Opus 214 (November 28, 2007). As the Season of Frenzied Giving approaches, we concentrate this time on books you really oughta buy. Revews, in other words, galore. We also report on the 9th triennial Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State University, trace the careers of the recently departed Bob Bindig and Paul Norris, and ponder the doings of some of the strips in the funnies. And more, much more. Here’s what’s here, in order, by department:
NOUS R US
Gordon Lee Mistrial
FESTIVAL OF CARTOON ART, 2007
With Visual Aids
The Careers and Good Works of Robert Bindig and Paul Norris
Newsweek Cuts Back
The Boondocks: All the Rage
Bumstead Family History
Complete Terry and the Pirates
Chester Gould biography
Stop Forgetting to Remember
The System of Comics
Supernatural Law Companion
Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawings
Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain
Art Spiegelman Conversations
Christmas List of Books to Buy
COMIC STRIP WATCH
Rhymes with Orange
Heart of the City
New Yorker Cartoon Issue
Annual Stock-taking and Bean Counting (Again)
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 long delayed trial of comic book store owner Gordon Lee, accused of giving youngsters pornographic comics (because in one of them, painter Pablo Picasso was correctly depicted in the nude), ended, for the time being, in a mistrial on November 5 because the prosecutor in his opening statement referred to Lee’s previous run-in with the law despite having been instructed by the judge not to do so. The case has been in a state of continual prolongation for three years, costing the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund $80,000. Said CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein: “Every step of the way, the prosecution has been adding further expense to Lee’s defense, first by changing their facts, then by entering new indictment after new indictment, and today by contaminating the jury. Nobody, especially a small retailer [like Lee], can bear this kind of expense on their own. Today’s action is clear evidence of why the Fund needs to be around to protect comics.” At this writing (November 24), the next step is uncertain; the case could be dismissed—or go to trial again. For details, visit www.cbldf.org
Last summer, Marvel gave minor league baseball the superhero treatment, wrote Matt Glynn in the Buffalo News, publishing a give-away comic book, Triple-A Baseball Heroes, in which some of the Marvel longjohn legion gets involved in a triple-A game. ... Commemorating the sixty-ninth anniversary of Kristallnachkt (“Night of Broken Glass”) during which Nazi Germany terrorized Jews by breaking into their stores, homes, and places of worship, Mark Tatulli produced a week-long continuity in his comic strip, Heart of the City, in which an elderly friend of Heart’s tells her the story of how he and his sister survived the terror. ... J.K. Rowling is now officially “the richest author in the history of the world” according to Ben Shapiro in Townhall.com; Rowling recently revealed that the revered Harry Potter character, Professor Albus Dumbledore, is gay. ... The voice of Uncle Ruckus in Cartoon Network’s “The Boondocks” is supplied by Gary Anthony Williams, who also plays Clarence/Clarice on ABC’s “Boston Legal.” ... The comics in India’s Hindustan Times are published on page 2, the page on the reverse of the newspaper’s front page. The paper is in English as are all the comic strips: Calvin and Hobbes, Wizard of Id, Ginger Meggs, Bringing Up Father, Tarzan, Bound and Gagged, This Is Out Life, B.C., Heathcliff, Dennis the Menace, Marmaduke, and The Born Loser.
“A Life in Books” is a regular feature in Newsweek: authors or celebrities are asked to list a half-dozen books that were important to them in their lives. In the November 26 issue, Kate DiCamillo, author of Because of Winn-Dixie and “the newly released picture book Great Joy,” listed two books by cartoonists (Maus by Art Spiegelman and Doctor De Soto by William Steig) and another with classic illustrations by a cartoonist, Charlotte’s Web with pictures by Garth Williams.
Conan, who has already had more lives than Sherlock Holmes, is poised for more comebacks, beginning in video games. The Robert E. Howard (1906-36) character who enjoyed his initial revival because of Frank Frazetta’s spectacular cover paintings for a re-issued series of Howard’s novels in the 1960s, moved into an entirely different phase in the 1970s with Roy Thomas’s stories in Marvel Comics, as illustrated, first, by Barry Windsor-Smith then by the man who was probably born to draw Conan, the late John Buscema. Conan may be said to have reached his apogee in film when the present governor of California, who, in those distant days, was a mere weight lifter and body builder from Austria, found his way to fame and a politically connected wife by playing the Hyborean adventurer, the perfect movie role for a muscular man who talks funny. As a video game, Conan has another two lives: in “Conan,” published October 23 by THQ for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3—rated “Mature” because of its gore, intense violence and nudity; and “Age of Conan: Hyborean Adventures,” due March 25, 2008, by Eidos for Windows Vista PCs, not rated yet but promising to be “faithful” to Howard’s writings. And we’re not yet finished with the print version of Conan: Dark Horse is bringing out two Conan books—Conan the Phenomenon, a 200-page collection of images by Frazetta, Boris Vallejo and others, plus a history of Conan and of Howard; and The Savage Sword of Conan, 500-plus page reprintings (2 volumes out so far) of the Marvel Comics incarnation (not to mention Dark Horse’s new monthly series that started in 2004). Then there’s another movie, whose producer, says Mike Snider in USA Today, “wants to restore Conan to Howard’s original noble savage, ‘a barbarian who is confronted with civilization as his life progresses and who has a much stronger moral code than the so-called civilized people.’”
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 For delving into the history of our beloved medium, you can’t go wrong by visiting Allan Holtz’s http://www.strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Allan regularly posts rare findings from his forays into the vast reaches of newspaper microfilm files hither and yon.
Irks & Crotchets
What’s the comic strip Overboard about? Why are we at sea? Are those pirates or hippies? And what about the dog and the bear and other unlikely animals—why are they aboard and talking?
I’m lost in Funky Winkerbean. I know they’re all ten years older, but I can’t tell who is who anymore. And Drabble. Which one is he?
Things I would do differently: The father’s nose in Baby Blues is much too big; I’d make it smaller. Rob’s hair in Get Fuzzy is not just mussed up: there are simply too many tiny, wispy hairs all over his head. I’d simplify.
Festival of Cartoon Art
The triennial Festival of Cartoon Art at Ohio State University never fails to warm the heart, stir the brain, and settle the stomach: for a little more than two days, we’re in a bubble with other cartoonists and their admirers, talking almost exclusively about cartooning and related exploits. The sense of camaraderie and common purpose is pervasive and oceanic. The Festival comes up once every three years, sponsored by the Cartoon Research Library at OSU. This year’s Festival, October 26-27, was the 9th, which means Lucy S. Caswell, CRL’s curator, has been marshaling the profession every three years for twenty-seven years. It’s one of the best confabulations of its kind: for two days, Friday and Saturday, cartoonists stand up and give illustrated talks about their work, and at off moments, we stroll through exhibitions of superior comic art. This year, both exhibits were devoted to Milton Caniff. His donation of his papers to his alma mater, OSU, founded the CRL, and this is the centennial of the year of his birth, so the theme of the Festival was “storytelling” with Caniff as the totem. As Caniff’s biographer, I made a presentation entitled “Milton Caniff and the Art of the Storytelling” on Thursday afternoon during the “preconference” and was one of a panel of “friends” of Caniff who reminisced about him on Friday morning.
The preconference was an innovation this year: except for me, all of the presenters, 14 of them, were academics. The topic was “Graphic Storytelling: Academic Perspectives,” and under that rubric, scholars “presented papers” (as they say in academe), which means they read them to us as fast as they could, seldom looking up from the page to see if any of us were still in attendance. After an hour or so of this, many of us were there in body only. Although tedious in the extreme, this practice makes the most economical use of the time at academic conferences of this sort. At such gatherings, each presenter is customarily allotted, say, 15 minutes for his or her presentation; reading a paper aloud guarantees (1) that the presenter will get to “say” everything he or she intends to say (because it’s all written down, right there, and can be tinkered with beforehand to make sure everything is “right there”) and (2) that no one will go over his or her time limit. I was luckier: not only did I have an entire hour to myself, but my presentation came at the end of the day, so even if I’d exceeded my time limit, I wouldn’t have usurped someone else’s time. Miraculously, I managed the whole presentation within the allotted time.
Presenters during the Festival itself included Brian Walker, who on Friday morning reviewed the history of the storytelling comic strip as the kick-off speaker, P. Craig Russell, Ted Rall, Jessica Abel, Frank Stack, Ray Billingsley, Mike Peters, Paul Pope, Nick Anderson, and Alison Bechdel. And there was a panel of publishers—Fantagraphics’ Gary Groth, Dark Horse’s Diana Schutz, and Mark Siegel from Scholastic, lately into the graphic novel racket with Jeff Smith’s Bone. At this point, my reportage will start limping badly. I’m hard of hearing (that is, half deaf, an expression I like better despite the imprecision of its measure), and although I wear a hearing aid, the mechanical augmentation is only marginally helpful. Hearing aids are of little help in crowded, noisy restaurants and in conferences with formal presentations made by speaking into microphones. The problem is definition, not decibels: no matter how loudly someone speaks, if they run their words together in the way people do when speaking normally, it’s difficult for the hard-of-hearing to discern what’s being said. (You can imagine how little I heard at the preconference of academics.) At the Festival presentations, I sat in the first row, as close to the speakers as possible, hoping to read lips a little. But proximity didn’t help all that much. Fortunately, I was sitting next to cartoonist Jim Whiting and I’d nudge him every once in a while for clarification of what the speaker was saying; unfortunately, Jim also wears a hearing aid and didn’t hear the speaker any better than I did. Fortunately, Jim’s wife Bernita sat next to Jim; unfortunately, she also wears a hearing aid. Fortunately, her hearing loss is not as much as Jim’s, so when I had difficulty making out what was said and nudged Jim, he, having heard no better than I, turned to Bernita, and she jotted the essence of the speaker’s message on a scrap of paper, which Jim, after reading it himself, passed to me. I heard a few things, though, and some speakers spoke more clearly than others. Herewith, then, reporting that is sometimes first-hand, sometimes third-hand (passed along by the second hand).
Brian Walker, who read all of Editor & Publisher during the more than six years he was researching for his two comic strip history volumes (Comics Since 1945 and Comics Before 1945), spoke briefly about the rewards of research—the sense of discovery and surprise: “You don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it.” Introducing the general topic for the Festival, he reviewed the history of storytelling strips, beginning with the Yellow Kid’s travelogue strips. “Travel was a big continuity theme,” Walker said. He also noted that fellow comics historian Bill Blackbeard claims the first serious bloodletting was in The Gumps when young Chester goes to Australia. For Blackbeard, the threat of death or its actual occurrence defines the serious adventure strip genre.
The panel of Friends of Milton Caniff included Mort Walker, Peter Poplaski, and Arnold Roth as well as yrs trly. Roth had the best line of the session, and it wasn’t about Caniff. Brian Walker, who preceded this panel, finished well within his allotted time, so we took to the platform ahead of schedule by ten minutes, and Arnie wasn’t with us. Ten minutes later—precisely on time— he sauntered into the room and took his seat at the head table. I ribbed him about it, introducing him by saying he now had a chance to make up for being late by saying something particularly insightful about Caniff. But Arnie was having none of that. “In my centuries of freelancing,” he said, “the one thing I learned was, never be early in meeting a deadline.” Fact is, he wasn’t late: as I said, he was exactly on time, but we were all early.
P. Craig Russell (who was harder for me to hear than most) showed pages from his Siegfried comics and explained the symbolism. He talked about how his visuals were inspired by the music in Wagner’s opera, and then, to conclude his presentation, he showed all the visuals a second time, this time accompanied by Wagner’s music—an extraordinary tour de force. Ted Rall, political cartoonist turned graphic novelist, discussed graphic journalism, reviewing the emergence of the genre, beginning with Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Joe Sacco’s books about the Mideast, then on to War Fix and the recent books of travel reportage about visits to North Korea and China. In his own graphic reportage—To Afghanistan and Back, the first book about the 2001 U.S. invasion of that country, and his most recent, Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?—Rall said he set himself to answer the question, What’s it like there? What’s it feel like? He believes that the best way to arrive at answers is by visual reportage as well as verbal, and both of his books reflect this conviction. He also mentioned the difficulty of marketing books like his: “If you put a cartoon on the cover, the book winds up in the humor section, the ghetto of the bookstore.”
During the publishers panel the next morning, among the questions moderator Lucy Caswell asked was: Are we stuck with the term graphic novel? Gary Groth, as always straight-forward and common-sensical, opined that we were, admitting at the same time that it’s essentially “a marketing term.” Neither Fantagraphics nor Dark Horse has much of a marketing budget: they depend upon word-of-mouth. Both preferred bookstores to shelf graphic novels in a “graphic novel” section or in the appropriate subject category—biography, science fiction, history, etc.—rather than in the “humor” section. The present deluge of graphic novels cannot be explained by any single phenomenon, the panelists felt. Our culture has become more and more visual, due, partly, to tv, and graphic novels extend that tendency. Groth felt that enough graphic novels have been published to reach “critical mass”: enough of them to attract attention and therefore space in bookstores. I, on the other hand, think it’s due to the “Jack Davis effect.” Davis once explained his emergence as a popular cover artist for magazines like Time by saying that many of the art directors at magazines and at advertising agencies had been readers of EC Comics and admirers of his work; once they were in positions of power, they commissioned their favorite artist. By the same token, readers of Silver Age Marvel Comics are now in positions in our culture that permit them to nudge comics to the fore, and graphic novels benefit from the company they keep.
Ray Billingsley, whose professional career started when he was about fourteen, talked about his life and his comic strip, Curtis, but without visual aids. He said when he was about Curtis’ age, he had a “bale and a half” of an Afro, but his grandfather, a barber, cut it off. Asked if Curtis had been reprinted anywhere, Billingsley professed mild amazement that apparently none of the reprint houses were interested in his strip. Nick Anderson and Mike Peters showed their editorial cartoons, although Peters spent most of his time hysterically relating some odd adventure he’d just survived trying to find his way to the Festival. Paul Pope talked about art rather than storytelling. Alison Bechdel showed pictures of pages from her Fun Home graphic novel. In her opening remarks, she said she became a visual artist because lesbians were invisible when she was growing up, and she wanted to see herself. And Frank Stack—ahhhh, Frank, the Carl Sandburg of comix—looking vaguely like a well-dressed street derelict but sprinkling profundities and satirical asides throughout his discourse, told us he started drawing the alleged “first” underground comic, The Adventures of Jesus, because he had discovered that “by using religion I could really get to people and piss ‘em off.” Even though I couldn’t make out much of what he was saying, I was vastly entertained by watching the contortions of his face as elbowed his way through the persiflage to get, at last, to the punchline that invariably punctuated his sentences. He made it seem that constructing an utterance as he went was a laborious feat if not a painful project. A wholly unreconstructed hippie, Frank said, “My comics are for people like me.” And many of us are people like him—or wish to be.
That’s about all I heard that I can remember. But here are some pictures of what I saw.
What’s That Again?
Ohio State University’s $109 million athletics budget provides an average of $110,000 for each of its 980 athletes, about triple what the school spends to educate each student.—Wall Street Journal, quoted in The Week, November 2
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST: Part One
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
In The Week for November 21, we learn that only one of the 2 million American soldiers sent off to World War I is still living: Frank Buckles, age 106. ... The same issue of the magazine quotes from the London Daily Telegraph in which Max Pemberton writes about the seeming medical discovery that being a little fat, pleasantly plump or chubby—about 25 pounds overweight, not obese—is healthier than being rail thin: Hardly a day goes by “when some activity, foodstuff or other lifestyle choice isn’t linked to death and disease,” Pemberton writes, and then, allowing a decent interval for us to totally rearrange our lives, “research is published that completely contradicts this advice.” We’re told to avoid the sun so as not to get skin cancer, but then warned that we need it to produce vitamin D. And on and on into the night.
In The Week of October 19, we discover that “photos and stories featuring Jennifer Aniston sell more magazines than those of any other celebrity,” including the famous heir-head Paris Hilton.
In Time’s cover story on “America by the Numbers,” we learn that “more than 90 percent [of Americans] own a Bible, but only half can name a single Gospel, and 10 percent think Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife.”
WE’RE ALL BROTHERS, AND WE’RE ONLY PASSIN’ THROUGH
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,
But I’m so glad I ran into you---
We’re all brothers, and we’re only passin’ through.
Old Folk Ballad Lustily Sung By Walt Conley in His Trademark Husky Rasp of a Voice at the Last Resort in Denver, Lo These Many Years Ago
Robert Bindig, 1920-2007
My friend Bob Bindig died November 6 at Sisters Hospital in Buffalo; he was 86. He had recently undergone surgery for hydrocephalus and was recovering wonderfully; then an infection set in which proved fatal. A cartoonist and commercial artist, Bob ran his own one-man agency in Orchard Park, New York, from the mid-1950s until he retired in 1995. His clients included Rich Products, Fisher-Price and National Gypsum, and for ten years, beginning in 1985, he drew the Big Boy giveaway comic book. He designed the Buffalo Bisons logo with “Buffalo Bison” at bat, and he did the artwork for a board game commemorating the infamous “Blizzard of ’77.” He was proud of his membership in the National Cartoonists Society, and in 1988, he won the Society’s division award in advertising cartooning.
After graduating from high school in 1939, Bob worked in the art department of a local newspaper, and in 1941, he married Dorris M. Krull. He was drafted into the army in 1943 and went into training to be a medic, but when his artistic bent was discovered, he was put to work lettering “Trash” on the sides of garbage cans. Later, stationed in the Philippines, he drew propaganda leaflets. The closest he came to combat, he once said, was when the War ended. “Guys were out in the streets firing their carbines into the air to celebrate,” Bob said, “and there were bullets flying all over the place.”
After the War, he was sent to Korea, which had been under Japanese control. Stationed in Seoul, his unit put out a newspaper, and Bob drew a comic strip, The Mischievous Twin Bears, aimed at Korean youngsters who chanced upon the newspaper. “The strip lasted only eight weeks,” he told me, “because I became eligible for discharge. They wanted me to re-enlist to be in charge of the art department. They offered me the rank of Master Sergeant with a three-month furlough. I only had to work nine months but got a full year’s pay. But I said, No. I wanted to see my family. I wanted out. So I went home, arriving on my wife’s birthday, April 1, 1946.”
Everywhere he went while in uniform, he regularly wrote to Dorris, and he usually decorated the envelope with a cartoon of himself, engaged in some military shenanigan or another. Last year, the Veterans History Project, created by Congress in 2000 to collect and preserve the stories of veterans of all wars, asked Bob to contribute his envelope art to its “Art of War” project on the Web (www.loc.gov/warstories).
Bob and I achieved a second-hand acquaintance during the several years in the mid-1970s when we both wrote columns for the Menomonee Falls Gazette. Bob was a passionate fan of cartooning in all its forms, and he had clipped and saved comic strips from a very early age. These he carefully pasted into scrapbooks, adding magazine and newspaper articles about cartoonists. Some years ago, I bought his scrapbook of Alley Oop strips; most of his scrapbooks he donated to the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University—huge tomes, 2x3 feet, bound by hand.
Bob participated in more than one comics fan publication. He joined editor Carl Horak as associate editor of Strip Scene, a periodical devoted to illustrated essays about vintage comic strips; and the two perpetuated their working relationship on Caniffites, a newsletter devoted to the work of Milton Caniff. In recent years, he produced for The Funny Paper an exhaustive re-telling of the Gasoline Alley saga, pasting strips in chronological order with short paragraphs of connecting prose narrative by way of abbreviating the generations-long tale. He often contributed cover art for these publications, the only readily available sample of his work I have. He drew with a bold and fluid line, producing crisp and immaculate pictures—as you can see.
We finally met in person at OSU during the festivities surrounding the 75th birthday of Milton Caniff shortly after Caniff invited me to write his biography. Bob was a life-long fan of Caniff’s, and he had a complete run of Terry and the Pirates—every strip published since 1934, clipped out of newspapers and filed carefully in chronological order—and he let me borrow it long enough to make copies of my own, thereby providing me with a resource indispensable to writing the biography. Later, he gave me a copy of his complete run of Caniff’s Dickie Dare. Bob’s devotion to the art of the comic strip—and his enthusiasm, curiosity, and knowledge about it and about Caniff’s work in particular—provided me with a kind of yardstick by which I mentally measured what I was doing as I wrote the book. Bob had expectations for the book—sometimes exactly expressed, sometimes only vaguely voiced—and those expectations lurked in the back of my mind as a soundingboard against which I imagined the published work finally striking. It was my hope that the book would ring true—and with all the right feelings and enough fugitive facts to slake a true Caniffan’s thirst for at least as long as it takes to read it. And Bob was, in my mind, that true Caniffan. Dorris told me Bob didn’t finish reading the Caniff biography, “but I will,” she said.
Bob and I ran into each other often after Caniff’s birthday party—usually at NCS gatherings or at OSU’s Festival of Cartoon Art. We roomed together at the 2000 Reuben Weekend in New York, sharing the room with Jim Whiting. Bob was a gentle man with a quick wit. Puns gave him a particular delight, and his conversation was always liberally laced with them. I’ll miss the puns. And the gentle sometimes diffident but always firmly committed demeanor. And his passion for the profession.
Paul Norris, 1914-2007
On November 5, we lost the last of the great living connections to the creations of the Golden Age of comics. Paul Norris, who co-created Aquaman in 1941, died of heart failure at Tri-City Medical Center near his home in Oceanside, California; he was 93. Although Norris’ stint in the four-color fictions of the longjohn legions inspires reverence among funnybook fans, his career as a cartoonist and his niche in the history of cartooning are in newspaper comics: he produced Brick Bradford for 35 years, writing the strip as well as drawing it.
Born in Greenville, Ohio, about 20 miles northwest of Dayton, Norris, he said later, drew pictures from the moment he could hold a pencil. Graduating from high school in the depth of the Great Depression, he entered Midland Lutheran College in Freemont, Nebraska, in 1934. He enjoyed college and was active on campus, working on both the yearbook and the newspaper and performing in plays. But he left MLC after just a year and a half.
“Few people know why I left Midland,” he said when interviewed by the MLC Magazine last year. “It was to pursue the publication of a comic strip, Hobo Cupboard.” A friend had written a script for Hobo Cupboard, and Norris drew the strip. It was sold to a syndicate in Ohio. “As was the custom, the syndicate wanted six weeks of the strip in advance. I couldn’t get that much work done and keep up the chores and studies I had at Midland,” Norris continued. “So I returned to Greenville to get the strip ready for publication. Well, before I finished the six weeks of artwork, the syndicated folded. I was out of college and out of work—life can be devious that way.”
Norris then enrolled at the Dayton School of Art, where he met his future wife, Ann. After completing his studies, he joined the art department of the Dayton Daily News, where, in addition to performing various illustration assignments, he concocted a comic strip about a cameraman, Scoop Lens, which Norris later identified as his favorite creation. Norris married Ann in 1939 and soon left Dayton for New York where he found work in the infant comic book industry.
“No one, not even Paul, was ever certain what his first job was in that medium,” wrote Mark Evanier at his website, newsfromme.com, “but by 1940, he was drawing for Prize Publications,” creating several of their “star strips”—Yank and Doodle, Power Nelson and Futureman.
By 1941, Norris was at DC Comics, then National Periodical Publications, where he created Aquaman with one of the editors, Mort Weisinger. Intended as DC’s answer to Marvel’s Submariner, the character debuted in More Fun No. 73, November 1941. Norris worked with other DC characters, including Sandman, for whom he designed a spandex costume: until Norris got to him, Sandman had worn an ordinary business suit and snap-brim fedora, covering his face with a gas mask. When Norris left the feature, Sandman fell into the capable hands of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
While working on DC characters, Norris inherited a newspaper comic strip. An adventure strip, Vic Jordan debuted December 1, 1941, written by Kermit Jaediker and Charles Zerner “under the name Paine, a nod to Tom Paine,” said historian Ron Goulart in his The Funnies. The strip was drawn by Elmer Wexler, who also drew “such second-string comic book superheroes as the Black Terror and Fighting Yank.” But Wexler left the strip in the spring of 1942 to join the Marines, and Norris took over, drawing in the lushly shadowed manner of the Sickles-Caniff chiaroscuro style. The strip lasted until April 30, 1945, but Norris gave it up in 1943, drafted into the Army.
Early in his military career, Norris drew a “little strip” for his unit newspaper. That brought him to the attention of the strategic brass, and he was quickly transferred to military intelligence where he went to work producing propaganda leaflets that were dropped on Japanese encampments on Pacific islands, encouraging soldiers to surrender. “I worked with a prisoner of war,” Norris told the MLC Magazine. “We wanted the translations to be authentic. They used them on Okinawa. The Japanese came in with these things in their hands and wanted to surrender.”
After the War, Norris went to work at King Features as a general assignment artist—“a kind of troubleshooter,” Evanier said: “Whenever one of their adventure strips was behind or in need of a temporary artist, they’d have Paul Norris draw some weeks of it.” In this capacity, Norris worked on Flash Gordon, Secret Agent X-9, and Tarzan. In 1948, he succeeded Austin Briggs on Alex Raymond’s Sunday strip, Jungle Jim, producing it until it ceased in 1954. In drawing these features, Norris was able to skillfully approximate the style of the artist of record, producing a recognizable imitation with just a touch of his own artistic sensibility. But Norris’ life’s work began in the fall of 1952, when he started working on Brick Bradford with the October 1 release.
According to Jay Maeder, writing in Ron Goulart’s Encyclopedia of American Comics, Brick Bradford was “customarily grouped with Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers as the third of the 1930s’ leading science fiction strips,” but “Brick Bradford more correctly belonged to the Sinbad school of heroic high adventure—a romance of sky gods and flaming chariots, mad dragons and wrathful queens, howling storms and ruined empires. The feature’s creator, a Cleveland newsman of encyclopedic knowledge named William Ritt, was a devotee of the period’s pulp genres as well as of classical mythology and anthropology, and Brick Bradford was successively an aviator, explorer, soldier, costumed avenger, confidante of physicists, gentleman sleuth, and sometimes even a cowboy. He was also a space knight who spent some of his time many thousands of years in the intergalactic future, and eventually the strip acquired an enduring hallmark motif—time travel.”
Brick Bradford started August 21, 1934, “more literate” than other strips of its ilk, said Maeder, and “attractively drawn” by Clarence Gray, whose “stately formalism was at the time unknown in comics outside of Harold Foster’s Tarzan.” Gray took over the writing of the strip in October 1948 (the Sunday in June 1949), but throat cancer forced Gray to give up the daily strip in October 1952; the Sunday in January 1957. Thereupon, as Maeder said, “Paul Norris proceeded to make the feature his own, successfully maintaining a readable storyline” until the strip ended in 1987. The Sunday strip of May 10 was the last published, but the last one Norris drew was the daily, April 25, which we reproduce here.
Said Norris: “For 35 years, I wrote and drew Brick Bradford, and for the life of me, I cannot tell you where the ideas for the stories came from. If you’ve ever written fiction—fiction grows on its own, and characters seem to develop themselves” (MLC Magazine).
While producing Brick Bradford, Norris continued accepting comic book assignments from Western Publishing Company, where he had moonlighted since about 1947. At first, “he did comic books based upon the newspaper strips he was ghosting,” said Evanier. “Eventually, he became a mainstay of Western’s Los Angeles office, drawing westerns and tv-based comics. Many fans recalled his work in the sixties and seventies on Tarzan of the Apes and Magnus, Robot Fighter, as well as a short-lived book he drew called The Jungle Twins. He also occasionally dabbled in funny animals such as Woodsy Owl and illustrated books for the firm.”
Norris moved with his family to Oceanside in 1967, and in 1986, he joined with Jim Whiting, Brad Anderson, Sherm Goodrich and writer Lyle Swigert to organize a club for cartoonists. The Southern California Cartoonists Society continues meeting at least monthly today.
Evanier recalled working with Norris in the 1970s on a comic book version of the Hanna-Barbera feature, Dynomutt: “He was a lovely man who worked very hard on his art but always managed to have it in on time. He usually delivered the work by mail but once or twice, when he was worried the work might not be early, he drove up to Los Angeles with it from his home near San Diego—three hours each way. Please note that he was not afraid of the word being late: he was afraid of it not being early.”
Norris is also credited with another comic strip, Geriatrix, which he apparently produced from 1978 to 1985; but I don’t know anything about it except that its title suggests it might be about the elderly. It is with Brick Bradford, though, that Norris secured his place in the pantheon of cartooning masters. As for Aquaman, the hero he helped create almost seventy years ago, Norris wasn’t too sure about the current treatment of the character. While he was interviewed by the MLC Magazine, he held up a copy of a recent comic book with Aquaman on the cover. “Did you notice?” Norris said, “he’s beating the daylights out of Superman! That bothers me a little. I’m afraid it’s too brutal.”
I met Norris only once, and I was impressed by his poise and manner. Those who knew him best said it best. Charlie Roberts, writing in the SCCS newsletter for November, said: “I can’t recall him ever saying an unkind word about anyone. The phrase ‘gentleman’s gentleman’ surely applied with Paul. A true class act with a smile and a gentle laugh, Paul was easy to be friends with and he will be greatly missed.”
QUIPS & QUOTES
“Don’t be a pal to your son. Be his father. What child needs a 40-year-old for a friend?”—Al Capp
“Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.” —H.L. Mencken
“You will never ‘find’ time for anything. If you want time, you must make it.” —Charles Buxton
“Difficulty is the excuse history never accepts.” —Edward R. Murrow
THE FROTH ESTATE
The Alleged News Institution
Journalists, usually a self-effacing lot, have taken recently, every now and then, to reporting on the mounting death toll among their fraternity in Iraq. Since March 2003, 118 journalists have been killed in Iraq. Despite the implication inherent in these reports, not all of them are from the U.S. In fact, only 2 American journalists have been killed. Most of those who died, 96, have been Iraqis. And they were doubtless marked for death because they were “cooperating” with the invaders. As well they might: translating and guiding journalists around the landscape is one of the few paying jobs around. According to USA Today (October 19-21), European journalists account for 13 deaths; 3 are from other Arab countries, and another 5 from elsewhere.
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
“Panties for Peace” is a campaign to overthrow the dictatorship in Myanmar, The Week reports. “By mailing packets of women’s underwear to Myanmar’s embassies around the world, activists hope to defeat the ruling junta by exploiting its superstitious belief that contact with ladies personal garments will sap a man’s strength.”
Onward, the Spreading Punditry
The Great Ebb and Flo of Things
As I said before, the current Presidential Campaign is a creature of pundits and Sunday morning gasbags who are, as a group, much too lazy to come up with anything to say on any subject other than politics, which is all opinion and no fact. Certainly voters don’t need a Presidential Campaign that’s two years long. Into this miasma of tedium lately has come Stephen Colbert, who has announced that he’s running for the White House. Observed D. Parvaz in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer: By positioning himself as what he calls the “white, male, middle-aged, Jesus-trumpeting alternative,” Colbert only makes the panderings of Romney, Rudy Giuliani, and Fred Thompson seem that much more painful. David Carr in the New York Times noted that Colbert’s gift is his uncanny ability to “mimic and amplify the tics of political convention,” thus exposing the empty pomposity of White House correspondents, political pundits, and Sunday talk-show hosts. The Week of November 2 continues: “In an “eerie’ interview last week, Tim Russert of NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ tried to show he’s in on the joke by interviewing Colbert about his presidential run. But as a deadpan Colbert parried and evaded Russert’s mock-serious questions, it seemed no less a game than the interviews Russert conducts with the real candidates. ‘Everybody is asking, Is this real?’ Colbert said, with a meaningful glint in his eye. ‘And to which I would say to everybody, This is not a Dream. You’re not going to wake up from this.’” Ouch, but True.
More Truth: The Transportation Security Administration routinely tests the effectiveness of its draconian measures at airports and recently reported that security screeners at two major U.S. airports failed to detect fake bombs carried by undercover agents more than 60 percent of the time. Feel any safer, now that you’ve taken off your shoes and given up your nail clippers?
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
Among editoonists, getting a cartoon reprinted in Newsweek’s “Perspectives” page was, and continues to be, a mixed if not embarrassing blessing. The recognition enhances a cartoonist’s visibility and perhaps his or her reputation; but the magazine habitually reprints cartoons of the “Jay Leno” comedy variety, not hard-hitting political statements, so in getting the Newsweek nod, a cartoonist sacrificed professional standing for raw publicity. But the risk is now somewhat reduced: Newsweek used to publish three political cartoons every week; now, just two. The reduced visibility for the profession is not good; but, considering that the kind of cartoon Newsweek reprinted was mostly toothless joking, editorial cartooning may be better off.
Onward, the Spreading Punditry: Phase Two
The Great Ebb and Flo of Things
From my perpetual source, that expert condensation of the week’s news, The Week: Issued earlier this year from the office of GeeDubya, National Security Presidential Directive 51 aims to ensure continuity of government in the event of what it calls, vaguely, “catastrophic emergency”—terrorist attack or nasty hurricane. “The directive, issued without any review by Congress or the Supreme Court, gives the president authority to decide when an emergency has occurred, and to do whatever he deems necessary to ensure continuity of government, whether it’s to cancel upcoming elections, suspend the Constitution or launch a nuclear attack on the enemy. ... Believe it or not, NSPLD-51 even has two secret clauses that the administration won’t disclose to anyone, including congressional oversight committees. Think the Bush League has gone too far yet?
Peeves & Pratfall
“Always get married early in the morning. That way, if it doesn’t work out, you haven’t wasted the whole day.” —Mickey Rooney
“The first time I see a jogger smiling, I’ll consider it.” —Joan Rivers
“Great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, and small people talk about wine.” —Fran Lebowitz
“If you make people think they’re thinking, they’ll love you; but if you really make them think, they’ll hate you.” —Don Marquis
“When you go into court, you are putting your fate into the hands of twelve people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty.” —Norm Crosby
Aaron McGruder is too young for a swan song, but his nefarious comic strip, The Boondocks, no longer exists in its print form, so this latest reprint collection is doubtless the last we’ll see of this verison of McGruder’s creation—for a while, perhaps forever. All the Rage (278 8x10-inch pages, paperback; Three Rivers Press, $16.95) is arranged in three sections: The Strips, The Media, and The Controversy. The first section continues the recycling of the strip, picking up, more or less, where the preceding reprint volume, Public Enemy #2, ended; it begins with December 2004 and ends with December 2005 and includes the sequence with Katrina victims moving in with Huey and Riley Freeman and their grandad. And all the strips are dated, a boon to historians. The next two sections are probably intended as The Boondocks Monument. The Media section reprints several articles about and interviews with McGruder, including The Nation cover story of January 28, 2002, and my own article and interview from The Comics Journal, September 2003. This section establishes McGruder as an unflinching critic of his society and his times. In 50 pages, The Controversy reprints many of his most controversial sequences and strips. Included are the “lightsaber” sequence in which two young girls are whacked upside the head with a plastic lightsaber and Riley expresses disappointment that they are still alive. “See??!!” he exclaims, “—this thing is worthless!” Published in the immediate aftermath of the Columbine killings, the sequence prompted reader outrage on all sides. Ironically, the lightsaber sequence was substituted for a sequence McGruder’s editors thought was more incendiary—in which Huey Freeman starts an armed neighborhood Klan watch. And when that sequence ran a few weeks later, it caused no disturbances at all. Also included: the BET booty strip, the post-9/11 Flagee and Ribbon series, the boys’ effort to get Condoleezza Rice a boyfriend, and several –word sequences, among them, the infamous take-off on tv’s “The Apprentice,” which McGruder translated into “Can a N***a Get a Job?” Also reprinted is Bill Amend’s FoxTrot sequence in which Jason undertakes to draw The Boondocks while McGruder is on sabbatical in 2006.
The Bumstead Family History (192 9x11-inch pages, most in color; Thomas Nelson, hardback, $29.99) is a luxurious if fraudulent book. Purportedly by Dean Young and Melena Ryzik—he, selecting the strips; she, writing the text—the book is not a “history” except in the most flagrant misappropriation of the term. You’d think, from the title, that you’d find the actual “history” of the strip here—how it came to be, then the principal events of its 75-plus years in the papers. And, indeed, we do find a short appendage at the end that traces the biography of the strip’s creator, Dean Young’s father Chic, and the formulation of the strip, his fourth about a pretty girl; and there is a section devoted to Dagwood’s famous 1933 hunger strike, staged in order to secure his parents’ permission to marry Blondie, who, in her premarital state as a party-girl flapper, is a good deal more dingy than she eventually became—scarcely an appropriate match, according to the snooty billionaire Bumsteads. After 28 days, 7 hours, 8 minutes and 22 seconds of their son’s starving himself, they gave in. But Dagwood’s father disinherits him, which forces Dagwood and Blondie to enter married life and live it on much the same terms as the rest of us—a circumstance that is the chief reason the strip became immensely popular and stayed that way. The other reason—the arrival on April 15, 1934, of their first-born, Alexander (named after Alex Raymond, who assisted on the strip before creating Flash Gordon), dubbed Baby Dumpling—is only hinted at herein. Dagwood’s perpetual misunderstanding of how babies “work” is the basis of much of the strip’s humor during this period, but that is nowhere in evidence in this volume.
In defiance of its title, the book reprints mostly Young’s favorite strips from the last 15 years or so, concentrating on the last seven. It is divided into chapters, each devoted to one of Chic Young’s celebrated focii for the strip, the main activities of life—working, eating, doing chores, and sleeping—which topics rotate regularly through the week to depict Dagwood encountering his boss, Julius Dithers, making his famous sandwich, lunching at Lou’s diner, performing rudimentary home repairs, and taking naps on the couch or baths in the tub (singing). Another chapter is devoted to Blondie’s catering business, upon which she embarked on Labor Day, 1991, after Dean Young decided that he “didn’t want the strip to be an anachronism”—he wanted to bring it up-to-date, which meant violating the afore-mentioned tenets that his father had established and followed faithfully to secure Blondie’s everlasting success.
The cartoonist most represented in this volume is Denis LeBrun, another affront to “history”: the cartoonist who drew the strip the longest was Jim Raymond, brother of Alex, who was the principal illustrator of Blondie from about 1937 until his death in 1989. Stan Drake is also mentioned, and the book reprints a couple dozen of the strips he drew. Others who worked on the strip but whose work is not much in evidence include Ray McGill, who was working with Raymond in the 1940s, Mike Gersher, Jeff Parker (LeBrun’s assistant), and the current artist, John Marshall. Probably there are others whose names have evaporated in the mists of history.
A final chapter revisits the strip’s ingenious 75th anniversary, which Dean Young convinced syndicated strip cartoonists to help celebrate by mentioning the event in their own strips. The McGuffin was an invitation to the Bumstead’s anniversary party that they sent to all their “friends” in other strips: in those strips, the characters were depicted reacting to the news and planning to attend the party. A few of these are reprinted herein but not nearly enough. GeeDubya and Laura’s Sunday cameo (August 28, 2005) is included, for instance, but the memorable visit of Mother Goose’s dog Grimm is, alas, missing. Grimm showed up on August 25, invading the Bumstead bathroom to drink from his usual appliance: we've seen the Bumstead bathroom thousands of times—Dagwood soaking in the tub or shaving at the sink—but this is the first time the commode has been depicted. The actual “anniversary strip,” Sunday, September 4, 2005, appears, an unprecedented display of characters from other strips—about 50, more-or-less. The sequence, which took about two months (including the Bumstead’s “second honeymoon” trip to Hawaii in September), is undeniably historic: not since the 1933 hunger strike has the strip offered a continuity of any length. Incidentally, in browsing through my files, preparing these remarks, I came across a 1948 clipping from Editor & Publisher in which it is noted that Blondie was, then, “the only one of the major strips operated without a continuity.” Times change, kimo sabe. But Blondie as been a “major strip” for longer than any other. The anniversary festivities and other aspects of the strip’s history are covered elsewhere in our archives—Opus 166 (announcing the plan), Opus 169 (rehearsing its achievement), and Opus 168 (which contradicts Dean Young’s explanation of Dagwood’s hair and the big, single button on his shirt front).
The Bumstead Family History, although scattering a few dates through its pages, skims the strip’s history too blithely to count as an authentic historic document. Apart from its copious compilation of strips from the last 10-15 years, its chief historical value is in the smattering of 75th anniversary strips. It also fails as history by citing the dubious debut date September 8, 1930. In Opus 166, we explain why this date is questionable; here, it may suffice to say, simply, that no one has yet turned up a newspaper for September 8, 1930, that published Blondie. The strip, while it may suffer somewhat from hardening of the arteries, is still one of the most labor-intensive and therefore eye-pleasing around: it’s just about the only strip in which the characters appear, panel after panel, at full height, every day. A head-and-torso Dagwood is a rarity. And then there’s Daisy, the family dog, who appears in most of the strips taking place around the Bumstead home, her body language and facial expressions reacting to the events depicted. Daisy is a tour de force. Here, in closing, is the 70th anniversary strip, a somewhat more jubilant treatment than the party scene five years later.
The first (of four) volumes of The Complete Terry and the Pirates is out from IDW (370 8.5x11-inch pages, Sundays in color, hardback; $49.95), reprinting the legendary strip from its beginning in the fall of 1934 through 1936, slightly more than two years’ worth. A lavish reincarnation of Milton Caniff’s famed adventure strip, it drew from the stash of daily strips at the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University, in better condition than the source material years ago in NBM’s watershed reprinting of the strip, and took Sundays from editor Dean Mullaney’s own collection, which results, for the first time since it ceased in August 1935, in the appearance of the “topper” title panel where a small vignette picture added a nuance to the day’s tale. Reproduction is excellent—color in color, black-and-white in exquisite fidelity—and Mullaney’s design is stunning. Quite apart from the attractiveness of the opening pages (the only pages that permit much design variety, the others all deploying three daily strips across the page) is the helpfulness of the remaining pages, each of which notes the dates of the initial publication of the strips thereon.
Howard Chaykin’s Introduction is sufficiently appreciative: he rehearses his initiation into the ranks of Caniff admirers as a youth and pinpoints moments in the evolving early Terry that marked Caniff’s growing skill as a storyteller. Bruce Canwell’s prefatory essay traces Caniff’s life and career briefly, deploying several rare bits of early Caniff art and photographs. He rather hesitantly covers some aspects of the birth of Terry, suggesting that he doubts their veracity—Caniff’s initial titling the strip Tommy Tucker and syndicate chief Joseph Patterson’s recommending Wuthering Heights as a book Caniff should read (for the record, both, according to Caniff’s own testimony, happened). In treating the Dragon Lady’s origins, Canwell manages to conflate two sources into one: Aleko E. Lilius’ I Sailed with Chinese Pirates, which he says is a novel but is nonfiction, and a novel whose author and title he is apparently not aware of—Vampires of the China Coast by Bok. And it was Bok, not Lilius, who attempted to shake down Patterson, claiming the Dragon Lady was based upon his creation (all of which is rehearsed in tedious detail in my biography of Caniff, which is described here, in case you had forgotten).
But these are minor quibbles in an essay otherwise notable for being concise and accurate. Elsewhere, in explaining the reasons that the Sunday strips for the first several months present a different story from the daily strips, the guess is that the separation was deliberate, designed to enable readers whose papers published only the Sunday strips to enjoy a coherent stand-alone story. Well, yes and no. Caniff ultimately fused the Sunday and the daily continuity, telling a single story, and part of his task was to create Sunday strips that would carry a coherent story from Sunday to Sunday for subscribing papers who took only the Sunday strips. But the reason the Sundays and the dailies told different stories at first is that Patterson was in a hurry to get the feature into print, and Caniff concocted the Sunday story first. That was the “sample” that convinced Patterson to go with Caniff; after approving it, Patterson directed the young cartoonist to go home and develop the daily continuity. The dailies, because they didn’t require making color plates and matts, got into print first, beginning October 22, 1934; the Sunday “samples,” however, didn’t show up in the paper until December 9, seven weeks after the debut in the daily papers. Given the circumstances, it would have been impossible for Caniff to produce an integrated seven-day continuity. But that’s what Patterson wanted and kept urging Caniff to produce. The publisher knew the circulation of Sunday papers was higher than that of the weekday editions; if a comic strip on Sunday ended in a cliffhanger that would persuade readers to buy Monday’s paper, the over-all circulation of the paper would improve. And that was, after all, the purpose that the funnies served in newspapering. Finally, by August 1936, midway through the strip’s second year, Caniff found the daily story ending at about the same time as the separate Sunday story, and he was able, with minimal stalling (as evidenced in the August Sundays in this volume), to integrate the two. Incidentally, I expect to be involved in this project by the end of the series, so be wary of self-serving fustian in these remarks.
Promising Books That I Haven’t Read Yet (but Here’s a Tantalizing Glimpse)
Chester Gould: A Daughter’s Biography of the Creator of Dick Tracy by Jean Gould O’Connell (125 7x10-inch pages, hardback; $45 from www.mcfarlandpub.com ; or 800-253-2187). The author was about four years old when her father’s classic gumshoe strip was launched in the fall of 1931, so her personal recollections do not include much in detail about the earliest years of the strip, but she’s mined the family archives for illustrative materials of her father’s ten previous years in Chicago during which he submitted 60 comic strip ideas to Tribune-News Syndicate’s Joseph Patterson, all rejected; the book includes examples of 8 of the 60. Even if she can’t testify out of personal experience about much that happened before, say, 1937, when she’d have been about ten, O’Connell, an only child, was curious about her father’s work and obviously talked to him a good deal about it. She regales us with numerous anecdotes that were clearly told to her by her father—like the story of how Smith Davis, an agent for newspaper publishers, tried to get Gould to leave the Tribune-News for Marshall Field’s embryonic enterprise, the Chicago Sun, to which he had just seduced Milton Caniff in 1944. Field, through Davis, offered Gould the same guarantee he’d given Caniff: $100,000 a year. Gould’s answer: “I’m not going to leave the Tribune. ... You give Mr. Field a big thank you, and tell him I’m working for the outfit that gave me the only break I’ve ever had in my life, and a million dollars wouldn’t get me away.” For more detail about Gould’s relationship to Patterson, you can refer to a book of mine, The Art of the Funnies, which is described here.
Stop Forgetting to Remember, an “autobiography” of a fictional cartooner, Walter Kurtz, by Peter Kuper, 48, who is actually telling his own life story, or, at least, significant pieces of it. “I moved my point-of-view over just a bit in part because most autobiographies diverge from truth all the time, and I was interested in it as A Story rather just My Story,” he told Gilbert A. Bouchard at the Edmonton Journal. “This shift also allows me to keep this project focused.” Continued Bouchard: “The use of an alter-ego allowed him to work different kinds of comic-art writing into the book—travel stories, journalism, fantasy, dreams and a wicked parody of Richie Rich (a comic Kuper worked on in the early 1980s) that slams George W. Bush and his administration—while still keeping a fairly linear story readers can easily follow.” I like the Dedication, which begins: “Dedicated to the girls who let me get past first base and to my wife, who got me home.”
The System of Comics is by Thierry Groensteen, an internationally known comics scholar born in Brussels, Belgium. This volume (198 6x9-inch pages, hardback; $40), from the University Press of Mississippi (one of my publishers), is the first English translation of the original 1999 work and bristles throughout with learned argot. Chapter titles alone are daunting albeit provocative: The Spatio-Topical System; Restrained Arthrology: The Sequence; and General Arthrology: The Network. “Arthrology” is, I gather, “the linear semantic relations that govern the breakdown.” It is taken, Groensteen tells us, from the Greek arthron, “articulation.” By arthrological gyrations, the cartoonist determines the spatio-topia of his creation—that is, the distribution of spaces and the occupation of places. Early in his argument, Groensteen writes: “The precedence [that Groensteen accords] to the order of spatial and topological relations goes against most widespread opinion, which holds that, in comics, spatial organization will be totally pledged to the narrative strategies, and commanded by them. The story will create or dictate, relative to its development, the number, the dimension, and the disposition of panels. I believe on the contrary that, from the instant that an author begins the comics story that he undertakes, he thinks of this story, and his work still to be born, within a given mental form with which he must negotiate.” This is pretty heavy going, I admit, and Groensteen is audacious enough to believe he is flying in the face of received opinion (or conventional wisdom) about how comics are made. But, judging—admittedly prematurely—from the evidence of the quoted sentence, I disagree.
Groensteen seems to be saying that a cartoonist begins with a preconceived notion of the form his story will take—that is, I assume, a “form” of images in panels sequenced for narrative clarity. Can’t quarrel with that. But having decided to tell a story through the medium of comics, the “author” then must do precisely what Groensteen seems to say he isn’t going to do—that is, adopt “narrative strategies” that will determine the spatial and topological (amount of space and placement within it of images, I suppose) relations within the form he has decided to exploit. How else, after all, could a cartoonist tell a story? Probably Groensteen will tell us as the tome reveals its secrets, but I’m already disposed to thinking that the whole enterprise will turn out to be an exercise in draping high-fallutin’ lingo around the ordinary, traditional and wholly commonsensical operations of the cartoonist: once committed to comics as a narrative form, the cartoonist breaks his tale into units of imagery, panels, and fills the panels with pictures and speech balloons in an order that will clearly advance his story by providing the essential information, manipulating, throughout, the size of the images and the frequency of panels in order to sustain suspense and enhance the drama of the incidents in the story. Or, as Groensteen puts it, the cartoonist’s “system constitutes an organic totality that associates a complex combination of elements, parameters, and multiple procedures.” I thought that’s what I just said, only somewhat less laboriously. Still, the headings under which Groensteen will do all this are sometimes delicious—“The Pregnancy of the Panel,” for instance.
The Supernatural Law Companion: A Readers Guide to Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre, Their Practice, Clientele, and Private Lives, by Jackie Estrada and Batton Lash. At last—a “way in” to one of the medium’s most tantalizing and deftly executed comic book series, featuring a team of lawyers, Wolff and Byrd, who represent supernatural beings—zombies, werewolves, etc. Lash, the cartooner whose creation Wolf & Byrd: Counselors of the Macabre is, provides the Introduction, tracing the history of his brain-child from its 1979 birth as a comic strip in The Brooklyn Paper, a free weekly that was distributed in the immediate neighborhood of courthouses and law offices in downtown Brooklyn, through its 1983 reincarnation in The National Law Journal, where it lasted for fourteen years, overlapping the eventual emergence in 1992 of the spook-bedeviled law firm in comic book form, soon after Lash married Estrada. The bulk of the volume is devoted to issue-by-issue synopses of the stories in the comic books, with “annotations” by page number that explain the often (now) obscure references with which Lash imbues his tales. The book concludes with a list of characters and a gallery of pictures showing how the appearances of Wolff and Byrd have evolved over the years (almost thirty!). And Lash reminds us of his first promotion, which includes the brilliant tagline: “Beware of the Creatures of the Night: They Have Lawyers!” Just $10 for 90 6x9-inch pages, black-and-white; www.exhibitapress.com
For the sheer joy of sex, we have Clean Cartoonists’ Dirty Drawings in which the incorrigible Craig Yoe has assembled furtive works by such otherwise respectable cartooners as Cliff Sterrett, Carl Barks, Paul Murray, Harry G. Peter, Martin Branner, and Stan and Jan Berenstain (to name a few)—all of whom are revealed as secretly lusting after the curvaceous gender, the nuder the better. Each display is accompanied by a short and informed biography of the cartoonist. Among the pictures are such rarities as Joe Shuster’s scantily clad ladies doing unspeakable things and a surprisingly chaste Wesley Morse. Not so rare, a handful of Virgil Partch’s cavorting nudes. Some other cavorting by VIP nudes was accomplished on the cover of the first issue of Playboy, announcing the publisher’s proclivity for cartoon sex. Other indecencies in the book include a Billy DeBeck rendering of Snuffy Smith pissing in the snow and some suspiciously Ditko-esque bondage bimbos usually associated with fetish artist Eric Stanton, with whom Steve Ditko shared a studio during much of his New York period, roughly 1958-1966. The two were classmates in the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (later, the School of Visual Arts), and it has long been a fragment of cartooning legend that Ditko drew some of the pictures attributed to Stanton. The notoriously close-mouthed Ditko has never admitted doing any of this brand of porn, but my guess is that he did a little—at least on occasion, perhaps when Stanton was having difficulty meeting a deadline. Perhaps even more often than occasionally. Renowned these days for his stand-offishness, Ditko came under the spell of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy of Objectivism is founded in unabashed selfishness. It’s a persuasive theory: even acts of altruism spring from one’s inner need to perform them—hence, altruism is a manifestation of self-hood, of one’s desire to feel good. The Objectivist embraces his selfishness defiantly, becoming, in effect, a personality wholly independent of his society’s mores and morals. A pornographer is also “outside” his society even while serving its needs. To such an outsider, Objectivism might have a magnetic appeal: it would justify philosophically his a-social stance. It would, in fact, elevate that stance to heroic posture. Following this tortured train of thought, then—approaching the question of Ditko’s alleged pornographic work from his avowed Objectivist posture, the latter would seem to establish the former.
By the way, although not at all incidentally, the theory than pornography is a catalyst for sexual violence is, apparently, wrong. Studies have recently discovered that “as raunch has waxed, rape has waned,” saith Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, and he musters statistics to support his contention. Finally, we note that Fantagraphics will publish a career retrospective, Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko, next June. Written by Blake Bell, “the book promises to explode many of the myths surrounding key moments in Ditko’s career,” perhaps discovering what he did when he disappeared for a year or so in about 1955.
Snuffy Smith’s intemperate act reminds me of a famous tale of the Ozarks. Two hillbillies, Zeke and Ezra, were walking home late one wintry afternoon, discussing their children. Zeke’s son was keeping company with Ezra’s daughter. Suddenly, they came upon a snow bank upon which Zeke’s son’s name had been written by the same means that Snuffy was employing. Ezra was at once outraged and began ranting about the licentiousness of youth, vowing that he would keep his daughter away from Zeke’s son at all costs. Zeke tried to calm him down, saying, “Well, Ezra—boys will be boys, and boys have always written their names when pissing in the snow.” “I don’t mind kids’ writing their names in the snow that way,” Ezra exclaimed, “but not this time: it’s my daughter’s handwriting.”
All Snuffy wrote was “Twenty-one.” Who knows why.
Among the books in the afore-headlined “Books I Haven’t Read Yet” category are several that are perfectly suited for reading whilst enthroned in the biffy. Many minions, I’ve discovered, enjoy reading during visitations to what the British used to call “the water closet” (or “loo,” Angelicanized French for water, l’eau). Makes sense to me, I must say: if you don’t take reading matter with you, you’re wasting several precious minutes that you might better employ by improving your mind while your alimentary canal is taking care of itself, no particular help from you. The down-side of this pleasant preoccupation is that if the reading matter is sufficiently engrossing, you wind up perched on the porcelain for much longer than it otherwise takes to perform the ostensible errand. While this, too, contributes to the enjoyment of the interlude, it can be dangerous. I read not so long ago that those who make a lifelong practice of sitting there for any length of time risk developing hemorrhoids. Hence the heading above. But whatever the danger (life, the so-called news media are forever informing us, is full of dangers, lurking, ready to pounce), the books I discuss under this heading are admirably constituted for throne-room perusal: they are each composed of short chapters or brief anecdotes which can be read easily at one, er, sitting; so we can dip into any of them and read and enjoy without any concern about what comes before or after the part we’ve read.
Bryan Talbot’s The Naked Artist: Comic Book Legends (124 6x9-inch pages in paperback; Moonstone, $11.95) is an apt example. Under various meaningless headings (“Beer! Sauna! Naked Men!” “The Damned,” and “The Good, the Bad, the Frequently Inebriated”), Talbot, creator of Luther Arkwright and other titles, regales us with amusing and sometimes even hilarious anecdotes about comic book artists and writers, their lives, their work, their loves, their convention adventures. Some of these tales seen more urban legends than authentic events, but many might even be true: most sound as if they were collected at watering holes near comic conventions, but occasionally Talbot swears he was actually a witness to the outlandishness he tells about. Talbot being, essentially, British, most, but not all, of the stories are about Brits—f’instance, Hunt Emerson, whose superbly antic pictures illustrate many of Talbot’s anecdotes. One year at the French comics festival, Angouleme, Emerson was drawing quick pix in sketchbooks for fans, but one fan, a teenage girl, had no sketchbook. She lifted up her t-shirt and pointed to her right breast, saying: “Draw on here.” Emerson drew his scatalogical cat, Firkin, on her hooter with an indelible marker, “employing her nipple as Firkin’s nose.” Simon Bisley also experienced a mammarable moment when, en route to Dick’s Last Resort for a beer at the end of San Diego con day, he spied a particularly spectacular pair on a passing woman. He offered her fifty dollar bill to unveil them briefly, and she complied, pulling up her shirt front for a moment, and then she took his money. Then Biz offered her another fifty if she’d let him put his face between them and go “Brrrrrk.” She did, and he did.
But not all Talbot’s stories are about anatomical wonders. In a section about people who miss deadlines chronically, he retails several of the excuses the delinquents offer—getting mugged on the subway while en route to deliver the artwork, for example. Neal Adams, Talbot says, regularly employed this dodge until his subterfuge was revealed when he claimed to have been robbed of the artwork before he’d even accepted the assignment in question. Reminds me of a story not in Talbot’s book: George McManus, the imaginative creator of Jiggs and Maggie, lived in California and his syndicate, King, was in New York, which once enabled McManus to claim that his artwork was late because it had been on an airplane that had crashed on its transcontinental flight. It worked well enough that McManus used the excuse again—but this time, alas, the plane crash he referred to involved a plane flying from east to west. My favorite of this breed in Talbot’s book concerns Leo Baxendale, creator of the Bash Street Kids, who, up against a deadline without enough time to complete the art, mailed his publisher a pair of trousers. When the astonished editor phoned to ask what Baxendale intended by sending him his pants, Baxendale exclaimed: “Oh, my God—I must have posted the artwork to the dry cleaners!” Which reminds me of a favorite tale of mine, not in Talbot’s keeping, about a magazine cartoonist who always came home staggering drunk on Wednesdays. That was the day cartoonists took their wares around to magazine cartoon editors in New York, and this fellow habitually met with some of his ilk in a friendly saloon at the end of the day. His wife had endured as much as she could and threatened to leave him if he came home drunk next Wednesday. He swore he’d come right home, no saloon stops. But he weakened, and before he knew it, he was sloshed again. He remembered enough about his conversation with his wife that he realized he shouldn’t go home. So he checked into a hotel. When he awoke the next morning, although slightly hung-over, he remembered all of his conversation with his wife—particularly the part about her leaving him. He quickly telephoned her, and when she answered, he blurted out: “Honey—don’t pay the ransom: I escaped!”
Talbot’s stories involve a number of not-so-well-known-on-this-side-of-the-Atlantic personages, like Baxendale, but he also retails stories about Will Eisner, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby, and the like.
Another book offering many short entertaining passages is Scott Adams’ Stick to Drawing Comics, Monkey Brain (370 6x9-inch pages in paperback; Portfolio, $24.95), wherein Adams ignores the advice of the title and recycles his agog blog, which touches upon many subjects, including his misadventures trying to dance with his bride on their wedding day: he and she had practiced beforehand, but “we’d never practiced the dance while she was wearing a huge puffy dress. This is a bit like being a Superbowl quarterback and, just before game time, the ref tells you, ‘We’ve replaced the football with a couch. You won’t even notice.’” Said Adams: “If you wonder what my sense of humor is like in person, this book is the frightening answer. Most of the book is irreverent humor, but my niche is what I call the ‘dancing monkey’style of writing. I ask humorously provocative questions that are designed to make your dogmatic friends go nuts. You can use the questions in the book to turn a dull social gathering into an entertaining (for you) showcase of dancing monkeys who insist they are open minded when in reality—not so much. It’s evil, but it’s fun. I call it philosotainment.” This kind of comedy is just the thing for bathroom reading. There are only a few Dilbert strips in this book, all of them exemplifying the absurdities of syndicate choices about what to approve and what to disapprove. (The word censorship is not applicable in this context.) Adams admits to deliberately pushing the envelope in such matters and seems particularly eager to get jokes about asses—that is, buttocks—into print. He gives us both versions of such strips—the original and the subsequently revised and approved version. Maybe it isn’t so much Adams’ desire to get derriere gags into the paper as it is the syndicate officials’ desire to keep them out. Whatever the case, many of the strips that weren’t approved involve this part of the anatomy. Butt cracks are especially baffling to Adams: through experience, he learned that he could portray a naked butt from the side but not from a three-quarters angle because that would show a butt crack; on the other hand, if the character were wearing underpants, the line indicating the separation of the buttocks, the butt crack, could be there, no offense given. Adams is a deft wordsmith, finding delight in manipulating language and in creating outlandish puns. Take Uranus. “I don’t think Pluto should be the funniest planet,” Adams writes, “—or even the funniest non-planet. That distinction belongs to another. Uranus, seventh celestial body from the sun, is part miracle of gravity and part bung hole. It has earned its status as the funny man of the cosmos.” This statement is followed by a Dilbert strip in which the pointed-haired boss and Alice, the pyramid-haired employee, have this exchange: “Company police says that space heaters are not allowed in cubicles,” says the boss. To which Alice responds: “My heater doesn’t heat space. It heats the air in my cubicle. That’s okay, right?” “Why would anyone heat space?” the boss wonders aloud. “It keeps Uranus warm,” says Alice. I don’t know whether that’s true in both the interplanetary as well as the biological sense, but I hope it is.
Finally, we have Doonesbury.com’s The Sandbox: Dispatches from Troops in Iraq and Afghanistan (327 6x9-inch pages, paperback; Andrews McMeel, $16.95), a collection of short pieces that, like the Adams book, began life at a website, in this case, Garry Trudeau’s. Launched just a year ago, The Sandbox is a “military blog,” an internet mechanism for soldiers on active duty in those far-flung places to tell their stories, stories about life in the military in a land where death lurks along every roadside, stories about the people the soldiers encounter. The stories are not essentially political, but they are often loaded, like this one from First Lt. Adam Tiffen that begins the book: “She is handsome, rather than beautiful. Her black dress covers her from head to toe, with only her face showing under a black head scarf. Still, her open expressive face is attractive in a motherly way, as she smiles and looks down at her curly-haired baby, the child’s fist crammed firmly into his mouth. Sitting on the woven carpets in the bare room are her other children. ... Children’s books and white notepads filled with children’s drawings are scattered on the carpets that line the floor of the room. We have come to raid their house.”
The soldiers who participate in this blog are writers; they are not just soldiers writing. And the results are often exquisitely tender or stoically heartbreaking. The blog posts are “lightly edited” by David Stanford, who describes himself as “duty officer, Doonesbury Town Hall”; he also selects and edits fragments of Rants & Raves for GoComics. (But the only way to get the Whole Rancid Raves is to subscribe to it via www.RCHarvey.com, as you have done; congratulations—and thanques.) There are no Doonesbury strips in this book, although the end papers reprint a couple of the Sundays that announce the launch of The Sandbox.
The latest in the University Press of Mississippi’s interview series with cartoonists is Art Spiegelman Conversations (340 6x9-inch pages, paperback; $20) collected and edited by Joseph Witek, a director of graduate studies in English at Stetson University, whose previous work delved into the same underground venue—Comic Books as History: The Narrative Art of Jack Jackson, Art Spiegelman, and Harvey Pekar (also from Mississippi). While this volume is not quite in the same hemorrhoidal category as the others we’ve been looking at, it is still a compilation of fragments and therefore can be, er, productively read at several, uhm, sittings. The first of the 22 interviews takes place in 1979; the last, in 2006, a span that embraces Spiegelman’s publication with his wife, Francoise Mouly, of the experimental magazine of comix, RAW, and the cartoonist’s Pulitzer-winning work, Maus, and his post-9/11 opus, In the Shadow of No Towers. Compared to syndicated cartoonists like, say, Charles Schulz or Mort Walker, or comic book artists like John Buscema or John Romita Jr., Spiegelman has produced very little. But what Spiegelman lacks in quantity he makes up for in quality. The quality, however, is of an idiosyncratic sort: Spiegelman is profoundly a comics formalist: when he is producing comics, he is vitally engaged in the formal aspects of the art, how they work to achieve particular ends, and after he has completed a project, Spiegelman is happy to discuss its formal facets, becoming an exactingly articulate explicator of his own endeavors. In fact, parts of some of his efforts are nearly invisible without Spiegelman’s explication. The quality of his work, then, comprises both the actual work and the formal insights Spiegelman provides for it; he becomes, in effect, both a spokesman for the artform and an exemplar of it. As a thinking and speaking cartoonist, his influence on the present generation of cartoonists is much more profound than the tidy sum of his published comics implies it would be. Hence, the value of this collection of interviews, a couple of which have never been published. He talks about all of his principal works, their forms and their politics, but his discourse—a bubbling stew of allusions and asides, best captured in this volume in the 1987 interview with Graham Smith—is scarcely limited to his own works or, even, just to cartooning. The illustrative material here is minimal—a page of this and a page of that—but it is sufficient to its purpose. Art Spiegelman is a walking talking seminar on popular culture with an emphasis on cartooning, and it’s all in this book.
Peeves & Pratfalls
“Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.” —Nora Ephron
“I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.” —Charles M. Shultz [I’m not sure about the source here: is it “Schultz” with a “t” or not? Besides, it was Jonathan Swift who said it.]
It’s that time of year. And if you’re momentarily stymied about what to suggest to your spouse or Significant Other as a gift to give you, consider, perhaps, any of my books, all listed on the front page of this website. Or, speaking of the University Press of Mississippi, visit its website, www.upress.state.ms.us where, under “Comics and Popular Culture,” you can find more about comics and cartooning than you probably expect. The University Press (one of my publishers) has developed an impressive backlist of books on our favorite subject—more impressive, I’d say, than any other academic publisher. Among the goodies, the “Conversations” series just alluded to above with Spiegelman. Others in that line include conversations with Milton Caniff, Charles Schlulz, Carl Barks, Chuck Jones, Mort Walker, Robert Crumb, Walt Disney, and, just out, Stan Lee. Moreover, there are the two monumental Topffer volumes, genuine rarities made available for the first time to English-reading audiences, and numerous collections of essays, often of a very erudite nature: The Philosophy of Comics, The Language of Comics, Film and Comic Books, Arguing Comics (an excellent compilation of essays on the subject spanning the last century—about which I’ll someday have a more complete review; I’m workin’ on it), Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, Carl Barks and the Disney Comic Book, Fredric Wertham and the Critique of Mass Culture, and the aforementioned System of Comics.
And if, by chance, you’re a fan of the works of Stan Lynde, drop into www.oldmontana.com, where you can find books reprinting his classic strip, Rick O’Shay, and the entire run of his later opus, Latigo, plus Lynde’s own story and several of his novels. If Old Montana doesn’t work, try www.mountain-press.com
COMIC STRIP WATCH
Although the art of cartooning is to blend word and picture into an entity that has a meaning neither words nor pictures by themselves have, sometimes word play is the joke. In Jef Mallett’s Frazz, one of the school kids and Frazz ponder the word “knickknack,” which, the kid says perceptively, contains letters a third of which “just take up space and serve no real purpose at all.” To which Frazz, with even greater perception, says: “Much like knickknacks themselves.” ... In Rhymes with Orange, Hilary Price shows two men fencing. One hits the other with his foil and says, “Touche.” To which his opponent says, “Ouche.” ...In Jim Unger’s Herman, Herman, or some equally faceless occupant of the panel, says: “In ten years, she changed from a ballerina to a sports arena.” ... In Scott Adams’ strip, Dilbert approaches the pointy-haired boss to ask for a $1,600 handheld bar code scanner to finish his lab tests. The boss says: “Okay. Apply for a capital budget variance, prepare an RFP, get three bids, form a team to evaluate the bids, then prepare a purchase order.” “Never mind,” says Dilbert, “I’ll just learn how to read bar codes by sight.” Says the boss: “Quitter.” Word play isn’t operative in this one: just absurdity at its apogee. ... In Kevin Fagan’s Drabble, Ralph’s mother (or wife?) nags him about repairing the leaky roof, and he, sitting under the leak while watching tv, says he’ll fix it come the weekend. To which she says: “He puts the ‘pro’ in procrastinator.” Which one of these glyphs is Drabble, by the way? Who is Drabble? Who is Norman? Who is Ralph? A few days before, a few of these “doodle-faced” creatures are watching another presidential debate on tv, and one of the viewers wonders why he doesn’t recognize any of the candidates. The debate, he’s told, “is for the 2012 election.” “Boy,” says the first speaker, “the campaigns really are starting earlier and earlier.” Truth from whoever’s mouth.
Self-referential humor: In Francesco Marciuliano’s Sally Forth, Sally and her mother have been trying all week to patch things up between them, and Sally confesses that she thought they’d resolve their differences by “today”—i.e., Saturday. “Why’s that?” asks her mother. Says Sally: “Not sure. Things around here just always seem to wrap up nicely by week’s end.” ... Nothing risque, nothing gained: Sex looms again in Terri Libenson’s Pajama Diaries, where “bribery” is discussed, exemplified by the father’s saying to his kids as they enter church: “If you two can sit quietly through cousin Ann’s wedding, we’ll treat you to ice cream.” Later, his wife says to him: “If you give me an hour to work out today, I’ll treat you to some action tonight.” Probably some reader somewhere is going to take offense. But you’d think newspaper readers would be accustomed enough to sexual content in newspapers that they’d overlook such derelictions on the funnies page. Here, for instance—torn from one day’s edition of the newspaper last week—are a couple ads that are more blatant with innuendo than anything I’ve seen in a comic strip lately.
Visual Aids Department. And here are some strips we must look at to properly appreciate. In Peanuts, we learn that logic, once we’re committed to it, can send us to absurd lengths. A great example of the convolutions of Charles Schulz’s mind, art, and comedy. In Jim Meddick’s Monty, another kind of logic is on the loose. And in The Elderberries, yet another tangled skein of reasoning comes unraveled. “She hasn’t ordered yet” is in the same family of unrealized expectations as the woman’s fantasy. Neatly done. Somewhat akin to Hilary Price’s gem of a few weeks ago where psychiatrist tells a patient that he is a kleptomaniac, and the patient responds, “Can I take anything for it?” And here are a couple of Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy in which Satchel’s facial expressions are the joke. Superb. Next slide please. Mark Tatulli’s Heart of the City makes you think. (More obscenity in the funnies?) And Earl’s comment on the cat-owner’s choice of names for his pet is yet another in a long line of examples of wit and wisdom in Brian Crane’s Pickles. And then, to the right, another Heart of the City—is that a fart joke? Tatulli’s going bananas here, pushing the envelope from all sides. In Pajama Diaries, Terri Libenson too often veers off in a verbal tangent so prolix that there isn’t room for the pictures, a pitfall that the diary concept is particularly vulnerable to. And in Jim Davis’ Garfield, yet another example of artwork by photocopy. That’s not, actually, what happens at the PAWS Studio; someone actually draws each of these panels—with a brush! But here the pictures are so similar, not to say identical (which they are), that all the work could easily have been accomplished by a machine with a lens. Charles Barsotti’s silent cartoon from The New Yorker is both funny and profound, with only one word in sight. Next slide. In one week, I caught two or three Blondie strips in which the character broke the fourth wall in the last panel. Good for a gag once in a while, but more than once a week? Not good. And the next Blondie, by way of following up on my earlier (Opus 168) dissertation about the button on Dagwood’s shirt, reveals that the mystery of the button hasn’t gone away. Moreover, it’s good for a gag in-and-of itself. Finally, another uproarious cartoon from The New Yorker, this one by Nick Downis. Don’t know why this struck me as so hilarious, but it did; and analyzing the cause of my response could well destroy my ability to laugh forever.
Speaking of The New Yorker brings us, as it almost always does when discussing
this magazine, back to the founder, Harold Ross, who, when asked why he didn’t
publish cartoons in color, famously said, “What’s funny about red?” To prove
him wrong, several New Yorker cartoonists have concocted cartoons in which the
color red is the operative risibility. See them here: http://www.newyorker.com/online/2007/11/26/slideshow_071126_red?slide=1&run=true&start=5#showHeader Or you can buy the current issue, November 26—the one with the venerable desert
island joke on the cover—the magazine’s annual “cartoon issue,” where all five
of the “funny red” cartoons are published. Apart from the usual portfolio
section of cartoons, the rest of the magazine is pretty much what it always
is—instead, that is, of publishing insightful articles on cartooning and
cartoonists. In short, an annual disappointment.
Annual Stock-taking and Bean Counting
For the record, here’s where I repeat the Essential Information from this month’s earlier Rabbit Habit Alert wherein we (1) announced the epic Hindsight essay on Mutt and Jeff et al and (2) reported the year’s production here at the Rancid Raves Intergalactic Wurlitzer. I’m repeating it here, this time, just so I can find it next fall when I start looking up the production records of previous years. In our fourth year, from November 2006 through October 2007, we produced a total of 597 pages of Rancid Raves (averaging 50 pages a month), plus 104 pages of Hindsight (an average of 8.6 pages a month). What other magazine generates nearly 60 pages of comics-related (mostly) news and reviews every month for a mere $1.32 a month?
We (Jeremy Lambros, my webmaster and I) produced 19 opuses of Rants & Raves in the last twelve months and posted 13 Hindsight (“historical”) articles. Our contract specifies approximately bi-weekly issues, and we did somewhat better than that: we occasionally missed on the frequency, but we posted something for you at least twice a month and, in many months, three times, sometimes even four times.
By the way, we call it an online magazine, not a blog. Blogs, as I understand them, are like diaries or journals; a magazine, like Rants & Raves, offers discrete articles on different subjects. And that’s what we do. We divide the articles into departments (News [“Nous R Us”], Book Reviews (“Book Marquee”), Comic Strip Watch, Graficity [Graphic Novels], and Funnybook Fan Fare, all directly engaged in comics, plus a few trimmings like favorite quotations and reports on the oddest doings around (Civilization’s Last Outpost), but they’re still articles, not journal musings. Among the graphic novels we reviewed in the last twelve-month: Abandon the Old in Tokyo, The Professor’s Daughter, Cancer Vixen, and Fun Home. And in the Hindsight department, our long-form section, last year we did profiles of Bill Amend (FoxTrot), Irwin Caplan, Clay Geerdes, John Held Jr., and Buck Brown, and we examined Wertham’s book, Wonder Woman, the birth of comix, Danish Dozen and Free Speech, the Top 100 comic/cartoon creations of the 20th Century, and how Jews created the comics, and we also presented an exhaustive essay on the difference between a “review” and a “critique.” Surely, that’s enough plugging for this year.
Despite the flip tone herewith, we’re not bragging: we’re merely hoping to demonstrate having provided the value you bargained for when you subscribed. The quantity anyhow; about the quality, you must be the judge. Thus endeth our 214th foray into the digital ether.
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