Opus 196 (November 28, 2006). We pause to recognize the achievements of Jerry Bails, the indisputable founder of comics fandom, and of Australia’s masterful political cartoonist Paul Rigby, both deceased in the last two weeks. Our features focus on two comic strips and their most recent reprintings by Andrews McMeel, Over the Hedge and For Better or For Worse, with news from the latter’s Lynn Johnston about the impending end of her strip. Here’s what’s here, in order, by department—
Death of Fandom Founder
NOUS R US—
Comic Book Legal Defense Fund
Forbes Fictional 15 Richest
Dagwood Shoppe Opens
Too Many Animated Cartoons
AUSTRALIAN GIANT CARTOONIST DIES
Comic Strip Watch
FoxTrot and Negative Advertising
Pearls Is Off Again
Sniping at Legacy Strips
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Reviews of The Killer, Deathblow, Criminal, Damned, Nightly News
For Better or For Worse Ends Next Fall
New Allen/Feiffer Book
Volume 1 of Dick Tracy Reprint
Review of Over the Hedge Reprint
And our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this lengthy installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu—
Dr. Jerry Bails, June 26, 1933 - November 23, 2006
The Father of Comics Fandom
Hairsplitters might contend that Jerry Gwin Bails was not, by some niggling measure, the first to start rigging a network of comic book enthusiasts that would, eventually, be dubbed “comics fandom.” The first issue of Dick and Pat Lupoff’s Xero came out in September 1960; while it grew out of their interest in sf, its first issue and the ensuing early issues reflected their affection for comic books, specifically, “the Big Red Cheese,” Fawcett’s Captain Marvel. Xero had reached its third issue when Don Thompson and Maggie Curtis, not yet man and wife, produced the first issue of Comic Art in March or April 1961, proclaiming itself “an sf magazine about comics.” But it was Bails’ Alter-Ego, launched at virtually the same time, March 1961, that aimed exclusively at comic book fans. Roy Thomas was Bails’ cohort in the enterprise and remained actively engaged in fandom until he graduated to “prozines,” writing for DC Comics and then for Marvel, where he eventually became editor-in-chief.
Bails’ involvement with comics was lifelong. He was a passionate fan of the Justice Society of America, which he had first seen in All-Star Comics No. 6, cover-dated August1941. Smitten, Bails later tried to assemble a complete run of All-Star Comics. He corresponded with Gardner Fox, who wrote the stories, and in 1959, he made a deal with Fox, purchasing the writer’s bound set of the first 24 issues for $75. Bails pined for a return of his favorite Golden Age heroes. The Flash was reincarnated in DC’s Showcase title in the mid-1950s, but Bails, deeply engrossed in pursuit of a Ph.D. in natural science, didn’t notice until No. 13 in the winter of 1958, the third appearance of the revived and redesigned character. Bails promptly sent off letters to Julie Schwartz, editor of the title, urging the revival of the JSA. They came back as the Justice League of America in their own book in the fall of 1960, just as Bails was joining the faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit. More correspondence ensued, and that winter, when Bails learned he was to lecture in Long Island, he arranged to meet Schwartz and sought DC’s support in starting a newsletter for JLA subscribers. Schwartz, whose experience in sf fandom had taught him the benefits to be derived from such amateur enterprises, was enthusiastically supportive. He was also probably “impressed with Jerry’s academic credentials,” according to Bill Schelly’s history of comics fandom, The Golden Age of Comic Fandom (1999). When the first issue of the newsletter came out, it was called Alter-Ego—in its current incarnation, edited by Roy Thomas, no hyphen. Thomas dedicated No. 25 of the present series to Bails as a 70th birthday present, and he asked Bails about the origin of the name.
“I don’t recall considering any options,” Bails answered. “We had discussed something I think we called a newsletter, but when ‘alter-ego’ came to me, I thought how well it fit not only our mutual interests but also our dual identities as civilians and fans. It was as if we were donning our costumes and flying out the window. It referred as much to us as fans as it did to our all-consuming interest in costumed heroes and in the people who created them. ... The name itself triggered more possibilities. ... [Fascinated by secret or hidden identities, Bails found] something primal in the notion that I am two people: Clark Kent, the civilian who presents a public persona that meets all the acceptable criteria of civil society, and my secret self that worries not what people think of me, but who is inner-directed and willing to correct injustice when I see it. ... I would be disappointed to learn that our lifelong interest was just an accidental circumstance of what happened at certain stages in our lives. That wouldn’t explain to me why we didn’t put away this flight of fancy like other comics readers did [as they grew up]. The concept of the avenging hero is as vibrant and vital to me at seventy as it was when I was seven. I wish I understood why.”
Other publications may have preceded Bails’, but he set about expanding his readership, systematically sending subscription information about the magazine to fans whose letters, with their addresses, were published in DC comic books. Said Schelly: “It was Bails who reached out ... with a magazine that was decidedly down-to-earth (even a little ‘gosh-wow’). It was Bails who wanted to bring as many people into fandom as possible, since it would further the goals of Alter-Ego. And it was Bails who, frankly, had the organizational skill, desire, and vision to lay the groundwork for an ongoing comic fandom.”
After Alter-Ego came the deluge. Knowing that one of the driving passions of comic book fans was increasing their collections, in September 1961, Bails started The Comicollector, an “adzine” in which collectors advertised for what they wanted and what they had to sell. The next month, Bails began a separate publication for news about forthcoming comic books, On the Drawing Board; later, with No. 8 in March 1962, it became The Comic Reader. Roy Thomas suggested that they start an awards program like the Academy Awards—“just a crazy idea,” Thomas said at the time. But Bails ran with it. Intrigued by the umbrella possibilities that an “academy” offered for sponsoring or operating all of his comics fandom ideas as well as for fostering the idea of comics as an art form, Bails threw himself into planning for the first “Alley Awards” (named after Alley Oop, the caveman being, chronologically, the first superhero), leaving the helms of both Alter-Ego and The Comicollector to others. Bails also began micofilmming rare comic books for scholarly research and general reference. And he started indexing comic books, joining in and then becoming a leading practitioner in a movement to catalogue the contents of all comic books. By 1969, his Collectors Guide: The First Heroic Age had organized enough fugitive information to enable Bob Overstreet to publish the next year “a fairly complete list of published comics in his first Comic Book Price Guide,” said Schelly. Bails published Who’s Who in Comic Fandom, a directory that permitted fans to contact one another, in 1964; and the next year, he contributed to The Guidebook to Comics Fandom a short Golden Age index and the embryo of a grading system that could indicate to potential buyers the quality of old comic books for sale. About the same time, Bails launched CAPA-Alpha, a low-cost fanzine: it was written by fans who reduced production expense by duplicating the pages of their own articles in the prescribed quantity (enough for all the contributors) and then sending them to a Central Mailer, who would bind the contributions together and ship the resultant magazine off to the contributors. The last Alley Awards were made in 1969, but by then, Bails was deep in the final stages of the exhaustive task that would stand as a monument to his comics work—assembling the data for The Who’s Who of American Comic Books, a complete list of the writers and artists whose labors created the products, and the industry, published in four saddle-stitched volumes in 1970. Considering that very few of the early comic book stories gave credit to any of their creators, Bails’ accomplishment, with able assistance from Hames Ware, was heroic on a grand scale, ample testimony to his keen analytical eye for stylistic idiosyncracies in art and his formidable organizational skills in devising a scheme for collecting and storing all of the variegated information and then arranging it for publication in a useable form. With The Who’s Who capping his work of the first decade of comics fandom, Bails had created virtually all of the mechanisms by which fandom would be sustained thereafter. When Jules Feiffer’s seminal work, The Great Comic Book Heroes, appeared in 1965, there was an eager audience for it, knit together in a growing national network.
Bails kept active in fandom, scraping up stray bits of information for The Who’s Who, converting the massive index to computer-searchable format, and contributing regularly to the online Grand Comic-Book Database, but his greatest achievements were behind him. I met Bails only once. I was in Detroit for the Motor City Con in 1998, and friends of his invited me to come along to visit him at his home. His health, I believe, was already, by then, somewhat less than robust. He’d had polio as a child, growing up in Kansas City, Missouri, and he developed a serious heart condition in his later years. But for a couple of hours on that late evening, he seemed lively, energetic—inexhaustible. He exchanged anecdotes with some of his old friends in the room and remembered people they all knew. His knowledge—of comics and of many other things, philosophy and history and politics and psychology and a host of esoteric matters—was vast and right on the tip of his tongue. He’d make some heavy duty pedantic pronouncement, and then, as he concluded it, he’d laugh amicably as if to say, “Well, none of us take everything all that seriously, do we?” But it was clear he meant what he said; he just didn’t want to offend anyone by saying it. He was, in short, that impossible being, a gentleman and a scholar, and his arguments, when he chose to make them on any subject, were next to impossible to overcome.
Bails died in his sleep of an apparent heart attack on November 23. Following the news of his death, his friends and followers poured forth their condolences and remembrances. His wife Jean responded: “I have been reading the kind words about Jerry and shared them with his sons as well. I thank you as do they. ... What would Jerry say? He would probably have said, ‘Awe, stop—you’re making me blush.’ Actually, it is my read of his involvement in fandom that it was not all about him: it was about you. Surprisingly as it may seem, fandom was not that much about comic characters either, but rather it was about people discovering their potential in whatever area and developing confidence in what they could do. Also, fandom was, above all, good people cooperating with one another to create an entity that was greater than the sum of its parts. Looking at the size of some of the fanworks and conventions, Jerry would sometimes joke, ‘a monster has been created,’ but it was a monster he dearly loved. He had no misgivings about fandom going on quite well without him. It will be because of all of you.”
Jean is undoubtedly right: fandom, for Jerry, was about other people, not himself or his work—other people becoming fully engaged in a pastime that they loved as much as he did. He was the great enabler whose passion and foresight and meticulous work created the platform upon which the rest of us have cavorted happily ever since. We all knew that was what he was up to, and we loved him for it. And respected him. And admired him.
Jerry always closed his letters, “Bestest, Jerry.” He doubtless thought he was extending to his correspondent affectionate albeit extravagant wishes for something better than the best. But we all thought his sign-off described him.
NOUS R US
All the news that gives us fits.
Accustomed as we have become to violence in the wake of cartoons—thanks to delusional Islamist zealots—we were not surprised last week when a crazed cartoonist (but I repeat myself) stormed the editorial offices of the Miami Herald, waving an semiautomatic handgun and demanding fairer treatment of Cuban-American issues in the paper. When he discovered the
editor wasn’t on the premises, the cartoonist, Cuban-born Jose Varela, a one-time staffer and now a freelancer whose editorial cartoons sometimes appeared in the newspaper’s Spanish-language clone, announced that he was taking over the paper. Varela is known as a jokester, and some staffers thought he was kidding. But he wasn’t, even though the gun proved to be a toy. The sixth floor of the building, where Varela holed up in the absent editor’s office, was evacuated, and Varela held the surrounding police at bay for three-and-a-half hours until he was talked into giving up. No one was hurt or even damaged. Varela was charged with three counts of aggravated assault with a fake firearm. If he had asked for better treatment for editoonists—or more staff positions nationwide—he might have enjoyed more sympathetic response from his brethren; but he didn’t, and they didn’t. One political cartoonist, recently laid off in a budget crunch at the newspaper where he’d worked for years, wondered whether he should have stormed the newspaper with a pistol to get his job back. But then thought better of it. Wonkette, apparently a fan of editoonery, said: “We hope this is the start of a trend and expect to see Tom Toles firing warning shots out of [Washington Post editor E.J.] Downie’s office window by the end of the year.” Among the blog responses were these: “Obviously the pen is mightier did not work for Senior Varela.” But the blogger, identified as Nicolae Dica, forgot to leave a space between “pen” and “is,” with unfortunate implications for “mightier.” David Flores blogged: “Actually, an all-cartoon newspaper might be pretty cool if you think about it—a sort of ‘graphic novel newspaper.’”
And while we’re in the realm of the weird and wonderful, here’s David Rakoff in the third issue of Nextbook Reader, unearthing some astonishing things about Bambi. The original Bambi, a novel by Felix Salten, was thoroughly “eclipsed” by Walt Disney’s 1942 feature-length animated cartoon. “Salten’s writing has not a trace of anthropomorphized cuteness,” Rakoff reports. “Bambi’s forest is peopled (creatured?) with characters by turns arrogant, venal, gossipy, and engaging—as flawed and varied as the cosmopolitan fauna Salten must have encountered daily in his life in Vienna.” In the novel, survival was achieved by tooth and claw, both dripping blood. A fox pursued by a hunter’s hound “stumbles into a clearing, bleeding and exhausted,” and when the hound arrives, the fox “pleads with the hound, one canine to another.” But it doesn’t work: after a short exchange, “the hound sets upon the fox, a fine spray of blood dyeing the snow.” When winter arrives in the book, “the once cordial animals turn on one another in the madness of their hunger.” Bambi was published in 1923, by which time Salten was a prolific novelist and noted theater critic, shuttling back and forth between Vienna and Berlin. After his first success in 1902, a moving obituary of Emile Zola, Salten was able to join a loose conglomeration of progressive bohemians, artists and writers mostly, a company that stimulated his creative juices. Among the numerous works he produced early in his career was a 1906 novel of pornographic pretensions entitled The Memoirs of Josephine, in which the title character recounts her adventures as a courtesan, beginning with her education in sexual matters at the hands of her urchin pals, bored housewives, a coal wagoneer in the cellar, a corrupting priest, a photographer, and, after the death of her mother, her father. Despite this catalogue of whorrific encounters, young Josephine experiences no sexual trauma whatsoever, due, Salten has her explain, to the circumstances of her class. “In my childhood,” Josephine says, “boys and girls like my brother and I were all sexually aware and eager to practice that premature knowledge. Boys did it with their sisters and girlfriends as a matter of course. They had never heard the word incest or taboo, like the rich kids who had the opportunity to listen to the conversations of educated adults.” In this context, as Rakoff notes, it is “oddly appropriate” that Bambi’s name has so frequently been appropriated by “generations of female porn stars.”
Aaron McGruder has not, as far as we know, formally given up newspaper syndication of The Boondocks. But he sure sounds like it. Speaking at the University of South Florida on November 20, McGruder said if the strip has a future, it will be online. This intelligence was later reported by Editor & Publisher, which picked it up on www.DailyCartoonist.com which was quoting from an article in the St. Petersburg Times by Amber Mobley, who was there and heard it, we assume, first-hand. That’s not all she heard. “I got sick of the strip and sick of politics,” McGruder said. “It was Bush, Bush, Bush. Okay, he’s dumb: we get it.” Discussing the Cartoon Network version of “The Boondocks,” the cartoonist said: “It’s a show for people who look at the world and say, ‘There is something seriously wrong here.’ There are people who get satire, people with critical thinking skills. And then there are those who don’t get it. This show was created for people who get it. Everyone else we’re not too concerned about.” His tv audience, he concluded, “gets it more than your average newspaper reader, a 50-year-old white man.” At last report from McGruder’s syndicate, Universal Press, he was so busy with the animated “Boondocks” that he hadn’t time to decide when to take time to decide whether or not to continue syndication of the strip; but he has time to make speeches to the adoring throngs in South Florida.
“The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has learned that its recent motions to dismiss the case against Rome, Georgia retailer Gordon Lee have been denied,” saith ICv2.com. “The case stems from the accidental distribution of a free comic book, Alternative Comics No. 2, which contains a non-prurient image of a naked Pablo Picasso, to a minor as part of a promotion at Lee’s store on Hallowe’en in 2004.” CBLDF had successfully reduced the counts against Lee to two, from the initial seven, but it now appears that Lee will go to trial in early 2007. CBLDF has spent $72,000 so far in defending Lee; anyone interested in ordinary common sense decency in American jurisprudence is hereby urged to donate to the cause at www.CBLDF.org. ... The annual so-called “cartoon issue” of The New Yorker (dated November 27) will adopt a comic book publishing practice, producing four different covers by Chris Ware, the current darling of the New York publishing cabal. Ware’s last cover, a wall-paper effect portrait of Eustace Tilly’s adventures with a butterfly that appeared on the anniversary issue of the magazine last February, was, in a word, brilliant. ... Michael Noer and David M. Ewalt have produced another of their annual “Forbes Fictional 15,” the richest fictional characters. This year Santa Claus was declared ineligible (too many parents protested that to their children Santa was not fictional), and Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks topped the list. Other cartoon characters on the list were: Uncle Scrooge McDuck, third place; Richie Rich, fourth; Bruce Wayne, seventh; and Tony Stark, eighth.
The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is poised to circulate a protest letter to bloggers who use editorial cartoons without the permission of the editoonists. The fair use clauses of the copyright law permit the use of copyrighted cartoons where the cartoons are being examined for critical or historical purposes, but some bloggers use them as simple editorial content, which is a violation of copyright. ... The compilation of literary comics in Houghton Mifflin’s The Best American Comics: 2006 is “long overdue,” said Andrew Dansby in the Houston Chronicle. Edited by Harvey Pekar, the stories are contemporary efforts, not historical gems. Dansby says too many of them are focused on Big Issues like Iraq and mental illness, but, he goes on, the book “does feel like a genuine salute” to the great work being done in this still underappreciated medium, and the best stories are “clever, moving and hilarious.”... Beijing is issuing a Snoopy postage stamp series on June 1, Children’s Day in China, but Snoopy items, carried in more than 2,000 outlets in the country, are considered “high-end lifestyle” products, not just for children. Said Elizabeth Brinkley of United Media, Peanuts’ syndicate: “Our key demographic is women 18 to 35.” The stamps will show the irrepressible beagle traveling to Beijing, Hongkong, Macau and Taiwan.
The film version of Frank Miller’s 300 won’t hit theaters until February 5, 2007, but sales of the graphic novel are already approaching record highs, according to ICv2.com. Dark Horse has ordered an eleventh printing for January/February, and with an additional 40,000 copies due at the end of November, bringing total sales to over 88,000 since it was published in 1999, Miller’s book might be the best-selling single volume historical graphic novel ever in the North American market. Notice the qualifiers—single volume, historical, in North America—which combine to exclude from the competition Larry Gonick’s eleven volumes of Cartoon History, which have sold over 750,000 in the aggregate. ... Steve (the Dude) Rude has formed a new independent comic book publishing company, Rude Dude Productions, which will produce a line of color comic books, including new adventures of fan favorite Nexus, out by July 2007.
The first Dagwood Sandwich Shoppe, its walls festooned with images from the comic strip, Blondie, has opened in a strip mall in Palm Harbor, Florida. The specialty, according to the Associated Press, is “a 1 ½ pound, double-decker, 24-ingredient behemoth called—what else?—The Dagwood. Yours for $8.90.” The strip’s creative manager, Dean Young, son of the creator Chic, who died in 1973, worked with the Shoppe’s executive chef to develop “signature sandwiches” like the New Orleans Roast Beef Po’Boy and the Turkey Club Royale, but the business know-how resides with Young’s partner in the enterprise, Lamar Berry, a restaurant franchising specialist who once directed marketing for Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits chain. They hope to open 50 or more Dagwood franchises in the next year, and then 600 to 800 “within the next five years.” The enduring popularity of the strip, which is in 2,000 newspapers in 55 countries and has maintained its status for over half a century, will attract customers, who will
doubtless flock to the Shoppes, hoping to experience in actuality the fantasy sandwich for which
Dagwood has become famous. But the quality of the food must bring them back for subsequent visits. “It’s nonnegotiable,” said Berry, “—we had to live up to Dagwood’s reputation.”
Gene Yang’s graphic novel, American Born Chinese, did not win the National Book Award for young people’s literature that it was nominated for, but it was the first graphic novel to be a finalist. M.T. Anderson, who won the award for his cumbersomely titled The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party, made the point during his acceptance speech, noting that “there was a lot of dithering in the blogosphere” about whether graphic novels are worthy. Added Bob Thompson in reporting the awards for the Washington Post, the question of worthiness “can now be laid to rest.” Yang’s 240-page novel is a coming-of-age story about Jin Wang, who moves from San Francisco’s Chinatown to a suburb. Writes Momo Chang at insidebayarea.com: “The novel creatively incorporates the story of the Monkey King from the Chinese classic ‘Journey to the West,’ as well as a third character, “Chin-Kee,’ who epitomizes all the Chinese stereotypes Yang could think of.” Yang, when not creating graphic novels, teaches computer science at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California.
Until recently, only three or four feature-length animated cartoons were released every year. This year, 16 are expected to be eligible for an Academy Award. But the quantity isn’t, necessarily, quality. The novelty of computer generated images pulled in audiences for the earliest of the breed, “Toy Story” and “Shrek” and a couple others. But now that the bloom is off the rose, the Associated Press says, audiences apparently aren’t finding amid the bodacious technological excess enough content to entice them into theaters. If we consult box office revenue as an indicator of audience interest (and that seems as sensible as anything else), we find the year’s leader, the Disney-Pixar “Cars,” logging $244 million, followed by “Ice Age: The Meltdown” with $195 million and “Over the Hedge” with $155 million. Compared to $300-400 million earned by “the all-time leaders, ‘Shrek 2,’ ‘Finding Nemo,’ and ‘The Lion King,’” today’s CGI cartoons aren’t doing so well. Respectable revenues, but not remarkable. “I don’t know if it was the best year,” said Carlos Saldanha, director of “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” “but I
think it was the biggest year for animation, with a lot of good work, but a lot of work that maybe fell short of expectations.” Said George Miller, director of the forthcoming holiday penguin romp “Happy Feet”: “There’s definitely an overload, and I think everyone recognizes that.” Since the industry follows box office revenues like day does the night, we should probably expect fewer and fewer animated feature-length cartoons in future.
From Editor & Publisher: Characters from Patrick O’Donnell’s strip, Mutts, appear on ten postage stamps benefiting the Humane Society of the U.S.; available from Zazzle.com, “an approved vendor of the USPS.” ... Beginning November 13, a week’s worth of Rhymes with Orange was produced by Mary Lawton while the strip’s creator, Hilary Price, went on a honeymoon. She married her partner Kerry LaBounty in September—“Yep, legal and everything,” Price reports, “—we’re in Massachusetts.” They spent two weeks in Botswana, “slept in tents, saw elephants, hippos, and lions.” Price got a week ahead on the strip, then asked Lawton to fill in for the second week. ... Bill Amend’s FoxTrot came in first in a readership survey at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse was a close second, followed by Scott Adams’ Dilbert, Mike Peters’ Mother Goose and Grimm, and Jerry Scott/Jim Borgman’s Zits. The strips least liked were Mary Worth, Rex Morgan, Cathy, Prince Valiant, and The Amazing Spider-Man, an odd conglomeration: given that readership of newspapers skews older, I’d expect Mary, Rex and Prince Valiant to fare better, particularly if you assume the same readers are dumping on Cathy and Spider-Man. ... Tom Batiuk was inducted into the American Cancer society’s Cancer Care Hall of Fame for his stories in Funky Winkerbean about Lisa’s battle with the disease. Kent State U. will publish a collection of the relevant strips next fall, about the time the cancer story arcs will conclude. ... United Media has advised client papers subscribing to Pearls Before Swine that the December 2 release will employ “language some readers may find inappropriate”—namely, the vaguely obscene expression, “bite me.” I’d like to know how many papers will opt for the re-run strip that the syndicate is offering as a substitute. Language on the comics page has become a good deal more, er, colorful in recent years, but some papers still cringe at imagined profanities, like “suck,” f’instance. With such instances stacking up, it’s pretty clear we have not yet entered the nirvana of total freedom of expression in the funnies. Strips are a bit edgier these days, but we’re scarcely on the crest of a new wave of licentiousness. ... Scott Stantis, editoonist for the Birmingham News and creator of the somewhat conservative comic strip, Prickly City, will be recovering from rotator-cuff surgery for a couple weeks in December, and he and his syndicate, Universal Press, have asked some of his colleagues to fill in for him on the strip. “In a move echoing this year’s election returns,” Prickly City will be produced the week of December 11 by a liberal editoonist, Matt Davies of the Journal News in White Plains, NY. The next week, each day’s strip will be produced by a different cartoonist, the line-up including Don Asmussen (Bad Reporter), Mark Tatulli (Lio and Heart of the City), Phil Dunlap (Ink Pen), Paul Gilligan (Pooch Café), and Rob Harrell (Big Top), who, some months ago, was similarly helped out by fellow ’tooners when he underwent cancer treatment. ... The 2007 Far Side calendar, the first in five years, features the same 365 cartoons as in 2001. Cartoonist Gary Larson is donating his royalties, estimated at $2 million, to Conservation International, a non-profit organization that protects habitats and tries to halt illegal wildlife trade. In a rare interview in USA Today, Larson, whose cartoon abounded in animals both domesticated and wild, said he “can’t imagine how we’ll be remembered by future generations” if wildlife continues to be decimated by the actions of mankind. ... The second DVD set of “The Legend of Prince Valiant,” containing the last 32 episodes of the 1991-93 animated tv series, will be released January 16. ... On November 16, E&P wondered if the Washington Examiner had cut its comic strip line-up by half, from 14 to 6; editors at the newspaper didn’t respond to questions or, subsequently, return phone calls. Mysteriousness.
Fascinating Footnote. Much of the news retailed in this segment is culled from articles eventually indexed at http://www.rpi.edu/~bulloj/comxbib.html, the Comics Research
Bibliography, maintained by Michael Rhode and John Bullough, which covers comic books, comic strips, animation, caricature, cartoons, bandes dessinees and related topics. It also provides links to numerous other sites that delve deeply into cartooning topics. Among those sites are (or should be) Mark Evanier’s www.povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s www.DailyCartoonist.com, and Tom Spurgeon’s www.comicsreporter.com.
Quipping & Quoting
From Frank & Ernest, November 26:
If I had my life to live over, I’d probably still make the same mistakes, but I’d start a lot earlier. You’re only young once, but it makes you tired for the rest of your life.
Why is it old age always catches up with you but never passes you by?
DOWN UNDER, AN AUSTRALIAN GIANT FALLS
Paul Rigby, October 25, 1924 - November 15, 2006
Paul Rigby, the legendary Australian cartoonist whose quirky, stylized work graced the pages of the world's great newspapers, died in Western Australia at the age of 82. Perhaps the best way to remember his achievements is to quote newspaper accounts in Australia, where he was, as one of them said, “larger than life.” We begin with Tony Barrass in The Australian:
Born in Melbourne in 1924, Rigby joined West Australian Newspapers as an illustrator in 1948 after serving in the Royal Australian Air Force from 1942 to 1946, where he saw action in North Africa and Europe. He began drawing political cartoons for Perth's afternoon Daily News in 1952 and, between 1960 and 1969, gained national prominence with his cartoons, which were also published in Sydney's Daily Mirror, winning five Walkley Awards. Despite his being a Victorian, West Australians claimed him as their own, and his cult following in the state remains to this day. His drawings often included larrikin Aussies and big-busted blondes in quintessential Australian environments of the times: the pub, the back yard, the footy. Tucked away somewhere in the frame were his trademark urchin and dog.
Rigby died late Wednesday November 15 in Busselton Hospital where he had been taken after suffering a heart attack at his Margaret River home. A second attack in hospital meant that “his wonderful pen would never again be put to use righting the wrong and pricking the pompous,” wrote Len Findlay, whose obituary in The West Australian follows.
"He was my reason for getting into political cartooning," said The West Australian's cartoonist Dean Alston, one of the few who can be mentioned in the same breath. "He is the No. 1, the best-ever in Australia," said Jason Chatfield, vice-president (WA) of the Australian Cartoonists Association who was with Rigby just last week in Ballarat, Victoria, where Rigby was given the Jim Russell Award for lifetime achievement. "He was the king—and not just here," Chatfield said. "A couple of years ago he put me on to some cartoonists in New York and when I met them they told me that in their eyes, too, he was the best."
Alston remembered: "When I was ten, I was walking on the crosswalk at Foy's department store in Perth and this distinguished-looking man, but dressed in Hush Puppies and a checked coat, was walking towards me and my father said: ‘Do you know who that is. That is Paul Rigby.' I thought he was a god."
For a long time, in Perth, in London and in New York, Rigby was a cartooning god. For 20 years from 1949, he shared the back page of Perth's Daily News with Bernie Kirwan Ward, who wrote the words, and with the urchin and the dog, which he slotted into every drawing,
often forcing the reader on a visual hunt. They—all four of them—traveled the world and they found the humour of the world. The daily double of Ward's column and Rigby's cartoon made sure that the Daily was read from the back.
"One day he would have politics, the next day the Cockburn Sound regatta," Alston said. "He chronicled the happenings of what was a small town."
But the big time awaited. In 1969, Rupert Murdoch came calling. The mogul had bought the ailing Sun newspaper in Britain and desperately needed to give it a lift. Rigby gave it a rocket trip. After one wonderfully accurate and devastating cartoon of outgoing prime minister Ted Heath appeared, Mr Heath, not a man with much small talk, said to Rigby at a function: "Mr Rigby, I believe you have killed me."
"Don't worry," came the jaunty reply. "I am doing (PM-in-waiting) Harold Wilson tonight."
That Mr Heath thought it funny showed how important Rigby was in Britain. Soon it was another, even bigger stage for the man born in Victoria, but who loved West Australia and was equally loved in return. He came back to Australia in 1977 but Murdoch asked him to go to the U.S., to his New York Post and its companion, The Star. Rigby was a huge success, and when he quit, it was his son, Bay, who took over his position, in direct competition with his dad, who had joined the New York Daily News.
"First one up gets the drawing board," quipped Bay, who was living with his parents at the time. Both papers used to run page one banner headlines—“Rigby to be with us" in the News and "Rigby's here on Page Six" in the Post. In 1992, Rigby returned to his old job at the Post when Bay quit. He retired in 2000 and went back to West Austalia. In 2003, Rigby and his wife moved to Margaret River to be with son Peter.
John Hartigan, chairman and chief executive of Murdoch's News Limited, said upon receiving news of Rigby’s death: "Australia has punched above its weight with its rich and colourful history of cartooning, and Paul Rigby was undoubtedly the master. A true legend." Former columnist with The West Australian Bill Bailey said Rigby's partnership with Bernie Kirwan Ward "made up the most outstanding collaboration that most of us have ever seen. I tended to avoid him in bars," Bailey added. "Those encounters either took years off your life or put years on it." Everyone from those Daily News days remembers the Limp-Falling Club. That was a group of journalists who would go to a bar and begin to drop suddenly and silently to the floor in succession. Rigby [was apparently the one usually left standing].
Over his distinguished career, Rigby, in addition to his five Walkley Awards, was given the New York Press Club Page One award four times and the Press Club Presentation for Graphic Arts. He was awarded the Order of Australia in 1999. He was in The West Australian's WA's 100 Most Influential People. Rigby is survived by his widow Marlene, their children, Nicole, Pia, Peter, Bay and Danielle and five grandchildren.
In Western Australia Business News, Peter noted that his father came from a working-class background and was driven by a strong social conscience. "He was unstoppable, a very, very fun man, but also a deep thinker. That's where his genius lay. He was very well read, but then again you could find him down in the very worst pubs down the street rollicking with the best of them, he really had thecommon touch."
Peter said his father's health had been deteriorating over the past few years, but he had maintained an active lifestyle and had been a prolific artist to the end. "Despite his reputation as a cartoonist he was also a very good painter and graphic artist, and he did a lot of that in his retirement," Peter said. "He was working every day and seemed to be in really good spirits. He loved this area and I think he went out pretty happy."
Tics & Tropes
“Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.” —Dave Barry
“Reality is just a crutch for people who can’t deal with drugs.” —Robin Williams
“The older one grows, the more one likes indecency.” —Virginia Woolf
COMIC STRIP WATCH
In Bill Amend’s FoxTrot for November 13, a week after the Election, Peter is watching tv and we hear: “Did you know that Fluffles Fabric Softener has been used by adulterers and convicted felons? Can you really trust your family’s laundry to a product like Fluffles?” Peter muses: “I guess the people who do political ads had to find new jobs somewhere.” The tv drones on: “Shurproof. The fabric softener with your values.” Raises that perpetually pertinent question: If negative ads are so effective, why don’t we see any of them for products other than politicians?
Stephen Pastis is back at it again—poaching on another cartoonist’s strip for his comedy in Pearls Before Swine. In this case, it’s Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy. It all began on Monday, November 13, when Pearls showed up crooked in its usual slot on the comics page. Tilted out of alignment, only the speech balloons showed, “and wouldn’t you know it?” grumps an unseen character, “It happens on the one day where the joke is purely visual.” Rat phones the printer to castigate him for his negligence, and the printer retaliates by replacing Pearls panels with Fuzzy panels. What fun. Does anyone besides Pastis and Conley and their immediate coterie comprehend this hilarity?
And while we’re on the subject of poaching, that famous refugee from Li’l Abner is back in the Sunday Phantom. The Ghost Who Walks recently went up to the mountain-side cave of Old Man Mozz to obtain the bearded hermit’s annoyingly cryptic advice, just as Li’l Abner used to do when the hermit’s name was spelled Mose and he was a white hillbilly instead of a black African.
And Adrian Raeside’s The Other Coast on November 15 “took a well-executed swipe at the many comics that are still syndicated even though their original creators are dead.” As E&P reports, the Vicky and Toulouse characters are shown reading the newspaper, and Vicky announces her admiration for Mary Worth, adding, “I’d love to meet its creator.” Toulouse replies: “He died years ago.” [She, actually; Raeside is probably thinking of Allen Saunders, who wrote the strip after its creator, Martha Orr, retired in 1939.] Vicky then voices a similar desire to meet the creators of Blondie and Dick Tracy. All, says Toulouse, “Passed on. Extinct. Gone to the great inkwell in the sky.” In the last panel, Vicky is no longer speaking; she’s thinking, “Reading the comics these days is like reading the obituaries.”
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST: Part One
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
“Keep in mind that China and India are already constructing 650 coal-fired power plants whose combined CO2 emissions will be five times the total savings envisioned by the Kyoto accords.”—Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek
GREAT MOMENTS IN PROSE STYLING
Frederick Douglass wrote this one: “In Talbot County, Eastern Shore, State of Maryland, near Easton, the county town, there is a small district of country, thinly populated, and remarkable for nothing that I know of more than for the worn-out, sandy, desert-like appearance of its soil, the general dilapidation of its farms and fences, the indigent and spiritless character of its inhabitants, and the prevalence of ague and fever. It was in this dull, flat, and unthrifty district or neighborhood, bordered by the Choptank River, among the laziest and muddiest of streams surrounded by a white population of the lowest order, indolent and drunken to a proverb, and among slaves who, in point of ignorance and indolence, were fully in accord with their surroundings, that I, without any fault of my own, was born and spent the first years of my childhood.”
That last sentence is a masterful remnant of a more oratorical age, the “periodic sentence” that rolls majestically along, unfolding a new scrap of information at every bend, none of which assume the proper significance until the entire prose parade reaches its last revealing syllable.
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Here is a batch of first issues of titles that all have a somewhat unsavory relationship to law and order and to the milk of human kindness geneally. The Killer by Matz with art by Luc Jacamon comes to us in translation (Jacamon’s) from the European run of the 10-issue title. We meet a contract assassin who amuses himself, and us, as he awaits the appearance of his current victim by reviewing his life so far, how he got into the murder business and why. He likes the freedom it affords. He’s hoping to retire to his villa in Venezula when he amasses a nest egg of $5 million. He calmly tries to justify his occupation: “If you really think about it, we’re all murderers, one way or the other. ... Who doesn’t have a slaughter on their conscience? The Germans with the Jews and the Holocaust? The Turks with the Aremenians? ... The juntas of South America or Africa? Man’s history is just an endless list of atrocities and we’re not through with it. We’re living on a pile of corpses, but people say man is good. ... The first one who lectures me about life, liberty and all that crap, I should just shoot him. That’s what he’d deserve.” On another page: “You give ten guys chosen at random a gun, and they’re ready to kill and torture, as long as they’re not held responsible.” Jacamon’s art is recognizably European: simple outline style embellished with elaborate coloring that models shapes and gives the pictures depth. The pictures often carry a visual narrative that is different from the drone of the monologue, providing variety and pictorial excitement. But the cynical nihilism of the protagonist, while surely appropriate and entirely understandable given his profession, is not a little depressing. He has nine more issues to get his just desserts.
Deathblow is another Brian Azzarello effort, which means we can’t tell much about the story from a single issue: it’s all dark menace and grisly bloodshed. The action, such as it is, is book-ended by what appears to be a torture sequence in media res. We meet the title character, a brute, it seems, who we watch being rescued from an Indian or Islamic prison and taken to Guantanamo? For torture? Or is he to be brainwashed for some future assassination assignment? Hard to say. Azzarello, as usual, is all vague obscurity. Carlos D’Anda’s drawing style is boney with a bold line and plenty of darkness, enhanced by numerous close-ups of characters whose roles we don’t comprehend. Nice looking and thoroughly competent.
Sean Phillips’ art in Ed Brubaker’s new Criminal deploys a flexing line and deep shadow, another thoroughly professional job, crisp and pleasing to the eye. In the first issue of five, we meet Leo the Coward, who is recruited to do a job with a crooked cop and a former associate. We don’t know what the job is, yet, but on the last page, we get to another torture scene, a guy bound and gagged and staring in abject fear as another guy talks on the phone—the torturer? Or the guy who’s hiring Leo and company for some nefarious deed? Dunno.
Brian Hurtt’s drawings in Cullen Bunn’s Damned remind me somewhat of early Wally Wood—deep shadowing, copious feathering. All black-and-white with gray tones, nicely murky, as you might expect in a zombie noir story about warring demonic families. Eddie the Dead Guy apparently makes a living dying on command, but more than that, we don’t learn much. But then, I’m not into demons much, so maybe I’m missing the good parts.
Nightly News conceived, written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman ought to be more to my liking. The art, for instance, is something quite different: each page is more like an elaborate poster than panels in visual storytelling. It’s essentially a black-and-white book with a second color, an orange-brown overlay. At first blush, very attractive, but Hickman’s visual mannerisms include cloaking faces in deep shadow, and that, coupled to a realistic albeit somewhat quirky style, produces pictures of people who are not easily recognizable from one appearance to the next. The pictorial confusion is not much aided by the verbal content, which is typeset so small it can barely be read in black-on-white, and when it reverses out of orange or appears in that second color, readability evaporates altogether. The book is a nihilistic rant about the media: we are all creatures created by the media, and the book’s bogieman is consolidation of the media. What with all the splattered images of a wild-haired guy with a rifle, I suspect we’ll get to some kind of bloody rampage eventually. So far, we have menace and anger and a mysterious controller, called The Voice, who is recruiting someone to be The Hand. “This is not a political book,” Hickman writes as a postscript. “Hell,” he continues, “I’m as non-political as you can get. That doesn’t mean indifferent: it means disengaged. ... Please don’t look for two-party allegory or clever little digs about Al Gore or Rush Limbaugh. This isn’t that book. What you can look for is a full-on, non-holds-barred, dissection of corporate news and its relationship with both you and I [sic]. You know: consumers. How they talk to us. How they sell us. How they educate us. Or, if all that really screws with how you like your entertainment, you can just enjoy what the Nightly News is at its core: a story about revenge. Because there is one thing we all can agree on: some people just need killing.” As anyone can tell, I’m as put off by our news media’s malfunctioning as the next malcontent, but I’m not much attracted to Hickman’s peevish diatribe as so far manifest in this title. He’s a little like a loose canon, careening around the deck without a definite target in mind yet. That may change, but I don’t think I’ll be around for it.
In fact, I won’t be around for the second issue of any of these titles. None of them presented a character I’m disposed to like. The Killer is at least a clearly presented story, and its narrative technique is appealing. But the protagonist is so thoroughly despicable that I don’t think I want to see more of him. He reminds me of Jordi Bernet’s Torpedo, but the Torpedo was enlivened with a sense of humor, however grim. No laughs here, not even a smirk to relieve the grim menace in The Killer or in any of these others. Sigh.
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST: Part Two
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
Americans worship beauty. Youth as well as beauty, but only because the Young are beautiful. One of the great ironic mythologies of America is that beauty is only skin deep. The irony resides in the nasty belief that this myth is intended to trump—namely, that physically unattractive people are emotionally and intellectually inferior. The myth of the skin-deepness of beauty attempts to unhorse this conviction by implying its converse—that true beauty is not physical but spiritual, something “inner” rather than “outer.” And so we eventually arrive at a tv sitcom called “Ugly Betty,” which, Entertainment Weekly reports, is “this season’s highest rated new show.” And there the irony compounds itself. The premise of the show is that Betty, an unattractive new hire at a fashion magazine, proves, in episode after episode, more beautiful inside than any of her physically beautiful co-workers, who are forever plotting the overthrow of the editor for whom Betty works. Ugly Betty is simply smarter, harder working, and better than the beautiful people. While the premise would seem to confirm the Great Truth of the skin-deepness myth, it actually, insidiously, also perpetuates the other myth, the one that it ostensibly attacks. The comedy, the basic premise upon which the show is built, depends upon our believing that unattractive people are incompetent dullards. Every time Betty achieves another coup, she disproves that belief—and makes us laugh in surprise. But she also re-enforces that belief. Her successes may also prove that beauty is only skin deep, but the comedic success of the program depends upon our continued conviction that physically unattractive people are unattractive in all other ways, too. Each of these propositions defines its opposite, like up does down; black, white. By proving one, you also prove the other. If we were ever to abandon the idea that unattractive people are incompetent dullards, “Ugly Betty” would cease to be funny because its premise would no longer be valid. Thus, the show, while seeming to promote a worthy notion—that plain-looking people have a surpassing inner beauty—also promotes its concomitant conviction—the less commendable idea that physically unattractive people are unattractive inside, too, and when they aren’t ( if ever), it’s surprising, so surprising that we laugh.
FOR BETTER OR FOR WORSE NO MORE. MAYBE.
Nine years ago, Lynn Johnston started telling people that she intended to retire in 2007. Her assumption then was that her widely circulated comic strip, For Better or For Worse, would cease with her retirement. But that’s no longer quite so clear. Johnston still plans to retire next fall, but what happens to the strip is still being discussed. Over the years, Johnston has acquired a staff which assists her in various aspects of the enterprise, and she probably feels some obligation to them, not to mention to her millions of readers. She recently told Patti Eddington at the Grand Rapids (Michigan) Press that she’d considered getting someone to continue the strip, “but she knew the scenario would never work: she would want to be involved,” said Eddington, going on to quote Johnston: “In my heart, I know I’d be over their shoulder all the time, like, as my father used to say, ‘a bad smell,’” she said, laughing. “I also thought about having someone take over the strip from Michael’s (the oldest son) point of view. But, ultimately, I decided I would like to stop.” After 28 years, she said, “I feel I’ve done the best I can do for as long as I can do it. It’s time.”
Meeting two deadlines a week keeps a person chained to the drawing board, and Johnston has been in shackles for nearly three decades. That sort of thing will breed a certain kind of hunger. Johnston will be sixty in May and looks forward to doing other things. “My parents died young,” she said. “I would like to jump out of an airplane again and bungee jump and see the Eiffel Tower—from the top.” Her husband is, among other things, a pilot.
The strip will not end, exactly, Johnston said. But the form of its continuation hasn’t yet been determined. It may be a sort of hybrid, incorporating some earlier, little seen work with some new material. And there might be a book “to catch readers up on what happens to the Pattersons.” But the Pattersons, Johnston’s fictional family based upon her own—Elly and John, the mother and father, and the children, Michael, Elizabeth and the youngest, April—will grow no older. We’ve watched the children grow up, little by little, year by year, and we’ve witnessed family tragedies, too, in the cartoonist’s reality-attuned fiction—Elly’s mother’s death and her father’s re-marriage, for example, and the death of the family’s lovable pet dog. Because Johnston wanted the strip to live authentically, its gentle humor derived from everyday happenings, she has delved occasionally into some controversial matters of ordinary life. Michael’s gay friend came out of the closet in the strip, and recently Elizabeth testified in the trial of a man charged with attempting to rape her.
Reality once impinged upon the strip in an unorthodox way. April arrived in the strip in 1991 as a sort of wish-fulfilment: “I wanted another baby,” Johnston said, “and since it wasn’t possible to do in reality, I made one up! Baby April appeared April First.” The most recent compilation of the strip from Andrews McMeel (136 8x9-inch black-and-white pages; paperback, $10.95) takes April into adolescence, She’s Turning Into One of Them!—namely, a teenager. The collected strips show us April encountering the usual obstacles of the teen years: snobby girls, sibling squabbles, playing in a band, dealing with a mother outraged at the skimpiness of her dress. We also see Michael getting accustomed to fatherhood as his family increases by one more, doubling the pleasure, and Michael’s friend and sometime collaborator, the photographer Weed, survives a hopeless infatuation with a super model and starts dating a woman who admires him. Elizabeth acquires an admirer, graduates from college, goes up north to teach, adopts a kitten, and runs into her highschool boyfriend, Anthony, whose marriage seems more than a little rocky. And later, in strips not yet collected, when he rescues her from her would-be rapist, we begin to wonder if the two of them are fated to spend even more time together. In this collection, when Anthony learns Elizabeth is going away to teach, he asks her to stay in touch. “I’ll e-mail,” she says.
The dimensions of the book permit reproduction of the daily and Sunday strips at a somewhat larger size than they appear in newspapers. Herein, they’re 7 inches wide; in many newspapers, they’re less than 6 inches wide. At the larger measure, Johnston’s meticulous artwork gets better display, and the panels seem much less crowded than they seem in newspapers. In recent years, the cartoonist has been cramming more story into every daily strip, and the narrative has become more and more verbal, speech balloons often threatening to elbow the pictures out of the panels. Johnston, however, struggles against this tendency: she puts as much picture into every panel as ever, but she does it by making the pictures smaller. This treatment needs more breathing room than the usual diminutive newspaper reproduction allows.
April makes the transition from little girl to young adult in this book. “When the strip concludes,” said Johnston, “she’ll be getting ready to go to university, she’ll be excited and scared. She’ll still be hanging out with the band. She would definitely, eventually, be a veterinarian because it’s one of the things that always interested me, and all of the characters in the strip are me.” Johnston realizes that many of her readers “mourn the loss of April as a child, with her bib overalls, pageboy haircut and Farley the dog by her side,” as Eddington puts it. “But Johnston hopes they take heart in the fact that April will forever remain a delightful and happy young person.”
The Long Chalkboard and Other Stories (136 6x8-inch pages in hardcover; $16.95) presents three short stories for “socially savvy” young adults and their “liberal-leaning” elders written by journalist and stand-up comedienne Jennifer Allen and illustrated by her husband, Jules Feiffer. The title tale is about a wall a couple provides in their new house for their children to scribble on. According to reviews at Amazon.com, as the house passes into the hands of successive owners, the wall magically endows those who add their graffiti to it with surpassing creativity: a woman who aspires to being a queen becomes a great filmmaker; instead of becoming a king, a boy turns out to be a math prodigy. The wall eventually hangs in the Smithsonian and ultimately comforts a lonely widow. In “What Happened,” a “stuffy children’s book author” accuses a rival of plagiarism but discovers love instead, and in “Judy’s Wonder Chili” an amateur chef’s magical concoction “undergoes an unpleasant transformation” when it is brewed for political purposes. Publishers Weekly sees Feiffer’s plotting hand in the last tale: “The chili cook becomes a cause celebre, and T-shirts announce ‘chili shouldn’t have an agenda.’” The review by Carl Hays of the American Library Association concludes: “Allen’s insightful, uplifting tales are perfectly complemented by Feiffer’s wry charcoal, pencil, and wash sketches, which imbue the collection with the flavor of contemporary fables.”
The first volume of the projected series reprinting all of Chester Gould’s classic Dick Tracy is out from IDW, $29.99. At 320-plus 7x9-inch pages, the book is another of those brick-square tomes, printing two daily strips per page, or one Sunday strip, each page studiously citing the dates of initial publication, a boon to scholarship. This volume includes the 5 strips Gould submitted in the summer of 1931 that attracted the attention of Joseph Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily News and honcho of the Tribune-News Syndicate. Patterson told Gould to change the title from Plainclothes Tracy to Dick Tracy, and the strip debuted on Sunday, October 4, 1931, in the Detroit Mirror, a tabloid recently launched by the Tribune-News. Dick Tracy was back the following Sunday, and then on Monday, it began its 7-day saga that has, so far, stretched into the next century. This volume takes the continuity up to May 20, 1933, and includes the Sunday strips that weren’t part of the continuity, October 4, 1931-May 22, 1932, as well as the Sundays that were, beginning May 29, 1932, albeit all in black-and-white. An introduction by Max Allan Collins, who wrote the strip from 1977 when Gould retired until 1993, features reprinting the first part of an interview Collins did with Gould that was published in Nemo No. 17. In the interview, Gould tells about his early life in Oklahoma and his ten-year sojourn at various Chicago newspapers while he kept submitting comic strip ideas to the Chicago Tribune. The strips, which are remarkable in clarity of reproduction, reveal that Tracy’s jaw, at first, wasn’t cleaver-edged. It was pointed but the point was somewhat rounded. It wasn’t until he’d been fighting crime for several months that we started to see thefamous profile. And through the subsequent years, we increasingly didn’t see Tracy any other way—just that knife-edged profile. At first, too, he seemed a little jauntier than he became: his eyebrows weren’t locked in a perpetual scowl, and he smiled.For the whole story of Gould and what he did to shape comic strip history, visit Harv’s Hindsight, “Chester Gould and the Morality Play of Law and Order”; click here.
And before we forget, the colored version of Jeff Smith’s Bone, now pouring out from Scholastic, is stunning, thanks to Steve Hamaker’s delicate manipulation of the palette.
I DON’T KNOW WHO SAID ANY OF THESE: THEY JUST APPEAR ON THE TOP LINE OF A LOCAL WEEKLY NEWSPAPER
Oh, sure. Even Communism works, in theory.
Everybody wants to go to Heaven; but nobody wants to die.
Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?
If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?
Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.
Always remember you’re unique—just like everyone else.
REPRINT: OVER THE HEDGE
Now that the movie “Over the Hedge” has slipped beyond the horizon into the gauzy past, it’s time to read the book. First things second. Or, should I say, fourth: Over the Hedge: Stuffed Animals (128 8x9-inch pages in paperback; Andrews McMeel, $10.95) is the fourth reprint collection of the strip about woodland critters on the satirical edge of human suburbia—just there, among the flora, just “over the hedge” beyond the patios and decks of middle-American self-indulgence. In the strip, written by Michael Fry and drawn by T Lewis, we meet RJ, a raccoon who does what raccoons do when confronted by the supposed civilization of human sapiens: he raids their trash cans for whatever discarded delicacies he can find, hoping for a stash of Twinkies. On his gorging forays, RJ is often accompanied by Verne, a box turtle who looks suspiciously like Rodney Dangerfield and who, with scathing logic, is as insecure and put upon as the bug-eyed comedian. Verne is always striving, without much luck, for self-improvement. RJ, on the other hand, thoroughly egotistical and somewhat cynical, thinks he’s already a perfect raccoon, so why bother? He does, however, want to extend his present state—of adolescence, irresponsibility, immaturity, “take your pick,” he says. On the application form, he is asked to explain why he deserves “an immaturity extension.” Because, RJ rants in response, “I’ve devoted my life to leisure arts! Arrested development is my middle name! I eat Twinkies for breakfast, lunch and dinner! I have NO idea who Dick Cheney is, or why everyone is so concerned about his health! And—I can’t spell PBS!” Says Verne: “I don’t know why they don’t give you permanent adolescent status.” “I’ve (bleep) earned it,” scowls RJ.
Poised just beyond suburbia’s backyard, RJ and Verne witness the pitiful machinations of the humans they see and comment thereon, often, and never to the credit of the humans. Observing two overweight couch potatoes, Verne asks: “What do you think will be the next stage in human evolution?” “The first one,” says RJ. Their idle interest in the human environment often leads them to comment on current preoccupations among the two-legged. RJ takes up stem cell research because he’s heard they can be used to grow new body parts. After a long pause, Verne says: “Your butt is not too big.” “It’s humongous,” exclaims RJ. But then the embryo controversy emerges when Verne observes that embryos are destroyed to get the stem cells. “So,” says RJ, “someone has to die so someone else can live?” Verne: “Depends. Is the embryo alive? Or does it just have a potential for life?” This completely discombobulates RJ. He sits, staring blankly ahead for three panels. Verne waves his hand in front of RJ’s eyes. No response. “Crashed again,” he concludes.
They only occasionally have any real contact with the humans. Most of what little occurs is centered on Clara, a two-year old, who, despite a fundamental ignorance of the world, can turn a barbed phrase. When Verne is distraught because he can’t find a hobby—something to do in his spare time—Clara reminds him that all his time is spare. “What you need is a job,” she says.
Lately, another of the woodland waifs has earned a place in the spotlight. Sammy, a completely nutty squirrel, begins to emerge from the furry masses in this volume, discovering, suddenly one day, that he has a tail. “I knew there was something there,” he says, “but I never really looked. Look—it wags!” Later, he rhapsodizes: “I got a tail and ears and fur and everything! I’m like a complete and total ...” Verne: “Squirrel.” Sammy: “What?! A squirrel?! No kidding! That’s such a coincidence! I always wanted to be a squirrel, and here I are one!” What did he think he was, RJ wants to know. “The reincarnation of Elvis,” Sammy says, running off. Verne says, “I always knew Elvis would be punished one day for ‘Viva Las Vegas.’”
Fry and Lewis began their collaboration 11 years ago, according to David Astor in Editor & Publisher, with a farm-based strip called The Secret Lives of Pigs. “Lewis swears he and Fry didn’t initially realize the title had the abbreviation of ‘SLOP.’” A skilled illustrator (15 children’s books so far), Lewis renders the adventures of this looney gaggle with a fine, airy, sketchy line, spotting blacks ingeniously as RJ’s ears, feet and tail stripes, and occasionally resorting to silhouette. He also adds a gray tone with a sandy texture to the art, giving the enterprise another eye-pleasing aspect. He varies Sunday strip layouts with panache, displaying his art sometimes in two-tier introductory panels, sometimes in panoramic panels. These variations are not, in themselves, risible, but they give visual variety to the presentation. Lewis dropped the period after the ‘T’ in his name because, he said, “after a while, it seemed extraneous.” The initial stands for Thomas, which he avoids because there are too many Thomases in his family. Fry has produced other comic strips over the years; his Committed just ended in February.
When the animated “Hedge” came out last May, Lis Schwarzbaum in Entertainment Weekly speculated, briefly, that it was an allegory about terrorists wining. Tim Johnson, co-director of the movie, thinks otherwise. The strip, he writes in the Foreword to the volume at hand, “is about the timeless battle between living for the moment and planning for the future. Between immediate gratification and inner fulfillment. Between the id and the superergo. Between RJ and Verne.” We’re all both RJ and Verne, he avers. “Verne and RJ need each other. And we need them. This outdoor odd couple holds up a fun-house mirror to our contemporary obsessions. From the safety of their wilderness vantage point, they show us humans as we really are: a race of navel-gazing, pop-culture-enslaved hedonists encroaching on their pristine habitat.” As for the movie version, it did well. Very well. Released May 19, it had earned $150 million by early July, ranking about 16th in the summer’s top 20. And now the DVD has been released.
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
Peter Hart, described by Jann S. Wenner in the November 30 issue of Rolling Stone, as a non-partisan pollster, said, when asked how George W. (“Whopper”) Bush would rate historically: “The Bush presidency will be at the bottom of the heap, period. It will be not only a presidency without accomplishments but a presidency that put America on the wrong track. This is an administration that knew how to play politics but didn’t understand the sweep of history. The next administration and the administration after that will be digging out from everything that Bush has left us in. Iraq, civil liberties, human rights, basic domestic policies—in each and every case, they played the political card rather than the American card.” Here, here. Wish I’d said that. Well, I guess I have been, more-or-less.
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