Opus 260 (April 23, 2010). The first Pultizer for editorial cartooning by animation alone goes to a pioneer in the genre, Mark Fiore. We also share an exhaustive examination of the implications of iPad for comics, nominations for Reubens division awards, editooning the Pope, the virtues (and not) of the “Kick-Ass” movie, the first annual Fips Award for bias, corruption and outright opinionation in political cartooning, and we define and extol teabaggers and celebrate Pickles’ twentieth, concluding with mini-reviews of: The Knight Life reprint, Jerry Robinson biog, his revised Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art, Schulz’ s Life with Charlie Brown, a gorgeous Jaime Hernandez volume from Abrams, plus full-blown reviews of the Why I Killed Peter graphic novel, and funnybooks Incorruptible, God Complex, Supergod, Shuddertown, New Ultimates, Girl Comics and Green Hornet; and obits for Dick Giordano and Herny Scapelli. Without further adieu, here’s what’s here, in order, by department:
NOUS R US
Animation Editoonist Wins Pulitzer
Comics at the Movies (Kick-Ass mostly)
Editoonist Staff of 30 Years Laid Off
Tracy in Bronze
iPad and the Future of Comics
NCS Nominees for Reubens Division Awards
The Pope and the Press
The First Annual Fips Award
THE FROTH ESTATE
The Future is Mobile
Pickles Is Twenty
The Knight Life
Jerry Robinson Bio
Revised and Up-dated Illustrated History of Comics (Robinson’)
Charles Schulz Life with Charlie Brown
Jaime Hernandez from Abrams
Why I Killed Peter
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
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—
APOLOGETIC CORRECTION. In Opus 259 during my review of IDW’s Bringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Sea, I questioned Bruce Canwell’s prefatory assertion about a legal contest following creator George McManus’ death in 1954. What, I asked, would McManus’ long-time assistant Zeke Zekley have sued for? I was thinking about Zeke not inheriting the strip, which everyone expected he would. Indeed, that was the context in which Canwell made his assertion. In contesting McManus’ will, however, Zeke claimed his old boss left him more money. That, not stewardship of the strip, was what Zeke went to court over. IDW’s Dean Mullaney sent me newspaper clippings covering the legal maneuverings that ensued, and I’m happy to have documentary evidence that demolishes my doubt. Herewith, apologies to Bruce and to Dean: I should’ve known better.
NOUS R US
Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits
PULITZER GOES TO ANIMATION
For the first time, the Pulitzer committee on editorial cartooning, not usually the most forward-looking deliberative body on the planet, awarded the prize to a cartoonist whose work is all animated, not a traditionally static image in sight. Numerous cartooning kibitzers believed this day was coming, but few thought it would arrive so soon. Mark Fiore self-syndicates his animations to the websites of NPR, Mother Jones and Slate as well as SFGate.com, where, saith the Pulitzers, “his wit, extensive research and ability to distill complex issues set a high standard for an emerging form of commentary.” It was a most appropriate accolade: Fiore is not only the first animating editoonist to win, he was among the first—if not, in fact, The First—editoonist to go into animating his cartoons as a full-time enterprise, making the cartoons and marketing them, too, via the Web. His cartoons are not just moving pictures: they are full-bore productions with music as well as dialogue and, sometimes, songs. And he manages to preserve from his static cartoons a limber line that waxes and wanes and even bunches up at corners occasionally, creating a nifty visual hook. He is a genuine pioneer, whose example has inspired an entire profession. (And Fiore has the additional albeit dubious distinction of having roomed with me twice at the annual AAEC Convention. Congratulations Mark!)
In 2007, the Pulitzer went to Newsdays’s Walt Handelsman who was the first winner whose work included animations as well as motionless editoons, and the Pulitzers revised their criteria to embrace the new medium, but, until this year, an editorial cartoonist’s portfolio had to enclose submissions of traditional, static cartoons even if it also contained animated cartoons. Fiore is the first to win for cartoons that are solely animations; and his portfolio comprised no immobile cartoons..
In addition to pride and satisfaction at having his ground-breaking work recognized by the profession’s most prestigious award, Fiore, who lives on the fringes of San Francisco and habitually dresses like a beachcomber, must feel just a little avenged. In 2001, after just nine months at a job he’d aspired to all his life—staff editorial cartoonist on a daily newspaper—Fiore lost his position at the San Jose Mercury.
"I was pretty miserable down there," he told ComicRiffs’ Michael Cavna."It was a bad time to be there. Either I left them or they left me—I still don't know what happened." What happened was mostly the financial pinch of a down-turning economy: the dot-com bubble had just burst, and the Mercury News, owned by Knight Ridder, had been directed to cut staff. The paper’s publisher resigned in protest, saying cuts of the specified dimension would sabotage the paper’s ability to report the news. After he left, the cuts were made. Suddenly unemployed, Fiore made “a fateful decision”: he decided to try animation.
He freelanced for games and other experimental ventures, and over the next two years, working with a traditionally trained animator, Fiore learned animation and began selling his work to the burgeoning animation market on the Web.
“I'd done a little animation, some character design,” he told Cavna. “I knew how to break things down for animation. But my early animations were rudimentary.” His tutor taught him a lot. Fiore still uses Flash, he said, adding, with a grin, that “the stuff that I’m doing is glorified flip-book.” Yeah, well—maybe: flip-book with orchestral production values and pungent songs.
Witty lyrics and other fiendish touches. When he animated Dick Cheney one
time, Fiore incorporated a nuanced signal. “Dick Cheney was always a great gift," he
said. "He was my graduation speaker [at Colorado College in 1991], and he was really
fun to caricature. So I did a subtle thing in the animation. If you watch his eyes, they
blink more like a reptile's—membrane covers the eyes before they shut."
Fiore identifies his politics as left-of-center but says: "I'm more than happy to go after the left. I just did a cartoon that got a lot of hate mail and people unsubscribed from my newsletter. I was going after Mexican druglords but people thought I was anti-marijuana. I was trying to walk the line between 'Say no to drugs' and 'Grow your own!' "
Fiore doesn’t see animation as the only future for political cartooning.
"I think it's A future," Fiore says. "I hope it's not THE future. I hope there are still traditionally drawn print cartoons by staff cartoonists. ... Judging by what's happened, though, that won't be necessarily the only way."
Some of the inky-fingered brethren believe Pulitzer should create a new category
for animated cartoons to distinguish them from print cartoons because each of the
forms requires different skills. But Fiore disagrees, seeing editorial cartooning as
essentially an attitudinal endeavor, not a set of job skills. "It's going to get sillier and
sillier if you divide it up," he said. "A political cartoon can take many forms. ... Should we
segregate multi-panel and single-panel cartoons? And color from black-and-white? And
lithography from traditional letterpress? We might as well lump them all together." (More
on this disputation in Opus 221.)
Writing to his colleagues in the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Fiore said: “This award is really a testament to the strength and support the AAEC and our merry band of cartoonists affords a solo cartoonist like me. I can definitely say that without all of you I would have stopped cartooning early in my career. Together we're so much stronger. The friendship, support (and even competition) that is all a part of our organization is vital to keeping the art form alive and growing. I've always thought of us as co-workers who happen to live in different towns, but it's really more like we're a big family. (Okay, with an uncle or two who really, really likes beer.)”
Nicely done, Mark.
Talking to Justin Berton at SFGate, Fiore wondered: “What do you do when you win a Pulitzer? Do you work hard or do a big blowout and take the week off?”
He said he’d probably spend the $10,000 Prize money remodeling the bathroom
of the Fairfax home he and his wife, Chelsea Donovan, bought in December. Fiore had
lived in San Francisco for the preceding 15 years.
In one of those delicious strokes of irony, in the wake of Pulitzer’s announcement about Fiore’s win, it emerged shortly, thanks to a Nieman Journalism Lab blog, that last December Apple wouldn’t let the cartoonist’s iPhone app into the App Store because it “contains content that ridicules public figures.” As soon as that story surfaced, Steve Jobs said: “This was a mistake that’s being fixed.” And, sure enough, Apple has asked Fiore to resubmit his app, and it’s been accepted. Said Fiore: “I feel kind of guilty: I’m getting preferential treatment because I got the Pulitzer.” Still, opined DailyCartoonist’s Alan Gardner, “If I’m reading between the lines correctly, Apple wants the app in the store because of the bad press about it blocking a Pulitzer-winning cartoonist, but it may hold its ground on the content—in essence, censoring Mark’s work.” Fiore summed up: “I think the key passage in the Apple developer agreement that made things impossible was something like ‘ridicules public figures,’ which is, um, like, kinda what we all make our living doing. Methinks that may change thanks to the confluence of media over this crazy week. (Pulitzer 6 minutes of fame turned into an additional 6 iPhone app minutes.) Apple has been in contact with me and coincidentally encouraged me to resubmit the app, then call them directly. (My developer/programmer said that is unheard of, like having God's direct line.) I hope this changes their stupid policy, you shouldn't have to fall into a media campaign or win an award to get satire onto an app.”
At his DailyCartoonist blog, Alan Gardner reported that “Mark Fiore wasn’t the only cartoonist that took home a Pulitzer Prize this week. Matt Richtel, who pens the Rudy Park comic strip under the name Theron Heir, took home a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles on distracted driving in the New York Times.” So much for frivolity.
In a sort of backhanded testimony to the potent status of editorial cartoons, the Denver Post, my local paper, has logged only six Pulitzers in its career (the sixth, this year), and two of the six were won by editorial cartoonists: Paul Conrad in 1964 (just as he was leaving for the Los Angeles Times) and Pat Oliphant in 1967 for work in 1966, the year after he arrived at the Post from his native Australia.
Editoonist Steve Breen of the San Diego Union-Tribune won the 2010 John Fischetti Editorial Cartoon Competition, an annual contest created by Columbia College Chicago in 1980 in honor of John Fischetti, a Pulitzer-winning cartoonist for Chicago papers. Among other achievements, Fischetti was the first U.S. editoonist to begin drawing his cartoons in the horizontal European manner. Breen’s entry for the Fischetti Award captures the citizen backlash against Iran’s government trying to squash Internet communications documenting public uprisings last year. The cartoon features an image of the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei with the Twitter bird mascot perched atop his head, pooping on his turban. “Over 150 cartoons were submitted for Fischetti 2010. With such a large slate of entries, I was worried that the judging panel would have difficulty picking one winner,” said award program coordinator Dan Sinker, assistant professor of Journalism at Columbia College. “Steve's cartoon emerged as an early favorite and voting was swift and decisive. Clearly the best cartoon won.” Breen is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, in 1998 and 2009. He is also the recipient of the 2007 Berryman Award for editorial cartooning given by the National Press Foundation, the 2009 Thomas Nast Award given by the Overseas Press Club and the 2009 National Headliner Award from The Press Club of Atlantic City.
A CARTOONING WEEKEND AT THE MOVIES
“Kick-Ass,” the movie based on the comic book series by Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr., opened April 16, and it virtually tied with another cartoon feature, the animated “How to Train Your Dragon,” in box office revenue—both roughly $20 million. For “Kick-Ass,” that’s $5-10 million shy of the amount predicted by wise-guy box office analysts. Millar joined the analysts in the weeks before the movie’s release: “This is a movie about comic fans, made by comic fans.” Just what we need: another niche flick for a neurotic niche. The so-called hero of the funnybook and the motion picture is a teenager who, enamored of superheroes, dresses up like his idols, tries to fight crime, and gets his tuckus trounced. The comic book, according to Entertainment Weekly (April 9), outsold Spider-Man during its 8-issue run, 2008-2010. A preview at last summer’s Sandy Eggo Comic-Con earned a standing ovation and has generated “the kind of buzz that any mega-budget film would envy.”
In addition to “a uniquely self-aware blend of comic action and realistic gore,” the movie brims with foul language of the kind that the thirteen-year-old actress who utters it would get “grounded forever” if she used it in real life, she says. Playing her father in the movie is Nicolas Cage, a man so wrapped up in four-color fantasy that he named his son Kal-El, Superman’s birth name. Director Matthew Vaughn says the burgeoning popularity of “Kick-Ass” derives from an increasingly jaded audience: “Superhero movies are getting too generic,” he says. “Where’s the one that kids can really relate to? For me, that’s ‘Kick-Ass.’” Early tracking reports, saith EW, “show the movie playing as well with women as with men—a rarity in the male-driven world of comic book pics.” But perhaps not all that surprising since the movie ridicules the superhero fixation among the males. And there are more movies of this breed just down the road, “a coming wave of snarky, self-aware comic-nerd movies about real-dude superheroes”—“Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” (August) and “The Green Hornet” (December).
As the “Kick-Ass” movie headed toward its April 16th debut, it appeared that in spite of its edgy “hard R” content, it was getting mostly positive reviews with a 74% positive rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes. But don’t count among the film’s admirers the dean of American movie reviewers, Roger Ebert, the critic who championed the work of Russ Meyer and countless other B movie maestros who shocked mainstream critics with their savage satires. Although Ebert did enjoy the film’s early scenes, praised the work of Aaron Johnson and Chloe Moretz, and even acknowledged that the film was indeed a satire, he labeled the movie as “morally reprehensible.” Ebert’s attack on the film, which may have some element of truth to it but is ultimately unfair to the filmmakers, is summed up in this passage: “I know, I know. This is a satire. But a satire of what? The movie's rated R, which means in this case that it's doubly attractive to anyone under 17. I'm not too worried about 16-year-olds here. I'm thinking of 6-year-olds.”
At the Denver Post, movie critic Lisa Kennedy was, like Ebert, not amused: “Just because ‘Kick-Ass’ has a winning 11-year-old girl as one of its most unforgettable characters doesn’t mean Vaughn’s crazed ride of a flick is for kids. It so isn’t. It’s potty-mouthed and dementedly violent in the way that films based on comics so often are. R-rated, the movie is best for adults whose inner teen still aches to right wrongs but doesn’t have the skill set to wreak havoc on the bad guys.” Sounds like she’s been reading Ebert.
At Time magazine, however, Richard Corliss was thrilled to his cultural/philosophical/critical core: “[The film] could have ended in a big, ugly blood puddle. Instead it soars, jet-propelled, on its central idea of matching a superhero’s exploits with the grinding reality of urban teen life and on the aerodynamic smoothness of the film’s style. To apotheosize the cliches of the genre while subverting them is a neat trick, but the ‘Kick-Ass’ cadre pulls it off. This is a violent R-rated drama that comments cogently on the impulses—noble, venal or twisted—that lead people to help or hurt others. ‘Kick-Ass’ kicks beaucoup d’ass, in some of the dandiest, most punishing stunt work this side of Hong Kong, but it forces the grown-ups in the audience to acknowledge that the action is as troubling as it is gorgeous. ... The result is a work that spills out of itself to raise issues about all superhero characters, all action pictures. Millar isn’t boasting when he writes in the making-of book that ‘Kick-Ass’ could ‘redefine superhero movies in the same way “Pulp Fiction”redefined crime movies.”
Just what we need—another redefinition that redefines the newly defined. Oh, where will it all end?
From Jeffrey Long at the Telegram & Gazette Reviewer (quoted in italics): Innovative movie animation can catapult into fantasy ("Avatar"), sting with social criticism ("Waltz with Bashir"), or, as with "Sita Sings the Blues," delightfully enliven an ancient folktale from halfway around the world. This quirky, vibrant film has won awards at more than two dozen film festivals and has spawned a mushrooming cult following, both online and at cinemas. Nina Paley, whose creative talents outnumber Vishnu's arms, drew, wrote, and produced nearly every aspect of this feature-length cartoon, which is an imaginative retelling of the epic Hindu love story known as the Ramayana. With its tagline "The Greatest Break-Up Story Ever Told," this free-wheeling adaptation focuses upon the fortunes and misfortunes of the goddess Sita, whose patience and virtue face severe tests in the face of the wrongful treatment accorded her by her husband, Lord Rama. Paley tweaks the traditional structure of the "Ramayana" narrative with entertaining cross-cultural devices. She has morphed the story into a bluesy musical that incorporates several soulful jazz tunes sung by the noted 1920s performer Annette Hanshaw. Poignant and lilting jazz strains thus punctuate the story.
Paley has been a fixture in the alternative press for years and tried, earlier in this decade, to get syndicated with a comic strip about a lusting and loving young couple, The Hots, written by Stephen Hersh; but, alas, to no avail. It ran only about a year in the public prints although it continues to lurk in the alternative venues. So it’s a delight to see her achieve a measure of success and acclaim with “Sita Sings the Blues.” You can watch the film at sitasingstheblues.com—for free; although a donation would be nice.
Captain America, the most iconic of the Marvel Universe’s superheroes, has yet to make it to the big screen, but plans are afoot to get him up there for a summer 2011 release, reported Nicole Sperling in Entertainment Weekly (March 26). In the planned adventure, Cap will be in World War II London battling his arch nemesis of that period, the Red Skull. The search for the right actor to play the part was complicated by part two of the plan—an all-star Avengers movie for the next summer, 2012, in which the same actor will impersonate Captain America while Robert Downey Jr. does Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson does Nick Fury, and Chris Hemsworth does Thor. A long list of contenders for Cap’s role once included Ryan Phillippe, Chris Evans, Mike Vogel, Channing Tatum and, the only non-American, Romanian-born Sebastian Stan—all, except Phillippe (who is 35), “hunky twenty-somethings.” Not everyone was happy with this line-up. Alex Ross, who painted Captain America in the upscale funnybook version, said he’s aggravated to hear the names: “We’ve been saying for years, if you don’t sign Jon Hamm to play this part, you’re crazy. Captain America is supposed to be patriarch of the Marvel Universe. To get a guy in his early to mid-20s is only thinking about where the character began, not what he ultimately needs to become.” A young Apollo might be fine for WWII-era antics, but as the leader of the Avengers, Cap needs gravitas—and a few more years. At last report, Chris Evans got the nod. Probably won’t make Ross happy.
ROUNDING UP THE STRAYS
The Straits Times reported April 2 that a Japanese author and son of a Yakuza gangster sued police in the Fukuoka prefecture for asking stores to take underworld comics and magazines off their shelves. “Crime writer Manabu Miyazaki argued that police were suppressing free speech by asking stores not to sell manga comic books and magazines that describe the Japanese crime syndicates.” The police intended to enforce an ordinance aimed at curtailing the influence of the yakuza, whose organizations are not banned under Japanese law and whose exploits are often the subject of manga comics and fan magazines. The police list of the verboten included a comic book based on a Miyazaki novel about the life of a yakuza man, said the author, who demanded 5.5 million yen ($82,393) in damages from the regional government.
Angelina Jolie’s tattooed back is the subject of the cover of the April 23 issue of Entertainment Weekly, and Ashley Dupre’s front, chiefly her photo-shopped boobs, is the focus of the May issue of Playboy, maintaining, still, its diminished page count (this issue, a mere 130 pages). The photo spread of the call girl who brought down the governor of New York and has, subsequently—and in direct consequence of her sensationally revealed liaison with Eliot Spitzer—become the New York Post’s columnist advising on love and sex, shows a surprisingly pretty, fit and pleasingly voluptuous young woman. Why would a young woman as toothsome as this go into the whoring industry? An article by Christopher Napolitano discloses all, beginning with this bon mot: “In person her skin shines like a toffee treat waiting to be unwrapped and savored.” Oh, yeah.
We saw this one coming. As the folks at ComicConnect predicted, the copy of Action Comics No. 1 they offered at auction at the end of March broke the record set in
February by Metropolis Collectibles’s selling another copy of the same comic for $1
million: ComicConnect’s copy, graded higher than Metropolis’s copy, sold for $1.5
million. According to Jake Coyle at Associated Press, only about 100 copies of Action
Comics No. 1 are believed to exist, and only a handful in good condition. The issue just
sold had been preserved through happy oversight: it had been tucked inside an old
movie magazine for years before being discovered.
Denver is a hotbed of medical marijuana machinations. The state legislature is struggling to find a way to regulate an industry that it set loose in earlier spasm of law-making, mj devotees are storming the state’s borders, and in Nederland, a notable hippie refuge a few miles into the mountains west of Boulder (the nation’s “happiest town”), they’re contemplating holding a maryjane festival. Meanwhile, Denverites Trey Parker and Matt Stone, creators of tv’s “South Park,” devoted the March 31st episode of the show to the issue. The show’s Facebook page tells us that “Randy is first in line to get his medical marijuana, but is turned away when a doctor finds nothing wrong with him. That begins his quest to find a medical excuse to smoke marijuana.” Meanwhile, Parker and Stone have written a musical comedy, “The Book of Mormon,” which is slated to open on Broadway in New York next March. Songs about multiple wives, no doubt, will abound.
TRACY’S JAW IN BRONZE
As If We Didn’t Know All These Years
At 1 p.m. on April 11, a nine-foot, one-ton bronze likeness of Chester Gould’s iconic Dick Tracy was unveiled on the Riverwalk at the Naperville, Illinois. The idea for the sculpture was conceived by Naperville Century Walk Corporation president W. Brand Bobosky and cartoonist Dick Locher, who drew the strip for more than 30 years and is its current writer. Locher, a 40-year resident of Naperville, served as Gould’s assistant for several years, and when he sculpted a Tracy maquette and showed it to Bobosky, the latter thought it would make a beautiful life-size statue, joining the more than 30 public art pieces the Naperville organization has installed in the last 15 years.
Locher’s concept was then turned over to Wisconsin sculptor Don Reed who transformed the maquette into the larger-than-life sculpture. Reed was intrigued with the challenge of capturing the structure of Tracy’s angular face, the flow of his hallmark trench coat and the sense of energy and motion Locher conveys of the detective in the strip. Reed, quoted in a press release from Tribune Media Services, the syndicate that distributes Dick Tracy, said that “thinking of the character as fully round, while creating strong lines and paying close attention to detail were essential to accurately depicting Tracy’s likeness.”
Tracy in three dimensions, complete with the swirling yellow trench coat, is eye-catching for more than its larger-than-life dimensions, wrote Hillary Gavan in the Beloit Daily News, Reed’s hometown newspaper. “In line with Tracy's vintage comic strip origins, the bronze likeness of the 20th century crimestopper is rendered in full color through the use of a chemical technique called ‘patining’ that dates to Renaissance times.” She goes on, quoting Reed: "To me, Dick Tracy was the ultimate crimestopper who stood up for the public—someone who had a strong sense of values and who projected safety and security," Reed said. "My goal has been to bring that personality to life and convey a positive impression to viewers." A sculptor for more than 30 years, Reed is also a third-generation foundryman who combines state-of-the-art technology with Old World techniques. The accompanying photographs were taken in Reed’s studio before the sculpture was moved to Naperville.
Super-size Convention Centers Wage Comic Book-like Combat for Comic-Con
Anaheim and San Diego have moved the contending for Comic-Con International into the digital ether: each city has a Facebook page touting its attributes as the future home of the 126,000-attendee pop culture event come 2013, the year after the Con’s current contract with the San Diego Convention Center expires. Anaheim’s page, says Lori Weisberg at the San Diego Union-Tribune, is entitled: “Bring Comic-Con International to Anaheim”; San Diego’s says "Keep Comic-Con in San Diego” and reportedly has four times the number of fans Anaheim has. Los Angeles, a recent entrant in the competition, is pondering whether to launch a page of its own.
"Facebook gets the word out to a broad group of Comic-Con members, and if there's a groundswell of why-not-try-Anaheim, that will influence the decision-makers," said Charles Ahlers, president of the Anaheim/Orange County Visitor & Convention Bureau. "This is a grass-roots communications plan, and the fans ultimately will direct them where they want to be."
The Con fills the San Diego Convention Center, and attendance has been capped at 126,000; in order to grow larger, the Con needs the roomier venues offered by either Anaheim or Los Angeles, both of which are also closer to the Hollywood industry that has lately swarmed into the 4-day event. All three cities have submitted formal proposals seeking to host Comic-Con for 2013 and beyond. Said Weisberg, citing an interview with Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer: “There's hardly an argument Comic-Con organizers haven't heard when it comes to whether the event should stay or go. Ultimately, weightier issues like convention space and hotel costs, not Facebook missives, will win the day, Glanzer said, adding that he does not have a firm timetable for when a decision will be made. ‘We are in a unique situation that I don't ever remember us being in: people vying for our attention,’ he said. ‘It's like having several suitors asking you to the prom, but we have to make the best choice that we feel is most appropriate regardless of peer pressure.’”
Warping in from the experience of one of my former lives as a convention manager (for almost 30 years), I hope Glanzer is canny enough to turn the competition to the Con’s advantage. It’s very like an auction: where there is more than one bidder for a convention, the convention’s management (the auctioneer) can play one against the other—in this case, forcing the cities to make more and more concessions in order to secure the business. Rental of the meeting and exhibit facilities should be slashed, for example—reasonably easy to arrange since the convention centers are single-entity municipal businesses. But hotel room rates should also drop precipitously. San Diego hoteliers have reportedly agreed that no hotel room will cost more than $300 a night. What—$300 a night?! That’s outrageous. If the hotels in San Diego really want the business, they should guarantee a much lower room rate. And to protect against future inflation, hotel room rates should be guaranteed in terms of a discount (say, 40-50% off “most available rate” or some similar easily ascertained benchmark) rather than a dollar amount.
Dave Astor, who, until Editor & Publisher suffered drastic staff shrinkage a year ago, reported syndicate news about comics and editorial cartooning for the historic trade magazine, continued his writing career with a topical humor column for his hometown paper in New Jersey, the weekly Montclair Times. And now, just about a year later, Astor has been recognized by the New Jersey Press Association, which awarded Astor’s column both first and second place for its category in the NJPA’s annual contest. “Yes,” Astor said when I asked him, “the two awards were for two different columns. No prize money, unfortunately. I'm paid for the column, but very modestly. The feature can be seen here at http://www.northjersey.com/news/opinions/montclairvoyant/ It's on the Web site for the Montclair Times' parent company.”
Humor Times, a monthly tabloid that publishes mostly insightful and deliciously acerbic editorial cartoons but also a couple of humor/political columns (Will Durst, Jim Hightower), celebrated its 19th anniversary with its April issue—“with more pages and extra color.” Subscriptions, well worth the price, are $18.95 for twelve issues: P.O. Box 162429, Sacramento, CA 95816.
Comics Revue, Rick Norwood’s durable monthly magazine that reprints classic comic strips, now up to No. 288, underwent a spectacular format change a few months ago: no longer saddle-stitched, it is now square-spined, and Sunday strips are in color. The usual line-up is: Tarzan (Bob Lubbers and Dick van Buren) plus Russ Manning’s, Flash Gordon (Harry Harrison and Dan Barry) and Mac Raboy’s, Buz Sawyer, Phantom (Lee Falk and Wilson McCoy and, later, Ray Moore’s art), Secret Agent Corrigan, Rick O’Shay, Alley Oop, Mandrake the Magician (Falk and Phil Davis), Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley (Dick Moores), Steve Canyon, Krazy Kat (dailies from the 1930s), Modesty Blaise, Casey Ruggles, and Sir Bagby. Each issue is a “double-issue” these days, and Norwood runs a complete story for a couple of the serial strips in every issue. Subscriptions are a mere $59/year from Manuscript Press, P.O. Box 336, Mountain Home, TN 37684.
In DC and Industrywide:
WILL iPAD SAVE COMICS AND KILL PRINT?
By Michael Rhode
[April 6, 2010] For print media, the potential impact of the iPad has loomed for months—even if its implications are unclear. That’s still true three days after its much-heralded landing. On Saturday, Apple reportedly sold 700,000 units of the new device. For comic books, the iPad promises a new revenue stream and a challenge to print sellers. For strips, the impact may be more ambiguous. I checked in with some local creators and retailers to get their opinions.
Local editorial cartoonists see both sides. The Washington Post’s Ann Telnaes doesn’t have an iPhone and isn’t planning to do anything special for the iPad, even though she creates regular animated cartoons for the Post’s Web site. The same goes for Politico’s Matt Wuerker, who says he’s optimistic about taking advantage of the device. “We’re not doing anything yet,” he writes, “but Politico’s allowed me to do a couple of Flash games, like ‘Operation,’ and ‘Sarah Palin: Guardian of the Northern Frontier,’ that might work really well on it. I did a cartoon, ‘Map of the Blogosphere,’ three years ago that might deserve an update and an iPad application.”
He says much of the work he does—a more interactive take on political satire—is well-suited to mobile devices. “If you invested the time and energy in a more sophisticated satirical interactive game, who knows, you might even be able to sell it through iTunes,” Wuerker writes. “I also think short sweet animations like the kind Ann Telnaes is doing for the Post ought to work especially well in this world.” There’s only one problem: Apple devices block Flash animations, a medium in which cartoonists-cum-animators like Telnaes and Wuerker often work.
Comic books might seem to be a more natural fit for the iPad. Recently Marvel Comics issued a press release trumpeting the availability of 500 comic books—which is fewer issues than a complete run of Amazing Spider-Man. The comics available for the iPad are priced at $1.99 each, which is $1 less than most comics sell for in stores.
Joel Pollack, the founder of the local Big Planet Comics chain, isn’t worried about the digital competition. “The death of comics has been predicted since the birth of comics,” he writes. “But one of the great strengths of the medium is its uncanny ability to co-opt other media. From radio drama to movie serials to television to big-screen to computers and the internet, comics have been able to piggyback and provide content without significantly altering the medium. I’m hopeful that digital comics will introduce new generations to our wonderful medium, and at the end of the day, create a new legion of readers/enthusiasts who want the printed items in their libraries.”
Big Planet Comics co-owner Greg Bennett isn’t convinced that the digital experiment won’t backfire in comic-book publishers’ faces. “I figure that it won’t be too long ’til someone hacks the DRM, and it’ll be free digital Marvel comics for all—just like what happened the last time Marvel tried putting stuff online …”
It’s a challenge that print comics already face. There are already thriving communities for comic-book piracy—in a given week, they scan and disseminate almost every book that hits shelves (they also preserve out-of-print orphaned works from defunct companies). Given that fact, Marvel’s initial price point of $2 seems wildly unrealistic for a comic you’ll read once, compared to iTunes’ current charge of $1 for a song you’ll listen to over and over. The comics industry doesn’t seem to be learning from the same mistakes the music industry has made.
Bennett pointed out an editorial by Cory Doctorow. He is adamantly opposed to digital comic books, writing on Boing Boing: “I was a comic-book kid, and I’m a comic-book grownup, and the thing that made comics for me was sharing them. If there was ever a medium that relied on kids swapping their purchases around to build an audience, it was comics. ... So what does Marvel do to ‘enhance’ its comics? They take away the right to give, sell or loan your comics. What an improvement. Way to take the joyous, marvelous sharing and bonding experience of comic reading and turn it into a passive, lonely undertaking that isolates, rather than unites.”
Boing Boing’s Xeni Jardin, meanwhile, is more positive about the Marvel application.
Falls Church-based John Gallagher, who self-publishes his own comic books, is very optimistic about the iPad—especially since it eliminates the distribution costs that otherwise he has to pick up. The zero issue of his book Buzzboy is already available in the iTunes/iPad store; the first full issue will be there soon. “Many people say that the simple style of Buzzboy works better on screen, which I really appreciate,” he writes. He’ll also release his new comic, Zoey & Ketchup, through the Web and for the iPad before it sees print: “In fact, I’m working with several all-ages creators to help convert their kid-friendly comics to the iPad, as I think this will be more conducive to reaching young comics readers than a comic shop, just by its availability,” he writes. He continues:
“I think the affect will be exponential, as not just the iPad, but the format of digital sequential storytelling takes hold. Personally, I would rather hold a musty, newsprint comic in my tired old hands, but for anyone 25 and younger, there is no issue. In fact, the comics readers I know say this makes it more likely for them to read comics, as they could never find a comics shop that suited them. My comics reach all-ages, which somehow makes them less popular for comics shops—and no fault to shop owners, many go out of their way to promote my books. But the immediacy of the iPad will hopefully open readers to the magic of comics all over again—and lead them to printed versions as well. I honestly believe the next wave of great cartoonists will show up online, on the iPad, or iPhone—comics syndicates should look to embrace print versions of PvP, Penny Arcade, and others, as the Web presence will only help.”
For Gallagher, the future has already arrived. He’ll be reviewing comics for the iPad at a new Website, iPadtopten.com, which was scheduled to launch the weekend of April 10.
Another local comics writer is less optimistic. Shannon Gallant, who draws G.I. Joe Comics for IDW, is worried that the art will suffer in digital media. “A lot of comics are already available online for the iPhone, but odd-shaped panels don’t work well in the rectangular format of an iPhone,” he writes. “To address this, some companies have requested that artists not overlap panels or break borders to help the reformatting of images to the iPhone.”
And he’s worried about the pay for work-for-hire creators. “The iPad allows more freedom from a design standpoint, but the industry still faces the age-old question of how to make online products profitable,” writes Gallant. “I believe the digital sale of pre-existing books should be considered a reprint (and some companies pay reprint fees), but there are still a lot of work-for-hire jobs where royalties aren’t paid. With hard-copy runs you have to commit to a certain number so the math is set, but with digital copies perhaps it will have to be by the issue. Sadly, that might result in people getting a lot of checks for silly amounts, say 25 cents or so. It’s all growing pains.”
My take? The iPhone probably lends itself better to the reading of a simple 3-panel daily comic strip than the iPad will. The iPad may work better for comic books and graphic novels. Assuming the iPad is a success, a significant number of comic books will probably be available on it, as will animations. But I don’t see the iPad as either a savior or a destroyer of print culture—it’ll be just another medium. —Michael Rhode
The CAPS (Comic Art Professional Society) Newsletter anticipated the discussion about comic books and iPad in its March issue, to which Jeff Zugale (“an admitted Apple fanboy”) contributed an article assessing the impact of the new device. Here are snippets from the piece, direct poaching is in italics:
The main difference from the iPhone/iPod touch, of course, is that iPad’s size is about 8x10 inches—exactly the size of a modern printed comic book page. But physical compatibility is but a tiny aspect of funnybook future in iPad. Most of the future lies in the marketplace. Zugale turns to the Direct Market, the most viable of outlets for comic books, and finds it seriously wanting. Looking at the Top 300 titles on a monthly basis, he finds that while the No. 1 comic book sells about 100,000 copies, sales drop off pretty drastically, slipping to below 10,000 a little over halfway down the ranking. If a publisher expects make a functional businesslike profit, he must be in the top 150 on the top 300 list. How many books that aren’t Marvel or DC are in the top 150? For December 2009, it was 15—10% of the total. And the comic book at last place “averages about 3,500 copies sold.” Calculating from the cover price $2.99-3.99, Zugale says the comic book at 300th place returns a gross $4,185-5,586 to the publisher. Print/ship costs for that short a run on a color comic often exceed $1 per copy, leaving you with a paltry few hundred dollars per book (I figure around $1,200 on the average) to pay for everything else—all direct business overhead, marketing (including a Diamond Previews ad, which ain’t cheap) and paying your creators. In short, the Direct Market is not much of a market for comic book publishers. Into that abyss, however, comes iPad. iPad will bring to market a lightweight (1.5 lbs.), portable e-reader capable of displaying comic book pages at an appropriate size and in full color. ... iPad is the right size and shape for comics. Full -color comics are likely to look pretty nice on this thing. ... While I’m told line art comics look excellent on them, the Kindle, Reader and nook cannot match this because they do not feature color. Zugale then turns to the Big Question about the digital empire: how does one make money? The Internet has failed in this respect, but Zugale thinks iPad will offer a solution because Apple plans to offer books through a new iBookstore and will probably charge just as it does for an App from the App Store, an already-proven way to market digital content and feel assured you’ll get paid for it. ... If you can get people to download your comics at $2.99 each, you’d make $2,093 per 1000 units downloaded instead of just $1,196, the present rate of return via Diamond. On the downside, working through Apple’s stores has not always been smooth for small companies ... and, recently, in a controversial unilateral move, Apple has deleted all Apps containing “adult” material. ... There’s reason to be concerned about that aspect of their total control of the conduit. But advantages may overpower disadvantages. There are only about 2,000 or fewer comic book shops in the U.S. and Canada, a tiny market. iPad is bigger. Even if the iPad is not as successful as Apple’s other devices, it will still stimulate competition and imitation. Then Zugale predicts: How about by 2012 there will be 20 million e-readers capable of nicely displaying color comics pages out there. If you can somehow find and sell to even a tenth of a percent of that market—just 20,000 people—you’ve got a real chance to sell your comics as a functional, profitable business. If you are currently a print publisher, you cannot afford to ignore this kind of market potential.
Another enterprising observer of the passing digitalis, Chicago Sun-Times columnist Andy Ihnatko, anticipating, perhaps, the advent of iPad, interviewed honchos at both Marvel and DC Comics to see if the Big Two were poised to plunge into the electronic surf. DC Comics, he reported on March 29, currently has no digital publishing initiative to speak of. Marvel, on the other hand, launched its Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited subscription service two years ago. “It offers all-you-can-eat access to an ever-expanding library of comics (7,500, as of this week) for little as five bucks a month” ... but “it's more geared towards deep back issues rather than new releases, and you can only access these comics through the service's Flash-based website. You can't download them onto a mobile device for Internet-free reading.”
Despite these differences, neither publisher is ready to jump into digital
publishing just yet. Both are waiting until “the ground firms up a lot more.” Said John
Rood, DC’s executive vice-president of sales, marketing, and business development: “I
would say that we haven't seen an opportunity as being missed yet. We're not going to
rush into any new platform or new partnership, especially if it's going to result in a sub-optimal product or a sub-optimal enjoyment, or a sub-optimal business plan."
Neither company contemplates the disappearance of the printed comic book. "I think one advantage we have going for us is that people do put a premium on actually holding a comic book," says Jim Lee, co-publisher at DC. "I've done my own anecdotal market research and I ask comic book fans ‘How many of you guys are Torrenting this stuff?’ And there's always definitely some. And that definitely goes with supplementing their weekly buy, for budgetary reasons. But if you ask them ‘How would you prefer reading it?’ they always prefer to read it on paper. And I think that's very different from the difference between buying a CD and then downloading an MP3."
Writes Ihnatko: “Both companies expressed a commitment to print publishing and described digital distribution as just another way of getting their stories and characters in front of an audience.” He quotes Marvel’s Brevoort: “How important digital delivery of our content is will only get greater as we see greater penetration of devices like the iPad and any other handheld reader that's got a big enough screen to display what we need effectively and still be portable enough to carry around. As those become more ubiquitous, that's going to be a delivery model that we're going to be more and more interested in and get into more and more heavily."
Both companies, Ihnatko added, “stressed the importance of building a digital model that would ultimately bring more customers in to comic book shops.” Comic book shops are like mini-comicons, said Marvel's Ira Rubenstein, executive vice president of global digital media. "Going to the shop on Wednesday [when new comics arrive every week] is where they gather with the other fans and it's a real experience. I don't think you can replace that experience virtually."
Their goal, Ihnatko said, is to use digital to expand the market for printed comics, and not simply replace it. Smaller publishers, however, “are working aggressively to create digital editions of their books. Many publish directly to consumers, via custom readers available through various phone platforms' app stores. But when you browse the virtual shelves of the many digital comics services that have become active in the past year (such as iVerse, Panelfly, Comixology, Graphic.ly, and Longbox Digital), indy selections overwhelm. ... Panelfly and iVerse, particularly, deliver user experiences that are close to the ideal. And Marvel, to its great credit, has been diligently working deals to make its titles available to many of these services.”
But iPad will doubtless make the big difference. “The iPad—more accurately, this and the host of other slate computers like it that will be released this year — can do more to advance the market for digital comics than the workings of any comics company or creator. Apple is delivering something that those companies and creators have been seething for: an affordable consumer device designed for storing and playing content. One features a big color screen that can do justice to intricate comic book art and is built around an intuitive, tactile interface.”
In a press release, IDW Publishing announced that the Apple iPad featured four IDW
comics applications at its launch. “Taking full advantage of the iPad's full-screen, full-color capabilities, each IDW store front will offer the next level of reading experience to
fans. The free IDW iPad comic shop apps each include a selection of comics with the
initial download, and offer more comics as in-app purchases. Fans can choose apps for
their favorite brands, like Star Trek, G.I. Joe and Transformers, or download the IDW
Comics app for access to all the company's iPad releases.”
From ICv2: Marvel is making Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s Kick-Ass comic book series available in a single issue format across a variety of digital platforms including the iPad, iPhone, and iPadTouch via Comixology, Iverse, and Panefly applications, while owners of Sony PSP players can down load issues directly to their device.
RCH: And in all the four-color excitement about iPad, where are the newspaper funnies? Rob Tornoe, editoonist at Politicker.com, has scored a gig in print at the monthly Editor & Publisher, and here’s his second piercing comment on the state of journalism and the digital future.
NCS ICES THE CAKE
The nominees have now been selected for the National Cartoonists Society’s 64th Annual Reuben Awards; winners will be announced Memorial Day Weekend at the Reuben Awards Dinner in Jersey City. The “Reuben Awards”—plural—takes its name from the trophy awarded to the Cartoonist of the Year (the “Reuben”) and then applies the expression to all the “division” or “category” awards—Best Comic Strip, Best Editorial Cartoonist, Best Graphic Novel, etc. Here’s this year’s list of nominees for the Reuben and for the division awards (listed by division):
THE REUBEN AWARD
Cartoonist of the Year
Stephen Pastis, Pearls Before Swine
Dan Piraro, Bizarro
Richard Thompson, Cul de Sac
Kevin Deters - “Walt Disney Prep and Landing”
Mike Gray - “The Infinite Goliath”
Seth McFarlane - “Family Guy”
Ronnie del Carmen - Storyboard Artist - “Up”
Tomm Moore - Director - “The Secret of Kells”
Barry Reynolds - Character Designer - “The Secret of Kells”
Newspaper Comic Strips
John Hambrock, The Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee
Wiley Miller, Non Sequitur
Jerry Scott & Jim Borgman, Zits
Newspaper Panel Cartoons
Dave Blazek, Loose Parts
Tony Carillo, F Minus
Hilary Price, Rhymes with Orange
Magazine Feature/magazine Illustration
Lou Brooks - “Twimericks”
Tom Richmond - “Bo Confidential”
Dave Whamond - “My Think-A-Ma-Jink”
Terry Moore, Echo
Paul Pope, Strange Adventures
J.H. Williams, Detective Comics
David Mazzucchelli, Asterios Polyp
Seth, George Sprott
David Small, Stitches
It’s heartening to note that “graphic novels” have finally found their way into a category by themselves (this year’s innovation) instead of being mixed in with “comic books”: the two really are separate art forms.
It’s disheartening, however, to notice that some names crop up every year in the appropriate category. Is there no one else practicing cartooning in that category? Why are there never any Playboy cartoonists nominated in the gag cartoonist division? Isn’t Playboy one of the last great venues of magazine gag cartooning? Well, I guess McCoy is a Playboy cartooner, so all is not lost. But so is Frank Thorne. And Alden Erickson and Doug Sneyd and Kiraz. Alas, we missed Buck Brown.
This listing will be about the most public recognition the people on it will receive. NCS has a policy of keeping such matters more-or-less secret. (That’s a joke, son: there’s no such policy—just an unhappy consequence of trying to make the Reubens Dinner a private affair to which no one, not even local newspaper reporters, are ever invited.)
Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing segment and some of what follows 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.
QUOTES & MOTS
“I used to love Tiger Woods because he was a champion. But after that sex scandal, the man is a god.”—Tom (Aziz Ansari) on “Parks and Recreation,” quoted in Entertainment Weekly
“Martinis so cold and big they have icebergs and undertows.” —Bill Husted, Denver Post, describing the fare at the Palm in Denver.
After Tiger tied for fourth at Augusta, Fort Worth’s Dan Jenkins said: “Tiger might have saved guys big money today. If he'd won, 5 million golfers would have gone into sex rehab.”
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
A recent fortnight has been more than kind to editorial cartoonists: not only did we have Tiger Woods frolicking around Augusta with abject apologies, but we had the Pope accused of covering up the sexual peccadilloes of Catholic priests. Both instances reek with hypocrisy: they are virtually emblematic of just the sort of pomposity cartoonists delight in deflating with a well-aimed pen-prick. Cartoons about both were numerous, probably because doing cartoons about either is so easy: the gap between appearance and actuality, between pose and practice, is so vast, so blatantly obvious, that the realities are cartoons without cartoonists. One has merely to draw pictures of the principals doing what they did and, presto—a cartoon appears. Who could resist the opportunity to do an easy day’s work without having to concoct metaphors for the commentary? And both cases have to do with S-E-X, a titillation no one in journalism today can afford to overlook.
The Pope is particularly vulnerable: he represents an aspiration so lofty that the display of any human frailty reveals the impracticality if not the impossibility of the ideal thereby devaluing it. But the grinding annoyance here is the apparent monstrous double-standard: the sins of the priests are shunted aside while everyone else committing the same sin gets arrested and becomes a registered sex offender. We’ve gone down this road with the Church often in recent years because of the common element in so many contentious matters. As Hendrik Hertzberg writes in The New Yorker (April 19): “Like nearly every one of the controversies that preoccupy and bedevil the Church—abortion, stem-cell research, contraception, celibacy, marriage and divorce and affectional orientation—it’s about sex.” And the Church’s behavior has been particularly reprehensible. As an Irish government commission (quoted by Hertzberg) put it last year: the Church’s “preoccupations in dealing with cases of child sexual abuse, at least until the mid-1990s, were the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the Church, and the preservation of its assets. All other considerations, including the welfare of children and justice for victims, were subordinated to these priorities.”
The Church’s reaction to this kind of tirade has been typical—“an unsatisfactory mixture of contrition and irritation,” notes Hertzberg. The Pope himself, Benedict aka Joseph Ratzinger, whose origins in the country that perpetrated the Hollocaust and whose persona is one of Teutonic rigidity in defending the faith, didn’t help much: he was slow to react, and when he did, writing a scathing letter to the Irish Church, he seemed too eager to blame the Irish bishops and to thereby evade any responsibility at the Vatican. It is scarcely surprising, then, that the Pope becomes the metaphor for the Church in many of the cartoons on the issue. It’s morbidly enthralling to notice in the adjacent array that the cartoons by tooners in other countries (all of whom are less hung up on the sexuality of human [sic] sapiens than we are) are more explicit than those by Americans.
Lately, Vatican officialdom has taken to criticizing the press for what it claims is excessive zeal in conducting “a well-oiled campaign against Pope Benedict.” Even the Pope murmured darkly of “the petty gossip of dominant opinion.” And the Vatican has its supporters in the ranks of the faithful, as Tom Toles discovered after he did the cartoon posted here. Letters flowed into the Washington Post.
From Kathleen B. Asdorian, Silver Spring: “The Post has dropped to a new low in its campaign of anti-Catholic bias that permeates not only its news staff but now its editorial staff. If your intent was to alienate readers, you have succeeded. This cartoon was offensive to the thousands of dedicated and holy priests who serve our church, and it ignored the fact that the Catholic Church in the United States, unlike other denominations and organizations, has directly addressed the issue of child abuse. The church has condemned the abuse done by a minority of priests, as we should condemn any case of child abuse.
“The cartoon was equally offensive to members of the Catholic Church, such as
myself, who applaud the leaders of our church who have undertaken the effort to make
reparation for any harm done and to put measures in place to avoid abuse in the future.
In Washington, the archdiocese has had child protection policies since 1986 (almost 25
years). Pope Benedict XVI has done more than any other pope to address the issue.
He talked about it repeatedly during his 2008 U.S. visit and met with victims while he
was in Washington. He published a document in 2001 that requires allegations to be
reported to the Vatican and not kept in the local diocese, he wrote a pastoral letter to
the church in Ireland and he has offered to meet with victims there. It is a sad day when
what was once a major journalistic publication has become so misdirected as to
consider this ‘cartoon’ evenly mildly humorous and, worse yet, worthy of publication.”
From M.J. Dodd, Edgewater: “The cynic Tom Toles again has gone over the top with his obscene March 29 cartoon. It may be true that Christ said the words, ‘Little children come to me,’ and it may be true that some priests are child predators, but most assuredly, there is no relationship. This cartoon might be expected in some low-life college newspaper. It demeans and degrades the Post.”
From Mary Ann Kan, Waldorf: “The March 29 editorial cartoon by Tom Toles was grossly offensive. He quoted Scripture about little children and then proceeded to demonize an entire category of Catholic leaders, portraying all priests as evil men able to cavalierly forgive themselves. We all suffer when children are abused—by anyone. It is a terrible evil. I recommend another Scripture for us to consider. When the scribes and Pharisees brought the woman caught in adultery to Jesus, he did not ignore her sin. But neither did he ignore the sins of her accusers. ‘Let the man among you who has no sin be the first to cast a stone at her’ (John 8:7). We are all sinners, even Catholic priests. Even letter writers, like me. Even cartoonists.”
From Steven J. Brown, Arlington: “As the Post often suggests, religious bigotry
is flourishing in America. It is proved in the March 29 Tom Toles cartoon. Substitute a
rabbi, an imam, a black preacher or most any other cleric in a similar light and there
would be marching and protesting. The implied condemnation of all the priests of the
Roman Catholic Church for the crimes of a few and the poor judgments of others is not
fitting for a paper of the Post's influence.”
Celibacy is erroneously cited in some quarters as the cause of pedophilia. No psychologist would agree. But clerical celibacy seems to signal, at the least, a hang-up about sex, which is no more at the root of celibacy’s doctrinal origins than homosexuality, another erroneous supposition.
For the first thousand or so years of the Church’s existence, Catholic priests married and had families like anyone else. It wasn’t until the Church had grown monolithic in power and was consequently laced with corruption that celibacy was adopted, ostensibly in purified spiritual dedication but actually as another link in the chain that tethered the institution to worldly preoccupations. By the time Bruno of Toul became Pope Leo IX in 1049 after walking barefoot to Rome as an act of personal devotion, the impulse for reform was fairly prominent in Vatican circles. One abuse in particular called for change. The practice of simony, the buying and selling of clerical posts, when coupled to clerical matrimony, threatened to turn the Church into a social institution reflecting exclusively the interests of the rich and the powerful. The rich could afford to buy clerical posts; and married priests and bishops were likely, in the usual fashion of the day, to pass their high offices (which comprised vast estates and incomes) on to their children. By way of making a start at reformation, Leo deposed several French prelates guilty of simony and ordered bishops to put aside their wives. Simony eventually re-emerged in other forms (selling indulgences, for example), but celibacy, because it had less to do with profitable ecclesiastical practices, was comparatively easy to establish and enforce. Leo’s efforts were not markedly successful, but soon after Gregory VII came along in 1073 and enlisted the monastic ideal of celibacy in his reformation, the Church formally adopted clerical celibacy (in 1139, according to my sources), and with the formality made enforcement practical. The monastic ideal helped secure the establishment of celibacy for priests—and to some extent, perpetuates it today—but initially the impulse had been fostered by a desire, commendable enough, to prevent the take-over of the Church by the rich and powerful, that is, by the profane rather than the sacred, worldly rather than spiritual power. Saintliness was not the objective: preserving power was.
What with all the tumult and shouting in religious matters—not to mention the religious fervor that infects so much of our political discourse these days—religion becomes a matter of secular concern and, as such, attracts comment in this corner. Just to put all the dominoes on the table, then, here’s my personal approach to religion (so you can discount everything I say on such matters by reason of what I believe). Someone once said that religion is essentially a tribal matter. It has more to do with “tribe” (and belonging thereto) than with morality. I think that might be true.
The necessity, the imperative, for moral behavior undergirds all religious movements, regardless of the doctrines of different faiths, different tribes. The Pope, like many in the business of propagating religion, believes that faith is the basis of morality. In a manner of speaking, it is. But morality is broader based than simple religious faith would have it. Morality is a social science: it originates in the human condition. Because the human sapiens (sic) live in groups, the human condition is essentially social. Thus "good" is whatever enables both individual and the community; "bad" is whatever interferes with that enabling. Individuals seek the “good” by attempting to fulfil their potentials to achieve whatever they are capable of achieving, to enjoy whatever they believe they are likely to enjoy—and, in the process, to avoid the “bad.” The goal is two-fold: realize the “good” while avoiding the “bad.”
Religious faith has historically simplified the social science of morality by codifying it. In early times, the simplification made it possible for vast numbers of basically uneducated and illiterate peoples to behave in a moral manner. As human knowledge accumulated through the ages, however, faith was repeatedly questioned. With every advance of science, the existence of God was brought into question. Joseph Campbell's metaphor is useful. In his series of books under the banner "The Masks of God," he suggests that God endures: every advance of scientific knowledge strips away one of the masks of God, and for a while, we believe the new mask that we see is the actual face of God. The next advance of knowledge, however, persuades us otherwise. But for Campbell, the essential truth is that regardless of how many masks are stripped away, God remains, even if behind yet another mask.
Scientists are confounded by this mystery because for them only verifiable, measurable phenomena are real. Metaphors are too vague. In the confrontation between science and religion, a single complex of questions seems posed before us: what is life, and why do we live? Life, it seems to me—at least as far as humanity is concerned—is consciousness. We may live in part in order to perpetuate the species, but our other assignment (so to speak) is to experience the “good,” to be conscious of it. As far as science and religion are concerned, thinking people make an effort to reconcile science and religion, to bring them together in a consciously perceived whole. In this endeavor, fundamentalism, whether Christian or Muslim, is, as some irrepressible wag said, a hardening of the categories.
And it may be wholly beside the point. The point, I’d say, is to live the “good” life.
I’m not convinced that God fits into this. Or whether, even, He is necessary to it. Maybe the much advertised love of God is instead just the love of good.
Clay Bennett, editorial cartoonist at the Chattanooga Times Free Press—who has won just about every award in season for editooning—has just received the first annual Phillipp “Fips” Rupprecht Prize for Collectivist Hate Cartoon Excellence. The so-called “prize” is the invention of a blogger named (we think) Mike Vanderboegh, a gunslinger who operates a teabagger* site, sipseystreetirregulars.blogspot.com. In selecting a name for his “award,” Vanderboegh has displayed admirable ingenuity: Phillipp Rupprecht, pen-name “Fips,” was a German cartoonist notorious during the Nazi era for his anti-Semitic cartoons fomenting hatred for Jews. Bennett won the dubious Sipsey Street distinction for the cartoon that appears here at the upper left of our visual aid. Vanderboegh’s strenuous implication is that Bennett is inciting hatred for the Teabaggers in the same way Fips did for Jews. A stretch, you might think, but when you consider Bennett’s other recent cartoons—a sampling of which accompanies the insidious Teabagger attack—you must agree: Bennett wants his readers to disapprove of the idiots he pillories in his cartoons. Or, if he is not urging scorn, he’s at least hoping for derisive laughter. And his use of visual metaphor is both ingenious and uncompromising; his cartoons are easily among the best in any month’s crop. Congrats on the Fips, Clay.
In giving a prize to Bennett, Vanderboegh betrays his penchant and that of his minions for indulging in extreme behavior: just as they interpret any action by a governmental body as “taking their country away” from them, so do they see any attack on any idea they favor as an act of hatred. Civil discourse with such personages is not just impossible, it borders on dangerous: most of this ilk are avid gun fanciers and tend these days, as an presumably symbolic act, to wear sidearms when they go to political rallies, saying they are merely exercising their Second Amendment rights. Symbolic maybe; intimidating, definitely. Few among us would openly disagree on a political issue with an armed individual bristling with hostility who tends to shout rather than reason. A loud and threatening citizen undermines the very principles upon which democracies are founded, principles he claims to want to uphold.
* See immediately below.
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST: PART THE FIRST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
I’ve taken a vicious delight in calling members of the Tea Party “Teabaggers,” but I didn’t know, until recently, the sexual connotations of the term “teabagger.” Now, however, I know. I learned by googling, which led me, inexorably, to Wikipedia. I now quote (in italics) the entire entry on the subject as a demonstration of just how painfully exhaustive Wikipedia can be on a popular topic:
Teabagging is a slang term for the act of a man placing his scrotum in the mouth of a sexual partner. The practice resembles dipping a tea bag into a cup of tea when it is done in a repeated in-and-out motion. As a form of non-penetrative sex, it can be done for its own enjoyment or as foreplay before other activities, such as oral sex.
The practice has also been mimicked in online video games, as a practical joke, and in hazing incidents. The scrotum only touches the face or head in some of these instances, though sometimes more activity is involved. Teabagging has become more prominent in the media, and the term is used to ridicule those in the Tea Party movement
Along with the penis and perineum, the scrotum is sensitive. This makes varying degrees of stimulation an integral part of oral sex for many men. Teabagging is an activity used within the context of BDSM and male dominance, with a dominant man teabagging his submissive partner as a variation of face-sitting or to inflict erotic humiliation. Although it may be unappealing to some, teabagging does not need to be physically harmful or uncomfortable for the individual performing the oral stimulation.
Its gain in prominence has been attributed to its depiction in the film “Pecker,” which was released in 1998. It has since become popular enough with couples to be discussed during an episode of “Sex and the City.” Sex experts have praised various techniques that the performer can use during fellatio to increase their partner's pleasure. These include gently sucking and tugging on the scrotum, use of lips to ensure minimal contact with their teeth, and different body positions. Callers on the “Howard Stern Show” once debated whether or not licking and fondling is considered teabagging. Teabagging has also been recommended as a form of foreplay or safer sex.
According to Dan Savage, the person's who's scrotum is being stimulated is known as 'the teabagger' and 'the teabaggee' is the one giving the stimulation. "To teabag someone, you need a scrotum with which to teabag them: the teabagger dips sack; a teabaggee receives dipped sack."
RCH again: As the man said, once, this may well be more about penguins than you want to know. And now that I am highly informed, I still think “Teabagger” is exactly the right term for denoting a member of the Tea Party: all those Teabaggers who are rampaging around the body politic are displaying a nearly ungovernable eagerness for some excitement; they find political stimulation dipping in and out of parades and riots.
But these “Apostles of Anger in their echo chamber of fallacies” (coinage by Charles M. Blow in the New York Times) aren’t, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, nuts. A recent New York Times/CBS News poll found that Teabaggers are “wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, they tend to be Republican, white, male and married, and their strong opposition to the Obama administration is more rooted in political ideology than anxiety about their personal economic situation. ... Despite their allusions to Revolutionary War-era tax protesters, most describe the amount they paid in taxes this year as ‘fair.’ Most send their children to public schools, do not think Sarah Palin is qualified to be president, and, despite their push for smaller government, think Social Security and Medicare are worth the cost.”
Teabaggers might be more like the general public than we’d supposed, but they still fail the duck test. If they go around armed like crazy people, if they tend to shout irrational slogans like crazy people, and if they dress oddly like crazy people, they’re probably ducks—er, crazy people. And some of them are “tenthers.”
Tenthers construe the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution to mean individual states can reject, or nullify (declare void), any Congressional legislation the state disagrees with. This right, Tenthers say, arises in the language that stipulates “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” In the American Prospect last August, Ian Millhiser wrote: “Under the Tenther constitution, Barack Obama’s health-care reform is forbidden, as is Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. The federal minimum wage is a crime against state sovereignty; the federal ban on workplace discrimination and whites-only lunch counters is an unlawful encroachment on local businesses.”
Nullification as a challenge to the supremacy of the U.S. Constitution has been around since at least 1798, but it has been discredited time after time. In 1832 when South Carolina passed an ordinance nullifying a tariff that might have interfered with the institution of slavery, Andrew Jackson, prez at the time, proclaimed nullification “pernicious nonsense.” Sean Wilentz at the New Republic continues: “The nation, Jackson said, was not created by sovereign state governments—then as now, a basic misunderstanding propagated by pro-nullifiers. Ratified in order ‘to form a more perfect union’ [my emphasis], the Constitution was a new framework for a nation that already existed under the Articles of Confederation.” So the Constitution intended to make an existing nation a more perfect union than it had been up until the adoption of the Constitution; until then, the country was a less than perfect union. “‘The Constitution of the United States,’ Jackson declared, created ‘a government, not a league.’ Although state governments had certain powers reserved to them, these did not include voiding laws duly enacted by the people’s representatives in Congress and by the President [also elected by the people]. ... Nullification and [its cohort] interposition are pseudo-constitutional notions taken up in the face of national defeat in democratic politics. Unable to prevail as a minority and frustrated to the point of despair, its militant advocates abandon the usual tools of democratic politics and redress, take refuge in a psychodrama of ‘liberty’ versus ‘tyranny,’ and declare that, on whatever issue they choose, they are not part of the United States or subject to its laws—that, whenever they say so, the Constitution in fact forms a league, and not a government.”
In the same issue of the magazine (April 29), TRB’s Jonathan Chait puts his finger on the fundamental cause of all the tumult and shouting: “Large swaths of the Republican Party simply refuse to accept the legitimacy of losing political outcomes.” If they lose, they lose because of some underhanded and therefore illegitimate maneuvering by their opponents. They decline to accept the basic premise of an electoral process—that in every such contest, someone must lose because not everyone can be a winner. Too bad.
Meanwhile, the Teabaggers go forth, foaming at the mouth, walking like ducks, talking like ducks, and looking like ducks, and giving Doonesbury’s Garry Trudeau all the grist he needs for Zonker to mill around in, as we see in the accompanying visual aid. Zonker, the neverland hippie, knows a duck when he sees one, announcing for all the world to hear: “I love the nuttiness—that’s been missing.” Indeed. We all miss the nuttiness. Everyone’s being entirely too serious.
THE FROTH ESTATE
The Alleged News Institution
The next big thing in content distribution is mobile, according to Steve Buttry, director of community engagement for the Washington metro-area digital-only news project backed by Allbritton Communications. Faced with this dawning new age, newspapers that are chasing after the Web are “fighting the last war,” he says, quoted in Editor & Publisher (March 2010). “A news organization that wants to be successful in the future is going to be focusing hard in the coming years in thinking mobile first.”
Gartner Research predicts that mobile phones will overtake computers as the most common Web access device worldwide by 2013. Clyde Bentley, a professor in the Missouri School of Journalism, says: “If Gartner’s prediction is accurate, newspapers really have just 18 to 24 months to position themselves as the leading news content provider for mobile platforms. This is a killer deadline: within 35 months, the whole newspaper industry needs to move its emphasis from the static Web to the mobile Web.”
On the cusp of a new paradigm, newspapers have a chance to do something to take charge of it instead of being victimized by it. They must not make the mistake of giving away content again. The New York Times and Associated Press already have applications that have been downloaded by millions: the adoption of the iPhone app for the Times virtually doubles the paper’s Sunday circulation. The Times plans early this year to roll out a metered pay model, and “once the online pay strategy is in place, the company will charge for its mobile site and applications.” CNN is already charging for its app. The Wall Street Journal introduced its app for free in September 2008 then slapped a price on it a year later. And advertisers appear willing to go along: WSJ has doubled its ad revenue from mobile since last year. And AP reports “the sheer number of advertising insertions orders has ballooned since November and every week since.”
All of which is vastly encouraging as well as intimidating: move now or get left behind. My bet, and that of others quoted in the E&P article, is that newspapers have learned their lesson and won’t let history repeat itself. Now—where are comics in this new mix?
When Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp bought the Wall Street Journal in 2007, journalists everywhere wrung their hands in agony, predicting that the highly respected WSJ would be turned into one of Murdoch’s Page Three Girl tabloids. But that hasn’t happened, according to Editor & Publisher (April 2010). Not only is the paper still a distinguished journalistic enterprise, it’s thriving. It’s circulation has increased to more than 2 million subscribers, making it the largest daily in the U.S.; and advertising revenue is up 23% from a comparable period a year ago. WSJ is hiring, too—adding about three dozen journalists at a time when the rest of the industry has shed 27% of its newsroom positions. And its website is equally robust. The Journal charges readers for all content, regardless of point of access; and its website revenue is about $200 million in subscriptions, representing 15-20% of total revenue, and traffic is up 25% to about 22 million users. But no comics. No editorial cartoons either.
BADINAGE AND BAGATELLES
Rob Fusari, the abandoned beau of Lady Gaga, reveals in the complaint he filed in a lawsuit against his former inamorata that she, like many more ordinary folks, was conceived accidentally: he once sent her a cellphone text using the moniker “Radio Ga Ga,” and his phone’s spellcheck changed “Radio” to “Lady.” The erstwhile Stefani Joanne Germanotta loved the mistake, changed her name accordingly, and started dressing funny. Voila!
Earl and Opal Celebrate an Anniversary.
Brian Crane’s Pickles is twenty years old today. The comic strip had a beginning that should be legendary. Pickles started soon after Crane’s midlife crisis: he was standing naked while talking on the telephone.
Crane had known he wanted to be a cartoonist since he was in the fourth grade, he once wrote. “Sitting in the cafeteria for lunch, I drew a cartoon face for my friend, Lloyd. It had bugged-out eyes, buck teeth and a wild-man hair-do. Lloyd started laughing so hard that milk came out of his nose. At that moment, I knew I had found my calling in life.”
To be a cartoonist was his dream. “Of course, at various other times, my dream had been to be a cowboy, an explorer and the guy who makes Hostess Twinkies. But such are the fantasies of youth, right? They’re fine for kids.” But when you realize your parents aren’t going to support you for the rest of your life, “you start looking for something more realistic. Like advertising.”
So Crane went into advertising, and by the time he was 38, he was art director at a mid-sized advertising agency in Reno, Nevada. Then he had his midlife crisis.
He realized that he was approaching “that dreaded stage of life, Middle Age—the point in your life when you take all the glorious dreams and goals you had as a youth and either do something about accomplishing them or chuck them out the window for good.”
He found himself thinking about developing a comic strip for syndication. He had no expectation that he would actually achieve this goal: “I knew the odds,” he said. He knew almost no one who develops a comic strip for syndication actually sells it to a syndicate. But he wanted to do it anyhow so he could say to his errant brain cells that pestered him to try: “Look, I gave it my best shot and it didn’t work out. Now go play with some amino acids and leave me alone.”
He decided that his comic strip would be about a couple of senior citizens, reasoning that the ever-increasing population of old people in the world had no comic strip about them. “Shrewdly, I figured that a strip about a heretofore ignored segment of society would stand a better chance of selling that yet another strip about a sarcastic cat.”
Crane made this comment in 1992 before Bucky Katt got fuzzy. All we had then was Garfield. But Crane wasn’t taking any chances either: he included a sarcastic cat as one of the characters in his strip.
Crane didn’t realize at the time that the readership of newspapers was skewing more and more into the elderly vicinity, which made his scheme even more practical, unbeknownst, of course, to him.
“The strip I dreamed up centered around Earl and Opal Pickles,” Crane said, revealing yet another aspect of his diabolic plan: “Pickles, I thought was a funny-sounding name, and it reminded me in a way of Peanuts.”
He drew up a couple dozen strips and sent them off to three of the largest syndicates, which, one by one, rejected the strip. Crane put his Pickles away (in a file folder, not a jar) and contemplated returning, somewhat satisfied that he’d tried his best but it hadn’t worked out.
His wife, however, would not let the matter rest. Diana nagged him. Finally, noticing that Berkeley Breathed was announcing the end of his Bloom County, Crane thought that Breathed’s syndicate might need a replacement, so he sent his samples to the Washington Post Writers Group, vowing that this would be his last try.
Again, he was doomed to disappointment: WPWG expressed interest. They wanted to show the strip around and see how newspaper editors felt about a comic strip featuring members of its predominant demographic. Crane waited.
“Finally, in December 1989,” he wrote, “I was called out of the shower to take a phone call. There, standing in a towel and dripping wet, I got the news that they wanted to offer me a contract to syndicate Pickles. It’s a good thing I wasn’t in a public place because the towel was soon lying forgotten on the floor.”
That’s how Crane’s midlife crisis was solved while he was talking on the phone naked.
Pickles started April 2, 1990, six days a week in 24 newspapers; two years later, it was in about 80 papers and Crane had added a Sunday. Today, Pickles is in 647 papers around the world. (That’s the actual count: WPWG doesn’t fudge by generalizing from “sales” to “papers” like most syndicaters do.)
When Pickles passed the decade mark, Crane was amazed. “When I first signed my contract, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it for ten weeks let alone ten years, so this feels like a major accomplishment. I didn’t think I’d be able to come up with the 365 ideas a year it takes to keep a strip in business. For me, the key is not to think of all the strips I have to create but just to do one, and then another, and then another.”
Crane explained: “It’s kind of like the man who had to eat an elephant. Looking at the gigantic beast, the task seemed impossible. But the man just began taking one bite at a time, and pretty soon, he had eaten an elephant. Of course, it helps if you like elephant.”
You can tell, Crane is a funny guy.
Now, another decade having slipped over the horizon, Crane is still amazed, attributing the longevity of the strip to “dumb luck and clean living, I guess. It’s all been kind of a wonderful mystery to me. I never had a master plan or anything like that. My only real goal was to do the best comic strip I was capable of doing each day and hope a few people out there would like it. Luckily for me, they did.”
Right. Pickles consistently tops readership polls. In 1995 and 2001, it was nominated for Best Comic Strip of the Year by the National Cartoonists Society, winning in 2001; and Crane was also nominated for NCS Reuben as cartoonist of the year in 2006. (Didn’t win. But there’s hope: Crane didn’t think he’d last ten years, remember?) Here are some of my favorites from the last year or less.
Pickles readers are passionate about Earl and Opal. Once Crane grew a beard while working out of a cabin near Yellowstone and decided he’d put the experience to use in the strip: Earl grew a beard.
He enjoyed drawing Earl with a beard for a change but wondered about how his readers felt about it. So he asked, including his e-mail and post office box in the strip for them to reply. He was again amazed: he received seven thousand e-mails and nearly a thousand cards and letters. Some said: “Lose the beard!” Others said: “We love the beard!”
Crane let Earl keep the beard until Christmas that year so he could play Santa in a department store; then he gave the old man a shave for the New Year.
Not all of Crane’s continuities in the strip reach crescendo conclusions. One of the earliest storylines was about the Pickles’ dog, Roscoe, who ran away from home. Earl and Opal went looking for him, and they each returned with a dog that looked like Roscoe.
“They had two identical dogs,” Crane said, re-visiting these events at the ten-year milestone, “and, as unlikely as it may seem, they couldn’t tell which one was their pooch. Back then I was still a novice at this, and I couldn’t figure out a way to solve the dilemma, so I more or less just dropped it and went on to something else. To this day, ten years later, I still occasionally get people asking, ‘Whatever happened to that other dog?’”
And Crane may have been the first cartoonist to inflame Islamic Hooligans.
In the late 1990s, Crane did a strip in which two of his characters were having their fortunes read in a crystal ball.
“I drew a squiggly line inside the ball for shading. Soon after it as published, I got a threatening e-mail from a man in New York who claimed that inside the crystal ball I had spelled out the name of ‘Allah’ in the Arabic script, and that in doing so I had insulted and profaned his god. His message called for action to be taken against me.”
Crane continued: “I wrote back, telling him that I had not intended to profane Allah with my squiggly line, that I can barely speak English let alone Arabic, and that it was all a misunderstanding. I don’t think I convinced him. To this day, I’m not sure I shouldn’t be in hiding with Salmon Rushdie, but I guess I’ll take my chances.”
If this incident had happened ten years later—in the wake of the nefarious Danish Dozen—Crane would probably be in hiding with Rushdie, Vilks, Westergaard and the rest of the twelve blaspheming Danish cartoonists. As it is, however, he is still living in [location withheld for fear of endangering an award-winning cartoonist’s life not to mention the further adventures of Earl and Opal].
Crane is deeply grateful to his loyal readers. He hears from many of them who tell him how a particular release was meaningful to them or how Pickles has become a part of their daily routine.
“I feel like I have friends I have never met in places I’ll probably never visit,” he wrote at the tenth anniversary of the strip. “That, to me, is the best part of doing a comic strip for a living. Don’t get me wrong: I do cash the checks, but it’s a rare privilege to be able to touch people’s lives with laughter each day. The only thing that could make it better is if I could once more make someone laugh so hard that milk came out their nose. Oh, well—I’ll keep trying.”
But he can’t imagine where his trying will take him. On the strip’s twentieth anniversary, Crane says: “I’m not a good long-range planner. I don’t know what Earl and Opal will be doing a year from now or even a month from now. I just start each workday wondering, ‘What could happen next?’ That way, I get to be surprised like everyone else.”
Writing in 1992 after only two years of getting himself surprised, Crane said: “Sometimes I’m thrilled and excited by what I’ve come up with on my drawing board. More often, I’m satisfied but not enthusiastic with the result. And then there are those mornings when I’m so unhappy and embarrassed with my strip that I want to sweep across the land gathering up all the newspapers from everyone’s front porch before they have a chance to see the comics page.
“Strangely enough,” he continued, “those seem to be the days when 13 people come up to me and say, ‘I just loved your strip today. I had to send a copy to my Aunt Effie in Fresno.’ I guess it just goes to show that I really have no idea what I’m doing.”
He still doesn’t. And we’re glad.
CLIPS & QUIPS
“Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”—Jacques Barzan; but I’m not sure I agree. What’s so distinctively American about baseball? Perhaps it’s the strange mix of individualism and group action (home runs and fielding) and how they two play off each other.
“Lisa, vampires are make-believe, like elves, gremlins and Eskimos.”—Homer Simpson
“For the past decade, I have been fortunate to be able to do what I love…to draw silly pictures of my childhood while sitting at home in my underpants, eating donuts.”—Rick Stromoski, creator of Soup to Nutz, a comic strip
Short Reviews and Previews of Coming Attractions
If you missed the beginning of Keith Knight’s syndicated comic strip, you will soon be able to find it rehearsed in The Knight Life: Chivalry Ain’t Dead (224 8.5x11-inch pages, b/w; paperback, $17.99), the first collection of the strip, due out in May. “Point blank: Keith Knight is one of our generation's best cartoonists. If he were any funnier, he'd be illegal,” saith Jeff Chang, hip-hop journalist and author, who supplies a Foreword. The strip, like Keef’s other cartoon enterprises The K Chronicles and (th)ink, is autobiography askance. Here’s Keef introducing the characters in the strip: “I am your humble narrator and dashing hero. Cartoonist. Musician. Social activist. Raconteur. Ambassador from the slightly skewered world of The Knight Life to you, dear reader. I am just as curious about everything as I was when I dropped a handful of earthworms in my diaper. I’ll take on anything. Marriage and family. Sports. Consumer culture. Race and politics. In my comics, nothing is off-limits. I think the fate of the world depends upon our ability to connect with strangers. The stranger, the better—like my friends and relatives.” The book will be available in the usual places—local bookstore, Barnes & Noble, Borders, amazon.com—or kchronicles.com, Keef’s very own newly redesigned website, where you can pre-order a copy. Today even.
We’ve posted in this vicinity some strips from the early months of the run of The Knight Life; and, on a second page, some of Keef’s more recent efforts—all by way of demonstrating just how few sacred cows there are for him.
The K Chronicles, by the way, has left Salon.com and is now at Tonic.com: “Imagine a site that only posts good, funny, informative, and uplifting news and my comic!,” Keef exclaims in announcing the new venue. After more than a decade at Salon.com, Keef writes in his newsletter: “I walked away. I did not get fired. I left because it was apparent they didn’t value my work as much as others.” Tonic.com is running The K Chronicles on a trial basis; so if you like it, you should visit and vote (or whatever it takes).
Chris Crouch is writing a biography of Jerry Robinson; due out in the fall. And Robinson’s own revised and up-dated The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art, originally published in 1974, is imminent.
Andrews McMeel will publish 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective, an anniversary collection packaged by the same gang that did The Complete Calvin and Hobbes and The Complete Far Side. The book will arrive on October 26, the 40th anniversary of the appearance of the first Doonesbury strip. To give some idea of the scale of cartoonist G.B. Trudeau’s body of work, a press release pointed out that the 1,800 strips reprinted in this massive hardcover volume are only around 13% of the over 14,000 strips Trudeau has penned since that first strip in 1970.
The strips and accompanying features in 40 examine the characters of the strip in depth. Trudeau contributes 18 original essays, including an introductory piece and contemplations of individual characters and groups of characters. A four-page fold-out centerfold charts the character’s connections in a “family tree.” The 664-page, 10x14-inch hardback will retail for $100. First printing is 100,000 copies.
I’ve just started reading Jules Feiffer’s memoir, Backing into Forward (440 6x9-inch pages, mostly text with a few of his cartoons, b/w; hardcover, $30), and he has me from the start. “Comics,” he writes, “—I ate them, I breathed them. I thought about them day and night. I learned to read only so that I could read comics. Nothing else was worth the effort. ... I was small and powerless, so inadequate that I couldn’t bat, throw, or catch a ball (a disaster in real life, but in comics a self-imposed limitation that hid my superpowers from evildoers).” Reading comics and “listening to radio serials and favored comedians—‘Jack Armstrong,’ ‘I Love a Mystery,’ ‘Fibber McGee and Molly,’ Charlie McCarthy, Jack Benny, Burns and Allen” was what Feiffer did with his childhood. Reading this, I realize he’s writing about me. And I can’t wait to see how I turn out.
The latest addition to the ever-growing comics criticism library at the University Press of Mississippi (one of my publishers) is My Life with Charlie Brown (216 6x9-inch pages, b/w; hardcover, $25), a collection of the major prose writings of Peanuts’ creator Charles M. Schulz, edited and with an introduction by M. Thomas Inge, a popular culture scholar (and a friend of mine) and author or editor of more than sixty tomes on such esoteric subjects as author William Faulkner and African-American cartoonist Oliver Harrington as well as comics generally. Inge, who is the general editor of two UPM series, Great Comics Artists and Conversations with Comics Artists, edited the first volume in the latter series, Charles Schulz Conversations. (At Inge’s invitation, I did the second, Milton Caniff Conversations—just so you are perfectly cognizant of the incestuousness of all this. And, to commit in shallow grasping merchantilism, we sell copies hereabouts.)
The collection at hand includes some pieces never before published—for example, the essay he wrote when taking a course in novel writing at the Santa Rosa Junior College in 1965, about which, Schulz wrote: “I took a college course in the novel a few years ago, and oddly enough I got an A in it. When I was a kid, I was a lousy student, the way Peppermint Patty is. I never knew what was going on, never did my homework, never did the reading assignments. This time, I did all the reading and wrote a paper on Katherine Anne Porter’s book, Pale Horse, Pale Rider. As I wrote it, I pretended I was writing for The New Yorker. Afterwards, the professor said to me, ‘I just want you to know that this is a perfect example of what a paper should be.’” This essay alone—entitled “Don’t Give Up”—is worth the price of the book for the paragraph I just quoted: it is one of the few times Schulz admitted to having unabashed talent. But there are other such occasions, and many of them are in the prose of this book. (His Porter essay, by the way, reads much like a typical New Yorker piece: it begins with what appears to be an irrelevancy, which Schulz then makes relevant.)
Most of these essays are culled from the introductions to various Peanuts reprint volumes; the value of this compilation is that it brings all such endeavors together in one place. I was happy to find herein my favorite fragment in Schulz’s speech to the National Cartoonists Society in May 1994: “I’m still searching for that wonderful pen line that comes down—when you are drawing Linus standing there, and you start with the pen up near the back of his neck and you bring it down and bring it out, and the pen point fans out a little bit, and you come down here and draw the lines this way for the marks on his sweater and all of that. This is what it’s all about—to get feelings of depth and roundness, and the pen line is the best pen line you can make. That’s what it’s all about. If there’s somebody who is trying to be a cartoonist or thinks he is a cartoonist, and has not discovered the joy of making those perfect pen lines, I think he is robbing himself—or herself—of what it is all about. Because this is what it is! The time you make these wonderful pen lines and make them come alive.”
It is perhaps the perfect short explanation of why cartoonists—and, indeed, all other graphic artists—spend their lives drawing. Otherwise, a person could go crazy drawing noses. Noses, noses, noses—every day, all over again, the same noses, again and again and again, without pause or let. Bob Dunn, cartoonist and NCS raconteur, told the story of a cartoonist named Allman, who drew a strip in the 1920s called Doings of the Duffs: “He summed up every cartoonist’s frustration when his syndicate complained that his work was being mailed in unfinished. Allman screamed over the phone: ‘I’m sick and tired of drawing noses!’ The poor guy had a breakdown. He was through.” But the artist who searches daily for the perfect line never tires: he finds the line with great regularity, but that only makes him want to find it again. And again and again.
The essays, 25 in all, are arrayed under three headings: My Life, My Profession, and My Art. There are some illustrations, about a dozen Peanuts strips (a few of which are stupidly spread across two facing pages, straddling the gutter, making the pictures—and speech balloons—in the middle panel wholly undecipherable), but Schulz’s graceful prose is the reason for this book. With this volume and the other Inge-edited book of Schulz conversations, we meet the authentic Schulz, I think—a creative individual a good deal more in touch with the sources of his creativity than you might imagine if you read only David Michaelis’ biography of the cartoonist. You can find both UPM books—and others in its comics library— at its website, upress.state.ms.us.
The Art of Jaime Hernandez: The Secrets of Life and Death (224 giant 9x12-inch pages, b/w and color; hardcover, $40) is another gorgeous book from Abrams under its ComicArts imprint. Todd Hignite, comics scholar and founder/editor of Comic Art magazine, supplies the book’s biography of its subject and a running critical—appreciative—commentary; Hernandez supplies the rest—photographs and sketches from his youth, model sheets, pencil roughs, finished art (the very first definitive drawing of Maggie and Hopey), spot illos, promotional art, newspaper and magazine clippings, cover of the first self-published issue of the seminal 1981 Love and Rockets, never before seen art, and a few complete stories—the 12-page “Spring 1982" from Love and Rockets No. 31, a couple one- and two-pagers, and all of an expanded version of “La Maggie La Loca,” serialized in the New York Times Magazine in 2006-07. The book is the customary elegance from Abrams—for instance, the endpapers at the front print the penciled version of the drawing that appears inked as the endpapers at the back of the book. Delicious touches like this are an Abrams hallmark. And Hignite’s insights are an appropriate accompaniment: “The most immediately striking aspect of Hernandez’s comics is the sheer exuberance of his snappy, spare inking.” Says Hernandez: “I felt if one line could do the same job as a hundred it would make a far more impressive image.” Hignite continues: “While evolving in range, his preternatural gift for subtlety within a mastery of traditional comic book techniques has been there from the beginning—not only the shorthand rendering and poignant details, but also pacing and narrative devices—alongside all the old comic book tricks of the masters. ... Crucially, characters come alive through facial expressions and telling gestures as much as in dialogue; the play between expertly crafted image and text, his is perfect cartooning, and the elan evident in his drawing is matched only the spirit of his characters.”
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST: PART THE SECOND
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
The word has gone out, all across Hollywoodland and therefore the rest of the landscape: it’s back to nature, Pamela. Disney, quoth Entertainment Weekly (April 9), is starting work on the fourth “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie and has sent out a casting notice warning applicants for female extras that they “must have real breasts. Do not submit,” it avers, “if you have implants.” And the draconian Disney goes even further: those who show up for audition must jog to prove by jiggle the authenticity of their equipment.
A Washington Post columnist, Courtland Millroy, nails our present discontents by regurgitating poll results: “So, Mr. Poll, how are we the people feeling today? Deeply divided over President Obama’s plan to improve health care, you say, while at the same time approving of how he wages war in Afghanistan. In other words, we aren’t quite sure how to go about saving lives but are pleased with how we go about killing. Mr. Poll says: Americans are clueless. For instance, 71 percent of us say the media did a bad job explaining the likely effects of health-care reform on ‘people like yourself’ (Pew poll, March 23), and yet we somehow ended up knowing with remarkable certainty that health reform is bad. Or good.
“As for the war,” Millroy continues, “53 percent of us say we do not always have enough background information to follow news about Afghanistan (Pew, October). But not knowing what’s going on didn’t stop us from approving of what’s going on (Washington Post poll, March 28). Perhaps it’s the not knowing that allows us such contentment. ... Of course, such findings must be taken with a grain of salt. After all, Mr. Poll’s sources are notoriously fickle, prone to shoot from the hip, talk off the top of their heads and out of both sides of their mouths. Only a politician would put a lot of stock in such opinions.”
Finally, I can’t resist posting this clipping from Faux News: it so aptly illustrates the horrors of the Grouchy Old Pachyderm’s customary behavior.
LONG FORM PAGINATED CARTOON STRIPS
Called Graphic Novels for the Sake of Status
When he was about twelve years old, Oliver Ka went to a summer camp with a priest friend of the family named Peter, a great hairy bearded bear of a man with a jovial manner and a fondness for kids. And one day, Peter complained that he wasn’t sleeping well and convinced Oliver to sleep next to him that night, both naked, so Oliver could rub Peter’s belly and help him sleep. Before he quite knew what was happening, Oliver let Peter take his hand. “He pulls me towards him,” Oliver writes, “pressing my hand onto something large, as hard as wood. I don’t understand right away what I’m touching. It feels hot. Shit! It’s his dick!!!”
Twenty-three years later, Oliver, who has always treated the incident with Peter as no “big deal,” is in church, attending a wedding, and he is smitten by the phoniness of the priest and a trio of choir boys singing about “love, joy, happiness and sunlight.” Thanks to Peter, Oliver believes everything about the church and religion to be hypocritical: life is sordid, not joyful. Haunted by this realization, Oliver decides to write his story—the story of his seduction by Peter that summer long ago.
He writes it and gets a friend, Alfred, to draw it, to convert the story to a graphic novel, which is entitled Why I Killed Peter and was published in 2008 by NBM (112 6x9-inch pages, color; ComicsLit hardcover, $18.95). To finish the book, Oliver and Alfred journey to the scene of the crime, the summer camp, where, surprisingly, they encounter Peter, now old and stooped. Suddenly, Oliver wants to confront Peter about their long-ago transgression. He doesn’t want to judge Peter, or accuse him. He doesn’t want answers. He just wants to tell Peter that he ruined something in him. He rehearses what he will say: “You had power over me—. You took advantage—. You abused—. A kid’s like modeling clay: if you put your fingers on him, you’ll leave a print behind....”
Oliver goes on a walk with Peter and talks to him, telling him, we assume, all of these things. He shows him the first 60 pages of the graphic novel. Peter says nothing. He reads the pages. He reads it all, up to the end. “I get ready to watch him cry,” Oliver writes. But we don’t know if Peter cries. Alfred’s pictures through this portion of the book are of forested landscapes, dark, shadowy, blotchy with leaf-laden limbs. The pictures tell us nothing about what transpires between Peter and Oliver. We have only Oliver’s words.
Oliver claims that the episode finished the story. And so it ends, after 112 pages. He says he’s “devastated.” He leaves Peter behind—“with the burden.”
And what is the burden? How did he kill Peter? He killed him by talking about the encounter, by not keeping silent about it. By revealing to Peter than he knows what Peter did to him was wrong, Oliver finally prevents Peter from living on in a kind of anonymity, free of guilt. The guilt comes when Peter is made to see that Oliver knows what Peter did was wrong. Now Peter is burdened with the guilt. And Oliver is free of it.
We don’t know, however, just how much of a burden Oliver has been carrying all these years. He is married and a father, and none of the incidents of his married life suggest that he is in some way impaired by Peter’s treatment of him. He’s evidently damaged in some unspecified way, but we have only his word for it.
A timely tale, and, according to the publisher’s press release, a true one. Oliver Ka lived the story he tells here. Alfred’s drawings are simple, cartoony renderings with bold brush strokes. They are curiously inappropriate to Oliver’s grim repulsive story. But they also make it possible to read the story: if the story were drawn realistically, it might be too much to bear. The pictures are funny-looking; the story they serve is alarming, even horrifying.
This graphic novel offers no particularly revealing insight into the mind or psyche of a sexually abused boy or his adult version, or of the man who seduced him. It offers no remedy for the malady that seems to be raging silently, surreptiously, through the land. There is something flat, unemotional, about much of the book. Alfred is adroit in morphing his pictures into symbols—Oliver as a mouse, Peter as a horned devil— making incidents into nightmares, thereby deploying his art in the service of Oliver’s unspecified horrors. The images are sinister but vague. And we feel no rage at the tale’s conclusion. Oliver drives off with Alfred, leaving Peter behind. No angry words are spoken, no sobs sobbed, no raiment rent. An unemotional conclusion. No emotions on raw display. There’s not enough here. We are left feeling that somehow Peter hasn’t been punished enough: killing him was not enough.
Like a Greek chorus, the book’s title is repeated at every chapter. “Why I killed Peter because I’m fifteen years old.” “Why I killed Peter because I’m nineteen....” Still, we can’t tell, exactly, what damage Peter did to Oliver; we must imagine it. Even in a novel of visuals, we have no truly revealing picture. But we can’t help feeling that killing him was not enough.
This book will haunt you.
PERSIFLAGE AND FURBELOWS
“Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, she was sixteen, and I was three.”—Billie Holliday, beginning her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues, with a typically wry sense of humor. In one of our culture’s great crimes against humanity and common decency, Holliday, whose vocal style established a new jazz-based way of manipulating phrasing and tempo, was arrested for drug possession as she lay dying from liver and heart disease in New York’s Metropolitan Hospital. Her hospital room was raided by the authorities, and she remained under police guard until they were removed by court order just a few hours before she died on Friday, July 17, 1959. At her death, Gilbert Millstein of the New York Times wrote: “The likelihood exists that among the last thoughts of this cynical, sentimental, profane, generous and greatly talented woman of 44 was the belief that she was to be arraigned the following morning.”
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
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.
Mark Waid continues his explorations of the real world implications of superheroics with Incorruptible wherein we meet Max Damage, a guy who catches bullets in his teeth and then spits them out at his foes. Damage is a crook who has decided to go straight in a world where other superheroic types have either been killed or have given up do-gooding. The book ends promising a confrontation between Damage and the Plutonian, “the world’s most powerful man” who has “gone berserk.” Damage’s good opinion of himself towers over the whole issue. When asked by his erstwhile paramour if he’s “found Jesus,” he says: “Close—I saw the face of God.” Nice premise, and all the usual criteria are satisfied, but Jean Diaz’s storytelling is often lame. He feathers in places where it’s not needed, and he can’t draw women’s mouths. But his most serious shortcoming is revealed during action sequences where we can’t tell what’s happening much of the time. Adroit action sequences show a species of continuous activity: you know where a character has been standing just before smiting the bad guy. Diaz gives us just poses, suspended in mid-air, not action.
Ever since the arrival of the conceit that superheroes live in a real world in which their superpowers cause as many problems as benefits—since Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Alan Moore’s Watchmen and Mark Waid’s various takes on the proposition—the idea of superhero as god has been lurking in the shadows. Two recent titles take up the notion.
In God Complex, Michael Avon Oeming and Daniel Berman with John Broglia on pictures test the idea with the novel notion that the old Greek gods, being immortal, are still around, but these days, they are board members in a modern Olympian undertaking, the Kronos Corporation, that started the industrial revolution in the 19th century. The old gods are now the gods of modern industry. One of their number, Apollo—going by the name of “Paul”—resigns to because he wants to be a mortal. He wanders off into the world of ordinary humans and becomes a dishwasher in a Greek diner, where he yearns for Sophia, the toothsome daughter of the diner’s owner, old George. But when a local cabal of hoods shows up to extort protection money from the old guy, Paul gets massively irritated and throws them all out—bodily, head over tukus—revealing that he is no everyday mortal. His impulsive albeit commendable action produces two reactions, both aimed at removing him: the local mob wants to rub him out because he starts interferring with their business, and the Kronos board wants him back. So Paul is now a target, threatened from two directions at once. As a first issue, this one offers all the requisite ingredients—the incident in the diner with Paul throwing the bad guys out on the street supplying the completed episode, the threats pumping up cliffhanger suspense, and Paul’s behavior (and his infatuation with Sophia) making him a likeable hero. Broglia’s drawings are in the simplicity manner of Powers with a little more detailing—wholly adequate and pleasant to watch. A novelty in the issue is supplied by Broglia’s treatment of page layout: facing pages are deployed as a single double-wide page with panels running across the gutter. The maneuver endows individual panels with more room for depicting explosive action as we can see here on the pages showing Paul throwing the thugs out of the diner. And the device works for less rambunctious sequences, too. The problem, easily overcome but mildly annoying for an artist, is that key visual elements must be kept out of the gutter: you don’t want to put a character’s face in the middle of a panel that’s going to span the gutter. Over-all, a good first issue.
Warren Ellis’ Supergod is a somewhat stronger cup of tea altogether. Herein, Ellis plays with religion as a subject of philosophical investigation. The issue opens on an old (but not ancient) man, probably some sort of scientist, sitting in the midst of an immense urban ruin and talking via cellphone to Tommy, to whom the old man is explaining how it all crashed and burned. At the heart of his explanation and Ellis’ concept is the axiom that if God didn’t exist, we’d have to invent Him. “Some say we’re actually hardwired for religion,” the old man says. “We look for something to worship.” And we usually make the gods ourselves. “The whole of religious history is about us trying to build amazing creatures that will save the world—,” the old man continues. And then we turn the page and see a two-page spread of a devastated city, buildings smouldering in ruins, and the old man finishes, “—so that worked out all right, then.”
Ellis’ formula seems to be that in our desire for something to worship, we created gods, and in the latest effort along these lines, we created super-beings that destroyed the world as we know it. The first issue of the title is devoted to the old man’s descriptions of various superheroes, gods, invented by modern science—Krishna, an Indian god, for instance, cloned from artificial intelligence. With the British invention, Morrigan Lugus—“the names of two ancient celtic three-headed dieties”—concocted by Project Lughnasa, “named for the Irish holiday when the god Lugh declared a wake for his dead mother and a feast for the task that killed her”— Ellis takes his inventive concept into high dark comedy, deploying lingo and syntax for mad, antic purposes. Morrigan Lugus was created in space when three astronauts fused together with “alien mycological mass ... Sometimes it spoke using sound. Sometimes it would communicate by emitting radio signals. On other occasions, it would eject spores, a 4-phosporolated indole full of digital code. And the Lughnasa team’s response to this creature in their midst was instant and profound. They began to worship, and to pray, and to masturbate with an entranced and furious intensity. One poor old man found new strength, such was his devotion, and tore his own todger entirely off—mushrooms began growing on it almost immediately.” Typical Ellis, in other words—fantastic invention coupled to grisly imagination and a wonderfully shocking opening.
Giving visual reality to Ellis’ concept is Garrie Gastonny’s superb talent as illustrator. As usual with an Ellis artist, the pictures are copiously detailed, but Gastonny knows when to stop laying in feathering linework; his pictures are markedly clear, even those depicting vistas of destruction. The issue offers not one but three complete episodes—each one the history of the invention of a god and its ultimate demise, and the old man is witty enough to hold our attention. Ellis, who may be the Christopher Hitchens of the comics industry, has taken the notion of the superhero to its logical extension—superhero as God. His premise emerges almost at once. He intends, I think, to show how religion (an invention of mankind, remember) will destroy the world when its gods run amuck. And Jerry Craven—the cliffhanging character the mention of which concludes the first issue—will be the pivotal creation. In the next issue, we learn that Jerry Craven is apparently another of the gods, this one devised to destroy the others. And the consequences of that? Stay ’tooned.
Detective lieutenant Isaac Hernandez (or maybe Harrison—he’s called both, probably a case of bad proof-reading) has a problem: he has four open cases, all murders, each apparently, according to DNA, committed by the victim himself, who has been reported dead some time before. “Four dead perps, all before the fact,” as Hernandez/Harrison cryptically says. A nice puzzle. Provocative. But there’s not much else here. Just puzzles and provocation. That’s about all we know for sure. The rest of the first issue of Shuddertown is pure mysticism. Hernandez/Harrison drives off and crashes his car because he wasn’t looking where he was going: he was, instead, trying to pick up the pills he spilled on the front seat. The next day, having slept off his intoxication, he canvases the neighborhood in which the latest murder was committed. He meets a smart-alecky boy. To no purpose. Then he is apparently attacked by a hooded thug, who knocks him unconscious and leaves him supine in the alley. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on or, even, who is being knocked unconscious because Adam Geen drenches his drawings in shadow, covering up all informing detail. This issue satisfies almost none of the criteria for a good first issue. The hero is not likeable, even if we knew him well enough to know anything about him except that he drinks and takes pills. Everything else is mystery. Who are the dead guys, really? Who knocks Hernandez/Harrison out in the alley? And the frustration at leaving all these loose ends to be tied up in some future issue is all the greater because this issue contains no completed episode: nothing with a beginning, middle and end that would reveal either the competence of the writer, Nick Spencer, or the personality of the protagonist. And Geen’s art is terrible: all obscurity. Where there is color, it is splashed across the page without regard for what it is coloring. Here’s the first page. Notice the girl at the bottom right. Is she showering in shades of pink and sepia? Artsy enough to look nifty on a gallery wall, but it isn’t serving the narrative purpose of visual storytelling in which clarity is more important than mood. And who is the woman? She never appears again. Don’t bother with this one.
Marvel’s New Ultimates has undoubtedly the most spectacular roll-out ever in comics—a six-page fold-out cover featuring a massive agglutination of monstrous gorilla-like demons attacking a mere handful of heroes (Thor, Captain America, Ka-zar, Shanna, and a couple of others, nearly submerged in the morass). Six-page fold-out!! Beautifully rendered by Frank Cho at his favorite subject—gorilla-like creatures. Cho also draws the rest of the book, displaying his usual adroitness at pacing and managing the resources of the medium for dramatic effect. And that’s the best thing in the first issue. The story, by Jeph Loeb, is a mish-mash that will appeal only to the most deeply-dyed of the marching Marvel minions, all devoted to keeping track of continuity threads that most of us have long ago given up trying to untangle. Herein, too many names of characters not on the scene (but who we are supposed to know in every nook of their personal histories), too much backstory; can’t tell who the good guys are let alone the bad guys unless you’re steeped in Marvel continuity. Tony Stark has brain cancer? He was/is romantically involved with Black Widow, who lives up to her name in “every way.” What ways? She’s not black. Is she a widow? Or are we talking about eating husbands here. Who is “Danvers”? The blonde. Then we have Ka-zar and Shanna strolling in the park. Loki arrives on an incoming cold front, and Tony and Danvers take time off for a roll in the hay. So what of Stark’s commitment to the Black Widow? Confusing enough? An object lesson in how comic books can lose audience: how does a newcomer get into this? You can’t grow the industry without attracting new readers. And even an oldcomer, namely yrs trly—I’ve been away from the Marvel Universe for some time now; it’s a religious thing—has trouble sorting it out. This issue, however, is worth keeping for the six-page fold-out. And Frank Cho.
Girl Comics No. 1 is, I assume, part of Marvel’s “Women of Marvel” month in which tribute is to be paid to women characters and women creators. So this 3-issue series features only femininity in an array of short stories, most of which are highly forgettable. It begins with the best part of the issue—a cover by Amanda Conner, who, with her usual visual sense of humor, depicts She-Hulk winning an arm-wrestling match with Iron Man. After that, the content deteriorates. The first so-called story, “Moritat,” is written by G. Willow Wilson with terrible, ugly art by Ming Doyle, who can’t, evidently, drawn attractive women. (So is unattractiveness an element of the feminist agenda?) In an untitled piece written by Trina Robbins, Venus returns to earth and gets her old job back at Beauty magazine by means of some vapid feminine wile; art is color swatches without outlines by Stephanie Buscema. The most remarkable instant in the issue takes place in this story: Mercury shows up at Venus’ editor-in-chief bower, and she, reclining on a chaise lounge, says: “Can you make it quick?” If this isn’t a hilarious satirical allusion to the male propensity for shooting and running, I dunno what else it is. In “A Brief Rendezvous” by Valerie d’Orazio, drawn by Nikki Cook, the Punisher poses as female on twitter to lure a guy to his presumed death. Sana Takeda supplies a pin-up of the She-Hulk in which said heroine appears to be smoking at her nether regions. “Shop Doc” by Lucy Knisley showcases her simple lineart in a pointless comedy about Doc Och shopping in a supermarket, using one of his eight arms/hands to get a box of breakfast food off a top shelf. In “Clockwork Nightmare” by Robin Furth and drawn in a quirky fairytale manner by Agnes Garbowska, Franklin and Val Richards show up in miniature as adorable li’l kids to play out an illustrated text version of Hansel and Gretel.
“Head Space” by Devin Grayson has the best art in the book by Emma Rios. Herewith, Scott is jealous of Jean’s apparent attention to Wolverine (and he’s right to be jealous). I hope to see more of Rios, best known, according to the bio paragraphs at the end of the book, “for her magazine illustration work and self-published comics in Spain before being introduced to the American market with Hexed from Boom!” Forthcoming from Marvel, Rios’ miniseries Strange and then Firestar. The only other good parts of this issue are the prose appreciations of Flo Steinberg, longtime factotum at Marvel HQ, and Marie Severin, a graduate of famed EC Comics (that she enhanced with psychologically-cued colors) and, subsequently, artist and cartoonist. As a tribute to women characters and artists, the book is marginal at best, insulting at worst. A good idea, but badly executed. (“Thoroughly executed” might be more apt.)
Green Hornet No. 1 is a markedly successful first issue, which is worth noting because Dynamite, which seems bent on reviving every antique hero of the four-color pulp past, has missed the boat more often than not, IMHO. But Kevin Smith’s revival here is lively and engaging. The issue is divided into two parts—the past and the present. The opening sequence is in the past: Green Hornet and his Asiatic cohort Kato, take on the last two crime families in Century City, an Italian mob and a Japanese mafia, and wipe the floor with them. Then Britt Reid, the Green Hornet without his fedora, retires, and Kato wanders off to raise a family. In the second part, we meet Reid’s son Britt, a playboy slacker, as his girlfriend of four years is moving out because he hasn’t proposed to her yet. She leaves, and he goes to have lunch with his father, the erstwhile Green Hornet, who is now publisher of a newspaper, the Sentinel. Young Britt is a likeable wise-ass (literally: he moons the phalanx of paparazzi who hang around his apartment, hoping to get photos—and they’re successful this day in catching Britt in his shorts, pleading with his girlfriend not to leave, and they also photograph the mooning and sell the photo to Reid Sr.), and because he’s likeable, we wonder what will happen next. So the book accomplishes its primary mission as an inaugural issue. And the past and present constitute two complete episodes, with enough beginning, middle and end apiece to persuade us that Smith knows what he’s doing. And in seeing the characters in completed actions, we know them better than we would otherwise.
Jonathan Lau’s pencils etched by Ivan Nunes’ gleaming colors are crisp and dynamic with a defining sheen. No one is credited as inker, so I assume the coloring, in effect, “inks” the pencils. Breakdowns are by Phil Hester, who is thoroughly accomplished at this sort of thing, but the fast-moving action of the opening battle sequence is not always a model of clarity, a circumstance arising, no doubt, because there’s so much exploding and shattering glass around. And pictures of the Hornet aloft, springing up and jumping down and swinging in on a length of hoist chain, while graceful enough on their own, do not blend into anything like continuous action. They’re poses rather than actions. But that’s a minor matter. Everywhere else, Hester sets up the scenes and executes the actions with panache.
Nunes’ glistening colors and Smith’s dialoguing with snappy patter are the highlights of the issue. The relationship between Green Hornet and Kato comes into sharp focus as they banter back and forth; ditto the relationship between Reid and his wife, who, after threatening to cut him off that night for coming in late (“Any chance you had of getting lucky tonight just went south,” she quips) makes him swear that he won’t tell his son about his crime-fighting exploits because Britt Jr. might decide to follow in his father’s flights: “It was bad enough living through you doing it. I don’t think I’d ever make it through him trying the same stunt,” she says. The verbal exchanges between Britt the Younger and his fleeing would-be fiancee are equally flippant and revealing. Dialogue like this—and pictures like Lau-Nunes’—will bring me back every time.
WE’RE ALL BROTHERS, AND WE’RE ONLY PASSIN’ THROUGH
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,
But I’m so glad I ran into you---
We’re all brothers, and we’re only passin’ through.
1932 - 2010
Dick Giordano, a comic book artist par excellence and former executive editor at DC Comics who helped revive aging comic book characters and reimagine them for new audiences, died on Saturday, March 27, at the Memorial Medical Center in Daytona Beach, Florida. He was 77, reported George Gene Gustines at the New York Times, and lived in Palm Coast, Florida. The rest of Gustines’ report follows: The cause was complications of treatment for leukemia, Pat Bastienne, a longtime friend and colleague, said in an e-mail message.
Giordano worked in the comic book industry for more than 40 years. As an editor
at DC, he oversaw projects that signaled a new level of maturity in the medium,
including The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s horror story about the twilight years
of Batman, and Alan Moore’s celebrated Watchmen. During his tenure, DC Comics
also introduced its first graphic novel collections, a format that has grown increasingly
popular and profitable. His skills as an inker influenced a generation of comic book creators.
In 1967, Giordano moved to DC Comics, where he worked as an artist and an editor. He left the company in 1971 and co-founded, with the artist Neal Adams, Continuity Associates, which handled commercial artwork and supplied illustrations to comic book publishers.
He returned to DC Comics in 1980, and by 1983, he was vice president/executive editor, a title he retained until 1993, when he retired. During that period he worked with the artists George Pérez and John Byrne on, respectively, "Crisis on Infinite Earths," an epic story conceived to simplify the accumulated histories of the DC heroes, and on The Man of Steel, which restarted the Superman myth for a new generation of fans. As an editor, Giordano uniformly credited writers and artists on the covers, the first such policy by a major comic book publisher.
Born Richard Joseph Giordano on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to Graziano and Josephine Giordano on July 20, 1932, he discovered comic books early."Dick fell in love with comics as a kid when he had scarlet fever and his cab driver dad brought them home for him to read during his long recovery," according to an e-mail from Paul Levitz, DC’s president and publisher 2002-2009.
As a teenager, Giordano attended the School of Industrial Art in Manhattan, later called the High School of Art and Design. He was highly regarded for his work as an inker. "As far as those who keep track can tell, he inked more pages for DC than anyone else," said Levitz, who added that Giordano, with his fine lines and cross-hatched textures, and Joe Sinnott, with his broad brush work, are seen as two of the industry's pre-eminent inkers in the Silver Age of comics, from the late 1950s to the early 1970s.
Neal Adams, quoted in the CAPS Newsletter, said this about his long-time friend and associate: “Inking my work was the least significant thing that Dick did for me, meant for me. I loved Dick like a brother and a friend. He cared for and loved me. I was made better by him. For a time, we were partners, on a handshake. No one didn’t like Dick Giordano and respect him. Who can say that? Look at that face [referring to an accompanying photograph]—just look at it.”
I’ve always admired Giordano’s fluid line and graceful draftsmanship, but I met him only once, at a cocktail party where conversation was, perforce, impossible. But I want to pay more than passing tribute to this giant, and so I’ve turned to Marc Patten, who describes himself as “occasional journalist, marketing guru, writer, and brand manager,” who met Giordano when Patten was a senior in college and aspired to be a comic book editor. Patten has known Giordano for twenty years, and Patten says this about him: “Dick never claimed to be a trend setter or a record breaker. He led a simple honest life with a work ethic like no other professional in modern comics. He was up at the crack of dawn nearly every day spending several hours at the drawing board before most of us were even awake. Dick did this before going to work each morning at DC Comics where he traveled over an hour and half each way by train from Connecticut to Manhattan, and he continued this early morning ritual in his so called ‘retirement’ over the last 15 years since he left the company. He loved to draw, and he loved to tell great stories with his art. As DC's Executive Editor, books were rarely late and he never sacrificed quality. He brought out the best in the staff and talent that worked for him. Dick's art is his legacy, but his heart is what made him great.”
In about 1998, Patten was freelancing for the Comics Buyer’s Guide at the time DC Comics was doing a mini-series based on the old Charlton Comics characters, and Patten did an interview with Giordano about his stint at Charlton. Here, in italics, are pieces of that interview:
In 1952, a promising young artist named Dick Giordano was making his way into the annals of comic book history. Giordano began freelancing for Charlton Publishing around New Years day of 1952 for Al Fago, the publishing house's first editor, and was living in New York in the Bronx at the time. In 1955, the owner of Charlton decided he wanted all employees working for the company to work on site in the suburbs of Derby, Connecticut, and Giordano began a run of ten years as a staff penciler and inker for the company's numerous publications. From 1959 to 1960 he worked as the assistant to then executive editor, Pat Masulli, after which he went back to freelancing [for Charlton]. He also kept busy with many outside accounts including DC (then National Comics), ACG and Dell.
"I was all over the place and decided that I wanted something a little bit easier and a little more stable," Giordano said. "They offered me the position of executive editor (for the comic book division) and that's what I did for the next two years."
When Giordano took over the fledgling comic line, he was presented with more obstacles than he expected. "I had very little money to work with to pay freelancers. Most of the artwork at the time was being done by the same people I came up to Connecticut with." He said that most of the artists still came in and sat at their drawing boards for a full day. "The comic books were pretty much being painted by the numbers so to speak at that time. The assignments were given to the writers, primarily Joe Gill. The scripts were given to the artists on staff like Charlie Nicholas or Rocky Mastroserio. No one was really checking any of it. The scripts weren't being read for the most part, and the artwork was rarely looked at. It was just turning out ten pounds of chicken feathers every month."
It became Giordano's prime responsibility to expand the action hero line. "I did what Pat Masulli and the others before me didn't take the time to do. I just went through the files of everyone who was looking for work. I found people like Jim Aparo and Pat Boyette who had written in with samples and were just ignored. I contacted these people with the idea of starting seven comic book titles for a new action hero line."
Charlton’s books were all bi-monthly, 34 titles, so Giordano was editing 17 titles a month. He said he didn’t actually edit them all; he concentrated on only those that interested him. For those, he said, “I wrote the ads and did all of the cover roughs with the exception of the Ditko books. I did whatever an editor or an art director needed to do. I redesigned the company logo to the red and white 'C.' Then I started looking around for ways to get more money to pay the people that I wanted to do the work, and came up with a plan that I sold my boss over a period of time."
The way Giordano did this was to buy work for the war, romance, and western books from creators in South America where the exchange rate was extremely favorable and he could afford to pay, "...even less than the poor rates we were already paying," Giordano said. He also reprinted text pages where possible and had staff artists produce covers to save money. "I used the extra funds to pay the Steve Ditkos and Jim Aparos and so on a little bit more for the work that they did."
Giordano said that Charlton was very unique in that everything from concept to shipping took place under one roof. "In the history of comics I don't know of anyone who had this kind of a set up," he explained. "We did the engraving, color separating, and printing in the same building that we did the editorial and much of that was my responsibility. So forgetting editorial for a moment, Charlton was producing comic books at far less than their competitors could afford to do so.”
And there were incidental bonuses. The Charlton superhero titles were the only comics published in the industry whose letters columns actually contained mail on the previous issue. Giordano would have the plates made and on press for the color portions for the letter columns. Minutes before the press was set to run, he would write the letters page based on the mail that had just come in, rush it down to the typesetter who was also in the building, proof read it on the typesetting machine, get a plate made and bring the plate to the press to lay over the color. "On more than one occasion, the press was run at night, so I had to go back after I went home. Sometimes I'd be there at one o'clock or two o'clock in the morning."
While Giordano oversaw the action hero line, he played less of a role in its creative genesis than either Stan Lee or Julie Schwartz did for their respective companies. "My role as an editor was always more noodling than giving hard-core direction," he explained. According to Giordano, the new Blue Beetle, The Question, and Nightshade were all created by Steve Ditko. The original version of Captain Atom was created and written by Dave Kaler, but the later revamping was written by Ditko under a nom de plum.
"All of the material that Steve drew, he also wrote,” Giordano said. “He was credited as D. Glanzman or something like that." Apparently, D. Glanzman was someone who worked on the Charlton staff that liked to see his name in print, but he never actually wrote anything.
"Ditko always seemed to have a handle on what he was doing," Giordano continued. "He created the Blue Beetle without ever having discussed it with me. He created the character and his costume, the bug, and the gun that only emitted light, and came in with it pretty much fully realized. All there was left to do was figure out what to do for a first issue, which he gave me a rough version of. At that point he was already doing some Spider-man stuff for Stan Lee, and he knew about co-plotting from that. (For subsequent issues) he would give me an idea of what the next issue was going to be about, and the next time I saw the material, it was finished. For the script, he would storyboard it with little pictures and the lettering written in. He would take that, go home and do finished artwork, pencils and inks, bring it back, and we'd refine the dialogue. Sometimes we'd just send it to the letterer as is."
Most of the Charlton action hero titles ran under 10 issues during Giordano's two
year reign. When he left the company for the greener less frustrating pastures of DC
Comics, the line he spearheaded faded into existence. Although the titles had print runs
of 200,000 plus, sales only averaged 40,000 to 50,000 copies per issue, which in those
days was extremely poor. Each month a title or two was canceled with no one sharing
Giordano's fondness for the characters. Final stories for Captain Atom No. 90 appeared
in Charlton Bullseye in the mid 1970s. The characters made occasional appearances in
the early 1980s before being purchased by DC a few years later.
RCH: But it was a nice present. You can find all of Patten’s piece at http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=25526
1921 - 2010
Archie Comics expressed in a news release its “deep regret and sorrow” at the death on Sunday, April 4, of Henry Scarpelli, whose pencils and inks of Archie characters contributed to the “house style” established by Dan DeCarlo. "Henry was an invaluable part of the Archie Comics family," said Archie Comics Co-President and Editor-in-Chief, Victor Gorelick. "He will truly be missed."
Scarpelli studied at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. His first professional comic book work was a back-up feature for one of DC's funny animal titles of the late 1940s. In the 1950s, he joined a newspaper syndicate as assistant artist on the Little Sport strip and soon had a cartoon panel of his own, TV Tee Hees, built around the inner workings of TV broadcasting that ran in 150 newspapers from 1956 to1975.
With tv jokes as his entre, Scarpelli also worked at Dell on several comic books based on 1960s tv shows—The Beverly Hillbillies, Bewitched, Get Smart, Hogan's Heroes and McHale's Navy. Scarpelli's Dell reputation led to assignments from Marvel, DC, Charlton and Archie. While he inked and occasionally penciled both superhero and romance comics, the majority of Scarpelli's output consisted of depicting humorous characters such as Jerry Lewis and Abbott and Costello. He also worked on some of the ground-breaking DC humor titles like Angel & the Ape and Stanley & His Monster.
Ultimately, the press release continues, Scarpelli found himself getting more and more work in the genre that would define his career, teenage humor comics. Scarpelli's most notable contributions in this area included Millie the Model for Marvel; Date with Debbi, Leave it to Binky, Swing with Scooter for DC Comics; and Charlton's Sinistro, Boy Fiend—a humorous teenage super-villain. But Scarpelli’s “crowning achievement” was becoming one of Archie Comics' lead artists. He penciled and inked for most of the Archie Comics titles, and for fifteen years, an achievement he was proud of, Scarpelli drew the daily and Sunday Archie newspaper strip.
Those who knew Henry Scarpelli personally, the release concludes, will no doubt
remember his good humor and how much he loved to laugh. "It's no wonder his first
published work was a strip titled, 'Henry the Laughing Hyena,'" said Paul Castiglia, an
Archie Comics historian who wrote a few stories drawn by Scarpelli.
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
The Thing of It Is ...
“I never considered myself a maverick.”—John McCain, rejecting the label on which he campaigned for the presidency within the memories of still-living citizens. As one wag put it, that’s like O’Bama declaring, “I never said we could.” McCain, to fill in the gaping hole, uttered this astounding falsehood for purely political reasons (didn’t he always?)—to attract the traditional conservative vote in Barry Goldwater’s home state, Arizona, in his current bid for re-election to the Senate. So if Arizonans vote for McCain, they don’t get a maverick: they get a dissembler of the first order.
A dissembler and a blow-hard. After Obama signed the health care reform bill, McCain said there will be no further cooperation with the administration. Thank goodness. As if there had been any. With cooperation like the GOP’s over the last year, we could disband government altogether.
Senator Orin Hatch jumped right on the same bad wagon, hand over foot, saying that because the Democrats jammed the health care reform bill through Congress, bipartisanship has been destroyed. “Oh, no—not that!” exclaimed humorist Will Durst, “—they’re killing the dodo. Apparently this guy is more worried about a dead fantasy than sick Americans.”
Durst went on to report that Rush Limbaugh threatened to leave the country if the health care fill passed. He mentioned going to Costa Rica—where they have universal health care. But, as we all know, Rushbeau didn’t leave. Alas.
Jon Stewart took on one of his favorite targets on April 8 (or maybe it was the 9th), mocking Fox News—in this case, for blatant inaccuracies in their coverage of Obama's nuclear arms treaty with Russia. As Stewart pointed out, the treaty in question has many stipulations, notably that it does not eliminate all our nuclear weapons (just reduces the inventory by a third) and therefore does not render us defenseless; moreover, if the U.S. is attacked, the treaty permits the country to retaliate. But as Stewart demonstrated with pertinent clips, those details have slipped past the folks at Fox News, who appeared to have a "willful misunderstanding of the policy" as they blathered on and on about how Obama was leaving us defenseless. Stewart even compared the "purposeful idiocy" of Newt Gingrich and Sean Hannity to "Beavis and Butthead." Finally, Stewart committed the unthinkable: he shattered the infallible image of Ronald Reagan, a fan favorite among the Fox News crowd, by showing a clip of Reagan announcing an earlier nuclear arms treaty with Russia by which the U.S. would reduce its stockpile by, yes, a third.
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