Opus 112:

Opus 112 (April 15, 2003):

WAR DIARY (Saturday, March 29).
If anyone can imagine a worse torture than twenty-four7 news of the War in Iraq, don't tell me. I've had enough. And not just on cable tv. Regular broadcast tv has pre-empted entertainments scheduled for evenings with alarming (not to say annoying) regularity. If the Bush League gets blamed for this, they'll lose the next election, sure. Don't misunderstand me: although I think we've plunged into this thing unnecessarily (and doing it unprovoked really bothers me), now that American lives are on the line, the War is important, and I hope we win soon and all that. (The quicker the War is over, the fewer lives—soldiers and civilians—will be lost.) But why do we need to know, second-by-second, about every little event on the Mesopotomic flood plain? We don't. The only war news we need to know immediately is that concerning (a) Saddam's surrender or (b) the distance from our front door of an incoming nuclear warhead. Otherwise, the news of the instant doesn't much affect us. In the normal course of events, being an "informed voting public" doesn't require our instantaneous awareness of every issue. We don't vote every day. Daily summaries in the old fashioned "news of the day" manner would be just fine, thank you. So why do we get so much so continuously?

            The explanation lies in a story about the Denver Post in its early, flamboyant days. Operated by two con-men, Harry Tammen and Fred G. Bonfils, the Post was a scarlet legend in the West. When its offices where on Champa Street in downtown Denver, Bonfils had a fire siren installed on the building's roof. He could activate the siren by pressing a button on his desk. And whenever he got excited by something, he'd hit the button, and the siren would shriek out all over downtown Denver. Someone once asked him why he did that. "Shows enterprise," quoth Bonfils, thereby providing me with the moral lesson of today's lecture on the news media.

            Yup, we're subjected to this constant barrage of news about every grain of sand in the Iraqi desert because the broadcast media want to show how enterprising they are.


            I'm sure glad they're not in the tapioca business.

War Diary (Monday, March 31). One of the best things to emerge in the coverage of the War is the re-discovery of the power of the picture-that-does-not-move. Several news broadcasts (at least ABC, MSNBC, CNN, and CBS that I've seen) include segments showcasing the still photographs from lensmen in the field. And that reminds me that comics consist of still pictures, too—the more memorable sequences of which often wind up stuck on refrigerator doors from sea to shining sea. Can't top that, tv.

War Diary (Tuesday, April 1). The News Hour in PBS has the best daily war news summary. Done in the old fashioned way by listing the battlefield action of the day in Iraq, it puts the human interest bits from embeds on other networks in context. The cable tv coverage is particularly frenetic, it seems to me—leaping from this front to that front, from inside Baghdad to the Northern frontier. CNN's pitbull anchor Wolf Blitzer, whose machine-gun monotone goes through you like a laser, does yoeman duty steering the coverage from place to place, but there's no context in such a whirlwind. PBS provides a big picture for the day into which we can handily fit the vignettes of other coverage.

NOUS R US. Futurama, Matt Groening's send-up of science fiction movies and tv shows, is out on a 3-disc DVD set. Groening, who has been nominated for Cartoonist of the Year by the National Cartoonists Society, says, "The show is still alive, even though it's no longer supported by its original network, Fox." The show ran 1999-2003, this last year on Cartoon Network, which hasn't decided, yet, whether to continue running it beyond the current season. "We're working on Futurama comic books and toys," Groening said, "and we've been talking about Futurama movies. Just a few days ago, fans of the program submitted a petition to save it that had 130,000 signatures. Even by tv standards, that's pretty amazing." Interviewed by Charles Solomon at The Times, the celebrated alternative cartoonist cited several favorite moments in the series: "We had Al Gore on the show twice, that was a thrill, and Stephen Hawking. But I think our finest moment was reuniting the entire cast of the original Star Trek: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and all the other actors, who played themselves. We basically made a new Star Trek episode." He continued: "Every episode on the DVD has what I guarantee are the liveliest audio commentaries you'll ever hear. We have the actors Billy West, John Di Maggio and Maurice LaMarche, along with the relatively subdued writers and animators. They not only comment on the show, they act out their own show as Dr. Zoidberg, the Professor, Bender the Robot and the rest."

            From Fantagraphics Books, Rebel Visions: The Underground Comix Revolution 1963-1975 (292 pages; $39.95, www.fantagraphics.com) by Patrick Rosenbranz who lets the artists tell their own stories in a "lavishly and luridly illustrated monument to the undergorund's golden era of representing the unthinkable," says Ruderby Richard Gehr in the Village Voice. I've already ordered my copy. ... About the movie "Daredevil," Times Staff Writer Kenneth Turan says Ben Affleck as the sightless crusader is a "casting coup": "Affleck is the most perplexing of movie stars: the parts he's been in haven't necessarily suited him or made him seem comfortable. Until now. As the blind Daredevil, overmatched defense attorney by day, fearless vigilante crusader for justice by night, Affleck is surprisingly at home with the humorlessness, the implacability, even the sullen obtuseness of a driven comic book superhero. Who knew?" Still, Turan goes on, the movie "is more notable for its costumes than its drama." And Jennifer Garner is "easily the film's most charismatic presence. She and Daredevil immediately square off in a charming getting‑to‑know‑you martial arts pas de deux choreographed by Hong Kong and Charlie's Angels veteran Yuen Cheung‑yan. Unfortunately, Garner doesn't have as much screen time as her prominence in the advertising would indicate: 'Daredevil' has a hard time staying alive when she's not on the scene." I wouldn't go quite that far, but, not being a particular fan of Affleck's chin, I agree that Garner is the best thing in the flick. The movie isn't as bad as some critics allege. In fact, it's a pretty entertaining afternoon in the dark—different than Spider-Man and X-Men, but engaging on a purely action-infested level.

           Kroger, a national food store chain, will be the first to carry Popeye Bread, which comes in four varieties, each identified by a different character from the celebrated strip: Popeye White Bread is a hearty, calcium-enriched product; Swee'Pea Honey Bread is naturally sweet; then there are Olive Oyl Hot Dog Buns and Wimpy Hamburger Rolls (extra large for holding larger,juicier hamburgers). The launch of the line doughy goods coincides with the possibility that King Features might do some promotions in connection with the character's 75th anniversary: Popeye will be 75 next January although the comic strip he first appeared in, E.C. Segar's Thimble Theatre, had been running for 9 years when Popeye bowed on stage. Olive Oyl is the strip's oldest character: she was there at the beginning, December 19, 1919.

            Wonder Woman lost her flowing mane in No. 190 of her title, getting a spiky boot-camp clip at her hairdresser's. Said cover artist Adam Hughes: "If you're going to shock people, you don't give her something sensible like a bob or make her look like a soccer mom. You go scary short." ... According to Internet rumor, John Byrne started drawing Tom Batiuk's syndicated newspaper comic strip Funky Winkerbean on Monday, March 31; while I haven't been able to verify the truth of this assertion, the tell-tale signs of the Byrne style are in evidence.

            Stan Lee is teaming with reality tv entrepreneur Bruce Nash in concocting a new reality series in which contestants will submit ideas for superheroes, appearing themselves in the costumes of their creations, and the semifinalists will then witness their concepts come alive as "fanatasy meets reality" with the finalists, apparently, getting thrown into classic superhero situations. Lee is likely (it sez here) to create a comic book franchise for the eventual winners. ... Debuting on TNN (tv's first network "for men") in June, an animated series called "Stripperella" stars Pam Anderson as Erotica Jones, an exotic dancer who leads a double life as super secret agent Stripperella. A Stan Lee creation, the tarty heroine will get a sneak preview in print form early in June when a one-shot comic book (drawn by Harry Cane) from Humanoids Publishing is due to appear.  Lee is understandably "thrilled": "I always wanted to create a story about a sexy female superhero," he said. "I believe that this characer is visually perfect for both mediums. Who wouldn't want to see a drawn and animated version of Pamela Anderson, one of the sexiest women alive?!" ... And at the same network, Howard Stern is in talks for an animated series based upon his tortured existence as a high school nerd, a frequent topic of the acerbic shock jock's broadcasts.

            From featureXpress: Terry LeBan and his wife Patty began on March 17 to address in their comic strip Edge City a seldom-discussed marital fact—namely, that busy couples with children usually don't have time for a sex life. "Not many people want to admit to this one," said Patty LeBan, "but it seems that sex has been a casualty of the go‑go family life style that is so common these days. [The strip's couple,] Len and Abby, despite their loving marriage, are not immune to this problem, and Abby, good therapist that she is, develops some interventions to spice up their love life." Edge City is a collaborative endeavor for the LaBans. While cartoonist/illustrator Terry draws the strip, character and plot development are devised jointly with Patty, a licensed social worker. Patty's work brings a professional and personal perspective on how people live, which helps to ensure the authenticity of both the situations and characters in Edge City. "We felt that the comic pages were ready for an honest discussion of sexual issues within marriage. Though we're bombarded with sexual images all the time through the media, almost none of it has anything to do with whatreally goes on in committed relationships," said Terry. Dr. Joyce Brothers, who previewed the series, agreed with the LaBans: "The increase of sex on tv may be because sex sells, but it may also be a reflection of the sexual fantasies of the public"—a public that evidently isn't getting sex any other way. Edge City paints a picture of the contrast between the way most people wish life to be versus the reality. This special series is a prime example of how the LaBans mine the material of everyday life and capture the way ordinary people do things. A Detroit native, Terry LaBan began his cartooning career in 1986, compiling an impressive portfolio of experience in virtually every cartooning genre—editorial cartooning, magazine cartooning, underground comic books, mainstream superhero comic books and kids' humorous comic books. The LaBans, graduates of the University of Michigan, live in Philadelphia with their two children.

            The European Union is publishing a comic book starring a fictitious member of the EU Parliament, Irina Vega, "a politician with the will of a modern day Joan of Arc," says the AP's Constant Brand. Intended to explain the European Parliament to 12-18 year-olds, the 34-page comic book's star is "the sexiest new member of the Parliament" according to London's Guardian. The story concerns Vega's fight to protect drinking water from industrial polluters, and, not suprisingly, the European Chemical Industry Council, representing some 4,000 polluting companies, protested. Nonetheless, Brand says, "Parliament officials say demand is growing for Irina's book, which is distributed at EU offices and libraries. 'The reaction has been very positive—we have had a lot of requests for more copies,' said Parliament spokeswoman Alison Suttie, adding that the EU assembly hoped to publish a total of 1.3 million copies by year's end. Suttie said the book would be available in 22 languages in the 15‑nation EU and in eastern European countries that will join the EU in 2004. The EU assembly has budgeted 800,000 euro ($866,000) for the project. The free comic book already has 500,000 copies printed in English and French."

            Quote of the Week from Fantagraphics' Eric Reynolds: "Comics is the only art form defined by a genre. You don't go to movies and expect to see only westerns. But the comic industry, for a variety of reasons, has been equated with juvenile entertainment."  And with  superheroes, I might add—that's the defining genre.

            Eddie Campbell announced the cessation of his self-publishing enterprise in February. Egomania No. 2 is the last of the crop, he said. "I conceived Egomania in a moment when From Hell was bringing in so much revenue that I could afford to indulge myself and put out a magazine which made no compromises to market expectations. I wanted to do a mag made up of my enthusiasms, pure and simple, presented in a precise and attractive typographical setting. I also wanted it to be such an eclectic mix of stuff that it would confound the comics purists who attempt to oppress and stultify our medium by straight‑jacketing it with their definitions and rules. It's time to broaden our vision instead of narrowing it. I knew the thing had no chance in the current market and that the clock was ticking as soon as I started. The collapse of my U.S. distributor last year hurried things to an early conclusion. ... I take pride in the fact that in the eight years since I started self-publishing, I have managed to get my entire catalog, more or less, back into print. There are the four Alec, or autobiographical, books, the nine Bacchus books, and the enormous collected From Hell. If you haven't picked up After The Snooter yet, go and check it out. I put everything into that one and I believe it's the goods." Among Campbell's current projects, is a Batman book that he is writing and painting. "The book is set in London in 1939 and involves a complicated mystery and a very eccentric secret society," he said. "I'm enjoying applying myself to the full color painted pages" wherein, "to my surprise, I am reinventing myself anew on every page."

            The Herb Block Foundation, endowed with $50 million at the cartoonist's death two years ago, has begun to exercise its charge, according to David Astor at Editor & Publisher. Its first big move is donating more than 14,000 originals of Herblock's editorial cartoons to the Library of Congress. "They were in his basement—one burst pipe away from disaster," said Foundation President Frank Swoboda. The exhibit opened March 12. Eventually, Swoboda said, there will be a permanent Herblock Room at the Library. The Foundation plans include dispensing grant money and starting a political cartooning prize and college scholarships. Also under consideration is help for journalism organizations such as the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. Swoboda reported that about $20 million of Herblock's estate is available to the Foundation at this point,with the rest to be released when the probate process is completed.

            Australian James Kemsley, the cartoonist currently holding the Ginger Meggs franchise Down Under, has been invited to speak at the National Cartoonists Society's 57th annual conference in San Francisco in May on Memorial Day weekend. He's the first Australian artist honoured in this way. Americans will hear about Ginger's history, billycarts, stolen lunches, and the Oz cartoon industry. Ginger Meggs, often called Australia's most loved comic character, was created in approximately 1921 by Jim Bancks in a strip entitled Us Fellers. "Ginge," as he is known affectionately, was but a bit player in the strip, but as the irrepressible schoolboy, he soon assumed the lead role in the strip, which, in 1939, surrendered to the inevitable and became Ginger Meggs. In John Ryan's history of Australian comics, Panel by Panel, Ryan writes: "Drawing on his own boyhood, Bancks was able to capture all the character, warmth and charm of a typical Australian boy. Ginge's homespun philosophy and observations on life were a delight and represented an aspect of the strip that was never duplicated by his many imitators. For Ginge, life was meant for playing sport, going to the pictures, attending birthday parties or picnics, and for gobbling down ice cream, cakes and fruit. He viewed school homework and helping around the house as diabolical plots intended to deprive him of the real pleasures of life." Ginger's latest homes in this hemisphere include the Washington Post online (one of several U.S. papers publishing him).

            Jonathan Raban in The Guardian: The northwestern city of Seattle is home to Boeing and is ringed by military bases. But it is a Democrat stronghold and, as it enters a phase of chastened realism following the collapse of the dotcom boom, new voices are being raised against Bush's war on Iraq, among them, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, where resistance to the war is rooted more in mistrust of its moral and political objectives. The most heartfelt and persistent criticism of the administration has come from David Horsey, the paper's Pulitzer‑prize winning editorial cartoonist, whose drawings of the 43rd president show him as a scrawny, simian‑featured homuncule with a childish predilection for dressing up—now as Caesar, now as Napoleon, as a western gunfighter, as a tin‑hatted soldier‑hero from the Normandy beaches. Horsey took a year off to study international politics at the University of Kent, Canterbury, and his cartoons are more conceptually elaborate than most. Here, for instance, is Bush the huckster‑showman, wielding a distorting funhouse mirror to vastly magnify the small, torpid rat labelled Saddam Hussein, and inquiring of his audience, "Are you scared enough yet?"

            To which, I add my too sense: The War has inspired a relatively robust onslaught of cartoon criticisms of the Bush League, it seems to me. Admittedly, I regularly view online the work of editorial cartoonists whose views I agree with, but before embarking upon this week's installment of Rancid Raves, I deliberately looked around for George "War" Bush supporters and found very few. Earlier this year, David Astor at E&P counted the editorial cartoonists listed by ideology in the Universal Press and Tribune Media rosters and found 19 liberals and only 6 conservatives, so perhaps a tepid strain of Bushwacker enthusiasm is understandable. Recently, however (in the March 31 issue of E&P), Astor queried some cartooners and came to this conclusion: "A dozen years ago, editorial cartoonists who questioned the Persian Gulf War received death threats and lots of hate mail. Things look different today. In the early stages of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, some antiwar artists are getting as much positive as negative mail, or not much mail at all. Clearly, there's more sentiment against—or, at least ambiguity about—this war than the one waged by the first President Bush." Ann Telnaes, whose opposition to Bushwacking is often vehement, said she receives as much positive as negative mail: "I've gotten the usual obscenity-filled rants—but also encouragement from people telling me to 'keep doing what you're doing.'" She is, Astor said, "'a little surprised' by the amount of positive reaction and by the number of papers running cartoons (by her and others) that question the war."

            Typically, across the board, regardless of political persuasion, the enemy, Saddam, is routinely ridiculed and belittled—the usual stance taken by cartoonists in support of their country. But a surprising number of cartoons also deal with the hypocrisy of the policy that makes war on Iraq while relying upon diplomacy for North Korea as well as an administration that has failed at the U.N., can't muster to its cause any major power in the international community, aims to suppress dissent, and is running up a bill that future generations of Americans will have to pay off. If the coalition forces in Iraq emerge, soon, victorious and without too many casualties, the general readership support of contrary opinions in editorial cartoons will doubtless begin to evaporate. The fog of war will disappear in the euphoria of victory, and the voices of criticism will be drowned out in hosannas of triumph. It is not only the media that suffers from what Donald Rumsfield calls "mood swings." In the meantime, it's nice to know dissent is alive and well among editoonists.

            From cartoonist Scott Shaw!, this sad news: Pete Millar, editor, publisher, hot rodder and automotive cartoonist supreme, died while relaxing at home on Friday, February 28. Pete had no known health problems and was still drawing regularly. Pete edited and published (and drew a majority of the material with a spectacular sense of draughtsmanship) Drag Cartoons. He also published Gilbert Shelton's Wonder Wart‑hog Magazine and Big Daddy Roth Magazine, as well as contributing to CARtoons, HOT ROD CARtoons and other Petersen Publications. Besides Shelton, he also published work by Alex Toth and Russ Manning, among others. (The guy had good taste, that's for certain!) Pete even once owned a drag race car, sponsored through contributions from the readers of his magazine, and had recently done some one‑shot magazines aimed at the drag racing audience. His big goal, unfortunately never achieved, was to curate a traveling art show of the best of humorous automotive cartoon art. Pete Millar does, however have a few pieces on display at the Hot Rod Museum in the Fairplex near Ontario, California. He attended the last few San Diego Comic‑Con Internationals, which was where I got to know him a bit. Although never lionized by fandom, Pete (who despised superhero comics) was a good guy whose masterful cartooning influenced a generation or three of budding cartoonists (at least) and hot rod fanatics. RIP, Pete Millar; you'll be missed. [The history of CARtoons, which Miller co-founded, is at www.HotRod.com.]

            I reported here an erroneous death some many moons ago. Contrary to that report, Cracked is still publishing: No. 359 is out now, and the magazine sells 50,000 copies whenever it appears. Dick Kulpa, owner and editor-in-chief, is trying to get it out monthly but has fallen pretty far short of that goal recently--only 9 issues in the last two years. ... Chicago's oldest comic book shop, Comic Kingdom, which opened in 1971 as The Fantasy Shop, has closed its doors. Own Joe Sarno says most of his business is now done on the Internet. ... Bud Plant Illustrated Books, the emporium of comics and popular illustration operated by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., is now into original art; the first catalog is an elegant production, including full color on the covers and elegant prices, too, at 3809 Laguna Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94306-2629. ... And SPEC Productions' latest issue of Alley Oop the Magazine, No. 16, brings V.T. Hamlin's saga to January-July 1946 with an Atlantis story that is continued seven days a week, through the Sunday strips; so publisher Andy Feighery ran the Sundays—in full color ($65/4 issues, P.O. Box 32, Manitou Springs, CO 80829-0032). For the next issue, Feighery is skipping four-and-a-half-years of the continuity, from July 1946 until November 1950. The omitted years have been reprinted in three Kitchen Sink Press books and in the forthcoming tome, Alley Oop and the Crusades (184 pages in paperback, $25). It's listed in the March Previews, but if you missed it, you could inquire at the publisher, Manuscript Press, P.O. Box 336, Mountain Home, TN 37684.

Interview with R. Crumb. On March 30, The New York Times Sunday magazine carried, in its Style section, an interview with the reclusive Robert Crumb. Illustrated with Crumb drawings, the Underground Maestro's ruminations include his usual array of rants about his favorite female figure: "I like big women with full figures." The skinny women of fashion are not for him. "It's kind of an upper-class sign of affluence: You can never be too rich or too thin. ... You know what the ultimately sexy thing is? A Catholic-schoolgirl outfit." His wife Aline "used to dress up to suit my fancy. She kind of got tired of that. She used to put on white knee socks and these little schoolgirl outfits. She was a lot chubbier in the early days. Now she's gotten quite thin. It's a little disheartening to see her derriere go down. But she's happier being that way, so what the heck. But she's still quite muscular. She says her ideal body type now is Lance Armstrong's."

            It wasn't the derrieres of French women that persuaded him to take up permanent residence in France a decade or so ago. "French women have no hips, no dierriere—nothing," Crumb said. But tushes had something to do with his move. "Aline lured me over here to get me away from all the big-bottomed American women. That's where the biggest keisters in the world are—America." Considering his fixation on the female fundament, Crumb allowed that "maybe I need fifteen years on the couch and some Freudian psychoanalyst to figure it out." But things are looking up: "A lot of my comics continually plugged hideously hostile stuff toward women," he said. "When I was young, I just had a lot of anger I had to get out. I don't have an urge to draw that kind of stuff anymore."

            He once turned down $100,000 to do a car ad. "When it comes down to it, those people will want this done and that changed, and before you know it, you've lost all your dignity and integrity and you're just groveling before these people to get their money." He steered clear of Playboy, too, for approximately the same reasons. Publisher Hefner is a frustrated cartoonist with a well-known penchant for tinkering with his cartoonists' conceptions. "After I got to be well known," Crumb said, "I found that I could do exactly what I wanted and have it published—so why do I need restrictions and directions from Hugh Hefner?"

            One of his interviewers observed that Crumb was not interested in celebrity any more than money and "the art thing" didn't seem to interest him either. "So what motivates you?" Said Crumb: "The work itself is what motivates me. I like my own stuff,you know? I like the way it looks. I do it to please myself first."

            As for the iconoclastic graffiti and hip hop stuff, "It doesn't interest me at all," he said. "I don't like any of it." Bruegel is "my main man."

REVIEW: BARKS AGAIN. A twinge of melancholy, a sort of woebegone wistfulness, just enough to make me pause reflectively for a moment—I get one of those when, at not infrequent intervals, I realize that I haven't been reading any of Carl Barks' duck stories lately. I haven't read any of them since I plunged into a huge stack of old comic books in the fall of 2000 to prepare for writing a long obituary and tribute to the famed Duck Man. (It appeared in The Comics Journal, No. 227.). And before that, I hadn't read any of Barks' stories since—oh, maybe the late 1940s, when I was reading them as they came out in Donald Duck Adventures and Walt Disney's Comics and Stories. But that doesn't mean I never thought about Barks and his ducks. I did. More frequently than I probably realize. Because Barks is a giant in the comics medium, I think of his work every so often as I wend my wayward way through the current crop of comics and ponder the triumphs of yesteryear, all the dubious preoccupations of a comics critic and historian. And whenever I do think of Barks, I remember, with a delight palpable enough to make me squirm in my chair, losing myself in the stories. Donald and his resourceful nephews were so real to me during the time that I was actively reading the funnybooks that they and their adventures reside forever in the warmest recollections of my early years.

            Theirs was a world of good-natured laughter and the giddy excitement of rollicking adventure. In short, it was both funny and fun. And moral. Barks' stories championed honesty, hard work, loyalty and resourcefulness. The Puritan ethic. American values, through and through. Pioneering American values.

            Remembering all this time after time, I resolve, every time, to read more of the Barks canon. And I usually head off in the direction of that huge cardboard box in which I've stored so many of the duck comics, but, alas, en route, something else catches my eye, and, before I realize what I'm doing, I've wandered off in another direction, momentary distraction becoming a new, full-blown Project that will keep me, once more, from returning to Barks.

            So I'm happy that Gemstone has the Disney license to publish duck stories once again, starting in June (it sez here), with an inaugural issue on Free Comic Book Day, May 3. The fresh appearance of these books on the newsstands will remind me to read them, to revisit the haunting scenes of the duck tales. And that brings us to today's topic, Carl Barks Conversations, a collection of interviews with Barks (248 6x9-inch pages in paperback, $18; hardcover, $46) that has just been published by the University Press of Mississippi as the third in a series featuring masters of the cartooning arts.

            The first in this series was Charles Schulz Conversations; the second (which I collected and edited), Milton Caniff Conversations (all visible at upress.state.ms.us). Assembled and edited by Donald Ault, perhaps the most authoritative of the half-dozen Barks scholars on the horizon, the Barks book marks something of a departure from the practice of the first two. The first two volumes reprinted previously published interviews with their subjects; Ault's book contains much material published here for the first time.

            Some of it is entirely fresh; and some of this new material was originally left out of previously published interviews. And some of it, while published before, has not been available in English until now. "Whenever possible," Ault told me, "I went straight to the interviews and got the original tapes or transcriptions and did not rely on published versions, except where original transcriptions were not available."

            Altogether, there are 24 interviews, plus a long insightful introductory appreciation of Barks' achievement by Ault and a Chronology of his life and work. The interviews are arranged chronologically, beginning with the one conducted in 1962 by Malcolm Willits, the fan who first revealed the identity of the Duck Man, and ending with Ault's last conversations with the artist just two months before he died on August 25, 2000.

            Among the contents, a complete transcription of the interview, portions of which were released as a video, "The Duck Man: An Interview with Carl Barks," in 1996. Just in case (like me) you missed acquiring this treasure.

            This is a gem of a collection, and much of its luster derives from the subject himself. Because of the interview format, we "meet" Barks and acquire an understanding of the man as well as the artist. And he was a man worth knowing—a gentle, unassuming man—as well as a storytelling genius.

            "Above all," Ault writes in his introduction, "Barks valued the originality and sincerity of his work. His commitment was to teach his audience to read with wonderment, all the while 'telling it like it is,' 'laying it right on the line,' and making his readers recognize that 'nothing was going to always turn out roses.'"

            Barks admitted deliberately slipping moral content into his stories. "Often it would be something that developed as I was writing on the story. I would notice that maybe I should just play up this angle a little bit. Yeah, I would put them in once in a while, consciously; and at other times, they just slid in without any effort. They were just the stock things—like Crime Does Not Pay and Pride Goeth before a Fall."

            But he stayed clear of political themes. "It's a very uninteresting subject to young kids," he explained, "and it's a subject that can get you into a lot of hot water. And my own political philosophy is that we've got a pretty good thing the way we've got it now, and we should just leave it damn well alone. We can have Watergates and all kinds of things, but nobody gets hurt, nobody gets destroyed, nobody goes to prison: we just have a lot of fun as we go along. Everybody's robbin' everybody else, but it's something you expect."

            He also said: "I think one of the duck's philosophies, as near as I could ever figure it out, was that nothing was ever so damned important that you should worry about it a hell of a lot."

            Asked who his favorite character is, Barks replied: "I guess I better say Donald is ... because he's like all my friends, my neighbors, myself—he's just Mister Everyman. If I ever had to write a story real fast, I would choose Uncle Scrooge as my favorite character in that case because I could think of a story for him easier than I could think of one for Donald. ... You know he's either going to be looking for money or he's going to have a battle with the Beagle Boys to save his money. He's got a ready-made plot right there, without having to reach out for it."

            Barks tells about haunting drugstores where comic books were sold "if I happened to be around with a little time on my hands." He'd pretend to be looking at Popular Mechanics, but he was really watching the kids reading comic books. "I always hoped that I would see some kid buy a Walt Disney Comics or an Uncle Scrooge. I never did. They always picked up Superman or a Harvey comic or an Oswald Rabbit, but never did one of them even look at an Uncle Scrooge or a Donald Duck. I used to wonder what on earth did they [distributors and store owners] do with these big stacks of Walt Disney Comics—they'd be two feet high sometimes. Would they tear off all those covers and send all of them back? Was the company crazy? But evidently some kid would buy them—always on the sly when I couldn't see him."

            How about having his own comic strip? "I didn't have the aggressiveness to ever produce a strip of my own," Barks said. "Disney gave me a stage on which to perform my little vaudeville act, and I did all right with it. I would never have had that opportunity in any other circumstances; he gave me that break."

            And later: "I'm sure glad that I found the thing I could do well and it was any easy kind of work. Now if I had found out that I was the best ditch digger in the world, wouldn't that have been a hell of a thing? Yeah, I was able to come up with these stories, the story plots, and draw them, a nice easy job, with the cool fan blowing on me in the summer and a nice stove to sit by in the winter. In good solid comfort and working on my own time, and I could quit any time I wanted to and go to the icebox. Yeah, it was a perfect life."

            A perfect life and a monumental achievement.

            Carl Barks created stories for children. If comic books were to be viewed as a species of literature, then he worked in that branch of belles lettres dubbed "juvenile" in the book trade. But those scoffers who pronounce "kiddie lit" with a lingering sneer have doubtless forgotten Dr. Seuss and A.A. Milne and Kenneth Graham and Lewis Carroll. And Barks' carefully crafted oeuvre, like that of this revered band of storytellers, appeals to adults as well as children.  It engages their imagination. And their admiration, too. And no author—whether Joseph Conrad or Arthur Conan Doyle or Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare himself—can hope for a loftier accolade or achieve greater acclaim.

            For more about Barks, click right here to be transported to our Hindsight department and a long appreciation of the man and his work, written shortly after he died.

CIVILIZATION'S LAST OUTPOST. Robert Redford, it was disclosed not long ago, owns an SUV. Yup, that's right. Despite his energetic tub thumping for environmental causes, he owns one of these gas-guzzling, atmospheric-polluting vehicles. Uses it, he says, to navigate through the wilderness on his vast holdings Out West. But, he says—by way of amelioration—he still prefers the horse for reconnoitering the back country.

            Nice idea, the horse. But in practice, not so nifty. Back in those fondly invoked horse-buggy-days, New York once had a horse population of around 150,000. Each one of these healthy animals produced 20-25 pounds of horse shit a day. In Rochester, New York, with a horse population of merely 15,000, some mathematical whiz calculated that this herd would produce, in a year, enough horse shit to cover an acre of ground with a layer 175 feet high. In New York City, with ten times the horses, the layer would be, lessee—1,750 feet high. Or deep.

            Quite apart from the obstacle course these road apples made of the streets (where "tripping the light fantastic" in those days had an entirely different meaning than the one we usually assign to the song) was the constant threat to health. There was no horse-shit-removal service in those dear days of yore. The horse shit just sat there. Sat there and dried out. Then the traffic pounded these li'l dumplings into powder, which blew around the city like the very air folks breathed. In fact, it was the very air we would have been breathing.

            No, horses aren't all that attractive an alternative to automobiles with their internal combustion engines. And not just because they create a health hazard of monumental proportions. Nope—there's at least one more thing about horses as a means of transportation. They're uncomfortable. To put it mildly.

            The last time I boarded a horse was about twenty years ago, and it was a memorable occasion. I'd ridden horseback once or twice before, but this time, for some inexplicable reason, I was aware of something I hadn't been aware of before. I discovered that male human anatomy is not entirely compatible with horseback riding. When you straddle a large animal and sit right down on it, you suddenly realize that you are not sitting directly on the back of the animal. Not always. Sometimes, depending upon how tight your pants are, something is between you and the saddle. Something delicate, a part of your body that is extremely sensitive to external pressures not to mention actual blows. There's a reason, I found out, for supporting your sit-uation by standing, sort of, in the stirrups. But that didn't seem very cowboy-like, so I'd occasionally try actually sitting. The horse, oblivious to my discomfort, plowed on. Occasionally, as we traversed a rocky mountain trail, he'd put his foot down wrong on a small rock, and his foot would slip off, transmitting a jerk all over his body, which was, in turn, transmitted to me, inflicting the very blow that I was leery of. The ordeal lasted only an hour, but it's not an hour I ever expect to repeat in this life. How John Wayne did it all those years without developing a falsetto I'll never know.

            If I have to choose between horse-back riding and driving an SUV, I'll opt for the gas-guzzler over the hay-burner.

            But my fundamental objection to SUVs is not their gas consumption (although I think we're being silly to the point of criminal irresponsibility to flock to these behemoths when we know they shorten the number of days until we're back on horseback); my ire at these vehicles is aroused by their size, not their fuel inefficiency. People in normal-sized cars can't see around SUVs. And they are therefore road hazards. If one is parked near an intersection and you're trying to turn onto or cross over that street, you can't see on-coming traffic because the SUV blocks your view. Happens in every parking lot, too: if you happen to be parked next to one of these laviathans, you can't see if there's a car coming down the lane behind you when you get ready to back out.

            SUVs are simply stupid power trips. And somewhere, some wag announced that they are solely responsible for our current preoccupation with oil-laden Iraq. We need those oil fields to fuel these big babies. Phooey.

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