Opus 116:

Opus 116 (June 1, 2003): Rambling through the Reubens. Every year, the National Cartoonists Society presents the Cartoonist of the Year with a weighty trophy, a heavy metal statue called the Reuben (named for the Society's first president, Rube Goldberg, who also sculpted the statue-even though he thought, at the time, that he was making a lamp). This year's winner is Matt Groening, instigator of Fox TV's "The Simpsons."

            Although Groening has created several print-based comic features, the award is pretty clearly a recognition of his success with the tv series, which just finished its tenth season, a record for a prime-time animated cartoon. In the 56-year history of NCS, animated cartooning has never earned a Reuben before.

            Another prestigious NCS award went to Morrie Turner, who received the Society's Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award for his integrated comic strip, Wee Pals. Turner was introduced by long-time friend and admirer, Bil Keane (of Family Circus fame), who said, simply: "I have only three words for this occasion: it's about time."

            NCS also presents "division awards" in all the genres of cartooning. Because being nominated is almost as much a distinction as winning, I've listed here all this year's nominees, with the winners in each division marked with an asterisk:

            advertising and illustration-*Jim Hummel, B.B. Sams, Terry Willis; newspaper panel cartoons- Jerry Van Amerongen (Ballard Street), *Dave Coverly (Speed Bump), Wiley Miller (Non Sequitur); greeting cards- Oliver Christianson, Jerry King, *Glenn McCoy; magazine cartoons -Jerry King, Gary McCoy, *Glenn McCoy; new media (chiefly 'net-related) -*Mark Fiore, Bill Hinds, Ian David Marsen; comic books -Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Terry Moore (Strangers in Paradise), *Stan Saki (Usagi Yojimbo); newspaper illustration -Drew Friedman, *Steve McGarry (NCS president), Ed Murawinski; tv animation -Butch Hardman (Fairly Odd Parents), *Steve Hillenburg (Spongebob Squarepants), Greg Miller (Whatever Happened to Robert Jones?); newspaper comic strips -*Darby Conley (Get Fuzzy), Jim Meddick (Monty), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine); book illustration -Glenn McCoy, *B.B. Sams, Bob Staake; magazine illustration -*C.F. Payne, Tom Richmond, Jay Stephens; editorial cartoons-*Clay Bennett, Mike Luckovich, Tom Toles; feature animation -Peter DeSeve (Ice Age), Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away), *Chris Sanders (Lilo and Stitch).

            It's been a winning season for the Christian Science Monitor's Clay Bennett: he just won the Scripps Howard Award, the judges commenting that "the total sophistication of Bennett's work set it apart. The point of his cartoons is instantly clear." And last year, he won the Pulitzer, the Fischetti Award from Columbia College, and top honors from Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists. Responding to the award in San Francisco's historic Palace Hotel, Bennett downplayed his artistic and political acumen, saying that he accepted "on behalf of neurotic insecurity and the hard work it inspires."

            It was Stan Saki's birthday the next day, so his division plaque for comic books was a timely win albeit long overdue. (Happy birthday, Stan!!) Stan's Dark Horse editor, Diana Schutz was on hand, commenting in your reporter's ear on Stan's thorough-going professionalism-always on time, never any fuss, art always perfectly camera-ready.

            In accepting the Reuben, Groening gave recognition to David Silverman, who had directed so much of the series right from the start, and to others on the Simpsons team. "You all deserve this award," he said, "but I'm keeping it."

            Groening started humbly enough  in 1977 with a weekly strip for alternative newspapers. Called Life Is Hell, it is based upon Groening's experiences in Los Angeles and appeared to star two rabbits named Binky and Sheba, one of whom had only one ear, and/or gay twins in fezes named Akbar and Jeff. It was a big success and still is, reportedly appearing in 250 papers. Then came "The Simpsons."

            On September 8, 1986, this dysfunctional but somehow loving family debuted as a two-minute sketch on the "Tracey Ullman Show." It was Groening's first experience with animation, and the characters (based, somewhat, upon Groening's own family-his father is named Homer) immediately attracted an audience.

            The Simpsons got their own prime-time tv show on the Fox Network in 1990 and have won an Emmy and gone on to become the longest-running prime-time animated series on tv. But Groening wasn't finished yet: in 1993, he founded a comic book publishing company and began producing Bongo Comics, which published four regularly appearing titles-Simpsons Comics, Radioacive Man, Bartman, and Itchy and Scratchy Comics. Groening's fortune was made.

            Morrie Turner, born 1923, is the first Black cartoonist to produce a nationally distributed comic strip raising racial consciousness. In the Army Air Corps during World War II, he drew gag cartoons for base publications-crude artwork, perhaps, but getting printed was an education.

            "It seemed easy then," Turner once recalled. "Sometimes it was humor by committee, and a lot of it was so 'in' that nobody outside the base could understand it. But I began seeing the power in it. We could dig at some lieutenant, and nobody could do a thing about it."

            After his military service, Turner took a job as a clerk in the Oakland Police Department and freelanced cartoons to magazines. In 1960, after 11 years, he cut free: acting on the advice of his wife and gag cartoonist Glenn Bernhardt, he resigned his job to pursue cartooning full-time. All the while, he mulled over an idea for a comic strip. Peanuts particularly engaged him, and then once when Charlie Brown appeared in a Civil War cap, Turner pondered: What if Charlie Brown were Black? And what if the cap were a Confederate cap? "Now that," wrote Tom Carter in the Cartoon Club Newsletter, "was indeed a laugh-a child so naive he could sweep away generations of ill will with one innocent, ironic gesture."

            And so the idea emerged. In 1963, Turner developed a strip about black moppets called Dinky Fellas, selling it to the Berkeley Post in his native California and to the Chicago Defender.              In 1964, with the advice and encouragement of Charles Schulz and comedian Dick Gregory, Turner integrated the strip, and Lew Little, then just starting his own syndicate, sold it as Wee Pals, which debuted February 15, 1965.

            Said Little: "I was very excited about it. I knew major newspapers were looking for an integrated strip. I signed Morrie a 5-year contract, and the first newspapers we offered it to took it-the Philadelphia Bulletin, the Los Angeles Times, and the Oakland Tribune. We thought we'd get rich off of it."

            Then came the riots in Watts in the summer of 1965, and suddenly editors were leery of anything that might stir up trouble. The strip limped along until April 1968. Just after the assassination of Martin Luthur King, Jr., newspaper editors were desperately seeking ways to raise the consciousness of their readers on racial matters. Turner's daily lesson in tolerance was just what was needed, and sales soared again. In 1974, King Features took on the syndication; these days, Creators Syndicate handles Wee Pals.

            Nipper, the Black kid in the Confederate cap (named after Nipsey Russell), has become Turner. Or vice versa.

            "His personality has grown to be my own," Turner said. "His gags are my gags and the things that happen to me. Nipper understands the value of communication between people and knows nothing can establish this quicker than a good laugh."

            Musing about his craft, Turner added: "Doing a cartoon enables you to step outside and look at yourself. It's like therapy, and I've become a better person for it."

            So, we submit, have the readers of Wee Pals.

            Every minority (including the handicapped) is represented in the strip, and Turner promulgates a benevolent message of harmony as well as humor. When Nipper and his racially diverse friends are picking a name for their club, they consider "Black Power," then "Yellow Power," then "Red Power," finally settling on "Rainbow Power"-all colors working harmoniously. 

            "That was two years before anybody ever heard of the Rainbow Coalition," Turner said.

            Turner also produces a Sunday panel about African American history called Soul Corner, and he created an animated biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Turner has received many awards for his work in cartooning and in education, including the aforementioned Brotherhood Award of the National Council of Christians and Jews in 1968 and the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation League Humanitarian Award in 1969.

            The other finalists for the Reuben this year were Pat Brady (Rose Is Rose), Greg Evans (Luann), and Dan Piraro (Bizarro). Being a finalist for the Reuben is an even greater distinction than being nominated for a division award. Each division award is conferred by an NCS chapter (whose decisions are approved by the appropriate NCS committee), and the divisions are rotated around among the chapters from year to year. The process begins with cartoonists submitting their work to the designated NCS chapter. Sometimes chapter members bring forward the work of cartoonists they think deserves the recognition.

            The Reuben selection process, on the other hand, begins with a blank open ballot sent to all NCS members, who are invited to list four or five nominees without being prompted by any submissions or listings of any sort. Those whose names are most frequently written in become the finalists, usually three or four persons. The final ballot lists these names, and members vote from this list.

            This is Brady's sixth consecutive nomination for the honor; Evans has been nominated five or six times, too, but not consecutively. Groening was nominated two years ago; Piraro, never.

            Piraro emcee'd the awards ceremony, assisted by his wife, Ashley, whose elegant gown displayed to advantage her shoulder tattoos. Piraro's stand-up comedy rivals Bil Keane's acerbic one-liners, but the best line of the evening was delivered by Jack Davis. He had difficulty in climbing the stairs onto the stage to make one of the presentations, and he was assisted by Ashley. Davis then expressed his delight at being in San Francisco among so many friends and friendlies, but, he went on in his rolling Georgia drawl, "when Ah get back home, Ah'm gonna see if Ah can get mah wife a tattoo on her shoulder."

            During the so-called seminar sessions on Friday and Saturday afternoons, NCS president Steve McGarry was presented with the Australian Click to Enlargeequivalent of the Reuben, the Stanley, named after the Down Under cartooning legend, Stan Cross. The trophy is a three-dimensional representation of a famous Cross cartoon that (it sez here) is still considered the country's funniest joke. It depicts two men, dangling far above the street from the roof of a building: one of them is holding onto the dislodged guttering, and the other is holding onto the first by the legs, having, during the process, pulled the fellow's trousers down around his ankles. Both men are laughing uncontrollably, and one is saying: "For gorsake, stop laughing: this is serious!"

            Cross's inspiration for the cartoon was a contribution from a reader, whose original notion involved a conversational exchange between the two workmen. The one hanging onto the other's legs is saying, "What are you laughing at?" And the other responds, "Well, you're pulling my leg."

            The presentation was made by James Kemsley, the Australian the cartoonist currently holding the Ginger Meggs franchise. Kemsley also made a presentation during Friday's afternoon seminars,  tracing his own career and that of Ginger Meggs. Often called Australia's most loved comic character, "Ginge," as the character is affectionately known, was created in approximately 1921 by Jim Bancks in a strip entitled Us Fellers. Ginge was, at first, just a bit player, 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).

            Other highlights of the seminar series included an unannounced presentation by Berk Breathed, who quit Bloom County after ten years (having secured ownership of it) and then, a few years later, quit the Sunday-only strip he'd concocted as a substitute, Outland, saying, at the time, that he wanted to quit while he was at the peak of his success and ability. Breathed's presentation consisted of a recital of 17 pieces of advice he offered to novice cartoonists-and the 17th was "don't quit when you're at the peak of your success."

            From this, most of us concluded that Breathed regretted quitting-although he didn't miss at all the pressure of meeting deadlines. Other presenters included Scott Adams, Bill Amend, Tom Richmond, Oliver Christianson, Pete Doctor, Darby Conley, Stephan Pastis, Hilary B. Price, and David Silverman.

            The Reuben Weekend concluded Sunday with a visit to the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, where we all saw an ice show in Sparky's rink.

CIVILIZATION'S LAST OUTPOST. Airport security now veers off into insanity. I checked my suitcase and, as instructed, left it "unlocked." It's one of those canvas suitcases that closes with zippers, multiple zippers. "Locking" it would require linking a couple of the zipper-tabs together with a padlock. I just left it entirely unlocked. It was then X-rayed. And when I finally got home, I saw that it had also been opened. Normally, I don't mind it much if some stranger wants to fondle my dirty underwear, but this time wasn't normal. First, whoever opened and shut the suitcase mistakenly pulled on the wrong zipper at some point, the one that expands the capacity of the suitcase. So what I had packed snugly into the bag, bracing one item against another, padding some of the more delicate items with pieces of clothing-all of that was, because of the increased capacity of the bag, loose inside. Instead of being mostly immobile because of being tightly packed, it was now, as I said, loose. And the evidence was that the contents had been moving around pretty freely. Since I was arriving at home instead of at my destination, I didn't mind, much, that my carefully packed and folded trousers were now thoroughly wrinkled. But if I'd been arriving at my destination expecting to don unwrinkled trousers, I'd have been disappointed.

            The crowning idiocy, however, was that the inspector (seeking, no doubt, to reassure me) had "locked" my suitcase when he or she finished by looping through the zipper-tabs one of those plastic cable ties, or "zip ties," the plastic 1/8th-inch wide 8-inch long strip that loops around and then buckles on itself. Nifty. Handy. Maddening. Mindless. The plastic tie is a self-locking device: once it's pulled up tight, you can't "open" or "unfasten" it. You have to cut it with a knife or scissors. And where, you ask, was my knife and my scissors? Why, inside the now "locked" suitcase, of course: we aren't permitted to carry on board anything resembling a knife or scissors. So if I'd been arriving at my trip's destination instead of home, I would have had to send the hotel bellman out for a knife in order to get into my suitcase.

            Quite apart from the realization that our anxieties have outstripped our reason, it is distressing to realize that I can never pack a suitcase again with anything that might need padding. Occasionally, I'd pick up a bottle of wine to take home, wrapping it carefully in t-shirts so it would survive the baggage handling. Given the likelihood that some unskilled security guard is going to "re-pack" my suitcase in future-without any regard for the padding function of some of the clothes-I'll never again risk a bottle of wine. Or fine china. Or any souvenir for my wife that is even remotely breakable. Thanks, George WMD Bush. So far, it's working: you've managed to scare us to such a degree that we don't see the senselessness of all this security. Next time we're attacked on our own soil, big fella, it won't be with airplanes. It'll be suicide bombers with explosives strapped to their tummies. And we'll be about as ready to thwart that as we were September 11th. If you're lucky, you'll be re-elected by then and won't care. If not, you won't. Regime change anyone?

NOUS R US. Fantagraphics, publishers of The Comics Journal and cutting edge comics in graphic novels and other actual books, is teetering on the brink of a financial abyss. Two years ago, its trade book distributor, Seven Hills, went belly up, owing the publisher $70,000. Fantagraphics took out loans to cover the losses, and W.W. Norton, a powerhouse operation (relatively speaking) took over the publisher's book distribution and did "a magnificent job of providing us unprecedented access to the bookstore market." When three of its hottest titles sold out thanks to Norton's efforts, Fantagraphics reprinted those three-and many other titles-anticipating increased sales. But sales did not increase proportionally. "The business part of the business," said Fantagraphics founder Gary Groth, ruefully, "is the part we know least about." Said Kim Thompson, his partner: "I think we overcompensated."  Now the aforementioned loans are due, and there are books in the warehouse but not enough money in the bank. So Fantagraphics is appealing for help in an Internet all-points bulletin that asks comics fans to buy some books. Top Shelf, another publisher of quality graphic novels, executed the same drill a year ago and was able to arrest its financial freefall. My sympathies, as a contributor to The Comics Journal for 25 years or more, are unequivocal: buy some books. The catalog is online at www.fantagraphics.com, and you can order at the same place-or via FAX (206-524-2104) or phone (206-524-6165 or 800-657-1100).

            About the Eisners? And the balloting by professionals? I just got my second ballot. I guess some "professionals" get to vote more than once, eh? ... King Features' editor-in-chief Jay Kennedy appears in Dan Piraro's Bizarro for May 12, both in prose and picture: a tv-newscaster is saying, "All the retired generals are taken, so here now, to discuss the situation in Iraq, is retired doorman Jay Kennedy." ... In Pearls before Swine, the new and hilarious comic strip by Stephan Pastis, one of the stars, the rat (no name), left the strip in a labor dispute with the cartoonist; it is a funny sequence but all the dialogue about "Pastis" seems likely to be over the heads of most readers because the cartoonist's signature on the strip is unreadable (and the strip is too new for Pastis to have established himself by name). ... No date has been set for the start of production on a Wonder Woman flick, but producer Joel Silver ("The Matrix Reloaded" and, currently, "Gothika" with Halle Berry and Penelope Cruz) has hired Philip Levens ("Smallville") to write it. ... Lucasfilm has quietly launched a new unit, Lucasfilm Animation, hoping to gain a share of the computer-generated animation business. ... In France, TFI International will start filming a $25 million live action version of Maurice LeBlanc's famed gentleman-thief, Arsene Lupin; this will be the 16th feature film based upon the character. ... And "Asterix and the Vikings" is about to become Europe's most expensive animated feature film at $25 million. ... At Universal Studios' theme park in California, a new benchmark in digital animation was set recently with the unveiling of "Shrek 4-D," an animated three-dimensional interactive attraction that takes audiences to "new heights. The 12-minute, multi-sensory ride film is synchronized with breakthrough stereoscopic visual effects to create an immersive experience never before achieved," says the press release; the attraction will open in Orlando, too, June 12. ... New York's Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art recently displayed Bill Plympton's original production cells from the forthcoming "Hair High," but MoCCA doesn't have permanent exhibition space, so it is exhibiting at its website, www.moccany.org; the current show online is "Duck!" an imaginative interpretation of the fowl (or the physical maneuver) by an assortment of inventive artists. ... Disney is selling all but six of its 548 stores because the retail operation remains unprofitable; the six remaining are in Hong Kong where a new Disney theme park is due to open in 2006. With Warner's retail operation shutting down in 2001 and Marvel's never getting off the ground, Disney's demise rings down the curtain on "themed retailing." ... Motor City Comic Con drew 15,000 people to its May weekend, but the Muscular Dystrophy Association canceled its auction because Playboy models were present and the Association apparently feared potential donors would be offended by cheesecake in the flesh; Gary Bishop, the convention's coordinator, deftly defused the effect of comments by the critics when he spoke to the Detroit Free Press, saying, "We have Playboy playmates. That's part of pop culture. We are a pop culture convention." My first time setting up in artists alley at the Motor City Con, Gary came over and asked me to move a couple tables to the right because he hadn't left enough room for the models. I was happy to move even though I thought the models he was talking about were model racing cars or action figures-until Stacy Walker showed up, that is, and displayed her wares at the table next to mine. ...

REPRINT REVIEWS. On the top of the heap of recent arrivals from Andrews Click to EnlargeMcMeel is Pooch Cafe: All Dogs Naturally Know How To Swim (128 8.5x9-inch paperback pages, $10.95), a reprinting from the first year, 2001, of Paul Gilligan's new strip about a dog and his interaction with people. Poncho is the dog. He belongs to Chazz, who gets married to Carmen, who has a houseful of cats. Chazz and Poncho move in. And the tensions mount as the various species vie for favored status. Poncho, thoroughly anthropomorphized, speaks to his owners and all other humans as if he were just a somewhat shorter member of the same species. Ditto the cats. But the cats disappear pretty soon, leaving Poncho to struggle to assert his true self while juggling the competing needs and directives of his master and mistress.

            Chazz tells Poncho that since tomorrow is garbage day, he, Poncho, should take the garbage out.

            "I don't think it should be put out the night before," Poncho says. "A dog might get into it."

            But Chazz persists. And, later, sticking his head out the back door, he sees that Poncho has upset the garbage can and is feasting thereupon. Says Poncho: "Well, I warned you."

            Chazz gets Carmen a box of chocolates "to show I love you and that you're my best friend." Poncho, overhearing, clears his throat meaningfully. Then Chazz amends his remark: "My second-best friend," he says. And Poncho says, "I'm gonna need some chocolates over here to heal the wound."

            While preparing Poncho's dinner, Carmen slips and hurts her leg. "Run and get help," she says to Poncho. Poncho dashes out of the house, runs next door, pounds on the door, and when the resident opens the door, the dog screams: "Feed me!"

            Carmen asks Chazz if he had any other serious relationships before her. "Come on, Carmen," he protests, "I didn't just appear on this earth the day I met you. I have a past. You understand, don't you?"

            "Yeah, I do," she says. "Sorry about that."

            When she leaves for a moment, Chazz breathes a sigh of relief: "Whew! I thought I was in trouble there for a-"

            Poncho, who is sitting next to them on the couch and overhears the whole transaction, says: "Did you have any other dogs before me?"

            The strip's title comes from the occasional refuge that Poncho finds from his domestic travail in a cafe for canines, "where dogs can discuss important issues such as flea maintenance, projectile barking, problems concerning cats and squirrels, and the embarrassment of having toilet breath."

            All dogs since Mike Peters' Grimm must drink from the toilet. This practice is becoming commonplace in comic strips. And when Poncho and Chazz are walking through the hardware store and Poncho becomes thirsty and turns to the toilet display-discovering, of course, that there's no water in the toilet-he says, "What kind of crazy, sadistic place is this?"

            But not many of the strips in this collection (or, I suppose, in the remainder of the strip's run) take place in Pooch Cafe. The fun is in the relationships with humans, not, so much, with other animals.

            Gilligan's drawing style is simple, appealing bold linework, carefully spotted with solid blacks and gray shading. For many of the characters, however, he draws what Coulton Waugh in his landmark opus, The Comics, called a "doodle," defining a doodle as "a simple form happily arrived at without any worry about anatomy." A doodle, in other words, is a kind of design. Poncho has the short, squat appearance of a Ming vase with a couple malnourished crinkly ferns coming out at the top (his ears). His eye is a white dot in the midst of a black patch; white dots are not likely to be capable of much expressiveness. They're always just white dots.

            Another dog has a pinwheel or corkscrewing shape as an eye and sharp spikes for ears.

            These aspects of graphic design wouldn't bother me much if Gilligan, an experienced illustrator and graphic designer, were consistent in deploying design elements. But he isn't. Chazz isn't a design shape at all-not a pattern of black and white shapes. His doodle is a rather simple cartoon face. And most of the incidental characters in the strip are on this model.

            His wife, though, is something altogether different. Gilligan creates her feminine features by leaving out lines: her face is defined by eyes and lips and a dot for a nose. No outline contains these features: they simply float in space under her hair and on top of her neck. It's a fine design, abstract and pleasing, but it is not of the same order of design as Poncho or the other dogs. It's in the elliptical school of design (in which delineation is hinted at rather than expressed); Poncho's Ming vase is in a much more decorative mode.

            So, visually, Pooch Cafe jars the sensibilities just a little. But Gilligan's lines are confident, and his humor is just quirky enough. I liked the visuals of Mark O'Hare's short-lived Citizen Dog better: they were less designy, and the characters had the doughy flexibility of animated cartoon figures and were therefore warmly friendly. But Poncho grows on you.

            For an example of a design quality that is consistent throughout the oeuvre, here's the second collection of Mark Tonra's James, entitled Hey, James! (128 8.5x9-inch paperback pages, $10.95). Here minimalist art achieves its apotheosis, and everything is drawn in the same abstracted mode. While the principal characters always look the same, the artistic challenge for Tonra is in the daily designing of the strip-in short, in achieving the stylistic consistency of his original conception, day after day after day. And he does it. Every day.

            Tom Wilson achieves another, less flamboyant, minimalism in his perennial favorite, Ziggy, now available in a fresh tome, Ziggy Goes Hollywood (128 8.5x9-inch paperback pages, $10.95*). This volume is at least the 27th collection of the relentlessly sunny one-panel cartoon (which is now co-produced by Wilson's son, Tom II, in the patented Hugh Lofting graphic manner). Now well into its 33rd year, Ziggy is in over 600 newspapers (either Sundays or dailies, or both).

            In another designed style, here's Bill Amend's Foxtrot in yet another anthology, Your Momma Thinks Square Roots Are Vegetables (128 8.5x6.5-inch paperback pages, $8.95*). In this one, the recently inaugurated member of the 1,000-paper club threads stories about the genius son Jason's twisted suggestions to improve the popular tv show "Survivor," Andy (the father) cooking up indigestible health-nut delicacies, Paige (the daughter) coping with a Rudolph-size red-nose pimple during Christmas season, and so on.

            And Baby Blues is back with its 17th volume, Never a Dry Moment (128 8.5x9-inch paperback pages, $10.95*) by Rick Kirkman (who draws it in another of the currently popular spare styles) and Jerry Scott (who writes it and won a Reuben last year for so doing). The usual familial throng-big-nosed father, big-head mother, and children so minuscule that we can barely see them. I don't know how Kirkman manages to delineated human anatomy at such a reduced scale. Diminutive scarcely does it justice. But the family comedy is enduring and deftly done, which accounts, no doubt, for the strip's steadily increasing circulation.

            Finally, the latest Dilbert book, When Body Language Goes Bad (128 8.5x9-inch paperback pages, $10.95*). Scott Adams' spare linear treatment here achieves, at least on the cover, a variety of absurd and highly comical facial expressions that I would have thought beyond the capacity of the style. Clearly, one of the nation's funniest strips; also one of the poorest examples of graphic artistry (Adams described his "art talent" as "not too refined")-which only proves the poverty of our expectations, I suppose. The usual gang of corporate satraps and slaves ("idiots"), plus such newcomers as Psycho Hillbilly and M.T. Suit (who is merely an empty suit parading around the office halls, "spewing corporatese, such as 'promising to enhance core competencies by leveraging platforms'").

BOOK SALE. The last four-listed books, the ones whose prices are marked with an asterisk*, are for sale in this corner at precisely half the whole dollar amount (so a $10.95 book is going for $5), plus $3 p&h for the first book, $2 each for every additional one thereafter. Write me at the e-mail destination at the end of this scroll for payment instructions.

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