Opus 141:

Opus 141 (July 5, 2004). Featured this week are the Harvey Awards and the surrounding Art Festival in New York at the historic Puck Building, sponsored by the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) and a review of a watershed volume reprinting Charles Schulz's Li'l Folks apprenticeship. All the Harvey Award winners and nominees are listed, and we quote extensively from Neil Gaiman's keynoter at the presentation banquet. We also retail an abbreviated history of Puck magazine and the building it spawned and ponder the seeming illogic of the Harvey Award categories, finishing, finally, with a cryptic analysis of why comics are a natural human manifestation that will never die. Before we get to the Schulz book at the end, we also castigate Michael Moore's new flick and lallygag through some recent news reports, beginning immediately herewith:

Nous R Us. Last-minute news flash: John Cullen Murphy, who recently retired from drawing Prince Valiant after 34 years, died Friday, July 2, at the age of 85. A sadly short retirement. ... Spider-Man made it to the cover of Newsweek (June 28) for the launch of the sequel flick. Apart from flogging the movie, the cover story explained that the confusion about Tobye Maguire's losing his option on the part last year arose chiefly because all the conversation was taking place between Maguire's agents and studio execs rather than between the principals, the actor and the director, Sam Raimi. ... The two most recent comic strip figurines from Yoe Studio via Dark Horse are of Walt Wallet  from Gasoline Alley and the eponymous Dennis the Menace. In a line of exceptional products, both are exceptionally good three-dimensional renditions of the characters, Walt in his 1921 incarnation, holding the baby Skeezix. Next up, Barney Google, for which I have justifiably high hopes. ... Correction: I thought Glenn McCoy's The Duplex was a recent comic strip phenomenon, but according to its website habitat, it's been around since 1993; sorry Glenn. ...  Promotional visuals for the forthcoming "Catwoman" flick depict Halle Berry bent forward in a crouch that, we suppose, is intended to suggest a cat on the prowl but that serves, instead, to accent her cleavage. I sometimes wonder what she and other exhibitionists of her gender are thinking when they bend over that way. "Take a look at these, fan boy"? What else could be crossing their minds? ... One might ask a similar question of the growing domestic market for manga featuring toothsome "school girls" whose cavortings are often viewed from angles that reveal their underpants. What are we thinking? ... In Thailand, a family of cartoon characters has been conjured up to raise awareness of intellectual property rights. ... A sequel to last year's "Daredevil" flick has been put on hold while Jennifer Garner returns as the ninja assassin, Elektra, in a new film of that name, due out next February. ... My review of Will Eisner's Fagin the Jew appears in the current issue of The Comics Journal (No. 261), just in case you thought about asking.

            The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund applauded the recent Supreme Court decision that, for the moment at any rate, prevents John Ashcroft from enforcing the Child Online Protection Act, a law that would penalize online content providers for posting material deemed "harmful to minors." Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said: "Content-based prohibitions, enforced by severe criminal penalties, have the constant potential to be a repressive force in the lives and thoughts of a free people. To guard against that threat, the Constitution demands that content-based restrictions on speech be presumed invalid and that the government bear the burden of showing their constitutionality." The Court sent the case back to a lower court for another look, but at least two of the Justices stated unambiguously their belief that the law was flagrantly unconstitutional. For the time being, then, the Court made it safe for artists, sex educators, health workers, and web publishers to post their wares without fear of prosecution. CBLDF Director Charles Brownstein said that in halting enforcement of the dubious law, the Court permits "cartoonists and other creators of web content to exercise their First Amendment rights online. It has also asserted the importance of parents, not government prosecutors, in guiding the intellectual development of children." Hear, hear.

            Sophie Crumb deliberately kept her last name off the comic book Fantagraphics recently published, Belly Button Comix, because, she told Daniel Robert Epstein in an interview, "I wanted people to buy it not because they are fans of my dad's but because it looks cool on the shelf. I wanted to see if it actually sells." And did it? "It's doing okay," she said. The comic book features such characters as ZoZo and ZaZa, the oversexed humanoid insects, Eddy Bear "the bear who doesn't care," and Ms. Crumb's own autobiographical explorations. I haven't seen the book yet, but Epstein said he thought her work resembled that of Gilbert Shelton and R. Crumb. Sophie doesn't think so, but she acknowledges sharing a tendency her father indulges: "The only thing I can decently write about is myself," she said. "All I really want to do is write about myself and face the truth." The truth, probably, is that she doesn't have much to say but wants to draw comics. That's not inherently a bad thing: in fact, as I'll later elaborate, it's a very human thing-the thing that will, ultimately, insure the continued existence of comics. Sophie didn't start cartooning until after she'd dropped out of art school ("because I was a spoiled brat") and circus school (which, nonetheless, "whipped me into shape"), after which she pursued a career in tattooing for a time. At 23, she's just on the cusp of beginning an adult life and career.

            Daryle Cagle's online Professional Cartoonists Index (www.cagle.slate.msn.com) publishes about 100 political cartoons every weekday, drawing upon the work of 200 or so cartoonists. It's a very popular site, Cagle says-generating the most traffic of any cartoon site on the Web. I drop in frequently myself, and so do cartoonists everywhere. Some report that it's a mixed blessing for them: they like seeing what their colleagues are doing, but they find it vaguely depressing when they realize that large numbers of cartoons on particular topics used the same approach. They'd be happier not knowing that their cartoon that day seemed to echo those of a dozen other cartoonists. When Bill Clinton's book came out, for example, half-a-dozen cartoons played with the title of the book, calling it My Lie instead of My Life. Other repetitive efforts on the subject called the tome a "pop-up book" (alluding, one supposes, to the constant state of sexual excitation that seems to have plagued or 42nd President most of his life); others, in the same spirit, noted that it came with a fold-out.

            And here, http://home.nc.rr.com/jape77/ATTACKPR.pdf is a full-blown press release about that new book from the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists that I've been mentioning lately. It's now out and available in the stores, Borders, Barnes & Noble, and Waldenbooks. To the press release, I can add that the book's design by AAEC editor J.P. Trostle is beautifully functional-clean, clear, airy-giving each of the 150 cartoonists a single page for his/her short biography and photo, plus three or four cartoons (yrs trly included). Only about 40 or so of the cartoonists herein are widely enough circulated through syndication to be familiar to most of us. That leaves over 100 you may never have heard of. And there are another dozen or so (like Pat Oliphant, Paul Conrad, Mike Peters, Don Wright, Gary Brookins, Michael Ramirez, Robert Ariail, and Jeff Danziger) who aren't between these covers. (To be included, you had to send material in. Presumably, these worthies did not do so.) Altogether then, the book seems to trumpet a persistent liveliness in the editoonery profession: from the profile inherent in the numbers I've just cited, it's clear that editorial cartooning is far from dead or dying, recent hand-wringing protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. Well, yes and no. We must distinguish between the profession and the professionals, separating the play from the actors. The plight of editorial cartoonists in recent years is not encouraging: several major newspapers (Chicago Tribune, San Jose Mercury News, Ashbury Park Press, Buffalo News) have decided, apparently, to leave unoccupied the editoon chair vacated when its last occupant left for greener pastures. This maneuver results in a game of musical chairs-every time someone stands up, another chair disappears, which makes finding a seat difficult for those who remain in the game, scrambling for a livelihood. The picture of the profession painted by the new AAEC album seems contradictory, but it includes many editoonists who draw cartoons only part-time, squeezing this assignment out of days otherwise spent on other art chores. But that's not necessarily all bad. That newspapers rely upon their art staffs to produce editorial cartoons even if just on an occasional basis seems to suggest that the artform has a vitality that newspapers wish to tap into-even if they can't afford to feed and clothe an editoonist full-time. The number of full-time staff editorial cartoonists has slowly declined, true; but the editorial cartoon itself is as vital a form as it has ever been. Perhaps even more so. Here, for instance, is Jeff Danziger, who produced, some weeks ago, a cartoon about the so-called "war" that I think is the most powerful and insightful statement about the misadventure so far; this is it.

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            Art Spiegelman's reaction to September 11 was more personal than most: his studio is in Lower Manhattan, and his daughter Nadja was in school nearby when the planes struck. It took an hour to find her, and then the toxic dust of the collapsed Towers enveloped the neighborhood. Afterwards, Spiegelman reacted as a cartoonist would: he drew a comic strip about the horrors of the day and got it published in installments in the Jewish periodical, Forward. He also produced for The New Yorker its stunning post-9/11 cover, a black-on-black image of the Twin Towers. And then he resigned as a contract cartoonist of the magazine because he thought its response to the national emergency proved, as the weeks stretched into October, to be too much in sympathy with the Bush League. He wanted a more aggressive, less docile, reaction. It was too slow in coming for Spiegelman. His comic strip meanwhile outgrew the limits of the form and became a graphic novel, In the Shadow of No Towers, which will be published in September by Random House. Reflecting on the day and the book in a talk at the BookExpo in Chicago in early June, Spiegelman said: "I'm certainly in no way implying that I experienced something tragic with the same kind of intensity as my parents did." They survived the Holocaust. "It did kind of remind me why my father always told me to keep my bags packed. That was the essence of the moment." More than that: "I finally understand why some Jews didn't leave Berlin after Kristallnacht [in 1938]," he continued, reading a passage from No Towers; "Though he would never own an 'I Love New York' T-shirt, he had a pang of affection for his familiar, vulnerable streets."

            And here's something that messes with your head: http://fun.tmc.dyn.ee/Recursive.swf -try it, you'll recognize an old funnybook cover trick and you'll never be the same again.

            Finally, here's Ray Bradbury in a swivet because Michael Moore appropriated the title of Bradbury's novel, Fahrenheit 451, for his propaganda broadside, "Fahrenheit 9/11." Said Bradbury: "He stole my title and changed the numbers without ever asking me for permission. That's not his novel, that's not his title, so he shouldn't have done it." Bradbury phoned Moore's office months ago to complain, but the movie maker didn't return the call until mid-June, saying, when he spoke to the famed sf writer, that he was "embarrassed." Bradbury's novel takes its title from the temperature at which books burn; Moore's title, he says, refers to "the temperature at which freedom burns." Probably Moore has done nothing illegal here: his title is an allusion to another work, acquiring by poetic license a layer of meaning it wouldn't otherwise have. As for the Moore film itself, I am delighted that it won top honors at the Cannes Film Festival but not because I think it is a superior example of the filmmaker's art. I'm glad because the so-called honor presumably makes the Bush Leaguers squirm. I thought the film itself was clever but transparently manipulative, like hard-working propaganda everywhere. Most newspaper reviews (nine out of ten, according to Editor & Publisher) like the movie, an unusual circumstance, I ween, if we really believe that the country is evenly divided between reds and blues. I tend to agree with Armond White of the New York Press (June 23-29), who writes: "The corruption of documentary with entertainment is at the heart of Michael Moore's style-it's also his failing. Cheap, easy laughs don't constitute an argument; like pity and self-righteous anger, it all stems from simplistic outrage. ... He's after an effect, not the facts [of the kind a true documentary pursues]. ... Moore very deliberately mixes tv drama and movie clips into his rhetorical hodge-podge. ... In Moore's doc style, images have only superficial, convenient meaning and no historical [or intellectual] resonance. ... Propaganda like 'Fahrenheit 9/11' won't help today's moviegoers gain political insight. ... To pretend that [this film] is a work of art is disingenuous. Moore himself is part of the punditocracy that, like unscrupulous politicians, solicits trite sentiment. His exploitative title doesn't measure temperature; it disgraces the sorrowful date just to inflame liberal guilt. ... As in 'Bowling for Columbia,' he lines up unrelated points for a domino effect of dissatisfaction. This is not historical context; it's a harangue." White also castigates the Cannes jurors for their flagrant junking of artistic standards in favor of seconding Moore's political statement (Cannes? France? Unsupportive of the Bush League? How could that be?). But the movie itself, as a political act, overlooks altogether the ideology at the core of the Bush League war machine. In Moore's view, the invasion of Iraq, like the invasion of Afghanistan, was about oil and the greed of the U.S. military industrial complex. When he is not ridiculing George WMD Bush, Moore is painstakingly connecting the fortunes of the Bush family with the Saudi royal family's. The "war on terror" masks this connection, Moore implies, which, in his mind, is the real reason for the war. But his hatred and disdain for the Bushies blinds him to the corruption at the core, the neoconservative world view in which the U.S., the only superpower, can "change the world" through unilateral exercise of overwhelming military and technological might. The removal of Saddam was the essential first step in the neocon plan to reshape the Middle East. Perhaps invading a country too friendless and poorly equipped to resist isn't a terribly convincing demonstration of the superiority of U.S. military prowess, but to the neocons, it seemed the best quick way to unhinge the political structures in the region, thereby paving the way to new structures in which the U.S. would control the world's oil reserves, which power would put the U.S. in the best position to persuade every country on the globe to be hospitable to its multi-national entrepreneurs. Worldwide capitalistic exploitation is the objective here, not just oil. The popular applause Moore's film is receiving actually works to the advantage of the neocons: because the film overlooks the real cause of the U.S. bully boy behavior, it acts to keep us ignorant of it, and we are therefore politically impotent. What we don't know, we can scarcely debate in any meaningful way, and public policy lumbers on, undeterred, as we enjoy a laugh and a sneer with Moore. Moore's film, far from advancing the cause he seems to espouse, actually undermines it. We need public discussion of the real issues, not the ones he is having the most fun with.

Strip Watch. To help launch the 19th anniversary of National Literacy Day on July 2, the Latino milieu comic strip Baldo by Hector Cantu and artist Carlos Castellanos showed a couple of the strip's juvenile cast running a sidewalk service stand (like the lemonade stand of yore) with a huge sign over it that reads: "Can't Read? We Can Help!" And the kids are wondering why they don't have any customers. (Well, think about it.) ... In the Sunday Phantom, we met Old Man Mozz the week before last, and here's his Li'l Abner-ish riddle: "You look once and see nothing. Look 30,000 times and see everything." This week, July 4, we are promised the answer.

            In a recently completed reader survey, the Dallas Morning News discovered the top ten strips in its comics section; in order, starting with the most favorite: Luann, Crankshaft, For Better or For Worse, Peanuts, One Big Happy, Zits, B.C., Pickles, Dilbert, and Get Fuzzy. I was surprised (pleasantly so) to see such durable titles as Luann, Crankshaft, One Big Happy and Pickles ranked so high; the rest of the list, except for fast-rising newcomer Get Fuzzy, seems usually to land in the top tens. An astounding 25, 096 readers voted-14,864 online; the remaining 10,232 via printed survey form. Considering that 55.7 of the respondents were age 55 or older, the percentage trafficking through the electronic ether is gratifyingly high: even old gaffers (like me, kimo sabe) are resorting to the 'Net more and more, it seems. Slightly more than half of the voters were men; 81 percent read the paper seven days a week, and 97 percent read the comics on Sunday. Mike Peters, reporting the survey results, noted that strips of social or political commentary "got low average scores but were also rated 'favorites'-or the opposite-by many readers. The Boondocks' scores were highest among black readers (60 percent like it extremely [but most of the survey's respondents were white]). La Curaracha ... got low marks from Hispanic readers (15 percent dislike it extremely; 59 percent wouldn't miss it if it were dropped tomorrow) as well as the overall audience. Number One complaint," Peters continued, "-most comics are not funny anymore-too political and too controversial, many readers said." This last seems strange: except for Doonesbury and The Boondocks and La Curaracha, relatively few comic strips make it their primary task to carry political or social comment. And Luann and For Better or For Worse, both high ranking in the survey, often take up real-life issues that prove controversial in some circles. Peters also noted that Beetle Bailey fans wanted Mort Walker's strip back in the newspaper, but, said Peters, "Morning News editors dropped that strip years ago, concluding it had become dated and depended on fistfights too often to resolve everyday conflicts." What? C'mon, Mike-you can't be serious. Sarge beating up on Beetle once every three or four weeks (not daily) constitutes a "lesson" in how to "resolve everyday conflicts"? Well, I suppose: it reminds me of a story told by another Mike Peters, the cartoonist whose Mother Goose and Grimm features an irrepressible dog who frequently drinks out of the toilet bowl. Some years ago, Peters told a bunch of us, the Pittsburgh paper carrying the strip dropped it, and Peters phoned to find out why. Turns out there was an organized protest being mounted by a number of the paper's readers. Peters got the name of the leader of the protest and phoned her. She carefully explained that she and her friends didn't want the strip in the paper because Grimm drank out of the toilet bowl. Said Peters: "Well, gosh [he actually talks like that], dogs do drink out of toilet bowls." "I know," said the lady, "but I have a little dog, and, at the moment, he doesn't drink out of the toilet, but I'm afraid if he sees Grimm doing it ...." Peters never finished the sentence. We all know what she was getting at. Editing a newspaper to suit readers must be as close to being damned as it's possible to get without having the temperature rise.

Once A Month Isn't Fat Enough

It's been two weeks since the June issue of the Comics Buyer's Guide landed on my front stoop with a shuddering thump. I speculated last time that the new monthly format is fat enough to require four weeks to digest, thus compensating for CBG's less frequent arrival. Well, after having the actual experience, that's a considerable exaggeration. Turns out that this overweight mag isn't, despite its increased girth, the equivalent of four separate weekly issues. There are more reviews, probably a number equal to four weeks' worth. But the regular columns herein are not four times longer than they were when they came out once a week. In fact, apart from the reviews, I'm not sure there is more of anything in this monthly package than there was in a single weekly issue. A little, maybe. But not four times as much. Counting a smattering of news (somewhat stale by the time of publication), the new CBG carries probably the content equivalent of two weekly editions. But not four. All of which betrays to the real reason for the format change: to produce a monthly price guide based upon eBay activity and CGC slab grading. Now I'm even sorrier to see that venerable weekly pub slip over the horizon into the past. The new CBG, particularly on its maiden voyage in June, is still a considerable achievement, but it's not the equivalent of four weekly issues of the old CBG. It's nice to see Chuck Fiala's work in print again, though, decorating various departments and columns.

Harvey Awards

The Harvey Awards were presented this year in what is undoubtedly the most fitting venue for the recognition of excellence in the cartooning arts-the Puck Building at the corner of Houston and Lafayette streets in New York City. When it was built in 1885, the seven-story red brick Romanesque Revival structure with its ranging arches towered over the Irish and Italian neighborhood in which it stood, a vivid testament to the power of cartooning: it had been built to house the editorial offices of the weekly humor magazine, Puck, and the printing concern that published it. The English language edition of Puck, which had been launched as a German language publication in September 1876, started March 14, 1877, its debut signaling the success of Joseph Keppler's venture. Keppler, a cartoonist and sometime actor and baker, had left his native Vienna in 1867 and settled in St. Louis, Missouri, where he inaugurated a series of publishing failures-an illustrated weekly German-language paper, Die Vehme (1869), which, after it died a year later, was followed by Keppler's try at periodical humor, the first Puck, in German (1871), which also failed after 18 months or so. Keppler went to New York in 1872 and worked at Leslie's Illustrated for four years until teaming with a printer to revive Puck.

            Puck's place in the history of American publishing was secured by the prominence it lent to the cartoons that gave the magazine its distinctive character. Weekly and monthly humor magazines in America had patterned themselves almost religiously after London's Punch (1841), and they almost always expired after alarmingly short runs. But Puck lasted. Richard Samuel West in his biography of Keppler, Satire on Stone, notes that the Punch imitations "seemed to stake their ground in their text ... [in] the assumption that the pun and dialect writing were the highest forms of humor." Puck, West continues, differed from its failed predecessors in that, "because Keppler was the star of this venture, the cartoons would hold center stage, occupying the front and back covers as well as the two center pages." Thus, cartoons, not text, secured an eager buying public for Puck. As Leslie's Illustrated and the Harper brothers had already demonstrated, American readers liked pictures. Keppler's other innovations were to give each issue of the magazine a different cartoon cover (instead of using a standard Punch-like image, issue after issue), which, with the barb of its political satire, gave each issue a distinctive thrust, and to deploy color in the drawings. At first, the colors were "tints," second colors added to the black-and-white drawings by tinkering with the ink supply on the presses, but by 1880, printing technology permitted Keppler to print full color cartoons on the covers and the center spread. Puck set the standard, and in 1881, the next successful American humor magazine, Judge, followed its example; so did Life in 1883, but it also gave its literary content as much emphasis as its cartoons.

            By the mid-1880s, Puck was so successful that it employed almost 400 people and leased space in twenty-two adjacent premises in lower Manhattan. More functional accommodations were clearly needed, and the new building satisfied those needs: on the first floor, Keppler's printing partner installed offices and reception facilities for its commercial enterprises; on the second floor were Puck's business offices; on the third floor, Puck housed its library and provided working spaces for its editors and artists; other production departments took space on the other floors, with the presses on the top floor. Adds West: "Before the building was completed, a nine-foot-high statue of Puck by sculptor Henry Baerer was placed two stories above the main entrance on the corner of Houston and Mulberry [still there today]. Puck's neighbors didn't always know what to make of this icon to satire. Joseph Keppler's son remembers the staff's merriment watching marchers in Italian processions pass through Mulberry Street and bow to the statue, believing it to be some saint." But Puck is scarcely a saint: originally an evil demon in British folklore, he evolved into a prankish sprite, also known as Robin Goodfellow, and acquired his popular reputation from Shakespeare's depiction of him in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" as a merry wanderer of the night, "rough, knurly-limbed, faun-faced, and shock-pated, a very Shetlander among the gossamer-winged" fairies fluttering around him. Keppler's version, a naked cherubim in top hat and morning coat and nothing else, represents another step in Puck's gradual progression from evil to mischievous to merely amusing. Puck's statue still occupies its niche at the Houston and Mulberry corner of the building-and another, in metal with elegant gold leaf, presides over the building's new entrance on Lafayette Street. The new building, when it opened in early 1886, was much more than an operational convenience: it was also a monument to the efficacy of cartooning in achieving commercial success. It is, in short, a perfect place to continue to commemorate accomplishments in cartooning.

            Craig Thompson, whose graphic novel Blankets was not only the year's best but perhaps the best of the last decade, reaped a goodly heap of the awards-for Best Cartoonist, Best Artist, and Best Graphic Album. Next came Charles Burns, Chris Ware, and Tony Millionaire, each of whom received two awards. (All winners are listed below; be patient.) But the big winner of the evening was without question the Museum of Cartoon and Comic Art (MoCCA), which was hosting the festivities for the second time this year, having inherited the Harvey Awards from the Pittsburgh Comicon last year. MoCCA honcho Lawrence Klein introduced a New York City councilman midway in the proceedings, and this worthy announced that MoCCA would receive a $70,000 grant from the City of New York's Department of Cultural Affairs, a perfect capstone for the year that saw MoCCA move into permanent quarters a block away from the Puck Building. Klein is undoubtedly one of the more effective low-profile movers and shakers: under his auspices, MoCCA has reached this stage in its evolution in less than five years, it seems to me; visit www.moccany.org.

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            The Harvey presentation ceremonies took place in the seventh floor ballroom, where once the Puck presses rolled to produce weekly doses of laughter. The ceremonial banquet was preceded by a cocktail hour that was crammed into the narrow confines of an assembly area more corridor than cloister, where numerous factotums of the Harvey mechanism (including Nelly Kurtzman, chair of the Awards Committee and daughter of the legendary cartoonist in whose name the awards are conferred) passed back and forth among them bundles of envelopes of tickets as they looked on the envelopes for the names of those lining up in front of them. This gay confusion was compounded by the management's having located of one of the reception's two bars in the same congested area, creating a logjam of sweaty humanity that piled up remorselessly as the attending multitude arrived to compete for standing room with those who elbowed up to the bar in search of liquid emollients. Being either cartoonists or cartooning's fans, no one objected to the momentary melee, and the bars were open all evening, through dinner and the presentations that followed.

            The keynoter for the evening was The Sandman's Neil Gaiman, who, attired in his usual Beatles' coiffure and black leather biker's jacket, looked more like a rock star than a writer. Novelist (American Gods) and comics writer, Gaiman began by paying homage to Harvey Kurtzman and then rambled through a litany of advice to creative souls. "My first piece of advice," he said, "is this: Ignore all advice. In my experience, most interesting art gets made by people who don't know the rules, and have no idea that certain things simply aren't done: so they do them. Transgress. Break things. Have too much fun." Delivered in the patented clipped tones of a British accent, Gaiman's advice assumed, for American listeners, the status of holy writ. It is also eminently sensible. In short, good advice. He urged creators to read outside comics-"Learn from places that aren't comics." But don't neglect to "read all the comics you can. Know your comics. ... There's more classic and important material in print now in affordable editions than there has ever been. Let it inspire you. See how high people have taken the medium in the past, and resolve to take it further."

            Among Gaiman's other remarks (which can be found entire at www.neilgaiman.com): "I've learned over the years that everything is more or less the same amount of work, so you may as well set your sights high and try and do something really cool. ... Make good art. ... Keep moving, learn new skills. Enjoy yourself. ... Be proud of your mistakes. Well, proud may not be exactly the right word, but respect them, treasure them, be kind to them, learn from them. And, more than that, and more important than that, make them. Make mistakes. Make great mistakes, make wonderful mistakes, make glorious mistakes. Better to make a hundred mistakes than to stare at a blank piece of paper too scared to do anything wrong-too scared to do anything. ... Most of the things I've got right over the years, I got right because I'd got them wrong first. It's how we make art."

            As for the future of the medium, Gaiman said this: "If I have a prediction, it's simply this: the often-predicted Death of Comics won't happen. There will be more booms and there will be more busts. Fads and fashions turn up in comics, as with all things, and, as fads and fashions always do, they end, normally in tears. But comics is a medium, not a fad. It's an artform, not a fashion. The novel was once so called because it was indeed something novel [something new and different], but it's lasted, and I think, after a few shakedowns, the graphic novel, in whatever form, will do likewise. ... Right now, I actually believe that the best thing about comics may well be that it is a gutter medium. We do not know which fork to use, and we eat with our fingers. We are creators of a medium, we create art in an artform, which is still alive, which is powerful, which can do things no other medium can do."

            Master of ceremonies for the evening was Evan Dorkin, whose Milk and Cheese and Dork have garnered Harveys, Eisners, and Ignatzes. He was, I'm sure, very funny: I could tell from the laughter his remarks inspired anytime he made one. But, alas, he had laryngitis something fierce, and my overworked hearing aids could not keep up with the irregular decibels his affliction generated: his voice rose and fell, faded and blurted-and I couldn't make out much of it. Thanks to Rabbiteer John McCarthy (at www.comixview.com), here's a too brief sample: Someone remarked that it took the Harveys some time to find a decent home, and the next time Dorkin came up to the mic, he said, "Welcome back to the Harveys, the Awards that have been thrown out of more places than Jim Shooter."

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            The Harveys are the only industry awards conferred as a result of balloting by comic book publishers and working professionals, who are solicited for nominations and then sent a ballot listing, in each category of endeavor, five nominees complied from the nominations. This year, 600 professionals voted. Not a big number, perhaps, but choice, as Spencer Tracy once said of Katherine Hepburn's physique. (Actually, I think he said "cherce," but accents are difficult to do in silent print.) Because being a nominee is a distinction second only to winning the award in a given category, I'm listing all the nominees here, marking the winners by preceding their names with an asterisk (*).

Best New Talent: Mat Brinkman, Teratoid Heights; Jeffrey Brown, Unlikely; Sophie Crumb, Belly Button Comix; *Derek Kirk Kim, Same Difference & Other Stories; Sara Varon, Sweaterweather.

Best New Series: Betty Button Comix, Human Target, Love Fights, *Plastic Man, The Pogostick.

Best Syndicated Strip or Panel: Doonesbury (Universal Press), Garry Trudeau; *Maakies (self-syndicated), Tony Millionaire; Mutts (King Features), Patrick McDonnell; Underworld (self-syndicated), Kaz; Zippy (King Features), Bill Griffith.

Best Biographical, Historical or Journalistic Presentation: *Comic Art Magazine; Comic Book Artist, The Comics Journal, Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book, Will Elder: The Mad Playboy of Art.

Best American Edition of Foreign Material: The Bloody Streets of Paris, ibooks; 5 Is The Perfect Number, Drawn & Quarterly; Icaro, ibooks; The Iron Wagon, Fantagraphics; *Perseopolis, Pantheon.

Special Award for Humor in Comics: Jimmy Gownley, Amelia Rules; Sam Henderson, The Magic Whistle; Batton Lash, Supernatural Law; *Tony Millionaire, Sock Monkey; Johnny Ryan, Angry Youth Comix.

Best Letterer: Todd Klein, Promethea; Clem Robins, 100 Bullets; Robbie Robbins, Dark Days; *Dave Sims, Cerebus; Richard Starkings, Superman/Batman.

Best Colorist: Jeromy Cox, Promethea; Bill Crabtree, Invincible; Alex Sinclair, Arrowsmith; Dave Stewart, Beware the Creeper; *Chris Ware, Acme Novelty Datebook.

Best Inker: *Charles Burns, Black Hole; Mick Gray, Promethea; Jaime Hernandez, Love & Rockets; Jimmy Palmiotti, Two-Step; Scott Williams, Batman.

Best Anthology: The Comics Journal/2005 Winter Special, *Drawn & Quarterly No. 5, Kramer's Ergot No. 4, Nickelodeon Magazine: The "Comic Book" Section, Project Telstar.

Best Cover Artist: *Charles Burns, Black Hole; Tomer Hanuka, Bipolar; Adam Hughes, Wonder Woman; Dave Johnson, 100 Bullets; Alex Ross, Astro City.

Special Award for Excellence in Presentation: *Acme Novelty Datebook, Popbot, Project Telstar, Quimby the Mouse, Yossel.

Best Domestic Reprint Project: Cat on a Hot Thin Groove, Honour Among Punks, *Krazy and Ignatz, Al Capp's Li'l Abner: The Frazetta Years, The Spirit Archives, Vietnam Journal.

Best Graphic Album of Previously Published Work: Louis Riel, Palomar, Quimby the Mouse, Summer of Love, Vic & Blood.

Best Graphic Album of Original Work: *Blankets, The Fixer, Nightmare Alley, Sgt. Rock: Between Hell and a Hard Place, Yossel.

Best Writer: *Chester Brown, Louis Riel; Gilbert Hernandez, Love & Rockets; Alan Moore, Promethea; Brian Vaughn, Y: The Last Man; Mark Waid, Fantastic Four.

Best Artist: Charles Burns, Black Hole; Jaime Hernandez, Love & Rockets; George Perez, JLA/Avengers; *Craig Thompson, Blankets; Ashley Wood, Popbot.

Best Continuing or Limited Series: Black Hole, *The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Vol. 2), Love & Rockets, Promethea, Supernatural Law.

Best Single Issue or Story-A tie!-Astro City (Vol. 3, No. 2), Black Hole (No. 11), CSI: Serial (Nos. 1-5), *Gotham Central (Nos. 6-10), *Love & Rockets (No. 9), Quicken Forbidden (No. 12), Supernatural Law (No. 38).

Best Cartoonist: Chester Brown, Louis Riel; Charles Burns, Black Hole; Jaime Hernandez, Love & Rockets; Jeff Smith, Bone; *Craig Thompson, Blankets.

            Anyone with good sense would hesitate, in the thundering midst of these congratulatory pyrotechtronics, to enter even the slightest of demurers. But I've never had good sense and am always losing my head when all those about me are keeping theirs. That may explain why I have trouble sorting out all the compartments of excitement. I don't intend to disparage the awards or the artistry that has earned these accolades, but some of these categories and winners seem strangely out-of-kilter to me. Best Artist, for instance. Craig Thompson won that. He also won Best Cartoonist-for the same work, Blankets. Three of the five Best Artist nominees were also among the five nominees for Best Cartoonist. On the basis of the evidence before us, it doesn't seem to me that those who devised these categories know the difference between "artist" and "cartoonist"-or maybe there is no difference? If not, why have two categories? Clearly, Thompson was a big favorite among the voters: his profoundly felt and deftly executed Blankets was the Best Graphic Album (Novel?) of the year, after all, and it looks as if the voters fell all over themselves to give him every award they possibly could in recognition of his ineffable achievement. Why isn't he listed among the nominees for Best Writer then? Chester Brown won that, but Brown draws as well as writes his stuff, and he's also nominated for Best Cartoonist. On the other hand, other writer nominees (Moore, Vaughn, Waid) don't draw their stories; they only write them. The fifth nominee for Best Writer, Hernandez, is in the same class as Brown-a writer-artist, or, I submit, a "cartoonist," since cartoonists both write and draw their material. That describes all the Best Cartoonist nominees. I should think, then, for the sheer sake of appearing to be logical, neither Brown or Hernandez should be nominated as "writers"; they're cartoonists. By the same seeming logic, the Best Artists should include only those who draw stories written by others; that's what makes them "artists" instead of "cartoonists." I haven't checked Perez's credits lately, but he usually falls into the "artist" category as I've just defined it. I'm not sure about Wood, though, since the credits on the issue of Popbot that I have cite both him and T.P. Louise for "artwork and script"-are we to read that as a pair in sequence (that is, artwork by Wood, script by Louise) or does it mean Wood draws and scripts and Louise helps on one or the other? (Whichever, the result is purely spectacular as far as the visuals go; the story, somewhat less so, but it is considerably enhanced by the artwork.) In any case, Wood may qualify as a "cartoonist" rather than as an "artist" by the definitions I've just offered. Regardless, it is an offense to rational thought to have the same people appear in both categories: whenever that happens, it strenuously implies that the categories are not different at all, and, as I said, if they aren't, why have both of them?

            The parade of inconsistencies lurches on. We have a Best Inker but no Best Penciler. And at least two of the five "inkers" are inking their own pencils; at least one, is not. So what, exactly, is meant by "inker" and what are the criteria by which "inking" can be evaluated? Chris Ware picked up Best Colorist, but if Acme Novelty Datebook (which, alas, I haven't yet seen) is much like his other work, his coloring is distinguished by a uniform low-key flatness. Nice, no question, but compared, say, to Dave Stewart, whose computer coloring of Cary Nord's uninked pencilled artwork in the Dark Horse Conan reincarnation gives the pictures substance and volume as well as color-compared to this unique achievement, what is so outstanding about flat coloring? I haven't seen the work of all five Best Cover Artist candidates, but based upon what I have seen, I'd veer off in the direction of Dave Johnson: Johnson's work on the covers of 100 Bullets combines painting and design, hues and linear embellishments, in a way that is distinctive and pace-setting. Hughes' Wonder Woman covers, for all their elegance, are achievements in pin-up art-wonderful, and I love 'em, but they're not in Johnson's class. Ross's accomplishment is as painter, not as designer, and it seems to me that having a category for "cover artist" implies that doing a cover is something different from illustrating the interior pages of a comic book or graphic novel. The implication is that "design" plays a larger role. Finally, Dave Sim garnered an award for lettering-in the year he completed the 300th issue of Cerebus. And Jeff Smith, who finished Bone, the other long-running continuing story title on the stands for the last decade, received only applause when he came to the podium to present an award, not to receive one. Maybe the time has come for the Harveys to instititute some sort of "lifetime achievement" award; maybe call it Milestone Award.

            But enough carping. I don't know the work of all the nominees, but I know much of it, and from what I know, the list of nominees is a distinguished gathering of talent and accomplishment. Quibbles such as I make here ought to be strenuously sneezed at so we can move on.

            It is clear from the list of nominees that when professionals are left to their own devices, they tend to reward new developments and novelties and more-or-less innovative enterprises. They also tend to bunch up around a few favorite talents like Thompson, Ware, Brown, Burns, and Moore. Mainstream publishers are more notable here for their absence than for their presence. Marvel got two nominations; Image, but one. DC Comics, however, ranks second with 21 nominations. Fantagraphics, one of the more adventurous publishers around, stands at the head of the list with 25 nominations. (I'm regularly published in The Comics Journal, so, naturally, I'm biased here.) The others, in descending order, are Drawn & Quarterly (with 8 nominations), ibooks (6), and then Top Shelf, Alternative, and IDW with 4 each. But Fantagraphics garnered only 4 wins with its 25 nominations (two for the same work, Black Hole). Drawn & Quarterly picked up 5-in other words, winning in all but 3 of its nominated categories. And Top Shelf, with 4 nominations, won 3 of them. Ironically-alarmingly-two of the top three winning publishers, Fantagraphics and Top Shelf, almost expired during the last 18 months in deserts of debt for lack of cash flow. The Internet, the world-wide avenue of appeal to which both resorted for help, saved them both, as Gaiman reminded us. Without the Internet and the rallying around of dedicated buyer-fans, we'd be missing, this year, two of the industry's most enterprising publishers.

            I was delighted to be asked to make the presentation in the Best Biographical, Historical or Journalistic Presentation category. Since I've written substantially in all three genre (but have never been nominated for any of them), I suppose that qualifies me to announce the winner with a few remarks honed to a snide edge with appropriately self-deprecatory apostrophes. What I actually said, however, was that I eagerly accepted the assignment because it gave me, at long last, the opportunity to disabuse many ill-informed persons of the Younger Generation about the name of the award. The Harvey Awards, I said, are not named after me. The reverse is actually the case: I am named after them. I remember the day exactly: there I was, a nameless youth of twelve years, when, at the corner drugstore at 25th and Sheridan, I picked up my copy of Mad Comics No. 1. I was dazzled, blown away, flabbergasted. I immediately began to call myself "Harvey" in homage to the man who invented the world's first genuinely funny satirical comic book. I went on to support Gaiman's contention that comics are alive and well and will continue to thrive. I had recently, earlier in the week, encountered vivid evidence to support this conviction. I went to an exhibit of children's art that had been created through the Studio in the Schools program, a privately funded effort in New York that brings professional artists into the schools to teach youngsters how to make art. As I browsed the walls of the exhibit, I was struck by the storytelling that resided in the drawings and paintings. Nearly every example, I realized, seemed poised in mid-tale. And I remembered other things about the drawings of the young. First, every kid draws. Some give it up because they get interested in other things and recognize that in order to get much better at drawing, they'd have to spend more time at it than they wanted to; others continue to draw and get better at it. The other thing is that every drawing made by a kid has a story. If you look at a kid's drawing and ask him or her to tell you about it, he or she will tell you about the characters and what they're doing-and what they did before the action being pictured as well as what they did after the action of the picture. In the minds of the young, then, pictures are intimately connected with stories, verbal narratives that they can conjure up effortlessly. One does not exist without the other. Just like comics. The visual is accompanied by the verbal to make a story. And that realization reminded me of what Jules Feiffer had said at the recent NCS convention. He said that newspaper comic strips may shrink out of existence, but they wouldn't become extinct: they'd reinvent themselves because, he said, words and pictures are in our nature as human beings. The kids' artwork was a vivid instance of what Feiffer meant, I believe. So comics cannot die, not as long as there are people.

            Incidentally, there is an entire book devoted to exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about with children and pictures and storytelling. Quentin Blake, writer and children's book illustrator and the first Children's Laureate, assembled the book, a collection of 26 pictures-paintings, mostly-called Tell Me A Picture. Blake selected pictures that "had some sense of story in them. "The idea is for kids to look at each of the pictures and think and talk about what they feel is happening in the pictures. Exactly what I have been describing (although, when I was thinking about pictures and storytelling during the Studio in the Schools exhibit, I wasn't thinking about Blake's book; I've had it here for months, planning to review it, and just now realized it will fit right in with what I've been saying). "Sometimes the exact nature of the story [in the picture] isn't clear," Blake said, "but then the invitation to imagine it may be all the stronger." Following each of the paintings in the book are Blake's antic penline drawings of kids talking about the painting-supplying clues about what stories might lurk therein. Charming pictures with the utterances of the kids clustered over their heads in word bunches just as if they'd popped out of speech balloons. Blake's comics. A charming, captivating volume.

            But I divaricate. To return to the podium from which I was holding forth-as you might expect of so verbose a galoot as I, I went on to extol the virtues of biography, history, and journalistic enterprises in comics. Before cartooning can be an art, I said-and it is, without question, an art-there must be a body of work, enough of it to view and enjoy and evaluate. It is the task of history and biography to establish this body of work, to identify it, and it is the task of journalism to disseminate the body of work and its history and the professional biographies of those who have made the work, thereby enhancing our appreciation of the art. Together, historical and biographical and journalistic endeavors are necessary to create the foundation upon which an art, the art of cartooning, rests and, subsequently, thrives. It is therefore fitting that we recognize outstanding achievement in this arena.

            The Harvey Awards banquet was the centerpiece of MoCCA's two-day art festival. The work of many of the nominees was on display in the Museum, around the corner from the Puck Building and down the Broadway block to no. 594, fourth floor. But the crowds converged in three connected ground-floor rooms at the Puck Building where cartoonists displayed their wares. This was the Art Festival. It resembled the "artists alley" at such comicons as the Wizard Chicago Con and the Comicon International at San Diego and was accompanied by a handsome printed 32-page program booklet that provided a handy map of the exhibition, brief bios of the special guests (Roz Chast, Patrick McDonnell, Jeff Smith, Joe Sacco, Mike Mignola, and Klaus Janson), and essays on the year in comics and in animation. A few publishers were present, but most of the display space was occupied by cartoonists, and most of them were selling books and zines of their work. In recent years at such gatherings, I am impressed by the sheer quantity of cartooning-the number of cartoonists and the amount of published work. And how bad much of it is. Were it not for the self-publishing empire established by Kinko's, much of the work displayed at such venues as this would never see the light of day in publication form. Barely acceptable figure drawing abounds, legitimized, ostensibly, by appearing in sequential panels with juxtaposed verbal content. Anybody can make comics, it seems. And, as I've already said, everyone draws during those early years of their lives, so why can't everyone make comics? In such exhibitions as this, we see the consequences of too readily answering that question in the affirmative. Everyone can, but what everyone does is not necessarily much good. Still, quantity fosters quality eventually: the more people participating, the better the chances are that someone, here or thither, will do something purely splendid.

            At one end extremity of storytelling visuals that I encountered is a little 4x6-inch 24-page booklet in black-and-white. The drawings are deceptively simple line work, little more than stick figures, but the "more" here is expressive beyond what mere sticks can do. Entitled Love Is in the Air, it tells a story about a man and a woman who meet in a bar and enjoy separate and wildly divergent fantasies about what this encounter will come to. Each page consists of three panels: one across the bottom depicts the couple at the bar, and then in two panels over their heads, the thoughts of each are portrayed. Click to EnlargeNo words. Just pictures. Until the bar closes, he is thinking the most lascivious thoughts about her, while she dreams of a gentleman caller, bouquets of flowers and candlelit dinners. When they leave the bar, he thinks at first about physically consummating their tryst, but that fantasy is gradually replaced by other thoughts-imaginings of a more permanent relationship in which she comes to control his life as his wife. Meanwhile, she is thinking about making love. Finally, he, terrified, leaps out of the taxicab and leaves her. Momentarily angry, she then begins fantasizing about the cab driver. It is a lovely symmetrical fable, drawn with galvanizing simplicity. I don't know, exactly, by whom: the only credits appear in German or Dutch or, perhaps, Old Frisian. The drawing style reminds me vaguely of the Punch cartoons by "Larry" (Terence Parkes), but Larry, for all his simplicity, isn't the master of casual minimalism that this guy is. Published by De Plaatjesmaker (?), this tiny masterpiece may be the work of Gerrit de Jager, a name that appears next to a list of titles on the reverse of the title page.

            At the other extremity, we have Ashley Wood's Popbot No. 5, an 8.5x11-inch 48-page coated stock extravaganza that cobbles together every graphic technique known to man, including typographic, to present a helter-skelter tour de force, a smattering of painting, drawing, splatter, and speech balloons. Sometimes in comics form with sequential panels on the page; sometimes in an illustrative manner, with a painted image facing a page upon which the tiniest type marches out with fragmentary thoughts and phrases. I bought it for the artwork, not the story; good thing, too. The story is a towering colossus of vaguery: it seems to be about some sort of confrontation over the fate of mankind involving metallic robots and female sex toys, each seeking world domination. But the entire enterprise is so thoroughly marinated in thematic pretension that I could be wrong. This could go anywhere. Ah, but what an audacious display of technique. This endeavor, like that of Sophie Crumb, illustrates the proposition that pictures prompt verbiage, hence storytelling. The results, as herein, are not necessarily wonderful or even coherent. But Wood's work demonstrates the efficacy of the theory: he clearly loves to draw and paint, and making a picture presumes a story around it. In short, what we call "comics."

            In between the extremes, we have Tom Neely's One Fine Day, a comic strip in booklet form with a page for every panel. Neely's cleanly rendered roly-poly style evokes the 3-fingered gloved-hands manner of the Mintz animation studio of yesteryear, and the presentation, panels in pantomime with occasional "speechs" appearing as "title cards," takes the form of old timey silent movies. See www.iwilldestroyyou.com. Everybody's on the web as much as on the page. Wesley Gunn was selling a booklet of his strips, taken from his website, www.toonsnthangs.com, where his weekly postings are, I gather, accompanied by rap. In print form, Gunn's strip, Tripple Dubble, is a striking manifestation with its bold lines and geometric manga-style depictions. Not, Gunn assures us, "a basketball story" ("triple double"? I'd opt for baseball, but what do I know?)-but "just a day in the life of Damion Bubble and his interaction with friends, family and the world." Nifty looking and fraught with the argot of the 'hood, but Gunn could use an editor who can spell and punctuate. In a more conventional mode, here's Meat Haus, a tidy 5.5x7.5-inch 128-page package anthologizing short stories by a host of contributors, now up to No. 6. A widely diverse assembly but obviously selected with care: the stories are narratives with beginnings, middles, and ends, and they're rendered in a variety of individual styles, all attractive. For a catalogue, write meathauspress@hotmail.com. On my way out of one of the interlaced trio of exhibit rooms, Rina Piccolo (Tina's Groove) handed me three mini-comics by her husband, Brendan Burford. Pseudo-autobiographical 12-page booklets, each of them is a musing soliloquy, telling a despondent joke, tongue thoroughly in cheek. In "Brendan Proves Nothing," the title character wonders whether he should be more "political" but finally decides against it because, he realizes, he can't even win his own inner debates. In "Brendan Wishes He Were Dead," our hero comes to this conclusion because the repetitive single-gag comic strip he wants to draw would have been perfectly at home on the page with Winsor McCay's one-joke opus, Little Sammy Sneeze; but with "over 100 years of ideas to compete with," Brendan feels stuck, his dream a hopeless yearning.

            Click to EnlargeThen there's Amanda Lewis. I didn't meet Amanda: she was off cruising the hall when I sauntered by her table. Arrayed upon it were several 5x7-inch canvases-that's right, actual oil paintings, original one-of-a-kind artworks-depicting wildly comic visages. Affixed to these little masterpieces were price labels: "5 Smackers," they said. "Five bucks?" I said, incredulously, to the man seated next to Amanda's empty chair. "Right," he said. "She believes that art ought to be available to people for no more than the cost of lunch." Crusaders like Amanda Lewis need disciples; as you can see, I bought one of her hilarious canvases, and I had enough left for lunch, too.

            Roz Chast, whose frail-looking drawings have been appearing as cartoons in The New Yorker since 1978, defining a new genre for magazine cartooning, was inducted into the MoCCA hall of fame on Sunday, June 27, joining Art Spiegelman (2003) and Jules Feiffer (2002) as Art Festival honorees. I left town early that day and so, alas, missed the occasion and her remarks. But my first experience of MoCCA and of the annual Art Festival was nonetheless memorable. Klein and his volunteer crew have wrought minor miracles on the landscape of American cartooning in an astonishingly short time. Who know what they'll be able to do in another five years?

Under the Spreading Punditry

The infamous Justice Department memos that explain how elements of the American military could torture prisoners claim their nefarious license under the authority of the President as "commander in chief." This explains a lot. As commander in chief, so the reasoning unravels, George W. ("Warlord") Bush should be able to do anything and everything to protect the U.S. in time of war. No limits on his power in wartime. None. So lemme see how this works. All a President needs is a war, and he can do anything that the most arbitrary autocrat on the planet can do. Declare war on poverty and-presto, the President can torture poor people. Declare war on drugs, and the President can torture substance abusers. Declare war on terror, and the President can torture anyone he feels like. And this war, Dubya assures us, is going to go on for a long long time. During that whole time of unspecified duration, the President will remain commander in chief and therefore will be able to do anything he wants to do. To anyone. He can declare anyone he chooses to be an enemy combatant and throw them in jail without specifying charges, and he can keep them there as long as he likes, prohibiting them access to legal counsel. And the war on terror is going to last how long? Indefinitely? Feeling nervous yet?

            Luckily for us all, the U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a somewhat corrective judgement when it decided that the President could not, even as commander in chief during time of war, hold people prisoner without allowing them access to legal counsel. In commenting on the case, Justice Souter recalled the Court's 1952 decision that overturned President Harry Truman's seizure of the steel mills. Said Souter: "It is instructive to recall Justice Jackson's observation that the President is not commander in chief of the country-only of the military."

            Bravo. Things are looking up. I begin to revive a little.

The Way to Fight the War. The suicide bombardiers who drove air liners into the sides of buildings in September 2001, killing themselves and thousands, effectively brought a war into the United States. There is no longer a battlefield distinct from a homefront. It's all a battlefield. Every urban street and alley, every field and forest, and every green sward in suburbia is part of the battlefield. And by the same token, every citizen is perforce a soldier. As soldiers, we must be willing to risk our lives in defense of our country and the liberties it stands for rather than give up liberties to preserve our lives. That is the lot of the soldier. The way to fight the war on terrorism is to begin at home by taking on the responsibilities of a soldier. We must not permit the Homeland Security Department to assume all the risks and responsibilities. We cannot permit that agency to deprive us, in the name of security, of the liberties that we are ostensibly fighting to preserve. As Benjamin Franklin is reputed to have said, those who will give up liberties for the sake of security deserve neither. We have allowed the Bush League to cow us into ignoring Franklin's admonition. But the skies are clearing now; it's time to enlist. Do not go silent into that good night: cry out, vote for regime change. Let's oust the fear mongers and the presidential imposter, the poser who, in that Florida elementary school on September 11, wanted to appear presidential rather than to be presidential and take charge of the nation's response to the attacks-the cosmetic President.

How to Win the War. Invest in life, not death. Instead of spending billions of national treasure on bullets and bombs, spend the money to remove the conditions of poverty and starvation and blighted hope that infect vast regions of the planet and thereby create the bitter dissatisfaction and frustration that fosters suicide bombers and other recruits to the terrorist ranks.

Schulz B.P., "Before Peanuts"

Last year, a remarkable historical document appeared, nearly unheralded, shrouded, instead, with the sort of all-out unobtrusiveness that seemed so typical of the person about whom the tome concerned itself. Officially entitled Charles M. Schulz: Li'l Beginnings (298 8.5x11-inch pages in paperback, $30; www.SchulzMuseum.org), the book's cover carried, superimposed over the understated title, an illustration, the logotype of the cartoon that is the subject of the volume, Li'l Folks, the newspaper feature that was Schulz's training ground. Li'l Folks appeared once a week in Schulz's hometown newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 22, 1947-January 22, 1950, and this helpful tome reprints the entire run, all 135 of them, plus four precursors that were published in the Minneapolis Tribune in June 1947. Only one or two of these embryonic efforts have ever been reprinted. Schulz, as his widow Jean explains in her Foreword, didn't like his "old" work. The drawing style, he told historian Shel Dorf, "is just too different from what I draw now." He often said, "I never like anything that I did yesterday." I once asked Schulz for permission to reprint a single panel from an old Peanuts strip, one in which the shouted utterance of Lucy ("It's art!") seemed apt to illuminate the cover of the catalog for the exhibition of original comic strip art that I curated for the Frye Art Museum in Seattle. Sparky frowned in genuine anger, saying that was "old stuff" that he didn't want to have "out there" anymore. (He also said if we wanted to use it, we could, but he clearly didn't want us to. We didn't.) Despite this antipathy for his works of yesteryear, we know he cared about such early works as Li'l Folks "because," as Jean Schulz observes, "he pasted almost all the panels into an album that he kept his entire life." And now, thanks to the Schulz family and the Charles M. Schulz Museum, we can all peer into that treasured album of early Schulz.

            The book is equipped with editorial commentary and annotations by Derrick Bang, a Schulzian of heroic proportions, whose knowledge of all things Schulz is vast and detailed. An earlier Bang effort, 50 Years of Happiness: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz (200 8.5x11-inch pages in hardback, $24.95), is a vivid witness to his encyclopedic grasp of the subject. (It includes, among many such riches, a list of all the Peanuts characters with their debut dates, a list showing how many strips each year are, as yet, unreprinted, the initial broadcast dates of all the tv specials, a year-by-year timeline of all significant events in the strip, and a list of all the dates Charlie Brown has tried to kick the football that Lucy snatches away at the last minute, accompanied by Lucy's comments-to supply a tiny sampling of the wealth of Bang minutiae marshaled herein.) In Li'l Folks, Bang annotates every one of the cartoons, supplying information about references to real persons or events, characters that reappear in other Li'l Folks cartoons, characters or situations that foreshadow Peanuts characters or situations, and the like. The Li'l Folks cartoons are halftone reproductions of newspaper clippings, a process that gives the artwork a background of gray newsprint. The drawings are not, in other words, pristine black on white. But each weekly installment, typically a cluster of three or four individual single-panel cartoons mustered under the Li'l Folks heading, is given an entire page to itself; on the facing page, Bang's commentary and, occasionally, a reproduction of a Peanuts strip that uses a Li'l Folks gag or alludes to one.

            As historical insight, the book is invaluable and nearly unprecedented. (Only the Fantagraphics reprinting of the unsyndicated Pogo by Walt Kelly offers a comparable glimpse into the evolution of the creative process.) Schulz's comedic posture, the thing that distinguishes even the early years of Peanuts -the humor inherent in witnessing tiny children talking like adults, often uttering the conversational platitudes of grown-ups-is already amply in evidence in Li'l Folks. Here are two kids, each seated in a highchair for dinner; one says, "I find that this high altitude does wonders for my appetite." Many of the Li'l Folks gags show up again in Peanuts, but seldom exactly the same: when Schulz repeats himself, he makes tiny adjustments in the language, or, transforming the single-panel gag into a 4-panel strip, he stages the comedy, building to the punchline instead of springing it all at once, as in the single-panel version. The strict chronological sequence of the volume's contents shows that Schulz's manner of rendering small children changed over the years. At first, his kids were about "three heads tall," a nearly normal, realistic proportion; by the end of the series, the children had shrunk to Peanuts-size, "two heads tall" (heads as big as the bodies). Schulz had also simplified his drawings considerably, eliminating much of the shading and modeling with clothing folds and the like.

Click to Enlarge Click to Enlarge

            But the book goes beyond such broad insights into the realm of the delightfully minuscule, too. We learn that Schulz picked Beethoven as Schroeder's idol not because of any particular affection the cartoonist felt for Beethoven as a musician. "My favorite composer is Brahms," Schulz reveals, "-I could listen to him all day-but Brahms isn't a funny word. Beethoven is." We also witness an early intimation of the magical quality that will, eventually, invest itself in Snoopy's doghouse: in Li'l Folks, the beagle (unnamed) is depicted seated on a sundeck attached to his doghouse as one of the young onlookers nearby says, "All his life, he's wanted a sunporch."

            The book is a mother lode of such information, a perfect companion to the Fantagraphics Complete Peanuts series. The only other early work of Schulz to have been reprinted prior to this are the cartoons he did about teenage church-goers. They appeared in three paperbacks: Young Pillars (1958), "Teenager" Is Not a Disease (1961), and What Was Bugging Ol' Pharoh (1964), all from Warner Press in Anderson, Indiana.Click to Enlarge Here, the kids are tall and thin rather than short and round-headed, and the sense of humor is more conventional although still perceptive of human nature, this time, in the context of the life of young people who regularly attend their churches. The drawings are loose and easy, so casual and relaxed that they make me wish Schulz had strayed into other venues more than he did. After 1964, running the Peanuts empire probably took as much creative energy as he had, which was, as Li'l Folks demonstrates, considerable even at the very beginning.

            Metaphors be with you.

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