Opus 163 (June 8, 2005). This year's NCS Reuben winner is, at last, Pat Brady, creator of the cartoon masterpiece, Rose Is Rose. We take a look at his strip and why I call it a masterpiece, but first, a report on the Reuben Awards Weekend-lists of winners and glimpses of the seminar presentations by the likes of Scott Shaw, Glenn and Gary McCoy, Gahan Wilson, a trio of editoonists (Mike Luckovich, Ann Telnaes, and Joel Pett), Jay Stephens, Lalo Alcaraz and Darrin Bell, as well as a tedious discussion of the NCS Foundation and its scandal-ridden origins. Then we conclude with a review of Cartooning Success Secrets, a compilation of favorite articles in the 30 year run of Cartoonist PROfiles, selected by its founding editor, Jud Hurd. Finally, as always, our usual Solicitous Rejoinder: Remember, when you get to the Members' Section, the useful "Bathroom Button" (also called the "print friendly version") of this installment that can be pushed for a copy that can be read later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu-
The Reuben Awards Weekend of the National Cartoonists Society, May 27-29
It's about time! Rose Is Rose creator Pat Brady, seven times a bridesmaid, was finally named Cartoonist of the Year by his peers at the 59th annual awards banquet of the NCS on May 28. Also at the meeting, NCS announced the establishment of the NCS Foundation with a $1 million endowment, and President Steve McGarry, concluding his two-term stewardship of the Society, passed the gavel to his successor, strip cartoonist Rick Stromoski (Soup to Nutz).
Brady was presented with the traditional trophy emblematic of his achievement, a heavy metal sculpture of a pyramid of goofy cartoon characters called the Reuben in honor of one of the founders of the Society, cartoonist Rube Goldberg, who also sculpted the artifact (thinking, at the time, that he was making an ornately comedic lamp). The other two nominees for the award were Dan Piraro (Bizarro) and Dave Coverly (Speed Bump).
Brady's nomination for the Reuben this year was his eighth consecutive time being a nominee for the distinction. And every nomination for the Reuben is a signal recognition because the three finalists each year are determined by vote of the entire membership of NCS, balloting individually without the prompting of a slate of candidates. Only Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury), who won in 1995, is reputed to have been nominated more times than Brady before winning. Although Brady retired from writing and drawing his strip in March 2004, just six weeks short of a 20-year run on the strip (working single-handedly, without an assistant, the entire time), he continues to be actively involved in guiding his successor on Rose, Don Wimmer. (For more about Rose and Brady, scroll down.)
At the Memorial Day Weekend celebration in Scottsdale, Arizona, emcee'd by Dan Piraro, whose stand-up comedy has made him the annual ringmaster, NCS also recognized the achievement of other cartoonists in the various cartooning genre. Each of them received a plaque depicting, in bas relief, some Reubenesque characters cavorting around the edges. These are sometimes called "Reubens" but they aren't. Technically, only the Cartoonist of the Year receives a Reuben; other winners are winners of "Reuben Division Awards," which I, in the interest of brevity and clarity, have dubbed "Rubes." Because every nomination is a distinction, I'm listing all the Rube nominees in each division here, marking the winners with an asterisk.
Advertising Illustration: Roy Doty, Sean Parkes, and *Mike Lester, who varied the usual acceptance speech ritual by singing, in full, a Randy Newman song, "Political Science" (which he's been singing for years in other venues); Animation Feature: *Brad Bird, Director (The Incredibles), Tony Fucile, Character Design (The Incredibles), Lou Romano, Production Designer (The Incredibles); TV Animation: Tim Bjorkland (Brandy and Mr. Whiskers), *Craig McCracken (Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends), Glen Murakami (Teen Titans); Book Illustration: *Geefwee Boedoe, Jenna Lareau, Emma Magenta; Comic Books: Tom Bancroft (Opposite Forces), *Darwyn Cooke (DC's The New Frontier), Roger Langridge (Fred the Clown); Editorial Cartoons: Jim Borgman, Gary Brookins, *Jeff Parker (interestingly, they all moonlight on comic strips: Borgman on Zits, Brookins on Shoe, and Parker on Blondie); Magazine Gag Cartoons: Sam Gross, Glenn McCoy, *Robert Weber, who was not present, but Mort Gerberg, a fellow New Yorker cartoonist, accepted for him and said he'd give Weber the award at the weekly luncheon where the magazine's cartoonists congregate after their Tuesday visit with the cartoon editor, Robert Mankoff; Greeting Cards: Oliver Christianson, Benita Epstein, *Glenn McCoy; Magazine Feature Illustration: Glenn McCoy, Steve McGarry, *Jack Pittman; Newspaper Illustration: Tom Kerr, Peter Kuper, *Michael McParlane; Newspaper Comic Strips: Tom Batiuk (Funky Winkerbean), Jef Mallet (Frazz), *Glenn McCoy (The Duplex). Newspaper Panel Cartoons: Steve Moore (In the Bleachers), Jeff Stahler (Moderately Confused), and *Marcus Hamilton (Dennis the Menace), whose acceptance remarks were both funny and touching.
Standing at the microphone center stage, he began by saying that he thought he should be behind the emcee's podium with Dan Piraro because he was so excited he was afraid he might pee in his pants. "I might even have a heart attack," he continued, "-I hope not because I sure don't want Dan Piraro's lips on mine even to perform CPR." He then recounted how he had volunteered to do the Dennis daily panel after seeing the late creator Hank Ketcham on a tv program, where he indicated he'd like to retire if he could find a successor. Hamilton then expressed his gratitude to Ketcham for his patience and guidance during Hamilton's apprenticeship, to Dottie Roberson who runs the Ketcham studio in Monterey and to Ketcham's widow and Ron Ferdinand (who does the Sunday Dennis) for their continuing support, and, finally, he thanked his fellow Charlotte resident, cartoonist Jim Scancarelli (Gasoline Alley), who had given him Ketcham's phone number when Hamilton had decided to phone him after seeing that tv program.
Bil Keane (Family Circus), whose emcee'ing of the Reuben banquet is legendary, made a brief appearance at the microphone, to announce one of the Rube winners. "It's more than a thrill to be here," he barked in his gravelly voice, "-it's a damned inconvenience." He also made note of the Arizona weather that was recording temperatures of 102 degrees, which, he said, doesn't take into account the wind chill factor that reduces it to 101 degrees. And then, endeavoring to explain the significance of the division award, he launched into one of his famed double-talk tirades, ending by saying, "I hope I've made that clear."
If you were counting as you meandered through the foregoing listing, you found four nominations for Glenn McCoy. In previous years, McCoy has won in Gag Cartooning three times, in Greeting Cards twice, and in Editorial Cartoons once. McCoy and his older brother (by two years) Gary, also a frequently nominated cartoonist (but not, yet, a winner), have just launched their first collaborative effort, a daily newspaper panel cartoon that they take turns producing, alternating days, The Flying McCoys (Universal Press). The brothers live just ten minutes apart in Belleville, Illinois, and they often work with the same editors in greeting cards, magazine cartoons, and other projects, but this is their first formal joint enterprise.
"We both like gag cartooning probably more than all the others," said Gary in a recent interview in NCS's The Cartoonist.
Said Glenn: "Yes, definitely. It's a thing we both enjoy the most. For me, you get to create every single aspect of the cartoon, and then change it the next day. I don't have that luxury with the strip [The Duplex]. Each day [with a gag cartoon], it's totally different. You just wipe the slate clean and start over."
Although they haven't shared a byline before, Gary wrote gags for The Duplex for about a year-and-a-half. Both are traditional craftsmen: they admitted that they haven't yet resorted to the computer for drawing.
"We're pretty far behind on the technology curve," said Glenn.
"Not only do we draw in the traditional way," said Gary, "but we'll work with the cheapest materials available."
"We also make our own butter," added Glenn. "And lye soap."
"Which we use in place of white-out," finished his brother.
Other awards on the weekend included the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Gahan Wilson, whose macabre sense of humor has embellished Playboy and The New Yorker (among other venues) for years. Arnold Roth, another of the Reuben banquet's legendary emcees, made the presentation, saying: "Gahan Wilson enjoys the distinction of having one of the most legible signatures in all cartooning-which is why so many people call him Graham Wilson." Wilson's name goes up on the roster with Will Elisner, Al Hirschfeld, Jack Davis, Dale Messick, Bill Gallo, Charles Schulz, Jerry Robinson, Morrie Turner, and Jules Feiffer. And Larry Katzman, who managed NCS's funds for years and is presently serving as treasurer of the Milt Gross Fund, was presented with the Gold Key Award, joining such luminaries as Hal Foster and Herblock, among others.
The other big news of the weekend was announced at the Membership Meeting on Saturday morning. This was the establishment of the NCS Foundation with an endowment of $1 million "to support education concerning the art of cartooning, to provide financial assistance to cartoonists and their families in times of extreme hardship, and to support other nonprofit organizations that help further the purposes of the Foundation." The formation of the Foundation has been announced a few weeks before in the March-April issue of the Society's newsletter, The Cartoonist, which also outlined the origins of the endowment.
Magazine illustrator and cartoonist David Pascal, a long-time member who had been the Society's "first foreign affairs chairman" and had organized the first (and "only," as he said) NCS American International Comics Congress in 1972, had died, naming the Society as his beneficiary. "The estate," reported President McGarry, "consisted, in the main, of two small, adjoining apartments in Manhattan." Although Pascal's will was contested by his relatives, the final settlement resulted in 60 percent of Pascal's estate falling to NCS. The value of Manhattan property being what it is, NCS's share came to over $900,000. Two other recent bequests, $50,000 each from Herblock and Toni Mendez, raised the purse to over $1 million. McGarry and the NCS Board decided to "protect" this money, as McGarry later said, by establishing the NCS Foundation. The objective, McGarry explained, was to create a financial resource that could be used "to promote the art form and the profession, while doing worthy works," referring to the Society's $25,000 gift to the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University to create an acquisitions endowment and to similar gifts to comic art museums in the past five years. But the problems created by the formation of the new Foundation were not publicly addressed until the Scottsdale meeting- most notably, its outright conflict with the Society's long-standing Milt Gross Fund (MGF).
The most frequently invoked purpose of the MFG, which was formed decades ago, is to provide financial assistance to cartoonists and their families in times of extreme hardship. But the MFG's charter also includes promoting the profession through educational projects. At the membership meeting, Larry Katzman, secretary-treasurer of the MGF, pointed out that the mission statements of the two entities were identical in two areas-as a source of charity for needy cartoonists and in promoting the art form with educational programs. Katzman said he couldn't see why there should be two agencies within NCS providing the same sorts of services. Moreover, he said, there was another problem: if someone wants to leave money to the organization (a not infrequent occurrence), which fund would they leave the money to?
The other problem created by the establishment of the NCS Foundation was largely personal (or, to put it in corporate terms that might be equally accurate, it was a personnel problem). As McGarry acknowledged when he yielded the floor to Katzman, through an oversight, Katzman, secretary-treasurer of the MFG, had not been informed about the new foundation in advance of the announcement made to the membership in the newsletter. McGarry was generous in his praise of the MFG and of Katzman's dedication to the financial causes of NCS and loquacious in apologizing to Katzman for the oversight. Katzman, taking the microphone, attempted to make the best of the awkward situation by speaking of it lightly, but it was also clear that his sense of injury and his concern for the future of the organization were deeply felt. He remembered when, as a young member of NCS years ago, he and others of his generation had referred in jest to the senior members as "old farts." And when he continued by saying that someday today's "young turks" would be "old farts," it was clear that he was alluding to a circumstance that could split NCS's membership, his implication being that the MGF and the new Foundation might well form the wedge that would widen the gap.
The MGF has, through its history, been regularly replenished with various money-raising efforts by the NCS: the money generated by the ads that members buy in the Reuben souvenir program, for example, has traditionally been donated to the MGF. But that practice ceased some years ago, Katzman said. In fact, he continued, "for the last five years, NCS hasn't given one thin dime to the Milt Gross Fund."
This time frame was not remarked upon at all during the meeting, but I suggest that exploring its implications may explain why McGarry and the NCS Board created a new Foundation instead of simply turning Pascal's bequest over to the Milt Gross Fund, which is how most such gifts have been handled in the past. During the meeting, McGarry explained that there was no institutional relationship between NCS and MGF. Because the MGF is a not-for-profit organization with a 501( c) (3) designation with the Internal Revenue Service, its operation must be completely separate from the so-called parent organization, NCS. In effect, NCS cannot legally determine how any of the MGF money is spent. This is exactly how it should be, McGarry said. And no one questions the motives or operations of the current MGF management. But, he asked more than once, what of the future? How can the NCS be sure that future MGF board members will continue to act in the best interests of the profession and the Society? He and the Board, he said, didn't want to give $1 million to an agency over which NCS had no control. So they set up the new NCS Foundation. Since the new Foundation will have the same status with the IRS as the MGF, it is difficult, on the face of it, to see how NCS will have any more control over the decisions of the Foundation's 15-member board than it does over the operations of the MGF, but McGarry and his Board clearly believe NCS will have more say in the administration of the new Foundation than they have in the MGF (sounding suspiciously like Young Turks elbowing the Old Farts out of the picture). At this point, the five-year time frame sheds a little light on these events.
Five years ago, NCS gave $35,000 to the International Museum of Cartoon Art. Founded in the 1970s in Connecticut by Mort Walker, the IMCA had moved in the 1990s to Boca Raton in Florida where it built a brand new home but soon experienced daunting financial difficulties. Explaining the $35,000 donation, Daryl Cagle, then president of NCS, said: "One of the purposes of the NCS, as stated in our bylaws, is: 'To advance the ideals and standards of the profession of cartooning through education, exhibitions, publicity and such other means as may seem desirable.' I can think of no better way to do that than through support of the Museum." In that spirit, Cagle approached the MGF to match the NCS donation, dollar for dollar, and in reporting the outcome, he noted that the MGF charter is broader than simply helping indigent cartoonists, that it also contemplates "providing support to other non-profit organizations"-like the IMCA. The MGF, in short, matched the NCS donation, and the two organizations sent $70,000 to the financially strapped IMCA. This money, Cagle said, would be used for operating expenses while the Museum negotiated its future. "I should add," he continued, "that Mort Walker did not request either donation. I requested the donations from both boards when we learned about the Museum's current circumstances." The IMCA, subsequently, was not able to survive in the Boca Raton environs, and it closed. Walker is presently negotiating for a home for it in Manhattan.
While the NCS Board's motives in 2000 were surely commendable and the use of the money well within the bounds of the purposes of the organization, there were vague rumblings of discontent: some members, hearing of the MGF's matching donation, questioned the use of MGF money in this manner because they mistakenly thought the MGF was to be used soley for the benefit of needy cartoonists and/or their families. Once the charter of MGF was fully explained, the rumblings ceased. But, as Katzman noted in his remarks in Scottsdale, NCS stopped giving money to the MGF five years ago, and my guess is that the hiatus began with the IMCA incident. It may be, also, that NCS leaders found they didn't like going, hat in hand, to MGF to ask for money that the parent organization had been largely responsible for drumming up in the first place. Hence, the motive for creating a new Foundation, separate from the MGF, may have its origins in these adventures five years ago.
Although neither Katzman nor McGarry made direct reference to this ancient history, they engaged, briefly, in a well-mannered exchange, each attempting to clarify the remarks of the other. Then Mort Walker, who chairs the MGF, came to the mike and gracefully brought an end to this exchange by calling for everyone to forget the past in an effort to create a future that would be a worthy one. The specific dimension of the future for the two funds was indicated, first, by Katzman, who said that the only way he (and others) could see to eliminate the apparent duplication of missions was for the MGF to be "folded into" the NCS Foundation. And that, in fact, had already, apparently, been accomplished behind the scenes the day before. (Some of the younger of us thought, for the briefest of moments, that we would be asked to vote on the question, thereby revealing our ignorance of the ways of oligarchy.) Once the paperwork has been accomplished, the NCS Foundation will exist as a sort of umbrella organization under which the Pascal money can be found-and the MGF, as well as the separate sub-funds created by the Herblock and Mendez gifts, which are ear-marked for specific purposes. And, finally, in the hopes, I suspect, of assuaging the bruised feelings all of these machinations may have created, McGarry took the occasion to announce that the NCS Board had decided to acknowledge the long and dedicated service of Larry Katzman to the Society and to the Milt Gross Fund by awarding him the Society's Gold Key Award, thereby inducting Katzman into the Hall of Fame which is presently rather thinly populated by the likes of Hal Foster and Herblock-that is, by Edwina Dumm, Raeburn Van Buren, Rube Goldberg, Milton Caniff, and Arnold Roth. And now, Larry "Kaz" Katzman, magazine cartoonist and creator of Nellie the Nurse, a gag cartoon character who has been running in magazines and book collections for over 52 years.
In the new business segment of the business meeting, Jerry Robinson arose to announce that the San Diego Comicon would inaugurate a new award this year to recognize the achievement of those who write, rather than draw, comics. The award is named for the writer who co-created Batman but who was never given recognition for it during his lifetime- Bill Finger. "But it is probably not be a good idea to call it the Finger Award," Robinson remarked to me earlier. An award so-denominated would have its August purpose rather severely impugned every time it is given. At the end of the meeting, the new NCS president, Rick Stromoski officially took office. Before that, however, McGarry took the occasion to list the major achievements that he thought distinguished his two-term occupancy of the presidency. He believes he has (1) "set the form" of the annual Reubens Weekend with an assortment of professional presentations, cocktail parties and dinners, (2) inaugurated the NCS presence at the San Diego Comicon, where members staff a booth and make a presentation on the program, (3) established the NCS Foundation, thereby putting all NCS monies more at the disposal of the NCS Board than they'd been previously, and (4) initiated a pattern of giving of monetary bequests to such non-profit institutions as the Cartoon Research Library and the Comic Art Museum in San Francisco. I suspect he also had a hand in raising new criteria for membership in the organization, an expression of professional concern over the plethora of web cartoonists and their dubious qualifications as professionals. In other words, McGarry has virtually given NCS its present shape and purpose, bringing it into contemporary times. No wonder everyone applauded him. (Those who didn't were promptly taken out and shot.)
At the presentations, or "seminars," on Friday and Saturday, selected members of the profession supplied insights into their working methods and attitudes. Scott Shaw presented his Comicon screening of "Oddball Comics," a display of the strangest covers, including one memorable one by Bob Oksner in which Supergirl is apparently battling a space vehicle the configuration of which clearly approximates male human genitalia. Glenn and Gary McCoy discussed the astonishing variety of their cartooning endeavors and showed samples. And on a panel entitled "Fear of a Brown Panel," Lalo Alcaraz (who produces the Hispanic rooted La Cucaracha strip) and Darrin Bell (who draws Rudy Park and writes and draws Candorville, another strip about racial minorities) talked about reader and editor reactions to the racial and ethnic content of their strips. "My goal," confessed Alcaraz, tongue in cheek, "is to rip off Doonesbury -I even call my strip Doonesbarrio." Bell, who also produces editorial cartoons, wondered why comic strips don't ask more questions about the dilemmas we all face. He showed a picture of one of his Candorville strips that depicted a woman expressing saccharine grief about the plight of a stray dog while, just around the corner (and conveniently out of her sight) a homeless man slept in a cardboard box. Both cartooners assumed an incredulous stance when speculating about the dearth of comic strips by minority cartoonists. One newspaper rejected Candorville because, its editor explained, it already had three "black" comic strips and he didn't want to "over represent" the minority. Ironically, his paper is published in Oakland, California, where the African-American population is in the majority. Next up was Jay Stephens, who talked about how his comic book creations were transformed into tv animated cartoons.
On Saturday, three Pulitzer-winning editoonists- Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Constitution, Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and Ann Telnaes, syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group- discussed the plight of political cartooning in the U.S., where the dwindling number of full-time practitioners suggests the profession is an endangered species. Charged to comment on their Pulitzer experiences, Pett began by saying that he envisioned the Pulitzer Prize "competition" as a sort of lottery, "a random event that anyone could win, and when I won, I thought it proved just that." Later, as they discussed the almost religious reluctance of newspaper editors to publish cartoons that are critical of ideas or attitudes dear to any of their readers, Pett constructed the day's most memorable metaphor: "Newspaper editors," he said, "act as if they own a shoe store, and they ask themselves-why should I pay somebody to sit at the door and tell people their feet stink?" Jim Borgman, who editoons for the Cincinnati Enquirer as well as drawing the comic strip Zits, rose in the audience to relate a recent development at his paper, a link in the Gannet chain. The entire staff was instructed that, hereafter, they must make a concentrated effort to connect whatever is published in the paper to the lives of their readers-with particular attention to the interests of working mothers who live in the suburbs. The chain's management believes that the only way newspapers will survive is to engage its target demographic, readers age 18-35, but especially suburban working mothers, which, according to surveys, is a portion of the target demographic that is mostly overlooked. As the paper's editorial cartoonist, Borgman said, he is expected to help, to link his cartoons to the sensibilities of that target audience whenever possible. He wondered if anyone else had been subjected to the same "advisory." No one had, but the handwriting is on the wall.
It's not an entirely unwelcome message. While the editorial dictum to tailor political cartoons in ways that make them appeal to a specific demographic sounds, vaguely, like some sort of prior restraint-or, horrors! censorship! -it isn't, yet. And in fact, it's not a bad idea at all as far as it seems, at the moment, to have gone. Most serious newsmen believe that the news media, print and electronic, have become obsessed in recent years with the trivial and the sensational. Newsmen know that they should be informing their audience about many more things than the audience itself seems overtly interested in, but, they say in their defense, they can't sell newspapers or attract viewers by broadcasting the news their audience ought to be interested in; they must appeal to an audience by telling the stories that audience finds fascinating. Michael Jackson, Scott Peterson, Paris Hilton, and the Runaway Bride. These are the things the audience seems most interested in. Well, yes, but-. But canny and accomplished newsmen ought to be able to make the news interesting-any news, all news. Newsmen ought to be able to make otherwise boring news about foreign capitals appealing to the consuming public. The Gannet message to its minions is to connect the news of the day to the lives of the audience. And it seems to me that this is a step in the direction I've just extolled. If you can connect the news to people's lives, then you can take the next step and make even news not connected to their lives interesting enough to read. And a better informed public might well emerge as a result.
But I don't mean to discount Borgman's point. He told me his editors haven't rejected any of his cartoons because they fail to target the valued demographic. But he and other members of the staff are complimented when they hit that target, and that sort of reward will keep them aiming where management wants them to aim. And given the skill with which public opinion surveys and the like can isolate demographic targets and identify the things those demographics like best, it does not require a leap of logic to imagine a day when the only editoons that are acceptable (and therefore published) are ones that engage readers on the basis of their interests rather than the interests and opinions of the cartoonist. If that day comes, it'll be a sad day. But it's not here yet.
The final presentation of the day was by Gahan Wilson, who showed pictures of his cartoons and read the captions in whatever "voice" the speaking character seemed to require -a squeak, a growl, a whisper, a snarl. As he spoke, his rubbery visage contorted and writhed in tune with the mood of the character and cartoon. He also spoke of his fascination as a youth with Chester Gould's Dick Tracy, particularly, he said, in a high pitched little old lady voice, Mrs. Pruneface, who had captured the stalwart detective and, seeking to avenge her son's death at his hands, tied him to the floor under a weighted plank suspended on two blocks of ice. A huge spike in the plank was pointed directly at Tracy's heart, and as the heat of the room slowly melted the ice, the plank with its skewer descended towards its human target. "And then," he went on, "the old woman made a mistake- all villains do -she left the room- to feed her dog or something- and while she was gone, Tracy realizes that the floor of the room slants!" Conspiratorially, Wilson continued: "And he began hitting his heels on the floor, jogging the blocks of ice, which, as they melted, became somewhat slippery, and they slipped away from him, taking the lethal spike with them."
He also told of his first meeting with Playboy's Hugh Hefner. Now a regular in the magazine, Wilson had at first sought publication in the short-lived Trump, which he saw as Harvey Kurtzman's vehicle. On a trip to Chicago to visit his parents, he went to the Playboy office with a portfolio of cartoons. When he was ushered in to see the art director, he learned that the Trump office was in New York, where he lived. But, said the art factotum, "Hef is looking forward to meeting you." Wilson continued: "I had no idea who Hef was. So I went up this narrow little staircase and into this dark room with a thin man at the desk. The only light was from a lamp on the desk. He was on the phone, smiled at me, and waved me to a chair. He went back to whoever was on the phone and said, 'We really liked your article very much. It was intelligently written. The problem is that it was anti-sin, and," Wilson paused then dropped his voice an octave, "we're pro-sin." Wilson laughed. "Hefner then said a few nice things and hung up. And then he stood, took my hand and said, 'I've been waiting for you.'" Hefner had been following Wilson's work in other publications. "Talk about luck," Wilson added, during the interview printed in The Cartoonist (which published the Hef story just as Wilson told it in Scottsdale), "-that's luck. It had never crossed my mind to try Playboy. It's been a hell of a ride. Wonderful."
Sunday evening of the Reuben Weekend was the finale- a roast of Sergio Aragones. The preamble was one of Sergio's patented "quick draw" exercises, presided over by his long-time collaborator and friend, Mark Evanier, just as they are at the San Diego Comicon, where, I suspect, they originated. I missed the first two roasters but returned to the room in time to hear Mell Lazarus speaking. He was directing his remarks directly to Sergio, who was seated in the audience in front of him, and Lazarus was speaking mangled Spanish. After numerous references to "mucho dinero," Lazarus resorted to English to discuss "your work." Sergio needed to improve in his work, Lazarus said: "I've told you time and again," he scolded, "to fertilize the begonias twice, once in the spring and once in the fall. And you're mowing the grass too short." Ah, those illegal alien gardeners, you just can't get dependable ones anymore if they also draw cartoons. Nick Meglin , Mad's editor, showed photographs of Sergio in various compromising situations, accompanying the display with running commentary. When Sergio rose to respond, he was brief. Assuming his slightly dim-witted peasant persona and speaking in his patented broken English, he expressed his deep gratitude to the roasters- saying he was honored to be the subject of their abuse but he was particularly thankful that they didn't say anything about how small his penis was.
And then we all went home. And a good thing, too.
Reuben Winner Pat Brady
A master of the medium, Brady created magical comedy that was highly visual, both in its origins and in its effects: comprehending the strip's humor depended usually upon understanding the pictures as well as the words. In fact, many of the strips seem to be visual puzzles. The punchline is the solution to the puzzle.
I made this observation to Brady when I interviewed him in September 1996: "I look at the pictures in the first panels, and I say, Oh, what is this? And then-all of a sudden-the last panel shows me what it is, explains it, and the explanation is the punchline. Do you do this deliberately? I suppose you must."
"Yes, I do," Brady said. "I've never heard it expressed like you have, but I'm pleased to hear it. I just think it makes it more interesting to try things like that. It's another way of making the work as interesting as it can be. It's definitely something that I do consciously. It's not one of the first things that I think about, but as I'm toying with the idea, as I do a thumbnail sketch, I'll see a possibility to add that dimension, and if I can, I do it. Most of my ideas, probably 99% of them, come from active daydreaming. I'll come into my studio in the morning, and I'll have a cup of coffee, and I'll toy with words and phrases and I'll doodle until something starts to emerge."
I asked if the act of drawing itself ever produced ideas. For many cartoonists, it does: "You start drawing the picture," I said, "and as that is going on-a character takes shape, his personality, already established, emerges, and an idea comes out, a joke or gag-"
Brady said he does that, too, but "more often than not, the ideas will emerge from words rather than doodles. I think Sparky [Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame] told me that he gets his ideas from doodling. And I do that. But for me, it's mostly words."
Still, pictures play a large part, he said. "What I find works for me is to try to think of something that will be visually interesting, that will look visually exciting or pleasing. And then I try actually to write a strip-or a joke-around it. A moonscape, for instance. Ahh, it would be great if I could do a really realistic moonscape, or space scene. Now what can I do with that? I end up writing a joke to accommodate the art. I don't know if other cartoonists do that. But it works for me."
And what happens when it works, as almost any of the published Rose strips amply demonstrates, is magic. Launched April 16, 1984, Rose Is Rose is a warmly human strip about a young family, the Gumbos: Rose is the wife and mother, Jimbo is the husband and father, and Pasquale is their small son (originally about two years old; now, a couple years older). "Pasquale was my nickname when I was very young," Brady explained in Cartoonist PROfiles No. 63 (September 1984). "My father called me Pasquale for several years. I think it's Italian for Patrick, but I've never been quite sure."
One of the early devices in the strip was that Pasquale spoke in unintelligible baby talk (another kind of puzzle) which his mother understood and translated for us. But Brady left that device behind long ago. In recording the daily doings of his characters, the strip is always gentle and its humor often sweet. The comedy would be cloying if it weren't for the visual inventiveness that inspires so many of the gags. The pictures are the wit in the strip's humor, and the wit imparts to the proceedings a patina of magic by which the strip transcends comedy and sweetness and becomes high art. Brady bid farewell to his creation the last week of February 2004 with a stunning sequence, showing Rose and Jimbo embracing affectionately in a paean to the power of love, each day's installment addressing a different aspect of the topic, but all subsumed under the starry awning of the night. I asked him if this week was his "coda" on the whole twenty years, his departing expression of gratitude to a beloved creation. And he said, "I wanted to say good-bye in a way that was quiet enough to be recognized only by a few, and only in retrospect." Like so much of Brady's Rose, this week achieved those objectives with the customary magic-the popping out in the night sky of the stars as visual echoes of the kisses, for instance, is an exquisite demonstration of the wizardry of his art.
Brady left the strip, he said, because he felt there were other ways to exercise his creativity, and he wanted to find them and try them. In his last Sunday Rose, he exhorted himself-and all the rest of us-to venture on, to try something new.
The last compilation of Brady's Rose strips, Rose Is Rose: Running on Alter Ego (128 9x9-inch pages in paperback, $10.95), just out, contains most of his last year on the strip, including the memorable farewell sequence as well as frequent appearances by Rose's alter ego, the unforgettable Vicki the Biker (with a rose tattooed on her thigh-a touch of comedic poetry!), who materializes whenever Rose feels a little frisky or needs a dose of adventurousness. (Incidentally, I happen to have a spare copy of this invaluable memento, which I'm offering to the first person who writes me at RCHarvey@worldnet.att.net for just half price, $6, plus $3 postage.
Civilization's Last Outpost
I flew Southwest to Phoenix. No seat assignment-just rush in and grab what's nearest. Okay by me: the airfare is lower than other airlines by at least 30 percent on this trip. As soon as we were airborne, the stewardess came around and dropped a little box of snacks on our trays. It contained a bag of pretzels, four Oreo cookies, two Honey Maid graham crackers, and a bag of cheese nips. While this was being distributed on my Southwest flight, United Airlines announced that it was curtailing and eliminating pretzel service from all its flights; it will save $2 million a year this way. Lemme see if I have this right: the airline that sells tickets for less than anyone else can afford to give out boxes of snacks (not just pretzels, but cookies and graham crackers and cheese nips too), but the biggest airline in the world can't afford to give out even pretzels anymore. Something's wrong here.
Profiles of the Modern Greats
In March 1969, cartoonist Jud Hurd launched a quarterly magazine called Cartoonist PROfiles. I don't know how long he expected it to last, but it's still going, the longest-running magazine devoted to cartooning in the history of American periodicals. Thirty-five years' worth. And now the "best of Cartoonist PROfiles," Hurd's own selection of his favorite articles, has been published by Andrews McMeel, Cartoon Success Secrets (350 8x11-inch pages in hardcover, $29.95)-almost three dozen in-depth interviews with cartooning greats like Mort Walker, Hank Ketcham, Charles Schulz, Johnny Hart, Bill Watterson, Lynn Johnston, Jim Davis, Greg Evans, Ray Billingsley, Jeff MacNelly, Aaron McGruder, Cathy Guisewite, and more, from a 1969 interview with Stan Drake, then doing the spectacularly realistically rendered Heart of Juliet Jones, to a 2002 encounter with Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos, who team to produce the Latino strip, Baldo.
Hurd's own engagement with cartooning is hinted at in the book's opening 68-page section, which records his encounters, mostly by exchange of letters, with such seminal figures in the field as E.C. Segar, Rube Goldberg, George Herriman, and Harold Gray. (For more detail on Hurd's own career, consult Opus 131 by clicking here.) The prehistory of Cartoonist PROfiles began in 1964, shortly after Hurd moved to Westport, Connecticut, when Bob Dunn (They'll Do It Every Time), then president of the National Cartoonists Society, asked Hurd if he would take over the editing of the Society newsletter- "guessing," as Jud usually puts it, "that I could spell." The assignment appealed to all of Jud's instincts and employed many of the skills he'd honed over the years, and he consequently poured more of himself into each successive issue. By 1968, it was consuming too much of his time as volunteer, gratis employment. Jud offered to continue if NCS could find a way to pay him something. Happily, the NCS Board of Governors proved to be fiscally conservative (which, in those days, meant they didn't want to spend any money, now regarded by conservatives as a somewhat quaint trait), and Jud then had the idea of continuing in much the same vein with a publication of his own, giving birth, in the winter of 1969, to the first issue of Cartoonist PROfiles. It and Jud's two syndicated cartoons have absorbed his energies ever since, and we are the beneficiaries of the NCS Board's benign neglect.
Every issue of the magazine reflected Jud's intensity as a reporter, his passionate curiosity about cartooning, his compulsive desire to understand everything about it and about those who make their living at it. He was perfect for the job, and it created him just as he created it. The Publishers Weekly review of Cartoon Success Secrets applauded the "well-rounded portraits of professional cartoonists [written] from within the industry and with real affection (making this collection ... a compelling portrait of the comic strip industry past and present)" but couldn't find any "success secrets" in the volume. The reviewer is undoubtedly as inept at hiding things as he (or she) is in finding them: the best place to hide something is out in plain view, and that's where this book's secrets are. In every interview, Hurd asked his subject to explain how he (or she) got into cartooning and how he/she achieved syndication ("success"). He also asked what the cartoonist's working methods were and discussed daily routines and sources of ideas. All of which, for successful cartoonists, are the "secrets" of that success. For all of its run thus far, PROfiles has served as inspiration and edification for hundreds of young aspiring cartoonists who yearn to make their livings at the craft. By this time, a couple generations of them have learned about the profession by reading PROfiles. But the magazine is also a sort of shop talk marathon. In a profession whose practitioners labor, mostly, in solitude, the talk has been invigorating as well as gratifying. Good for the soul of cartooning.
Among the nuggets of insight sprinkled throughout the book is Stan Drake's in 1969: "I've reached the stage where what I do doesn't give me a lift anymore. I've drawn over 55,000 figures in seventeen years of Juliet Jones ... There is no position, no layout, that I haven't done. All the strip men reading this will laugh because it's so true. I can lay out a panel without even thinking about it after all this time. It's not difficult for me to conceive a setting anymore. You look at the paper. The balloons go in first because they have to be there. Then you look at the blank space [that's left] and think who's talking first and do you want a close-up or a long shot, and then you say to yourself, 'Well, a long shot means I'll have to draw all the trees, the houses, and the cars,' so you draw a close-up of the guy's nostril. In this way, you wipe out a whole city block!"
And here are Dik Browne (Hi and Lois) and Mort Walker (Beetle Bailey), long time friends and professional cohorts, conversing about their craft. Walker has just opined that cartoonists drawn themselves into their comic strips, and Browne says: "I think there must be something there. I'm no theologian, but I believe only God can make something out of nothing. Cartoonists have to depend on themselves. Wasn't it Jimmy Hatlo who used to draw with a mirror propped on his desk? Well, we all have mirrors. Some of them are more conspicuous than others. I don't think anybody could doubt that Al Capp was Li'l Abner. And George McManus must have been Jiggs's double. I see things in you, certainly, in Hi and Lois, especially in the writing of Hi and Lois. You say you're Lieutenant Fuzz, but I see your ideas coming out through all your characters."
In response, Walker says, " I'm a lot like Beetle Bailey, but as I get older, people tell me I'm like General Halftrack."
Says Browne, "I didn't want to say it."
And from Bill Watterson on getting syndicated: "It took me a while, but I finally learned this lesson: Draw what comes most naturally to you. This had never dawned on me until a syndicate suggested I draw up a strip focusing on what had been two minor characters in one of my earlier submissions: a small boy with a rampant imagination and his stuffed tiger. These were the two silliest characters of the strip, and the ones I had obviously had the most fun with. So I began working on Calvin and Hobbes." And if that's not a "success secret," I'll never be able to track one down in the wild.
In the article from Dilbert's Scott Adams, we learn that Dilbert would doubtless never have appeared on the scene had not Adams' car broken down one winter's night on the road half-way between Syracuse and Oneonta, New York. Jogging through the freezing night looking for help, Adams vowed that if he lived, he would "sell my traitorous car for a one-way ticket to California and never see another snowflake as long as I lived." He lived, and he went to California, where he found a boring job in a big bank "and set about the business of crushing little people on my way to the top. But cartoons kept oozing out of my fingers, sometimes during business meetings, always while I was on the phone. A dumpy-looking character with glasses began appearing in my business presentations and on my office blackboard. I wasn't conscious of creating him; he just evolved. The cartoon dumpy guy gained popularity around the office...." And Adams decided to try to get syndicated. Presto: Dilbert.
And when Hurd interviewed Ray Billingsley (Curtis), we all learn that Billingsley was a professional cartoonist at the age of twelve. Said he: "I was twelve years old and my art class was into recycling even in those days. My art teacher was quite creative, and we were constructing a fifteen-foot aluminum-can Christmas tree outside a hospital. While the other kids were busy with the tree, I sat on the side, took out a pad, and started drawing. There was a small amount of media coverage of this project, and a woman approached me and asked to look at my efforts. She asked if she could keep the drawing and wanted my name and phone number, so I gave it to her. Back in that time, I figured that since I was only twelve years old, she wasn't hitting on me. A couple of days later, the woman called my home, and it turned out she was the editor of Kids magazine! She asked if I would come down to her office and do some sketches. Believe it or not, they liked my drawing and hired me as a staff artist. From that day on, there would be a car waiting for me as I was about to leave school, and I'd be taken to the Kids office. ... from three-thirty to five-thirty p.m., Monday through Friday, and I took work home on weekends."
Hurd's magazine regularly included interviews with editorial cartoonists and, occasionally, animators, but Cartoon Success Secrets concentrates exclusively on syndicated newspaper cartoonists. Every interview is liberally illustrated with selections from the cartoonist's work and with photographs. The book is a treasure trove of history and lore as well as "success secrets."
Forthcoming: one of these fine days, we'll have an index to the entire run of Cartoonist PROfiles up here, and you'll be able to purchase off-prints of specific articles. Stay 'tooned.
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