Opus 168 (August 28, 2005). A review of Ron Goulart's latest encyclopedic work on comics and my latest cogitation about "legacy strips" are the longest pieces in this installment of Rancid Raves. But there are other tidbits, too-in order: Blondie's anniversary and two Dagwood mysteries solved at last; NOUS R US -a new home for Mort Walker's National Cartoon Museum, Brits find tv cartoons dangerous to kids, Neal Adams may return to comic books, the Gordon Lee case about to go to trial, The New Yorker's single-sponsor issue (is it a sin against journalistic integrity?), a graphic novel visit to North Korea looms at Drawn & Quarterly, mutants and adolescents-both outsiders and persecuted; Dick Tracy, Archie, and gay superheroes in court, the balancing act between liberal and conservative at the venerable Stars and Stripes, two new women editoonists, more about manga, rabid censorship in Denver; obit for Jerry Marcus; COMIC STRIP WATCH- Bud Blake's Tiger and legacy strips; A Fine Guide and a Rough One -Goulart's book and one other; and, finally, just for the fun of it, Karl Rove and Judith Miller and then, a shocking revelation about Intelligent Design. Don't forget, in your dash to this feast and frolic, our "Bathroom Button": when you get to the Members' Section, click on this useful device (also called the "print friendly version") so you can print off a copy of just this installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned.
And don't forget: we've revised our list of Bargain Books for sale, adding to the left-overs from April's sale some recent acquisitions. To get to the list, click here. Without further adieu-
More Blonde Fun
The impending 75th Bumstead anniversary is becoming evident in other venues as it approacheth. Beetle Bailey, Mutts, Wizard of Id, Garfield and Rose Is Rose all mentioned the party recently. And an entire gaggle of other comic strip characters was depicted loitering on the Bumstead front lawn on August 21 and 22. Through the next week, various of them infiltrated the Bumstead manse or other places Dagwood might wander-Hagar showed up at the barber shop, for instance. Grimm achieved a historic first when he invaded the bathroom to drink from his usual appliance: we've seen the Bumstead bathroom thousands of times, but this is the first time the toilet has been depicted. Before we actually get to the celebration on September 4, we'd like to bring modest resolution to two of the strip's reigning mysteries-namely, Dagwood's askew hair and the single large button on the front of his shirt. What is that hair all about and what is the single button supposed to be? The hair is easier to explain but more difficult to understand. As you can tell from the accompanying illustration, Dagwood's hair was first depicted-in the very first Blondie strip on September 8 (or September 15, the date is in doubt)-as slicked-down and parted-in-the-middle, a style then in fashion among dashing young men-about-town. On either side of the part, however, are slight suggestions that not every hair is perfectly in place. By 1932, those suggestions have become definite indications of unruly locks. Over the ensuing years, the merely unruly became rampant and antenna-like, assuming the odd configuration that has distinguished Dagwood's head all these years. What started as one or two hairs out of place became, gradually, through the sort of evolution that exaggeration in cartooning fosters, a distinctively weird hair-do. The shirt button was once explained by the current writer of the strip, Dean Young, the son of Blondie's creator Chic Young. In Blondie and Dagwood's America, a book that commemorated fifty years of the strip, Young fils said: "My dad once joked that one big button was easier to draw than several little ones-but he was seriously sorry he started drawing it that way because it caused so many, many questions." But I submit that he is as wrong here as he is when he claimed Dagwood's hair was devised expressly in order to give the character a distinguishing physical characteristic. Not likely. The hair is an accident; so is the button. Nothing deliberate about either. The button, like the hair, is the vestigial remnant of the earliest version of Dagwood. When he first appeared, Dagwood was the son of a wealthy tycoon, and he often wore the uniform of his class, evening dress, which, in those antique times, included a starched front shirt with a stud button in the middle of the white expanse across his chest. Today's single button in the middle of Dagwood's front is all that is left to remind us of the fortune he gave up when he married Blondie and his father disowned him.
If you're fond of this sort of esoteric history, you really ought to acquire a book of mine, The Art of the Funnies, which delves tirelessly into such remote matters; for a preview, click here.
NOUS R US
Mort Walker, after years of fruitless exploration, has at last found a home for the International Museum of Cartoon Art. Walker is an avid golfer, and -wouldn't you know? -he found the Museum's new home on the golf course. Said he: "One day a friend said he was playing golf with a guy who liked my comic strip Beetle Bailey and did I want to meet him? This guy was Peter Malkin, an owner of the Empire State Building, and we started talking, and suddenly, I asked him-'How would you like to have a cartoon museum?'" Malkin, it turns out, liked the idea just fine. The Museum has been without an exhibit venue for the last couple years since a shortfall in income forced it to close its Florida building in Boca Raton. Re-christened the National Cartoon Museum, it will open again in the fall of 2006 on three of the lower floors of the Empire State Building in New York, where it will display the art of cartooning in eight genres-newspaper comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, animation, political cartoons, international cartoons, illustration and advertising. "There will also be many special displays and programs meant to educate or amuse," writes Nadine Brozan in the New York Times, "including a 15-foot plaster head of Walt Disney showing all the characters in his brain and a timeline tracing cartoons back to the cave dwellers." The exhibition space will be designed by Ralph Appelbaum, who also designed the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Clinton presidential library.
A British study has determined that too many hours spent watching "The Simpsons" and other tv cartoons can be harmful to children: "Constant exposure to inaccurate media depictions can cause individuals to develop distorted perceptions of what is real versus what is imaginary. This can, in turn, lead to unhealthy attitudes and behaviors." In other words, kids who watch too much tv might start imitating what they see and hurt themselves. If Bart Simpson skateboards without a helmet, so might his young fans, and they might hurt their heads if they fall. Right. Or, more accurately, "d'oh." The researchers suggest that the cartoon producers add health and safety subtext to their cartoons-show Bart hurting himself through his irresponsible behavior; or show him wearing a helmet. The researchers apparently did not suggest that parents curtail their offsprings' tv watching time. It was ever thus. (www.sundayherald.com ; Liam McDougall)
"'Nuff Said!" is a comic book radio talk show that can be heard at www.comicbookradioshow.com ... And at www.danoneillcomics.com, you can get free downloads in pdf format of three chapters of Dan O'Neill's out-of-print Odd Bodkins classic, Hear the Sound of My Feet Walking. ... The National Guard Bureau's Office of Public Affairs will publish a book later this year entitled Bill Mauldin's War: Some Things Never Change. Featuring 20 of Mauldin's cartoons, the book, partly a recognition of the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, will be distributed to National Guard members who have served in the Global War on Terror. The text is written by Denise Neil-Binion, assistant curator for the 45th Infantry Division Museum in Oklahoma City; the 45th was Mauldin's outfit, and the Museum owns several of his original cartoons. Said Neil-Binion: "I like to think that Mauldin's work is timeless, and we believe today's soldiers can still relate to his cartoon subjects and characters." Hear, hear. (Bob Haskell at the NBG) ... Neal Adams, whose rendition of Batman in the 1960s and 1970s revived figure-drawing as well as the stature of the character, is toying with the idea of doing comic books again. He's completed an 8-page story for one of the Marvel X-Men titles and is thinking about doing Batman or Green Lantern for DC and has even discussed the possibilities with a writer.
The Schulz Foundation is funding a library of graphic novels, comics, and related ephemera as a critical research facility for faculty and students at the Center for Cartoon Studies, James Sturm's school for cartooning in White River Junction, Vermont, where one- and two-year courses are offered and taught by experienced and internationally recognized cartoonists, writers, and designers (http://cartoonstudies.org). Said Jean Schulz, director of the Schulz Foundation: "I hope that The Schulz Library will help to provide the commitment to the craft and the history which will inspire the next generation of cartoonists."
On September 12, Gordon Lee, the Georgia comic book shop operator, will go on trial for selling pornography-namely, The Salon, a graphic novel that accurately depicts famed painter Pablo Picasso working in the nude. To America's right-wing nuts, nudity is pornographic because it tends to incite lust, which, as we all know, leads directly to wholesale, indiscriminate fornication on every street and byway in the nation. Fornication being evil, so is the porn that inspires it. It's difficult to know how to defend against this so-called logic, but the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is trying. The CBLDF has already spent over $30,000 defending Lee; to lend your support, visit the website, www.cbldf.org ... At the recently concluded San Diego Comicon International, Denis Kitchen, CBLDF's founder and, for its first 18 years until he stepped down in 2004, its president, received the CBLDF's "Defender of Liberty" award. He founded the watchdog agency with money left over from the fund-raising he conducted in the 1980s to mount a defense for Michael Correa, manager of Friendly Frank's comics shop, who had been convicted of possession and sale of obscene materials. Taking the case to an appellate court resulted in an acquittal for Correa. In accepting the award, Kitchen urged us all to "hang together to support the Fund" or "we'll surely hang separately," paraphrasing Ben Franklin. Later, Kitchen told Michael Dooley: "Fortunately, cases like Gordon Lee are still an aberration and not the norm. I've never met an artist or writer who was adversely affected by political climate; if anything, an 'adverse' climate spurs creation. But getting good comix created and published is only half the battle. Getting them into the hands of customers is always the more complex equation. My concern is that every case like this one makes some retailers more nervous, particularly those in the Bible Belt, and thus even more cautious about carrying 'borderline' material." Dooley's report, which includes a rehearsal of Kitchen's career as cartoonist, publisher, literary agent, and candidate for lieutenant governor of Wisconsin in 1970 on the Socialist Labor Party ticket, can be found at: http://journal.aiga.org/content.cfm?ContentAlias=%5Fgetfullarticle&aid=1239039 . Kitchen, I must add, is presently my agent, attempting to sell a book about the notorious feud between Al Capp and Ham Fisher. But that, in this instance, is quite beside the point: the point is Kitchen deserves the Defender of Liberty award, and Dooley gives us chapter and verse about why (copy and paste the foregoing URL to get there).
Here at The New Yorker: I noticed it right away. No advertisements in the August 22 issue of the magazine. On the opening pages where you'd normally encounter full-page glossy ads, there were startling drawings in black-and-white-and-gray with crimson accents. Some of the red accents took the shape of a circle with a red dot in the middle. Most of these artworks were cartoony in their depiction of humanity; some were fairly abstract. And it went on throughout the magazine. No page the same. All different. Even the one-column ads later in the magazine were of the same sort. The only ads in this issue that weren't in this peculiarly cryptic family were New Yorker house ads (for the Cartoon Bank and other New Yorker events or goods). Then on page 87 appeared a list of "the talented illustrators who brought this project to life"-names with page numbers. "This project"? And what, pray tell, might that be? Then, down in the fine type at the bottom of the list, just below another red circle with a center dot, was a copyright notice claiming ownership of the "Bullseye Design" by Target Stores. Ah, ha! So those stunning illos were all ads for Target! You coulda told me. The August 22 issue was, as they say in the trade, a "single-sponsor" issue in which a single advertiser buys all the commercial space to "attract attention by uncluttering the ad environment." Uncluttered to the point of mystification in this case, I'd say. Who reads the fine print in ads anyhow? Not that The New Yorker sold out to its advertiser. It maintained its editorial integrity, said David Carey, vice president and publisher of the magazine. Target was not told of the editorial content of the issue in advance; and there was no editorial announcement of the sponsorship. The ads-and their mysterious symbolism-were simply there. And despite the cartoony cast to the Target pictures, they were all designed to look different from the cartoons that usually run in these pages. And none of them have captions. No verbal content at all, in fact. Hence, the mysteriousness. Wonderful.
Despite the inherent incomprehensibility of the ad content in the issue, The New Yorker almost immediately came in for some lumps from Lewis Lazare of the Baltimore Sun-Times, who accused the magazine of violating one of the guidelines that the American Society of Magazine Editors devised for single-advertiser issues: "If an entire issue is underwritten by a single advertiser, this should be disclosed to readers in a publisher's or editor's letter, explaining that the advertiser had no influence over the editorial content." There were no such notes in the August 22 issue. A spokesman for The New Yorker told Lazare that the magazine has never, it its 80-plus year history, run editor's notes or publisher's notes. But Lazare continued to froth at the mouth anyhow. He overlooks the historic fact that The New Yorker, from the start, has maintained a wall between editorial and advertising that was the envy of journalists everywhere. Most journalistic publications court advertisers and sometimes yield to the temptation to tread carefully when addressing issues of concern to advertisers. Not The New Yorker. Not according to the legends of the magazine anyhow. But Lazare coyly points out that the cover of the August 22 issue seems to flout that tradition. The cover is a comic strip in which two kids are shown playing with a beach ball; their play is interrupted when one kid gets a call on his cell phone, and the other kid holds the beach ball aloft while the phone call is completed. The title of the piece is "Please Hold." But, says Lazare (quoting ad critic Barbara Lippert), the beach ball is red and white-"Target's brand colors," he trumpets in gleefully fiendish conclusion. Lippert says "that sort of integration was unintended, I'm sure." Lazare has the last word: "Count us among those who aren't so sure."
Count me among those who say: so what's so alarming here? The ASME guideline is intended to prevent publications (or tv programs) from incorporating an advertiser's messages into editorial content in a way that disguises the message as editorial content-that is, as news that might portray an advertiser's claims as facts rather than promotional opinion. The Target ads are scarcely trying to pass themselves off as editorial content. They're not disguised as news reports or factual material. And even if they're mistaken for editorial content, what's the product? As I said, we don't even know who or what is being advertised until we read the fine print in one of them (which most of us seldom or never do). So the Target ads are not the target of that part of the ASME proviso that guards against a publication tricking its readers into thinking an advertiser's message is the publication's factual report. As for the rest of the guideline-which requires a publication to explain that the advertiser had no influence over editorial content-who are the children who cobbled this thing up anyhow? Is there anyone who believes (1) that advertisers don't have some influence, however indirect, on the publications they buy space in, or (2) that saying an advertiser has no influence precludes there being any influence? It must be blinding to have to work in the glare of so many dim bulbs.
The same issue of The New Yorker includes a full-page comic strip, "Kim and Kim," by Guy Delisle, an abbreviated comment on the rule of North Korea's Kim Jong Il, "the Dear Leader" of the impoverished nation. Delisle's book-length treatment of the subject, based upon his two-month experience of the country while there for a French animation company, Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, will be published by Drawn & Quarterly in September. According to www.icv2.com , "Pyongyang demonstrates the graphic novel/comic book's ability to provide an intimate documentary-type look at exotic or war-torn areas of the globe," relating the book to such works as Satrapi's Persepolis and Sacco's books on Bosnia and Palestine. Incidentally, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, has mounted an exhibit of cover drawings from The New Yorker, "The Art of the New Yorker: Eighty Years in the Vanguard," curated with the help of the magazine's art editor, Francoise Mouly. Said she: "First we find artists who draw beautifully, but that's the easy part. Our artists must have an idea that's worth communicating something to our readership." That objective is a relatively recent one. Until the editorship of Tina Brown in the early 1990s, the magazine's covers were decorative and whimsical; after Brown's advent, they became also topical and sometimes provocative.
At the Movies. Jonathan V. Last at www.belief.net says the Hollywood notion of "high concept" means "a plot that can be boiled down to a prepositional phrase -Into the water! Right at the Earth!" Given this simple-minded pre-disposition, he finds the X-Men movie unusual. With a conflict involving mutant outcasts, the movie is "a closeted Holocaust film, a meditation about oppression and the morality of resistance and forgiveness." I've heard this allegorical interpretation before, offered as a reason for the X-Men comic book's popularity in the Marvel Universe beginning with the title's launch in 1963. Mebbe so. The concept of persecuting mutants can be seen as a veil for racism and other sorts of ethnic abuses. But mutants-beings not-quite-human (yet) who are persecuted simply for being what they are-can also represent another kind of not-quite-adult (yet) being, namely, the adolescent human sapiens, who have always felt persecuted simply for being what they are. And they, as happenstance has it, were the targeted audience for comic books in 1963 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko revamped the genre.
A review of "Dukes of Hazard" quoted from Wiley Miller's comic strip, Non Sequitur, in which Miller drew a movie marquee that read: "Now Showing-Another Lame Movie Version of a '60s Sitcom as Hollywood Has Completely Run Out of Any Semblance of Creativity and Is Banking on Your Being Too Stupid to Notice." (Editor & Publisher's Syndicate World)
Court Comics. Warren Beatty has won in the first legal step he took to make a sequel to the 1990 "Dick Tracy" movie. Tribune Media Services, which owns the comic strip, filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit Beatty filed in May; a U.S. district court just denied TMS's motion, opening the way for Beatty to continue the wrangle over his rights to the material for another film. Beatty obtained film and tv and other rights to Dick Tracy in 1985; when he moved recently to make another Tracy film, TMS apparently disputed his right. Beatty then sued. Contending that TMS's 2002 move to reclaim its rights to the material violated certain notification procedures and made it "commercially impossible" for him to make the sequel, Beatty seeks $30 million in damages and the right to exploit the property in movies and tv. ... Meanwhile, according to news.webindia123, Archie Comic Publications, Inc., has filed a lawsuit charging the teen rock group, the Veronicas, with violating its trademark. The Australian twin rockers Lisa Marie and Jessica Louise Origliasso have been quoted often as saying they named their band for their favorite character in the Archie comics. Ah, those krazy kats-where will it all end, this exercise of what George Will acutely dubbed (in another context entirely, but still accurately) "exquisitely tender sensibilities" about ownership and propriety? If the group had been called the Veronica, I might be somewhat sympathetic with Archie; but the plural surely takes the word out of the realm of corporate ownership into public domain. Isn't there a bullfighter's flourish called the Veronica? You gonna suit the bullfighters, Arch? ... And then we have DC Comics, upset over an exhibition of paintings of gay fantasies involving Batman and Robin at the Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts Gallery in New York. The exhibit opened in February, and DC is still threatening the gallery with legal action. I can understand the corporate alarm, but what leg does DC have to stand on after turning the Caped Crusader into a psychopath? Which interpretation of the Bill Finger character does the most harm? This sort of confrontation is not new: according to www.gay.com, "both Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg settled suits over copyright violations in their work, and artist Jeff Koons took a similar case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and lost." Well, if he lost, isn't there a message in that somehow?
Editoonery. At the Stars and Stripes mideast edition, ombudsman Joe Ungaro recently concluded a study about the paper's alleged political agenda. Concerned about charges that the servicemen's newspaper showed bias against George W. ("Warlord") Bush in its weekly round-up of editorial cartoons from civilian papers, Ungaro saved the cartoon pages for 15 weeks then tallied his interpretation of the slant of the cartoons. "I decided to use the perspective of: If I were a White House official and if I were a Pentagon official, what would I think of the editorial cartoon?" In the 15 weeks surveyed, 75 cartoons appeared: pro-Bush, 6; anti-Bush, 7; pro-military, 9; anti-military, 4. There were 16 cartoons on foreign subjects; 33 "general national" topics, neither of which, apparently, reflected any notable biases. "Over-all," said Ungaro, "positive, 38; negative, 37." He also thought the weakest element in the editoons was humor, nearly half rating only fair or poor in his judgement. "I think the cartoonists have lost sight of the fact that humor goes a long way in making a point." He also noted that the paper runs Mallard Filmore as a conservative balance to Doonesbury, but, he said, the paper "needs to keep searching for a conservative voice that has a more visual impact and clearly more humor to its message."
Daryl Cagle has added two more women tooners to his Professional Cartoonists Index website: Marie Woolf, who returns to editooning after six years working on Senator Orrin Hatch's campaign website and advising other politicians; and Ingrid Rice, a self-syndicated Canadian who signs her work "Irice." Cagle, who runs a syndicate out of his website, told E&P Online that two new books are on the way: the Big Book of Bush: The History of the Bush Administration in Cartoons, scheduled for October release; and the second of his annual series, Best Political Cartoons of the Year, out before Christmas.
Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis is required reading at West Point where it is hoped the book will provide the cadets with a better understanding of Iran in the event, we suppose, that future U.S. armies will be invading that country. Graphic novels had their best year ever in the U.S. in 2004: sales climbed from $75 million in 2001 to $207 million in 2004, adds Rana Foroohar in Newsweek International (http://msnbc.msn.com). The reason for this leap of revenue? "Girls," says Guy Leshinski at www.eye.net, "-lots of them." He refers, as we have come to expect, to the influx in this country of shojo manga, the sub-genre of Japanese comic books that is aimed at young female readers and is often produced by female mangaka, "cartoonists." Leshinski is celebrating the imminent arrival of the third issue of Viz's Shojo Beat, a 300-page comic book for girls, "designed like a glossy fashion magazine, replete with a cheesecake cover and sassy editorial copy" with blurbs "on $138 miniskirts and industrial strength mascara" and littered with the usual manga hallmarks, "the dizzying motion lines, blastular eyes in assorted fem-centric dramas." He continues: "Male characters are overwhelmingly gaunt and blandly effete; girls, spunky but dim. Personal problems sprout like pimples and everything is smothered in hyperbole. The latter is a chance for the artists to flex their iconic muscle, using manga's sophisticated visual code to mime new neights of emotion. A character drawn with detail for most of the story suddenly becomes a faceless cipher before a fading checkerboard pattern, a vivid way to show her shock and disorientation (a state protagonists in this genre occupy often)." I appreciate his light-hearted scoffing.
About Foroohar's piece, however, I have a few carping reservations. In her summary of the history of graphic novels, she plays fast and loose with the facts, demonstrating once again, if it needed any further exposition, that quick history is often erroneous history. She thinks that Will Eisner's 1978 graphic novel, A Contract with God, which she accurately dubs one of the first to elevate the medium beyond pulp fare, depicts Eisner's childhood in the Bronx. Eisner drew upon his youth in the Bronx, no question; but the book is not autobiographical as her comment would lead us to assume. She says Charles Dickens' "first works used pictures," relying, perhaps, on a colleague, Mary Acoymo in London. Well, yes, they did. But even more germane: Dickens' first novel, Pickwick Papers, was conceived by the editors of the magazine who commissioned him, as text that would accompany sporting pictures by a popular artist; the pictures were the meat, the text mere garnish on the dish. "Comics ... in the Anglo-Saxon world," she goes on, "became mass market pop fare, read, discarded, and used to wrap fish." Not quite: newspaper comics sections, particularly the Sunday funnies, were used to wrap fish-and all sorts of garbage-as was most of the newspaper in the early days before domestic garbage disposals took over the job of disposing of left-overs. Newspapers were fish-wrap, not "comics" (comic books). But I like her summarizing remark comparing European and American cartooning: "Europeans invented modern comics, and Americans commercialized them." And I also applaud her recognition that some cartoonists think "graphic novel" is a snooty attempt to denigrate comics and prefer, in the defiant spirit of outsiders and revolutionaries, to beat us about the head with "comics" as the artwork they produce. She quotes from Daniel Clowes' Ice Haven, in which a character finds the term "comics" superior to the "vulgar marketing sobriquet 'graphic novel.'"
A new term to add to your manga lexicon: "otaku," which means "geek." Literally, it means "your house," but it has evolved into a label for obsessive and often reclusive fans of manga and anime (graphic novels and animated cartoons).
In Denver, the Public Library has cancelled its subscriptions to four series of Spanish-language "fotonovelas" (graphic novels using photographs instead of drawings), ending a 15-year enrollment. The Library's action was precipitated by vociferous objections lodged by several "migration reduction" groups, who see the Library's Spanish-language content as a "clandestine" maneuver to convert the state to a bilingual society thereby thwarting any inclinations among the alien population to assimilate and turning America from a "melting pot" into a "salad bowl." The obvious purpose of the Library's Spanish-language material is to serve a reading public that includes large numbers of Spanish-speaking people, but the protest group sees that effort as serving illegal aliens-which is "reprehensible," they said-and they set about to discover how far the Library had gone in its nefarious scheme to replace English-language books with Spanish-language books. While browsing around, they discovered that some of the fotonovela series were pretty explicit stories about sex and violence. And that discovery gave the protesters ammunition for its anti-Spanish propaganda campaign. They paraded around, outraged at the Spanish smut in the Library. The Library, seeing discretion as the better part of valor, elected to remove the smut, even though it was quite properly confined to adult shelves in the facility. But the anti-alien outfit won only a battle, not the war: the Library continues to subscribe to ten remaining series of Spanish fotonovelas.
Jerry Marcus, Creator of "Trudy" Comic Panel, Dies
From King Features
For more than 40 years, Jerry Marcus entertained readers across the country with Trudy, his single-panel comic about the domestic doings of a traditional suburban homemaker. The veteran cartoonist died July 22 in Waterbury Hospital in Connecticut after a long illness. He was 81 years old.
Jerry Marcus was born on June 27, 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, where, according to an entry he once wrote for a National Cartoonists Society album, he drew his very first cartoons on the sidewalks. He grew up and attended high school in Brooklyn before trying to join the U.S. Navy in 1943. He was turned down for being underweight and joined the merchant marine instead. The following year, he was able to enlist and served during the remainder of World War II as a Seabee in the Philippines. Marcus graduated from the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now known as the School of Visual Arts) in New York City after World War II. He began submitting magazine cartoons, and in 1947, he made his first professional sale to Argosy magazine and eventually supported himself with freelance work for magazines and trade journals. Marcus's cartooning soon gained national attention, and his cartoons appeared in such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, The New Yorker, Look, McCall's and Ladies' Home Journal. He also did work for several advertising agencies. A series he did years ago for American Airlines is regarded as a classic.
In Trudy, Marcus found fodder for humor in everything from harried husbands and kids to pets and the not-so-quiet life in suburbia. Marcus said he made the star of his comic strip a woman because of memories of his strong-willed mother, who raised four children in a cold-water flat as a young widow. King Features Syndicate launched the panel into national syndication in 1963, and several cartoon collections were published in paperback. Fans of his work have included comedian Jackie Gleason, presidential adviser Bernard Baruch, and Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, who had his original cartoons hung in the White House. Marcus participated in another piece of comic history, suggesting to Mort Walker that his Army private have the last name "Bailey" -after Saturday Evening Post cartoon editor John Bailey, who had given both Walker and Marcus some of their earliest breaks in cartooning, including green-lighting a Walker panel about a college kid named Spider, from whom Beetle evolved in both appearance and insect name. A member of the Screen Actors Guild since 1970 when he did his first television commercial, Marcus was an extra in a number of films and acted in television. The final Trudy panel was released for publication on Saturday, August 20, 2005.
COMIC STRIP WATCH
The Legacy Stuff Some More
Bud Blake, who drew Tiger for 39 years, retired in about March 2004. The strip, however, continues, re-running Blake's masterful art. It warms the heart to see the exquisitely spotted blacks and quirky juvenile anatomy still romping across the funnies page. But it makes us wonder: when, if ever, are strip favorites going to be permitted to expire? The "legacy strip" issue has been explored here before (Opus 145) and probably will be again. It's a pesky issue, and it's not going to go away. On one side of the debate are those who say comic strips should cease when their originators die or retire; this practice would create holes on the comics pages that newcomers could fill. Newspapers typically do not add a new strip to their line-up without dropping an older strip to make room for the new arrival. As long as the legacy strips continue, they take the spaces that newer strips covet, making it terribly difficult for new strips to find enough newspaper subscribers to make a living for their cartoonists. The Peanuts Phenomenon compounds the problem with a new variation on the legacy custom. Strips like Mary Worth and Dennis the Menace and Hi and Lois are presently being continued by new generations of artists and writers who produce fresh material. But Peanuts is simply being re-run, and with an inventory of fifty years of strips, Peanuts in re-run could go on forever. And now we have Tiger, with an inventory of nearly 40 years. I love Tiger and I love Peanuts; I'm glad to see them every day. But what about the new strips I can't see (and may never see) because Peanuts and Tiger are occupying space that otherwise would be available to new enterprises? Strips like The Norm and Liberty Meadows.
On the other side of the debate are those who contend that a comic strip should continue as long as it pleases newspaper readers. Mort Walker isn't the only advocate for this line of thought, but he wrote me; here's his letter:
I'd like to put an end to all this nonsense about legacy and old time strips. Why should a paper retire any strip that the readers like? Why should an editor knock out a favorite strip to accommodate a newcomer who hasn't proved himself? Also, which one of the many new strips should get that favoritism? Shouldn't the final choice rest with the readers? The age of a strip or who does it shouldn't make a difference. It's the quality that counts and how much readers like it, that's all. The bellyaching we hear from some of the new talent is a poor attitude. Why should they expect anyone to step aside for them? Why shouldn't they have to earn their way and prove themselves like the oldsters did? When I launched Beetle Bailey in 1950, it only sold to 12 papers. The big strips at the time were Smitty, Moon Mullins, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, Steve Canyon, Bringing Up Father, Prince Valiant, and Pogo. After six months, King Features was considering dropping my strip. I didn't ask any of the popular cartoonists to step aside and make it easy for me. I made changes. I went from a college theme to an army theme. It worked. In two years, Beetle became one of the leading strips, and its popularity has never waned.
In 1954 [Mort continues], I had a similar ;problem when I created Hi and Lois. After a year, it had sold less than 50 papers and appeared to be headed for oblivion. I met with the King Features sales manager to assess the trouble. He said there were a lot of family strips I was competing with, and I needed something to make the strip unique, some fuel to fire up the salesmen. I was reading Main Street by Sinclair Lewis at the time and had laughed at a page where a man was talking to a small baby, and we could read the baby's thoughts. That was it! I created Trixie, the first thinking baby in the comics, and it caught on immediately. In five years, I had two hit strips, and their popularity has held on for 50 years. I feel my willingness to face my weaknesses and to work and change to improve my product was the key to my success. I don't consider comic strips so much as an art form to please myself as an entertainment product to please the readers. Nobody gave me my success: I earned my way.
In 1951 [Mort goes on], someone told me about a struggling young cartoonist in Minneapolis who wanted to meet other pros. I started writing him. His name was Charles Schulz. I invited him to come visit me in New York , and I threw some parties to introduce him to my cartoonist friends. He complained that his strip wasn't doing well: it came in at the bottom of the New York World comics poll. He had never made any money. We all felt sorry for him. A short time later, he developed Snoopy into a Walter Mitty dreamer, and the strip took off. Schulz had earned his way. Just look at Zits, the newest success story in our business. It has great writing and great artwork. No one had to step aside for it. Quality is what counts. Nuff said.
RCH again: Denis LeBrun, who draws Blondie, is one of many who agree with Walker. Says LeBrun: "Blondie is carried in more than 2,000 newspapers, and it runs in about 55 countries. And it would be a bad move to walk away from 300 million readers throughout the world." And leave them without one of their favorite strips? Not just a bad move but a slap in the face, maybe even a kick in the groin. Not at all friendly. It would be bad business, of course; but it would also be rank rudeness.
Not all of Walker's strips were big successes, incidentally. He invented another half-dozen or so, and several of them faded away for lack of circulation. (But, as he would say, he didn't ask anyone to step aside to make room for any of these.) Walker is still actively engaged in producing Beetle; he always pencils the strip. But he's always worked with collaborators in developing gags and in producing the final, inked, product. One of today's most prominent legacy strips is Hi and Lois, which was first produced by Walker and Dik Browne; today, it's done by Walker's sons, Greg and Brian, and one of Browne's sons, Chance. It continues to be a popular, widely circulated strip. And why not? We enjoy hearing "White Christmas" sung at Yuletide even if it isn't being sung by the man whose voice first made it a hit. Bing Crosby's dead but the song lives on because we enjoy it. Ditto Mary Worth and Dennis the Menace and Hi and Lois and a score or more "golden oldies" that we can still see every day because they're old friends and they keep us cheerful.
The problem lurking in the legacy controversy is inherent in a capitalistic culture in which art is often at odds with commerce. Comic strips are both works of art and commercial products. A work of art, one might suppose, dies with its creator because the "art" is a manifestation of that individual and idiosyncratic creative personality. Commercial products, on the other hand, continue as long as they satisfy a need and attract buyers. As long as they make money. Comic strips are distributed by feature syndicates, and to the syndicates, comic strips are products, not works of art. The impulse towards legacy strips is built into the system: as long as the product can generate revenue, the syndicate will sell it. But legacy strips are more than mere products: they started out as works of art (that are marketed like products), and they continue to be works of art, regardless of who produces them. Even in re-runs. We continue to enjoy the artistry of William Shakespeare's plays even though he's dead and has written no new plays for 400 years; and we enjoy Peanuts, too. And we appreciate and enjoy new renditions of favorite songs by singers who don't sing the standards quite like the singers who first made the songs hits. Like Mary Worth and Dennis the Menace and Hi and Lois. Commerce keeps the old favorites alive. Art supplies us with new pleasures, or variations on the old ones. It's undeniably difficult for a newcomer to find a niche in an already crowded field. The arts and humanities are like that: unlike the sciences in which new discoveries render previous theories obsolete, shoving them out of sight, new artistic achievements in the humanities don't invalidate previous ones. They just add to the pile. Somehow, our culture finds ways to embrace them all. Doonesbury, Bloom County, Zits, Baby Blues, Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side, Dilbert -all entered that crowded arena, and each of them found a way to survive long enough to attract a loyal audience. But that doesn't much assuage my disappointment at not being able to see Liberty Meadows every day. Or The Norm. And why can't 9 Chickweed Lane, one of the most imaginative grown-up strips of our time-in art and theme-find its way into more papers? The dispute goes on.
Bud Blake, by the way, is interviewed extensively in the current issue, No. 13, of Hogan's Alley. If you can't find a copy at your local comic book shop, ask about how to order one at Hoganmag@earthlink.net
Ken Bode at the Indianapolis Star believes Garry Trudeau's Doonesbury should be run on newspapers' editorial pages instead of on the funnies page. On the editorial page, he says, "Doonesbury would have a larger, more influential readership." ... At www.MuttsComics.com , Patrick McDonnell conducted a contest to guess the weight in peanuts of his real-life dog, Earl. The "peanuts" ballast was homage to Charles Schulz's strip, a huge influence on McDonnell. The contest ended August 15. (E&P Syndicate World) ... The Wedding of Cathy and Irving, compiling the Cathy strips about the couple's nuptials and their agonizing preparations for the historic event, has been released by Andrews McMeel. (E&P) ... Jan Eliot, who, after her divorce, launched her comic strip, Stone Soup, about an "extended, blended family," in order to find an outlet for a sense of humor that could find amusement in the adversity of having to raise children as a single mother, received the 2005 Arts and Sciences Alumni Fellows Award from her alma mater, the University of Oregon, where she earned a degree in Women's Studies and English. (Universal Press Syndicate). ... Jim Davis has enlisted his fat orange cat in an educational enterprise, www.professorgarfield.org, a free website which will use comic strips and interactive challenges to promote reading and reading comprehension as well as mathematics, social studies, art instruction, and science and health. Ball State Teachers College, Davis' alma mater, is partner in the project. Said Davis: "Over my 27-year career of doing Garfield, I've heard countless stories from parents and teachers telling me that the strip kick-started a child's interest in reading. The comic strip is simple and fun with a logical sequence and word-picture clues. I began to feel strongly that comic strips were an overlooked, yet readily accessible learning tool. If you can tickle a child's funny bone, you can tickle and stimulate his brain." By the way, a sequel to last year's "Garfield" movie is planned for release next summer.
A FINE GUIDE AND A ROUGH ONE
Goulart's Excellent New Encyclopedia of Comic Books
and A Sorry British Attempt at Surveying Superheroes
Ron Goulart's the one I ask. He knows more than I've ever forgotten. Whenever I am baffled in my quest after some obscurity in the history of comic strips or comic books, I ask Goulart. And he always knows. He usually responds by, first, calling me an ignorant slattern; then he smugly directs me to a page in one of his many books on the comics-as if to say, If you could only read, you wouldn't have to bother me with pesky trivialities in the form of questions. All in the jesting spirit of scholarly camaraderie, mind you. I think of myself as a friend of Ron's, so my assessments of his books are probably suspect. How can my evaluations be reasoned and objective if he's a friend of mine? Well, probably I wouldn't have become a friend if I hadn't come to know him through his work, which I then, as now, value highly. For all his knowledge, however, Goulart does have a thing about dates, about citing them. He undoubtedly knows them, but he seems reluctant to deploy them in print with any rigidity-a trivial shortcoming, to be sure, induced, perhaps, by an engaging conversational prose style the colloquial flow of which might be disrupted by the insertion of precise dating. "In the spring of 1938" eddies more gently into the quiet backwaters of the reader's consciousness than the lurching exactitude of "On April 14, 1938."
Goulart's latest entry into the lists of comics reference tomes is Comic Book Encyclopedia (380 9x10-inch pages in hardback; HarperCollins, $49.95), an extravagant, slick-paper, profusely and colorfully illustrated volume that, like all Goulart's books on the subject, stands on the shoulders of other, earlier, Goulart books. This endeavor incorporates information he unearthed and unveiled in The Comic Book Reader's Companion, a modest paperback published in 1993 by HarperCollins, as well as cartoonist biographies that first saw systematic publication in two volumes of The Great Comic Book Artists (1986 and 1989), not to mention The Encyclopedia of American Comics (1990) and Great American Comic Books (two editions, the latest in 2001) and anything else he's come across since the publication of his last compendium. Beginning in 1975 with The Adventurous Decade, a history of newspaper adventure comic strips of the 1930s, Goulart has been discovering and recycling his discoveries in the history of American cartooning with great verve for over thirty years, between bouts of writing sf and detective novels (in the latter category, his series staring Groucho Marx as a sleuth is remarkable for invoking not only the spirit of the title character but the manic comedian's very sense of humor). With each fresh run at the history of comics, Goulart up-dates the information he found earlier, adds new scraps of history, and polishes his prose a little more, often making it a bit more succinct-bringing the entire enterprise ever closer to encyclopedic perfection, the omnibus amplitude of totality. And with a book about comics, that means lots of pictures, too.
Every successive Goulart book has improved upon the pictorial content of its predecessors, and this one is no exception. The use of color, for instance, is lavish-even, in the case of entry headings, a little garish, with the use of huge colorful comic book style splash page lettering. Each letter of the alphabetically arranged sections of the book is introduced by a title page, sometimes a double-page spread, illustrated with comic book characters, blown up to colossal size. Every page carries one or more illustrations-comic book covers, interior pages, fragmentary sketches or drawings. And, in a design decision nudging the extreme, every page has a patterned color border, the color varying from one letter of the alphabet to the next (so I know I'm in the Ds where the borders are green and not the Cs because the borders there are maroon).
The illustrations have clearly been chosen with care to provide extra insights. Accompanying the entry for Bert Christman, who abandoned aviation comic strips and comic books to join the Flying Tigers on the eve of World War II, is what might well be a self-portrait of a lounging young man who muses ironically, "I wonder how an adventurer starts out? Can an ordinary fellow like me be one?" And the Conan entry is illustrated by a sketch of the barbarian by Frank Frazetta (whose book covers of the Robert E. Howard reprints in the 1960s established him as fantasy illustrator), a largish reproduction of a comic book cover showing Conan in a classic pose with a maiden in her scanties clinging to him, and a panel from a story in which Conan says to the semi-clad wench on his knee, "What's your name, girl? And why is someone after you-besides the usual reason, I mean?" To which the lass replies: "I'm Mishi-and he's after me for the usual reason." The selection of this sort of illustrative material is not the work of editors or designers or any other of the breed of such harmless drudges as I: Goulart's finely attuned sense of humor is fully operative here.
And so is his penchant for casual citation of dates. The seminal Action Comics, birthplace of Superman, debuted "in the spring of 1938"; why not add "cover-dated June 1938"? Showcase No. 17, where Adam Strange first appeared, came along "late in 1958"; why not tell us that it was cover-dated December 1958? Admittedly, the practices of comic book publishing can create confusion rather than understanding: a comic book with a December cover-date appeared on the newsstands well before December-depending upon the publisher, as early, perhaps, as October. "Late in 1958" is, under the circumstances, a pretty accurate statement. But Goulart doesn't always omit dates. In fact, he usually cites them. All-American No. 1, for instance, is dated "April 1939," just as it should be. Goulart's inconsistency is therefore more a trifling annoyance than a major catastrophe.
The book's entries cover comic book titles, characters, and artists-not all the known universe, but surely those parts of it about which the body politic is most likely to have the kinds of questions that Goulart answers. There are fewer obscure characters here than in the Reader's Companion. No Dick Cole, for instance. But we have Danger Trail and Date with Judy, neither of which showed up in the earlier compendium. Some entries repeat almost verbatim the Companion's material (Fox and Crow, Frankenstein), but most have been revised-usually shortened (Air Fighters) but occasionally lengthened (All-American). A few generic topics are covered-entries on Good Girl Art, for example, and the book, Seduction of the Innocent, wherein Goulart accurately assesses Fredric Wertham's impact on the comic book industry, "by no means the only cause" of the self-censorship that brought down the curtain on the Golden Age. Goulart's entry on the graphic novel is the most accurate brief record of its conception, emerging popularity and evolution that I've seen yet. And, speaking of Goulart's comedic sense, he frequently offers tidbits such as the following, with which he concludes the entry about the Dazzler, which faded in popularity and ceased with No. 42: "The cover for the final issue carried the unkind blurb-'Because you demanded it, the LAST issue of Dazzler!'" It's more fun reading Goulart than we have any right to have in perusing a reference volume.
Displaying a sense of humor reflects the author's opinion as well as his sense of fun. And Goulart occasionally offers an unfunny opinion of an artist's work or a character or title. Opinions, one might suppose, are out-of-place in a reference work. I've lambasted Maurice Horn, the poseur comics historian, for his insinuation of "valuations" into encyclopedic works, but my abhorence of his practice is not at the inclusion of opinion in a reference book so much as it is at the wrong-headedness of the appraisals. Respected historians invariably make judgements and offer opinions. The selection and arrangement of facts reflects opinion even when no overt statement appears. But historians do more than select and arrange: they also often criticize or judge. We expect them to. Without their opinions, history is a nearly meaningless drone of facts, each one as significant as the next. Expressing opinions about the facts sorts them out. But good historians do not arrive at their opinions in isolation, as Horn apparently has. Good historians reflect in their opinions the generally agreed upon evaluations of their fellow historians. Horn's opinions are eccentrically his own, and even a trifle perverse. Goulart's are invariably the sorts of judgements that many of his colleagues would agree to. In this respect, he is virtually a model of a discerning historian. When, in describing the content of Feature Comics in its last issues, he says "the diminutive Doll Man was replaced by a dull Hollywood amateur sleuth named Stunt Man Stetson," I doubt many would dispute the "dull." Ditto his opinion of Nemesis in Adventures into the Unknown as "a silly-looking fellow," particularly when his costume is described as "black-and-blue striped shorts, a red tunic with an hourglass insignia, a blue hod, and several other pieces of nonmatching haberdashery." And I doubt that any but the most passionate fanatic about Exciting Comics would question Goulart's statement that its content during the years of World War II was "bland," especially since he is comparing that content to the "only bright spot" of the period, the cover art of "the gifted Alex Schomburg." But even if we might quarrel with Goulart about one opinion or another, none of his judgements have the effect of denigrating the work of any writer or artist by name, a practice Horn commits at nearly every utterance. Horn's assessments seem motivated by personal animus; Goulart's, by professional acumen.
Another recent arrival on the comics reference shelf is The Rough Guide to Superheroes, which comes with the cover advisory that it features "the comics, the costumes, the creators, the catchphrases." This tidy tome (320 4.5x6-inch paperback pages, $12.99) is amply illustrated with photographs as well as drawings, all presented in the layout fashion of the day: sidebars and second-color (red) headings and gray- or pink-toned boxes tempt us into one detour after another from front to back. Published in Britain by the Rough folks (who produce travel guides as well as guides to various aspects of civilization-one is called The Rough Guide to a Better Life), the book reflects a somewhat skewed knowledge of comics history, particularly when it delves into American comics. But the European perspective results in some fascinating diversions. A section on "Origins," for instance-"from ancient Greeks to 20th century geeks"-intends to cover "the prehistory of the men and women who save the world," and offers such engaging trivia as a short essay on Nietzsche (who, we learn, concocted the term "superman") and another on Napoleon. The roster of Creators in the section with that title includes Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Bob Kane, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby; but it also includes Jack Cole, Osamu Tezuka (for manga), Frank Miller, and, for the British reader, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. No Will Eisner. No C.C. Beck. No Harvey Kurtzman. "Rough" guide indeed. Other quirks include the sidebar on Lois Lane which pictures Teri Hatcher as "the definitive Lois Lane" ("she probably did a better job of personifying Lois' appeal to the Man of Steel than Margot Kidder in the movie") and a segment about the Phantom in which the character's comic strip origins are entirely overlooked; perhaps the writers aren't aware that the character began in newspapers not comic books. Similarly, Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Tarzan are called "comic book heroes." Superman is dubbed "the big blue cheese-as Superman is known to the criminal fraternity"-in apparent ignorance of the Fawcett Captain Marvel's prior claim to a kindred moniker, "the big red cheese," which is what Captain Marvel's nemesis, Dr. Thaddeus Bodog Sivana, called him in perpetual exasperation. (If Superman is ever called "the big blue cheese," it's clearly a tongue-in-cheek allusion to red-garbed hero of the rival publisher, whom DC drove out of the comic book business with a unrelenting lawsuit.) Elsewhere, I'm delighted to learn that Harold is the real name of Fred Fredericks, the man who draws Mandrake the Magician, and that Octobriana, the pneumatic heroine of Russian comics, ostensibly a revolutionary revolutionary, is an elaborate put-on, allegedly invented by a man with connections to the Czech secret police. As a reference book, this volume is more novelty than help except when dealing with British superheroes (like Sherlock Holmes, f'instance).
UNDER THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
According to the Washington Times (reported in The Week), Harry Potter books are the most popular in the 800-volume library maintained for al Qaida and Taliban detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Karl Rove is still in the White House in defiance of his boss's pledge to fire anyone who leaked Valeria Plame's name and CIA assignment to the news media. Now, says GeeDubya, in yet another breath-taking instance of his constantly shifting rationale for whatever actions he takes wherever he takes them, he'll fire Rove only if Rove broke a law. The law about divulging the name of a CIA operative is laced with wiggle room, but there's another law that forbids the divulging of classified information, and there's a Secret document that gives Plame's name and job that Rove may, or may not, have seen. To escape this likelihood, Rove claimed he heard about Plame and her job from a reporter; he didn't, in other words, read about it in a classified communique. Into this confusion steps the wild-eyed many-tressed Arianna Huffington, who, at her blog The Huffington Post, says the reporter who told Rove was none other than Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter who's currently in jail for not telling the Grand Jury who her source was. Huffington says Miller got her shorts in a twist when Joe Wilson, Plame's husband, did an op-ed piece in the Times that raised the possibility that the Bush League had "manipulated" or "twisted" intelligence "to exaggerate the Iraqi threat." Miller, you'll remember, is the Times reporter who got bad press in her own newspaper for being too uncritically enthusiastic about how big the pile of WMD Saddam had in Iraq, basing her contention upon information she received from some of the same "intelligence" sources as the White House was relying on. Says Huffington: "Miller, who has been pushing this manipulated, twisted and exaggerated intel in the Times for months, goes ballistic [when she reads Wilson]. Someone is using the pages of her own paper to call into question the justification for the war-and, indirectly, much of her reporting. The idea that intelligence was being fixed goes to the heart of Miller's credibility. So she calls her friends in the intelligence community and asks, Who is this guy? She finds out he's married to a CIA agent. She then passes on the information about Mrs. Wilson to Scooter Libby [Cheney's aide]. Maybe she tells Rove, too-or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell Novak and Cooper. The story gets out. This is why Miller doesn't want to reveal her 'source' at the White House-because she was the source. ... the odds are she wasn't the only one who clued in Libby and/or Rove ... but, in this scenario, Miller certainly wasn't an innocent reporter caught up in the whirl of history. She had a starring role in it. This also explains why Miller never wrote a story about Plame-because her goal wasn't to write a story but to get out the story that cast doubts on Wilson's motives. Which Novak did." And anything that discredits Wilson rescues Miller's reputation as a reporter. Neat.
Civilization's Last Outpost
While the state of Kansas (which, caught in the headlights of our argument, might be the same as a certain backward "state of mind") considers installing Intelligent Design in its schools as a theory of creation as viable as Darwin's evolution, editoonists have signaled their endorsement of the dispute with a spate of cartoons that ridicule the idea mercilessly. Editorial cartoonists are likely to do anything for a laugh on those days when they've grown desperate for respite from the deadly seriousness of poking fun at politicians and exposing the endless duplicity of George W. ("Whopper") Bush. But the current cartoons on this subject are misguided missiles: their target is the "creationism" of yore, not the Intelligent Design of today. The old threadbare creationist argument is that God created heaven and earth in seven days, that the world is about 6,000 years old, and that dinosaur fossils are fictions of roving bands of paleontologists. Intelligent Designists don't believe all that. The founder of Intelligent Design, or, at least, the most conspicuous of the proponents of the notion, is Phillip Johnson, recently the subject of a two-page article by Michael Powell in the Washington Post National Weekly. And Johnson is no Biblical literalist. Said Johnson: "[Evolutionary biologists] think creation is all about unguided material processes. Well, I don't have the slightest trouble accepting microevolution as the cause behind the adaptation of the peppered moth and the growth of finches' beaks. But ... [evolution] doesn't tell you how the moths and birds and trees got there in the first place." Johnson, internationally renowned as a teacher of criminal law and legal theory, agrees that the world is billions of years old and that dinosaurs walked the earth. He also believes in Intelligent Design-the idea "that the machinery of life is so complex as to require the hand-perhaps subtle, perhaps not-of an intelligent creator."
As Powell notes: "Johnson and his followers, microbiologists and geologists and philosophers, debate in the language of science rather than Scripture. They point to the complexity of the human cell, with its natural motors and miles of coding. They document the scant physical evidence for the large-scale mutations needed to make the long journey from primitive prokaryote to modern man." And even his Darwinian opponents agree that Johnson has a point: "Phillip is absolutely right that the evidence for the big transformations in evolution are not there in the fossil record," says one.
Darwin's The Origin of the Species appeared in 1859, offering three insights into the nature of things: 1) evolution produced the profusion of life around us from common ancestors, 2) species are not immutable and new species appear gradually from time to time, and 3) natural selection (sometimes termed "survival of the fittest") guides the process, winnowing out the flawed or inept genes. "It sounds so tidy," Powell remarks, "but evolutionary theory-like most scientific theories-trails behind it no small number of unanswered questions, lacunae and mysteries. ... [For instance,] the complex eye of a squid and a human eye are nearly identical yet lack a common genetic inheritance. ... Then there's the inconvenient fact that most species evolve little during the span of their existence, which leaves the mystery of how to account for evolutionary leaps." According to a noted historian of science, Theodore Roszak: "Some biologists still argue that you can get to high evolutionary forms purely through natural selection. That involves more faith in chance than religious people have in the Bible." Adds Powell: "Darwinian theory also presupposes an 'inconceivably great' number of links between living and extinct species. But paleontologists have discovered only a relative handful of such fossils. And scientists still puzzle at the great explosion of life known as the 'Cambrian explosion,' when thousands of multicellular animals appeared over 10 or 20 million years (a blink of the eye in evolutionary terms)."
Then along comes Johnson, already something of a contrarian who was interested in "critical legal studies" -"a left-wing movement that holds that the law is prejudice masquerading as objective truth." He wrote Darwin on Trial in 1991 and posed the critical contrarian question: "Why won't science consider that an intelligent hand operates alongside chance and physical law." (My emphasis.) It seems a reasonable enough course but few scientists or biologists have, as yet, started pondering the issue in that way. Powell writes: "The best scientific theories, scientists say, offer overarching explanations for natural phenomena even while acknowledging that many details remain to be worked out." The theories are then tested against physical evidence, some of which takes hundreds of years to discern. Intelligent Design doesn't fit into this scientific mold very easily because there is no way to test it. As George Will put it in his Newsweek column (July 4): "The problem with Intelligent Design theory is not that it is false but that it is not falsifiable: not being susceptible to contradicting evidence, it is not a testable hypothesis. Hence it is not a scientific but a creedal tenent-a matter of faith, unsuited to a public school's science curriculum." Moreover, the notion of Intelligent Design is not without flaws of its own. The cell itself falls far short. "A lot of the DNA in there is not needed-it's junk," says Phillip Kitcher, a philosopher of science at Columbia University. "If it's intelligently designed, then God needs to go back to school."
Bruce Handy and Glynis Sweeny took the same approach recently in a backpage cartoon in Time (July 4). Entitled "You Call That Intelligent?" the cartoon offers a half-dozen vignettes, each focused on different evidences for the absence of "intelligence" in the "design." Over one panel, the caption begins: "From an empirical point of view, one flaw with Intelligent Design is that when you look at people, there seems to be so much room for, well, better design." In the picture below, a zaftig woman says: "I mean, wouldn't a really intelligent designer have made everyone look like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie?" She looks like Angelina Jolie, and the fellow next to her looks like Brad Pitt, who is saying, "Or is that confusing intelligent design with hormonal design?" Another caption reads: "And then there's adolescence, which, let's face it, could also stand prettying up." In the picture beneath, a character, who may be Steve Jobs, is saying: "Or put it this way-would a company like Apple, which cares about design, market a cute-looking product that eventually gets acne and starts smelling bad?" "Maybe," says a character next to him, "-it's called planned obsolescence."
Back to the Washington Post, where Powell continues: "Isn't there, Johnson is asked, a risk inherent in trying to toss out Darwin and discern God's footprints. Why would He use his hand to create the tyrannosaurus and the Cro-Magnon only to discard them in the great extinctions?" And Johnson replies: "One answer is that it's hard to evaluate unless you know what the Designer was trying to create. I suppose the Creator could have made it so that we would live forever and be bulletproof. Flawless design may not be his point."
And this is where Johnson got to me. My epiphany was simplicity itself, derived from Johnson's last remark-namely, that we don't know exactly what the Designer was "trying" to create. Let us suppose that, eons ago, at the very Dawn of Time, the Designer is playing around, experimenting, and He devises a quantity of physical laws that all Earthly creation will obey once He sets the mechanism in motion. And then He sets it all going. And as He watches it, He realizes that it's not going exactly as He thought it would. Somewhat exasperated, He goes off to try again in another galaxy and leaves old Mother Earth spinning on its axis ever after, following all that quantity of physical law He devised but not in quite the way He imagined. If this is what happened, then we're a mistake. Moreover, we're no longer the center of creation, the apple of the Designer's eye, so to speak. We're just one of His experiments that didn't quite work out. Seems to me that this notion explains a lot. And it reconciles both sides of the Evolution-Intelligent Design dispute: each has a place in it, and neither is excluded by the presence of the other.
Metaphors be with you.
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