Opus 266 (August 30, 2010). Featured this time, the ways Beetle Bailey is celebrating its 60th anniversary, after which, we ponder the end of Cathy and feminism in comics from this watershed strip to kick-butt cuties in superheroine comic books and on the Big Screen, plus Wonder Woman’s new duds, a review of DC’s The Newsboy Legion reprint tome and Jim Ivey, beach comber and editooner. Here’s what’s here, in order by department:
NOUS R US
Candidates for Female Lead in Spidey Movie
Popeye in Chester
Sparky at Smithsonian’s Portrait Gallery
Calvin and Hobbes Homage in Lio Reprint
Comic Strips Aren’t Dead Yet
Blagojevich at the Chicago Comic-Con
BEETLE KEEPS MARCHIN’ ON
60th Year for Mort Walker’s Strip
Feminism in Comics from Cathy to Kick-Butt Super Cuties
Wonder Woman’s New Duds
Last Month’s Crop
THE FROTH ESTATE
The Continuing Abdication of Journalistic Responsibility
The Mosque in NY that Isn’t a Mosque
Biography and Commentaries
The Newsboy Legion
Who Inked Kirby?
RANCID RAVES GALLERY
Hands Across America
And our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu, then, here we go—
NOUS R US
Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits
The casting of the female lead in Marc Webb’s once-and-future Spider-Man movie is generating almost as much heat as the laborious process that ended when Andrew Garfield was chosen to play the young Peter Parker, reports ICv2. Webb is reportedly considering at least five actresses, but regardless of who is selected, she won’t be playing Mary Jane Watson. Spidey’s love interest in the Webb romp won’t be Gwen Stacy either, say insiders: the script pages given to the actresses have no name listed for the character. The five: Emma Roberts, Imogen Poots (“Fright Night”), Teresa Palmer (“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), Lily Collins (“Priest”), and Ophelia Lovibond (“Nowhere Boy”).
In Denmark, a museum exhibit of Japanese manga animation (anime, I think is the usual term) has been branded child porn. Protestors, who claim children are depicted in an overtly sexual manner, want the show banned. But museum curator Christian Hviid Mortensen says the point of the exhibition is to raise the question: “I have to admit that I myself was shocked at how extreme this genre is, and how deranged the imaginations are in this universe,” said Mortensen.
“But we're not showing the works for the sake of displaying child pornography. We're looking for a debate on the issue. So if people are offended by it then they should by all means speak out and say so,” adding that the animated pictures do not depict any explicit sexual acts. According to cphpost.dk, “Sweden already has a ban on children being depicted in any sexual manner, and a proposal for a ban that was put forward by the Social Democrats is currently being discussed in the Danish parliament.” The museum show will doubtless contribute to the dialogue.
The current issue of Comics Buyers Guide (No. 1670, October) is a lot about Batman in his various manifestations over the years. The cover carries a big drawing of Batman Rampant, his current psychotic rage guise, with tiny insets for the Batman of the 1940s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. Nothing, strangely, evoking the 1950s, when the classic square-jawed Batman prevailed. … Despite having won 6 of the last 10 top Annie Awards, Disney has withdrawn from the International Animated Film Society because of the way the group determines Annie winners—by vote of the members, I assume, but membership can be purchased by anyone, Disney contends. According to Brooks Barnes at the New York Times, Disney has been miffed by this arrangement for years but when DreamWorks won several Annies last year and Disney’s “Wall-E” won nothing (except, in another competition, an Oscar), the Mouse House began active agitation for change, and change, alas, has not been forthcoming. ... Asterix and his merry band of woodland warriors have been recruited to tout Golden Arches’ burgers in MacDonald’s latest ad campaign, a development that has enraged French bloggers, who protest the desecration of a French icon. ... In a press release, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund announced the engagement of Robert Corn-Revere as the organization's new legal counsel. “Bob will lead the CBLDF's legal program, serving as the first responder to First Amendment emergencies that come to the organization's attention, as well as providing guidance and assistance to the comics community on legal issues that impact their First Amendment rights. He succeeds legendary First Amendment advocate Burton Joseph, who passed away earlier this year. Corn-Revere is one of the country's most prominent First Amendment experts, with extensive publications and litigation experience.” ... Cartoonist Stan Lynde (Rick O’Shay and Latigo, plus at least four novels about the Old West, beginning with The Bodacious Kid) was the emcee for the August 19-22 Western Rendevous of Art at Helena, Montana, a showcase of Western-themed painting and sculpture.
Chester, Illinois sprouts murals and statues of Popeye like crabgrass. That’s because Popeye’s creator, Elzie Crisler Segar, was born in Chester in 1894 and did some of his first cartooning at the age of 12 while working as a projectionist at the local movie house—the 1875 Chester Opera House, still standing and now serving as a Popeye museum and gift shop. The town legend is that while re-winding films, Segar drew pictures of local personalities and projected them onto glass slides and the screen. Sounds pretty elaborate to me, but you can’t question local legend. At least one of those Chester personages looked, they say, like Popeye. Marti Attoun at americanprofile.com avers that “Segar's boss, Bill Schuchert, recognized the young artist's talent and paid for his mail-order cartooning lessons. Segar eventually landed a job with King Features in New York, where he created the Thimble Theatre comic strip starring the Oyl family in 1919.” Popeye came along in 1929 when Castor Oyl, looking for a way to get to Dice Island where he hoped to make his fortune by deploying the powers of a magical hen, hired the one-eyed sailor to take him by boat to his destination. The latest granite Popeye was unveiled in Chester last year.
Incidentally (in a fit of total irrelevance), for the 10th consecutive quarter, earnings are up, beyond analysts’ predictions, at Popeye restaurants, whose patrons (about 40 percent white, 40 percent black and 20 percent other minorities) may be presumed to be especially hard hit with unemployment, saith Al Lewis on the Dow Jones newswire. “The chain hopes to add as many as 130 restaurants this year.”
From Alan Gardner at DailyCartoonist.com: A photograph of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz (1922-2000) will be presented to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in a ceremony for invited guests October 1. The event recognizes the cartoonist’s impact on millions of people worldwide and coincides with commemorations surrounding the 60th anniversary of Peanuts. The 1986 photograph, created by portraitist Yousuf Karsh, is the Portrait Gallery’s first image of the famed cartoonist. In the picture, Schulz is at his drawing board with pen in hand. Before him is a partially completed Sunday Peanuts, the perennial favorite wherein Lucy snatches the football away just before Charlie Brown can kick it, sending him spinning through the air and flopping onto his back. And on August 9, Gardner reports: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid created confusion among the Grouchy Old Pachyderms when he accused Senate Republicans of practicing “the Charlie Brown theory of government” by delaying many of the Democratic legislative priorities. Quoting from The Hill, Gardner said a GOP aide joked: “I don’t get it—is Reid comparing himself to Charlie Brown, Lucy or the football?”
Last June, Alan Gardner at DailyCartoonist.com directed our attention to a newly launched site by eight cartoonists (Tom Batiuk, Dave Coverly, Greg Evans, Peter Guren, Jeff Keane, Rick Kirkman, Mike Luckovich and Jerry Scott) to showcase their studios and their work. The site, thecartooniststudio.com, has added six more cartoonists: Chuck Ayers (Crankshaft), Jenny Campbell (Flo and Friends), Brian Crane (Pickles), Jan Eliot (Stone Soup), John Hambrock (Brilliant Mind of Edison Lee) and Tom Richmond (MAD Magazine cartoonist). Another recent addition to the site: the eponymous Luann in Evans’ strip is making a recording with her would-be beau, the Australian Quill, and if you want to hear her sing it, you can do so at thecartooniststudio.com. You’ll be hearing the pleasing voice of Corina Rose, daughter of friends of Evans, who dreams of being a recording artist and plays gigs around San Diego when not teaching music in elementary school.
THE COVER OF THE LATEST compilation of Mark Tatulli’s Lio comic strip was inspired, says Tatulli, by Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, specifically the reprint collection entitled There’s Treasure Everywhere for which cover Watterson drew Calvin and his toy tiger Hobbes digging for buried treasure in a forest. The Lio reprint is entitled, in a blatant allusion to the morbid interests of the strip’s pantomimic protagonist, There’s Corpses Everywhere, and its cover shows Lio in that same area of the forest, digging up a skull with a distinctly Calvin-like hairdo while his pet squid examines a discarded toy Hobbes.
Tatulli explained to Tim Clodfelter at the Winston-Salem Journal: “Truth be told, I had done a Lio Sunday strip a few years back showing Lio discovering Calvin's skeleton in the snow (a reference to the very last "Let's go exploring" Calvin and Hobbes strip) and it caused such an uproar of outrage among Calvin fans that I just knew I had to do something bigger and more outrageous at some point. ... I was just laughing so hard to myself while putting the whole thing together. That's when the work is no longer work … the essence of what makes cartooning such a great occupation: making yourself laugh.”
Tatulli continued: “I think Calvin and Hobbes had a huge influence on just about every cartoonist of my generation. How Watterson wrote, how he drew, how he structured his Sundays, how he colored his Sundays—it was all so fresh and new and exciting. Every strip was a surprise and it never got old. It still never gets old. I still look at his old strips and marvel, ‘How did he do that?’"
THE PRESENT AND FUTURE OF STRIPS
At her website, Rina Piccolo, of Tina’s Groove fame, ponders the future of the newspaper comic strip, listing seven reasons she believes comics aren’t dead (or, at least, seven signs of some sort of life). Here’s her blog:
Last week at MoCCA a group of cartoonists and I got together to do a panel titled, “The Future Of The Traditional Comic Strip In An Era Of Dying Newspapers.” Many of us on the panel, and many in the audience, I’m sure, felt that the hour allotted went by too quickly, and it just wasn’t enough time to really hash it out. I myself wanted to say so much more than I did, and so today’s post is all about that.
Please remember that I am a cartoonist, and not an expert on the newspaper marketplace. You may not agree with what I think about the whole matter, or you may know something that I don’t. Drop me a comment and let me know.
1. Print syndication of comic strips to newspapers is still a business. For some cartoonists it’s a very big business. For a few others, like myself, it’s a living.
2. Although print syndication is still a business, it’s important to note that it isn’t a growing business.
3. Although it has always been hard to sell new strips to newspapers, in recent years it has become increasingly difficult. Even when a new strip breaks in, it’s difficult for it to maintain a big list of newspaper clients. One of the reasons for this is that when newspapers have to cut costs, the comics are one of the first places they look to. And which comics do they cut? It’s unfortunate that for many newspapers the policy is often, “Last in, first out.”
4. The syndicates are aware of this (no. 3), and I believe the newer generation of cartoonists are beginning to realize it as well. The syndicates feel, I think, that while it’s important to embrace new methods of selling, marketing, and distribution, it’s also wise to continue to plug new strips into the traditional model as well.
5. I strongly believe that the syndicates will use every possible resource to invest in business models that work.
6. A career in cartooning is like a career in any field. To survive and ensure a healthy future, we cartoonists should diversify and embrace new technologies, and evolving ways of doing things. I don’t mean in terms of craft here—I mean marketing, selling, and promoting. To survive, we should have our ink-stained fingers in every pot—i.e., the internet and all the tools it provides.
7. With an eye towards opening new, emerging channels of opportunity, the syndicates are looking for new material, new strips, and new talent. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that it is extremely difficult to “make it” in the business of comic strips, in a newspaper or anywhere.
If you’re like me and feel there’s nothing quite like reading comics in a newspaper, then you’ll agree that the traditional newspaper comic strip is something that should be supported, and not so easily dismissed.
RCH again: Rina says she’s just a cartooner and not an expert on marketing in the newspaper industry, but she’s married to Brendan Burford, comics editor at King Features, Rina’s syndicate. While I don’t suppose they spend all of their spare moments discussing the fate of comic strips and the newspaper industry, I suspect they occasionally exchange a word or two on these subjects. In other words, Rina is not just any old cartooner off the streets, kimo sabe.
POLITICS AND COMICS
Rod Blagojevich, Illinois’ ousted governor (the Illinois senate voted unanimously to boot him—not a single dissenting vote!— don’t let’s call this guy the “former” governor, giving him more dignity than he deserves), visited the Chicago Comic-Con in a new fund-raising effort. Found guilty of only one of the 24 counts against him, Blago, as he is known in his home state, is broke and unemployed and facing further legal battles, but he is not without resources. He’s a celebrity.
“Despite the presence of some 500 actors, artists, writers, pro wrestlers and models,” reports Cheryl V. Jackson at the Chicago Sun Times, “Blago enjoyed prime real estate on the convention floor with a booth near the entrance. While Blago got no appearance fee, he kept proceeds from autographs ($50 each) and photos ($80 a pop).”
Of those who shelled out for the defrocked politician’s signature, one had Blago’s image tattooed on his thigh. "We need to get him on the next jury,'' Blagojevich quipped. The thigh guy’s girlfriend also sought Blago’s signature on a copy of the book, Pay to Play: How Rod Blagojevich Turned Political Corruption Into a National Sideshow. She’s a kindred spirit, having swiped the book from the Chicago Public Library.
Blago didn’t say which superhero he most identified with but likened himself to a Biblical David fighting Goliath. Said he: “I don't really have a slingshot, but I do have the truth on my side.” He toured the exhibit, at one point picking up a red “Batphone” and joking that he was phoning his lawyer.
Not everyone was in a hot sweat of excitement about Blago’s appearance. Some hung around the booth just to boo him—not only for his relentless lack of taste but for charging more than Richard Roundtree (“Shaft,” $25) for a signature. William Shatner outdid Blago though: $75 for an autograph.
The high moment of the Con for Blago was meeting Adam West and Burt Ward (who played Batman and Robin, respectively, on the 1960s television show). As an 8-year-old, Blago said he would rush to get his homework done so he could watch the show. West did not reciprocate Blago’s excitement, giving no sign that he was eager to meet Blago.
Despite the fund-raising fever, Blago has no money worries in connection with another trial (scheduled for next January). Funds to pay lawyers for indigent defendants in federal trials are appropriated by Congress, which dips into the general fund supplied by taxpayers like me and thee.
Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing segment (and in the sections following this note) 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 AND QUIPS
“When you are dissatisfied and would like to go ack to your youth, think of algebra.” —Will Rogers
“Censorship is the height of vanity.”—Choreographer Martin Graham
“Doing nothing is very hard to do—you never know when you’re finished.”—Actor Leslie Nielsen
“Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so.”—Author Douglas Adams
BEETLE KEEPS MARCHIN’ ON
News about Little Orphan Annie’s demise on June 13 probably hit Mort Walker harder than it did most practicing comic strip cartoonists. Walker at 86 might be the oldest cartoonist still drawing his strip— I haven’t mustered the entire regiment to see for sure—but his comic strip, the immutable and irresistible Beetle Bailey, a satirical monument to all social hierarchy worthy of ridicule (and all of it is eminently deserving), is, in its 60th year, without doubt the longest-running comic strip still being drawn by its originator. And so Annie’s disappearance from the funnies in June was a rude reminder that comic strips, with their financially strapped host publications, are not immortal, Beetle’s persistence to the contrary notwithstanding.
"With strips falling by the wayside, it's sort of my responsibility to keep Beetle going,” Walker said to David Colton at USA Today. “That’s why Beetle just goes on and on. I feel very strongly about it."
Walker feels so strongly, Colton said, that to celebrate Beetle Bailey's 60th year, Walker is producing a series of seven special Sunday strips featuring his eternally bumbling Army private, snarling albeit goofy Sarge and the rest of the gang in famous patriotic settings. Appearing once a month between June and December, the special strips commemorate iconic images in American military history, Beetle style—Beetle in the boat with Washington crossing the Delaware, V-J Day in Times Square with Beetle depicted in the famed photo of a sailor kissing a young woman in a white dress, and Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, which signaled the end of the Revolutionary War, and so on. The first strip in the “Great Moments” series appeared Sunday, May 30, paying tribute to Memorial Day.
Other anniversary events for Beetle Bailey include a commemorative Beetle Bailey postage stamp, a reader contest at BeetleBailey.com, exhibits in far flung art galleries, and a book collecting strips from 1965, the year the strip passed the 1,000-mark in numbers of subscribing papers.
According to King Features’ press release, BeetleBailey.com has been presenting a gallery of Walker’s favorite Beetle Bailey comic strips from each of the last 60 years. Fans visiting the website can vote for their favorite strips and register to enter The Best of Beetle Bailey Contest. The top-ranked fan favorites are being published during the two weeks surrounding Beetle’s 60th birthday, September 4, 2010. Everyone who registered is eligible to win one of 10 original Beetle Bailey daily strips, signed and personalized by Walker. Winners will be chosen at random and prizes will be selected from the Beetle archive and mailed directly to the winners no later than November 30, 2010.
The book, Beetle Bailey 1965: Daily & Sunday Strips, will be released by Titan Books in October (SRP $19.95). It will include a foreword by Walker, a history of the strip by Brian Walker, and a celebrity gallery featuring famed cartoonists such as Charles Schulz, Milton Caniff and Jack Davis.
Some of Walker’s work over the past 60 years is featured in two Beetle Bailey retrospective art exhibits. At the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, Calif., May 8 through September 19, Brian Walker’s selection of highlights from the strip’s sixty years, and another, similar retrospective was exhibited at the SESC Municipal Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil, May 6 through June 27.
WALKER IS, WITHOUT QUESTION, the Dean of American Cartoonists. As the Chicago Tribune’s legendary editorial cartoonist John T. McCutcheon said when he acquired the title after half-a-century of cartooning, “If you live long enough, you get to be dean of cartooning.” Or words to that effect. And Walker has not only lived long enough: he’s also been drawing his daily comic strip for longer than anyone else in the history of American cartooning—60 years. And counting.
Beetle Bailey started in twelve papers on September 4, 1950. With about 1,800 subscribing newspapers today, it ranks as one of the world’s half-dozen most popular comic strips. And Walker also created another of the top circulation strips with over 1,000 client papers, Hi and Lois. Beetle at first chronicled the lackadaisical underexertions of a lassitudinal college layabout, but even though it was the sole college-themed strip on the syndicated horizon, it gained only another dozen subscribers over the next six months. Then Beetle enlisted in the Army on March 13, 1951. As Walker once explained:
“The war heated up in Korea and college kids were being drafted. A goof-up like Beetle couldn’t expect to be exempt. The editor of the Philadelphia Bulletin suggested that I send Beetle off to the army. That was it.”
The strip began picking up more papers, and when, in January 1954, the army’s newspaper, Stars and Stripes, kicked the strip out of the paper for making fun of officers, the circulation of Beetle soared. “Papers all over the world ran stories about how the army brass had no sense of humor,” Walker remembered.
Although the strip is ostensibly about military life, Walker’s army is just another version of society at large, which sustains its essential order through a hierarchy of authority. From the point of view of most of us in a social order, the flaws in the system are due to the incompetence of those who have authority over us. Beetle Bailey encapsulates this aspect of the human condition and gives expression to our resentment by ridiculing traditional authority figures and by demonstrating, with Beetle, how to survive through the diligent application of sheer lethargy and studied indifference. But the ridicule is gentle: it takes shape as Walker repeatedly shows us that everyone in his army—authority figure or not—is but a bundle of personality quirks. Hence, the strip is a great leveler: we’re all equal. We all have our frailties, our entirely human foibles.
More than a satirical statement about the human condition, Beetle has also achieved a highwater mark in the art of cartooning. Over the years, Walker's style has evolved. At first, he drew in a simple bigfoot style that seemed a mix of John Gallagher and Tom Henderson, two great magazine cartoonists of the fifties. (Walker says he absorbed his style from Frank Willard, Walter Brendt, Chic Young, Milton Caniff, and Al Capp; so what do I know? Just that where there's smoke, there's something to make your eyes smart.)
But as the years rolled by, Walker refined his style, streamlining simplicity into a unique comic abbreviation. By the late fifties and early sixties, Walker's patented stylized forms had emerged. Not since Cliff Sterrett surrealized human anatomy in the futuristic manner in Polly and Her Pals have we had such engaging comic abstractions of the human form. The flexibility of Walker's abstracted simplicity is capable of extreme exaggeration for comic effect. Indeed, much of the humor in many strips arises from the antic visuals as much as from the situation depicted. In short, Beetle Bailey is an artistic achievement of the first water.
Walker’s colleagues in the inky-fingered fraternity long ago recognized his skill and talent: the National Cartoonists Society awarded him the Reuben as “cartoonist of the year” in 1953, and he has since received every accolade NCS can bestow. In 1959-60, he served as president of the group and has maintained active participation in its affairs ever since. He has also received the Pentagon’s highest civilian award in spite of the military’s often markedly cool reception of Beetle Bailey: the Air Force had Steve Canyon; the Navy had Buz Sawyer; for awhile, the Marines had Dan Flagg; and the Army had—Beetle. But Walker has maintained he was happy not being a “spokesman” for the military: “It would have killed the humor,” he said.
Born in 1923 in El Dorado, Kansas, Walker grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, drawing all the while. He sold his first cartoon at the age of 11, and by the time he was 15, he was drawing a weekly comic strip for one of the city’s grown-up newspapers. After high school, he worked for a while at Hallmark Cards before being drafted into the Army air corps in 1943, eventually serving in Italy in the closing months of World War II, after which, he returned to the University of Missouri, graduating in 1948. He went to New York and freelanced magazine gag cartoons until Beetle Bailey emerged in the fall of 1950.
Walker started his second strip in 1954 because the hostilities ended in Korea. Fearing that reader interest in military matters would flag when the war ceased, Walker toyed with the idea of taking Beetle out of the Army and returning him to civilian life. He tested the waters by having Beetle go home on furlough for two weeks in April 1954, but his readers voiced their disapproval. They wanted Beetle in the Army. So Walker left him there.
But he'd introduced some new characters, Beetle's sister Lois and her husband Hi and their children, and Walker found he liked doing family gags. In order to continue doing them, he launched Hi and Lois. To do the drawing, he engaged Dik Browne, who had been doing cartoon ads for the Johnstone and Cushing agency. The strip began October 18, 1954, and by the end of the 1980s, it stood eleventh on the Editor and Publisher list of comic strips and their circulation. It is still in the top twenty in numbers of subscribing newspapers.
With the success of Hi and Lois, Walker began adding other syndicated strips to his production schedule, nine altogether, not all of which survived: Mrs. Fitz’s Flats, 1957-72; Sam’s Strip, 1961-1963 (a cult classic, reprinted by Fantagraphics); Boner’s Ark, March 11, 1968-2000; Sam and Silo, April 18, 1977 –; The Evermores, March 29, 1982-86; Betty Boop and Felix, November 19, 1984-88; and Gamin and Patches, April 27, 1987-July 1988 (15 months).
As the number of strips increased, the number of Walker’s helpers did likewise. At one time in the mid-1980s, the production line-up worked as follows. Walker, his sons Greg and Brian, Bud Jones, Bob Gustafson and Jerry Dumas wrote gags for Beetle Bailey (pencilled by Walker), Hi and Lois (pencilled by Dik Browne and his son Bob, “Chance”), and Boner's Ark (drawn by Frank Johnson, who also inked Beetle and Hi and Lois). Dumas also wrote and drew Sam and Silo; Gustafson, the Beetle Bailey comic book; and Johnny Sajem, The Evermores. The four Walker brothers, Greg, Brian, Neal and Morgan produced Betty Boop and Felix. It was a gag writer's paradise—an outlet for virtually any kind of gag conjured up. The group met regularly to review, accept, reject, or polish the gags its members generated during the preceding week.
By late 2008 when I interviewed Walker at his studio, the output of “King Features East” (as the Walker enterprise was once dubbed) had been reduced, practically speaking, to two strips: Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois. Sam and Silo was also still in circulation but done entirely
by Dumas. Hi and Lois was produced by two of the Walker sons, Greg and Brian, who write the gags, and Dik Browne’s son Chance who pencils the strip for Frank Johnson’s inks. The gag writing team for Beetle is Mort, Brian, Greg and Dumas.
Walker’s staff on the premises is his son Neal and cartoonist Bill Janocha. Their duties are varied, extensive, and unclassifiable. Neal maintains the mortwalker.com website and its sundry subsets, and he and Janocha produce new Beetle Bailey material for comic book publication in Scandinavia, where Walker, thanks to Beetle’s popularity, enjoys rock star status.
Janocha joined the Walker operation 21 years ago, ostensibly to assist on the Gamin and Patches after its launch, but his assignment quickly expanded to include routine office functions as well as cartooning and some activities scarcely routine. Recently, Janocha helped secure a contract with a Canadian studio to animate Beetle Bailey, Hi and Lois and perhaps Boner’s Ark for a tv series or direct-to-DVD productions.
Seeking both status and respect for the medium, Walker established the Museum of Cartoon Art in 1974. Intended “not only to display cartoon art with the dignity it deserves but also to further educate the public to the valuable contribution it has made to our culture,” the Museum moved through a succession of creaky Connecticut and New York abodes until finally coming to rest in 1996 at its own brand new magnificently cartoony edifice in Florida at Boca Raton. Due to several unexpected developments, not the least of which was the bankruptcy of backers who had pledged financial support, the International Museum of Cartoon Art, as it was named, closed in 2002, and in 2007, after unsuccessfully seeking another venue for it, Walker donated the Museum’s extensive holdings of original art and related materials to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library and Museum at Ohio State University. Over the years, Walker has spent millions of his own dollars and countless hours of his time fund-raising for the Museum and promoting it.
WALKER SEES BOTH the social and the personal aspects of cartooning: “As society becomes more spread out, family members find themselves living further and further apart from each other, and with life becoming more impersonal, comic strips help fill the void in people’s lives by creating the illusion of friends and shared experiences.” As a personal enterprise for a cartoonist, “the comic strip,” he continued, “is one of the few media that allows one person to express his philosophy, his anger, his joy, and his disappointment without outside restriction. It is one of the purest forms of art and expression that exists.”
Despite the Army setting of the strip, Beetle Bailey has only rarely (I can remember only two occasions) referred to any on-going real-life military activity. The Korean War was responsible for the strip’s growth, but it was never actually mentioned in the strip.
"Beetle's never been anti-military or anything like that," Walker said, adding that he has always kept current conflicts, including Iraq and Afghanistan, out of the strip in respect of the
sensibilities of military families. "I pretty well stick to the old Army," he told Colton. "Beetle's just the little guy beset by all these rules and regulations. He's become a hero in that respect."
I think of Beetle Bailey as the great vanilla comic strip, the Jay Leno of the funny pages. And I mean that in the most complimentary way. Like Leno’s humor, the hilarities in Beetle Bailey are universally accessible: everyone can understand (and appreciate) the comedy; no special insights are needed, no demographic niche is being courted or pandered to. It’s for us all.
But Walker and his cohorts keep the strip up-to-date with the march of modern technology, and they also every now and then deploy the visual resources of the medium in ways that heat up the ventricles of antique comichanics like me wherever we are.
And if you haven’t yet caught on to the strip’s long-running romance, here’s hand-holding evidence of its flowering.
Will Beetle and the luscious Miss Buxley get engaged? Marry? Not likely. Beetle isn’t as stupid as Li’l Abner, who blithely ignored his hormones and Daisy Mae’s cleavage for at least 18 years before succumbing to wedded bliss, but Beetle is colossally lazy, too lazy, we suspect, to ever pop the question—or, even, to formulate it.
Still, happy anniversary Beetle. And Mort.
For a much more detailed history of Beetle Bailey, visit Harv’s Hindsights for December 2008, where we watch Mort draw a comic strip.
A Cosmic Ramble through Comics History
END OF AN ICON
Feminism in Comics from Cathy to Kick-Butt Super Cuties
Cathy Guisewite will end her landmark somewhat autobiographical comic strip Cathy on October 3 after a three-decade run. She says she wants to spend more time with her family; when Cathy started in November 1976, Guisewite had no family, and Cathy was the only syndicated daily comic strip about a single career woman being produced by a single career woman. It shattered a glass ceiling.
But now, Guisewite’s life is different: she’s married and a mother. In announcing the end of the strip, the cartoonist said: “After almost 34 years of meeting newspaper deadlines, I’m facing some personal deadlines whose requirements simply exceed my ability to procrastinate any longer—an 18-year-old daughter who needs a full-time mom to help her through her last year of high school and beyond, beloved parents I want to be able to visit more often, and a creative biological clock, which is urging me to try something else while I can.”
When Cathy began, Guisewite was scarcely playing the typical subservient coffee-fetching role usually assigned to women in the male-dominated universe of advertising. She’d graduated from the University of Michigan in 1972 and landed a job as a copywriter at a Detroit advertising agency. By 1976, she’d moved through another agency and was vice president at a third, W.B. Doner, one of the country’s largest independent agencies.
Guisewite’s family had moved to Dayton, Ohio, and when she wrote them, she often resorted to cartooning to relate her adventures at work. Her mother, Anne, thought the cartoons worthy of publication and urged her daughter to seek a publisher. When the daughter proved less than dutiful and pooh-poohed the idea, Anne Guisewite researched the syndicate world and
recommended Universal Press in Kansas City. The daughter at last relented and sent samples to Universal; within a week, Guisewite had a contract.
Lee Salem, Universal’s editor and vice president, recalled the situation: “In 1976, the comic page was almost solely a male province. The day Cathy’s submission arrived in our office, we had a contract out to her in return mail; seven months later, the strip began in newspapers. Cathy brought a much-needed female perspective to humor comics that become a breath of fresh air. Women’s feelings of insecurity in relationships and at work weren’t discussed openly on the comic pages—or in many other places in the newspaper, for that matter. Cathy made it okay to be candid and open about these issues.”
At the time, Blondie, Brenda Starr, Nancy, Miss Buxley and the Fat and Skinny broads in B.C. were the medium’s chief female representatives. A Universal Press news release of a few years ago noted the watershed moment: “Launched at the height of the women’s movement, Guisewite’s character began as a voice for the conflicting emotions of women in transition and has continued to chronicle our changing and challenging world from a woman’s point of view. Cathy has taken on everything from sexual harassment and pay inequity to swimsuit shopping and fat gram counting—and all the large and small issues that affect women’s sense of accomplishment and self-worth in between.”
character was ordinary. In some ways that made the strip extraordinary,"
said Lucy Caswell, curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library &
Museum at Ohio State University. "She isn't a supermom; she's no Brenda
Starr reporter with a glamorous job. She leads a life that is very familiar to
women readers. That's what Cathy's women readers—and most are
women—liked about it."
Despite its pertinence on issues of interest to women (including but not restricted entirely to the “four basic guilt groups” for career women—mother, love, work and food), Cathy was only briefly as political as Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury. During the presidential campaign of 1988, Cathy’s friend Andrea urged women to vote and, after due consideration, recommended Michael Dukakis because he had come out for a national day care plan, equal pay for women, and job-protected maternity leave.
Guisewite elaborated in an interview in Cartoonist PROfiles in March 1996 (No. 101): “My purpose in starting this particular sequence was just to get people talking about women’s issues in relationship to the candidates. Andrea had lost her job because she took more than two weeks off to have a baby and her company had no maternity-leave policy. I did a lot of strips involving working women, dealing with the lack of day-care help, the lack of parental-leave legislation, and so on. I thought these strips were completely in the spirit of the strip. And Andrea only came out for Dukakis because he stood for those issues I’d been talking about.”
Having opened this vein of comedy, Guisewite was soon persuaded to shut it off—mostly because of the reaction of newspaper editors. (A rumor at the time alleged that Universal Press pressured her into avoiding such controversies, but that is patently untrue: Universal has never shied away from controversy and has always supported its cartoonists whatever they want to do.) Said Guisewite: “Some editors pulled strips on the days when they thought I was getting too political or moved them to their op-ed pages.”
Thereafter, fitting-room freak-outs, overbearing-mother arguments with daughter, office drama, and chocolate binges prevailed. Until, that is, Guisewite gave up her single career woman status.
She adopted a baby, Ivy, in 1992, and in 1997, at the age of 47, she acquired a stepson when she married screen-writer Chris Wilkinson.
For 11 weeks in 1992, the daily Cathy went into re-runs while Guisewite took maternity leave to attend to her new-born, who had arrived early. “They found out she was going to be mine only a few weeks before she was born,” Guisewite said. “I guess poor John McMeel, the president of Universal Press, almost had a heart attack when I first jolted him with the news of the situation on the phone, but he and everybody at the syndicate supported me very helpfully during those weeks.”
Guisewite wrote the editors of her subscribing papers asking that they be “very low-key” about Ivy’s arrival, and not much changed in the cartoonist’s other creative department, producing a strip about a single young career woman. But when Guisewite married, change soon seemed inevitable. Because Cathy the character was based upon Cathy the cartoonist, subtle conflicting emotions emerged. “I felt like when I got married, I’d finally be free of my character,” Guisewite told Laura Dempsey at the Dayton Daily News in 2004. “My daughter was five when I got married, and I thought, ‘My life is finally different.’ The truth is, I’m writing the strip pretty close to home, and the longer I’m married, the harder it is to write about Cathy. Every time I sent her on a date, it felt like I was cheating.”
She assuaged the feeling by having Cathy get married—to her nerdish boyfriend Irving—in 2005. But now, five years later, at the age of 60, Guisewite wants to try other creative endeavors, and, as she said, she needs more time to be a mother and a daughter, and not, so much, a cartoonist.
The cartoonist and her comic strip have laurels aplenty. Guisewite collected a Reuben in 1993 when the National Cartoonists Society named her “cartoonist of the year” for 1992 and an Emmy for best animated television special in 1987. Something approaching 30 book collections reprinting the strip have been published. At the peak of its popularity, Cathy appeared in more than 1,400 newspapers; while that number has dwindled to about 700 today, it’s still a more than respectable circulation.
BUT RESPECT IS IN SHORT SUPPLY in the one place you’d expect to find it. Oddly, as reporter Antonia Zerbisias observes at thestar.com, young feminists aren’t saying good-bye to Cathy in an affectionate or grateful mood.
"The reaction has been venomous,'' says humourist Rosalind Warren, editor of The Best Contemporary Women's Humor. "I was surprised myself.''
“Even a quick trip round the femisphere reveals how hard Cathy has pushed some women's buttons,” writes Zerbisias, starting with the popular blog Feministe: "I've always gotten the impression that Cathy was meant as something for women to bond over, but for the most part it just reinforced a lot of wretched stereotypes about women: chocoholics who are always desperate to lose weight but can't part with the carbs, women who ruin their finances by splurging on overpriced handbags and shoes, being mean to Nice Guys knowing in the end that they're the reliable and steady kind you want to marry, mortal panic about being single, etc.''
"I am surprised at how they are saying good riddance,'' says Rina Piccolo, creator of the comic strip Tina's Groove and part of the all-woman team behind Six Chix.
To Piccolo, Guisewite was a trailblazer: "Newspaper comics in 1975 were all men, Beetle Bailey, Hagar the Horrible and Frank and Earnest,'' she recalls. "All the female characters
were like Blondie. They were either a housewife or a glamour girl. Cathy totally changed the page. Here's a young woman talking about, basically, her fat ass and how she couldn't fit into a swimsuit or that she had had it with her boyfriend and all the little neurotic things that a lot of women go through in day-to-day living. She was the first female character to really let loose and say what a lot of women were thinking at the time.''
"She was a trailblazer,'' says St. Catharines-based Sandra Bell-Lundy, who draws Between Friends and credits Guisewite with inspiring her own career. "When Cathy launched, I was just graduating high school,'' she says. "I'd always drawn cartoons. It was just a pastime. But I remember reading about her in the St. Catharines Standard and I thought, `Wow, this could actually be a career option.' And then when Lynn Johnston (For Better or for Worse) came on, I thought, yes, and she's Canadian too.''
But, explains Piccolo, Cathy's shtick got old. "She did it in the 70s, and in the 80s, and in the 90s, and in the 2000s, and, at this point, women's lives have changed quite a bit. She ran the gag into the ground. The crowd that says good riddance just got sick of it."
Guisewite makes no apologies: "I don't know, as women, what we are past?'' she asks. "When I write about dieting, I feel like I am writing as truthfully to women's pressures and concerns today as I was as 34 years ago. The daily battle with self-image, self-consciousness and will power is exactly the same to me.'' And, she adds: "I'm extremely proud that my work's been hung on the world's most important museum: the refrigerator door.'' She laughs. "It doesn't get anymore significant than to be displayed that close to someone's food.''
Mel Lazarus, a long-time friend of Guisewite’s and an admirer of her comedic skills, probably agrees. And he couldn’t resist saying a fond farewell in his own strip, Momma, which specimen we supply here and follow with a page of Cathy strips from 1977, the year after it began.
We’re also posting a series of strips that Guisewite lent to Cartoonist PROfiles in 1994, showing how she produces the strip—from penciled dialogue (the first step) to roughs to finishes (all the drawing in ink, no pencil). Oh—and, in case someone asks—comic strip Cathy sometimes has a nose. Not usually, but sometimes—when, for whatever compositional reason, the character must appear in profile (rarely), Guisewite is “forced” (she says) to give her “a little nose.” But it ain’t easy: “It takes me half a day to get the drawing right,” Guisewite said.
UNIVERSAL PRESS’S Lee Salem said in 2004 that “Cathy opened the door for the female cartoonists we love today, but even 27 years later, the reality is you can count the number of women cartoonists in the newspaper almost on one hand.” Today, six years further on, it’s not much better, and the way women are pictured in the comics hasn’t improved either, as Alan Gardner reported lately in his DailyCartoonist:
“A recent paper in presented to the American Sociological Association suggests that female characters in the largest (most read) comic strips in America treat women characters more as props than leading characters (news.ufl.edu/2020/08/18/comic-strips). Conclusions in the report are based on studying Blondie, Beetle Bailey, Family Circus, Hagar, Garfield and Dilbert for one full year. An analysis of six of the most popular nationally syndicated comic strips over the course of a year shows that women appeared less than half the time and when they did the gag was on them, said Daniel Fernandez-Baca, a University of Florida graduate student in sociology. ‘When they do appear, for the most part, women don’t say anything funny or act humorously, but merely set up the joke and allow men to create the humor,’ he said. Other than being a straight man or foil to the laugh-inspiring male character, women were used mostly to reinforce certain humorous stereotypes, such as the harried or henpecking housewife, Fernandez-Baca said.” Gardner added that the study’s author also reports that “accurately depicting female
characters in comics is important because it can ‘can encourage incorrect or misleading perceptions of people’ in impressionable children and adolescents who read the comics.”
Comic books may, or may not, be better in the way they portray women: they are at least wildly different. As female superheroes proliferate, women in these four-color frolics are becoming more and more like men: they not only dish it out physically with their foes, but they take it on the chin sometimes, too. Power Girl, Black Cat, Black Widow, Wonder Woman—all respond to threats from the bad guys with fists flayling. And the bad guys hit back.
At the Denver Post recently (August 22), movie critic Joanne Ostrow worried about the motion picture versions of comic book heroines that combine beauty and brutality. Citing Evelyn Salt, Hit Girl, Nikita, Annie Frost, Annie Walker, Olivia Dunham, and Lisabeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” among others, Ostrow writes: “A burgeoning number of female characters on big and small screens aren’t merely kicking butt. (And we’re not talking catfights.) They’re also taking the sort of beatdowns once reserved for male action heroes—or abuse victims on Lifetime television.” Are such portrayals good role models for young girls? Or not?
Ostrow joins critic Jennifer Merin, president of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, in wondering whether “we should celebrate or be suspicious of these daughters of Diana Rigg’s peerless martial artist and fencer Emma Peel and Pam Grier’s blaxploitation mama Foxy Brown? Should we worry for young women thinking they can cold-cock a creep? Or should we cheer images that encourage them to imagine fighting back? Should these images carry a warning—like Cesar Millan’s ‘Dog Whisperer’ or Johnny Knoxville’s ‘Jackass’ stunt outings? ‘Ladies, do not try these kick-butt maneuvers in a dark alley faced with a real assailant.”
Says Merin: “If young girls are being exposed to kick-ass queens and they think they can do that, there’s a danger that they’ll just get smushed.”
Then Ostrow quotes “Denver Roller Doll” Bea Ware, a 28-year-old civil engineer in her day job who is a blocker on the roller derby team, “who knows a thing or two about getting smushed”: “Once you have that experience of being hit or hitting someone and walking away from it,” Ware said, “it’s invigorating. It’s a great feeling. Like you’re truly alive.” Could she take on a guy, bent on hurting her? “Sure,” Ware said, “I absolutely think that.” And if she has daughters, she’ll encourage them to become athletes so they’ll have the same conviction.
Apart from concern over the keister-kicking ladies as role models for young women, Ostrow realizes that “many of these images are intended to hook a young guy audience” so “shouldn’t we wonder what lessons young men are taking away from these images?” Ostrow speculates not much more about this aspect of the issue, and yet her question gets at the heart of the matter. As Merin puts it: “The essential question is ‘Whose fantasy is it, and how does it bubble up onto the screen?’”
The answer may surprise Ostrow. “Strong women,” as they have been termed in comic book critiques, are not concocted in order to appeal to female audiences: these tough buxom beauties are the babe magnets intended to attract adolescent males. For this audience, tough girl protagonists who take it as well as dish it out are fantasy enactments of rough sex, which is, itself, a species of the way the Freudian unconscious envisions the sex act. For male audiences, the bum-buster bimbos are about sex, not role models. And we don’t have to go much further than their costumes to verify this interpretation: skin-tight uniforms with plunging necklines are all about sex appeal, and anyone who denies this obvious truth is playing with your head.
AND THAT BRINGS US, as inexorably as the sunrise arriving at daybreak always before breakfast, to Wonder Woman—to the make-over she is currently enduring. When WW’s new costume was introduced in Wonder Woman No. 600, the wardrobe change aroused a certain amount of attention in the public prints. At the Associated Press, when Jocelyn Noveck saw that WW’s bare shoulders and naked thighs had been banned, she feigned alarm: “She’s been ruined! Covered up! De-patriotized! You call that chic?”
This isn’t the first time Wonder Woman has suffered a wardrobe adjustment. And usually, particularly in these latter days, the change is accompanied by much hand-wringing. The first change, which took place virtually at the same time as the character debuted in 1941, was that the star-spangled skirt she wore disappeared in favor of a star-spangled girdle. And that lasted for several decades, as any girdle worth the strength of its embrace must. Then in the late 1960s, in an obvious appeal to the current zeitgeist, Diana Prince abandoned her costume and her
superpowers in order to don mod clothes and become a globe-trotting karate-kicking secret agent. Inaugurated in the summer of 1968 with No. 178 (September-October) of Wonder Woman, in this incarnation—inspired in part by the Diana Rigg character, Emma Peel, in the popular “Avengers” tv show (although scripter Dennis O’Neil says he hadn’t seen the show at the time of “the New Wonder Woman’s” debut)—Diana Prince was a “normal woman,” a high achiever but without superpowers, just the sort of female that would appeal to the feminist movement then on the rise in the country. Or so it would appear.
Alas, it didn’t turn out quite that way. Although briefly popular at first, the “new Wonder Woman” didn’t fit into the strategies of one of the leaders of “women’s liberation” (as it was called then): Gloria Steinem was a fan of the original Wonder Woman who had debuted when Steinem was but seven, and when Steinem launched her feminist magazine, Ms., she put Wonder Woman back in her star-spangled girdle on the cover of the first issue (July 1972), thus establishing the legendary look of the character as emblematic of feminism. Six months later, DC capitulated to the inevitable: Wonder Woman was again girdled in No. 204, the January-February 1973 issue, of her comic book
Nothing much happened to the character for the next decade, but in about 1983, her chest was redesigned: the eagle on the costume’s bodice was replaced with a nifty modernistic double-W. That, however, merely inflamed the various ires of Wonder Woman fans, who insisted that she sally forth forever in the traditional eagle-emblazoned teddy. I didn’t care much about the eagle one way or the other, but I had some fun with the idea of modernizing Wonder Woman’s awesomely stodgy-looking uniform and with the disappearing eagle.
Changing the breast-plate of her costume scarcely improved matters much: a matronly aura still clung to Wonder Woman, due, probably, to the girdle. In newsstand competition, DC’s longest-running heroine simply could not compete with the sexy likes of, say, X-Men’s Storm or Daredevil’s Black Widow. Despite the generous amount of bare leg exposed in her outfit, Wonder Woman just wasn’t very sexy-looking. She still looked as if she were wearing a foundation garment. Foundation garments in the 1940s were sexy: that’s why we all poured over Sears catalogs. But by the 1980s, after thirty years of Playboy and its tsunami of imitators, superheroines were comfortable in skimpier attire.
Then in the early 1990s, Wonder Woman gradually got a wardrobe revamp that worked. First, Brian Bolland (I believe it was he) in a series of covers (aided and abetted by Mike Deodato Jr. on the interior pages) cut the star-spangled girdle up the sides like a modern swim suit. (Inside, Deodato’s WW was wearing a thong.) Then in 1995, John Byrne took another swipe at the costume, elongating even more than George Perez had in the late 1980s the verticality of WW’s golden belt and also reducing the number of stars on the bikini bottom to two. Suddenly, Wonder Woman was modern and sexy as well as traditional, a masterful re-designing.
Tweaks followed. The eagle reappeared as a stylized beak atop the central pinnacle of the double-W. More tricks with the golden belt. Not enough, though, to suit Jim Lee and J. Michael Straczynski, who, in introducing the latest modification in Wonder Woman No. 600, explain that they wanted a “bold” new look, “no mere tweaking,” Lee said. The only way to achieve a re-design, Straczynski explained, was “to go in prepared to make massive changes in how we think about Wonder Woman. ... Let’s give her clothes that she can fight in, that add to her presence and her strength and her power.”
And so they devised a new uniform, mostly black—form-fitting, leg-accenting leotards below the waist, motorcycle jacket above. The jacket, worn open, reveals a red top: tight-fitting
but with a modestly dipping neckline, it reminds us of the traditional costume without actually reproducing it. Likewise, the famed double-W. It’s there, at the neckline, but Lee and Straczynski wanted to leave most of the accouterments of the traditional Wonder Woman behind. Said Straczynski: “Rather than have the W symbol all over the place on her wardrobe, I wanted to highlight it in one area and make that our statement, letting everything else feel more youthful and street-wise. The exception would be the bracelets, which would be solid on the outer side, with a stylized, almost handwritten W symbol there so that when she crosses her arms, you get the full effect. And if she hits you with it, it leaves a W mark. She signs her work.”
But Straczynski, who’s writing the new Wonder Woman, wasn’t aiming at mere cosmetic alterations: he wanted a “fiery, dynamic, tough, determined and smart” Wonder Woman, who, “due to her background,” is also “tragic.” (And before we forget—whatever happened to the idea that the character should be written by a woman, the notion that heralded Gail Simone’s short stint on the title?) In order to achieve his desired end product, Straczynski says he’s going to “tweak time” and go back to Paradise Island (which was destroyed just as Wonder Woman left it as an infant) and the Amazons where Wonder Woman (Princess Diana) was born, and in the immediate future issues of Wonder Woman, our heroine’s mission is to discover who attacked Paradise Island and why. She’ll also try to stop those who intend to kill the surviving Amazons and figure out a way to straighten out the timeline “and reconcile what was to what is.”
Too bad. Nice try, but the Paradise Island/Greek Myth/Amazonian aspect of Wonder Woman’s adventures in recent years has been the most boring part of the character’s saga. And so, instead of attempting a continuity revamp as drastic as the costume change, Straczynski is going to perpetuate the everlasting ennui and, to make that happen, cloud our minds with time travel, the most baffling of all sf enterprises. In the inaugural episode in No. 600, we find Wonder Woman wandering the streets and alleys, confused and uncertain of her identity and haunted by the shadows of unknown enemies. And so she goes to visit the Oracle. Sigh. Please....
The 600th issue of Wonder Woman, double the usual size, contains a few other engaging artifacts. Several pin-ups of WW in her traditional duds (Adam Hughes, Nicola Scott and Jason Wright, Ivan Reis and Oclair Albert, Greg Horn, Francis Manapul, Phil Jimenez—in his best George Perez manner—Jock, and Shane Davis and Jaime Mendoza), an opening “letter” from actress Lynda Carter extolling Wonder Woman, who she once played on tv, as savior of the world (an inspiration to us all), and several stories—including the opening piece penciled by Perez in his best plethora of tiny panels manner, evoking an earlier story in which Vanessa Kapatellis graduates—and a too-short tale written and drawn by the inimitable Amanda Conner, who puts WW together with Power Girl to eliminate a monstrous threat to the universe after which, WW counsels PG on how to live with her cat. Conner’s Wonder Woman is sometimes a little too girlish in the face (Diana Prince is older than Power Girl, more mature, and probably shouldn’t pout as much), but in her renderings of Power Girl, we have Conner once again at her very best, which is good indeed.
AND BEFORE WE ABANDON THE AMAZONIAN WONDER to her latest suits and pursuits, does anyone remember Portia Prinz? Margaret O’Connell does and rehearses the short and tantalizing history of this character at http://www.sequentialtart.com/article.php?id'1771, saying: “The recent fuss over Wonder Woman's latest reboot and costume change had the side benefit of reminding me of a much more interesting and eccentric character — Portia Prinz, the titular heroine of Richard Howell's 1970s and 1980s alternative comic Portia Prinz of the Glamazons. This series was a sort of science fantasy/drawing-room-comedy take-off on Wonder Woman created in the late 1970s by Harvard graduate turned Million Year Picnic comics shop manager Richard Howell. (Disclaimer: Howell is a longtime friend of mine, although I was already a fan of Portia Prinz before I met him.) Howell wrote, drew, and self-published the first volume of the series under his Desperado-Eastern Press imprint from 1977 to 1979. This incarnation of the comic had little or no distribution outside the Boston area, but it came to the attention of then-Eclipse Comics publisher Dean Mullaney. ... Mullaney and Cat Yronwode, a comics journalist/Eclipse editor who was his girlfriend at the time (and eventually, his wife), were charmed by Howell's five self-published issues of Portia Prinz. After a few false starts with a different alternative publisher that also wanted to bring Portia to greater prominence, Howell eventually wound up doing a six-issue Portia Prinz miniseries for Eclipse, published in 1986-87. Unfortunately, both the original Desperado-Eastern series and the Eclipse miniseries are now out of print, although googling ‘Portia Prinz of the Glamazons’ produced links to a variety of online retailers with copies available.” There’s more at the site cited above.
READ AND RELISH
Howdy, folks—this is Kinky the friendly Jewish cowboy bringing you greetings from Texas, where men are men and emus are nervous. ... [When I was younger] I used to claim I was too young for medicare and too old for women to care. ... [In Texas], we’re 49th in education and 50th in health-care coverage, but we rank first in [number of] executions. The death penalty here seems to be slightly more popular than football or chicken-fried steak. [Operating under the guidance of the fifth of the Ten Commandments, prohibiting killing], I’ve repeatedly called for the abolishment [of capital punishment], but nobody appears to be listening. As I often tell the Christians, “I’m sorry you have to hear this from a Jew, but remember, folks, that’s who you heard it from the first time.”—Kinky Friedman, in Playboy
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
Another exasperating month in American politics and therefore a treasure trove for practicing editoonists. Here, to get us started, are comments on the Greedy Obstructionist Pachyderm’s plan to end unemployment, right-wing nuttiness on Obama’s religion, gay marriage, and the reward the GOP so extravagantly thinks it deserves.
These are essentially verbal assaults—highly honed and pointed but requiring a picture only to identify the speakers—except, perhaps, for Pat Bagley’s comment on opposition to homosexual marriage at the lower right. But verbal excess or not, I love the way Mike Keefe has skewered the hypocrisy of right-wing nut hysteria: “I was outraged then and I’m outraged now!”—the only possible way the guy in the truck could reconcile the otherwise wildly inconsistent behavior of his fellow right-wingers, who will take any position as long as it opposes Obama or Democrats. The only consistency is hysteria. The ingenious irony in Tom
Toles’ cartoon at the lower left fairly drips; and Jeff Danziger (upper left) is just vicious, delightfully so.
In our next visual aid, the mosque-raiders in New York are among the targets. Keefe at the upper left points out the absurdity of penalizing a religion for the actions of some of its adherents, and at the lower right, Joel Pett nails the inconsistency inherent in two highly visible Muslim positions. Clay Bennett, deploying simple symbols, identifies the functions of the two political parties: Democrats seek equality; Republicans, divisiveness. Danziger’s comment on the Blagovevich farce supplies, one hopes, the last of a long series of laughs we’ve had on Blago. Except for Bennett’s deft symbolism, the rest of these are verbal attacks rather than visual metaphorical ones. Keefe’s is all words, a juxtaposition of a succession of ironies.
Our next exhibit, though, makes better use of the visual aspects of cartooning. . Ed Stein’s image at the upper left evokes memories of “The Wizard of Oz”: the Scarecrow therein only wanted a heart, but the financial reform bill, which is supposed to scare malefactors away, has no teeth, so the carrion, unafraid, make themselves at home. Immediately below, Bagley has constructed a hilarious image—the Giddy Old Pachyderm screaming obviously misguided instructions to Obama the hunter, who knows, full well, that the immediate threat is the stampeding rhino not the slumbering lions. Next in counter-clockwise order, Bennett gives potent political meaning to the old axiom advising that freedom of speech does not apply if you want to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater: Bennett turns it into a perfect visual metaphor of scathing insight into the brainless pronouncements of Sarah Livingston Palin. By logical extension of the metaphor, Palin should not enjoy freedom of speech. Finally, at the upper right, John Sherffius gives us a typical example of his deft deployment of silent symbols, drawing attention to the looney irony of anyone in a nation of immigrants objecting to that part of the 14th Amendment that makes citizens of everyone born in this country. That’s how we all got here, kimo sabe.
Next, the war in Afghanistan. And, by implication, in Iraq. The brutal savagery of the politely named “insurgents” (they are, actually, hoodlums and thugs, murderers and kidnappers—all outlaws, taking advantage of the civil chaos to pursue their nefarious blood-thirsty occupations) is adroitly captured in Danziger’s cartoon at the upper left. No metaphors: just criminals talking. At the immediate right, Adam Zyglis explains, with a single telling symbol, the murder of relief workers in Afghanistan. Nicely done. At the lower left, Monte Wolverton provides a handy metaphor for Obama’s Afghanistan war policy. But Bill Mauldin, speaking from the grave with the cartoon that covered a book collection of his cartoons, enunciates American policy by reminding us of the Russian experience in Afghanistan.
If Iraq is the harbinger for Afghanistan, the future of the latter is not very rosy. Yes, the last of American combat troops have been removed from Iraq. But which of the conditions permitting our withdrawal have been met? Law and order? Democratic government? Neither. Just last week, as the New York Times describes it, “insurgents unleashed a wave of coordinated attacks across Iraq in a demonstration of their ability to strike at will,” leaving 51 dead. They are doing what they want with guns, mines and car bombs, and we can’t stop them. As for democracy—five months after the most recent national election, the country has not yet formed a government out of the results of that election.
But you won’t hear many of our so-called leaders pointing out the failure of our most basic justifications for wrecking the country. Our leaders know that American citizenry wants out of there, and so they’ll pretend that we’ve accomplished what we went in there to accomplish. That’s the only way we’ll get out. Everyone is in on the charade. Mauldin’s cartoon, originally a comment on the Russian failure in Afghanistan, becomes a statement of our policy as well as an emblem for our failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Only by declaring victory in the face of monstrous evidence to the contrary can we escape with some semblance of dignity the trap we walked into. And so that’s what we’ll do. What a joke. Dignity maybe; honor—self-respect?— hardly.
Notice how the adjective “combat” has crept into discourse about our departure from Iraq. The original chant about getting out of Iraq didn’t mention “combat” when calling for troop withdrawal, but now we’re being realistic. Just as our victory there is a figment of our imagination, so is the withdrawal of American troops. Around 50,000 troops remain in the country. And we’ll rotate them in and out for generations to come, adding to the total from time to time as need dictates. How else can we protect our interests in Iraqi oil fields?
Our penultimate visual aid returns to the BP oil spill and paves the way for our last exhibit, a short collection of cartoons by David Fitzsimmons. At the upper left, Keefe’s exuberant solution to the leaking oil well is good for a laugh, but it also reflects the apparent hopelessness of the situation until just a few weeks ago, when BP finally capped the well. Just below, Bagley’s cartoon uses some symbolic language in a rather convoluted but accurate way: in Bagley’s view, the court ruling that rendered inoperative Obama’s moratorium on drilling in the Gulf was an affront to justice by reason of the evidence (those groping handprints) of its conflict of interest bias (the judge had investments in the oil industry). An accurate depiction of the situation, no doubt; but a little too complicated to create the kind of instant impact a political cartoon is supposed to have. But the central image—the hands dripping in oil, the handprints on Lady Justice’s bosom—suggests strenuously that some kind of hanky-panky has transpired.
Then we have two Fitzsimmons cartoons. Fitzsimmons labored in obscurity for years at the Arizona Daily Star, and then Daryl Cagle recruited him for his MSNBC website and for his syndicate. Now I see Fitzsimmons frequently, all over the place. I like his crisp, simple geometric style. The first of these two cartoons (top) is a simple verbal statement about the growing partisanship of the news media—and why it’s successful. In an age of too much news and information, the simple way to avoid being overwhelmed with news overload is to watch/read only the news you like. The bottom cartoon is more visual, and it does what Fitzsimmons does often—reveals the colossal hypocrisy of the Right, which tolerates an “activist” Supreme Court as long as it agrees with the decisions. (It may be hard to read the legend over the door of the Supreme Court building: it says, “Equal Justice for Corporations,” a reference to the most blatant of the conservative Court’s recent activist decisions.)
Four more Fitzes deliciously prolong our sermon this month. The first, upper left, a succession of pictures by which the right-wing nut attitudes about immigrants progress with logical inevitability from nutty to Nazi. Next, at the right, an allusion to the original “native Americans” to whom, we presume, all of us late arrivals must be illegal immigrants. Below that, another comic strip in which Fitzsimmons insidiously accomplishes two things: first, he reveals the falsity of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s insinuation that immigrants are savage criminals who behead people and leave the heads scattered around the desert (where she got this factoid, I dunno; but it’s now been established as a baldface untruth); second, he shows, with some justification, that Brewer herself is headless—that is, a brainless body—shorthand for saying she’s insane, nuts. (And what do you really think, Dave?) Finally, at the lower left, Fitzsimmons alludes to the hitherto-hidden connections of BP to politicians; effective enough, but what I like best about this cartoon are the silhouette-like drawings of the oil-soaked pols and the comical shore birds with oil dripping from their beaks.
Fitzsimmons’ drawing style is similar in its linear simplicity to another “far West” cartooner, Pat Bagley. Bagley is more slapdash than Fitzsimmons, but there’s a kinship, I ween. And both styles are reminiscent of the early style of Calvin Grondahl when he was at the Ogden Standard Examiner (where he may still be as far as I know). Must be something in the dry climate that brings this out in all three cartoonists. In any event, it’s a treat to see their work, divergent as it is from all of the other styles that prevail elsewhere in our heppy heppy land.
FITZSIMMONS, BORN IN 1955, graduated from the University of Arizona with a BFA in 1977. After short but brilliant stints at other newspapers east of the Arkansas, he wound up back in Arizona, where, beginning in 1986, he’s been making editorial cartoons for the Arizona Daily Star. Here, in Fitz’s very own hand, are the terrible details:
Cartoonist, weekly humor columnist and editorial writer for the Arizona Daily Star, Fitz is syndicated to over 700 news publications, which is timely since there are only 700 newspapers left in the world at this time. A Pulitzer Finalist in 1988, his award-winning cartoons have drawn fire and praise since Geronimo was a paperboy way back in 1986.
Fresh out of the University of Arizona, he freelanced and then landed a mapmaking gig at the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City. He then step-stoned his way to the Virginian Pilot-Ledger Star where he was an illustrator and an effete graphic designer. He won too many awards at that gig so he jumped across the bay to a small competing paper just to get a shot at finally drawing editorial cartoons. His savior and editor was Tony Snow. Yup. That Tony Snow—former White House Press Secretary for President Bush. It was a wonderful beginning to a career that Fitz loves.
“I love drawing cartoons,” he cheerfully insists, “even after 5,000 daily editorial cartoons, I still like the daily challenge to fill in the blank with a strong, memorable comment scrawled in ink.”
When he is not at his drawing board slinging ink or editorials, David is entertaining audiences as a standup comic tossing out zingers and quick sketch cartoons and caricatures. Known as the “Fastest draw west of the Potomac” Fitz has opened for PBS’s Mark Russell and has performed his “exceedingly silly” chalk talks in every conference meeting room, theatre, school, and clubhouse west of the San Pedro. Not to mention Denver, Portland, Palm Springs, Seattle, Reno, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and elsewhere where audiences have suffered his nonsense gladly. No one in the audience is safe.
He has 3 bright and beautiful children, 4 cats, 1 dog
and the mouse is missing.
RCH again: As you can tell, Fitz is my kind of guy.
WITH OUR FINAL SLIDE for the day, we see Fitzsimmons in shimmering color and a couple black-and-white zingers from other hands. At the upper left, Fitzsimmons has the facts trailing laboriously behind the toot-tooting, smoke-belching Fox train, a telling image of the way the so-called news media are working these days (as we’ll see shortly), and in the cartoon at the upper right, Fitz makes metaphorical use of the tv food show fad, again basting Fox. At the lower left, Don Wright renames the capital building, creating an image of biting satiric effect, and next, Mick Luckovich takes the whole mosque protest to its logical conclusion, which is, as you can see, quite illogical.
Oh, THAT Lady Gaga.
The Gaga Bimbo, according to Entertainment Weekly, has surpassed Britney Spears to become the most followed person on Twitter. That makes her the champion twit, right? I mean, wearing bubbles?
THE FROTH ESTATE
The Alleged News Institution
To return, briefly, to the issue of the Muslim community center being contemplated for lower Manhattan within a couple blocks of Ground Zero, let me repeat what I quoted from the New York Times at our last meeting: “That it may even be called a mosque is debatable. It is designed as a multi-use complex with space set aside for prayer—no minarets, no muezzin calls to prayer ... It would seem to qualify as a mosque about as much as a chapel in a Roman Catholic hospital qualifies as a church.”
And yet a few of our more lunatic leaders—particularly Newt Gingrich and Sarah Livingston Palin—have seized upon the proposed building for its insidious value in starting a political firestorm and have whipped up all kinds of hysterical opposition to building a “mosque” so close to the “hallowed ground” of 9/11. And the so-called news media have played along: every story, every headline, references the “mosque,” thereby stoking the fires of intolerance and bigotry among the least informed of our body politic. It’s not a mosque, but calling it a mosque gets people all riled up—and that’s exactly what the Giddy Opposition Pachyderm wants. Get people angry enough and fearful enough that they’ll vote the Democrats out of power, leaving the GOP to occupy the vacuum left behind.
And the so-called “liberal” news media is carrying water for these right-wing nuts.
Incidentally, the building that will house the contemplated community center is already there: it will be remodeled to expand its services. Local Muslims have been praying in the building for almost a year, Time tells us (August 30). Muslims have been praying in the Pentagon’s 9/11 Memorial Chapel, too—a facility built over the rubble left by the crash of American Airlines Flight 77 into the building on September 11, 2001. Every day at 2 p.m.—the time of the second of five prayers Muslims are supposed to offer daily—the altar in the Chapel is pushed back and the podium (pulpit) moved to one side to make room for Muslim prayer rugs.
So far, no one has objected. Newt and Sarah presumably don’t know about this facility.
Nor do they, in their pursuit of sacrosanct subjects, acknowledge that within two blocks of Ground Zero in Manhattan are liquor stores and strip clubs and other evidences of the somewhat seamy sides of American urban life. Nothing blasphemous about them, I suppose.
Barack Obama finally spoke out on the issue. He’d been silent for quite some time in deference to another set of America principles: he wanted local authorities to settle as much of the matter as possible without “interference” from the federal government. And so once Mayor Michael Blumberg weighed in forcefully on the side of those who wanted to establish a Muslim community center, signaling municipal approval of the project, Obama could speak; and he said:
“As a citizen and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in the country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable.”
A day later, realizing that his comments could be taken as an endorsement of the location of the proposed community center in lower Manhattan rather than as a general statement of American principles, Obama added: “I was not commenting, and I will not comment, on the wisdom of making a decision to put a mosque there. I was commenting very specifically on the right that people have that dates back to our founding. ... My intention was simply to let people know what I thought, which is that in this country, we treat everybody equally and in accordance with the law, regardless of race, regardless of religion.”
Had he said both things on the same day in sequence, he would have unhorsed his critics who promptly pounced, interpreting his addendum as a “step back” away from the ringing assertion of American principles the previous day.
More teabagger balderdash.
I’ve said exactly the same things Obama said before he spoke: Americans are free to practice their various religions and to put up buildings wherever they can, but I don’t think it was a very smart idea to propose a Muslim community center (with a prayer room) for the Ground Zero neighborhood. Most sensible Americans, I suspect, would agree. Obama was saying what most of us have said or thought. But the Newts of the world are desperate for fodder for their electoral hopes in the fall.
The strategy of the Grouchy Old Pachyderm is to beat the drum relentlessly on three themes, saith Howard Fineman in Newsweek: illegal immigration, Islam in America, and race—with the predicaments of Charlie Rangel and Maxine Waters, both African Americans, front and center for the latter. All embody fear and anger and resentment, about all the GOP has to offer these days.
And resentful fear and anger bloom in the hothouse of the Internet and instant transmission of news and opinion. Everyone can find “news” and “commentary” that suits his/her personal biases. “People now live in self-buttressing fortresses of myth, where debunking a belief [for instance, that Obama is a Muslim] only confirms it,” said James Poniewozik in Time (August 23). In Vanity Fair, Todd S. Purdum concurs: “Thanks to cable, the Internet, Twitter and Facebook, there is no such thing as a ‘news cycle’ in Washington—only one endless, undifferentiated full-color stream of fact, opinion and attitudinizing, where lies and misinformation flourish equally with truth.”
Said Maureen Dowd recently: “The country is having some weird mass nervous breakdown, with the right spreading fear and disinformation that is amplified by the poisonous echo chamber that is the modern media environment.” She quotes from Scot historian Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds: “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”
“You can have an opinion on the New York mosque [there it appears again], for or against. But there aren’t two sides to the question of whether Obama is a Muslim. [He isn’t.] As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: ‘Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.’”
The facts of American history “refudiate” Newt and Sarah and their ilk. As long ago as 1790, George Washington, writing in an age of ethical lapses (slavery, chiefly), could still address the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island with a ringing assertion of American ideals: “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. ... Happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”
No sanction for bigotry; no assistance to persecution.
We’re not there yet, but it’s still worth aiming for.
Yes, Palin’s “refudiate” is a word, contrary to popular belief among many liberals, who seized upon this ingenious (and revealing) utterance to ridicule her for the linguistic vagaries she so frequently displays. Once a “term” has appeared or has been uttered in the guise of a word, it becomes one. That’s how language works. And I think this word is highly useful in this age of political doublespeak.
Oh, speaking of journalistic malfeasance: Judge Vaughn Walker, whose decision to throw out California’s Proposition 8 prohibiting gay marriage I applaud, is gay. Most news media don’t mention it. Should they?
From the Los Angeles Times: “News Corp chief executive Rupert Murdoch is embarking on an ambitious plan for a new national digital newspaper to be distributed exclusively as paid content for tablet computers such as Apple’s iPad and mobile phones. The initiative ... is the latest attempt by a major media organization to harness new devices to reach readers who increasingly consume their news on the go [and not in print newspapers]. ... The new digital newspaper would target a general readership, offering short, snappy stories that could be digested quickly.”
Good for the digestion, perhaps, but not much food for thought or contemplation or decision-making. Alas.
PERSIFLAGE AND FURBELOWS
Comedian Will Durst has about had it with vampires and the rest of the undead. Because of the “proliferation” of these creeps, the “fantasy stakes” have been raised with the result that “nobody plays by the rules anymore. Time-tested conventions are being discarded like blood ampoules at a neck-biters winter solstice mortuary retreat. Garlic is no big deal unless it is. They can run extremely fast. Except when they can’t. Superhuman strength is at their command—sometimes. Silver, mirrors, daylight, holy water and wooden stakes—take ’em or leave ’em. That’s the problem with kids today: no respect for their elders. If it was good enough for Bram Stoker, it should be good enough for these libidinous meat puppets. You don’t have to be Freud to get the repressed sexual desires theme. ... What is it with the brooding? You’re a thousand years old. How much time do you need to adjust to the agony of immortality? Stop it with the teenage angst already. ... And this anguishing over the weight of the eternal hunger is getting a bit old. You’ve had multiple centuries to come up with an efficient way to feed. You’re not tormented: you’re incompetent.”
Previews and Proclamations of Coming Attractions
Edward R. Hamilton, Bookseller (remaindered tomes and other inexpensive volumes), P.O. Box 15, Falls Church, CT 06031-0015 or www.HamiltonBook.com has several “completes” on sale: The Complete Far Side, originally priced at $150, is now $99.95; The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, $150, now $99.95; The Complete Cartoons of The New Yorker, $60, now $24.95. And Daedalus Books has Art Spiegelman’s Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*x, originally $27.50, now $7.98 at salebooks.com (or 800-395-2665).
I correspond frequently with Jim Ivey, a political cartooner who is, inexplicably, slightly older than I am and therefore retired. Jim, an inveterate beach comber who finally, happily, found himself in Florida, ran The cARToon Museum in Madeira Beach (approximately 1967-68) and again in Orlando (approximately 1972-81), the latter mostly after retiring from his editooning position with the Orlando Sentinel, his last gig as a full-time political cartoonist.
His first such position was with the now defunct Washington Star in the early 1950s. From 1953 until 1959, Jim was editooning at the St. Petersburg Times; then in 1959, he spent most of the year on a Reid Fellowship studying editorial cartooning as it was practiced in Europe. Upon his return, the St. Pete job expired, so he went from one shining sea to the other and joined the staff of the San Francisco Examiner until it merged with the Chronicle in 1966 or so. Thereupon, he returned to Florida to attend to the beaches and, incidentally, to freelance newspaper and magazine cartoons from 1966 until 1969, when he joined the Orlando Sentinel.
I once visited him in his Orlando museum, which doubled as a comic book store. The comic books were in file boxes on tables in the middle of the store; the museum was on the walls, which were laminated with corkboard, where Jim, in his purely functional and unpretentious way, pinned original cartoons from his vast collection, acquired over many years. Original art pinned to the corkboard wall, not framed or otherwise ceremoniously arrayed.
While I was examining the art on the walls, I overhead a transaction between Jim and a customer, who had grabbed all of a particular issue of a comic book, wanting to buy the whole armload, thinking, no doubt, that the comics, drawn by a currently popular artist, would naturally increase in value, enabling him to sell them at some future date at a monstrously inflated price. But Jim wouldn’t let him buy more than one of this treasured title: Jim didn’t think it was fair for one customer to buy all of a single title thereby depriving other fans of that comic book. Naturally, with that attitude, Jim went out of business a few short years later, during the general collapse of the comic store industry when store owners were investing in titles that didn’t show up on a timely basis.
Jim’s letters are invariably sprinkled with tidbits of cultural as well as cartooning lore. Recently, he quoted the legendary newspaperman/author Ben Hecht, who described television as “a honking traffic jam of tawdry entertainment and peddlers' screams.” Beautiful.
Then Jim wanted to know when was the last time I’d seen: a man wearing a hat, a man smoking a pipe, a hat sale, a pipe sale.
“Just an example of changing fads,” Jim went on, “check old magazine ads from past decades and watch movies from earlier years, plenty of hats and pipes! But, all of a sudden, something is ‘old hat’ (pun intended).”
“If I were in charge of changes,” he continued in the same epistle, “I would first make it unseemly to wear ties (useless nooses, a splash of color their only virtue) and belts (we do have elastic don’t we?). Unnecessary baggage. Comfort above all.”
And then he imparted a frightening fact: “In the northern Pacific Ocean there is a swirling gyre of the world's trash called ‘The Garbage Patch.’ It’s the size of Africa! And 90% of it is plastic.”
Many of Jim’s comments on the passing scene he illustrates with his characteristic cartoonery. Here are some pages from missives I received over the last six months or so. We’ll post more Jivey opuses here from time to time. And between times, if you need an Ivey-fix, visit Alan Holtz’ website, strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics appear regularly.
Critiques & Crotchets
DC Comics is piling up the Simon and Kirby reprints, this time with Vol. 1 of The Newsboy Legion (360 7x10-inch pages, all color; hardback, $49.99). As previously in the Sandman reprint, this volume was shot (or scanned) from pages of the original issue comic book rather than using the Theakstonizing process (bleaching the color out, then reconstructing the black linework and re-coloring the whole enchilada, albeit with more garish colors). Under the watchful eyes of Rick Keene, Mick Montagna and Harry Mendryk for scanning and reconstruction, the result is a purely flawless reincarnation of issue Nos. 7 through 32 of Star Spangled Comics, wherein the Newsboy Legion debuted and had its four-color life.
An advisory at the front of the book tells us that all the stories, “unless otherwise noted,” were written, penciled and inked by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon, but of the 26 stories herein, “otherwise noted” embraces all but eight of them. Kirby penciled all but two (both penciled by Gil Kane), but most of the inking was done by Arturo Cazeneuve. Kane inked one of the two he penciled, and other inkers included, one each, Steve Brodie, John Daly, and Harry Tschida. By his own testimony, Simon inked only the first eight Newsboy stories.
I’ve always been mildly discombobulated by the question of who inked Kirby. In the early years of their partnership, we’ve all assumed that Kirby penciled (because that’s where the energy in the pictures originated, in the pencils, and Kirby was notorious for not wanting to ink his work (like drawing it twice, he’d say) and Simon inked. In various places, however, I’ve read that the only authentic Simon and Kirby collaboration, with Simon inking Kirby, was in the Blue Bolt stories, the first of their joint endeavors. Simon’s contribution to the partnership was to write the stories and to market their product. Very soon, apparently, these assignments had elbowed any possibility of inking out of the studio, and the two recruited inkers from whoever was walking by the door, which, in those early days, included a lot of highly talented artists. In at least one place, Kirby is reported as saying that he reviewed the inks of the inkers and, with brush in hand, made judicious adjustments in the final art. Makes sense to me, but sensible interpretations of history are invariably controlled by whoever lasts longest. In this case, it’s Simon.
Boys’ Ranch is my favorite Simon and Kirby enterprise, and when Simon was interviewed some years ago by Will Eisner, it emerged, in the foggy way that most aspects of this subject emerged in that interview, that probably Kirby inked his own work in the Western series. The first few issues anyway. I have original art for a page of one of the later stories, and it’s too sloppily done to be either Kirby or Simon.
When I tried to get Simon to verify my speculation that Kirby had inked Boys’ Ranch, I asked him who did, and he said: “I did.” And he might well have.
In one of the numerous interviews with Simon, he says he’d add feathering to the inks of the other artists. Perhaps that was what he meant when he said he’d inked Boys’ Ranch. Certainly the inking of the first three or four issues was deft—confident and precise, the kind of inking you’d expect an artist to do on his own pencils. And that makes me wonder just how adroit Simon was by then, having abandoned the inkpot for most of his career. But maybe he could still feather with panache.
In any case, the prevailing notion as derived from any reading of interviews with Kirby or Simon—and from Simon’s book, The Comic Book Makers—is that the inking of their books was done by a legion of artists, trooping through their studio like a marching band. Most of their Captain America, for instance, was inked by an assortment of pen-and-brush wielders.
The volume at hand offers a chance to compare the inking Simon says he did with the inks of the other five artists who plied brush and pen over Kirby’s pencils. My cursory comparison, however, doesn’t lay the mystery to rest. The Newsboy story in No. 13 of Star Spangled Comics isn’t as embellished as the other stories: after the first couple of pages, there’s less feathering and shadowing. Most of the stories seem dark with deep shadows for wrinkles, say, or modeling on facial close-ups. Not in No. 13. Yet this is one of the stories Simon says he inked. Cazeneuve’s inking is virtually indistinguishable from the work Simon says he did. The faces drawn by Kane, Daly and Tschida are less embellished than those of Simon and Cazeneuve.
I have made several wild guesses about all this. First, its highly likely that the inking on any given story was done by more than one artist: Kirby, or Simon, or someone else altogether coming in after most of the ink was slung to add final touches of one sort or another, and such final touches would obscure the evidence of another artist’s inking mannerisms, rendering the sort of comparative examination I thought I’d do nearly pointless. Second, Simon may not have remembered as accurately as we might suppose. He didn’t remember a key aspect of the development of the Newsboy Legion when writing the book’s Introduction.
Simon spends an inordinate amount of time remembering his boyhood hawking newspapers in Rochester, New York—evidence, we suppose, for his being simpatico with newsboys like those in the Legion. But when he begins recounting how the Newsboy Legion came into being, he claims its creation followed that of the Boy Commandos. Most histories I consulted have the Newsboy Legion debuting in No. 7 of Star Spangled Comics, April 1942; the Boy Commandos, in No. 64 of Detective Comics, June 1942. Clearly, the Newsboys preceded the Boy Commandos, the reverse of Simon’s recollection—except ....
Except that a Boy Commandos story appeared in World’s Finest Comics No. 8 for “winter 1942.” When was “winter”? Could that Boy Commandoes story have been produced before the Newsboy story for April’s Star Spangled Comics? Possibly. There’s enough vagary here to support a contention on either side of the matter—except ....
Except that in Simon’s remembrance, the Boy Commandos was “the top-selling comic book feature in the world” at the time he invented the Newsboy Legion. In short, even if the “winter” Boy Commandos story was published before Simon concocted the Newsboy Legion debut for the June issue of Star Spangled, one appearance by the Boy Commandos, the one in World’s Finest No. 8, would not make it “the top selling comic book feature in the world.”
My final guess, then, is that Simon has confused aspects of the creation and debuts of both features, mixing one in with the other, blurring sequence, cause and effect.
That’s no sin. Human memory is fallible, as anyone (like me) who has done a biography, relying upon the testimony of the subject, can attest. And it’s likely that Simon’s recollection of who inked what is similarly faulty. He probably worked on more of the Newsboy stories in this volume than he remembers; and he probably remembers others contributing when they did not. But it’s still a beautiful reprinting, perfectly reconstructed, preserving fine lines without blotching them up, and printing on off-color white paper, in near mimicry of the original newsprint paper.
RANCID RAVES GALLERY
Pictures Without Too Many Words
Back in 1986, Ken Kragen conceived an extravagant event to raise money for charities: in “Hands Across America” on Sunday, May 25, some seven million people held hands for fifteen minutes in a human chain that ostensibly stretched 4,152 miles from New York’s Battery Park to the RMS Queen Mary pier in Long Beach, California. Participants were supposed to pay ten bucks each to reserve their place in the line, and the proceeds were donated to local charities to fight hunger and homelessness and help those in poverty. Undoubtedly, there were many breaks in the line’s continuity, and since nearly seven million people participated but only $20 million was raised, a lot of those in line didn’t pay for the privilege. But it was a highly publicized fund-raiser for worthy causes, and cartoonists joined in the effort.
The preceding Thanksgiving, many syndicated cartoonists had used their features that day to draw attention to the problem of world hunger. With that success behind them, “Hands Across America” seemed another cause worth promoting. To that purpose, Garry Trudeau, Charles Schulz, and Milton Caniff co-signed a letter to their inky-fingered brethren inviting them to create a mini “Hands Across America” with their characters, and 185 cartoonists participated, drawing their characters eight-and-a-half inches high so they could be joined together on a single roll of paper. In its June 1986 issue, Life magazine printed the result, reducing the 60-foot roll to four pages, which we now re-print here. Without looking at the names of the characters printed below most of them, how many can you identify?
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
The Thing of It Is ...
The number of suicides among military personnel is increasing: in 2007, it was 224; in 2008, it was 267; last year, it stood at 309. The increase is generally believed to be coincident with the repeated deployments to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In an Associated Press report about Jimmy Carter’s springing an American school teacher from a North Korean prison, we read that the erstwhile captive, Aijalon Gomes, was met stateside by people waving flags and banners. One banner, reporter Russell Contreras tells us, “pictured a Christian cross and contained biblical references to Acts, Psalms, and Job, an Old Testament book about a man who survived great tribulation” (my emphasis). So it’s come to this: our culture has so far descended into biblical illiteracy that a journalist can no longer assume that his readers know what the Book of Job is about, or who Job is.
To find out about Harv's books, click here.
send e-mail to R.C. Harvey
Art of the Comic Book - Art of the Funnies - Accidental Ambassador Gordo - reviews - order form - Harv's Hindsights - main page