Opus 256 (February 14, 2010). If we had a cover, our cover story this time would be Abrams’ valentine to Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s god of manga—an extensive and profusely illustrated biography. And we also headline Mauldin’s Willie and Joe going back on duty to raise funds for the psychologically damaged Iraq and Afghanistan vets, and we include a fulmination by Mr. Fish and an examination of the shrinking comic strip, and we herald the launch of a new comic strip by political cartoon veterans Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker. Here’s what’s here, in order, by department:


Mauldin’s Willie and Joe back on duty

Original Playboy cartoon auction

Fan responses to the departure of Maguire and Taimi

The Simpsons at 20

Tony Isabella Unmasked

Visiting Stan Lee at POW!

Shrinking Comic Strips


Mr. Fish Fulminates


Editor & Publisher Gets a Reprieve

Dustin: A New Comic Strip


Connie Reprints


Wimpy Kid Revisited



Abrams God of Manga Tome

Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater

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—


Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits

Willie and Joe Have Re-enlisted
I got a note from Jim Frost, Assistant Design Director at the Albuquerque Journal, who is writing a biography of Bill Mauldin, famed WWII cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist. After reminding me that Mauldin is “back in the limelight these days because he will be featured on a stamp to be issued by the Postal Service later this year,” he went on to tell me that Sam Mauldin, the youngest of the Mauldin offspring, has recruited his father’s famous Willie and Joe characters in a fund-raising effort to help provide free mental health service for veterans and active-duty personnel. Here are excerpts from Frost’s January 26 story in the Albuquerque Journal:

          ... Mauldin’s iconic images now appear on T-shirts that are being sold to benefit The Soldiers Project, a nonprofit organization that offers free psychological treatment to military service members and their families. With the recent rise of suicides in the Army’s ranks, this project couldn’t come at a better time, said Sam Mauldin, the cartoonist’s youngest son who is spearheading the fundraiser. A Santa Fe native now living near Boston, Sam began his project last December after seeing reports about the deteriorating situation for returning soldiers. The statistics coming from the Department of Defense are grim. Earlier this month, the department reported 160 active duty Army suicides during 2009, of which 114 were confirmed and 46 were pending determination of manner of death. During 2008, there were 140 suicides among active duty soldiers, the department report states. ...

          After talking with friends and family, Sam decided his father’s famous Army characters could lend some support. ... “My father’s Willie and Joe images really resonate with a lot of soldiers,” Sam said. “I decided the best way to help was to take these images and make something out of them that I could use to support veterans.”

          He hit on the idea of raising money through the sale of T-shirts, but he wasn’t sure who should benefit from his efforts. “I was tempted to go with the Veterans Administration outright, but lately, the trend for them was to prescribe antidepressants,” he said. “I’m strongly against that. I think it just kind of buries these problems. What they really need is psychiatric help.”

          The Soldiers Project fit all the criteria he sought for a wide-ranging program. Founded in 2004, the nonprofit, independent group consists of licensed mental health professionals who offer free psychotherapy to any military service members or veterans who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to the organization’s Web site. Girlfriends, boyfriends or any relatives can be included in the sessions, the site also states.

          The Soldiers Project will receive half the proceeds of every T-shirt Sam sells. By providing this support, Sam believes he will not only benefit military personnel but also honor his father.

          Bill Mauldin, a New Mexico native [hence the interest of the Albuquerque Journal], was one of the most unlikely heroes to emerge from World War II. As a cartoonist for the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes, he portrayed the grit, misery and irony of war with a laconic sense of humor. The war-weary “dogfaces,” Willie and Joe, spoke what soldiers were powerless to say out loud. The solitary figure of Willie, selected for one of Sam’s T-shirts, shows the grunt with his most trusted friend—his rifle.

          By coincidence, the image Sam selected for a second T-shirt will also be printed on stamps issued by the U.S. Postal Service in the spring. Both the stamp and the shirt pay special tribute to Bill, who died January 22, 2003. The olive drab t-shirt meets requirements that allow it to be worn by active duty personnel, Sam said.

          “That would bring the biggest grin in the world to my father’s face,” he said. “That soldiers can actually wear his images of the tired dogfaces, so that they can express what they feel.”
          Sam Mauldin’s T-shirts, which feature images of Willie and Joe, sell for $10 each. Men’s sizes include small, medium, large and X-large (sizes XXL and above available on request). Women’s sizes are available in small and medium. To order, contact Mauldin at
samuelmauldin@gmail.com. A website for the fundraiser is under construction.

          For the Bill Mauldin story, visit Harv’s Hindsight for February 2003.


More than 100 original Playboy cartoons will be up for bid at Heritage Auction Galleries on February 26. Among those on the block are a 4-page Annie Fannie story (published January 1968), three Vargas pin-ups, a handful of Femlins, and cartoons by Edward Gorey, Shel Silverstein, Jack Cole, Erich Sokol, Jack Davis, Eldon Dedini, Arnold Roth—to name a few—and, even, one of the few Hugh Hefner cartoons published in the first few issues of the magazine (this one, it sez here, from January 1954—one of the Christmas party cartoons, I judge, which you can see in our Playboy story in Opus 255).

          Heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio is the son of an underground comics distributor and grew up reading the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Zap and Weirdo comics. “At a very young age,” he told Craigh Barboza at USA Weekend, “I was exposed to the most hardcore hippie subculture any young man would be subject to.” ... Since January 1, David Horsey is no longer syndicated by Tribune Media Services, where he’d been for ten happy years. Since the demise of the print Post-Intelligencer in Seattle, he’s been the Hearst papers’ editooner with extensive additional online writing and reportorial responsibilities, and he found himself “working all the time.” To give himself some time to live, he gave up the weekly commitment of cartoons to TMS—“my choice,” he said.

          The reign of the “doughty French-language comic hero Asterix” is being challenged by a “cheeky erotic comic called Happy Sex reports Lionel Laurent at Reuters. “Humorous bedroom vignettes feature couples spicing up their sex life with bondage gear, role play and menages-a-trois,” Laurent continued, and “the bedroom adventures often have unintended consequences, such as when dirty talk provokes fits of anger or when a vibrator is mistaken for a toothbrush.” Happy Sex has been a hit since it debuted in October and is ranked third best seller in 2009 by the research firm GfK, which also reports that the broader French comic market has managed to resist a year of economic slowdown in France, growing 0.3 percent in 2009.

          Brian DiStefano opened his comic book retail store three years ago, but he did some research in the marketplace first, reports Karen Maserjian Shan at the Poughkeepsie Journal. "I visited 20 separate stores … to see how each one of them ran, how they looked, how they felt," DiStefano said of the comic book retailers he checked out before opening his own. "Seventy-five percent of them were dark and dingy environments that were very off-putting, I thought, not only to myself, but definitely to parents and their kids." His store, he resolved, would be different. And it is, reports Shan: Upstate Comics in LaGrangeville is “an inviting space where young and old would find knowledgeable salespeople, get the latest news on their comic book heroes and enjoy conversations about the exploits of Green Lantern, Hulk, Batman and whoever else they happened to be reading about.” And so are the Mile High Comics stores in Denver, I might add: they’re clean, well-lighted, and orderly—just like a regular retail store, not like some fanboy’s basement storage bin.

          Some fan responses to the news that neither Tobey Maguire nor director Sam Raimi will be involved in “Spider-Man 4": “This is absolute classic spin,” said Dave Blanchard. “They must teach this in PR 101 classes now—spend the maximum number of words saying absolutely nothing. That line about going back to Peter's roots [as a high school student, which would permit a new, younger actor to take the Maguire role] cracks me up. How many years did Parker actually age throughout the three movies—two? three? Why don't they just come right out and say, We couldn't afford Raimi and Maguire any more, so we're going to try to make this movie on the cheap." To which Brent Frankenhoff at the Comics Buyer’s Guide reposited: “While costs may be a factor, Dave, I think it's more a matter of Raimi's vision clashing with that of the producers, and the two groups choosing to part ways rather than continue down that path.” And Dave said: “I think the producers' vision was: ‘We want to do this movie on the cheap.’ Hence, the ‘creative differences’ spin.”


From Alan Gardner, DailyCartoonist.com; Feb. 4: I reported earlier that Up was nominated for Best Picture—something rarely done for an animated film. I briefly mentioned it was also nominated in the Animated Feature Film category. What I did not mentioned was the other contenders which include: Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Princess and the Frog and The Secret of Kells. Most of these I have seen, but The Secret of Kells was an out-of-nowhere title. I found the trailer on collider.com. I can’t speak to the writing or plot, but I am in love with the art. Regardless of how it fairs in the Oscars, I’ll rent the movie just for the artistic work.

          Footnit from RCH: Up just won the Best Animated Feature honor at the 37th Annual Annie Awards held at UCLA's Royce Hall on February 6.


This season, as most of us realize, "The Simpsons" celebrated on January 10 both its 20th anniversary and its 450th episode, surpassing "Gunsmoke" as the longest-running American primetime tv series. Created by Matt Groening in 1989, the Fox animated sitcom has since become “a living tv legend,” writes Frank Nestor at columbiaspectator.com, continuing: “With fans all over the world, the extent of the influence is immeasurable. In 2001, ‘D'oh’—Homer Simpson's catchphrase—was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. ... When ‘The Simpsons’ first aired, it was revolutionary. Animation had not been on prime time for a generation and the idea of an adult-oriented cartoon seemed ludicrous. Instead, the medium of animation provided a freedom for the writers to have dysfunctional characters that both embodied and criticized American society. ‘Family Guy’ creator Seth MacFarlane pointed out in the documentary that Bart talking back to Homer was considered offensive 20 years ago, yet this is relatively tame compared to today's standards. MacFarlane and the creators of ‘South Park’ credit ‘The Simpsons’ with paving the way for the satiric and comedic animation that is currently on TV. These newer cartoons are more crass, crude, and blunt than ‘The Simpsons’ has ever been. Such shows use the rude humor to which more recent generations have grown accustomed.

          “Homer is still ‘pure id’ and Bart is still a troublemaker with a sassy mouth, and the show is still funny, but some viewers feel it does not pack the same humor it once did. ‘I feel like ‘The Simpsons' doesn't have the same punch it had in the ‘90s,’ said Ari Frydman. ‘All those adult cartoon shows seem like the same thing to me.’" But I don’t think Nestor agrees: “Nothing in American culture is safe from the satiric pens of the Simpsons writers. When they do not care who they offend, ‘The Simpsons’ tends to be its funniest. While this confidence is sometimes lacking in recent episodes, the sitcom possesses one more unique quality: heart.”

Bob Andelman, disguised as Mr. Media, interviewed Tony Isabella last fall. Isabella, a constant presence in comics fandom since forever, may be Mr. Mystery to those students of the medium who haven’t been around forever, so here’s what Isabella had to say about his sordid history: "I was born on December 22, 1951, which makes me, among other things, older than Godzilla. I learned to read from comics at the age of four and have never stopped reading them. Clearly, I was on the road to ruin. That road led from my then home of Cleveland, Ohio to New York City and a job as an editorial assistant at Marvel Comics. It was the fall of 1972, and, much to my amazement, I found myself working with Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Sol Brodsky, and so many other legendary comics creators that merely listing them would fill this column [in CBG] and allow me to knock off early today. This, my now-less-cute editors inform me, would be a bad idea. I created Black Lightning at DC Comics, co-created Tigra for Marvel Comics, developed Jack Kirby's Satan's Six at Topps Comics, and have written for countless other comic book titles from Amazing Spider-Man to Young Love. Of course, when I say ‘countless,’ what I really mean is that I've never counted them. Math confuses and frightens me.”

          He continues: "I was an editor at both Marvel and DC in the 1970s. I owned and operated a comic-book store [in Cleveland] for over a decade in the 1970s and 1980s. In recent years, working with Bob Ingersoll, I've published two novels: Captain America: Liberty's Torch and Star Trek: The Case of the Colonist's Corpse." His latest book, which we reviewed here in Opus 249, is 1,000 Comic Books You Must Read.


Ronald Grover at cio-today.com visited Stan Lee at the four-room suite that is headquarters and laboratory for Lee’s POW!, short for Purveyors of Wonder, soon after Disney, attracted by Lee’s “legendary creativity,” paid $2.5 million for a 10 percent stake in the company. Reported Grover: “Disney has several deals with Lee, including a ‘first look’ arrangement to turn his ideas into movies.” POW! has only six employees, says Lee’s partner, Gill Champion, 69, including a chief financial officer and lawyer to handle agreements to license the characters Lee creates. “Lee is the sole creative force; the remaining two employees are assistants.” Said Lee: "I've got people calling me all the time with ideas, some of them good, some of them not.”

          Soon after opening the doors in 2003, “Lee signed a deal with Playboy to create an animated tv series called ‘Hef's Superbunnies’ that is still in development. He also created a series of DVDs based on Ringo Starr, whose character the company describes as ‘an evil-biting, earth-saving [though reluctant] superhero with a great sense of rhythm.’”

          Grover thinks of Lee as a kid on a candy store, “taking a bite of everything that looks good.” But POW!s biggest opportunity is with Disney, “where Lee suddenly finds himself in the midst of what looks like an animation Hall of Fame. Already the home to Mickey, Minnie, and others, Disney is collecting cartoon brands the way a kid collects old Spider-Man comics. In the last five years, Disney bought Pixar and Marvel, as well as a piece of POW! ... Lee and Champion aren't saying exactly what the deal with Disney means, other than that they are hard at work on several projects for the fabled animation factory. Lee says he's already met with John Lasseter, the former Pixar head who now lords over Disney's animation activities. Is there a Stan Lee-Pixar film down the road? A new Marvel character that Lee might help Disney exploit? ‘We're thinking,’ says Lee.

          “Right now, Lee is consulting with writers and producers on three Disney films, including one called Tigress about a female crime-fighter with, what else, cat-like quickness. That character could just as easily describe Lee, a man who has projects popping up as often as bad guys in a superhero's path.”


Comic strips in newspapers have been shrinking, often unobtrusively, for years. Before World War II, comic strips in some newspapers were published at gigantic size: some ran across the entire page, side to side. Even in a smaller incarnation—say, five columns wide—strips measured 10 inches from beginning to end. Then came WWII.

          In a patriotic ploy to support the war effort, newspapers strained to save newsprint, which was used in the manufacture of munitions. Strips were abbreviated by cropping off the bottom inch or so of artwork. You can find evidence of this maneuver on the original art from the period. Syndicate copyright lines were frequently affixed in two positions: across the very bottom of the artwork, and then again 1-1 3/4 inches higher up, where it would still be visible in print after some newspapers clipped off the bottom portion of the artwork. And the width of strips was reduced, too.

          Most cartoonists assumed that their strips would revert to the pre-war size once the hostilities ceased. Alas, no. Having finagled the smaller dimension for patriotic purposes, editors retained it after the war for journalistic reasons: the less space they had to devote to comic strips, the more space they’d have to practice journalism. By 1955, strips that were 10 inches wide in 1940 were only 7 inches wide.

          Then an insidious shrinkage set in. Over the years. The width of a newspaper page was reduced by fractions of an inch at a time. Today’s newspaper page is much narrower than yesterday’s newspaper page. So even comic strips that are printed half-a-page wide actually appear at a smaller size than before. Today, strips are usually only about 5.5 inches wide. And the struggle goes on apace.

          At the Washington Post recently, Michael Cavna, whose blog ComicRiffs ponders newspaper comics on a regular basis, confronted the current state of affairs when the Post consolidated its funnies from three to two pages, resulting in over-all shrinkage. Said Cavna: “This reduction is widely perceived by editors to be a necessary evil, the cost of doing business now.” He goes on to acknowledge that by shrinking the funnies, newspaper editors are shooting themselves in their various feet: demographically, newspaper readers tend to be older, and their eyesight ain’t what it used to be. When they can’t see small strips to read them, they give up following the funnies. “In other words,” Cavna acknowledged, “one kind of shrinkage begets another.” He even reports that one reader wrote in to say: “My wife's given up reading the comics in her 40s because you print them too small."

          One of the reasons that Peanuts and Beetle Bailey succeeded so spectacularly in the 1950s (and thereafter) is that they are more simply drawn than, say, Steve Canyon or Judge Parker. Newspaper editors, looking for legibility in the new reduced post-war size of their comics pages, opted for simply drawn strips because they were still readable at the smaller dimension. A vicious cycle soon swung into place. As simply drawn humorous comic strips displaced the more illustrative strips like Rip Kirby and Steve Roper, newspaper editors realized they could reduce the size of comic strips even more because they were drawn simply enough to tolerate the reduction. And the smaller the comic strips were printed, the greater the demand for strips drawn simply enough to be published at diminutive size, a size that now approaches that of postage stamps. (Ironic, isn’t it?—that the Postal Service is producing comic strip characters on stamps.)

          What prompted Cavna’s recent outburst on the subject was the Post’s moving Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury from one page to another in a re-design effort, which cost the strip “roughly a half-panel in width,” Cavna noted. And that was too much for one of his colleagues, cultural critic Henry Allen, who is losing patience: "That's it,” he said. “It's not worth it anymore. They're too damned small. It can't afford to shrink that much.”

          Allen, Cavna reported, won a Pulitzer Prize for cultural criticism. “From Andrew Wyeth to R. Crumb, the man knows more than a wee bit about visual critique,” Cavna said. “And perhaps just as important to our discussion today, he relishes the well-illustrated comic.” Allen bemoaned the loss of the aesthetic pleasure to be derived from such beautifully rendered strips as Eduardo Barreto’s Judge Parker when such strips are reduced to postage stamp panels.

          Cavna concludes: “Given such splotchy Rorscharch-test art, readers like the esteemed Henry Allen won't stick around because they can tell you what such art means without having to gaze at it. It means: ‘Farewell, because you can kiss my comics readership goodbye.’ And trust me, newspaper editors, when I say: That's no small loss. Because although millions of comics fans can barely see the strips in the newspaper, they can read the writing on the wall.”


While aghast at the shrunken Doonesbury, Cavna observed that even at its smaller size, it is published larger than most strips in the Post’s comics section. But the new measurements made Cavna wonder about Trudeau’s minimum size requirement for his strip. When Trudeau returned after an 18 month sabbatical several years ago and newspapers lined up to resume their subscriptions to Doonesbury, the contract they had to sign prevented them from printing the strip smaller than a contractually-specified dimension. Fans of the medium applauded vociferously: Trudeau, it was felt, had enough clout to make the requirement stick, and we hoped his requirement would slow the medium’s otherwise steady slide into minuscule inconsequentiality. A few years later, Bill Watterson, another cartooner with clout, imposed a similar minimum requirement for the Sunday Calvin and Hobbes, and we all applauded that, too (at the same time, wishing he’d also extended the requirement to the size of the daily strip).

          I asked Trudeau about this requirement several years ago when I noticed that Doonesbury was running at the same size as all other strips in some newspapers, and he said that he and his syndicate, Universal Press, no longer sent out the “pica police” to check on whether client papers met the requirement. Cavna wondered about the same thing, so he asked Post management about it. They replied: We're not likely to agree to such a condition, in this day and age.

          So Cavna went to Universal where he talked to John Glynn, who told him: "Yes, we do ask that newspapers run Doonesbury at the largest size they possibly can. In relation to most other comics, Doonesbury relies heavily [and brilliantly] on language to get its points across. A few years ago, we contractually required that the size was to be a minimum of 44 picas, but with the transition to smaller web press widths [for the whole paper], we realize that newspapers cannot always oblige and we've dropped that requirement."

          Cavna then reported that at the Post, Doonesbury, which was running at about 34 picas wide with the re-design shift to another page, “has been restored to its pre-redesign width of about 41 picas. And for that, Comic Riffs is pleased. Cartooning, like baseball, can be a game of inches. We print readers will take every pica we can win back, in the name of America's other more-than-a-century-old pastime.”


Further Evidence That All Is Not Lost from Craig Shutt: The Chicago Tribune is about to shrink the width of its pages (for about the third time in the last five years or so, I think). As a result, its current format of running two columns of comic strips to a page would shrink them beyond readability (which some people say has already happened). As a result, the Trib is going to enlarge most of its comic strips starting on Monday (Feb. 8), apparently running them in two long columns, one per page, and putting other stuff (a couple of single-panel comics, horoscopes, a bridge column, etc.) into a narrower leftover column. ... It’s using the opportunity to shuffle some of its comics, too, eliminating six and adding two new ones. ... But I thought the notion that the comics page shrinking would end up with the comics themselves getting bigger was pretty ironic. I’m definitely curious to see how these comics look a little bigger in size. Some of them will benefit; some of them already figure they’re postage-stamp size and don’t put in much effort. We’ll see.

          Alan Gardner at the DailyCartoonist.com adds: Two features, The Argyle Sweater and Bliss will be enlarged by 15% and Baby Blues, Blondie, Cathy, Classic Peanuts, Dilbert, Doonesbury, For Better or for Worse, Frazz, Hagar the Horrible, Mr. Boffo, Prickly City, Shoe and Zits will be increased by 25%. They’ve also picked up on two features, Dustin and Pickles and dropped six: Get Fuzzy, Lio, Raising Hector, Scary Gary, Sylvia and Watch Your Head.

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.


          In a populist age, the establishment is the enemy and experts are fools. —James Poniewozik, Time

          “Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” —John F. Kennedy

          “People come to Washington believing it’s the center of power. I know I did. It was only much later that learned that Washington is asteering wheel that’s not connected to the engine.”—Richard Goodwin

          “The voters think Washington is a whorehouse and every four years, they get a chance to elect a new piano player.” —Peggy Noonan


Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted

“Chinks in America’s egalitarian armor are not hard to find. Democracy is the fig leaf of elitism.”—Florence King

Mr. Fish (aka Dwayne Booth) would like to be called a cartoonist; indeed, to the extent that he is known at all, he is known as a cartoonist. He uses PhotoShop a lot (“photo reference,” to be polite), but he reportedly begins with a pencil. You can see his pencils at Cagle.msnbc.com. Mr. Fish’s oeuvre appears usually in alternative weekly newspapers, which, as we’ve observed here before, have been laying off cartoonists (that is, they’ve given up publishing them and, therefore, paying them). The esteemed Village Voice, once the vanguard of all alternative weekly newspapers, stopped publishing cartoons last year—except for Mr. Fish. But lately, even Mr. Fish was sent packing. He also went missing at the Los Angeles Weekly, another altie owned by the Village Voice moguls. But Mr. Fish didn’t go without making a fuss: on or about January 18, he sent a letter to Daryle Cagle at Cagle’s political cartoon site, the aforementioned Cagle.msnbc.com, and Cagle published the letter. Because Mr. Fish gives coherent albeit vehement expression to the oft-incoherent rage of cartoonists being laid off, I’m publishing his letter forthwith as a historic document. Here we go:


by Dwayne Booth (Mr. Fish)

Ever since the takeover of the Village Voice Media Company in 2006 by New Times Media, I knew my days were numbered. We all did—by that I mean everybody at the old LA Weekly, where for nearly 6 years I wrote, cartooned and illustrated and produced a shitload of work. That is, up until yesterday. I was cut as a cost-saving measure.

          Once comprised of a sizable and competent staff capable of competing with the other two major metropolitan newspapers in the area, namely the Los Angeles Times and the Los Angeles Daily News, the current personnel who remain to produce the ever diminishing pages of the LA Weekly might best be described as only slightly outnumbering the Osmond Brothers. In fact, there are perhaps as many as 100 office chairs in the Culver City building, where, following a very depressing exodus from Hollywood in 2008, the Weekly now resides, that have never known ass. Never.

          In fact, if you were to compare the old, pre-merger LA Weekly, and, while you're at it, the Village Voice from 5 or 10 or 30 years ago, with today's versions you'd see how Mr. Fish (not to mention Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Henry Miller, Barbara Garson, Katherine Anne Porter, M.S. Cone, James Baldwin, E.E. Cummings, Nat Hentoff, Marc Cooper, Ted Hoagland, Tom Stoppard, Lorraine Hansberry, Allen Ginsberg, Joshua Clover, Jules Feiffer and R. Crumb) no longer fits in with the TMZ/Your-ad-here!/journalism-produced-cheaply-will-produce-cheap-journalism look of the papers.

          I recently received a letter from someone bemoaning the obvious drop in quality of the LA Weekly, as evidenced by the paper's online incarnation, by saying that, "If I knew nothing about LA, I would think all that went on there were burlesque shows."

          No kidding.

          Sure, in response to a shitty economy and a pandemic shift by news junkies from pulp to PC, there’ve been definite changes in the print media industry over the last five years. And, sure, attempts to restructure the financial model on any business institution that sees its profit margins shrinking will always have some effect on the product that's being produced, but mustn't a shift to protect the body of an organization take special care not to jeopardize serious trauma to the head as well?

          Does an incoming administration really assert its authority when it rips up the old Constitution so beloved by those it seeks to rule, saying, "This thing is pointless— it was written with a feather! We have Microsoft Office now!" Or does it merely demonstrate its own arrogance and self-centeredness and misguided sense of intellectual privilege?

          Haven't we learned anything from the New Coke fiasco from the 1980s, for Christsake's?

At one time, and not too long ago in fact, the brain of the Village Voice and the LA Weekly seemed quite capable of contributing to the national conversation about art and politics and literature and popular culture, but now, unless the word diet is affixed to the end of any of those subjects, or unless they are included as part of a movie title or bit of Hollywood gossip or a crime story, the Village Voice Media company seems as if it has absolutely no opinion to offer.

Specifically, to read the Village Voice nowadays is akin to watching somebody who you once respected and whose opinion about the culture you valued receive a lobotomy and then who, desperate not to lose your company, attempts to keep you around by offering to show you what he looks like with his pants off. It's embarrassing.

          So now what? When will the progressive and egg-heady spirit of the Alternative Press return? When will indie journalism raise its collective acumen above an eighth-grade reading and crouch-grabbing level?

          And, getting back to me, where does a radically left-leaning political cartoonist go to piss off powerful people and to document the rage and contempt of liberal-minded loud-mouths and vengeful humanitarians? Where does a court jester, one who endeavors to rob just enough dignity from the king to make dissent seem possible and worthwhile to those most victimized by hierarchy, go? 

          You tell me.

          I'm assuming that the answer, depending on who you are and what you value, is either Hell or High Water.


Cagle published his favorite most offensive Mr. Fish cartoons at http://blog.cagle.com/daryl/2009/06/07an_offensive_mr_fish_cartoon_fiesta ; I’ve posted a couple in this vicinity. click to enlarge


The Alleged News Institution

For a few days at the end of 2009, it looked as if the venerable Editor & Publisher, the newspaper industry’s “bible,” was going to go down the road it has been paving for many newspapers. It was officially announced on December 10 that it would fold at the end of the month. E&P had already surrendered a couple years ago to the faltering financials of the print medium, giving up its weekly print version in favor of cheaper digital “breaking news” reports at its website, returning to print only once a month. Then in December, the management announced that its last print monthly would be January’s issue; after that, no more E&P in print or in the electronic ether. Then, suddenly, with the thunder of hoofbeats and a clarion bugle call, the cavalry arrived in time’s very nick: a buyer appeared to save the 126-year-old trade magazine.

          The new owner is Duncan McIntosh, the Irvine, Calif.-based publisher of several well-respected boating magazines and newspapers, including Boating World Magazine, Sea Magazine, America's Western Boating Magazine, The Log Newspaper, and FishRap. This development was heralded by one wag among the editooning fraternity with a quip about a sinking ship. E&P under the new ownership will continue both its online operation and the monthly magazine.

          Mark Fitzgerald, a 26-year veteran, was named as E&P's new editor. He had most recently served as E&P's editor-at-large. But two of E&P’s stalwarts, Greg Mitchell and Joe Strupp, were fired. “A truly great loss,” Mitchell said of Strupp’s departure. “Only four editors/writers left,” he continued, displaying an understandable resentment: “One week ago in a meeting new owner told me flatly, ‘Extremely impressed with your great work and definitely will retain you.’” Guess not.


Several gay newspapers have expired: The Washington Blade, Houston Voice, South Florida Blade, and Southern Voice.

          Sarah the Palin’s book is still on the New York Times bestseller list—in fifth place at the end of January. Sigh. Sarah Livingston Palin, you may have noticed, is now a political analyst at Fox News, where she continues to demonstrate her complete obliviousness about politics and the rest of American history. Glenn Beck interviewed her and, in a friendly way, asked who her favorite Founding Father was. She was stymied: all of them she said. But Beck pressed on, and she finally allowed as how George Washington was. Interesting choice. Washington had almost nothing to do with the writing of the Constitution: he was a presence, presiding at the meetings, and his presence inspired the drafters of the document: they knew he’d be the first President of the U.S., so they didn’t think it was necessary to say much about the job because they had faith he’d do the right thing. Maybe Sarah knew what she was saying all along ...


I read several articles about Dustin, the new comic strip by Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker, before I saw any of the strip itself. The eponymous Dustin is “what trend-spotters call a boomerang kid”: he’s an unmarried, unemployed 23-year-old fresh college graduate who, instead of going out and being employed, comes back home to live with his parents—ostensibly to save money until he is established in the workforce. Kelley, a political cartoonist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and a sometime stand-up comic, wrote an article about Dustin for his own paper, opening with a comedian’s gambit: the head line says, “Two Heterosexual Males Start a Family Together.” Then he says: “Okay, now that I have your attention, let me explain.” The two heterosexuals are he and Parker; the family, he goes on, is the Kudlick family, Ed and Helen and their two children, Dustin and Meg. Kelley goes on: “You must be thinking, whoa, Steve, that is such an original premise. Husband, wife, two kids—does your sizzling creativity know no bounds?” More stand-up shtick.

          The more I read about the strip, which began January 4, the more it looked like one of those concoctions whipped up to appeal to a predetermined demographic. A typical syndicate machination. Do a strip about a single mother and her two kids because there are lots of single mothers with kids out there who will positively dote on the strip. Do a strip about a guy working in a retail store because there are lots of guys working in retail stores out there. In a recession running 10 percent unemployed, a comic strip about one of the young unemployed is sure to find a huge readership. Sure enough—here’s the syndicate publicity from King Features:

          As the national unemployment rate for 20-24-year-olds soars, 80 percent of 2009 U.S. college graduates, dubbed “boomerang kids,” have returned to their parents’ homes after graduation according to CollegeGrad.com. A growing trend around the country, the Boomerang Generation takes center stage in the hilarious comic strip—Dustin. Co-created by longtime political and editorial cartoonists Steve Kelley and Jeff Parker, the King Features syndicated comic strip chronicles the life of 23-year-old recent college grad and Boomerang poster-child Dustin Kudlick.

          “The Boomerang Generation is a growing sociological phenomenon and one that probably didn’t have most parents laughing—until now,” said Brendan Burford, comics editor for King Features Syndicate. “For millions of former empty-nesters and recent college graduates, Dustin provides a comical and unique look at an all too familiar situation. We are very excited to kick off the New Year with a hilarious new strip that families can relate to and laugh about together.”

          Newspaper reporters, announcing the debut of the strip in their papers, joined the chorus. “We all know the type,” writes Meg Thilmony at the News-Gazette, “—a young man who swears he’ll be successful but isn’t as interested in a 9-to-5 job or even in getting off the couch.” Dustin works at temp jobs “and has no real ambitions, other than he’d like to be rich and famous without putting in much work.” Thilmony interviewed Kelley, who said: “He’s someone who wants to make a big splash in life, but he doesn’t want to start at the very bottom and grind his way to the top. He just wants to come up with the invention that makes him a million dollars.”

          As usual, the creators supply a voluminous backstory for what David Colton at USA Today dubbed “a reality-based strip,” quoting Kelley, who calls it “a sitcom on a comics page.” Dustin’s father, Ed, is a grumpy lawyer; his mother, Helen, is a radio show host who loves to shop; his sister, Meg, is an over-achieving 16-year-old. Dustin’s mother is a radio show host? Why all this biographical data for a comic strip family? More demographic formula, no doubt. Calvin and Hobbes this strip isn’t. It’s a cast of characters going through their prescribed paces, I thought.

          And then I checked in at King Features’ website and read 3 weeks of the strip. Terrific art, funny gags. Here at last, I enthused, a well-drawn and thoroughly risible comic strip. Looking at the strip in action, I saw the reason for the heaped-up backstory: every one of its elements—the mother’s passion for shopping, guests on her radio show, the daughter’s over-achieving, not to mention the interaction between genders, ages, and roles in the family—provide opportunities for jokes, just what a stand-up comic like Kelley, who writes the strip, revels in.

          Men’s humor—
Helen: You should have seen this woman at the mall. Tight top ... plunging neckline ... cleavage city! It was disgusting.

Ed: You're right, sweetheart. I should have seen her.

          Women's humor—

Ed: Helen, I made a hole-in-one today! In your wildest dreams, did you ever think I'd make a hole in one?!

Helen: I hate to break it to you, Ed, but in my wildest dreams, there's not a lot of golf being played.

          Marriage humor—

Dustin: Dad, what does your subscription to the newspaper cost?

Ed (as Helen peruses huge department store ads): About $800 a month, but that's just a guess.

          Dating humor—

Waiter (to Dustin and his date): We have a nice house wine for $14 a glass.

Dustin: What have you got in a nice apartment wine?

          And job humor—

Boss: It appears some of these items on your resume are overstated.

Dustin: OK, so I fudged a little.

Boss: Fudged? I half expected it to be signed Willie Wonka.

Dustin’s unemployment is not just a blatant appeal to a current demographic. (In fact, Kelley has been working on the strip for six years: he began work long before the recession set in, creating the demographic with a vengeance.) Each of Dustin’s temp jobs gives Kelley a new stretch of social landscape to mine for jokes. Dustin works as a meter maid for a week: jokes about his uniform and his little bitty patrol vehicle. He works as a caddy: jokes about finding lost golf balls in the rough—and whole golf club bags, submerged in the water hazards.

          Said Parker: “We can inject a lot of fresh air into the strip with characters that come and go and don’t stay around.”

          Adds Kelley: “The greatest challenge of Dustin was to take an unemployed, under-motivated twentysomething who's happily ensconced in his parents' home and somehow make him likable. To demonstrate that he's not beyond redemption, Dustin takes temporary jobs that last a day or two, a week, or—to be honest—until the jokes run out. He then quits or is fired and the process begins anew. Among other things, he serves as a meter maid, a private investigator, an ice carver's apprentice, pet sitter, golf ball retriever, Starbucks barista and a balloon-tying clown at a child's birthday party.”

          Kelley had another drawing partner on the strip for several of the development years— Steve Breen, editorial cartoonist at the San Diego Union-Tribune. But Breen, for reasons we’ll get to shortly, had to withdraw from the project, so Kelley turned to Parker, whom he knew from the conventions of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, to which they both belong.

          "He's considered one of the best draftsmen among all political cartoonists," Kelley said. "He was good at mimicking the style of anyone you named."

          In addition to his editorial cartoons for Florida Today, Parker drew Blondie with Dennis LeBrun for years; and he now draws some of Mike Peters’ Mother Goose and Grimm. When Kelley approached him with the Dustin project, Parker quickly agreed to join him: "He's one of the funniest people in the world," Parker said.

          "The drawing is just very time consuming and tedious for me," Kelley said. "Jeff is almost an animator: [he draws fast and his drawings are] free and flowing and funny."
          When they started shopping Dustin around to various syndicates, they had three offers almost at once. To put that in perspective, Kelley said, syndicates get 1,000 comics submitted in a year and accept about two. Their almost immediate success betokens another widespread practice in syndicated cartooning: just as many strips are developed by demographic, so are syndicates more likely to anoint submissions from actively publishing editorial cartoonists than they are cartoonists who come over the transom. Editoonists who are already in print prove that they can produce cartoon comedy on a daily basis and are therefore less of a risk to a syndicate.

          Parker artwork is exquisite. He draws with a flowing line, undulating from thin to thick, and he introduces linear contrast with fine-line backgrounds and other trimmings, yielding pictures that are crisp and clean, as these samples reveal.

click to enlarge click to enlarge

          Apart from the superiority of Parker’s renderings, the strips also display a lot of verbal gags, jokes that don’t need pictures to arrive at a punchline. All of the jokes I reproduced a few paragraphs ago are essentially the verbal comedy of a stand-up comedian. Of the seven strips we just posted, four are verbal gags. But three would flop without their pictures: the joke is made by the picture. Given my biases, I’d like to see more strips like the latter—strips that rely upon pictures blending with words; but the verbal jokes here are funny, and in being mostly verbal, they are not much different from many of today’s most popular strips. Except, maybe, that they’re funnier.

          "No, it's not a cat and a dog talking to each other," Kelley says. "The 'boomerang kid' thing is very prevalent now. Dustin is the kind of character who might be around for a while."

          Parker, naturally, agrees: "Here you have a pair of cartoonists who labored diligently to produce a comic strip about a guy who lives at home and has no job. It's a premise that certainly has legs."

          And Kelley adds: “If nothing else, we've proved that a couple of cartoonists working long hours for two years can produce a guy who has no job.


About the Collaboration with Steve Breen. By the summer of 2007, Kelley and Breen were well on the way to the marketplace with Dustin, when Breen phoned John Matthews at Universal Press, the syndicate then working with the two Steves, to say that he had to withdraw. Matthews later testified that Breen said he felt “he would lose his job at the Union-Tribune if he did not quit the project because his editors did not want him working with Mr. Kelley." The Union-Tribune didn’t like Kelley. Kelley had been the U-T’s editorial cartoonist (for 20 years!) until he was fired in April 2001 for alleged insubordination; it was more like a misunderstanding, but Kelley aggravated the situation by objecting profanely to having his integrity questioned (an understandable reaction on Kelley’s part, I might add; the details of the episode are reported in Opus 62). When Breen withdrew from the Dustin project, Kelley sued the U-T for contract interference. Superior Court Judge Jay Bloom threw the suit out because it seemed based upon hearsay—third party testimony about what Breen had said about his job at U-T. Bloom later admitted Matthews’ statement when resubmitted in a deposition but was not swayed by it, and dismissed the case.

          "All the evidence shows there was one reason Breen withdrew in 2007 and that's because the newspaper made him withdraw," says Bob Gaglione, Kelley's lawyer. Gaglione showed the evidence to ten lawyers, all of whom said it was overwhelming. Bloom's dismissal of the case will be appealed, says Gaglione. And if the case goes forward, Breen might yet lose his job, what with the Union-Tribune’s vindictive stance.

          After Breen quit, Kelley engaged Parker, who had to re-draw all of the strips that Kelley had developed with Breen. Two more years in “development.”


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

          A recent report claims that about 75 percent of potential military recruits between ages 17 and 24 are not eligible for service. One in four do not have a high school diploma; 30 percent are too fat or otherwise out of shape. Other disqualifying factors include drug use, criminal records, mental problems, poor eyesight, and hearing problems. Reminds me of the enlistment period right after Pearl Harbor when thousands lined up to join the military and shoot “Japs.” But many of those thousands were unfit for service: after 10 years of the Great Depression, they were malnourished or underweight.


Previews and Proclamations of Coming Attractions

Pacific Comics Club has published two volumes of 1939 Connie strips (142 7x8.5-inch pages each, b/w; $11.95; pacificcomics.com) that include four of Connie’s adventures in space: in one volume, “Captives of Space Pirates” and “Master of the Jovian Moons,” December 21, 1938 through May 30, 1939; and in a second volume, “Battle for Titan” and “Predators of Polaria,” May 31-September 30, 1939. The second volume includes a few paragraphs about Frank Godwin, who, after a twenty-year career as an illustrator, produced Connie, drawing with one of the liveliest penlines in the medium. Godwin shared a studio with James Montgomery Flagg for a time and wound up drawing a lot like Flagg. Connie started as a Sunday-only strip of flapper and working girl gags in 1927, and then on March 11, 1929, Godwin added a daily, and Connie Kurridge became a private investigator and female adventurer.

          Although the strip has been termed a “pretty girl” strip, Connie was all business: no gratuitous lingerie poses. But she was always fashionably attired, and she was pretty and had a lithe athletic figure—all pleasing to the appreciative eye, male or female.

          Some of the first year of the dailies was reprinted in a 1977 volume from the Hyperion Library of Classic American Comic Strips, beginning sometime in the fall of 1929 and concluding in the summer of 1930; much of the rest of 1930 was reprinted in another Connie tome produced in 1989 by Arcadia Publications. In the mid-1930s, Godwin started sending Connie into space, and he also started dressing her in astronaut suits, bulky enough to hide the fact that she had a figure. Samples of both periods are on display in this vicinity. The strip ended January 17, 1944.

click to enlarge click to enlarge


          “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is Struck with the difference between what things are and what they should be.” —William Hazlitt

          “Personally, I know nothing about sex because I have always been married.”—Zsa Zsa Gabor


Called Graphic Novels for the Sake of Status

Okay: I was wrong about the Wimpy Kid books. Partially wrong. I refused to believe they qualify as comics because the pictures don’t add any narrative information to the prose: they’re decoration, I said, and therefore not comics. This assertion, however, was based upon a cursory thumb-through of one of the books. Since then, I’ve tried reading one. Because neither the drawings nor the lettering has any particular visual distinction, reading one of these things is fairly close to waterboarding in my list of bad things that can happen to you. But I’ve had to revise my verdict: sometimes, on some pages—maybe on most—these things qualify as comics. Sometimes the pictures act as the punchline to the joke the prose is setting up. But sometimes the pictures don’t do anything for the meaning of the text. That’s why I’m only partially pregnant—er, I mean, wrong.

          I doubt that Wimpy author Jeff Kinney would mind my hesitancy about his cartooning. After college he tried to be a newspaper cartoonist but didn’t make the grade. He said he started drawing as a seventh grader, which he denominated his “peak period.” I’m quoting from an interview with him that I heard on NPR one day last fall. He confessed to being something of a wimp himself as a kid. Once, seeking to avoid swimming class, he hid in the boys’ room, but it was so cold, he had to wrap himself in toilet paper to prevent hypothermia. Exactly this adventure is recorded in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

          I’m not dreaming this, am I?


          “Why are some people so afraid Why do they think we can’t successfully lock up terrorists in Illinois? Locking up people is one of the things we do best in America.” —Mike Littwin, Denver Post

          “A serious and good philosopical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.”—Ludwig Wittgenstein

          “One of the advantages of being disorderly [untidy] is that one is constantly making exiting discoveries.”—A.A. Milne


A lavish production from Abrams ComicArts is The Art of Osamu Tezuka: God of Manga (272 9x12-inch pages, color; hardback with glistening vinyl dust jacket, $40) by Helen McCarthy, one of the founders of Anime UK magazine and the curator of Tezuka’s films at London’s Barbican Centre. If you know as little about Tezuka as I do—just a nodding acquaintance, enough to know he’s the god of manga but not why—this volume is a superb place to begin making up the deficiency. Sometimes called the Walt Disney of Japan, Tezuka was far more than that, the publisher’s press release says: “He was Disney, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Tim Burton and Carl Sagan all rolled into one incredibly prolific creator, who changed the face of Japanese culture forever.” Best known in this hemisphere as the creator of Astro Boy, Tezuka also invented the Phoenix, Kimba the White Lion, Black Jack and countless other characters and produced “170,000 pages of comic art in 700 different manga titles and more than 70 animated movies, tv shows and experimental films. In the process, he laid the foundation for today’s manga and anime industries, influenced artists worldwide, and established a system of making comics and animation that is still emulated to this day.”

          Frederik Schodt, a manga scholar (author of Manga, Manga, the earliest history of Japanese comics in this country) and an early Tezuka admirer (and even, on occasion, interpreter for him), explains Tezuka’s place in the history of cartooning: “In Japan, Tezuka is called the ‘God of Manga’ not because he invented manga—he certainly didn't—but because he made some innovations in the traditional comic-book format. Tezuka took the basic setup and did something that was very new at the time: a hybrid between comic books and animation. He expanded stories to make them very long and cinematic [in successive panels, for example, he prolonged the action by repeating, with minor alteration, the same image], so many readers almost felt like they were watching a movie compared to traditional comic books, thus elevating the original medium to a full-fledged form of expression. Artists could suddenly depict the same sorts of things that would be depicted in more mature novels or films.”

          Tezuka’s early works, including Astro Boy, may look like fugitives from Terrytoons, but, Schodt points out, “themes like religion, racial discrimination, man-machine relationships, and even subjects like terrorism appeared early on in his manga designed for young audiences.” And Tezuka’s last works included many that display sophisticated rendering techniques and avant garde visual interpretations far beyond Terrytoons.

          Without Schodt, McCarthy says, she probably would never have written about Tezuka. “If it weren’t for Schodt and Fred Patten,” she told Steve Bunche at Publishers Weekly, “very few people outside a tiny fan circle in either the U.S. or Britain would even know who Tezuka was. Also Tezuka got more respect than most anime-makers in the movie press because he made art house shorts: back then the general assumption was that ‘Japanimation' was cheap, basic stuff, most animation was Saturday-morning kiddie fare, and only art house material was taken seriously.

          “Actually,” McCarthy added, “I don't know if it's his themes that make his work timeless, so much as his breadth of interest. He was interested in everything and everyone that lives. He gives every character in his works the respect of allowing them to exist as real individuals; whether they're likeable or not, they're real. I think that's the quality that makes animation director Hayao Miyazaki resemble him most strongly, that insistence that nobody is a stereotype or a cipher, that everybody has equal validity whether they're a 'nice' person or not. Personally, I love his approach to women. He treats them exactly like normal human beings, and so few writers really do that, even in these allegedly liberated times. Because so few of his works have been translated, many English-speaking people don't even know most of them. I'm amazed at his perception—and he also saw very clearly how he and other guys perceived women. He nailed the moe phenomenon in Lost World, right alongside tackling sexual slavery. [Note: "moe" is a Japanese term referring to fans fetishizing and feeling protective of fictional characters.] His social awareness is also pretty acute, maybe because he was a well-educated middle-class boy like some of the Monty Python team a couple of decades on, he was a sharp observer of social change and snobbery.”

          She continued: “And of course, his background knowledge was so broad and deep that he had a huge well of ideas and influences to draw on. He came from an educated family in a cosmopolitan, curious society, and he probably read more European and American classics than most European and American comic artists, loved music and films, and was interested in ideas from all over the world, plus, of course, a huge mass of material from his own culture. He, like Stan Lee and the greats of that era of American comics, plundered classic literature, philosophy, the great cultures of human history, as well as pop culture, magazines and movies and tv, so his work has a sweep and resonance that you just don't get from the work of someone whose only influences are derivative of their own time and place.”
          McCarthy’s book is organized chiefly by decade, outlining Tezuka’s career from his first professional work in 1946 when he was 18 until his last unfinished efforts at the time of his death from stomach cancer on February 9, 1989, at the age of only 60. A few pages at the beginning are devoted to his childhood, but his personal life is not otherwise much rehearsed: a workaholic who was known to “snooze” only three hours once every three days, Tezuka apparently had no personal life to speak of. Drawing an average of 20 pages a day, he drew most of the thousands of pages of manga credited to him: his assistants, a staff of 30, inked his pencils, lettered the art, drew borders, and filled in solid blacks. And they worked on anime, which were financed mostly by the manga Tezuka produced.

          The book is profusely illustrated with more than 300 images, many not ever seen outside of Japan: many photographs of Tezuka at various stages and pictures of the most well-known of his characters and scenes from the key works of his career with accompanying plot summaries. click to enlarge A 14-page section reprints the manga of Astro Boy’s birth, and in another section, a score or more of Tezuka’s characters are profiled, including Black Jack, the rogue surgeon, “Robin Hood with a scalpel,” who may, or perhaps not, reflect Tezuka’s training as a doctor.

          Tezuka is often credited with introducing cinematic techniques into manga, but he says others before him were doing it, adding that maybe he did it more self-consciously than his predecessors. Among his importations from the movies was a “star system” for his characters: like Ed Wheelan in his Minute Movies in American newspapers of the 1920s, Tezuka treated his characters like a stable of actors, casting them in different roles in different productions over the years.

          By the 1970s, Tezuka was renowned worldwide. He seemed to be everywhere at once: in addition to drawing manga and supervising anime production, he traveled and lectured. McCarthy told Bunche: “He also wrote scripts, essays, film criticism and short science-fiction novels, appeared on tv as a pundit, made animation, designed and illustrated for various commercial projects as well as his own personal stationery, and sat on a whole range of industry bodies. He traveled, played piano and accordion, loved to party and see films and shows, and corresponded with fellow artists and fans all over the world. Alongside that insane schedule, he made time to build relationships; he was a beloved friend, son, brother, husband and father. He wrote to a couple of teachers who'd supported him at school until they died. For the whole of his life, it seems he lived every second, no downtime, nothing wasted. Of course, he had a studio of devoted assistants, many of whom had worshipped his work since they were little kids and knew his style so well that he could leave inking and finishing to them. But he loved to draw, really loved it.”

          McCarthy continued: “I don't know how he did it, but I have my own theory as to why. There were two sides to Tezuka. The lighter side was clever and imaginative and just loved to play. Science, art, nature, writing—it was all pure joy, fun, fascination. He couldn't stop having ideas and he recorded them all, or as many of them as he could. Then he did his utmost to bring them to life. He's the perfect example of what the human imagination and intellect can achieve if lovingly nurtured and encouraged to explore. Yeats said ‘Labor is blossoming or dancing’; well, Tezuka's imagination couldn't help blossoming, couldn't help dancing, and it brought whole worlds into flower.

          “As for the dark side of Tezuka,” she went on, “I think that side was constantly trying to outrun his inner demons. He suffered from depression and he'd been bullied, then later in life he was written off as a has-been on a number of occasions. As a child, when he was bullied, he escaped into his own imaginary worlds. Whenever he hit a challenge in adult life, he would just work harder and faster and try and come up with something new. He had his spats and his arguments and his black moments, but he never gave up.”

          Tezuka wrote articles on a wide range of subjects, everything from cartooning to medical science. In 1961 he had received a Ph.D. from Nara Medical University for a thesis entitled A Microscopic Study of the Membrane Structure of Heterotypic Spermatids, “possibly the first scientific thesis with illustrations from Japan’s top manga studio,” McCarthy notes. In 1964, he came to the U.S. to report on the New York World’s Fair. There he met Walt Disney. It was a very brief encounter at the Pepsi-Cola Pavilion. Writes McCarthy: “Tezuka later recalled that the meeting lasted no more than a minute or two: he told Dilsney he was a fan since childhood and the maker of ‘Astro Boy,’ and Disney remarked that he knew and admired ‘Astro Boy’ and would like to make something similar himself one day. Tezuka treasured that remark, retelling the story many times.”

          The Abrams Tezuka tome is the ideal book to have at your elbow when reading the University Press of Mississippi’s God of Comics by Natsu Onoda Power, which we reviewed in Opus 245. But the Abrams book is much more than an adjunct to Power’s; if anything, it’s the other way around. Apart from the abundance of visual illumination in the Abrams volume, the book comes with a DVD that shows us Tezuka at work, alone and interacting with assistants and others—always in uniform, that habitual beret perched on his head. (McCarthy’s book includes one photograph of the adult Tezuka without his trademark beret.) Filmed in the last year of Tezuka’s life, the video takes us into his “secret room” in an apartment a short distance from his studio: in this apartment, Tezuka lived and worked five days a week, going home to his wife (a childhood sweetheart) only on weekends. He worked 24 hours a day, and no one was ever permitted beyond the entry hallway into the inner sanctum of the apartment, the actual workroom equipped with drawing board, phonograph player (Tezuka played different music as a way of maintaining the mood for creating different manga) and tv (which he glanced at as he worked, often getting story ideas from it). Tezuka waived his entry prohibition to permit the filmmakers to make this video. They rigged remote cameras and mirrors in the apartment and in Tezuka’s studio so they could film him from every angle as he works. And we get to watch.

          We watch him drawing, and we watch as he puts his head down on the drawing board and sleeps briefly. We watch him inspecting the finished pages that come back to him, lettered and shaded, from his studio; as he examines them, he massages his back with a ball at the end of a wooden stick. Later, after an all-nighter to finish a book, he exercises, standing on his head and saying, as he does, that he used to do push-ups but he’s too old for that now. Tezuka, the video narrator tells us, is famous for missing deadlines, and when he leaves Japan to attend a meeting in France, he’s behind so he takes his work with him, drawing pages in the taxi en route to the airport, in the waiting room, and on the plane itself. “We’ll fax them the finished art,” he announces. He always wants more time, he says. He remembers a “dark time” when he was discouraged. And he complains, good-humoredly, that he can’t draw a circle freehand anymore; he’s lost some facility as he’s aged.

          The great treat of the DVD is its portrait of the man—at work, but also interacting with others and with the filmmakers. Tezuka jokes self-deprecatingly as he describes some innovation he’s introduced, some plot novelty, some wild adaptation. He’s doping out a story, he says, based upon the rumor he’s just heard that Hitler had Jewish blood. He smiles and chuckles.

          The book regales us with Tezuka’s prodigious achievement; the video, with his personality. In the book, we read: “Tezuka’s influence on science and culture in Japan continues. So does his influence on comics and animation being made today, and on artists, scholars, and fans around the world. With so many facets to his character, it click to enlargecan be hard to untangle the exciting artist from the different interpretations of his influence. ... He demonstrated that cartoons could be used to convey profound ideas and explore terrifying aspects of humanity, that they could not only compete on level terms with the science fiction novel and the political polemic but could stand on an equal footing with literary classics both in form and content.” In the video, we see the human side of Tezuka’s genius, his smile and his gentle humor, and, sometimes, a little giggle.


ANOTHER SUMPTUOUS OFFERING of Japanese art from Abrams ComicArts is Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater (304 9x10-inch pages, color; hardcover, $35) by Eric P. Nash, who begins the volume: “Before manga (Japanese comics) and anime (animation) hit the West with the force of a tsunami, there was an earlier popular art form known as kamishibai—paper theater.” Kamishibai were portable theaters, bicycle-fitted boxes with miniature proscenium-arched “stages” that had grooves into which scenes painted on wood, like panels in a comic strip, could be slid, creating, in succession, a storytelling sequence. The operator set up his theater on a street corner and, standing behind the tiny stage like a Punch-and-Judy puppeteer, supplied sound effects and narrative as he slid the colorful panels across the stage’s proscenium. Kids gathered around and watched the show for free; the narrators made their money selling candy to the audience before and after the performances. Kamishibai appeared early in the 1930s; Frederik Schodt, in his Introduction, says they “helped create modern manga.”

          This volume traces the history of some notable kamishibai characters and operators (kamishibaiya) and reproduces scores of paper theater scenes, including several complete stories, among them, a couple featuring the popular Golden Bat, a masked and cloaked super-powered being who debuted in 1931, earlier than Lee Falk’s Phantom, often cited as the first masked and costumed hero. “The masked swordsman Zorro, who appeared in American pulps in 1919 may be the granddaddy of superheroes with a mask and secret identity, “ Nash acknowledges, “but Golden Bat with his cape, European-stye ruff collar, pantaloons, and skull-faced visage is a true comic book character.”click to enlarge

          In another place, Nash notes that the American animated heroine Betty Boop “is the godmother of manga characters whose most distinctive feature is their wide-awake eyes.” Osamu Tezuka was influenced by “Boop’s oversized eyes and delicate eyelashes as much as he was by Mickey Mouse.” But round eyes were not used simply “to make the characters appear more Caucasian” in the post-WWII years of greatest American influence in Japan: large eyes lend themselves to a great variety of expressions, encouraging animators to enhance their stories with emotional as well as action content. Nash concludes: “When [Tezuka’s ground-breaking character] Astro Boy first becomes sentient in the 1951 manga origin story, his flat black eyes alight with intraocular luminosity.” (These moments are reprinted in the McCarthy book, one page of which appears here.) click to enlarge

          Television killed kamishibai, Nash says: when Astro Boy made his tv debut on New Year’s Day 1963, he sounded the death knell for kamishibai, but Tezuka resorted to devices of paper theater in his early animations, using “many still frames of a character’s face to fill out the time, much the way a kamishibaiya would pause on a particular drawing for dramatic effect”—a maneuver called “electric kamishibai.” The book is an exemplar of the bookmaker’s craft, full of gleaming color pictures and photographs accompanied by explanatory annotations; and its dust jacket can be unfolded as a poster.


ABRAMS ComicArts. Charlie Kochman left DC Comics after twelve years and joined Abrams in January 2005. He had worked with Will Eisner on The Will Eisner Companion and when he told Eisner that he was moving to Abrams, "Will was thrilled," Kochman said. "That was the best you could do, as an artist, to have a book at Abrams."

          Once at Abrams, reported Jennifer Brown at news.shelf-awareness.com, Kochman “has tried to bring the quality of Abrams's renowned reputation as an art books publisher to the projects he has worked on. He believes, he said, that each book ‘needs to fit comfortably alongside Matisse and Renoir.’” And he exercised that sensibility with Kirby: King of Comics by Mark Evanier (March 2008), Al Jaffee's Tall Tales (September 2008), a presentation of the newspaper strip syndicated internationally by the New York Herald Tribune from 1957-1963, and other titles.

          "We were looking at the list and realizing we had these comic books that had a different look than the others," Kochman recalled. And so Abrams decided to create a separate comics imprint. "ComicArts wasn't something we set out to do, but rather [an answer to the question of] how do we continue to publish these books and give them a proper place in the market and in house? More than dipping our toe in, we were committed to this kind of book."

          He had experimented with the same approach at DC, he told Brown: "We [would] take the DC characters and try to sell them beyond the regular comic book buyers," he said. "Every time I edited a comic book, [I edited it as] if I knew nothing about comics. Everything I needed to know was contained in this book." To Brown, he cited as an example Spy vs. Spy: The Complete Case Book by Antonio Prohias (published in partnership with Watson-Guptill, 2001), for which he included essays—among others, one by a Cuban reporter about what Prohias's influence was on the political scene in Cuba (Prohias fled that country in 1960) and another about Peter Kuper, who took over the strip from Prohias.

          Kochman clearly learned valuable lessons about crafting books on comics. And the Abrams ComicsArt imprint is a vivid demonstration of how well he learned.


return to top of page


To find out about Harv's books, click here.

send e-mail to R.C. Harvey
Art of the Comic Book - Art of the Funnies - Accidental Ambassador Gordo - reviews - order form Harv's Hindsights - main page