Opus 90:

Opus 90: Cascade of Corrections (June 5). Okay, so you admit that I am wrong? It turns out that in my report last time (Opus 89) nearly all of my so-called unprecedented occurrences at the Reubens Weekend of the National Cartoonists Society in Cancun, Mexico, were precedented all over the place. One of the nicer things about doing a column online is that I discover research assistants by the drove as soon as I utter an inaccuracy or an incoherence. Immediate correction. Space age alacrity. So here we go, hurtling headlong towards Accuracy in All Things:

            Jerry Scott, who "writes" Zits by rendering it roughly in pictures for his drawing partner, Jim Borgman, does not write his other strip, Baby Blues, in the same way. His drawing partner on that feature, Rick Kirkman, prefers to conjure up the images without any visual cues from Scott.

            And the occurrence that resulted in the rules for conferring the Reuben being changed was not the division award to Zits (going only to Borgman not to his partner Scott). Not entirely. That was only part of the predicament, the second part. The first part was the earlier division award to Baby Blues (going only to Kirkman not to his partner Scott). Sorry: I don't have the date at hand for the latter, there being a dearth of readily available written record to resort to when discussion things NCS. Soon after the brouhaha over the Kirkman award, the nominees for the 1998 awards were published, and Zits appeared with Borgman listed as its creator; once again, Scott was left off. That was immediately rectified, however, and the plaque bears both their names, as I said earlier.

            Pat Brady's five consecutive nominations for the Reuben Award for Rose Is Rose, while astonishing, pales somewhat when compared to Garry Trudeau's. Trudeau, some say, was nominated 18 times for Doonesbury before finally winning in 1996 (for 1995). Or maybe it was only 15 times. In any event, it was a lot more than five.

            Greg Evans, also a perpetual bridesmaid but never the bride, tells me this was his fourth nomination, but all of them were not in a row like Brady's.

            And when I proclaimed Cancun NCS's first foreign meeting site, I forgot about Toronto.

            And, yes, there've been other years in which one cartoonist has won in two areas like Frank Cho did this year. But that wasn't the unprecedented part I had in mind. It was Cho's wining in comic books for a reprinting of a comic strip. That is not only unprecedented but nonsensical. Cho deserves an award for his unrelenting excellence in a medium (newspaper comic strips) that does not otherwise reward artistic excellence (in fact, punishes graphic achievement by reducing it too small to see); but his deserving does not diminish the eccentricity of the award system that resulted in the award.

            Finally, some Attentive Readers among the audience for this deathless prose observed that perhaps Scott was not, as I proclaimed, the first "writer" to get a Reuben. Perhaps, someone opined, when Bob Dunn got the Reuben in 1975, he was no longer drawing They'll Do It Every Time but merely writing it. Maybe. But he was the "cartoonist" of record: his name was on the feature. Then again, considering that TDIET is based upon reader submissions, I wonder how much writing is involved? A respectable amount, surely: an idea submitted by an ordinary citizen probably needs to be thoroughly tinkered with before it can assume the dimensions of a "gag," but, still, the germ of the idea comes from outside the writer's head.

            (TDIET is still going on, by the way-under the inspired pen of Al Scaduto, whose drawings are absolutely delicious. They retain the vintage patina of Jimmy Hatlo's original styling but incorporate certain more contemporary touches, a balancing act worthy of a tightrope walker and relentlessly funny-looking. I love 'em.)

            But to return to the "first writer" to get the Reuben, we could have acknowledged Alfred Andriola, ostensibly the creator of Kerry Drake, who received the Reuben in 1970. By this time, Kerry Drake was being drawn by someone else, Suri Gumen, which meant Andriola was just writing it. And since Andriola could also draw (and may have, at one time in his career), he, like Scott, was a cartoonist who was working as a writer. But Andriola was trying to keep his drawing partner a secret.

            Just to complicate the eccentricities, however, it should probably be observed that we later discovered that Kerry Drake wasn't being written by Andriola at all: it was being written by Allen Saunders, and had been for Andriola's entire run on the strip. So Andriola was neither writing nor drawing the strip. But he got a Reuben as "cartoonist of the year"anyhow.

            A certain quantity of Reubens over the years have been awarded to various members of the old boys' club for reasons having more to do with loyalty and service to the Society than cartooning. Friends recognize friends. It was ever thus. Dunn is one such. Otto Soglow (Little King) is probably another. And Andriola. And Walter Berndt (Smitty), let's say.

            Nothing inherently wrong with this sort of thing. But since the Society has other awards for loyalty and service, conferring its "Oscar" on such otherwise worthy recipients seems excessive. Or maybe just eccentric.

NOUS R US. The Spider-Man movie is still making news, its accumulated box office receipts now spiraling out of sight. Then all of a sudden, here comes Washington Post columnist David Broder, expressing horror and alarm at the violence in the movie-in particular, scenes of wanton destruction of property, vaporous fire balls, falling chunks of buildings, and poor Mary Jane, perching on a balcony "afraid to jump," Broder bemoans, continuing: "When she finally lets go, in a moment painfully evocative of the World Trade Center jumpers, Spider-Man is there to grab her. Would that it were so." Indeed, would that it were. But to find, as Broder does, all the violence of the movie "evocative" of the horrors of September 11 is to natter on like an old maid aunt. Broder normally rates my respect; not this time. He's gone 'round the bend, seems to me. If Mary Jane's predicament "evokes" memories of September 11, what does Harold Lloyd do, dangling many stories above the street while hanging onto the minute hand of a giant clock on the side of the building? (One of the classic Lloyd bits in one of his classic comedies.) And every fire ball explosion in movies and every collapsing building-we'll never see any more of these in movies if Broder has his way. By the end of the piece, in his last paragraph, Broder gets around to what may have been his real subject-the dilemma of "young people so accustomed to high-speed violent confrontations on tv and in the movies they watch that they almost literally cannot stay calm enough to read or study or sit in a classroom." Dunno, Dave. It looks to me like those kids' parents have let them watch too much tv and too many movies, and you can't hang that on Spider-Man.

            Has Tarzan gone into perpetual reprints? The Sunday strip for May 26 originally appeared July 1, 1979, drawn by Gil Kane. The last "original" Tarzan was published the previous Sunday by Eric Battle and Alex Simmons....

            I made the mistake of watching a video of Disney's "The Adventures of Mr. Toad" on the morning of the same day that I watched "Shrek" on HBO in the evening. "Shrek" may offer a wonderfully uplifting story (although even that, I submit, is dubious since it seems to teach that ugly people aren't suitable marriage partners for beautiful people), but its animation plodded compared to "Toad." Disney's film was energetic and lively; it moved in every frame. And the action was often exaggerated for comedic effect. You can't say any of that about "Shrek." I suspect that the old fashioned, hand-wrought animation is still the best of the genre.

            Michael Chabon was on the cover of Writer's Digest for April, a position of eminence due more to his having won a Pulitzer last year for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay than for putting me into the novel as a character in a footnote. You need three things to be a success as a writer, he said: talent, luck, and discipline. You can't do anything about the first two, so you should focus on the third. By way of suggesting what discipline is, he said: "Keep a regular schedule, and write at the same time every day for the same amount of time. That's it. That is the sum total of my wisdom." I do that. I write every day from 8 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. Sometimes more, but at least that. So where's my Pulitzer?

            Cartoonist Theodore Geisel, who first loomed on the horizon of national notice by drawing cartoons advertising a bug spray ("Quick, Henry, the Flit!" screams the wife, surrounded by flying insects), was born and grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, which municipality has now unveiled a "national memorial" to Geisel, who became somewhat more famous as the writer of such children's books as The Cat in the Hat. The memorial, a sculpture garden with an assortment of Dr. Seuss's characters springing out of the pages of a book, was designed and executed by Lark Grey Dimond-Cates, Geisel's stepdaughter, who made the sculptures large enough for kids to climb on. Included in the array is a rendition of Seuss himself, at the drawing board with the Cat in the Hat peering over his shoulder....

            And in St. Paul, Minnesota, Charles Schulz's hometown, more civic statuary. The summer's third annual tribute to the cartoonist started, unofficially, the last week of May when the first of 103 five-foot tall statues of Lucy Van Pelt went on display. By the official start date, June 8, all the statues will be in position throughout the downtown and city neighborhoods. Last summer and the summer before, Charlie Brown and Snoppy (respectively) were the honored figures....

            In New York City, June has been declared "Hilda Terry Month" by the Friends of Lulu - New York. Terry, whose comic strip Teena started June 7, 1941 to run for 23 years, will be on hand to meet and greet friends and fans at the Bluestockings women's bookstore and cafe (172 Allen Street) on Tuesday, June 11, starting at 7 p.m.; and at the Art Festival sponsored by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) at the Puck Building (293 Lafayette Street) on Sunday, June 23, 11 a.m. - 7:00 p.m., with Terry's birthday party (she'll be 88 on June 25) at 4:30 p.m. Terry, in addition to running 8 Henderson Place Foundation, an archive of her work and that of her magazine cartoonist husband, Gregory D'Allessio, teaches classes twice a week at New York's Art Students League. For a review of Terry's role in advancing the cause of women cartoonists, click here to be transported to Harv's Hindsights, one floor down, where an article extolling her achievement appears.

            The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco (655 Mission Street) cannily mounted a show of Spider-Man original art that runs until July 21. The next week, a new show opens, "Arnold Roth: Free Lance," a retrospective of 50 years of Roth's manic illustrations, which runs until September 29. Meanwhile, a special rotating series of five displays of the art of Edward Gorey will continue, Part Three opening on August 3 and running until November 17. Neither the Roth nor the Gorey shows will enjoy the benefits experienced by the Spider-Man show, which, coinciding with the block-buster movie, saw hordes come through the Museum. More hordes will doubtless be on hand for a booksigning of the show's catalogue that will be attended by Rom Lim, Al Gordon and other Marvel Comics artists on June 29. And if you want to know more about Gorey, click here to be whisked downstairs to Harv's Hindsights where we've filed a comprehensive biography.

REVIEWS. Dunno how I missed this one: DC's Vertigo title Outlaw Nation. Well, actually, I remember now how I missed it: preliminary promos made it look suspiciously like just another 100 Bullets. And that's somewhat true. But there's also a distinct "Northern Exposure" aura about this enterprise. 100 Bent Bullets, maybe. In any event, I read Nos. 10-19 (No. 19 being the final issue) last weekend and was properly bowled over. It took me two issues to sort out all the characters, who sometimes refer to each other with an assortment of nicknames that obscure rather than reveal who they are talking about, but after that, I was hooked. Jamie Delano's story is too convoluted to rehearse here, but it has to do with a vengeance-ridden family, the Johnsons, mostly the offspring of Big Buck (or Asa Arizona), now aged and ailing and virtually entombed in an assisted living castle of his own devising, where he is attended by the sumptuous Dolores in a bikini. His son Story Johnson and Story's wife Ruth Hoag and their son Sundance and his pregnant wife Rosa, all encounter the bitter machinations of Story's half-brother, Evelyn (or "Kid Gloves," a really bad fella), converging, eventually, in a bloody finale that leaves Sheriff John Law dead and bleeding quarts. The artwork is pencilled by Goran Parlov and inked by Goran Sudzuka, whose line just gets better and better, bolder and more flexible. Just wonderfully juicy, Johnny Craig loosened up sort of. When they bring out the compilation, snap it up.

            Speaking of juicy lines and books you don't want to miss, here's another that slipped by me until last week. Last fall's The Big Hoax is another in a series of titles produced by Dark Horse in conjunction with a European partner, Strip Art Features, under the combined imprint Venture. Written (I take it from the order of the bylines) by Carlos Trillo, the tale follows a defrocked police detective Donald Reynoso who is hired by the beauteous Melinda Centurion (known as "The Intact Virgin"-which is, we discover, the "big hoax" of the title, maybe) to extract her from a blackmail situation. There are a parade of other characters-Melinda's politically connected uncle, who is boffing his niece, her erstwhile lover Pedro, Donald Reynoso's half-brother, and the reptilian hit man known as "the Iguana" (probably because he looks like one). But the most significant of the ensemble is Milton Bates, a writer, who insinuates himself into the continuity again and again, explaining this motivation or that characterization. It is he who invented the notion of "The Intact Virgin" as a publicity stunt designed, chiefly, to enable Melinda's uncle to keep on boffing her. But the story, while ingenious and engaging and entirely worth your time, if, for no other reason (and there are other reasons, just mentioned), than to relish the way Trillo manipulates both the characters and the reader through the transparent device of Bates' treating himself and all the others as characters in a story rather than as real people in real life-this story and the manner of its relation is less the reason for my enthusiasm than the absolutely delicious artwork of Domingo R. Mandrafina, whose supple brush simply enthralls.

            Mandrafina is expert at staging and timing the story, but his drawings are what knock me over. A line that waxes thick for wrinkles in clothing and shadow and to indicate volume where necessary but wanes thin for contrast and delicacy in rendering fine details. And solid blacks spotted with dramatic impact. And then there are two techniques he employs when he shifts scenes from the so-called "present" to the "past" or to the explication of Milton Bates. In the "past," Mandrafina's line doubles, appearing to be two lines rather than one. (This is achieved, I suspect, by drawing first on scratchboard and then scratching out the centers of the lines.) And for Bates' asides, a scrim of white snow falls over the drawing, slightly obscuring the picture and giving it a dream-like aura. Priced at a mere $10.95, this 128 7x9" paperback in black-and-white could be the best thing you buy all year long.

            One of NBM's latest ventures into funnybook publishing is Oddballz, the first of which features stories by Lewis Trondheim, one of the iconoclastic cartoonists who populate the French series dubbed "Poison Pilote" (a satirical reference, no doubt, to the more establishment publication, Pilote, where so many European favorites debuted over the years-Asterix, f'instance). Trondheim's first story, "McConey Foils a Scheme," which he apparently also draws, features a collection of would-be furry animals, rendered in the simplest of lines, awash with gray tones, as they loiter through their uneventful lives, sprinkling minor occurrences along the way (one finds a bag of money, a million bucks). Interesting in a odd-ball, slacker-life sort of way. The artwork, the linear quality of which reminds me of the ineptly rendered Dilbert, is actually fairly complex: the characters, stark in simplicity, cavort across a background fraught with detail and perspective. Not bad. The second of Trondheim's tales is drawn by Manu Larcenet, who also deploys simply rendered pictures but with a more complicated line than Trondheim's. "Astronauts of the Future" focuses on wise-ass school-age children who revel in their perverted fantasies about alien invasions of Earth and otherwise display vaguely mean-spirited eccentricities usually associated with ego-centric youngsters.

            The current issue, No. 10, of Hogan's Alley is now out. This publication, which was launched as a periodical magazine, very quickly assumed the dimensions and frequency of a yearbook. Under the editorial guidance of Tom Heintjes and with dazzling design by David Folkman, Hogan's Alley has established itself as a treasure trove of information about comics and cartooning lore, both antique and contemporary. This issue, for example (and a good, representative example it is), includes columnist (and editorial cartoonist) Steve Greenberg's examination of editorial cartoons in the wake of September 11, a healthy reprinting of Ernie Bushmiller's first strip (Nancy's predecessor), Patrick Keating's introduction to Mark Crilley and his Akiko cast, Ed Black's unearthing of Billy DeBeck's apprenticeship (before concocting Barney Google), Rob Stolzer's interview with the legendary Russell Johnson (who drew Mister Oswald, a monthly comic strip in the Hardware Retailer, a trade magazine, for 62 years), Allan Holtz's discovery of the first adventure strip, and Heintjes' tracing of the history of Johnstone and Cushing, an advertising agency that used cartoons to make the pitches (and, incidentally, gave succor to cartoonists who might otherwise have become something else altogether). And Heintjes has also compiled a directory of a couple dozen of the "best strips you're not reading" because their circulation is so small the chances are your newspaper doesn't carry them.

            By way of clearing my conscience, I should say, more-or-less immediately, that most of the contributors to this issue are friends of mine (Greenberg and I will be rooming together at the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists at month's end) and that I have been a contributor myself to this worthy publication in recent years-er, issues. So my opinions about Hogan's Alley and its contents are scarcely detached and wholly objective; they may, in fact, be highly suspect. On the other hand, there are nits to be picked (for the sake of further discussion and, even, illumination).

            Holtz, for instance, insists on calling Prince Valiant a comic strip. He assumes that the objection to this insistence is likely to lie in the contention that Prince Valiant doesn't employ speech balloons and therefore cannot be a comic strip. And there are, indeed, students of the medium who persist in maintaining that speech balloons are a defining characteristic of comics. Not me. For me, speech balloons are vital but not defining. Nonetheless, I resist calling Prince Valiant a comic strip. It is an illustrated narrative. The absence of speech balloons herein have less to do with its species than the role of the pictures. In comic strips, pictures contribute narrative information. Even if they do nothing more than identify the speakers (by means of the "pointers" coming from the speech balloons), the pictures are supplying "narrative information." The pictures in Prince Valiant, generally speaking, do not supply "narrative information"-information about elements of plot or story, information, that is, which is essential to understanding the narrative, the story. In Prince Valiant, the pictures illustrate the text which contains the necessary narrative information as it carries the narrative forward in blocks of hand-lettering below the pictures. The story is carried by the text, not the pictures. And that's the distinction. If we can print the text without the pictures and still have a story, then Prince Valiant fails the test and is not a comic strip.

            I won't reveal the discovery that Holtz has made, identifying the earliest adventure strip, except to say that it shares certain characteristics with Prince Valiant. Allan's commendable dedication and admirable energy in this research deserves, at least, the only reward possible in the low-budget arena of comics scholarship-namely, to be encountered by fellow enthusiasts in the terms and devisings of the author, who has artfully arranged his report of research in this issue of Hogan's Alley (144 pages, merely $6.95 at your nearest comic book shop; or write to Hogan's Alley at P.O. Box 47684, Atlanta, GA 30362 for your own copy; back issues 3-10 are available at $8 each, including postage). But, while I'm at it, a couple more nits, Allan.

            First, it's unlikely that Charles Kahles' classic 1906 Hairbreadth Harry satirized the movie serial genre typified by Perils of Pauline. Perils, if I read Allan a-right, is a reference to the cliffhanging serial movie, a genre that, if I recollect a-right, appeared in about 1914, eight years after Harry, starting with The Adventures of Kathlyn. More likely, Harry's satirical reference was to stage melodrama, which had a place in American theater for decades, beginning, I suspect, in the mid-19th Century. Oh-and a "jack daw" is a bird, a smaller member of the crow family; and "jack daw" sometimes refers, in British parlance, to a miscellaneous collection of things.

            There, you see? This is how engaging and absolutely absorbing an issue of Hogan's Alley is. Don't miss it if you can.

BOOK SALE. And, speaking of rare glimpses of history, I have again purchased two copies of the same book and am now offering one of them for sale. This is A Cartoonist's Philosophy by Percy Crosby, who, when he wasn't creating Skippy, was railing against the frauds and follies of the world around him. And this book contains some of that diatribe. Eight publishers were either indifferent to the book or afraid of publishing it, so Crosby published it himself. Here's what the Philadelphia Record said about it: "Percy Crosby, brilliant and subtle, is a man who gets mad. Not angry. Mad. And he gets mad, above all, at fakery and fraud--and gangdom and prohibition.... But this is a grand book. It is the work of a man who takes time from his daily endeavors to think about the things most of us are too shamefully lazy to think about." The book, as you might by now realize, isn't about comics or cartooning. It is, as its title proclaims, a philosophical work. By a cartoonist. This copy has a cardboard cover and a dust jacket in perfect condition. No illos except for the cover/dust jacket. There's a hardback edition, too, but I'm not selling that one. This one is $15 plus $3 postage (media mail). If you're interested, send me an e-mail, and I'll hold it for you until you can get me a check.

            Stay 'tooned.

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