldn’t call it “get hurt”. Punches and kicks were thrown by both sides, yeah, but I fully expected thorough beatings by the full gang, and it just amounted to small scruffles between me and the dude I lashed out at.

      I’m a doctor. You’d expect no bullying in that area… Wrong!

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      Well, *you* wouldn’t call that “getting hurt”. Because you’re tough. Other people are overwhelmed by pain.

      Also, I don’t think you can generalise your experience to an absolute “rule”. Maybe some other type of bully *would* hurt you more seriously.

      A doctor? Damn. What’s the problem with doctors and nurses? Most of them I’ve dealt with were assholes. (Don’t take this personally, I don’t know you. I’m assuming you’re an exception.)

      Generally, though, I would expect bullying to crop up in domains with a strict hierarchy of power (family, business), and in places where you don’t have the freedom to leave (schools, prisons). I would not expect it to appear in the public sector where you have job security. But I guess since we all live in the same society, this kind of mentality permeats.

      In any case, I still consider academia to be something like the village of Asterix in that respect πŸ˜› They have their own indepedent pace, their own very different internal workings and their own progressive subculture.

    • Luis Says:

      I’m not generalizing just from my experience. It’s just pretty much consistent with what I’ve read about bullying.

      Anyway, let me reiterate: I wasn’t tough. I toughened up a bit from my experience.

      I also got into Karate after that. Funnily enough, I have never been physically bullied nor have needed to get into a fight ever since. Probably something to do with aura of confidence or something.

      Bullying can come up anywhere there is a coward who derives pleasure from tormenting someone who he’s convinced can’t/won’t put up a fight, and access to that someone. Medical students and residents are easy targets for older doctors and nurses. I’ve met some of those. Always the same – show some aggro and they’re gone.

      As for doctor/nurse assholery, mostly it’s a defense mechanism I guess. It can be an emotionally draining profession, and some people cope like that. I’m generally pleasant but I’ve been known to pull that one on particularly annoying patients πŸ˜›

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      I get the feeling we’re going in circles now.

      You didn’t “toughen up”. You already *were* tough, as you were capable of withstanding what those people dished out at you without being overwhelmed. The only reason you gained confidence from the experience and became stronger rather than breaking and ending up weaker is that the challenge you faced was at the appropriate difficulty for you. That is not true for everyone. Some people either are not as tough as you were, or are facing worse.

    • Luis Says:

      I guess it’s the old “nature vs. Nurture” debate. I believe both have a role. I think you can’t become a Chuck Norris charachter type tough guy without the predisposition to it, but I do believe that everyone has the capacity to learn how to stand up a little bit for themselves, either by experience or through help from others.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      My point was that it isn’t “learning”. The ability to withstand hardship doesn’t have anything to do with knowledge.

    • Luis Says:

      Oh if we’re talking about ability to withstand hardship, then yeah I agree with you. It’s not knowledge. It’s something every living organism has built in! You might have more or less, but you have it for sure. Your life experiences can maximize it, or diminish it, but it’s pretty much there for everyone, I’m sure. I guess living a sheltered life might lead you to believe you’re not able to withstand it when it comes knocking, and act accordingly.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      Either that, or you do face hardship, and you realise that you can’t take it, and it breaks your will.

      See? Bullying can work both ways.

    • Luis Says:

      I know it can break you. I also know some people face much worse than what I did. I just believe there is always something that can be done about it. Call me an idealist if you will.

    • kyle renner Says:

      So basically we have people saying that “we need to be nice to the bullied so they DON’T go shoot up a school.”
      And one guy who says his way of dealing with it is to fantasize about shooting his supposed tormentors in the face? I can see wanting to do that if your tormentors are say Israeli and you’re Palestinian, or if your tormentors are Bashar Assad and his buddies.
      But honestly, if you still focus on high school and “bullying” years afterwards than you really have to sort some issues out.

    • kyle renner Says:

      I mean, the only real way to “stop” bullying in high school is to either- if you’re a goon who loves talking about masturbating to anime or something- stop acting like a weird fuck- or if you’re being picked on for no reason, to get strong enough to retaliate. Pump iron, row, learn how to throw a punch.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      kyle, you’re disgusting.

    • kyle renner Says:

      I really fail to see how, “tentacledbeast”. Because I don’t have the time or patience to cater to people who whine and at the sname time not do anything to make their lives better?
      At the high school I went to, there were a particular pair who were “bullied” almost every day. Why? Because their behavior was anti social and obscene.
      Now I don’t know about you, but I have major issues with having a 300-pound acne ridden passive aggressive failure of a girl trying to touch my balls and following me around like she followed all the other guys around.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      What the hell are you talking about? That’s not “bullying”. If someone has no respect for your personal space, the proper course of action is 1) to inform them that they’re intruding and if that doesn’t work, 2) to force them to stop. Physical force to that end is permitted in my book.

      How is this relevant to the phenomenon of people being deliberately picked on?

    • kyle renner Says:

      I never said I was being “bullied”. I was the so-called bully for calling a fat and ugly girl fat and ugly and stinky. Within my rights I think.

    • kyle renner Says:

      As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t deal with bullying in high school how can you deal with real life?
      We in Canada and Europe are incredibly soft- we have such cushy lives that we think up ways to try and pretend our lives are hard or worthy of calling ourselves “revolutionaries”- we make up different things to be like “three spirited” or “pansexual” in order to pretend to be persecuted. Ha, ha. People especially in Canada have no idea what suffering, or real courage, for that matter, is.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      “As far as I’m concerned, if you can’t deal with bullying in high school how can you deal with real life?”

      Well here’s the thing: SOME PEOPLE CAN’T DEAL WITH BULLYING IN ANY CONTEXT. Be it “high school” or “real life”. Blaming them for their weakness instead of blaming the bullying is disgusting.

      I have no idea if you were “within your rights” or if you were “bullying” that girl because I don’t know what happened. Not everyone who at some point calls someone names is a bully; bullying is generally when you go out of your way to verbally or physically attack them, unprovoked. In that case, you’re 100% an asshole. Otherwise, I don’t know, it depends.

      I don’t know why you mentioned this. What am I supposed to say about a case I don’t know? And in any case, just how is that relevant to everything else you’re saying?

    • kyle renner Says:

      Well I despise weakness in this context. The world isn’t any more accommodating to those who are bullied than then bullies themselves. Toughen up or get swept under.

    • TentacledBeast Says:

      And that is why you are disgusting.

      People like you are the problem.

    • Look, i’m sorry, i’m more than willing to let people espouse their views in the comments section, but you’re gonna need to do better than “deal with it” and “toughen up” if you wanna convince people of things (to be rather extra polite about it). That’s IF you want to convince people, as i’m not sure that you do. Say it through gritted teeth if you have to, but if you suspect that a tradeoff to the standards of living in modern society is that it makes people unaccustomed to challenge or something in that vein then argue it as opposed to telling everyone how weak they are. I need to maintain a minimum level of discourse around here. You have nothing to lose by trying to get people to actually listen to you. Insults are a disservice to your own views, as they immediately make people stop listening to you, so to do otherwise is win-win.

    • Luis Says:

      I don’t think anyone is blaming the bullied for being bullied. If a guy came into my house, put a piano in front of me, pointed a gun at my face and told me “play the 4 seasons or I shoot”, I’d pretty much be dead, and I don’t think it would be my fault, even though I’d have been safe if I had learned beforehand. Should I somehow survive that proposition, I could learn so I wound’t risk it again in the future, or I could hope it would never happen again.

      I get that you (TentacledBeast) think bully resilience is not a skill. I believe otherwise, and we’ll just have to disagree on that. Yes, it just comes naturally for some people, while others must struggle to get even modestly adept at it. And if you don’t believe you can do it, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Isn’t this true for just about any skill?

      Either way, bullying is such a stupid behavior that most normal people don’t think they have to be prepared for it until it actually happens to them. No one is to blame for getting picked for torment by an obnoxious sociopath. No one is to blame for not being prepared for that. The blame here is always on the aggressor.

      That doesn’t mean they can’t take steps to learn how to defend against it. I personally recommend martial arts πŸ™‚

    • Luis Says:

      Now that you mention it, Winston, yes, I do blame my sheltered life for being unable to properly respond to bullying when it happened to me (or perhaps even for being a juicy target in the first place). That doesn’t mean I’m against the standards of living of the modern society. I just think those that can’t deal with bullying by themselves need help, not a pat in the back. “Teach a man to fish” and all that. My mother’s pity, comforting as it might have been, didn’t exactly solve the problem.

    • Luis Says:

      On a side note, some women carry mace in their purses to defend themselves from rapists. Does that mean those who don’t and get raped had it coming? No. Does that mean society shouldn’t strive for that to be needless? No. Does that mean you’re an asshole for suggesting to a rape victim that maybe she should consider that option in the future? No. Will she? I dunno, that’s up to her. If she doesn’t, should she be blamed if it happens to her again? Hell no!

    • kyle Says:

      well Winston I really could care less about being polite to special little snowflakes who want to act like they have it so rough. Especially those who live in our “modern” (nasty hypocritical socially liberal) society.
      But hey, what do I know, right? All I do is work with people who fled from Syria because of the civil war (and in some cases have gone back to fight) and those who have come from occupied Palestine (including people who lived in Gaza). After hearing the stories coming out of there you don’t have patience for people who cry about bullying in high school.

      Bullying is a fact of life and it isn’t going to go away. 99.99% of the time people just have to learn to deal with it- step up and defend yourself, change something at least. Gripping about awful high school or how hated you

    • kyle Says:

      were in high school or how you want to shoot your “bullies” in the face just goes a long way to show how stuck you are.

    • Well, i’m gonna have to ask you to leave us to our modern hell then, because i promise you you aren’t sneering me into any less of a deviant snowflake. But i’m sure you’ll have no problem abandoning we fools and our weak-minded lack of perspective, and i’m sure you can find other websites where people will enjoy your views more. That would be my polite way of saying thanks for contributing to the discussion, but that’ll do for now. All the best with your work with refugees.

  30. 1reeper Says:

    I don’t have anything deep to say. Just that my birthday is on July 18th too. Yay.

  31. I feel bad about feeling good Says:

    I might be an awful person, but let me tell you about the best feeling in the world.

    I was relentlessly bullied in high school. I had awful, awful acne that didn’t relent until college.

    I got a job in the space program.

    I’m out with my friends on an awesome 3 hour lunch (work hard, play hard, we’re doing science!) in my program polo shirt, getting blotto.

    The waiter is horribly pimpled, just like I used to be in high school. He’s also vaguely familiar.

    We finish up our lunch, and when I hand him my card he looks at the name. “Oh hey, remember me? It’s [My Biggest Highschool Bully’s Name].”
    “Oh yeah. Have a great night.”

    The world is a circle, jerk.

  32. Zack Says:

    Ha! July 18th is my birthday! That made my day.

  33. pG Says:

    5 Years in School on crutches. And I was scrawny – Tiny Tim scrawny.
    Kids can be cruel – and bullies can be everywhere. Sport was definitly out.So I learned to swim, no one else in the pool – later when the crutches were tossed – I rowed and cycled like a bitch. The only person I ever competed against was myself. Still do.

    I spent time in the library and read everything. Even the books in the back room that were meant for the teachers.
    They called me names – I learned words are the most powerful thing out there, and how to cut someone down in a single phrase. Still can.

    Some attempted force – I shrugged it off or ignored them. Or played dirty. The entire rugby team once spent a afternoon locked in the one bathroom. Was only found when the one’s dad came looking for him. I still take rules as guidelines – makes me good at handling difficult contracts.

    One of them was at varsity with me. We shared classes. He’d taken a gap year – while I had started studying. I switched majors and ended up in class with him. He thought it was still school and that I was still a easy target. I was second year – having worked my ass off. One fine day he’d tried some sophomoric stunt in class again, so the some of us picked him up, and chucked him upside-down in the dustbin outside. Yes – that felt good.

    A few weeks ago I ran into another one of them – he manages a fast food franchise. I was getting a latte before a appointment with State Security across the road. I needed to get clearance for a government IT contract. Seems some trip of mine to North Africa had flagged something.

    We had a great coffee and chatted about the old days. He apologized for hiding my crutches the one day, and I apologized for locking him and the team in the bathroom the next

    Thanks Wince – that one was really good. No one finishes high school. We survive it.

  34. Hafwit Says:

    I liked the comic a lot, but in my experience there’s no karma. No reward or punishment.

    Hey, that might be an idea for a comic: a world where you get your deserts.

  35. nat Says:

    excellent comic Winston.

    -10 empathy points for each commenter blaming formerly bullied kids for having scars. school bullying isn’t a magical elixir of future success, and the comments saying “then you haven’t learned anything” and “get over it” are no more helpful than the grownups who tell bullied kids to “just suck it up”.

    i wasn’t bullied myself – i was the kid on the sidelines who didn’t take part in the bullying, but didn’t ever stick up for the picked-on kid or befriend them, either. i wish i’d had the courage, but if i had it all to do over again i probably still wouldn’t.

  36. Thomas Says:

    Winston, the Boulet link you provided doesn’t work, it redirects to itself, making the browser chase its tail. This one works: http://www.bouletcorp.com/ but it’s in French and boy do I wish I’d made more of an effort at French in high school now. The artwork is beautiful, I can tell that much. πŸ™‚

  37. alex Says:

    Very nice, Mr Rowntree…

  38. Saturnome Says:

    Did you know Boulet from before? His blog was the only webcomic I’ve read for years! Now I’ve caught the bug and I read a lot of them, but your stuff stands out by being always so very fantastic, deep and beautiful. Bravo for the nomination!

  39. orion1836 Says:

    As one of the bullied… thank you.

  40. Frank Says:

    You never cease to amaze me. The images are so… vivid! and all we’re seeing is some poor joe meddling with his hair.

    Totally going to quote you, by the way.

  41. strange music Says:

    I don’t know how you keep doing this, but you’ve done it again– just at the right time. Perfect time to read your work, good sir. Thanks again, as usual.

    It was interesting to see Pete’s eyes this time– such an intense blue! Which brought to mind thoughts about what said eyes are meant to represent, especially given his conversation (monologue, really) with that red-haired, freckle-faced girl. I think he’s still got some innocence in there… and maybe it’s impacted on his thoughts, a bit.

  42. Aiarashi Says:

    It’s interesting to see your view on Karma, Winston, if that’s your actual view; if not, then I wonder what it is. Haha XD

    I guess this kind of goes back (again ;P) to comic #152’s “stairs” thing, and how it is possible to go beyond all the shit and just get on a good “staircase” that leads to a better situation.

    I was gonna write a long comment about bullying, but I felt like I wasn’t really saying anything significant, so I’ll just say I’m glad for those people who did get something good after all, and I wish that anyone who feels scared about it catches a break at least and feel better. ^^

  43. Francis Reed Says:

    I feel like i want to say something significant like your comix, but i just think of nothing, yet i feel glad about it, about reading your thoughts, it is definitively an interesting concept of Karma, leaves you wonder…

  44. kyle renner Says:

    I must commend you Winston for not turning this into one of those “boo hoo let’s feel sorry for the suicide case” morals about bullying.

  45. kyle Says:

    Well Winston our society isn’t modern by any other sense than we have the most money and stability. That’s why people can focus on unimportant garbage like their deviant sexual preferences or complaining that society is so cruel for being “anti fat people” or “anti nerd”.
    The truth is that the people in 1st rate countries are no more civilized than anyone else- there just are fancier and more expensive ways to kill other people.

    • Sergeant Major Tom Says:

      I dearly hope you aren’t banned or anysuch – the “give them enough rope” approach is paying huge dividends in your case.

    • kyle renner Says:

      hey well neo-conservatives and social liberals both love the ban-hammer. One of the things they have in common.

  46. Doyle Says:

    Sigh. I was excited all to hell for this comic. I find The Generals to be very interesting, especialy the main one in this comic (so sorry im bad with names.). Winston, im not here to flatter you or anything, but your comix have a special little spot in my life. Its almost religous, I wait till I can get some quiet time, remove everything that doesn’t fit, and dive in like a kid on christmas. Its wonderful to spend 15 or twenty or however many minutes it takes to walk away feeling refreshed by an enjoyable experence… then I waltz down into the comment section and pass through a decent sized pile of anger and a semi-decent sized flame war. :^/

    Anyway, for closing thoughts, Great comic, its about how I like em. Hello other commenters, glad that some of you are doin’ all right. others of you, I wish ya good luck.. or not if you prefer. seeing as how this is the first actual heated argument I have seen, I have to say im kinda dissapointed by it, ohwell.
    Hoping I don’t sound like an asshole, Doyle.

  47. I'm reading the hell out of this. Says:

    I like the comic. The world isn’t theirs though. Neither are all of them fufilled by a long way. The world isn’t fair,and it will only improve if you make it.

  48. I'm reading the hell out of this. Says:

    That should be, the world is not fair.

  49. Ezequiel Says:

    This is great! Thanks for making such a beautiful thing.

  50. brashieel Says:

    I don’t entirely agree with the conclusions of the comic, but I love the basic point that karma is being stuck being ourselves. If I’m an asshole or a bully or a coward, it causes me to miss chances for happiness whether or not I ever get “punished” for it.

    Not as in love with the “being a victim makes you better” aspect, but still an awesome, introspective comic. Good work.

  51. mellownade Says:

    I liked the story, but the motivation for telling it seems a little …forced. In the other comics where someone tells an intimate anecdote, they had been/are in a stressed situation, are talking to a close friend, are having an emotional breakdown, or all of the above. However Pete here is just winding down after a performance for folks he doesn’t give a shit about.

    Still, the new subject matter is refreshing, and I love your work. Cheers.

  52. OckhamsFolly Says:


    I’ve been a long time on-and-off subnormality reader (I like to come back to several new comics), and only occasionally comment (liked the idea behind this one, btw). I was just flipping through Crackers recent stuff, saw the advertisement comic you had over there, and as I going through the comics I noticed a big trend in “comics shouldn’t be this wordy.” Now, to me, at least, a strength of your comics has always been the display of how much goes on beneath the surface of the world as we perceive it, and your comics are uniquely suited to providing this insight with an initial rich visual presentation followed by the intense inner (and outer) soliloquies and dialogues. I was wondering if you ever felt this aspect of your work was missed by the audience at large over at Cracked?

    It’s not that I think their not intelligent enough to grasp the idea; quite the opposite. It’s just that I see obviously hyperbolic comments like “I forgot my magnifying glass today” and feel that the commenter is too bound up in the superficial and missing a major point of the overall decision to produce comics the way you do. I imagine this is an obstacle you’ve run into before, and am curious how you address it.

    Obviously I’m making an assumption based on a fairly small subset of readers, so it might not really be a big deal. Are there techniques you employ to try and make your purpose and motivation clearer to those readers? Do you feel that most readers get it, and if not, the ones you do reach are the ones that really matter to you anyway? Do you even bother with what the Cracked reaction is (who could really blame you)? Just some idle thoughts that I’d love to hear your insight on if you’ve got the time. Thanks for creating such detailed and insightful pieces of art!

    • Luis Says:

      You can’t please everybody, and I think that’s ok. Some people read comics just for a quick laugh. I like my quick laugh too, but I also enjoy the more complex ones. I usually save Subnormality and Order of the Stick for when I have a bit more time to fully enjoy them (and it goes well with the infrequent update schedule).

    • Hey, thanks for asking, and for the very kind words! Totally appreciate it. The short answer is, yeah, in the past the angry comments from 13 year olds honestly did bother me and undeniably affected what kind of comix i made for Cracked– i got it in my head that a large part of the audience over there were a bunch of gibbons and so i kind of made more bitter and hateful comix than usual, playing down to their level somewhat.

      But the fact is the audience over there is absolutely great (and the source of a lot of my own audience, by the way), and the comments section over there is frankly a lot better than many other large sites (go to CBC.ca for instance, and gaze in horror), and moreover a site’s comments section isn’t necessarily a cross-section of that site’s audience to begin with. Getting right with angry comments is a part of the game, and i’m really miles beyond where i used to be in terms of blowing off criticism, like i genuinely don’t care now in cases where i used to get all bitter and defensive (i wish all artists the same experience, to be honest– being online is a really good way to get used to criticism).

      So yeah, the audience i perceive to be writing for definitely affects the work, but the key word there is perceive. I would suggest that the Cracked readership is a lot better than many of the comments suggest, and even among the comments you see there’s some really genuinely good stuff– people shouting down idiots and the like. I certainly have no complaints about having my work featured there, it’s always been a big thrill and always will be.

      PS: and to be fair, a lot of the magnifying glass comments were due to the comic being accidentally shrunk down at first, which has since been rectified.

      PPS: And as for general complaints about how a comic should be one thing and not another, that’s just part of the larger struggle. All i want is to help redefine comic strips as the newspaper comics age comes to an end, and the best way to do that is to do the best work i can and understand that it’s not gonna happen overnight. And that there’s always gonna be a place for shorter comix! I don’t want to redefine comic strips as exclusively massive walls of text, but instead as something that can be of any length and content, including three panels, as opposed to exclusively three panel gags.

  53. dennis Says:

    Half-assed buttons

  54. Spike Says:

    Back in 2005, I saw the name of one of the people who bullied the crap out of me in middle school in the local paper. He was getting a posthumous medal of honor, after dying in Iraq. Apparently he threw himself on an IED to save the rest of his squad.

    I don’t know whether in the years between middle school and 2005 he became less of a jackass, or if he was just one of those people who have both very rotten and very noble aspects mixed into the same personality and I just happened to only see the rotten side of him in those years.

    It really helped me to let go of the past. It’s rare to truly know a person in every aspect, or why they are the way they are…

  55. Tom Says:


    I just got through to reading a large part of your comics and, uh… They just make me feel a little better. About everything.

    Thank you.

  56. Just loved the punchline here… the only thing missing is the delayed reaction facepalm from my own experience of letting opportunity slip by due to being mired in self-pity πŸ™‚

  57. Gonzo Says:

    Great work dude, nice drawings, excelent script

  58. Thad G Says:

    This comic is superb, even by the normal standards I hold for this strip. Thanks for being so crazy and brilliant, Winston Rowntree, but moreso thanks for putting that shit on the internet. You’ve brought something unique to the minds of so many.

  59. Scim Says:

    I normally absolutely love your comix, but this particular one really resonated with me for some reason. It was thought-provoking, meaningful, and was about a topic close to my heart, but also had Canada’s no. 1 novelty rap-metal band. Awesome.

  60. I am one of The Bullied.
    I am a failure.
    I am a surly, repressed wad of frustration, rage, and haunted helplessness.
    Quoth Art Alexakis:
    “I will never be safe,
    I will never be sane,
    I will always be weird,
    inside I will always be lame…”

    So while I love Subnormality, and greatly respect both it’s frequent depth and tastes in sillier humor, let’s not get reality twisted by fond wishes.

    Some of The Bullied break, and are never whole again.

  61. Oh, and full disclosure; I would have ABSOLUTELY gone on a shooting spree through my old high school…if I’d had access to a gun. =P

    If the ideas of compassion and empathy and generally human decency aren’t enough to keep the broad “you” from tormenting someone, consider self-preservation.
    We DO in fact have to “all get along*,” and if the barrier to that of not harming someone for life is too high for you, then I hope you get what you deserve, and that your last agonizing, terrified moments consist only of your victim’s laughter.

    You deserve hating. You deserve to die far before your time, to leave your family bereft and lost, to become a screaming and bloody example to the rest of the world of what not to do.

    *although I’m increasingly convinced that Ignorance is the better part of Tolerance.
    Generally speaking I like people, but it’s easier at a certain distance that mediums like the Internet make harder to adjudicate.

  62. Sam Says:

    I cried a bit, and i laughed a bit. True sign of a great work of art.

  63. Miguel Says:

    This is simply awesome. I dunno if it’s slice of life or made up, but it is undeniably excellent. Thank you.

  64. Tom Says:

    I loved the insight you guys put into this comic series, keep it up!

  65. Elizabeth Says:

    The bullied guy at my school was named Grant. He identified himself as a girl and wore long hair and skirts and stuff like that, and everyone was brutally cruel to him. I was no exception.

    I have have social problems for as long as I can remember, hell, my earliest memory is of little first grade me getting bullied. There was a group of girls at the playground and I tried to introduce myself and I tried to say something funny to break the ice. “We’re laughing at you, not with you,” they said. They all went on playdates and stuff, I didn’t have a friend come over to my house until I was 25. That kind of stuff gets to you.

    It made me feel good to tear down that poor kid, once I made him cry in public and at the time I was truly satisfied with myself. Everyone hated me, but at least I wasn’t the worst one. I never once felt sorry for him until I saw this comic however many years later. I looked him up and he’s an animator now, just like he always wanted to be. Just like Steve he’s fucking happy and I feel like scum.

    Being bullied doesn’t make you a good person, but not getting bitter about it and going on to lead a happy life does. Grant deserved every good thing that ever happened to him because of his resilience and I’m damned sure I deserve a lot worse than the fate I got for the stuff I did to him.

    Speaking both as a member of the bullied as the kind of sadistic bastard who truly enjoyed being a bully, Winston Rowntree got this one spot on.

  66. xminus1 Says:

    Thank you this was very touching. I sadly was the one bullied by others but now I am the one who is doing better than most of my classmates.

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