Opus 130 (January 11, 2004). To start with, by way of properly commemorating the arrival of yet another newly minted year, we examine, in the spirit of the vintage "calendar girl" tradition, a bevy of pin-up girls and other manifestations of feminine nudity from recently published books. But the major event of this installment is a round-up of some of the year's best editorial cartoons, published here in defiance of Newsweek's annual desecration of the genre. We also review two books we mentioned before-the tomes memorializing Marmaduke's 50th anniversary and Herman's 30th. And we browse, briefly, the news of the day in cartooning.
CALENDAR GIRLZ. A century ago, when I was young, adolescent and knew a good deal more than I know now, this time of year came equipped with a nimbus of cheesecake in the form of a fresh crop of calendars adorned with pictures of barely clad women. Actually, we began the harvest in November, as I recall, when the new calendars first began to appear on the magazine racks of the corner drugstore at 25th and Sheridan. Two or three different calendars, usually. And until Playboy joined the fray, the calendars were always painted pictures-by Gil Elvgren, Al Moore, Earl Moran, Harry Ekman, Edward Runci, Earl Mac Pherson, and many more.
Playboy changed the ritual by producing a calendar with photographs of barenekidwimmin. Thankfully, the photos were copiously retouched with airbrush, so the final product was not as far from our coveted paintings of yore as you might otherwise suppose. By way of reviving the spirit of those lost years, I'll sample herewith a few of the present array of books picturing zaftig ladies in their unadorned state.
But first, a variation on the theme-namely Frank Cho's Sketches and Scribbles: Book One (Monkey Boy Press, 80 8x11-inch pages in paperback; $20 from Bud Plant, www.budplant.com). The interior consists of page after page of drawings of Cho's favorite subjects, hairy gorillas, toothy dinosaurs, and bountiful young women, somewhat unclad. Some of the drawings are pencils sketches, usually preliminary renderings; others are completely inked, final art. All display Cho's complete mastery of his medium. The color cover is exquisite. It depicts in profile a nekid lady, arrayed only with the flowers twined in her hair, sprawled on the back of a gorilla, who is walking, as his species does, on all fours, his back, therefore, being horizontal enough to serve as the couch upon which the lady sprawls. The picture is a study in texture: the woman's flawless pastel flesh contrasting to the dark hairy arms of the primate. To this lovely arrangement, Cho has, characteristically, added two touches of humor. First, the woman is looking at us, with just the suggestion of a smile on her lips, as if there's a joke here that we ought to be aware of. Second, the gorilla is smoking a cigar. Until Cho's Shanna the She Devil arrives from Marvel sometime in the forthcoming summer, this may be the only Cho pin-up work you'll see outside of Liberty Meadows.
From SQP (www.sqpinc.com) we have a 48 9x12-inch paperback entitled, with a flair for descriptive accuracy, The Pin-up Art of Archie Dickens ($14.95 from Bud Plant and elsewhere, including the SQP website and that of the Marianne Ohl Phillips studio, www.moppinup.com). This is about as close as we'll get here to the pin-up calendar of olden days. About 44 full-page pictures in soft pastels of perky girls of the nextdoor variety, all as naked as the day they were born, playing with an assortment of props-telephones, diary books, violins, pencils, costumes, small animals. Although the hair color and style changes from page to page, the faces-and the anatomy-stays the same: pouty, bee-stung lips, tiny turned-up noses, full, firm and ofttimes pendulous young mamaries. An extra attraction is a two-page biography of Dickens, who, born in England, is, without question, the British Dickens we've never met before. He did his first commercial work at age 14, but it wasn't until about 1937, after he'd emigrated to New Zealand, that he began limning the ladies in their embonpoint. By 1939, he was in Sydney, Australia, mining the same vein. After service in World War II, Dickens married and then, in 1948, returned to England, where he resumed painting pin-ups until photographs replaced them as wall art. But the painted variety has enjoyed a revival recently, thanks to Marianne Ohl Phillips, and Dickens has been steadily undressing young beauties since 1998. Now, at the age of 96, he's still at it. Phillips provides a brief Foreword, extolling both the gentlemanly pin-up artists she knows and their everlasting subject. She's talked to Dickens many times over the last five years, she says, and "just talking to him makes me enjoy being a woman." When she asked Dickens why he always paints his pin-ups in the nude, he said, "I rather prefer drawing girls without knickers." And so, as Phillips says, he produces dozen upon dozen of "devilishly naked young ladies with angelic faces." Says she: "Perhaps because these pin-ups are painted by artists with such chivalrous qualities, by gentle men who put women on pedestals, these flirtatious ladies are sexy without being offensive. No matter how naked, no matter how naughty, no matter how enticing these beautiful creatures are portrayed, they never look cheap or easy or overtly lewd."
For something that veers off, slightly but determinedly, in the direction of lewd, here's a volume of watercolors and pencil sketches, The Women of Leone Frollo (82 9x12-inch pages in hardback, from Bud Plant, $24.95). In the Introduction by Luciano Spadanuda, we learn that Frollo, born in Venice in 1931, gave up a career in architecture almost at once to produce comics, of which, soon, most were of the erotic variety (some of which are still available, in Italian, through Bud Plant). For these, Frollo created such characters as Mona Street and the ladies of Casino, a brothel. Some of the latter, I suppose, show up here, posing unabashedly in a moment of lustful abandon. In these pages of pictures, some rendered in sensual pastel pencil and others in overheated watercolor, we encounter the typical Frollo heroine, a voluptuous perfectly formed and uninhibited young woman whose longing for sensual pleasure she satisfies in trysts with other similarly inclined ladies, all, we assume, residents of some 1920s bordello or similar house of pleasure. Among these Sapphic lovers, no male intrudes in this volume. Although Frollo delights in draping his women with lace and ruffles and flowing robes and the frilly undergarments of bygone times, these raiments are always slightly askew and therefore more revealing than concealing. And none of his women wear panties, apparently (a gesture at retro authenticity, if we are to believe Spadanuda, who points out that this piece of intimate attire is "historically quite new-only since the mid-1800s have they been part of the female wardrobe")-at least, they wear them no longer than is necessary for them to remove them in as "wickedly" exhibitionistic a manner as possible. The selection of pictures here is a charming and delightful one, as immodest as the lusty women themselves.
But for hugely entertaining lewdness, here's The Piano Tuner from NBM's Erotica line (48 8.5x11-inch pages in full color paperback, $10.95; www.nbmpublishing.com). Noe's drawing style (on display previously in Ship of Fools, Doctor I'm Too Big, and The Convent of Hell) is reminiscent of Eric Sokol's fabulous color work in Playboy, except that Noe works with a bold outline, decorative details in filigree fineline, and modeling by varying hues of color. Mariano d'Elia, the piano tuner, is called to various locales to tune pianos, but he almost never gets to do any of the work because the wives, daughters, maids, or secretaries of the personages who ostensibly hire him need their instruments tuned first. Women of startling embonpoint, they force themselves upon him, whereupon we witness a couple pages depicting the most extravagant boffing wherein the coupling participants assume every imaginable position. And then some. Noe's depictions are both "explicit" and "graphic" (as they say in all the adverts), but his visual inventiveness is imaginative enough to achieve the near impossible: he manages with aplomb the most contorted physical poses and, at the same time, almost never repeats himself (which, considering the relative monotony of the essential act he's drawing, is remarkable in itself). Moreover, even the detailed rendering of genitalia is accomplished with such skill that the pictures do not seem at all gross or clinical.
The appeal of pornographic comics (or eroticomics, if you prefer something more euphemistic) is, presumably, at least three-fold. First, we are curious about and therefore attracted to depictions of the actual acts of copulation; second, we are amused or otherwise imaginatively engaged by the "story" that yields in these depictions; and, finally, we are pleased by attractive artwork. The stories, here, are essentially comic: d'Elia, while enjoying the pleasures of the flesh so frequently thrust upon him, is almost always frustrated in the last analysis, and in his frustration (not to mention the wantonness of his partners), we find the comedy of each of these six short stories. But for me, the artwork is the great attraction. Noe's drawing style is marvelously engaging. His bold undulating outline captures perfectly the fleshly aspects of voluptuous fornicating nudes; and in other scenes throughout, his crisp lines and nuanced colors are a pleasure to behold.
But for undiluted pleasure in the beholding department, do not miss any of the raft of full-color books by Alonso Azpiri that have, in recent months, been flooding the market. Azpiri, if memory serves, first surfaced on this side of the Atlantic in issues of the regrettably short-lived Penthouse Comix. Heavy Metal then published a couple book-length stories: Lorna, the Mouse Club, and Lorna and Her Robot. In the last year or so, Heavy Metal has published Lorna: Leviathan, Wet Dreams and Wet Dreams II: The Players, Lorna the Ark, Reflections (all of which are available for the astonishingly low price of $14.95), Sketchbook ($19.95, a bigger book), and, from NBM, Sensations: The Art of Alonso Azpiri ($18.95, another bigger book-well, longer, more pages). A Spaniard, Azpiri has done a good deal of work designing characters and album covers for videogames, but it was for an Italian publisher that he began producing erotic material. For a time, he did 240 pages a month for Italian publication, and during this period, he discovered the value of simplification: the simpler the drawing, the quicker it could be completed. And this discovery, to hear him tell it (in Sensations), led him to the female figure. "The key to [rendering] the female form [is that] you need to eliminate lines, the faces and bodies have to be simplified. I learned that the most important parts of the female face are the eyes and the lips; of the body, the hips and the legs; and that the motion should be feline and elegant. ... I've always drawn with loving care, and tested the boundaries between eroticism and pornography."
The luminously colored stories in these books, all by Azpiri, are science fantasy and involve bountiful young wimmin, typically undressed, who travel in bordello-like spacecraft, encounter strange wizards and monsters, and have extravagant sex with them all. His most famous creation is probably Lorna, a space adventuress, whose hair, like that of most Azpiri women, streams from her scalp like a filmy veil caught in an eddying current. But it's Azpiri's drawings that attract and hold: exquisitely rounded, fully blooming bodies with bursting bodices and bountiful bosoms (which are, usually, after bursting the bodices, on ample, unencumbered display). Azpiri has given "feminine" an idealized anatomy by utilizing every round shape possible-a sentence packed with erotic emotion but without any lexical meaning whatsoever. Enjoy.
And while we're contemplating the contemplative, keep an eye out for a forthcoming book on Enoch Bolles. His work is featured in the ninth issue of Illustration magazine (soon to be on the stands and already in Previews), but will also be the subject of an actual full-length book. Soon.
NOUS R US. "American Splendor," the off-beat movie that combines actors and their real life counterparts to re-enact portions of Harvey Pekar's gritty, slice-of-life autobiographical comic book, made it to the Top Ten lists in both People and Newsweek magazines. ... I managed to witness three of those perennial year-end lists of personages who departed our midst during the past twelve-month, and Al Hirschfeld, the legendary theatrical "characterist" (as he called himself), was listed in two of them; but Bill Mauldin, the WWII soldier cartoonist whose Willie and Joe cartoons revived flagging spirits in foxholes everywhere, was mentioned nowhere I saw. ... Lenny Bruce, the fearlessly foul-mouthed stand-up comedian of the sixties who was convicted of "giving an obscene performance" in 1964 (two years before he died), was pardoned December 22 by New York Governor George Pataki, who was responding to petitions from lawyers and comedians who felt the man who helped transform comedy deserves a better legacy. ... Madonna, apparently transfixed by her success as the author of a couple of children's books (which made motherhood, for her, a commercial asset, but which, were her name, say, Louise Ciccone, would have sold nary a volume, I'd say), will play a fairy godmother in the movie version of her first opus. ... According to the Comics Buyer's Guide, the year 2003 saw the establishment of three records: Sandy Eggo's Comicon International was the largest of its kind, ever, using 90% of the gigantic bayside convention center; Heritage Comics collected $4.2 million in the largest sales total for a single comics auction; and DC's Detective Comic retained its status as the longest-running comic book title, ending the year at No. 789. ... A letter-writer in the Sioux City (Iowa) Journal, while "refusing to argue with a duck or a so-called comic strip writer," pointed out that Mallard Fillmore and Bruce Tinsley "make a hobby of insulting the more than one million educators who belong to the National Education Association." The strip, saith the scribe, is "consistently mean-spirited and humorless" when it asserts, as it has on more than one occasion I gather, that NEA means "No Excellence Around." You get nowhere attacking teachers, Bruce: they have all the chalk.
Editorial Cartoonist John Sherffius quit his post at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on about December 10. Although both the paper and the cartoonist said, or strenuously implied, that his departure was his idea and did not reflect any ideological differences (both the cartoonist and the paper are liberal-leaning), both also allowed as how his work was no longer "a good fit" for the paper, which sounds like some sort of ideological mismatch to me. Sherffius joined the P-D five years ago, the winner of an unprecedented but acclaimed talent search conducted, in part, by Pulitzer-prize winning editorial cartoonists from other newspapers. The cartoonist will continue self-syndicating his cartoons to other publications, but since he plans to stay in St. Louis and spend more time with his family, it's unlikely that he'll find a full-time berth at any newspaper.
Echoes of ancient history. During World War II, G.I. readership of comic books was so enthusiastic that it bumped up circulation for the four-color fantasies by millions, and now, maybe it'll start happenin' again. A Michigan comic book shop, Mr. Dale's Tradin' Cards in Eaton Rapids, sent a box of comics and trading cards to U.S. troops in Iraq, and the box wound up gathering dust in a corner of a field hospital in southern Iraq. Discovering the cache, a member of the hospital staff promptly distributed the contents to the wounded, saying, later: "It's quite a sight to see hardened military professionals, young men and women recuperating from injuries or illness, in bed with a Batman comic debating who would win in a fight, Batman or Wonder Woman."
I've watched the return of Opus with great interest, but, so far, I'm disappointed. I've also been reading the online re-run of Bloom County since it started last March at Uclick's www.MyComicsPage.com, where it appears at the accelerated rate of six dailies one day, then a Sunday strip the next day, then six more dailies on the following day, and so on. We're now well into the strip's third year, and it seems to me that Berkeley Breathed was much funnier then than he is these days with Opus. For the first three-four weeks of the Sunday only strip, Breathed has been belaboring the conceit that Opus, after his job at the strip disappeared in 1995, trekked off to Antarctica, where, for the past eight years, he's been alternately day-dreaming about toothsome damsels of the homo sapiens species and resisting his mother's attempt to marry him off to a fat penguin. The connection to the real world culture that surrounds the strip is wholly, thus far, overlooked. Breathed is doubtless just warming up, revving his creative engine, so to speak, in an effort to get back to speed. But I'm not sure his brand of topical humor will work on a once-a-week basis: Bloom County charmed us in part because it accumulated, day by day, an ambiance-a combination of the characters' personalities and their various reactions to society around them-that was soon both familiar to us and satiric in its comment on our culture. We could expect Steve Dallas to say something loutish when approaching the school marm Bobbie; we knew Binkley kept his anxieties in the bedroom closet; we knew Milo would use his newspaper position to persecute politicians. Every day's strip arrived freighted with what had gone immediately before, and all of that weight imparted to each installment a momentum that gave every barb Breathed flung an impact it couldn't have without the accumulated history. Whether that sort of ambiance can be created and then sustained with just one appearance every seven days remains to be seen. But we're here, rooting for the winsome flightless bird-even though I think his beak is much much too big. (Geez, he's no longer cute, Berke.) And we're rooting for Breathed, too, even though he ofttimes behaves like a self-absorbed lout, much in the manner of the aforementioned Steve Dallas.
Funnies Watch. Just before Christmas, Norm (in Michael Jantze's strip, The Norm) got "downsized." That is, he lost his job. At his exit interview, he said he wanted to talk to the president. "Uh, he didn't come in today," said his interviewer. "Not that goof," Norm says, "I mean Mr. Bush." Right: the guy responsible for all the downsizing from sea to shining sea. Sarcasm turns to happy satire a week later when Norm wanders off in a snow storm, seeking "sage advice." He encounters the precocious savant Jason from Foxtrot ("Why are you asking me? I'm prepuberty"), Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes ("Go away! Leave me alone!"an allusion, doubtless, to Bill Watterson's notoriously reclusive proclivity), and Cathy from Cathy (who babbles on in a multiple-syllable but single-word sentence that suggests the hapless woman's ceaseless hysteria at the seeming idiocies of modern life-well, of shopping, mostly). Baffled at each of these encounters, Norm plunges back out into the snowstorm: "Still searching," he says. Nicely done: a central characteristic of each of the three strips is evoked in a single picture and speech. And then in Heart of the City, young Heart tries to restore the Christmas spirit in her mother, who, over-scheduled by the holiday, hasn't entered into the spirit of the season at all. Her mother falls asleep, momentarily exhausted, and appearing in her dreams are old Scrooge, Linus, Rudolph the Red-nosed, an elf I don't recognize, Frosty the Snowman, the Grinch, and Lucy Van Pelt. Saith the mother: "I'm being haunted by the ghosts of tv specials past." And on the next day, she realizes that "the ghosts of Christmas tv specials past came to teach me the true meaning of Christmas-pithy tales of redemption and saccharine sentimentality! Thank you, thank you," she cries, and, throwing open the window, shouts into the night: "Merry Christmas!" To which Frosty, leaning out of the tv set, says, "And God bless us everyone!"
YEAR IN REVIEW: EDITOONERY AT WORK. Near the end of every year, Newsweek magazine produces a special expanded "Perspectives" section in which editorial cartoons and quotations from the famous and the infamous are herded together by way of reviewing the events of the previous twelve months. This year, perennially reliable as always, the magazine has again disgraced itself in its selection and treatment of editorial cartoons. In its treatment, Newsweek is shamefully cavalier: although it clearly values the commentary of the visual artist, the magazine apparently sees the cartoons as wall hangings rather than as statements by opinion-mongering cartoonists. The cartoons are therefore treated as all other visual material in the magazine-which is to say, the cartoonists' signatures are perfunctorily excised from the cartoons and the authors are given credit in marginal 7-point type much as photographers are. Newsweek's columnists, the other commentators in the magazine, are given the courtesy usually extended by the journalistic fraternity to the mongers of opinion: they get bylines.
In its selection of cartoons for this grandiose display, Newsweek reveals, as usual, its disdain for cartooning. It publishes mostly the cartoons that provoke laughter rather than thought. In this, it reveals all the discernment of the typical newspaper reading ignoramus who, seeing a cartoon, expects it to be funny and only funny and is therefore highly offended if an editorial cartoonist chooses to comment in some fashion on an event that is not fodder for a Jay Leno monologue-mass murder, for example. At least this year, the magazine did not include cartoons from The New Yorker, by which maneuver, last year, it tipped its hand, revealing its editors as ignoramuses. Editorial cartoonists these days do not always, day after day, produce hard-hitting material; they vary their treatment of the day's headlines, sometimes going for a laugh instead of a larrup. Newsweek goes for the laugh, too-every time. Not only that, but the magazine overlooks many of the major events of the year by not including a cartoon on those matters. Some of those events, admittedly, are recognized with quotations from celebrities rather than cartoons, but since the visuals are the more attention-getting, the occurrences commemorated with quotes alone are thereby slighted.
The major events of the year 2003 are mostly subsumed under the Iraqi adventure-the actual invasion of the country, but also the debate about whether the invasion was justified, the refusal of France, Russia and Germany to back the U.S., the looting of Baghdad and, subsequently, the evident failure of the U.S. war planners to plan effective postwar procedures*, the failure to find the weapons of mass destruction* that had, ostensibly, provoked us to invade to begin with, the faulty intelligence upon which our decision-making was apparently based, the increasing guerrilla resistance in Iraq, George W. ("Whopper") Bush's request for $87 billion to finish the job (or just the year), and, at last, the capture of Saddam himself. But in addition to the invasion of the benighted Saddam's country, the year included such other significant events as Kim Jong Il's nuclear saber-rattling, the disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia, the charade of the Homeland Security Department, Congressional approval of yet another gigantic tax cut for the wealthy as well as a partial-birth abortion ban and the muddled addition of prescription drug benefits to Medicare, a monster power outage in the northeast, Israel vs. the Palestinians, Gray Davis' recall as governor of California and Arnold Schwarzenegger's election* to take his place, the accumulation of nine candidates for the Democrat presidential nomination (with the virtually unknown Howard Dean emerging as the so-called "front runner"*), the Dow-Jones topping, once again, the 10,000 mark, the SARs epidemic*, and the continued liberty of Osama bin Laden.* The media this year also paid undue attention to such comparatively trivial events as Kobe Bryant's womanizing, Scott Peterson's perpetual trial, Michael Jackson's proclivity for young boys*, Elizabeth Smart's disappearance and then reappearance, William Bennett's gambling habits*, Rush Limbaugh's drug habits*, the New Hampshire Episcopalians' naming a gay bishop*, Massachusetts' encouragement of same-sex marriage*, Mel Gibson's movie about the death of Christ being anti-Semitic, the on-again-off-again wedding of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, CBS cancelling a movie about the Reagans, and reality tv.
In this catalog of mischief, Newsweek's selection of cartoons touched upon only those topics I've marked with an asterisk. Of the 23 cartoons published, only 5 dealt with subjects I've listed here as fairly major events; but in the relatively trivial category, Newsweek published an equal number, showing, apparently, an inability to tell the significant from the insignificant. Quite apart from the skewed news judgement these choices demonstrate, the major events not cartooned at all seem to me to constitute a signal indictment of Newsweek as a news magazine. Newsweek ignores the continuing tragedy in the Middle East (between the Israelis and Palestinians, I mean, not in Iraq, although that disaster, too, is largely overlooked), the environment, the debate over invading Iraq, and the loss of jobs in the U.S.
By way of trying to make up for Newsweek's nearly criminal abdication of journalistic responsibility, I've assembled my own gallery of cartoons on the events of 2003. Alas, not every subject I've identified here as important is reflected in my selection: throughout the year, I clip cartoons I like, but I didn't clip cartoons with this review-of-the-year purpose in mind, so I missed a few topics. I usually clipped cartoons that I regard as particularly hard-hitting or exemplary of the genre's deployment of visual metaphor, so these cartoons are representative of the best editorial cartooning around. In a few cases, the commentary is achieved by exploiting the capacity of the medium for timing (in a sequence of pictures, like a comic strip), but my favorites tend to be powerful images coupled to telling verbiage, the pictures and the words together creating a memorable statement that lodges in the brain. And most of these are hard-hitting, too-their creators went for a statement rather than a laugh (although sometimes the cartoon provokes laughter as acerbic as the statement is uncompromising). Here we go:
LOOSE ENDS. I mentioned last time that Marmaduke, the cartoon Great Dane pretending to be a lapdog, turned fifty recently, and Ballantine Books has produced an anniversary collection, Top Dog: Marmaduke at 50 ($24.95). Brad Anderson created the giant canine baby in 1953, modeling him after his parents' boxer, Bruno, and today Marmaduke appears in about 660 newspapers, as a panel on weekdays and as a comic strip on Sundays. Considering Marmaduke's circulation and his vintage, the Ballantine production is pretty chintzy: a generous page size, 9x9 inches, and a luxurious second color throughout, plus a few Sunday strips in full color, but only a measly 160 pages. That's all they have to show for fifty years? The selection of cartoons, running two-to-four per page, is Anderson's, and he supplies a running commentary. The book is organized by decade, so we can see the dog and his supporting players as they morph through the years. Anderson freelanced magazine cartoons from about 1939, he says, until Marmaduke came along, and the early years of the feature, until the 1970s in fact, look like almost any Saturday Evening Post cartoon-but mostly, like those drawn by Ted Key, whose work on the Post's regular feature, Hazel, Anderson admired. By the 1970s, however, Anderson's way of drawing had achieved a distinction of its own: his delineation was looser, more relaxed, often almost impressionistic rather than tight and meticulously detailed, and the line itself undulated nicely, waxing thick and waning thin. Marmaduke's face assumed the floppy, sloppy jowly look of a Great Dane, his master, Phil Winslow, grew his ID moustache. But Anderson's great accomplishment is to have created and fostered the most authentic cartoon dog in the medium. Marmaduke doesn't think in thought balloons or speak to his human cohorts: "He doesn't talk or walk on his hind legs," Anderson observes during the Interview published at the back of the book. He's not Snoopy or Garfield or Grimm or Satchel or Bucky or Earl or Mooch-all of whom are, Anderson said, "little cartoon people." Marmaduke is a "real dog," and in poses and anatomy, he is all dog, nothing human about him. Except his personality, which, like that of all dogs, is, at times, almost human.
In the backseat of the car at the drive-through Hamburger Haven, Marmaduke barks back at the "Order Here" squawkbox, and Mrs. Winslow says, "Hush, Marmaduke: I did the ordering."
Marmaduke goes with the family to visit Santa Claus, but Santa, eyeing the size of the dog, explains to the kids, "No, he can't sit on my lap and tell me what he wants for Christmas."
The Winslows are still abed and the sun is just peeping up over the neighborhood housetops, but Marmaduke is bedside with a leash in his mouth, eager to greet the day. Phil says, "If you slept late once, I'm sure you'd like it."
Marmaduke is barking in consternation, and Phil explains: "He is so spoiled! Just because I wouldn't put a slice of lemon in his water dish."
And here, in a hilarious tableau, is Mrs. Winslow astride a sleepy-eyed Marmaduke, a grocery bag on one arm, the other desperately embracing the dog as they both come in the front door; she explains this contortion to Phil, who, puzzled, meets them at the door: "He stood up just as I was stepping over him."
In addition to Key, Anderson counts among his influences J.R. Williams (Out Our Way), Hank Ketcham (Dennis the Menace), and another old time magazine cartoonist, John Gallagher, whose distinctive flat-footed, bulbous-nosed, lanky characters could once be found in every magazine in the country. "I try to balance words and art in Marmaduke," Anderson said, answering the question which was more important, words or art. "That doesn't mean the two have equal weight. The gagline complements the cartoon ... or provides a surprise! Marmaduke leans heavily on action; Marmaduke cartoons are first and foremost visual. Think of the old Laurel and Hardy movies: they began as silent comedy, doing everything through action. Later, when talkies came in, dialogue became a part of their comedy, but the visual stuff was always there." Jim Davis (Garfield) supplies an Introduction, but the rest of the book is all Anderson and Marmaduke. In 160 pages, not much to show for 50 years-but what's here, as Spencer Tracy used to say of Katherine Hepburn, is "cherce." (By which he meant, "choice.")
I also mentioned some time ago that Jim Unger's Herman was enjoying its 30th anniversary by being reprinted in a lavish series of five giant tomes, the first of which is now out. As a history of the feature, the book leaves much to be desired: none of the daily panels or Sunday strips are dated, and apart from an introductory essay by David Waisglass (who wrote Farcus, 1990-97), no text litters the pages with the sort of comment and insight Anderson furnishes for his Marmaduke anthology. But the Herman book (from ECW Press, $24.95) makes up in quantity what it lacks in quality. Entitled Herman Classics Volume 1, its 208 8x11-inch pages reprint in paperback over 500 cartoons, all in full color. The promotional news release from United Media (Unger's syndicate) claims the cartoons are rendered in watercolor, but they pretty clearly aren't: they're colored by computer with all the characteristic soft-edge modeling. Unger, who, it sez here, has "slipped in some new gags for the book," likes the color and thinks it makes the cartoons funnier. Be that as it may, the colored drawings on high sheen paper give Herman a classy showcase. The daily panel cartoons appear at the rate of four per page usually, although one occasionally, for the sweet sake of visual variety, assumes a page-size dimension.
Waisglass's introduction is short on biography but long on anecdote about the antics of Unger and his brother, who helps write gags for Herman, and his other family members, near whom Unger lived for some years-particularly in Nassau, where Waisglass met him. He now lives on Vancouver Island. Born in London in 1937, Unger eventually did time in the British army and also worked as a policeman, an insurance clerk, bookkeeper, repro man (repossessing automobiles), driving instructor, copy writer, art director before leaving for Canada in 1968. "Crime was down in Londo," he explained, "and everyone had learned to drive"-so there was, perforce, no more career for him in England. He found work as a page-layout artist at a suburban weekly, the Mississauga Times, near Toronto. And when he earned cartooning awards filling in for the staff editorial cartoonist, a friend urged him to see syndication. He did. And in the summer of 1974, he sold Herman to Universal Press, his first syndicate. Herman now appears in about 800 newspapers worldwide.
Waisglass believes that The Far Side and others of this ilk were inspired by Unger, and that may be true. One is certain, however, is that Herman consistently blends word and picture for its hilarities; it is decidedly more visual than verbal, a departure from the vintage gag cartoons of the previous generation. Here's a picture of a typical Unger humanoid-all lantern jaw and nose, no forehead or discernible eyeballs-carrying a bag of golf clubs and mounted on a camel, saying to a nearby golfer afoot: "I told you it was a big sand-trap."
Here's a cop patrolling the park at night and saying to a man wearing a paper hat and seated on an equestrian statue, "I don't care if you did miss the last bus-get off!"
And here's a man wading in the rushes up to his waist, coming upon a sign that reads: "Do Not Feed the Alligators."
In both instances, we must comprehend the picture before we can understand the joke.
The Sunday Herman is often more verbal, achieving its comedy by deploying the sequential character of the medium to time speeches. Here are a bunch of cavemen, gathered around a fire, and one says: "Deeee-licious." Another says: "No more links." "What's a link?" asks a third. "You know," says the second, "-those animals that look half like a human and half like a gorilla." "What about them?" asks the third guy. "We just ate the last one," says the second speaker.
Unger is a master of verbal nonsense. Here's a man and his wife eating at a restaurant, and the man complains to her about the whole wheat rolls he's been served. "Didn't I ask the waiter for white bread?" Then the waiter comes by and says, "We ran out of pea soup, so I brought you chicken noodle." "Hey!" says the customer, "-where's my baked potato?" "It's nine o'clock," the waiter explains, "and we only have French fries left." The diner calls for his check. "Thirty-nine dollars," he announces to his wife. Then he turns to the waiter and says, "Here are two fives. I ran out of twenties."
Or here's an encounter between a couple and another man. "I don't believe it," says the male half of the couple. "You're Harold! Harold Springer!" he says to the man they've encountered. "No," says the man. "Yes you are! You've got a sister named Ivy." "No, I haven't," says the hapless victim of this assault. "You used to live on Meadow Lane," persists his attacker. "No," he says. But his opponent persists: "Imagine seeing you after all these years." The couple walks on, and the man turns to his wife and says, " He's nothing like I remember him."
Throughout the book, the cartoons are consistently funny, yoking captions to pictures, each explaining the implications of the other and creating, thereby, the gem-like surprise of comedic impact that distinguishes the best cartooning.
And while we're contemplating the contemplative, keep an eye out for a forthcoming book on Enoch Bolles. His work is featured in the ninth issue of Illustration magazine (soon to be on the stands and already in Previews), but will also be the subject of an actual full-length book. Soon.
But before we leave Azpiri behind, I discovered, in writing this diatribe, that I own two copies of the Azpiri Scketchbook, a delicious 96 9.5x12.5-inch page tome showcasing exquisite pencil drawings, often rendered in two colors of lead. I have two eyes, but I don't need a copy of this book for each one, so I'm offering the hardcover for sale. Originally priced at $29.95, new, my copy, which has scarcely been thumbed I'm willing to sell for merely $13, plus $4 p&h. To get this, scroll down to the end and e-mail me. I'll answering by telling you if it's still available and, if so, giving you further instructions.
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