Opus 25:

1. Tooners in the News (4/19)

2. Newcomers (4/19)

1. Tooners in the News.  Drabble is getting married.  Eager to prove
he isn't a wimp, Kevin Fagan's comic strip protagonist finally pops
the question to his longtime dream girl, Wendy.  She accepts,
thinking Drabble will wriggle out somehow.  But he doesn't.  They
take a trip to Las Vegas, and, one Elvis impersonator later (it says
here), they're married.
     Robb Armstrong, who, in his Jump Start strip, has long advocated
with gentle humor the values of diversity in a racially mixed
society, was recently commended by the state of Michigan.  Michigan
has designated February as "Ethnic and Cultural Heritage Month,"
broadening the month's previous designation as "Black History Month."
  The state's effort was inspired by resident Joan Coulton Larson, who
believed the emphasis on Black history excluded biracial children.
     "The celebration only spoke to one part of their ethnicity," she
explained.  "And it marginalized children of other ethnic
backgrounds, besides amplifying racial tensions among older students
of different ethnicities."
     When she took her proposal to the state legislature, she took
several Jump Start strips with her.  "Robb spoke to the heart of the
issue," she said, "-the children."
     Armstrong supports the idea of Black History Month-"until we get
something better."  He hopes to live long enough "to see a society so
well balanced that we don't have a need to designated separate
     Jeff Shesol, you'll remember, abandoned his comic strip Thatch when
he was invited to join the Clinton White House staff as a speech
writer a couple years ago.  Interviewed recently by David Astor in
Editor & Publisher (my perpetual source of such news), Shesol says he
misses cartooning but has never regretted the decision to leave.
He's busy all the time, writing a couple speeches a week, sometimes
traveling with the President, and sometimes composing "sound bites"
as well as speeches.  Doing a comic strip was good training,
especially for the latter, which requires concise and pointed prose.
     Clinton, Shesol reports, always revises and adds to speeches
prepared for him by his staff.  "He knows his stuff, which can't
always be taken for granted in a President," Shesol said.  "This is a
very articulate, eloquent President.  He doesn't need a tremendous
amount of help from us.  We can help by giving him a well-structured
argument he can riff off of and segue back to."
     New Comics.  United Media launched Soup to Nutz, a new "family
farce" strip by Rick Stromoski, on March 27 in 50 papers.  Drawn in a
weird disjointed style with spider-web thin lines, the strip includes
an assortment of family members-father, mother, two boys and a girl
and a dog.  Stromoski, the seventh in a family of twelve children,
presumably draws upon his own life experience for ideas.  His work
has appeared as humorous illustration in numerous books and magazines
and greeting cards.  He is presently the first vice president of the
National Cartoonist Society.
     King Features launched a feature with a curiously sexist title
recently.  Called Six Chix, the feature offers a rotating series of
panel cartoons, all by women cartoonists and all, judging from the
samples in the sales kit, stressing distinctly feminine points of
view.  Isabella Bannerman's cartoon appears on Mondays; Margaret
Shulock's, on Tuesdays; Rina Piccolo's, on Wednesdays; Ann Telnaes',
on Thursdays; Kathryn LeMieux's, on Fridays; and Stephanie Piro's, on
Saturdays.  The Sunday installment rotates through the same pattern.
     Of the crop, I'd seen only the work of Piccolo and Telnaes before
this-and both hit home with me.  Piccolo has three book collections
of her cartoons out, which I first noticed at her booth at a San
Diego Con a couple years ago.  Telnaes I first noticed in her
editorial cartoonist guise: she was part of the NAS "Best and
Wittiest" package but she recently jumped ship and is now being
syndicated solo by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate.  She has a sharp
and off-beat point of view, often seeing naked emperors where other
editorial cartoonists see only politicians in funny hats.  She also
produces cartoons for the online Oxygen site, an offshoot of
Geraldine Laybourne's Oxygen Media, a new cable network for women.
Despite this load, she figured she could do a cartoon a week for King
in the Six Chix rotation-despite its gender insensitive title.
     "I find it amusing," she says, "to think what a group of six male
cartoonists might be called."  I offered "Six Clucks," but Ann was
kind enough not to comment.
     Speaking of Websites, Mike Vosburg has a dandy at Vozart.com,
repleat with samples of realistic illustration for print and
multimedia, storyboards for animation, advertising or live action,
comics and sequential art, and so on.  Nifty stuff.
     Chris Browne is giving it another shot.  He inherited Hagar the
Horrible when his father, the fondly remembered Dik Browne, died in
1989.  But he's wanted for some time to have a strip of his own.  In
1993, he thought he had one in Chris Browne's Comic Strip, but it
never quite took off.  Now, Browne's about to try it again with
     Duncan is the name of a Scottish terrier who is an actual dog in the
Browne family.  Their dog, however, is named MacDuff.  'Duff was a
gift to Dik Browne from his other cartoonist scion, Chance, who gave
his father the dog as a companion in 1988, when Browne was stuck by
cancer and undergoing treatment (shortly after his wife had died).
But the active puppy was too much for a 70-year-old man undergoing
chemotherapy, and Chris wound up with the little black dog and fell
in love with it.  MacDuff became a character in Chris Browne's Comic
Strip.  When that strip faded, Chris tried other ideas.  And he tried
doing children's books about MacDuff.  But nothing was working.
Besides, a new series of children's books had a highland terrier
named MacDuff in them.  
     Then Chris went to Santa Rosa, California, to give a speech and
while there he met Charles Schulz for the first time.  Schulz,
sympathetic with Chris's hopes to have a comic strip of his own, told
him, "You should do something that you care about.  Something from
your heart.  Think about what you love.  Start with that."  
     Chris took his advice and started thinking about a comic strip about
his Scottie, MacDuff.  To avoid copyright problems, he changed the
dog's name to Duncan, another nice Scots name from the same
Shakespeare play.  Chris told this story in the March issue of
Sarasota magazine.  Still working with a development contract (with
United Media), Chris reported that he was happy.  He was doing a
strip about something he loves.  The strip starts in May.
     For loads more information about the history and function of
newspaper comic strips, check into my book, The Art of the Funnies.
You can read about it if you check here.

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2. Newcomers.  Herewith, a squint or two at a few newly-minted
     Stephanie Gladden sent me a preview copy of the second issue of her
Hopster's Tracks.  Judging from the drawings, Gladden is an animator
of funny animals, but that scarcely does justice to her skill, which
is simply stunning.  The story--which involves a couple of rabbits, a
kangaroo, and a coyote--is, as Gladden says, somewhat "Seinfeld-y" in
that nothing earth-shaking happens.  "It's about a group of
critters--their daily doings living in a small town in Georgia, and
how they react to each other," Gladden explains.  In this issue,
Melba (the kangaroo--from Texas) is trying to collect from her
insurance company enough boodle to replace her car, which has been
totaled through no fault of her own; and Jake, the coyote, is trying
to pressure a used-car salesman to give him a replacement vehicle for
the "lemon" he bought there recently.  The comedy arises almost
entirely from the pictures Gladden draws--hilarious exaggeration,
hysterical takes, great lively energetic renderings.  Her work proves
(if it needs proving) what Charles Schulz was always saying: namely,
that humorous cartooning is about funny pictures.  In black-and-white
from Bongo Entertainment, 1440 So. Sepulveda Blvd., 3rd Floor, Los
Angeles, CA 90025; $2.95.  Or at your local comic book store.  No. 3
is in the offing.
     In Drastik No. 1, writer Robert Rowe gives us the ultimate
crime-fighter: "He does not eat or sleep or even breathe--yet he
lives.  The machine that stalks like a man.  Tougher than anyone,
anything, anywhere.  One more thing: Drastik never loses."  There is
about this robot with a crash-dummy's face the same air of absolute
invincibility that Lee Falk gave to the Phantom.  Or that E.C. Segar
gave to Popeye.  The suspense does not arise from our doubt about
whether the hero will triumph (he always will); but we are
perpetually curious about how and when he will emerge victorious.
Ably illustrated in black-and-white with crisp realistic drawing by
Fred Carrillo, Drastik No. 1 begins with the most succinct yet
complete background check on a hero I've seen yet: in one speech
balloon on the splash page we learn that Drastik is a robot and that
he has a sardonic sense of humor.  What more do we need to know?  He
also waxes poetic as he purely wipes out the bad guys: "Your evil
schemes, your depraved dreams, your deadly ploys and ruses/will come
to naught 'gainst my onslaught/because Drastik never loses!"  Love
that doggerel.  Rowe's script is almost cryptic, leaving a goodly
share of the storytelling to Carrillo.  This issue concludes with the
text of an article Rowe wrote about his interview with Joe Simon in
1990, containing material never before published.  On the back cover
is a pin-up of Drastik by Gil Kane, who Rowe would have asked to
illustrate the whole book had he located Kane before the artist died.
  At $29.95 (that's right, thirty bucks), this 32--page book with
laminated cover, despite its virtues, is not likely to tempt many of
you unless you want the origin document for a future TV or big screen
action series.  And if you do, you'll get a numbered, limited edition
from Rowe at P.O. Box 26, Reseda, CA 91337-0026.  Not available
anywhere else, I wont: Rowe and Diamond were unable to come to terms
even after the appellate process reversed an earlier decision not to
list the book in the catalogue.  So Rowe opted for a cachet
     Editorial cartoonist John Kovalic's Dork Tower (from Corsair
Publishing, P.O. Box 259386, Madison, WI 53725) is up to at least six
issues by now: he sent me copies of Nos. 2-6.  Drawn in a manner akin
to Bill Amend's on FoxTrot (but with somewhat more character to the
linework and a canny spotting of blacks), this is a comic book about
the obsessive behaviors of gamers.  Kovalic's style permits the
wildest exaggeration, and he takes full advantage of it.  Each issue
offers several short stories in black-and-white as well as a page or
two of Kovalic's comic strip, Wildlife, and a page of panels about
Murphy's Rules.  (A Murphy's Rule, we're told, is any game rule that
doesn't make sense either because of a typo or a game designer's
oversight--as in "Magic: the Gathering" wherein a catapult can fling
itself at the enemy.)  Kovalic achieves his comedy by exaggerating
and timing the compulsive excesses of the characters, which include
Matt and Ken, somewhat nerdish gamers, and Igor, another, and Carson,
a talking gaming muskrat.  Everybody's got a talking animal these
days.  Merely $2.95.
     In Sam and Twitch No. 9, Todd McFarlane's crew (writer Brian Michael
Bendis and guest artist Jamie Tolagson) delve into experimentation.
Okay, this isn't entirely a "newcomer," but the experiment is novel.
The entire story is told through the eyes of the tale's
protagonist--literally, "through his eyes": every visual is what he
sees and only what he sees.  And so we "experience" the last day of
this bum who is run down and killed by a passing motorcycle in the
final pages.  It puts me in mind of one of Louis L'Amour's books in
the Sackett Saga.  The Far Blue Mountains is a tale told in the first
person and the narrator dies on the last page.  A pretty good trick,
if you think about it; but talk about undermining verisimilitude!
Tolagson's assignment is a little less daunting, however; and he
handles it with panache.  But Bendis violates the Fifth Tenet of
mature literature: one of the signals of maturity in storytelling is
the absence of the F-word (ditto the MF-word) because the writer is
ingenious enough to convey a sense of reality without actually
imitating the coarsest parts of real life.  In short, a mature writer
realizes that life is not art and vice versa.
     In the third black-and-white issue of the Misadventures of Breadman
and Doughboy, we witness the origin of Breadman.  "Before there was
Breadman," the copy reads, "there was Brad," a baker's helper.  When
Brad is injured in an explosion, his boss attempts (with success) to
stop the bleeding by piling on some experimental dough, and when Brad
comes out of the oven, his head has assumed the shape of a loaf of
bread.  He's also stronger.  So, naturally, he becomes a
crime-fighting vigilante.  Strangely, all of this is retailed to us
with a perfectly straight face by writers Tom Tucker and Mike Gorski.
  Ray Pelc's visualizations show an understanding of the conventions
of cartooning (storytelling with pictures in sequence as well as
words) although he has a penchant for visual clutter: he models too
enthusiastically by means of wire-thin shading lines, reminding me
somewhat of Graham Ingels, the storied "Ghastly" of EC fame.  From
Hemlock Press at the standard $2.95.
     Stay 'tooned.  Oh--and if you want the whole enchilada on "the art
of the comic book"--how the form works to achieve its purposes and
who the shapers and movers of the medium were in those antique days
of yesteryear--glom onto a book of mine, The Art of the Comic Book.
Click here for more information about it.

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