Opus 203 (April 3, 2007). Featured this time are Frank Miller—his “300" and the a-borning Spirit—plus, Bill Mauldin, Cartoonist of the Year candidates from the National Cartoonists Society, a long review of La Perdida, and short reviews of Killed Cartoons and American Gone Wild, a fond farewell to Jay Kennedy and another to Marshall Rogers, and Ted Rall’s plea for Ann Coulter. But before we get to all that, don’t forget to drop in at our Fabulous Book Sale, this season’s listing of various treasures gleaned from the Happy Harv’s overflowing shelves; previously listed books have suffered a slight new reduction in price for the occasion. And now, here’s what’s here, in order, by Department:
NOUS R US
Payola in the Comics?
Anniversary at Humor Times
Make Your Own Editoon at Funny Times
Ellison v. Fantagraphics Goes On Apace
Stan Lee Sues Again
World’s Largest Holding of Original Cartoons
Sacco’s Latest Comics Reportage: This Time, Iraq
Marshall Library Restores Graphic Novels
More About the Pooh Case
“Song of the South” to Return?
Walter Mosley’s Favorite Books
Cartoonist of the Year Nominations
FRANK MILLER’S LATEST ADVENTURES
Bill Mauldin Up-to-Date
Pending New Publications
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Dynamo 5, Return of the Super Pimps, Welcome to Tranquility, Spider-Ham, Spellgame, Walk-In, and More (albeit briefly)
The Return, Again, of the Danish Dozen
Flemming Rose Interviewed
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
Word of the Year Announced
Scanty Coverage of Anna Nicole Smith
Luckovich in Newsweek Thrice in a Single Issue
Killed Cartoons Reviewed
America Gone Wild: Cartoons by Ted Rall Reviewed
JAY KENNEDY OBIT
Bobby London’s Popeye Abortion
Marshall Rogers Obit
Richard Sala on Comics Mechanisms
Best and Worst U.S. Presidents
A New Kind of Justice in the Justice Department
La Perdida Reviewed
Ted Rall Pleads for Ann Coulter
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—
NOUS R US
All the News That Gives Us Fits
The Daily Item of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, according to Editor & Publisher, added ten comic strips March 20 without dropping any of its present line-up to make room. Unprecedented. ... Rob Harrell ended his Big Top strip’s five-year run on March 25 for “both professional and financial reasons”; the strip was in about 40 newspapers, not enough to make a living at, I fear, and Harrell had other career choices to make, no doubt. ... Prince Valiant, ComicsReporter.com reminded us, turned 70 on February 13. And come May 22, we’ll reach the 100th anniversary of the birth of Georges Remi, who, when he re-arranged his initials backwards and pronounced them aloud, became the world renowned Herge; we’ll be celebrating here, come May. ... Charles Schulz, creator of Peanuts and so avid a skater that he built a skating rink near his studio in Santa Rosa, California, has been posthumously elected to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.
From E&P, a concern was voiced by a reader of the Times Union in Albany, NY, that comic strips were mentioning brand name products for remuneration. Product placement is a fact in some media, but not, apparently, in the comics. Amy Lago, comics editor at the Washington Post Writers Group, said she knows of no cartoonists with contracts for touting products. The brand/company mentions, she says, are due to simple consumerism: we live in a consumer society, and “cartoonists are consumers, too.” At United Media syndicate, Mary Anne Grimes said much the same, adding that brand names are frequently mentioned in ordinary conversation. “A [comic strip character] would say, ‘I need a Band-Aid’ as opposed to ‘I need an adhesive bandage’ because that is the way a regular person would speak.” ... But Wiley Miller in his Non Sequitur for March 12 pursued the matter to another logical conclusion. Young Danae raises the issue with her father, who says he doubts that any cartoonists have any deals, but he wouldn’t be surprised if some cartoonists mention products, hoping to get free samples. “Even if they are getting payola,” he continues, “those lovable lunks deserve it, so don’t worry about it, Porsche.” His daughter responds: “Uh, Daddy? My name is Danae.” “Not anymore,” her father says, “—now where’s your sister, Courvoisier, and her dog, Rolex?”
April is the 16th anniversary of the Comic Press News, the advertising-bearing parent publication of the advertisement-less Humor Times, a scintillating monthly collection of cartoons and columnists devoted to political comment and other hilarities; and to celebrate, James Israel, the publisher, is offering, through April, $16 yearly subscriptions to the latter, in the U.S. only; regular subscription is $17.95. Consult the website, www.humortimes.com ... At the website of another of my monthly fixes of political cartoonery, Funny Times, you can make your own editoon, “drawing” from an array of images of political personages as caricatured by Matt Wuerker, plus an assortment of props, bodies, backgrounds, word balloons and other visual accouterments. Go to www.funnytimes.com and click on Cartoon Playground. You can e-mail your constructions to friends and foes, as you choose. ... Doonesbury fans can now watch videos of Garry Trudeau's Uncle Duke character campaigning for office, saith E&P. Six short videos from “Duke 2000—Whatever It Takes” will be uploaded to the uclick website twice a month through Doonesbury.com and YouTube.com. ... Screenwriter John August is planning to bring Captain Marvel, the Big Red Cheese himself, to the silver screen; but not much more is known.
Fantagraphics Books, Inc. (FBI), lost a motion to dismiss Harlan Ellison’s suit on technical grounds, so, as Beth Davis reports at BrokenFrontier.com, “it looks like the case will go to trial.” As we said before (Opus 192), Ellison is suing for libel and to prevent Fantagraphics from using his name on the cover of a book that includes an interview with him. Interviewed by Davis, Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth said the FBI position is that the so-called libelous matter consists of anecdotes about Ellison’s conduct during the notorious Michael Fleisher trial that are (a) opinion and (b) true, both of which are legally permissible in a free country. As for the second aspect of the Ellison suit, the sf writer’s name is among several listed on the book’s cover as a way of indicating to prospective buyers the content of the publication. Groth said that he expects their side to prevail: “We’re absolutely convinced that this is a frivolous and meritless suit that we will win in a jury trial.” But it will be expensive, a likely quarter-of-a-million dollars worth of expensive, so Fantagraphics has launched a fund-raising effort, the Fantagraphics Legal Defense Fund. FBI is, as you may have gathered, my publisher, both for the Caniff biography and in its Comics Journal where a column of mine appears regularly. But even if I weren’t a kept hack typist, I’d think Ellison’s suit is the silly self-indulgence of a small man with an outsized ego and I’d urge you to go to http://www.fantagraphics.com/support.html where you can contribute to the FBI cause.
Upset that both the Tribune company big guns, the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune, have dropped his Candorville strip, cartooner Darrin Bell, in an unguarded moment at BradBlog.com, wondered if the loss would lead other papers to cancel the strip, leading, inevitably, to its ultimate demise. But he quickly righted himself at E&P, saying: "While I'm disappointed with Chicago and L.A., and my disappointment was reflected in my initial comments to BradBlog, mine is an otherwise growing list [of subscribing papers], and I have no intention of quitting, not until I die or the newspaper industry goes under—whichever comes first. Candorville attracts the same demographics as 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report' —two extraordinarily popular tv shows that, not coincidentally, focus on socio-political humor. This is what my generation wants from their entertainment. We want hard-hitting, funny satire that takes issues on directly, not just mindless escapism. ... That Marmaduke and Blondie are safe in L.A.—a city where the majority does NOT look or live like Blondie and Dagwood— says more about the L.A. Times preferring blandness to excitement and wanting to disengage from readers rather than making them think and keeping them entertained with material that's relevant to their worlds. Thankfully, most papers we deal with recognize the value of using edgy, diverse features to attract a younger demographic. Those papers are looking out for their futures rather than catering to their past, and as long as those papers are out there, I'll be around drawing Candorville."
Stan Lee Media, an internet company founded by Peter F. Paul in partnership with the legendary Marvel personality—an enterprise that went bankrupt when Paul was found guilty of improperly manipulating the company’s stock prices, entirely unbeknownst to Lee—is now suing Marvel Entertainment, claiming it is entitled to 50 percent of the profits Marvel makes off some of the comic book characters in its stable. By what convulsion of reasoning this is credible I can’t say, or imagine. Neither can Lee. “I do not support this action and believe it to be baseless,” CBC Arts reports him as saying. The suit, Lee added, is “without merit.” He brought suit against this bogus company in January, challenging the legitimacy of its new management, calling them “rogue opportunists” seeking to capitalize upon his work and fame.
Andrew Arnold, who operated a comics blog for Time.com, has taken a buyout package and has discontinued his Time.comix online feature. In bidding his readers farewell, Arnold said when he started the column five years ago, “comix and graphic novels were just barely beginning to get serious attention. ... My philosophy ... [was] to offer supportive reviews of books that I found interesting. There seemed little point in telling a comix-averse audience not to read comix. The perfect Time.comix review would be a brief guide to how to appreciate art works whose context and language would be unknown to a large number of the general readership.” But since that inauspicious beginning, he continued, “graphic novels have gone from a publishing backwater to being the only book category displaying any growth at all. ... Now virtually all the major print and online media that cover books have at least some sort of graphic novel coverage, if not dedicated critics.” While he doesn’t say that his mission has been accomplished, it’s clear that Arnold doesn’t believe cartooning needs the boost it needed when he started. True, the void he leaves behind will scarcely become a black hole, sucking comics into it to disappear forevermore. Comics, in other words, will thrive just fine without Arnold’s attention. If you want to contact Arnold (provided, he cautions, that your purpose “doesn’t involve penis extensions or real estate in Africa”), try firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last time, discussing the claims of the Brussels international center of comic strip art as “the world’s most important comic-strip museum,” I remembered that both the Library of Congress and Mort Walker’s National Cartoon Museum have larger holdings than the Brussels’ pile of 6,000 original drawings by 500 cartoonists. I forgot that another repository, not a museum admittedly but a vast holding nonetheless, surpasses all of these. This May, the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University celebrates its 30th anniversary and counts in its vaults 250,000 pieces of original art, plus 2.5 million comic strip clippings and tearsheets, 34,500 books, and 51,000 additional “serial” titles (comic books, newsletters of various cartoonist associations and the like). The CRL was created in 1977 when Milton Caniff donated some of his papers (15 file cabinets and 60 boxes worth) to his alma mater. That’s when Lucy S. Caswell got involved: a journalism professor, she was assigned to spend six months sorting and cataloguing the Caniff collection. According to E&P (March 2007), she “soon decided that she liked her new job too much to leave after six months.” Through her efforts and those of others, new acquisitions came in, including the papers of Will Eisner and Walt Kelly. After that, the deluge continued, producing, to-date, the numbers I just cited. I’ve known Lucy since 1982 when I first visited the CRL during the OSU weekend feting Caniff on his 75ht birthday. Since then, we’ve worked together frequently on Caniff projects (many of the illustrations in the Caniff biography are taken from CRL holdings) and others. And I hope to continue in the same vein. PROGRESS REPORT: The “definitive” Caniff biography is now at the printer, due out in May from Fantagraphics; entitled Meanwhile...: A Biography of Milton Caniff, Creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon, it’s a 950-page hardcover tome selling for a mere $34.95; I’ll be selling autographed copies here. (My autograph, not Caniff’s.) When Caniff and I first met to discuss my doing his “definitive” (his term) biography, he said he wanted it to be entitled “Meanwhile” because, he explained, “if there is one word that sums up the trade of the continuing story cartoonist, it’s ‘meanwhile.’ He later elaborated: “You always end an adventure just one panel short of a full day’s strip so you can get the next story going in that last panel. And in that panel, you go to another part of the city and draw a villainous character, muttering imprecations about your hero. Dire threats. And up in the corner—to introduce this new threat—you letter that potent, scene-shifting word, ‘meanwhile.’”
The current issue of Harper’s (April) carries 16 pages of “comics reportage” from Joe Sacco. This time, Sacco is in Iraq and is visiting a training camp in Anwar province where U.S. Marines are endeavoring to whip “a motley group” of Iraqi National Guardsmen into shape. Judging from Sacco’s report, the training consists mostly of making Iraqis do push-ups because they aren’t otherwise performing up to Marine standards. The Marine non-coms in charge of the drill are as merciless on Iraqis as they are on American recruits, but it apparently isn’t having the same results, toughening bodies and strengthening esprit d’corps. One young Iraqi explains to Sacco: “If you work for the Americans, the mujahadeen will kill you; if you work for the mujahadeen, the Americans will kill you; and if you stay home, you won’t earn any money.” That’s about what I’ve been thinking: young Iraqis join their national guard or army because there’s no other way of earning money. But that’s not a sufficient motivation for building a fighting unit like the lauded U.S. Marines.
In Marshall, Missouri, the Public Library put Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Craig Thompson’s Blankets back on the shelves. Last October, the Library had removed the two award-winning graphic novels from circulation because a hysterical clutch of “concerned parents” had objected to those aspects of the books that had sexual content, saying they would corrupt adolescent readers, who, naturally, never have anything remotely approaching “sex” on their minds. The Library’s action, however, was only temporary: the final disposition of the books would depend upon the acquisitions policy that the board moved to formulate in the wake of the protest. Observers in the comics industry awaited the outcome with trepidation: if the books were to be permanently banned from this town’s public library, the action could reverberate throughout the industry, stunting growth and development of the art form in much the same way that Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent did in the mid-1950s. (See my review of this landmark tome here in Hindsight.) The policy that the Library’s board adopted, while not detailed in Rachel Harper’s report in the Marshall Democrat-News, permitted—even demanded—that the books be made available to Library patrons. Board member Katye Elsa said: “There’s no way we can remove those [books] from the Library from [the policy] we’ve adopted.” Another board member agreed: “From what we have written, they need to stay.” After approving the new policy by a vote of seven to one, the board also voted to move Blankets from the teen section of the Library to the adult section, where Fun Home has always been shelved.
The Slesingers have won the latest bout in the long-running fight with Disney over rights and royalties in the notorious Pooh Case. But this victory apparently has no bearing on the central issue between the two parties: in 1991, the Slesingers filed a suit, claiming that Disney was seriously (and fraudulently) in arears in paying royalties on Pooh products. That issue has yet to be resolved, as I understand it. Stephen Slesinger, the patriarch of family, a New York agent and merchandiser, had acquired rights in 1930 from Pooh creator A.A. Milne to merchandise the Pooh character. The Slesingers transferred those rights to Disney in 1961 in exchange for ongoing royalty payments. The Slesinger licensing agreement with Milne was renewed in 1983, by which time the Disney Pooh Empire had been launched with the first Pooh film in 1966. The burgeoning success of the ever-growing Pooh enterprise prompted the Slesingers to speculate about just how much money was being generated—or, more precisely, how much of that money was being diverted from their pockets into the Disney coffers. In a subsequent skirmish, the Slesingers lost a round because they apparently acquired documents illegally (or some such). Meanwhile, the descendants of Milne and E.H. Shepard, whose illustrations of the silly old bear and his woodland pals created the popular image of Milne’s stories and thus assured their success, were somehow inveigled into attempting to re-assert their rights to the characters under U.S. copyright law. Disney agreed to finance their suit in exchange for the relatives’ assigning merchandising rights to the Burbank entertainment giant. Had the Milne-Shepard combine won the case, the Slesingers would be left out in the cold, and Disney would then enjoy an undisputed right to keep on dipping without let or hindrance into the billion-dollar Pooh revenue stream.
Footnit: Slesinger also owns Red Ryder; Shirley, Stephen’s widow, subsequently married Fred Lasswell, who did Snuffy Smith for a record 57 years, from late 1942 until he died in March 2000.
Meanwhile, chances are improving that Disney will release again, perhaps on DVD, its first big live-action film, the 1946 “Song of the South,” which introduced the Oscar-winning song, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” The film has been criticized as racist for its depiction of Southern plantation blacks, and in deference to that sensitivity, Disney has kept it locked away in its vaults. The live-action introduces a young white boy to a kindly old black man living in a shanty on the plantation, and Uncle Remus, for it is he, then tells the kid stories about Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear, which transpire in the liveliest animation sequences. But Uncle Remus presents a fraudulent portrait of Southern blacks, say the film’s critics. (Critics say approximately the same thing about Joel Chandler Harris’ stories in which Uncle Remus was created.) Disney’s “Dumbo” was kept on the shelf for decades because of the black crows sequence in which a feathered chorus marvels at Dumbo’s flying ability, all in stereotypical black dialect; but “Dumbo” was eventually released again, after winning applause in various selected screenings. According to Travis Reed at the Associated Press, “nearly 115,000 people have signed an online petition urging Disney to make ‘Song of the South’ available.” And CEO Bob Iger recently said they’d take a look at it. I chanced upon a bootleg copy of the movie years ago. A folksinger playing upstairs in Denver’s historic Buckhorn Exchange saloon and restaurant sang “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” and asked if anyone knew where the song originated. I did and said so, and afterwards, I asked him if he knew if any videos were available. He did, and he gave me a name and phone number. Later, when I phoned the number, I reached a convivial fellow who told me that he’d run across a stash of “Song of the South” videos at a flea market years before, and, knowing the value of trove, he bought them all. He took my name and address and said he’s send me a copy and a bill. “Don’t you want me to pay in advance by credit card?” I asked. “Nope,” he said: “my experience is that anyone who asks for this video is completely trustworthy.” And so wonders never cease.
Newsweek regularly asks authors to name five books that are their favorites. In the April 2 issue, the editors queried Walter Mosley, creator of Easy Rawlins, a Los Angeles African American who frequently finds himself drafted into private investigator work in such novels as Devil in a Blue Dress. Mosley played the naming game but he started by disputing its premise: the most important books, he said, are read before the age of twelve, so any list of books read later must be wholly arbitrary. Mosley’s “five most important books” included The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud and The Stranger by Albert Camus, and he finished with Nos. 1-100 of the Fantastic Four, saying: “Jack Kirby’s work with Stan Lee creates an image of my childhood which carried me into fiction.” I don’t think Mosley read much Freud or Camus before the age of twelve, but I can believe him about the Fantastic Four. I can’t make sense of what he’s quoted as saying, though. An image of his childhood in blue spandex carried him into writing fiction? Or maybe he means he encountered the fiction Kirby and Lee created while in his childhood, and their fiction made him think he could write some of his own. That’s better. In the April 2 issue of The Nation, Mosley celebrated the 80th birthday of the “King of Calypso,” Harry Belafonte, calling for a permanent memorial: “Harry Belafonte is the best of us. Black and beautiful, brave and unwavering, willing to upset the apple cart and to lend a helping hand 365 days of the year. He entertained us not when we had given up hope but when we didn’t even know that hope was an option. He has spoken for us not only when we were silent but when we weren’t even aware of the words that burned in our breasts. When we whisper, he shouts and sings and calls upon gods whose names we have forgotten. ... I believe that as a people, beyond our corrupt oligarchic government, we should name a day for our best and brightest and most beautiful. I think we should spread the word that the first day of spring is Harry Belafonte Day, or Day-O, because he is our beginning and our hope forever.” Okay: we’re spreading the word.
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. Three other sites laden with cartooning news and lore are Mark Evanier’s www.povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s www.DailyCartoonist.com, and Tom Spurgeon’s www.comicsreporter.com. And then there’s Mike Rhode’s ComicsDC blog, http://www.comicsdc.blogspot.com
CARTOONIST OF THE YEAR PENDING
National Cartoonists Society Nominates Candidates for the Reuben Award
The creators of FoxTrot, Speed Bump, and Bizarro are this year's nominees for the National Cartoonists Society's Reuben Award as cartoonist of the year. That’s Bill Amend, Dave Coverly and Dan Piraro, respectively—one comic strip cartoonist and, in order, two panel cartoon ‘tooners, all syndicated. Universal Press, Creators, and King Features, respectively. No non-syndicated candidates this year. There seldom are. In the entire history of NCS, few unsyndicated cartoonists have been nominated for the Reuben. All three nominees have been nominees in previous years. None has ever won. In March, members of NCS voted by mail on this slate of candidates, and the winner will be disclosed on May 26 during the Memorial Day weekend convention in Orlando, Fla. At the Reuben Awards Banquet that night, winners will also be named in12 categories, or “divisions.” Finalists in each were selected by NCS chapters, who are assigned a different division every year. This year’s crop follows:
Nominees for best comic strip cartoonist are Bill Griffith (Zippy the Pinhead/King), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine/United Media),and Mark Tatulli (Lio/Universal). Best comic panel finalists are Tony Carrillo (F Minus/United), Hilary Price (Rhymes With Orange/King), and Kieran Meehan, who is listed on the nominee roster as doing Meehan; but E&P's syndicate directories indicate that Meehan formerly created Meehan Streak for Tribune Media Services and now does A Lawyer, A Doctor & A Cop for King.
Editorial cartoonist nominees are Mike Lester of the Rome (Ga.) News-Tribune and Cagle Cartoons, Glenn McCoy of the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat and Universal, and Mike Ramirez of Investor's Business Daily and Copley News Service. Interestingly, as E&P’s David Astor observed, all three finalists are conservatives in an editorial cartooning profession consisting mostly of liberal and centrist creators. (Makes me wonder which chapter did the editorial cartoonist selection this year.) Nominees for newspaper illustration are Sean Kelly, Robert Sanchuk, and Laurie Triefeldt.
Several nominees in non-newspaper categories have syndication connections. For instance, two of the book illustration finalists are the aforementioned Mike Lester (for 93 in My Family) and Non Sequitur cartoonist Wiley Miller of Universal (for The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil). The third nominee in this category is Adrian Sinnott. And one of the greeting card finalists is Carla Ventresca, who does the Creators-distributed On a Claire Day comic with Henry Beckett. The two other nominees in this category are Pat Byrnes and Kevin Ahern. Also, feature animation nominees include the "Over the Hedge" movie (based on the strip of the same name by Michael Fry and T Lewis of United) and "Open Season" (which In the Bleachers cartoonist Steve Moore of Universal helped create); the third nominee is “Ice Age 2.” Individuals nominated for their work in these films are, in order: Tim Johnson and Karey Kirkpatrick, directors; Carter Goodrich, character design; and Peter De Seve, character design.
Categories which include no syndication connection are: television animation—David Hulin (Geico Gecko), Steve Loter (Kim Possible), and Craig McCracken (Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends); advertising illustration—Craig McCay, Jack Pittman, and Tom Richmond; magazine illustration—Steve Brodner, Tom Richmond, and Jean-Jacques Sempe; and gag cartoons—Drew Dernavich, Mick Stevens, P.C. Vey (all New Yorker ’tooners).
The comic book category once again reflects NCS’s historically abysmal appreciation of this genre. All three nominees are for the creators of graphic novels, not comic books: Acocella Marchetto (Cancer Vixen), Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese) and Marjane Satrapi (Chicken with Plums). NCS will fix this gross ineptitude in future, I’m told, creating a new category for Graphic Novel.
During the Reuben ceremonies, Beetle Bailey’s Mort Walker, the undisputed “dean of American cartoonists,” will receive the Gold Key Award, the Society’s equivalent of a Hall of Fame. Others in the Hall of Fame are Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), Edwina Dumm (Capt Stubbs and Tippie), Raeburn Van Buren (Abbie ’n’ Slats), Herbert Block (Herblock, editorial cartoonist), Rube Goldberg (Boob McNutt and editorial cartoons), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon), and Arnold Roth (freelance). Walker, a past president of NCS and previous winner (in 1953) of the Reuben, has won just about every award the Society bestows, except the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award; and he’ll doubtless get that before long. About the “dean” designation: John T. McCutcheon, the long-time editorial cartoonist at the Chicago Tribune, used to quip that this mantle fell on whoever was the oldest still-working cartooner; he said this when the mantle was draped on him. Congratulations, Mort.
But before we go further in this expedition, take a moment to make sure that there isn’t a long lost book listed in our Book Sale that you’ve been looking for; click here to be transported there. While the listing includes books we didn’t sell previously, the prices of all of those have been lowered somewhat. Always a bargain, they’re even more so now.
THINGS I WISH I’D SAID
The land that never was but must be—the land where everyman is free. —Dunno Who
“Isn’t it weird how we young people have become those people we thought were old? We spend long hours at work, we argue philosophy over coffee and alcohol, and—most notably—we shake hands when we meet each other.”—Tatyana Safronova in the local college weekly, Buzz.
“Hope isn’t your friend. Beer is your friend.” —Michael Coulter, Buzz
Frank Miller’s Latest Movie Triumph (with a Spiritual Footnote)
When Frank Miller was five years old, his brother took him to see a movie about 300 Spartans standing off the invading thousands of the Persian army. Haunted by the memory of that sacrificial stand in the pass at Thermopylae, Miller eventually gave the historic battle his own interpretation in a 5-issue mini-series published by Dark Horse in 1998. And then director Zack Snyder turned Miller’s graphic novel into a new motion picture, “300,” which, according to USAToday, “held on to the top spot at the box office” its second weekend, its revenues for the first two weeks topping $127 million. It grossed $70 million the first weekend, “the biggest March debut ever,” saith Evan Thomas in Time, adding that the movie “may be none too cerebral, but it is disturbingly beautiful,” looking and feeling “like a lavish slash-and-chop videogame.” Among the bad guys in the film, Thomas notes, are “corrupt Spartan politicians who refuse to send more troops to the battle,” an echo of right-wing accusations about liberal Democrats voting against the surge in Iraq. On the other hand, he continues, “the Spartan heroes seem to be in love with what one of them calls ‘a beautiful death’—just like, er, Islamic suicide bombers.” Snyder, a comics fan who stayed away from the medium until Alan Moore and Frank Miller revitalized it, used Miller’s graphic novel as a storyboard in filming the epic. Interviewed by Joseph McCabe in the Comics Buyer’s Guide, Snyder said he very early decided that the best way to bring Miller’s work to the screen was to follow Miller’s book. “I had it next to my director’s chair, and I would just open it every time, in every scene,” Snyder said. “Most of the time, I would just do whatever Frank had drawn in the book.”
And Miller, whose Sin City graphic novel had served similarly for its film version, was very pleased. “This is the movie I wanted to see when I was five, seeing ‘The 300 Spartans’ for the first time” he exclaimed. “I wanted to see this!” Snyder’s movie, Miller told Stephen Garrett at Esquire.com, “really is my comic book come to life.” Garrett wanted to know why, after all the research for the graphic novel, Miller ultimately disregarded historical accuracy.
“The Spartans were dressed like beetles when they went into battle,” said Miller. “They wore half their body weight in armor. And I wanted them to be big, physical, and fast. As a cartoonist, I’m a caricaturist. First you find out what somebody really looks like, and then you find out what they really look like.”
Given Miller’s less than ecstatic experiences in Hollywood writing two RoboCop movies, Garrett was surprised to find the cartoonist so enthusiastic about motion pictures. “What I learned there,” said Miller, deploying a pungent metaphor, “is that your screenplay is a fire hydrant with an awful lot of dogs lined up behind it. And I wasn’t interested at all in directing: I just wanted to draw my comics. It took Robert Rodriguez to drag me, kicking and screaming, into movie-making again.”
Although he wasn’t on the “300” set as he was for the “Sin City” effort, Miller was a profound presence. Said Snyder: “I’m sure in some ways we were more careful [following his book] than we would have been [because we didn’t have] Frank with us every minute.” And Miller was quick to respond long-distance to any question Snyder posed, on one occasion sending the movie-maker a scale drawing of the Spartan sword, the details of which Snyder couldn’t quite make out in the graphic novel. But this film is likely to be the last time Miller turns his work over to others to film. With “Sin City” and “300" to his credit, Miller can probably write his own ticket in the near future, but, as I interpret his comments to CBG editor Maggie Thompson, his ticket will be on the drawing board a good part of the time. Said Miller: “I really most want to remain a vital force in the field [of comics, I assume he means] and be a part of the changes that are coming. I don’t know where it is going. I don’t know where my own work is going. I’ve got a lot of ideas and I’m pursuing them, of course; but most of all I want to stay engaged with it as an artist.”
Miller told Garrett that his next stories are likely to be graphic novels first, then, probably, movies. “That way, once it’s all drawn, people kind of have to agree with it,” he said. “It’s very time-consuming, but it means you can shoot fast [when translating the book into film], and everybody knows what it is. First and foremost, it’s a comic book; and then if people want to translate it, I’m willing. I’m a great believer in drawing twice from the same well.”
He professes complete infatuation with CGI. “It’s great for conveying a cartoonist’s sense of reality,” he said. “I’m like a kid in a candy store, getting to use sound, and working with real actors was probably the biggest dream come true for me. But it’s odd drawing Sin City again ... It’ll be funny drawing Nancy Callahan jumping across the stage with Jessica Alba stuck in my head.”
At CBG, Maggie Thompson finished by giving away Miller’s image secret. He’s almost always scowling at the camera when photographed, the epitome of an angry young man. “Don’t be confused by his glower, his lifted eyebrow,” said Thompson; “it’s a stance he has routinely adopted when posing for photos. When the camera is put away, he breaks into laughter.”
Miller’s work in progress is a graphic novel about Batman kicking Osama bin Laden’s butt, I understand. And then there’s the Spirit movie, the celluloid incarnation of Will Eisner’s iconic character. Michael Uslan has the rights to the motion picture version, and, as reported in CBG, he told Eisner before the cartoonist died that he wouldn’t let anyone touch the property unless they understood the character and the concept. And there the project languished until Uslan ran into Miller at the memorial service for Eisner in early 2005. They talked about the “Sin City” movie and how its technology might pave the way to the Spirit movie. Then Uslan read the Dark Horse interview tome, Eisner/Miller, and realized Miller was destined to write and direct the Spirit movie. “When we first offered the job to Frank,” Uslan said, “he refused, claiming there was no way he could attempt to bring the great work of Will Eisner to the screen. About three minutes later, he agreed [to do it], realizing that he couldn’t let anyone else touch it.”
But one other creative intelligence is touching it. Eisner. Said Uslan: “Frank later would take his story outline and photocopy all of Eisner’s Spirit tales, then cut them up into sequences and even individual panels, placing them up on his wall until they fit into the movie story he laid out.” Miller occasionally drew in connective scenes, but “the movie has been storyboarded by Will Eisner—with an assist from Frank Miller.”
Meanwhile, Zack Snyder is gearing up turn Alan Moore’s Watchmen into a motion picture. And the way he approaches the project will be shaped, he told Jamie Portman at CanWest News Service, by what he learned making “300,” some of which he learned from Miller’s graphic novel.
MIND-BOGGLING FACTOIDS ON WAL-MART
Stolen, of course, from the Ether
At Wal-Mart, Americans spend $36,000,000 every hour of every day, which works out to be $20,928 profit every minute.
Wal-Mart is the largest company in the world.
Wal-Mart now sells more food than any other store in the world—more than Kroger and Safeway combined—an achievement realized in only fifteen years. Wal-Mart now has approximately 3,900 stores in the U.S., of which 1,906 are SuperCenters; this is 1,000 more stores than it had just five years ago.
This year, 7.2 billion different purchasing experiences will occur at Wal-Mart stores. The population of the Earth is merely 6.5 billion.
And, finally, 90 percent of Americans live without 15 miles of a Wal-Mart.
I live within 10 miles of two WalMart SuperCenters, and I shop at both of them.
MAULDIN UP TO DATE
The Jean Albano Gallery at 215 West Superior Street in Chicago is one of those hole-in-the-wall places that make you wonder whether they’re a business or a public service. The gallery is little more than one medium length hallway, terminating in a workroom at the back where, presumably, works of art are matted and framed for display in the hallway. Hardly anyone was there when I was there, and I can’t think my five buck (as recommended) donation would go very far in paying the salary of the docent sitting at the counter near the front. Some of the original cartoons on the wall were for sale, so I suppose the gallery makes ends meet by selling them. But I still think galleries like this one are run as a charitable institutions rather than as a business enterprise. I was visiting on this particular day in December 2006 because the notice in the paper had said there’d be some Bill Mauldin originals exhibited. And there they were—about three dozen of them. Most of them were drawn in the 1970s, and the thing that knocked me over was how pertinent they were to our present circumstances. Cartoons about the spinelessness of Congress, the country’s dependence upon Mideast oil, and terrorism. The terrorism cartoons astounded me: because I’m just about as myopic and oblivious as the next guy, I hadn’t realized that terrorism in the Mideast has been a presence for as long as it has. But it has. Here’s Mauldin drawing cartoons about terrorist violence in the mid-1970s while the rest of us go blithely about our business of ignoring a gathering disaster.
Terrorism has clearly been around for a lot longer than I’d thought. “Modern terrorism” I mean. Terrorism is, I think, a manifestation of a feeling of political helplessness: if you believe you cannot relieve any of the misery of your life through existing channels of civic behavior, you are likely to lash out in rage and despair. You commit an act of terrorism. And we’ll probably see a lot more of it and for much longer than we suppose.
A popular mythology in barroom bull sessions used to be that the American experiment would fail for the same reasons Rome fell: Rome was not conquered by an outside force; it deteriorated and collapsed because of an internal moral decadence. Several years ago, I chanced upon another more likely, it seems to me, parallel in ancient history. India. Without at this moment digging up reams of reference, let me simply blurt out that India, once a great civilization, decayed because its population became too large. And therefore too helpless. Convinced that they couldn’t help themselves to better lives on this side of the grave, the populace adopted philosophies and religions that negated the world they lived in—the world they despaired of—in favor of a life hereafter, a blissful nirvana. This life doesn’t matter; only the next life matters. Since happiness was not possible in this life, they hoped—believed, profoundly—that it would prevail in the next life. And it was the density of population that brought on this fatalist philosophy: there were so many people that attending to them was beyond the capacity of the government just as it was beyond the ability of individuals to effect change.
As the population in the U.S. increased through the 20th century, I occasionally imagined the spectre of political helplessness surfacing, and so I looked around for signs of an increase in the sort of spiritual life that Indians had adopted as a way of negating helplessness. With the emergence of the Righteous Right, we see some evidence that many Americans have become more “spiritual.” And so instead of seeking to improve their lot through civic action—which they feel, increasingly, is impossible to achieve by individual action—they wait for the Rapture, the End of Times, when everything will be better. For some. But in this country and in others, many people opted to combat their own individual helplessness through group activity. Instead of choosing a passive escape route, they took action. In this country, the success of the great civil rights movement of the latter half of the century demonstrated that individual citizens, banded together, could achieve improvements that would make their lives better. Still, it was by banding together, mobbing up in the streets, rampaging even, that some progress towards racial equity was achieved. Terrorism. People who feel helpless will either adopt attitudes that foster passivity and acceptance or attitudes that incite them to action. Terrorism. The density of population in Western nations and the political repression in the autocratic kingdoms of the Mideast both, it seems to me, are more likely in this day and age to encourage a break with orderly civic behavior than to breed passivity. Terrorism.
Sorry: slipped into a reverie of tedium there for a moment. But I deserve it after all these paragraphs that scintillate. Back to Mauldin. Here’s what he said about the famed cartoon he drew upon learning of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. “It was one of those days, as with the Sunday of Pearl Harbor, which you remember in detail from then on—where you were sitting and what you were saying to whom when you got the news, what you did then, and so on. By noon on this particular Friday [November 22, 1963] I had finished my week’s work, including a cartoon for the coming Sunday, and had gone with some friends to a luncheon to hear a speech on foreign policy. The speech was never made. Halfway through dessert, the news that President Kennedy had been shot spread through the room. A little later, as we all sat there, we learned that he was dead. I asked my friends to drop me at the office on the way home. I was amazed at how upset I was. There is nothing like doing familiar chores in familiar surroundings to keep your keel under you. I started working at 2 p.m., one hour after the President was declared dead. What to draw? Grief, sorrow, tears weren’t enough for this event. There had to be monumental shock. Monument ... shock ... a cartoon idea is nothing more or less than free association. What is more shocking than a statue come alive, showing emotion? Assassination. Civil rights. There was only one statue for this. I started the drawing at 2:15 and finished at 3—the fastest I had ever worked. An average cartoon takes three or four hours. I almost threw it away (after all, my week’s work was done, and nobody expected this one) because I couldn’t get the hair right. No matter what I did with it, it looked more like Kennedy hair than Lincoln hair. This might confuse some people who weren’t familiar with the statue. Then I decided that if they didn’t know the statue, they wouldn’t get the cartoon anyway. The Chicago Sun-Times engravers did a record job, and so did the press room. Our first edition was on the street at 4:45 p.m. that day. The cartoon was on the back page, and later I was told that most Chicago news dealers sold the paper with that side up.”
A biography of Mauldin is due out in the fall from W.W. Norton, by Todd Depastino. I did a short Mauldin biography in Hindsight when he died in 2003; you can see it here. I’ve converted it to a 16-page saddle-stitched monograph (9x11-inch pages), liberally illustrated, which you can buy for $5, including p&h. Just send me a note (at the e-mail address at the end of the scroll) and I’ll give you payment instructions.
The FAQ’s of Dilbert
On his blog recently, Scott Adams answered some frequently asked questions, among them:
Where do you get your ideas? In my case, I get most of my ideas from e-mailed suggestions to email@example.com. But I spent 16 years in corporate America and am often reminded of that experience by events in my daily life. I'm in business myself, in a fashion. So I'm dealing with conference calls and contracts and marketing and design all the time. Plus I co-own two restaurants, and those are fertile sources of human interaction too.
Do you do the writing or the drawing first? Most cartoonists do the writing first. Then they draw. I start with only a germ of the idea and start drawing first. I draw the first panel, add the words, draw the second, add the words, etc. I never know where a comic is going until it's done. It often takes a sharp left turn from where I expected it to go. One advantage of my method is that after I draw a character, its expression or body language often suggests the dialog. It helps them "talk" to me. For example, if I draw Wally looking more relaxed or rumpled than usual (accidentally—it can be very subtle), then I might use that to suggest different dialog than I originally imagined.
Do you write one comic a day or a bunch at a time? For years I did one per day, weekends and holidays included. Since marriage, I'm trying to do 2 per day on weekdays and keep more time open for weekends and travel. But I still end up working most weekends at least half days.
Do you still draw the comic on paper? Most cartoonists still use paper, at least for most of the work. They typically finish it off on Photoshop after scanning the inked work. Photoshop might be used for the lettering (using a font of your own handwriting) or adding shading and effects. About 2 years ago I had some hand problems (from overuse) and switched to drawing directly to the computer, which is easier on my hand. I have a computer monitor that allows me to draw directly to the screen (as opposed to a tablet on the desk). It's the 21SX by Wacom. It cut my production time in half. It's different from drawing on paper, and there's a learning curve of a few months to get it down. But once you do, it's amazing. I use Photoshop for the entire process now. Then I hit a few keys and e-mail it to United Media.
How did Dilbert get his name? I developed Dilbert as a doodle during my corporate years. He had no name, but my coworkers thought he needed one. So I had a "Name the Nerd" contest on my cubicle whiteboard. My boss at the time, Mike Goodwin, wrote down "Dilbert," and I closed the contest. We had a winner. After I submitted Dilbert for syndication, Mike sheepishly told me that he realized why Dilbert seemed such a good name for a comic. He was looking through his dad's old military artifacts and realized he had seen a Dilbert comic before. Since WWII, a comic called Dilbert had been used by military pilots in the context of telling them what not to do. A "Dilbert" was synonymous with a pilot who was being an idiot. It was too late for me to turn back at that point. I kept the name Dilbert, and I never heard from the family of the original artist. Obviously they are aware of my version of Dilbert. I appreciate that they evidently decided to not make it an issue.
Do you plan to retire like those quitters Watterson, Larsen, Breathed, and Amend? Not until the public doesn't want to see Dilbert anymore. I don't agonize over my work the way some artists do. Watterson, for example, did his art with a tiny paintbrush and ink. I can't imagine how tedious that was. And he made more money in his short career than I will make in my lifetime. Retiring made sense for him. I enjoy my work. And it's not that hard. Plus I like the attention and the pure joy of creating. I can't imagine not contributing to the GDP in some fashion. I tend to define myself by what I do. That means I need to be useful to feel good about myself. Leisure doesn't suit me except for an occasional change of pace.
The big news in the Forthcoming Tomes Department (FTD) is that the University Press of Mississippi (one of my publishers) is poised to bring out a brace of books that will illuminate an erstwhile shadowy corner of comics history. One is the biography of the man whom many credit with inventing the comic strip form: Father of the Comic Strip: Rodolphe Topffer takes a long look (224 8x11-inch pages) at the 19th century Swiss schoolmaster, university professor, polemical journalist, art critic, landscape draftsman and writer of fiction, travel tales and social criticism who devised the “picture story” narrative form, which now goes by the name “graphic novel.” Researched and written by one of the comics medium’s earliest serious scholars, David Kunzle, the book is available in hardcover ($55) or paperback ($25). Appearing at the same time, a companion volume, Rodolphe Topffer: The Complete Comic Strips (672 11x8-inch pages; hardcover, $65), compiled, translated (for the first time in English) and annotated by Kunzle, includes all eight of Topffer’s completed works plus previously unpublished fragments. Together, these two books will doubtless answer every question anyone may reasonably have about Topffer and the “curious genesis (with an initial imprimatur from Goethe, no less)” of his comic strips “and their controversial success.” Consult www.upress.state.ms.us for details. And once you’ve bookmarked that site, return occasionally to discover when next year Steve Thompson’s biography of Walt Kelly, now in its final revision stages, will appear. ... David Michaelis’ Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography, a 688-page hardcover tome from Harper Collins, is due out October 1 according to E&P. ...... The 24th collection of FoxTrot strips, Houston, You Have a Problem, is out this month. Probably not the last but maybe close. ... From IDW, just in time to help celebrate Milton Caniff’s 100th birthday anniversary this year, we are going to get the complete reprinting of the legendary Terry and the Pirates, edited and designed by Dean Mullaney—all twelve years in six volumes, all to be published at the same time (it sez here) under Mullaney’s new Library of American Comics imprint, the purpose of which, he says, is “to present definitive editions of the great newspaper comic strips and make them accessible to a new audience.” And if you aren’t fully aware of how craven my self-interest is in flogging these books, Mullaney asked me to write some sort of prefatory matter for one of these volumes; I said “yes” but haven’t heard more. Mullaney’s next project is reportedly reprinting all of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. Finally, further down this scroll, under “Editoonery,” we review Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression and America Gone Wild: Cartoons by Ted Rall.
QUIPS & QUOTES & TICS & TROPES
“To be capable of respect is today almost as rare as to be worthy of it.” —Joseph Joubert
“The reason the mainstream is thought of as a stream is because of its shallowness.” —George Carlin
“If you can keep your head when all about are losing theirs, it’s just possible you haven’t grasped the situation.” —Jean Kerr
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
The first issue of Dynamo 5 ought to be a textbook for how to do first issues. It creates suspense in several successive waves, but supplies answers as it goes, so we’re compelled to keep turning the pages, but we’re not baffled into incomprehension as we are in so many first issues which are devoted entirely to creating an all-enveloping mystery, never offering any tidbits of information to slake our inquisitive thirst, a way of gratifying some of our curiosity without giving away the entire establishment. Since the book is about superheroes, the opening sequence bubbles with action as the five children of Captain Dynamo grapple with a bunch of baddies, known collectively as the Veil. The action shows us the powers of each of the principals, and we learn their names: Slingshot (flying), Visonary (laser-vision), Scrap (strength), Myriad (shape-shifting), and Scatterbrain (mind-reading). But our knowledge is not achieved through tedious exposition: we learn about this bunch as they perform various feats and talk to each other, shouting commands and encouragements. Suspense is sustained as we also learn that these superheroes have only recently discovered their powers and have never before worked together, so they make several errors, each resulting in a fresh life-threatening development in the battle. These proceedings give Mahmud A. Asrar ample opportunity to display his considerable skills as draftsman and stylist: his anatomy is deftly rendered, chunky with boldly sculpted shapes; his line, though liquid, doesn’t flow so much as it unfurls in fits and starts of bold lumps defining volume alternating with wire-thin delineations. As the fight ends with the Dynamo 5 victorious, Jay Faerber moves quickly into another suspense-building phase: we meet the sixth “member” of the team, Maddie Warner, the widow of Captain Dynamo, who apparently directs the activity of the group, and as she quizes them about the outcome of their engagement, everyone on the battlefront is suddenly aware that the Veil has kidnaped the Vision, who, under interrogation, tells the group’s origin story. Captain Dynamo, it seems, was a champion philanderer and adulterer, having fathered five bastards with five different women while married to Maddie. When Maddie discovers her dead husband’s secret, she traces each of the five and recruits them to take their father’s place as guardian of the city. They each inherit one of their father’s powers. Faerber, having spent an issue disclosing various matters, now ends with a cliffhanger: Maddie wastes one of the Veil, saying she isn’t just a poor widow woman but an agent with F.L.A.G., which she hasn’t told the children. Walking away from the corpse of her foe, she murmurs: “Kind of makes you wonder what else I never told them, doesn’t it?” Nicely done, all around.
Return of the Super Pimps No. 1 was, for me, a colossal turn-off, chiefly because the colors are so gaudy and clash so loudly with vast areas of shadowy black solids. The coloring is also frequently too dark. This, I suspect, is a hazard that comes with computer colorizing: since the colorist sees the color lighted, so to speak, from behind on the screen, the colorist sees the colors brighter (because of the back-lighting) than they will appear when printed. Apart from the coloring, I’m also not into pimp culture, so the book, for me, had two strikes against it from the start. But that may be more my loss than the failure of the creators.
Welcome to Tranquility is another matter altogether. I’ve read Nos. 1 and 3 and I’m hooked on Gail Simone’s tale. Tranquility is a retirement community for elderly superheroes—a concept fertile in possibilities. Here, f’instance, is a guy in his dotage who can’t remember his secret transforming word, so he buys dictionary after dictionary and spends his days reading every word out loud in the hopes that one of them will turn him into the superhero he was once. In the first issue, we meet the town sheriff, an attractive woman of color named Tommy Lindo, who is being interviewed by a pesky tv reporter with her camera-man in tow. Then at the local coffee shop where they repair for a warm one, Mr. Articulate gets impaled on his own sword and dies. End of No. 1. Sheriff Lindo, naturally, goes looking for the murderer, and in No. 3, we spend some time with the coffee shop waitress who first noticed Mr. A lying dead; she’s a punk enthusiast who’s pregnant and wanted an abortion, but settles for slitting her wrists while in the bathtub. By the issue’s last page, she may—or may not—live. Neil Googe’s art is pristine clean; line doesn’t vary much but enough different lines, thick and thin, to be interesting—thicker lines outlining figures and shapes, thin lines embellishing to suggest anatomical details and musculature and whatnot. An interesting visual variant are the pages that depict some of the old heroes in their youth on pages the artistic styles of which evoke memories of Golden Age comics. I’ll be back for more.
Spider-Ham is, presumably, a one-shot. Carrying the overline “Ultimate Civil War,” this light-hearted book, written by J. Michael Hamzynski, is drawn by numerous hands and begins with Spider-Ham bemoaning his “pointless” life, with his costume “riding up into my butt-crack” and not an idea in his brain because he no longer has thought balloons. He goes in search of thought balloons, and as he wanders, he encounters various aspects of the Civil War, which, herein, is being waged over merchandising. He also runs into other superhams—Iron-Ham, for instance, and Captain Hamerica and, most delicious of all, Deviled Ham. None, alas, are kosher. This can’t go on. But I’m glad I witnessed as much of it as there apparently is.
In Spellgame No. 2, magician John Dodge wanders around Vegas with his dead buddy Harry, who alerts him to the odd fact that magic is “leaking” into the world again. Dodge is then offered a magic job by a sinister Rinaldo but turns it down; Rinaldo strikes back with a hungry monster that swallows Dodge and the girl he was rescuing. It’s a lively story by Dan Mishkin as drawn by Ramon Perez with slappy attractive brushwork.
Dave Stewart’s Walk In No. 1 introduces Ian Dormouse, a slacker who may have some sort of extra-sensory ability. He specializes in mooching drinks and livingroom couches to crash on overnight. At a “girly club,” he bamboozles his way on stage where he conducts a mind-reading “act” as the Dream Catcher, impressing the joint’s manager and a couple of the showgirls, who invite him to sleep on their couch that night. When he wakes up one morning, he’s having a strange vision—a futuristic landscape seen out of the girls’ apartment window. Ashish Padlekar’s art is crisp and clean, employing a moderately bold chiseled line with no feathering, compositions and breakdowns often nicely cinematic, and the girls, pretty and different looking, one to the other. One of the delights of contemporary comics is that there is no longer a “house style” at any of the publishing houses, and so we encounter a great variety of visual treatments, some of them, very attractive indeed. And Padlekar’s is one of those.
Department of Why Did I Buy This Book? Herewith, the debut of a new feature, a quick run-down of some comics on my shelf that I bought for one reason or another which I now “review” by citing the reason that I bought them without saying much more. Sonny Liew’s antic art seduced me into buying both issues (so far) of Tommy Kovac’s version of Disney’s version of Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland, and I haven’t been disappointed in the slightest. ... The attraction of Vampirella: Intimate Visions, Amanda Conner No. 1 is Conner, as you must know; and it’s her engaging ability to drawn sexy women humorously that appeals so greatly. And she does it here, too: a splash page with Vampi sitting on the victims of her blood-thirst, licking her fingers. There’s also an interview with Conner, which I’ll read next; but it was her pictures, not her words, that, er, sucked me in. ... Speaking of sexy renderings, I’m sure it was Poison Ivy’s epidermis on display in Detective Comics No. 823 that convinced me to pick it up; I haven’t read it yet because I’m still just looking at the pictures penciled by Joe Benitez and inked by Victor Llamas. ... Similarly, it was Howie Chaykin’s art in Hawkgirl No. 53. ... Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser have fascinated me since I first encountered them in a funnybook in the 1970s, and here they are in a grand “graphic novel” compilation from Dark Horse, penciled by the incomparable Mike Mignola and inked by the exquisite Al Williamson. The art alone made this an irresistible purchase, and the rollicking adventures of this happy sword and sorcery duo beckon with equal appeal. I can’t wait to read it. But in the meantime, I rejoice at the pictures. ... Pete Stathis sent me a copy of his second graphic novel, Evenfall Vol. 2, due out, he says, in April. Since he sent it to me, I can’t claim I was attracted enough to purchase it, but as I contemplate its pages, I think I might well have been. The Slave Labor Graphics series, Stathis tells me, follows the adventures of 19-year-old Phoebe Shankar, who, “left lost and adrift by the death of her mother, falls out of this world and into a mysterious and macabre alternate reality.” In Vol. 2, “Soul to Keep,” she is pursued by the Serpent King “and his dreaded Nightling Stalkers, her only weapon is an undiscoverd power that lies deep within her own heart.” Stathis’ black and white renderings are expert and attractive; can’t wait to read this one. ... Every so often, I pick out one of AC Comics recreations of Quality Comics stories, this time, Men of Mystery No. 64, chiefly for the Fighting Yank story by Jerry Robinson and Mort Meskin, who, Robinson once told me, alternated penciling and inking chores from one story to the next; stunning work, however achieved. I’d buy more AC Comics titles more often if I could afford to buy everything I want; alas, I can’t and must resort to an occasional fix, like this one. ... Wildstorm Fine Arts Spotlight on J. Scott Campbell is—wouldn’t you know?— a compendium of Campbell’s fine drawings of the curvaceous gender, each accompanied by a short note of appreciation from the chief appreciator, Campbell himself. About a door poster with Fairchild turning her derriere towards us, Campbell says: “I still like the piece though the obvious ‘wedgy’ is a bit cringe-worthy for me to look at now.” Such insights aside, it’s the pictures that appeal, like I said before. ... In Walt Disney’s Spring Fever No. 1 from Gemstone, it was another Carl Barks’ story, “Mystery of the Swamp,” and a Mickey Mouse tale, “Spook’s Island,” with art by Bill Wright, who, I’ve discovered, is The Mouse Artist whose work I enjoy next to Fred Gottfredson, the ultimate genius of rodent renderers (for my taste, best in the 1940s). But in the same tome, I discover another Mouse tale, this one ostensibly Goofy’s, with pictures by Maximino Tortajada Aguilar, whose lively Mickey already ranks high with me. Great stuff. Can’t buy it often enough, alas.
COMIC STRIP WATCH
On Monday, March 26, Doonesbury’s B.D., going through counseling to adjust to life with an artificial leg, meets a female soldier seeking help for sexual trauma. Garry Trudeau’s depiction of the character in an Army T-shirt, hair pulled back, reminded Sara Rich of her daughter, Suzanne Swift, a soldier court-martialed after going AWOL to avoid a second deployment to Iraq because of the sexual harassment and coercion she expected to be repeated when she rejoined her unit. Formerly a military police specialist, Swift was stripped of her rank and served 30 days in jail and is now being re-trained as a supply clerk. Trudeau did not respond to queries about the inspiration for his character, but Swift has been the subject of extraordinary media coverage, including an extensive article in The New York Times Magazine on March 8.
The same week, Scott Adams introduced a new character in Dilbert—Jeff the human ashtray, whose affliction permits him to make an ash of himself, alluding to “not being able to tell his ash from a hole in the ground” and “getting his ash kicked.” ... In Tina’s Groove, Rina Piccolo’s eponymous heroine reads various documents her friend hands her: “Money doesn’t grow on trees”; “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Then she asks: “How long has your bank been sending you these ‘financial statements’?” ... This must be bad pun week. In Frank ’n’ Ernest, we read the sign outside O’Malley’s Pub: “Special Cloned Beef and Cabbage,” and Frank (or is it Ernest?) says: “Is nothing sacred anymore?” Probably not. ... But we get into dangerous territory in For Better or For Worse when April’s beau drops over while her parents are out and the two do a little canoodling on a bed downstairs. Elly and John return before anything “serious” can transpire, but Lynn Johnston has tippy-toed up to one of the last remaining third-rails in syndicated comics, sex—pre-marital sex at that. And among Young People. Brook McEldowney did it first, though, in 9 Chickweed Lane, over a year ago; you read about it here then. ... And here, just to prove that Real Drawing can still happen in newspaper funnies, several days’ worth of Eduardo Barreto’s Judge Parker, which even gets a little sexy.
THE FROTH ESTATE
The Alleged News Institution
The Further Adventures of the Danish Dozen
Flemming Rose, the culture editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten who commissioned the Danish Dozen that set fire to the Muslim world last winter, was awarded the Danish Free Press Society’s inaugural Sappho Prize, which comes with $3,500. The Award recognizes the journalist’s “excellence in his work” and his “courage and refusal to compromise.” Said the Society’s Lars Hedegaard: “Decisive [in the final determination] was Rose’s courage to print the cartoons and to stand his ground under the worst storm any journalist has ever endured.” The award is named for Sappho, an ancient Greek poet from the island of Lesbos, who, the Society alleges, combined traits that make her the best symbol for an age in which freedom of the press is threatened: Sappho was a woman, a lesbian, and had a willingness to write her mind and a sense of political incorrectness. Rose had no immediate comment, but he was interviewed at some length by Alia Malek in the March/April issue of the Columbia Journalism Review; excerpts:
Asked if his cartoons experience had changed his view of journalism, Rose laughed and said: “I have far more understanding for those complaining about the media every day that we are inaccurate and biased. It’s one thing to have a sense of this; it’s another to be the object of this kind of journalism yourself.” As a result, he continued, “I have become more conscious about what kind of authority you give to experts—so-called experts—in a news story,” adding that newspapers need to supply some background information on quoted experts so their remarks can be placed in the context of whatever bias the expert brings with him.
Since the cartoon project was initiated to test or reveal the extent of “self-censorship” and its inhibiting effect on journalism, Rose was asked if European media are in a “better place” now when it comes to Islam. “I would say there’s more restraint,” Rose said, alluding to the postponement last fall of a performance of Mozart’s “Idomeneo” because of a scene that depicts the severed heads of Mohammad, Jesus, Buddha, and Neptune—but “because of the uproar about it, the decision was reversed” and the opera was performed after all. “Our cartoons did not create a new reality,” he continued. “They revealed a reality that was already there.”
One of the outcomes of the Danish Dozen, Rose said, is that the Muslim community has emerged with a much more multifaceted visage. “The Muslim community is not one, and there are many different voices and the majority is moderate,” he said. “We are very careful [now] that we get different points of view from the Muslim community” instead of believing that any Muslim quoted represents the community’s view. One of the purposes of the cartoon project was to challenge moderate Muslims to speak out, and Rose believes that objective has been “strengthened.” And the debate about integrating Muslim immigrants has become more reality-based, he said. But the clash of values revealed by the cartoon controversy is persistent. An opinion poll conducted by his paper last May among Muslims found that 51 percent of the respondents felt religious feelings should always trump freedom of speech.
Speaking of the most incendiary of the cartoons, the one with Mohammad’s turban transformed into a bomb with its fuse alight, Rose said: “I don’t accept the point that the cartoons are demonizing or stereotyping or racist. [To say that the turban-bomb cartoon depicts every Muslim as a terrorist involves] a kind of illiteracy to see the cartoon that way. [That cartoon] makes the point that some people in the name of the Prophet are committing terrorist acts, and that is a fact of life.” About minorities—whether immigrant or ethnic—Rose believes “it’s humiliating and discriminating to treat any minority as a kind of odd, special group. It’s important to treat everybody equally. ... It is an act of love and inclusion to satirize people. There is some kind of recognition in that, to know you can laugh and make fun of one another.” He reminded his questioner that his instruction to cartoonists was not to draw cartoons that made fun of the Prophet; it was, “Draw Mohammad as you see him—which,” Rose added, “is very neutral.”
About the decision by most U.S. newspapers not to publish any of the offending cartoons, Rose said he had discussed the issue with an editor at a “top American paper” who “told me privately that ‘we have correspondents in that part of the world and we don’t want to expose them more than necessary.’” Rose was sympathetic but unyielding: “Fine,” he said, “but you should say so publicly. I can also understand if someone disagrees with these cartoons or thinks it was wrong to do it. But by January 30, 2006, these cartoons were newsworthy. And it says at the top of The New York Times: all the news fit to print.” Clearly, American newspapers that didn’t publish the cartoons at the time they were newsworthy had forsaken their journalistic responsibility.
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
The American Dialect Society every year picks a “word of the year.” They’re not entirely serious about it: the exercise, indulged in by a handful of the Society’s members, is something of an intellectual lark, but it also helps chart the history and evolution of the language. They look at phrases as well as words, focusing on those that are newly prominent or notable in the past year in the manner of Time’s “Person of the Year.” This year, the 17th annual competition, “plutoed” won out over “climate canary.” “To pluto,” it sez here, is to demote or devalue someone or something—as happened to the former planet Pluto when the General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union decided the distant erstwhile planet no longer met the August body’s definition of a planet. There are other categories of winner—Most Useful (climate canary, “an organism or species whose poor health or declining numbers hint at a larger environmental catastrophe on the horizon”), Most Creative (lactard, “a person who is lactose-intolerant”), Most Outrageous (Cambodian accessory, “Angelina Jolie’s adopted child”; in this category, I liked a runner-up better—tramp stamp, “a tattoo on a woman’s upper bottom or lower back”). Last year’s word of the year, by the way, was “truthiness.”
Mock journalist Andy Borowitz reports that a media watchdog group, “which calls itself the Media Watchdog Group, blasted the major news media for failing to provide enough coverage of Anna Nicole Smith’s death in the 72 hours following the blonde bombshell’s passing.” Alleging that the coverage was, at best, scanty, the MWG criticized the networks for giving the story “short shrift. Instead of staying on the Anna Nicole Smith story nonstop, the networks would sometimes cut away to coverage of the war in Iraq for seconds at a time.” Jon Klein, CNN president, apologized and said it would never happen again. For the foreseeable future, he went on, “at least 29 of the 30 video monitors in Wolf Blitzer’s ‘The Situation Room’ will feature Anna Nicole Smith,” adding that the remaining monitor will focus on “that crazed astronaut chick.”
AT LAST, WISDOM IN A BON MOT
“Every pebble in the brook secretly thinks itself a precious stone.” —Japanese Proverb
“To do great work, a man must be very idle as well as very industrious.” —Samuel Butler
“All my best thoughts were stolen by the ancients.” —R. Waldo Emerson
“Little minds are interested in the extraordinary; great minds, in the commonplace.” —Elbert Hubbard
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
The Greenville (S.C.) News is eliminating the job of staff editorial cartoonist Roger Harvell effective March 30, EditorialCartoonists.com reported. Said Harvell: "I am told Gannett will no longer fund the position of a full-time editorial cartoonist here.” Meanwhile, the Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail has begun running local editorial cartoons by Al Stine, whose other credits include cartoons for Playboy magazine and ad campaigns. ... . Steve Benson of the Arizona Republic won the Scripps Howard Foundation’s Journalism Award for editorial cartooning, a trophy and $10,000 “for a portfolio of hard-hitting, pen-sharp insightful cartoons on the Iraq War, the tragedy of Darfur, lobbyist influence at the White House, bigotry, and the response to Katrina.”
Among editoonists, getting reprinted on Newsweek magazine’s Perspectives page is regarded as the brand of ignominy. Newsweek picks cartoons that are Jay-Leno funny rather than politically provocative. The magazine’s intention is to make its readers laugh, not think. And while every political cartoonist produces a portion of his week’s worth for comedic rather than visceral impact—they are all cartoonists, after all—most of them want to be known for their unflinching tough-mindedness, not their funnybones. So when they get into Newsweek, they usually groan because the cartoons that get into the magazine are generally not their most merciless assaults on the political establishment. Mike Luckovich, winner last year of both the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben as cartoonist of the year and the Pulitzer, is a particular favorite of Newsweek. Hardly an issue goes to press without at least one of his cartoons on the Perspectives page. Yes, Luckovich produces a good share of funny cartoons every week; he also hits hard more often than not. And sometimes both at once. In the issue for March 26, Luckovich cartoons took all three of the cartoon slots on the page. But these are not all Jay Leno jokes; in fact, by my measure, only one is. Here they are. The Gonzales cartoon is just funny: not much message there to promote the public weal. But the other two are both funny and feisty seems to me. You’ll notice, by the way, that Newsweek persists in its mindless practice of excising the cartoonist’s signature from the cartoon, treating the picture as if it were a photograph and thereby both denigrating the artist and desecrating his art.
For a steady look at nearly 100 cartoons at the other end of the spectrum—those that were so hard-hitting that editors refused to publish them—we have David Wallis’ new book, Killed Cartoons: Casualties from the War on Free Expression (280 6x8-inch pages in paperback; W.W. Norton, $15.95). This compilation is a sequel to Wallis’ other tome on a related subject, Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print, an anthology of quashed magazine and newspaper articles and reports. For addicts to Rancid Raves, there’s probably little in Wallis’ introduction to Cartoons that you haven’t read here about the sad plight of editorial cartooning in this country, but Wallis summarizes the issues succinctly and engagingly. And he adds to the lore. Attesting to the power of cartoons, he cites a July 5, 1968 memo from FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover that considers using cartoons to “ridicule the New Left.” Hoover elaborated: “Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons which we can use.” Editors clearly know that, and because they know it, they kill political cartoons that they believe are too incendiary for publication, for one reason or another. “Reasonable motives sometimes inspire editors to kill,” Wallis writes, “but too often ... they suppress compelling illustrations, editorial cartoons, and political comics out of fear—fear of angering advertisers, the publisher’s golf partners, the publisher’s wife, the local dogcatcher, or the President of the United States, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, homophobes, gays, pro-choice advocates and anti-abortion protesters alike, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and midwestern grannies—especially midwestern grannies.”
Wallis finds particularly reprehensible “silencing editorial cartoonists—historically a progressive voice in the press—at a time when the mainstream media bends over backward—or just bends over—to appease conservatives,” a practice he sees as an abdication of journalistic responsibility. The current anxious impulse to present both sides of every issue yields some strange results, Wallis observes. In a section of the book on cartoons about abortion, he notes The New York Times, officially a pro-choice newspaper, works so hard at being “balanced” on the issue that it never runs pro-choice pieces on its Op-Ed page, reserving it as a platform exclusively for pro-life advocates. Moreover, according to the Progressive, which Wallis quotes, “83 percent of the [pro-life] pieces were written by men.” Editorial cartoons, which can’t say “on the other hand,” are the inevitable casualty in this battle for balance, which, sad to say, often turns into a struggle to avoid offending—anyone, and everyone, thereby saying nothing.
Wallis quotes political cartooning giant Pat Oliphant: “The death of true controversy in this country, or the unwillingness of the cartoonist’s forum of expression, the newspaper, to be involved in anything that may cause controversy, has grievously devalued the currency of the cartoon as a vital, once-indispensable editorial weapon. The contents of this book give valuable illustration of this sad fact—that freedom of speech is, little by little, being eroded away and nobody is either aware of it, or cares.”
The slow expiring of the political cartoon as a fixture on newspaper editorial pages may not, in and of itself, accelerate the nation’s slide away from democracy into oligarchy. The freedom of expression that is choked off by squelching editorial cartoons hasn’t the same dire consequences as suppressing reportage on public issues, the focus of Wallis’ earlier volume. But, as editioonist Doug Marlette so vividly has said (quoted by Wallis herein), “cartoonists are the canaries in the coal mine” of journalism. Appeasing vocal protesters by avoiding offending them will have repercussions. “It’s the reason we don’t negotiate with terrorists,” Marlette said. “You encourage the forces of aggression. [Extremists say], ‘Oh, we want to intimidate newspapers; we can just create a big ruckus. We shut down their servers” with a flood of e-mail. Self-censorship is tantamount to acquiescing to mob rule, he believes. The press doesn’t need Constitutional protection to sell advertising or to confirm popular beliefs. “You need protection to express unpopular opinions. And our ability to engage in vigorous debate and to tolerate robust intellectual discourse and all the attendant controversies is a measure of the health of our society.” Timid editors’ gradual conversion of editorial cartoons into gag cartoons is a symptom of the growing malaise.
Wallis collected this exhibit of the rejected and the outrageous through dint of personal perusal, I assume, and by formal blanket solicitation of cartoonists. One, Wallis reports, declined to join the parade because he feared he would be fired: publication of one of his killed cartoons would effectively criticize his editor, who would retaliate in the most time-honored of ways.
In addition to the vivid imagery of the cartoons themselves, Wallis supplies anecdotes and assorted data about the cartoonists and how the exhibited cartoons got spiked, mostly gleaned through interviews. And this information is as insightful as the pictures. He quotes Dennis Renault, the now retired Sacramento Bee editoonist, about the primary objective of the political cartoon: “You are generally preaching to the choir. I don’t find that disconcerting or onerous at all. I don’t think anybody picks up an editorial cartoon and thinks ‘Yeah, I’m going to vote this way.’ What I think happens is the troops hear that mortar shell ... landing on the enemy. It bucks up the troops more than anything else.”
Garry Trudeau, Wallis reports, once circulated among editors a questionnaire that the cartoonist hoped would give him some guidance about what would be permissible and what wouldn’t. One of the respondents said: “It has nothing to do with subjects; it’s how you execute it.” Wallis continues: “That advice, Trudeau later told Newsweek, ‘opened up a world to me, and I felt if you bring a certain amount of taste and judgment, there’s nothing that can’t be addressed in comic strips.’”
Here are a few of the cartoons Wallis presents; for the stories behind them, you’ll need the book, which I enthusiastically recommend as a lively and enlightening look into the profession of graphic agitation.
And while we’re on the subject of agitation, here’s another tome you shouldn’t pass by: America Gone Wild: Cartoons by Ted Rall (168 9x9-inch pages in paperback; Andrews McMeel, $12.95), as iconoclastic an aggregation as you’ll ever encounter. Nearly every cartoon is accompanied by a short annotation from Rall, either giving the visual assault another bounce or describing the inspirational occasion. Rall isn’t easy. He’s not easy on those he targets, and while his point-of-view generally is well known, sometimes a specific cartoon is not easy to understand: he is so caustic, his vitriol so undiluted, that some of his cartoons are simply screams of sarcastic rage, their conclusions and the logic thereof lost in the mounting decibels. Not a bad thing but not easy to comprehend. Apart from the cartoons, rendered in Rall’s customary blockhead manner, the book supplies a great bonus in Rall’s essays rehearsing the incidents of abuse he endured as a result of some of his uncompromising vignettes. Here’s the history of the “Terror Widows” cartoon that portrayed the widows of the victims of 9/11 as money-grubbing opportunists. He revisited aspects of the subject a couple of times with “Return of the Terror Widow” and “Terror Whores.” Likewise, we have the episode of the attack on the New York Fire Department and, later, on Pat Tillman’s benighted patriotism.
Rall may be, as Cartoon.com says, “the most controversial cartoonist in America,” but he doesn’t set out to be controversial. The implication of the accolade, Rall writes, “is that we political cartoonists sit at our drafting tables cackling with glee as we drool over the piles of hate mail that will undoubtedly result from our latest attack on some societal sacred cow. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m controversial because I’m willing to make people angry in the pursuit of an important point. But controversy isn’t my purpose. Pissing people off is acceptable collateral damage. How could I draw a political cartoon if I worried that it might cause someone offense? It is true that, more often than not, howls of affronted anger tend to confirm in my mind that I was right to draw a cartoon. Curses and death threats reveal their authors for what they are. I don’t care when those who advocate torture call me names. Why would I want torture aficionados as fans? As a person who expresses opinions for a living, I’m defined by my enemies.”
Here are a few of Rall’s.
JAY KENNEDY, KING FEATURES EDITOR IN CHIEF, DEAD AT 50
Fifty is too young to die. Kennedy was vacationing in Costa Rica, got caught in a riptide, and drowned. Too young, too soon, a waste of a humane and persistent talent. The immediate outpouring of shock and sadness in blogs around the Web testified to the affection and regard in which he was held by cartoonists, ample testimony to his skill as an editor and as a nurturer of the medium. I encountered Kennedy for the first time 10-15 years ago at the Festival of Cartoon Art sponsored every three years by the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University in Columbus. A bunch of us went to dinner one night after the festivities, journeying south of the sprawling campus to German Town and a restaurant that served the repast of the neighborhood. I was sitting across from Steve Bentley, who does Herb and Jamaal, and somewhere at the table was Zippy’s Bill Griffith. Next to him sat Jay Kennedy, who, at the time, was merely comics editor at King, having ascended to that throne in 1989 after a year’s apprenticeship as deputy comics editor with Bill Yates. Kennedy, due to his position, was doubtless the most powerful person at the table, but you wouldn’t know it from his behavior. He mostly listened. But whenever he spoke, there was nothing tentative about his utterances. He spoke when he had something to say on the subject, and he was neither shy nor particularly conversational. He tended to be succinct, almost blunt, his opinions thoughtfully arrived at and clearly enunciated.
Kennedy was short with blue eyes and, back then, wore his stringy blond hair almost shoulder length. Born in 1956, he was a teenager growing up in Ridgewood, NJ, when hippies replaced beatniks in the culture of the Youth, and he took in the hippie attitude, it seemed to me, and made it part of his vision, but he was also comfortable in a suit. A perfect combination, probably, for finding and fostering talent in the odd niches of an odd profession and then navigating it through the narrow entrepreneurial channels of a giant syndicate to the world of commerce where bottom lines matter more than lines on paper. He was always on the look-out for new and different cartooning, seeking to revive newspaper comics as an entertainment genre while also extending a helping editorial hand to aspiring cartooners. Kennedy recognized the shameful dearth of women cartoonists in the syndicated ranks and worked steadily to change the status quo. He recruited Rina Piccolo to do Tina’s Groove and found Sandra Bell-Lundy for Between Friends and Hilary Price for the utterly unconventional Rhymes with Orange and, more recently, Jill Kaplan’s uniquely voiced Pajama Diaries. He also created an unusual repertory strip, Six Chix, which presents the work of six female cartoonists in rotation, a different one each day. And he dipped into alternate comic books to find Terry LeBan, who, with his wife, produces Edge City.
My first direct knowledge of the agility of Kennedy’s mind and his canny reading of the market was with Bobo’s Progress, a strip about a bear and his woodland buddies who played together in a band called Bobo’s Progress. Drawn by Dan Wright and written by Tom Spurgeon, the strip occasionally ventured into realms of Christian spirituality. Kennedy, seeing the spiritual bent of the creators, realized that the strip could easily be re-focused slightly to appeal to a vast Christian readership. Shortly thereafter, the strip was re-titled Wildwood, and Bobo found himself the pastor in the forest. Alas, the strip was discontinued within a year or so. I think (but I don’t know for sure and don’t want to pry) that Wright wanted other outlets to express his vision; he’s now doing Rustle the Leaf weekly online (wwww.rustletheleaf.com/) with Dave Ponce—creating “a world where a sagacious leaf, a trash-talking acorn, a persecuted dandelion seed and a know-it-all raindrop” ponder environmental principles. The point of this apostrophe to Wildwood is that Kennedy could so deftly serve two masters: the combined creative impulses of Spurgeon and Wright would be more fully engaged with the new focus, and the strip would presumably supply an emerging but as yet unmet need in the marketplace.
But Kennedy didn’t neglect the syndicate’s vintage works. He found new talent to continue Prince Valiant when John Cullen Murphy retired, and he launched King’s online subscription comics page, DailyInk.com, where current strips rub shoulders with such ageless masterpieces as Bringing Up Father, The Phantom, Rip Kirby, and Krazy Kat. It is a canny collector-inspired combination, and charging a subscription fee protects King’s current client relationships: DailyInk doesn’t give away the store that subscribing newspapers are paying for.
Kennedy was the epitome of unobtrusiveness, but his mild manner should not be mistaken for diffidence or indecisiveness. In 1992, he famously fired Bobby London who had been doing Popeye since 1986. The incident is still clouded with unanswered questions. Ostensibly, London’s offense was alluding in the strip to the issue of abortion, but since questionable the strips had been distributed, presumably after being cleared through King’s editorial process, most of us wondered whether the abortion strips were the sole or even the actual cause for the dismissal. (The offending sequence is reprinted below.)
As a youth, Kennedy studied sculpture and conceptual art at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, according to Steven Heller in The New York Times, but he spent his life in cartooning. His first cartooning love was underground comix, and he collected them with a passion for encyclopedic thoroughness. While studying sociology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, he met another future figure in comics—Milton Griepp, who was then working at Wisconsin Independent News Distributors; Kennedy checked with WIND to make sure he had all the underground comix available. In 1982, Kennedy self-published The Official Underground and Newave Comix Price Guide, a monumental reference work with which he hoped to consolidate all he had learned about the genre. By then, he had contributed to an earlier guide, the 1979 Illustrated Checklist to Underground Comix: Preliminary Edition, from Archival Press in Cambridge, an experience that doubtless convinced him something more substantial would better serve the medium. Kennedy kept learning more and piling up more and more information, aiming, his friends were convinced, at producing an up-dated edition. Alas, he didn’t get to that before he died.
In 1983, Kennedy began a five-year tour as cartoon editor of Esquire, leaving in 1988 to become deputy comics editor at King Features. He advanced to comics editor the next year, and in 1997, he was named editor in chief of the syndicate. While at Esquire, Kennedy convinced Matt Groening to branch out from drawing rabbits to drawing humans; “The Simpsons” was the result of Groening’s conversion. Still at Esquire, Kennedy met cartoonist Lynda Barry, working with her occasionally, she says, as her co-writer. But Kennedy’s imagination reached beyond the funnies. David Stanford (with whom I do some work at Andrews McMeel Universal’s online incarnation, GoComics.com) recalled “a long-ago conversation when Jay told me about his idea for an internet startup that would be ‘a world-wide flea market,’ and he was seeking backing for it. It was essentially eBay, before that had made any appearance in the world at all. He was a smart guy, very creative.”
Bringing his instincts and insights to King, Kennedy “had a profound impact on the transformation of King Features as a home for the best new and talented comic strip creators in the country,” according to the syndicate’s executive vice president, Bruce L. Paisner, in the company’s news release. King’s president, T.R. “Rocky” Shepard III agreed: “He strengthened King’s roster of talented commentators and writers and articulated his vision for the future of the art.” Kennedy believed in the “hippie vision,” according to Gary Panter, who collaborated with him on the Underground Guide, “—before it was destroyed by a number of things, like hangers-on and hard drugs. ... He had an idea of doing things with comics that weren’t being done. There was a missing component in culture, and he felt he could do something there. Not everyone can be a nutty artist,” Panter finished, “—artists need friends.” With Kennedy’s death, cartoonists lost one of their most stalwart.
Tom Spurgeon has a long and thoughtful and detailed remembrance and appreciation of Kennedy and his work at www.comicsreporter.com; and at the New York Observer, David Foxley adds to the lore: http://www.observer.com/20070326/20070326_David_Foxley_pageone_newsstory5.asp
Bobby London’s Popeye
Here is the sequence that presumably got London fired.
MARSHALL ROGERS DIES IN CALIFORNIA
The artist who brought a defining new look to Batman in the late 1970s was found dead in his home in Fremont, California, on Saturday morning, March 24. Marshall Rogers was 57; cause of death as yet undetermined. The Associated Press noted that Rogers would be “remembered for bringing a film noir feel and an architect's eye” to the famed DC Comics’ Caped Crusader, drawing just six issues of Batman titles over scripts by Steve Englehart. Rogers was "one of the radical young stylists bringing new looks to DC in the '70s," said DC president Paul Levitz, who was a writer when Rogers started limning Batman as an inexperienced young artist in 1977. According to Beau Tidwell in The New York Times, Rogers’ work with Englehart returned Batman to his pulp roots and helped shake off the camp elements that had adhered to the character’s mythos during the 1960s Adam West tv series: “These ‘Dark Detective’ stories, as they came to be known, laid the blueprint and set the tone for decades of future Batman stories.”
Born Jan. 22, 1950, in Flushing, N.Y., Rogers was raised in Ardsley, N.Y., and studied architecture at Kent State University in Kent, Ohio, until 1971, when his parents and sister moved to Colorado; Rogers stayed in the East to work on comics. “His architecture training showed in his realistic, detailed renditions of Gotham City, collaborators said.” Even his style, with its rigid angularity, bespoke his early studies. I did a detailed analysis of his storytelling in the Batman tale in Detective No. 475, one of my earliest pieces for The Comics Journal, and that essay formed the heart of the first chapter of a book of mine, The Art of the Comic Book (here). Rogers’ started by drawing backup stories in DC books in late 1976, but Batman’s legendary editor, Julius Schwartz, soon moved him to the title character. Rogers also drew other characters, including the Silver Surfer, Mister Miracle, Dr. Strange, Iron Fist and G.I. Joe. He created two characters, Cap'n Quick and A Foozle. After a stint with the video game industry in the 1990s, Rogers returned to comics. A Batman project with Englehart and artist Terry Austin was in the works when Rogers died.
Richard Sala on Comics Mechanisms
Richard Sala’s latest work is The Grave Robber’s Daughter, which, at comicsreporter.com, Tom Spurgeon says “is as creepy a crystallization of the broken-town school of horror as you’re likely to see in comics form. It’s also funny, casual and confident. I enjoyed it quite a bit.” And then he interviews Sala, asking, among other things, whether his approach to designing characters has changed over the years. Sala said that when he started drawing novel-length stories, he had to “tighten up” the way he drew his characters: “It might be a good idea if a character looked consistent from panel to panel,” he quipped. Previously, he’d been fairly nonchalant in depicting characters, but lately, he’s created model sheets so he’d have “a guide to what my characters would look like from every angle.”
Spurgeon also noted that in Daughter, Sala made “significant use of some scattered-panel pages, where the panels are not rigidly placed on each page in the same place but are spread into different configurations.” What, he asked, is the purpose of that. Said Sala: “I was experimenting with pacing. It can be tough in comics to get the reader to follow the story at a certain pace. In Grave Robber’s Daughter, the intention was to build slowly from a somewhat eerie and foreboding beginning. I found that by putting fewer panels on the pages of Judy walking into town, it seemed to slow the reading down (although you would think the opposite would be true).” He realized, conversely, that the more panels to a page, the more rapid the reading seems. This phenomenon is a result, Sala says, of an illusion that there is less “time” between the panels because there are more of them. “The more panels to a page, the ‘time’ between the action in each panel is less, so hopefully the reader’s eye moves through them more rapidly. Anyway,” he joked, “these are the kinds of things one thinks about while working on a drawing for hours! Who knows if it amounts to anything. You try to control the reading experience as much as you can—but I’ve learned to let go of these things once they go out into the world and try not to worry too much about them.”
Sala may not worry about such matters, but he’s certainly described a quirk in comics reading with more precision and insight than I’ve seen elsewhere. I think it might be true that the more panels on a page, the faster the reading is likely to be. But I’m not sure his explanation is altogether valid. The fewer panels on a page, the more picture there is to look at, so the reader goes slow, not wanting to miss some visual detail. The more panels on a page, the smaller the panels and the less visual detail there is in each of them. With less to look at, the reader reads more rapidly. Could be. Either way, the more panels on a page, the faster the reading pace.
The Grave Robber’s Daughter, Sala told Spurgeon, may have been more influenced by the political climate of the times than his other efforts. “It was done before the Democrats got back control of Congress,” he said. “I had kind of lost whatever faith I had that things were going to get better. It seemed like the entire country had become so deluded and hypnotized by the administration that there was no way out and that the country was doomed. ... I was thinking a lot about how hopeless a cycle of violence is. How cruelty and violence always lead to more cruelty and violence, and it never ends and can never be stopped—that those who are victimized will victimize others. And it seemed like a pretty appropriate theme for a horror story.”
Dept of Incomprehensible Academic Garble: Here’s a sentence that recently came floating in on the digital ether from, I think, something called artbrush.com. The writer is talking about the influence of comics on contemporary “art” and produces this: “Today’s artists rely less on direct reference to comic-book imagery in favor of a more discursive visual style in which comics comprise one star in a dense constellation of cultural references.” Discursive visual style? What the heck is that, kimo sabe? Dense constellation of cultural references? Whoop-de-doo-doo.
Under the Spreading Punditry
BEST AND WORST U.S. PRESIDENTS
In several of the public prints lately, U.S. News and World Report and Rolling Stone in particular, George W. (“Whopper”) Bush is rated as the worst president in U.S. history. Or, if he hasn’t yet ascended to the title, he’s among the most serious contenders—with James Buchanan and Andrew Johnson and Warren G. Harding and a few others. Ted Rall calls him “one of history’s most reviled presidents,” an “addled cowboy.” I say he’s simply a professional cheerleader, suffering from too many leaps up into the rarified atmosphere where his brain, deprived repeatedly of oxygen, has atrophied. Most historians rate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as the best presidents, sometimes adding the Roosevelts. There is, however, another contender for both the Best and the Worst, depending upon whether you favor “active” or “passive” federal government. David Atchison (1807-1886) was the Senator from Missouri and served as the Senate’s president pro tempore sixteen times between 1846 and 1854. He was again elected to that August position when the newly elected Senate convened on Saturday, March 3, 1949, on the eve of the inauguration of president-elect Zachary Taylor. Atchison and his cohorts went out to celebrate his elevation to head the Senate, and they celebrated into the wee hours of Sunday, March 4. Taylor, a man of great religious zeal, had decided not to get inaugurated on March 4 because it was a Sunday and the Almighty had decreed that no one should do any work on Sunday. “Inauguration” was, in those times, considered “work,” we must suppose—at least by Taylor, for whom military derring do was, apparently, mere recreation. In any case, Taylor was not inaugurated as President of the U.S. until Monday, March 5, at noon. Meanwhile, his predecessor, James K. Polk, ceased being President at noon on Sunday, March 4—by Constitutional fiat. Since the inauguration hadn’t taken place yet, neither Taylor nor his vice president, Millard Fillmore, had been inaugurated, and the House of Representatives had not yet convened to elect its Speaker, so the President of the U.S. was the next in line of succession, namely, president pro tempore of the Senate, David Atchison. He was President from noon on Sunday, March 4, until noon on Monday, March 5. His term was not particularly noted for its achievements: Atchison spent his entire administration in bed, sleeping off the binge he’d been party to after being elected president pro tempore of the Senate on Saturday. He was, perforce—as I said—either the Best President of the U.S. or the Worst, depending....
The Justice Department of George W. (“Woe Is Me”) Bush and Alberto Gonzalez has been turned into an arm of the Republican Party, says Paul Krugman in The New York Times. He reports that academics Donald Shields and John Cragan have compiled a database of corruption cases under Bush, and the statistics are startling. Of 375 officials prosecuted, 10 were Independents, 65 were Republicans, and 298 were Democrats. What, asks The Week in summarizing Krugman, explains the disparity?
Jessica Abel’s La Perdida comic book series for Fantagraphics was re-issued last year by Pantheon in a hardcover volume (280 6x9-inch pages, b/w; $19.95) with a handsomely illustrated full color dust jacket. It looks and hefts for all the world like a “real book,” a novel. And so it is. Abel established her cred with Artbabe, where she adroitly depicted “the shifting relationships between the young and unfocused,” said Calvin Reed in Publishers Weekly, “—men and women who aren’t necessarily what they would like to be and haven’t quite figured out how to become it. Abel is a reporter of sorts, and emotional veracity is her beat. Her deft accumulation of the social details of these relationships, friendships and dubious one-night stands, can be seen as artful dispatches from a thoughtful correspondence on contemporary manners.” She continues in the same vein with La Perdida.
Inspired by her own experiences when she and her husband, cartoonist Matt Madden, lived in Mexico City for a year or so, Abel conjures a story about Carla, a young woman estranged from her Mexican father but fascinated by her supposed Mexican heritage. Carla goes to Mexico City and moves in with a former boyfriend, Harry, scion of a wealthy family who preceded her to Mexico, where he leads a slacker life, fantasizing about being a writer of the Jack Kerouac-William Burroughs ilk. Carla spends her days soaking up Mexican culture, and Harry drinks and muses. When he realizes that she is staying on, not just visiting for a couple weeks, he gets angry: he enjoys her in bed, but he didn’t bargain on having to abandon his beatnik solitude. .They quarrel, and Carla moves out and takes an apartment of her own. By this time, she has entered into the somewhat unsavory youth culture that hangs out at local cantinas, and she meets the charismatic Memo, who presents himself as a dedicated radical seeking the overthrow of the establishment.
Memo often mocks Carla for her Mexican aspirations. “I’m trying to be like a Mexican,” she exclaims. “I’m working every day to see and understand the advantages I have and to reject them ....” But Memo scoffs: “Why do you reject them? Are you stupid? You can live like a queen. You don’t know what it is to be a conquistadora, but here you are.” She cries out: “I’m not a conquisadora! I’m not!” And she breaks down, sobbing.
Carla also meets Memo’s friend Oscar, a young man so pretty that Carla immediately falls for him and invites him to share her apartment. He, however, turns out to be a complete lout: his only goal in life is to be a dj, and he spends his time daydreaming about his hopes instead of working for a living. Oscar earns a little money selling dope for others, but Carla finds she must support them both, so she gets a job teaching English and earns a pittance. Her relationship with Oscar becomes increasingly stormy as she confronts him with his financial shortcomings. At one of the rave parties they attend, Carla meets El Gordo, an older man with apparently shady business interests. Later, she runs into Harry, who invites her to a party, and when she goes, she brings her dubious friends along. They all get drunk and quarrel with Harry. In the aftermath, discussing the events of that evening, Carla inveighs against Harry, and El Gordo and his henchmen listen and ask questions. A few days later, Carla reads in the newspaper that Harry has been kidnaped. She then learns that Oscar is involved with the kidnapers: he has no desire for the life of a criminal, but he hopes to make enough money, just this once, to go north and become a dj in an American city. Oscar and the kidnapers hide Harry in Carla’s apartment and effectively make her a prisoner in her own home. How Abel gets her heroine out of this harrowing predicament makes for griping reading as the story shifts from a sort of sociological report on cross-cultural encounters and interpersonal relationships to an out-and-out mystery thriller, culminating in tragedy. Carla returns to Chicago, a chastened but wiser woman, who blames herself for Harry’s misfortune.
La Perdida is a story of personalities. In an interview in The Comics Journal (No. 270, August 2005), Abel described her principal characters. Carla, she said, is “selfish and horrible through most of the book. She grows only when the most dire thing happens. Harry is a jerk, but she has no reason to hate him. He just is what he is. Oscar is pretty and dumb. He doesn’t mean anything wrong by doing what he does. He really doesn’t intend for things to get out of hand; he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. He just wants to make some money. He just wants a way out. He’s like, ‘I’ve got a great idea—I can offer my place where I live to these criminals for this crime, and make money on it because I’ll be in on the deal.’ He doesn’t think about what that’s going to mean for Carla. Memo’s somebody who comes from a tradition of thinking. He’s much more European [and he likes to rile people up]. Carla puts herself on a continuum, saying, ‘Well, Memo is the most superior because he knows all the revolutionary stuff. Oscar’s next because he’s actually a Mexican. Then comes me because I care and I want to be Mexican.’” Later, Abel adds: “As an artist, I find complicated characters who are not nice attractive. In mean, the entire book is full of horrible people.”
Abel’s storytelling ably blends words and pictures while being somewhat affected. In the first chapters of the book, she laces the dialogue with Spanish phrases, which she then translates in subtitles; later, she abandons this practice, advising us that all the dialogue in English is actually uttered in Spanish except the words she brackets to indicate they are spoken in English. She is aiming at authenticity, but the maneuver seems, at first, cumbersome and a little annoying. Eventually, however, I came to appreciate the device for the Mexican tang it supplies. Abel does not much vary camera angles or distance: many pages depict her characters in conversation, always seen from the same angle and nearly always from the waist up. But we don’t much notice the visual monotony because the conversation is where Abel shows her mettle. When she assembles her characters in cantinas and in the apartment, Abel creates in their talk a convincing ambiance of their milieu. The characters snap at each other and joke and laugh at each other’s quips, and Abel’s pictures effectively underscore the implications of the words.
Abel has a good ear for the ways people use language and a keen sense of the potential for drama in dialogue. It is in the verbal exchanges between characters that Carla’s insecurities are revealed, her prickly self-conscious cultural aspirations. Abel is also adept at showing how an angry spat can develop from a seemingly innocent remark. “I am very familiar with the ways guys act,” she said in the interview. And she also knows how women act and how the genders interact, fighting heatedly and yet not permanently destroying a relationship. Carla is clearly the misguided naif in the tale: she is so absorbed in her admiration of all things Mexican that she can’t see how shallow, and sometimes threatening, her friends and acquaintances are.
When not conversing with others, Carla wanders the city, and captions float overhead, recording her thoughts, a maneuver that allows Abel to advance the story on two levels at once. We can see Carla’s surroundings and so have a good sense of locale, and we gain insight into her state of mind at the same time—and often, the two are not related. Abel deploys here a somewhat simpler graphic style than in her Artbabe work. Using a brush throughout, her lines are loose and supple, undulating and bold, but seldom eeked out as wire-thin shading. The visual excitement of contrast is achieved with solid blacks rather than linear qualities. Her rendering of anatomy, faces, and surroundings is expert: we know at once that the story is in confident hands.
For all the success of the novel, Abel resorts at the end to a feeble device—straight exposition—to make sure we understand the meaning of the tale. The last pages record Carla’s interior monologue as she ponders what she has done and what she has learned in her Mexican adventure. She explains how her rescue was achieved, and then she muses that her failure to understand who her friends really were and to comprehend what was happening around her resulted in her being the cause of the tragedy. Momentarily, she sees herself as the younger woman she was in Mexico City, “head full of plans and hopes ... and I watch her. I watch her take one step, two steps, and then she takes a turn down an obscure and unmarked path.... Before I know it, she’s gone from sight, from understanding. She’s lost.” La Perdida means “the lost”; and as the dust jacket claims, it is the story about finding oneself by getting lost. Maybe it’s about growing up and losing one’s innocence. While it is nice to learn the meaning Abel intended in such a direct, unambiguous way, a more accomplished storyteller would have found a more dramatic way to reveal the meaning by showing us rather than by telling us. Still, Abel’s book is an absorbing tale, skillfully told.
Ted Rall, a Flaming Liberal, Pleads on Behalf of Ann Coulter, a Fulminating Conservative Bimbo
Wonders Without Cease
Last year, Ted Rall threatened to sue Ann Coulter over one of her “jokes” (which is how this craven so-called “journalist” excuses the fragrances of her verbal flatulence). She had remarked in her usual defamatory way that Rall had submitted a cartoon to Iran's holocaust cartoon contest. Rall eventually decided not to press his suit, and now he has leaped, like an old fashioned gent, to Coulter’s, well, defense. He does it, as you’ll see, not for old fashioned reasons but for entirely new fangled thoroughly liberal ones, sending an open letter to the liberal MediaMatters.org and the Human Rights Campaign gay-rights group saying progressives shouldn't be pressuring newspapers to drop Coulter. E&P reports that at least eight papers have done so already in reaction to another of her slurring attempts at “conservative humor” (an oxymoron if ever there was) when she called John Edwards a “faggot.” Here’s Rall’s letter, entire:
As a progressive American who shares your views, it pains me to learn that the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Media Matters for America have sunk to the same tactics to silence syndicated columnist Ann Coulter as right-wing extremists deployed against me and other commentators critical of the Bush Administration during the politically repressive years following the September 11, 2001 attacks. I find Coulter's work both ideologically and tonally at odds with my own. She is an intellectually dishonest purveyor of hate speech whose cover—“it's only a joke”—is belied by the fact that she isn’t funny. My contempt for her is also personal. At the 2006 Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., and in her column, she slandered and libeled me by falsely stating that Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau and I had both entered Iran's Holocaust cartoon contest.
So Coulter is no friend or ally. She is my foe and, I believe, an enemy of core American values of decency, generosity, and common sense. As a fervent proponent of the First Amendment and an opinion-monger who relies upon the right to free expression to earn a living, however, I must set aside my personal resentment—and I ask you to do the same. "I disapprove of what you say," Voltaire supposedly said (but probably didn't), "but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It's a noble and very American sentiment even if it's a quotation misattributed to a Frenchman. It is without pleasure but with profound sincerity that I respectfully request that you drop your campaign to ask newspapers to drop Coulter's column in the aftermath of her archetypically reprehensible remark that Senator John Edwards is a "faggot."
During the 1950s, a defining characteristic of McCarthyism was to deprive actors of work in Hollywood to punish them for political views expressed elsewhere. Attempting to stifle a creative person in a forum in reaction to content that did not appear in that forum is a chilling revival of the spirit of McCarthyism. Coulter's "faggot" slur occurred in a speech to the 2007 gathering of CPAC, not her column. Displeasure at her remark would be more appropriately directed at that organization, which invited her back despite her equally distasteful rhetoric last year. Moreover, the specific means you are encouraging people to use to contact newspaper editors are pernicious and possibly illegal. Many will misrepresent themselves as regular readers and/or subscribers to these publications, advocating a kind of fraud that may constitute a crime—“tortious interference with contract”—in many states. Your Web sites contain form letters and "talking points" which you ask people to send to a list of editors of newspapers that carry Coulter's column. Your obvious intent is to convince each editor that his or her newspapers' readers are angry about her column when, in fact, 99% of the e-mails received by each editor will be sent by someone who lives nowhere near the publication's area of circulation, and her column is not directly at issue.
Will this work? Possibly, in some cases. Right-wing extremist groups used similar sleazy tactics against me between 2001 and 2005, asking conservatives to impersonate angry subscribers to my client publications. While most editors saw through the deception, some didn't. In the ideologically charged atmosphere of the time, even papers with sterling, left-of-center reputations were cowed into submission. During the Clinton years, I was one of The New York Times' most frequently reprinted editorial cartoonists, and a contributor to the Op-Ed Page. Under Bush my work appeared a few times before disappearing.
Now that the political winds have changed in our favor, progressives whose views were marginalized, insulted as acts of treason and subsequently vindicated by events are understandably tempted to get even with caustic personalities like Coulter for their vitriol and intolerance. More than ever, however, we must resist the urge to lower ourselves to their level. How can we complain about right-wing hatred if we match it with our own? How can we bemoan right-wing censorship campaigns if we do the same thing?
We must take the high road, and not merely because it's the right thing to do. Remember, the "they do it too" race to the bottom cuts both ways. A few years ago, liberals who complained about right-wing censorship were reminded of 1990s-era campaigns to boycott the sponsors of Dr. Laura Schlessinger's radio show and get Rush Limbaugh fired from his side job as a sports commentator.
"The issue is that anti-gay epithets should be so beyond the pale that anyone who uses them immediately becomes anathema to public discourse," wrote HRC President Joe Solmonese in The Huffington Post. Even for a militant defender of gay rights like me, this argument makes me shudder. Once we establish one litmus test for who's allowed access to the public square—no "F" word, no "N" word—who’s to stop the other side from doing the same— no Bush-bashing, no criticizing the troops?
Censorship of pundits who spew idiotic words like "faggot" only adds to their hateful power. HRC would be much better off directing its energies towards it core mission of "working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender equality ... [and] end[ing] discrimination against GLBT citizens." Isn't making marriage available to everyone who falls in love more important than spinning your wheels in a vain attempt to erase a single vulgar slur from the dictionary?
Media Matters for America's mission statement states that it is"dedicated to comprehensively monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media." Where does censoring people like Ann Coulter fit with this goal? She is, after all, one of the leading purveyors of "conservative misinformation." If you get her and her ilk to shut up, what will you have to monitor, analyze, and correct?
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Very truly yours,
FEETNIT: A few weeks ago, the Associated Press speculated that Coulter’s sluttish hour in the spotlight is dimming, quoting Steve Friedman, executive producer of CBS’s “Early Show,” who said: “It’s a world of ‘Are you talking about me?’ Are you talking about me? And eventually, you have to get more and more outrageous to be talked about. One day, you cross the line and become persona non grata. I think she’s getting close. I think Bill Maher is getting close.”
As for the Voltaire quote—no, he never said that. According to The Quote Verifier, a quaintly invaluable reference, the memorable defense of tolerance was coined by Voltaire’s biographer, Evelyn Beatrice Hall (using the pen name S.G. Tallentyre), who composed it in 1906 “to characterize Voltaire’s attitude toward a colleague’s writing.” For added effect, she put quotations around her utterance, effectively putting words into Voltaire’s mouth. But they were her words, not Voltaire’s.
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