Opus 164 (June 20, 2005). We report on the recently concluded convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, dwelling at length on the plight of the editooning profession, whose numbers of employed full-timers has been steadily diminishing in recent years. We explain why and describe the solutions offered at the convention. We also describe the worldwide persecution of political cartoonists (in some countries, they're imprisoned or killed for expressing anti-government opinions) and introduce the Cartoonists Rights Network. We also investigate the historic role religion in government, and we pause at the BeeVee for refreshment on our way home. After that, in order, comes NOUS R US -clothing and lust, the future of Cracked, new Gasoline Alley reprints, other classic comic reprints from Spec Productions (Moon Mullins, Alley Oop, Rip Kirby, etc.), Farley's anniversary, the environmental threat posed by Hong Kong Disneyland, freeze-dried penguins, chicken testicles and Pam Anderson's nipples. And then, 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-
Editorial Cartooning These Days.....
Bob Englehart of the Hartford Courant (Connecticut) inadvertently supplied the endangered editorial cartooning species with a new tune to whistle as we stroll past the increasing number of tombstones in the graveyard of evaporated staff positions at daily newspapers. "Live like you won the Pulitzer," he advised and was roundly cheered by his colleagues.
Those of the editooning fraternity who attend the annual gathering of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) have been living like they won the Pulitzer for quite a few years. Program presentations have peered with studied ardor at the power of cartoons on local issues vs. national issues, the dubious virtues of syndication, the greater vitality and editorial freedom in cartooning for alternative weekly publications, the flacid impotence of old time visual symbols (like donkeys and elephants) in a digital age, this country's myopic anti-Arab perspective on the Middle East, self-censorship, graphic style, and so forth. While these are all topics worthy of professional engagement, the most menacing of all topics has seldom been the subject of any prolonged attention. The profession turns ostrich rather than acknowledge the presence in the room of the 800-pound gorilla-namely, the steady erosion of full-time political cartooning billets in American newspapers, a trend that, should it continue, will render the Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning altogether moot. But the tune changed June 8-11 this year when the AAEC met in Sacramento, California. Half of the program presentations confronted the looming threat.
A panel of four cartoonists told how they'd survived as cartoonists when their editooning jobs were budgeted out of existence at their newspapers. In the next session, one of the four explained how he'd exploited the Internet's capacity for sound and motion to create a new career for himself with political cartoons that sing and dance. And then a representative of Pixar described how an animated feature is created. Other sessions delved into a more traditional bag of topics when a panel of editors spoke about the value of editorial cartoons to their editorial pages, and, at another presentation, a panel of cartoonists told of reader reaction to their cartoons in political environments hostile to the editoonist's point of view. Finally, at the session that prompted Englehart's genial outburst, a panel of people who had judged cartoon contests supplied hints about what to do and what not to do when entering the annual Pulitzer competition. The program also included appearances by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oakland mayor (and former California governor) Jerry Brown, and Michael Newdow, the physician/lawyer who protested the phrase "under God" in the pledge of allegiance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The diminishing number of full-time editorial cartoonists has been rumored in alarm more often than proved with facts in recent years. But just as it was openly acknowledged on the front page of USA Today last week (June 14) that global warming is a scientifically demonstrable fact no longer just a politically sponsored urban legend, so is it a demonstrable fact that there are fewer editoonists working full-time today than, say, five years ago. The exact number of this endangered species is still at issue, but the number is surely smaller now than it was. Writing in the Winter 2004 issue of Nieman Reports, J.P. Trostle, editor of the AAEC newsletter, The Notebook, and of the AAEC showcase collection of editorial cartoonist biographies and cartoons, Attack of the Political Cartoonists, opined that there were "fewer than 90 cartoonists working full time" as political commentators in American newspapers. However, if we consider the number of part-time editoonists (those who work in newspaper art departments and occasionally draw an editorial cartoon or whose cartoons appear in weekly newspapers), Trostle estimates the number at 234 "regularly published" editoonists. That's somewhat comforting, but is the number of full-timers smaller now than it has been?
V. Cullum Rogers, the estimable long-time secretary-treasurer of AAEC and a dedicated student of the medium, once attempted an answer on the AAEC listserv by reviewing various articles about the profession that appeared at intervals between 1956 and 2003. If an estimate in a Time magazine cover story about Bill Mauldin in 1957 (July 21) is accurate, Rogers calculated that there were "at least" 1,143 full-time editorial cartoonists in 1900. Time's estimate was the dubious assertion, without documentation, that "most" of the nation's 2,285 daily newspapers in 1900 had a staff editoonist, implying that the job was a full-time position-an implication that Rogers finds extremely doubtful. The 1,143 figure is one more than half-ergo, "most" or a simple majority. More realistically, we might guess that a quarter of the nation's newspapers had a staff editorial cartoonist, who probably also did other kinds of drawing in the paper; that's 571 'tooners, a smaller but thoroughly respectable number. Later in the article, Time asserts that there were, then, in 1957, 119 staff editoonists in the nation, an 80% reduction in the ranks over a half-century, again without giving any source for the figure. In 1956, the New York Times asserted that there were 275 full-time editoonists, again without citing a source. In a 1980 cover story about Jeff MacNelly (October 11), Newsweek claimed there were 170-still, without documentation. In 1997, Rogers himself tried to ascertain, for once and all, how many there were, drawing upon his knowledge of AAEC membership and various other factors; he determined that there were 154. By 2003, he'd adjusted the number to suit the facts as he then perceived them-dropping it to 100 "pure, full-time editorial cartooning jobs at U.S. newspapers" ("jobs" not cartoonists; so the number does not include Pat Oliphant or Ted Rall or Ann Telnaes, none of whom work at newspapers). The progression of the numbers, then, is as follows: 1900-1,143 (or, maybe, 571); 1956-275; 1957-119; 1980-170; 1997-154; 2003-100.
Whatever the exact numbers, it's inarguable that there are fewer today than there were a hundred years ago-or fifty years ago. Or, even, ten years ago. Editooner Milt Priggee, who has been freelancing for several years after losing his berth at the Spokane Spokesman-Review, maintains a website at www.miltpriggee.com where he posts the names of newspapers that haven't filled staff editoonist vacancies in recent years. The vacancies appear as a parade of coffins (click on Cartoons, then Animation, then Paul Revere). To-date, Priggee's posted nearly four dozen of these zombies-nearly four dozen fewer political cartooning jobs today than ten years ago. Among them, most conspicuously, the Chicago Tribune, where Jeff MacNelly's slot has been empty since his death in June 2000 despite the paper's claim that it is still looking for the perfect successor. In one of the grander ironies of the age, in January 2004, the Tribune mounted a "permanent exhibit" of MacNelly's work on the 24th floor of the Tribune Tower as "a reflection of the esteem in which Jeff was held here." To which Mike Ritter, then AAEC president, responded: "Putting up a cartoon show as a permanent exhibit but not hiring a new cartoonist comes off as a tombstone more than anything else." (A month ago, Ritter's paper, the East Valley Tribune near Phoenix, laid him off, and he hasn't been seen or heard from since.)
The Causes of the Looming Catastrophe
"What's going on," said Ted Rall, "is death by a thousand cuts." Rall, who has no home newspaper and survives solely through syndication, sees the dire situation as "long term and structural," identifying three factors as contributing to the crisis: 1) the declining number of daily newspapers ("each time one employing a staff cartoonist closes, we lose a position"); 2) existing newspapers that permanently eliminate a staff position ("either after a retirement or voluntary departure"); and 3) newspapers that don't have staff editoonists even though they could afford one. "We can't do much about the first," Rall said. And the profession's reactions to the other two, he continued, have consisted mostly of sending letters of protest to newspapers without staff editoonists and whining about the declining ranks in interviews. Neither strategy, Rall concludes, has been effective. And that's scarcely surprising in today's newspaper industry.
Newspapers are no longer owned and published by local power brokers who seek to improve their communities or increase their civic power through their newspapers. Today's newspapers are owned by chains of corporate entities whose only purpose is to generate profit for their stockholders. Newspapers traditionally run up profits of 15-20%, better by at least 10% than most other businesses. But that's not enough profit. Think about it: if you've invested money in stocks, you want to realize a steadily increasing return on your investment. If you own stock in Gannett or Knight-Ridder (which you probably think of as "corporations" not as newspaper publishers), you want your income to increase over the years. The spur, in today's newspaper business, is to generate profit, not power; to make money for investors not to disseminate "news"; to satisfy stockholders not readers. In none of those purposes does editorial cartooning stand very high. In fact, to the average stockholder, paying a salary to a staff cartoonist is a needless extravagance because a newspaper can obtain a much greater variety of political cartoons by subscribing to syndicate services. And syndicated editorial cartoons never attend to local issues so no advertisers will be offended. These circumstances doom staff editorial cartoonist positions.
Pondering solutions to the problem, Rall recently outlined on the AAEC listserv three possibilities for editoonists, all, essentially, freelance options: 1) animate political cartoons and sell the service on the Internet, 2) self-syndicate via the Internet, and 3) get syndicated (like Rall, Oliphant, and Telnaes). At the Sacramento meeting, Rall moderated a panel discussion that explored aspects of these possibilities. The charge to the panelists was to show their colleagues "how to land on their feet if they lose their jobs" at newspapers.
Wiley Miller, who presently produces the syndicated daily comic strip Non Sequitur, started as a staff editoonist, and when his paper eliminated the position, he concocted a comic strip, Fenton, which he was successful in selling to a syndicate. Syndication saved him. Later, he found another political cartooning position and discontinued his strip. (Wiley, as a matter of principle, doesn't think a cartoonist should do two cartooning jobs because that eliminates a position for someone else; what's more, no one, no matter how brilliant, can do his "best" work in either of two ostensibly full-time enterprises.) Still later, he realized that his new staff job was going to evaporate, so he quit and started Non Sequitur.
Paul Fell of Lincoln, Nebraska, simply went freelance when his position at the Lincoln Journal disappeared. He cultivated his connections throughout the state, selling editoons on state issues to newspapers, and he did ordinary artwork chores for magazines and businesses and taught cartooning. Eventually, he negotiated a freelance arrangement with his former employer, producing three editoons a week for the Lincoln Journal-Star. He is also now self-syndicated, offering a package to other papers: $25/week for five cartoons, "buy the package and print what you want." In another aspect of the same service, Fell offers an exclusive-one cartoon a week on a local (city) topic for $100. He recommends asking three questions when first approached by a prospective client: 1) When do you want this? (Is there enough time to produce the product the client wants?); 2) What's your budget? (The client may be planning to pay more than you'd ask.); 3) who am I working for? (If it's a committee, which can take forever to make up its mind to accept finished work, Fell imposes a penalty fee that kicks in after a predetermined lapse of time).
And Mark Fiore, who started as a freelancer then found a job at the San Jose Mercury News, went back to freelancing when the job turned sour. The publisher who hired him resigned to protest Knight-Ridder cost cutting, and his replacement told Fiore to "go easy on Bush." Fiore left. He'd been selling his cartoons on the Web, and he soon started animating them for his old client list. He much prefers his new situation. "With a staff job," he said, "one person controls your destiny-your editor; when you have multiple clients, you can lose one and still have the others." Using Flash software, Fiore produces only a couple political animations a week-no small achievement: he writes song lyrics to suit the music he downloads to accompany the animation at www.markfiore.com -but he sells them to the Web editions of the Village Voice and various California newspapers, charging each client $300-400 for a 'toon, thereby generating a decent living for himself.
All three panelists stressed the self-discipline needed in being your own boss, and Fell and Fiore told how they'd engineered medical insurance by exchanging their cartooning services for group coverage with a client. Fell recommended repeating this kind of session every year at the AAEC convention: he foresees the ranks of freelancing editoonists growing over the years, and, he added, "I won't lose anything in Lincoln if you do the same things I'm doing in New Jersey."
In the next session at the convention, Fiore showed samples of his animated political cartoons and explained how he produces them, downloading public domain tunes from the Web and sometimes employing friends for different voices. "There's going to be fewer and fewer print jobs and more animation," he said, "but there will still be some print." Sound and motion add a new dimension to political cartooning, he said-sometimes softening and making more acceptable hard-hitting messages as David Astor explained in his Editor & Publisher report: "Fiore showed an anti-death penalty animation he did featuring a syringe character executing various people, but upbeat music on the soundtrack added a lighter touch to the serious message. 'I love doing that contrast,' Fiore said; 'it makes it more palatable and draws people in.' Another way Fiore makes his work friendlier to viewers is by using more dialogue and less text than before. 'The same message, but less reading,' he explained."
Sharing the panel with Fiore was Don Asmussen, whose Bad Reporter cartoon runs in the San Francisco Chronicle and will soon be distributed by Universal Press Syndicate. Asmussen showed how he animates a political message.
Despite these upbeat messages, the prospects for editooning are bleak. "The ship is sinking," Rall said, "-it's just happening too slowly for anyone to notice." Summing up on a listserv note, Rall said that none of the options he sees offers much long-term hope. He realizes that more editoonists will follow in Fiore's footsteps, "but even assuming that there were another 20 or 50 or 100 editorial cartoonists with the chops to make that transition-a highly doubtful proposition-you don't need to talk to Fiore about the business model he has pioneered to realize that the market for animated editoons will never, ever multiply in dollar volume to accommodate all of the editorial cartoonists losing their positions." And selling cartoons via the Internet only works with "cartoonists who are well established with national brand recognition-and even those artists haven't figured out how to do it." As for syndication, he continued, "The same problem-there isn't enough of a market to accommodate another 50 or 75 or 100 artists, each of whom need at least 50 clients to earn a half-decent living. This only works for a few, and even I have to do other things-write books, newspaper columns, radio talk shows-to survive."
Concluding, Rall said: "We can't stop bleeding daily newspaper staff jobs and we haven't figured out a different way to earn a living. That leaves one last gambit: creating a new marketplace somewhere else. What we need, I think, is something like the alternative newsweekly revolution of the '80s and '90s-a new form of media that provides a forum for cartoons and is willing and able to pay for them in vast quantities. We don't have anything like that on the horizon now, but we need to be able to recognize it if and when such a creature pops up. In the meantime, like Milt Priggee says, we'll have to keep hustling-a.k.a., treading water."
Not everyone sees the situation in such funereal trappings. Freelancer Elena Steier, for one, writing on the listserv offered "an alternative attitude." Said she: "An editorial cartoonist has traditionally been a hired hand working for the papers. But maybe that's changing. My figuring is that you roll with the punches. ... Most cartoonists are freelancers. I don't know why editorial cartoonists feel a staff position is a divine right or something. Ironically, the corporate decisions which are affecting staff cartoonists are not being dealt with in editorial cartoons (with few notable exceptions). [And] there's a lot of downsizing going on across the board. ... Just think how the American Airlines workers felt after okaying pay cuts then finding out the executives had procured permanent multi-million dollar deals for themselves? How is this all that different from what's going on at Knight-Ridder? ... I'm just saying, there are other ways."
Not everything at the AAEC meeting was gloomy. Mostly, the ambiance was upbeat. The opening panel, for instance, featured three editors who value political cartoons highly: Bob Kittle of the San Diego Union-Tribune, Henry Freeman of the Journal News (White Plains, NY), and David Holwerk of the Sacramento Bee. Holwerk began by noting that an editor can actually enhance the impact of a cartoon. "He can help with word choice," he said, "and encourage leaving words out when they aren't necessary." All three editors are supportive of their cartoonists and believe that political cartoonists are entitled to express their own opinions, just as columnists do. Noting that the Gannett chain, in which his paper is a link, employs about 15 staff editoonists, Freeman remembered a time when a local business pulled a half-million-dollar ad campaign because it was angered by a cartoon the paper's Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, Matt Davies, had drawn. Astor quoted Freeman as saying, "I've been called a traitor for running Matt's work, and as a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps, I take offense at that." Holwerk believes in publishing the work of his cartoonist, Rex Babin, but he also believes that an editor can lead a cartoonist to re-consider. "An editor can ask-this cartoon will bring lots of negative reaction-do you [the cartoonist] know why?" Kittle admires the cartoons of his paper's cartoonist, Steve Breen, but the Union-Tribune's publisher believes his editorial page should reflect the opinions of its publisher, so when Breen draws something that wanders off the reservation, his cartoons aren't killed: they're published on the Op-Ed page. Kittle thinks cartoons should adhere to standards of taste, citing as an example of bad taste a Mike Luckovich (Atlanta Constitution) cartoon in which viagra's recently discovered propensity for causing blindness was offered as an explanation for Prince Charles' marriage to Camilla Parker-Bowles, whose visage is famously not photogenic. Acceptable cartoons should also not contain hidden messages or pornographic images, Kittle said. And they should be "fair," an assertion that should have brought the crowd to its feet in protest (an opinion is an opinion; fairness doesn't enter into it) but didn't. Kittle also underscored the reason for fewer newspapers employing editorial cartoonists: "You as a group are paid more than many editors and reporters," he said, quoted by Astor; "that may make your job a little less secure more than anything you draw." Asked how editors could be convinced to hire staff editoonists, Holwerk said he couldn't think of anything that would work: "It would be like persuading a cartoonist who doesn't have a sense of humor to have one," he said.
Being Blue in a Red State and Vice Versa
At a session intended to offer more comic relief that insight, four cartoonists reviewed their adventures in communities whose political leanings were opposite the inclinations of the cartoonists: this year's Pulitzer-winner, Nick Anderson (Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky), and Bruce Plante (Chattanooga Times Free Press) are liberals in states carried by GeeDubya in last November's presidential contest; and Dick Locher (Tribune Media Services/ Chicago Tribune) is ostensibly conservative in a liberal state, while Steve Breen (San Diego Union Tribune) is "fairly moderate" in a blue state but the city is conservative. Anderson quote a letter he'd received after criticizing the Guantanamo Bay prison: "I will pray that you or someone you dearly love is the next innocent victim of these cowards" who have attacked and killed non-combatant Americans. Plante reacted in surprise, saying he'd received a letter employing exactly the same sentence. Hate mail is clearly mass-produced on the Internet. Anderson recalled his cartoons being criticized in a sermon by a local priest who called them "anti-Catholic," apparently unaware that the cartoonist was sitting in the front row of the congregation with his wife and son, who was scheduled to be baptized later in the service. Astor quoted Locher as remembering a fellow Tribune staffer, columnist Mike Royko, who told him: "You're nothing until you've had a death threat." Royko's comment was intended to make Locher feel better during a short period that a bodyguard had been assigned to him because of the ire one of his cartoons provoked. Locher also noted that opinions on political issues these days are much more vitriolic than formerly-all black or white, no middle grays. "I never hear 'loyal opposition' used anymore," Locher said, "-now it's 'you dumb bastard.' And we lose a lot when there's no voice of moderation." Plante said he pulls no punches in a community essentially hostile to his point-of-view, but he also does cartoons that people of all political views would enjoy "to keep the conversation going with readers."
Gaming the Pulitzer
A panel of persons who had sat as judges in cartoon contests outlined a few do's and don'ts for contestants. Joel Pett (Herald-Examiner, Lexington, Kentucky), Mike Keefe (Denver Post), and Lucy S. Caswell (curator, Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University) have all served on the Pulitzer editorial cartoon committee at one time or another, and they described the process, which usually takes a group of 5 judges 2-3 days. Cartoonists submit a portfolio of their work from the year (maybe as many as 20 cartoons), and these are passed around from judge to judge, again and again, gradually eliminating all but the top five; the Pulitzer Committee then chooses the three finalists and the winner from the five nominated by the cartoon committee. The frustrating thing about the selection process is that the judging panel usually includes only one cartoonist (and that, only recently; until just a few years ago, none of the jury for editorial cartoons were cartoonists). The rest of the judges may (or may not) know what makes a good editorial cartoon. As a result, Pett observed, the process often seems more lottery than selection. On the other hand, most of those who see editorial cartoons published in the newspaper are not necessarily knowledgeable about what makes a good cartoon, so perhaps having only one cartoonist in the jury is not as outlandish an affront to reason as it might at first blush appear. In the last analysis, there seems to be no criteria about what is a "good" political cartoon-even among editoonists.
When the winnowing process gets to the final 20 cartoonists, the jurors start looking for things that will disqualify one of the contenders. As Pett observed, a juror starts by looking for "great cartoons-and you finish by look for faults, minor blemishes." You start by championing cartoons; you end a critic. Given the process, contestants are well advised to follow the rules in submitting work: if you are asked for no more than 20 cartoons, don't send 21 because that extra cartoon may be the basis for disqualifying you in the last rounds of judging. Cliche images also become the grounds for eliminating some cartoons-and the cartoonists who produce them. Finally, as Caswell said, "take a chance-send something different": by the time judges get to the end game, they've seen dozens of cartoons on the same subjects, often deploying similar imagery.
It was during the question and comment portion of this panel's presentation that Bob Englehart rose to say that cartoonists can put too much emphasis on cartoon contests and winning prizes. He recalled being a finalist a quarter century ago and losing to a more famous cartoonist. Englehart thought he'd done better work, and he was, as Astor reported, "devastated." Englehart said he went around for months-even years-feeling bad about the experience and himself and his work. And then he realized that the important thing was what the readers of his paper thought of his work, not what the Pulitzer committee thought. He asked himself if he would be doing anything different if he'd won the Pulitzer. He realized he wouldn't. He'd still be shooting to please and provoke his readers. So, he decided, the Pulitzer didn't really matter all that much, and from that he concluded that you may as well "live like you won the Pulitzer," doing what you do best, regardless of the prizes that may be in the offing (here, in its original context, the phrase having a somewhat different meaning than I've imparted to it earlier).
Where Cartooning Can Get You Killed
A special fund-raiser dinner was sponsored by AAEC in support of the Cartoonist Rights Network (CRN), an unofficial not-for-profit agency that lobbies on behalf of persecuted cartoonists around the world. In many countries, particularly in the Third World, cartoonists are heroes, much more powerful public figures than they are here or in Europe. According to Robert "Bro" Russell, CRN founder, in many such countries, foreign service officials are advised to look in newspapers for the daily cartoon: the cartoon shows them what the average citizen is "thinking" that day, Russell told me. Because the visual medium is so persuasive-especially in countries where illiteracy is high-cartoonists are often jumped on by their governments if they draw cartoons critical of high officials. As recently as 1999, two editorial cartoonists were murdered for expressing their views; in 2000, three were jailed, and in 2001, many were under judicial prosecution or personal threat because their cartoons offended the wrong people.
This year's guest at the dinner was Musa Kart, a Turkish cartoonist, who was found guilty a month or so ago of "publicly humiliating" the prime minister by depicting him as a cat entangled in string, a visual allusion to the legislative snare that the prime minister, Recep Tayip Erdogan, has created: he called for an easing of tension while supporting measures that would have the effect of increasing the role of Islam in public affairs, thereby creating religious tension in a nation that has been secular since Kemal Ataturk founded the republic in 1923. Ironically, Erdogan has portrayed himself as a champion of free speech: he was jailed in 1999 for reciting a poem that "incited hatred." When Kart was first indicted, other cartoonists came to his defense in that curiously satirical way cartoonists have of getting even: hearing that Erdogan apparently objected, chiefly, to being depicted as an animal, they all drew him as various animals on the cover of a satirical weekly, Penguen. Erdogan promptly sued the magazine. The Turkish Cartoonists Association has accused the prime minister of trying to stifle free expression just as Turkey is entering talks to gain membership in the European Union. Kart was brought to the AAEC meeting with his wife and daughter to accept this year's Courage in Editorial Cartooning award, the only award like it in the world. Kart is the fifth recipient; of the other four-an Egyptian, a Camaroonian, an Iranian and a Kurdish Turk-some were in jail at the time of receiving the award.
The seeds for CRN were sown in 1989 when Russell, a foreign service specialist in development, was approached by a worried cartoonist in Sri Lanka. The cartoonist expected to be disciplined by his government, but he asked Russell for help in protecting his family. "There are lots of journalist aid groups," Russell said, "but none for cartoonists." He resolved to remedy that situation. At first, beginning in about 1991, the strategy was simply to make the plight of persecuted cartoonists visible in the conviction that cartoonists in the public eye worldwide would not be treated badly. Russell established a "watch list" that publicized the names and situations of cartoonists being threatened. In November 1997 (the only edition I have at hand), the Watch List reviewed 30 current cases. In Algeria (with Turkey, then "the most dangerous countries for journalists"), a cartoonist was jailed and subsequently given a three-year suspended sentence for depicting the national flag in a cartoon, thereby "insulting the national emblem." Two other Algerian cartoonists were arrested and their publications shut down. In Argentina, a cartoonist was held at gunpoint and threatened because he appeared on tv and criticized the military regime that had been in power 1976-83. In Azerbaijan, five cartoonists were sentenced to five years in prison for insulting the dignity of the country's president; all five were subsequently pardoned when the country's Committee to Protect Journalists protested, showing "that prompt action and ethical pressure can get results in some cases." In Cameroon, a cartoonist endured a month of threatening phone calls. In Ethiopia, a cartoonist was sentence to jail in 1996 if he couldn't pay a fine of $2,000; unable to pay, he was sent to prison where he remained, as of November 1997, incommunicado. Another cartoonist was abducted by police and imprisoned. In Hong Kong, cartoonist Larry Feign was fired from his newspaper, the English-language South China Morning Post, because his comic strip, World of Lily Wong, was often critical of the Chinese government; after ten years producing the strip, he was fired just two years before the British colony island would revert to the Chinese control. In Pakistan, ten thugs ransacked a newspaper office and beat the editor because they were angry about a cartoon he'd published. The list goes on-and includes the case of Mike Diana, a U.S. citizen in Pinellas County, Florida, who was tried and convicted of self-publishing an obscene comic book. As part of his sentence, Diana was forbidden to draw anything obscene, even in his own home. Although most of the Watch List cases involve arrests, trials, and jail sentences, two cartoonists in Algeria were killed, one by a car bomb, the other after being abducted by gunmen.
Recipients of previous Courage in Editorial Cartooning awards, Russell reported, are, at present, safe. One has been spirited away to Canada, where he works in an inconspicuous job while efforts to extract his family go forward. I've refrained, here, from mentioning names because many of those to whom the Watch List referred are still working and still in danger, their lives and those of their families threatened. Many, regardless, continue to work, drawing cartoons critical of their oppressive governments. CRN keeps them on the Watch List. A brochure describes CRN as "the world's only human rights and free speech organization dedicated exclusively to the well-being and safety of editorial and humor cartoonists all over the globe." The brochure continues: "The editorial cartoonist is one of the most important voices representing the unique perspective and opinion of the individual. Editorial cartoonists help their readers form opinions and shape attitudes about the political and social issues of the day: a single image can affect thousands of people, communicating complex ideas through very simple yet powerful images. ... We revel in the thought that someone with a pen and piece of paper can level the playing field with even the mightiest power. Our mission is to make editorial cartoonists the most powerful people in the world."
To achieve its purpose, CRN produces "lobbying booklets" defending specific cartoonists by "using sharp editorial cartoons drawn about the victim's specific situation." CRN also sponsors a traveling archive of the images and stories that got cartoonists in trouble. And it responds immediately to reports of abuses by approaching embassies and political leaders and by mounting publicity campaigns to advocate for persecuted cartoonists. Russell is the Executive Director (at email@example.com and www.cartoon-crn.com ), but CRN also has a board of directors, chaired by Pulitzer-winning cartoonists Kevin Kallaugher (Baltimore Sun), Joel Pett, Ann Telnaes, Signe Wilkinson (Philadelphia Daily News), and Steve Benson (Arizona Republic), to name a few. CRN is a member of International Freedom of Expression Exchange Clearing House and the New York Foundation of the Arts.
The annual CRN dinner, now in its second year, offers no particular program apart from the presentation of the Courage award, but this year, Pett arranged for standup comedian Chris Bliss to do a little schtick for the amusement of the dining donors. Bliss regaled the assembly with pungent comment constructed from his perception of the editooning profession and AAEC in the day he'd been attending, and he finished with a spectacular display of juggling: he kept three small balls aloft in time with musical accompaniment, varying the speed and gestures of his hands and the height of his toss according to the tempo of the music. Astounding.
Religion in American Government
The "guest" speakers at AAEC's convention were not cartoonists. At lunch, Michael Newdow, a physician and attorney who tried, unsuccessfully, to get "under God" removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, reviewed the history of the Almighty in American politics, beginning as far back as he could go-at the "big bang" itself. Partly, his long but rapidly delivered history of the world was intended to show that God and religion have a not entirely unblemished record as civilization "advanced." His chief point, however-and the basis for his legal action to discard "under God"-is that when a state recognizes or "establishes" a religion, it immediately creates two classes of citizens: those who are adherents to that religion, and those who are not, the former, presumably, being favored over the latter. And since the Founding Fathers were passionate about "equality," they opposed any "law respecting the establishment of religion." They were not so much afraid of the influence of religion itself as they were insistent upon creating a government and a society in which "all men were equal." In tracing the early political efforts of the Republic, he noted that "the first act of Congress was to take God out of the oath of office." The body was considering adopting an oath of office like Virginia's, which had "so help me God" in it; but when they voted, they removed that expression. And no President being sworn in used the expression "so help me God" until Warren Harding said it in 1921. The formal oath of office still does not include any reference to any deity or religion, a circumstance that might alarm certain of our more righteous brethren who insist, against all evidence to the contrary, that the United States was "founded" as a Christian nation. Not so.
Some of the Founders were deists for whom "God" was not a father figure but an undefined and unknowable "prime mover" who reveals himself in immutable laws that can rationally explain both cosmic and human affairs, the laws of physics and psychology. Most of the Founders were of sincere Protestant conviction and called themselves Christians although some didn't believe in the divinity of Christ. Thomas Jefferson created his own version of the New Testament, using only the sayings of Christ and eliminating all miraculous events. They thought religion was good for the health of the Republic, but resolutely rejected any attempt to give any religion the official endorsement of the new government. The only reference to religion in the original Constitution (before the adoption of the Bill of Rights with its First Amendment cautions) was that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" (Article VI, Section 3). And in July 1797, when the Senate ratified the Treaty of Tripoli, which resolved the conflict with the Barbary pirates of North Africa, it declared, in the Treaty, that "the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion"-in order to reassure the North Africans that Americans had no prejudices against their Islamic beliefs. Congress, in other words, asserted in unequivocal terms the completely secular nature of U.S. government. Although it was reported when Newdow lost his appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court that he had no legal "standing," he corrected that impression. He had all the standing he needed, he said, but "you can't go against God in this country," and the Supreme Court knew it and dodged the issue. "No politician will ever come to my side," he said.
In more frivolous moments, the editoonists heard remarks by California's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, in deference to his audience, said he realized that his high forehead was extremely caricaturable. He took a couple questions, but the cartoonists were in a journalist mode, asking questions that simply prompted Arnold to launch into one of many well-rehearsed political diatribes. I had my hand up but the questioning period was over. I wanted to ask him how he felt about being a cartoon character. Jerry Brown -former governor of California, former Presidential candidate, Zen philosopher, and presently mayor of Oakland (with plans to run for the state's attorney general office)-delivered a short harangue at the banquet. He said that the main business of politics is to arrange for its perpetuation and so he could re-enter the fray after twenty-five years and find nothing had changed at all. Astor quoted Brown as saying he doesn't believe editorial cartoons affect government policy, but if cartoonists make a politician seem foolish, he (or she) may try to change his (or her) behavior to avoid the stigma. He spoke with authority: until the reign of Arnold, Jerry Brown was, he claimed, the most cartooned-about California governor in thirty years. The state has had only four governors who were Democrats in the last 120 years, and each left office "discredited," Brown said. "I was the least discredited," he went on, "and I take pride in that. And I was the youngest to be discredited."
The banquet concluded with the presentation of several traditional AAEC awards. Past president Plante was presented with the Ink Bottle Award for service to the organization, and Steve Sack of the Minneapolis Star Tribune won the Golden Spike Award for the best "killed" cartoon of the year. Retiring president Matt Davies was presented with one of the last pens Herblock used. And Terrence Nowicki, Jr., who draws for the campus paper at Western Washington University, received the Locher Award as the best college cartoonist.
Other events at the convention included the unveiling of the new AAEC Website, where all members will soon be on display with biographies and cartoons. Original cartoons, prints, and books can be purchased via the site, and cartoonists can be recruited for speaking gigs. And before the business meeting on Saturday, cartoonist and Thomas Nast biographer Draper Hill created a minor sensation by displaying an uncut woodblock cartoon by the 19th century icon. Nast had drawn the cartoon as a comment on the 1868 toppling of U.S. President Andrew Johnson, but when the impeachment trial left Johnson in office, the cartoon was rendered meaningless and so was never "engraved" -that is, Nast's wash and pencil drawing on the surface of the four-pound boxwood block was never cut to create a printing surface. Cutting the block (actually, in this case, 21 blocks, tightly glued together to form one large drawing area) would destroy the drawing on its surface, replacing gray tones of wash with an engraver's fine line shading. The drawing, which Nast created while in Washington on assignment with the Illustrated Chicago News, was given to the man with whom the cartoonist stayed while in the nation's capital to report on the impeachment trial, Norton P. Chipman, who had it framed for display on his wall. When he retired to Red Bluff, California, Chipman eventually gave the block to the McClatchy family, proprietors of the Sacramento Bee. Hill arranged for this rare artifact (almost no uncut blocks have survived) to be brought out of the archives to the AAEC convention for inspection by his colleagues.
Next year's AAEC convention will be in Denver.
Travel Notes. Before I left Sacramento, I visited the Comic Book, Toy and Anime Show being perpetrated on Sunday, June 12, at a venue on the outskirts of town. A goodly crowd was passing through the exhibit rooms, and after trailing around for an hour, I made three purchases. I bought a copy of a Quincy comic book (Comic Library No. 2, 1977) and two figurines-a Kellogg's toucan and a 4-inch tall Mr. Incredible. When I returned to buy the comic book, the dealer remarked that, by the strangest of coincidences, in buying this single publication, I'd managed to make off with the very best thing in his whole display. True, although he probably didn't know it. Ted Shearer's Quincy comic strip was among the bright spots on the comics pages during its run ( c. 1970-1986), and this comic book, part of a "supplementary reading program" for schools, appears to have been drawn by the master himself: it features various of his stylistic touches in a story about Quincy going to Washington. The book also includes a short story, "The Education of Hamlet," Hagar's son, which is not drawn by Dik Browne. The Mr. Incredible figurine turns out to be a disappointment. It's made of rubber, and although the rubber is only slightly flexible, it is flexible enough that the figure won't stand upright: Mr. Incredible's massive chest is so weighty that it throws the center of gravity off, and his spindly legs can't resist bending under the load. So when you put the thing upright on any surface, it slowly bends forward until, having shifted the center of gravity too far, it falls over. Too bad. The toucan, however, is fine.
I don't know why the figurines of superheroes and other comics characters are called "action figures." Most of them are incapable of any "action": their arms don't move, ditto legs and heads and other body parts. No action, in other words. Well, I suspect they're called "action figures" so no one will mistake them for dolls, which is what they actually are. But I don't mind, and I have dozens of them.
I also stopped in San Francisco en route to an airplane. I stop in San Francisco whenever I get the chance, chiefly to visit the Buena Vista saloon and restaurant at the Beach end of the Powell & Hyde cablecar line. The BeeVee, as it is known locally and to the cognoscenti, is a long narrow crowded room, looking, as one wag put it, "like a lot of people getting drunk on a subway." The premises is celebrated for its Irish coffee, which nectar was introduced to this country at the BeeVee by a San Francisco Chronicle writer named Stanton Delaplane, who, on a trip to Ireland, so enjoyed a concoction he called "Gaelic coffee," that he persuaded the BeeVee to manufacture a local version. It was a happy confluence of emollient and imbibery: as columnist Herb Caen said, San Franciscans had "learned how to drink in the Gold Rush Days and have never stopped trying to improve on the art." In their dedicated pursuit ("even the Bay has an olive in it"), they welcomed Irish coffee-a shot of Irish whiskey, two sugar cubes, fill with coffee and top with whipped cream. The windows of the BeeVee provide an unimpeded view of the Bay, but I seldom view it. After only two coffees, I must stagger off for dinner. (In our family, staggering is regarded as a sign of strength: weaker men have to be carried home.) And I usually make for the North Beach and the Stinking Rose, where they flavor their garlic with food. The menu includes my favorite restaurant fare-short ribs and shank of lamb. And all along the route from the BeeVee to Columbus Avenue and hence to Broadway, one can indulge in the sport of wandering minstrels-reading the t-shirts of the nubile young women who wend their way to Fisherman's Wharf. I'm sure t-shirt embellishers are all of the male persuasion.
When the waiter presents you with a bill these days, chances are increasingly high that the bill will carry an annotation about the tip. Computers do everything. On an SF restaurant bill for $28, a scale noted below as follows: Your gratuity calculation (for your convenience)-15% is 4.20; 18% is $5.03; and 20% is $5.59. To the penny. Just add in $5.03. At last, financial graciousness requires no effort. Just pick the number.
NOUS R US
On the heels of the AAEC's sometimes gloomy gathering in Sacramento comes cheerier news: two Las Vegas newspapers are consolidating their efforts, the evening daily Sun becoming a sort of section of the morning Review-Journal, but the Sun's editoonist, Mike Smith, will continue on the payroll. The arrangement is not exactly a merger: the two papers will retain separate staffs, ownership, and editorial pages, but will be distributed together. Still, we might be justified in suspecting the editoon slot was threatened. Apparently not. Smith has been with the Sun for 22 years and looks forward to many more. At the same time, the Review-Journal's editorial cartoonist, Jim Day, will also continue. And since the two papers, despite joint-distribution plans, will remain editorially independent of each other, Las Vegas is still a town with two newspapers, an increasing rarity in these chain-linked newspapering days.
In Escondido, California, the North County Times was deluged with angry letters after it published a reader-submitted cartoon that seemed to slur the local high school. In the May 28 cartoon, two old men watch a scantily clad strolling by a sign with the high school's name on it. "What would you call a young girl who wears sexy clothes?" asks one geezer. The other replies, "Eventually, a 'young mom.'" The president of the school's PTA wrote in to say that the idea that wearing skimpy clothing leads to sex and pregnancy is a myth. But the school's principal apparently doesn't believe that: she wrote in to assure parents everywhere that the school has a dress code that doesn't permit students to wear scanty attire. Why have a dress code that prohibits, among other deviant clothing behaviors, skimpy costumes if it isn't strenuously believed that sexy clothing arouses lust and lust leads to sexual adventures? There is, in this country, no greater hypocrisy than the hypocrisies we'll commit about sex. And we'll be re-visiting this topic in a political diatribe soon. Oh-the reader-cartoonist who committed the faux pax? A 77-year-old man, who, in the wake of the uproar, apologized for causing so much trouble. Obviously, not a professional editoonist.
Cracked magazine is due to re-appear on the newsstands in January 2006. A new Cracked website is supposed to go up this fall. A news release from Cracked Entertainment announced on June 14 that Monty Sarhan, the CEO, had hired Mort Todd, a former Editor-in-Chief of the magazine (and widely credited with increasing circulation and luring Don Martin to defect from Mad) would join the staff as a contributing editor, joining Jesse Falcon, an improv and sketch comedy performer, Jonathan Yevin and Darren Kane, all contributing editors. The new managing editor is Zena Tsarfin. The editor is supposed to be Justin Droms. I don't know how seriously to take all of this. A year ago, we announced here that the magazine had been acquired by something called Mega Media Corp, a company headquartered in Rockford, Illinois, and run by Dick Kulpa, who was editor of Cracked and of "America's favorite fake periodical, Weekly World News." Then six months later, we learned that Cracked had been purchased by Teshkeel Media Group, a Kuwait company that develops original material for children throughout the world "with a focus on the Arab and Islamic markets." So is Cracked Entertainment another guise of Teshkeel Media Group? Or is the only existence that Cracked enjoys that of a furtive noun in press releases announcing its phantom movements around the globe?
I've glanced through the recent spate of reviews of "Batman Returns" and have yet to see Bill Finger mentioned. Bob Kane turns up fairly regularly, but no Bill Finger. All the more reason to rejoice that Jerry Robinson was successful in getting the Sandy Eggo Con people to launch a new award this year-the Bill Finger Award, which will be given to distinguished writers in the medium. The first two to get the Finger (sorry: couldn't resist that, just once) are Jerry Siegel, posthumously, and Arnold Drake. ... In far-off Croatia, a new monthly comic book will soon hit the country's newsstands. It will chronicle the adventures of the country's most wanted war crimes fugitive, former general Ante Gotovina. Charged by the U.N. tribunal at the Hague with responsibility for the murders of at least 150 Serbs by troops under his command in the aftermath of a 1995 government offensive against rebel Serbs, Gotovina enjoys hero status among many Croats. "The aim is to promote the values of our homeland war and it is dedicated to all those who shed blood for our country" according to a spokesman for the publishing group, a collection of war veterans and invalids. ... A Tokyo judge suspended the prison sentence that had been imposed on a manga publisher for producing a series of "obscene" comic books. The books depicted genitalia and sexual intercourse in explicit detail, and while they are clearly pornographic, the judge said "there is a wide gap in the obscenity of manga in comparison to real images, and a prison sentence is too heavy." Instead, the publisher was fined 1.5 million yen. What's a "real image" then? I thought all images were artificial resemblances or emblems. On the other hand, a "real image" is, without a doubt, a "real image." Does the judge mean a "realistic image"? A photograph, for instance? Or is he contrasting real people screwing in the street to depictions, drawings, of people fornicating on paper? A baffling perplexity prevails, as always in matters of sex.
Forthcoming: Drawn & Quarterly has brought out the first volume in a reprint project aiming to re-introduce to the public the famed Frank King comic strip, Gasoline Alley. Walt & Skeezix, Book One, takes up the King continuity in 1921, three years after it was launched as a single-panel cartoon in November 24, 1918. Herein, the strips trace Walt's attempts to raise the baby he found in a basket on his doorstep on February 14, 19xx. In a lengthy introduction (it sez here: I haven't actually seen this item yet), Jeet Heer shows how some incidents in the strip parallel the life of its creator. As he researched the project with Chris Ware, Heer says, "we began to see a persistent theme of father-son love (and its absence) in both the strip and King's life. In 1916, after suffering the stillbirth of one child, King and his wife gave birth to a son, Robert, who appeared five years later in the strip as an impish young boy named Skeezix, the cherished adopted son of his 'Uncle Walt.' But a year later, even as Skeezix played with his adoring father, Robert was sent away to boarding school and saw his parents only in the summer. According to his daughter Drewanna, the adult Robert never talked about the strip that represented an idealized version of his own boyhood." I'm not sure what this alleged parallel signifies. I'll have to see what Heer does with it in the full context of the book, of course, but it doesn't, off-hand, seem to me that the presence, in life and then in the strip, of a father and a son signifies anything. Fathers and sons abound in both life and literature. When in the grip of this ponderable, I wonder what Heer would make of the 1937 death of Chic Young's first son, Wayne, who died in the midst of the popularity of Blondie and Dagwood's firstborn, Alexander, known then as "Baby Dumpling." Young was distraught and daunted enough by the prospect of making humor about an infant after the death of his own that he abandon the strip for a year, leaving it in the hands of his assistant, Jim Raymond. In King's case, the cartoonist may be idealizing with Walt and Skeezix a father-son relationship he never had with his firstborn-and with his second child, avoided in order to preclude future disappointment. Perhaps only Freud will know for sure. The book was published in May with little fanfare-424 pages in hardcover for $29.95. I'm looking for a copy.
If you're passionate about Gasoline Alley and its long long history, you should check into Spec Productions at www.specproductions.com. Operated out of Manitou Springs, Colorado, by Andy Feighery, Spec has been producing a variety of reprints of vintage strips for years, beginning with a Dick Tracy magazine. Feighery is reprinting Gasoline Alley from the start and is up to four issues of the series, which takes the strip to March 1920. Reproduction seems to be by photocopying, and the source material is sometimes of dubious quality, but, over-all, the appearance of Gasoline Alley (and the other strips Feighery is reprinting) is satisfying. The books are a giant 8x13inches in dimension, bound on the short side so the strips appear as large as the appeared originally, I reckon. Gasoline Alley appeared weekly on a Saturday page King did at the Chicago Tribune. Called The Rectangle, it featured a variety of cartoons and comedy-which, beginning in November 1918, included a panel cartoon about men and their automobiles, which they tinkered with in the alley behind their homes. On August 24, 1919, Gasoline Alley started appearing every day, seven days a week-in black-and-white all the time. It had been almost exclusively a single-panel cartoon all along, but in the fall of 1919, sometimes Gasoline Alley took strip form; sometimes, it was a single panel again-depending, as far as I can see, upon the gag or story element King offered on a given day. By the summer of 1920, however, it was more often a strip than a panel. Frank King's Gasoline Alley is published more-or-less quarterly; subscriptions are $75 for four issues (P.O. Box 32, Manitou Springs, CO 80829-0032). The first four issues include a little text, historical insights by Bob Bindig and Jim Scancarelli, the current caretaker on Gasoline Alley. This series makes a dandy introduction to the Drawn & Quarterly series. Spec also produces Jeff Lindenblatt's Missing Years, which reprints Leslie Turner's classic Wash Tubbs/Captain Easy, George Wunder's Terry and the Pirates, Alex Raymond's Rip Kirby, Frank Robbins' Johnny Hazard, and M Lee Falk/Paul Davis' Mandrake the Magician- in this case, in a saddle-stitch magazine format. In the Gas Alley format-long and narrow, tape-bound at the narrow end-are two more vintage reprint projects, Frank Willard's Moon Mullins (from the beginning, June 19, 1923) and V.T. Hamlin's Alley Oop. The latter is arranged to complement the Kitchen Sink reprints of several years ago, so the whole series-KSP plus Spec-covers a substantial run of the strip after Hamlin introduced the Time Machine in April 1939: the series is through 1952 with No. 20 so far, with more vintage years ahead. Moon is up to No. 12, July 2, 1929. Recently, Feighery has begun adding color to the covers of these efforts, and the results are thoroughly gratifying.
Golf in the Comic Strips (176 8x10-inch pages in paperback, 2004; $19.95 list, but available variously on the 'Net for much less: I got one for $4.94, including p&h, through www.half.ebay.com) is of interest for the vintage strips it reprints as much as for its dubious insights into the finer points of the sport. Some of the older strips are poorly reproduced (apparently shot from microfilm print-outs), but others are very nicely done- Barney Google, Abbie an' Slatts, Toonerville Folks, Polly and Her Pals, Jimmy, Old Doc Yak (Sidney Smith's effort before embarking on The Gumps, which is also represented here)-all in color-plus dozens of daily strips in black and white.
Pantheon will release Chris Ware's The ACME Novelty Library in September, 108 giant 9x15-inch pages in hardcover ($27.95). The event will be accompanied by a six-city author tour (Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadephia, San Francisco, and Seattle). The Internet's icv2.com reports that Ware's Jimmy Corrigan has sold over 180,000 copies-a "stratospheric" record. Pantheon also plans to issue Charles Burns' Black Hole in October (352 comic book sized pages will reprint the ten issues of the comic book published by Fantagraphics), and the two-volume Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi will be re-packaged for the holidays. Craig Thompson has signed with Pantheon to do a graphic novel, Habibi, about his travels in Morocco.
An "encore edition" of The Far Side Off-the-Wall Calendar is scheduled to appear next summer for the year 2007. Supposedly, the 2002 calendar was the "last" Far Side calendar. But cartoonist Gary Larson got to thinking: "I hadn't planned on re-launching the Off-the-Wall calendar," he said, "but I had been thinking over the past few years about how far I had been taken in my career on the backs of many animals, and maybe it's finally time for me to give something in return." All royalties from the 2007 calendar will be donated to wildlife and habitat-preservation organizations.
But not, as most journalists indicate with the number, the end. No, it's just a milestone on Farley's travels. Phil Frank's notable comic strip of whimsical San Francisco satire and quirks started thirty years ago, on June 16, as Travels with Farley. Farley, who looks suspiciously like Frank, wandered America, a roving reporter for a dying afternoon paper called the Daily Demise. After about ten years of this lyric loping, Farley set out for the City by the Bay, where he began an exclusive engagement-running only in the San Francisco Chronicle (and working, now, for a paper called the Daily Requirement, six days a week, Sunday through Friday. And what a "trip" it's been, writes the Chronicle's Marianne Costantinou: "A right-wing raven named Bruce. Baba Rebop, the only guru to wear a propeller beanie. Alphonse the bear, the diehard Giants fan who runs the Fog City Dumpster restaurant with three other bears. Irene the meter maid and her 7-year-old daughter, Olive-who, shh, finally grows up in Friday's strip. The ghost of Emperor Norton, a true-life San Francisco legend of the mid-19th century, brought back to help with his pet project, the Bay Bridge. Feral cats who took it all off-their flea collars, that is-to make a statement. The cast and shenanigans go on and on, topped off, perhaps, by Velma Melmac, a chain-smoking, tattooed woman from Manteca who goes around Asphalt State Park and Yosemite hanging No Pest Strips around campsites and vacuuming the nature trails. The menagerie has grown so huge that Farley himself only appears once in a while."
He also has appeared in six anthologies and will appear until September 25 in a display of highlights from the strip at the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco. Now called simply Farley, the strip is more column than comic strip, according to Frank. It is supervised by the paper's editorial, not features, department. "It's really a horizontal column," said Frank, "documenting the life and times of the characters of the Bay Area." Its satire is gentle ribbing not assault mode in the manner of Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury. Says Frank: "Much as I love what Garry Trudeau does, I don't do that sort of go-for-the-jugular thing."
Frank started cartooning regularly while in college at Michigan State University in East Lansing. His single panel cartoon, Frankly Speaking, dealt with campus life and appeared in 350 campus newspapers. With that as his credential, Frank went to Kansas City and Hallmark Cards, where he worked for four years, "learning enough about freelancing and syndication to launch his own career as a newspaper cartoonist" with Travels with Farley in 50 newspapers. By then, Frank was living with his second wife on a houseboat in Sausalito, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. They eventually moved to land, and six months ago, Frank started drawing a comic strip about elderly folks called The Elderberries, written by Joe Troise. In his spare time, the cartooner prowls the hills with a metal detector, donning "headphones and musing to the gentle hum of the machine until it picks up a metallic treasure hidden beneath the earth. Frank's studio," Costantinou says, "is filled with these found treasures, from lead soldiers to valuable coins. He also collects antique hood ornaments and tin cartoon character toys. As for Farley," she continues, "what will the future bring? Beyond adding a few more gray hairs to his main character, Frank is not quite sure. He likes to have the strip evolve naturally, playing off the news. "I just look ahead week by week," he says. "That's how 30 years can just sneak up on you.''
Civilization's Last Outpost
In Hong Kong, the Disneyland folks are in trouble with the environmentalists. The new theme park is slated to open September 12, and, like many venues that are marketed as sites for private parties, Hong Kong Disneyland expects to make a certain amount of money catering weddings. For that purpose, the management proposed to offer a Chinese delicacy, shark fin soup. Then the trouble began. Although shark fin soup is "traditionally an integral part of a Chinese wedding banquet," environmental groups, contemplating wedding parties on a Disneyland scale, suddenly feared for the future of sharks in the planet's oceans. As one ninth grader said: "If they keep on killing sharks for shark's fin soup, sharks will become extinct and kind of die." Kind of. (Although the usual order is death, then extinction.) This sort of anxiety, in turn, bred others. Environmentalists began to fear that China's emerging wealth would lead to an increasing appetite for rare species on dinner plates, threatening the existence of such specimens as leopard cats, exotic snakes, scaly anteaters known as pangolins. Not a fantastic likelihood: Hong Kong authorities recently intercepted 1,800 freeze-dried penguins on a beach, being smuggled to mainland Chinese restaurants. Disney still plans to offer shark fin soup for wedding banquets, a profitable business at the company's theme parks worldwide, but anyone ordering shark fin soup will be presented, first, with a leaflet pointing out the declining population of sharks around the world. School children, meanwhile, are signing pledges to boycott Hong Kong Disneyland. And the Hong Kong catering industry fears that the outcry over Disney's shark fin soup is just the first wave of protest that will be mounted against the restaurant industry's most profitable dishes. As if confirming that fear, another Hong Kong theme park, Ocean Park, has adopted a shark cartoon character as a mascot and has banned shark fin soup at wedding feasts held there. In Taiwan, where they're slightly ahead of the curve, President Chen Shui-bian announced nearly four years ago that shark fin soup would not be served at his daughter's wedding. Instead, they had chicken testicles, "which resemble slightly yellow grains of rice and are cooked in wine for a dish believed to improve virility." Freeze-dried penguins? Chicken testicles? Life goes on.
In another ringing testimony to its vitality, we have Pam Anderson in the current issue of the laddie mag, FHM (the one with her and her chest on the cover). During the interview, she describes her alarm at seeing a photograph of herself in another magazine in which her nipples, which were visibly protruding in the bodice of her shirt in the photograph until it was printed, had been airbrushed out! Protrusions erased! Pam, who has made a career of her boobs and nipples, was understandably miffed at this slur on her fame: "My nipples can cut glass," she exalted in an apparent assault on the offending airbrusher. Maybe, but I'm not sure that nipples that can cut glass are at all erotic. I mean, think of what they'd do if you...
To find out about Harv's books, click here.
send e-mail to R.C. Harvey
Art of the Comic Book - Art of the Funnies - Accidental Ambassador Gordo - reviews - order form - Harv's Hindsights - main page