Opus 134 (March 14, 2004). I continue to resolve, regularly, to curb my tongue in order to keep these bi-weekly effusions at a length that can be easily digested at one sitting. Alas, I fear I fail just as regularly. And this installment is no exception. But then, you can print it out and take pages of it around to different parts of your house to read at leisure, right? Our headline feature this time is a review of a new book on Dr. Seuss, who, I suspect, not as many people recognize as a cartoonist as should, but we do. We also review two books of political cartoons-one attacking George W. ("Warlord") Bush; the other, Bill Clinton. (I hasten to add that I don't include opposing views here in any attempt at "equal time"; instead, I'm merely following our usual policy of "All the News that Gives Me Fits.") And we take a long look at two new books edited by Ted Rall, each tome a collection of the alternate press cartoonery of twenty-one 'tooners, each guaranteed to be marching to a different drummer. In addition, we take heart about the state of newspaper cartooning today by considering its state in 1947, and we say a few words about the sanctity of marriage and the criminality of Martha Stewart. We also rave extravagantly about Scott Bateman's book, Scan, a visit to another planet, tovarich. In the news department, we report on such divergent topics as: NCS's nominees for "cartoonist of the year," Johnny Hart's latest offense, timid newspaper editors who are killing opinion art, the Doonesbury contest, the New York Times dropping Ted Rall's cartoon, the winner of the first annual Herblock award, and other juicy tidbits.
POLITICS, USUAL AND OTHERWISE. This being an Election Year, you can expect more rather than less in our department Under the Spreading Punditry. Or so you might imagine. Actually, it'll be about the same, I suppose: I like comics and cartoonists better than politics and politicians even though the latter so willingly provide so much material for the former. That's gratitude for you. One of the editoonery profession whose work smites a blow for the cause of humanity with bludgeondary force is Matt Wuerker, a freelance Force for the Common Weal and Uncommon Good Sense in such places as the Washington Post and the Toronto Globe and Mail, to mention only two newspapers of impeccable taste. Wuerker belongs to what Ted Rall calls the "retro 19th century cross-hatching approach" to political cartoons, but so fierce are Wuerker's views that his hatching is genuinely cross. His pictures look as if he's carved them out of paper with a wire or a garrote: bold crisscrossing lines widely spaced give his drawings a crude, stark-staring immediacy, a bid for attention in much the same manner as pounding on a garbage-can lid. Most recently, the garbage can Wuerker has been pounding on is the Bush League in a book called The Madness of King George: The Ingenious Insanity of Our Most "Misunderestimated" President (180 7x9-inch pages in paperback; $14.95 from Common Courage Press). The book offers text by Michael K. Smith as well as Wuerker's pictures, but it would be a mistake to think of Wuerker as illustrating Smith's prose. The prose, for one thing, does not take shape as a long and reasoned discourse: it leaps out at us from every page in snippets and chapter titles and satirical shrapnel of all sorts. Here are a few chapter titles: Silver Spoons and Golden Handshakes (Greased Skids to Greatness), The Immaculate Selection (How Scrubbing the Voter Rolls Made Florida's 2000 Election Whiter), Cut, Cut! Drill, Drill! It's Off to Work We Go! (The Train Wreck Leaves the Station), Bushwhacking the Planet (Operation Enduring Enemies), and Deja Voo Doo (Enronomics and the New Class Warfare, with the subtitle "How to Get Lay'd"). The chapters so-titled are clusters of short text on the designated subject. In the "Cut Cut!" chapter, we encounter two pages of "King George's Down-home, Lone Star Recipes." The ingredients for Chickenhawk Casserole include: one cabal draft-dodging war-mongers, large sack of infantile rhetoric, one housebroken press, one ocean of petroleum, and so on. Subtlety is not Smith's forte.
Nor is it Wuerker's. But political cartooners are always firing off broadsides; Wuerker is only slightly more heavy-handed than many of his brethren. His picture for the "Train Wreck" chapter spreads exuberantly across two pages: a smoke-belching locomotive (with parts labeled Halliburton, Exon-Mobile, Boeing, GM, Lockheed, Texaco, etc.) is loaded with missiles, Cheney at the throttle and Rumsfeld shoveling more coal (labeled Bill of Rights) into the furnace and Cowboy Dubya straddling the boiler, firing off his six guns as the train careens along a track that ends over a precipice at the right; behind, in a car that's come loose from the train, is the rest of the world, a collection of people bearing signs that read "People B4 Profit," "No War," "We the People," and "Human Rights Not Corporate Greed." Dubya, in pose and facial expression, evokes memories of Slim Pickens riding the Bomb at the end of "Dr. Strangelove." Here's a full-page cartoon depicting Dubya saying, "We've decided all those international treaties were just too darn confusing. That's why we're replacing them with some simple prayers. We call it our new Faith Based Foreign Policy." One of the prayers is entitled the "Nuclear Proliferation Prayer"; it reads, "God, grant me a really good Anti-Ballistic Missile-give it the range to hit anything; and the wisdom to know a warhead from a decoy." Here's a drawing of a muscular woman in the famed Rosie the Riveter pose from World War II but this one is carrying shopping bags from the Gap and Target over her shoulder; headlined "We Can Do It!" the picture is captioned "Drive Your Gas Guzzler to the Mall and Shop Til You Drop-Do Your Part for Victory!!" And here's a two-panel cartoon: in the first panel, is Dubya saying, "We have to do everything we can to improve Corporate Governance" while, in the second panel, a fat businessman is operating a Dubya puppet's strings and saying, "What's to improve? We're governing just fine, thanks."
One of my favorite Wuerks appears in another tome (from NBM, described below). In a large cartoon of several panels, the opening panel depicts a "dollar bill" with Newt Gingrich's mug in place of Geo. Washington's, accompanied by this inscription: "We've simplified the Republican Contract to its one central core point-enough of one man, one vote-it's time for one dollar, one vote!" This is followed by panels depicting the various ways this New System would work, such as: "Imagine: streamlined elections in which we just vote our bank balances! ATMs will replace those old polling booths-very Third Wave!" It all culminates in the concluding crescendo of a legend: "Money's Always Talked. It's Time It Got the Vote!" Another cartoon in King George suggests other "Costume Ops" Dubya might consider in the wake of his successful impersonation of a fighter pilot landing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln last spring-Dubya as a thief (carrying bags of tax cuts), Dubya as an oilman (drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge under the title "The Core"), and Dubya holding a tiny globe of Earth over his head as "the Hulk." And, finally, here's Cheney shoveling papers labeled Energy Plan, Kenny Boy's Ideas, Enron, etc. into a roaring furnace and saying, "Heating with Documents! I like to think of it as a great source of Renewable Energy!" Li'l Dubya is warming his hands over the stove and saying, "And people thought we didn't have a good energy plan." The allusion in the book's title, by the way, is to the British King George under whose watch England lost her American colonies. We can only hope that the title turns out to be prophecy for this King George and his possession of the same real estate. The book comes with a poster listing Bush-Cheney's 31 greatest accomplishments (one of which is "Killed 3,500 Afghanis, then abandoned the country to warlords, famine and chaos"). The book and the poster could fully-equip any special operations unit seeking to defeat the Bush League in the forthcoming election.
While I feel no particular obligation to provide equal time here for the opposition (they have Rush Limbaugh, after all-with millions of listeners-not to mention all of Fox News on cable-tv; I've only got you, kimo sabe), there is a book that the Rabid Right would enjoy. Entitled Hail to the Thief (120 8x10-inch pages in paperback; $17 from Dorrance Publishing), it collects over 200 cartoons fragrant with the usual terminal dislike of Bill Clinton and his wife Hillary. Published in 2002, it is vivid testimony to the bubonic virulence of the anti-Clinton sentiment among the Righteous Right: two years after Clinton left office, these folks still comprise a substantial enough market for books nurturing hatred for Slick Willie. The assembler of this pile is a retired USAF major named Dennis E. Hickey, whose expertise as a curator of cartoons is merely marginal. He nonetheless claims to have done what he calls "extensive research" in preparing the book, from which labor he comes away, he says, "amazed and over-whelmed at the amount of negative facts that have been uncovered about Bill and Hillary during their time before and after the White House. All of the cartoons in this book do not even touch the surface as to the misdeeds that this couple has perpetrated on this nation and the American people." He, in other words, is as vehement a foe of Clinton as Wuerker and Smith are of our present Fund-raiser in Chief, George W. ("Wages of Usurpation") Bush and the Bushwhackers he fronts for. The anti-Clinton book prints two cartoons to a page, a generous apportioning of space, but many of the cartoons-particularly those of lesser-known cartooners-are reproduced from very poor copies, which makes the final image here often barely discernible. But Hickey relied pretty heavily upon two cartoonists, John Trever of the Albuquerque Journal and Jimmy Marguiles of the Hackensack Record, both seasoned veterans, whose drawings, when they are reproduced from good quality source material instead of Internet print-outs (as is obviously sometimes the case here), are expert and pleasing to the eye-even if their points of view are an offense to the nose; together, their cartoons account for 127 of the 216 cartoons herein. Actually, both Marguiles and Trever (and most of the others included herein) are simply doing their jobs as graphic commentators-namely, attempting to puncture the balloons of pomposity that the self-important inflate for themselves. That's what editooners do: they attack the powerful-and who is more powerful than the Pres of the U.S.? These guys do their jobs well. And they are scarcely in the same Clinton-hating boat as Hickey, whose passion has overthrown his reason. Here's one of Marguiles' depicting Clinton and the GOP elephant exiting from a door marked Senate Trial; a cloud hangs over Clinton, but it's raining on the elephant. And Trever draws Al Gore at the controls of a forklift labeled Reinventing Government, moving a monstrous pile of paper labeled "Old Regulations" and "Old Bureaucracies"; just around the corner, unseen by Gore, driving towards that corner another forklift labeled National Health Care are Bill and Hillary, whose equally monstrous load of papers is labeled "New Regulations" and "New Bureaucracies"-the collision course they're on is a telling visual metaphor. Then here's one by Malcolm Mayes of the Edmonton Journal (Hickey can't find enough conservative voices on this side of the border) in which Kenneth Starr stands at an easel with a brush poised to paint a portrait tagged The Starr Report, and Starr is looking down the front of the pants of Clinton, who is standing next to him. In short, pretty decent editorial cartooning despite the hostility of the point of view (a hostility, as I mentioned, born more of the editooners' presumed role as a basher of authority than of Righteousness itself). I mention this tome here just so we are all aware that the liberal left isn't alone in dispassionate assessment of their political opposites as villains and mountebanks of the colossal proportions. Bias among partisans is, in other words, endemic to the breed, myself included.
In a somewhat less partisan mode, we have the latest of two volumes presenting the unconventional efforts of cartoonists who labor, often obscurely, in the vineyards of the alternative press, Attitude 2: The New Subversive Alternative Cartoonists (128 8.5x11-inch pages in paperback; $13.95 from NBM, www.nbmpublishing.com). This tome came into being because NBM's previous volume, called Attitude: The New Subversive Political Cartoonists (same dimensions and price), was compelled by an array of subjective and practical considerations to leave out too many worthy vineyard workers. Both books are edited by Ted Rall, one of the breed's most nefarious gadflies, a goad of the first water. Rall has long stumped for a fresh approach to editorial cartooning. In the first of this brace of books, he writes: "Political cartooning as we know it-a mainstream political cartooning-is a dying breed." Disparaging the use of such visual devices as donkeys and elephants and "ships piloted by president-as-captain going down in a sea labeled 'deficit,'" Rall says "old school ... editorial cartoonists are getting fired like they're going out of style because they are out of style." If papers are going after younger readers, they should use the cartoons that a younger reader enjoys-cartoons which, these days, can be found most often in alternative weekly newspapers (those freebies that live entirely on classified ads for various sexual services, I think he means). "Nobody worries that a few naughty words will inspire some old lady to cancel her subscription," Rall goes on, intending to attack the bottom-line orientation of most mainstream newspaper editors but unwittingly ignoring the obvious fact that a free newspaper doesn't have paid subscribers whose cancellations anyone need fear. Okay: I'm just needling Rall. These books are significant contributions to the library of modern cartooning, and Rall is to be applauded for the diligence he has displayed in, first, having the idea to produce the books and, second, getting them done. The latter was no easy trick.
Each book covers 21 cartoonists, and in the 6-8 pages allotted to each, Rall showcases their work and publishes an interview he conducted with them. His questions give his victims ample opening to assert themselves. He asks William "Citizen Bill" Brown for his take on affirmative action, and Brown, with enviable perversity, makes his support seem an objection: "It is a pernicious form of reverse discrimination and the instant that we have achieved racial equality we should discontinue it," he says. Of the 21 cartoonists in the first volume, 14 can actually draw (or display what passes for drawing ability as distinct from the other 7 whose efforts in this direction are pitiful even if they are pithy and pointed). Rall himself confronts this pecularity of the alternative cartooning universe when he says to Lloyd Dangle, a notable exemplar of the ineptitude school of drafting: "Nowadays, there's a big debate in the cartooning community over the importance of craft, especially as it relates to drawing ability. What's more important to a successful cartoon, in your opinion-the words or the pictures?" It is, of course, a loaded question-coming from one barely competent drawer to another whose scorn of quality drawing is even more flagrant in his work. But Dangle tackles an answer and wrestles it to the ground: "I'm so glad I don't get involved in cartoonist debates! The combination of drawing to writing is individual to every cartoonist, and that's what's great about it. Everybody takes a different road. If you're lucky, you hit upon the right combination and you find your voice. Then you hang on to what works and hope it pays." One would be justified in assuming that Dangle devotes more attention to the verbal content of his effort than the visual. Peter Kuper, on the other hand, frequently eschews words altogether. (He is also much more widely distributed in mainstream publications-including Mad, for which he draws "Spy vs. Spy.") One of Kuper's on-going projects is the wordless comic strip, Eye of the Beholder, which achieves its ironic conclusions entirely by sequencing pictures. "I realized that if there were words," Kuper explains, "each week I'd be contending with an editor adjusting my syntax."
Rall, who, like many of those he interviews, is a practitioner of a wholly non-artistic brand of art, defends himself in an interview conducted by fellow tooner Ruben Bolling. Admitting-even extolling-his incompetence, Rall says: "Whether my stuff works has little to do with my drawing style ... eventually [my work] became sought after because it was noticeably different." But he also allows that "even if I wanted to draw for the marketplace, whatever that is, I wouldn't know how." He arrived at his style, he confesses, when he realized he couldn't make caricatures as good as Mike Peters'; and, in casting about for some alternative to drawn pictures, he remembered art that he enjoyed-Soviet propaganda posters and punk rock album covers. And he resolved to try to incorporate the "sharp, geometric approaches into cartooning." Peter Kuper put him onto scratchboard, which "naturally led me to jagged angles and stylistic abstractions." The excessive cost of scratchboard and its scarcity eventually convinced him to abandon it, but he tries to maintain the appearance of that medium in the work he does.
In his interviews with others, Rall laces his questions with applause and appreciation of their efforts as well as opinions about the state of the art and the plight of the world generally. The result on the page is more like a record of a conversation of the typical Q&A interview. In addition to purely technical questions (Whose work inspired you to become a cartoonist?), Rall asks trivial ones (Do you ever litter?), all of which pile up an impression of the personality behind the cartoons. Sometimes he veers off into the metaphysical or theological. Of Clay Butler, he asks, "Are you religions? Do you believe in God?" Says Butler: "No and no. ... If we were living in a society that valued intelligence, free inquiry, logic and reason, most people would snicker at such a silly question. Let's face it: there's more direct evidence for the existence of the Tooth Fairy than there is for God." Kuper, on the other hand, says, "I believe in God and ghosts and UFOs among many other things. Particularly when I've been raveling. I do feel a force connecting things together; God is as good a word to describe it as any. Religion is a whole other bag, and that's where I have lots of problems." When Rall asks Matt Wuerker if he believes in God, Wuerker says, "Sure." Rall is aghast: "'Sure'?" he says. "How can you reply to one of the greatest mysteries of human existence and spirituality so casually?" "I'm a cartoonist," says Wuerker.
In addition to those I've mentioned so far, the first Attitude includes Andy Singer, Don Asmussen, Tom Tomorrow (Dan Perkins), Jen Sorensen, Scott Bateman (about whose hilarious book, Scan, more in a trice), Tim Eagan, Derf, Lalo Alcaraz (who is presently producing a comic strip, La Cucaracha, in addition to editorial cartoons), Joe Sharpnack, Eric Bezdek, Ward Sutton, Stephanie McMillan, Mickey Siporin, and Jim Siergey. Attitude 2 includes Keith Knight, Neil Swaab, Emily S. Flake, Tak Toyoshima, Brian Sendelbach, Jennifer Berman, Alison Bechdel, Shannon Wheeler, Mikhaela B. Reid, Aaron McGruder (whose Boondocks, he says, is definitely an alternative comic strip, albeit in the mainstream press), Tim Kreider, Barry Deutsch, David Rees, Max Cannon, Eric Orner, Greg Pters, Jason Yungbluth (perhaps the most versatile and accomplished artist of the lot), Stephen Notley, Justin Jones, Kevin Moore, and Marian Henley. In introducing this volume, Rall admits the confusion that infested his selections for the first volume. He was thinking "political cartoons," but in the alternative press ("the only print media format that is growing by leaps and bounds even as dailies [mainstream newspapers], magazines and comic books slide into the dark maw of circulation oblivion") almost every cartoonist, whether in a panel or a strip, is making a comment that, even if just "social," has political impact. "Selecting which cartoonists to invite to participate in a collection like this is an inherently subjective dilemma doomed to imperfection," he confesses. He agonized over several cartoonists in settling on the content for the first book, eventually deciding to exclude those who didn't discuss "politics" enough. But since 9/11, almost everyone is more political than they were. Hence, this book, which "supplements its predecessor while focusing on the alternative cartoonists who 'just' try to be funny. 'Just' belongs in quotes, for what could be more important than laughing?" Or what could be more subversive, I might add.
The number of cartoonists who display actual drawing ability in this volume is higher, 16 out of 21, than in the previous book. But this book also includes master manipulators of canned (or "clip art") images, Tom Tomorrow, David Rees, and Max Cannon. These guys are dialogue writers and image manipulators-typists and computer gurus-rather than drawers of pictures. They're powerfully pointed and often hysterically funny. But they are cartoonists by sufferance: they have found work in a print medium that is usually desperate for graphic images to break up the gray of typography. And most of them have been bitten, at one time or another as they were growing up, by the hypnotic attraction of comics. In his Get Your War On, Rees is the most egregious of the clip-artist offenders: he not only appears to use and re-use the same six pieces of art over and over, sometimes he even repeats the same three panel strip, changing only the typography in the speech balloons. Funny, yes; wry wit, yes. But only cartooning at the margins of the term's meaning. Cannon, on the other hand, makes his Red Meat strip look like clip art by drawing pictures that look like clip art-and then repeating them, panel after panel in Rees' manner. (Cannon, by the way, believes that he was the first to draw for reproduction on a computer, starting in 1989.) Rall confronts Rees with this criticism: "Some critics say that using clip art and typeset text isn't real cartooning." Says Rees: "That's fine. I don't really consider myself a cartoonist. I just happen to use the form to express some of my ideas. ... I'm sure there are people who think rap music isn't 'real music.' Who cares?" And later, speaking of himself in the third person, Rees says: "David Rees can draw if he wants to, but he's not good at drawing people and he's not good at drawing the same thing over and over again, which is what you do in a sequential art form like comics. So David Rees just decided using clipart was a much more efficient way of communicating Well, he's right about one thing: there are plenty of so-called cartoonists, particularly in comic books, who can't draw the same face twice in a recognizable manner. But he's dodging the issue anyhow.
I was distressed to learn in this book's last chapter on Marian Henley that after 22 years of producing the charming and keenly insightful Maxine strip, she's giving it up, slowly but surely, to write a novel and a memoir. Funny Times will continue running vintage Maxine for awhile, Henley says, but she has a new interest. She says she can't explain her decision rationally, but getting to the drawingboard began to feel too much like work in recent years-a job rather than a labor of love. She felt she needs a change. Twenty-five years ago, though, she was doing a semi-autobiographical strip about the dilemmas of a single woman, and she was one of few women in that department. "There was a bit of clucking at first about 'the next Cathy," Henley said, "which frightened me no end." In describing one series of strips, she says, "I found myself in an uncomfortable and contradictory state of laughing out loud while also feeling appalled. This odd sensation became my Holy Grail for a while with Maxine. As I wrote and drew, fishing for ideas, as soon as I felt that contradiction, I jumped on it." Rall applauded: "That's excellent advice: if you feel scared about what you've done, run with it!"
The two books have a handsome unified cover design, and the interior pages are smartly laid out, integrating typography and pictures with elan on a layout grid that makes following both text and pictures easy-thanks to J.P. Trostle.
And now, as promised, a word or two about Scott Bateman's strange and wonderful book, Scan (144 unnumbered 5x8-inch pages in paperback; $10, available only through www.Powells.com these days; it was self-published with a limited print run). I have no idea what to call this. It is written and drawn by an accomplished cartoonist and satirist. But despite a kind of narrative continuity, it isn't a graphic novel. It is, however, a kind of documentary-albeit fraught with ambiguity, mysteriousness, personality quirks, and social and cultural criticism. The mode of presentation is different from anything you're likely to have seen before (except maybe the closing pages of Stars My Destination or Tristram Shandy). Here's a start: the word "scan" appears one day in this little town, scrawled on a wall next to the auto parts store. Nobody thought much about it until the word started appearing on other walls around the town. Bateman traces this progression by means of what might be called "man in the street interviews": on each left-hand page are his habitually abbreviated renderings of a humanoid visage with the visage's "testimony" or diatribe or incongruous statement. These personages are given names and occupations, and they return again and again to add to what they've said before or to make further comment on the spread of "scan." On the page facing the witnesses appear charts, diagrams, verbal test scores and the like-in short, the detritus of modern society. On one left-hand page, we meet Craig Splichal (NRA member, "determined not to let SCAN strike his property"). Craig testifies and holds his rifle: "If Scan tries to get into my house, I'll graffiti him up with this, pal," he says. On the facing page are six bullseye targets showing the results of Mr. Splichal's target practice the previous week. None of the bullet holes are anywhere near the bullseye; and only a few even hit the outer ring of the target. Wasserman, Moonbeam Wasserman, an organic food store employee, shows up to complain that Scan doesn't used environmentally friendly soy-based inks. On the facing page, we are given "a guide to Ms. Wasserman's tribal tattoos." First, a column depicting the tattoos; then a column headed "What Ms. Wasserman thinks it means"; followed by a final column headed "What it really means." The tattoo that she thinks means "Peace, brotherhood" actually means "the goat liver is undercooked." The testimony of Svetlana Vostok, "sex industry worker [who] has a very personal SCAN problem," is entirely in Russian. On the facing page, we have a bar graph showing "how Ms. Vostok rates her most recent clients." By the end of the book, Scan has apparently taken over the entire town: we see Billy Dorgan, the Boy Scout who volunteered to clean it all up, who is the only resident left "after the SCAN absorption," saying, "I just know I'm going to get blamed for all this." On the facing page is a list of his tv appearances on such programs as Larry King Live, Nightline, etc., and a bar graph reporting the results of a CNN/USA today/Gallup poll about Mr. Dorgan.
In short, this book is entirely lunatic. But with method. Every two-page spread is another outlandish assertion about us and our popular culture. It's the sort of book you should wander through in short doses in order to properly appreciate the ingenuity of the comedy and the barb of the satire. Bateman's deployment of the resources of the medium does not rely upon a blend of word and picture in the so-called classic mode of cartooning: the words here make sense without the pictures, which, as I said, are in Bateman's usual cryptic humanoid manner. The pictures merely identify the speakers. As for the charts and graphs, well-charts and graphs have never been considered aspects of cartooning. Before now. What Bateman does with cartooning here is more than a blending of word and picture: it is an exercise in another of the medium's essential characteristics, sequence-sequence gives us the accumulation of evidence and artifice in the service of a satirical vision. Sequence is the unifying element; ridicule on a grand scale is the result.
Before we leave Bateman (and I'm not sure I ever want to), here are a couple of his recent editorial cartoons. One on the Janet Jackson episode is headlined "Now Let Me Get This Straight" and shows one of Bateman's talking heads, a woman, saying: "So, a white man sexually assaults a black woman in front of 80 million viewers during the Super Bowl ... and she's the one who gets in all kinds of trouble and has to apologize?" Pause. Then she glares: "I'm ever so proud of the progress this country's made." In a second cartoon, Bateman presents "The Case Against Gay Marriage," this time three different talking heads. The first, a male, says: "Marriage should be like it is in the Bible-a loveless exchange of property and livestock arranged between total strangers." The second, also male: "People entering into long-term loving committed relationships-is this an example we want to set for our children?" The third and last, a woman: "If all my gay friends suddenly get married, do you have any idea how much I'll have to spend on wedding presents?"
Keep your eye on this guy. Visit www.livejournal.com/users/scottbateman/
Oh-one more shoe on the Janet Jackson venture. Ms. Jackson was one of several dozen celebrities who each decorated one of the 75 Mickey Mouse statues that were displayed at Disney World to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Rodent's talking debut. Her Mickey, clad in a tight black costume modeled after an outfit she wore on tour, was "retired" in early March. Disney's powers thought the statue would remind everyone of Janet's nipple jewelry, so it was removed, taken off display, hidden away. The old ostrich trick, kimo sabe.
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE. Don't miss ordering this one: John Kovalic and Christopher Jones have levitated their Dr. Blink to his own book, Dr. Blink: Superhero Shrink, no. 0, listed in this month's Previews. Superheroes recline on Dr. Blink's couch and reveal their innermost anguishes, which, having revealed them, affects their future behavior in strange but psychologically predictable (perhaps) ways. And I've seen enough of this one, a page here, a story there, to call it as I sees it: a hoot, troops.
NOUS R US. Okay, okay: I know (ouch), I know (ouch, ouch): it's Rea Irvin, not Irving Rea who drew the first cover for The New Yorker in those storied days of yore. He also designed the magazine's distinctive typeface and presided over the selection of cartoons for decades. I know all that. And I've written enough about Harold Ross and his storied magazine that my getting Irvin's name all kafoozled last time we met here is nearly unforgivable. Nearly. I plead Gardner Rea. Right: it's the commonality of the first and last names that confuses me. Maybe others, too. Were they cousins? Brothers? Who knows. ... Starting March 1, Pat Brady took on a partner in producing his aesthetically stunning comic strip, Rose Is Rose. Don Wimmer is so good at imitating Brady's drawing style that I didn't even notice-not even when Brady's signature disappeared and Wimmer's undulating wwwmmm's appeared. ... Pat Brady is one of the three finalists for the National Cartoonists Society's "cartoonist of the year award," the Reuben. The other two are Greg Evans (Luann) and Dan Piraro (Bizarro); Brady and Evans have been up for this trophy five or six times each (maybe six or seven; I've lost count). This is the second time for Piraro, who was the antic Emcee at last year's Reuben Banquet (and also on the ballot). The anointing of this year's Reuben winner will take place during the annual cartoonist confabulation, this Memorial Day weekend in Kansas City.
Johnny Hart continues to inflame readers with his B.C. strip. In the installment for February 20, one caveman is administering an eye exam to another, who holds a card up to one eye as he reads the chart in the distance. "Read the smallest line you can see," says the first. "Acme 3x5 Cards, Inc." says the second. The first inspects the card carefully and says, "Amazing." A thoroughly harmless bit of comedy, surely. But some reader, suffering, no doubt, from the sort of hyper-awareness that Hart's previous message-mongering strips has fostered, objected because, he noted, of the letters on the eye chart. On the line below the first line's big E, we see "PTL" (Praise the Lord), then "Zola" (supposedly a man named Zola Levitt) then, in the small type, "G. Bush." Not only is Hart evangelizing and politicizing, but, the reader fumes, "It may further be construed as anti-Semitic since Zola Levitt refers to himself as a 'Jewish Christian,' or a Jew who has disregarded conventional Jewish thought and accepted Christ as Messiah." Let this be a lesson: once you sin in regard to sending covert messages via your comic strip, your readers will be forever on the look-out for further delinquencies. And in Hart's case, you'll probably be guilty of them. ... The Doonesbury contest to award $10,000 to anyone who can turn up credible evidence that George W. ("Whopper") Bush served in the Alabama National Guard (as he alleges he has) produced over 1,500 responses as of March 2, but no credible evidence as yet. A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee denounced Garry Trudeau's mocking competition as "a silly stunt," and Trudeau agreed: "She's right, but as a simple investigative cartoonist, I don't have a very big tool kit." He doubts proof or lack thereof about Bush's alleged service will affect support for the pResident in the coming November election. "For me," the cartoonist said, "stunt cartooning is mostly about keeping busy. If it tips a national election, well, that's just gravy." ... Kevin Fagan's comic strip, Drabble, once only barely drawn and now a little better, celebrated its 25th year on March 5. ... The Week magazine, my favorite news weekly, devoted half-a-page to Julie Schwartz's obituary in the February 27 issue. ... Spider-Man 2, the movie, isn't even finished, but Sony is already opting for a third movie about the webslinger.
As "a reflection of the esteem in which Jeff MacNelly is held" at the Chicago Tribune, a permanent exhibition of about 50 pieces of original art for his editorial cartoons and comic strip, Shoe, opened January 13 in a special display room on the 24th floor of the Tribune Tower in Chicago. The Trib's eseteem is so great that they haven't yet been able to find a replacement for MacNelly, gone, now, for two years or more. ... At the Edward Gorey House, the museum that was once the cartoonist's home in Cape Cod, two new exhibitions opened March First: (1) illustrations for Donald Has a Difficulty, the book he did with Peter Neumeyer in 1969 (which will be re-issued with the other Donald book, Donald and the ..., later this spring) and (2) Gorey's experiments with pop-up, accordian, and shuffle books; both until the fall. ... The Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco is celebrating the "Seussentennial" (100th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Seuss) with two companion exhibits: rare early paintings and drawings and production art for Seuss's animated tv specials (until June 20) and original editorial cartoons, cover art, and magazine cartoons from his early career and other seldom seen art, including "hand-pulled serigraphs from the Secret Art collection" (until April 10). ... Rob Hanes no. 5, Randy Reynoldo's too infrequently produced adventure comic book series (in the Terry and the Pirates mode), will be published in June, it sez here. In this, the conclusion of a long-running story arc, Rob learns the truth about whether his father was a double agent during the Cold War. By way of paving the way for the 5th issue, Reynoldo has posted some of Rob's early adventures at his website (www.wcgcomics.com) so fans can refresh their memories about what has gone before (and new readers can acquaint themselves with the Hanes milieu). ... Caricaturist David Levine, who says his painting avocation supports his addiction to cartooning (the reverse of the usual formulation), has a new show at the Forum Gallery in New York City (745 Fifth Avenue, at 57th Street, 10150), and the Gallery has produced a handsome catalog for the show, Escape. It includes a few of the Maestro's caricatures, some colored, but also a satisfying smattering of his watercolors and oils, in full color. Delicious work, and if you enjoy Levine's penwork on caricatures, you deserve to acquaint yourself with his considerable achievement in these other media. The 44 7x10-inch page booklet has a beautiful wrap-around cover of one of the oils (also reproduced inside as a fold-out); $25 plus $3 p&h from the Gallery. ... From cartoonist Nicole Hollander (Sylvia) and columnist Regina Barreca, here's The ABC of Vice: An Insatiable Women's Guide, Alphabetized (Bibliopola Press, $10.95), half cartoon, half sassy text, treating of the important issues of life-like, Adultery: "When involved in adultery, women will often get parts of their bodies waxed more often than they vacuum the rug"; Bras: "Cute bras look cute as long as they do not actually touch your person"; Penis Envy: "Isn't it a good thing that it isn't on his face?" ... In London, the animated Disney cartoon "The Jungle Book" was recently voted Number One in the top ten cartoons of all time; the rest, in descending order: Toy Story, Finding Nemo, The Lion King, Shrek, Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc, Ice Age, Fantasia, Beauty and the Beast. Dunno who was voting, but they missed Snow White, Pinocchio, Bambi-not to mention Chuck Jones creations. Okay, I get it: the voting was probably done by ten-year-olds, based entirely on the cartoons they'd seen in their lifetimes.
The New York Times has decided, after two years of "monitoring" Ted Rall's cartoons, that it can no longer post his work to the paper's website. In explaining the decision, the Times Digital Spokesperson Christine Moran said: "While he often does good work, we found some of his humor was not in keeping with the tone we try to set for the NYTimes.com." The paper supports the right to free expression, she said, but "we also recognize an obligation to assure our users that what we publish, no matter what its origin, does not offend the reasonable sensibilities of our audience." Thus tagged an unreasonable (hysterical? irrational?) provocateur, Rall said the paper has been skittish about his work ever since his notorious 9/11 "terror widows" cartoon in 2002. (Click here for our Opus 82 coverage at the time.) Speaking to David Astor at Editor & Publisher, Rall allowed as how he'd been cancelled from "a lot of newspapers-it comes with the territory. But this," he continued-referring to the reluctance of papers to deal with reader complaints- "is nothing short of appalling. It needs to change." (More from Rall at his website, www.tedrall.com.) The NY Times was paying no fee for the use of his cartoon, so Rall suffers no loss in income; and his cartoon continues to be published in about 140 papers. Rall's lastest book, Attitude 2, which he assembled, is reviewed below; a second all prose Rall book, Wake Up, Your'e Liberal: How We Can Take Back America From the Right (from Soft Skull Press), is due next month.
The skittishness of newspapers about cartoons extends even to op-ed illustrations. In the January-February issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, Jesse Sunenblick, a recent NYU journalism graduate, mourns the loss of courage at the New York Times and elsewhere betokened by the timidity reflected in the growing tendency to pick bland, innocuous illustrations for the op-ed page. "A number of top illustrators tell me the same thing," Sunenblick writes. "All the heavy thinkers are gone. All the big ideas are diminished. Not just pencils [which can be too easily interpreted as phallic symbols] but anything requiring the slightest abstraction of thought. Not just at the Times, they said, but all over the place; it was endemic. Opinion art was reduced to display. Cheap irony prevailed." Sunenblick cites numerous cases extracted from interviews with artists in which editors rejected artwork that was too edgy, too biting-too thought-provoking and therefore possibly offensive to some of the more delicate mentalities among newspaper readers. Editors apparently will do anything to avoid offending a reader. A "plague of blandness" has descended on the editorial pages of America's once-cocky crusading press. Here's an op-ed article headlined: Will the PLO Stop Terrorism? Can Arafat Change His Spots? Mark Podwal drew a picture of a creature half-lamb, half-leopard, wearing Arafat's PLO-issued kaffiyeh. The headdress is draped down the back of the lamb's head and neck and into the leopard part of the creature's anatomy, and upon close inspection, those little checks that spot the kaffiyeh gradually become, as the pattern merges into the leopard's spots, tiny pictures of bombs with fuses lit. The op-ed editor first "removed the bombs on the leopard part, then the bombs on the kaffiyeh, then the kaffiyeh altogether, so all that remained was a ridiculous-looking creature" half-lamb, half-leopard. With spots on half its body. "Do not offend" seems to have become the motto of newspapermen everywhere. Here's a Happy Harv News Flash for them: some people deserve to be offended. Make it a motto. Put it on a banner. Or on a passel of post-it notes, all around the office.
The latest to offend readers with a political cartoon is Pat Oliphant. (He prefers to be called a "political cartoonist" because "editorial" implies some sort of collaboration with the editors, and Oliphant is his own man.) The cartoon, which was published on about March 12, depicted a giant nun in habit, waving a ruler at a beaten and bruised little boy, who is hobbling out of the classroom, a light-bulb suddenly flashing over his head. The caption: "In his early school days, Little Mel Gibson gets beaten to a bloody pulp by Sister Dolorosa Excruciata of the Little Sisters of the Holy Agony, and an idea is born." The message is pretty clear to me: in making the movie about Christ's bloody last twelve hours as a mortal, Gibson was somehow working out a few psychological "issues" that he doubtless inherited under the stern rule (pun intended) of Catholic schooling. There are other interpretations, too. Commenting on the disturbance the cartoon caused in Boston when the Boston Globe ran it, William Powers at the National Journal (http://nationaljournal.com/powers.htm) if you want his whole schtick on the subject) looks a little deeper and surmises that "Oliphant seems to be linking the sadism of those who torture Jesus in the movie to sadistic strains within the Catholic Church itself. ... In other words, when it comes to cruelty, Catholics have their own issues. Coming after the Church's horrific pedophile scandal and in the very newspaper that broke that scandal open, the cartoon might have struck thoughtful readers [of the Boston Globe] as extremely apt, even brilliant. Humor that manages to be both very broad and very subtle is a rare thing," he went on, appreciatively. But at the Globe, editors were less impressed with Oliphant's penetrating commentary. Readers felt Oliphant was being disrespectful and unnecessarily cruel to nuns. The Globe editors quickly apologized for the cartoon. "We saw the cartoon as a comic take on a cultural subject prominently in the news," the editorial page editor wrote. "We underestimated people's sensitivities to what appeared to us a broadly satiric commentary. I regret that." The paper's ombudsman agreed that the cartoon should not have been published: "The point of this particular cartoon didn't equal the cost." Powers grieved. "We are living in the Age of the Ombudsman," he groaned, "a deeply earnest and practical time when it all comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis. 'The point' of any piece of work is weighed against 'the cost'-i.e., the number of people it offends." And that's the problem, he says. Papers avoid troublesome matters. "Why offend people when you can make them happy? Why shock when you can calm and soothe?" He is reminded of the old Coke jingle: I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony. "Operate in this fashion for a while," Powers continues, "and pretty soon you'll have a thoroughly modern media establishment, one that plays nice all the time, isn't wicked, and never makes anyone cry. Or laugh." Or think, I might add. Start passing out those post-it notes.
Matt Davies, editorial cartoonist for the Journal News of White Plains, NY, won the first annual Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning. In addition to a sterling silver trophy, the prize carries a $10,000 award (for which the Herblock Foundation has already paid the taxes). Ben Bradlee, executive editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate era, made the presentation on Thursday evening, March 11, concluding with a talk entitled "The New Culture of Lying." When notified of winning the Prize, Davies expressed his gratitude at winning a prize named after one of his heroes and, in an interview with Editor & Publisher's David Astor, said: "It's a very important time to be an editorial cartoonist because it is such a divided nation. What was extreme right-wing radio during the Clinton years now passes for [Bush] administration policy." Born in England, Davies immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1983 when he was 17; ten years later, after freelancing for several years, he joined the Journal News staff. Judges for the Prize included Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), Clarence Paige (columnist, Chicago Tribune), and David Remnick (editor, The New Yorker). Trudeau and Davies are rubbing elbows in another award competition: they and Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune are the finalists in the editorial cartooning category for the Pulitzer. If Trudeau wins, it will be his second Pulitzer; only he and Berke Breathed (with Bloom County) have won editorial cartooning Pulitzers with comic strips. Oddly, Aaron McGruder hasn't come up in the Pulitzer competition: he's certainly as political in his strip as Trudeau is in his. ... The Pulitzer winner in 2002, Clay Bennett of the Christian Science Monitor, just won the National Headliner Award.
PEEVES & PRATFALLS. Some things in life are certain, and some of those things are reprehensible and regrettable. One of those certainties, alas, was that Martha Stewart would be convicted. Almost two years ago-in August 2002, Opus 97 of this symphonic masterwork-I wrote the following: "Martha, alas, will not escape unscathed. Ken Lay will, and so will most of the others: it's notoriously difficult to convict business executives of crimes that involve accounting practices. Hence the sham of the Bushwah promise to jail corporate offenders: prosecutors aren't likely to be able to prove the alleged offenses. But Martha-she's out there, highly visible, a public figure-a symbol-that Ken Lay and the rest cannot aspire to. She'll be the scapegoat, the patsy, the sacrificial lamb for all corporate miscreants. Too bad. But our sexist society is stacked against her: she's a pushy broad, and she's smug about it, and capitalists truly dislike smug, pushy broads, so the Bush Leaguers will band together against her and crush her like a bug." And that's just what happened.
I'm scarcely a big Martha Stewart fan. I think her achievement is immense: from fashion model to stock broker to entrepreneur and spearhead of a multi-million-dollar business. She transformed ordinary homemaking into an artistic pursuit, making possible for thousands of everyday housewives a pride of accomplishment that feminists had demolished in their loud pursuit of an equivalent to a male place in the world outside the home. But Martha was-is-also a prickly perfectionist, too good to be true, and a nasty, self-centered arrogant megalomaniac. Not someone I'd invite over for Thanksgiving dinner. But she didn't deserve to be convicted for lying about a supposed crime that she was never charged with. The Orewellian circuitousness of this as an example of judicial procedure is stunning. All of her convictions are built upon the same flimsy foundation-a crime she is alleged to have committed but which no one could prove. And what happened to "innocent until proven guilty"? Even odder: her supposed crime isn't about corporate misbehavior-not Enronish or Worldcomish-and yet, judging from the utterances of one of the jurors, that is what she was convicted of. Interviewed after the trial, this worthy, one Chappell Hartridge, allowed as how Martha's conviction proves "she's just another human being." (We needed a trial to establish that?) Moreover, he continued, "Investors may feel a little more comfortable now that they can invest in the market and not worry about these scams and that they'll lose their 401(k)." Sorry, Chappell, but Martha was never even accused of "insider trading," although it was initially supposed that was her crime. But it wasn't. The sale of her stock based upon her stock broker's advice (under somewhat strange circumstances, true) was a violation of the brokerage firm's policies, not law. According to Allan Sloan in Newsweek, "The one serious crime of which Stewart was accused-luckily, the judge threw it out-arose from her proclaiming her innocence. The government charged her with trying to manipulate the stock price of her company by falsely saying she was innocent. If ever there was an example of chilling free speech, this is it." Once again I ask: whatever happened to "innocent until proven guilty"? Even the judge realized that this charge was "a stretch." Said Sloan: "All she did was defend herself. Today the government whacks Stewart for daring to defend herself. Tomorrow, my friend, it could be your turn in the barrell." So we're left with the so-called criminality of lying to government investigators. Sloan summons up a little parallelism: "When a cop pulls you over for going 70 in a 55-mile-per-hour zone and you say you didn't know how fast you were going although you damn well did, you're lying to an investigating officer." In short, you could be thrown in the slammer for 18-24 months like Martha will be, and for the same sort of crime. The "conventional wisdom," Sloan observes, "is that by convicting Martha of lying and obstructing justice, the government has struck a blow for truth, justice and the American way." More likely, he goes on, the case will teach people to run the other way whenever a government investigator comes their way. The best course, judging from Martha's fate, is to clam up and say nothing. "I would have been happy," says Sloan (another self-confessed non-fan of Martha's), "if the government had gotten her for cheating people or some other real crime. But for this? Give me a break."
But the situation is even more dire than Sloan paints it. One post-conviction talking head on Ted Koppel's "Nightline" allowed as how the crucial moment was when the government decided to prosecute. Given the marginal and ambiguous circumstance surrounding Martha's manipulations, there's a good chance she would never have been prosecuted if it hadn't been for those conscienceless scalawags at Enron and elsewhere and if she weren't such a highly visible "symbol" of corporate power. So why did they decide to prosecute? They thought she was lying, but it was a pretty tenuous sort of lie. I suspect, if the witness in this case was accurate, that Martha was prosecuted for her attitude. As she left the interrogation, she looked at the investigators and sniffed, "Well, I have a business to run." And walked out. The investigators, being human and dedicated to their work and all that good stuff, didn't like her attempt to belittle them. And they suspected she'd bent the truth more than a little. Presto, prosecution.
And that reminds me of Orwell's vision of a police state. Given the Bush League's penchant for secrecy and their tendency to call anyone who disagrees with them a traitor, the prospect of a police state a-borning is not as outlandish today as it was in 1984 (or even as recently as a decade ago). But now, thanks to Martha's sniff, I shudder to think how close we are to a state in which people can be arrested and prosecuted on the whim of the authorities. As if we are all enemy combatants.
STATE OF THE EDITOONERY. Back in the 1940s-at least in 1947, from July to December- Editor & Publisher, the esteemed chronicler of the newspaper business, published in each weekly issue three editorial cartoons on the hot topics of the week. For the six-month run of the magazine that I inspected, that comes to 78 cartoons. Some cartoonists were represented more than once (Roche, Baldowski, Berdanier, Mergen, Hungerford, Costello, Duffy, Milliams, Herblock, Ray, Barrow, Cargill, Manning, Russell, Werner, Seibel, Martin, Long, and Jensen). Altogether, there were 50 cartoonists represented-all those just named plus 31 others. Of the names listed here, I recognize 7; 8 of the others are listed in Syd Hoff's book on political cartoonists. That's roughly 15 of the 50 cartoonists who are, in some haphazard way, "familiar" to me. I don't pretend to be encyclopedic on the subject of 20th Century editorial cartoonists, but I have a nodding acquaintance with the roster, and yet there are 35 of the 50 cartoonists represented in a six-month run of E&P whose names I don't recognize and can't find mentioned in a standard reference work in the field. And I can think of some of the better known editorial cartoonists of that day who weren't published in the six months between July and December in E&P -Shoemaker, for instance, and Ding (who was, admittedly, verging on retirement then), Goldberg, Chapin, Batchelor, Dowling, Somerville, McCutcheon, Lambert, Bissell, Craig, Hubenthal, Poiner, Rosen, and probably more. My guess is that most of those 35 whose names don't chime in the back of my head are working at relatively small newspapers, maybe doing general art chores in addition to editorial cartooning; maybe not. And another guess is that there are probably another 35 or so out there who just weren't published in E&P during the six months I inspected. Maybe as many as 50 or so. In short, I can easily imagine that the number of practicing editorial cartoonists in 1947 was well up into the 150 range. But very few of them were syndicated.
In the E&P directory of syndicated features that year, only 29 names appear in the editorial cartoon category. In contrast, 94 editorial cartoonists' names are listed in the current E&P directory of syndicated editorial cartoons. Just to complete the comparison: in 1947, E&P listed 267 comic strips; this year, 228. In 1947, E&P listed 140 gag panel cartoons; this year, that category totals 214. In the comic strip category, the 1947 count includes a number of "topper" strips-usually a second Sunday feature done by the same cartoonist to fill up the page that his regular feature didn't quite fill up. Colonel Potterby and the Duchess, for instance, topped Blondie; both were by Chic Young. Maybe 20 of these. So the 1947 total of major, mainline comic strips is probably about 240-250. Not all that much higher than the 2003 total. But in the other categories-editorial cartoons and single panel cartoons-the harvest in 2003 is, comparatively speaking, a bumper crop.
So what can we say about newspaper cartooning at the close of the last half-century? We have grown accustomed to thinking that cartooning in its newspaper genre is in decline. Fewer editorial cartoonists. Not as many comic strips. But it seems that it's not so bad as we often imagine it is. The number of comic strips and panel cartoons today, particularly, is, given our usual doomsday proclivity, little short of astonishing. The number of newspapers published today is only about two-thirds the number in 1947. In 1945, there were 1,744 daily newspapers in 1,396 cities; 117 cities had competing daily newspapers, some more than two. And the number of newspapers facing competition in the same town fostered the creation of comic strips. Syndicate exclusivity clauses restricted the sale of a strip to just one paper in any circulation area, so if you couldn't get Blondie because your competition had it, you opted for a knock-off like Priscilla's Pop or Dotty Dripple. Syndicates were, in effect, forcing beds for new comic strips, breeding offshoots of the more popular titles in order to supply rival needs in cities with more than one newspaper. Despite the hothouse of comics gestation in the industry in 1947, the number of cartoon features wasn't as great then as it is today, loosely speaking. There are more panel cartoons today, and the number of strips is nearly the same. On the other hand, there were doubtless more editorial cartoonists back then than there are now.
DOCTORING SEUSS. The Postal Service issued its Dr. Seuss stamp on March 2, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Theodor Seuss Geisel, an erstwhile cartoonist who put a striped top hat on a vandalizing cat and made children's books sing with rhythmic silly verses. That same week my comic book shop got in the book I'd ordered, The Seuss the Whole Seuss and Nothing but the Seuss: A Visual Biography of Theodor Seuss Geisel (400 9x11-inch pages on slick paper; hardbound, $35 from Random House, Dr. Seuss's old publisher) by Charles D. Cohen, a dentist who lives near Springfield, Massachusetts, where Geisel was born. The book is timely and delicious, a rich compendium of Seussian pictures and biographical facts, focused chiefly on Geisel's life and career before he created the hatted delinquent cat. Cohen has spent a lifetime collecting the works of Seuss, and his object herein is to show how Seuss developed from a cartoonist in high school and college into a cartooning advertising phenomenon of the 1930s, all of which culminated in his creation of children's classics. The postage stamp appropriates Seuss's visage from his gray-bearded, bespectacled grandfatherly years and also carries the images of several of his creations-most conspicuously, after the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch, a goat balancing on some sort of pedestal. This goat, in various guises, is a frequently recurring vestige in Seuss's works, and the diligent visual biographer Cohen has unearthed many of them. Beginning with the goat balancing on a mountaintop in Hilaire Belloc's More Beasts for Worse Children, a book whose antic pictures and playful verse clearly influenced Geisel as a boy, Cohen arranges a dozen or more goats from the Seuss ouevre, starting with the campus magazine Geisel edited while an undergraduate at Dartmouth and carrying on with his cartoon contributions to the old humor magazines, Life and Judge, illustrations for books, editorial cartoons, and his own volumes for both children and adults. Cohen's point is that some of Dr. Seuss's playful imagery had set down roots in his fertile mind long before it flowered in children's books. Cohen opens his treatise by debunking Geisel's own story about how he came up with Horton Hatches the Egg, the story of an elephant distinguished by that tantalizing picture of an elephant perched in a tree. Geisel said the idea came to him by sheer happenstance: on his desk, a picture he'd drawn on tissue paper of a seated elephant got in advertently placed on top of a picture he'd drawn of a tree, resulting in a dimly perceived image of an elephant sitting on a tree. "What's he doing there?" Geisel said he thought to himself. And to explain the oddity, he concocted the story of Horton hatching an egg. Not so, says Cohen; and he proves it, assembling a score of elephant images and stories that Geisel produced before the historic day in early 1940 when he presumably was inspired by a mislaid drawing. The Horton story had its direct antecedent in another Seuss tale, "Matilda, the Elephant with a Mother Complex," that was published in Judge; the lovable image of Horton was preceded by other Seussian pachyderms in his work over the years.
Cohen never met Geisel; nor did he interview anyone who knew Geisel. His research for this tome consists entirely of devouring the published Seuss record-the cartoons and books and interviews in magazines and newspapers, and the biography by Judith and Neil Morgan, Dr. Seuss and Mr. Geisel. But Cohen's collection of material on display is impressive and exhaustive. His book is a perfect, gleeful accompaniment to the Morgan volume, which is almost entirely empty of illustration. Nearly every page in Cohen's book carries at least two pictures, a copious record of the menagerie of bizarre beasties that Seuss created over a lifetime. The very richness of the illustrative material, however, makes conspicuous Cohen's singular oversight-dates. He often neglects to give dates, and frequently this omission is crucial. He gives us the date of the first Seuss cartoon published in a national periodical-the Saturday Evening Post, July 16, 1927; and the second national appearance- Judge, October 22, 1927. And he publishes the first appearance of the "Dr." in Dr. Seuss. But that, alas, he doesn't date! Both he and the Morgans explain that Geisel adopted the pen-name Seuss, his middle name, because, as Geisel laughingly put it, he was saving "Geisel" for his authorship of the Great American Novel. He was doing a series of comically illustrated pieces for Judge in 1927-28, all credited to Dr. Theophrastus Seuss. And at one point-the undated point-he dropped the first name (a name he'd given to a toy dog he'd had as a child) and used just "Dr. Seuss." Thereafter, "Dr. Seuss" was increasingly substituted for the simple "Seuss" he'd used to sign his cartoons and comical prose. The Morgans don't give a date for this inaugural appearance of "Dr." either. And you'd think they would. But Cohen's biographical crime here is greater because, since he reproduces the actual artifact itself, he presumably knows the date it appeared in Judge. Similarly, he mentions the Hejji Sunday comic strip Seuss produced for King Features in the 1930s-tells us only twelve pages were ever done and publishes two of them-but doesn't give the dates of publication. What rampant irresponsibility!-absolutely Seussian in its carefree disregard for reality. All twelve pages, incidentally, appear in Volume 2 of The Comic Strip Century (Kitchen Sink Press, 1995); and the strip's publication dates are April 7-June 23, 1935. (The last one should somehow be enshrined in the lore of cartooning along with the last Dickie Dare done by Milton Caniff as he left, abruptly, to do Terry and the Pirates for a rival syndicate. In the last panel of Dickie, the teutonic villain hears a noise off-stage and exclaims, "Vot's dot?" Caniff's departure from the feature was so sudden that his replacement, Coulton Waugh, was left to think of "vot dot vas" without a clue from his predecessor. The last panel of Hejji shows Hejji and his cohort, "the Mighty One"-ruler of Bakko-fleeing to escape from the pursuing masked Evil One with Other Menaces shown just around the corner they are about to turn, and the legend, "Continued Next Week." But there was no Hejji the next week. King Features, momentarily strapped, laid off its last hires first, and Geisel was one of the last. Incidentally, Hejji spends a couple Sundays perched in a tree to hatch an egg.)
I wouldn't make these quibbles over Cohen's slipshod dating if he weren't making such a big deal of some of them. In discussing Seuss's career as a political cartoonist for the New York daily newspaper, PM, for example, Cohen successfully persuades us that Seuss's first political cartoon appeared long before his stint on the newspaper began in 1941. The first Seuss political cartoon appeared in Judge, Cohen says-and prints the very article on page 222 as it appeared in 1932. But he cites only the year, not the month and day. With similar blithe disregard for his function as historian, Cohen publishes Seuss's first cartoon for PM, which, he says, appeared in April 1941-but he fails to supply the day. Astonishingly- because a good editor should have caught it-Cohen describes the political context for the cartoon, referring to a newspaper story in PM and then to Seuss's cartoon, published on "that day" but doesn't give the date. You'd think someone who says "that day" would tell us what day that was. Even odder, this episode is the occasion for a lengthy footnote in which Cohen explains that the multiple editions of a daily newspaper on any given day, with different contents in each edition, makes dating with precision difficult. Seuss's cartoon might appear on a certain day in one edition, the next day in another. But after this long preamble, Cohen fails to mention the date-or, either date-for Seuss's first PM cartoon. He does, however, give the dates for the second and third Seuss appearances (May 4 and May 8, 1941).
The chapter discussing Geisel's wartime service in a military training film unit in California is similarly disappointing. Geisel is credited with helping to create Private Snafu, a recurring cautionary character in a series of short animated films. But we don't get to see any pictures of Snafu, who, Cohen nonetheless assures us, "does not look like a Dr. Seuss character," probably because the films were being animated by Chuck Jones, Friz Feleng, Bob Clampett and Frank Tashlin. But it would be nice to see what Snafu looked like. ("Snafu" isn't explained either; the letters of the name are taken from the initials in a common expression among soldiers, "Situation Normal: All Fouled Up"-usually with another word in place of "fouled." One more snafu: Cohen refers to Geisel having "honed in on the growing threat from Japan"; but the expression he's grasped at here is "homed in.") Cohen's book suffers from another glaring shortcoming, one shared by the Morgans: Geisel wrote over 40 books, and it would help orient us to his career as we read about it if we had a chronological listing of these books, titles and publication dates. Yertle the Turtle, for instance, is a character, we are told, inspired by Hitler; but the book in which Yertle's story appears wasn't published until long after the Nazi threat was vanquished-not until 1958. These oversights and errors may be corrected in the next Seuss book, the just published Dr. Seuss: American Icon (which, as it happens, does have a list of his books and their dates of publication but still no picture of Private Snafu).
Despite these shortcomings-which, in the over-all richness of the Cohen book's contents, escape well beyond the border into the heartland of the trivial-Cohen's achievement here is not only useful but highly enjoyable. And the abundance of visual material from Seuss's career-particularly his post-graduate days as a cartoonist and as a cartooning marketing genius, creating comical advertising for several products, the most famous of which was an insecticide called Flit (Geisel's treatment was so widely appreciated at the time that "Quick, Henry-the Flit!" became a national catch phrase)-is a welcome addition to the biographical canon on Seuss. And it's gratifying to be reminded of Seuss's political cartooning phase and of his having created Gerald McBoing Boing, who appeared, first, in an audio recording before UPA made the animated cartoon. Try not to forego the pleasure of this book's company sometime soon. If not at your neighborhood bookstore, then at www.budplant.com
MORE BUSHWAH. Bush wants to preserve the sanctity of marriage as a blessed union between only a man and a woman. He didn't say "blessed," but he may as well have. Sanctity implies sanctifying, an act of religion. A nation that has only sanctified marriages is one in which all marriages are performed only in churches or synagogues or similar institutions under the exclusive auspices of a religion. No civil marriages at all.The minute the persons opposing gay marriages say that civil unions are permissible, they undermine every argument they can advance opposing gay marriages except the religious one of sanctifying. In a manner of speaking, I agree: leave the sanctifying of marriage to religion. That's where it belongs. And let the various religions undertake to defend the sanctity of marriage: if a particular religion won't sanctify homosexual unions, then the couple, presumably, should go to another church/religion. Meanwhile, marriage as a civil union-protected by all the same laws and entitled to all the same rights as sanctified marriages-should continue as before, except that gay unions should be permitted. Marriage, for all secular purposes (and government has no business messing with marriage for any other purpose), should be defined simply as a union between two people. Their sexual orientation should be left out of it. And so should sanctifying. Leave that to the religions that foster such things and thrive upon them. Historically, sanctifying marriage is what religions do. When a government gets into the business of sanctifying marriages, it is well on the way to setting up a state religion. A constitutional amendment on marriage would be a significant step in that direction.
But before leaving the subject, let me quote Al Hunt, who remarked on "The Capital Gang" Saturday, February 28: If Bush really wants to preserve the sanctity of marriage, he should propose a constitutional amendment that outlaws infidelity.
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