Opus 122: CIVILIZATION'S LAST OUTPOST (August 31, 2003). The Supreme Court, having made George WMD Bush legal and sexual practices private, continues piling up mixed results, this time by refusing to hear Jesus Castillo's petition for a writ of certiorari. Everyone involved, including the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which has been pursuing Castillo's rights ever since he was charged with two counts of obscenity for selling an adult comic book to an adult, felt the chances were remote that the Supremes would consider the case. And so Castillo's conviction stands, a blot on the escutcheon of American justice that will doubtless come back to haunt us. His crime, which is, on its face, a laughable perversion of the so-called legal system, was never actually established-that is, the prosecution did not demonstrate the obscenity of the comic book according to existing laws defining such matters. So Castillo was not convicted of breaking the law. Instead, Castillo was convicted of selling an adult comic book (to an adult, mind you) in a comic book store near an elementary school. The prosecutor argued that, regardless of the evidence or testimony to the contrary, jurors should "use your rationality, your common sense," and, realizing that comic books are "traditionally ... for kids" and that the comic book store in question was "directly across from an elementary school," Castillo was, obviously-commonsensically-guilty of peddling obscenity (even though, as I said, the legal definition of obscenity had never been applied to the comic book in question). There is, of course, nothing rational about his conviction at all. It is, in fact, a travesty of the first magnitude, an affront to rational people wherever they are. And it may very well be the harbinger of the future of all "adult entertainment." John Ashcroft, pandering as usual to the religious extremists who are his (and George WMD Bush's) avid supporters, has formally launched his long-anticipated battle against pornography with a case against Extreme Associates, a porno movie producer. Much as I find the products of this outfit distasteful in the extreme (judging from the apparently factual descriptions of them on ABC World News the other night-and Ted Koppel's treatment later that evening), I prefer to believe that what I do in the privacy of my own home (see last month's Supreme Court ruling on homosexuality) is my business and none of the state's. Ashcroft seems bent on changing all that and making his morality mine.
Elsewhere, in its latest effort, the stalwart CBLD Fund has joined with the American Booksellers Foundation, the Arkansas Library Association, the Association of American Publishers, the Freedom To Read Foundation, and the ACLU of Arkansas in an effort to demolish Arkansas Act 858, which makes it illegal for anyone to display more than the top third of the cover of any publication that might be deemed "harmful to minors." This law resulted in Wal-Mart, which is headquartered in Arkansas, putting "skirts" on the covers of many magazines, including, weirdly, even women's magazines like Redbook and Cosmopolitan, which often feature not only decolletage of sometimes spectacular dimensions but "racy headlines" across the bottom parts of the covers. It's the old story, kimo sabe-the Puritan story-if it's about sex, it's harmful to minors.
In New Zealand, if it's an editorial cartoon critical of Israel's conduct in the Mideastern crisis, it risks being seen as anti-Semitic, apparently. In mid-August, Malcolm Evans, twice named the country's cartoonist of the year, was sacked by his paper, the New Zealand Herald, the country's only national circulation newspaper, because the paper had received complaints from Jews about some of his cartoons on dilemma in the Mideast. Denying that his cartoons were anti-Semitic, Evans accepted his editor's right to reject a cartoon but wouldn't draw cartoons according to the editor's direction: according to Evans, he was fired when he refused to stop drawing cartoons about Israel's government. His editor, Gavin Ellis, said that wasn't quite the situation. What's more, since Evans is freelance, his claim to have been "fired" strains credulity a teense. Still, his cartoons had been running five days a week, and they apparently don't run at all anymore, so Evans' assertion is not without substance. I looked in on a collection of Evans' cartoons published at Daryle Cagle's site (cagle.slate.msn.com), and it seems to me that Evans vehemently abhors the violence on both sides but puts more of the blame for the continuing disaster on Israel than on the Palestinians. His cartoons are, judging from the Cagle samples, unflinching criticism of the hostilities. One shows a lonely newsstand operator offering Road Maps to Peace; on the newsstand are publications entitled Ten Commandments, Judaism, Old Testament, Christianity, Islam, and New Testament. Nobody is around buying any of them. In another cartoon, the Road Map is being studied simultaneously by two persons: one leaning out of his tank; the other, astride his donkey. In yet another, Evans shows Ariel Sharon building "the wall" out of coffins that bear, alternately, the Star of David and the crescent of Islam. According to Henry Benjamin of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Evans acknowledges that his cartoons are one-sided, adding that "the world would be a much poorer place without the input of the Jewish people. I try to be fair," he continued, "but there is no way I can accept the government of Ariel Sharon." In a cartoon in which the word "apartheid" is the focal point, Evans used the Star of David as the second "a" in the word, making the mistake of representing the state of Israel with the Star of David, which is emblematic of the Jewish religion as well as being a figure on the Israel flag. This, apparently, was the major bone of contention that inspired the wrath of the Jewish community in New Zealand. And other cartoons in the neighborhood have recently rubbed old wounds. In Australia, the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald apologized for a cartoon that compared the wall around Israel to a wall surrounding the Warsaw ghetto. While Evans' predicament is regrettable, the larger issue is the one I raised in Opus 117: Is it possible to be critical of Israel without being accused of being anti-Semitic? I imagine it is, but editoonists risk the label whenever they deploy visual metaphors that can be interpreted in more than one way. And that describes most visual metaphors, it seems to me: any picture, depending upon the perversity of its observers, can be interpreted to mean something offensive to someone's sacred cow.
The tragedy in the Middle East seems persistent beyond solution, heartbreakingly so. One wag once said that one of the sources of the problem is a strategic mistake the Israelis made when they dubbed some of their surroundings "occupied territories": according to this jibe, they should have called those parcels of real estate "Israel." But an even earlier mistake, saith the same wag, was made by Moses: after crossing the Red Sea, he should have turned right instead of left. But the terrible situation does not yield to flippancy. And even history isn't much help in establishing the legitimate rights of the feuding parties. Palestine has been fought over for most of its history. (During much of that history, most of the world's lands everywhere were being fought over, so the Mideast isn't a historical anomaly.) Although both Jews and Arabs have lived in Palestine throughout its history, Arabs outnumbered Jews six-to-one in 1914, just 18 years after publication of Theodor Herzl's book, The Jewish State, where the cause of a Jewish homeland was first elaborated on in print. By 1947 when the U.N. proposed a partition of Palestine, creating a Jewish state out of the areas in which mostly Jews lived and an Arab state in those areas occupied chiefly by Arabs, Jews probably outnumbered Arabs in the region, due largely to the huge immigration of Jews from Europe during Hitler's persecutions of the 1930s and 1940s. Still, given the recency of their one-time majority in the country, it's not surprising that the Arabs rejected the U.N. proposal, precipitating the 1948 war, which Israel fought fiercely and won, perhaps determined to demonstrate for once and all that Jews would never again be docile in the face of an enemy. And Israel's heroism was not restricted to the battlefield in this and in the three subsequent wars it fought with its Arab neighbors: the Jews also fought the desert, creating fertile land and vibrant communities from sand and rock. History may foster sympathies for one side or the other, but it cannot settle the issues that inflame the region. Were that it were so simple. In the meantime, editorial cartoonists and writers must continue to speak out, to voice their convictions, even if it means risking an erroneous charge of anti-Semiticism.
NOUS R US. Attendance at the Sandy Eggo Comicon "topped" 70,000, according to its moguls. The Wizard World Con in Chicago hit 48,000 according to its honchos. ... Big graphic novel news at San Diego included Craig Thompson's Blankets (the "hit" of this year's show according to ICv2; its first edition of 10,000 copies is sold out), Rick Smith and Tania Menesse's Shuck Unmasked, Sara Varon's Sweater Weather, Chris Ware's Quimby the Mouse and his Acme Novelty Datebook, and Dave Cooper's Ripple. ... Guido Crepax, the Italian comic book creator, died July 30. Born in 1933, Crepax was famed for his reporter character, Valentina, and, subsequently, for other characters whose adventures were usually sexual-and for illustrating such classic tales of eroticism as De Sade's Justine, Pauline Reage's Historie d'O and Sacher-Masoch's Venus in Furs. ... The auction of the Superman costume worn by tv's George Reeves fetched only $128,000, not the $150,000 hoped for by the auctioneers as reported here in Opus 120. ... Get Fuzzy, Darby Conley's rising comic strip about a bachelor and his amiable dog and nasty-tempered cat, has attracted the attention of Rob Minkoff, director of "Stuart Little," who has acquired the movie rights to the strip, aiming at a film combining live action and CGI. ... Over the Hedge, the comic strip about a raccoon and a turtle and other denizens of the forest at the edge of suburban America written by Michael Fry and drawn by T Lewis (who also illustrates children's books and draws the Mickey Mouse comic strip), will become DreamWorks Picture's computer animated "event" for Thanksgiving 2005; director Tim Johnson is making it a "prequel" to the strip, telling the "origin story." ... Archie's girlfriends, Betty and Veronica, appeared the August 17 issue of the New York Times Magazine, Part 2, where they and the rest of the Riverdale ensemble modeled the latest fashions.
Editorial Cartoonist Art Wood, who spent his life collecting original cartoon art, has arranged for his collection of 30,000 pieces to go to the Library of Congress. Said he: "A large part of my collection resulted from knowing the artists personally and were gifts to me. These [are] given [to the LOC] as an outright contribution." The remainder of his collection-mostly animation cels and drawings by illustrators like Howard Pyle and James Montgomery Flagg-which Wood bought, piece by piece, to broaden the scope of the collection, was purchased by the LOC through the generosity of a contribution from H. Fred Krimendahl II, a member of the Library's private sector advisory group. Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said the acquisition "doubles our holdings of original cartoon and caricature drawings" making the LOC collection "broader than any other museum or library in the country." Wood's collection includes work from three centuries-editorial cartoons, caricatures, comic strips, humor cartoon panels, illustrations and animation cels as well as many "firsts" and "one of a kind" drawings-from Europe as well as the U.S. Wood has been looking for a home for his collection for some years. In 1995, he opened the National Gallery of Caricature and Cartoon Art in downtown Washington, D.C., but closed it in 1997 when he was unable to find sustained funding. He rehearsed his adventures as a collector of original cartoon art in Great Cartoonists and Their Art (Pelican, 1987), which published numerous representative works from his collection. One of the most enjoyable lunches I ever had was in the National Press Club in D.C., sitting across the table from Art while we talked cartooning for hours.
And in Chapel Hill, NC, the University of North Carolina enriched its Rare Book Collection with a two-ton gift of 26,000 comic books from Dan Breen, a local alumnus. Breen, whose collection dates only from 1980, moved to Chapel Hill in 1975 for graduate study and subsequently worked in the campus library's Rare Book Collection for several years before taking over Rosemary Street's Second Foundation Bookstore, a comic book store he owned for 20 years until last November. Despite the present boom in the comics industry, "It still is nothing like it was ten years ago," Breen said. "Unit sales figures are still something like 50 percent of what they were to the early 1990s, and that pales in comparison to their popularity during the war years, [roughly] 1935-1955, when million-selling issues were commonplace." Scholarly interest in comics makes such donations as Breen's highly valued by university libraries. Said Breen: "Whatever anyone might think of them, characters like Superman and Batman are icons, recognized all over the world." Nearby Duke University, recently acquired another collection of comic books, 50,000 of them.
Money Matters. Pixar's "Finding Nemo" achieved a record by the end of August: it is the top-grossing animated film of all time-and the top money-maker of the summer (and, even, the entire year!), followed by "The Matrix Reloaded" and "Pirates of the Caribbean." With "Monsters, Inc." and "Toy Story 2," Pixar has produced three of the top five highest-earning animated films of all time. ... And, despite a persistent weakness in its theme parks, Disney saw a 10 percent rise in profits due chiefly to cable tv and broadcasting and the success of all its film releases this year. CEO Michael Eisner said Disney films account for almost 25 percent of over-all U.S. box office ticket sales so far. And he expects Disney's partnership with Pixar to continue (despite rumblings in the press that Pixar, drunk with its successes this year, may want to go it alone).
General Jubilation T. Cornpone, one of the last character statues from Al Capp's Li'l Abner to remain standing in Dogpatch USA was carted off on August 13 "for repairs." Cornpone's right hand was missing. Dogpatch USA opened to a crowd of 8,000 on May 17, 1968, when Capp's strip was still hugely popular. The hillbilly theme park closed in 1993 and has since been entangled in legal machinations about ownership, unpaid real estate taxes, and defaulted loans. Recently, the park was offered for sale on e-Bay; no buyer, however. The repair to the statue will be achieved in Branson, Missouri, where, we suppose, the monument will eventually find a home.
A South Korean comic book that has been banned in its native country is enjoying brisk sales in Japan. Entitled Introduction to Kim Jong Il, the comic book rehearses details of the North Korean strong man's private life (which is "top secret" in North Korea)-his passion for female dancers and nurses (whose names appear in the comic book)-and such issues as the abduction of Japanese civilians and the country's nuclear weapons program. The book was banned in South Korea when it came out in 1998 because of the recently inaugurated "sunshine policy" of appeasing the North Korean leader.
When plain language won't work, use pictures. For instance, here's the U.S. Soccer Federation deploying the comic strip Cleats to emphasize important points in its new 60-page booklet explaining the sport to ignoramuses like me, Laws of the Game Made Easy. The Universal Press strip, which regales us with the exploits of ten-year-old soccer players, their parents and their coaches-all amateurs-is Bill Hinds' creation; Hinds also produces Buzz Beamer for the magazine Sports Illustrated for Kids and draws another newspaper strip, Tank McNamara, written by Jeff Millar. Tank has been around since 1975; Cleats, not so long, but Hinds' resources for it are personal-he's a volunteer soccer coach for his three children in Spring, Texas, near Houston. Cleats not only decorates the new booklet, it provides, according to a member of the Federation's instructional staff, "pointed editorial comment on the behavior of parents and spectators, incomplete knowledge about the rules governing play, and the hurdles referees must overcome in managing matches under these conditions." The comic strip adds to this comedy the personalities of its characters, including two coaches, one of whom is qualified to coach because of his military background; the other, because he is available.
Other victories for comics are being scored by Corporate Comics, a New York City-based marketing firm that is producing comic books for companies that want to explore new ways of getting their messages out. Publisher Joe Kolman has discovered what instructional comics pioneer Will Eisner learned decades ago when he started doing safety manuals for the U.S. Army in comic book form: "There's something magic about the comic book medium," said Kolman. "People who would normally dump a brochure in the trash will read every word of a comic book designed to sell the identical product." Among his clients: SunGard, a Global 500 financial technology company that commissioned a 12-page comic book to explain its new securities processing system ("Even our employees told us that the comic book helped them understand the product better," said SunGard's head of marketing) and Migid Glove and Safety, which used comics to explain its materials consignment procedure. Looking about at the recent spate of comics-inspired motion pictures, Kolman sees evidence that "this will be the decade that comics expand out of their niche to become a standard communications medium." Not only do comics "allow you to grab your readers' attention and hold it long enough to make them understand," Kolman said; "they're also a great way to make complicated topics comprehensible." That's undeniably true. And often useful. But when you simplify in order to make less complicated, you leave things out. As a culture, we're great at simplifying complicated concepts. That is, at leaving things out, annoying niggling details, f'instance. And that tendency can lead us astray. Ask Colin Powell. Comics are a vastly unexploited art form and communications tool, but they, like any tool, should be used judiciously, selectively, on matters that lend themselves readily to the simplification at which the visual-verbal medium is so adept.
Most of today's editorial cartoonists are liberal rather than conservative; and most are white and male. The women currently active (in the membership rolls of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists) are Ann Telnaes, Signe Wilkinson (both Pulitzer winners), Etta Hulme, Deb Milbrath, Annette Balesteri, Linda Boileau, Cindy Brown, Ann Whitney Cleaves, Anne Ganz, Lisa Herschbach, Sarah Macy, Kate Salley Palmer, Cindy Procious, Judith Lahde Reynolds, Elena Steier, Pamela Winters, and Susan Wolpert-and, depending on what criteria you use, Barbara Brandon (whose panel cartoon can be viewed as a political comment). Brandon is also African-American, one of the very few in the ranks of editoonists. Others are Tim Jackson, Darrin Bell, and Ron Rogers. And Aaron McGruder (again, depending upon how you arrange your criteria).
Now it can be told: the comic book that was to herald the debut of Spike-TV's "Stripperella" animated cartoon was cancelled at the last minute due to what ICv2 News called TNN and Pamela Anderson's having "disagreed" about the comic "as the work came in to TNN." It's not clear from this cryptic elaboration whether TNN and Anderson disagreed with each other-or, together, with the product being produced by Humanoids, the comic book publisher. "Ratings for the [tv] series indicate substantial interest in the property," ICv2 says, "but there are no plans to revive the comic book."
Stan Lynde, creator of Rick O'Shay, Hipshot, and Latigo, who turned novelist several years ago, is finishing his fourth novel, Saving Miss Julie, in which Merlin Fanshaw, the protagonist of Lynde's first opus, The Bodacious Kid, and its sequel, Careless Creek, rides again. In the Fanshaw books, Lynde evokes the sounds and sights of the Old West with an almost palpable fidelity, so I'm looking forward to this new book, which can be ordered from Mountain Publishing (1-800-234-5308 or at www.mountain-press.com). ...
FORTHCOMING. Some titles to watch for in the next few weeks: Road Kill in the Closet, the fourth reprint collection of Jan Eliot's comic strip, Stone Soup, which is about the family adventures of a couple of single-parent families living next to each other; The Best of Callahan, a collection of the outre humor of John Callahan, the world's best known quadriplegic cartoonist; and a new Jingle Belle book from Paul Dini and Oni Press, this one drawn by Jose Garibaldi- Dash Away All, which includes a story about Jingle's encounter with Chanukah.
AUGUST ANNIVERSARIES AND REVIEWS. Even with August slipping gently over the horizon, we are not too late to recognize a couple of anniversaries that the month embraced. Al Capp's Li'l Abner started on August 13, 1934, and V.T. Hamlin's Alley Oop started with NEA syndicate on August 7, 1933. "Started with NEA" is one of those fussy scholarly locutions that implies more than it says. Alley Oop actually started December 6, 1932, with a bush league syndicate called Bonnet-Brown, but Bonnet-Brown slipped over the horizon itself some months later, taking Alley Oop with it. Soon thereafter, NEA picked up the saga of the cave man, launching it anew on August 7. In its NEA incarnation, Alley Oop reprised the Bonnet-Brown sequence, but Hamlin re-imagined its events and re-drew it completely. Alley Oop is still going strong with NEA. Li'l Abner, on the other hand, ended November 13, 1977. By then, Capp-ill (emphysema mostly) and disgraced (due to charges brought against him by a Wisconsin co-ed who alleged he'd tried to get her to participate in oral sex with him)-could no longer face the weekly deadline ordeal and, rather than give control of the strip over to someone else (even though he hadn't drawn much of it for decades), elected to send Abner and Daisy Mae and the rest of the Dogpatch hillbillies off to the Never-neverland of retired comic strip characters. Capp died two years later.
Launching Li'l Abner in the summer of 1934, Capp was the beneficiary of an emerging national fascination with hillbillies. Country music had been popular on radio for almost a decade. Radio station managers played country music in order to appeal to an increasing number of listeners who had only recently left farms for the cities but enjoyed the sounds of their former recreations on the airways. In the early 1930s, country music groups toured in the nation in great profusion. And when the Depression took hold in the 1930s, even more of the rural population, facing droughts that parched their fields, migrated to cities in search of work. Among them, presumably, were the most exotic of the country folks-the hillbillies.
The mountain folk, many speaking an unfamiliar dialect that harkened back to Elizabethan England, were, to their urban observers, strange and wonderful specimens of humanity. And canny students of the American scene were quick to exploit the artistic possibilities. A popular 1931 radio program, "Lum and Abner," regaled listeners with the amusing adventures and picturesque locutions of a pair of Arkansas storekeepers, and in 1933, Erskin Caldwell's novel, Tobacco Road, was transformed into a hit Broadway play, setting a record for long-run drama on the Great White Way. And in November 1934, Billy DeBeck would hook up to the hillbilly craze, taking his comic strip race-track tout, Barney Google, into an imaginary Appalachian community called Hootin' Holler. By then, Capp's Dogpatchers had been on the scene for three months.
All of which is a nearly irrelevant preamble to this installment's gaggle of reviews of books reprinting comic strips. Nearly irrelevant but not wholly.
Here's the first of the Dark Horse project reprinting the Sunday Li'l Abner strips that were drawn by Frank Frazetta in the 1950s. With the ambling but perfectly descriptive title Al Capp Li'l Abner The Frazetta Years, Volume 1: 1954-1955, the book is a nearly unqualified delight. Its most attractive aspect, apart from Frazetta's drawings, is that the strips are shot directly from their newspaper incarnation (tab pages in the New York Mirror). No Theakstonizing, no reconstructed art. Just the strips as they first appeared in print. This means these pages incorporate some of the usual reproduction flaws in newspaper printing-colors occasionally somewhat out-of-register, for instance, and some of the linework broken and fading from view. But these deficiencies are entirely tolerable: even if the lines are occasionally chipped away and the colors are sometimes too heavily laid on, the final product is infinitely preferable to the sometimes hacked-up reconstructed specimens we've seen here and there in the reprints of comic book material. We see the art, not in its pristine state, which we never saw anyway, but as it first appeared to us all in the newspaper (albeit, on 9x12-inch pages here, not the original tabloid page size). My only adverse criticism: I wish they'd used matt-finish paper rather than the slick coated stock the brilliance of which makes the colors seem somewhat garish. But even this criticism isn't as whole-hearted as it might be: the pages with the strips on them are not pure white but creamy in hue, which offsets a little the otherwise unrelieved gaudiness of the color.
In the Sunday Li'l Abner, Capp ran very short story sequences, usually only 3-5 weeks long, sometimes just a single installment-perfectly suited to his bash-'em and leave-'em style of satire. The stories at hand, which all take place after Abner has married Daisy Mae, don't often regale us with the title character's misadventures. Mostly, we have Capp's hamhanded satirical burlesque of aspects of the popular culture around him-Marilyn Monroe's sashaying style of walking, Liberace's popularity, women's lovelorn advice columnists, tv programs, even Fredric Wertham's crusade against the corrupting influence of comics on the young-using the usual assortment of weird Dogpatch citizenry-Lonesome Polecat, Hairless Joe, General Bashington Bullmoose, Marryin' Sam, and, naturally, Mammy and Pappy Yokum. And in glorious repose on the cover, Moonbeam McSwine-limned by Frazetta, a treat for the eyes (if, in the world of the strip itself, an offense to the nose: she lives in a hog wallow, remember). In seven pages of "footnotes" at the back of the book, editor Denis Kitchen provides information that identifies the objects of Capp's satirical jabs and occasionally supplies historical background on the strip-the reasons for the introduction of Abner's long-lost little brother, Tiny, for example, and a discussion of Tiny's evolving physiognomy (not to mention an explanation of how Mammy Yokum had overlooked having a second child all these years).
Frazetta's way with wimmin characters is clearly the attraction of this reprint series, and we see him starting, in this volume, his flagrant display of female charms. According to the (as usual) informative introduction by Kitchen, Frazetta started working for Capp in 1954. The introductory pages reprint some of the daily Li'l Abner from the fall of 1954 with a sequence parodying Marlon Brando's motorcycle flick, "The Wild Ones," which Frazetta pencilled and inked. But, says Kitchen, Frazetta's style was so distinctive that the syndicate persuaded Capp not to use Frazetta so lavishly, and thereafter, Frazetta was assigned to pencilling only and only on the Sunday strips, which is where, I gather, Frazetta first started. My guess is that the Sunday strip for January 24, 1954, is one of his earliest; Kitchen, without saying which Sunday strip, exactly, Frazetta started with, identifies the strip for August 15, 1954, as "the first unmistakable evidence of Frank Frazetta's hand," and I agree. Unmistakable. But I suspect Frazetta was warming up before that, judging from the pin-up poses of some of the women characters in the preceding months. This volume is a pleasure even without Frazetta's femmes, but future volumes promise more of him-and them-and therefore even greater visual festivities; coming up in Volume 2, Capp's devastating parody of Mary Worth, and Frazetta's Marilyn Monroe page. And numerous other treats, I'm sure. Available only in hardback, with its glistening cover portrait of Moonbeam McSwine, Volume 1 (128 pages) is merely $18.95 wherever quality comics are sold (including www.darkhorse.com).
And then we have Manuscript Press's Alley Oop, Book 4 (196 8x11-inch paperback pages, $15; P.O. Box 336, Mountain Home, TN 37684; or www.io.com/~norwood). Bound on the short side, the volume gives generous display to Hamlin's engagingly decorative art, printing the strips, two to a page, as large as the format permits. The reprint publishing history of Alley Oop offers almost as convoluted a plot as some of Hamlin's ingenious stories. Book 4's publisher, Rick Norwood (in whose monthly Comics Revue the Hamlin epic from 1936 is currently being reprinted, having previously completed the runs of 1934 and 1935), continues the sequential reprinting of this classic from where the Kitchen Sink Press left off: the three volumes from KSP took Alley Oop from July 20, 1946 through November 9, 1949; Norwood's book takes the continuity for the next year, to November 10, 1950. Several years ago, Dragon Lady Press in Canada produced three magazine-format reprints that covered the first seven months of the strip's NEA run (through January 27, 1934) and, in the next two volumes, the run from March 6, 1939, through July 30, 1940. SPEC Productions (P.O. Box 32, Manitou Springs, CO 80829; $65/4 issues) has reprinted from where the DLP left off through July 19, 1946 (in Nos. 0-16)-filling in the gap between DLP and KSP. No. 17 will pick up from where the Norwood volume concludes and forge ahead. With the Norwood volume, then, Alley Oop has been reprinted sequentially from March 6, 1939 through November 10, 1950. A long while back, at approximately the Dawn of Time, Ken Pierce produced an 80 7x10-inch paperback tome that printed one of Alley's adventures in the years before the arrival in the strip of the Time Machine (April 10-August 28, 1936). Meanwhile, as noted, Comics Revue is dutifully filling in the remaining gaps in the 1930s run (Manuscript Press, address above; $45/12 monthly issues).
It is the Time Machine that changed Alley Oop from a mildly amusing chronicle of a cave man's cavortings to a gripping safari through time and myth, sometimes coupling literary figures with historical ones. Alley and his paramour, Ooola, were snatched from the prehistoric kingdom of Moo on April 8, 1939, an event reprised in the second of the DLP volumes (and reprinted in the Manuscript Press book, which briefly summarizes in its opening pages much of the strip's history and many of Oop's travels through time), and deposited in the laboratory of Doctor Wonmug ("one mug" or "ein stein"), who, thereafter, employed them as explorers through time, sending them back in history to many of civilization's great moments. For such adventures, Hamlin honed the personality of his protagonist. In the early strips of prehistoric Moo, Oop is an obstreperous, belligerent, club-wielding cave man. Not only does he have the prickly disposition of a brawler, he has the appearance of a strong man. Hamlin gave him a great barrel chest and a bewhiskered bullet-head with no neck (and no ears), and then he used the same device that E.C. Segar had used in showing Popeye's strength. Instead of making Oop's biceps bulge with power, Hamlin bunched his hero's muscles right behind his fists in ballooning forearms, a graphic ploy that gave ham-fisted a visual metaphor. Oop emerged at once as a fighter to reckon with: supremely confident of his abilities as a fighting man, he is certain he can triumph over just about any circumstance. And in fact, like Popeye, he proves to be virtually indestructible. He's brave without reservation, and he likes nothing better than a good fight. Although he is occasionally bested momentarily, he almost always wins at feats requiring physical strength or military cunning. Pugnacious and cranky-even somewhat peevish-Oop is quite unflappable in any crisis. With the advent of the Time Machine, Hamlin makes a subtle change in Oop's character: he must now assume a less comedic and more commanding role in the strip. He is, after all, the chief decision-maker in directing the escapades of several persons whose welfare often depends upon his skill as both warrior and tactician. Oop becomes a cool pragmatist, his temper honed to a fine belligerence: he is as peevish as before, but much less excitable. But Hamlin was canny enough to include plenty of comedy in Oop's adventures. And as a big, not too sophisticated cave man, Oop is often the butt of a joke that circumstances play upon him.
Hamlin's science is the science of fantasy: he disposes of incongruities with a surpassing aplomb. Oop's faithful steed in Moo is a dinosaur, and when Wonmug's assistant protests that man was "not heard of" in the age of dinosaurs, Wonmug nonchalantly gestures at Oop: "Behold the unheard of," he says simply. This kind of cavalier treatment of fact and history give the strip its dramatic appeal: Oop can be made to do anything, and we are as likely to encounter Robin Hood as Julius Caesar, Homer's Ulysses as history's U.S. Grant. In the volume at hand, Oop goes on a lecture tour across America to raise funds for a scientific project Wonmug is planning with fellow scientist, the somewhat reprehensible Oscar Boom, who often accompanies Oop on his time travels. While Boom and Wonmug plan their project, they send Oop off into time (to get him out of their hair), and Oop finds himself among the Amazons, where he impersonates a satyr. Meanwhile, Boom goes back to Moo, ostensibly to rest and relax but actually to pilfer the Moovian queen's necklace, which he hopes to sell back in 20th century America. Oop soon joins Boom, and when they return, Oop goes on a safari in India, then back to Moo again, then to ancient Britain where he encounters (and rescues) Julius Caesar, then to the Mideast of the Middle Ages where he joins Richard the Lion-hearted on a journey back to England. In short, we get not only a capsule history of Oop's adventures (and publishing history) in the book's opening section, but an excellent sample of Oop in prehistoric times, in contemporary America, and in several historical periods. A nifty package and an excellent introduction to one of the medium's undisputed but oft overlooked masterworks.
The reproduction of Hamlin's elaborately hachured style of embellishing his drawings is excellent here. And it is in the SPEC volumes, too-moreso in the recent volumes than in the earlier ones. In some of the early volumes, the source material (newspaper clippings, no doubt) is flawed beyond repair (even if the cross-hatching could be repaired satisfactorily-an unlikely prospect), and to preserve as much as possible of the strips essential to the narrative, solid black has been carefully ladled in where the fine-line hatching cannot be recovered. While that is not wholly satisfactory, it is not visually offensive, and it is, after all, the only way we're likely to have some of the early Hamlin available.
SPEC Productions, by the way (but not at all incidentally), produces other reprint periodicals of such vintage strips as Moon Mullins (from the beginning), Gasoline Alley (also from the beginning), Dick Tracy, and others. For details, check the website: www.specproductions.com (or write to the Manitou Springs address above). Another of its titles is Missing Years, Jeff Lindenblatt's magazine, now up to No. 44 with George Wunder's Terry and the Pirates (1954), Frank Robbins' Johnny Hazard (1955), Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby (1953), Lee Falk and Phil Davis' Mandrake the Magician (1957), and Leslie Turner's Captain Easy (1947, but the reprinting began with the strips Turner produced in the wake of Roy Crane's departure in 1943). The quality of the reproduction in SPEC's products has steadily improved, and in this issue, even the Craftint grays in Captain Easy are sharply reproduced; ditto the fine lines in most of Raymond's Rip Kirby.
Reprint Reviews. Scanning the remainder of the reprint vista, we encounter several more volumes of Andrews McMeel productions (all, unless otherwise noted,(128 8.5x9-inch paperback pages, $10.95): *Surf's Up is the sixth volume reprinting Jim Toomey's strip Sherman's Lagoon, about a shark and other anthropomorphic underwater denizens; *Who Wouldn't Want To Be the Kitty, the eighth in the reprints of Patrick McDonnell's Mutts, includes dailies and Sundays, the latter in black-and-white albeit with the celebrated visually theme-setting first panels; With This Ring (144 pages), reprints of Lynn Johnston's For Better or For Worse (February-November 2001) that take us through Michael and Deanna's wedding, Grandpa Jim's courtship of Iris, and Elizabeth's ill-fated moving in with her steady albeit unfaithful boyfriend Eric; *Wall-to-Wall Baby Blues, a "treasury" volume of the strip by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott (reprising in 256 8.5x11-inch paperback pages for $14.95 the contents of two other, shorter, volumes, Unplugged, Dad to the Bone and Never a Dry Moment, this time with the Sundays in color).
Another in the ingenious packaging department is Why We'll Never Understand Each Other, collecting Wiley Miller's Non Sequitur strips that compare what people say to what they actually mean with hilarious effect as well as numerous other examples of Wiley's acerbic wit and social satire. This comes in a tidy 144 5x5-inch page paperback for $9.95.
Pat Oliphant's editorial cartoon collection covering October 2000 through October 2001 is entitled When We Can't See the Forest for the Bushes ($14.95). It came out in the late fall of 2001, but I haven't mentioned it before (have I?), so, not to ever overlook such a feast of pointed wit as Oliphant usually serves up, here it is. The cover drawing provides an ample hint about the interior: Here's George WMD Bush greeting a family of picnickers as he stands in front of a painted backdrop showing a verdant forest-beyond the backdrop is a tangled jungle of decimated countryside, trees bulldozed over, not a green leaf in sight, just smouldering ruin, spewing smoke stacks, and tree stumps. Now read the title again. This collection includes Oliphant's take on the two most significant events of recent history: Bush's appointment to the Presidency in December 2000 and the terrorist atrocity of September 11, 2001. Here's Bush and Gore, chasing after a voter; Bush says, "Don't worry-I won't let Social Security be turned into a government program! I may be dumb as a stump, but it's time for a change!" And Gore says, "Please! I'll balance your checkbook for you! I'll pay off your debts. I'll walk your dog. I'll paint your house-anything!" As acute a characterization of both candidates as we're likely to see-dated November 7, Election Day 2001. Then we have a strip entitled "How It Works." In the first panel, citizens give a box labeled "Popular Vote" to a mustachioed personage at the door of the Electoral College. He carries the box into the building, a sort of creepy castle-like edifice, then down stone steps to a rowboat tethered in the bowels of the building; he rows the boat out of the subterranean cavern, into the open sea, where he drops the Popular Vote box overboard, then rows back. Silence all the way. After the selection by the Supreme Court, Oliphant does several, one of which shows Bush on the bridge of a giant oil tanker with Chaney at his side. Looking out over the vast expanse of deck before him, Bush says, "Gollee, Dick-I hope this thing isn't a stickshift-I've only ever driven an automatic." Later, he depicts the appointment of John Ashcroft as Attorney General as a Trojan Horse at the gates of the Senate. And here's Clinton, trying to get Israel's Barak and Palestine's Arafat to shake hands as he turns to look at the Legacy Clock, which has only a few minutes to tick before hitting "midnight" (January 20). In the wake of 9/11, Oliphant drew a couple of Uncle Sam cartoons, nailing the issues perfectly in one: Sam is holding a huge sword, getting ready to swing it, and he looks back over his shoulder to a little kid labeled "Civil Rights" and says, "Watch out for the backswing, kid." It's dated September 17: that early, Oliphant saw the pitfall that yawned before us. Into which, many of us subsequently fell. And here, in April 2001 during the Chinese crisis (remember that? When China shot down an American spy plane?), is China's boss, saying to Bush: "It's agreed, then ... You will say you're sorry, and we will deliberately misconstrue that as an abject, groveling and kowtowing apology. And you agree to keep Jesse Jackson out of it." To which, Bush, arms threateningly akimbo, says: "Right. In return, we get our air crew back and agree to listen to your tiresome haranguing and lecturing about Chinese air space. And no Jesse Jackson." Next, here's Jesse himself, holding an infant in his arms and feeding it (the baby and the box of pampers at Jackson's feet serving to remind us of his illegitimate child, recently disclosed): "See that? Soon as they hear my name, they straighten up! Ambassador Jesse standin' ready!" Clearly-even without your actually seeing them-Oliphant's cartoons have lost none of their teeth. As a monument to the power of cartooning, this book-and all of the other Oliphant books-should be on the shelf of every student of the medium. And on the shelves of anyone interested in the history of the last half-century.
And then here's *Old Age Isn't for Sissies (128 8.5x9-inch paperback pages, $10.95), a collection of Lola, a strip by Todd Clark and Steve Dickenson. That's right: they both write and draw the strip: Dickenson does the Sundays, and Clark does the dailies. They also produce a weekly comic strip called Military Brats for the Air Force Times. Lola is an old lady who has yet to dodder: she is described as combining Rose Kennedy and Howard Stern. Recently widowed and now living with her son and family, Lola was an army nurse in World War II and has carried into civilian life a marked tendency to bark commands all over the house. Maybe not commands, exactly-more like growls of observation. Syndicate promo says she's "cantankerous, outspoken and self-assured." In short, nothing stops Lola. When her son asks her which tie he should wear to make a good impression on his boss, she says: "The brown one ... it matches your nose." When she's visiting her doctor, she says: "I eat. I drink. I get merry. So sue me." As she helps her daughter-in-law prepare dinner, the young woman says, "Thank you, Lola. I know how difficult it is for you to compliment my cooking ... although 'It's better than siphoning gas' isn't really a compliment." Here's Lola seated on a park bench; in front of her, an elderly male friend is on his knees, saying, "Lola, sugar, how about marrying me, toots?" She looks at him for a panel and says nothing. He gets the idea: "Would you help me up then?" he says. Another time, he asks her: "Lola, honey, do I make you want to slip into something more comfortable?" Says Lola: "Sure, Cecil ... a coma." Lola sits on the park bench a lot, and from there, she gets an uninterrupted view of contemporary society. Watching two youths with numerous piercings walk by, she says: "There are enough holes between those two to open a golf course." One day, a homeless guy sits next to her and says, "I don't consider myself as being on welfare; I prefer to think of it as being federally funded." In short, Lola is a fountain of one-liners and put-downs. Just the thing to fuel your day.
Lola grew out of a character in her creative pair's earlier effort, My Brother's Keeper. Said Clark: "Steve noticed the grandmother character was getting all the good lines. He fine-tuned the art and took actual facts from relatives of his and Lola was born. Steve based her on a combination of his grandmother and aunt, both named Lola. His Aunt Lola served in the Army as a First Lieutenant and is a WWII veteran. This definitely shows through in many of the gags."
* All the books marked with this asterisk are for sale, from me, at drastically reduced prices-half the whole dollar amount (so a $10.95 book is $5), plus $3 for p&h, and $2 for each book over one. E-mail me (click at the end of the scroll here) your choice, and I'll give you further instructions about where to send the money (and I'll hold your books for two weeks, pending receipt of your check).
And from NBM Publishing (www.nbmpublishing.com) here's another of those delectable imports, Daily Delirium (192 8.5x11-inch page collection of strips in full color, $25.95) by Miguelanxo Prado, "Spanish virtuoso of the comics medium." And he is that. His work has appeared before in NBM's Comics Lit imprint (Streak of Chalk and Tangents as well as Peter & the Wolf), but here, Prado's penchant for the ironic absurdities of life gets ample display. Here's a 4-page sequence in which a mother begs her son's teacher for a passing grade, finally falling to her knees to plead on behalf of her husband, the boy's father, who, she alleges, has a tumor "the size of a piano" and has only two months to live. The professor, who until this moment defended his grading of her son by noting that the boy was seldom in school, relents. Then on the last page, after leaving the professor in his room, the mother chastises her son: "How many times do I have to tell you: when I speak of your father's illness, you start to cry, jackass!" Says the boy: "Makes me laugh every time." They go on down the hall, where she plans to work her magic on the boy's physics and English teachers-but she must be quick, she says, because her husband awaits in the car, which is already packed for the family's summer vacation. And here, in three pages entitled "An Author's Rights," we have a woman appearing before a tribunal of judges to defend herself, as it slowly emerges, for living a life that imitates certain details of the heroine's life in a novel by a man who has brought suit against her for plagiarism. The judges base their verdict mostly upon such salient "facts" as the woman's having "green eyes and firm and ample breasts" and "wide hips and shapely legs." ("Let's have a look, Miss," says one judge; "please lift your skirt." "What?!" she says, aghast. To no avail.) She's found guilty and ordered to pay the author $18,000. "You have 60 days to change your name and your job," intones the presiding judge, but "the mercy of the court will permit you to keep all your physical attributes." Then there's the couple that go out into the country for some romantic sex in nature's bedroom, and shortly after disrobing, they are accosted by a bunch of cows, one of which chews up their clothing, leaving them entirely naked when the farmer comes along. He castigates them for disturbing his herd and then beats up the man, who makes the mistake of arguing with him. Says his lady friend, reviewing their adventure as they drive off: "Apart from that peasant kicking your ass, the $100 for the damaged grass and $200 for the milk that the cow won't produce for a week-apart, that is, from having to tolerate the sarcastic comments from that guy about the short-comings of my boobs and butt-not to mention the one or two pinches he allowed himself on account of your being totally worthless-an unforgettable experience." And then we have the taxicab driver who won't pick up a fare unless the person can produce letters of reference. Prado employs a variety of comical grotesques in depicting his fellow man and woman and applies delicate coloring to his pen portraits; his anatomy is often risibly exaggerated for comedic effect, and while nudity occurs at intervals throughout, the nakedness is employed for the blatant impact it lends Prado's satiric purposes-it is usually more gross than titillating, thereby enhancing the fun.
And, speaking of sex and comedy, NBM is up to the 9th volume of its reprinting of one- and two-page European strips that deal, with charming unabashedness, with the ups and downs (not to mention the ins and outs) of sex between consenting adult comic characters. Drawn in a lively cartoony but engaging manner, the copulating hilarities in Grin and Bare It (24 8x11-inch pages in paperback color, $5.95) are always sexy but inoffensive, despite their being, as sometimes needed, quite explicit. Many of the pages are in pantomime. Here's a fellow unable to don the requisite condom, so he appeals to his girlfriend for assistance; she blows it up like a balloon and then employs the tubular shape to pleasure herself. The series displays work by a variety of cartoonists, all drawing in roughly the same manner as Dany, whose efforts distinguished the earliest of these volumes and who is still represented occasionally in the later ones-leggy women with shapely bodies about 4-5 heads tall, which makes their heads and faces proportionately larger and, hence, cuter. Very much in the tradition of Francois Walthery's Natacha.
Finally, also from NBM, two sumptuous books of full-color fantasy art: Chad Michael Ward's Black Rust, an assortment of sometimes bizarre images (96 9x12-inch color pages in paperback, $18.95), and Visions, the more conventional fantasy imagery of Luis Royo, the 7th volume of his work from NBM (80 9x12-inch color pages in paperback, $19.95). Ward's work is edgy; Royo's is delicately limned and gently insinuated. (Both available from me at half the whole number price, that is $9 and $8.50 respectively; see asterisk above for how to order.)
ANOTHER ANNIVERSARY AND END TIMES. Gil Thorp, the Tribune Media Services comic strip about high school sports, started September 8, 1958. It was originated by Jack Berrill, who died in 1996; since then, it has been drawn by Frank McLaughlin and written by Jerry Jenkins. The TMS website has a biographical piece about Jenkins but nothing about McLaughlin, in effect ignoring the visual nature of the enterprise. Jenkins, we learn, has done a lot of writing: he has authored several series of books for children and adults and has assisted Billy Graham in producing his memoirs, Just As I Am. He is also co-author of the "Left Behind" series of novels about "the Rapture" and the Book of Revelations. Writing the strip, said Jenkins through a spokesman, is "a great diversion ... To me, the strip is to novel writing as poetry is to prose. It's a great exercise and lots of fun." But Jenkins isn't actually writing the strip anymore. Not this Jenkins. Chad Jenkins, Jerry's 25-year-old son, has been doing it for the last couple of years, according to the Chicago Reader's online Hot Type. That should make it even more fun for his dad, I suppose.
The Chicago Reader got into it because the Chicago Tribune, flagship of TMS, exercised its own version of "end times" and dropped Gil Thorp last April, having run it for over 44 years. When CR wondered if the strip was dropped because of a recent anti-abortion storyline, the usual satraps denied it right and left. (So to speak.) In the story, Coach Thorp talks a pregnant student out of having an abortion, and when her parents threaten to throw her out of the house, Thorp and his wife invite her to live with them. It was controversial enough that Tribune editor Don Wycliff wrote about it: "A comic strip, like a newspaper column, is the idiosyncratic product of its creator, so it should be no surprise that Jenkins has projected some of his own beliefs into Gil Thorp. It also should be no surprise that Gil Thorp, fictional though he is, would be dealing with a knotty contemporary issue. Remember: he is a highschool coach." This is just the sort of defense a comic strip cartoonist deserves. But that feeling evidently went away. At least in the Trib's sports department, where, said sports editor Bill Adee, Gil Thorp has been actively considered for the axe for quite some time. Citing "a lot of internal debate over the years," Adee said a number of staffers felt the strip "wasn't what it used to be ... the only difference of opinion was that Gil at half speed was better than nothing." But not, apparently, forever.
Jenkins, however, believes the anti-abortion sequence is what did the strip in at the Trib. He subsequently revisited the situation in May when he brought in the girl's impregnator, who wanted to do "the right thing" and so dropped out of school to get a job and find a place they could all move into. The storyline made TMS nervous: "Where's this story going?" Jenkins said his editor asked. "Management is nervous. Abortion is a touchy subject, and it's supposed to be a comic strip." Back singing the usual tune, sounds like. Dunno, yet, what happened (the strip runs in about 65 papers, none in my vicinity), but the baby was due in August.
Berrill, incidentally, was no stranger to edgy sequences in the strip. Writing in the Silver Anniversary Yearbook of the strip (July 1984), he listed some of the problems he'd dealt with recently: teenage pregnancy, homosexuality, alcoholism, and mental retardation. Noting that it was a "less complicated era" when he created the strip, he continued: "I felt little compunction about making judgments [in those days]. But times changed, and so did I! [After raising seven children in the 1960s and 1970s], I was forced to see beyond the absolutes I had lived by. Now I am very careful about making judgments, and I have many more questions than answers."
HE CALLED HIMSELF CANIFF CAMP FOLLOWER CARL. In the last issue of Caniffites Journal that he edited, Carl Horak reprinted an article that his wife, Myrna, had written in 1978 for an earlier fanzine Horak published, Strip Scene. Under the heading "Hubby's Hobby," Myrna recalled that it wasn't until their honeymoon trip in 1969 that she became aware of her husband's passion for comics. "He not only read comics; he actually collected the things!" she exclaimed in mock alarm.
At first, she said, she tried to develop a companionable interest in comics, believing that sharing her husband's interest would be good for their marriage. Alas, she couldn't: most of what she encountered just "didn't appeal" to her. Of the options left to her, she first decided to ignore his fanaticism. When that proved impossible, she tried being, simply, tolerant of it. But, she said, "there's no fun in being tolerant. Tolerance is just plain boring. When two people share something, that's exciting. ... But tolerance-there's just no feeling at all."
Still, she stuck with tolerance for a long time and might've stayed with it even longer except that her husband, in the throes of planning a fanzine, remembered that his wife could type. So she became the publication's official typographer, setting up all the articles and the letters column, issue after issue. Suddenly, she was engaged in his world, meeting his penpal friends and fellow collectors through the mail. She began to appreciate his collection, its content and extent (it filled their basement in neatly arranged shelves).
"When his fellow comic collectors visit," she concluded her article, "they receive the 'full tour' of his collection. Occasionally, he gives a 'two-bit' tour to me alone or with some of our non-comic lover friends. It's a pleasure to see him showing off the treasures he loves. It's nice, too, because he knows when to stop."
Most of us wouldn't agree. Carl Horak didn't know when to stop. Not at all. In truth, he stopped too soon to suit us. His last issue of Caniffites Journal was No. 118, produced in late July 2003. I received my copy in the mail on about August 15. Carl had stopped by then: he died on August 5, losing a year-long contention with throat cancer. He was just 65.
Carl had almost stopped producing his fanzine "for the further appreciation of the career of Milton Caniff" once before, betraying, again, his failure to recognize the right moment for stopping. That was in the winter of 1994, and Carl, who was a school teacher in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, had decided to retire at the end of the school year. The Province of Alberta had inaugurated draconian budget reduction measures, and one of them was to offer early retirement to senior faculty (thereby reducing the system's payroll). After 35 years teaching, Carl was senior faculty. He applied for early retirement because, he said, "the future of education in our province is too bleak for me to face."
And his retirement threatened Caniffites, which was, at that time, a nearly monthly newsletter, in format, 8 ½ x 11-inch sheets stapled at the corner. About 8-12 pages, printed on both sides, the newsletter featured fugitive Caniff art and memorabilia and published letters from its subscribers, who trafficked in esoteric bits of information about the cartoonist's life and career. Its continued existence was threatened because Carl had it printed on school equipment for pittance; losing access to the equipment, he faced commercial printing costs, which were too high for him to reasonably undertake. Publishing Caniffites was a hobby, after all, and although most of us paid the modest subscription fees, the revenue was scarcely enough to bear the increased printing expense.
After announcing his impending retirement, Carl promised to continue Caniffites for four more monthly issues, until No. 82 in June 1994. But before this termination was reached, one of the newsletter's subscribers, Andy Feighery, whose SPEC Productions published the Dick Tracy Magazine, offered to take on the publication chores (including maintenance of the subscription list and the mailing itself) if Carl would continue to edit. To our great relief, Carl agreed, and he and Feighery went ahead, producing the newsletter thereafter as a saddle-stitched magazine, renamed Caniffites Journal in recognition of its altered state. It was a bigger publication, but it came out only four times a year instead of nine times.
Carl continued in much the same vein as before for several issues. And then with No. 88, he began reprinting Steve Canyon strips, running complete stories in serial installments, a practice he continued until the end. In fact, Carl produced No. 118, his last issue, within a few weeks of No. 117 in order to complete the story that he'd launched in No. 117.
One other time it seemed to some of us that Carl might end Caniffites. That was when Caniff died in April 1988. To some subscribers it seemed "logical," as Carl put it, that the newsletter would cease, and these folks wrote Carl to urge him to continue the publication. Theirs was a brief and false alarm: Carl needed no urging. He never intended, this time, to stop, showing much better judgment then than in 2003. "I assure you," he wrote his readers, "it won't stop."
Caniffites itself had been a continuation of Carl's earlier interest in fan publication. In 1975, he'd produced Adventure Scene, a one-shot 'zine aimed at the comic strip collector, a population he felt was seriously underrepresented in a field awash with fanzines for comic book enthusiasts. fans. Two years later, in the fall of 1977, he and his collector cohort George Morley launched Strip Scene, a quarterly, aiming, again, at comic strip collectors, who, with the recent demise of both Steve Kristiansen's Bulldog and Biljo White's Stripper, had nowhere to turn to practice their devotions.
Strip Scene, like the later Caniffites newsletter, was sheets of paper stapled at one edge, but it ran 30-40 pages each issue, with ads that sold clipped strips and with articles on all the vintage comic strips- Tarzan, Prince Valiant, Terry and the Pirates, Boots and Her Buddies, Freckles, On Stage, Casey Ruggles, and the like-as well as installments of Carl's first Steve Canyon Checklist, which annotated the continuity through 1977. The magazine's covers, by such luminaries as Bob Bindig (who was eventually dubbed "associate editor"), Elton Dorval, Wayne Truman and George Freeman, were the most professional-looking artifacts in fandom at the time.
Carl stopped Strip Scene, finally, with No. 25 in approximately the fall of 1984. But his passion for comic strips diminished not a whit, and so a year later, in October or November of 1985, he rejoined the ranks of fanzine publishers with the Caniffites newsletter, at first just a few pages in each issue but eventually swelling to a dozen or so. Horak's love affair with Caniff's work began in 1952 when he first saw Steve Canyon Sunday strips. "That hooked me," he said. "I learned that there was also a daily [version] so I began to buy the out-of-town paper that carried it. With the clipping and saving of dailies and Sundays, my life as a comic strip collector began."
In addition to the periodicals, Carl assembled the aforementioned Steve Canyon Checklist, in two editions, the second, in 1984; and, subsequently, the Steve Canyon Companion, a regularly printed (not photo-copied) paperback book from Manuscript Press in 1996; and, later, the Terry Companion with SPEC Productions in March 2000. Both Companions were illustrated, annotated plot summaries and dates, for Caniff's magnum opuses.
When I say that Carl didn't know when to stop, I say it with affection as well as irony. But if he didn't know when to stop, he knew how to exit with admirable stoic dignity.
A sore throat in the summer of 2002 turned out to be cancer, and that winter, Carl finally told us about it in No. 115, deploying his characteristic simple, matter-of-fact directness: "I have cancer. Being in the esophagus, it is one of those nasty kinds that is inoperable. There is no 'cure.' So far, I have undergone radiation and chemotherapy, hoping to slow the tumor down to give me the gift of time."
His progress report in No. 117 was not encouraging: "To keep you updated on my cancer condition: it is not good. The scan in January showed that the disease had spread from my esophagus to my liver. I knew that there was no cure but by going to a Chinese doctor/herbologist, I bought some quality time. Now the battle is about to be concluded and there's no miracle in sight."
In No. 118, which, as I said, followed close on the heels of No. 117, he wrote: "I wish to thank all the readers who have prayed for me during the last several months-especially you people who claim not to be religious: God is especially glad to hear from you! Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a last minute rescue for me unlike that found in the comic pages."
He died peacefully, his wife said, painlessly-at a hospice where he spent his last days.
Carl was a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan with a master's degree from the University of Calgary. He attended the Saskatoon Teachers College and taught school in the Gull Lake School District in Alberta for a few years before moving in 1962 to Calgary, where he taught English and drama in junior high school and in high schools. He leaves his wife and four sons, and his mother.
He was co-founder of the Alberta Comic Collectors Association, and his long-term dedication was to comic strips and to Milton Caniff. He regretted, he said, never having met the cartoonist we all called "the Master." He'd never even spoken to Caniff. But he heard from him. Often. Carl first wrote to him to ask his permission to use Steve Canyon panels to illustrate the first edition of the Steve Canyon Checklist in 1977.
"His quick reply was gracious and encouraging," Carl said. And when the Checklist was completed, he sent Caniff a copy. Wrote Carl: "His response-'It is valuable beyond measure as a reference tool, and I am grateful"-made me walk on clouds." (Caniff told me that he used the Checklist regularly to remind himself of characters and events that had paraded through the strip.)
Once Caniffites was launched, Caniff received every issue, and he wrote a letter of comment in response nearly every time.
"This is the Milton Caniff I got to know," Carl wrote when Caniff died, "-encouraging, generous and sensitive. My world is diminished with the death of my friend."
I've subscribed to every publication Carl Horak produced. But we never met. Never, even, spoke on the phone. But my world-in particular, the world of comic strip appreciation and, within that world, the realm of Caniff's creations-is diminished with Carl's departure. But I'm very glad he was here as long as he was. He fostered a fellowship that will flourish as long as there are Caniffites. There's no stopping it.
BUSHWAH. George WMD Bush revealed the key to understanding the Bush League when announcing the appointment of Utah's Michael Leavitt as the new head of EPA. Leavitt, said Boy George, is more interested in results than in process. Wonderful. So now we know that the Bush League is more interested in results than in process. And since democracy is all about process rather than results, we know now, if we couldn't tell before, where the Bush League stands on that antiquated American tradition of government "by the people, for the people, and of the people."
For a map to the rest of this website, click here to be transported to the Front Page.
To find out about Harv's books, click here.
send e-mail to R.C. Harvey
Art of the Comic Book - Art of the Funnies - Accidental Ambassador Gordo - reviews - order form - Harv's Hindsights - main page