Is a Snerl Human?

June 7, 2011 at 1:07 pm 8 comments

Is a Snerl Human? first page - all art by Alex Toth

Here’s a parable called “Is a Snerl Human?” and some thoughts on how it applies to CicLAvia.

The story was published in DC’s Adventure Comics No.431 in February 1974. This 8-page one-shot, by comic greats writer Sheldon Mayer and artist Alex Toth, has been described by a few on-line pundits as one of the best ever comic book short stories.

Is a Snerl Human? takes place on an earth-like planet, called Teyton, where animals talk. Snerls are large pink furry creatures that walk upright and look a bit like sloth combined with a kangaroo. Humans have enslaved snerls; snerl families are held captive in prison-like “Snerl Dependent Pens.”

The story opens with a chariot race where snerls are towing chariots ridden by whip-wielding humans. The story’s protagonist, a snerl named Tarsus, wins the race and is rewarded with an extra visit to his female snerl partner, Winga, and their “little one.” Winga worries that Tarsus is becoming “a very valuable snerl” and will be sold. No sooner said than done.

Tarsus is sold, for 3000 Zems, to a human woman. He rebels and makes for “the barrier.” Humans mount their snerl steeds and pursue Tarsus, but he makes it to “the other side.” Initially vultures tell him to leave, saying “Halt, human! This is as far as you go! This is a beast sanctuary!” Tarsus responds “But I’m not a human! I’m a snerl!!”

The snerl insists he's a beast, but the birds aren't so sure - Art by Alex Toth

The vultures take Tarsus to the council: a meeting of various animal leaders including lion, zebra, giraffe, elephant and dolphin. The lion and elephant sound sympathetic to the snerl, but the giraffe states “He walks upright! … like a human… I don’t trust him!”

The decision is deferred to the wise one: the dolphin. She tells the lion to give the snerl a stun gun – a “human weapon left from before the big turn about” and says “tell him to fight for freedom from the humans for himself and his kind! Then we’ll know if he’s human!” The lion reluctantly responds “if you say so, wise one!” The lion gives Tarsus the stun gun.

Tarsus gratefully accepts the humans' old stun gun - art by Alex Toth

Tarsus returns to the human zone, and proceeds to zap lots of humans. He sets all the penned snerls free. One of the excited freed snerls shouts “Come! Let us leave here, and go live in peace and freedom beyond the barrier with the other good beasts.”

Another snerl responds “Wait!! I have a better idea!!”

Then come the final three panels, which take place “many months later.” A couple of birds in flight are speaking. One asks “Whatever happened to that snerl, Tarsus? Did he and his kind win their freedom?”

The second bird replies “Oh, yes! But didn’t you hear? – – He turned out to be human, after all!”

The first bird replies “Really? How do you know?”

The second bird replies “Look down there and see for yourself!” In the concluding panel, there is a stadium filled with snerls. Tarsus is waving a whip while commandeering a chariot in a race. The snerls’ chariots are being pulled by enslaved humans. The tables have turned. Snerls are just as oppressive as their human captors were.

The closing panel... turns out that snerls are human after all - art by Alex Toth

So… what does all this snerl stuff have to do with CicLAvia?

It’s not 100% analogous, but it’s a similar dynamic involving drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Today, to a large extent, cyclists and pedestrians see themselves as both oppressed by cars… but, in turn, slower moving pedestrians can be oppressed by faster moving bicyclists. So, at the beginning of the story, humans correspond to cars or drivers, snerls correspond to cyclists and animals correspond to pedestrians.

During CicLAvia, cars are removed (ie: the humans have been overthrown by the snerls) and bicyclists are free… to oppress? or to take part in a new egalitarian sharing of street space?

At CicLAvia on April 10th 2011, though tens of thousands of folks – on foot, on bike, on skates, etc – had a wonderful time, there were some conflicts between bicyclists and pedestrians… even between fast moving bicyclists and slow-moving bicyclists. Though CicLAvia urged all participants to share and enjoy together, quite a few riders clearly didn’t get the memo. Some cyclists shouted “get out of the way!” to folks on foot. Some pedestrians and families didn’t feel entirely welcome.

Some comments have suggested that bicyclists’ hubris has ruined CicLAvia. Other folks have suggested that a bunch of CicLAvia participants who drive all week, got out of their cars and onto their bikes… and bicycled in the same oppressive way that they drive all week.

On the other hand… a few bicyclists have suggested that CicLAvia should just be a bike event, and the pedestrians should just get out of the way. Don’t cyclists deserve our own day on the roads? Isn’t that why it’s called CicLAvia? If those pesky pedestrians want their own event, they can host their own PedLAvia!

So, querido reader, what do you think? Are cyclists more like snerls – prone to be just as oppressive as our oppressors? or are cyclists wise peaceful free beasts? Given the opportunity, will bicyclists be just as insensitive as drivers? or can we all get along and, together, enjoy our streets in an egalitarian, democratic way? Does bicycling lend itself to this sort of democracy? How should CicLAvia encourage a space that’s safe and welcoming for all? Should CicLAvia try to slow cyclists down?

Or should those pesky pedestrians just get out of the way, dammit?

Are cyclists more peaceful than drivers? Should pedestrians trust cyclists? - art by Alex Toth

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

CicLAvia is so successful, why should we even worry about this?

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8 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ramonchu  |  June 8, 2011 at 12:25 am

    Awesome Joe; Streets for People!

  • 2. Warren Christensenn  |  June 8, 2011 at 12:58 am

    Yep! Now you have done it. Comic Book or not it is itellectualizing the event to an absurd level. Humans are Humans and they have emotions. It is emotional humans that drive everbody crazy.

    Yes, emotions need to be controled but signs, volunteers with bull horns and preaching to the choir will not alter the snap judgements of irritated folks no matter what form of tranport they choose to move from point A to B

    If you think it it is probably true. If we could control our emotions we would probably not get angry. We also would not be glad, sad or bad. We would not be snerls, animals or human. We would, in a word, be lobotimized and lifeless

    Let the emotions fall where they may and lets all continue to strive to be human, respectful and patient. And let us just keep dodging the occasional idiot that comes with our imperfect world. Our imperfect pedestrian, cyclelist, and car driver will continue to be the animals we all are.

    Long live road rage, bycyclist rage and pedestrian rage. Ignor it and we just may live to see another imperfect day. It’s great to be alive.

  • 3. Streetsblog Los Angeles » Today’s Headlines  |  June 8, 2011 at 5:05 am

    […] Don’t Be a Snerl at CicLAvia, or Anytime Else (CicLAvia) […]

  • 4. Fred Cook  |  June 8, 2011 at 5:31 am

    Good point, Joe!
    Thanks for bringing this up.

  • 5. Alex Kenefick  |  June 8, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Bicyclists are Snerls. Program the Ciclavia course with more road blockages and bottlenecks.

    Though lower than the barriers to entry for car ownership, there are still barriers to entry for cycling which Ciclavia doesn’t eliminate, including: cost of a bike, knowledge about the usual minor repairs and adjustments, knowing how to ride a bike.

    Making ciclavia for bikes only, or not actively promoting other roadway users (like pedestrians) is unjust.

  • 6. Joe  |  June 8, 2011 at 8:20 am

    So many of these problems will be eliminated when we get a larger course. Bikes need to slow down near peds…but far better that cyclists be given enough room to ride without being shoehorned in in the first place.

  • 7. walkeaglerock  |  June 8, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    People will behave as conditions allow. Unfortunately “blank canvas” of streets doesnt mean share to everyone. make some parts bicycle free areas or pack so many activities cyclists forced to slow down.

  • 8. Michael Meade  |  June 12, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Yeah, I had to remind myself this wasn’t just a bike thing. I found myself getting a little frustrated with the walkers and little kids with training wheeles. Once I parked my bike and tried to cross the street, the bikes might as well have been cars. It was tough to get across. It was opressive.

    We need to remind cyclists that it isn’t a race. If you want a heart pounding cardio woorout, this isn’t the event you are looking for.


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