Opus 248 (September 30, 2009): Will Disney sweeten Wolverine enough for American mothers and fathers; or will Marvel turn Mickey and Minnie into thuggish costumed crime fighters? Don’t look for an answer herein, but we do air some of the issues involved with Disney acquiring Marvel. And we also survey the editoonery landscape for signs of Obama corrupting school children and lying before Congress assembled, and we review graphic novels Parker and Filthy Rich, rehearse the history of Kevin & Kell and note Bill Holbrook’s masterful deployment of the resources of the medium, and look into first issues of Dominic Fortune, Starstruck, Red Herring, Sweet Tooth and Chew, and then present an extended consideration of Mike Ploog’s 2-issue turn at Eisner’s Spirit. Here’s all of what’s here, in order, by department (preceded by a new Rancid Raves motto):

Good, better, best—I shall never rest

Until the Good is Better, and the Better is Best.


NOUS R US: Marvel gets Mouse ears, Kirby heirs want a cut, DC Comics becomes a part of DC Entertainment, Paul Levitz discusses the present and future of comics, Comics Buyer’s Guide cover contest, and more, including the world’s “most embarrassing cartoon”

EDITOONERY: Obama corrupts school children and gets accused of lying, health care convolutions, racism, and Joker Obama

NEWSPAPER COMICS VIGIL: Rudy Park, Pluggers, Doonesbury, The Knight Life, and Shakespeare


BOOK MARQUEE: Gahan Wilson book(s), Barry Windsor-Smith’s Conan, Spiegelman’s Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics and Pete Maresca’s latest, the famed Upside-Downs

LONG-FORM PAGINATED CARTOON STRIPS (Graphic Novels): Parker, Filthy Rich

BOOK REVIEWS: Historic Kevin & Kell

FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE: Dominic Fortune, Starstruck, Red Herring, Sweet Tooth, Chew, and Mike Ploog’s Spirit

ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY: 20 outstanding Right Wing hypocrisies about health care reform

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—


A BOUNDING BULLETIN: The fourth issue of John Read’s Stay Tooned! is click to enlargenow out and available. Starting with a stunning cover by master caricaturist Tom Richmond, this issue delves into Madness, interviewing such Mad personages as Sergio Aragones, Paul Coker, Jack Davis, Don Edwing, the aforementioned Tom Richmond, John Kovaleski, plus Scott Nickel and Ted Rall. Subscriptions are offered, $40/4 quarterly issues, at staytoonedmagazine.com or at P.O. Box 111, Madison, MS 39130; single issues, $11 (including p&h in the U.S.), same addresses.



All the News That Gives Us Fits

.click to enlarge DISNEYFYING MARVEL. So transforming an event is this that it made the banner headlines on the front page of the Denver Post and, probably, others of the public prints. The story went viral in many of the nation’s newspapers because, doubtless, it permitted art directors to decorate the reportage with pictures of some of the longjohn legions of funnybook fame—Captain America, the Hulk, Wolverine, and, of course, Spider-Man. In our kick-off illo above, I put the iconic Mouse Ears on Spidey, thinking I was terribly clever. But I quickly saw that everyone was doing it—even, as you see, editorial cartoonists, some of whom used the visual rhetoric metaphorically to comment on some other aspect of our national fate. Even Mallard Fillmore found something to say—in the person of a guest appearance by the Hulk, who sees nothing but happy cooperation among characters ahead: “Hulk respect Disney princesses like Snow White, Ariel, Jack Sparrow...” Still fulminating conservative pseudo religious froth.

All this spandex excess at the news that Disney is buying Marvel: for merely $4 billion, or $800,000 per character, Disney gets all 5,000 Marvel characters, including, most notably, Spider-Man and the X-Men, the most popular, currently, of the stable. Stan Lee, who presided over the rejuvenation of Marvel Comics in the 1960s, prompting similar changes throughout the compulsively copycat comic book industry, said: “I love both companies. From every point of view, this is a great match.” But I’m not so sure. Typically, Disney has sweetened the world around us, producing perpetually cheerful venues aglow with happy songs and contented people. With that eventuality before us, I look for Peter Parker (aka Spider-Man) to shed his teenage angst and become a well-adjusted college kid and for the X-Men to form a singing group.

In this flight of fancy I was no more the lone genius than I’d been putting mouse ears on Spider-Man. The editorial cartoonists e-mail list was agog with statements like this: I'm not sure why everyone thinks this merger is a bad thing. Think of the possibilities! Now you can have that Hanna Montana/Dazzler team-up, add Ghost Rider to the Haunted Mansion, or, finally, Donald vs. Howard the Duck in fantasy as well as in actual copyright court.

Not everyone saw something to be delirious about. Al Lewis over the Dow Jones wire sounded a note of horrified alarm: “Scores of Marvel’s characters,” he observed, “are mutants, freaks, weirdos, tools of Satan, aliens or villainous narcissists intent on vaporizing our entire planet.” With standard-issue Right Wing alarm, he ran through a short list of the funnybook sociopaths he most fears: Jack-in-the-Box, “a telepathic Australian Aboriginal whose body petrifies and breaks apart when he overuses his powers. He once tried to reattach his feet with duct tape but is now reduced to a torso and resides in a box. And, no—he does not sell hamburgers.” Then we have Black Widow, “a human tool of Satan who ... uses her powers to drag corrupt arms manufacturers and other evildoers to hell.” Not to mention (although he does) Negasonic Teenage Warhead, “a mopey Goth chick.” Said Lewis: “These characters simply cannot be allowed to roam free in a Disney theme park.”

But that, we suppose, is exactly what will someday transpire, and the kingpins at the top of the corporate heaps involved seem ecstatic at the prospect. Businesswire.com quotes Disney chief Robert A. Iger: “This transaction combines Marvel’s strong global brand and world-renowned library of characters including Iron Man, Spider-Man, X-Men, Captain America, Fantastic Four and Thor with Disney’s creative skills, unparalleled global portfolio of entertainment properties, and a business structure that maximizes the value of creative properties across multiple platforms and territories. Ike Perlmutter and his team [at Marvel] have done an impressive job of nurturing these properties and have created significant value. We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney. We believe that adding Marvel to Disney’s unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation,” he concluded.

As for Ike Perlmutter, Marvel’s CEO, he was likewise giddy with anticipation of the millions to be wrought: “Disney is the perfect home for Marvel’s fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses,” he chimed in, adding: “This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney’s tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world.” Perlmutter will oversee the Marvel properties, and will work directly with Disney’s global lines of business to build and further integrate Marvel’s properties.

Entertainment Weekly put it all more succinctly: “The Disney-Marvel pact seems to be a long-term winner for both sides. With Disney, Marvel gets financial backing for its films and marketing muscle to promote comics to kids. Meanwhile, Disney gets a brand that’s always been relevant to boys—a week spot in its media machine.” Moreover, the New York Times observed, for Disney, the acquisition comes as the company’s vast theme park operations and television advertising business have been struggling because of soft advertising sales at ABC and ESPN and drooping consumer spending at theme parks. Disney’s profit in the third quarter, which ended June 27, dropped 26 percent. (A circumstance that may well explain the supposedly baffling firing of Disney studio head Dick Cook after 38 years of service.) Just the sort of dire predicament a band of superheroes can jump into and rescue.


OUTSIDE INSIDER COMMENTS ON DISNEY’S MARVEL. Marv Wolfman, who has worked for both companies, fielded numerous phone calls in the first hours after the news was announced in late August and summarized his assessment at his blog, marvwolfman.com/todaysviews, on August 31. Everyone wanted to know what he thought about the deal, and his answer, the short one, was: “Nobody knows. Certainly I don't.” But he embroidered his short answer, turning to each aspect of the companies’ possessions. Starting with the theme parks, he pointed out that Universal’s Marvel Land in Florida is littered with Marvel stores, rides, attractions and characters. “Their Spider-Man attraction is arguably the best theme park ride anywhere. None of us knows how long their contract is for ...[so] we don't know if the Marvel Land with its characters can move from Universal over to Disney Parks. But eventually something is going to happen there; I can't imagine Disney wanting to make things easy for Universal.”

Then, movies. “We know Marvel has re-acquired some of their characters, but not all. Do we know how much longer Sony has Spider-Man or 20th Century Fox has X-Men? ... Third, there's television. That's actually one of the places I think we can expect to see Marvel material appear. Disney has not been able to put together as successful a boy's network as they have with girls. There has been no boy equivalent to either Hannah Montana or Secret Life of An American Girl. Their current boy's network, which is supposed to have adventure shows, instead has primarily boy oriented sitcoms, but I personally don't believe boys care about those kind of shows the way girls do. Marvel would fit in very well here, providing they get back their contracts from the various networks that currently hold them. Before Disney spent 4 billion dollars, I'm certain they investigated all the properties down to the nth degree. Last time I spent 4 bil, I certainly did.”

Then Wolfman turned to the print world. Comic books aren’t the source of big bucks for the corporations involved, not anymore, but they are the foundation upon which all else stands.

What happens to Marvel Comics will depend on which Disney division gets jurisdiction.” Will Marvel move to the West Coast? “Off the cuff, I would tend to doubt it. ... It's too expensive to be located there. I would assume they'd leave Marvel where it is, although ... it all depends which division Marvel will fall under and who is in charge and how much they want to control Marvel. Disney can certainly help Marvel in terms of distribution, awareness and sales. They can get Marvel Comics into the parks and over the net better than Marvel can. Disney's Internet presence is much greater than Marvel's. They have resources Marvel does not, and I expect in a year or two we'll start seeing the results of the sale. I think Disney will be a major plus on that side.

“In the meantime,” Wolfman went on, “I assume they will leave the company as is, at least until they have an idea what they're doing with it. As far as the comics go, hopefully, they will leave Joe Quesada and company where they are and not interfere; they've creatively improved the Marvel Comics. Based on most of their Marvel Studios movies, they seem to have good people there, too. I'm not completely sure it was a wise purchase, but Disney is in the branding/franchise business and the Marvel brand is one of the largest in the world. Of course, everything will change if the Marvel characters fail at whatever Disney has planned. ... But whatever happens, the comics world has been rocked. As for where it will go—we'll cross our fingers and see.”


THE FIRST THING WE SAW IN DISNEY’S MARVEL WAS A PROBLEM, reported by Michael Cieply and Brooks Barnes in the New York Times: “Disney’s proposed $4 billion acquisition of Marvel Entertainment may come with a headache: newly filed claims challenging Marvel’s long-term rights to some of its superhero characters. Heirs to the comic book artist Jack Kirby, a creator of characters and stories behind Marvel mainstays like “X-Men” and “Fantastic Four,” last week sent 45 notices of copyright termination to Marvel and Disney, as well as Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and other companies that have been using the characters. The notices expressed an intent to regain copyrights to some of Kirby’s creations as early as 2014, according to a statement from Toberoff & Associates, a law firm in Los Angeles that helped win a court ruling last year returning a share of the copyright in Superman to heirs of one of the character’s creators, Jerome Siegel.” Marc Toberoff declined further comment. As did Fox, Sony, Paramount and Universal. Disney’s reaction: “The notices involved are an attempt to terminate rights 7 to 10 years from now, and involve claims that were fully considered in the acquisition.”

Cieply and Barnes explained: “The window for serving notice of termination on the oldest of the properties opened several years ago, and will remain open for some time under copyright law. But Disney’s pending purchase of Marvel has given anyone with possible Marvel claims more reason to pose a challenge. Under copyright law, the author or his heirs can begin a process to regain copyrights for a period of time after the original grant. If Kirby’s four children were to gain the copyright to a character Kirby helped create, they might become entitled to a share of profits from films or other properties using it. ... In July, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that Warner Brothers and its DC Comics unit had not violated rights of the Siegel heirs in handling internal transactions related to Superman. But an earlier ruling had granted the heirs a return of their share in the copyright. Copyright matters have become increasingly tangled for Hollywood, as it continues to trade on characters and stories that were created decades ago but are now subject to deadlines and expiration dates under federal copyright law.”


MEANWHILE, AT DC COMICS, a universe-altering re-organization that has been in the works for some time was announced, pushed forward, no doubt, by the Disney-Marvel proclamation. At Publishers Weekly, Heidi MacDonald reported that “the home of Superman and Batman will become part of a larger division called DC Entertainment, to be run by WB branding veteran Diane Nelson. The new arm is charged with expanding opportunities for DC's huge library of characters into other media, including feature films, television, interactive entertainment, direct-to-consumer platforms and consumer products. Nelson will report directly to Warner Studios head Jeff Robinov. Nelson, who has been successfully handling the Harry Potter franchise at WB for the last 10 years, is looking to hire a new publisher who will take Paul Levitz’ place to oversee DC's comics business.”

The new configuration is expected to position DC better to compete with long-time rival Marvel now that the latter has acquired Disney clout. “While Marvel and DC have been four-color comics publishing rivals since the early 1960s, the stakes have intensified in recent years as superhero-based movies have flexed their superpowers at the box office. Warner/DC's “The Dark Knight” is the all-time #2 money winner, but the recent Superman reboot stumbled, and a Wonder Woman movie has been in the concept stages for years. Meanwhile, Marvel successfully launched the little-known Iron Man into a top franchise, and Spider-Man has three blockbusters in his web. Now it's Warners' turn to start mining the DC library of properties and characters, with Nelson in a position to help the entire studio develop DC's properties across various platforms.”

And DC’s roster is more varied than Marvel’s, including non-superhero creations like Jonah Hex and the Losers. Marv Wolfman, who is currently collaborating with Warner Studios on as yet unnamed projects, elaborated for MacDonald: "The bulk of DC's characters aren't superheroes; over the last 70 years they've developed mystery and horror materials and children's comics." This could be even more important down the road, if superhero movies prove to be as cyclical as other once-popular movie genres. "You could take a lot of the other DC characters and succeed with them," says Wolfman, pointing to the huge library of concepts and characters at DC's Vertigo imprint as one example. According to Wolfman, print publishing as the engine for character creation is still key, even for giant movie corporations like Disney and Warner Brothers. "Profits may come from other mediums, but it's the comics that generate the characters. I think you're going to see continued emphasis on the comics because, frankly, it's a very easy way of discovering what characters you have and telling really fascinating stories."


THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF COMICS. Paul Levitz, who will be stepping down as DC’s president and publisher to make room for Nelson, will continue his relationship with DC as a consultant, and he will also pursue writing projects for the company. Before walking out the door, though, Levitz gave a long, wide-ranging interview to Icv.2 on August 24. He believes the comic book industry is in a fascinating and challenging transitional moment: “The audience is getting wider so much faster. Everything that we had talked about last year that we were hoping for with Watchmen seems to have taken place. We’re seeing in the sales statistics a migratory pattern of new people coming in, trying things, sampling things in just astronomic numbers.”

The graphic novel format is the big attraction. Manga gave the incipient genre momentum in the bookstores, but movies are also spurring the movement. DC attempted to capture readers by promoting Alan Moore’s Watchmen graphic novel in the wake of the movie. “The buyer moving through the system,” Levitz said, “—he or she bought Watchmen, tried it, had a good time, came back to the store, looked at his Amazon recommendations, looked at what else was on the shelf, recognized Alan’s name [on V for Vendetta], picked it up, said ‘I’ll try this.’ Or they might’ve said, ‘I remember hearing something about Preacher.’” They also went for Persepolis and Maus, “which are logical titles for somebody to blunder into post-Watchmen when they go back and say, ‘So what are the great graphic novels? What should I be looking at?’ All of that bodes so incredibly well. We’ve also seen the fruit of the past couple of years on the creative side in the range of projects being done.”

Both OGNs and IGNs are growing in number and readership. OGNs, “original graphic novels,” have paved the way for IGNs, “intended for graphic novels.” I suspect that OGNs were at first somewhat risky publishing opportunities: they require long-term commitment by both author and publisher—with no revenue in sight. On the other hand, IGNs—which usually begin as serial periodicals, embracing in several successive issues a single story arc that subsequently is recycled as a single book—yield revenue in newsstand sales, issue-by-issue, as they’re being created. Y: The Last Man, for instance. Or, as Levitz notes, Preacher.

The phenomenon is attracting new authors, writers and artists who heretofore would not have considered “comics” a viable medium for their talents. But now, said Levitz, they’re coming in and bringing with them a wider range of material than the traditional four-color medium offered. It’s not an unalloyed blessing, however. The traditional comic book was “a very forgiving medium for its creators,” Levitz acknowledged. Periodical publication allowed new talent to try its wings over time, improving on successive assignments. “You had many cases where somebody could be commercially a sequential failure for many years in a row as long as they were professional and a pleasant person to work with, were on time, polite, not too demanding financially.” And the primitive bookkeeping and distribution system was also less imperative. It was, essentially, an experimental environment. But the present bookstore environment with computerized tracking makes commercial success or failure immediately obvious. If creators’ first efforts are not selling, bookstore buyers are not likely to buy more from the same authors. Said Levitz: “It’s a radical transition for our business because hopefully we’re not comfortable with that yet, that the commerce should weigh that heavily on the art of the business.”
The emerging business model makes it “a lot harder for the little guy who’s launching something from home to do it,” Levitz said. “Is there still room for a Cartoon Books to do
Bone? Sure. But Bone succeeded because it was the combination of really brilliant creativity by Jeff Smith, and a very well-run small business by Jeff and Vijaya, his wife and partner. I think that’s going to be harder and harder to pull off and we’ll lose something as a result of that. That’s part of what gave the fertility to comics and the adventuresome creative feel that we’ve had in the last few years.”

The entire distribution system, mostly Diamond these days, is also facing a challenge—with implications for the creative side. Said Levitz: “Diamond becomes pressured to deal with the economics more realistically if there are more graphic novels to be put through, and the ones that are working require more inventory to be carried and more attention to be paid to them. The retailers on both the book store and the comic shop sides, when they have a full shelf of stuff and there’s too much for anyone to carry, have to make choices.”

But there’s hope: “Mercifully they will make different choices, and one of the blessings of the comic shop environment is that because there’s no one, two, or three dominant retailers, you have much more ability for individual retailers to become the passionate patron of the particular project and build it up. It becomes a greater form of competition.”

Levitz thinks the traditional periodical pamphlet format will survive because it permits taking advantage of current fads and cultural interests quickly. Periodicals can be created, published, and distributed faster than graphic novels, whether OGN or IGN. DC Comics has lately increased the cover price for some periodical titles from $2.99 to $3.99, but, Levitz adds, they’ve always added content.

“We’ve gotten a very good response to the books where we added page count and added a second feature. ... The key editorial [content] is still probably twenty-four pages but there’s a bunch of perceived-to-be useful and valuable additional editorial material there. ... The place where the loudest bitching about $3.99 is when it’s exactly what you were selling for $2.99 two seconds ago but you’re charging a buck extra. We haven’t done much of that, maybe not any of it. (I didn’t check my stats to be able to say ‘not any’ with a straight face.) It’s a tough economy,” he admitted. “It’s not a very inflationary time so a price increase without added value stands out more. I don’t think it’s a great time to be moving a lot of titles through a higher price point without delivering a value that the reader finds exciting.”

The digital future still awaits. DC hasn’t moved into the iPhone apps market much. “It’s not yet clear whether people want to buy comics that way,” Levitz said. But “we’re looking at everything that comes out there. ... Will there be a place in the market for some delivery like that? Certainly. It’s not clear yet what it’s going to be.”

Meanwhile, DC is exploring its relationship with Teshkeel, its licensee for the Arabic language editions of its comics for the last three or five years. “That’s not an enormous market,” Levitz said, “because there’s not a long history of comic books being an enormous part of the business in the Arabic-speaking world, and there are significant cultural barrier issues that either create import problems for them from time to time or distribution problems. But they’ve been a good partner in all of that, trying to reach the potential audience that is there. That’s one of the things that helped convince them to do their own comics.”

Levitz also talked a little about the notion of transmedia storytelling in which a narrative extends beyond one medium and goes across multiple platforms—film, tv, and video games as well as comics, both graphic novels and periodicals. Some characters, Levitz said, are more readily adaptable to other media than the medium of their initial appearance and success. Said he: “I’m not sure why that is, but if you look at the properties that have succeeded in transmedia, a very high proportion of them are properties that have had a lot of different creative people executing the property early on—like, say, Superman or Batman,” characters produced over the years by an array of creative teams.

“Schulz and Peanuts to me are always the opposite end of the spectrum,” Levitz said, “but Peanuts really succeeded phenomenally because Schulz kept his hand on everything. It still isn’t clear that anyone else can come up with something new with Peanuts that the world will care about (although maybe they can tomorrow morning). That could be because the material’s so idiosyncratic. Pogo is a wonderful example of a creative property that is so ornately, beautifully peculiar to what Walt Kelly had in mind that I’m not so sure somebody else could be the great genius of it.”

Levitz acknowledged that Watchmen had only a pair of creators, but “it took twenty years to find the way to just be able to do it in a movie because of that. There wasn’t a natural elasticity to it. Batman is in my mind, certainly of the DC properties, the most protean. There have been the most different incarnations of Batman that have succeeded over the longest period of time so we tend to be a little braver with Batman as a result. We’ve seen he could be a hit as the Adam West version, Tim Burton version, Chris Nolan version, Denny and Neal version.” But Levitz hopes no one will quickly rule out the next bright idea somebody brings in, saying: “We try to stay true to what we view as the essentials of the character, and at the same time we try and remain open-minded to the great creative people.”


THE COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE HAS FINALLY weaned itself off covers celebrating the blockbuster success of longjohn legions on the big screen: the magazine’s most recent issues have had covers about four-color pulp superheroes, not celluloid champions. And with the current issue, readers are invited to submit cover art of their own devising in a competition dubbed “Cover Us! The Great CBG Cover Contest.” Open to all who aspire to greatness by getting published in “the world’s longest-running magazine about comics” and who accompany their submission featuring original characters (no nudity and no copying famous superheroes) with a $20 entry fee—payable for each entry—the contest closes November 1. The Grand Prize is $100 and the winner’s art on CBG’s cover sometime in 2010. Details at CBG’s website, cbgxtra.com.

CBG columnist (and novelist, film writer, and comic book scribe) Peter David is off on one of his periodic toots complaining about rude and arrogant comics fans, but he wanders off the path he’s beating with a wonderfully quirky aside: “By the way,” he writes, “am I the only one who doesn’t understand the term ‘Person of Color,’ or POC as it’s commonly abbreviated? What’s up with that? Last time I checked, white is a color. In fact, if I remember my 7th Grade science correctly, white light is the combination of all colors in the spectrum. What do you call the absence of color? Black. Go figure.”

Quirky. Perverse even. But gutsy in a day when the race of the Prez of the U.S. inspires so much comment. David’s remarks fly in the face of the Usual Practice of proving one’s racial tolerance by not talking about race, and not talking about racism is a good way of perpetuating it.


The Dr. Seuss environmental cautionary tale The Lorax is being made into a 3D animated film to be released in 2012, according to Variety. ... Frank Miller’s Ronin graphic novel is being developed for the big screen under the watchful eye of director Sylvain White, who, Steve “Frosty” Weintraub tells us at collider.com, likes Miller’s “production design and the character design and the colors that are used,” which he thinks he can frame with “much more depth and beauty on film than you can in a graphic [novel]." ... Rush Limbaugh and Karl Rove are slated to play themselves in a future episode of “Family Guy” saith Leigh Holmwood at guardian.co.uk. “Brian, the liberal dog of the cartoon's central family, the Griffins, gets bored and frustrated because he feels he no longer has anything to complain about with Barack Obama in the White House, so he becomes a Republican and starts listening to Limbaugh.” So the show is going to the dogs? ... Seeking, no doubt, to catch up with its competitors, Archie Comics Publications has signed on with CAA (Creative Artists Agency), the Tinseltown uber-agency that reps such luminaries as Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Will Smith in the hope that CAA will be able to create the kind of entertainment opportunities for Archie that it has established for toymakers Mattel and Hasbro. Variety notes that the Archie/CAA deal comes “as Hollywood is quickly gobbling up established branded properties as evidenced by Disney’s pending acquisition of Marvel Entertainment and Warner Bros. recent exec overhaul of DC Comics.”

After yanking all its syndicated cartoons a number of months ago, The Village Voice is reinstating This Modern World by Tom Tomorrow (aka Dan Perkins). Editor & Publisher asserts that other alt weeklies that are part of the Voice chain may do likewise. ... In Britain, Batman ranks as the greatest superhero of all time in a survey of sf fans for the fantasy website, SFX.co.uk, which, mirror.co.uk reports, elbowed Spider-Man into second place and Superman, third. Batman’s popularity in England may be somewhat surprising, but in this country, not: we’ve consistently displayed a morbid fascination with such psychotic anti-heroes as Darth Vader and J.R. Ewing, and the current funnybook manifestation of Batman as a psychologically scarred person is in the same misbegotten tradition.

In one of the year’s supreme ironies, two of the cartoonists behind the infamous Danish Dozen cartoons that won’t be published in the Yale University Press book about the Danish Dozen, The Cartoons That Shook the World, will be speaking at Yale three days after the book is scheduled to be released. Kurt Westergaard and Lars Hedegaard will speak to Yalies on October 1. From the Copenhagen Post via DailyCartoonist, Hedegaard said that he would talk about the background of the crisis and the situation today. He expected Westergaard to talk about his art and what he wanted to express through his drawings. “The decision of Yale University Press is of course despicable and a sign of censorship and fear,” said Hedegaard. “It’s a sad comment of our times that a well-respected company should bow to fear of threats.” He also observed, wryly, that 30 September is the fourth anniversary of the original publication of the drawings, and he announced plans to establish an annual event promoting free speech.

Yes, I know: I promised to regale you with the story of the unknown cartooning genius Bill Hume this time; but instead, I’ve scheduled it for The Comics Journal, No. 302. It’ll show up in Harv’s Hindsights next spring sometime, but for your immediate viewing pleasure, I’d recommend picking up The Comics Journal.


Last summer, Baldo, a comic strip about an eponymous Latino teenager usually interested in cars and girls and being “cool,” deviated from its usual course to publicize diabetes as the sixth leading cause of death among Hispanics in the U.S. On June 29, when Baldo’s father, Sergio Bermudez, was diagnosed with the ailment, his doctor pops in with an advisory: "Do you know the average Hispanic is 1.6 times as likely to die from diabetes as a non-Hispanic white?" "Doctor, you're wrong!" Baldo's Lisa Simpson-like younger sister Gracie responded. "My Papi's gonna be OK! He's not average at all." A nice comicality with which to conclude an otherwise serious message.

Baldo started in 2000, written by journalist Hector Cantu of Dallas and illustrated by Carlos Castellanos of West Palm Beach, Fla. "Diabetes is something Hector and I are both dealing with in our own families," Castellanos said in a statement from the National Alliance for Hispanic Health and reported in Reporter-News. "Baldo is meant to be a lighthearted family strip. Occasionally we will write about things that are relevant to the Hispanic community." A recent survey by the American Heart Association found that Hispanics' awareness and knowledge of diabetes risk factors are high, but they do not act on this knowledge or make lifestyle changes to help them control their diabetes. The diabetes plotline concluded July 10.


Janet Evanovich, who writes best-selling mystery novels about bounty-hunter Stephanie Plum, is working with her daughter Alex on a graphic novel for Dark Horse. Based on the author’s Motor Mouth and Metro Girl books about a race-car driver named Sam Hooker and a NASCAR mechanic named Alexandra Barnaby, the book is expected to come out next year. Evanovich and her daughter are passionate fans of both comic books and NASCAR. The graphic novel “allows me to feed my NASCAR addiction and comic book addiction all at the same time,”said the author, quoted at artsbeat.nytimes.com. No artist was named.

R&R correspondent and beach-combing retired editoonist Jim Ivey recalls “the most embarrassing cartoon”: Dan Dowling drew a cartoon showing Nixon supporters as a wagon train formed in a circle—with the Kennedy clan pictured as Indians circling the wagons. Each “Indian” was labeled: Bobby, Teddy, Eunice, etc. Dowling had counted the Kennedys and chose for his caption: “Where’s Rosemary?” This ran one edition until an alert editor pointed out that Rosemary had been lobotomized by her father’s orders while in a mental institution. Eunice Kennedy was so affected by Rosemary’s fate that she spent her life in the cause of the mentally ill.

Playboy’s October issue has a few more pages than the usual lately—142 vs. an average count below 130 since February 2009. But the number of full-page color cartoons (not counting Olivia’s pin-up) dropped to 4. Four! An all-time low. A ratio of 1/35: you’ll find a full-page cartoon once every 35 pages. Small cartoons reverted to an earlier, better, average: 1/17. And strips were present at a better rate, too. Pumping up the averages all around is a two-page spread of Gahan Wilson cartoons, 8 all told. Still, the magazine seems but a shadow of its former self.

Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing 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 and Michael Cavna at voices.washingtonpost.com./comic-riffs . 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.


"The other day, I did my first drawing with a stylus on a computer, and I found it absolutely fascinating," Jules Feiffer said. "And in about five or 10 years, I might draw another one." (Quoted at a Dartmouth seminar)

“We’re going to have no paper, no printing plants, no unions. It’s going to be great,” saith Rupert Murdoch, the world’s news mogul, hailing a future in which Kindle displaces newspapers, but he added that the process will probably take about 20 years.

AND HERE, FOR THE ELDERLY AMONG US (and for those who aspire to that station), a few words of wisdom on the condition from Will Rogers:

Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable.

You eventually reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.

The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.

When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to youth, think of Algebra.

I don’t know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.

And then there’s this, from “The Bucket List”: Edward Cole’s three things to remember as you grow older:

“Never pass up a bathroom, never waste a hard-on, and never trust a fart.”


Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted

September, happily, was another fertile month for editorial cartoonists. I’d thought August with its town halls of sulphurous lunatics and other manifestations of the Righteous Hypocritical Right was simply so riven with material for comic ridicule that it could not be improved upon. Alas, I reckoned without Barack O’Bama’s fiendish plan to lecture the nation’s most captive audience, school children, indoctrinating them with socialistic fake birth certificates and all the other accouterments of Liberal Progressive Thought that will destroy America as we have come to know and love it. And then, just as the simmer was returning to the health care reform pot, along came hapless Joe Wilson—just in time to yell “You lie!” to the Prez during his address to an auspicious joint session of Congress. Wonderful. Editorial cartoonists rejoiced. With material like this, they didn’t need to think up cartoons: they could simply draw pictures of the people in the news, and—lo and behold!—they’d have cartoons. But some, bored after taking afternoons off all August under the same dispensation, drew actual cartoons in defiance of the prevailing trend.

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In our first visual aid (numbered 1 in red here for ease in referring to it), Daryl Cagle has achieved as much ridicule as sarcastic laughter can on the school children issue. Bruce Plante sets up the “You lie!” episode accurately, I’d say, but without metaphorical impact; this is one of those “simply make a visual record of an actual event and you’ll have a cartoon” cartoons. David Fitzsimmons’ vivid visual metaphor is both hilarious and accurate, doing what Plante does but doing it with memorable symbolism. Then we have John Darkow’s deployment of the Celebrated Hurled Footwear imagery. At first blush, you’d think Darkow is on the side of the shoe-throwers, protesting Obama’s health care reform just as the Iraqi journalist protested U.S. involvement in Iraq by tossing his shoes at George W. (“Whopper”) Bush a year or so ago. Or so I thought for a moment. And then I noticed that the shoe was a clown’s shoe, ergo—the shoe-thrower is a clown. And so he is. Or he would be were he not also a colossal boor, who, saith Robert J. Ellsberg in HuffintonPost.com, “has spent so much time inside the loony right-wing echo chamber that ‘he just forgot where he was’”—namely, in the House of Representatives, wherein rules preserve a certain decorum in the interest of maintaining enough of the illusion of civility to conduct business, take roll, count votes, etc.

Wilson apologized to the Prez later, and his colleagues in the House rebuked him for the breach in decorum, which they presumably would have done if he’d yelled anything—“son of a bitch,” for example—during a time that the body was in August joint session. But his impolitic yelp was not without benefit: his constituents back home poured money into his campaign coffers. It is ever thus with celebrity, however suddenly it arrives, however unbidden. Wilson shows up just in time: now that Sarah Palin is off the front pages of the nation’s papers, the Grand Ol’ Pachyderm needs another face for its Stupid Right Wing-Nuts to worship. Wilson qualifies. Next, he’ll be on “Dancing with the Stars.”

His nutty verbal assault, however, opened up another can of worms. Wilson is from South Carolina, where he was once a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and in 2000 led a campaign to keep the Confederate flag waving above the state capitol. Maureen Dowd wasn’t the only columnist who detected a third word lurking in Wilson’s blurt: “You lie, boy!” Saith Dowd: “Wilson clearly did not like being lectured and even rebuked by the brainy black president presiding over the majestic chamber.” Former Prez Jimmy Carter also thought Wilson’s outburst had racist roots, and his remarks about racist criticism of Obama flushed a freshlet of fulminations about racism in America. Another monstrous distraction. “Look over here!”

Yes, Americans are racist. Black Americans and white Americans. Both. And brown Americans and yellow and red. None can think of another without harboring prejudices based upon misbegotten notions about race. We cannot escape the effects of our cruel racial history. Wait: I take it back. I’ve just described prejudice, not racism. Racism, in my (admittedly perverse) view, occurs when one acts upon his/her racial prejudices. (The dictionary disagrees, saying that “racism is the notion that one’s ethnic stock is superior”; that’s a prejudice—a “pre-judgement” not based upon fact. For the purpose of my immediate argument, I’ll stick to my interpretation.) We have the prejudices, and they are hard to shake. But if we acknowledge them, we effectively recognize them; and if we recognize them and know they’re there, we can set them aside whenever we “act”—whether socially or legislatively. That’s my hope anyhow.

But back to the dictionary. Yes, Americans are racist. We know it; we admit it. And mostly, we can’t do much about it. So what? As John McWhorter writes in the October 7 issue of The New Republic: “That subliminal racism plays a part in some people’s criticisms of our president is being addressed as a problem. I would argue that it is more realistically observed as a fact, one that is unlikely to be completely absent in any human society. We have outlawed deliberate segregation and discrimination. We have rendered bigotry socially incorrect, to the extent that it now lies somewhere between smoking and pedophilia. Can we do more than this? Do we need to? ... Who ever thought, given the inherent imperfectability of humankind, that racism is somehow different from our other flaws and could be subject to complete eradication? No one pens doorstop volumes announcing that mosquitoes still exist. We know they do, and we assume they always will because life isn’t perfect. The issue is how close to perfect we can expect to get. Surely, health care, two wars overseas, and a deeply ailing economy are more important than mosquitoes—or whether some people’s feelings about Barack Obama are less than, yes, civil.”

About the same time as all the foregoing was going forth, on the other side of the globe, Muntadhar al-Zeidi was released after serving nine months in prison for assault. Al-Zeidi is the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes, one after the other, at GeeDubya—calling him a dog (“I got my chance and I didn’t miss it,” he said). He has become a hero to his countrymen, many of whom feel his protest encapsulated their own bitterness about the U.S. occupation of their country. An 8-foot-long fiberglass shoe was unveiled last winter as a monument to the reporter; it was demolished almost immediately at Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s order, but its very existence, short-lived though it was, testified to the intensity of anti-Bush League feeling in Iraq. Al-Zeidi may quit working as a journalist, though: he may use his iconic status to promote humanitarian causes, his family told the Associated Press. His shoes, however, “won’t become museum pieces: investigators destroyed them trying to determine if they contained explosives.”

But shoes as weapons continue to haunt the Iraqi battlefield: two days after al-Zeidi’s release, U.S. Marines shot and wounded an Iraqi man, thinking he was throwing a grenade at them. But it was only the man’s slipper. He threw it in the same spirit as al-Zeidi did—in exasperated protest against American military presence in his town.

After all the School Lecture and Wilson excitements, politics returned to normal. The health care issue and the GOP’s idiotic and hypocritical attacks once again drew ink from the nation’s editoonists, as we see in No. 2 of our visual aids. Fitzsimmons’ image is scarcely a novel one, but it captures the essence of the relationship between conservative talk show motormouths and the Republican Party. Tom Toles takes the same stance a step further, and Nate Beeler provides uproariously droll imagery of the moronic birther distraction. And in No. 3, we have a curious novelty. For the past year or so, Denver Post’s editoonist Mike Keefe has been running a cartoon caption contest every week: the paper publishes a Keefe drawing and invites readers to fill the speech balloon. Here, Brenda Walker’s laminated verbiage turned Keefe’s drawing into a brilliant accurately emblematic portrait of the medical insurance situation. Pat Bagley’s cartoon, like Fitzsimmons’ a couple sentences ago, isn’t particularly startling in imagery, but its graphic vitality screams outrage. Keefe is back with a tellingly accurate image about the relationship between the nation’s slowly recovering economy and employment. And Mike Lane is here because he made me laugh with this coy visual-verbal formulation.

Speaking of telling images, here are a few strays. click to enlarge Clockwise from the upper left, we have, first, that infamous “Joker Obama” poster, which, we learn at the Los Angeles Times, was created by 20-year-old Firas Alkhateeb, a college student and supporter of Dennis Kucinich’s campaign for president. In evoking Heath Ledger’s portayal of Batman’s maniacal nemesis the image is a powerful comment on Obama’s alleged socialist leanings—an allegation as insane as the Joker himself. Predictably, some saw Alkhateeb’s poster as “clearly racist” because of Joker Obama’s whitewashed face. Editoonist Daryl Cagle, quoted by Justin George at the St. Petersburg Times, said the concept was “stale,” and to prove his point, he Googled the Joker and found similar treatments given in 2008 to such political personages as George W. (“Warlord”) Bush, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. Those who were upset by the Joker Obama probably were amused when GeeDubya was morphed into “What Me, Worry?” icon Alfred E. Neuman. As discussion acquired more and more digital decibels, some commentators invoked the Joker’s own words in an attempt to turn down the volume: Why so serious?

Next is a picture of a man and young girl (she’s 11 years old) destined to become man and wife in Afghanistan, where forced marriages are an enduring custom—often the means of settling disputes or debts. Photographer Stephanie Sinclair has captured the unforgettably apprehensive glance of Ghulam Haider as she sees her husband-to-be for the first time. Not even a thousand words would do this picture justice. Below that, Bruce Tinsley’s pretty good caricature of Obama; the eyes are wrong and the ears a little too huge, but over-all, it works. Next, Roy Peterson’s “farewell cartoon” that his newspaper, the Vancouver Sun, refused to publish even after inviting him to do it. (See Opus 245 where we first mention this specimen, and Ops. 243 and 244, for a running, blow-by-blow account of the Canadian newspaper’s disgrace, firing a national institution.) At about 7 o’clock, we have a drawing by the great T.S. Sullivant. This one is not particularly typical of his work—he usually drew Biblical characters or cave-dwellers or antic animals—but it showcases his graphic mannerisms just fine, here promoting the next issue of the old humor magazine Life, which will devote itself to the theme of crime. My excuse for including this picture here is to announce that the long-anticipated collection of Sullivant cartoons, culled mostly from Life where he worked for most of his cartooning career, 1888-1926, is now in the works at Fantagrapics; due out, possibly, by this time next year, with an introduction by yrs trly and additional essay by Rick Marschall, who is donating Sullivant cartoons from his Judge magazine collection. Finally, one of the kind of amusing drawings that often found its way into the old Life—just a playfully funny picture—this one possibly an early specimen by Percy Crosby. I can’t quite make out the name in the signature, but its configuration looks like Crosby’s.


Coming Attraction: The faux truthiness that newspaper journalism is dying off.


The Alleged News Institution

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press notes that the number of people who think journalists’ work is inaccurate and biased is growing: from 34 percent in 1985 to 63 percent these days; and 74 percent believe newsstories tend to favor one side of an issue over the other, up from 66 percent just two years ago. For all of this, we have Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity to thank—in addition to simple human fallibility. A nefariously lachrymose faux journalist, Beck made the cover of Time lately but as a rabble-rouser not as a reporter. And some of the would-be rabble were not amused: Beck’s accusing the Prez of being racist cost him 33 advertisers who specified that their commercials not be aired on Beck’s show. The defectors include Wal-Mart, CVS Caremark, Clorox and Sprint; only UPS Stores opted off Fox altogether. “While it’s unclear what effect, if any, this will ultimately have on Fox and Beck,” reports tampabay.com, “it is already making advertisers skittish about hawking their wares within the most opinionated cable tv shows.” Clorox said it does not want to “be associated with inflammatory speech used by either liberal or conservative talk show hosts.” But Beck’s riding high. He manipulated the undercover videotaped interview with an ACORN worker into prominence enough to get ACORN’s government funding stopped, and he managed to get Van Jones to resign as the White House green jobs czar. Among Jones’ offenses: he called Republicans “assholes” and is apparently unrepentant about it. The news media is remarkably fickle: GeeDubya called a notable New York Times reporter an asshole and no one got worked into a swivet over it.


The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping

The sarcasm of satire doesn’t always work as intended. And Theron Heir (real name, Matt Richtel) and Darrin Bell (that’s his real name) are learning just that and making the lesson public. As we reported last time (Opus 247), they bemoaned the tattered financial prospects of their strip, Rudy Park—and that of newspapers generally and all other comic strips, too—and solicited suggestions about what to do. Then they started getting suggestions, a few of which they published in the strip in September. You can’t be too careful with sarcasm: some people, usually in the ranks of the Republican right wing, take you literally.

Ever notice how all the characters in Pluggers are animals? Bears, rhinoceroses, fuzzy rabbits, dogs, cats even, sometimes. Cartooner Gary Brookins is clearly making a concession to Political Correctness: the assumption is that no actual person would want to be known as a “plugger,” so, to prevent irrate readers from writing in to protest that the cartoon is making fun of them, all the objects of fun are animals, and animals don’t write letters of protest. Much. Cunning maneuver, Gary.

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And now for our regular illustrated lecture on the arts of cartooning. You might print out these two visual aids for ease of reference as we plunge along. Our first illustrates one of today’s undeniables: comic strips are not bashful about commenting on current events, some of which have political implications. In Doonesbury, Garry Trudeau gets the Afghanistan predicament exactly right, seems to me. But hope lies ahead: lately, I’ve come across rumors that the Obama Outfit is re-thinking its so-called strategy for that most bedraggled country and may, at last, take my advice and buy off the enemy, giving insurgents and Taliban weekly allowances to live on so they won’t have to resort to kidnaping and robbery and warfare generally. It’s about time. And in a 3-strip sequence of The Knight Life, Keef takes a whack at town meetings and then uses slavery as a way of taking a well-deserved swipe at the rationale too many newspaper editors use in picking strips for their comics pages (or in keeping venerable strips on the page).

In our second demonstration, we see the terrible consequences of letting Pearls before Swine get too popular: a veritable pandemic of stick figures. Other cartoonists, eager to become similarly successful, have resorted to the famed simplified illustrative technique that Stephan Pastis has used to catapult himself to fame and fortune. At the lower right, however, we have something else again.

When I saw this cartoon, I could scarcely believe my eyes. I still can't believe, in this benighted day and age, that any cartoonist would date to do a joke involving the Elizabethan playwright Willy Wagstaff not to mention the Globe theater where many of his celebrated plays debuted. And yet Dave Coverly, whom the National Cartoonists Society recently dubbed Cartoonist of the Year (and gave the Reuben trophy to) for his panel cartoon Speed Bump, did just that. He clearly has great faith in our education system. Twelfth grade in high school anyhow. Alas, after this past summer’s madness at town meetings, I don't share Coverly’s apparent faith. No society that produces people who oppose health care reform by screaming that "the government should keep its hands of my Medicare" can have many citizens who know what the Globe theater was back in Shakespeare’s time (and, in reconstruction, still is). This is the same society in which we find the following inscribed regularly on Proctor and Gamble’s Crest toothpaste tubes: "For best results, squeeze tube from the bottom and flatten as you go up." Before you gawfaw with scorn, remember that P&G is a major national company that makes millions and therefore must know and understand its customers. No wonder there are legions of Americans who believe that "voluntary consultation about end-of-life issues" means granny will be taken out and shot.

I wrote Coverly to congratulate him on attempting what is patently impossible in 21st century America (the world's most advanced society)—a joke about Shakespeare's theater. And he wrote back: “Actually, I feel like I lucked into that one a bit as the gag simply started out based on the ‘act locally’ part. It was only when I was sketching it as a test (sometimes I need to see them before deciding if they’ll work) and pondering what needed to go in the background that the entirety of the joke hit me. I’m hoping that the ‘act’ portion will be enough of a joke for those who don’t get the ‘global’ reference, and that the double joke will just be gravy for those who do. Got a lot of nice e-mails about it anyway, and no one asking me to explain it, so I’m happily surprised.” So am I. But Coverly admits that often the quality of the e-mails he gets can destroy his faith in the IQ level of the general public. “It’s frustrating,” he added, “but I can only write and draw what I know. Mike Peters gave me the best advice when I started out: ‘Make yourself laugh first.’”

Later in the month, unlikely as it may be, Shakespeare came in for even more exposure on the funnies page when Fillmore the sea turtle in Sherman’s Lagoon by J.P. Toomey found, at the bottom of the lagoon, a “never-before-read play by William Shakespeare —‘Romeo and Juliet: Part II, The Revenge of Balthasar.” But herein, the reader need know no more about Shakespeare than that he’s an iconic figure in world literature in order to appreciate the comedy. (Although it enhances the humor if you remember there is no second part to Romeo and Juliet.) In Speed Bump, to enjoy the biggest laugh, you had to know about the Globe, too. Still, it’s nice to know Shakespeare’s name is alive and well. As for his actual person, not so much so. Back in Britain, Shakespeare is in trouble: he’s entombed in the Stratford church he was baptized in, but the roof overhead is threatening to fall in on him after 800 years or so. They’re seeking $80,000 for repairs.


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

If it hadn’t been for Shakespeare and the Bardolatry he has inspired, the most hated bird in America would not be littering the landscape with corrosive, foul-smelling droppings and doing hundreds and millions of dollars of damage each year. “In the early 1890s,” the Associated Press tells us, “about 100 European starlings were released in New York City’s Central Park by a group dedicated to bringing to America every bird ever mentioned in a Shakespeare play.” Today, we endure the result: “About 200 million shiny black starlings crowd North America. The enormous flocks endanger air travel, mob cattle operations, chase off native songbirds and roost in city blocks” depositing bird shit by the ton. “Getting rid of them is near impossible. Last year U.S. government agents poisoned, shot and trapped 1.7 million starlings, more than any other nuisance species, only to see them roaring back again. ‘It’s sort of like bailing the ocean with a thimble,’ said Richard Dolbeer, a retired Wildlife researcher.”

The Naked Cowboy of Times Square is dropping out of the New York City mayoral race. Robert Burck, who has become a tourist attraction by standing in Times Square playing a guitar while wearing only underpants, boots and a cowboy hat, threw in the towel (or whatever he could spare) because the red tape encumbering candidacy was too much and too onerous. His campaign slogan was engaging: “Nobody has done more with less.” Last time I wandered Times Square, I saw, in addition to Burck, a naked cowgirl. Wonder where she stands on the issues. Nudity is definitely in, though—world wide. In England last may, a couple were arrested for taking nudity to the next level by copulating on the lawn of Windsor Castle in full view of numerous passersby who stopped to videotape the performance. The couple had been drinking and were apparently not aware of having attracted an audience. Times Square, incidentally, has become a pedestrian plaza: Mayor Bloomberg closed Broadway to all vehicular traffic between 42nd and 47th streets. The 56,000-square-foot arena was filled this summer “with people sitting under patio umbrellas comparing their cell-phone screens, which is what humans do instead of picking ticks out of one another’s fur,” saith Lauren Collins, memorably, in the September 14 issue of The New Yorker.

On Friday, September 18, the venerable soap opera “Guiding Light” aired its last episode after 72 years on radio and tv. Called “Good Samaritan” for the first few broadcasts, it debuted January 25, 1937, and concerned itself, initially, with the family of Rev. John Ruthledge, minister of the Church of the Good Samaritan; in the 1940s, it shifted focus from clergy to doctors. Its creator, Irna Phillips, often called “the queen of the soaps,” disdained a staff of writers and did all her own writing, solo, some two millions words a year, according to On the Air: The Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio. “Using a large month-by-month work chart, Phillips plotted up to half a dozen serials at once, dictating the action to a secretary. Mentally juggling the fates of scores of characters, she churned out quarter-hour slices of life in sessions filled with high drama, acting the parts and changing her voice for the various speaking roles while secretaries scribbled the dialog that flowed from her lips. ... In its heyday, ‘Guiding Light’ was one of Phillips’s prime showpieces. She produced it independently, sold it to sponsors, and offered it to the network as a complete package. She paid her own casts, announcers, production crews, and advisers (two doctors and a lawyer on retainer) and still earned $5,000/week.” And she was daring in the shows, too, sometimes departing from formula, “even to the extent of occasionally turning over whole shows to Ruthledge sermons.” With Phillips, Diane Sawyer, highly touted lately as the forthcoming second of two female evening tv newscast anchors, has a daunting role model in whose footprints to step. Peter Jennings is a hard enough act to follow.

The equally venerable Old Farmer’s Almanac, an annual compendium of weather predictions, homemaking hints, gestation and mating charts for all kinds of farm animals, sunrise and sunset times, lunar tables, high and low tide times assorted and fame lore, is still going strong after 218 years and has now made the transition to the Internet, where it charges a fee for the use of its region-specific calendar. For the same cost, $5.99, you can buy the hardcover version, still sporting its timeless yellow cover decorated with antique woodcut drawings. ... In a newer publication, Sex As You Don’t Know It: For Married Couples Who Love God, the Reverend Ksawery Knotz, a Franciscan friar at a monastery outside Krakow in southern Poland, aims to counter centuries of religious prudery about sex, advising that marital coitus need not be a deadly serious activity, “sad like a traditional church hymn”; on the contrary, it can be full of “joy, frivolous play, fantasy and attractive positions.” ... Nadya “Octomom” Sulerman signed on in May with a production company for her family to star in a reality show. ... Speaking of multitasking, The Week reports that a Stanford researcher recently conducted studies that have demonstrated conclusively “the shocking discovery” that multitaskers “are lousy at everything that’s necessary for multitasking. They’re suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.” ... Gun sales spiked a year ago when it became apparent that Baracko Bama would be elected, but now gun owners are having trouble finding ammo. The shortage, alleges the Associate Press, is due in part to the rise in ammo use in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also gun owners have been stocking up and hoarding for months, and manufacturers say they’ve never seen such a shortage of bullets, particularly for handguns. ... The U.S. has more people behind bars than any other nation. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners in its jails. The 7.4 million inmates in this country outnumber the populations of 38 states. A quarter of the prisoners are serving time for drug offenses, and blacks account for a disproportionate percentage of prison occupancy: with only 12 percent of the general population, they are 38 percent of the felony convictions. .... But there’s hope: the Beatles, whose records are being re-released in re-mastered mode, have already sold more records in the U.S. than any other recording artist in history—about 170 million, reports USA Today. ... But Michael Jackson may do better: according to EW, since his death June 25, the King of Pop has earned at least $100 million, selling more than five million albums and 8.7 million song downloads. Death, where is your sting?


Previews and Proclamations of Coming Attractions

A book that’s not particularly new but is a great buy at the moment is a tidy bonding between two covers of a brace of memorably macabre tomes, the 2002 Gahan Wilson’s Gravediggers Party and the 2004 Gahan Wilson’s Monster Party, reprinted as one volume (360 5x7-inch pages, b/w), Gahan Wilson’s Monster Collection, in 2005 by Barnes & Noble for $7.98. If it’s disappeared at B&N, you can find it at Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller for merely $4.95 (#6340563), a bargain at edwardrhamilton.com; but with shipping charges, you’re back at about eight bucks—still, withal, a bargain. (It took me 20 minutes to complete this notice, including checking the Web to verify the URL and the presence, still, of copies of the book. It may be only a couple sentences to you, but it’s a Huge Piece of My Life to me, kimo sabe.)

Dark Horse is bringing back Barry Windsor-Smith’s Conan oeuvre. In the 1970s, Windsor-Smith achieved eminence among comic book illustrators by drawing Roy Thomas’ adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s Cimmerian cult hero, gradually evolving from the Marvel house style into a mannered technique distinctly his own. The first of two hardcover volumes will appear in January but can be ordered now through the Previews catalog.

And while we’re gazing over the pages of Previews, here’s an example of weasel promotional copy, written to sell Boom’s Uncle Scrooge No. 385: “Building on a tradition created by some of the greatest creators the comic book world has ever seen, like Carl Barks and Don Rosa, these issues follow Scrooge on new adventures that North American audiences have never seen!” Well, yes. Invoking Barks and Rosa slyly smoke-screens the copywriter’s deliberate omission: the “new adventures” are probably reprints of material written and drawn in Europe, where the Ducks are rock stars.

And before we abandon this section, I want to mention, everso briefly (with the full intention of going into more detail later), two recent arrivals on the R&R antique rolltop. The Toon Treasury of Classic Children’s Comics (350 9x11-inch pages, color; hardback, Abrams ComicArt, $40) assembled by Art Spiegelman and his wife, Francoise Mouly, promises to be an absolute delight. For one thing, it continues the commendable practice of reproducing comic book pages exactly as photographed, without jazzing up the art by retouching linework and adding fresh coloring for “the modern reader”; these pages reprise the comics of yore pretty much the way they appeared originally (only slightly doctored, perhaps, to remove bleed-throughs.) And—don’t be fooled: although the stories herein can be appreciated by children, they will captivate adult connoisseurs of the artform. With Walt Kelly, Sheldon Mayer, George Carlson, John Stanley, Harvey Kurtzman, Jim (The Fox and the Crow) Davis, Carl Barks, Dan Noonan, Dan Gordon and their ilk on the pages, we’re trapped, and we love it. And I never knew that Woody Gelman drew as well as published cartoon artifacts; and I always wondered who drew Supermouse (Milt Stein).

The other gem, from Pete Maresca’s Sunday Press Books, is another in Maresca’s exacting reproductions of the Sunday funnies of yore—a complete run of Gustave Verbeek's famed Upside-Downs of Little Lady Lovekins and Old Man Muffaroo (1903-1905), digitally restored and presented in their original size and colors (120 11x16-inch pages, $80). Also featured (from the press release) “are a complete run of Verbeek's Loony Lyrics of Lulu (1910) and a sampling of his long-running Terrors of the Tiny Tads (1906-1914). A compilation of 25 early cartoons and paintings by Verbeek for magazines and illustrated books (1900-1915) fills out this large hard-bound volume. For collectors, there is an insert sheet of 12 Tiny Tads postcards, reprinting a 1907 promotional set.”

More about both when I quit salivating.


When did “right away” from a waiter turn into “no problem”? What is that “no problem” anyway? “I’ll do it.” “It’s a pain but okay...” Or “I may just spit in your spinach.”

Why do companies advertise “Sale!” when everybody is having everything on sale?

If your tv station insists a story “might affect your very life,” why must I wait from 6 p.m. until 11 p.m. to hear it?

If you need a simple paperclip, it’s not to be found, but they’re everywhere in your way to be tossed aside when you’re looking for something else. Why, why, why?

When you break a $20 bill these days, why does the balance seem to vanish during the day?


Called Graphic Novels for the Sake of Dubious Cultural Status

Donald Westlake, notable author of crime novels, short stories and screen plays, died last New Year’s Eve at the age of 75, and before he died, the dust jacket tells us, he did something he has never done before: he gave permission to use the name “Parker” in this graphic novel adaptation of the 1962 book he wrote, under his celebrated pen name, Richard Stark. Perhaps for that reason, all the relevant names appear on the cover of the book: Richard Stark’s Parker The Hunter (140 6x9-inch pages, two colors; IDW hardcover, $24.99). click to enlarge The Hunter was adapted twice to movies—first in 1967 as “Point Blank” with Lee Marvin; then 30 years later as “Payback” with Mel Gibson. The adaptation in hand is by the extremely able Darwyn Cooke, who both wrote and illustrated the novel. Parker, in case you’ve forgotten Marvin’s merciless, driven and brutally unrelenting portrayal, is a crook, a thief, whose partner, Mal Resnick, double-crossed him, convinced Parker’s wife to kill her husband and then ran off with both the wife and the loot. But Parker wasn’t dead. He survived somehow, and this book is about how he came back from the dead to hunt down Resnick and get back his share of the boodle. He might also want to kill his former wife, but before we know his intentions on that score, he visits her, and she kills herself, saving him the trouble.

The book opens with a riveting wordless sequence as Parker arrives in New York by walking across George Washington Bridge, refusing an offer of a ride, then walks to mid-town Manhattan, takes a subway to the motor vehicle department and acquires a driver’s license under the name Edward Johnson. He stops at a diner to get a cup of coffee and insults the waitress who had smiled at him and given him a cigarette—ungrateful bastard. Then he goes to the men’s room in a tavern, where he “ages” the license and washes his face. We don’t see his face until the next page, the 20th in the book. Until page 20, the protagonist is a faceless figure whom we see always from the back, lurching, head down, through sidewalk crowds and street traffic, then Cooke arranges a dramatic revelation: on page 19, we see the man’s hands over the sink in the men’s room, under the flowing faucet; then we turn the page, and there he is, ta-da! a full-page portrait—we see him as he sees himself, in the mirror over the sink, water streaming down his face as he stares, full of hate and anger, at his reflection. click to enlarge

Throughout the book, Parker proves himself an absolutely irresistible malevolent force of nature, beating people up, maiming and killing without the slightest compunction. And Cooke proves himself a master storyteller. (Not that he needs to prove himself: we all know, by now, that he is a past master.) For this novel, Cooke abandons his typically precise and defining line, no loose ends, adopting instead a sketchy manner in which forms are modeled and shaped by shadows, color swatches and ellipsis. With a sure instinct, Cooke keeps his story dashing headlong to its conclusion, alternating long shots and close-ups for narrative purposes and dramatic impact, deploying pictures for storytelling as well as illustration. Here’s a two-page sequence during which Parker phones an old girlfriend who might be able to tell him where Resnick is. click to enlarge First he must convince her that he’s not dead—which he does by using the name she went by in their former life, then citing a bit of their history that only he could know. Or so we assume: Cooke keeps the dialogue terse, leaving details for us to fill in. The opening panel sets the scene, the bar from which Parker makes the phone call. The bartender is on the phone with Wanda/Rose, and as he talks, Parker is in the foreground; then the camera closes in for a close-up in the third panel, the focus intensifying the situation between Parker and the girl on the phone. Then Cooke begins to alternate between Parker and Wanda/Rose as they talk, varying close-ups and mid-range shots for the sake of visual variety—the more visual a sequence, the more it holds our interest. Our first view of Wanda/Rose is of her shapely legs, suggesting that her relationship with Parker is not an intellectual one, but we also see that she lives in an apartment furnished with fashionably modern accouterments. The last four panels add unnecessary but nicely atmospheric information to conclude the sequence: Wanda/Rose tells the bartender, Bernie, that Parker is “okay,” and Cooke composes pictures that keep Parker up front, finishing his drink and lighting a cigarette nonchalantly—in perfect confidence that matters will proceed as he wants them to—while concluding the “story” of the bartender. The last fillip, the otherwise unknown dame at the end of the bar repeating her opinion that Parker is “okay,” is a nice touch: we hear her say this in the first panel, and she repeats herself in the last. Her opinion, since it is derived entirely from looking at Parker who is otherwise a complete stranger, validates his masculine appeal to women. In two pages, Cooke advances his story and adds layers to his portrait of Parker. It’s a treat to be in the hands of so deft a storyteller, and The Hunter displays his skill on page after page.

Cooke is reportedly a fan of crime fiction and has often said the Parker books are a great source of creative inspiration. In short, we’ll be seeing more of Parker. The character is not at all an admirable personality: he’s scarcely any kind of a role model; he’s a lout and a thug. But there’s something about him, some morbid fascination that attracts and holds us. Perhaps it’s his ruthless dedication to whatever his purpose is at the moment: nothing diverts him or frustrates his ultimate triumph, however brutal and nasty. Westlake admits to feeling the same attraction: “In the course of the story, I couldn’t help starting to like him because he was so defined; I never had to brood about what he’d do next. He always knew. To some extent, I suppose, I liked Parker for what he wouldn’t tell me about himself.” Maybe we like Parker because he wins against foes that are almost as bad as he is. And it’s nice to know someone can. It’s not so nice, however, to realize that to win against their ilk, you must become like Parker.


Brian Azzarello’s Richard “Junk” Junkin offers no redeeming quality whatsoever. Parker at least is adept enough to achieve his goals; Junk is not. He’s every bit the thug Parker is, but he isn’t good enough at it to triumph. He drinks too much to remain entirely in control of himself, something Parker would never do. And in Filthy Rich (196 5x8-inch pages, b/w; hardback, Vertigo, $19.95), Junk kills one person whose only sin, a dubious one considering the amoral inclinations of his would-be sexual partner, is to attempt sex with the woman Junk is hired to protect. Somehow that justifies Junk’s murderous attack. Junk tells us he “snapped,” the usual excuse justifying a crime of passion. But I’m not convinced.

We’re accustomed to Azzarello’s metier—unsavory underground types, big and little crooks always out for themselves, all laced with authentic-sounding argot. Herein, he adds sex and debauchery to his formulaic greed and brutality. Junk works as a salesman at a car lot, but can’t seem to make a sale. So he drinks away his frustration, ranting to himself about how he is actually a superior salesman but is being victimized by an unfriendly world. Finally, his boss, the car lot owner, takes him off the car lot and commissions him to look after his daughter, a wild, spoiled, sexy dish named Vicki. The assignment is to keep Vicki off the front pages of the city’s newspapers, where her antics too often take her. Pretty soon, Vicki is seducing Junk, and he is letting her in several hard-breathing, sweaty sequences of struggling nakedness. By the end of the book, he’s so tangled up in his career and sexual frustrations, his failures and his fears, that he murders again—twice. Vicki tricks him into killing her father, the car lot owner, and he then kills another salesman who he effectively frames for the murder of the car lot owner. Vicki inherits the car business, and Junk very nearly gets away with his various crimes, like many of Azzarello’s characters in 100 Bullets, f’instance; Junk’s only punishment here is that he is demoted by his new boss from body guard and lover to chauffeur. And it isn’t the kind of punishment from which Junk learns anything: leering at Vicki through the rear-view mirror, he goes right on lusting and lurking, a menace waiting to turn a vicious dream into a nightmare. That will be her punishment for patricide. And that brings us back, full circle, to the book’s title, the double-meaning of which embraces both the wealthy bimbo and the unsavory Richard Junkin, who prefers that people call him either “Junk” or “Rich.”

Visualizing all of this is a Spanish artist named Victor Santos, who, the back cover tells us, is the “creator/writer/artist of the hit French series Young Ronin.” In Filthy Rich, he does a very bad imitation of Frank Miller in the Sin City books. The heavy black shadows in Santos’ pictures do not model characters as they do in Miller’s work: they distort and confuse. Moreover, to compound the clumsiness, Santos deploys mannerisms that result in various manifestations of deformed anatomy. Except for the women in the tale. But their identical babydoll faces make them indistinguishable one from the other.click to enlarge

Unlike in Azzarello’s 100 Bullets, which was rendered by a master craftsman, Filthy Rich offers nothing to please the eye by way of redeeming the tale from its wholly unsavory amoralities. Nothing attractive in either picture or story. In 100 Bullets, there were wrongs to be righted; here, there is only a whining self-indulgence that imagines wrongs where none exist.


Never miss a good chance to shut up.

If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back in your pocket.

One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.


Critiques & Crotchets

The anthropomorphic Kevin & Kell may not have been the first comic strip to be distributed digitally, but it was probably the first to generate income for its creator, Bill Holbrook: starting on September 4, 1995, the strip appeared on several CompuServe forums—eventually, 50 of them—each one paying $5/week. Since the collapse of the dot-com empire, Holbrook says, the strip has been sustained entirely through donations from patrons. Since you’re reading this online, you can easily get to the ethereal edition of the strip (kevinandkell.com), but if you want a dead-tree archive of the strips, you can find most of the first years of it in Historic Kevin & Kell (176 8x10-inch pages in b/w; paperback, $24.95 at the Bill Holbrook Store, same website, where its “sold out” status will be replenished with fresh stock in a couple days). Before launching into extravagant praise for the strip and this book, let me reiterate what I’ve said before on various occasions: Bill Holbrook is a cartooning fool, and a brilliant one. He performs the seemingly impossible feat of producing single-handedly three daily comic strips: K&K was his third concoction, preceded by On the Fastrack, a jaundiced look at life in corporate America, which debuted March 19, 1985; then Safe Havens, which initially focused on children in a day care facility, starting October 3, 1988. The children have aged somewhat over the last twenty years, all graduating from college, and one of them, Samantha Argus, has emerged decisively as the strip’s protagonist.

The cartooning fool part is this: Holbrook writes, pencils, inks, and letters all three strips. And every panel in all three is drawn, too—not ruled, not photocopied. Drawn with thin lines that wax thick and vice versa; every panel a different picture. No shortcuts. “The only assistance that I have is on the coloring of Kevin & Kell,” he once told me, “which is done by Terrence Marks. Reed Brennan Media colors the Fastrack and Safe Havens dailies, and I color the Fastrack Sundays.” Safe Havens doesn’t appear on Sundays.

Holbrook’s production routine sounds like a masochist’s dream: “I work on a three-week schedule,” he told Phil Geusz at anthrozine.com. “During this week, for instance, I’ll be writing three week’s worth of Fastrack material, and drawing the 21 gags I wrote for Kevin & Kell last week. Next week, I’ll write for Safe Havens while drawing the Fastrack batch. And so it goes. On a typical day, I’ll begin by writing four gags by 2 p.m., then I’ll pick up my daughters at their schools. When I return, I’ll begin drawing, usually doing about four strips. At night, after everyone goes to bed, I’ll write two more gags. I end up the week with more gags than I need, and my wife picks the best ones. That leaves weekends free to get caught up on e-mail.”

Holbrook’s brilliance does not reside in his work schedule, which is clearly that of an entirely insane person. His brilliance is revealed in the way he often deploys the unique visual resources of the comics medium to achieve comedy of which only comics are capable. He invents metaphors and symbols like an editorial cartoonist, and these not only lend meaning to the laughs but give the depth of significance to the humor. Here, for instance, are Art and Wendy, the married couple working at Fastrack Corp., discussing their inner lives. click to enlarge The metaphors supply satiric commentary on our society’s preoccupations as well as insight into the personalities of the wife and her husband. And that, kimo sabe, is brilliant cartooning.

Fastrack is well freighted with such devices, and while Holbrook also uses similar maneuvers in Safe Havens and Kevin & Kell, he resorts to them less frequently, relying, instead, on other, less metaphorical, contrivances. In Safe Havens, Samantha sometimes talks to her dead grandmother, whom she can see in any reflective surface. She also talks to dust bunnies, and one of her roommates is a 415-year-old mermaid. All of which permits satirical comment and wry humor.

Historic K&K includes Holbrook’s recounting of the genesis of the strip, many of the “Sunday” K&K (which were published in the monthly geek mag, Broadwatch, from 1995 to 2001), all of the special interactive feature “Rudy on WOW” that has never seen the light of day before, and Holbrook’s marginal notations, explaining topical references in the strips. Holbrook always aspired to a career in cartooning: “I’ve never not wanted to become a cartoonist,” he told Geusz. With a B.A. in illustration and design from Auburn University, where he’d been art director of the campus newspaper and produced a weekly comic strip, Holbrook joined the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1980, working as a staff artist. In 1982 at age 23 while on a trip to California, Holbrook met Charles Schulz, who gave him this advice: “Sit down and draw fifty strips. Of those, maybe five will be funny. Build on those and throw out the rest. Do fifty more. Now perhaps ten will be usable. Repeat this process again and again.” Holbrook repeated the process until he produced a comic strip about a college graduate working in a run-down diner. But this creation inspired no buyers among syndicates. Then Holbrook invented Fastrack, inspired to its cartooning excellence, we like to think, by his having met Teri Peitso on a blind date; they married on Pearl Harbor Day 1985. A couple years later, Holbrook found himself preoccupied with the home life of one of the Fastrack Inc. employees; and he soon concocted a spin-off strip about that employee’s young daughter’s adventures at a preschool named Safe Havens, which became the name of the new strip.

Then in early 1995, Holbrook hooked himself up to the Internet: “As I got into the online culture, I began to see a wealth of material in the contrast between the high-tech world and a bucolic woodland setting.” He’d often temporarily transformed his characters in his two strips into animals for comedic or satiric purposes, and he “wanted to take this one step further by doing a strip populated entirely by non-humans.” Animals and the contrast between their wildwood life and the high-tech world of the Web formed the theme of his thinking. “When Kevin Kindle and Kell Dewclaw meet online, it’s instant romance. Only when they meet in person did they discover the horrible truth: Kevin is a rabbit, and Kell is a wolf. And wolves eat rabbits!” Holbrook realizes that wolves and rabbits are not natural enemies—“wolves prefer larger prey,” he acknowledges. But in this case, it seems to have worked out: “Love was stronger than instinct, and not only did love bloom but it led to marriage,” says Holbrook, adding: “I named them Kevin and Kell. Get it? Heaven and Hell. Contrasts. Yuk. Yuk. Never mind.” Fortunately, Holbrook’s gimpy joke is the only such attempt in his rehearsal of the conception and gestation of the strip, which is otherwise expertly supplemented by much more informative and comical sketches of the characters as they developed, particularly Kevin.

Kelly was at first a vixen, a female fox. But on the advice of his “creative partner,” his wife Teri (an assistant professor at Georgia State University whose first mystery, A Far and Deadly Cry, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel), Holbrook changed the “foxy lady” into a wolf: foxes, they thought, had certain “negative associations for underhandedness.” As he played with the representation of the hubby rabbit, Holbrook realized Kevin couldn’t be a normal, nose-quivering cottontail, so he made his male protagonist a burly hulk, fully capable of defending himself against whatever carnivores darkened his doorstep. Kell’s brother, for instance, can’t get used to his sister married to a herbivore, and he shows up periodically to pounce murderously on Kevin—but Kevin routinely smacks him down with a single blow, no preamble or apology. Holbrook also gave his newly married couple a ready-made family: Kell had Rudy from a previous marriage, and Kevin had adopted a hedgehog. More contrasting comedy: a sister and a brother who don’t get along because their species are inherently antagonistic. (Soon, the Kevin and Kell union produced a child of their very own, Coney—a carnivorous rabbit.) In an overt appeal to the online readership, Kevin runs a herbivore forum; Kell works at Herd Thinners, Inc., an environmentally cognizant rhetoric that offers a friendly-sounding justification for the slaughter of animals by animals in the wild.

Furry fandom adopted Holbrook and his rabbit and wolf almost at once, and he went to his first furry convention in January 1997—ConFurence 8 in Orange County, California. He always attends Anthrocon, which stages the annual Kevin & Kell patron special, but he’s not quite sure he’s a furry fan. “It’s all how you define it,” he told Geusz. “I enjoy the best of anthromoporphic works, such as Walt Kelly’s Pogo and many of the current webcomics.”

Holbrook’s animals often behave like animals: Kevin & Kell is not Over the Hedge or Get Fuzzy or Deflocked wherein anthropomorphized critters act more like human (sic) sapiens most of the time. And as you can see from the K&K Gallery we’ve assembled near here, the strip brims with playful visual puns and other symbols. As comic strip artistry, it’s a pure delight. And a couple years ago, it started running in print—at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Holbrook’s former alma mater.

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Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent.” —Mignon McLaughlin

“Hope is patience with the lamp lit.” —Tertullian

“I steer my bark with hope in the head, leaving fear astern. My hopes indeed sometimes fail, but not oftener than the forebodings of the gloomy.”—Thomas Jefferson

“Nostalgia is the death of hope.” —Artist Mark Kennedy


Four-color Frolics

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 so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. 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.

Howard Chaykin is back, triumphant: Dominic Fortune No. 1, revives the Chaykin rake from the mid-1970s in an orgy of nonstop tasteless, sexist and racist action set in the Depression years of yore. The festivities begin in the air over Paraguay’s capital city where Fortune, a pulp-style “brigand for hire,” and a female adventuress named Delatriz Betancourt (a typical Chaykin exotic name choice) are flying in separate aircraft in a dogfight with Bolivian aviators. Fortune is shot down, but he parachutes onto the rooftop garden of Asuncion’s poshest hotel where Hazel Fontaine is standing, stark naked, next to the pool around which she and some friends are conducting a party. Back in Los Angeles, our lascivious rogue is subsequently hired by Hazel’s husband, Irwin Oppenheim, to serve as a bodyguard for several movie personages, who are still engaged in a seven-year-long drunken party. While escorting a trio of these well-dressed louts through the lobby of a hotel, Fortune is assaulted by a man he quickly knocks out, leaving Fortune to ponder where he has seen the man’s mysterious lapel pin before. The book then ends with Delatriz discussing Fortune’s impending murder at the hands of minions hired by Malcolm Shaw, an anti-Semite. Chaykin manages at least three episodes—the end of the dogfight, the fist fight in the lobby, and Oppenheim’s hiring of Fortune—and leaves us wondering why Delatriz is in league with an avowed anti-Semite to kill Fortune, a man of the “Hebraic persuasion” who she was ostensibly palling around with in the air war between Bolivia and Paraguay in the opening pages of the book.

The book is full of Chaykin tics and tropes—tall, statuesque people, voice-over transitions between scenes, and characters with insatiable appetites for sex. This title is at least the second book-length rejuvenation of Dominic Fortune (a character with that name appeared in a mini-series in 2006), but since his inauguration in the black-and-white pages of 1975's Marvel Preview No. 2, comic books have become more permissive on such matters as sex and vulgar language, and Chaykin, who has more than once demonstrated his passion for such irreverences, runs rampant here, doubtless testing the limits of the new license. Perhaps the most egregious evidentiary instance is the scene in which Oppenheim hires Fortune: it’s a telephone conversation, and Chaykin switches back and forth between Oppenheim, who is depicted on the receiving end of a blow job while he talks, and Fortune, who is busily screwing Oppenheim’s wife as he accepts the hubby’s job offer. click to enlarge While neither genitals nor penetration are visualized for us, Fortune and Hazel are naked and in bed in positions leaving nothing to the imagination of any of the “mature readers” that the title, a Marvel Max marked “Explicit Content,” hopes to attract.

Apart from betraying a delight in depicting fornication, the book is overheated with the lingo of sex: cunt, fuck (in both usages, as a verb and as an epithet), whore, puta, cooze, and cock not to mention other bodily functions (shitting and farting and pissing) and body parts (tits, asshole, and a verbal contest in the hotel lobby during which male participants compare the sizes of their “male members” for the benefit of an adoring bimbo).

Chaykin, who has described himself as “a Jew from the future,” also revels in the current secular fashion of acknowledging Jewishness—a fashion, in comic books, that is often these days more frequently indulged now that so many of the creators of the medium have been revealed as Jews. Chaykin rejoices in this cultural advance, telling Gary Groth during an interview: “I’m no longer afraid, ashamed, or uninterested enough in my personal background to keep it out of the work. I’m no longer a Jew masquerading as a gentile through comics.” He is, instead, eager to put Jews into his work. Reuben Flagg, the protagonist of the 1980s series American Flagg, was a Jew, overtly but not blatantly. In the current run of Dominic Fortune, however, our hero is defiantly a Jew, and anti-Semites are patently the villains. Fortune’s liaise faire attitude toward women as orifices to exploit for casual sex may not be particularly admirable in this age of feminist enlightenment, but in most other aspects of his personality, he is heroic enough to be a role model. With Chaykin’s previous exploits in this genre as intimations of the future, Fortune, while retaining his vaguely outlaw attitude about society’s values and mores and his mercenary motives, will wind up forfeiting his fee in order to do the right thing.

As always, Chaykin’s drawing is bravura, his page layouts dramatic, his pacing headlong, and his dialogue urbane and witty, sarcastic and satiric. The action is sometimes not as clearly depicted as it might be: Fortune’s fight with the intrusive bully in the lobby gets a little confusing when the guy pulls a knife, seemingly to attack Fortune but, in execution, not. And Malcolm Shaw’s bald dome assumes gigantic proportions in its final manifestation—a little sloppy. Edgar Delgado’s coloring is glowingly masterful, but Chaykin has introduced a new visual quirk: his feathering of facial features with squiggly lines is now transformed by Delgado into an overlay of flesh color a shade darker than the basic skin tone, with the unhappy result that modeling lines appear sometimes as skin blemishes. But these are quibbles. The title is a revel in our often not very refined natures and an outrageous assault on political correctness and genteel posturing, so over-the-top as to be vastly amusing in its in-your-face audaciousness. I’ve already ordered the next issues.


Michael William Kaluta is back, too, albeit not quite as triumphant as Chaykin. The best thing about Starstruck No. 1 is its highly naked cover. click to enlarge More nudity ensues inside the book, but neither the art nor the story is up to the standard set by the cover. The pictures, painstaking in their copious detail, are often too small, and the lettering, which frequently descends into tiny cursive scrawl, doesn’t help much. Kaluta has worked very hard to establish what may be a futuristic society built upon the ruins of a lapsed one—or in another galaxy altogether—but his visuals, hauntingly evocative of Maxfield Parrish’s manner though they are, are not well served by their diminutive scale.

In trying to create the world of Starstruck, writer Elaine Lee has opted for the complexity of a full-blown social and physical milieu, but she does it by alluding to its aspects, describing none of them enough to leave us with more than a vague impression of “something goin’ on.” At the end of the book are three pages of text which appear to be intended as orientation to the whole enchilada, but they begin with this bafflement: “Planet: Mirage. The division of the sixty marbec rotation of the planet Mirage into a thirty marbec period of light, or Alpha Time (A), and a thirty marbec period of darkness, or Omega Time (O). In the popular vernacular, Omega Time is referred to as ‘moovunit’ and Alpha Time as ‘dontmoovunit,’ relating (obviously) to travel on the planetary surface, which nobody does anyway, so the reference is moot. The term ‘maltonunit’ is not used for either the Alpha or the Omega unit because of the times disparity.” Obviously indeed.

The story part of the book is no better. Provocative mysteriousness has deteriorated in this book to complete incomprehensibility. We hope, in any inaugural enterprise, to meet a central character who is somehow sympathetic if not admirable, but I’m not sure which of several personages we meet here is the “central character.” Is it the Baron Roderigo Sejanus Vasco d’Gama? Or his son? Or is that his twin? The initiating 15-page story seems mostly concerned with android manufacture, and the only part of it that might be termed an “episode” occurs when one of them, an ostensible female, gets its head blown off while in the act of romancing the male character, who, I suspect, is the Baron’s son. Do I care what happens next? In the next issue? Not much. Kaluta’s art is always worth a visit, but I don’t want someone messing with my head while I’m looking.

Appended to the main narrative is a 6-page “story” about the Galactic Girl Guide in which numerous pre-adolescents cavort. Too cute and too much more of the same sort of in media res bafflement that distinguishes the rest of the book’s content. Not a good first issue despite Kaluta’s stunning exposure of female epidermis on the cover—although I confess the punning variation on the old ditty “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah” is intriguing albeit seemingly pointless. At least, the lyrics got me thinking untoward thoughts. Here it is: “Summon’s in the throne room with An-nie, / Summon’s in the throne room I kno-ho-ho-oh! / Summon’s in the throne room with A–a-a-nieeee ... / Strommin’ on the old ... ” Stummin’ on the old—what? What’s being strummed on? Puts me in mind of Smilin’ Ed McConnell’s antique radio program in which a mischievous gremlin named Froggy would appear whenever he plunked his magic twanger. His what? The whole thing seems, now, whimsically Freudian if not phallic. (I know: it’s all in my mind.)


David Tischman’s Red Herring No. 1, penciled by Philip Bond and inked by David Hahn, manages the entire issue to postpone our introduction to the eponymous protagonist, a red-haired government operative, whom we meet , it’s true, on the seventh page but without knowing that the book’s title is a character’s name not a logical fallacy. Most of the issue belongs to an assistant of Florida Congressman Damorge Channel, named, in Hitchcockian homage, Maggie McGuffin. Maggie and Damorge have a congress of their own going, but, unbeknownst to them, a shadowy Washington think tank called the Capricorn Group is aware of their sexual adventure. It sends one of its assassins out to kill Maggie because Damorge hasn’t been discreet enough in their liaisons. The assassin chokes her and throws her into a shallow pond in the park, thinking she’s dead; but Herring happens upon the body somehow, and when he fishes her out, he finds that she’s still breathing, so he takes her under his wing, moving her, and himself, to a cheap motel to recuperate. We see them there on the last page in the book, Herring vowing to foil his foe no matter what while Maggie sleeps off her near-death—and we also see a duffle bag and some money on Herring’s bed. Provocative enough to bring me back, but there’s even more provocation.

The Bond-Hahn chiseled visuals are clean and clear in an almost bigfoot manner, just right for the occasionally comedic moment with which Tischman spices the proceedings but realistic enough, too, to make us believe in the seriousness of the tale. click to enlarge While Maggie’s indiscretions may somewhat disillusioning for the Young America we all are, she’s cute and seems smart enough to hold our interest. Herring, on the other hand, is nicely cryptic and heroically dedicated and clearly caught in the midst of an operation he wasn’t aware was going on. And there’s a brute named Ali Komen in Florida who’s after him—for what reason, we don’t yet know. The book’s pivotal episode, the McGuffin that gets it all going by nearly being killed, then rescued, brings the title’s two principals together while also concluding on a reassuring note: the government operative, our hero, seems capable, even admirable. And there are enough mysterious agencies lurking on the landscape to pique our curiosity—including a reference to Roswell’s aliens (how much can Tischman cram into one comic book? Adroitly done though)—we’ll be back for more.


Jeff Lemire’s Sweet Tooth No. 1 introduces us to Gus, a teenage mutation left in the wake of a world-wide pandemic. A quiet, obedient sort of kid, Gus has a deer’s ears and antlers, which makes him a valuable trophy for the scavengers who scour the land. His father tries to protect him, warning him against the dangers that lurk in the world beyond their cabin in a woodland compound; but the old man dies halfway through the book, leaving the naive Gus on his own. Gus is haunted by the cold eyes of a big man who occupies the boy’s dreams; the big man shows up for real on the last page of the first issue, wherein he has just rescued Gus from a couple scavengers by blowing the head off one of them with a shotgun, thus ending one of the two episodes in the book. The other ends with the death of the father. Lemire is a deft storyteller, pacing his story for poignancy as well as suspense and dramatic impact. Deploying a brittle angular style with Caniffian shadowing, Lemire relies extensively on pictures to tell the tale and sustain mood and tone. We want to know what will happen to the boy, naturally, although his antlered head makes him a little less than appealing visually. Altogether a satisfactory first issue although not a compelling one.

In the issue’s editorial, Lemire, an indie cartoonist who produced The Nobody and Essex County, supplies more information, making the title a little more tantalizing: “A friend of mine describes [Sweet Tooth] as ‘Bambi meets Mad Max’ ... not too far from the truth. Sweet Tooth is a post-apocalyptic, neo-western, action-adventure, science fiction, road-movie hybrid” which Lemire makes different from the usual run-of-the-mill post-apocalyptic story, he says, by creating what he calls “a quiet, delicately paced story about the little moments that add up to a person’s life” and adding to it “a menacing six-foot-four-inch bounty hunter [who] rips out the throat of a machete-wielding scavenger with his bare hands then bashes his brains in with a rifle butt.” Accurate enough, but, as Lemire admits, scarcely a complete description of what the title is “about.” He finishes by shedding just a little more light: the big man with the cold eyes is Jeppard, who is the “tooth” in the title (the sweet is Gus), who will take the boy under his wing to escort him to “the Preserve, a safe haven for hybrid children.” All of that is next. While the story itself doesn’t supply any of these defining details, the story is, nonetheless, cohesive enough on its own, mysteries dangling, to engage us and provoke us to buy the next issue. Now, here’s the page on which the scavengers assess Gus’s value.

click to enlarge


Chew No. 1 presents about as unappetizing a foray into four-color funnybooks as you could ask for—even in our present ZAV (Zombie Age of Vampires). Tony Chu is a cop and isn’t exactly a zombie, but he eats the face off a crook’s body in this issue because, we are informed, he is cibopathic, which means he gleans, by intestinal osmosis, information from whatever he eats—where it came from and how it became food (who killed the cow or laid the egg or plucked the apple from the tree). By cannibalizing the crook’s corpse, he learns that the dead guy had killed several young women, their names, and the location of their remains, thereby solving a clutch of missing persons cases. When Chu’s boss learns how he solved these cases, he suspends Chu, but, at the last minute, Chu is hired by the Food and Drug Administration, where, we assume, he’ll spend ensuing issues of this title. The first five issues have already been gathered into a single graphic novel volume, Taster’s Choice (nice), due out early next year.

The whole idea of a guy chewing the face off another human being—for whatever click to enlargenoble purpose—is repulsive enough to turn one’s stomach away from this title, but, at the same macabre time, it’s an intriguing notion, and writer John Layman stages the grossest moment so comedically—enough to seduce the reader into wondering how Chu will fare (pardon the expression) in his future endeavors. And Rob Guillory’s visuals further dissipate the grossly unsavory aura of the concept with exaggerative abstract anatomy that turns a revolting idea into absurdist comedy.


MORE OF THE LATEST INCARNATION. In the last years of his life, Will Eisner, having emerged from the relative obscurity of historic icon to the eminence of living legend, authorized new adventures for his famed creation, the Spirit. Eisner had been pestered from some years—since his re-emergence in the late 1970s—to revive the character in new stories, but, except for a few short pieces he did for Denis Kitchen, Eisner successfully resisted. His interest lay elsewhere—in the graphic novel as a literary form and in New York’s tenement life as subject—and I think he realized that his Spirit was a character that belonged where he’d been created, in the 1940s. Our national morality was simpler then—cleaner, starkly contrasting black and white choices—and against those well-defined absolutes of yesterday, the grays of his Spirit stories played with dramatic, and sometimes comedic, intensity. But the forces for revival finally prevailed: Eisner said he wouldn’t do any new Spirit stories himself, but he said he’d have no objection to other creators conjuring up new tales. And so they did. For the new series in 1998, Eisner was offered veto power: he would see every story before it was insinuated into the production process, and he could nix any aspect of any story that he didn’t like. But he told me he never said anything about any of the tales: he didn’t want the job of Creative Supervisor, he said—his attitude was to let the new guys try their hand without interference from the Master. None of The New Adventures of the Spirit stories were particularly successful in rejuvenating the, er, spirit of the original, but the side show was fun to visit. The series flagged after just eight issues, and the project lapsed with the November 1998 issue of the title.

Then along came Darwyn Cooke and the current revival. Cooke, writing and drawing his own stories, was notably successful in creating a new Spirit, not a slavish imitation but not an entirely foreign novelty either. At the end of 2007, Cooke went on to other enterprises after successful twelve issues, and DC Comics’ Spirit title, Will Eisner’s Spirit, fell into a succession of other hands, some of whom have been more able at revival than the bunch that started it all with the 1998 series. But the essential Spirit, the creation we so fondly remember and quietly worship at the altar of, still eludes a confident and convincing grasp by any of this generation of dedicated votaries. But Mike Ploog in a brace of issues, Nos. 31 and 32, comes close. Closer, by far, than Michael Avon Deming in No. 30.

Deming, drawing in his usual manner—a simple albeit spritely exaggerative anatomical shorthand—writes a Spirit so lively and quick that it bears almost no resemblance to Eisner’s creation. No. 30 is good comics—imaginative breakdowns, exuberant layouts—but not Eisneresque much. A two-page chase sequence turns the book on its edge for no particular reason except the fun of showing the Spirit in vigorous action. click to enlarge The story itself flips back and forth into flashback and out again, making the action difficult to follow, and anomalies occur: the Spirit is chased by three Asian thugs, but it’s not clear where they come from or how they magically re-acquire halfway through their pursuit the Samurai swords they’d started with but apparently abandoned. The tale leaves a criminal enterprise pretty much intact, a questionable ethic, and at the end, the Spirit dumps on Ebony after Deming has tried hard to “elevate” the African American character.

After too many disappointments like this, I have given up buying successive issues of the title and pick only those whose creative teams that seem promising. Mike Ploog, f’instance, writing and drawing is a team all by himself. Ploog once worked in the Eisner shop during the period Eisner was producing educational comics and the military safety magazine, P.S., and he drew in a style that echoed Eisner’s almost exactly. Ploog’d got the job with Eisner because he had military experience as well as artistic ability: he was an ex-Marine, and at Leatherneck, the Corps’ magazine, he’d learned to draw by aping Eisner. Here, I thought, was a candidate with promise. And Ploog delivered on the promise although not precisely in the way I’d imagined.

He still deploys a boney drawing style, all elbows and other soft angles, but his inker, Dan Green, while wielding a juicy brush in the best Eisner custom, doesn’t much resort to Eisner’s distinctive trap-shadow mannerisms—but they’re there, still, and in combination with a frisky feathering technique along the edges, an Eisner-like appearance quickly surfaces. Eisner with a touch of Wally Wood’s shadowy highlighting on faces. Commissioner Dolan is a bit too scrawny to fall within the Eisner tradition, and Ploog’s Spirit has developed a massive lantern jaw, which, thankfully, diminishes as we move from No. 31 to No. 32 (and on one occasion, actually disappears altogether). I could conjure up some other minor quibbles, but they’re minor, and they scarcely matter in the context of Ploog’s storytelling.

At the onset, the story seems simple enough: Dolan’s slacker nephew, Danny Dolan, has gotten himself into some sort of trouble, and Dolan asks the Spirit to find the kid and rescue him (assuming he needs rescuing). Ploog quickly complicates matters by injecting an element of fantasy: the scene shifts to the docks where Danny stumbles into a clutch of homeless bums, who are joined by an Irish elf named Cormac MacCormac, an antic visual in the best comedic of Eisner’s narrative tricks. Mac is looking for an ancient Irish artifact, the Celtic Stone, which has magical properties and which has been stolen and transported to America by Danny Dolan. But Danny disembarked his transoceanic airplane in such a hurry that he left his bag on the plane: it’s in his uncle’s possession, but it contains only two bags of potato chips, a candy bar, and the electronic ticket stub. No Celtic Stone that we can see. Mac knows the culprit in the caper is not Danny but Joey Marres, who runs the Dockers’ Benevolent Society, the same outfit the Spirit goes looking for because its name is on Danny’s ticket stub. Marres and his gang make the Spirit captive (despite, er, spirited resistence), intending to take him to see The Ree, a mysterious lurker on a nearby island, who will make the Spirit reveal the location of Danny’s flight bag, which, they allege, contains the Celtic Stone. click to enlarge As they leave their wharfside hideaway, Mac and his homeless riffraff entourage see them, and Mac decides to follow. And back at Commissioner Dolan’s office, an active duty general of the U.S. Marines shows up, claiming a terrorist organization is occupying an island in Central City’s river.

By this time, Ploog has three narrative threads stranding through the book: Mac the Irish elf with Danny Dolan and the homeless “army,” the Spirit and Joey Marres’ dock workers, and Commissioner Dolan being shoved around by the Marine general. With the introduction of the latter, two thirds of the tale (Mac et al and Dolan and the general) ascends into screwball Hollywood comedy, a place Eisner sometimes visited himself. In the serious part of the story, the Spirit is taken to the island to be interrogated by The Ree (who looks to be a refugee from Ploog’s Abadazad venture); en route, the Spirit is turned over to a rough-looking bunch of Arabs led by a femme fatale of the best Eisner San Serif P’Gell sort—Adios, a beret-wearing blonde beauty with a plunging neckline and bare midriff, who packs a pair of very large pistols and who seems not at all smitten by the Spirit’s macho manners.

In part two of the story (issue No. 32), Ploog brings the strands of his triumvirate tale together with escalating comedic violence. Mac and his riffraff army get to the island just as the Marines begin to bombard it with mortar and rockets (thinking it is infested with terrorists, remember?). Mac and his gang survive but are immediately threatened by Adios’ gang, so Mac invokes one of the remaining spells in his command, and all the pirates promptly loose their teeth—perhaps the most ingenious battlefield tactic of modern times. Her forces demoralized and effectively decimated, Adios beats a strategic retreat by disappearing, but not before kissing the Spirit in a body-blending clutch that leaves him with a torn shirt (and her with a shred thereof as a souvenir). In the final pages of the book, Ploog’s three strands interlock in a grand crescendo of a finale in which each of the threads achieves a satisfactory individual conclusion. The Celtic Stone is recovered (it was wrapped as the candy bar in Danny’s bag—another admirably ingenious device), Mac takes himself and the menacing Ree back to Ireland, Danny is rescued, and the riffraff get a reward.

In the ingenuity of his devices and the interlocking of a three-stranded tale, Ploog ably mimics the Master, and in slinging satirical barbs at mindless militarism and the equally mindless preoccupations of environmentalists, he goes the Master one better.


Of the new lot drawing the Spirit, Paul Rivoche comes closest to capturing the appearance of Eisner’s creation. He does it with more-or-less straight illustration, no comedic visual effects. By the way, where, exactly, did the name “the Spirit” come from? In all the reams of prose about Eisner and his creations, nowhere can I find any clue about it. And I failed to ask him during any of the many opportunities I had. My guess? Leslie Charteris’ the Saint. The Saint first appeared in a book entitled Meet the Tiger in 1929, and the 1930s were the character’s heyday: of the nearly 40 books Charteris wrote from 1929 to 1970, over half—that is, 21—were published in the thirties. So the Saint books would have been both popular and plentiful when Eisner was a teenager and a young man, devouring pulp magazines and O’Henry short stories. He needed a “name” for his detective character—who, Eisner was resolved, would not be a costumed superhero—and Charteris’ character with his somewhat mysterious or cryptic nom de guerre must’ve floated through Eisner’s head at one time or another. Both names have about them an ethereal aura, the suggestion of other worldliness and, even, religious moral motivation. Why not? Anyone know anything else about it?


The Thing of It Is ...

FROM FAUX NEWS: “Americans are now beginning to organize against the U.S. public highway system, demonstrated by a recent rally in a remote, roadless area of Montana that attracted over three people. ‘If we rely on the government to build our roads, we’ll all be waiting in line for seven years, just to enter an on-ramp!’ shouted one man, holding a sign reading ‘Any Road Is a Road To Socialism.’ ‘Well,’ the man continued, ‘I said no to socialism transportation, and to date, I’ve built over 14 feet of my own road that I can travel on, tax free.’”


THE ONLY PEOPLE TO DENY that the Republican Party has become the Party of the Perpetual No are Republican politicians, and their qualifications as judges on this matter seem dubious at best. The Republicans in Congress seem determined not to lift a finger on any of the legislation introduced by the Obama Outfit. (No, that’s not quite true: there is a finger that they lift, repeatedly, as Garrison Keillor pointed out lately: “The Right is operating in the grand old irreverent American middle-finger spirit of contrarianism.” And they’re being rude about it. But, saith Keillor, there’s a solution: “The old union guys who built the Democratic Party enjoyed public face-offs and knew how to deal with hecklers: you get up close to them and snap their underwear.” It’s a mode of redress that seems aptly suited to the nature of the offense.)

Max Baucus, Democrat chair of the Senate Finance Committee, worked for months to come up with a health care reform bill that represented at least a rough compromise. “In almost Solomonic fashion,” said the editors of The New Republic (October 7), “he crafted a bill that gives something to—and takes something away from—each faction. ... And when it came to winning over Republicans, Baucus went more than halfway: eliminating the pubic option, strengthening protections against federal funding of abortions, and lowering the legislation’s price tag. And what did all of his efforts get him? Well, from most key interest groups, outright support or, at the very least, not much indication of outright opposition.” But “absolutely no Republican support.” And Orrin Hatch, the number two Republican on Baucus’ committee, is now joining with John Boehner, the marble-mouthing minority leader in the House, in feverently advocating that Democrats “take a deep breath and start over on a truly bipartisan bill.” Phooey. Starting over is just another way of delaying action. And the reason Republicans want to postpone any action on this vital matter? So that, come next election, they can say the Democrats did nothing so you’d better elect Republicans if you want something done.

Alas, for the sake of our representative form of government, as The New Republic editors point out, “The GOP is no longer representing interest groups; rather, it has become an interest group itself—and an implacable one. ... If Max Baucus’s months of work achieved nothing else, he has unmasked the true nature of the contemporary GOP and, in the process, revealed just how broken our political system has become.” Nothing will make the GOP happy except a return to power, where it can continue to aid and abet the rich while doing as little as possible for the poor. Why? Because the rich, whether individuals or corporations, donate campaign funds to insure re-election. The perpetuation of this cycle is the only interest in government that the GOP retains these days.

Hypocrisy Galore


In hailing the fiscally responsible Republican deliberation over the health care reform legislation, New York Times columnist Gail Collins said: “These guys are really, really, really concerned about balancing the budget. And that seems only fair since they were basically the ones who unbalanced it in the first place when they worked in splendid bipartisan concert in 2001 to pass GeeDubya’s first $1.6 trillion in tax cuts.”

Meanwhile, in another spasm of financial moral responsibility, on September 25, the House passed its usual nick-of-time legislation to keep the government from shutting down on October 1 because Congress has yet to settle on a budget. But the same bill that keeps government running includes an 8 percent increase in lawmakers’ office budgets. Unemployment is approaching ten percent and citizens everywhere are feeling the pinch of the Great Recession, and the guys that make the laws give their staffs a pay increase?

Hypocrisy is the other name for American politics, and while Democrats are doubtless as guilty of it as Republicans, the latter have elevated it to celestial heights of late. Here, for instance—thanks to R&R spy/correspondent/web-surfer R. Alin—are the Right-Wing Arguments against Health Care Reform, all twenty of them:

1. Although efforts have been made to reform the health care industry since 1912, we should not be too hasty in enacting change.

2. The federal government has no business interfering in peoples’ health care decisions, unless a woman is trying to terminate a pregnancy, or unless the patient’s last name is Schiavo.

3. The government is incapable of running anything efficiently and, if allowed to offer a health care option, will run it so efficiently that it will put private insurers out of business.

4. Some people just don’t deserve health care.

5. We are a Christian nation, and we don’t believe in helping the least among us.

6. The current system, with 47,000,000 uninsured, a million medical bankruptcies annually, and 18,000 deaths annually due to lack of insurance, is working just fine. In fact, we have the best health care system in the world!

7. Even though many older couples are forced to divorce in order to avoid catastrophic financial losses due to medical expenses, it’s the homosexuals who are destroying families.

8. A conversation with your doctor about end-of-life issues is an opportunity for your doctor to convince you to kill yourself.

9. We can afford to spend more on our military than all other nations combined, but we can’t afford universal health care.

10. Single-payer, government-run health care is good enough for our men and women in uniform, but to offer the same to the general public would be socialism.

11. Pooling our resources to provide roads, schools, clean water, military, police, and fire protection for each other is not socialism. Pooling our resources to provide each other health care is socialism.

12. Socialism is bad. Very bad. Bad!

13. Health care is an issue best handled by individual states. Like slavery.

14. We can afford to subsidize the Israel, Iraq, and Afghanistan, all of whom have universal healthcare, but we can’t afford it ourselves.

15. Money and corporate profits are more important than peoples’ health. Sure, reforming the insurance companies would save thousands of lives, but shareholders’ portfolios would be damaged.

16. Freeing people from holding on to their dead-end jobs for the insurance and allowing them to become entrepreneurs would bankrupt our country.

17. Someone like physicist Stephen Hawking would have been allowed to die under the British healthcare system. Oh, he’s British? And alive? Never mind.

18. We already have universal health care: it’s called the Emergency Room. Uninsured people can go there for all their health needs (checkups, cancer pre-screening, chemotherapy, etc.), and it only costs the taxpayers a few thousand dollars per visit.

19. Socialism is bad. Very, very bad. Boo!

20. The Obama health care initiative is part of the liberal-communist-Nazi-socialist-Islamofascist-gay-atheist-zombie-transsexual-cannibal-sociopath-evolutionist agenda to take away your freedom! If this plan is passed, abortions will be mandatory, schoolchildren will be raped by their teachers, and Negroes will murder your Grandma with her pillow!


If you’re interested in debunking the outrageous lies and misinformation being peddled by the road-rage Right and its carpet-chewing enablers, you might want to visit the debunking website launched lately by the Democratic National Committee: democrats.org/page/content/callout , which promises to fact-check every Republican who goes on tv or gets on a conference call or steps up to the mike. Someone ought to do the same for Democrats, but this, at least, is a start.

And here, if you are afflicted with doubt about your political leanings, is a short 10-or-less question quiz that will tell you just where you stand on the political spectrum, left, right, or middle: http://www.theadvocates.org/quizp/index.html

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