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
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.
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 (
reaction to September 11 was more personal than most: his studio
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
the mid-1880s, Puck was so
successful that it employed almost 400 people and leased space in twenty-two
adjacent premises in lower
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
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."
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.
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,
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: *
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.
Issue or Story-A tie!-
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?
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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. No 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 email@example.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.
Then 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
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
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;
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,
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.
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."
book is a mother lode of such information, a perfect companion to the
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
Metaphors be with you.
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