Opus 26:

1. Again with the Vu Deja (5/3)

2. Wind Instruments: More Cartoon Interpretation of Kenneth Grahame (5/3)

1. Again with the Vu Deja.    "His 'little folks' were the oldest in
the country drawn by the same artist . . . then he announced his
retirement . . .    he scheduled his finale for publication in February
. . .    he passed away on the eve of the publication of the finale . .
   however, his beloved characters will never age and never die."
I'm quoting, here, from a missive sent to me by attentive reader (and
esteemed amigo) Don Petterson, a proud Vermonter.    He is writing
about William Donahey and the Teenie Weenies, which ran from 1914
until 1970, a total of 56 years.
Whoa, deja vu, eh?    And we thought Charles Schulz on Peanuts was the
single-handed longevity champion on a comic strip.    And we thought
his departure from this vale was unique, coming as it did on the eve
of the last appearance of his life's work.    So what about the Teenie
The Teenie Weenies was not the first comics feature that Captain
Joseph Patterson added to the line-up in the Sunday funnies of the
Chicago Tribune when he came to power in 1912, but it was almost
first.    (The first was Rudolph Dirks' Hans and Fritz, his
reincarnation of his famed Katzenjammer Kids--Patterson's favorite
comic strip.)
As he inspected the content of the Sunday Trib, Patterson realized he
needed a feature for young readers, and while in that frame of mind,
he chanced upon a full color children's page in the Cleveland Plain
Dealer.    The page was filled with Mother Goose characters and
modernized verses and was drawn by William Donahey, brother of the
paper's editorial cartoonist, James.    Patterson promptly invited
William to develop a Sunday page for the Tribune.
Donahey conjured up the Teenie Weenies, tiny people slightly smaller
than the average salt shaker who lived somewhere on the edge of
modern life in a woodland environment.    But they almost didn't make
it into the Tribune.

Patterson was away when Donahey turned in the first three
installments of the feature, and the editor who looked at them
thought that "these stink!" (in his expression).    He declined to
publish them.    But Donahey waited until Patterson returned, and when
Patterson saw Donahey's work, he approved their publication.    
The first appeared on June 14, 1914, in black-and-white.    It was
immediately popular, and Patterson directed that it appear henceforth
in color.    It did.    

Although the Teenie Weenies took comic strip form briefly in the
1920s, it was initially (and for most of its run) a single large
drawing with accompanying narrative text--a weekly short story with
an illustration.    Typically, the drawing depicted a swarm of Teenie
Weenies engaged in some project or meeting a crisis while the text
gave the narrative details.    This went on for over half a century.

Then in November 1969, Donahey announced that he was retiring and
prepared the last Sunday installment of his feature for publication
on February 2, 1970.    Ironically, he died on February 1, the night
before its publication.

While the feature's run embraced 56 years, the run was actually
interrupted twice (1924-33 and 1934-41), dropping Donahey's total to
40 years.    And those were not consecutive years.    Obviously.

And, of course, it was only a Sunday feature.    Who's the champion for
seven-day strippery--for unassisted consecutive longevity?    Still
Schulz, of course.    But a strong candidate for second place is Gus
Arriola, whose run on Gordo was, at the very least, 38 consecutive
years on the daily and Sunday without an assistant.    And that's the
criteria, tovarich--unassisted continuous (unbroken) work on a
seven-day comic strip.

Retailing the humorous adventures and amorous preoccupations of a
portly Mexican bean farmer ("gordo" means "fat"), his perspicacious
nephew, the menagerie of their farm animals and the other picturesque
citizens of their village, Gordo started in the fall of 1941 and
ended in the winter of 1985, almost 44 years.    

But the actual continuity of the run was interrupted for six months
when Arriola joined the Army in October 1942.    Assigned to an
animation unit which left most of his evenings and weekends free,
Arriola was able to resume doing the strip as a Sunday-only feature
in May 1943; and he reinstated the daily in June 1946.    And he had an
assistant for about a year.    If you add in the year Arriola did the
strip before going into the army during World War II, you get 39
years solo on a daily comic strip    But for consecutive years on a
seven-day strip, we start with 1947, which yields Arriola's 38-year

I just happen to know all this because (1) Gordo was my favorite
comic strip as a youth and (2) I'm just finishing a book about
Arriola and his creation.    About which, more later when I'm in the
shameless plug mode.

Meanwhile (said he, shamelessly), there's more about the Teenie
Weenies and Captain Joe Patterson in my book, The Art of the Funnies;
click here to be transported to a description of the tome.

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2. Wind Instruments.    If you've ever wondered what cartooning can do
that other media cannot do as well, you can find the object lesson in
Michel Plessix's adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows.
   NBM is publishing this gemlike cartooning masterpiece in four
volumes, and the third has just become available (hardcover, merely
$15.95).    This installment covers chapters 7-9 of the original
opus--the chapters in which the irrepressible egotist, Toad, escapes
from prison and wends his event-laden way back home towards that
ancestral pile, Toad Hall, occasionally bursting into bumptiously
boastful song: "The world has held great heroes, as history-books
have showed; but never a name to go down to fame compared with that
of Toad!"

Plessix, a forty-one-year-old Frenchman, fills the 32 8.5x11" pages
of this book with gnarly renderings in pen-and-ink delicately colored
with aquarelle.    It seems to me (a life-long fan of Grahame's work),
that these pictures are a perfect blend of the styles of the two
foremost interpreters of Grahame, Ernest Shepard and Arthur Rackham.
And yet, there is a distinctive Plessix presence, too.

His is the cartoonist's presence.    He laces his narrative with sight
gags, pictorial inventions that reveal aspects of Toad's character,
say, while at the same time provoking the risibilities.    Sometimes
this is effected by pictures that contradict the accompanying prose
narrative; sometimes, by simple visual comedy.

In interpreting Chapter 7 of the book, however, Plessix arrives at
another pinnacle of achievement.    This chapter Grahame entitled
"Piper at the Gates of Dawn," and when I read the book first (just on
the cusp of adolescence, tovarich), it seemed to me the most
mysterious of the book's chapters--so mysterious as to be almost
entirely extraneous to what appeared to be the book's over-arching
plot about Toad and Ratty and Mole.    But Plessix makes it all
intelligible and reveals it to be at the heart of the book.    

I had forgotten how much of the book is a dreamy evocation of the
river bank--of the flora and fauna that line the eddying flow.    In
his pictures, Plessix captures this feeling, showing us Ratty and
Mole adrift in their boat, seemingly floating on airy nothing because
the cartoonist depicts the river simply by sketching its banks,
leaving out any indications of the current that doubtless animates
its surface in actuality.    His vision of the Piper--his explanation
of this haunting phenomenon--can take place only in cartooning (or in
a medium so similar as to be virtually imitative).

And, finally, playing with a single word, Plessix explicates the
book's title, acknowledging that this key chapter incorporates "the
music of the wind in the willows."    Beautifully done.    Don't miss
this one.

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