Opus 213 (October 14, 2007). Our Big Story this time is not a story: it’s an Internet Event—namely, a short visit to a gallery of nude cartoonist self-caricatures from the collection of Mark Cohen. In addition, we review two new books, Shel Silverstein Around the World and The Art of Ill Will: The Story of American Political Cartooning, and several comic books—The Last Fantastic Four Story, Superman/Batman No. 40, Casanova No. 9, and Groo at 25. We also report about the latest Muhammad uprising, Peanuts in video, La Cucaracha’s banishment, Boondocks’ return to late-night tv, the Stanleys in Australia (with a picture of the country’s funniest cartoon), the cancer fund from Funky Winkerbean, sexual intercourse in the funnies, farting in Zits, Bill O’Reilly in Candorville, and the very funny work of Richard Thompson. And more, much more. Here’s what’s here, in order, by department:
NOUS R US
Ahmadinejad and Frank Miller
Muhammad Cartoons Again
Peanuts in Video
The Boondocks Returns to Late Night TV
Aussies Get Ready for the Stanleys
Richard Goldwater Dies
THE FUND FROM FUNKY WINKERBEAN
Raising Money to Fight Cancer
Golden Notebook History of AAEC
Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain
Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawings
Shel Silverstein Around the World
Kofi Annan and Cartooning for Peace
The Art of Ill Will Reviewed
COMIC STRIP WATCH
Sexual Intercourse in the Funnies and with Halle Berry
Ellie’s Father in FBOFW
Farting in Zits
Bill O’Reilly in Candorville
Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac and Richard’s Poor Almanac
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
The Last Fantastic Four Story
Superman/Batman and Bekka’s Bosom
Casanova No. 9, Still a Raving Hoot
Groo at Twenty-five
A Gallery of Naked Cartoonists
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
Amid all the excitement aroused in New York a week or so ago by the antics of Iran’s odd and virtually powerless president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—the city’s denying him the privilege of placing a commemorative wreath at Ground Zero and the breach of academic etiquette perpetrated by Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, who, despite his bad manners, won our applause by voicing an opinion that most of us shared and endorsed—few, except the ever-vigilante New Yorker on October 8, noticed the history lesson he delivered to Frank Miller at a Ramadan pep rally held for American-Iranians at the Hilton Hotel in mid-Manhattan. After the ceremonial dinner, Ahmadinejad ascended to a microphone and expressed his dudgeon at the “insults” the U.S. had committed on Iran’s notable history. Discussing Miller’s movie “300" about the Battle of Thermopylae, he said: “That film claimed that under Darius the Great twenty-seven nations paid tribute to Iran. But in a meeting I was in, I corrected that impression,” the crusading president coyly announced. “‘No,’ I said, “under Darius forty-two nations paid tribute to Iran!’” Take that, Frank! That’ll teach you to say anything about Iran. Well, you live and learn. Every day in every way, we get better and better.
A Danish cartoonist is making trouble again. Animator Anders Morgenthaler has produced “a manga-style animated revenge fairy tale” about a vigilante clergyman who avenges the death of his porn star sister. Oliver Duff at the London Independent reports that “the film depicts explicit intercourse, sexual abuse, drug taking and bloody violence and was censored at the Singapore Film Festival because it was considered religiously offensive. Censors objected to a scene which depicts ‘a porn star in a nun’s habit with a cross protruding from her behind,” Duff concludes, adding that British expletive that so perfectly summarizes outrage and alarm, “Crikey!” Morgenthaler maintains that the film is an attack on the porn industry, which, he said, “has encroached into our society and culture to such a degree that I think we have to speak up against it.” We’ll see, now, whether this Danish artifact will inspire riots in the streets and flag burnings by devout “men of the cloth” and their adherents. Not likely, not in the secular West.
The Swedish artist who insulted Islam in August by putting Muhammad’s face on what he says is a dog’s body claims he is not afraid despite death threats and the $10,000 bounty offered by al Qaida in Iraq to anyone who kills him. But he admits that he looks under his car for a bomb every day before he starts the vehicle. Lars Vilks, who maintains that he drew the Muhammad dog as a way of testing the boundaries of artistic freedom, is now contemplating ways of capitalizing on the uproar over his drawing. “The Muhammad cartoon must be made into an art work,” he told Karl Ritter of the Associated Press, “—a musical comes to mind. I think it would help the debate.” Despite the threats, Vilks said: “Most Muslims are, of course, just like other people. They are friendly and nice. Even if they are insulted, they still behave civilized.” Muslims living in the West must become accustomed to disrespectful drawings, he continued, “because here in the West we mock everything. Muslims will understand that this is the system we have and it’s not really against Muslims; it’s just the principle of being able to insult religions.”
Meanwhile, reports Stephanie March on abc.net.au, in Indonesia a new comic book series, The 99, has been launched featuring superheroes each of whom bears one of Allah’s 99 names. Intended to appeal to young Muslims who, increasingly, enjoy Western-style media, the comic book will not “preach to kids about how to be more religious,” its publisher claims, but will reflect “the universal values that Islam has,” bringing them “into society,” which, he continued, is a “good thing, whether it is in pop culture or in any other form.” Now available in eight Middle Eastern countries, The 99, despite its initial setting in 13th century Baghdad, is a metaphor, says its creator Naif Mutawa, for “what is happening in the Islamic world” today.
From Editor & Publisher: The Sandbox: Dispatches from Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (336 6x9-inch pages; paperback, $16.95) collects 90 posts to the military blog The Sandbox, created a year ago by Garry Trudeau at his Doonesbury.com site. In their posts, soldiers write about military life in those far-flung corners; description, not political doctrine, is the mode. Lightly edited by David Stanford of Doonesbury.com and GoComics (who also edits Rants & Raves into bite-size bits for that site), the dispatches are thoughtful and sometimes heart-wrenching. The soldiers who compose them are clearly writers or would-be writers. And the blog marches on at Doonesbury.com. ... Peanuts tv specials, more than 50 of them on the shelves, will be remastered with new bonus features for the home market by Warner Home Video, which also plans to created direct-to-video features with the Peanuts characters, plus “short original programming for digital distribution via wireless and other platforms.” Before long, in other words, there’ll be Peanuts videos produced without the guiding hand of the characters’ creator, Charles M. Schulz, something I had thought was eschewed by those in control of the Schulz estate. Could be I’m remembering wrong. Jean Schulz, widow of the cartoonist, said: “After meeting the Warner creating team, it’s clear that they have an understanding of and dedication to classic animation, which we think will make them a great distribution home for ‘Peanuts.’” Other partners in the deal are Schulz Creative Associates and Lee Mendelson Film Productions, a thoroughly respectable lash-up. ... For Fashion Week in New York last month, top designers, such as Betsey Johnson and Isaac Mizrahi, created frocks inspired by Peanuts characters for the runway show “Snoopy in Fashion.”
Also from E&P: The Houston Chronicle has removed Lalo Alcaraz’s La Cucaracha from its print line-up, retaining the strip only in its online edition. Taking its place in print is Arctic Circle, a strip about three penguins who migrate to the northern ice cap, by Alex Hallett, a New Zealander, about as far removed from Texas pertinence as possible. Wrote one reader: “You replaced a comic with biting commentary on the political and social scene with a strip about penguins? I’m disappointed beyond words.” Alcaraz, in concert with the League of United Latin American Citizens (which sounds, suspiciously, like an organization Alcaraz invented for the occasion), has encouraged fans to lobby the paper to get the strip back in print. James Campbell, the paper’s “readers’ representative,” said that the strip’s political slant was not the issue; “objectionable content was. Editors often had to call the syndicate editor and request that the strip be modified or that a substitute be sent because the strip’s language was offensive to some readers generally” but especially to Latinos. Not swear words or obscenities, just racially or culturally loaded terms. La Cucaracha, like Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks, features a racial minority cast which ridicules its minority as often as it assaults the majority for racist attitudes or for absurd unthinking devotion to faddish pop culture.
McGruder, meanwhile, is back, attacking current events, rappers, race relations and the state of black popular culture. But only on tv. The second season of the animated version of The Boondocks debuted October 8 in the Cartoon Network’s edgy late-night “Adult Swim.” The delay between seasons was due, McGruder told Roger Catlin at the Hartford Courant, to the cartoonist’s desire to “get the animation right.” He wasn’t happy with the first season’s product. But he’s more than happy with this year’s production, according to Greg Braxton at the Los Angeles Times, who witnessed McGruder’s “busting up” laughing, “bobbing and weaving,” as he watched a new episode in which the show’s most unsavory character, Uncle Ruckus, “a foul-mouthed black man who hates black people,” reappears. McGruder’s memories of the show’s first season are not pleasant. “There’s only one word for that first season,” he told Braxton, “—insanity. It was just a horrible situation. I hadn’t worked one day of tv in my life, and all of a sudden, I’m running my own show. I didn’t know, when you work on an animated show that there’s a crisis every week. Only the first year work on the comic strip alone was harder.”
To realize his lifelong dream of having his own tv show, McGruder had to leave his daily comic strip, which was, in many ways, the perfect platform for a satirist: he could comment on topics in the news while they were in the news. With an animated cartoon, the production time often consumes a year. For a short while, McGruder tried to do both the animated show and the daily comic strip; but he couldn’t—“it took a huge toll on me,” he said. He’s happier now, focused on just the animated version. And this year, it’s a better-looking show, McGruder believes: “It looks so much better, the performances are better, everything is just coming together. It’s just so much more satisfying, and we’re much closer to the goal of what I think the show can be.”
The show won a Peabody in its first season for “The Return of the King,” an episode in which Martin Luther King Jr. awakens from a 32-year coma and, after witnessing bling-wearing rappers and raunchy images on BET (Black Entertainment Television), abandons his “turn the other cheek” code. Even if McGruder can’t ridicule some topics because they are too short-lived, other topics fade and then return. “It’s amazing,” McGruder told Catlin, “how we write these things, and then take a year and a half to make them, and as they’re coming out, they become relevant again. We wrote this episode called ‘The N Word’ and, after we wrote it, the Michael Richards thing happened. Then the Don Imus thing happened. And we didn’t have to change a thing.” His regular use of the N–word on the show inspired no little complaint from the likes of Al Sharpton and other black activists. McGruder explained, then, that “it feels fake to write about it and to avoid using it.” Now, he takes a somewhat different approach to explanation: “I cannot in any way defend what I do,” he said; “I use the word in the show because I’m a bad person.”
A new website being ginned up by comic book collector Andrew Filipowski will offer fellow collectors a place to catalog their collections online “for either bragging rights or insurance purposes,” according to bizjournals.com, or, if the price is right, for purchase. Filipowski’s sponsoring company, Rakote.com, will earn a small fee for facilitating such transactions.
During a panel discussion on superheroes held during the annual New Yorker Festival October 6, Tim Kring, creator and head writer for the hit tv series “Heroes,” said what yielded, for him, the most drama in the superhero persona was “treating superpowers as an affliction: how do you have a job, pay the rent or have a relationship when you have these powers?” The panelists, who, in addition to Kring, included novelist Jonathan Lethem (The Fortress of Solitude) now writing Omega the Unknown for Marvel, artist-writer Mike Mignola (Hellboy), and Grant Morrison, who has been working regularly in superhero comics for some years now, were asked to explain the appeal of superheroes, reported Peter Sanderson in PW Comics Week. Kring said “Heroes” reflects a post-9/11 sensibility, the wish fulfillment of the ordinary person to do something in a world that seems to be going to hell. I suspect, however, that superpowered beings appeal to us for reasons buried far deeper in the human psyche—or maybe not so deep—in the simple desire to surmount the physical limitations that restrain us from achieving our desires. In effect, they represent our frustration with being human. A member of the audience, concerned about the future of funnybooks, asked if superhero movies and tv shows stimulated comic book sales. Most of the panelists expressed doubt. Mignola worried that people who came from Hellboy movies to the comic book would be disappointed because they couldn’t recognize in the print medium what they’d seen in the movie. Lethem, considering the presence of superheroes in so many entertainment media today, contended that it is highly unlikely that a young reader would encounter any of the longjohn legions first in a comic book. Morrison said it was more likely that a movie-goer would buy a Spider-Man towel than a Spider-Man comic book.
Down-under ’tooners, which is what we’re calling members of the Australian Cartoonists’ Association (people who know where to put an apostrophe, something their American counterpart, the National Cartoonists Society, hasn’t yet figured out), will hold the 23rd annual Stanley Awards Conference November 2-4 in Wollongong NSW. Their Stanley is the Aussie equivalent of the NCS Reuben, the “cartoonist of the year” award, and it’s named after the legendary Stan Cross, who made comic strip history in Australia with a strip called You & Me, and sometimes Me & You, which he launched in August 7, 1920 and continued until Christmas Eve in 1939, when he left his strip’s host newspaper for another. John Ryan in his history of Australian comics, Panel by Panel, wrote: “In terms of drinking, arguing, swearing and displays of bad temper, You & Me remains unique in Australian comic history and pre-dated many aspects of the anti-social Andy Capp by almost 40 years.” Jim Russell took over You & Me when Cross left, re-naming it Mr. & Mrs. Potts and toning it down somewhat; he continued to produce it for the next sixty years or so, making it the longest running strip in Australian history. Cross did several other strips until he retired in 1970 at the age of 82; he died June 16, 1977. Apart from creating You & Me, Cross was noted for single-panel cartoons, one in particular is celebrated as the country’s funniest cartoon. Known by its caption—“For gorsake, stop laughing—this is serious!”— it was initially published July 29, 1933; it caused so much excitement that, two weeks later, the newspaper reprinted it on glossy paper and sold it for two shillings, six pence, an unprecedented maneuver. ACA’s trophy for its cartoonist of the year is a three-dimensional replica of the Cross cartoon. The current issue of the ACA newsmagazine, Inkspot (it’s the “winter” issue because it’s winter down there while we’re having summer up here), carries a report from ACA member George Haddon about his April 20-22 visit to Shrewsbury in England for the fourth annual Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival during which cartoonists loll around the city’s market square in front of easels and draw caricatures of innocent passers-by. Sounds like a good way to give publicity to cartoonists—almost as good as the annual blood drive staged in San Diego by the Southern California Cartoonists Society, another bunch that thinks the apostrophe is just another crooked mark that can be discarded at will. For more about the ACA, consult www.cartoonists.org.au, whenever they get it up and running.
Richard H. Goldwater, 71, president/co-publisher of Archie Comics, died October 2 after a long battle with cancer. The company was founded by his father, John Goldwater, with two business partners, Louis Silberkleit and Maurice Coyne. Richard joined the operation after graduating from college in about 1958. According to an Archie press release, Richard worked his way up in the company, “learning all facets of running a successful comic book publishing business.” (Archie Comics, inspired by the fabrications of John Goldwater, often uttered truths not apparent to researchers and historians; for more in this vein, visit Harv’s Hindsights, where, in the summer of 2001, we posted a biography that refuted John’s claim to have invented Archie and the Riverdale gang.) Eventually, as editor-in-chief, Richard strived to continue producing “good, clean, wholesome comics suitable for family entertainment.” The wardrobes of Archie characters have changed over the years, but the youthful stars stayed virtually the same, and their so-called adventures never reflected any troubling aspect of teenage life in America. No drugs, no sex, no swearing. For a long time, Archie Comics successfully suppressed a Harvey Kurtzman satire of Playboy because it used caricatures of the Archie characters. And the company prevented Dan DeCarlo, who perfected the “Archie style” of drawing, from profiting from his creation of Josie and the Pussycats.
University Hospitals Ireland Cancer Center in Cleveland has unveiled a new fund raising campaign, Lisa’s Legacy Fund for Cancer Research and Education, named in honor of the character who died October 4 in Tom Batiuk’s comic strip, Funky Winkerbean. All money donated to the Lisa’s Fund will go to cancer research and education, including all of Batiuk’s royalties from the book, Lisa’s Story: The Other Shoe (reviewed in Opus 211). Batiuk, himself a cancer survivor, devised his Lisa storyline deliberately, thoughtfully, and is not surprised by some negative reaction from readers who say the comics are no place for death and disease. Quoting an August post on www.thecancerblog.com, Jesse Leavenworth of the Courant, said it echoes many who object to the strip's storyline.
The post, from Millie Mussomeli, was addressed to Batiuk and said in part: "I just can't stand the storyline about Lisa dying with cancer. I believe there is so much tragedy in this world and that sadness has affected every person's life. Comics are supposed to be interesting, funny, and relieve some sadness. They used to be called the ‘funnies’ in the old days, because that is what the family looked forward to seeing every day. ... Believe me I am REALLY upset by your storyline. Lisa has a small child. I know this happens in real life, but why don't you write a book or do a movie instead of creating such sadness in the `funnies'?"
Batiuk said he understands his critics. "They feel I'm violating some rule of cartooning. ... They feel I owe them a funny cartoon every day," Batiuk told The State newspaper in Columbia, S.C., last month. "What I owe them is the best work I can do every day."
"Lisa is a magical character. As a writer, you hope to create characters that will connect with people," Batiuk said in a prepared statement accompanying the press release on Lisa's Legacy Fund. "Lisa connected with readers—and took me through some of the most difficult situations in the strip. Lisa opened doors for me and allowed me to challenge myself and take my work to a new place. I wanted Lisa's story to be both an inspirational tale and a cautionary one—to remind people to be checked for cancer," said Batiuk. "Through Lisa's Legacy Fund, Lisa will be doing real-world good in the fight against cancer. It is a real honor as a storyteller."
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
The 50-year history of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists is carefully reconstructed in The Golden Notebook, a special 112-page edition of the AAEC newsletter. Intended for the edification and amusement of AAEC members, most of whom weren’t around when the organization was founded in 1957, this invaluable historical document is now being offered for sale to all comers at the AAEC website, http://editorialcartoonists.com, for a mere $20. Many of the pages are devoted to reprinting portions of the 25th anniversary publication, but the up-dating includes much more than merely adding the convention reports since 1982. V. Cullum Rogers, the AAEC secretary-treasurer for life, cartoonist for The Independent Weekly of Durham, NC, and passionate historian of the medium, spent much of the past year pawing through the organization’s archives at Ohio State University’s Cartoon Research Library and thumbing the pages of Editor & Publisher at Duke University to assemble a timeline of notable events in editorial cartooning in the U.S. and abroad since 1957. Details about the founding of AAEC, which infected my report in Opus 208 and in The Comics Journal No. 285 on the AAEC Convention in Washington, D.C., come almost entirely from The Golden Notebook. Highly recommended.
Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain, is the title of a new book by Dilbert’s creator, Scott Adams, who collects between its covers some 150 short essays, “often humorous” according to Editor & Publisher, on “such topics as politics, religion, marriage, dancing, underwear, aliens and why kangaroos don’t drive cars,” culled, mostly, from Adams’ blog. ... Donna Barr, whose engaging comedic and satiric charm has been, for years, on display in comic books about a gay Nazi officer (The Desert Peach), centaurs (Stinz), German culture and the influence of the military on society, has mustered all of her characters in a single title, Afterdead, launched in August, or thereabouts. “In Afterdead,” writes Kate Culkin at Publishers Weekly Comics Week, “Barr creates a futuristic, militaristic afterworld run by the Reich, which is inhabited by many of her existing characters. Pfirsich Rommel (the gay brother of the famed Desert Fox) is an Afterdead and his brother is a terrorist known as the Raider. Stinz is a disgruntled officer in the Reich and his wife Bruna is his sergeant.” Published by Barr’s imprint, Fine Line Press, the book is available through online retailers, lulu.com, and Barr’s website. I couldn’t find her website, but I found Afterdead at lulu.com.
November’s Playboy includes the accompanying drawing of a naked Wonder Woman, ostensibly rendered by the character’s original artist, H.G. Peter. The drawing, as the text beneath the picture reports, is “just one of the treasures to be found in Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawings, a new anthology by Craig Yoe.” And for even more shocking nudity, see “Marky’s Nudes” below. And before we turn, reluctantly, away from Playboy, there’s this—:
By May 1957 when Shel Silverstein began a mock travelogue series for Playboy with cartoons about his return to Tokyo, the scene of his earlier triumph while cartooning, as a G.I., for the Pacific Stars and Stripes, I was just finishing my sophomore year in college, and I knew—as every young cartoonist must’ve known immediately upon seeing Silverstein’s Tokyo ’toons—that “this” was what I wanted to do. I wanted to travel the globe, expenses paid, drawing cartoons about my adventures, which, with Silverstein as inspiration, was certain to include a verifiable quantity of amorous encounters with toothsome cuties in suitable dishabille. As you may have noticed, I didn’t make it. As I’ve said elsewhere (here, in Hindsight, with an appreciation of Silverstein written after his death in 1999), I scarcely had the talent to be another Shel Silverstein. And I’m about to provide irrefutable proof, anon.
All of Silverstein’s travel ’toons have, at last, been collected in a single volume, Playboy’s Shel Silverstein Around the World (190-some 8x11-inch pages in hardback; Fireside, $24)—Shel in foreign capitals, Tokyo, London, Paris, Moscow, Hollywood; in foreign climes, Italy, Switzerland, Spain (where he fights a bull), Greenwich Village; in peculiar locales, among the Arabs, in a nudist camp, on Fire Island, among the hippies. When Hugh Hefner, Mr. Playboy, sought to capitalize on Silverstein’s return to Tokyo by getting the cartoonist to send back to the magazine cartoon reportage of his adventures, Silverstein “agonized” about it, he said: “I couldn’t see what I would draw about that would be good for Playboy. I never wanted to do the sexy stuff. I wasn’t going to do that there. I didn’t think they’d want general gags or subtle stuff. I didn’t want to draw about myself.” But all of that was exactly what he did—some sexy stuff, general gags and subtle stuff, and pictures of himself. He was Everyman—or, rather, the typical American young stud whose understanding of the world beyond Chicago’s State Street was festooned with stereotypical vision and provincial prejudice. And so in Paris, where he’s being taken into custody by a gendarme, Silverstein has himself saying: “You let Gene Kelly dance in the street, you let Fred Astaire dance in the street, you let Audrey Hepburn dance in the street, you let —.” In Italy, he stands before an elaborate rendering of the ruined Colosseum and says to the guard, “Show over?” In Moscow, he looks at a roulette wheel spinning around and murmurs, “What’s so dangerous about this—?” Subtle, like he says. And just a soupcon of sexy stuff. In Greenwich Village, he depicts himself standing on Bleecker Street being harangued by a girlfriend, who says: “They’re talking about us all over the Village—down at the Figaro, over at Whalen’s, down at Joe’s, up at the Bagel—they’re all saying we’re not sleeping together. Now maybe you don’t give a damn what people think, but I do!” In Scandinavia, home of the pneumatic Anita Ekberg (this was in July 1957 when she represented a glorious Scandinavian pneumaticism), Silverstein draws himself sitting next to a spectacularly flat-chested wench, who says: “Well, my goodness—are all American girls built like Jayne Mansfield? Are all Italian girls built like Sophia Loren? Are all—.”
The cartoons are reproduced exactly from the pages in the magazine where they first appeared, including the blocks of overprinting color, art director Art Paul’s idea: he thought the magazine needed color, and pages of Silverstein’s black-and-white cartoons would be visually monotonous, he thought. But the overprinting gave the cartoonist’s nuanced art a garish glaze; the color blocks were a mistake, and even Paul admits it in the book’s Introduction by Mitch Meyers, who, in his pages, regales us with anecdotes about Silverstein’s travels as well as a short biography and some insight into how Silverstein fit into the Playboy mystique: “A perpetual houseguest at the Playboy Mansion [in Chicago, the magazine’s birthplace], Shel began painting and drawing (and traveling) with LeRoy Neiman. He also became friendly with two young comics, Lenny Bruce and Bill Cosby. He spent a lot of time at Chicago clubs like the Gate of Horn and was tight with folksinger Bob Gibson. Maintaining an apartment in Manhattan, Shel hung out with radio great Jean Shepherd and playwright Herb Gardner.” The Introduction and the reprinted pages are lavishly emblazoned with photos of Silverstein wandering the environs of his destinations, often accompanied by lithe representatives of the opposing sex. Silverstein’s method was to spend days, even weeks, hanging around, watching, sinking into the local ambiance. Larry Moyer, a friend and photographer who accompanied the cartoonist on several trips, said the plan was pretty straightforward: “We were looking for bad girls and good food. That was the bottom line.”
According to Steve Duin at blog.oregonlive.com, Silverstein’s dispatches from the edges of the world came in bundles of cartoons and photographs, “often accompanied by a letter, ‘scrawled on a gigantic page of his sketch pad.’” From San Francisco, Silverstein wrote: “I tell myself I’ll start drawing today and head down Haight Street toward Hippie Hill. Three people sit in a doorway smoking grass. A guy in a monk’s robe asks me for some spare change. Electric rock comes from a basement window. The girls line up at the free clinic to get their birth-control pills—a sign says Don’t Give the Clap to Someone You Love. The tourists drive by with their windows rolled up. ‘Wanna buy a lid?’ The Diggers ladle out free beef stew and apples. Beads, pot pipes, posters, underground newspapers for sale. Written on a psychedelic-painted truck, Don’t Laugh, Your Daughter May Be in Here! A hand reaches out of some bushes and gives me a roach. A long-haired girl takes my hand and leads me up a path through some trees, where we lie down. Afterward, she smiles and says, ‘Welcome to Haight-Ashbury.’ I think I’ll wait and draw tomorrow.”
A retrospective like this one yields insight into an artist’s development as an artist. By the end of the book—by 1968, eleven years after the series started—Silverstein’s drawing style was much the same in a general way, but his lines, although still languid, looping easily through their motions, were often firmer, even bold, and the pictures were sometimes embellished with more elaborately realized decorative detail. And, a final visual bonus, here’s a drawing of Silverstein by Hefner, a frustrated cartoonist himself, dated April 28, 1966.
In our Hindsight department for April 2001, I have written about Silverstein at much greater length, elaborating on an obit I wrote shortly after he died. This essay I converted to a monograph in 2004, and, by way of celebrating Playboy’s 50th anniversary, I added 23 pages of Silverstein cartoons that, to the best of my knowledge, have never been reprinted anywhere—namely, his History of Playboy, recorded in cartoons featuring barenekidwimin, eager photographers, and caricatures of the perpetually pipe-smoking Hefner, all lifted from the first three 1964 issues of the magazine. One of these artifacts can be yours for a mere $8 (including p&h); write me at the link at the end of this diatribe for payment details and other whatnots.
And now, by way of proving, beyond all reasonable demurer, that I could not, ever, have been Shel Silverstein, here, in a trice, we have the evidence, namely, my attempts at being Shel Silverstein. As I reminded you earlier, I didn’t make it into Playboy with my version of Silverstein’s cartoon travelogue, but I did manage to get an expense-paid trip half-way around the globe—to the Mediterranean Sea, courtesy of the U.S. Navy. Bounding over the heaving main, or vice versa, I did cartoons for the ship’s monthly magazine—no Playboy, and no lewd lovelies in sight but a chance, nonetheless, to do a low budget blatant imitation of Silverstein, starring my shipboard cartoon character, Cumshaw, a beaky enlisted man whose cunning evasion of all forms of work lent cartoon reality to the nautical meaning of his name: “cumshaw, (verb) to obtain material through unapproved channels or (noun) the material so obtained.” Herewith, a sample.
See also Editoonery, below, where we review, briefly, the latest history of political cartooning in America.
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
The Great Ebb and Flow of Things
In the last analysis, the Bush League convicted Jose Padilla, a 36-year-old American citizen born in Brooklyn who converted to Islam—the so-called “dirty bomber”—of “conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country” and “material support” for Islamic terrorism because he allegedly filled out an application form to attend training at an Al Qaeda camp. That was the proof, the evidence, the “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The prosecution was unable to prove that Padilla actually joined Al Qaeda, or that he even went to one of those Afghanistan camps. Ted Rall, who draws acerbic cartoons and writes an insightful column, treats this subject at some length in his column for August 21; visit www.tedrall.com for details (click on “Columns” then “Headline Archive” at the upper right, then find “It Did Happen Here”).
No one can possibly be surprised that Blackwater, a private army of security guards, is brutally aggressive in the performance of its assignment in Iraq and that various of its rank and file have, in pursuit of what they conceive to be their duty, killed innocent bystanders, by the dozens. The people who sign up to be Blackwater operatives are not the sort you’d invite to your grandmother’s house for tea. They’re professional tough guys. They like warfare, shooting guns, and killing and maiming people. Not all of them, but a lot of them. Some of them—perhaps most of them—are motivated by sincere patriotic beliefs. But they’re still professional tough guys, not barflies or folksingers. They like violence. Why else would they sign up to work as gunslingers? Most of them have arms as big around as Barry Bonds’. Most of them are as clean-cut looking as the company’s founder, Erik Prince, whose well-groomed fraternity boy appearance belies the blood-thirstiness of his company’s methods. So what should we expect when we hire such devotees of physical force and throw them into a hostile environment that bristles with unanticipated menace at every street corner? Blackwater’s operational solution to this dilemma is “shock and awe.” Careening in black SUVs through Baghdad at high speeds, forcing other vehicles off the streets, all the while brandishing high-powered weapons and occasionally firing them at random, Blackwater teams behave at all times in a belligerent and intimidating manner, hoping to forestall roadside ambushes by scaring the enemy away. It’s a terrorist tactic applied in a terrorism environment, and, judging from one kind of result—none of the U.S. diplomats being protected by Blackwater have been killed or seriously harmed—it works. But Blackwater’s techniques are giving America a bad rap: Iraqis don’t distinguish the good soldiers from the armed-to-the-teeth “security” cowboys. They’re all Americans, and the cowboys mistreat Iraqis enough to seriously impair our efforts to win hearts and minds. Moreover, the reliance on mercenaries to perform duties that historically have belonged to the miliary undermines the military. Blackwater and other similar security companies in Iraq recruit from the ranks of former Navy Seals and other elite fighting forces. And Blackwater operatives are paid much better than soldiers in the U.S. Army. The prospect is that the military will begin to suffer a “brawn drain” as trained and experienced special forces personnel decline to re-enlist in favor of joining the better paid ranks of Blackwater and its ilk. Blackwater employees can make two or three times the money their equivalents in the armed forces make. General David Petraeus earns roughly $493 a day; a senior manager in Blackwater makes $1,075 a day.
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is responsible, with editoonist Jean Plantu of France’s Le Monde, for the formation of Cartooning for Peace—a meeting, or a conference, or an exhibition, all of the above—intended to foster the “unlearning of intolerance.” Although the casual chronicler might think Annan was inspired by the disturbance caused last year by the Danish Dozen, that isn’t the case, says Brigid Grauman of the Financial Times: “Annan was shocked that Arab cartoonists used anti-Semitic Nazi imagery to depict Israelis, and that Israelis mostly drew Arabs as suicide bombers.” Annan then asked Plantu if he could assemble a conference and exhibition at UN Headquarters to combat intolerance. The first event took place early in 2006 and posed both the name of the project and its challenge: "Cartooning for Peace: The responsibility of political cartoonists?" The Associated Press last year reported that Annan said in opening remarks that cartoons "can encourage us to look critically at ourselves, and increase our empathy for the sufferings and frustration of others, but,” he continued, “they can also do the opposite. They have, in short, a big responsibility."
During the initial seminar, the AP account went on, the cartoonists exhibited their work and discussed the power of the medium that incorporates humor, irony and politics, which sometimes results in a volatile mix. Many of the cartoonists said their work must not be created primarily to incite tensions that could result in violence, while others acknowledged they cannot always determine when they will cross the line. But they all agreed they must pay attention to the present political climate of the world. "We have a job to be more sensitive," said Plantu."It is a new challenge for us," he told reporters at a press conference during a break in the day-long session.
One of the 40 Danish cartoonists originally contacted to depict the Prophet Muhammad in the fall of 2005 was Carsten Graabaek, who accepted Plantu’s invitation to speak at the UN in early 2006 "with some trepidation,” the AP reported. Unlike the 12 cartoonists who accepted the invitation from the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, Graabaek said he declined to render a drawing because he "hadn't any squabble" with the Prophet. "I think cartooning is about what goes on Earth and freedom of speech is a worldly affair, a secular affair, whereas the Prophet and respect for the Prophet and the ban on drawing or painting his likeness is a spiritual matter," Graabaek said. He said the two should remain separate. "Instead of having these endless discussions that are still going on, I think we should scrap the whole argument, because it leads nowhere," Graabaek concluded, adding that cartoonists should be politically correct, despite the stigma the term carries.
While Plantu called for more sensitivity by cartoonists, according to the AP, he was joined by others who disagreed with codifying what subjects should be avoided. "It's not our job to say what should be drawn and what should not be drawn," he said. As we reported here in Rancid Raves last year, Mike Luckovich, a U.S. editorial cartoonist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, said cartoonists should not have to follow political correctness, but should question their own motivations. "I don't think you should incite people, just to incite them," he said. "And I think that's what the Danish cartoonists, or editors, did."
Annan said he hoped "we can avoid getting into a kind of 'cartoon war,' in which one group seeks to retaliate for the offense it has suffered, or believes it has suffered, by publishing whatever it thinks will be most offensive to another group."
The initial gathering of editoonists at the UN in New York was followed by similar events in Geneva in March and in Paris in April, then Brussels in May this year. Cartoonists who attend discuss how to avoid offending the sensibilities of newspaper readers with seemingly bigoted stereotypical imagery while, at the same time, exercising their freedom to criticize governmental shenanigans and social foibles. At the most recent meeting, Danish cartoonist Lars-Ole Nejstgaard said: “Our duty is to attack the government in power.” But how an editoonist fulfills this mission varies greatly from one culture to another. Thembo Kash cartoons in the Congo where, he said, cartoonists play “an essential role in explaining to a widely uneducated [illerate, I think he means] population news that is written in dense, often incomprehensible language,” reported Grauman in her Financial Times article.
“Unlike the French cartoonists, who steer clear of politician’s private lives, Jeff Danziger in the U.S. thinks they’re fair game,” Grauman continued, quoting Danziger: “their private lives are a rich source of material, certainly if they don’t practice what they preach or if they say something odd or interesting—like when Hillary Clinton said that [her husband] was a ‘hard dog to keep on the porch.’”
I’ve cobbled up this whole item mostly to get to that quote, which is a beaut, both in figure and in fact. Danziger, who just returned from one of the group’s meetings in France, told me that he thinks the meetings are “okay—but Lord knows what people get out of them. The one in France,” he continued, “got damn little from me cuz I spoke in English.” The next meeting is in Atlanta at Emory University, November 10-16.
Book Review. The Art of Ill Will, a aptly singeing title, purports to be “The Story of American Political Cartoons” (264 9x9-inch pages; hardback, NYU Press, about $30), and it is that, but it is more of a genial bus tour than a boots-on-the ground expedition. Its author, Donald Dewey, begins with admirable acumen: “Editorial cartoons honed their political blades on technologies, opportunities, and pressures of the nineteenth century mass media. Had nothing of the kind existed before? Of course it had,” he concludes, at once dispatching as inconsequential the usual historian’s preoccupation with who was first. Citing the Egyptians cited by Stephen Hess and Milton Kaplan in The Ungentlemanly Art, Dewey goes on: “There are limits to citing such precedents. Intriguing as they might be, for example, the contentions about [Egyptian tomb paintings] resemble the enchanted history that has claimed the sands around the pyramids as the first primitive baseball diamond and Babylonians as the first vaudeville comics: research dreaming after relevance.” The book is worth acquiring if for no other reason than to have that last phrase handy. But Dewey’s casual if not disparaging attitude about history infects the rest of the proceedings. He notes the importance of the advent of lithography in advancing the influence of editorial cartoons by making them more readily available through mass media. And then he says: “Appropriately enough, the revolutionary surface printing method, which allowed for more detailed reproductions in a fraction of the time required previously, was effectively based on the mutual antagonism of oil and water.” Another tidy turn of phrase—“the mutual antagonism of oil and water”—but how lithography works or why it is less time-consuming than some previous method of printing images Dewey neglects entirely to tell us.
In assaying the arrival of the newspaper editorial cartoon, he contends that “it wasn’t until 1867 that a significant publisher, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., of the New York Evening Telegram, printed editorial cartoons on a regular basis.” How regular? How often? Dunno: Dewey doesn’t say. What’s more, I have a vague recollection that another New York paper started publishing political cartoons some years before—albeit only once a week. Dewey also appears to give advertisers an influential role in dictating editorial attitudes much earlier than I would suppose, given that advertisers were not numerous in the early years of American newspaper journalism. Moreover, the earliest successful newspapers were essentially the house organs of political parties; politicians, not advertisers, would dictate content. Elsewhere in the same 73-page Introduction (nearly a third of the book), Dewey says Thomas Nast’s “satirical imagination was processed by razor blades.” Dunno what that is intended to mean. Did Nast, literally, use razor blades to draw or to embellish his drawings? Maybe. Or is this a figure of speech about Nast’s nasty disposition? Can’t say.
Like others who have gone down this path before, Dewey assumes that Walt McDougall’s famous cartoon depicting the influence of monied interests on 1884 Presidential candidate James C. Blaine, “The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings” was the cartoon that inaugurated a daily front-page political cartoon in the New York World, setting a fashion that established the editoon in daily newspapers. This cartoon, Dewey contends, was rejected earlier in the day by the humor magazine Puck. As McDougall tells the story in his autobiography, he had picked up his rejected cartoon at the Puck office but, since he was on the way to watch a baseball game, he didn’t relish carrying the thing around with him. By chance, he was, at about this moment, passing the premises of the World, and on a whim, he turned into the building, thinking he’d submit the cartoon to the newspaper. At the last minute, however, he lost his nerve and thrust the cartoon into the hands of an elevator operator, telling him to give it to the editor to print if he wanted, free. McDougall then went off to the baseball game, thinking no more about his cartoon until he saw it on the front page of the World the next day. But the cartoon in question was not, according to Charles Press in his 1981 history, The Political Cartoon, the Belshazzar Blaine cartoon, which was published on October 30, 1884. By that time, Press says, cartoons by McDougall had been appearing in the World regularly, perhaps daily, “for four or five months.” His first World cartoon, the one that had been rejected by Puck, was published in June, according to Press. We don’t know, apparently, its subject—that is, no historian of the genre has taken the trouble to paw through ancient editions of the World to find it. I haven’t. And apparently Dewey hasn’t either.
I could be wrong: maybe Dewey’s right and Press is wrong. But I think it unlikely. The Belshazzar Blaine cartoon was not McDougall’s solo work: in rendering at the festive board the likenesses of such financial dignitaries as Jay Gould, Jacob Astor and Andrew Carnegie, McDougall surrendered the drawing to Russian portraitist Valerian Gribayedoff, newly arrived on these shores. Judging from McDougall’s anecdote, the rejected Puck cartoon was his own work. He probably wouldn’t have been likely to give it away to the World—letting the editor run it for free—if it incorporated other artists’ work. The collaboration represented by the Belshazzar Blaine cartoon is indicative of newspaper staff endeavor, not of a freelance cartoonist peddling his efforts to humor magazines. McDougall’s anecdote clearly involves a cartoon that’s not the Belshazzar Blaine cartoon. In short, based upon such circumstantial evidence, it seems to me, then, that Press is right and Dewey isn’t.
Dewey seems to have done no original research in assembling this volume: he is, in effect, summarizing numerous other books he’s read on the subject. Nothing wrong with that. I do the same. That’s perfectly respectable, but Dewey’s verbal dexterity leads him into deeper waters than he has prepared himself adequately to wade through. His text, however, is lively and reasonably informed even if not nit-picky accurate. For the general reader, the book is a useful survey of the history of the genre. The Introductory essay is accompanied by a few much too tiny illustrations, but they are all repeated in the latter section of the book, the illustration part, at a satisfying full-page dimension, so not much is lost—except the value of illustrations being proximate to the text discussing them. While the Introduction is chronological, the illustration section is thematically organized—Wars and Foreign Relations; Ethnic, Racial and Religlious Issues; Local and Domestic Politics; Business and Labor—but the selection brings us up to present times with cartoons about the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the Mess-o-patomia. Some of the classic masterpieces of the genre are included, and several of the cartoonists represented are not usually visible in such anthologies—Dr. Seuss, for instance, and M.A. Woolf, more remembered for urban waif cartoons than political clout, and suffragette cartoonist Laura Foster. A goodly survey, as I said.
The Introduction ends with Dewey’s rather jaundiced, and therefore entirely welcome, view of the present-day predicament of the profession—not so much the impending and much heralded demise of the political cartoon so much as the genre’s feeble or non-existent impact. Again conducting his discussion in shimmering but sometimes baffling gyrations, Dewey seems to wonder if the political cartoonist has lost sight of his role in American politics. He hopes an emerging generation of editoonists are politically and artistically savvy enough to do the heavy lifting even if they move “only one odd reader every once in awhile beyond the social attitudes he brought to the newsstand. Otherwise,” Dewey concludes glumly albeit wittily, “the history of cartooning is doomed to be nothing more than the history of cartooning.”
Walt McDougall, by the way, got a staff job out of his rejected Puck cartoon. Joseph Pulitzer, publisher of the World, was so delighted with the cartoon that he offered the cartoonist a steady job on the paper. Said Pulitzer: “We have found the fellow who can make pictures for newspapers! Young man, we printed the entire edition of thirty thousand copies of the world without stopping the press to clean the cut, and that’s never happened in this country before.” McDougall refrained from telling him what he thought of the reproduction: it looked, he wrote, “like the crab’s eyebrow without the proper reduction in size to refine its coarse lines.” I can’t imagine why the condition of the cut, the engraving, was such a signal matter to Pulitzer. His later remark seems more to the point for a newspaper publisher: “He draws circulation—that’s enough!” Whatever the case, he hired McDougall, and McDougall stayed on for sixteen years: “Daily editorial cartooning as a profession was born,” Press concluded.
“Friendship is a common belief in the same fallacies, mountebanks and hobgoblins.”—H.L. Mencken
“A true Friend stabs you in the front.” —Oscar Wilde
COMIC STRIP WATCH
I’m not convinced that comic strips are getting edgier in some sort of wholesale Doonesdock manner. We’re not awash in a tsunami of irreverent satire so much as we’re witnessing a subtle sea change in which topics once kept submerged are now floated to the surface, sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently. Sexual intercourse, for instance, is usually not a comic strip topic. But on October 3, it was strenuously alluded to in Terri Libenson’s Pajama Diaries, a comic strip in which the heroine, a young mother, attempts a career working at home while raising two children, both daughters. Her reporting of her endeavors appears in the strip as a running caption, the meaning of which—the import thereof—is amplified and sometimes contradicted satirically by the accompanying pictures and speech balloons. On the date in question, the initial caption reads: “Before kids, intimacy was so spontaneous.” And the picture beneath depicts our heroine in bed with her husband, who asks: “You wanna?” To which she says: “It’s 7:30 and we have to leave for work in ten minutes. OKAY!” (Ten minutes; pretty candid reportage.) The next panel illustrates how things have changed: “nowadays” parents of young children must schedule “intimacy.” “I left tonight open,” she says to her husband beside her in bed; but they are immediately interrupted when a thunder storm begins, prompting their fearful toddlers to join them in bed for comfort. Fairly straightforward marital conversation about sex. Or, to deploy the polite euphemism, “intimacy.” A few years ago, nothing remotely echoing these ideas could be found in the funnies of a daily newspaper. Now, however—well, on the same day in the same newspaper we have a story about Halle Berry’s pregnancy, telling us what Berry said on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” the day before. It was not, apparently, easy to get pregnant: “So there was a lot of staying home and doing what you do,” she says, “—like, all the time, around the clock.” Imagine that: boffing Berry 24/7. The “news” has always delighted in the salacious, but now, at last, the comics have caught up with the news columns, thanks to Terri Liebenson. “Intimacy” in trumps.
One of the loose ends in For Better or For Worse is the fate of Elly’s father, Jim, who suffered a stroke a couple years ago and is barely able to speak and communicate. After a couple weeks of her “hybrid,” reprinting strips from early in the feature’s run, Lynn Johnston returned the first week in October with newly done episodes about Elly’s father Jim, who just suffered another stroke. ... And here’s Blondie, using a startlingly contemporary term, “main squeeze,” in reference to her usually dim-witted husband. Even more surprising, a trace of subtlety on October 10 as Cookie and Blondie seem to accept Dagwood’s desire to have a sandwich as a form of celebration rather than simple voraciousness. ... In Brian Crane’s Pickles, the grandfather captures the essence of life: saying he just needs three things, he enumerates them: “a good book, my slippers and a plate of hot cinnamon rolls, and you can keep the book and the slippers.” Amen. ... After my making a big deal of the picture of Snoopy’s doghouse in something other than profile, here comes two more instances of the same phenomenon. Okay: so it isn’t as rare a phenomenon as I thought it was. ... Tony Cochran’s Agnes writes an essay for school. Or maybe it’s a poem. “A Wonderful Poem about Trees by Agnes,” she begins, finishing: “A tree is green and so forth ... the end.” Agnes’ friend reads this epic and says: “Seems wordy.”... In F-Minus, Tony Carrillo’s stiffly rendered one-panel strip, an instructor on the shooting range tells an amateur cracksman who’s just finished discharging rounds into a distant target: “Okay, not bad. Next time, see if you can do it without making the gun noises yourself. Let the gun do that.” ... The Flying McCoys a panel cartoon by the McCoys, Gary and Glenn, hurts my eyes, but I have to admire the humor, particularly this from September 29, wherein one woman tells her girlfriend: “I plan to hyphenate my name when I marry. But eventually, I’d like to upgrade to a semi-colon followed by a lightning bolt.” ... A recent release of Little Dog Lost, a new strip in which cartooner Steve Boreman manages to render a dog as wooden as a cookie cutter, offered a verbal-visual gag too good to pass up; see the accompanying sample. ... Another adventure in verbal-visual humor is fully indulged in Jim Borgman-Jerry Scott’s Zits for September 26. And a few days later, provoked, doubtless, by the now widely accepted notion that a herd of cattle’s production of methane gas contributes to the evaporation of the ozone, we find farting as the operative element in the day’s gag. Jeremy tells his parents they should get a “greener car” because the one they have “probably spews out 10,000 pounds of greenhouse gasses a year.” To which his father responds: “Is that all? I do more than that on two grande burritos.” If that’s not a fart joke, I dunno what is. Then Jeremy gets the last laugh with his comment to his mother: “You should get a greener husband.”... And on September 29, Bill Griffith in Zippy took a swipe at the shrinking newspaper comic strip and various other of society’s ills.
Over in Candorville, Darrin Bell takes a shot at Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, who was reported, recently, as being astonished when he discovered that the clientele at Sylvia’s, the celebrated Harlem soul-food restaurant, were like normal (i.e., “white”) people. Most accounts of this incident strenuously imply that O’Reilly’s remarks reveal his not-so-latent racism, but virtually all of those accounts fail to mention that he made those comments during an interview with Juan Williams, who, in Time.com, noted that “we were discussing how gangsta rap had promoted a stereotype of blacks as ‘ignorant, oversexed, and violent.’ He talked about his dinner at Sylvia’s, and how the people he saw there were totally unlike the thugs glorified by rappers. But because O’Reilly is an outspoken conservative, the liberal ‘watchdog’ group Media Matters strung together his juicier quotes to make him sound like a racist.” Moreover, as Tony Norman remarked in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, O’Reilly freely acknowledged in his interview with Williams that he grew up in a family that viewed blacks with fear. “In his own, bumbling way, O’Reilly was trying to emerge from the cloud of tribal associations he inherited during his working-class Irish youth,” and for that, saith The Week, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. I’m probably as happy as any O’Reilly foe to exult in examples of his boorish bad manners and vaulting egotism, but, as Clarence Page said in the Chicago Tribune, this time, O’Reilly is getting a bum rap. Nice to see how quickly Bell can get comment on current news into his strip, though.
Richard Thompson’s new strip, Cul-de-Sac, is finally emerging from its deliberately innocuous launch cocoon. Syndicates know that newspaper editors shy violently away from anything remotely different or unprecedented, so I’m reasonably sure that syndicates, eager to stimulate sales of new strips to newspaper editors, encourage their new cartoonists to produce the blandest, least offensive, least likely to be misunderstood pablum humor possible for the early weeks of their strip, the weeks that make up the sales kits for new strips. This strategy prevails despite the fact that both syndicates and newspaper editors claim they’re looking for new and different comedy in comic strips. Cul-de-Sac seems a case in point. Its initial releases suggest that the strip is about elementary school children and their trials in school. Very nearly a rehash of Miss Peach, fondly recalled. After a few weeks, however, Thompson’s real agenda began to surface. He’s an entirely off-beat visual comedian. His drawing style is scratchy-scrawly-wispy. And, following his somewhat askew sense of humor, he approaches the world with an obtuse but accurate vision, as you might be able to tell from the samples we’ve included here. But to properly enjoy Thompson, you need to encounter a lot of him in rapid succession so you can get in step and enjoy the bizarre rhythms of his hilarities. I recommend for that purpose that you promptly acquire your very own copy of Richard’s Poor Almanac (160 6x8.5-inch slick-paper pages, some with a second yellowish color; paperback with a fake dust jacket, Emmis Books, $14.95), which reprints a healthy dose of the weekly cartoon panel Thompson produced for seven years for the Washington Post. The book’s front fake dust jacket flap accurately describes the book as a “magical and manic almanac of four seasons of weathered wisdom rendered in cartoons, charts, narratives, guides, and profiles that cover everything from preventing spring weeds to concocting hangover cures....” Here are some samples.
BADINAGE AND BAGATELLES
“Climate is what you expect; weather is what you get.” —Robert Heinlein
Samuel Morse actually made his living as a portrait painter. —The Bathroom Trivia Almanac
“Man, being responsible, must get drunk; the best of life is but intoxication.” —George Gordon, Lord Byron
“The gentle mind by gentle deeds is known. For a man by nothing is so well betrayed as by his manners.” —Edmund Spenser
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Stan Lee’s recent return to writing comic books—a momentary lapse, probably—The Last Fantastic Four Story, a one-shot, is a typical Silver Age Stan Lee effort, brimming with cosmic import and superheroic braggadocio and balderdash. Observing that war, poverty and bigotry continue to thrive, the Cosmic Tribunal supposes that human nature causes all this evil and therefore humans must be eliminated—a nicely satiric proposition—so the Adjudicator, whose power is the power of thought, is dispatched to do the dispatching. The Fantastic Four, momentarily distracted from an argument about how to turn a profit from their powers when they retire, try to come to the rescue but the power of thought is too powerful. Namor shows up to help; no good. Ditto the Silver Surfer—Stan Lee is pulling out all the usual stops, including his most profoundly metaphoric creation, the Christ-like Surfer. Dr. Doom comes back, and the Thing shouts “Clobberin’ time” more than once. The Surfer brings Galactus back, and he gets the Decimators to attack the Cosmic Tribunal. The Decimators, being mindless killers, are impervious to thought powers (an agile notion). But Reed Richards realizes that the Cosmic Tribunal is not evil, just mistaken in its judgement of people, so he engineers their rescue, and the Tribunal, having benefitted from this beneficent act, realizes its error and decides not to kill all mankind after all, whereupon, the Fantastic Four, having saved the world one more time, retires. It’s a nostalgic trip to have Stan Lee back in all his grandiosity—and this time, with actual thematic implications—and John Romita Jr’s visualizations are, as always, a balm to the eye.
The cover of Superman/Batman No. 40, boasting a busty Bekka, refugee from Apokolips, with a couple of giant handguns held aloft, seduced me into buying. But apart from Dustin Nguyen’s drawings inked by Derek Fridolfs, the issue didn’t much engage me. Too much tedious exposition, I fear—Darkseid and Desaad sprinkled ominously around but virtually no context to tell me what had gone before. Batman falls in lust with Bekka and she, him, so we have a story about sex and menacing violence. Green Arrow & Black Canary No. 1, the “Wedding Special,” on the other hand—while offering similarly seductive artwork by the inspired Amanda Conner—is good fun. The fiendish Sivana decides to try eliminating all the superheroes of the world who will, all of them, be guests at the impending nuptials. He fails, but Conner no doubt had fun drawing the entire DC line-up. The action when they’re attacked, however, seems a trifle confused and the story falters somewhat once the predictable formula fisticuffs commence; it picks up again on the couple’s wedding night, but not in the way you might be imagining. Conner, as always, lends the story its charm, providing ample visual humor in rendering Judd Winick’s narrative, beginning on the first page when, in illustrating the captions that refer to the mutual attraction of the duo as “raging carnal desire,” she shows us Diana eying Ollie’s ass lustfully, employing, to hilarious effect, the tradition about what attracts women to men.
I picked up Casanova No. 9 to see if the book is as good as it was at the beginning, and I am delighted to say that it is. For my initial review, visit Opus 190 here. For now, suffice to quote a few of Matt Fraction’s verbal flights. Here’s Sasa Lisi introducing herself: “I have a PhD in catastrophic temporal entrophy manipulation theory,” she says, and, invoking Ray Bradbury, “I’m a time traveler that loves to step on butterflies.” Another new character, Kubark Benday (named for the inventor of the gray tone dot pattern in comic strips), tells us that “when Thelonious Godchild died, they found a deck of fifty-one aces in his pocket and a sock full of nickels.” Fifty-one aces? A sock full of nickels? What’s all that? And Casanova’s sister Zephyr Quinn, wearing a t-shirt that says “Under Cover” across her chest, says, “Gone was boring, and now I’m back.” Elsewhere, “X doesn’t stand for anything: it stands for everything.” The book is, as it was early on, suffused with such throwaway utterances, amusing bullshit, entirely (or nearly) meaningless except as a mechanism to get us to turn pages. But what a turn! The book resonates with the pseudo-conflict of portentious encounters, all adrift in verbal exuberances of the sort I’ve just quoted. Even Fraction admits “I’m starting to see things in the work that aren’t actually there.” Like the question that underscores this issue, in which the title character fails to appear: “When is Casanova Quinn?” When? Word play of this sort is like poetry. Or music, which is what Fraction is aiming to evoke. Gabriel Ba, the initial artist on the book, is no longer at work on it except for the cover, his place inside taken by Fabio Moon, whose style is not as crisp but is equally clean. Because I can’t buy every book out there (alas), I gave up on this one after the first couple issues; but now, seeing how things are going on—that is, in the same hilariously jubilant and persistently meandering manner—I’m gonna get all the numbers I’ve missed, hoorah.
The 25th anniversary special of Groo is an entirely appropriate and wholly satisfying romp through cheese dip with our misguided fray-meister. In the first of three features, a story entitled “The Plague,” Groo manages to frustrate and, eventually, make worse the health of an entire village In the course of this enterprise, Sergio Aragones and his translator Mark Evanier manage to insinuate into the proceedings an occasional plea for better health care by making it clear that in Groo’s misbegotten venue, the medical profession exists to make money for its members and, as a consequence, only the rich can afford health care. In a short text piece, Evanier attempts to lay to rest several “urban legends” about Groo, one of which is that he, Evanier, doesn’t get paid for working on the comic. Next comes a story about Groo as what is laughingly called a “tot”; despite his diminutive stature and abbreviated age, Groo the toddler manages to destroy everything in sight, including the king’s castle and the immediate environs. Finally, by way of conducting a muster of the Groo cast, the authors give us “The Groo Alphabet,” for which Evanier writes a verse for every letter of the alphabet, each letter beginning the name of some benighted Groo cast member, every verse accompanied by an Aragones’ comic drawing of surpassing comedic invention. We should always be so lucky in our reading matter.
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
The rumor that Wayne Newton has lost the ability to sing is, Newton tells us, false.
The tattoo business has spawned a new cottage industry—tattoo removal parlors, which, one hopes, threaten to be as numerous as tattoo parlors.
Lois Maxwell, the Canadian actress who made a career of playing Miss Moneypenny, M’s secretary, in the Bond movies, died earlier this month at the age of 80. She last played Moneypenny in “A View to a Kill” in 1985. She was often asked during appearances at Bond conventions to rate the various 007s. She said Sean Connery, the original Bond, was the best kisser.
MORE ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
The Great Ebb and Flow of Things
In Myanmar, the storied Burma of yesteryear, a popular movement towards democracy was crushed by the military junta that rules the country. And the U.S. did nothing. George W. (“Whopper”) Bush stood up a year or so ago at a State of the Union address, or maybe it was his second inaugural address, and said, in effect, that the United States would support any peoples’ effort to achieve democracy for themselves. You stand up for democracy, he said, and the United States will stand by you. Phoooey. Is it any wonder no one can believe anything he says anymore? So he left it to his wife to protest the brutal crackdown in Burma.
Todd S. Purdum, in October’s Vanity Fair, writes this about Darth Cheney, our ominous Prez of Vice: “Bush and Cheney have always presented Cheney’s lack of presidential ambition as an asset, one that has allowed Cheney to serve the president with unquestioned loyalty and singular effectiveness. The truth is precisely the opposite. As the 2008 election approaches, it is obvious that Cheney’s willful political tone-deafness has become one of Bush’s biggest liabilities. A vice president with his eye on the prize would operate with more astuteness and delicacy, if only for the sake of his own objectives. And a president determined to ensure his vice president’s prospects could never afford to be as stubborn, as seemingly oblivious to the physics of electoral reality as Bush has chose to be. ... Cheney remains the most powerful vice president in history. ... One Bush-administration veteran had this to say by way of summary: ‘The guy scares the crap out of me.’” Cheney, according to beltway rumor, is lobbying throughout the government for an invasion of Iran.
I did a book in 1998 with Mark Cohen, who usually signed himself “Marky” to friends, but in the flesh when meeting persons he didn’t know, he introduced himself as “Mark J. Cohen”—because, he explained, “Mark” ended with a “k-sound” and “Cohen” began with a “k-sound,” so an auditor might not distinguish first name from last and suppose he was meeting “Marcowen.” Mark thoughtfully arranged his self-introductions to preclude that error from taking place. Mark was a collector and admirer of cartoons, and at the time we did the book, he estimated that he and his wife, the inestimable Rosemarie McDaniel, had about 9,000 pieces of original cartoon art in their possession. I’ve been in his house in Santa Rosa, and I think they’re right: cartoon artwork was lying around everywhere that it wasn’t piled up, leaving not much room in the house for Mark and Rosie. Of the 9,000 pieces, around 900 are self-caricatures of cartoonists, a lot of which appear only in copies of books of the cartoonists’ works that are inscribed to Mark and Rosie.
It all started, as chroniclers like me are wont to say, in 1956 when Mark was about fourteen. He wanted to be a cartoonist. And one day, he took samples of his work to show them to a real cartoonist, hoping to get advice on how to proceed with his career. Bert Whitman, who was then editorial cartoonist for the Stockton Record, was Mark’s mark.
“It took me weeks to get up the courage to call,” Mark remembered, “and when I finally made the appointment, I was scared to death. When the day finally came, I went to the paper and was ushered into his office. Whitman was a big moose of a man. He seemed like a giant to me. I remember that he was working on the day’s cartoon, and he held a soft-lead pencil in one hand and an art gum eraser in the other. The hand holding the pencil would spiral down the sheet of coquille board and the other hand would work the eraser,” Mark continued, demonstrating by moving both hands at once. “I was awestruck, watching him work with both hands, sketching and erasing at the same time, spiraling down the paper.”
Whitman looked at Mark’s cartoons and gave him some advice. He also gave the youth his first original cartoon.
Mark gave up his cartooning ambition because he didn’t fancy the solitary life that cartoonists invariably lead. A highly gregarious sort, Mark needed to be with people. After several years working in his father’s pawn shop, he elected to become a magician, developing his act and an accompanying line of comedic patter. To make a living, he was eventually driven to sell real estate. But the comedian lived on: as he met cartoonists, he started writing material for them, beginning with Morrie Turner and Wee Pals, later, adding Jim Scancarelli and Gasoline Alley. In the last analysis, though, it was Whitman who had persuaded him to give up being a cartoonist: “I couldn’t spiral down the paper,” Mark told me, flashing an impish grin.
But he still loved cartooning. Passionately. And there was something about the drawings in their original state that enthralled him. He had been dazzled by the original cartoons hanging on the wall in Whitman’s office. A habitué of used-book stores and antique shops, Mark found some original cartoons in a Los Angeles shop, and he bought some of them. The passion was fueled. The collection was born.
Visiting a second-hand bookstore in 1971, he found a catalogue from a 1943 exhibit in San Francisco at the deYoung Museum called Meet the Artist. “It was a book of self-portraits,” Mark said, “and it had Thomas Hart Benton in it and the better known artists of the day, but it also had a number of cartoonists who had done self-caricatures. It had Al Capp, Otto Soglow, Zack Mosley, and so on. And it just really hit me. I thought, How interesting. How fun it would be to collect self-caricatures. Where would you find self-caricatures to collect? I had no idea. So the logical thing to do was to make requests of the cartoonists for self-caricatures. And I believe the first one that I asked was Al Capp. I wrote to him. And one came back. And I became a self-caricature requesting maniac.”
With every request to a cartoonist, Mark sent a money order. “I’ve always felt it was wrong to ask someone to give their product away,” he said. “And while it may have been only a token payment, the cartoonists appreciated the ethic generally. I had a high degree of success.”
Initially, he went after the self-caricatures he found in the deYoung catalogue. And then he began looking for self-caricatures of the cartoonists whose original art he had in his collection; pairing the cartoon with the cartoonist’s self-caricature made an interesting display. And display them he did. As the collection grew, Mark offered it to museums around the country. When the exhibition consisted entirely of self-caricatures, Mark called the show “The Face Behind the Laugh.”
The book that Mark and I did together—using about 150 drawings from his collection and short biographical prose that I manufactured to go with each picture—is entitled A Gallery of Rogues: Cartoonists’ Self-Caricatures (and you can obtain your very own copy by clicking here, which will send you to a description of the tome from whence you can journey to an order blank). The careers of the cartoonists whose mocking self-images appear therein span more than a century of American cartooning. From the earliest to the latest—from Thomas Nast and Fontaine Fox to Signe Wilkinson and Scott Adams; from the most famous to the lesser known—from Charles Schulz and Chester Gould and Walt Kelly to Peter Newell and Sol Hess and Nate Collier. Mark and I picked cartoonists whose life’s works would be most familiar to the average citizen, but we also chose some whose pictures of themselves were particularly noteworthy examples of their artistry. Despite this self-serving hoopla, I didn’t call you here today to sell copies of the book. The purpose of our meeting today is to admire another of Mark’s projects. Which we’ll get to in a trice.
I curated a show in Seattle’s Frye Art Museum as the last century came to a close, and Mark and Rosie loaned about half the pieces on display. They came to the opening, and during the evening, Mark sidled up to me and said, “You know what you should do during these things, don’t you?”
When I said I didn’t, he said, “Go talk to people.”
And then he proceeded to demonstrate. He walked over to a couple looking at an original Mutt and Jeff strip and said to them: “Did you know that Mutt and Jeff was the first successful daily comic strip?” And when they said they didn’t, he continued by regaling them with a few anecdotes about the picturesque Bud Fisher, who created the strip.
Coming back to me, Mark said, “That’s how I have fun at these things—talking about comic strips and cartoonists and the history of it all.”
Mark’s comedic muse was always at his beck and call. Mostly he indulged it in cascades of terrible puns and old jokes that Mark made everlastingly comic by the sheer twinkle in his eye that proclaimed his boyish conviction that rotten puns and hoary punchlines were, actually, funny.
Talking with museum personnel in Chico, California, during the opening of one of his shows there, Mark displayed a quietly subtle side of his humor: “I liked coming to Chico,” he said. “It’s an easy drive from Santa Rosa. My wife drives. All I have to do is keep my hand on the wheel.”
Never has a backseat driver been so gently hinted at.
But Mark was no slouch at backseat driving himself. I rented a car during a visit with him, and we drove south from Santa Rosa to Carmel to visit Gus Arriola. It rained the whole time, and at various intervals during our trek south, Mark would say, “Can’t you drive any faster?” I was doing seventy in the pelting rain as it was.
He loved word play, and for that reason delighted in the antique locutions to be found in Horatio Alger novels. He showed me one that particularly amused him (and, immediately, me): “‘You’re a rotten human being, Throckmorton, by _______,’ yelled the old captain, inserting an oath in the blank.”
And he could write comic poems at the drop of a syllable. Several times while I was with him, he would suddenly grab a tiny scrap of paper (a fragment of a cocktail napkin, say, or the blank inside of a matchbook cover) and scribble a few words on it, then, looking up, recite an entire poem of a few verses in hilarious couplets. Many of Scancarelli’s Sunday Gasoline Alley strips featured Mark’s comic rhymes.
In the mid-1990s, Mark fell accidentally into the job he seemed born to have. He and Rosie were having breakfast with Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse) at the end of one of Ohio State University’s Comic Art Festivals, and Lynn asked if Mark would be interested in acting as her agent in selling original art. Before Mark could answer, Rosie said, “Yes—he would.”
And so Mark slipped quickly out of selling real estate into representing cartoonists. Before long, he had an impressive list of cartoonist clients, all of whom became his friends.
“He was a spiritual compatriot in the cartooning industry,” Johnston said. “The cartoonists grew to respect and have a lot of faith in him. He had integrity and he had a love of our work. Anybody that produces work that comes from the spirit, people tend to take advantage of. We don’t know a lot about business or marketing. But Mark did. He had a natural affinity for marketing. He was absolutely fair to everybody.”
But within a year of finding his calling, Mark was diagnosed with cancer of the brain.
Mark dealt with this setback in the same way he engaged with life itself—as humorously as possible. He was periodically treated for developing tumors, and the disease would go into remission. And when that happened, Mark responded to inquiries about his health by saying, “I’m remiss.”
He teamed with cartoonist Buck Jones to produce a little flyer of cancer jokes called “Hello Chemo-Sabe” (invoking memories of the Lone Ranger and his Native American sidekick, Tonto).
“There are lots of benefits to having cancer,” the flyer began, and then went on to list some:
“I can stop worrying about cholesterol.”
“I’ll never again have to deal with a used car salesman.”
“I don’t have to feel guilty about not taking ballroom dance lessons.”
“Everything I buy now comes with a lifetime guarantee.”
Jones depicted Mark in various illustrative poses in the flyer. “Humor is healing,” Mark wrote, inviting other cancer patients to share their experiences for future editions of the document.
When he went in for treatment, “he made everyone in the infusion room roll off the table,” Rosie said. “He sat in many waiting rooms and relieved the pressure for other patients. He’d make jokes and make them forget, for a short time, why they were there.”
In the fall of 1999, Mark’s cancer finally laid him low: spreading to his spine, it paralyzed him. For the last month or so of his life, he was confined to bed. When Lynn Johnston phoned him once, Mark responded in his usual jocular mode: “I haven’t got a leg to stand on,” he said.
Johnston reported later that Mark told her one of the side effects of his treatment in the last weeks was that he hallucinated that he was eating his favorite foods. Mark’s many friends found comfort in that.
Mark was able to attend a favorite annual December event—the ice show at Charles Schulz’s skating rink, the Redwood Empire Ice Arena in Santa Rosa. Sparky and Mark were friends, and Mark always went his friend’s anyule ice show.
“There is no doubt that Mark meant a lot to all cartoonists,” Schulz said. “Mark and I always loved just talking about other cartoonists and looking back to the old ones we liked so much. We were always able to talk about these great old comic strips and laugh and laugh and have such a good time.”
And Mark also attended the opening of another exhibit of original art in his collection—nude self-caricatures by cartoonists.
The idea had been Rosie’s. “Wouldn’t it be fun if—,” she had said to him the previous winter. It was a wonderful cartooning idea, positively aglow with perverse possibilities: ask cartoonists to do caricatures of themselves in the nude.
It was, indeed, a funny idea, positively aglow with perverse possibilities. And Mark would know: he was a font of funny ideas. He was also not a man to lollygag around when possessed of one of his ideas. He immediately began contacting cartoonists and propositioning them: what did they think of his funny idea, and if they liked it, would they contribute a nude self-caricature to a possible book collection of same? Cartoonists responded to Mark’s solicitation for this item with great enthusiasm, producing outrageously inventive pictures of themselves in various states of nakedness—or partially, ingeniously, shielded nakedness. In less than a year, Mark had scores of pictures. And they exhibited them in December in Santa Rosa, and Mark attended the reception in a wheelchair, all smiles. Here are some of them.
That nude opening and the ice show were Mark’s last hurrahs. He died about five o’clock in the afternoon on December 19, 1999, surrounded by his loved ones—namely, Rosie and thousands of pieces of original comic art. But he left us all with the beloved trophies of his life-long collecting passion.
“The true collector,” he said once, “is not an investor. The true collector collects because he loves the art. Every collection is special. Because it reflects the personality and the love of the collector. I hesitate to use the term, but Rosie and I have truly been blessed because the cartoonists have become our family, and it’s really a love affair. Our collection has been built because the cartoonists have been very generous with us. And we want to see it continue as a gift to the art that has been so wonderful to us. So we’ve arranged for this collection to go to the Ohio State University’s Cartoon Research Library. There, it will be the body of a collector’s life. It is a gift of life: it will be used; it will be useful. It can be lent to museums and libraries, publishers—whatever use is fitting and necessary.
Mark cheered the world while he was in it. It is not given to many people that such a thing can be said of them. It was my good fortune to meet him; it was my bad luck to have met him only a few years before he died. I thought him a rare and wonderful being. I’ll miss him and so will the cartooning profession.
Now, maybe you’ll go back and look at those nude self-caricatures again. As Marky always said when sending people on their way, whichever way it was, “Enjoy.”
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