Opus 241 (April 29, 2009). Out of the hat this time, we take a long fond look at that comic strip cult favorite, Sam’s Strip, in its complete reprint incarnation from Fantagraphics, and pause to savor other achievements of Jerry Dumas. We also announce this year’s Pulitzer winning editoonist, survey some current strips that are occasionally about being comic strips (Sam’s shtick), note Schulz gift to OSU’s Cartoon Library & Museum, review South Africa’s threat to cartoonist Zapiro, review Incognegro, Incognito, No Hero, and Uslan’s Spirit, and remember Frank Springer and Jim Lange. Here’s what’s here, by department, in order:
NOUS R US: Comics biz could be worse, Hugh Jackman philosophy, Chick Publications in Singapore, Cartoon Library & Museum gets money, Spider-Man kills MJ, Pulitzer winner, Zapiro endangered?
EDITOONERY: Rall loses job, Priggee gets job
BOOK MARQUEE: The Phantom’s coming, Wonder Woman trivial book
SAM’S STRIP’S BACK
Jerry Dumas, cartoonist, columnist, poet, humorist
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL: more comic strips about being comic strips
GRAFIX NOVELIX: Incongnegro
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE: Incognito, No Hero, Uslan’s Spirit
Frank Spring and Jim Lange
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 installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu, then, here we go—
NOUS R US
All the News That Gives Us Fits
ICv.2 reported in mid-April that sales of periodical comics and graphic novels were down just 5% in the first quarter of 2009 compared to last year’s first quarter. Considering the shambles of the economy over-all, “where flat is the new up,” a 5% dip might count as a profit. From another ICv2 report: “For the first time since March of 2001, the month that ICv2 began tracking sales of periodical comics through Diamond Comic Book Distributors, no comic sold more than 100,000 copies in March of 2009. While sales of periodical comics were down 7% in dollars for the month, the decline in units sold was greater, considering the rise in cover prices of key titles versus their cost in March, 2008.” The decline in sales of comic books was offset by a gain of 6% in sales of graphic novels in March. Meanwhile, in the April issue of Previews, Diamond’s catalog, editor Marty Grosser notes that the publication has 50 fewer pages this month than last, a decrease of 10%, a self-inflicted wound: Previews must “tighten its belt,” Grosser said, cutting back on product offered in its pages and watching page counts in the catalog. But it could be worse. In fact, the comics industry seems not to be much affected so far by the over-all turn-down in the economy. Except, of course, in the shops that have been adversely affected (the economist’s mantra).
The same issue of Previews lists several forthcoming funnybooks with Barack Obama as the heroic protagonist. Two from Devil’s Due Publishing: Drafted, “DDP’s original sci-fi drama returns starring Barack Obama, and Barack the Barbarian, which has a variant cover of “Red Sarah” Palin. IDW offers Barack Obama: The Road to the White House. And from Mercury Comics comes an Alex Ross poster showing Barack Obama ripping off his shirt in the classic Clark-Kent-to-Superman pose, disclosing under his shirt blue tights emblazoned with a giant red “O” the center of which is yellow. Now that the comic book industry has discovered the market value of political celebrity, titles in this vein threaten to become a cascade. Bluewater continues its exploitation of famous femmes with Female Force: Caroline Kennedy, a title conjured up, doubtless, when Caroline Kennedy was in the running to fill Hillary Clinton’s senate seat, but now—who cares? Then here’s Emotional Content comics with its variation on the celebrity theme, a 180-page “biographical novel,” Mother Theresa. I’m not quite sure whether this next title fits onto this band wagon, but I’m sure there’s a band wagon somewhere for it: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a 320-page tome, “the hit of the 2009 New York Comic Con, [featuring] the original text of Jane Austen’s beloved novel with all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie action!” What’s next then? A zombie Barack Obama?
Meanwhile, in the “Toys, Statues, and Models” section of the catalog, we find the “Spotllight” turned on the Barbie 50th Anniversary Doll. Okay: that’s it. Now we know for sure: “action figure” is just another name for “doll.”
This spring’s Free Comic Book Day (FCBD) on May 2 is the aftermath of the debut the preceding day, Friday the 1st, of the season’s opening volley in the superhero blockbuster barrage, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” which, sad to say, had an unofficial debut in early April when some dastardly pirate displayed his ill-gotten print online. Quoted by the Associated Press, Hugh Jackman, who plays the clawful X-Man, said: “It’s a serious crime and there’s no doubt it’s very disappointing—I was heartbroken by it. Obviously, people are seeing an unfinished film. It’s like a Ferrari without a paint job.” Jackman, 40, is getting plenty of publicity lately: as a song-and-dance man gone action-flick, he and his naked bicep have been on the covers of Entertainment Weekly (the double summer movie special, April 24/May 1) and the Sunday newspaper supplement, Parade magazine (April 26); and as a song-and-dance man, he emcee’d the Oscars last month, doing an entirely creditable turn. His interview by Kevin Sessums in Parade would normally be common currency by the time you read this, but since most Americans don’t take newspapers anymore (or read them), you may not know that Jackman is presently “being taught to accomplish Harry Houdini’s most daring feats of magic so he can star in a musical based on the illusionist, whom Jackman describes as ‘the first rock star.’”
Speaking of Wolverine, Jackman said: “I love the idea of animalistic chaos and following our own desires, and I think Wolverine represents that in its most allegorical sense. He’s a man who battles between the animal and the human, between the chaos in him and the self-control he must have. We all deal with this to some extent. At which point should we let go and do what we want to do, and when should we submit to rules? Coming to terms with our true natures and who we really are has always been a fascination to humans. I know it fascinates me.”
The fundamental duality in the human condition is recognized by the School of Practical Philosophy where Jackman has been studying for 17 years. “Jackman says that the school is about ‘taking duality and finding the underlying unity of things. Yin and yang, sacred and profane. And, yes, animal and human.’ That dynamic of duality in himself and his graceful way of unifying it is at the core of his appeal,” Sessums writes. Said Jackman: “The School of Practical Philosophy is nonconfrontational. We believe there are many forms of Scripture. What is true is true and will never change, whether it’s in the Bible or in Shakespeare. It’s about oneness. Its basic philosophy is that if the Buddha and Krishna and Jesus were all at a dinner table together, they wouldn’t be arguing. There is an essential truth. And we are limitless.”
The new Simpsons stamps will be available nationwide on May 7, their arrival helping, no doubt, to ease the pain of the price increase from 42 to 44 cents. Simpsons’ creator Matt Groening sees it differently, however. Quoted by Georg Szalai at reuters.com, Groening said: “This is the biggest and most adhesive honor 'The Simpsons' has ever received..” Executive producer James Brooks added: "We are emotionally moved by the Post Office Department's selecting us rather than making the lazy choice of someone who has benefitted society."
The New Yorker for April 20 included Garry Trudeau’s parody of the self-absorbed Twitter user in the fatuous person of one of Doonesbury’s regular cast members, Roland Hedley, "senior Twitter correspondent for Fox News." “Hedley got every awkward Twitter detail right,” said Noam Cohen at the New York Times, “—the casually dropped embarrassing personal detail; the obvious observation treated as deep insight; the personal thought that shouldn't be shared; even down to Hedley's annoying shout-out to his ‘tweeps,’ that is, fellow Twitter users.” But one detail was wrong, discovered by The New Yorker’s nefarious fact-checking department: some of the tweets were longer than the regulation 140 characters. Trudeau, confronted by this gaffe, felt for “the sake of clarity” he should be granted poetic license. And Susan Morrison, who edits the Talk of the Town section, where Trudeau's parody ran, agreed: in a contest between fact-checking and humor, she seemed content that humor and clarity had won out. "Sometimes fact-checking and humor pieces yield interesting results," she said.
A press release from the National Cartoonists Society Foundation (NCSF) announced that this year’s winner of the 2009 Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship is Chris Houghton, a junior at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan where he studies illustration. Houghton was chosen from among 120 applicants for the award, which includes a $5,000 scholarship and a trip to the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award weekend in Los Angeles at the end of May. Houghton’s studies have included character design for animation and writing and illustrating his own comics. He has also submitted gag cartoons and spot illustrations for the school’s student magazine. Aside from his class work, Houghton has also dabbled in freelancing including working on t-shirt and logo designs and drawing caricatures at events. Some of his work is on display at his website, chrishoughtonart.com. The Jay Kennedy Memorial Scholarship is an annual award established in memory of Jay Kennedy, the late King Features comics editor, with an initial grant from the Hearst Foundation/King Features Syndicate and additional generous donations from prominent cartoonists. The scholarship is awarded to a college student in the United States, Canada or Mexico who will be in their Junior or Senior years of college during the following academic year.
By way of memorializing the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado, Ed Stein, formerly the editorial cartoonist at the once-upon-a-time Rocky Mountain News, has posted his Denver Square comic strip series about the rampage. At his DailyCartoonist blog, Alan Gardner said: “I’m struck with Ed’s ability to capture the sentiments running through the community in such a powerful way.” These strips are among the best Stein ever did; you can see the entire lot at edsteinink.com, where Stein has also posted, in chronological order among the strips, the editorial cartoons he did on the subject.
Calvin Reid at publishersweekly.com listed the top ten comics sellers as of April 14 and only two non-manga titles made the list—at first and tenth places. Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Last Straw, the third book in the series, was Number One, ahead of all other entries in the books/comics “universe” by a “wide margin.” “The series has sold more than 16 million copies of the three books and Abrams just announced that the fourth book in the series will be released in October. The new book's name, cover art and print run will be revealed in the coming months.” In Tenth Place is Crown of Horn, the final volume in Bone, Jeff Smith's acclaimed fantasy and adventure saga which has sold more than 2 ½ million copies of the full-color edition. Occupying several positions between first and tenth are various volumes of the manga series Naruto by Mashashi Kishimoto.
A Christian couple in Singapore, the smallest nation in the Malaysian peninsula in Southeast Asia, were arrested January 30, 2008, and are now on trial, charged with distributing seditious and objectionable publications to at least two Muslims. Elena Chong of the Straits Times reports that the couple, who attended Berean Christian Church at the time, also face a charge of possessing such seditious tracts Who is Allah? The Pilgrimage, Allah Had No Son, Are Roman Catholics Christians? Why is Mary Crying? and The Little Bride, all comics-style pamphlets produced by Chick Publications, the notoriously fundamentalist Christian proselytizer. Dorothy Chan Hien Leng, the wife, apparently also distributed the comics tracts to twenty of her Muslim colleagues over the past 20 years. Asked by the Deputy Public Prosecutor if the purpose of her exercise was to convert her Muslim colleagues, she replied: “I am sowing the Gospel seed, but it is God that converts.” Although the couple has recently been replenishing their stock by ordering online, they claim as their defense that they thought it was safe to distribute those tracts as they were sold openly in Christian bookstores in Singapore. Reporter Chong explained: “Sedition laws are meant to ensure racial and religious harmony, and this is the first time such a case has gone to trial. ... The prosecution asserts that the couple knew or had reason to believe that the contents had a seditious tendency to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between Christians and non-Christians in Singapore. If convicted for sedition, they each face a fine of up to $5,000 and/or a jail term of up to three years on each [of three] charge[s].” Under the provisions of the country’s Undesirable Publications Act, they could face a fine of up to $5,000 and a jail term of up to 12 months. Possession is punishable with a fine of up to $2,000 and/or a jail term of up to 18 months.
Ah, the power of the comics. According to The Henry Holt Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, the letter Z, in a series—e.g., ZZZZZ—has been used by cartoonists to represent snoring for 70 years or more. “Now,” saith a columnist in the defunct Rocky Mountain News, “we all talk about catching some Z’s. Presumably,” he goes on, “it’s intended to call to mind the genteel buzzing kind of snore not the roof-rattling thunder attributed to some males.”
OSU’s CARTOON LIBRARY AND MUSEUM GETS BIG GRANT
Here’s a news release from the Cartoon Library and Museum, which now archives the entire holdings of Mort Walker’s International Museum of Comic Art:
Jean Schulz, Widow of Peanuts Creator Charles M. Schulz, Gives $1 Million to Cartoon Library & Museum and Promises to Match an Additional $2.5 Million in a “Challenge” to Others
The Ohio State University received a gift of $1 million from Jean Schulz, the widow of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz to support the renovation of Sullivant Hall, the future home of the world’s most comprehensive academic research facility dedicated to documenting printed cartoon art. Along with her generous gift, Mrs. Schulz issued a challenge: she will provide an additional matching gift of $2.5 million if Ohio State raises the same amount from other sources, making the total impact of her gift $6 million.
"By helping to underwrite a state-of-the-art facility for the University's renowned Cartoon Library and Museum, Jean Schulz advances the work of students, faculty, and scholars and deepens our understanding of the importance of the genre," said Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee. "Her gift is an especially fitting way to honor the remarkable creative legacy of her late husband, Charles."
Situated at a highly visible location along High Street and adjacent to the Wexner Center for the Arts, the historic Sullivant Hall is in dire need of repair. The planned renovation will provide 40,000 gross square feet of space for the new Cartoon Library and Museum that will include a spacious reading room for researchers, three museum-quality galleries, and expanded storage with state-of-the-art environmental and security controls. A dedicated ground-level entry will allow for easy access to the new facility. The addition of exhibition galleries dedicated to cartoon art will facilitate public display of the Library's extraordinary collection.
When asked what inspired her to give to the Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State, Jean Schulz said: “Lucy Caswell has done a marvelous job in collecting and preserving works in the cartoon medium. I was pleased at the opportunity to help provide a fitting home for this important collection and to recognize her contribution in the field.”
The Sullivant renovation will also provide new spaces for the Department of Dance and the Music/Dance Library, and an upgraded auditorium, which will be used for numerous community, academic, and performance purposes. Total renovation cost is estimated at $20.6 million, with architectural design to take 12 months, followed by 6 months for bidding and contracts and 24 months for construction. Due to its outstanding reputation, growing collection and a surge of scholarly interest in comics and cartoons, the Cartoon Library and Museum — formerly known as the Cartoon Research Library — is a destination location for researchers from around the world. With a founding gift of the Milton Caniff Collection, Ohio State’s Cartoon Library and Museum was established in 1977 in two converted classrooms in the university’s Journalism Building. From this small beginning, founding curator Lucy Shelton Caswell has spent more than 30 years building the Library into the widely renowned facility it is today. The Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State is one of the most admired and sought-after caretakers of legacy collections.
Thousands of donors have contributed to the collection, with gifts ranging from one item to tens of thousands. In 1992, the Robert Roy Metz Collection of 83,034 original cartoons by 113 cartoonists was donated by United Media, and in 2007, the entire collection of the International Museum of Cartoon Art (IMCA), numbering more than 200,000 originals, was transferred to the Cartoon Library and Museum. With the addition of the IMCA’s extensive permanent collection, the Cartoon Library and Museum now houses more than 400,000 works of original cartoon and comics art, 35,000 books, 51,000 serial titles, 2,800 linear feet of manuscript materials, and 2.5 million comic strip clippings and newspaper pages. Moving into its new home from its current location, a 6,800-square-foot basement north of Mershon Auditorium, will allow more of the Collection to be displayed and readily accessible.
“We are very grateful to Jean Schulz for her generous gift, and for her challenge which will encourage everyone who cares about cartoon art to become involved in our project,” said Caswell. “The new Cartoon Museum and Library will be a place of learning and enjoyment for the public and scholars alike.”
Contact: Jane Carroll, Public Relations Manager, Development Communications, The Ohio State University (614) 292-2550 or carroll.296 @ osu.edu
Celebrating the International Museum of Cartoon Art Collection
Beginning June 28, the IMCA Collection will be spotlighted in two special exhibitions at Ohio State: “From the Yellow Kid to Conan: American Cartoons from the International Museum of Cartoon Art Collection” (through August 7) at the Hopkins Hall Gallery and Corridor; and “Hogarth and Beyond: Global Cartoons from the International Museum of Cartoon Art Collection” (through August 31) at the Cartoon Library & Museum Reading Room Gallery. Kicking off the exhibitions is a panel discussion in the Grand Lounge of the Ohio State University Faculty Club, “Milestones of the International Museum of Cartoon Art”; panelists are former trustees Brian Walker, Jerry Robinson, and Arnold Roth, whose remarks will be moderated by Jared Gardner, OSU Department of English. After the panel presentation, Jim Borgman, Pulitzer winning editorial cartoonist (now retired) and co-creator of the comic strip Zits, will give the keynote for the opening day.
I don’t believe this next item, coming in on the Web from Anorak News somewhere in the United Kingdom. Like the infamous Bushmiller-Beckett hoax that I innocently (while in the grip of a spasm of naivety) promulgated a few months ago, this purported reportage must be someone’s fiction. You gotta be kidding, I’d say. Here it is, verbatim (and in italics):
Spider-Man has killed his wife with radioactive sperm. Comics are taken to a new level: so Marvel has finally gone porno. In last week's issue of the new "dark" Spider-Man Reign, it was revealed that Spidey killed his wife MJ with —radioactive sperm. Are they allowed to publish drawings of radioactive sperm? Well, yes, so long as Spidey isn't kicked in the gonads and the little chaps aren't aroused. ... Someone named Annalee Newitz adds: “I'm very surprised that I've not seen more online outrage about the reveal, this issue, of what killed Mary Jane: Spider-Man's cum. And for all of you who think I'm joking, here's the dialogue from the book itself: ‘Oh God, I'm sorry! The doctors didn't understand how it happened! How you had been poisoned by radioactivity! How your body slowly became riddled with cancer! I did it. I was… I am filled with radioactive blood. And not just blood. Every fluid. Touching me… loving me… Loving me killed you!’
Seriously, Marvel, WHAT THE FUCK? At what point did Spider-Man having radioactive sperm ever seem like a good idea? At what point did anyone even think about Spider-Man having radioactive sperm? Jesus Christ, I can't believe this ever saw print, I cannot believe that no one at Marvel thought that having a comic where Spider-Man tells the corpse of his wife—because, yeah, I meant to say that, he's talking to the corpse of his dead wife—that he killed her with his special radioactive spider-spunk was ANYTHING that should ever be allowed to appear in a comic. And that's before you even get to the continuation of his admission: ‘Like a spider, crawling up inside your body and laying a thousand eggs of cancer… I killed you.’ Via The Savage Critic(s) and Samizdata.
RCH again: Well, sure—someone has been thinking of this all along, just as someone has been thinking about what Superman would do to Lois Lane if they ever actually copulated. But thinking it and talking aloud about it—and/or writing it up as a story in a comic book (I still don’t believe this)—are two different fixations. At least, however, we have it all out in the open now—the Grand Blasphemy of Superheroics, that the longjohn legions have sex lives, no longer hovers quietly in the backroom where fanboys by the score giggle and point. I’m not sure that’s an improvement.
Breen at the San Diego Union Tribune won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning, reports Shawn Moynihan at Editor
& Publisher. It’s Breen’s
second Pulitzer: he picked up his first $10,000 award in 1998 while
cartooning for the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey. Breen also won both the Overseas Press Club Award and
the National Headliner Award this year. In 2007, Breen received the
Clifford K. & James T. Berryman Award for Editorial Cartoons,
distributed by the National Press Foundation. He is also the author
and illustrator of two childrens books published by Dial Books: Stick (2007) and Violet The Pilot (2008), but neither has won any awards yet, that I know of.
I suppose the judges spew such vacuous comments because only one of them is a cartoonist capable of greater articulation about the nuances of the artform—Dave Horsey of Hearst newspapers. Rick Newcombe, founder, president and CEO of Creators Syndicate, which syndicates Breen's cartoons, was a little more precise: "I think Steve is being recognized because, in addition to being a great cartoonist, he frequently tackles issues that no one else is even considering.” I don’t see enough of Breen’s cartoons to know whether he often examines issues others have overlooked, but his cartoons are forceful blends of words and pictures, neither the words nor the pictures having quite the same ridiculing impact alone that they do together—as we can readily see from the few samples I’ve assembled here.
Breen, who grew up in Los Angeles and drew editorial cartoons for the campus newspaper at the University of California at Riverside, intended to become a highschool history teacher when he was waylaid by the Asbury Park Press. While still cartooning at Riverside, Breen won the Scripps Howard Charles M. Schulz Award as America’s top college cartoonist in 1991 and also received the John Locher Award for Outstanding College Editorial Cartoonist, doubtless attracting the attention of the New Jersey paper, which hired him in 1994 as a “paginator” in the art department. “It was the only position available,” Breen said, “—and I hated it. But I was allowed to do one editorial cartoon a week.” And by 1996, he was full-time as an editorial cartoonist; two years later, he won his first Pulitzer.
Breen returned to his home state in July 2001, hired by the Union Tribune, a Copley paper like the Asbury Park Press, after it had fired Steve Kelley because of a miscommunication between the cartoonist and his editor; see Opus 62 for details and Opus 65 for a follow-up. (Short version: Kelley behaved in a thoroughly professional manner, as he had for all twenty of his years with the Union Tribune, until his editor questioned his integrity, whereupon Kelley expressed his understandable resentment in colorful language.) Kelley and Breen are friends, incidentally, and were planning to collaborate on a comic strip together until, as Kelley alleges in Opus 234, the Union Tribune allegedly forced Breen to withdraw from the plan.
Breen, while continuing to do editoons for the Union Tribune, also produces a syndicated comic strip, Grand Avenue, which appears in 250 or so newspapers; recently, he has been assisted by one of this year’s Pulitzer finalists, Mike Thompson; see Opus 240.
Through most of the history of Pulitzer awards to editorial cartoonists, second-time winners have been rare: only relatively few cartooners have won more than once. But four of the last seven winners have been two-timers: David Horsey won in 2003 and in 1999; Mike Luckovich, 2006 and 1995; Walt Handelsman, 2007 and 1997; Mike Ramirez, 2008 and 1994; then Breen. Before Horsey, we must go back another 18 years to find the previous multiple-winner, Jeff MacNelly in 1985 (and in 1978 and 1972; three-timers are even rarer); before MacNelly, Paul Conrad in 1984 (and in 1971 and 1964; yeah yeah, three-timers are still unusual). The increasing frequency of two-time winners lately is probably a factor of the number of full-time editorial cartoonists: as the ranks of editoonists shrink, the number of contenders grows smaller and the likelihood that those who remain will win more than once increases. But before we reach the edge of the cliff to which all this seems to tend, ’twould be nice—and wonderfully appropriate—if Steve Sack won once: Sack is one of the great overlooked expert editooners around. Maybe next time. Another sign of these dismal times for journalism: the Arizona reporter who won a Pulitzer had been laid off.
The Oregonian’s Jack Ohman won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for editorial cartooning according to a press release from the RFK people. The judges noted: “Ohman's cartoons tackle a range of difficult topics including poverty and unemployment in Oregon, the practice of shuffling Oregon teachers suspected of molesting children to other schools, rising college tuition costs, and human rights in China. From civil rights to the election of our nation's first black President, from ethanol to the struggles of American families in the economic downturn, his graphic journalism on behalf of the downtrodden exudes an insightful sensitivity.” That’s more like it. These judges may not understand how the medium works any better than the Pulitzer folks do, but at least they recognize the winner’s targets. Ohman also does the best caricatures around, as I’ve said before. The RFK Journalism Awards honor outstanding coverage of issues that reflect Robert F. Kennedy's concerns, including human rights, social justice and the power of individual action in the United States and around the world.
WHEN EDITORIAL CARTOONING MATTERS
—Then the Livelihood of the Cartoonist May Be at Risk
With five wives and 20 children, Jacob Zuma, who, within days, will become the third president of South Africa since black majority rule began in 1994, is the first “real African” to ascend to the job. His predecessors, Nelson Mandela, a lawyer, and Thabo Mbeki, educated in England, wore suits, day in, day out; Zuma often wears traditional Zulu finery—leopard skin, headdress and spear—on the special occasions of high honor to which he is entitled as president of the African National Congress, Mendela’s party. But wardrobe may not be the only change Zuma will initiate. Mendela, whose election ended apartheid in the country, achieved international fame through his policies of reconciliation rather than retribution; Zuma may well revert to what has been too often in the history of African nations policies of vindictiveness and self-aggrandizement. Newsweek (April 27) noted the sad history: “The continent is littered with the wreckage of countries that were driven into the ground by similarly charismatic postcolonial leaders in the name of revolutionary justice.”
The somewhat rotund and glisteningly bald-headed Zuma, by all reports “extremely intelligent” despite a lack of formal education, fits the ominous bill: he is popular but controversial, and an aura of corruption and ignorance clings to him. He has a long history of dedication to the cause of African rule: an early activist in the ANC, Zuma spent 10 years in prison on Robben Island where Mandela was also incarcerated; and 10 years ago, Zuma played “a vital role in ending the virtual civil war between ANC” and an opposition party. But he will inherit a reeling economy, crime-ravaged cities, and the nation’s ongoing AIDS crisis. Three years ago, he was acquitted of charges of rape but during the trial displayed a shocking lack of understanding about the disease that is wracking his country: the woman in the case was HIV-positive, and Zuma, once head of the National AIDS Council, didn’t wear a condom but claimed he had reduced the risk of infection by taking a shower after their tryst. Just two weeks before Election Day, the attorney general dropped at least 14 charges of fraud, racketeering and corruption that were arrayed against the candidate—“not because the case was weak,” Newsweek reported, “but, the prosecutor announced, merely because the filing of charges had come to appear politically motivated.”
At the end of March, Justice Malala, writing in The Times’ “Monday Morning Matters,” said: “There was never any doubt in my mind that the Zuma-led ANC would stop at nothing to let Zuma off. Perhaps no one was more correct and prescient than the cartoonist Zapiro when he depicted Zuma and his cronies raping the justice system. This is what he meant. He was right then and he is right now.”
Many assume Zuma is guilty as charged but voted for him anyway. Others, including cartoonist Jonathan “Zapiro” Shapiro, accuse Zuma of wanting to undermine the independence of the judiciary. Zuma, meanwhile, persists in an effort to silence his most visible critic—the man who draws those damned cartoons. Zuma has filed two law suits against Zapiro, one for the cartoon depicting him preparing to rape mother justice on the eve of one of his court appearances last year, the other relating to the rape trial. Zapiro, however, is undaunted, and routinely portrays Zuma with a shower head protruding from his forehead, a visual reminder of his rape trial testimony.
Quoted in The Guardian, Zapiro said: "Under apartheid, cartoons I did and newspapers I worked for were banned. But I've had a tremendous amount of freedom in the past 15 years to publish cartoons that other cartoonists and editors from around the world have told me they would struggle to get published, even in democratic societies.”
Zapiro’s shower head cartoons have become a popular and much imitated running joke that infuriates Zuma. Said Zapiro: “I always think of Steve Bell [of The Guardian] and his cartoons of [British Prime Minister] John Major wearing his underpants outside his trousers. When I first put the shower on Zuma's head, I didn't think of it as a permanent fixture. But it had a very positive response and I decided to keep it there. I'm amazed that it's been talked about in high circles."
South Africa’s most prominent satirist, Pieter-Dirk Uys, “challenged Zuma to drop his lawsuits, saying Zuma, as the nation’s president, will have a duty to uphold the constitutional right of free speech”—which includes satire and political cartoons. But an ANC spokeswoman said Zuma was entitled to continue his suit against the cartoonist: “The other side of freedom of speech is the dignity of the human being,” she said, describing one of the cartoons as “very undignified and insulting to women.”
At last report, ominously enough, Zapiro’s satirical puppet show was cancelled by the SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation). There are fears that a Zuma presidency could threaten press freedom. A recent ANC plan for a media appeals tribunal provoked an outcry from editors. The SABC promised its Special Assignment strand would look at the state of political satire and ask: "Is a slow, chilling effect taking hold of political humor in South Africa?" But Zapiro’s show remains cancelled—for legal reasons. And on May 9 or thereabouts, the ANC, which will hold a majority of seats in South Africa’s parliament, will choose one of its own to be the country’s president—without question, the choice will be Jacob Zuma. Whither, then, Zapiro?
Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing (and following) segment is culled from articles eventually indexed at 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 povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s DailyCartoonist.com, and Tom Spurgeon’s comicsreporter.com. And then there’s Mike Rhode’s ComicsDC blog, comicsdc.blogspot.com For delving into the history of our beloved medium, you can’t go wrong by visiting Allan Holtz’s strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Allan regularly posts rare findings from his forays into the vast reaches of newspaper microfilm files hither and yon.
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
The latest casualty among editorial cartoonists is the president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), Ted Rall, our favorite bomb-thrower. In addition to drawing several editorial cartoons a week, Rall also writes a subversive (and intelligent) column for syndication, and since 2006, when he was hired by Scripps’ United Media, he has worked three days a week as the syndicate’s Editor of Acquisitions and Development, and Scripps has been lopping off staff and newspapers (the Rocky Mountain News among them) with merciless profit-preservation efficiency these days. Now, apparently, it’s United Media’s turn to give up staff to the accountants. Even though United Media turned a whopping $30.9 million profit in the last quarter of 2008—up 20% from the previous year—it would not be spared the pruning that all Scripps enterprises must, it seems, undergo. Rall was one of eight syndicate staff laid off in mid-April. Rall, as always, is philosophical about it, saying to cohorts that it would not have copesetic for him to stay employed while so many of his flock, members of AAEC, were joining the ranks of the unemployed.
with the syndicate, Rall was responsible for signing up the comic
strips The Knight Life by Keith Knight, Family
Tree by Signe
Haywire by Dan
Thompson, Secret Asian
Man by Tak Toyoshima, Minimum Security"
by Stephanie McMillan, Matt Bors' editorial cartoons, and several other features of which he was
justifiably proud. With his cartoons and columns, books and
animations, Rall said he’d survive the loss of income, but
he’ll miss most “the opportunity to reshape the comics
and other pages with material that was less conventional.”
cartoonist Milt Priggee,
who deftly wields the juiciest brush in the business and who has been
flailing around without a regular gig for some years now, is joining
the Web-only Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
seattlepi.com. The resident editoonist, David
Horsey, blogged the announcement on April 15:
"Milt's work life has taken a more rugged path than mine,"
Horsey wrote. "I've been lucky enough to have a string of
editors and publishers who understood their job was to defend me, not
censor me. Milt, unfortunately, has had the opposite experience. Now,
however, he's found a place where he can say anything he pleases.”
Priggee’s earliest work appeared in Chicago newspapers, then in
1982, he joined the Journal Herald in
Dayton, Ohio, and when that paper folded in 1986, he went to the Spokesman-Review in
Spokane, Wash., in 1987. That paper, in an early cost-cutting flinch,
cut Priggee, who began self-syndicating from his home in Oak Harbor,
Wash. Examples of his superior art and unflinching wit, both static
and animated, can be seen at miltpriggee.com.
IRKS & CROTCHETS
Watchmen’s creator, the irrepressible Alan Moore, told Adam Rogers at wired.com that his purpose with Watchmen was to shatter the myth of the American superhero. Ironically, Moore observes, it ended up introducing a new myth—the superpowered psychotic who wreaks revenge on a cruel society. “With Watchmen,” he said, “we were talking very much about the potential abuses of this kind of masked vigilante justice, but that was not meant approvingly. It was never my intention to start a trend for darkness [in superheroes]. I’m not a particularly dark individual. I have my moments, it’s true, but I do have a sense of humor.”
Reading Parade magazine’s annual report on what people earn, we learn that Barbie earns $3.3 million; Britney Spears, $2.7 million; Sarah Palin, $125,000; Chesley Sullenberger (“Sully”), $100,000; Julie Sorenson, a certified nurse’s aid, $20,000; and Heather Kreiter, a trading-card illustrator, $17,000.
Short Announcements & Quick Reviews of New Books
Hermes Press has announced that it will collect the complete run of daily and Sunday The Phantom newspaper strips, beginning in September with The Phantom: The Complete Newspaper Dailies: Volume One 1936-1938 (320 9x12-inch pages, b/w; landscape format, $39.99). This volume will include a 16-page color section with an introduction by comics historian Ron Goulart. The full project will collect over 70 years of The Phantom, from the first Lee Falk and Ray Moore strips to the Sy Barry strips from 1994. ... Topps will release later this year a set of trading cards devoted to “the world’s biggest hoaxes, hoodwinks, and bamboozles,” said Fortune.com, featuring, among the mob, Bernard Madoff, Charles Ponzi and Enron.
Wonder Woman: The Ultimate Guide to the Amazon Princess (146 10x12-inch pages, color throughout; hardcover, published in 2003 at $24.99) by Scott Beatty, an erstwhile English teacher turned comic book writer (Batgirl: Year One, Robin: Year One), is a trifle as history but a nice scrapbook of spectacular pictures by some of Wonder Woman’s notable illuminators, who, oddly, are scarcely noticed by name throughout. A Brit named Roger Stewart is credited as “illustrator” of the book, but most of the pictures are by others, and I can find his name nowhere except on the back flap of the book’s jacket. I bought this book because (1) Borders was selling it for $4.99 and (2) a cursory glance through it revealed a section purporting to be a “Timeline” of WW’s adventures from Sensation Comics No. 1, where she debuted in 1941, through Wonder Woman No. 200 in 2004. The pictures littering the book’s giant-sized pages are the chief attaction; as “history,” the focus is on WW, the character as biography—what she did, when, and with whom. A few of Adam Hughes’ renderings are evident, including the cover illustration, but the book was published before the Dodsons began their stunning renditions of the Amazon Princess, and Alex Ross is around for only one or two paintings. In short, the “history” here isn’t about the people who created Wonder Woman through her 60-odd year run. William Moulton Marston is mentioned but not his rationale for creating a female superhero; and the man who first drew the character, Harry G. Peters, whose awkward depictions defined Wonder Woman’s appearance for a decade, gets lumped in an alphabetical roll call of scores of artists and writers, thanking them “for their contributions to this book,” a nearly perverse way of giving credit where credit is due. John Byrne is treated in about the same off-hand manner, his re-design of the Amazing Amazonian’s costume ignored or overlooked altogether. Until Bryne came along to reveal WW’s thigh all the way up to her waist in the modern manner of female swim suits, the character’s costume was a stodgy star-spangled foundation garment, more turn-off than turn-on. And the controversy that exploded when the top of WW’s fighting togs was re-designed, eliminating the eagle in favor of the double double-U, is wholly absent from this so-called “history.” But at Borders’ $4.99, you can doubtless afford to add these pretty pictures to your shelf. Giving myself the last word on the subject, here are a few of my own pictorial comments on the adventures of Wonder Woman’s costume.
Persiflage and Badinage
“In a conversation, remember that you’re more interested in what you’re saying than anyone else.”—Andy Rooney
“Laugh at yourself first, before anyone else can.”—Elsa Maxwell
“Three o’clock is always too late or too early for anything you want to do.” —Jean Paul Sartre
a newspaper prints a sex crime, it's smut, but when the New
York Times prints it, it's a sociological
study.”—Adolph S. Ochs, publisher of the NY
“When eating Peeps, bite the head off the first one and replace it in the package for 15 minutes so that the others may know their fate.” —John Mayer, via Twitter
“You never think you’re the age you are, and, as long as you don‘t look in the mirror, you aren’t.”—Frank Gehry
A CULT FAVORITE EMERGES INTO THE BRIGHT LIGHT OF REPRINTAGE
I didn’t witness any of Sam’s Strip during its maiden voyage, October 16, 1961 - June 1, 1963. I was on a voyage of my own at the time, bounding over the heaving main (and vice versa) while serving in Uncle Sam’s (no relation) navy. I spent the entire 20 months of Sam’s initial run aboard the USS Saratoga, touring the Mediterranean Sea, and we didn’t get daily newspapers while at sea. No Sam’s Strip, no Steve Canyon, no On Stage. No Beetle Bailey. It’s a wonder we survived at all. More than a decade after the strip’s demise, I first saw a few of the daily releases and promptly, forthwith, joined the cult—that feverish band of comics cognoscenti who knew enough about the annals of the medium to relish every nuanced historical allusion that creators Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas were able to insinuate so fondly into this comic strip about being a comic strip. Eventually, I ran across a modest paperback volume, more pamphlet than book, Sam’s Strip Lives! that reprinted some of best of the strip, but now I own it all: Fantagraphics has reprinted the complete run of Sam’s Strip (208 8x9-inch landscape pages in b/w, 3 strips to a page; paperback, $22.99), a handsome volume that embellishes the reprinted strips with introductory remarks by Walker and by Dumas, an assortment of behind-the-scenes material, unpublished sketches, and photographs as well as annotations by Brian Walker, who explains 1960s references that are now long forgotten, and commentary by Dumas.
Sam’s Strip, in case you have been completely at sea or somehow else managed to avoid running into it ere now, is a comic strip about the comic strip that Sam owns and operates—and inhabits. He and his assistant, who has no name, go about the daily business of putting on their comic strip, tinkering with sundry comic strip equipage—speech balloons, punctuation marks, speed lines and smoke puffs; and characters from other comic strips—some contemporary, some antiques—drop in from time to time. The strip studiously, consistently, broke the “fourth wall”: Sam is conscious the whole time of being a comic strip character in his own comic strip, and he talks with us about it.
At the time Walker and Dumas conceived the strip, Dumas had been working with Walker for five-and-a-half years, writing gags for Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois and assisting with the drawing and lettering. Once a week, they convened for the express purpose of selecting gags for the two strips. Each of them brought ten gags to the meeting, and out of the twenty candidates, they picked the fourteen that would be produced in final form for syndication. Invariably, then as now, some of the gags were too off-beat, too hip—too “inside” the profession (and sometimes even too naughty)—for publication. Walker and Dumas had a fairly thorough nodding acquaintance of comic strip history, so sometimes the gags were about comic strip characters from other strips.
“We quickly saw how much fun it was to have comic characters from other strips, other times, interact with each other,” Dumas writes in one of this book’s introductory essays. “The idea soon came up: what about having a guy who ran his own comic strip as a business? Mort, who enjoyed alliteration as much as anyone (Beetle Bailey, Sergeant Snorkel) came up with the name—Sam’s Strip.”
Once the strip got going, Dumas continues, “Mort and I split the gag writing, and I did all the drawing, except for the lettering, which Mort did, just as I did the lettering for Beetle.” In those days before copying machines were perfected, Dumas drew everything in the strip, including the characters who wandered in from other venues, and he mimicked the drawing mannerisms of the cartoonists and artists whose characters were making these cameo appearances—Chic Young for Blondie and Dagwood, George McManus for Jiggs, George Herriman for Krazy Kat and Ignatz, and, most spectacularly, John Tenniel when characters from Alice in Wonderland dropped by. The research took time, and Dumas “took pride in copying another artist’s work exactly.” But he enjoyed the work: “During its brief existence, Sam’s Strip gave Mort and me deep satisfaction,” Dumas said, “and if anybody didn’t like it, that was all right, and if anybody, on the other hand, really liked it, that was all right too.”
Last December, I went to Stamford, Connecticut on assignment for The Comics Journal and interviewed Mort Walker in his studio for a couple of days, staying overnight in the “guest house” on the premises. The interview, one of those “career spanning” epics the Journal likes, appears in the current issue of the magazine, No. 297. Among the things Mort talked about was Sam’s Strip; to wit (in italics):
Now, that started with drawings that we were just messing around with—the artist, Jerry, and I. When I went down to sell it to King Features, and I told them that what I was going to do was to make fun of other comics cartoonists, they said, “Don’t we have to get permission for that? That’s not going to work. We can’t do this strip.”
I said, “No, you don’t. You don’t have to get permission. This is satire.” I said, “We’re just going to have fun. We’re not going to make anybody mad.”
They argued with me, and finally they just said, “Well, OK, if you want to do it, go ahead.” But I don’t think they ever had any enthusiasm for it. It’s interesting how often I’ve been met with this criticism, and then they just go do their job, which is to sell it. Sam’s Strip was extremely popular among the cartoonists. They really liked it. It appeared in a New York paper, and they all saw it.
It never really had wide circulation [it appeared, at most, in 60 newspapers], but we enjoyed it so much, and we had such a good time doing it, that we wanted to go on doing it. But then, when the New York paper pulled it, when the Journal-American pulled it, and it didn’t appear in New York anymore, we noticed that it just wasn’t fun. We didn’t get the comments or the feedback, so we just decided to end it all. I think it was five, ten years later that the editor from there at NEA called up, and they wanted to do it. That’s when I went to talk to the president at King. He said, “No, we don’t want you to go to another syndicate. But if you want to revive that strip, do it in a different way, don’t do the same satire.” So that’s when we created Sam and Silo. [Starting April 18, 1977, Sam and Silo featured the characters from Sam’s Strip, Sam’s assistant acquiring a name this time. But in this strip, they aren’t proprietors of their own strip; they’re just characters in a strip—Sam is the sheriff of a small town, and Silo is his would-be deputy.]
I laughed and said, “The Laurel and Hardy of the comics.”
That’s exactly what we talked about, Mort continued [in italics still]. And it’s still going. For 26 years. I enjoy Jerry’s drawings so much. He fools around and he does more than he needs to do, but it makes it beautiful. Every now and then, he gets inspired to do a nice city scene with trees and rocks and stuff like that. He gets a big kick out of it. The thing is, it’s not very widely syndicated, but boy, in Greenwich where he lives—they run it there. He’s the big chief in Greenwich. They think he’s the greatest artist in the world. Then they gave him a column to write, and he’s a cartoonist and a columnist for that paper. The column comes out once a week. It’s very popular.
Here’s a gallery of Sam’s Strip. The strip acquired its cult fame through the years mostly because of the guest appearances in it of characters from other strips and times, but the fun of being a comic strip about being a comic strip was much more broadly based than that, as most of these examples show.
In the back of the book, Jerry Dumas annotates some of the strips on display in this gallery, exhibiting his customary convivial, easy-going conversational prose as well as insights into the ways comic strips are made and the lore that clusters around that making; here are a couple of his commentaries (in italics):
This strip [April 30, 1962], with all the comic characters arriving for “International Comics Week,” is probably the most famous of all the strips. It has been used on invitations, greeting cards, stationery, t-shirts, and other clothing. This may be the only strip where I drew Thurber’s characters (the man and woman on the extreme left and the seal on top of the sign). The seal is from Thurber’s famous “I thought I heard a seal bark” cartoon, which shows a man and wife in bed, and a seal on top of the headboard. Thurber had been trying to draw a seal on a rock, but the rock turned out to look more like a bed’s headboard, and that’s how this gag came to be.
A cartoonist once barged into the founding editor’s office at The New Yorker and asked Harold Ross: “How can you reject my stuff while you publish the work of a fifth-rate cartoonist like James Thurber?”
“Third-rate,” Ross defended.
[In the strip for January 30, 1962] Sam reads a note from a reader who asks, “What kind of pants do you wear?” and Sam’s sidekick (now named Silo in Sam and Silo) replies, “These are comic strip pants.” This is the sort of gag that was the foundation of the strip, and the kind we would have liked to do every day. As time went on, we probably would have been able to continue with variations, but it wasn’t easy day by day, week by week. When we resorted to more conventional gags, even gags about the Cold War and political cartoon figures, the strip didn’t seem to me to be as interesting. Incidentally, the drawing of the car in the second panel isn’t very good. As with the sidekick’s head, compared to Silo’s head forty years later, the construction of the car is not as solid, as interesting, as in later years. Drawing is a very personal thing. ... In the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s,when I inked Beetle Bailey, I liked to pencil the static background areas of the strip by using [the straight-edge of] a triangle to make straight lines for things like windows, doorways, floor lines, steps, but then ink those penciled straight lines freehand to give the look of a panel a more relaxed feeling. That’s why the tires on the Sam and Silo car look the way they do.
RCH again: One of the days I was in the vicinity, Mort took me to lunch with his sons and a couple friends, including his long-time collaborator, Jerry Dumas, who still writes gags for Beetle Bailey while also writing and drawing Sam and Silo. I’ve admired Dumas’ work on his strip for a long time: sometimes he produces visual symphonies of texture and shading just for the sheer fun of it—that is, neither the gag nor the pictures conveying it require the embellishment he so happily lavishes, sometimes, on the strip.
A week or so after our lunch conversation, Dumas wrote me (in italics, forthwith):
Even Mort and I can’t believe how long we’ve been together. Just think, I’ve been writing Beetle gags for all but the first five-and-a-half years of its existence. We started working and playing ping pong together when he was 33, and now he’s 85. We had ferocious games in the basement after lunch each day—he was good—and I would spray sweat all over my side of the table and some of his, and I would go through several shirts and t-shirts. Mort would joke that I was the only cartoonist he knew who went to work each day carrying several changes of clothing. This was true, but one of his inaccurate memories is when he claims that I never took up golf because the first time I played, in a big cartoonist gathering, I got the booby prize for the worst round of the day, and I was so angry I sore never to play again. The real reason, of course, was because I was already a champion four-wall handball player and would soon be Connecticut state champ (twice) and New England champ (once), and it was the game I loved, and there wasn’t time to do everything. A handball match takes about two hours, and I would lose up to six pounds, while golf took six hours and you gained two pounds.
Did Mort tell you this one? Early on, I wasn’t making that much money, but I had managed to invest, all by myself, astutely in the stock market, and had built it up to where my holdings were worth a considerable sum. All blue chip stocks. Then a so-called stockbroker friend convinced me to put the whole thing into one stock that was going to go through the roof. It turned out that the chairman and president [of that company] were crooks, and the stock fell through the basement. One day I complained to Mort that I didn’t know how it could have been fraudulent because, after all, the company’s accountants were considered the best in the country—Ernst & Ernst. Without looking up from his drawing, Mort said, “Well, Ernst is okay, but Ernst is a crook.”
The humor in that line has to do with the exact wording. I’ve heard other people try to tell the story by saying, “... but the other Ernst is a crook.” And that, of course, screws it up.
The column I write is published every Thursday in our daily paper, Greenwich Times. Nobody in town talks to me anymore about Beetle or Sam and Silo, but they talk all time about the column, strangely. I can write about anything I want, and it can be humorous, poignant, topical, historical—anything. A few times I’ve been able to make readers laugh and cry during the same 500-700 words, which is satisfying. I just hope they weren’t crying at the funny bits and laugh at the tearful parts.
[Dumas writes articles other than the column for the local newspaper, and he’s produced two books, one of them a long narrative poem about three generations of his family.—RCH] If I had to choose, I’d pick writing over drawing. I’ve been happiest seeing my stuff published in The Atlantic, The New Yorker and especially Smithsonian (they bought a great many pieces). I had appeared in Smithsonian’s pages for several years before I realized their circulation (then over 2,000,000) was a great deal more than the other two esteemed publications.
I do all my reading in bed between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., for some unknown reason. It doesn’t bother my wife: if I’m quietly turning pages, it means I’m not loudly snoring.
Like most humorists by occupation, Jerry has a finely-tuned professional sense of humor, of what’s funny and why, as his story about Ernst & Ernst demonstrates. With his letter, he sent along these two versions of the same gag in Andy Capp, with educational annotation.
Subsequently, I ran across one of Jerry’s columns for the Greenwich Times; here it is (not in italics) (well, here and there maybe, but not everywhere):
The Bailouts Seem to Be Almost Comical
By Jerry Dumas, Greenwich Times Columnist; posted: 03/19/2009
President Barack Obama and his top economic aides frantically tried to calm a nationwide furor over bonuses paid by comic strip syndicates to a handful of famous comic strip cartoonists. "Yes, we've known about the bonuses for months," said a government official who spoke anonymously, since he worked for the Department of Agriculture and actually had zero knowledge of the facts.
The news broke only weeks after the third government bailout of the comic strip industry, bailouts which now total $15 billion. Mr. Obama ordered the Treasury Department to "pursue every legal avenue to block all bonuses to cartoonists, especially bonuses paid to cartoonists doing strips that aren't even funny."
"And never were funny," added Vice President Joe Biden, speaking for the record. "There is absolutely no reason to reward cartoonists who can't even tell a joke, never mind think up brand new jokes. I tell jokes all the time, and I don't get a bonus."
"They can't even draw, most of them," said a Biden aide, who spoke anonymously since he has had no art training and was therefore not qualified to speak for the office of the vice president.
"What happened to the billions in bailout money we sent to the comic strip syndicates?" wondered President Obama. "They won't tell us. And now the cartoonists, half of whose gags we don't even get, get bonuses? This is an outrage."
A comic strip syndicate CEO, who refused to be identified because he is not qualified to be a syndicate CEO, pointed out that it was unfair of the government to criticize, since several comic strips are not intended to be funny. "You take Prince Valiant or Rex Morgan or Doonesbury," he said. "Their purpose is not to make readers laugh, even if they do appear in what we call the comics section. Their purpose is to enlighten the public as to the secret, behind-the-scenes lives of knights and dragons, doctors, politicians and all those other Doonesbury characters. Anyway," he continued, "those bonuses to cartoonists were written into their contracts long before we got any taxpayer bailout money from the Treasury, and we syndicates are known for standing by our word, legally speaking."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates responded, "Are you aware that, having provided $15 billion in taxpayer assistance to keep the comic strip profession afloat, the government now owns nearly 80 percent of the business? And there hasn't been one funny new strip since Little Lulu."
"Wait a second," interjected a Defense Department aide, who claimed he used to discuss the subject endlessly with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "How about Calvin and Hobbes, and The Far Side? They were good."
"Yes," agreed Vice President Biden, who showed a surprising grasp of comics history, "but they had a short shelf life. Each of them only lasted 10 years. They are sorely missed. But one thing they didn't need, popular as they were, is bonus money."
"Let's get back to the point," said Mr. Obama. "Why should the American taxpayer shell out billions to support comic strips that are now printed so small we can hardly read the words or see the pictures? Who knows? There may be some good ones."
Attempts to contact cartoonists were unsuccessful, since the ones with money were traveling and were unavailable.
And with that, we’ll leave Sam’s Strip, Sam and Silo, and Jerry Dumas to plunge with both feet into—
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL
The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping
Maybe Sam’s Strip wasn’t the first comic strip to be self-conscious about being a comic strip—probably others did it occasionally. But these days, the fourth wall is often breached in comic strips and cartoons as their creators toy with their medium in much the same way that Mort Walker and Jerry Dumas did over 40 years ago. Here’s a bunch of examples.
Incidentally, on the back cover of Sam’s Strip Lives! “Walker and Dumas once said that if there were ever to be a comeback [of Sam’s Strip], they already had a new title ready. It was to be called Son of Sam’s Strip. For a while, they also thought it might be interesting to slip Sam into Beetle Bailey as a new private; but they wisely foresaw that in no time at all he would have advanced himself in rank and taken over the strip.”
Badinage and Bagatelles
We wear clothing in the winter to keep warm; in the summer, to cover the sweaty parts of the body. This is a mistake as any physicist can tell us. In the winter, clothing does its job: it keeps us warm, protects our epidemises from assaults by bitter chill winds. But in the summer, we would be more comfortable if our bodily fluids—i.e., perspiration—were permitted access to the air around us because only in that way can sweat perform its most basic function, which is to cool us off. —RCH (maybe; maybe not)
Two items culled from Leland Gregory’s Stupid American History: Tales of Stupidity, Strangeness, and Mythconceptions:
Legendary Wild West gunman Bat Masterson [William Barclay Masterson, 1853-1921] has long enjoyed the reputation as a gun-slinging killer, reportedly gunning down twenty-seven foes, “but according to Robert DeArment’s thoroughly researached biography, he is credited with killing only one person.” Masterson spent the last years of his life as a sportswriter in New York.
Shooting Blanks. It is common knowledge that the military purposely puts saltpeter in the food of enlisted men to curb their sexual appetite. It’s well know, all right—but it’s a well-known falsehood. There’s no proof that potassium nitrate (known as saltpeter) has any effect on the libido, one way or the other. One theory as to why this rumor started is simply because the name saltpeter sounds like it might have some negative effect on a service member.
last item is worth quoting solely for the concluding double
entendre, seems to me.
Mat Johnson’s tantalizing Incognegro (136 7x9-inch pages, b/w; hardcover, $19.99) takes its title from the pen name used by the book’s protagonist, Zane Pinchback, an African American newspaper reporter who is so fair-skinned he can pass for white, which is what he does when he goes into the Deep South to report first-hand on lynchings and other racial strife early in the fourth decade of the 20th century. Johnson takes this much of his fiction from actual fact: the fatefully named Walter White, “Mr. NAACP,” executive secretary of the organization from 1931 until his death in 1955, was another pale African American (with blue eyes and blond hair!) who would go “undercover, posing as a white man in the Deep South to investigate lynchings.” The book’s title evokes the author’s own childhood. Johnson, who is a fair-skinned African American, has twins, one of whom is “brown-skinned with black Afro hair, the other with the palest of pink skins and more European curly hair,” and their birth prompted their father to recall a childhood game, “going Incognegro” that he played with a cousin, “pretending to be race spies in the war against white supremacy.” When Zane Pinchback goes undercover in this book, however, he’s not playing when he pretends to be white; and he desperately wants to do more than report on a lynching. The black man in jail this time is his own brother—his twin brother, Alonzo—and Zane wants to prove him innocent of the murder he is falsely accused of committing. That’s the setup. To venture further into the thicket of Johnson’s mystery would be to reveal one or more of the wholly unexpected snags that encumber this unusual and expertly convoluted yarn. Incognegro twists more than any pretzel in the bag, and every turn extends the narrative in another direction, each more bizarre than the last, each giving the suspense more of the torque that drives us to the end. And the end is another entirely unanticipated event—immensely satisfying, delightful even, in a perversely gratifying way, and deftly satiric about the hypocrisies of race in America.
Warren Pleece draws Johnson’s tale, and his pictures are thoroughly adequate but not particularly remarkable stylistically. He deploys juicy solid blacks effectively without recourse to hachering or shading, a technique that imparts a stark realism to the proceedings, but his supple line fails him in delineating faces. Cartoonists and artists who tell stories with pictures must draw the same faces over and over again, every time recognizably—an odd sort of challenge when you think about it, and one not often thought about, I ween, but a challenge that must be met—and Pleece, although he performs well enough for most narrative purposes, doesn’t quite make it every time he tries. Close enough most of the time, but not with the black-and-white verve of, say, Alex Kotzky or his son Brian, both of whom limned the comic strip Apartment 3-G with such panache for so long. Pleece’s untextured manner also makes the rustic setting of the tale a little too clean and uncluttered, and for the rendering of 1930s automobiles, he seems to have resorted to European models. Still, the visuals are, for the most part, attractive, and his storytelling—page layouts and pacing and panel composition—tells Johnson’s story in a way only this medium can.
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
In 2006, the Columbia Journalism Review noted (and The Week quoted), the world produced 161 “exabytes” of digital information—3 million times the amount of information contained in all the books ever written. Next year, the world will produce 988 exabytes of data. I know who’s producing all this information—bloggers everywhere—but who’s counting it all? And the “information contained in all the books ever written”? In a frenzy of statistical reportage, The Week also quotes the Washington Post, which said: “There are now 3.3 billion active cell phones throughout the world—one for very two people on the planet.”
The scream you hear when a live lobster is dropped into boiling water may be merely air escaping from its insides, but the creature nonetheless feels the pain of being boiled to death according to a new study performed on hermit crabs in Northern Ireland. If Irish crustaceans feel pain, it doesn’t surprise me than lobsters everywhere do.
In the same issue of The Week (April 17), my steady diet of reading some weeks, we learn that 50-year-old Barbie is a big hit with Chinese women—that is, adult females, not juveniles—who see the statuesque doll as a symbol of the lifestyle to which they aspire. And Mattel, the shapely toy’s manufacturer, is making a big push to sell to this eager consumer group, opening a six-story Barbie store in Shanghai, which has been mobbed ever since.
Before we work ourselves into a high torque swivet about the greed and brutality of Somali pirates, gloating in the deserved death of three of them by sniper fire lately, we should remember that the pirates are mostly young fishermen—teenagers, really—who originally discovered piracy as a career while attempting to strike back at Europeans who had invaded their fishing grounds, stealing their fish and dumping nuclear waste. Or so it sez here.
Charisse Jones in USA Today reports that condom sales are up an impressive 6 percent from last year, as, presumably, the economic implosion forces “millions of cash-strapped Americans to entertain themselves at home.” The Week, my favorite periodical compendium of data of this sort, also noted that, “after Indonesia and Japan, the United States is the most volcano-rich nation on Earth. Currently, the U.S. Geological Survey lists 169 geologically active volcanoes in the country and its territories, most of them in Alaska, Hawaii, the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, and California.” The article was offered by way of explaining why Barack Obama’s stimulus bill included $140 million for “volcano monitoring.” Louisiana’s governor Bobby Jindal, the GOP’s unfortunate pick to represent the party in commenting on Obama’s speech, ridiculed this budget item as an example of wasteful spending; but then, Louisiana has no volcanoes. Besides, he overstated the amount: $140 million is the amount earmarked for all projects conducted by the Geological Survey; of that, only about $15 million is for monitoring volcanoes. I can’t say—or won’t—whether there’s any relationship between condoms and volcanoes.
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Four-color Frolics in Pulp
An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being too mysterious or cryptic. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.
Incognito is the incarnation of writer Ed Brubaker’s fond dream of returning comics to their pulp roots, where, often, the protagonists were characters of questionable origin and dubious motives—Doc Savage, the Spider and their ilk. Hence, Zack Overkill, the surviving half of a twin crime wave, whose brother was killed or died, effectively taking the fun out of the game, so Zack apparently turned state’s evidence and is now in the witness protection program, but he can’t help putting on the mask again every once in a while and rampaging the streets at night, beating up petty criminals and other bad asses. Zack is not a likeable guy even though, in the first issue, he foils an attempted rape, making himself admirable in the perverse manner that pervades his persona. He and his brother, orphans, were given superpowers by a mad scientist; what, exactly, those powers are we aren’t told, and the resultant curiosity will bring me back for No. 2. Zack is clearly unhappy, discontented, and at loose ends, looking for something to do. What, we’ll eventually find out. The cliffhanger in this issue is supplied by the mad scientist, who, as the issue closes, realizes that Zack, whom he’d thought dead, is still around, and so—. Sean Phillips, who has been working with Brubaker on their Criminal series, supplies the art—deeply but evocatively shadowed, lending grit to the underbelly of the crime scene herein.
No Hero is another Warren Ellis book illustrated in the copiously detailed manner that the writer, or Avatar’s publisher, William Christensen, or his creative director, Mark Seifert, seem to prefer: every wrinkle is painstakingly drawn, every strand of hair likewise, ditto every whisker on a chin needing a shave, every cigarette butt on the street, every pebble, discarded beer can, spit and scum of all sorts—in this book, by Juan Jose Ryp. Ellis offers this series as a twisted answer to the question: who wants to be a superhero? In No. 0, the first issue, we meet Carrick Masterson, who has invented a way to create superheroes and, with a band of his creations called Front Line, now undertakes to reform the world and civilization as we know it, inaugurating what he promises to be an era of justice and humane living. His instruments are the superheroes he invents, who have not, quite yet, realized the painful consequences of their decisions to become superheroes. Nobody in this introductory issue is likeable, but the gore into which one of Masterson’s creations has dissolved and the pain of one of his alums creates sufficient morbid curiosity to propel us into the next issue, No. 1. Without Ryp’s compulsively detailed depiction of globules of blood and bits of brain and gristle, we would doubtless be less curious: there’s something perversely compelling about gore in detail. In No. 1, a young man named Josh Carver auditions for membership in Masterson’s menage, for superhero powers. What horrors await?
Will Eisner’s Spirit, like Fawcett’s Captain Marvel (by C.C. Beck mostly), belongs to the ages: neither character can be successfully reincarnated by modern amanuenses seeking to mimic the Master. Yet both characters are condemned to their present mediocre afterlifes by hopeful publishers who tirelessly try to revive the iconic creations but inevitably fail to produce anything other than painfully inadequate imitations who merely look like their inspirations. The magic that enveloped and animated the originals is always, invariably, missing. Some imitations get closer than others, admittedly; but none of the new crop have ever quite managed the miracle of cloning an exact copy. Michael Uslan, who has made a career out of following in the footsteps of the masters, is the latest to try his hand at the Spirit.
Assisted by F.J. DeSanto, Uslan cranks up a story that pits the Spirit against both Silken Floss and the Octopus—his lost love from high school (college?) and the most nefarious of his criminal nemeses, who, as always, shows up only as a pair of purple gloves protruding from the sleeves of a purple business suit. The brilliant physicist Silken Floss acquired her college degree thanks to the Octopus, who paid her way through school. And now, he wants pay-back: he has obtained Nazi notebooks about their research into a biochemical weapon of mass destruction, and he wants Silken Floss to decipher the notes and produce the weapon. Police commissioner Dolan sets the Spirit the task of foiling the scheme. Without much difficulty, the Spirit tracks Silken Floss to her lab and tries to persuade her to give up the Octopus’s assignment: he almost discloses his Denny Colt identity, thinking if she knew who he was—namely, the love of her youth—she would accept his sincerity and the authenticity of his knowledge about the Octopus’s criminal intent. But just as he reaches to pull his mask off, Ellen Dolan, the true love of his mature years, shows up and a cat fight between Ellen and Silken ensues. The Spirit, who the Octopus has decked earlier, is prone on the floor most of the fight. In the end, Silken Floss leaves, promising to use her scientific skill to prevent her benefactor from using the Nazi knowledge for anything except antidotes for chemical weapons, not weapons.
Uslan includes several dollops of purely cute stuff. The splash page, a device for which Eisner is renowned, takes place in a coffee house (“Storebuck’s”) where the signs ostensibly announcing various condiments and specials actually bear the names and functions of the writers, artists, colorists, and editors. The chairman of Silken Floss’s physics department is Willis Rensie, a pen name Eisner often employed. A schooner anchored in the harbor is named “Blackhawk” and the password to get aboard is “Chop Chop,” an allusion to the Chinese comic relief in the Blackhawk comics invented by Eisner. But I’m getting a little weary of this century’s would-be Spirit writers conjuring up the Octopus at every opportunity. True, the Octopus was a repeat offender in Eisner’s Spirit; and he never actually appeared except for his purple-gloved hand. Mysteriousness. What with all the repeat offenders showing up so regularly in other venues—Penguin, the Joker, Two-face et al in Batbooks; the Kingpin in Daredevil; Lex Luthor in Superman, and on and on—I suppose everyone thinks the Octopus is another of the so-called “classic” villains of funnybooks. Eisner conjured up the Octopus a dozen or so times, but the character, despite his mysteriousness, is scarcely an encore personage of the Joker’s stature. Why keep bringing him in? Fanboy fascination, I reckon.
And harkening back to Denny Colt’s youthful dalliances with Silken Floss, Silk Satin, and others of the femme ilk in the series is another fond surrender to the thralldom of Eisner’s Spirit. The Spirit’s past came back to haunt him every once in a while, but not as often as we keep seeing it nowadays. Sheesh.
These, however, may be the merest of quibbles. The story itself is a somewhat lame enterprise; that’s not a fault, however: lots of Eisner’s stories were somewhat lame. At least Uslan’s Spirit, as in most Eisner ventures, is the butt of the story’s jokes and is thoroughly victimized by the women in the tale—true, that is, to the “spirit” of the character. The limping plot is invigorated by the comedy throughout although the Spirit may be a little too witty in his flip remarks on the passing action. But the “bar scene” is a genuine hoot: everyone promptly, on cue, recognizes the Spirit through his disguise, and they all gang up on him, beating him to a pulp in two pages of rampant violence. Later, the cat fight between Ellen and Silken goes a bit too long and deteriorates suddenly when the women start trading “fat ass” quips, a gag that Uslan makes us gag over again in the closing scene between Ellen and the Spirit.
The book is apparently illustrated in separate compartments by the two artists credited in Storebuck’s. Or maybe the style of rendering just shifts noticeably after the opening sequence, which concerns the youthful love affair between Denny Colt and Silken Floss. Once the narrative leaves this flashback and plunges into the present, the style changes from a cleanly rendered realism to an angular more comedic abstraction that incorporates various quirky shorthand anatomical mannerisms. I’m chagrined to admit that I don’t recognize the style of either artist, so I’m just guessing that Justiniano did the first pages and Walden Wong the last pages. Both compartments are well done although the abstract stylings of the last pages sometimes annoy—when Ellen’s skirt, for instance, becomes the geometric shape of a skirt, suggesting “skirt” successfully but not indicating that there’s a body underneath. Here’s a sample of what I mean.
Despite the in-group cutenesses and the cliched reliance upon threadbare plot devices (the Octopus, young Denny’s love affair), the book is successful largely because of the sense of humor infecting it. And that bar scene alone is worth the price of admission.
SON OF CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
In Russia, surgeons operated on a man for what they thought was a malignant tumor in his chest but found and removed a 3-inch-tall fir tree, growing in his lung. According to The Week (April 24), doctors think the man may have inhaled a seed. ... On the same page in the same magazine is this: An Illinois man whose wife has been charged with beating her 2-year-old niece to death says the police insulted Islam by releasing her mug shot. The problem is that the cops took a photo of his wife without her traditional Muslim headscarf in place. Police, said the man, are “really going to be in big trouble” for violating her modesty.
USA Today reports that since 1976, there has been in the U.S. an average of 18 mass murders every year in which gunmen kill four or more people. Nearly 3,000 have died in such bloodbaths. Regretfully, I have come to the conclusion that more restrictive gun laws won’t remedy the problem. For one thing, the Constitution clearly permits people to own guns; to accommodate both the Second Amendment and the desire for greater safety in a gun-totin’ nation, any law enacted would be too general to have much effect. Moreover, no law is effective if the people charged with enforcing it overlook some revealing data—as they did in the case of the Virginia Tech slaughter a year or so ago. If the existing laws and regulations had been adhered to in that situation, presumably the murders would have been prevented. Given, then, what I perceive as the impossibility of achieving the goal of a nation free of murders by gun, we will doubtless gradually assume that mass murders of this kind are like natural phenomena, disasters like tornadoes that can’t be controlled or regulated but that must be, simply, endured, however sadly, however regretably. As Mike Littwin in the Denver Post wrote: “When you have volatile, unstable people, things like this are bound to happen, in much the way that volcanoes must eventually blow open a hole in the side of the mountain.” Littwin was not advocating the kind of unholy acceptance that I think is inevitable: he was being sarcastic, bemoaning our lack of resolve to find a solution. Alas, I think we cannot find a solution; so we will come, eventually, to accept the random bloodshed. In fact, we have pretty much arrived there.
MERRY BELATED XMAS
Hogan’s Alley’s anyule gift to its readers was a collection of Christmas card art by Roy Doty, who has been a freelance cartoonist since early in the modern era. Doty, who is fond of saying that he’s never had a job—“I’m a freelance cartoonist”—has drawn a Christmas card to send to friends and colleagues every year since 1946. An array of them, “masterpieces of intricate design,” is on display at http://www.cagle.com/hogan/features/christmas_cards_2008/main.asp. Interivewed by an HA minion just before Christmas, Doty said: “When I did my first card in l946, the year I started freelancing in New York, all the artists did their own cards at Christmas. It was a tradition to do so. Over the years fewer and fewer cartoonists do them, though there has been more of them lately now that they can print them out from their computers.” Doty’s mailing list keeps growing. “I guess most of the people on my original list are dead now,” he said, “but new friends and clients grow every year. One of the problems is both a sad and a joyful one. Many cartoonists die, and before the next Christmas I get a letter from their widows that they'd like to be kept on the list. I love that—then the widows have passed on, and I get requests from their children to keep them on the list. So it grows and grows. This year's list is just over the 500 mark, and I'm an old fashioned type: I still address them by hand like my mother told me to do with Christmas cards. Printing and postage are killing me, but it's a wonderful feeling. One of the joys of Christmas. I wouldn't dream of not doing a card in the coming year! Even if I only had a mailing list of twenty or so, I'd do a new one. Why should I give Hallmark more money? They never gave me any.”
Farrago of Persiflage and Badinage
Here are a few concocted (or discovered) by Jason Love, writing in Humor Times:
No man is an island, but many are that large.
The upside to dying is that you don’t have to go to work the next day.
Don’t count your chickens before they’re all in one basket.
The best part about gay men is that they’re not always trying to prove that they’re not gay.
You just think it’s all in your head.
The average American attention span is ...
Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for one day. Teach a man to fist, and he’ll stink for the rest of his life.
Remember that you are totally unique just like everyone else.
WE’RE ALL BROTHERS, AND WE’RE ONLY PASSIN’ THROUGH
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,
But I’m so glad I ran into you---
We’re all brothers, and we’re only passin’ through.
Frank Springer is dead. He died April 2 at his home in Damariscotta, Maine, of prostate cancer, reported Jennifer Barrios at Newsday. I enjoyed knowing Frank. I saw him only at the annual Reuben Weekends of the National Cartoonists Society, and we always talked. I can see him now—in one of the many cocktail hours, standing at the edge of a cluster of other cartoonists, glass in his hand, head thrown back, big grin on his face, talking, punctuating his remarks with drawled “ahhhh’s” to give himself time to think of what he’d say next. In our conversations, what he’d say next was invariably in answer to some question I’d posed about Milton Caniff or George Wunder.
Frank looked a lot like Steve Canyon, which is the sort of thing you might say as a compliment to someone whose early career was connected to a Milton Caniff creation—a film “negative” of Steve Canyon, that is—square out-thrust jaw, of course, but the clincher was that instead of a black streak in blonde hair, Frank had a white streak in dark hair. As he grew older, the dark hair turned gray, almost white, and the streak in his hair disappeared into the surroundings. My questions were usually about Frank’s sojourn with Wunder, Caniff’s successor on Terry and the Pirates, whom Frank assisted for 5-6 years. Among the tidbits he divulged: although it is widely supposed, and often claimed, that Wunder won a hotly contested competition among many cartoonists to take over Terry, Frank said Wunder told him there was only one contestant—George Wunder. Perhaps there would have been more if Wunder hadn’t done so well on his try-out. He was given two successive Terry Sunday strips by Caniff and told to write and draw the intervening week’s dailies.
To his son Jon, quoted by Barrios, Frank was “a gregarious and practical man who labored for hours a day in his backyard studio. He'd be out there basically all day long, morning until dinnertime,” listening to jazz and opera while he worked. He never got too high-minded about his outstanding talent, his son said: "He was a normal, conservative kind of guy.”
Frank was a freelancer all his life-long career, moving from one assignment to the next—sometimes in advertising, sometimes helping on someone else’s syndicated strip, sometimes doing a comic book for DC or Marvel. "There were some raggedy times,” he told Mark Evanier during a panel at the 2004 San Diego Comic Con, “but I always had work, raised five kids, bought some houses, bought some cars—I've been lucky."
Springer was born in Queens, New York, on December 6, 1929, Evanier reports at newsfromme.com. He graduated Syracuse University with a degree in art in 1952 and went into the army while the Korean War was in its last throes. Stationed at Fort Dix, Springer drew maps and illustrations until his discharge in 1954 when he began assisting Wunder. He left Wunder in 1960, embarking on the comic book illustrating phase of his career. “He later recalled Brain Boy, a Dell comic, as his first assignment,” Evanier said, adding: “He drew many books for Dell including Charlie Chan, Ghost Stories and Toka, Jungle King. He also began drawing for DC and later, Marvel. Fans recall his byline on the DC series, The Secret Six, and for a time on Marvel's Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD and later on many Spider-Man titles and Dazzler. He also did a lot of uncredited work, including a few Batman tales under the ‘Bob Kane’ signature.” He wandered in and out of the syndicated comic strips industry, helping Wunder again and working uncredited on several years of Rex Morgan, M.D., plus ghosting on The Heart of Juliet Jones, On Stage, Friday Foster, The Phantom and others. Evanier says Springer originated other strips of his own, but my favorite is the mock soap opera strip, The Virtue of Vera Valiant.
Written by Stan Lee, Vera Valiant plunged its hapless heroine in and out of the frying pan daily and Sunday, from 1976 until it ceased in 1977: one day’s emotionally fraught cliff-hanger would be solved the next day only to degenerate immediately into another dire dilemma for the ever hapless Vera, as you can see from the excerpts posted at the end of this remembrance. Frank’s deft touch in limning faces added pictorial variety and emotional heft to Lee’s breathless and nearly brainless plots.
According to his son, Frank was proudest of an adult satirical strip called The Adventures of Phoebe Zeit-Geist that he produced with writer Michael O’Donoghue. Starting in 1964, Phoebe ran serially in the Evergreen Review, an avant garde magazine of the day, the episodes subsequently collected in a hardback volume published by Grove Press in 1968. The chief object of the ridicule in the strip was cliff-hanging fiction. Phoebe, who dies at least once during the series but is revived a chapter or so later, is a beautiful, shapely and wealthy 24-year-old debutante, who at a cocktail party “in the midst of society’s notables, surrounded by scores of liveried footmen, sips what appears to be a perfectly ordinary pousse-café,” which is obviously drugged. She falls unconscious and “comes to, scant hours later, at an oasis in Death Valley, California, the prisoner of a portentous stranger,” an ex-Nazi “wearing a faded blue and olive Luftwaffe uniform.” He strips her naked, whips her, and ties her by the wrists to a helicopter, which takes off, heading for the LaBrea tar pits into which Phoebe is supposed to be deposited for the rest of eternity. En route, however, a blind Tibetan archer sends an arrow skyward and severs the cord binding Phoebe to the helicopter, and she plunges into the sea below. She is rescued but never recovers any clothing: for the rest of her harrowing adventures, all thirteen fevered chapters worth, she is thoroughly unencumbered by any raiment whatsoever.
Later on, O’Donoghue became an editor at National Lampoon, Evanier reports, summoning Springer, who drew many of the magazine’s parodies thereafter, “to great acclaim.”
Springer’s art was rendered with a supple line and superior draughtsmanship, recognizable by its sheer graphic panache. Anyone who can ghost for Stan Drake and/or Leonard Starr is a consummate artist, as you can doubtless readily tell from the gallery posted below. The National Cartoonists Society recognized his achievement by awarding him its plaque as Best Comic Book Artist three times—1973, 1977, and 1981. Springer served as NCS president 1995-97 and was a founder of the Society’s Long Island chapter, the Berndt Toast Club (named in honor of Walter Berndt, creator of the comic strip Smitty).
"Very few people could surpass him as an artist, as a gentleman, and as a true gentleman in my field," said Stan Goldberg, who draws Archie comics. "When you see a Frank Springer job, you know it's going to be the best job in the world."
I’ll miss Frank—his head tilted back, teeth flashing in a big grin, drawling “aahhh” before liberating his next remark.
Here are some excerpts from Vera Valiant, displaying Springer’s deft hand at drawing faces with a variety of expressions while still making the characters look like themselves in every instance, and a few pages from Phoebe Zeit-Geist, including one set in a saloon in the Orient, evoking the Terry and the Pirates locale with which, presumably, Springer was intimately familiar. And if you think the situations and dialogue in Vera are over the top, you might remember that Stan Lee, in one of his earlier incarnations, wrote the My Friend Irma comic book.
Jim Lange, whose entire 58-year-long career as an editorial cartoonist was spent at The Oklahoman, died on April 16 at the age of 82. Lange had been forced, kicking and clawing, into retirement the preceding October. Then on February 3, he fell and was taken to the hospital, where he spent about 9 weeks in and out of ICU, said his daughter, Cheryl, in an e-mail to Lange’s friends and colleagues. Several of his vertebrae were crushed or damaged in the fall, she reported, and he was diagnosed with osteomyelitis, an infection usually fatal. His family brought him home to hospice a few days before he died.
“Jim Lange was not only one of the greatest political cartoonists Oklahoma ever produced, he was one of the most outstanding cartoonists in the history of American journalism," said David Boren, University of Oklahoma president, quoted at newsok.com. "Jim had the remarkable ability to produce cartoons that were fully understood by the public and expressed the feelings of rank and file Americans. He truly loved this state and our country, and those patriotic feelings were constantly communicated through his work. His life's work was a gift to all of us, and I will personally miss his friendship and wonderful sense of humor."
Lange was born August 15, 1926 in Winnebago, Minnesota, but he grew up in Dubuque, Iowa. After service in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he was eligible for GI Bill benefits, and he used them at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He languished through a variety of “temporary, adventurous jobs” until he met Helen Johnstone, who told him she wouldn’t marry him until he had a real job. Lange promptly began researching for newspapers that had no staff editorial cartoonist, and when he found The Oklahoman, he wrote the publisher, owner E.K. Gaylord, who hired the young man. Lange began work on October 1, 1950.
For most of his career at The Oklahoman, the longest tenure of any journalist in the history of the newspaper, Lange drew seven cartoons a week. At his retirement, he was only doing five. (“Only”!) No one, not even Lange, knew exactly how many cartoons he had published over his career, but it probably exceeded 19,000. Very early, his cartoons were readily identifiable by his habit of scattering oil wells around the scenery. Apart from caricatured politicians, national as well as state, Lange’s most frequently appearing character was the traditional “John Q. Public,” a forlorn-looking representative of the puzzled and down-trodden tax-paying ordinary citizen, always in a shapeless fedora. And Lange stuck to the tried-and-true tools of his trade, too: his most advanced technology was a black felt-tip pen and poster board. “Occasionally,” the paper’s obit reported, “he would whip out a pen and draft an idea on a handy napkin.”
Lange usually produced several sketches every day for his editor to approve. Lange made his final drawing of the one the editor picked. He once said in an interview that the newspaper's executives rarely told him what to draw: his political philosophy was close enough to theirs that he knew what they wanted.
Lange was a charter member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC) and served a term as president during the 1980s. His work was frequently included in the annual publication, Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year. A collection of his best work was published by The Oklahoman in the 1990s, and Lange was inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame in 1993. Here’s the balance of The Oklahoman article remembering Lange (in italics):
His images helped put public issues in perspective, or helped readers express emotions about events that affected them. Lange punctured the posturings of many famous people; he insulted, scolded or ridiculed them when he thought it necessary. He also praised them when he deemed it appropriate. He didn't dislike anybody, he said once; he just didn't agree with some. Politicians and elected officials who appeared in his drawings were not always pleased with him. In a 2000 interview on his 50th anniversary on the job, Lange said that the worst thing someone in his line of work could do to a politician, except ignore him completely, was to laugh at him. Often, his subjects called as soon as the paper was delivered in the mornings to request the original sketch, no matter how insulting it was. Lange was a natural entertainer and storyteller. With drawing pad and pen for props, he performed for banquets, club meetings, conventions and fairs across the state. When he told jokes, he laughed more heartily and with more delight than his audience. In the 2000 interview, Lange responded to a question about why he hadn't retired when the appropriate age arrived. He said his job was just too good to leave.
Here’s a quick look at some of his cartoons, many of which feature ol’ John Q. Public. Startling, isn’t it, how current these issues seem even though the cartoons were drawn in the 1970s and 1990s.
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
The Thing of It Is ...
I haven’t been lambasting Baracko Bama as I did GeeDubya, and that’s because I think Obama is doing all right. No, he doesn’t walk on water. Yes, he’s just another politician, and he sometimes bends the truth (or, rather, avoids mentioning it), but there’s nothing sinister about his behavior: he doesn’t want to subvert the nation’s political system, as GeeDubya and Darth Cheney aspired to—creating a Republican Ruling Class in Perpetuity, with the Prez the Supreme and Unquestioned Leader Forever. I agree with David Broder, who, as the Obama administration approached its Magic 100 Days benchmark, wrote: “Barack Obama has launched a lot of schemes, but has fulfilled few of them. What he has shown—and it is an important accomplishment in itself—is a mastery of the art of managing the presidency. It is important because it is the first and most basic test of his ultimate ability to be a successful president. And it is surprising because there was no reason to assume that he had the skills to direct such a large enterprise. ... The campaign itself was by far his largest organizational challenge, and he passed with flying colors. The presidency poses far tougher tests. ... but the White House staff has supported what so far has been a bravura performance on Obama’s part. Particularly striking has been the staff’s ability to move at a rapid pace to tackle inherited challenges and launch ambitious initiatives without creating a sense of confusion about the essential priorities of the new president.” So we’ll wait and see some more here at the Rancid Raves Intergalactic Wurlitzer.
As for the shameless Grand Old Pachyderm, I don’t need to do any lambasting whatsoever as along as John Boehner is around—which he is, whenever Rush Limberger isn’t—singing the same old one-note ditty: don’t spend money to create jobs for people; give it all to the wealthy so they can create businesses that will, eventually, create jobs for people. Maybe. If, that is, there are any people left who haven’t starved to death while waiting for businesses to form and create those jobs.
According to Faux News, the ever-reliable fair and balanced newspaper “aspiring to the high standards set by cable news” (published in Humor Times, April 2009), the GOP has retracted its erstwhile motto, “Country First,” in favor of a new strategy, outlined by Boehner: “In our effort to come up with a unified plan going forward,” he said, “we decided to replace the now-irrelevant motto with our new one, ‘Failure IS An Option.’ It’s a new day, and a new challenge for the party,” he continued, “and we must convey our message to the American people clearly. The new slogan says to America, ‘Yes, we can fail, and it’s okay.’” He went on to maintain that “failing is the best way to succeed” in this new political climate (sounding like an echo of Karl Rove), insisting that “by failing now, the nation will see that Democrats suck, and that there is no choice but to return to Republican rule, no matter how distasteful it may seem.”
In the backwash of financial recovery, we have only Keyesian economic theory to thank. Spending money is the solution. It stimulates more spending, and, hence, revolving around and around, Wall Street and Main Street recover. Writes Jonathan Chait in The New Republic: “Keynes proposed burying money in mineshafts so that workers would be hired to dig it out. World War II was an effective stimulus that, economically speaking, consisted of 100 percent waste. If war hadn’t broken out, we could have enjoyed the same economic benefit by building all those tanks and planes and dumping them into the ocean.”
According to the aforementioned Faux News, O’Bama is taking this tact to its logical conclusion: give each American $1 million tax-free to invest or spend as they see fit. Obama and his advisors “discovered that the main reason for the current financial recession is that Americans don’t have enough money. By giving them more money, Obama believes this will stimulate the economy and lead to greater prosperity.”
You can’t make up stuff like this. Well, actually, you can. And we did, with the considerable chutzpah of Faux News.
Finally—and this’ll make you feel better—we have one of Clay Bennett’s cartoons, which is more words than pictures but is no less brilliant. The pictures are all of a hand-held calculator with totals showing. The captions that explain the totals read as follows: “If you spend a million dollars a day ... every single day since Jesus was born ... you still wouldn’t have spent as much ... as Congress did in the Stimulus Bill. ... Now let’s quadruple that amount ... and we’ll have the cost of the Iraq War.” Happily puts these matters into a proper perspective, one we can all enjoy.
To find out about Harv's books, click here.
send e-mail to R.C. Harvey
Art of the Comic Book - Art of the Funnies - Accidental Ambassador Gordo - reviews - order form - Harv's Hindsights - main page