Opus 223 (May 24, 2008). The Hoppy Harv visits a comic book emporium on Free Comic Book Day and, while impressed with the housekeeping therein, doesn’t think FCBD will generate many new customers. The Other Big Stories include a cartoonist’s report on the amazement of Chinese students at the license afforded American editoonists, the latest home for the International Museum of Cartoon Art’s vast collection of original art, and a final interim tally of just how many full-time staff editorial cartoonists there are. We take a quick look at the “wordless novels” of the 1930s (which are not, alas, “graphic novels” despite what David Berona says) and provide a few scathing and scornful comments about Barbara Walters’ latest affront to good taste and thinking Americans, and then we conclude with a full-bore, all-hands-on-deck balls-to-the-wall Rant about the trivializing of news and the consequent effect on political cartooning. Finally, we note the departures of Ted Key and Will Elder. Here’s what’s here, in order, by department:


Celluloid Iron Man Rolls in Cash

Editorial Cartooning Awards

Latest Total Number of Full-time Staff Editoonists

Superhero Fashion Show

New Mexican Comic Book Travel Guide for Illegal Immigrants

Four for Cartooning’s Mount Rushmore

Spot the Frog Ends

Cartoon Research Library, Repository of the World’s Largest Original Art Holdings

Cartooner Cagle Visits China and Is Quaked


Funny Storytelling Pictures

Urinary Humor

Conservative Wrath


Circulation Still Dropping

Wisconsin Newspaper Gives Up and Goes Digital

Baba Wawa’s Continuing Audition as the World’s Best Journalist


The Happy Harv Visits a Comic Book Store


Getting the Jokes in “The Daily Show”



Herblock Collection Coming

Ditto Dilbert

Andrews McMeel Backlist

The Latest Zits


Reviewing David Berona’s New Tome about Woodcut Wordless Books


How to Be an Editorial Cartoonist

Trivial News Breeds Trivial Editoons: A Foaming-at-the-Mouth Rant


Ted Key, August 25, 1912 - May 3, 2008

Will Elder, September 22, 1921 - May 15, 2008

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—


All the News that Gives Us Fits

The first franchise effort of Marvel’s newly formed production company,“Iron Man,” starring Robert Downey, Jr., opened Thursday, May 1, and scored the year’s top income opening weekend so far with over $100 million, according to CNN.com, which also asserted that the movie’s opening coughed up the 10th biggest gross of all time. Entertainment Weekly (May 16) said the movie “had the second-highest debut ever for a non-sequel (behind 2002's ‘Spider-Man’)” with $98.6 million. The amounts, you may have noticed, are a little slippery, as they typically are in this kind of numbers game. Does the “opening weekend” include Thursday’s opening night or not? It’s a game of qualifiers, and the qualifiers (“the year’s top income opening weekend,” “non-sequel”) betray the fragility of the movie’s so-called records. “Iron Man” kept on setting records. By the end of the first week, “Iron Man” ranked second for the year in gross revenue. Dr. Seuss’s “Horton” movie was still, for the nonce, first. Both are essentially “comics” movies, so Big Whoop for our side. And the qualifiers contend apace: “Iron Man” opened in 4,105 theaters; “Horton” in only 1,463. So it figures that “Iron Man” would rake in more boodle, eh? Here I thought I’d never have a use for highschool math. By the next issue of EW, a week later—one more week at the box office—the magazine proclaimed “Iron Man” the “highest grossing movie of 2008" with $177.8 million, handily passing “Horton.” According to reports, “Iron Man” relinquished first place on the third weekend to “The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” but that doesn’t, yet, affect its standing in the “opening weekend” sweepstakes or as “the highest grossing movie of 2008.” So far. The Golden Avenger’s celluloid success immediately provoked plans for a sequel (due April 30, 2010; these guys work fast) and “three more films based on the company’s comic-book characters,” said EW: “Thor,” June 4, 2010; “The First Avenger: Captain America,” May 6, 2011; and “The Avengers,” July 2011. If it wasn’t apparent before, it is now: comic books have arrived at Big Time. Just tracking the box office records and the cascade of opening dates induces a certain breathlessness. And there’s more on “Iron Man”: the movie pleased the critics as well as funnybook fans and company accountants. The story puts millionaire weapons inventor Tony Stark in Afghanistan rather than North Vietnam, where it took place in the comic book, when he’s captured and forced to design weapons for the insurgents. Stark devises the tin man togs and escapes, returning to the U.S. with a conscience and a brand-new agenda, saith Michael Phillips in the Chicago Tribune—to rid the world of his company’s own weapons. Neither preachy nor watered-down, “Iron Man” is “the right kind of conflicted,” Phillips goes on, presenting a complex view of good and evil during wartime.

Marge Simpson was chosen the top tv mother in a poll run by the Rocky Mountain News a few weeks ago, the choice of 20% of the 1,043 people who voted. June Cleaver came in second with 14%, followed by Claire Huxtable and Peg Bundy, tied at 13%. ... Rumor (as retailed at uk.news.yahoo.com) has it that tv’s famed assholes, Beavis and Butthead, might be headed for a live-action reincarnation on the Big Screen. At one time during the 1990s animated orgies, Johnny Depp wanted to play Beavis; these days, however, Seann William Scott and John Heder are being touted for the parts. ... Mike Luckovich of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution earned The Week’s “opinion award” for editorial cartooning, conferred on April 8 at a dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C.; this is Luckovich’s second “opinion award” win from The Week. With his almost weekly appearance in another newsmagazine, Newsweek, Luckovich is well on the way to being the nation’s most visible editoonist. He is, for all practical purposes, Newsweek’s staff cartoonist. His cartoons long dominated the magazine’s “Perspectives” page even when the page offered three cartoons every week. Some months ago, however, the “Perspectives” format changed, allowing only two cartoons a week. And most weeks, those two are reprints of Luckovich’s cartoons in Atlanta’s paper. ... Editooner Clay Bennett received from the Overseas Press Club this year’s Thomas Nast Award for cartoons on international affairs. According to an online report, “the judges felt that Bennett's entire portfolio of work was extremely strong.” The most arresting cartoon, they said, “does what all great cartoons do: make you laugh and groan at the same time. It is of a plump, smiling frog, covered with four lipstick kisses, wearing a crown. The cartoon has no caption, and bears only one word, emblazoned on the frog's crown: IRAQ. What an efficient, devastating, and clever way to describe the world's desperate attempts to encourage Iraq—and Iraqis—to turn into a prince.” Bennett’s cartoons, including the one just described, can be found at his website, www.claybennet.com ... And Signe Wilkinson at the Philadelphia Daily News just received the Robert F. Kennedy Award for excellence in editorial cartooning.

V. Cullum Rogers, venerable secretary-treasurer of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), was prompted recently to survey the landscape of editooning to see how many full-time staff editorial cartoonists still lived, breathed, and spilled ink at newspapers. His final (that is, interim) count is 101. As of his report on the AAEC-List, May 16. Encouraging, or at least not disheartening, after months of reading that there were only 80 such beasties in captivity. I always thought that number was a little too low for the sake of alarmism. We may return to this topic in future. ... Meanwhile, the slaughter goes on apace. Alan Gardner at the DailyCartoonist.com reports that Dave Granlund was laid off at the MetroWest Daily News where he’d worked for 31 years. “I was let go because of the money aspect of it,” Granlund told Jessica Heslam at the Boston Globe. “This came out of left field—it was unexpected,” he said. “We had gone through a series of other cuts a number of weeks ago, and we thought the dust had settled.” Granlund is philosophical about it: “Somewhere out there, there’s someone that can see the usefulness of having a cartoonist, especially in these dire times. It’s always nice to have a little levity to spread around.” He was let go briefly in 2001 by the previous owner of the newspaper, but he was hired back after nine months because readers missed him.

Because superheroes are enjoying a surge in mass popularity, the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art has mounted an exhibition that explores “the symbolic and metaphorical associations between these fictional characters and fashion” in “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy,” running through September 1, 2008. According to an online report, “the exhibition features approximately 60 ensembles including movie costumes, avant-garde haute couture, and high-performance sportswear to reveal how the superhero serves as the ultimate metaphor for fashion and its ability to empower and transform the human body.” Andrew Bolton, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Costume Institute, is quoted, saying: . "The superhero's iconic costume of cape, mask, and bodysuit finds many fashionable permutations. But fashion's embrace of the superhero extends beyond iconography, to issues of identity, sexuality, and nationalism. Fashion shares with the superhero an inherent metaphorical malleability which fuels its fascination with the idea and the ideal of the superhero." Leaves me speechless, in shock and awe—shock at the audacity and awe at the ambition.

As we mentioned a fortnight ago, in the May-June issue of History: The History Channel Magazine is a 6-page article on “Wartoons” and a couple pages about Elsie the Borden Cow, another cartoon character. The former, about animated propaganda and aircraft nose-art, is fairly good for a general interest magazine; the latter omits all mention of Vic Herman the cartooner who helped make a decent cow out of Elsie. Herman’s other claim to fame is Winnie the WAC, the pert young thing who wore the uniform and publicized women in the military during World War II. Drafted in 1943 and stationed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland for basic training, Herman soon found himself commissioned by the editor of the base newspaper, The Flaming Bomb, to created a character for the paper. Winsome Winnie was the result. Distributed by Camp Newspaper Service, the same outfit that distributed Milton Caniff’s Male Call, Winnie the WAC appeared in about 1,200 base newspapers. Before the War, Herman was freelancing cartoons to magazines and working in advertising agencies, among them, the prestigious Young and Rubicam. And that’s where he met Elsie the Cow. Elsie had been a symbol for Borden for years, but she had usually appeared as a real cow. Now, Borden wanted Elsie to have more personality. The assignment was given to a group of cartoonist freelancers who had been working on the Cow account. “When I started working on Else,” Herman told me when we talked a couple decades ago, “she was on all fours. And then we stood her up.” And when they stood her up, a problem of some delicacy was thrust into view. “We had to figure out how to cover her up,” Herman continued. “But that’s an udder story,” he finished, delivering the pun that had decorated this story for the better part of a century. The female problem was solved when they put an apron on Elsie, and then the cow and her family became characters in page-long illustrated milk dramas—comic strips. History credits David William Reid with creating the cartoon version of Elsie, which, it is alleged, happened in 1936. But Reid was eventually assisted by Herman and those other freelance cartoonists, the boys with the apron. But that, as Herman always said, is “an udder story.”


Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission is distributing at migrant shelters and bus terminals 20,000 copies of a new kind of travel guide: a pair of comic books packed with horror stories about what might happen to an immigrant bound for the U.S. In one, reported Chris Hawley and Sergio Solache in USA Today, “an migrant gets his legs sliced off by a train's wheels; another is shot by bandits on the Arizona border. Others are beaten and robbed by crooked Mexican police.” The new effort is very different from the Mexican Foreign Ministry’s 2004 comic-book style Guide for the Mexican Migrant “that offered safety tips for those attempting to cross the border, information on their legal rights and advice for living unobtrusively in the USA,” which publication outraged U.S. immigration control groups. One of the two new Migrantes comics is aimed at Mexicans; the other, at Central Americans traveling through Mexico on their way to the U.S. Perhaps it goes without saying that both versions are unabashedly intended to discourage people from crossing the border illegally.

Apparently, the Web posts nearly 18,000 comics every day, a gigantic portion of which are so badly drawn that they are very hard to look at. Even the better drawn ones are not very good looking. Web cartoonists invariably draw lines that are “dead”: because the thickness of the lines doesn’t vary, the lines have no life of their own. They lie on the paper, inert, contributing nothing to the aesthetic appeal of the art. The famed Belgian cartoonist, Herge, drew in much the same way, and by giving the technique a name, “clear line,” fans gave stature to Herge’s graphic mannerism in a purely rhetorical maneuver. But Herge’s achievement in cartooning lays more in the detail of his renderings—in particular, the locales into which Herge’s protagonist, Tintin the youthful reporter, wandered—rather than in the lines themselves. (For an quick example of a “lively” line, conjure up a remembrance of virtually any Al Hirschfeld drawing you may have seen.) Many of the 18,000 daily entries on the Web are contributed by college students, saith Susie C. at collegeotr.com—“because, really, who else has the free time?”—and she lists what she thinks are the best ones about college life: Nothing Better by Tyler Page, PhD (Piled High and Deeper) by Jorge Cham, Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques, College University, 6x9 College by Amber Marshall and 10er (?—typo?) Bradley, Academia by Zackary Downey, and Standard Deviation by Kyle Sanders. All of them deploy the regrettable lifeless line. According to Editor & Publisher, 1,800 of these web comics will be embedded by King Digital, a unit of King Features Syndicate, in a single website, Comics Kingdom, described as “a revenue-generating application widget that can be syndicated anywhere on the Web.”

Which Four Creators Belong on a Cartoonists' Mount Rushmore?
The question,
Editor & Publisher reported, was posed on the WashingtonPost.com chat perpetrated regularly by Gene Weingarten, the Washington Post/Washington Post Writers Group humor columnist who won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing last month. Someone suggested Walt Kelly (Pogo), Charles Schulz (Peanuts), Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes), and a bunch of other cartoonists as the possible fourth Rushmore honoree. Weingarten responded by taking Schulz off the list, and putting on Gary Larson (The Far Side) and Garry Trudeau (Doonesbury). Reporting these shenanigans, E&P said Daily Cartoonist blogger Alan Gardner did a post on the debate, inaugurating more nominations: George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland), Frederick Opper (Happy Hooligan), Milton Caniff (Terry and the Pirates), Elzie Segar (Thimble Theatre, starring Popeye), and R.F. Outcault (Hogan's Alley, starring The Yellow Kid), among others. “Various editorial cartoonists—including Thomas Nast and Herblock—were mentioned as well. Well, why not? Well, because.

The parallel permits picking at least one of the four as simply a “personal favorite”; all four, in other words, don’t need to be shakers and movers like Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. The fourth Rushmore visage, that of Teddy Roosevelt, may, or may not, rank with the other three: the monument’s sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, probably put TR up there because he was a particular fan and a personal friend of the Rough Rider. To echo Rushmore with cartoonists, then, we need three who shaped or preserved the medium, plus one outstanding practitioner whose achievement isn’t quite of the same order. And I’d confine my selections to comic strip cartoonists so we don’t have to haggle about Herblock, Nast, Willard Mullin, Al Hirschfeld, Harvey Kurtzman, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Jack Cole, and Walt Disney, who did as much for their genre as, say, Jefferson did for his. Bud Fisher, whose Mutt and Jeff established the daily comic strip format, is probably the George Washington of cartooning; and Winsor McCay could be the Thomas Jefferson. Charles Schulz is the Abraham Lincoln of the profession, saving it from a slow death by television. For my personal favorite, then, I’d opt for Walt Kelly or Milton Caniff, each of whom, in their own individual ways, expanded the capacity of the medium with great panache. But which of the two? Alas, I won’t decide. Others who would rank just about on the same level as these two include Trudeau, Watterson, Segar, and Herriman, and if we kick in Harold Gray, we’d have a top ten, that hallowed number. Too many for a mountain top, though.


Mark Heath’s comic strip Spot the Frog will end on July 5, just six months shy of completing its five-year contract. Heath, at his blog, quoted by E&P, explained, “The reason is the usual one: too few client papers.” While I never wish any cartoonist any misfortune of this sort, in this instance, I rejoice—not in Heath’s bad luck, but in the testimony Spot’s low circulation provides about the taste of the American comics reading public and the discernment of editors of the papers that publish comics. Perhaps Spot isn’t funny enough for them, but I doubt that: I suspect its failure to pile up client papers resides mostly in the way the strip is drawn. Or so I’d like to believe. And readership surveys sometimes, when they ask the right questions, support my contention that readers value good drawing in comic strips, the inherent contradiction of Cathy and Dilbert notwithstanding. I realize some people like the rank simplicity of Heath’s drawing style, but I thought his artwork had all the eye appeal of a schematic for a spigot. It was Scott Guisewite’s lifeless lines all over again, and we don’t need so many Cathyberts. The demise of Spot will open up a few spots—very few, I gather—for something with a little more eye appeal. I realize that this sounds harsh, but comics are essentially a visual medium, so the quality of the art matters. Still, let me finish with a few thoughts from Comics Reporter blogger Tom Spurgeon, also quoted by E&P, who has a somewhat friendlier reaction to Spot’s forthcoming demise: "I liked Spot, which I thought was nice-looking and always pleasant,” adding that "it's really tough out there for a work to find traction unless it breaks out. I think that's where the declining number of newspaper spots and the increased churn in terms of dumping and trying strips is most greatly felt. Is there no such thing as a newspaper strip middle class anymore?” I think by “middle class,” Spurgeon means “a comic strip with a circulation of more than 100 and less than 900.” A strip of that dimension could make a living for its creator. And there are some of those, contrary to Spurgeon’s lament. Lio, for instance—Mark Tatulli’s pantomimic juvenile nightmare strip—is in about 250-300 newspapers. But it’s probably growing in circulation, so it won’t be in the “middle class” forever. Maybe.

Elsewhere: New Yorker cartoonists have been taking month-long turns at the newyorker.com’s blog “Cartoonist of the Month.” Barbara Smaller took her turn in March, mixing cartoons and short text pieces; this month, it’s fey Victoria Roberts, always a treat but particularly when texting rather than drawing. In April Charles Barsotti held forth, mostly with pictures like these.

click to enlarge



The International Museum of Cartoon Art (IMCA), which has been looking for a home since some of its backers backed out a few years ago, forcing the IMCA in 2002 to abandon the facility built for it in Boca Raton, Florida, has given up looking for a museum setting to house its collection of approximately 200,000 works. Hereafter, the IMCA collection will be archived at the Cartoon Research Library at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. According to a press release from the CRL and subsequent Editor & Publisher notices, the advent of the IMCA holdings will make the OSU facility the largest collection of original cartoon art in the world: with the IMCA addition, more than 450,000 pieces, including drawings from all genres of cartoon art (comic strips, comic books, animation, editorial, advertising, sport, caricature, greeting cards, graphic novels, and illustrations), display figures, toys and collectibles, and works on film and tape, CDs, and DVDs.

The IMCA was established in 1973 by Beetle Bailey’s Mort Walker, who mounted the embryo collection in a converted mansion in Greenwich, Connecticut. Opening in 1974, it was the first museum dedicated to collecting and exhibiting cartoons. “Two years later,” according to a press release from Jenny Robb, assistant curator at CRL, “the museum relocated to a renovated castle in Rye Brook, New York, where the collection was displayed until 1992. At that time, the city of Boca Raton, Florida invited the museum to construct a 52,000 square foot facility as part of an effort to attract cultural institutions to Palm Beach County.” The brand new Boca Raton building, designed expressly to house a museum of cartoon art, opened in 1996. Although a popular attraction with “highly acclaimed exhibits, events and functions for the public,” when two of its financial backers went bankrupt a few years later, IMCA sold its building to pay off its debts, and Walker went looking for a new home for the collection. For a short while in 2006, plans were actively underway to raise money to convert facilities on the ground floor of the Empire State Building in mid-town Manhattan, an ideal venue for attracting casual walk-in traffic. But those plans fell through when Walker couldn’t find enough funding. He went looking again, attempting a venue in a west-side Manhattan building at the Circle Line pier. But that collapsed too, and eventually, in what I assume was a painful decision, he elected to put the entire collection at OSU’s CRL. Painful but the best remaining option. “It’s a wonderful place,” Walker told E&P.

Lucy Shelton Caswell, professor and curator of the CRL, said, "We are honored that the IMCA's board has placed its treasures in our care." Efforts are underway to provide increased space for the Cartoon Research Library that will include museum-quality galleries. "It is critical that we have state-of-the-art gallery space to display IMCA's collection appropriately," said Caswell. A gallery in the new facility will be named in honor of IMCA founder Walker.

Joe Branin, Director of Ohio State University Libraries, issued the following statement via press release: "Special Collections, original manuscripts, photographs, and other rare or unique items so necessary for scholarship, are one of the critical identifiers of any research library. Universities point to their special collections as distinctive points of pride, those things that make their libraries unique. In receiving the collection of the International Museum of Cartoon Art, the Cartoon Research Library has substantially enhanced its standing as one of the premier research libraries. We are excited to make this outstanding collection available for scholarly study and for general appreciation in exhibits and other public programs."

The IMCA’s long search for a home has a bittersweet conclusion: at present, the CRL hasn't sufficient space to both store and display the vast quantity of material in its possession, and, sadly, even with the anticipated gallery for exhibition, much fascinating material will be stored out of sight, more-or-less permanently. That circumstance is not peculiar to the OSU facility: unhappily, many universities with special collections of this kind haven't space to display their holdings. Ironically, the more material that finds its way into such special collections, the less of it will be seen. Realistically, however, no viable alternative has ever presented itself. If the material were not in special collections, where would it be? And would we see any more of it than we do on the rare occasions when it is taken out of the vaults for display?

The material in special collections will be preserved—a great benefaction for the culture that produced it—but much of it will not be seen (except by duly authorized researchers on specific errands) unless the institutions holding these materials make ample provision to displaying the materials. And exhibition space of that kind is, for most institutions, a complete impracticality. And so the value of such collections is pretty much confined to use by researchers, who come there knowing what they want to see. They specify what they want to inspect, and the library staff finds the material and lets the researcher inspect it. And that's all very fine. I could not have written the biography of Milton Caniff without the materials archived at the CRL—and without the generous and supportive help of Lucy Caswell and her staff. But researchers who enter facilities like these are hunters, and most of the world of the curious is populated by fishermen.

Hunters know what they want, draw a bead on it, and get it. Fishermen never know, quite, what they want. They drop a line in the pond and wait, hoping for the best. Restricted access libraries are for hunters; exhibits are for fishermen. The hunters write books or monographs, thereby disseminating their knowledge of the material to a larger public. And we all gain from their efforts. But the fishermen among us know that the value of any collection of visual art is greatly enhanced if it can be displayed so that we may experience the delight of discovery, of finding something we love without knowing, exactly, what we were looking for. I'm delighted to realize that plans are already afoot to add to the CRL an expanded display facility.

Without institutions like the CRL—even if it has only limited display space—our knowledge and understanding of such erstwhile throwaway art forms as comic strips and cartoons is severely reduced. In effect, we are restricted in our knowledge to the recollections of older generations who were around when it all began. Those, alas, are rapidly expiring these days. So we must learn to rely upon special collections such as CRL's. These materials can acquaint us as intimately as possible with the work of those who have gone before. Without such facilities as CRL, our cultural memory is disastrously short.

The existence of the CRL raises the visibility of the art of cartooning by simply affording the opportunity to study it in its original state. And OSU was exceedingly lucky in finding Lucy Caswell. Once only a professor of journalism, Caswell became interested in and then enamored with the cartooning profession and its art, and her interest and passion prompted her to pursue with great dedication the expansion of the CRL holdings. And her attendance at various professional cartoonist gatherings further enhanced the value of the growing collection by making its presence known to those who (1) might donate their papers and original art (many now have) and/or (2) use the facility for researches of their own. Thanks largely to her enthusiasm, the CRL is virtually a mecca for anyone interested in the art of cartooning and the professional milieu that swirls around the art.


Cartoonist Cagle Causes Earthquake in China

Q&As With Chinese Students

Editoonist and Web cartoon mogul Daryl Cagle was traveling through China as part of a U.S. State Department cultural exchange program when the earthquake hit. “The consulate in Shanghai requested an American editorial cartoonist,” Cagle explained on his blog, “and I’m an easy cartoonist to find” because of his high visibility on MSNBC.com. “We felt the quake here in faraway Shanghai,” Cagle reported on May 12. He was scheduled to go the next day to Chengdu, in Sichuan province, epicenter of the quake, but went to Harbin in northern China instead.

Cagle realized from the first of his exchanges with Chinese students that he was perhaps more provocative than the State Department bargained for. “They have never had an American cartoonist participate in the program before,” he wrote, “and since the Chinese don't see American editorial cartoons in their newspapers and we don't see Chinese editorial cartoons in our newspapers, there is a wide cultural divide when it comes to journalism. The students seem to be amazed at the very idea that cartoonists would dare to be disrespectful of their government leaders.”

Excerpts from Cagle’s report (cagle.msnbc.com/news/blog) follow:

I explain to the classes about "censorship" in America, and that the government never censors cartoonists, but that freedom of the press belongs to the guy who owns the press and cartoonists often complain about their editors. I show them examples of killed cartoons. They seem to be especially interested in this topic. I leave a lot of time for questions and answers with each group I talk to—they can be shy, but when they get started they have lots of questions, and I get the same questions wherever I go. Here are some examples of recurring questions and answers:

Do your cartoons hurt your personal relationships with the politicians you draw? No, I don't have personal relationships with the people I draw.

Do you worry that your drawings will hurt the reputation of someone you have drawn? No, if one of my cartoons hurts the reputation of a politician that I am criticizing, then I am pleased. (Sometimes the crowd murmurs when I say this. It doesn't seem to be what they expect me to say.)

Do you ever apologize for your cartoons? Sometimes, but only if I make an error or if the cartoon is misunderstood. Usually the people who are angry about a cartoon are the people I intend to make angry, and I am happy to make them angry. (The crowd murmurs at this answer, too.)

Do you ever draw cartoons that are supportive of China? No, I don't draw cartoons that support anything. I just criticize. Supportive cartoons are lousy cartoons.

Now that you have visited China, and have learned more about China, will you be drawing cartoons that support China? Probably not.

[At every event, Cagle writes, the Olympics is a topic, and students invariably want to know how China is portrayed in cartoons about the Olympics. When he tells them that in most of the cartoons on the subject, China gets bashed, the students want to see the cartoons. Cagle refers them to his website because the State Department had asked him not to show negative cartoons about China. It was the only inhibiting factor in the invitation to participate in the program, and Cagle said, “It was something I had to contemplate because I like to say whatever I want.” But since it was the only request the State Department people made of him regarding
what he could say and show in China, he finally decided, “I was okay with it.”]

More excerpts in which Cagle discusses the “huge cultural divide” between our cultures:

The students think that China is misunderstood around the world. They are proud of China, they are all personally very nice, and genuinely expect that the world should love China, [and they are shocked] by how this American cartoonist can so misunderstand China. A person from a US consulate here told me a story about one bright young [Chinese] English student who was working for the U.S. consulate. He seemed inspired, was interested in everything and he seemed to be well on the road to understanding what America is all about. One day the English student was at a hotel and he watched CNN's coverage of China; he had never seen CNN before. The student was so shocked by what he heard on CNN that he came back to his US Consulate friends and told them that he was inspired by watching the news on CNN, and he had decided that
we wanted to work for the Chinese government as a censor, to insure that other Chinese people would never have to hear the terrible things he heard on CNN.

The barriers may be so wide that there may be no bridging the gap. But I shouldn't be too negative. I'd like to have seen president Bush handle hurricane Katrina like the Chinese are handling the earthquake here.

Before the earthquake I was impressed with how different the press is here. China's English language newspapers read like a local chamber of commerce newsletter, with cheery stories about official meetings and business reports. Editorials in the papers are dry repetitions of
official positions, using phases like, "as we all know" and "any reasonable person would agree that " on topics like religious freedom in Tibet, for example: "as we all know" "any reasonable person would agree that" there should be no more argument about Tibet. China Central Television (CCTV) is the same thing on tv. There are editorials and cartoons about how we should all stop spitting in the street, and how important it is for foreigners to learn to speak Chinese.

Students ask to see cartoons about China. I explain to the students that there are three symbols for China in American cartoons: the Panda Bear, a Chinese dragon, and the guy standing in front of the tank from the Tiananmen Square "incident." The audience gasps when I mention the third symbol. Many of the students here have never heard of the Tiananmen Square massacre, or "incident" as they call it here, and most of them seem unaware of the famous photo. I explain that this is probably the most famous photo of China around the world as they stare and don't seem to comprehend. [For more of this fascinating insight into today’s China from a cartoonist’s perspective, I recommend that you visit Cagle’s blog, www.cagle.msnbc.com, where I’m sure he’ll continue in the same vein as the foregoing.]

Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing 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.


The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping

In Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse, April is now, at last, formally engaged to Anthony. And she’s sure she loves him; and he, her. By my rough calculation, only one more shoe remains to be dropped: what happens to Elly’s stroke-ridden father? ... In Mark Tatulli’s Heart of the City, Heart’s buddy Dean persuades her to accompany him on a visit to his favorite comic book store, which, alas, he finds has closed permanently and is deserted. But, peeking in the window, he sees—right there, on the floor amid a modest spray of debris—a copy of Action Comics No. 1, with Superman on the cover lifting a car over his head. Looks like Tatulli is about to celebrate the Man of Steel’s 70th anniversary. ... And in Greg Evans’ Luann, Brother Brad is contemplating his next date with the bodacious Toni, and he’s growing a goatee for the occasion. No, Brad: that’s not necessary. He’ll learn.

A Visual Medium. And here, by way of celebrating the visual nature of the medium, are some pictures of strips and cartoons. click to enlargeIn one of the two accompanying Hermans, Jim Unger’s rendering of a giant tuba is a beauty, in-and-of itself; and the tuba is the joke. It’s a perfect blend of word and picture: the picture makes no comedic sense without the caption, and the caption isn’t at all funny without the picture. But Unger’s drawing style can destroy a cartoon. In the second exhibit, I can’t tell from the picture what is killing the birds. Is it something the guy has in his hand? What is it? And where’s his head or his face? Unger’s doodles sometimes leave a lot to be desired—clarity, for instance. ... Bizarro joins our gallery this time because of the picture of himself that Dan Piraro has inserted in the lower right. ... Stephan Pastis’ Pearls before Swine is another example of how pictures can be vital to the joke. ... And in Over the Hedge, T Lewis gives us a modern, up-to-date “green” version of the traditional “idea light bulb over the head.” ... Not that words aren’t important, too. In this classic Peanuts, Charles Schulz shows how mere typography helps create the gag. ... And in Rhymes with Orange, Hilary Price demonstrates the “timing” function of balloon placement. Just the right number of words, too. Perfect.

Cartoonists sometimes get a little lazy with pictures, as we see in the next exhibit. click to enlarge In Jim Davis’ Garfield, we endured a week of silhouettes recently—and the silhouettes are even the same in panels 1 and 2, several days running. ... Scott Adams is experimenting with visual shortcuts in Dilbert, too (although how he could save any more time drawing than he already does is debatable). That stunning portrait of a building in the last panel has been repeated enough times lately that it has acquired the aura of another cast member. And it’s hard to tell the building from the people. ... In The Buckets, on the other hand, cartoonist Greg Craverns, whose pictures often leave me guessing about what they signify, here shows the narrative power of the pictorial in the depiction of a sneeze. Beautiful. ... In Zits, Jim Borgman and Jerry Scott gave us a week of single strip-wide panels, eye-catching elongated pictures, all with the same speech balloon. In each of the strips, Jeremy is shown about to do something that one or the other of his belabored parents forbids.

Continuing our survey of the verboten in comic strippery, we have in our next display instances of urinary humor. In Non Sequitur, Wiley Miller has twice, click to enlargelately, given us a picture of a dog lifting his leg or about to. The detail at the left extracted from the top strip offers ample evidence of Miller’s essential cartoonist personality—little visual details that enrich the vignette by adding tiny elements of humor. The feet protruding from behind the steps at the right; is that a passed-out drink lying there? The woman sweeping has her mouth open; is she in competition with the guy and his bullhorn? And the guy is in his sleeping garb, except for the bunny slippers. Garbage cans, right where they always are. And, to balance the dog at the hydrant, a cat at the door. A work of cartooning genius, no question. ... Finally, here’s Darby Conley’s Get Fuzzy in which the word “peeing” appears. I’ve noticed a number of appearances of that word of late. Apparently the antique taboo against it has evaporated along with the prohibition about “fart.” While this may mark another advance in civilization, it also makes me ponder “pissing.” “Pissing” has not yet escaped the prohibition, methinks. I don’t see it being used as an alternative to “peeing.” Or, rather, “peeing” is used as a perhaps more genteel alternative to “pissing.” I’ve always associated the word “pee” with women and decorous conversational conduct; “piss,” on the other hand, is manly locker-room talk. “Pee” is cute; “piss” isn’t. “Piss” is cruder than “pee,” and so it’ll probably be a while before we “piss” in the funnies.

Back in Non Sequitur, Wiley Miller ruffled political feathers twice in the week of May 5. One day’s release ridiculed what Miller calls the "media-driven non-issue" of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's remarks; the other spoofed the dilemma of newspapers giving away content for free on their Web sites. In the first, an employer says to a job applicant, "Well, you seem right for the job, but there's something your pastor said seven years ago that bothers me. Let me read it to you out of context...." The caption: "If we hired like we vote." When contacted by E&P, Miller said he’d received about an equal number of pro and con e-mails, adding that, until this, his most conservative readers had been "awfully quiet for quite a while." Said he: "A few years ago, any cartoon that just had even a hint of criticism toward right-wing dogma and the Bush administration would result in a flood of hate mail. In the last couple of years, even the most direct shots have yielded almost nothing in response.” Maybe even the right-wing nuts are disappointed in the Bush League and all it stands for. Miller continued: “For some reason, this rather mild satire of a media-driven non-issue has gotten some of them stirred up. Odd how they don't apply the same standards to John McCain and his radical pastors whom he sought out for endorsements. By those standards, they must also think John McCain believes the Catholic Church is a 'great whore' and that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for a planned gay parade in New Orleans."

The cartoon about newspapers’ stimulating Web growth showed a newsstand with a sign saying: "Today in the Times: Print media isn't dead! Go to our Web site for the whole story." Alas, it stirred up almost nothing: at Miller’s syndicate, Universal Press, which distributes Non Sequitur to more than 700 newspapers, Kathie Kerr, assistant vice president for communications, said: “We had one editor request a signed print.” Pretty clearly, newspapers are resigned to a digital fate worse than newsprint. As if in confirmation, a few days after the publication of the cartoon, E&P reported that Miller got an e-mail from a man who said he’d been laid off by his newspaper after nine years due mostly, he said, to the news migrating from inky print to electronic digits.

Jimmy Johnson covered the same ground in his release for March 6. In the first panel of his Arlo and Janis we see a newsboy hawking the day’s paper: “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”—the traditional newsboy’s chant. Arlo buys a paper from the kid, and when he opens it, he reads: “Go to our web site!” Says Arlo: “Newspapers are between a rock and a hard place these days.” Just what newspapers need: sympathy.

Which brings us to our next department.


The Alleged News Institution

On April 28, reports E&P, the Audit Bureau of Circulations released the latest six-month circulation data for the period ending March 31, 2008. “For most of the 534 dailies filing with the organization,” writes Jennifer Saba, “circ fell an average of 3.5%, while some 601 Sunday papers gave up about 4.5% over-all. Those numbers represent the worst drop-off in many years.” Some of the decrease was pure accountancy: publishers are dropping discounted circulation and other varieties of free distribution. But that maneuver doesn’t account for all the decrease. Meanwhile, in Madison, Wisconsin, Joe Strupp at E&P reports that the Capital Times “has become the first paper to drop its daily print edition and place all breaking news on the Web.” The millennium has at last arrived: print gives up in favor of digits. And does the online Capital Times carry comic strips? Strupp doesn’t say.

On a note that may be cheerier, Cablevision Systems Corp. is buying the Long Island newspaper, Newsday, for $650 million, beating out News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch, who offered only $580, matching the bid of New York Daily News owner Mortimer Zuckerman. The sale of Newsday, said Seth Sutel at the Associated Press, lightens the debt assumed by the Tribune Company when it went private last year in a deal orchestrated by Chicago real estate mogul Sam Zell. Since Cablevision Systems is controlled by the Dolan family, it would seem that Newsday is another paper that has escaped the clutches of Wall Street investors, those who demand ever increasing profits at the cost of journalistic function. Charles Dolan, speaking for the company, said: “We are committed to maintaining Newsday’s journalistic integrity and important position in the marketplace.” If the trend continues, we might get daily print journalism back on track.


We’re fighting two wars, the economy stands on the brink of recession, gas and food prices are going up, our health-care system is in crisis, and nuclear proliferation and terrorism are on the rise while U.S. influence worldwide is on the wane. And yet the column inches and broadcast minutes all seem to go to the sensational, the trivial and the all-but-irrelevant. American voters are being taken by the press that is supposed to serve them.” —Dan Rather at his new gig for Hearst Newspapers.

Yup: this is the same Dan Rather who was drummed out of the corps when his life-long employer, CBS News, hadn’t the guts to stand up to ravening right-wing bloggers and the ruthless industrial might concentrated in the Autocratic—er, Executive—Branch these days. Maybe the documentation was a little shaky in support of Rather’s contention that George W. (“Whopper”) Bush got into the Air National Guard through the political influence of his father, but no one has ever disproved the allegation. Frankly, I don’t care: if the scion of a famous father can’t finagle something he wants through paternal influence, why have a famous father? The Bush League, however, wanted no such blemish on the complexion of their nominal leader, and so they blew the whole thing up in Rather’s face. But the accuracy of Rather’s allegation has never been seriously questioned. Meanwhile, Rather’s suit against CBS proceeds apace: last month, a judge dismissed some of the allegations he’s made but allowed Rather to go ahead on the core matter of his case, a $70 million claim for breach of contract and damage to his reputation.


Baba Wawa

Barbara Walters has written a memoir about her life as the world’s most famous pacesetting female journalist. And by now, we all know that “memoir” is a publisher’s term for an autobiographical fiction. Norman Mailer once said that “memoir” was a license for creating a boastful fable, and Walters’ tome fits to a T. She entitles her endeavor “Audition,” the implication being, I suppose, that one is always auditioning, always competing, always striving. That’s Baba, no question. I have no intention of buying the book. Or of reading it. I have an uneasy stomach. But in a spasm of reportorial noblesse oblige, I forced myself to read the excerpt in Vanity Fair’s June issue, which rehearsed her self-proclaimed agonies in deciding to leave NBC’s “Today” show, where she’d been for 13 years, to become co-anchor of ABC’s “Evening News” program with Harry Reasoner, a seasoned not to say salty veteran of journalism in most of its forms. Not for the money, she says—five million over five years—but because by accepting the job, she would advance the cause of feminism. Sainthood doubtless waits in the wings. Maybe. Although at times, her progress seemed more like one step forward and two steps back. Baba had worked only in tv; that was the sum total of her journalistic experience. But she managed to fail at her new assignment—due largely, she strenuously implies, to Reasoner’s displaying his hostility on camera. Walters’s towering self-esteem makes it impossible for her to see that she may have failed because she hadn’t the background or instinct to be an news reporter or anchor. In that realm, the reporter is supposed to be invisible: it’s the news that’s spotlighted. The situation, in other words, required precisely the opposite of what Baba was able to do.

The tone of the excerpt is exactly what I should have expected but, oddly—given my distaste for Walters and all she stands for in journalism—didn’t. The book is apparently addressed most specifically to those whom Walters fancies are her adoring fans, who, like the author herself (chief among the worshiping multitudes), can’t wait to see what wonderful gravity-defying thing she will accomplish next.

She appeared on the David Letterman tv show on Friday, May 9, and her subject, as always, was herself as a profoundly compassionate, liberated journalist far ahead of her times. Letterman asked her about her sexual liaison in the 1970s with Massachusetts Senator Edward Brooke, one of several to which Walters admits in her book, and Baba repeated several times how daring she’d been to enter into such a relationship: “thirty years ago,” she intoned repeatedly, to have a sexual relationship with such a person, had it been disclosed at the time, could have destroyed her career. I’m confident that Walters is completely innocent of the information about herself that such an utterance reveals. First, she clearly puts her career ahead of all other considerations. Brooke was married at the time, and he doubtless risked as much as she, but she scarcely mentions his being married, adding, as an afterthought, that he divorced soon after their affair. A second revealing aspect to her account emerges after she’s said, at least three times, how dangerous it was “thirty years ago” to have such a relationship: she finally lets it slip that Brooke is African American. That Walters was brave enough “thirty years ago” to have an affair with an African American shows, beyond dispute, just how liberated and non-racist Baba is. Hoorah for her, she is saying.

A third insight into Walters’ character was prompted by Letterman, who wondered if Walters could see any conflict-of-interest in her relationship with Brooke. Astoundingly, Walters, even after more than forty years as a so-called journalist, didn’t see what Letterman was getting at. He had to explain to this world-famous pioneering female journalist that some people might find a reporter’s intimate relationship with a congressman fraught with ethical pitfalls: how could such a journalist report objectively on the professional activities of the congressman—or, even, of Congress itself—when she was fucking him on the side? Baba couldn’t see the problem. She was—and is—too wrapped up in her own fame and career to see herself as others might see her. Too bad. She’s giving female journalists a bad name.


You are not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.

We have enough youth. How about a fountain of "smart"?

When you work here, you can name your own salary. I named mine, "Jeff's."

The original point and click interface was a Smith & Wesson.

A fool and his money can throw one hell of a party.

More of the Same, Thank Goodness

“Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.”—George Carlin

“Those who believe in telekinetics, raise my hand.” —Kurt Vonnegut

“Experience is like tail-lights on a boat, which illuminate where we have been when we should be focusing on where we should be going.” —John F. Kennedy

“Always forgive your enemies: nothing annoys them so much.” —Oscar Wilde

“The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.” —Willie Nelson

“When everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane.”—Steven Wright

“If you’ll remember, not one Japanese airplane ever got past Tulsa.” —George Gobel, a U.S. Airforce fighter pilot stationed for the whole of World War II in Oklahoma.

“Meeting Roosevelt was like uncorking a bottle of fine champagne.” —Winston Churchill


The whole idea of Free Comic Book Day is not to give away comic books no matter what you might reasonably suppose from the occasion’s joyous denomination. Instead, the idea is to get alien readers, people who don’t usually buy comic books, to come into a comic book store, whereupon they’ll immediately fall prey to the temptation to own as many of the colorful periodicals as they can carry out the door. Despite what many enthusiastic comic book store proprietors may tell reporters from their local newspaper, the scheme doesn’t usually work that way. The notion itself, nobly conceived, is, like many noble notions, teetering just on the brink of inspired practicality without quite tipping over. The people who are attracted to “free comic books” are most likely already comic book readers; very few of the other sort of reader, the general run-of-the-mill book peruser, are going to enter a comic book store just to get a free funnybook. Most of them think they outgrew funnybooks long ago; why regress? A few aliens might be tempted by the promise of a free product to enter the premises of a comic book store—a young comic book fan’s mother, say, or father, dutiful parents who want to know just what the fascination is for her or his offspring in these four-color fictions about superpowered beings who cavort in spandex. A few of the nonparental breed might come in, hoping to discover just what a “graphic novel” is, having run across the term in the public prints in articles marveling about this new phenomenon. But how will they find out about FCBD? The occasion is seldom publicized in newspapers: typically, it is announced by notices posted in the comic book stores, where they are seen only by those who are already frequenters of the premises. Even if aliens curious about graphic novels do visit the stores on FCBD or at any other time, if their experience is anything like mine, they aren’t likely to learn much about what a graphic novel is.

I visited one of the local comic book emporia on Free Comic Book Day, May 3, and picked up a few of the freebies. In FCBDs of yore, back in my former environ, I’d pick up a copy of every FCBD title, but not this year. I don’t get to comic book stores as much as I used to: using the monthly Previews catalogue, I order my supply of books from G-Mart, a Chicago-based mail order operation, so I don’t have to visit an actual store. There are about four or five scattered around Denver, all of them a good 30-45 minutes away from the Rancid Raves Intergalactic Wurlitzer Book Grotto and Cavern of Carnal Comic Book Delights. So I’m not a “regular customer” at any of the local establishments. And I was therefore a little intimidated by the big guy behind the counter, who seemed to be guarding the free comic books to prevent their disappearance, en masse, into the maws of funnybook fans. I picked up four.

The EC Sampler from Gemstone reprinted four “classic” tales from the comic book line thought by many to represent “the high water mark in the history of the medium.” Two were written by the usual team of publisher Bill Gaines and his editor, Al Feldstein, who, inspired by one or more of the “springboards” Gaines gave him every morning, wrote stories right on the artboards, leaving just a little extra space in each panel for the artists to draw pictures in. Feldstein’s parsimonious allotment of space for pictures was a shame because the EC artists were among the very best in the business, and in the clubhouse atmosphere of the EC offices on Lafayette Street just south of Houston in Manhattan, each of the artists felt the pressure from his comperes to do better than they were doing. Each tried to outperform the others, and the quality of the art soared even in the tiny portholes Feldstein left for the purpose in his narrative vessels. Feldstein drew one of the stories in this Sampler—his usual stiffly wooden gape-mouthed characters, all looking as though they’d just noticed something moving in the food on the dish in front of them. Wally Wood illustrated the other Feldstein tale, a cautionary fable from the pages of ShockSuspenseStories, No. 6 (1953), the missionary EC title on social issues. The legendary Harvey Kurtzman wrote one of the stories, and Alex Toth, before his art was elliptical poetry, drew it expertly. And Johnny Craig wrote and drew the fourth story, his protagonist, as usual, sweating copious quantities in spasms of guilt and fear as he comes to believe he’s a werewolf. I also picked up X-Men No. 1 from Marvel; it tells a complete story about Pixie. Hellboy from Dark Horse offers three separate short stories, one of the about the title character; the other two, about others. Written by Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart, the stories are skillfully illustrated in the Mignola manner by Duncan Fegredo (a surprisingly good Mignola imitation), Guy Davis, and Paul Azaceta. The last freebie I glommed was The Death-Defying Devil from Dynamite, one of the Project Superpowers books that is reviving some of the Golden Age heroes—like Black Terror and the Fighting Yank from Nedor and Gleason’s Daredevil, featured in this book. I was eager to see how this favorite from my Lost Youth would be interpreted. Alex Ross’s cover captures the red-blue alternating halves of the costume and its quirky spiked belt, and DD (as he was affectionately called by his compatriots in those days) is flourishing a brace of boomerangs, his usual weapon. Inside, Andy Smith’s drawings are competent enough but his rendering of anatomy, flaying off the first few layers of skin in order to get to the muscles beneath, is a little too chunky for my taste. And DD himself, who was a lithe athlete in the Gleason incarnation, is bulging with muscle here. Too much.

After picking up four titles, I asked the guard where I could find graphic novels. “There,” he said, shooting both index fingers over my shoulder to an area of the store just behind me. Dutifully, I browsed those shelves but saw no graphic novels. I saw only collections of DC and Marvel titles that had initially been published as serial issues of comic books. These, tovarich, are not “graphic novels”: these are reprint compilations of comics. Graphic novels, in my collection, are “long form comic books” that have been created expressly to be published between the covers of a single book, not issued serially—like comic books. For more about what makes a graphic novel a graphic novel, visit Harv’s Hindsight to inspect “Defining the Graphic Novel” here.

So if most comic book stores are like the one I visited—and most are—aliens won’t find out what they came in to discover, assuming they came in to find out what “graphic novels” are. What they’ll find out is what comic book stores are like. Judging from those that I’ve visited in these parts and elsewhere around the country, comic book stores are no longer breeding places for carpet grunge: most proprietors have invested in vacuum cleaners of some kind, so your feet no longer stick to the carpet as you wander the premises. But most comic book stores are still claustrophobic. Because their investment is in back issues, proprietors necessarily must have their entire inventory out where buyers can browse, not stored in the backroom where most businesses keep their surplus goods. To get everything out front, aisle space is sacrificed for storage boxes. The narrow aisles seem even narrower because they are bounded by chest-high counters and racks laden with rows and rows of storage boxes, all open at the top, comic books filed vertically, so the browser can thumb through the contents without bending over. Unless he’s looking for some obscure, poor-selling comic: those are stored in boxes on the floor underneath the chest-high racks.

Some comic book stores these days also sell the fetishes of other kinds of collectors. One I frequent, for example, sells coins to coin collectors and sports cards to sports-card collectors. But these inventories take much less space than several hundred thousand cubic feet of back issue comic books.

I’m pretty confident that comic book stores will always be pretty much what they are now—claustrophobic storage facilities that sell their product out of the cardboard boxes. I can’t imagine a comic book store that manages to stay in business and doesn’t look like this. Comic book stores are not, then, educational enterprises. And if FCBD is supposed to educate the general public about how great comic books are lately, the event is probably not accomplishing its goal. And even its announced purpose is mildly perverted by ulterior motives that are scarcely secret. As you probably know, the freebies aren’t free to the comic shop proprietors: they must buy them from their usual distributor, probably Diamond. Most freebies are produced as promotional brochures: they “sample” a publisher’s line of books, offering excerpts from forthcoming titles. All of which amounts to pointless investment by publisher and comic book store alike if the purpose is to initiate the uninitiated into the pleasures of comic book reading. If FCBD doesn’t increase the sales of comic books, it fails. Or so we might suppose. If so, we are only marginally correct.

FCBD usually increases traffic at a comic book store on the day in question. And even if the traffic is mostly regular, wool-dyed comic book fans, the effort isn’t entirely wasted. Those fans will pick up an assortment of free product and learn a little about certain titles they might not otherwise buy. And if aliens don’t encounter the graphic novels they may have come into the place to learn about, they encounter what comic book publishers are calling “graphic novels”—namely, reprints of serially issued funnybooks. Maybe that’s not what they expected to learn, but what they do learn is that the comic book publisher’s abuse of the term “graphic novel” is as commercial in its purpose as Free Comic Book Day is in its. Education is often the sum of its unintended consequences.


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

A Washington-based journalism think tank, the Project for Excellence in Journalism, has decided that the notion that most young people learn about current events solely from Jon Stewart at Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” a mock-news program, is hooey. No one ignorant of current events would understand and laugh at the jokes. ... The Washington Post reports that various of the religiously enthused see Satanism in the street layout of our nation’s capital. Here’s the Post’s illustrative argument. But couldn’t someone have connected the dots by drawing a pentagon instead?

click to enlarge

Chris Gilmour, a West London artist, has been posting his drawings of barenekidwimmin at www.nakedchicksonpostitnotes.blogspot.com for the last year. Beginning May 1, 2007, Gilmour set himself to draw a naked chick on a post-it note every day for a year, and it appears he’s achieved his goal: towards the end of April, he’d posted 472 naked chick pix. The rhythm of the name of his site was inspired, he told Susannah Breslin at reversecowgirlblog.blogspot.com, by the name of a friend’s band, Images of Mathematicians on Postage Stamps. “It sounded good,” said Gilmour, “so I stole a few blocks of Post-Its from work and started scribbling.” He chose women rather than cats, which he’d done before (“that was kind of boring”), or men. “I tried drawing naked blokes but it made me feel uncomfortable,” he continued. “Women are great, though. They have all these curves and shapes and bits and are all different sizes.” While he does some freehand drawing, most of his pictures he copies from porn sites on the Web, sticking a Post-It note to his laptop and tracing it. He looks for variety, or, as he put it, “balance,” adding, “if I haven’t drawn anyone scrawny recently or have been focusing too much on breasts or bums.” Gilmour is an ambitious sort of sex obsessive. Before he started drawing a naked lady a day, he tried to shag 100 girls in a year. “I think I managed five ‘conquests,’” he said, “before the heartache and rejection reminded me I’m not cut out for that sort of thing.”

What’s with kerfuffle? Another word, like canoodle, that has cropped up in the public prints two or three times in the last month, indicating, we suppose, a rejuvenation of this quaint expression meaning “a minor sort of fuss.” Good word.


And here’s one that, were it about anyone but our tone-deaf leader, wouldn’t be believed. George WMD Bush revealed in an interview on May 13 that he quit playing golf in 2003 out of respect for the families of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq conflict. “I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal,” he said in Politico magazine. “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander-in-chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them.” Does he really believe, as his proposition here seems to suggest, that his giving up golf is the equivalent of a mother losing her son in combat?

In Parade magazine for May 18, Senator Jim Webb, an ex-Marine and a veteran of Vietnam recalls an incident in a village he and his unit had just taken. In a bunker they’d just “cleared out” with a grenade, they found: “A gray-haired man in white pajamas, probably a grandfather, who was dead, having wrapped himself around a small boy to protect him from the blast. It was clear that his final thoughts were of the boy. His shocked, opaque eyes and his still-curled body were the very definition of love and human sacrifice. The boy was still alive, although barely.” Webb called for a medevac, but on Vietnam battlefields in those times, only wounded soldiers were evacuated. No helicopter came. “The doc put the boy on a wooden box next to our command post. Over the next half hour, as I spoke on the radio, the boy lay near me quietly, never making a sound, all the while watching me. Nor could I stop watching him. And as we stared at each other, he slowly died. There are still moments when I look back and see the little boy’s brown eyes and the curled corpse of the grandfather whose last thought had been to save him. I will never forget them, nor should I.”

And GeeDubya gave up golf.

You can find all of Webb’s article at www.parade.com


Short Reviews and Notices

A book accompanied by a DVD containing about 16,000 of Herblock's cartoons will be released on Oct. 13, 2009, the 100th anniversary of the late Washington Post staffer's birth, according to ComicsDC blogger Mike Rhode, who says the book, a project of the Herb Block Foundation, will also include a 4,000-word essay by Herblock's former Post colleague Haynes Johnson. ... Another anniversary, Dilbert’s 20th, will likewise be marked by a monumental publishing endeavor. Cut from the pattern of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and The Complete Far Side, this latest Andrews McMeel effort, Dilbert 2.0: 20 Years of Dilbert, will run to 600 pages, nearly 4,000 strips, and will weigh more than ten pounds, reports E&P. “In addition, the slip-cased book will offer comments and humorous asides by cartoonist Scott Adams, a look at Adams' pre-Dilbert career, and will include his rejection letters and first cartooning check” plus other attractions. Dilbert, sez here, runs in more than 2,000 newspapers, distributed by United Media.

The Andrews McMeel backlist includes almost 500 books reprinting newspaper comic strips and cartoons. Some of these titles are listed in the Fall 2008 catalog; a few more at the website, www.andrewsmcmeel.com. The number of titles for an individual strip is a rough indicator of the strip’s popularity: like any publisher, Andrews McMeel wants the books it publishes to sell, and they know that a book reprinting a popular comic strip is bound to sell. You can gauge the popularity of a comic strip, then, by the number of titles Andrews McMeel has published of that strip. No surprises here: the tallies coincide handily with strip circulation figures. With 36 individual titles still available, Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse is the champion; it runs in more than 2,000 newspapers—still, despite the confusing hybrid format of late. Bill Amend’s FoxTrot is next with 35 titles still available, and that, maybe, is something of a surprise: the strip, at its height before Amend retired the daily version, appeared in over 1,000 newspapers but never approached the 2,000-plus mark. Third is Scott Adams’ Dilbert with 34 titles although only 31 are still available); Tom Wilson’s saccharin Ziggy is fourth with 31. In order, then, here are the runners up: Doonesbury, 29 volumes; Baby Blues, 28; Cathy, 27; The Far Side, 22 titles plus The Complete Far Side; Pat Oliphant’s editorial cartoons, 22 volumes still available. Of those with fewer than 20 titles available, Zits and Close to Home, a panel cartoon, stand first with 19 each, then come Mutts with 17, ditto Calvin and Hobbes, plus The Complete C&H.

The most recent Zits compilation, Jeremy and Mom, is a super-sized 240 8.5x11-inch page paperback (b/w and color Sundays, $16.99). Unlike the previous 18 reprints of this strip, written by Jerry Scott and drawn by Jim Borgman, this volume is a thematic effusion—all the strips, culled from several years of Zits rather than just the last six months or a year, celebrate the relationship between a teenage boy and his mother. And if you haven’t bought a Zits collection lately (thinking, fatuously, that reading the strip in your newspaper is enough of a treat) or if you’ve forgotten how thoroughly, expertly, hilariously Scott and Borgman exploit the form of the comic strip, then you should dash out and buy this book to remind yourself of how the most imaginative of cartoonists work their magic. It’s all on display herein. And here, too, the pictures carry the comedic burden; without them, the words are very nearly meaningless. (Or at least, not funny at all.) Here is comedy that Cathybert can only dream about—nuances of visual risibilities slipped into every panel. But words are integral to the comedy: without them, the pictures are merely comical; blended, words and pictures demonstrate the very Art of Cartooning. The book varies its page format. Most pages with daily strips on them display three strips, but sometimes, only two; occasionally, only one huge strip. Sundays are in color; sometimes one to a page; sometimes spread generously over two facing pages. The throwaway panel, a decorative preliminary doodle representing the rough of one of the final panels, is missing, but I don’t care. The book begins with an introduction by Rob Ettenger, whose name comes festooned with initials—Dr., Ed.D., M.F.T. After impressing us with his thirty years of experience as a family therapist, he captures with an anecdote from his own life the eternal relationship between mothers and their offspring: “The only place my mom was able to smoke a cigarette without my dad finding out about it was in the kids’ bathroom. Every time she finished a cigarette, I slipped in behind her and had one myself. What a great cover! Scene after scene in Zits, we watch as Jeremy’s need for independence runs smack into his need for his mother. Jeremy says it best when he thinks to himself that he wants to be ‘left alone, not ignored.’” Within, Scott and Borgman embellish a few pages with text comments on the strips displayed. Borgman draws a picture of Jeremy and his girlfriend hugging, and she has apparently grown several arms and more legs, all of which she wraps about Jeremy like so many leeches. Of this picture, Scott writes: “As a guy, I think the way Jim drew this is hilarious. As the father of a teenage girl, it terrifies me.” Borgman explains early in the book that he attains insight into adolescence by “embedding” himself, drawing board on his knees, in his family room, where he’s surrounded by five teenagers, his own two and his three stepchildren by his second wife. (His first, tragically, died some years ago.) Borgman says he just starts writing down what he sees and hears. “I don’t know how he does it,” he goes on, “but Jerry listens to my notes from the field, mixes them with heaping bucketfuls of his own magic, and spins gold.” Their relationship is not, exactly, that of writer (Scott) and drawrer (Borgman): they are in the habit of explaining that each of them does about 75 percent of every strip. (Or some statistical impossibility of that order.) Scott explains that they make a conscious effort to “keep the comic strip playing field level”: sometimes, Mom wins. Strip after strip captures typical teenagery—laziness, reluctance to do chores, self-absorption, and heroic messiness. Says Borman: “What is it about teenagers and their messy rooms that drive parents crazy? Maybe it’s the one parcel of turf they can control this side of their school locker, and they’ll keep it exactly the opposite of the way we’d like it.” And Borgman, among his other cartooning accomplishments too numerous to recount right now, is a master at drawing piles of teenage detritus, whole mountain ranges of it. His ability to invent garbage to draw is inspiring. On another page, Borgman writes: “Zits runs in family newspapers everywhere, so we must abide by the rules of the road. But let me tell you, doing a comic strip about a teenage boy without mentioning sex is like trying to write Moby Dick without mentioning whales.” This insight accompanies a strip in which Jeremy’s mother is reading a newspaper and comments: “This article says that the average teenage boy thinks about sex once every eight minutes.” She thinks and says: “Wow.” Jeremy, to whom she’s imparted this information, also says: “Wow.” Then she thinks: “That much?” And he thinks: “That’s all?” But the sex isn’t confined to teenagers. Connie, Jeremy’s mother, sits on Jeremy’s father’s lap with canoodling on her mind, but he wonders how she can be sure they won’t be interrupted by Jeremy wandering in. “Trust me,” she says; and we do—because in the preceding panel, she’s told Jeremy that “your dad was thinking about cleaning out the garage tonight and he wanted to talk to you.” Perfect. Learn what cartooning is—and have a laugh a page while you do it: buy this book.

Other engaging AM titles: Cartoon Success Secrets, a collection of articles from three decades of Jud Hurd’s quarterly magazine, Cartoonist PROfiles; Mort Walker’s Private Scrapbook, a delicious review of the career of the Dean of American Cartoonists; and the little known and seldom heralded Your Career in the Comics, interviews with cartoonists about the profession and how to get into it and how to stay in it, edited by veteran Lee Nordling.

By the way although not at all incidentally: The factoid Connie just quoted about how often teenager boys think about sex is examined, along with numerous other factoids, at www.cracked.com under the heading “The Six Most Frequently Quoted Bullshit Statistics.” Here, though, it’s not teenage boys: it’s all of the male human (sic) sapiens. Every seven seconds, it is alleged. But that’s bullshit, the author tells us, saying, among other refutational things, “How would they even arrive at such a number? Hook electrodes up to a dude’s head and have him walk around for a week, counting how many times the sex lobe lights up?” Where did this phoney fact come from? It began, the author asserts, with a bunch of wives sitting around the kitchen table drinking tea or coffee and complaining about their “horrible” husbands. “They just hate how it is always about sex sex sex sex sex. So one of them pulls a number of her head for a joke. ‘Did you know that men think about sex every seven seconds?’ The others have a good womanly laugh about their husbands, and then they all run off to do womanly things, like quilting, or going to the bathroom at the same time. That’s what women do, right? We don’t really know.” Common sense, it is claimed, should have shot down this Bullshit Statistic right away. “Obviously there are long stretches where a guy isn’t thinking about sex (say, while spending 45 infuriating minutes on the phone with Microsoft tech support). To make up that average later he would have to think about sex every, what— 2 seconds? So for the rest of the day his brain just turns into a spinning kaleidoscope of titty?”

Other Bullshit Statistics discussed at this site include: Christmas Causes Suicide, You Must Wait 30 Minutes After Eating Before Swimming, Spousal Abuse Skyrockets on Super Bowl Sunday, You Accidentally Swallow about 8 Spiders a Year, and You Only Use 10 Percent of Your Brain. Debunking the latter is short work: “How fast are you reading this article? Well, let’s suppose you are only using 10% of your brain. Now, read this 10 times faster. Go, do it now? Are you having trouble?”


David A. Berona, long a passionate advocate for “wordless books,” has conspired with Abrams in the production of a primer on the subject, Wordless Books: The Original Graphic Novels (256 6x9-inch pages, some in color; hardcover, $35), a survey of many of the most celebrated “woodcut novels” and “wordless books” that appeared in relative profusion in the 1930s plus a few of the lesser known. The book is divided into chapters by author, and in each chapter, Berona provides a brief biography of the artist then summarizes in introductory text one or more of the author’s works, exemplifying his text with samples of the pictures the artist made to produce his novel and discussing specifically their narrative function. The result is “introductory” in the severest sense of the word: we get the merest “taste” of Lynd Ward’s famous God’s Man of 1929; to understand the potency of Ward’s method, we must have the entire work. Berona knows this, but he manages a fair assessment of each author’s technique and its narrative impact despite the handicap that his abridgement imposes.

I knew of only four of the artists Berona samples here: Frans Masereel, Ward, William Gropper, and Milt Gross. To that roster, Berona adds Otto Nuckel, Helena Bochorakova-Dittrichova, Istvan Szegedi Szuts, Giacomo Patri, Laurence Hyde, and two more cartoonists—E.O. Plauen and Myron Waldman. Many of their books tell nearly horrific tales of social injustice and man’s inhumanity to man or individual folly, pretty grim going most of the time. In this company, the happy ending of Gross’s melodrama parody, He Done Her Wrong, is a welcome relief—as is its generally light-hearted treatment.

I’m glad to see more of Gropper, though: he seems a greatly neglected figure in cartooning history. Berona tells us that Gropper’s notorious Vanity Fair cover caricature of the Japanese emperor Hirohito on the eve of World War II provoked the Japanese government to sue the magazine (and/or, depending upon the source, to demand that the U.S. government apologize, but Secretary of State Cordell Hull responded that the government has no authority over the press). “Gropper refused to apologize for his work in this or any other instance. In 1953, he was called to testify before the Senate House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to appear. ... Gropper is celebrated as a social artist with unrelenting attention to the plight of the common worker.” His refusal to appear before Joseph R. McCarthy’s committee led to the loss of commissions and various kinds of harassment, but he went on to create Capriccios, fifty lithographs evoking the McCarthy inquisitions and the inequities of the Cold War. By the time of his death in 1977, Gropper had written or illustrated 25 books (including Frank Harris’s My Adventures as a Cowboy and Bernard Shaw’s The Crime of Imprisonment). Berona discusses only one, Alay-Oop, the 1930 story of an ill-fated romance between a woman acrobat and a mediocre vaudevillian singer. Here’s a sample of his political cartooning (Britain’s Neville Chamberlain simple-mindedly aiding the Axis) by which time, 1937, Gropper had mastered the splatter shading technique. click to enlarge Here, too, is an example of Ward’s woodcut treatment in God’s Man and a couple illustrations he later did for the 1946 Illustrated Junior Library edition of Grosset and Dunlap’s Robinson Crusoe, displaying a subtlety wholly unanticipated in his woodcut work. click to enlarge

Berona makes the case that wordless books were the first graphic novels, and so they were, in a manner of speaking. But they were also a decided anomaly and scarcely an advance in the illustrated narrative as an art form. Pictures, for all their potency, are not well suited for telling long stories without the help of words. Visual images are too imprecise and therefore subject to a variety of interpretations, some of which inevitably seduce the reader into thinking thoughts the author didn’t intend. Or else they simply baffle the reader. Some of Ward’s pictures, for instance, depict his protagonist either grief-stricken or horrified; to fully comprehend the tale, we need to know which. Blending words and pictures in the cartoonist’s manner yields a much more satisfactory result, one nearly impossible to misinterpret. Perhaps because of the cartooning traditions that they partake of—including “picture balloons,” akin to speech balloons but with symbols in them rather than words—the novels of Gropper and Gross are much less confusing than those of the other wordless book authors. But the latter, without question, produced the first long form narratives with pictures bearing the storytelling burden, a species of illustrated narrative of which comics are a subset. Graphic novels, technically, are “long form comics” and because comics rely upon words as well as pictures, graphic novels are not in the same category as wordless books. Verbal fencing like this, however, takes nothing away from the historic interest of wordless books, an interest Berona’s book revives. For more about what graphic novels are, go here (if you didn’t do it when I told you to last time, a few paragraphs ago) to “Defining the Graphic Novel” in Harv’s Hindsight.


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

The Sunday morning gasbags and the rest of the pundit class thinks Barack Obama gaffed monumentally by referring to the populace of small town America as gun-clinging, religion-spouting and bitter, but Gary Brookins and his joke-writing entourage might disagree about the monumentality of the gaffe. Brookins’ syndicated panel cartoon Pluggers seems to be about exactly the population Obama referred to, and all the (pardon the expression) gags are presumably supplied by pluggers themselves, who are scarcely taking umbrage at being the object of universal finger-pointing ridicule. click to enlarge

KB Homes recorded a $929 million loss in 2007, but its CEO, Jeffrey Mezger, managed to collect his $1 million salary anyhow—plus a $6 million bonus. How’s he do that? USA Today reports that the “average large company CEO collected $15.7 last year in salary, perks, and bonuses.” So poor Mezger didn’t do so well after all.

The New York Post, Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid in the Big Apple, said an unnamed New York tycoon paid $1.5 million for a 15-minute silent film of Marilyn Monroe performing oral sex on an unidentified man. The FBI had a copy of the 16-mm film which J. Edgar Hoover hoped would establish that the man in the movie was either John F. Kennedy or brother Bobby but couldn’t. The purchaser of the film intends to keep it under lock and key, saying, “I’m not going to make a Paris Hilton out of her. I’m not going to sell it—out of respect.”


Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted

Here’s something you don’t see every day—four editoons deploying pretty much the same imagery to make their points, namely, that the “gas tax holiday” proposed by the pandering Prez candidates (Hillary and Big Mac) will effectively impoverish road repair funds. click to enlarge You might see more than one editorial cartoon using the same imagery from time to time, but the part you don’t see every day, you don’t see here. But I’ll tell you about it. The two cartoons on the left, one atop the other, were published on the same day in the same newspaper. Here’s how that worked: my hometown is one of the last metropolises with two daily newspapers, the Rocky Mountain News and the Denver Post; they continue to exist through a Joint Operating Agreement (JOA) under the terms of which they each publish separate papers Monday through Friday, but on Saturday, the two papers are combined under the Rocky masthead; on Sunday, both under the Post banner. Each paper runs its own editorial pages (and cartoons) in both the combined editions. The paper in which Ed Stein’s cartoon (Rocky) echoed Mike Keefe’s (Post)—or vice versa—was the Saturday combination on May 3. So I saw Keefe’s cartoon first, then, turning the page, saw Stein’s. What a coincidence. I talked to Stein about it later, and he was as amazed as I, saying that he and Keefe don’t think much alike so the coincidence was even more remarkable. At first, as I tried to imagine coming up with an image for pointing out the folly of the gas tax holiday, I thought the idea of a car navigating a destroyed highway was not only logical but very nearly inevitable. I checked various Websites to see how many other ’tooners had come up with the same visual metaphors, and came across only two, both of which are here—John Cole and Dana Summers. My guess is that almost everyone else avoided the image because they thought, as I did, that it was both logical and inevitable; and they decided to forego the idea because they imagined everyone else would use it. Turns out, only four editooners did.

Editoonist Paul Combs, whose “lavish color cartoons,” lately, bear the impress of manga style drawing, retired on May 2 from editorial cartooning, E&P reports, to concentrate on illustration. Quoted on Daryl Cagle's editorial cartooning blog, Combs said: "The market is just saturated with too many talented cartoonists, and financial realities being what they are, it's a sound business decision for me to walk away and place more focus on illustration." Given the slow extinction of political cartooning as a profession, Combs’ remark seems odd—too many cartoonists? Too many, maybe, for the declining number of newspapers willing to hire full-time staff editoonists. Although Combs had been on staff at the Tampa Tribune from 2004 to 2006, he left to return to Ohio and a less congested area. Without a home newspaper, he freelanced his work through Tribune Media Services, so his income was doubtless marginal: unless you are Pat Oliphant, you probably can’t make a living as an editorial cartoonist solely through syndication.


From Ryan Rosendal at the University of Washington’s Daily on May 14 we have a list of recommendations about how to be a political cartoonist:

1. Watch far too much CNN. A political cartoonist must keep up on current events, and TV news channels such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox News are excellent sources of information. And by "excellent," I mean "rage-fueling," as you will soon learn to hate all news anchors and pundits.

2. Read your competition. Not only should you carefully study your opponents in your hometown paper, but also your more widely published opponents. Soon, you too can become the next David Horsey rip-off. Really.

3. Put some measure of thought into your political analysis. Believe it or not, having a point that isn't hackneyed or tired is kind of encouraged.

4. Try not to be biased. Look, nobody in comedy is an equal opportunity offender, but you don't have to be super obvious about what side you're for. Be able to make fun of yourself. If you won't, somebody else will.

5. Draw like you've never drawn before. Political cartooning requires copious amounts of sketching, as that is where ideas come from. If you cannot draw, please stay far away from the field, because one more bad Bush caricature is going to drive me over the edge.

6. Know how to tell a joke. Or better yet, make sure to include one. This is a mistake Mallard Fillmore makes on a regular basis.

7. Discover the glory of whiteout. Whiteout is an artist's best friend, as it allows you to eliminate all of those terrible errors you make when inking a cartoon, but as you will make many terrible errors, don't worry.

8. Learn to hate yourself. You know that sense of self-loathing you get after you turn in an essay, thinking you did a bad job. You get to feel that every waking moment of your political cartooning life.

9. Learn how to deal with criticism. For instance, after groups you made fun of, such as Ron Paul supporters or 9/11 conspiracy theorists, attack you, don't angrily write back to them or challenge them to a fight. That almost never works out (it's worth it when it does work out, though).

10. One final tip: Know how lucky you are to be paid for doing something you love that few people ever get a chance to do. And making people angry—that's a plus.

I assume from all this that Rosendal is himself an editoonist. No other breed could have such incisive insights. But his first point, about keeping cable tv news humming next to your drawingboard, brings me back to—


Elsewhere: I conjured up a half-formed notion last time about the probable influence of cable tv news on editorial cartooning. Since then, the other half of the notion surfaced in a piece by the Denver Post’s Joanne Ostrow, and suddenly, I was in the grip of a full-blown diatribe that catapulted out of my banal brain pan onto the computer screen hovering over my keyboard. And now, as surely as the sun comes up in the morning and goes down at night, the whole flagrancy of it lies before you. Herewith—.

What I wrote last time was this, more or less: Some editoonists work with a cable news channel on their studio tv as they work; others play CNN on the radio. They do it to keep up-to-the-moment on the news of the day, seeking, as always, inspiration for the next cartoon. But this news, whether audio-visual or just audio, is “headline news,” a digest of the day’s events as they transpire. And tv and radio news often indulges in endless recycling of the Sensation of the Day or similar trivia about the celebrity of the moment. Anyone forming an opinion of the import of events from tv or radio news necessarily gets only a bird’s-eye view of the tip of the iceberger, so to speak. Somewhat like arriving at an understanding of an elephant from an inspection of its tail. Or else the opinion is based upon events or personalities so unimportant as to be nearly meaningless in the Grand Scheme of Things. Given the source of their inspiration then, what kind of editorial cartoons can we expect from even the most talented cartoonists?

Here’s some of what Ostrow wrote, starting with her reaction to Charles Gibson and George Stephanopolous and their concentration on trivia for the first 45 minutes of the last debate between Hillary and Obama: “Blame ABC’s questioners for running with the distractions, but blame the cable networks for driving the minutiae to center stage in the first place. We see it every day, and there’s no end in sight: cable tv news has ruined media political coverage. The 24-hour cable channels have redefined election-year news, seeking a daily narrative that focuses on gaffes and goofs. ... Because of the demand to fill endless airtime in an age when the broadcast networks have largely abandoned live coverage, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC are leading the way to more superficial political coverage. Those with track records in the business say cable reinforces the worst instincts of the political media. And because the rest of the print and electronic beat reporters [and editorial cartoonists] watch cable news, that influence is compounded. Most notable is the emphasis on the horse race at the expense of the issues, the focus on mudslinging at the expense of ideas. ‘Reporting’ this political season means replaying the zingers. That’s why there is less attention to the national economy than there is to, say, flag lapel pins [which none—none—of the candidates wear]. ... The political process has been turned into smackdown entertainment.” Even though cable news devotes vast stretches of its time to political reportage—“fully two-thirds of cable airtime January 1 to April 20 was devoted to the presidential race”—the coverage itself is trivial: “Every single day, cable is looking for the new narrative, the gaffe, the dueling attack ads, the loose-cannon surrogate or explosive event. ... ‘It creates a prize-fight mentality,’ said Mark Jurkowitz,” associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

And it is to this source that some—how many?—editorial cartoonists look for inspiration.

Not only does cable news trivialize the news, reducing it to sensation and “high-energy touch screen digital graphics and whiz-bang effects,” but, says Arianna Huffington, piping up in her corner of the blogosphere: “Over the last seven years, the lunatic fringe in control of the Republican Party—the people who believe in torture but don’t believe in evolution—have hijacked our democracy, aided and abetted by the news media.” The news media, “cowed by the Republicans’ relentless branding of them as ‘liberal,’ feel compelled to sleep with the enemy,” hiring the likes of Karl Rove, Bill Kristol and Tony Snow as commentators and/or “reporters,” ostensibly to lend “balance” to news coverage. The mainstream media has so “completely internalized how the Right frames all political debate [that] the right-wing message has become a part of the news media’s DNA.” Rove, Kristol and Snow, “the current crop” of political commentators, are “unabashed propagandists, [and] by embracing them, the mainstream media have revealed a mile-wide streak of self-loathing.” The continuous contention of right-wing commentators enhances the “smackdown entertainment” value of cable tv news, and we—viewers and reporters alike—have become suckers for entertainment.

The decay of journalistic integrity began years before—with Watergate coverage. Watergate was a “story,” a continuing, day-to-day narrative of soap opera dimensions. And tv and radio reporters became addicted to the soap opera. Ever since, they’ve been looking for another “story” of similarly gripping import and duration. It is, in fact, the notion of “story” that is ultimately corrupting the news media. A “story” has a beginning, middle, and end; along the way, it has highs and lows, crises, suspense, cliffhangers, exciting characters. All good entertainment. I heard on radio the other day the testimony of a reporter being interviewed on the eve of her return to Baghdad: she wanted to get back to the “story,” she said. Looking for the excitement, the day-to-day buzz. The characters, the personalities, the crisis of the moment. The “story.” Most reporters and their editors scarcely realize the corrosive effect upon their news sense that the use of the term “story” has. They use “story” in the same way that a previous generation used “coverage” or “a report.” But “story” has other connotations, and these infect the airways with shades of meaning that undermine the journalistic effort. In search of “story”—a day-to-day drama with interesting personalities and sensational behavior—reporters overlook the news, much of which happens without scandalous accouterments.

The notion of “story” helps connect the pieces of a sprawling series of events; but “story” also blinds a reporter to the import of other events, incidents without drama or interesting personalities or scandalous behavior. In the furor over flag lapel pins, the tv news media overlooked almost entirely the New York Times’ concurrent revelation that the Pentagon had trained retired generals to spout Bush League “talking points” while ostensibly presenting their considered opinion on military matters as “analysts” on news programs. Of the major editoonists, only Jeff Danziger cartooned on this subject; see below. All the rest busied themselves waving goodbye to the Pope or ridiculing, one more time, Obama’s bitter gun-totting speech or the impending primary in Pennsylvania or the irony of food shortages worldwide caused by converting grain to fuel or soaring gasoline prices—all the sorts of “news” the 24/7 news channels doted on, for days at a time. Another Times “story,” the one about John McCain’s canoodling with a blonde lobbyist, was kept alive in the news for much much longer than the Pentagon surrogates “story” because it was much much more titillating.

With similar myopia, the news media failed to discern the foreign policy disaster lurking in McCain’s proposal that Russia be expelled from the G8, that group of advanced industrial nations, while expanding its membership to include India and Brazil but not China. Not China?! As Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria noted: “What McCain has announced is momentous: it would reverse a decades-old bipartisan American policy of integrating these two countries [Russia and China] into the global order.” In the excitement over Hillary’s sniper fire or the presence on her campaign staff of a lobbyist for Columbian policies that she opposes, the news media has ignored the presence on McCain’s staff of former Texas senator Phil Gramm as McCain’s economic adviser. Gramm is the guy who, as chair of the Senate Banking Committee in 2000, slipped into an omnibus appropriations bill the Commodity Futures Modernization Act, which deregulated investment banks and thereby created a trading environment that nearly brought down Bear Stearns a few weeks ago. Gramm’s Commodities Futures Act also permitted Enron to pursue profit at the cost of probity. Gramm’s wife Wendy was, at the time, on the Enron board.

In yet another journalistic travesty, the news media chew endlessly over whether Obama is a spiritual pawn of his ranting racist former pastor but overlook the much more disgraceful behavior of the Justice Department which has failed to prosecute a single sexual assault case in the Middle East theater since the Iraq fiasco began. It’s not just female soldiers: it’s also women employees of military contractors. According to May 5's The Nation (which was prompted to its editorial by a report “of yet another U.S. military contractor employee” being raped), “among the 684 sexual assault complaints lodged by U.S. soldiers in the Middle East, only 83 cases have led to courts-martial. Meanwhile, last year alone, 2,688 sexual assaults were reported globally against women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces; disposition of these cases is pending. Worse, those figures represent only the official count. Given that so many women are now coming forward complaining that they have been hushed by their private-military-contractor supervisors, it’s clear that the real tally is likely far higher.” Likewise, stories about the colossal U.S. casualty count from the so-called “war” on terrorism—300,000 psychological casualties, according to The Nation (May 12), 320,000 brain injury casualties, 35,000 “normal” casualties, plus a mounting number of soldier suicides (since the invasion of Iraq, over 2,000 among those on active duty; among veterans, as many as 12,000 attempts a year, an average of 18 successful every day, according to the Associated Press—4-5 of them under Veteran’s Administration care when they manage it) not to mention over 4,000 killed in combat—have been shoved onto the back pages of newspapers and never mentioned on tv (except for a CBS special recently on suicides) while cable news raves on about the dubious rituals being pursued in the incestuous enclave of renegade Mormons in Texas. (And just to be clear about that situation: it’s not the religious practice of polygamy that’s being persecuted; it’s pedophilia—marrying under-age girls and having sex with them.) The list of evidences of journalistic obliviousness and criminal neglect of responsibility goes on and on.

And no editoonist I know of is cartooning about such matters. Even Pat Oliphant, who leaped on the Catholic practice of pederasty with both feet a couple years ago, steers clear most of the time although he did one on the tragically dismembered vets, a terrible subject for a cartoonist but the point of the cartoon was the waning of the American public’s attention on the subject of Iraq. click to enlargeTom Toles also famously did a cartoon of a quadruple amputee; but the point of the cartoon was not so much the human tragedy as the callousness of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield. A few others are doubtless out there, but most of the editooning these days is devoted to the Presidential Campaign and other kinds of low grade nonsense, not important issues in our civic life. The real issues are complex and difficult and don’t translate easily into imagery that must be conjured up quickly to meet a daily deadline. Granted. Besides, with cable news as a guide to the temper of the times, editoonists doubtless believe that none of their readers would recognize these issues because their consciousness of the world around them is fostered by the same cable news that inspires the cartoonists. We are all caught up in a seemingly endless cycling of pandering media, disseminating monstrous inconsequentialities. Far from being bitter, though—clinging to guns and that Olde Time Religion—we are giddy with the diversions we are offered by news media turned into entertainment. The rulers of Rome in its declining decades pursued a policy of “bread and circuses”: give the people enough sustenance and sufficient amusements, and they’ll remain a docile population, and we, the ruling class, can go about our business of amassing even greater wealth and more power. Nobody’s cartooning about that either. We may be running a little shy on bread, but the circus goes on, a behemoth of amusements and distractions.

Luckily, I’m not the only one fulminating about this hapless if not outright criminal irresponsibility. Elizabeth Edwards, wife of a one-time Prez candidate, calls the current blight in the news media “strobe-light journalism,” by which she means “that the outlines are accurate enough but we cannot really see the whole picture.” Much as I admire her term (“strobe light journalism”), she’s too easy on a reporting profession that has all but abdicated its responsibility. At The Nation, a wild-eyed leftist rag, admittedly—but eminently sensible much of the time—the lead editorial on May 19 was entitled “Our Lapdog Media” and castigated “a media system that, with all too few exceptions, sacrifices real journalism for access and abandons debate on real issues for manufactured controversy.” Like, for example—in Ari Berman’s article on the next page— Barack Obama’s “friendship” with a former ’60s radical and ringleader of the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers, who the New York Times quotes as saying: “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” Ayers issued this politically incorrect utterance in 2001 in connection with a reflection on his memoir, Fugitive Days, and he subsequently attempted a clarification in a letter to the Times, saying that he meant he wished the antiwar movement had ended the Vietnam War sooner, adding: “My memoir is from start to finish a condemnation of terrorism.” But those facts were lost forever on the ABC quiz masters interrogating Obama a few Sundays ago, spending half the two-hour session lobbing questions that were based upon either “the incomprehensibly trivial,” as Eric Alterman says, or “the demonstrably false.” Expanding on his subject in the aforementioned May 19 issue of The Nation, Alterman quotes Jamison Foser of “Media Matters”: “Through 17 debates this year, roughly 1,500 questions have been asked of the two parties’ presidential candidates. But only a small handful of questions have touched on the candidates’ views on executive power, the Constitution, torture, wiretapping, or other civil liberties concerns. ... Only one question about wiretapping. Not a single question about FISA. ... Not one question about renditions. The words ‘habeas corpus’ have not once been spoken by a debate moderator. Candidates have not been asked about telecom liability. ... No moderator has asked a single question of a single candidate about whether the president should be able to order indefinite detention of an American citizen, without charging the prisoner with any crime.”

The circuses have taken over the asylum.


If reality-tv is so popular, why aren’t the broadcast evening news programs more widely viewed? —RCH His Own Self

“Never explain—your friends do not need it and your enemies will not believe you anyway.” —Elbert Hubbard

As Spencer Tracy is supposed to have said, any actor thinking of mixing in politics should pause a moment and remember John Wilkes Booth. I’d say that applies to cartoonists, too, except for expressing opinions, like political cartoonists do.

“The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than the fact that a drunken man is happier than a sober one.” —George Bernard Shaw

“Men become civilized, not in proportion to their willingness to believe but in proportion to their readiness to doubt.”—H.L. Mencken

“I never believed in Santa Claus because I knew no white dude would come into my neighborhood after dark.”—Dick Gregory


The Great Ebb and Flow of Things

In concentrating on the alleged righteousness of the showboat Reverend Wright, no one that I know of has remarked upon the startling coincidence of his first name and its echoes of another age. Jeremiah, need we remind you, was an Old Testament prophet of doom. His assignment was to complain about the wickedness of his countrymen, warning that such behavior would result in the destruction of Judah in the Babylonian conquest of 586 B.C. “For shame hath devoured the labor of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters. We lie down in our shame and our confusion covereth us: for we have sinned against the Lord our God, we and our fathers, and from our youth even unto this day, and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God” (3:24-25). And again: “My bowels, my bowels! I am pained at my very heart; my heart maketh a noise in me; I cannot hold my peace, because thou has heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war. Destruction upon destruction is cried; for the whole land is spoiled; suddenly are my tents spoiled, and my curtains in a moment” (4:19-20). And: “Therefore thus saith the Lord God: Behold, mine anger and my fury shall be poured out upon this place, upon man, and upon beast, and upon the trees of the field, and upon the fruit of the ground; and it shall burn, and shall not be quenched” (7:20). We can almost hear echoes of these sentiments in Wright’s claim that 9/11 was America’s punishment for its sinful foreign policies. Likewise, the old Jeremiah filled the air with his lamentations, verse after verse of them; so terrible were the prophecies he had to deliver that Jeremiah wept for his people. Seems he’s back among us, filling the air with bitter lamentations and weeping not to mention comical gesticulations. All the way to the bank, no doubt.

Elsewhere on the same subject, columnist Clarence Page, an African American, quotes the formerly hopeful Republican candidate Mike Huckabee, who believes Wright’s antics are intended to “derail Obama’s bid for the White House for a simple tactical reason: Wright does not want Obama to prove that we’ve made that much racial progress.” Might be something to that. If Obama proves the point, what will Wright have to rail about? But then, Page and Huckabee are probably giving Wright too much credit for thinking: his tirades are clearly the self-indulgences of a vainglorious spotlight seeker.


Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

But I’m so glad I ran into you---

We’re all brothers, and we’re only passin’ through.

Ted Key

August 25, 1912 - May 3, 2008

Cartoonist Ted Key died at his home in Tredyffrin Township just outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His health had been failing since he was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2006, and he suffered a stroke last September. In his 95 years, Key had parlayed his cartoonist’s skills and instincts into an impressive array of creative accomplishments in a variety of entertainment media.

Born in Fresno, California, son of Latvian immigrant Simon Keyser who had changed his name from Katseff while in South Africa, then shortened it to Key during World War II, Ted, who changed his name legally from Keyser to Key in 1950, attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he was art editor of the student newspaper, The Daily Californian, and associate editor of the campus humor magazine, the California Pelican. After graduating in 1933, Key trekked to cartooning Mecca, New York City, and freelanced cartoons to magazines, soon appearing in Ladies’ Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, McCall’s, Cosmopolitan, TV Guide, Mademoiselle, Collier’s, Look, Better Homes and Gardens, Judge (where he was associate editor in 1937), and The New Yorker. And he sometimes wrote for radio.

During World War II, Key worked in public relations in the Army from 1943 to 1946, creating a play to recruit women into military service. At various times according to Wikipedia, he did commercial illustration, created motivational posters and pamphlets, and authored an NBC radio play, three storylines for Walt Disney Pictures (“The Cat from Outer Space,” “Million Dollar Duck,” and “Gus”), and several “classic” children’s books (including Phyllis and The Biggest Dog in the World, which was later adapted into the film, “Digby, the Biggest Dog in the World”). In the late 1950s, Mark Evanier reports at newsfromme.com, Key worked with tv animation producer Jay Ward, creating Mr. Peabody, a time-traveling professor who was a dog, and his little boy sidekick, Sherman, featured on “Rocky and His Friends” (aka “The Bullwinkle Show”). Said Evanier: “Peabody and Sherman quickly joined the ranks of immortal cartoon characters, and a major motion picture of their adventures is presently in the works.” In print in the 1960s, Key produced Diz and Liz, a two-page comic strip that ran in Jack and Jill magazine from 1961 to 1972.

But Key is likely to be remembered most often as the creator of Hazel, the Marine drill sergeant of a house maid who dominated a panel cartoon in Saturday Evening Post.

Hazel was eventually published in the middle of the penultimate page of the magazine, the prestige position—think of how you thumb a magazine by starting at the back. A slot encumbered with more history than any other magazine page in those days, it had been established by Carl Anderson’s Henry, which featured a funny-looking kid—bald, pot-bellied, knobby-kneed, and mouthless and therefore mute—who had first appeared in the magazine on March 13, 1932. Anderson and Henry, however, deserted the Post in late 1934 for syndication with King Features. To take Henry’s place, the Post editors asked one of their regularly published cartoonists, Marge Henderson, to invent a successor.

Marge devised a female version of Henry, an equally silent and resourceful and slightly anti-authoritarian apple-cheeked little girl with corkscrew curls and a red dress. Christened “Little Lulu Moppet” by the Post editors, this child (who was, Marge later said, a little more than seven years old and a little less than nine) debuted in Henry’s spot on February 23, 1935 and re-appeared, every week, for the next ten years. She was forced to relinquish this favored position in 1944 when she began starring in a series of cartoons advertising Kleenex Tissues, the ingenious novelty of which was that individual tissues were made to pop up, one after another, as they were pulled from the cardboard dispenser. The editors at the Post were not happy at the prospect of Lulu popping up outside the magazine’s venue, but since Marge owned the copyright on Lulu, she could do as she wished with the character; the Post, however, could decide what to do with the cartoon, and it did. The last official Lulu cartoon in the Post was published in the last issue of the magazine for 1944, dated December 30.

Lulu’s spot in the Post would be taken eventually by Hazel, Key’s formidable domestic servant whose overbearing personality intimidates everyone around her, including, most especially, her employers, the Baxters. And with that, the penultimate page in the Post was secured as a hotbed of feminism. Hazel was another kind of female role model, one that was nearly stereotypical—the servant who is more knowing than the master.

Key’s son Peter, who wrote gags for Hazel for eight years in the 1970s and 1980s, told Dennis McLellan at the Los Angeles Times that the idea for the maid came to his father in a dream. “He woke up, wrote it down, and went back to sleep,” said Key. “He woke up the next morning and looked at it, expecting the thing to be crummy because most of the gags that occurred to him in his sleep were crummy.”

But this time, Key looked at what his dream had conjured up and thought it was good. He drew the cartoon and sold it to the Post. The next week, he did two more maid cartoons, selling one to the Post and one to Collier’s. The next week, three more. “Shortly thereafter,” continued Peter, “the Post, which was his biggest buyer at the time, said, ‘We want the maid cartoons exclusively.’”

Oddly, in Key’s initial notion, the maid was incompetent and timid and wholly submissive, and in the early cartoons sold to other magazines, he depicted her as a thin, round-shouldered and bleary-eyed woman. But Key found that the humorous possibilities in a bumbling self-effacing maid were quickly exhausted: “Mocking incompetence and ignorance is an easy laugh,” he once remarked.

And so he gradually evolved the character into the domineering Hazel of matronly mein, who would prove a font of material for comedy.

This new creation began appearing in the Post on February 13, 1943, where, in the kitchen, turning away from a steaming pot on the stove, she addresses the man of the house: “One more thing,” she says, glaring at him, “do I tell you how to sell insurance?”

The next week, she is christened as her mistress, deferentially addressing her as she pounds away with a hammer at a rectangular mass that she holds over the sink: “There must be a simpler way to defrost those peas, Hazel.” click to enlarge Peter Key said his father picked the name Hazel “out of thin air,” but his choice came with an unintended consequence. Hazel was the name of the sister of a Post editor. “She thought the editor had chosen the name to spite her and didn’t talk to her brother for two years,” Peter said.

Key realized almost at once that Hazel would not last as a one-dimensional personality. Over the months and years, he polished other facets of the character, making her fond of children and stray dogs and sympathetic to her boss when he comes home browbeaten by his boss. She’s not just a maid or cook: she’s also a babysitter, a cheerleader, a surrogate mother to the Baxter offspring, and entirely one of the boys whenever her favorite baseball team is up to bat, sitting herself down, uninvited but too self-possessed to dislodge, in front of the family tv set with Mr. Baxter and his guests.

“Hazel is basically a sympathetic, warm, compassionate woman,” Key said, “in great need of love and giving it. Her wisecracks, her wit, and the dominating, aggressive take-charge attitude are a defensive bastion. But she’s an unfulfilled woman and knows it. And when the armor cracks, we are torn by the poignancy. She doesn’t stay exposed long, though, for Hazel’s best defense is an offense. And an overwhelming sense of humor.”

Plus a towering independence of spirit.

“Women who work in offices or who have hired only babysitters see in Hazel a vociferous symbol of their sex, for centuries an underdog minority group,” Key said.

But Hazel’s appeal was not confined to readers of the same gender, Key believes: “Any person who holds a job under a superior views her as fellow employee—the underdog, like themselves, saying or doing things they wish they could say or do (for example, telling off the boss). Anyone who revolts against the pattern, the mold, or who has ever had the desire to (and this desire is in all of us) sees something of himself in the woman.”

Hazel appeared in the Post every other week or so for two years before assuming the regular weekly spot previously occupied by Little Lulu on January 6, 1945. Key’s feature was one of several titled cartoons the Post was publishing at the time—Roland Coe’s The Little Scouts, about a tribe of miniature Boy Scouts and their plump Scoutmaster, and George Sixta’s Rivets, about a rambunctious little dog, and Hank Ketcham’s Half-hitch, a pantomime about a diminutive sailor (which Ketcham produced while serving in the Navy in Washington, D.C.), to name a few.

By the time Hazel graduated to Lulu’s slot, the Post, having lost two of its popular cartoon features to outside enterprises, had learned a lesson. Key was signed to a fiendishly restrictive contract, giving the Post exclusive possession of Hazel and prohibiting the character’s use for endorsing commercial products. Key produced Hazel every week for the next twenty-four years, finally gaining full possession of the feature only when the Post ceased publication in February 1969. Whereupon, Key immediately sold the cartoon into syndication with King Features, where it has remained, stolidly, ever since. These days, King is distributing Hazel cartoons Key drew before he retired in 1993, according to the New York Times.

Despite the conditions of servitude the magazine imposed, Key was granted book and movie rights, and he almost certainly enjoyed revenue from the television sitcom adaptation with Shirley Booth playing Hazel, 1961-69, and earning two Emmys. (In an earlier aborted foray into tv, Thelma Ritter was slated to play the maid, with Marilyn Monroe the series executive producer; but the Post wouldn’t permit it. Whether the publisher objected to Ritter or click to enlargeMonroe—or to something else altogether—I dunno.)

Hazel was reprinted in eight collections of the cartoon; the first, in 1946 from E.P. Dutton, sold 500,000 copies. According to Peter Key, the character’s name became synonymous with maids even though maids, as an occupational class, are scarcely as numerous today as they once were. Hazel, however, will go on forever in the mythology of 20th century American popular culture. Here is an assortment of her kind of triumph.


Footnit: Our appreciation here is based upon a much longer piece I did for Comic Book Marketplace No. 94, September 2002, in which the emphasis was on Lulu’s history at the Post and elsewhere. Someday, we’ll reproduce the entire enchilada here in these parts.

Will Elder

September 22, 1921 - May 15, 2008

Almost verbatim from the Washington Post, with a few editorial nuances insinuated in and some wholesale additions as noted.

By Adam Bernstein

"His artistic ability was unparalleled, but it was the sense of humor that he brought to it that really set him apart," Hugh Hefner, Playboy publisher and a fan of Elder's work since "the early days of Mad," told the Los Angeles Times on Friday, May 16. "He was a zany and a lovable one."

Will Elder, 86, an early cartoonist for Mad who spent 25 years illustrating Playboy's Little Annie Fanny strip, which parodied the magazine's fetish for buxom women, died May 15 at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, N.J. He had Parkinson's disease.

Started in 1952 as a comic book, Mad became a popular antidote to conformity and conventional good taste. With humor ranging from wry to blasphemous, Mad was credited with inspiring generations of satirists, including the Zucker Brothers, creators of the parody "Airplane!" and cartoonist Robert Crumb. It also paved the way for television programs such as "Saturday Night Live."

William Gaines, the founding publisher of Mad, once described Elder as "our only contributor who lived a life as crazy as our magazine." Elder was a graduate of Manhattan's High School of Music and Art and helped make maps for the Normandy invasion during World War II. But more to the point, he had a well-established reputation as an inspired joker.

Among the pranks that earned the young Elder renown: putting clothes on pieces of cattle carcasses from a neighborhood meat-processing factory, placing them at railroad crossings and screaming to horrified passersby that his friend "Moshe" had been hit by a passing train.

Mad founder Harvey Kurtzman, a high school classmate of Elder’s, had tapped him as one of the first to illustrate his manic tales. Elder became a household name along with Dave Berg, Al Jaffee, Mort Drucker and Don Martin. Among Elder's contributions to the comic book Mad was a memorable tale about a hapless prisoner named Melvin Mole. In his obsession to excavate an escape from his miserable cell, he first digs with a spoon, then, after having worn it away, a toothpick and finally a nasal hair ("Dig! Dig!") before he is inevitably foiled in his endeavor.

Critic J. Hoberman of the Village Voice praised Elder as the "master of vulgar modernism" and pointed to the artist's loony sight gags like the red, white and blue beanie he placed on Wonder Woman's head in a parody of the superheroine with the star spangled foundation garment. Elder gleefully ignored panel boundaries and other conventions of the craft. He skewered everything from comics such as Archie (renamed "Starchie") to Norman Rockwell's depictions of a cheery homely hearth. Visual puns were another specialty. Elder called such touches "chicken fat art," explaining, "It's the part of the chicken soup that's bad for you, yet gives the soup its delicious flavor." [Kurtzman called all the tiny embellishments chochkes— "eyeball kicks."]

The son of Polish immigrants, Wolf William Eisenberg was born Sept.22, 1921, in Bronx, N.Y. Listening to the radio, he grew up admiring the Jewish humor of Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, and George Burns and Gracie Allen. He used humor to disarm neighborhood bullies and command attention as the youngest of five children. Relatives nicknamed him "Meshugganah Villy," Yiddish for "Crazy Willy." He once blackened the soles of his father's shoes and used a broomstick to "walk" them across the ceiling of his home. Another time, he thwarted an annoying visitor by painting a realistic door and fastening on it a real doorknob; the unwelcome guest thrashed away helplessly at the knob.

During World War II, Elder served in the Army in Europe drawing posters warning of venereal disease before helping draft contour maps of the beaches at Normandy.

[Tom Spurgeon at ComicsReporter.com has a much more insightful appreciation of Elder, and I’ve spliced in a portion of it here, where Bernstein seems a little vague: Upon returning from service, Elder founded a studio with one-time Music and Art classmate Kurtzman and another former classmate and friend, Charles Stern. Elder’s first comics publishing credit dates to 1947. Among the comics talents that worked at or through the Charles William Harvey Studio were Jules Feiffer, Rene Goscinny, Russ Heath and Dave Berg. The studio would move at least once and close its doors in 1948. The first half-decade of Elder's long career in comics was distinguished in by a fruitful partnership with John Severin {who wandered into the Charles William Harvey studio one day with a comic book assignment, complaining that it took him too long to ink his pencil drawings properly. Elder, who was fast at inking, started finishing Severin’s work—RCH} and the pair worked for Crestwood, National and Nedor before joining EC Comics in 1950. Their lush, muscular comics for Two-Fisted Tales and other EC titles are some of the more fondly-remembered comics from that company's prodigious, well-crafted output. {“Severin and Elder” was one of the few bylines in comic books those days; “Simon and Kirby” was about the only other one.—RCH.}Elder also worked with Jack Kamen and illustrated scripts in solo fashion for Weird Science. {And then, in the summer of 1952, Gaines, anxious to keep Kurtzman from leaving, suggested that Kurtzman amuse himself by editing a “funny” comic book. Mad was the result, and Elder, who began contributing to the title with the first issue, was soon producing for Mad work that became so iconic that he and Kurtzman were effectively bound together ever after. Read more in this vein at http://www.ComicsReporter.com. —RCH}] In 1956, Kurtzman left Mad in a financial dispute with Gaines, and Elder followed him to produce the lavish but short-lived slick humor magazine, Trump, published by Hugh Hefner. When Trump failed, the Elder-Kurtzman partnership continued at Humbug and Help! magazines before Hefner commissioned them in 1962 to create what became Little Annie Fanny. The blonde, cantilevered heroine was a staple of the magazine until 1988. With input by Hefner, Kurtzman devised the satirical scripts and drew page layouts within which he composed each panel. Elder finished the art as full-color paintings, often aided by other artists in order to make the ever-pressing deadlines.

Jaffee, who often helped, said Elder had a serious side that included a passion for poetry, classical music and the old masters. He was said to have legally changed his name to Elder in 1949, because of his admiration for Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the 16th-century Dutch Renaissance painter and printmaker. He was the subject of a biography, Will Elder: the Mad Playboy of Art (2003).

His wife, Jean Strashun Elder, whom he married in 1948, died in 2005. Survivors include two children, Nancy Vanden Bergh of Cresskill, N.J., and Martin Elder of the Bronx; a brother; and two grandchildren. In his living room, Elder proudly hung a portrait of his young son, but with a difference. He painted the boy in gloomy colors— blues, greens, purples—and made it clear from two red dots on the neck that he had been bitten by a vampire.

Footnit: Bernstein’s obit on Elder was the first one I saw, and because I was, then, in a hurry to get this posting out, I used it. As you can tell, it quickly proved inadequate—not only because it was too brief but because some of it is only barely accurate. Since laboring over it, I delayed posting this opus, and in the ensuing time lapse, some better obits and tributes have appeared. Here, for instance, is a piece by William Stout: http://www.williamstout.com/news/journal/archives/00000066.shtml . And another by Gary VandenBergh, Elder’s son-in-law: http://www.tcj.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=839&Itemid=70

Then, finally, from the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/18/arts/design/18elder.html?ex=1368849600&en=5ddda8838b8ea2ee&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink
I’ve written about Will Elder several times over the years. The best short piece, in my never humble opinion, is in Hindsight; entitled simply “Will Elder,” it is a report on his manic appearance at the 2000 San Diego Comic-Con, amplified with biographical and professional details, including stories of the antics of Elder and his studio mates in the late 1940s. Elder also figures in “How Mad Came To Be,” an August 2002 entry in Hindsight. A longer treatment is supplied in Opus 135, which reviews Will Elder: The Mad Playboy of Art, embellishing the analysis with biographical matters. And in Opus 181, we review Chicken Fat, a collection of fugitive Elder art and visual antics, more-or-less a perfect companion to The Mad Playboy.


The Great Ebb and Flow of Things

Experience is as experience does, as they say—some of them anyhow, me among them. Ted Sorensen, who worked for John F. Kennedy for ten years, which, perforce, included not only JFK’s Presidential years but his career in the Senate and as a perpetual candidate, knows something about what it takes to be Prez, and he has endorsed Barack Obama, a man ostensibly without much experience of Presidential caliber. In an interview in Parade magazine on May 4, Sorensen said this about what sort of experience a President needs to have had: “Experience that is required to make decisions and answer tough questions under pressure. Kennedy had some of that from the war and from almost four years on the road testing Presidential waters. People say he had no executive experience, but I’ll tell you that running a national campaign [for President] takes executive experience. It has a lot of similarities to running the country in terms of the kinds of people you have to win over and the ones you have to negotiate with, the kinds of people you have to stare down or run over.” And how, you might ask, do I think Obama stacks up in this realm of experience? In other words, what kind of national campaign has he run? Considering that a little over a year ago, he was considered the longest of the long shots, running up against the heir presumptive, Hillary Clinton, and now he’s the front runner, I’d say his campaign proves he has plenty of the kind of executive experience Sorensen thinks will make him a good President.

And before we roll the credits on this installment—Okay, I know GeeDubya doesn’t really equate giving up golf with losing a son or daughter. No one with even half a brain could think that; and GeeDubya is at least a half-wit. But the likelihood that I and you, for even a minute, could think that the Leader of the Free World believes that going golfless is the equivalent of a battlefield death is telling: it says volumes about the man’s reputation as intellectually challenged and emotionally barren. Which, again, he probably isn’t. But he’s convinced us that he is.

Now, roll the credits.

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