Opus 215 (December 10, 2007). The persecution of teddy bears in Sudan got our wattles in an uproar this time, but we also lavish attention on the latest invasion from Japan, gay romance manga, and Pete Maresca’s phenomenal success publishing extravagantly “true” reprints of classic comic strips, and we say farewell to James Kemsley, a cartooner from down under who was the latest to produce Australia’s legendary Ginger Meggs. We also continue our listing of Yuletide gift ideas (my books, mostly). Here’s what’s here, in order, by department:

 

 

NOUS R US

Schulz Third Richest Dead Celebrity

The Voice Rates New Yorker Cartoons

Disney’s “Enchanted” Revives the Studio’s Tradition

Marvel Goes Digital

Western Comics in True West

Houston Post Cuts Back on Comics

Wonder Woman’s New Feminist Scribe

The 99 Extols Universal Values

Scott Adams Becomes a Boss

Satrapi Aspires to Smoking Championship

 

Anti-Semitic Cartoons in Arab Papers

 

MORE ABOUT MANGA

Gay Comics

 

Picasso In Rome Where Male Nudity Is Paraded before City Hall

 

GRAFICITY

Freefall Romance, A Gay Love Story

 

FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE

Number Ones: Graveslinger, The Deadlander, Brawl, Simon Dark

Green Arrow and Black Canary, Nos. 1 and 2

 

THE FROTH ESTATE

Newspapers Are Aliver and Weller Than We’d Supposed

 

COMIC STRIP WATCH

Bottled Air

Kristallnacht in Heart of the City

 

EDITOONERY

Public Official Drummed Out of Office by Crusading Editoonist

(Or Not)

Nick Anderson Asks the Democrat Candidates a Profound Question

Pat Bagley Just Gets Better and Better

Musical Chairs at Editoonist Desks

 

HOLY MOLEY

The Blasphemy of Teddy Bears and Cartoons

CLOSER TO HOME: Wiley Could Be Next

 

PASSIN’ THROUGH

Australia’s James Kemsley, 1948-2007

 

NEW COMIC STRIP: Signe Wilkinson’s Family Tree

 

BOOK MARQUEE

Noel Sickles’ Scorchy Smith

Bush Leaguers: Catalog of Editorial Cartoon Exhibit Last Summer

CALENDAR GIRLS: Olivia, Femlin, Silke’s Betty

 

SO MANY SPLENDID SUNDAYS

Pete Maresca’s Walt and Skeezix, Sammy Sneeze, and the Next Nemo

Plus: How Maresca Got Going On This Anyhow

 

Christmas Lists

A Couple Suggestions

 

 

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

With $35 million, Charles M. Schulz ranks third on Forbes magazine’s annual list of “Top-earing Dead Celebrities,” following Elvis Presley ($49 million) and ex-Beatles John Lennon ($44 million) but ahead of George Harrison, another ex-Beatle ($44 million) and Albert Einstein ($18 million). ... Scott Adams, said Editor & Publisher, ranked 21st in the list of “The Top 50 Thinkers” in the world of business published by the Times of London. ... Patrick McDonnell lost the dog that inspired Earl in his comic strip, Mutts; the real-life Earl died at the age of 18. More at Muttscomics.com. ... The weekly newspaper supplement Parade magazine has, nearly forever, offered its readers three cartoons a week in its “Laugh Parade” feature. For several centuries, all three cartoons have been by Bill Hoest or, after his death, his wife Bunny and cartoonist John Reiner; one of the three has been about a St. Bernard, Howard Huge. With the October 21 issue, Parade announced that it would be “happy” to “welcome” new cartoonists to the department, at the rate of one per issue, I assumed, judging from this issue in which Gary McCoy singles. But by December 9, Hoest and Reiner and their boring St. Bernard had disappeared, and the three cartoons were by McCoy, Dave Coverly and the team of Carla Ventresca and Henry Beckett. And the feature is now called “Cartoon Parade.” ... Gary Panter won an American Book Award for his graphic novel Jimbo’s Inferno in which Panter’s muscular buzz-cut adventurer “is a wary innocent traveling through the most heinous atmosphere Panter can imagine—for Panter, ‘hell’ is just two letters away from spelling ‘mall,’ a gigantic brain-numbing info-commerce center called Focky Bocky” according to Eric Reynolds at Fantagraphics, publisher of Jimbo’s Inferno. Panter is the second Fantagraphics-published cartoonist to get an ABA: Joe Sacco was the first in 1996, with his book of cartooning reportage, Palestine. Another Fantagraphics production, Don Phelps’ Reading the Funnies, a book of essays, won several years ago.

            The Village Voice on November 29 published “The New Yorker Cartoon Standings: Fall 2007" with which Brian Parks needles the magazine for the celebrated obtuseness of some of its cartoons. Parks’ chart, which appears anon, ranks the issues according to the “Humor Success Percentage”of the cartoons: the November 5 issue had 9 cartoons, 5 of which were “amusing,” so it was batting .556; the October 8 issue, in which only 3 of its 18 cartoons were “amusing,” was batting a miserable .167. The magazine’s annual “cartoon issue” hit merely .333, which, it sez, “excludes” the comic strips in that issue. Of which there are a few, including another of those terrible stomach-churning collaborations between Robert Crumb and his wife Aline, who cannot draw. Presumably, the editors of the magazine publish the occasional effusions of this couple because they think it’s such a nifty notion that Crumb and Aline can jointly do a comic strip. The sheer togetherness of the enterprise appeals, I suppose. But if it weren’t for Crumb’s appealingly fustian drawings, the so-called strip would collapse of tedium. It almost does as it is.  The “cartoon issue” of The New Yorker (November 26) published a cartoon by Lee Lorenz, former cartoon editor of the magazine, that looked remarkably like something Gary Larson did in The Far Side in the 1980s, according to ElfMagazine.com, reported by E&P. In Lorenz’s 3-panel cartoon, a woman on a park bench is feeding birds; she is surrounded by more and more birds until, in the last panel, only her handbag remains, implying that the birds have eaten her. In Larson’s cartoon, a man on a park bench is surrounded by the birds he is feeding; they seemingly devour him and leave only his winter coat on the bench. New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff, while acknowledging the similarity of the cartoons, said Lorenz “is not a guy who copies cartoons,” adding: “This is not plagiarism. Rather it is the result of very creative people developing many ideas from a few well-established, well-traveled cartoon settings.” Eggs-actly.

            It’s the 70th anniversary of the debut of Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the movie industry’s first feature-length animated film, and the studio’s latest product, “Enchanted,” seems to Alex Remington at news.yahoo.com to celebrate both the technical achievement for which Disney is renowned and the studio’s return to hand-drawn animation. “Disney’s exit from the field of full-length hand-drawn animated movies betrayed a fundamental doubt about the company’s ability to make the movies that defined it: gorgeously rendered, impeccably styled musicals for the whole family, unabashedly saccharine and, for the modern age, almost unthinkably unironic. Finally, with ‘Enchanted,’ Disney seems to have regained their faith in and much of their skill at what they do best.” The new movie, with both animated and live-action sequences, is “self-referential to previous Disney movies,” making it “a fundamental defense of Disney movies, and the best Disney movie in almost two decades.” ... Yadu, a Beijing-based maker of home appliances and the world’s second largest maker of indoor air quality products, has been authorized by Disney to make some of its home appliances in the shape of Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh; the co-branding partnership will help Yadu sell its products and will increase awareness in China of Disney characters that are nearly ubiquitous everywhere else.

            At marvel.com/digitalcomics, Marvel “has taken thousands of classic issues of its comics along with selected current titles and re-engineered them panel-by-panel to make them into something akin to a sleek Internet slide show,” writes Geoff Boucher at the Los Angeles Times. Boucher calls the venture “bold” but believes it is prompted “as much by anxiety as ambition.” The cause of the anxiety? Despite the success of movies and video-games built on superhero comics, “the printed comic book is fading from the cultural consciousness of youngsters. Next year,” Boucher continues, “the superhero comic book will celebrate its 70th year as a uniquely American contribution to pop culture, but it’s now a foreign object to most kids. The glut of slick magazines and the quirky business history of comics distribution has made it hard for kids to stumble on a comic book if they aren’t looking for one.” The only place you can be certain of finding a comic book for sale is in a comic book store; a kid can no longer “happen” upon the four-color wonders at the corner store. There aren’t any corner stores. Writer Jeff Loeb recognizes the predicament but keeps the faith: “Comics are like chocolate chip cookies. If they’re not around, kids don’t know they want them, but once they are exposed to them, they want them.” Boucher quotes Dan Buckley, president of publishing for Marvel Entertainment: “We don’t have a natural lifestyle intersection point for kids anymore.” But he hopes to find one online. The Marvel website opened with 2,500 issues “and 20 more are added each week.” You can sample 250 of them without charge; everything is available for $9.95/month or, if you sign up for a year, the charge drops to $4.95/month. Could be my machine, but the lettering in the speech balloons is too small to read without zooming in on every page; the color is brilliant, but the lines are too pixelated and seem raggedy. Could be my machine, as I said—or my own ineptitude at digital exploits.

            Both Marvel and DC have sent notice to the BitTorrent site Z-Cult FM threatening legal action of the site doesn’t “cease and desist” facilitating bit torrent downloads of scans of Marvel and DC comic books. Z-Cult initially complied, said icv2.com, but later came back, saying: “We are based outside of the U.S. and are not therefore subject to U.S. legislation that was present on the legal documents sent to us.” This legal skirmishing takes place just as both publishers are increasing their own presence on the Web. I have no idea what bit torrent downloads are (or what bit torrents are either), but I have a basic grasp of what the Web is.

            The November-December 2007 issue of True West magazine offers several nuggets of comics treasure. Paul Hutton’s article, “True Comics,” is a somewhat perfunctory albeit seemingly encyclopedic (if not comprehensive) survey of Western comics. “Perfunctory” because it doesn’t give the publication dates of most of the titles it lists and because his judgement is debatable. He thinks Gilberton’s Classics Illustrated was “superbly done.” And he refers to underground comix as “head comics,” which they were once called, comix being sold in “head shops.” He doesn’t give the names of many of the minions who labored illustrating in the Western vineyards, but he extols, and rightly, the work of the late Jack Jackson (Jaxon), who he calls “the finest American graphic historian.” He also believes that some of the publications of Daim Press in Milano, Italy, are “the highwater mark in graphic histories of the American West.” Jaxon and Daim are in Hutton’s concluding section, “Best Western History Titles,” which follows his over-all survey; in the latter, he recognizes that almost none of the Western funnybooks were historically accurate—not even Fawcett’s Billy the Kid, who was, you’ll recall, a goat, a billy goat. I assume, therefore, that the “Best” titles were ones that were historically accurate, although I think sometimes that Hutton’s criteria for these includes the quality of the artwork; seems to for Daim, for example. Hutton’s piece is followed by an agonizingly brief article by Mark Boardman, “Back to the Future,” about a publication called Texas History Movies. But it wasn’t about movies at all: it was about Texas History, and the history was told in the manner of Ed Wheelan’s famed Minute Movies—that is, in comic strip form. There are two or three illustrations, too tiny to discern much but large enough to justify an opinion that the rendering was entirely competent in a style evocative of a slightly bolder Gene Ahern manner. The first book with this title was a reprint of comic strips initially published in the Dallas Morning News, beginning in 1926. They were, Boardman tells us, “pretty racist.” Jaxon undertook to revise the series, eliminating the racism, and The New Texas History Movies came out under the auspices of the Texas Historical Association earlier this year, Jaxon’s last hurrah. This issue of True West also includes a fond recollection of the contributions of the late California ’tooner Phil Frank, who started doing a cartoon series, “Frank History,” for the humor page of the magazine, Last Stand. The editors publish here their favorite Franks and some of the drawings with which Frank decorated his correspondence to them; they also decided that “Frank History” so dignified (or, to use their word, “anchored”) the Last Stand page that they can’t continue it without Frank. There’s a great photo of Frank, too, with a crow perched on his finger. In place of the Last Stand this time is a piece by Jimmy Palmiotti, co-writer of Jonah Hex, entitled “What History Has Taught Me.” The comic book scribe “often finds inspiration for his Jonah Hex tales in the pages of this magazine,” we’re told. And we learn that Jonah Hex may be on the way to the silver screen. In sum, a whole lot of cartooning information in a Western magazine.

            The Houston Post, which, according to E&P, “had perhaps the largest daily comics section of any U.S. print newspaper,” has reduced that section by a page “to save money on newsprint costs and syndication fees.” The dropped comics are Arctic Circle, Buckles, Cathy, Cleats, Crock, Dennis the Menace, Diesel Sweeties, The Dinette Set, Drabble, Gasoline Alley (sob), Heathcliff, Judge Parker, The Lockhorns, Marmaduke, Mary Worth, Mr Boffo, My Cage, Real Life Adventures, Rubes, Shoe, Spot the Frog, Sylvia and The Wizard of Id. Some of these strips did poorly in reader surveys, some of the older ones are no longer being done by their original creators, and some are too new to have developed a following. ... And the Washington Post “has become the latest newspaper to shrink its comics offerings”—this time, reports E&P, by condensing its two Sunday sections into one, a transformation that is accomplished by reducing the size of the strips. ... Alley Oop is celebrating the centennial of Oklahoma’s becoming a state by sending the eponymous protagonist back in time to 1907 where he meets Oklahoman Will Rogers and the two face a crisis that could prevent statehood. The strip is drawn by Jack Bender and written by his wife, Carole, who is a native Oklahoman; they both reside today in Tulsa. ... Lalo Alcaraz’s La Cucaracha comic strip just passed its fifth anniversary; it appears, saith E&P, in 60 newspapers. Alcaraz, with a master’s degree in architecture from the U. of California, Berkeley, has been producing editorial cartoons for the LA Weekly since 1992 and recently received his fourth Southern California Journalism Award for Best Cartoon in Weekly Papers. He also received the Los Angeles Hispanic Public Relations Association’s Premio Award for Excellence in Communications, and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics “Art as a Hammer” Award, according to a press release from his syndicate, Universal Press.

            A first edition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the inaugural novel in her celebrated series, sold at auction in England for a record-breaking $40,350, due, chiefly, to scarcity: because of the immense popularity of the first book, first editions of subsequent titles in the series were published in vast quantities, effectively destroying the value of each of those first editions. ... The original art for the cover of Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural No. 1 sold for $101,575 said scoop.diamondgalleries.com. This is the first time that “a Crumb original or any underground original by any artist, sold for $100,000.” ... In Manga: The Complete Guide, Jason Thompson, editor for many U.S. editions of manga, “rates and reviews over a thousand manga series and demystifies the wide world of Japanese comics,” according to Deb Aoki at manga.about.com. ... The December issue of Shonen Jump magazine will begin releasing “the manga voted number one of all time in Japan, said Kai-Ming Cha and Heidi MacDonald at PW Comics Week. Slam Dunk by Takehiko Inoue is about “a comically arrogant high school student who goes out for the basketball team to impress a girl.”

            With Wonder Woman No. 14, Gail Simone, formerly a professional hairdresser, will take over as full-time scripter of the “third-ranked” hero at DC. According to George Gene Gustines at the New York Times, Simone’s writing career began with “Women in Refrigerators”—“an online chronicle of the suffering experienced by female comic book characters” at unheardtaunts.com, which lead to a barely-paid humor column at comicbookresources.com, and then a writing gig at Bongo Comics, followed by Killer Princesses for Oni Press and, soon thereafter, Marvel’s Deadpool and DC’s Birds of Prey, which, being an all-female ensemble, led to Wonder Woman. Simone thinks she’s a good fit for the character because she grew up in a family “where women’s rights were very important, and the guys didn’t tend to stick around too long. Wonder Woman was an amazing role model.” Wonder Woman hasn’t enjoyed anything like a consistently good run for years, it seems to me. She’s DC’s most obvious candidate for a sexy superheroine, but she seemed severely hampered by her early history in a star-spangled foundation garment: girdles in those distant days were worn as much to inhibit the seductive caresses of romantic men as to shape the body. Nothing sexy about that. But when John Byrne redesigned her costume some years ago, Wonder Woman acquired more than a soupcon of runway appeal. Still, she was scarcely Anna Nicole Smith. When the current team of artists, Terry and Rachel Dodson, took up the title, matters improved again. I’m not convinced, though, that Simone’s first story arc, which, Gustines tells us, “involves a previously unmentioned attempt on Wonder Woman’s life on the day of her birth,” will afford the Dodsons much opportunity to display the sort of pictures they’ve become known for. Babies are cute, not sexy. But I’m probably misunderstanding the publisher’s intent: feminism not sex appeal seems to be the object of their present preoccupation.

            A new graphic novel lately released in India tears the veil of altruism from the Mess o’Patomia enterprise: Iraq: Operation Corporate Takeover, written by Sean Michael Wilson and drawn by Lee O’Conner, maintains that Western business interests are taking advantage of Iraq’s weakened state to secure long term control of the country’s oil reserves, the third-largest in the world. Looks eerily as if the plot could have been ripped from the day’s headlines if the news media were at all disposed to reporting the news instead of the dubious antics of too many presidential candidates. Private security companies, whose forces number about 48,000 of the 160,000 contractors in Iraq, are singled out in the book for pocketing huge profits while remaining complete unaccountable for human rights abuses and the deaths of unarmed civilians. Rick Veitch’s Army@Love series from DC/Vertigo takes essentially the same view of the war as corporate enterprise. In No. 7, a female character who is in bed (literally) with a Cabinet member, a benefit he realizes as a result of his supplying her with retail goods to sell on the blackmarket in Afbaghistan, says: “I hope the military doesn’t do anything drastic—like winning the war.” To which the old fart responds: “With corporate sponsorship skyrocketing, there’s little fear of that.” In this remarkable satire, which takes place “a few years in the future,” the war in this far-off country is conducted entirely as a profit-making endeavor by a military-industrial complex (i.e., the government). Only a couple of the cast could qualify as likable, and Colonel Healey isn’t one of them. It is he who has re-invented the war thereby assuring a continuous flow of new recruits into the ranks of the army. In Healey’s recruiting plan, the war is advertised as an opportunity for guilt-free sex and heart-pounding danger on the battlefield with the option of shooting bad guys—just the sort of thing that motivates adolescent America to sign up for the harrowing fun of it all. To catch up, try www.armyatlove.com

            In Cleveland at the Plain Dealer, some plain talk from columnist Ted Diadium, who, noting that some readers complained about the grimly serious storyline in Funky Winkerbean as Lisa Moore dies of cancer—“readers objected to such a strong dose of reality being inflicted on them in a part of the paper that is usually reserved for laughs”—countered with this advice: “I usually recommend that people who object to a particular strip simply exercise their right as a reader and ignore it, but one caller not long ago said that he couldn’t do that because we put Funky right in between two of his favorite strips. No problem, I told him: we have just discovered yet another use for duct tape.” ... Also from the Plain Dealer, a report about a comic book store dealer who was astounded when a perfect stranger walked into his store offering to sell him a near-mint copy of Detective Comics No. 27, in which Batman debuts, that he had found while cleaning out an attic. This issue of this title is regarded by most collectors as the second most-valuable comic book; the first is Action Comics No. 1, in which Superman first appears. ... Chris Browne, who produces his father’s legacy, Hagar the Horrible, has moved from Sarasota, Florida, to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, because of a parade, said Leslie Rupiper at ksfy.com. Browne and his wife Carroll visited the city a while back when he fulfilled an invitation to speak at Augustana College, and while in the vicinity, they experienced the Vikings Day parade. Said Chris: “Carroll turned to me with her Viking horns on and said, ‘I love this. I want to move here.’” And so they did.

            The 99, the world’s first comic book of Muslim superheroes, has been a big hit in the Middle East, Mariam Mahmood tells us at voanews.com, and the title has now debuted in the U.S. “The title refers to the 99 attributes of God, which Muslims believe—when existent in one being—deify that being, and only Allah possesses all 99 attributes.” Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of the new title, says the attributes include generosity, strength, wisdom, mercy, foresight and “dozens of others that are not used today to describe Islam in the media.” In the series, each of the heroes embodies one of the 99 attributes, and each of them must work with two others as a team to solve a problem. Each character originates from a different country, and there is an equal number of male and female characters, with nine of the latter wearing traditional headscarves in nine different ways, according to their cultures. Al-Mutawa adds: “The 99 series is not a religious book; it is as religious as Spider-Man, so it’s based on values. When Uncle Ben teaches Spider-Man—or Peter Parker—that with great power comes great responsibility, is that a Christian message? Is it Jewish? Is it Buddhist? Is it Muslim? It’s human. It’s global.”

            Scott Adams, who made his first fortune by ridiculing bosses, has become a boss, reports Susan Young at contracostatimes.com. It’s the latest change in a series of recent alterations in his once-cubicle-confined life. In July 2006, he married for the first time and became a “bonus dad” to his wife’s two children. For the last couple years, he’s been struggling with a debilitating disease, spasmodic dysphonia, “a vocal disorder that can also affect other parts of the body with tremors.” He can talk on the phone and to an audience, but in one-on-one conversation, he chokes on his words. His hand shakes when he puts pen to paper but doesn’t if he uses a stylus and draws on his computer. Ten years ago, he partnered with a waitress at his favorite beanery to open a hip retro restaurant named after his partner, Stacey’s. Then they opened another restaurant, and Stacey was overwhelmed running two. So Adams stepped in to run one of them. Not so far-fetched, it turns out: Adams won the Betty Crocker Homemaker Award while in high school. Turns out, too, that as a boss, Adams is the “anti-pointy-haired boss”: at least one employee says he’s the best boss he ever had. Adams spends much of the day at the restaurant, it seems; he produces Dilbert and writes his blog in the mornings, starting, usually, at 6 a.m. But he’ll be spending less time on the blog, according to Editor & Publisher. Adams started the blog for four reasons: to collect advertising dollars, to compile the best posts for a book, to expand the audience for Dilbert, and to express himself verbally. But blog readers have figured out how to bypass the ads to get to the content, he said: “So there’s no longer a correlation between how hard I work and the ad income I earn. It topped out at ‘trivial’ even while the audience grew to substantial.” None of the other three reasons worked out quite the way he wanted either—although, if pressed, he might admit that he got a book out of it and that writing a blog was artistically satisfying. He’ll continue to blog, he said, but not as often, which was daily.

            The animated version of Marjane Satrapi’s two-part so-called autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis, which she co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud, who had just a little bit more experience in animation that her nada, took a Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Planned for a December 25 opening, the film, claims Rachel Abramowitz at the Los Angeles Times, “is a delightful—yet poignant—child’s-eye view on the winnowing of personal freedoms under the harsh regime of the ayatollahs [in Iran after the revolution in 1979]. The film evokes young Satrapi’s quest for contraband punk rock, the perennial irritation of keeping one’s headscarf correct, and how to conduct romance in a country where unmarried men and women should not be seen in public together.” In French with Catherine Deneuve doing some of the voicing, the film, Satrapi said, “is based on real life, but from the second you make a script, it becomes fictional,” and so she and Paronnaud, aiming “to make the movie universal,” changed some of the story so it would come alive. “I ended up looking at the main character as the main character,” she said, “not myself.” She had received numerous offers to turn her story into a live-action movie, but she refused them all. “Either I had to do it myself, or it shouldn’t be done at all.” When asked by Euan Kerr at Michigan Public Radio what she wants to do next, Satrapi said she wants to rest, play some ping-pong, write more comics, make more films, paint again—and “become the world champion of smokers.” Her addiction to cigarettes is fast becoming as legendary as Art Spiegelman’s.

 

 

MODERATE ARAB PAPERS SHOWCASE ANTI-SEMITIC CARTOONS AHEAD OF THE SUMMIT

Up-dated on November 28 from the previous day’s story by Haviv Rettig, here, verbatim, from jpost.com:

While Arab leaders trekked to Annapolis for the summit, Arab newspapers, many of them government-funded, have been running cartoons depicting Israel as violent and untrustworthy, according to a survey of Arab media conducted by the Anti-Defamation League. The cartoons often use anti-Semitic themes, such as depictions of ugly, greedy Jews in religious garb, to convey their messages. While some of the cartoons come from places with declared belligerent policies toward Israel, such as Syria and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, others come from what the American government has called "moderate" states, such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar, and even government-funded newspapers in Jordan and Egypt.

            One cartoon, published in late October in Egypt's government-funded mass-circulation daily Al-Ahram, shows an Israeli hand extended in peace, but with missiles in place of fingers and on the olive branch it holds. A November 8 cartoon from Jordan's Ad-Dustur shows a Jew, identified by a skullcap and a Star of David on his briefcase, sporting an evil grin and wearing a suit covered with images of fighter jets and tanks. An example of classical anti-Semitic depictions came from Oman's Al-Watanpaper, which published a November 16 cartoon showing a religiously-attired Jew standing behind a gagged and seated Uncle Sam and speaking in his stead to a crowd of Arab listeners. Qatar's Ash-Sharq newspaper ran a late-October cartoon depicting Ehud Olmert as a snake wrapping himself around the Islamic shrine of the Dome of the Rock, while the country's Ar-Raya newspaper depicted Olmert as a fox holding an olive branch, suggesting he had just eaten the dove of peace.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Persiflage and Badinage

“The e-mail of the species is deadlier than the mail.” —Stephen Fry

“Diplomacy is letting someone else have your way.” —Lester B. Pearson

            “The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.” —G.K. Chesterton

            “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.” —Ben Hecht

            “Never give a party if you will be the most interesting person there.” —Mickey Friedman, novelist

 

 

 

More and More about Manga. The market for print manga in Japan is shrinking. Or, at least, changing drastically. According to USA Today (October 19), sales of manga magazines fell 4 % last year, the latest year in a steadily dropping trend from a peak in 1995 of 1.34 billion copies to only 745 million last year. “Manga’s decline may be due primarily to the habits of young Japanese, who, analysts say, are: obsessed with cellphones, the Internet and video phones, all of which provide manga-style entertainment; tired of reading in the traditional way; bored with plots and characters, which, in manga, have become increasingly repetitive; disappearing—the traditional pool of manga readers is smaller today as birthrates in Japan shrivel.” As the Japanese market shrinks, so, I would suppose, will the output to meet a decreasing demand. And with that, the source of manga for American markets will, likewise, diminish, compounding a dilemma already lurking on the horizon: American publishers of manga have already started muttering about exhausting the supply—hence, Korean comics, the latest source of manga books in chain bookstores. Manga publishers in the U.S. have also started to explore yet another vein of material in Japan—shonen-ai/yaoi. Sonen-ai means “boy’s love,” and in this country, it usually refers to manga that focus mostly on emotions and relationships rather than sex; yaoi, on the other hand, focus on sex between men.

            The last three or four issues of Previews, Diamond Distribution’s monthly catalog of freshly minted comics and graphic novels and related products, have seen the arrival of Digital Manga Publishing, which has taken at least six full pages to advertise its current crop of comics about the romantic adventures of gay men—young, attractive (in that svelte pointy-chinned effeminate manner of manga) homosexuals. In the November issue, for example, we have Body Language, “Less Talk ... More Sex,” which offers this synopsis: “Kanae is a university student whose ‘cold beauty’ has led people to spread nasty rumors about his promiscuity. In truth, Kanae is a virgin. He is also secretly in love with the Don Juan of the campus, Yuuichi. Poor Kanae would do anything to be with Yuuichi, even if it meant a merely sexual relationship with no feelings involved. But when the opportunity arises, can he settle for anything less than love?” Or this about I’ll Be Your Slave: “Moriya is in charge of finding a model. For a new product commercial for a big jewelry brand; but, nobody matches the ideal of perfection he has in mind—that is, until he meets Itsuki Ouno. Itsuki is not just perfection incarnate, he’s like royalty, and incredibly spoiled. And he may well be the one person destiny put in Moriya’s way to fulfill his need to adore and serve.” With teasers like that, I had to find out just how these tales are accomplished; my review of one of them, Freefall Romance, appears in Graficity below. I’m a little surprised, though, to find this genre so openly touted in Previews, given my understanding of Diamond’s owner’s reputation for wobbling in the somewhat conservative not to say righteous direction. I suppose Steve Geppi has decided, like any good capitalist, to let the market place work its will. By the way but not at all incidentally, the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law reports that the number of same-sex couples in the U.S. has been steadily rising—from 145,130 in 1990 to 594,391 in 2000 to 779,867 last year. This doesn’t mean the number of gays is increasing: it means, rather, that general acceptance of homosexuals has increased enough over the years to permit the public acknowledgment of same-sex unions and to keep records about them. Still, for the comic book business, flaunting homosexuality is risky: American parents are notorious for their protectiveness of their children, and since graphic novels are seen as “long form” comic books and comic books are seen as children’s junk literature, anyone distributing yaoi is almost certain to be accused of corrupting the Young, which invariably precipitates a firestorm of alarm. We’ve seen precisely this kind of hysteria in action in Rome, Georgia, where Gordon Lee was infamously arrested and charged with distributing to children “obscene material” that was “harmful to minors.”

            The “obscene material” in this case was a comic book in which the painter Pablo Picasso is portrayed working in the nude in his studio, historically and biographically an accurate depiction of the painter’s working habit. When Lee’s case finally came to trial early in November, the judge was forced to declare a mistrial because the prosecutor, in his opening remarks, referred to Lee’s previous run-in with the law on a similar charge. While I reported this last time, Opus 214, I neglected to mention that the charge in the previous instance stemmed from Lee’s having sold an adult (“pornographic”) comic book to an adult, a circumstance that the local paper, the Rome News-Tribune, found “hilarious” because another store nearby, Entice, sold adult material to adults without being harassed in any way. But then, it wasn’t in the comic book business, and, as everyone will tell you, comic books are for children. Lee was apparently convicted but I can’t tell from my source (the website of the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund) whether the conviction stuck or not. The News-Tribune notes that “police seized hundreds of allegedly ‘obscene’ comic books [in this earlier encounter] but had to give them all back, plus the city and district attorney’s office had to pay a $18,000 judgment after the store owner sued them and won.” And Lee himself is quoted as saying he “beat” the rap that time. The current case, however, stems from a Hallowe’en event during which Lee’s store gave out 2,200 comic books as “treats” to children. Apparently, the News-Tribune says in its editorial reviewing the case, “only one” comic book of questionable content, the one with the Picasso story, “was mistakenly handed to a child by an employee. There would seem little evidence of a massive conspiracy to degrade public morality or pervert children in that. Nor was the comic in question actually ‘porn’ of any kind but appears to fall under the legal definition of ‘art.’ Indeed,” the editorial continues, “the setting in which all this is taking place turns it into a comic farce. A couple blocks from where this courtroom ‘drama’ goes on endlessly, and right in front of City Hall in full public view, stands a statue of a fully anatomically endowed [naked] Romulus and Remus [the mythological founders of Rome, Italy] being suckled by the famed Capitoline wolf. They don’t show a thing that the Picasso picture didn’t also show. Photos of that statue adorn untold amounts of official brochures, are found on the city websites and so forth. Indeed, along with the Clock Tower, those undressed little male humans are considered to be the ‘symbol’ of Rome. So, a question: If a child sees that statue, or such a brochure, or bumps into it on a website, should all local officials be prosecuted for distributing harmful materials to minors? ... The defense rests ... or would, if it weren’t doubled over in the aisles, laughing.” (A link to the entire editorial can be found at www.cbldf.com or the whole thing at http://news.mywebpal.com/partners/680/public/news856929.html ; Rome’s website is www.romega.us but I didn’t see Romulus or Remus there.) None of Fijiyama’s pictures in Freefall Romance show his heroes full-frontal naked, so presumably the book could be sold in even Rome, Georgia without sensation. But one never knows these days when Righteous ire will be aroused—or by what.

 

 

 

GRAFICITY

Hyouta Fujiyama’s Freefall Romance is yaoi, a genre of manga about romance between young men. In this tale, Youichi Nanase is concerned about his younger brother, who is attending an all boys school that is rumored to have a 90% gay student population. Youichi finds a sympathetic listener in a co-worker, Renji Tsutsumi, to whom he confides his worry about his brother. Renji, unbeknownst to Youich— and to himself— is gay and, to complicate matters, is attracted to Youichi: “He has sex appeal, and he’s pretty good-looking,” Renji muses, “—if only he was a girl, I would have done her by now.” Meanwhile, Youichi discovers his brother, far from being the innocent prey at school, is the predator, and then, during one of the evenings he spends drinking and talking with Renji, Renji reaches out and touches him on the cheek. “Why did I do that?” he wonders later: “Well, that’s kinda obvious ... I just got this sudden urge to touch him.” Once he’s started thinking this way, the subject of the conversations between the two changes: instead of talking about Youichi’s brother, they talk about their own at first ambiguous situation, why they are attracted to each other and what they should do about it. The talk is pretty soon accompanied by exploratory groping: after 30 of the novel’s 200-plus pages, they’re kissing. But the talk continues, nearly interminably in the usual manga manner—pages devoted to the utterance of a few syllables, each illuminated by slightly varying facial expressions—as the two struggle to decide whether they are gay and if so what to do about it.

Between conversations, they agree to explore a physical relationship, little by little—first touching, then kissing, then embracing, then mutual masturbation, then .... Finally, by the end of the book, they’re having anal sex. “This is it!” “Thrust” exclaims a caption. “Are you okay?” “Yeah”—followed by lots of moaning and fairly explicit drawings: no genitalia but body language and poses leave nothing to the imagination. Despite the explicitness, Fujiyama’s pictures are models of discretion: erotic without being pornographic, they adequately convey the emotional heat of the increasingly physical relationship. Deploying a slender yet flexing line, Fujiyama’s clarity is simple yet realistic. The faces of the characters, however, are templates of handsome youth: all the boys look alike except for hair color. And they are monotonously serious: only once or twice in the book does anyone smile. Sex in these pages is not, apparently, a joyful activity. Fujiyama displays great restraint in advancing the story: nothing is presented in any sensational way; events unfold in a quite natural, human and humane manner; and everything that happens is accompanied by reams of quiet introspection and compassion. Given the step-by-step style of manga—its idiosyncratic tendency to prolong an activity by depicting every single motion much in the manner of “in-betweening” key moves in animation—and the exploratory nature of the encounter between these two youths, Freefall Romance could be seen as a gay sex primer. It isn’t, of course, but if it falls into the wrong—that is Right—hands, it would lend graphic support to a contentious and sensational scandal. All the more reason for my surprise that Steve Geppi’s Diamond Distribution Company has undertaken to market DMP’s yaoi books.

 

 

 

LET THE READERS CHOOSE

Thad Ogburn reports the varying responses of comics readers at the News & Observer where they are about to launch a formal Readership Poll (as if they need the formality to get the funnies fans to speak up); verbatim:

            Candorville, Darrin Bell's edgy, urban comic strip, is "stinking garbage," according to one reader who wrote us during the strip's trial run earlier this year. But another reader e-mailed that Candorville is "a thinking man's strip with something to say in a funny way." Meanwhile, Mallard Fillmore, Bruce Tinsley's take-no-prisoners strip, was called "the best guest comic" we tried. It also was termed "simplistic opinion ... with no wit or fun anywhere."

            Think it's only the political comics that draw such wildly divergent opinions? Oh, no. The little girl known as Agnes in Tony Cochran's cartoon was "one funny young lady" to some readers, "stupid" to others. Tony Carillo's F-Minus strip? "Great! ... love the irony!" versus "The sorriest excuse for a cartoon I've ever seen."

            Suffice it to say, we're never going to get full agreement on any comic strip. Humor is just too subjective.

RCH: Wouldn’t you know? Opinions range from one end of the spectrum to the other. No wonder it’s difficult for feature editors to pick strips for their comics section.

 

 

 

FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE

Four-color Frolics

Almost all of the first issues I picked up this time have protagonists who are probably dead. How zombies, not to mention vampires, became culture heroes is something of a puzzle. Until you think about it. They are comic book heroes for about the same reason that so many newspaper comic strip protagonists are animals: these creations, the dead and the four-legged, do not belong to any interest groups that can protest against their representation in the comics. So the creators of these series can have their characters do or say whatever they want without fear that some rabid protest group will materialize to object.

            In Graveslinger No. 1, John Cboins does his best to obscure Shannon Eric Denton and Jeff Mariotte’s limping storyline with pictures that are so idiosyncratically rendered that we can’t tell from one panel to the next which character is “on.” The Graveslinger, named Frank Timmons I think, is made recognizable chiefly through his clothing and a gigantic drooping moustache that vaguely resembles a kielbasa sausage. But he’s about the only character who is recognizable enough to separate him from the rest of the bunch. He has apprehended two bad guys by blowing them to bits on the opening three pages of this issue, and then he runs into Will Saylor, a rancher, who, when he learns that Timmons is tracking some escapees from Gila Flats Territorial Prison and which direction the fugitives are going, becomes alarmed: they’re apparently headed to his ranch where his wife and daughters abide, helplessly. He and Timmons race to the rescue, arriving in time to convince the bad guys to leave and, en route, to release the women. Or so the wiley Bart Bevard says, fully intent on something else altogether. Bart and his men, it seems, are zombies of one breed or another, and their objective with the women is not sexual but gustatorial. They want to eat not rape them. Timmons manages to shoot enough of them to scare the rest off momentarily, and with that, the issue concludes. The action in at least two places isn’t very clear. Is Timmons following Saylor to his ranch? And when did he decide to do that? And how, exactly do Timmons and Saylor get from the top of that distant dune to the zombie guard, close enough for Timmons to slit his already-dead neck? It all happens whilst we’re turning a page, I suppose. The maneuver may work in movies, but it limps badly here. There are a couple of nice loud gunplay sequences and one or two witty bits of faux Western lingo. But Cboins’ art is so extremely stylized, bristling with masses of twiggy, purposeless lines, that we’re lost in astonishment at the visual eccentricities instead of being transfixed by the story. And he can’t draw men on horseback convincingly, a decided drawback in a story set in the Old West.

            Billy Dogma returns in Brawl No. 1, and Dean Haspiel’s bold two-fisted lines once again capture the brute power of his hero, who, in this outing, pounds his way out of one extremity into another, finally facing a giant monster, and that’s where Haspiel leaves us. Haspiel is pretty chintzy with dialogue, so his story barges along more-or-less silently with Billy blurting nearly mindless comments like “Give a crippled crab a crutch” when the monster grabs him and then “Shit. Fuck. Piss. Karate.” Not that this tactic isn’t amusing in its strange and cryptic way; it is. It all seems of-a-piece with the visuals, power action that lurches from one odd angle to the next, implying more than it shows. The second part of the book is devoted to “Panorama featuring Augustus,” a young man who spends most of his pages deteriorating before us, body parts festooning and falling off for no apparent reason. Lots of nauseating visuals as our hero coughs up and vomits his guts literally and not much talk until Augustus, in need of alimentary relief, takes a crap in a young woman’s apartment and then, having messed in his pants, begs some underwear from her. Michel Fiffe is doing the damage here, deploying a spidery line everywhere we look; and I have no idea where he’s going with it. Both stories are continued in the next issue, which will be the second of three, three too many for me.

            The Deadlander No. 1 is distinguished by the artwork of Kevin Ferrara, who writes as well as draws the book. He would appear to have been smitten at an early age with the work of Graham Engels at EC and Bernie Wrightson everywhere else, and he carries on in that fashion with great panache. The page layouts all take place within an ornate border, which takes enough space that the pictures in the panels are often exquisitely tiny. Despite which, Ferrara supplies copious detail in nearly every panel. The story gives us only a couple glimpses of the zombie Deadlander; mostly, we follow in the acrid gunsmoked wake of the Cobra, who is bent on finding the Deadlander. So determined is he that he shoots and kills almost everyone he encounters. I’m not sure that gets him any closer to the Deadlander, but it surely shows him to be one bad-tempered hombre. By the end of this issue, we still don’t know why he’s after the Deadlander, but Ferrara’s drawings are worth the trip. So minutely detailed are they that I have a feeling we’ll never see No. 2: he can’t possibly meet a production schedule and do bravura work like this on every page—can he? We’ll see. I hope.

            The eponymous protagonist of Simon Dark No. 1 is a shadowy figure with a sewn-on face, perhaps another of the zombies who seem, with increasing frequency, to populate the funnybooks these days, whose job, he tells us, is to “protect my neighborhood.” In this issue, he performs his duty by interrupting a ritual murder in a ruined church, garroting the would-be killer and then, apparently, killing the destined victim. Or maybe the victim was already dead before Simon saved him. We might be in the midst of a dream. Or a trance. Later, at the crime scene, we meet Beth Granger, the medical examiner, and the investigating officer, who is trying, unsuccessfully, to get a date with her. “I don’t date at work,” she says. We also meet a young couple who are just moving into the neighborhood, and we witness a meeting of the brotherhood that sponsors ritual murders—“offerings.” One of their number, the presumed leader of the job Simon Dark interrupted, begs the opportunity to make up for flubbing the night’s sacrifice by arranging the next one—“something big, something the media will not ignore, something public and tragic.” The newly arrived couple maybe? Not counting the mystery of Simon Dark himself, writer Steve Niles has, by the end of this issue, dangled at least three story threads, each of which seems tantalizing enough to bring us back. And Scott Hampton’s expert rendering lends the tale both atmosphere and narrative clarity.

            The first two issues of DC’s Green Arrow and Black Canary are in, and the story is gripping enough to bring me back for more. I missed the death of Green Arrow on his wedding (to Black Canary) night, but the episode is rehearsed here: he apparently drew a dagger and seemed about to kill his bride, so she grabbed a nearby arrow and stabbed him in the neck, killing him. Subsequently, in issue No. 1 of this title, she behaves in a extreme manner while apprehending the bad guys, almost beating one of them to death. When Connor Hawke, GA’s son, and Green Lantern question her about it, she claims she’s upset because she knows the man she killed on their wedding night was not Oliver Queen, the Green Lantern. Batman believes her, and later, he and Dr. Mid-nite dissect the exhumed remains and confirm their hypothesis: the dead guy is not GA. In No. 2, we find that the real Green Lantern has been kidnaped by the Amazonian tribe on the Isle of Themyscira for reasons not yet clear. Black Canary and Speedy go to the island to rescue GA; and so does Connor Hawke, who successfully breaks his father out of a cage whereupon they are apprehended by a flock of spear-chucking Amazons. Judd Winick’s plotting is straightforward and purposeful, and his dialogue is both witty and colloquial. Cliff Chiang’s drawings are exquisite. He affects what I call an Art Nouveau mannerism—outlining in a heavy bold line but applying plenty of fineline detail within the outline—but which doubtless has some manga origin, interpreted here with a pristine clarity of line and detail. His rendering of faces, particularly beautiful feminine ones, is delicious, even if, given the refinement of his treatment, they all look an awful lot alike. We don’t notice, however, because he can vary facial expression without compromising the beauty of his subjects. Fascinating.

 

 

 

THE FROTH ESTATE

The Alleged News Institution Upon Which Comic Strips Depend

Maybe print journalism is not so bad off as we so often hear it is. “Everyone is talking about the ‘death of print,’ and the funny thing is you see more newspapers than before,” said Richard Karpel, executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies, quoted in Editor & Publisher (August 2007, belatedly reported herein). The newspapers Karpel refers to are those free daily tabloids being produced by mainstream dailies in deliberate imitation of the alternative weeklies that, for the last 40 years, have been spreading across the urban landscape, catering to every conceivable niche interest: here’s an apartment vacancy booklet, an arts and entertainment guide, The Onion for sarcastic laughs, and other specialty publications not to mention overt news coverage in what we might call the “traditional” alternate weekly where edgy reporting and writing eventually supplanted “underground” political screeds—all lined up in rows of those distribution rack-boxes on street corners. Desperate to attract the young reader, big metropolitan newspapers began, a few years ago, to ape the alties that they saw young readers gobbling up.

            The business plan, sofar as there is one, is rank simplicity: it’s advertising revenue that makes newspapers financially viable. The newsstand price of a newspaper generates so comparatively little of the paper’s income that it pays for little more than the ink on the presses, as one wag put it. Newsstand sales—and home delivery—are important only because circulation tells advertisers how many people are likely to read their ads. Recognition of this cold hard fact in print journalism yielded the formulation that infuses alternative weeklies: if you give away the paper, circulation will increase, and the increase will enable the paper to charge more for advertising. Metropolitan daily newspapers have gone a step further: instead of producing free weekly papers, they crank them out every day. Metro freebies tend to aim for younger audiences than alties, which, increasingly, find their readership growing older. In Chicago, the Chicago Tribune launched Redeye, a youth-skewed quick-read daily, in 2002, and distribution has now reached 150,000 with a free home-delivery weekend edition added last spring. People read it on the L (the “elevated” commuter train system in the Windy City) and toss it in the trash can when they disembark at their destination. But Redeye is designed for quick consumption—short articles and lots of pictures—and it is reaching young readers, giving the city’s older youth-oriented weekly, Chicago Reader, respectable competition. The altie-weekly Washington City Paper recently determined that its average reader spends 79 minutes with the paper vs. 20 minutes for the average metro freebie. In big cities like Chicago, alties have been successful enough that they worry as much about the loss of readership to the Internet as the mainstream papers do. Meanwhile, the free offspring of the metro dailies cut into altie circulation. In mid-size cities, however, alternative papers still do well. According to E&P, “overall altie-paper revenue in 2006 was up 3.6% over 2005— a time when, according to the Newspaper Association of America, overall daily newspaper revenue was down 0.3%.” Among the metro dailies, the hope is that their free quick-read tabloids will nurture future readers for the regular daily; as freebie readers establish families and buy homes, they’ll want something more—maybe the Saturday and/or Sunday paid daily newspaper. Again, the point is: there are more newspapers now than 30 years ago; even though the big metros claim to be ‘in trouble’ financially, that trouble is with stockholders, not banks.

            Meanwhile, as the altie-audience grows older, the papers are being bought up by chains. Village Voice consolidated with New Times; Creative Loaf just bought The Chicago Reader. As the alties get “chained,” will they be less spunky? Will the piss and vinegar drain out of their columns? Consolidation achieves economies of scale and opens the door to national advertising, all of which undercuts the once-essential local nature of the enterprise. Once more, the point is that money is still being made in the newspaper business, in all its dimensions, reports of the death of print journalism to the contrary notwithstanding.

            Now if only all those alties and metro free tabloids would start publishing comic strips....

 

 

 

A FEW WORDS FOR BOOK LOVERS

            “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” —Groucho Marx

            “The biggest seller is a cookbooks and the second is diet books—how not to eat what you’ve just learned how to cook.” —Andy Rooney

            “Never judge a book by its movie.” —J.W. Eagan

            “If you read a lot of books, you are considered well-read. But if you watch a lot of tv, you’re not considered well viewed.” —Lili Tomlin

 

 

 

COMIC STRIP WATCH

I wondered when it would happen: inspired by the success of selling tap water in plastic bottles for several times the price of an equivalent amount of gasoline, Garry Trudeau introduced us in Doonesbury for December 2 to entrepreneur Chad Severnson, who has launched a new product into the eagerly mindless consumer market—Alpin-Daz, air bottled in Switzerland. And we richly deserve the ridicule. ... Berkeley Breathed may have strained the license he is allowed as a satirist when, on December 2 in Opus, he started the rumor that Garfield is gay. The ostensible targets of this thrust are those who salivate with morbid interest over every rumor and report of alleged homosexuality in celebrities and politicians and their household pets. While Berk’s thrust ridicules such ravening unreason, the springboard for the laughter is an implicit acceptance of the notion that homosexuality is anathema.

            The week of November 12, Mark Tatulli’s Heart of the City reran a 2002 series of strips that commemorated the anniversary of Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass”—namely, the night of November 9-10, 1938, when Nazis in Hitler’s Germany rampaged through the streets of towns and villages, destroying Jewish homes, businesses and synagogues. Many Jews were beaten to death. Tatulli revised and up-dated dialogue for the rerunning. Heart and her friend Dean, interviewing older people for a school project, meet Leo Nussbaum, who, as E&P reports, “tells them the story of his youth in 1938 Austria and his harrowing escape from Nazi oppression.” (Dunno about your computer screen, but on mine, a lot of imagery accompanying this apostrophe isn’t very clear; it’ll clear up, though, if you print out this illustration.)

            I asked Tatulli how the series was received, and he said: “I got a lot of response to that story.  Mostly people thanking me for keeping the ‘never forget’ idea alive, especially in the comics pages that kids will read.  A lot of rabbi's, and I actually heard from a survivor of Kristallnacht.  A lot of people ask me where I got the story, and I'm almost embarrassed to say I made it up because certainly there are so many real stories floating around, why make one up?  But how would you chose which tale to tell?  How could I do a real story justice?  After all, it is the comics pages— I don't have the full sweep of a movie screen, say.  So I made up a story that I felt conveyed the horror and uncertainty of those days, and from a child's perspective, that fit the format of comic strip storytelling.

            “I am a bit of a history buff, and I have read a good deal about the Holocaust, mostly because it was sort of glossed-over in my school years.  What I became especially intrigued by was the tons and tons of personal stories, the survival of children against a huge, state-run killing machine.  It boggles the mind to read some of these personal tales.

            “I wanted to write something about Kristallnacht when I first read about those awful days, something I had not heard of before.  During my exploration of Vienna's history, I came across the Gunderman Plant (a strong plant native to Vienna), which has a great survival rate and the ability to last for years and years.  It seemed like an appropriate allegory for the struggle of the Viennese Jews and a good place to start my story.  And the story just built from there.  Mostly Heart and Dean represented my ignorance of the Holocaust (all through school) and I wanted them to become informed on a very personal level.  And what better way than a comic strip?  It doesn't come close to telling the real story, but my goal was to possibly make kids inquisitive and prompt open discussion with parents and teachers.  Simply that.

            “It was a very personal story for me to tell, and I wanted to do it justice because of the serious and emotional subject matter, and I'm always touched to hear from readers who are moved by my little drawings.  It is a feeling I cannot effectively describe.”

 

 

 

EDITOONERY

Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted

It is the holy dream of every political cartoonist to unmask the hypocrite, to puncture pomposity and to reveal the everlasting chicanery of politicians and other polluters of the public weal and thereby to drum the scalawags out of town. It is a dream that is almost always frustrated by the very target of the cartoonist’s crusade, who, invariably, phones the hapless ’tooner to ask for the original art of the supposedly insulting cartoon. Deflated by this flattering appreciative gesture, the cartoonist goes back to the drawingboard, still to dream on, hoping against hope, that the next time he skewers a mountebank posing as a public official, the offending factotum will get his just deserts. So we should be gratified, somewhat, to report that George Russell at the San Francisco Chronicle scored the <.ڌJeO9<'@U $BQ< \SwLPx$FĽ83AMY%(v J-RufM}Hۭt h,=San Francisco Chronicle on September 1, 2007. The cartoon was offensive to me both professionally and personally. Additionally, the degrading racial imagery contained in this cartoon shows an incredible insensitivity to the struggles and history of the African-American people in this country. Although City Hall apparently has little control over what is presented in the media, recent public behavior by City Officials contributed to a perception that such political satire was appropriate and acceptable.” Here’s the cartoon. On its face, the cartoon seems to be a comment on Newsom’s intention to reform the “troubled SFHA ... most notably in the creation of HOPE SF, an initiative to rebuild San Francisco’s most distressed public housing sites into vibrant, new mixed-income communities.” Newsom’s plan is denigrated here by depicting it as kind of “slumming” by the effete well-to-do and influential who are served hors d’oeuvres while “touring” the neighborhoods of the less fortunate. At the same time, Fortner is portrayed as a decidedly unwilling participant in the project. Admittedly, being unfamiliar with the situation in the City by the Bay (has Fortner been dragging his feet, impeding Newsom’s progress?), I’m guessing here and basing my guess entirely on Russell’s apparent metaphors. But it would seem to me that if Newsom’s scheme is being ridiculed, then Fortner’s reluctance to go along with it is being applauded. I find nothing in either the over-all message of the cartoon or in Russell’s (rather lame) caricature of Fortner that could be interpreted as “degrading racial imagery.” Perhaps Fortner took the phrase “out in back” to be a reference to the “back of the bus” where blacks traditionally rode in the segregated South until the Civil Rights movement of the sixties so discredited the practice that it was abandoned. But if that is Russell’s intended meaning in his deployment of images here, it undercuts the rest of the cartoon’s message. If Newsom is keeping Fortner “in his place” (at the back of the bus), then, on the one hand, the cartoon is suggesting that Fortner belongs there, signaling approval of Newsom’s treatment of Fortner; on the other hand, the “canape” crack ridicules Newsom’s plan, so the final effect of the cartoon is to both approve and disapprove of Newsom. I doubt that even a clumsy editorial cartoonist could so badly misdirect his arsenal. Still, if the mayor’s plan has a racist element, then it’s the racism in the process that Russell is ridiculing with his “back of the bus” metaphor coupled to the “canape” image of an effete and uncaring upper class. In short, it would appear—again, judging entirely from Russell’s cartoon, taken in isolation, without any knowledge of the situation in San Francisco—that Fortner is mistaken about the racial import of the cartoon. If he’s not supposed to be a sympathetic figure in the cartoon, then Russell has missed his mark altogether. Admittedly, Russell’s message here is muddled, but I doubt that he is taking any pleasure in having driven Fortner from office. So much for ostensible success as a political cartoonist. Be careful what you wish for.

            Since conjuring up the foregoing paragraph, I googled Gregg Fortner and found more than one complimentary reference to his Sisyphusian labors in the SFHA. Despite steadily decreasing funding, he soldiered on for seven years, becoming the longest-serving public housing chief in the city in 20 years. According to the Chronicle a year ago, “Fortner is widely credited with cleaning up the culture of the San Francisco Housing Authority and steering the tremendously popular redevelopment of housing developments in North Beach and the Mission.” Like Newsom, Fortner dreamed of revamping one of the public housing areas “so that someday the poor, crime-ridden neighborhood is listed in San Francisco tourist guides along with North Beach and Nob Hill” (perhaps the source of Russell’s tour metaphor). But Fortner’s diminishing budget and consequently shrinking staff can scarcely keep up with the maintenance of the housing it is responsible for. A third of the 6,400 units his agency cares for are ancient—built in the 1940s and 1950s—and in need of constant repair. Although he lost 28 maintenance workers to budget cutbacks, the SFHA completed 7,100 work orders a year or so ago for 6,000 units. Said Fortner: “That’s like one work order per month, per unit.” Still, residents complain, justifiably it appears, of wayward sewage and other dangerous and unhealthy conditions. “City leaders mostly back Fortner and say he has one of the toughest jobs in local government,” reported the Chronicle in 2006. Indeed, he seems a model public official: “His sparsely decorated office sports a few Dilbert cartoons pinned to the walls—and little else. His company car is a used gray Ford Taurus he says his agency bought for $12,000. He gives visitors bottled water he pays for out of his own pocket—and offers to show the canceled checks as proof.”

            But more pertinent to our present errand, Fortner started out, graduating as an English major from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, to be a stand-up comic like Richard Pryor and George Carlin. He took a job in the Los Angeles Housing Authority because, he explained, “I like to eat. Comedy was a career,” he said, “and housing was a job. And somehow, they changed around.” He graduated from one housing authority job to another, finally getting to San Francisco. But he still performs six times a year as a host at the Pasadena Ice House Comedy Club’s “All Star Variety Night,” a Sunday evening amateur show. And he does plenty of political humor, including this joke: “George Bush’s library burned down, and it was a real tragedy because he lost both books—and one of them hadn’t even been colored in yet.” Geez: you’d think he could take a joke, even a political cartoon joke.

 

 

*****

 

Nick Anderson, the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist at the Houston Chronicle, launched a provocative question at the Republican candidates during the CNN/YouTube “debate” on November 28, but Anderson put his question in the mouth of his animated caricature of Darth Cheney, who fixes his perpetual scowling sneer at the candidates and asks if they would grant as much power to their vice president as GeeDubya has given Cheney. And then “Cheney” waves a finger at them and says menacingly: “I’m watching you.” None of the candidates answered the question very directly; instead, they talked about the theoretical role of the vice president, and a few felt the vice president should have a substantial role in any administration, depending upon his or her expertise. One or two even allowed as how they might even pick their running mate based upon such expertise.  Fred Thompson got the best audience response by saying, right after Anderson’s Cheney faded from the screen: “For a second there, I thought that was me.”

            Steve Breen of the San Diego Union Tribune won the Berryman Award this year. ... Jim Borgman, editoonist at the Cincinnati Enquirer since 1976 and the drawing half of writer Jerry Scott’s Zits, was named one of 40 people who “shaped” the city of Cincinnati according to Cincinnati magazine as reported by E&P.

 

 

*****

 

Pat Bagley, editoonist for the Salt Lake Tribune, has become increasingly visible in national publications since joining the Cagle syndicate a year or so ago. His cartoons are among the hardest hitting in the profession. But national politics is Bagley’s second career: his first career is lampooning Utah, most recently in a new book, Bagley’s Utah Survival Guide, which, the publisher claims, “has more facts and near-facts per pound than anything currently available about the state.” His earlier books with a Utah focus I ran into when I interviewed him for Cartoonist PROfiles in 1991: Oh My Heck and Treasures of Half Truths. They contain many cartoons ridiculing Mormon attitudes, which Bagley can get away with because he’s Mormon. “The Mormon church played a huge role in my life,” he told me when we talked about his cartoons that occasionally aim at some preoccupation of the Church, “as it did with a lot of people around here. And Mormons have a tendency to circle the wagons when they feel that they’re being threatened, when they feel they’re being criticized. Being within that circle of wagons, I could see what went on there, and what I did with the cartoons was to kind of chronicle that nonsense. And it was to let off some of the pressure I felt, growing up in the Church. Growing up Mormon, you face a lot of contradictions, and you can either grapple with them, wrestle with them, or work it out somehow, or just ignore it and go along your merry way. Cartoons for me were a way to wrestle with those demons. And I felt that they also helped a lot of other people. People still come up to me and say, ‘You know, I really appreciate that cartoon on this particular subject—that’s true.’ So the cartoons were a release.” Bagley has also produced four satirical books about GeeDubya in which the so-called Prez looks remarkably like a certain playful monkey; and the books’ titles evoke that same personage: Clueless George Goes to War, Clueless George Is Watching You, Clueless George: The Complete Presidential Library, and Clueless George Takes on Liberals. Shortly after GeeDubya was re-elected in 2004, Bagley produced another scathing assault on Bushy sensibilities: 101 Ways to Survive Four More Years of George Bush. The first is “Go live in a cave. You won’t miss much. You can have somebody tape The Simpsons for you.” Bagley draws his editorial cartoons in ink, but for this book, he accompanied each of its nostrums with a pencil drawing, tinted in various grays, which gives the pictures a charmingly casual aura. Here’s a sample.

            Bagley is fairly obviously not a fan of George W. (“Warlord”) Bush, seemingly an oddity in a rampantly Republican state. But maybe not. A couple years ago, I asked him how he could survive in a community so red. He wrote back: “Most of the readers of the Salt Like Tribune take the paper because it is one of the few institutions in the state that is not solidly Mormon and Republican. After 30 years of not endorsing candidates, our new publisher, who is not from around here, thought it would be a good idea to revive the practice. He also thought that, being such a heavily red state, it made sense to endorse Bush. Over 7,000 people cancelled their subscriptions. The cartoon that appeared next to the endorsing editorial was one of my best. It was a cartoon of Bush at his goofiest with the line ‘The Choice Is Simple.’ Most people got it; some still don’t.” It took me a moment to realize that Bagley’s picture gave the word “simple” a second meaning.

            In a week or so, we’ll post that 1991 interview in our Hindsight Department and add a more recent article from the Salt Lake Weekly.

 

 

ONE SHORT OF THE REQUISITE. Clay Bennett, the Pulitzer-winning editoonist at the Christian Science Monitor for the last ten years, is leaving for the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Tennessee, effective January 1. Bennett also left his syndicate, the CSM News Service, for the Washington Post Writers Group. Said Amy Lago, WPWG’s Comics Editor: “When we heard Clay might be available, we jumped at the chance to be his syndicate. He’s one of the most inventive, creative, and thoughtful cartoonists out there.” WPWG Editorial Director Alan Shearer agreed: “I’ve heard people in our business say editorial cartooning is in decline as newspapers slash and burn, and they are right to a degree. But creatively, editorial cartooning is as strong as ever, and Clay is one of the brightest lights.”

            The opening at the Chattanooga Times Free Press occurred because its long-time editoonist, Bruce Plante, left the paper to join the Tulsa World in Oklahoma. His predecessor at the Tulsa World was Doug Marlette, who was killed last year in an auto accident.

            But this round of musical chairs still leaves one paper standing: the Chicago Tribune hasn’t yet replaced its staff cartoonist, Jeff MacNelly, who died seven years ago. It’s entirely possible that the Trib will never again have a staff editoonist. The strategy of the newspaper with regard to comic strips is telling: whenever it drops a comic strip, it tells complaining readers that they’re only experimenting and that the strip may return in a few weeks (or months). But the paper does nothing about that strip; it never returns. After two or three months, most of the protesting readers have forgotten their erstwhile favorite and have moved on to other comic strips (so to speak). Over the years, the Trib has said repeatedly that it is “still looking” for a replacement for MacNelly. But it’s never found anyone. Several cartoonists, said Michael Minor in Chicago Reader, “have thought they were within an inch of the job, and all were wrong.” Minor was writing mostly about Scott Stantis, who has been editooning at the Birmingham News in Alabama for the last eleven years. Stantis, a conservative politically, also produces a daily comic strip, Prickly City, which stars both a conservative (a little girl) and a liberal (a coyote), and Stantis has been known to take shots both ways in the strip (which is set in a desert, a perhaps revealing fact). He also produces one cartoon a week for USA Today. And he does an occasional cartoon for the Chicago Tribune—whenever he thinks the paper might need a cartoon on a local, Chicago, issue. The Trib’s editorial page editor, Bruce Dodd, has encouraged Stantis to continue. But no job offer has come forth. Said Minor: “[Stantis] would like the job and would happily come to Chicago for it. He’s done a lot of cartoons for the Tribune already, and he believes that he and the Tribune are on the same wavelength politically. ... Ideally, Stantis said, when something big happens in Chicago, the story won’t be complete until the city finds out in the morning what Stantis had to say about it. MacNelly didn’t play that role—he lived in Virginia and stuck to national issues. And in fact, nobody’s played that role in Chicago media since Mike Royko, and it could be that nobody will ever play it again. That show might be over.” If so, too bad. Lessee now, how many major U.S. daily newspapers are without a staff editorial cartoonist: Chicago Tribune, New York Times (since 1950), Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, New York Daily News, Newsday, and San Jose Mercury News to name just the biggest of the lot, which now numbers, all told, well over two dozen.

           

 

 

CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST

One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.

Reese Witherspoon commands the highest salary of any movie actress—$20 million per picture. Next is Angelina Jolie with about $18 million; then Cameron Diaz, $15 mil; Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock, $10-15 mil; Drew Barrymore and Jodie Foster get $10-12 mil, and at the bottom of the top ten, Halle Berry with $10 million.

            According to The Week, 34% of Americans believe in ghosts, and 23% say they’ve personally seen a ghost or felt its presence; 14% say they’ve seen a UFO.

            In all the excitement about Mitt Romney’s speech during which he discussed at great length the role of religion in American life and politics in order to avoid any discussion of the tenets of his own Mormon faith—which is what most of us really wanted to know—many papers listed all the candidates, Repubs and Dems, and their religions—Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist, Southern Baptist, and Episcopal. Barack Obama is all by himself, though, as a “Christian.” What is it with some of these so-called “Christian” faiths? Their adherents get to call themselves “Christian” as a way of distinguishing themselves from Roman Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and Episcopalians? What are these faiths then? Pagan? Infidel? Chopped liver? What arrogance.

 

 

 

HOLY MOLEY

Islamic Hooligans Strike Again

First Cartoons, Now Teddy Bears Are Blasphemous

In that model Muslim country of Sudan, a 54-year-old British school teacher was sentenced to 15 days in prison for allowing her second grade students to name a class teddy bear mascot Muhammad, which was forthwith deemed an insult to the Prophet (PBUH). After serving her sentence, the Associated Press reported, Gillian Gibbons will be deported—banished from the holy state of Sudan. Alas. But she’s lucky: she could have received 40 lashes for her offense plus a fine and six months in prison. The day after her day in so-called court, the streets of Khartoum filled with Muslim hooligans, waving swords and fists over their heads and screaming their outrage at the leniency of her punishment. “Kill her!” they shrieked, “Kill her by firing squad!” Protesters dismissed Gibbons’ claim that she intended no insult to the Prophet (PBUH). “What she did requires that a life be taken,” said one of the mob. More rampaging ensued.

            While at the bottom of these disturbances is a misguided conviction that Western nations have little or no respect for Islam, a belief that certain political agitators and would-be revolutionaries and world-dominators are quick to exploit at every opportunity, it has apparently not occurred to any Muslim at any extremity that the mob-in-the-street behavior, which, now, is as predictable as rain in the monsoon season, is likely to produce in Westerners precisely the opinion of Islam that the protesters decry. Rioting in the streets is not a political tactic of a mature society. It is, rather, infantile, a tantrum not a protest. And if they’re going to behave like ill-tempered children, they’ll be treated like ill-tempered children. Eventually. And I suspect Western societies are edging closer to that posture.

            The East is East and the West is West and the twain may never aggregate, as Kipling famously said. But we’d likely get closer if the more radical Muslims could modify their stance a little. Their attitude towards such abuses as we in the West have committed should be: “The poor misguided infidels will doubtless rot in hell for their blasphemy, but that’s Allah’s business and not mine. Mine is to get along with my neighbors, regardless of their idiotic beliefs.” In return, we in the West would promise never to name anything Muhammad. Most Muslims, of course, have precisely the attitude I’ve just recommended; and most Westerners don’t name anything Muhammad.

            Chip Bok at the Akron Beacon Journal did the best cartoon on this incident: in front of a bunch of teddy bears “on sale,” he drew a parade of Teddy Roosevelt look-a-likes, raising their hands in rage and chanting, “Death to the insulters of Theodore Roosevelt.” The caption: “The Madness Spreads.”

            But “where are the Muslim moderates?” asks Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former member of the Dutch Parliament and Muslim-persecuted author if Infidel. Writing on the New York Times op-ed page, she reviews three recent incidents, including the Gibbons persecution, which ought to have riled Muslim moderates but didn’t. One was the case of the 20-year old woman from Qatif, Saudi Arabia, who was abducted by several men and repeatedly raped; she was found guilty of “mingling” (being in public with a man not related to her by blood or marriage) and sentenced to six months in jail and 200 lashes with a bamboo cane. “Two hundred lashes are enough to kill a strong man,” Ali writes. “Women usually receive no more than 30 lashes at a time, which means that for seven weeks, the “girl from Qatif” will dread her next session with Islamic justice.” Her third instance involves Taslima Nasreen, the 45-year-old Bangladeshi writer who, for the offense of championing women’s rights in the Muslim world, has been forced to flee her native country to India; and even there, some groups want her expelled, one offering 500,000 rupees for her head. She keeps on the move to avoid accidents. “The organizations that lined up to protest the [Danish Dozen] are quiet now,” said Ali. She quotes the Koran’s command to flog adulterous persons and show “no compassion,” continuing: “more compelling even than the order to flog is the command that the believer show no compassion. ... If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?”

            Gibbons, we should add, didn’t name the teddy bear herself in a spasm of autocratic authority. She was teaching her 7-year-old students democracy: she had them vote on a name. And the children were doubtless imitating their elders, who have named more of their male offspring Muhammad than any other name in Islamic countries. Of course, none of these male offspring were stuffed animals; perhaps that was the offense. In any event, at one swell foop, the Islamic hooligans demonstrated the seeming illogic of their religious convictions and their inability to tolerate democracy as well as their rampant immaturity. And what, pray, is the best way of dealing with a bunch like that?

            Thanks to the intercession of a couple of Muslim members of the British Parliament, the Sudanese President pardoned Gibbons after she’d served 8 days of her 15-day sentence. And she went home to England where she was welcomed by her son and daughter and some British Muslims who brought around a bouquet with a message: “Welcome back, Gillian.” Said Dr. Abdul Hamid: “It was outrageous. She shouldn’t have been treated that way. She’s been the victim of something ridiculous. We’re glad she’s back and her ordeal is over.”

            As for Gibbons, she said: “I’m just an ordinary middle-aged primary school teacher. I went out there to have an adventure, and got a bit more than I bargained for.” Her plans? She’s looking forward to spending Christmas with her family, and then she’ll start seriously to look for employment.

            Leonard Pitts, a syndicated columnist at the Miami Herald and one of the nation’s few clear-headed commentators on any subject, a veritable jewel in the crown of journalism, did an excellent column on the subject, observing that “Islam is not the problem: fundamentalism, however, is. And that, as we should know from our own experience, is a mindset that is not confined to one faith. To the contrary, every faith has [fundamentalists], those rigid doctrinaires who would sacrifice their very humanity for the fool’s gold of theological purity, these people so eager to live the literal law of their holy books that they miss the point of those holy books, shedding compassion, kindness and plain common sense along the way. Worse, they are always literal about the wrong things, always literal about passages in holy writ that they feel empower them to punish, judge, ostracize and condemn. Never literal about the passages that require them to give, forgive, serve and stand humble. ... What a pious, holy nation. Their God is offended by a teddy bear. If anything, God is offended by them.” You can find Pitts regularly at miamiherald.com

            But infidels like us are not the only offenders who enrage Islamic hooligans. They took to the streets of Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, in late September, setting fires and wrecking property and calling for the blood of a cartoonist because of a cartoon they felt mocked Muhammad. Shortly thereafter, the cartoonist, Arifur Rahman, began a month-long jail term. The offending cartoon appeared in a popular weekly magazine where it poked fun at the Muslim community’s penchant for naming their male children after the Prophet (PBUH), depicting a boy referring to his cat as “Muhammad Biral [cat].” (One of the finer edges of irony in this case is that Rahman’s full name is, apparently, Muhammad Arifur Rahman.) Rahman was arrested under one of the country’s emergency laws for dealing with threats to national security. The law, Section 54 of the Criminal Procedure Code, authorizes police “to make arrests without orders from a magistrate and without a warrant,” reported Animesh Roul at energypublisher.com. “Rahman also has no right to legal represenation.” (If this sounds fearfully like something we recently acquired closer to home, blame the Bush League.) In sentencing Rahman, the government maintained that his cartoon was “part of a conspiracy to throw the country into chaos.” As of October 31, the date of Roul’s story, Rahman was still in prison, where he had been for more than a month, and his fate “remains unclear though there have been rumors that he could be freed at anytime. ... Ironically, the cartoonist had recently been given an award from the government for a sketch depicting Bangladesh’s anti-corruption drive.” The local press, Roul said, is virtually silent about Rahman’s predicament, fearing a government crackdown in the country’s present climate of political instability. International groups, however, have protested the apparent collapse of a free press and the imprisonment of a cartoonist. But I’ve found no further word about Rahman since October 31. Has he been disappeared?

 

 

CLOSER TO HOME

In a recent Non Sequitur strip, Wiley Miller is up to his old schtick—pissing people off. In this case, it involved the release for Saturday, November 24 (which can be viewed at GoComics.com). Here we see a couple of rural types with baskets in their hands, presumably gathering eggs from the chickens in the coop before them. One of the chickens is attired, absurdly enough, in a white hood of the sort associated with the Ku Klux Klan. One of the rural types says: “It only lays egg whites.” At several newspapers, the strip provoked reader wrath. Most of the anger arose because a reader mistakenly thought Wiley was endorsing the KKK, coming out in favor of white supremacy, and therefore attacking any non-white person. The strip, to them, was racist. At the Beloit Daily News, despite having published the offending strip, editors subsequently dropped Non Sequitur from the comics line-up to see how readers would react. Most of the readers quoted by the News’ William R. Barth failed to see how anyone could interpret the strip as supporting the KKK, although one said he realized how “incendiary it would be if misinterpreted.” Many, however, disapproved of Non Sequitur because it seemed occasionally anti-Catholic or anti-Christian. (Wiley is Catholic, by the way, and his target in the allegedly anti-religion strips is usually institutional—the priesthood, say—rather than religious belief.)

            At the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Ted Diadium, the paper’s “reader representative,” quoted a couple letter-writers, one of whom demanded an apology from the obtuse editors who published the strip, and the other who asked, "When did the KKK become comical?" Diadium continued: “Most of the people who objected did so on the grounds that the strip was racist, and I don't see that. If anything, the message poked fun at the racist Klan. Obviously, the thing that got everyone going was the image of the Klan hood. There are some things that just cannot and should not be used as humor, and you can count me in the group that would include the KKK in that category. Especially among people of a certain age, the horror and cruelty that the hood represents overwhelms any attempt to be funny. But there's a difference between bad taste and racism, and I'd say this strip is the former.”

            Then Diadium shifted his ground. “I realize that as a white man, I'm in no position to be lecturing about what black people should or shouldn't be offended by, though, so I asked several black colleagues what they thought of the strip. They had varying reactions, but all had three things in common. They didn't laugh. They didn't think the strip was racist. And they didn't think

it should have been censored. But the most interesting reaction was from someone outside the

newsroom— Stan Miller, executive director of the Cleveland branch of the NAACP. He said he had gotten some questions about the strip also, and called trying to reach the syndicated artist. But he said his own reaction to the strip was different from some of his callers. ‘I saw it as a shot at the Klan,’ he said. ‘It indicated that here we are in 2007, and the Klan is still doing knuckle-headed things, and the rest of society's looking on, shaking its head.’ Reasonable people can disagree, but I think he's right,” Diadium concluded.

            So Diadium seems to think the strip was in bad taste but that it was poking fun at a deserving target, the knuckle-headed Klan. A typical have-it-both-ways wishy-washy approach to problem solving. Or so it would seem—until we get to the end of Diadium’s diatribe.

            At least, he points out, the Plain Dealer didn’t pull the strip. “Some newspapers routinely pull strips when they address a controversial topic or have some humor that their editors worry will offend some readers,” Diadium went on. “Over the years, papers have pulled Doonesbury, B.C., and others. But that has rarely been the Plain Dealer's approach, and I applaud that. A newspaper buys the artist's creativity and continuity, and should run with it— even at times when that creativity makes us cringe a bit. If the time comes when the artist's work becomes truly egregious, then it's appropriate to question his or her judgment and drop the strip. But editors shouldn't try to micro-edit the edge out of it. ... In the end,” he finishes, “I think we should pick the syndicated comics that do the best job of appealing to the wide range of ways people laugh at the world, and then let the artists do their jobs.”

            Commendable. We must be grateful that occasionally the Froth Estate displays a modicum of gumption amid the wishy-wash. As for Wiley, he thinks “this country is in desperate need of a chain of clinics for the satirically challenged.” Here’s how the gag came out, he told me: “It was nothing more than a simple sight gag. My wife has been on this diet of eating egg whites for breakfast, where she boils the eggs then scoops out the yolk. I got to thinking  what kind of chicken could be developed that would lay only egg whites and the image just popped into my head, and made me laugh. That was it. I figured the only ones who could be ‘offended’ by this cartoon would be white supremacists, so who cares. What continues to 

baffle me are the number of people who have deemed this cartoon as being ‘racist.’ Huh? A cartoon that mocks white supremacists is racist?”

            We’re all lucky we’re not living in the Sudan or Bangladesh, to name two venues that probably wouldn’t tolerate Non Sequitur, whether jabbing the KKK or the Catholic church. We’re safe within the embrace of our Constitutional rights. Or are we? The Military Commissions Act (MCA) signed into law by George WMD Bush on October 17, 2006, permits the institution of a military alternative to the usual system of justice for “any person” deemed an “enemy of the state” regardless of American citizenship. The MCA effectively does away with habeas corpus rights for anyone—and therefore, everyone. The decision about who might be deemed an “enemy of the state” is solely the President’s. Arifur Rahman might feel right at home here.

 

 

 

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

 

James Kemsley, 1948-2007

James Kemsley, who spent the last 23 years producing Australia’s legendary Ginger Meggs comic strip, died December 3 of a motor neuron disease; he was 59. “He was working on the strip that morning,” said his friend, cartoonist Peter Broelman, president of the Australian Cartoonists’ Association. “He couldn’t draw as such, but he was certainly writing ideas and involved in the production,” Broelman added.

            Motor neuron diseases slowly destroy brain cells that control muscle activity, and Kemsley had been battling the disease for two years. In the last stages of its ravages, he had lost his voice. But he could still use a computer and was able to continue working on the strip. Two months ago, according to goldcoast.com.au, he and his wife went to India for “a last-ditch shot at stem cell therapy, but he contracted pneumonia and was forced to return home” to Bowral, in New South Wales, about 80 miles southwest of Sydney.

            Broelman, reported the Sydney Morning Herald, was inundated with messages from Kemsley’s friends and colleagues abound the world. “He was one of those affable guys,” Broelman said, “—just a friendly bloke who was quite happy to travel around the world just to meet other cartoonists.” He traveled to San Francisco in 2003 for the National Cartoonists Society’s annual Reubens Weekend, and that’s where I met “Kems,” as his friends called him. He was open and out-going friendly from the first instant: from his demeanor, you’d think we had known each other for years. A year or so ago, I learned he’d stepped down as president of ACA, alluding to a health problem. I asked him then about his health, but he dodged the question and said he was fine.

            Although Kemsley probably drew all his life—he did cartoons for the Traralgon Journal as early as 1967 when he was still in school—he launched himself into the world of work as an actor. While studying acting at the Independent Theatre of Dramatic Art (1969-72) and playwriting at the Playwright Forum at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (1973), he was also acting in children’s tv, playing Skeeter the Paperboy in “The Super Flying Fun Show.”

He also hosted an afternoon program “Skeeter’s Cartoon Corner,” a mix of U.S. originated animated cartoons and viewer competitions, and he was involved in producing a tv variety show for kids, “Junior Cabaret.” He wrote three successful children’s plays: “The Land of Coloured Dreams,” “Once Upon A Time ... And All That,” and “The Magical Adventures of Puck.” In 1979, he went to England and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts

            In the early 1980s, Kemsley helped Flight Centre founder Graham “Screw” Turner set up Top Deck Travel, and while touring the world as a Top Deck hand with periodic stopovers at London, he freelanced as a journalist and as a cartoonist; and for Top Deck’s passenger magazine, he created his first comic strip, Frogin’. Kemsley was recruited to work on a Ginger Meggs movie, scheduled to be released at a time that the comic strip’s popularity was flagging; it came out in 1982. While helping with the movie, presumably, Kems met and became friends with the daughter of Jimmy Bancks, the creator of the famed comic strip character. Then in 1983 at the death of cartoonist Lloyd Piper, the second of Bancks’ successors, Kemsley was asked to take over the strip. His first Ginger Meggs was published March 18, 1984.

            Ginger Meggs is the third longest-running comic strip in the world (after The Katzenjammer Kids at 110 and Gasoline Alley at 89). Often called Australia’s most loved comic character, “Ginge,” as the character is affectionately known, first appeared on November 13, 1921 in a Bancks strip entitled Us Fellers. Ginge was, at first, just a bit player, but as the irrepressible schoolboy, he soon assumed the lead role in the strip, which, in 1939, surrendered to the inevitable and became Ginger Meggs. In John Ryan’s history of Australian comics, Panel by Panel, Ryan writes: “Drawing on his own boyhood, Bancks was able to capture all the character, warmth and charm of a typical Australian boy. Ginge’s homespun philosophy and observations on life were a delight and represented an aspect of the strip that was never duplicated by his many imitators. For Ginge, life was meant for playing sport, going to the pictures, attending birthday parties or picnics, and for gobbling down ice cream, cakes and fruit. He viewed school homework and helping around the house as diabolical plots intended to deprive him of the real pleasures of life.”

            In Australia, comic strips are associated with newspapers rather than with syndicates, and when Bancks moved his strip to another paper, 80,000 readers followed him, Kemsley said, and the paper he left went into bankruptcy.

            Kemsley is the fourth cartoonist to bring Ginger Meggs to life. Each of his predecessors died at the age of 63. Bancks died after 30 years on the strip; Ron Vivian, after 20 years; Lloyd Piper, after 10. “So when I was offered the job in 1984,” Kemsley quipped, “they gave me a 5-year contract.”

            He’s been at it ever since, working harder than those who went before: he inaugurated the daily Ginger Meggs several years ago, and the popularity of the strip surged. Visually, the daily strip is open and unencumbered by much background detail: mostly, we see Ginge and his friends or mother, standing against a plain white background, talking. Kemsley’s treatment of the Sunday strip was imaginative: he varied layouts with great skill, rearranging panels to give his Sundays visual excitement. Under Kemsley’s entrepreneurial management, Ginger Meggs immigrated to other countries: it is now the most syndicated of Australia’s comic strips, appearing in more than 120 newspapers in 30 countries around the world. Ginge’s latest homes in this hemisphere include the Washington Post online (one of several U.S. papers publishing him) and on the Web at www.Gocomics.com.

            Kems’ passion for cricket resulted in a unique feature of Ginger Meggs. Tipped sideways in a panel in virtually every daily release is a hand-lettered aphorism, f’instance: “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” Or: “The only exercise some people get is pushing their luck.” These utterances have nothing to do with the day’s joke. They’re simply extras, tossed in bonuses of axiomatic humor. But the first of them wasn’t witty at all: Kemsley knew he wouldn’t be able to make it the next day to a cricket game in which he was scheduled to play, so he told his team mates by lettering a cryptic explanatory apology into that day’s strip. (In those days before extensive syndication, Ginger Meggs appeared in its home newspaper the day after it was drawn.) The note, incomprehensible to anyone not on Kems’ team, inspired a certain amount of response from readers, curiosity mostly, and that was enough to keep Kems going at it ever since.

            Kemsley has been frequently honored by his peers. He was accorded the ACA’s highest honor in 2001 when he received the “Stanley” (the Aussie equivalent of the Reuben) as Cartoonist of the Year. In 1990 his strip was named the Best Comic Strip and Kemsley received the Jim Russell Award for Contribution to Australian cartooning; Ginger Meggs was again named Best Comic Strip in 2004. Kemsley is a life member of ACA and served as its president in 2005. He married Helen in 1982, and she and their three sons survive him.

            Ginger Meggs has been reprinted in numerous collections (see Wikipedia for a list) while Kemsley produced the strip. Ginge will be continued by award-winning cartoonist Jason Chatfield.

 

 

 

NEW COMIC STRIP

The Philadelphia Daily News’ Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist of 22 years, Signe Wilkinson, is joining the ranks of editoonists who also produce a daily comic strip. The strip, Family Tree, which is about a family named Tree, will launch January 7 with United Media. Doing the strip will more than double her workload: she will continue to do 5-6 editorial cartoons every week and co-produce occasional political animations, but since her daughters are now both adults, she figures she has the time. “I don’t have to pick up anyone from sports practice any more,” she joked with Dave Astor at Editor & Publisher. One of the reasons she decided to do a strip is for job security: with staff political cartoonists evaporating nation-wide, doing a comic strip seemed a likely way to remain a cartoonist even though her situation at the Daily News is not, at the moment, endangered. “She also wanted to create characters, not just draw people such as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney,” Astor wrote, “and she wanted to be topical without being overly political.” Said Wilkinson: “Family Tree is not a political strip in the Democrat or Republican sense. It’s sort of how politics filters down to the family level.” The strip will deal with environmental matters, long a concern of Wilkinson’s, and such current issues as standardized testing and health care. In making a decision to take on a daily strip, Wilkinson was also influenced by a desire to increase the number of female voices on newspaper comics pages. There are more women cartoonists in the funnies these days than ever before, but, said Astor, the comics “remain a mostly male-cartoonist bastion.” Wilkinson believes she can deal with “beauty, clothes, social pressures, mother-daughter relationships, and other issues in a way that will ring true to other mothers and other daughters.” Family Tree is Wilkinson’s third comic strip. She developed a strip called The Garden of Edith early in the 2000s but abandoned it after a few syndicate rejections; and for a short time about five years ago, she did a political strip, Shrubbery, that starred a leafy GeeDubya among other characters who looked strangely familiar to anyone scanning the political landscape. Notice how all of these efforts seem to have something to do with the environment—gardens, shrubs, trees. Yes, Wilkinson is a vocal advocate for the environment.

 

 

 

BOOK MARQUEE

IDW Publishing, which is bringing Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates to us in its first complete reincarnation, announced that it is also going to reprint all of Noel Sickles’ Scorchy Smith. It was while doing that AP strip that Sickles, always experimenting with rendering styles, developed the chiaroscuro style of drawing—with shadows rather than lines defining shapes—that Caniff soon adopted for drawing Terry. Scorchy Smith and the Art of Noel Sickles will cover Sickles’ debut on the strip in 1933 until he left it in 1936.

            Bush Leaguers: Cartoonists Take on the White House is the catalog from the exhibit last summer held at the American University Museum in Washington, D.C. to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists. Containing the work of more than 80 editoonists and the usual gang of idiots—Darth Cheney, Karl Rove, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice and George W. (“Whopper”) Bush—the volume is available for $15, including p&h, from the AAEC website, www.editorialcartoonists.com  And you can order The Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year (2007), dubbed the 2008 Edition, from Daryl Cagle’s website, www.cagle.msnbc.com It is foreworded this year by political humorist Will Durst.

 

 

CALENDAR GIRLS

Every year at this time in the Olden Days various nefarious publishers brought forth their calendars for the coming year. Esquire brought out the Petty pin-ups annually in calendar form until Petty deserted; then came the Vargas girl calendar. Then Vargas ran off, and the Esquire calendar for a few years was illustrated by other artists whose damsels were just as winsome and, increasingly as the years trolled by, attired in less and less until it was almost always nearly nothing. Playboy destroyed the genre: Playboy calendars were photographs of barenekkidwimmn. The male Youth of America were suddenly, alas, more captivated by the authenticity of photographic images than by the poetry of the painter’s brush. These days, we have the Sports Illustrated and Maxim and others of the laddy brand flooding the stands with calendars. More photographs. In recent years, we’ve managed to revive the painterly tradition by reprinting the rosy pulchritudinousnesses of Elvgren and others of his generation and persuasion. Welcome as such effervescences are, they are nostalgic flights not present fancies. So it is with something akin to relief as well as unbridled joy that we encounter the 2008 Olivia calendar, which, this year, is rendered in a manner that evokes the immortal Petty: the girls’ costumes are skin-tight and virtually transparent.

            In the same playful spirit, we have LeRoy Neiman: Femlin 50th Anniversary Collection in which Neiman recalls the 1957 birth of this spritely sex elf (he created the image; publisher Hugh Hefner named it), accompanied by numerous formative sketches, followed by sections reproducing the pixie pictures of the Party Joke page, organized around such themes as sports, music, art, cocktails. Neiman’s introductory essay also treats of the inauguration of the femlin’s pubic hair, which created, he says, a perplexing design problem (he can explain) that he was able to solve once he thought of a minuscule solid black triangle.

            And having strayed this far, momentarily, from a strictly comics path, let me mention Jim Silke’s Bettie Page Rules, in which Silke examines the cheesecake heroines of 1950s photography by assembling a plethora of photos and pairing many of them with his own illustrations of such reigning queens as Bettie Page, Marilyn Monroe, Kim Novak, Sophia Loren, and so on. Luscious as Silke’s illustrations are, his prose is no less engaging. F’instance: “First, let me make something clear: throughout the fifties, naked did not mean nude, not in films, not in the pin-up magazines, not even in the adult men’s magazines. It meant bare backs and bottoms, a lot of cleavage, and sometimes a partially exposed breast with an occasional nipple showing. And, as the public reaction to Jane Russell demonstrated, a large bosom was enough to incite imaginary nudity. As I’ve pointed out, we were romantics and for some of us size gave us hope.” Hope springs eternal, as they say.

 

 

 

SO MANY SPLENDID SUNDAYS

Adventures in the Glorious Days of Yesteryear When the Funnies Were Fabulous

I’ve mentioned Pete Maresca’s latest, Sundays with Walt and Skeezix, saying it, like its immediate predecessor from Maresca’s Sunday Press, reprints a comic strip classic—this time, Frank King’s Sunday Gasoline Alley pages at the size of their initial publication, roughly 16x21 inches (96 of these giant pages; hardback, $95, a decided bargain). But that brief description, while illuminating, is scarcely adequate to the objet d’art before us. The 80 page-size strips are culled from a 10-year period, beginning with the first Sunday in 1921 and continuing to about 1931 or so, the time that Skeezix was growing from a toddler to the cusp of adolescence, and many of the strips give vivid four-color life to the kind of fantasies that a kid might have during those times of his life. King’s visual invention was flourishing during these years, and at their full size, these strips draw us into the fantasies. We are right there. This was the glory that was once the Sunday funnies. As before with the Little Nemo volume, Maresca reproduces the Sunday strips from their newsprint incarnation, digitally removing blemishes but not “recoloring” (a desecration, in my view). These are the strips the way we would have seen them when they were first published. But Maresca’s packaging does more than bring back that Sunday morning engagement. Sixteen of the book’s pages are devoted to photographs of King’s adventures with his friends outside the comics and to other illustrative materials (examples of the merchandise Gasoline Alley inspired), plus text pieces by Jeet Heer, Don Phelps, and Tim Samuelson, a cultural historian for Chicago. But that’s not all. The book comes with a Skeezix Cut-out Toy: printed on stout paper, you can cut it out and play with it if you are so disposed. And there’s more. The piece de resistance is a faithful copy of the black-and-white original art for November 30, 1930, the Sunday rendered in woodblock style. To find it, take off the book’s dust jacket: it’s printed on the inside. And so are two dailies. And if you order your copy online (www.sundaypressbooks.com), you’ll get a 20x27-inch facsimile poster of the original but hand-colored art for August 19, 1934, the strip in which Skeezix “swims” through a pond’s reflection of the sky above. Pete: you’re too much; you’ve given the buyer more than he can reasonably expect.

            And Maresca’s continued in this generous mode with his most recent production, another of Winsor McCay’s marvels, Little Sammy Sneeze: The Complete Color Sunday Comics, 1904-1905, which arrived last month. Sammy never approached full-page size; it ran a third page, roughly 10x15 inches, and that’s the size of this volume’s 96 pages (hardback; $55). Among the bonuses: whatever strip appeared on the reverse of Sammy in the funnies appears here, too, on the reverse of the page. Mostly that’s another McCay venture, Hungry Henrietta, whose exploits are all about the excesses of eating just as Sammy’s adventures are about the disasters that attend his explosive sneezes. But before Henrietta started, two other fantasy strips backed Sammy: The Woozlebeasts and Gustave Verbeek’s Upside-Downs. They’re there. And we have an essay by Dan Nadel to help understand them. Other introductory matter by John Canemaker, McCay’s biographer, and Thierry Smolderen, Jeet Heer, and Gene Kanneberg Jr complete the overture. Quite apart from the fascination of the Sammy strips as inventive cartooning, Sammy occupies a vital link in the skein of McCay’s artistic development as well as “a milestone in the evolution of comic art,” as Maresca says. He continues: “There is more here than the single repetitive gag of the destructive sneeze. Each strip offers a vignette of the American middle-class life a century ago, with greater variety and insight than most offerings of the day. The cinematic elements of Sammy Sneeze create a novel link between the two art forms and display McCay’s emerging interest in storytelling and animation.” And the book comes with a comedic treat, too: a tissue box holder die-cut for Kleenex (I’d say) and decorated with pictures of Sammy, sneezing.

            Sunday Press publications, said Beth Davies-Stofka at brokenfrontier.com a few days ago, “are like the Grand Canyons of comic books.” A stunningly apt description. She interviewed Maresca about the origins of his publishing business and its subsequent growth. It began with Maresca’s passion for classic comics but it was vastly enabled when Maresca bought from an aged farmer a run of 50 years of comic strips from New York newspapers, 1920-1970. “It was about 90% complete,” Maresca said. In the hoard, he encountered Little Nemo for the first time and was so impressed he resolved to get the strips reprinted at their original publication size and in their original colors, as published on newsprint, so others could see the strips as they were intended to be seen, in all their visual glories. He approached several publishers, all of whom said the project as Maresca wanted to do it would make the final volume too expensive and too difficult to distribute. “Art Spiegelman said I should publish it myself,” Maresca said, “and so I did. Since I did all the work myself, it was affordable, since my ideal is to pay all the bills for producing it and pay myself ten dollars an hour.” He printed as many of the first book, the Little Nemo volume, as he could afford “without taking out a mortgage.” Pete showed me an early sample of the book at the Reubens Weekend of the National Cartoonists Society several years ago: it was gorgeous and I applauded, but I couldn’t help thinking he was building himself a white elephant. He realized an element of improbability in his project: he planned to have the Nemo books on hand in inventory for “several years—but it turned out to be a surprise success.” The New York Times gave the book generous play on the anniversary of Nemo in 2005. Said Maresca: “That sold out the first run. They were gone in two months. Now it’s in its second printing.” The Nemo book prompted other fans of the medium to suggest other strips for similar treatment. And Maresca was ready, although he didn’t quite know it at first. “I didn’t set out to be a publisher—[just] to make sure that a nice book about Nemo was made.” But when he was in the final stages of producing Nemo, he learned he had to have an ISBN. He was able to obtain one via the Internet. “But I had to buy a block of ten. So [my] designer said, ‘Now it looks like you’re going to be a publisher since you have nine more ISBNs.’” He financed Walt and Skeezix with the proceeds from the Nemo book. The third ISBN went to Sammy; the fourth will go to the next volume of Nemo (to which I expect to contribute a short text piece, as I did for the first volume). “The fifth,” Maresca said, “will go to the first volume of an approximately 7-volume anthology that reprints the best comics from 1896 to 1914"—compiling “the best of children’s fantasy and adventure.” The concluding year, 1914, “is a good break-off point because that’s the year that the whole new world of comics syndication began.”

            Maresca also had some advice in response to an odd but frequent reservation people voice about his books: they’re so big they don’t fit anywhere in anyone’s library. “People always tell me they don’t know where to put this. I tell them to slide the book under the sofa, and slide it out to read on Sunday morning. I do my best to give people a complete experience of reading the Sunday comics.”

            Wonderful.

 

 

 

CHRISTMAS LISTS

Recommended by Boston Herald tv critic Mark A. Perigard: the Captain America Omnibus, the 25 issues written by Ed Brubaker, includes the assassination of the star-spangled superhero; $74.99. ... The Completely MAD Don Martin “collects every scrap” of Martin art in the cartoonist’s 30-year career in a two-volume hardcover set at $150. ... In January, Denis Kitchen Publishing will release Capital Hell, a collection of 24 postcards depicting some contemporary political animals from both sides of the zoo ($11.95) as seen by storyboard artist Pete Von Sholly, who invests his caricatures with ersatz horror movie residue: the sitting Veep, for instance, appears as Dickula (“who administers a fatal ‘Colinoscopy’ using the former Secretary of State); and Hillary Clinton, continues icv.2.com, appears in “The Attack of the Fifty-Something Woman.”

            And then, lest we forget, there are my own books, which are listed here; click on any cover, and you’ll be transported to a lucid description of the volume, designed to get you to convince your spouse to put a copy under your tree this Christmas.         

 

 

 

ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY

The Great Ebb and Flo of Things

The ever-salivating political junkies and huff-’–puff Sunday morning gassbags are writhing in ecstasy and all but wetting their pants with excitement as the Iowa caucuses approach. If we are to judge from the cascade of over-heated pronouncements about the January 3 show-down, the Presidential Election will be over the next morning: whoever wins in Iowa will be the next Prez of the U.S. And then what’ll the salivating class do? More of the same, I’m sure. In moments of high political exuberance like these, it’s comforting, in a perverse way, to remember just how unimportant the Iowa caucuses used to be. It wasn’t until Jimmy Carter announced, in early 1976, that he’d won the Iowa caucuses that we even knew where Iowa was or what caucuses were. But with Carter’s subsequent success (he made it to the White House, remember), Iowa displaced New Hampshire as the most significant political bell wether in a Presidential Election year. I suspect, however, that the significance arises almost entirely from the attention given the event by the so-called news media. The caucuses themselves are not particularly representative of either national preference or Iowa sentiment. Very few of Iowa’s voting citizens actually participate in the caucuses. They are fundamentally a political party drill, and if you aren’t active in a political party—which describes most of the citizens of this happy land—you probably don’t go to a caucus in Iowa or anywhere else. And yet, the Iowa caucuses have become a make-or-break event for wannabe U.S. Presidents. Sad.

            There is, however, reason for rejoicing. Just as Oprah Winfrey announced her endorsement of Barack Obama and Barbra Streisand of Hillary Clinton, Chuck Norris announced his endorsement of Mike Huckabee. Norris’s standing with young men as a tough guy will doubtless bolster Huckabee’s reputation: “Mr. Huckabee,” said the Wall Street Journal, reporting this event, “has drawn criticism from his Republican opponents that he isn’t tough enough.” Norris’ endorsement will laminate the nice guy image with a patina of toughness thereby demonstrating, beyond question, Huckabee’s fitness for the Presidency. In a tv commercial filmmed shortly after Norris made his announcement, Huckabee “warned viewers that ‘Chuck Norris doesn’t endorse. He tells American how it’s gonna be.’” What a relief. Now we can all go to bed tonight secure in the knowledge that the Iowa caucuses are wholly irrelevant.

 

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