Opus 277 (May 27, 2011). The date you just read is the approximate date that I finished writing this colyum of trifling languor, indifferent whimsy and lasting trivolity. This introductory effusion, however—the paragraph now under your very eyeballs—I wrote on the day after Doomsday, May 21, when, as you doubtless shudder to remember (thanks to some 5,000 billboards that erupted across the nation’s landscape lately), the “Rapture” was supposed to transport into Heaven all those human sapiens (sic) worthy of salvation, leaving the rest of us miserable, deep-dyed unrepentant sinners all, to a fate worse than death—apocalyptic deterioration of the social order and rampant individual barking insanity everywhere we look (or, perhaps—if we’re lucky—death itself).

            Well, I’m still here on Sunday, May 22. And so is my wife and the entire congregation of the church we went to this morning. This means one of two things: (1) either the wizened calculator of the date, radio personality Harold Camping, age 89, made a mistake in setting May 21 as the date of Wholesale Evaporation (like the mistake he made before when he predicted the same Doom in 1993) (or was it 1994? I forget); or—

            —or, (2) me, my wife, and the congregation of our church are such ravening sinners that we were all left behind yesterday when the rest of you were transposed to a state of bliss beyond the Pearly Gates. If the latter, I must say this apocalyptic abyss in which I find myself (and the aforementioned congregants) is pretty much like life as I’ve come to know it—a stunning realization, when you think about it, to learn that we’ve been living in a foreboding mad-doghouse all this time.

            A third possibility, however, exists: we’ve been Raptured and just don’t realize it. Magically, “Heaven” turns out to look pretty much like everyday apocalyptic life here along the Front Range in Colorado—same flora, fauna and fellow human sapiens (sic).

            At his blog, bizarrocomics.com, cartoonist Dan Piraro, caught up, momentarily, in the fevers of the forthcoming End of All Things—and knowing, for certain, that he would not be among the Raptured—found, notwithstanding, something positive in the fate that would befall him and millions of the rest of us: “If you act quickly you can sack the homes of the Raptured citizens and enjoy some of their stuff for the summer. That is, if you can find a ‘true believer’ who has stuff that you’d want. There won’t be much to choose from here in New York City because there are so few trailer parks here, but I might get lucky and find an abandoned car with the keys still in it. You never know. One of my readers said that Saturday’s Rapture is sponsored by Depends adult diapers. I know that if I was suddenly swept up into the sky, I’d crap my pants for sure.”

            But enough frivolity. I was ready. I’ve seen the elephant and heard the hooty owl. To no avail. So far. But dauntless Harold Camping isn’t finished, it seems. Realizing even at his advanced age (89) that he’d evidently made a mathematical error, he promptly recalculated the Known Universe and now says Dooms Day will fall in October, on the 21st, a Friday this time.

 

NOTHING WROTH, WE FORGE AHEAD in a paroxysm of anticipation, convinced that nothing can hold a candle to the Year of the Rabbit. click to enlargeThis time, we celebrate the life and work of Bill Gallo, the last sports cartoonist standing, who passed away May 10. We also get a pig’s-eye view of the notorious strike at Disney Studios on its 70th anniversary, post the first new Bill Watterson art on public display since 1995, review the alimentary practices in daily comic strips and Liza Donnelly’s book about wine and women (well, women mostly), evaluate the success of FreeComicBookDay and the spoils thereof, and ponder what’s missing at Playboy. And more, of course—much more. And here, so you’ll know where to find what interests you (and what to scroll by in disdain), is what’s here, in order, by department—:

 

 

NOUS R US

The Comics Journal No. 301 Is, At Last, Out

Playboy Cartoon Score and A Strange Disappearance

Superman Stolen; Hopes Go Awry

More Editooner Awards: Toles, Lester, Peters

Statuesque Spider-Man

Huckabee Comics

 

WATERSHED AT THE MOUSE HOUSE

A Look Inside the Infamous 1941 Strike

 

EDITOONERY

 

Rancid Raves Gallery

Bill Watterson’s Painting

Dennis the Menace at 60

Blitt on Trumpery

 

NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL

Speaking the Unspeakable

 

BOOK MARQUEE

Sergio Aragones Funnies

Peanuts Guide to Life

Men of Mystery Comics, No. 8: Black Terror

The Addams Family: An Evilution

 

BOOK REVIEW

When Do They Serve the Wine?

 

FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE

FreeComicBookDay Spoils:

Civil War Adventures

Mickey Mouse

Locke & Key

Amazing Spider-Man

Ruse

 

Bill Gallo, 1922-2011

 

 

Our Motto: It takes all kinds. Live and let live. Wear glasses if you need ’em.

 

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

AT LAST—the first of The Comic Journal’s semi-annual print edition is out, only 8 months late. In announcing this new species, the publisher also said that each print issue would be an individual, stand-alone book, designed to reflect its content. This one looks a good deal like a door-stop: at 624 virtually ad-free 7x8.5-inch pages with splashes and pages of color here and there, the Journal is an inch and three-quarters thick. So what does that design tell us about the content? All participants are door-stoppers?

            Nearly a third of the book is devoted to an interview of R. Crumb about his Genesis Illustrated and a roundtable discussion of it with Rick Marschall, Donald Phelps, Robert Stanley Martin, Jeet Heer, Tim Holder, Alexander Theroux and Kenneth R. Smith. Three “sketchbooks” feature the work of Jim Woodring, Tim Hensley, and Stephen Dixon. Warren Bernard takes a long look at the almost forgotten editorial cartoon great John T. McCutcheon and his work, Tim Krieder looks at Dave Sim’s Cerebus, Joe Sacco is interviewed about Footnotes in Gaza, Marc Sobel reviews the decade in comics, R. Fiore returns to take up the matter of racism in comics, I offer a comic strip that Gus Arriola conceived near the end of the run of Gordo but never got published (until now), and the whole of the first Gerald McBoing Boing comic book appears—written by Dr. Seuss, drawn in what came to be known as the UPA style. And more.

            Certainly worth the book-like price, $30, at classy comic book stores everywhere—soon; and at fantagraphicsbooks.com.

 

*****

NOTICES ABOUT THE DEATH of Jackie Cooper on May 4 usually began by mentioning that he played Daily Planet editor Perry White in the Christopher Reeves 1978 and 1980 Superman films. But eventually, the stories got around to mentioning Cooper’s other film role that brought to life a comics character: at the age of nine, Cooper became the youngest actor ever nominated for a leading role Oscar for playing the title character in “Skippy,” the 1931 film based upon Percy Crosby’s famous comic strip kid. And Crosby’s strip has been brought back to life lately by Rosebud Archives, which has published Skippy vs. the Mob (208 12x6-inch pages, b/w; paperback, $24.95). I’ve mentioned this book before, and I’ll be reviewing it soon, but in the meantime, perhaps it’s enough at the moment to say that one of the astonishing things about the volume is that it reprints some of the 1930 sequence from original art (August through mid-November), where Crosby’s sketchy pen flies across the panels with all the energy of the kid whose actions he’s depicting. A treat on every page.

            The second annual Anaheim Comic-Con, held in early May, packed Hall A of the Anaheim Convention Center with comic book artists and celebrities seated in rows, offering to sign pictures of themselves for a small fee, reported Ethan Hawkes and Parker Shannon at coastreportonline.com.

            The Cartoon Network is launching a new show, "The Looney Tunes Show," starring Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, who now live together as roommates. Adrienne Johnson Martin at newsobserver.com reports that in the first of the hour-long shows, “Best Friends,” Daffy satisfies a long-held desire to go on a tv game show, “Besties,” where friends earn money by sharing their knowledge of each other. “But it turns out that the completely self-absorbed Daffy doesn't know anything about his roomie. He hasn't even caught on that Bugs' last name is Bunny. If I have one complaint about the episode it's that Bugs is pretty much turned into a straight hare; he's so reasonable next to Daffy, there's no room for trademark Bugs' hilarity. Let's hope that's just in this episode.”

            Stan Lee’s Soldier Zero, The Traveler, and Starborn, are soon (perhaps even now) available for online and mobile devices through “Stan Lee BOOM! Comics App.” Lee told the Associated Press that with the proliferation of comic books into the digital sphere, it made sense to bring his own titles to market that way. Said Lee: “Comics are a medium that transcends age, appealing not only to today’s young readers but older ones, as well. And by giving them an unprecedented level of access, we’re ensuring that the fantastic stories, characters and worlds found only in comics will endure for many years to come.”

            The moguls at ICv2.com offer “the first official trailer for Steven Spielberg's ‘The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn,’ which will debut in the U.S. on December 23rd in 3-D. It appears from the trailer that this will be a reverential, almost shot-for-comic-panel adaptation of Herge's hugely popular (everywhere in the world except the U.S.) graphic novel. If Spielberg's film, which cost $135 million to produce, is successful, it could establish a niche for motion-capture animation. If not, along with the massive failure of Disney's ‘Mars Need Moms,’ it could provide the death knell for the format.”

            Allan Gardner reports at his DailyCartoonist that For Better or For Worse creator Lynn Johnston has been posting every Wednesday a video podcast wherein she provides a peek into her world as a cartoonist and creator of the Patterson family. In her latest, she talks about how April was, er, conceived. Other topics of previous podcasts are listed at DailyCartoonist for May 19.

            Scoop spilled the bad news a week or so ago: it seems the “Wonder Woman” tv pilot from “Boston Legal’s” creator David E. Kelley will not be picked up for a series at NBC. Syndicated columnist Maureen Dowd said the Kelley version was “so embarrassingly breast-centric that NBC executives used the Lasso of Truth to strangle it.” Too cleavage focussed or not, Scoop thinks Warner Bros is likely to shop it around to other outlets, including cable.

            Cartoonist Ted Rall isn’t too happy with the prevailing wages for cartoonists in the newspaper world, reported Matthew Fleischer at mediabistro.com, so he went on eBay and auctioned off his services. He started the bidding at 99 cents, and by May 3, he closed the bidding at $355, offered by a man who commissioned Rall to create a cartoon about hemp. “Rall was happy enough with the result that it looks like he's going to auction himself off again,” said Feischer, quoting Rall on his blog: "If you lost, fear not for you'll have another chance tomorrow."

 

*****

THE PLAYBOY CARTOON SCORE, number of cartoons published and the ratio of cartoons to page count, remains more-or-less constant in the June issue: 5 full-page cartoons (plus Olivia’s pin-up with caption) and 8 smaller cartoons (plus a two-page spread of 8 of Buck Brown’s lascivious granny cartoons) for a ratio of 1/11 (one cartoon every 11 pages). That’s about what’s been happening all year.

            The Big News, however—Playmates and others of that gender in the magazine have no pubic hair! None. It’s been airbrushed away. This desecration has apparently been going on for some time, and until now it has escaped my beady-eyed attention. I didn’t notice. See? I told you: I buy the magazine for the cartoons! The cartoons! Not the embarrassing pictures of barenekkidwimmin. Not me.

            I suppose that disappearing the pubic hair is another of Playboy’s efforts at entering the laddie mag market. Laddie mags don’t show pubic hair. And the nudity on display in a laddie mag is “near nudity,” not actual nudity. Playboy hopes to retain some of its historic readership by retaining actual nudity, but it has blurred the effect by airbrushing genitals and pubic hair off the barenekkidwimmin, who, nonetheless, remain naked, trumpeting the way that Playboy is different than laddie mags.

 

 

SUPERMAN STOLEN; HOPES GO AWRY

In a Cleveland suburb, the large metal plaque marking the neighborhood in which Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster lived when they invented Superman was stolen in mid-April. Speculation was that the thieves thought the bronze-colored aluminum sign was actually bronze and hoped to sell it for scrap metal. (Big plaque—maybe 3x5 feet. Heavy duty stuff.) Or else it was cut from the post on which it was mounted by “a rabid Superman collector,” said Tracey Kirksey, executive director of the Glenville Development Corporation.

            The plaque was posted by the Ohio Historical Society and the city in 2003 to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the first appearance of the Man of Steel in Action Comics No. 1 in 1938. A spokesman for the Historical Society said it was rare for such a marker to be stolen; he can’t recall any similar instance. The Society will replace the sign, and this time, Kirksey hopes, they’ll spell Siegal’s name correctly.

            Alas, her hopes were dashed in early May when the plaque was returned. The thieves dropped it off at a fire station not far from the Siegel-Shuster environs. Kirksey thinks all the publicity about the theft persuaded the thieves that they had an item too hot to sell anywhere.

            All the brouhaha about the sign, wrote Plain Dealer reporter Michael Sangiacomo (a comics enthusiast himself), had made it “as radioactive as a chunk of kryptonite.”

            While the Historical Society would have partnered with local officials to replace the missing sign, now that the original is back, they’re not likely to spring for a re-tooling just to correct the spelling of Siegel’s name, which is misspelled on only one side of the sign.

            In the hope that a remounted sign won’t be stolen again, it’ll be attached to a post higher up, beyond the reach of a single bound.

 

MORE EDITOONER AWARDS

TOM TOLES, the Washington Post’s editoonist—a past Pulitzer winner who just won the Herblock—was named Cartoonist of the Year by The Week magazine, the magazine revered here at Rancid Raves because its cover is always a full-color editorial cartoon painting. Runners-up were Steve Breen at the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mike Luckovich at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Glenn McCoy (a blatant conservative and therefore a breed seldom recognized in this way; syndicated by Universal Press), and Rob Rogers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who is quoted describing Toles’ work as “disarming doodles that belie his intent—like a cute little dog that lunges for your jugular.”

            Some of Toles’ cartoons are posted at theweek.com/article/index/215152/tom-toles-cartoonist-of-the-year, whereat the winner himself appears in a delicious full-color painted caricature by The Week’s duty cover artist, Fred Harper. The work of the finalists can be seen at the same place, theweek.com/article/index/215152/tom-toles-cartoonist-of-the-year-finalists.

 

ROME (GEORGIA) NEWS-TRIBUNE EDITORIAL cartoonist Mike Lester has once again garnered one of the most prestigious awards in journalism: the Society of Professional Journalists Sigma Delta Chi Award for Editorial Cartooning in newspapers under 50,000 circulation. The awards recognize the best in professional journalism in print, radio, television and online for 2010. Lester won the award for his work in 2006, too.

            Lester’s cartoons, distinguished, in my view, by their antic exaggeration, are published on the Opinion page of the daily News-Tribune (and online at RN-T.com) as well as all around the country through syndication with Cagle Cartoons. The paper’s report went on: “In addition to his work as an editorial cartoonist, Lester is an artist whose work ranges from advertising and marketing graphics to illustrations for children's books and licensed products. A new book he illustrated, Scritch-Scratch, recently received a glowing review in the New York Times and his A Is for Salad made the paper’s Top 10 list. The University of Georgia alum has spent the past 25 years as a commercial artist, illustrator, cartoonist, animator and writer. He's been with the Rome News-Tribune since 2002.

            Said Lester: "I'm quite honored to win the Sigma Delta Chi Award and want to thank our entire newspaper staff, but specifically our editorial department—Kathy Davis and John Willis—whose job it is to reel me in from time to time. They might need to tighten the drag a bit. But mostly I want to thank our readers, advertisers and everyone in our community who depend on the Rome News-Tribune to stay in touch with their community and their world. An informed populace is indeed vital."

 

MIKE PETERS at the Dayton Daily News has just received two national awards for his editooning: the Overseas Press Club’s Thomas Nast Award for the best cartoons on international affairs and the National Headliner Award. presented by the Press Club of Atlantic City. Quoted in the Daily News, Peters said: "I feel very honored getting those two awards this year. That's gilding a lily in a way, because I love what I do." Apart from drawing editorial cartoons, Peters, who is a Pulitzer winner, also produces the comic strip Mother Goose and Grimm.

            A few weeks ago whilst jumping around a flea market, I found and bought a 1996 collection of the strip (Friends Don’t Let Friends Own Cats) and was blown away by the energy of Peters’ pictures. Hereabouts are a few samples culled from the book. click to enlarge Peters is ably assisted these days by Jeff Parker, another editorial cartoonist who collaborates with yet another editoonist, Steve Kelley, on the comic strip Dustin. Perhaps the work I so admire in the compilation I just bought was actually committed by an earlier Peters assistant. Dunno. But the pictures are great fun to look at.

            Parker’s pictures are lively, too, but the strip’s action isn’t as fall-over frenetic these days as it once was: the gags don’t require the kind of blundering about hyper-activity that we see in the accompanying exhibit.

 

 

SPIDER-MAN IN 3-D SOME MORE

Spider-Man is making another comeback: not only is he back for another try on Broadway in “Turn Off the Dark,” but in yet another reincarnation, he’s wearing his original “web wing” costume he debuted with in a new line of Syroco-like figurines from Dark Horse. The new series will alternate between Classic Marvel Characters and the Fantastic Four and will be “deliberately different” than the common modern Marvel collectible sculpture. The Dark Horse figurines are crafted with antiquish features like “a rougher surface texture, visible seam lines, and other slightly ‘distressed’ aspects, such as the method of paint application.” The press release from Dark Horse quotes the company president, Mike Richardson: “I’ve collected Marvel comics since I was a kid, so I am really excited by this opportunity to add these terrific characters to our classic Syroco line. From the beginning, the goal of this program was to give a very unique treatment to the greatest characters in comics, and now we have the good fortune to work with the fine folks at Marvel on some of my absolute favorites.”

            The Syroco line offers stunningly produced and packaged collectors’ items. Here’s Dark Horse’s description: “Each hand-numbered statuette comes carefully packaged in a custom-tooled, full-color, litho-printed tin box, in a style similar to past releases. Also included is a small booklet about each character and a vintage-style pin-back button of the character.”

            The Dark Horses statuettes are inspired by figurines developed in the 1930s. “Now highly prized by collectors, they were often used as advertising premiums featuring famous comic-strip characters. Now known as Syroco figurines, these statuettes are named after both the company that originally produced them and the wood-like resin material from which they were made at the time. Measuring between four and five inches, these Dark Horse statuettes have been sculpted in the original style, described by sculptor Craig Yoe as ‘primitive but charming.’”

            Previous figurines from Dark Horse/Yoe include Disney’s Uncle Scrooge, the Kellogg’s cereal mascots, Charles Schulz’s Peanuts, stars of DC Comics and Archie Comics, The Simpsons, various newspaper-strip greats, including Li’l Abner and Daisy Mae, and Will Eisner’s the Spirit. “Spider-Man, limited to two thousand numbered statuettes, will be the first in the Classic Marvel Characters series, going on sale in September,” followed, it seems, by Daredevil is in his yellow-and-red uniform. In addition to the ongoing Classic Marvel lineup, other anticipated series include the original Avengers.

            I have several of these dandy statuettes, and, as you might be able to tell from my enthusiastic quoting of the Dark Horse press release, I’m delighted with them all.

 

 

FROM THE SUBLIME TO THE RIDICULOUS

Former preacher, Arkansas governor and, since 2008, Fox tv host and radio personality Mike Huckabee may not want to give up his entertainer celebrity status for the unholy grind of campaigning for President—he said all those around him encouraged him to make the run but the Almighty didn’t give him a sign—so he’s getting into animated cartoons. He’s launched a new educational company called Learn Our History, saith foxnews.com, “that aims to get kids excited about studying the nation's past. The cartoon “follows the adventures of the Time Travel Academy, a group of young friends who use a homemade time machine to travel back in time to relive America's history.” Said Huckabee: “America's youth aren't excited about our past because they're being taught history in a way that minimizes what has made America a beacon of hope around the world for over 200 years. It's impossible to overestimate the importance of giving our children a historically accurate and unbiased education that allows kids today to enjoy and understand our history, and build their pride in our great nation.”

            The series will doubtless be as accurate and unbiased as any Grumpy Old Pachyderm can be. The first in the series spotlights the GOP godling, Ronald Reagan: the characters experience the 1980 presidential election and Reagan's "Tear Down This Wall" speech in Berlin.

            In what foxnews.com calls an “amusing and sometimes alarming retrospective of how things went down, the teenagers encounter on the streets of Washington a dark-skinned mugger clad in a ‘Disco’ muscle shirt and armed with a knife, demanding money. Other scenes of violence unfold before Reagan appears like a white knight with a message of hope and optimism.”

            Right. “Accurate and unbiased” my rusty dusty.

            "God had a plan for America," the cartoon version of Reagan says. "I see it as a shining city on a hill. If we ever forget that we are one nation under God, then we will be one nation gone under."

            "Learn Our History is producing an impressive list of titles, spanning the earliest events that formed the nation to the latest struggles we grapple with today," Huckabee said. "Each video we produce is developed in cooperation with a respected team of educators and leading historians to ensure both historical accuracy and a learning experience that children will love."

            Future installments in the series will focus on World War II, the Sept. 11 attacks and the ensuing war on terror, the American Revolution, Christopher Columbus and the first Thanksgiving. We wonder if any Native Americans will show up at the accurate and unbiased inaugural Turkey Day According to Huckabee.

 

 

Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing segment is culled from articles eventually indexed at rpi.edu/~bulloj/comxbib.html, the Comics Research Bibliography, maintained by Michael Rhode and John Bullough, which covers comic books, comic strips, animation, caricature, cartoons, bandes dessinees and related topics. It also provides links to numerous other sites that delve deeply into cartooning topics. Three other sites laden with cartooning news and lore are Mark Evanier’s povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s DailyCartoonist.com, and Tom Spurgeon’s comicsreporter.com. And then there’s Mike Rhode’s ComicsDC blog, comicsdc.blogspot.com and Michael Cavna at voices.washingtonpost.com./comic-riffs . For delving into the history of our beloved medium, you can’t go wrong by visiting Allan Holtz’s strippersguide.blogspot.com, where Allan regularly posts rare findings from his forays into the vast reaches of newspaper microfilm files hither and yon.

 

QUOTES & MOTS

In No. 17 (2010) of Hogan’s Alley, an admirable periodical, editor Tom Heintjes talked with a couple of today’s cartoonists who are producing the strips conceived by their fathers years and years ago: Brian and Greg Walker, who work with their father Mort on Beetle Bailey and Brian with Chance Browne (son of the original cartoonist) on Hi and Lois; and Jeff Keane, who produces Family Circus, originated by his father Bil. While the conversation meandered through a lot of topics, I was intrigued by their responses to questions having to do with how they felt about inheriting their livelihoods.

            Brian Walker: Chance Browne and I still talk about how we feel like we’re still striving for the perfection that our dads established, and that we’re still in their shadows. ... The way I’ve always thought of it is, sure, we were presented with a huge opportunity as the offspring of these famous creators. That’s not an opportunity that everyone gets, and I’m very aware of that. A certain amount of luck goes into play with that. But in this business, nepotism will get you only so far. That strip is going to appear in the newspaper, and the reader doesn’t care of Bil Keane or Jeff Keane or Mort Walker of Brian Walker is doing it. The product’s quality has to be there, day in and day out. It’s not like dad had an auto repair shop and I’m sitting in the back room drinking beer.

            Jeff Keane: The problem is th same: we all start with a blank piece of paper. So whether I’m doing it, or my dad is doing it, it doesn’t matter. And you don’t really know if the person whose name is on the strip is actually doing it anyway. I know that what I’m doing now is more than what my dad was doing 30 years ago because he had a couple of [other] cartoons he was doing at the same time. [He pencilled and lettered Family Circus, but someone else would ink it and color the Sundays.] But I’m doing the penciling, the inking, the lettering and the coloring—only because I want the quality to be as good as I can make it myself. So if someone says, “Oh, you have it easy,” it isn’t. I guess I could make it easy and not do anything, but I know what it’s supposed to be like.

            When I first started it was scary because I didn’t even know how to ink. I could pencil because I could use an eraser. But the guy who was inking Family Circus left, and Dad said, “Why don’t you try to ink it?” and I said, “He uses a brush!” But I taught myself to use a brush. It took me a lot longer [to do the cartoon]. And the dotted-line cartoons are so complicated because you need perspective. At first I said, “I could never draw that!” But you start this thing and you go along, and you’ve got this finished product.

 

 

 

WATERSHED AT THE MOUSE HOUSE

The Strike That Took “Uncle” Out of Walt Disney

SEVENTY YEARS AGO, in June 1941, Disney Studios experienced a strike that changed the atmosphere there forever. The Studio had grown too large for personal interaction between Walt and his employees—from 300 to 1,200 in just five years. And Uncle Walt was a my-way-or-the-highway guy, so his staff began to feel both distant and disregarded. Under such circumstances, what might have been minor beefs became major preoccupations—no on-screen credit for animators, bonuses misunderstood. Feeling left out and resentful, the Disney staff was ripe for falling into the clutches of union organizers, which, in those days, were numerous.

            The unionizing of animators began in 1937 at Fleischer Studio in New York; within a couple of years, it had spread to California: both MGM and Warner Bros were unionized, and union organizers now eyed Disney Studios. At Disney, Art Babbitt, a key animator, formed in early 1938 an in-house “union” called Cartoonists Federation, which was certified by the National Labor Relations Board in June 1939. But it disbanded rather than fight for contract modifications.

            Then in October 1940, Dave Hilberman, an animation assistant, moved to organize a chapter of the Screen Cartoonists Guild (SCG). By the end of the year, SCG had signed up a majority of Disney employees, entitling it to ask for recognition. Uncle Walt, in reaction, formed a “closed shop” arrangement with the defunct Federation to freeze out the interloper. In early February 1941, the SCG charged the studio with sponsoring a company union. Walt retaliated by forbidding any employee to engage in union activity. Then he gave a paternalistic speech to his entire staff; but instead of fostering a sense of belonging, it alienated many, and more joined the SCG in reaction.

            Squabbling and maneuvering continued for months, exacerbated when Walt, trying to stay in production during the Depression, instituted austerity measures to control costs—resulting in salary cuts of 5-15 percent. Salt in the wounds. SCG called for a strike, and on May 29, the picket line formed outside Disney Studios. Some employees crossed the picket line; others did not.

            More maneuvering ensued, but by the end of June, the strike was over. Negotiation on the details took until mid-September, but Walt was devastated by the vehemence of the dislike manifest by so many of his employees, who, until the strike, he had regarded as his “boys,” the children and beneficiaries of his benevolence. Said Neal Gabler in Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination (my principal source for all of this): “Walt may not have believed ... that his employees loved him, but he did believe that they were dedicated to the greater good of animation and to the artistic community he had created.” He had kept everyone on the payroll even during the economic hard times, but instead of being grateful, they’d gone out on strike. “It hurt him,” said Ward Kimball, quoted by Gabler. The only explanation Walt could imagine for such behavior was that Communists had infiltrated his company. In any event, the mutual respect and good will that had prevailed at the Disney Studios evaporated. From then on, it was a business, not a brotherhood.

            By way of nodding at this watershed event in the history of an American institution, we’ve posted below a comic strip produced by Disney cartoonists and published in the July 25, 1941 issue of Friday magazine. Negotiations were still going on then, and not everyone was back at work.click to enlarge

            The text introducing the strip, if you can’t make it out, is as follows (in italics):

            Hollywood rubbed its mascaraed eyes last month [June] as the people who draw Mickey Mouse—700 members of the Screen Cartoonists Guild (AFL)—went on strike in Walt Disney’s “Happy Valley.” Glamour girls and gags perked up the picket line. With cartoons like this special strip for Friday, striking artists appealed to the public through the funny bone. Behind the comic extravaganza lay real issues—the demand for a living wage, union recognition and elimination of Disney’s three-year “apprentice” rule forcing employees to work the full period at weekly salaries as low as $22.50 or forfeit $3,120 for “tuition.” Strikers were solidly backed by fellow craftsmen from high-salaried actors and writers to electricians.

            Walt Disney was probably wrong about Communist infiltration; if there were Communists active in the place, almost no one knew it at the time. (And at the time, remember, the Communist Party was legal in this country.) Walt was wrong to resist unionization so stubbornly; a less autocratic manager would have played along enough to get some things his way. But Walt was partly right about his staff’s dedication to “the greater good of animation.” Not all his employees went on strike; many stayed on the job—for exactly the reason Walt would have supposed—because they were dedicated to better and better animation. And in interviews years later, many express sympathy for Walt’s dilemma and even support for the stance he took. Many interviews are the subject of two books compiled by Don Peri for the University Press of Mississippi (one of my publishers, kimo sabe): Working with Walt (2008; reviewed in Opus 225) and Working with Disney (2011; reviewed last time in Opus 276)

 

 

 

EDITOONERY

Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted

SINCE OUR LAST MEETING, the killing of Osama bin Laden continued, for a week or so, to dominate the so-called news media, with sidebars on the Congressional fussing about the budget/deficit/debt-ceiling and the Growly Old Pachyderm’s emerging field of presidential hopefuls, most of whom attracted press attention by announcing that they would not be candidates. We wait in breathless anticipation for a similar proclamation from Sarah Livingston Palin. We’ve collected a few of the noteworthy editoons on these matters and posted them below in four “pages,” numbered with red circled numbers, as of yore.

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            The recommended procedure for perusing the deathless expository prose that follows is to print off these four “pages” so you’ll have them at hand, under beetling brow, to observe what we’ll be talking about as we rattle on. In all instances, we begin with the cartoon at the upper left and wind through the rest in a clockwise fashion.

 

IN RED ONE, we go abroad, quoting Daryl Cagle at Cagle Cartoons: “I always find it fascinating to take a quick peek at how cartoonists across the world handle big news events. Obviously, the death of Osama bin Laden has been the biggest news story of the year, so nearly every cartoonist has their own take and spin on it.” Then he offers three by the great South African editoonist Jonathan Shapiro (aka Zapiro), the guy who has accused the country’s prez of behavior akin to raping justice (see Ops. 241, 263 and 271). Cagle continues: “Zapiro’s cartoons about bin Laden’s death are interesting, viewing the events from a different perspective than an American cartoonist might. His first cartoon is the most ‘American,’ showing bin Laden’s face as one of the twin towers,” an image that handily and memorably connects the assassinated terrorist with the event that justifies his execution.

            In the next Zapiro effort, he shifts attention away from the killing of bin Laden to the Arab Spring during which totalitarian governments are being toppled not by terrorist violence but by cellphone and tweets, a nice variation not explored at all that I know of by American cartooners. The attitude of the young in Zapiro’s cartoon suggests how irrelevant al Qaeda has become: the mobs of would-be democratic partisans have attacked and removed the oppression that fostered the fear and resentment upon which al Qaeda depended for recruiting warriors.  Then Zapiro confronts his own ambiguous feelings about killing bin Laden. Altogether, a trio of cartoons that seems to touch all the bases on the matter except outright objection to bin Laden’s murder.

            In the last visual aid on this page, a cartoonist whose name I can’t read takes a somewhat deviant view of the events of the Arab Spring in Libya to remind us of how premature Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize seems, now, to have been.

RED TWO’S cartoons take up various aspects of the bin Laden aftermath, chiefly the suspicion that the Pakistani government—or, to be more precise, some agency within Pakistani officialdom—knew all the time where bin Laden’s lair was. Or if they didn’t, they should have. Dave Fitzsimmons gives us a crisply vivid image employing an obvious metaphor. Doubtless there were other images of the same sort, just as there were dozens of editoons that used Hokusai’s famed picture of the “Great Wave Off Kanagawa” to depict some aspect of the tragedy in Japan, prompting Wiley Miller, a former editoonist who now draws the comic strip Non Sequitur, to say: “The only thing less imaginative than 99 percent of the so-called editorial cartoonists today is 100 percent of the editors they pander to. The only surprise I had was that no one has drawn a huge Sumo wrestler with ‘tsunami’ written across his butt, ready to pounce on a little guy holding a Japanese flag.”

            This phenomenon, several (at least five) editoonists deploying the same imagery for the same event, Daryl Cagle calls a “cartoon yahtzee.” And it occurs with surprising frequency. The nose image depicting Pakistan’s myopia being only the latest. But John Darkow takes a comedic step further, creating yet another telling image that explains why we all thought bin Laden was in a cave all these years.

            Next, Pat Bagley creates another metaphor, suggesting that Pakistan was in bed with al Qaeda and bin Laden, finishing with a highly comical image of official Pakistan: revealed hiding behind a curtain, he waves guiltily to the vengeful Uncle Sam commando.

            The only success the Grumpy Old Pachyderm has been able to extract from the success of Obama’s campaign to find and “bring to justice” the wiley bin Laden is to claim that waterboarding works: extreme methods of interrogation (i.e., torture) produced fragments of information which eventually led to bin Laden’s hideout. But Senator John McCain, who, as a survivor of North Vietnamese torture while in one of their prisons, ought to know whereof he  speaks, says flatly that torture doesn’t work: “Under torture, a person will say anything he thinks his captors want to hear—true of false–if he believes it will relieve his suffering.”

            Moreover, the GOP assertion that waterboarding Khalid Sheik Mohammed 183 times yielded useful information is, McCain says, “false.” (183 times! So it didn’t work 182 times—scarcely a record of success we should pattern future behavior after.) The first mention of the nickname of bin Laden’s courier, McCain said, “came from a detainee held in another country, who we believe was not tortured.” And “none of the three detainees who were waterboarded provided the courier’s real name or an accurate description of his role in al Qaeda.”

            All of which explains Mike Keefe’s cartoon with its picture of McCain supplying the visual evidence of a personal history that qualifies the Senator as an expert on the subject. And I find myself in rare agreement with McCain, who, like me, opposes torture because it isn’t something American values condone or tolerate. We believe we’re better than that—and that all humanity should be better than that. Whether waterboarding works or not is beside the point: the point is that torture is inhumane and contrary to our best version of ourselves as a nation, and we shouldn’t practice it. It ain’t us. Or shouldn’t be.

            Writing in a special to the Washington Post, McCain, refuting the efficacy of torture and confronting the Arab Spring, said: “Can’t we all agree that the most obvious thing we can do [to influence the course of events] is to stand as an example of a nation that holds an individual’s human rights as superior to the will of the majority or the wishes of government. I don’t mourn the loss of any terrorist’s life. What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect, we confuse or encourage those who fight this war for us to forget that best sense of ourselves. Through the violence, chaos and heartache of war, through deprivation and cruelty and loss, we are always Americans, and different, stronger and better than those who would destroy us.”

            The chest thumping aside, I mostly applaud.

 

IN RED THREE, we take one last shot at the assassination of bin Laden with Jim Morin’s deployment of a hackneyed image to suggest that removing bin Laden won’t end the predations of al Qaeda. The root system, you’ll note, is healthy and extensive. Moreover, the image of the roots suggests not only that they once supported the towering figure of bin Laden and his gospel of terrorism but that now the roots have a kind of vitality of their own. They live on without the tree they’ve supported. Indeed, our understanding of al Qaeda has always suffered from a Western notion of order and hierarchy in organizations. Al Qaeda is not an organization with a head office and branch offices around the world. It is, rather—as I said last time—a loosely affiliated smattering of underground gangs whose only overt connection to bin Laden is loyalty to the terrorist principles he fostered. Still, eliminating bin Laden, while it will probably have no effect whatsoever upon this non-existent “organization,” was a blow to the morale of the terrorists, who envisioned their “prophet” as invincible.

            In the next cartoons, we move to different subjects. Pat Bagley supplies an image that vividly depicts the economic problem that is emerging for older Americans, and silent images as finely honed as this one are powerful and memorable. As is Nick Anderson’s visual metaphor showing how the block grants Paul Ryan advocates will affect Medicaid. And Mike Keefe supplies a hilarious image explaining why the Old Pachyderm is flip-flopping, rolling back plans to dismantle Obama’s health care reform. Canny old brute: recent polls show that roughly two thirds of Americans want Medicare kept just as it is; even seven out of 10 self-identified TeaBaggers oppose cuts.

 

RED FOUR’S ARRAY takes up other subjects. Signe Wilkinson produced a highly comical depiction of the GOP position on tax cuts for the rich and its refusal to fund Planned Parenthood with chesty executives’ anatomy echoed in the pregnant woman’s swelling belly. But Clay Bennett’s cartoon puts the whole abortion problem in correct perspective, creating a poignant but forceful indictment of male dominance in government.

            In a book review in The New Republic (April 28), Christine Stansell rehearses the history of the abortion battle, observing that “it is striking how constant legal support for abortion has remained. In the weeks after the Roe decision was announced, polls showed roughly two-thirds of the public approving the Supreme Court decision; and the percentage has remained more or less the same since. ... Most Americans, male and female, want abortions to be legal, and have wanted the same thing for more than forty years.”

            So why has the issue persisted to engage both politicians and the presumed body politic at such hysterical levels? Because, says Stansell, “it has been a proving ground for strong-arm strategies that are now the stock-in-trade of a Republican Party taken over by people who learned what politics was about from what happened with single issues such as anti-choice. They saw that it was possible for a small minority to hamstring business as usual by presenting itself as ‘public opinion.’ The unabashed mendacity, the extreme and implausible goals (the contraceptive-free Christian family that lurks right beneath the surface), and the ginning up of protest by elites with deep pockets and political plans: these were all road-tested on the long march against Roe.”

            I’m not sure that, if faced with the choice, I’d chose abortion if my wife had brought it up. Or either of my daughters. Abortion looks a lot like killing. Or if not killing, extermination. And the prospect of committing or approving such an act is not something that I view with equanimity. I’d hate to have to make a choice. But I believe it is my choice—jointly with my wife—to make. It’s not the government’s decision: it’s ours. Legislation that bans abortion eliminates choice and thereby undermines personal liberty. Seems obvious to me.

            And then for the fun of it, a couple comments on the burgeoning array of Republican candidates (or not) for prez. Pat Bagley goes to a hairdresser and, depicting the distinctive hair arrangements of several possible GOP candidates, lets the hairdresser express exasperation at what she has to work with. John Darkow’s cartoon, tacking onto a new movie title, also touches on the lack of stature of the candidates, but I’m including it here chiefly because I like the way he draws elephants. Aren’t they cute?

            Finally, here’s Scott Stantis in Red Five. Now editooning for the Chicago Trib, Stantis felt moved by the recent city election to give a lesson on how to draw the city’s new mayor.click to enlarge

 

 

 

PERSIFLAGE AND FURBELOWS

Michael Ramirez is one of a very tiny minority: he’s a conservative political cartoonist. Interviewed by John Read in the latest issue of Stay Tooned (No. 9), Ramirez talks about his job interview at the Los Angeles Times, where he replaced Paul Conrad, among the most rabid of liberal cartoonists (in italics):

            I was the only editorial cartoonist who didn’t apply for the job. ... You can’t find two people who are as diametrically opposed philosophically as Paul and I. So I was surprised when I got the call from them and they flew me out [from his then-current gig at the Memphis Commercial Appeal] for an interview. The first thing I said, during our initial meeting, as the introductions were being made with the editorial page editor, the editor and the op-ed page editor, was, “Look—I’m a capitalist; you guys are communists. This obviously isn’t gonna work.” [Laughter ensued.] I said, “I think you want to hire me because my last name is Ramirez and I represent the racial demographic here in L.A. because I’m one-quarter Spanish, one-quarter Mexican and half-Japanese.” ... They said, Well, we’ve been taking your syndication for a long time, and we know exactly where you stand. And I said, Well, obviously you know that I’m very different from Paul Conrad, and, frankly, I don’t trust your judgment.” Laughter ensued some more.

            Ramirez was hired and stayed at the Los Angeles Times for 12 years, until, let go in what the paper called a budgetary consideration, he was hired in 2006 by the Investors Business Daily—people who know business and what makes successful investments, and they clearly knew an editorial cartoonist would be a good investment in the newspaper’s business; nicely ironic. Asked about the future of his profession, Ramirez said he has hope for the print medium. “There will come a time,” he predicted, “when the dust settles, that electronic and print will co-exist, each delivering the news their own way but offering something the other cannot.”

 

 

RANCID RAVES GALLERY

Pictures, Sometimes Without Too Many Words (but not this time)

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On display this time, starting from the upper left corner of the first exhibit above, we have a 6x8-inch oil painting of Petey Otterloop, whose colossal insecurities are one of the animating elements in Richard Thompson’s comic strip, Cul de Sac, which otherwise stars Petey’s precocious sister Alice. The noteworthy aspect of this painting, however, is not so much its connection to the oeuvre of R. Thompson: it is, rather, that this is the first new piece of art from Bill Watterson, who abandoned Calvin and Hobbes 16 years ago to take up painting, which he did, until now, somewhat furtively. This may be the first public appearance of a Watterson painting. He donated it to Parkinson’s research initiative Team Cul De Sac, an online project formed in 2009 that, with Parkinson’s sufferer Thompson’s approval, seeks to raise $250,000 for Parkinson’s research.

            Team Cul De Sac is part of Michael J. Fox’s Team Fox, and the deadline for donations has recently been extended to June 17, 2011. From Thompson’s website: “Team Cul de Sac is inviting professional cartoonists, illustrators, artists and animators to donate original art made especially for a book, published by Andrews & McMeel, about Parkinson's awareness. Part of the profits from the sales of the book would benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation, and the original art would be auctioned as part of the fundraiser with all of auction money going to MJFF. Additionally, there could be a limited number of deluxe edition books signed and numbered by Richard Thompson.

            Watterson was interviewed by Michael Cavna at his ComicRiff blog—a benchmark achievement: Watterson almost never permits himself to be interviewed. But for the sake of Parkinson’s research, he surrendered, saying about his Petey painting: “I was reluctant to goof around with Richard's creation, so I had trouble thinking of an approach that interested me until I got the idea of painting a portrait. I thought it might be funny to paint Petey ‘seriously,’ as if this were the actual boy Richard hired as a model for his character. At first I intended to do the picture in a dark, Rembrandt-like way to accentuate the ‘high art’ of painting vs the ‘low art’ of comics — the joke being that the comic strip is intelligent and the painting is idiotic — but the picture went through quite a few permutations as it developed. I found it interesting how the comical distortions in a cartoony drawing become freakish and grotesque when they're depicted more three-dimensionally. Anyway, by the end, I wasn't sure whether the painting came out funny or creepy, but I hope it's intriguing somehow.”

            Possibly.

 

NEXT IN THE SAME EXHIBIT is a reminder that Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace, which debuted March 12, 1951, is celebrating its 60th year this year, and collections of the classic CBS-TV “Dennis the Menace” are available on DVD. The first two seasons of the 1956-63 sitcom, 70 episodes, are available from www.shoutfactorystore.com. Dunno if the DVD and the 60th are somehow connected, but in these days of cross-fertilized promotional schemes, I wouldn’t be surprised. A propos, therefore, of the occasion, we’ll stop in midstream to watch the visual orchestrations of the two maestros who succeeded Ketcham. To which purpose, I’ve posted three recent daily Dennis panels, all by Marcus Hamilton, and a Sunday by Ron Ferdinand.

            All demonstrate a precept that Ketcham developed on the advice of a New Yorker cartoonist named Perry Barlow. Barlow lived in Westport, Connecticut, a borough of artists and cartoonists in the 1940s and 1950s. Ketcham had moved into that chummy enclave when he got out of the Navy in 1946, resolved to crack the magazine market for gag cartoons. The Westport cartoonists used to gather once a week or so for a meal and conversation. Ketcham met Barlow at one of these confabulations and, at Barlow’s invitation, dropped around to his studio every once in a while to have the veteran magazine cartooner critique his, Ketcham’s, current batch of hopeful submissions.

            On one such occasion, one of the cartoons depicted a farmer in a horse-drawn wagon clopping down a country rode. Ketcham recalled the ensuing conversation in his autobiography, The Merchant of Dennis the Menace: “Perry offered a few minor thoughts that, for me at least, added charm and credibility. ‘Farm wagons,’ he said, ‘generally have a lantern swinging from the undercarriage. And in most cases the farmer’s dog will be loping behind.’

            “I was impressed by his insight,” Ketcham continued, “and from that moment on was more sensitive and aware of details that might enhance the art.”

            Judging from the evidence at hand, Hamilton and Ferdinand are perpetuating the Ketcham practice.

            The first daily Dennis, the one with the kid at school, could have been drawn any number of ways, I suppose, but what struck me about it was Dennis sitting backwards at his desk. An ingenious pose. And one not easy to come by. Marcus told me he played with several alternatives before hitting on this one. And this one is perfect: not only is it inventively contrived, but it captures Dennis’ personality. Turned around, seated on the writing desk with his elbow resting on the chair’s back, Dennis is the very emblem of the independent (not to say rebellious) kid, the class menace.

            The ingenuity of the composition is Hamilton’s; but profusion of detail is, I suspect, a consequence of the late Ketcham’s coaching. There are simpler ways to present this tableau, but this way creates the ambiance of a schoolroom as well as positioning the actors and speaker: it’s full of people (more kids than are absolutely necessary for the gag) and the artifacts that suggest a schoolroom (books on the teacher’s desk, posters on the wall, writing on the blackboard).

            The next two daily panels deploy the same strategy. While the background with Dennis’ father loading the trunk of the car is necessary to suggest that the Mitchell family is about to depart on vacation, the stuffed toy Dennis is clutching isn’t. It’s like the lantern dangling from the wagon’s undercarriage: it adds verisimilitude.

            Ditto the next example. The background details are necessary for showing that Dennis and his mother are in a fast food outlet; but the diner carrying a tray at the left is the loping dog.

            Ferdinand does the same kind of thing in the Sunday Dennis. He has more room, but the very multiplicity of panels requires that he do something for the sheer sake of visual variety. None of these panels employ the same composition. And Ferdinand gives Dennis’ mother something to do during the conversation—something a mother and housewife may reasonably be expected to be doing. She’s ironing. And the composition in the penultimate panel—just Dennis and his mother’s legs—includes the legs of the ironing board, details that might’ve been overlooked: Ferdinand could have drawn just Dennis. But the legs perpetuate the atmosphere of the sequence. And the bird’s eye view of the Mitchell home is wholly unnecessary to the unfolding of the story. It takes more work to draw a believable house, but the picture adds variety as well as verisimilitude to a sequence that is otherwise rather limp because the gag requires so little action.

            Ferdinand also deploys one of my favorite devices—the silhouette panel. I’ve added (at the right of the strip) a second example of this maneuver, a silhouette without any internal lines. And the rosy cheeks of Dennis and his mother together with the white highlights in the flesh tones give the Sunday Dennis a unique sparkle that adds to the visual appeal of colorful, varied compositions.

 

OUR NEXT VISUAL AID is also from the Dennis canon—this time, from a special 1960 comic book entitled Dennis the Menace in Mexico. As he did on various occasions, Ketcham sent two of his staff to Mexico, where, on location, artist Al Wiseman and writer Fred Toole were to gather material for this comic book. (Several years ago, Ketcham sent Hamilton and Ferdinand to Hawaii, as I recall, for the same purpose—in anticipation of a series about the Mitchells vacationing in the islands.) This was a perk, of course: while reconnoitering the culture, the  scouts also enjoyed the locale.

            Amongst the material they gathered was, it seems, something about a bull fight. But the napping Mexican they surely never saw. The stereotypical picture of a Mexican dozing through the afternoon under his sombrero is a wholly fictional construction. Gus Arriola, whose Gordo comic strip took place in Mexico, told me once that he tried to assume the classic pose of a sombreroed Mexican asleep. It was physically impossible Gus said. You’d think Ketcham would know that: he and Arriola were friends who convened with others once a week in Monterey at Doc’s Lab, where they listened to jazz and imbibed in musical lore (and other, liquid, refreshment). Didn’t the two cartoonists ever talk about ethnic stereotypes? Probably but maybe not as early as 1960, the year of this comic book’s publication. In any event, it’s Wiseman’s picture (even though approved, doubtless, by the eagle-eyed Ketcham), and I like it so much—its clean and graceful lines—I’ve included it here just to look at it again.

 

OUR LAST EXHIBIT in the Rancid Raves Gallery this time is surprisingly political. The New Yorker has always broken up the gray of its pages of type with spot illustrations, and a couple years ago, the magazine started a new policy on the spots: all the spots in a given issue would be drawn by a single artist. Recently, that artist was Barry Blitt, who has become a frequent cover artist for the magazine (probably because of the excitement and controversy caused his portrait of Barack Obama and his wife as radical Muslims on the cover of an issue during the 2008 presidential campaign). This series of spots is different than any I’ve seen before: they all celebrate Trumpishness. Trump the superman, the savior of the country crossing the Delaware, the Cheshire smile that is all that remains, the phobia about being touched by anyone (what fun that would be to watch on the campaign trail!), the self-crowned monarchy, movie star, master painter, bird-nest hair, and, at last, the prevailing narcissism of Trumpishness.

            Below the Trumpery, is a recent The Week cover. Always a political cartoon in full color (usually including a caricature of the week’s newsmaker), this time, the cover picture offers an indelible image of the nearly soundless finale of Osama bin Laden.

 

 

 

READ AND RELISH

Apparently it's no longer politically correct to direct a joke at any racial or ethnic minority, so try this one: An Englishman, a Scotsman, an Irishman, a Welshman, a Ghurkha, a Latvian, a Turk, an Aussie, a German, a Yank, an Egyptian, a Japanese, a Mexican, a Spaniard, a Russian, a Pole, a Lithuanian, a Swede, a Finn, an Israeli, a Romanian, a Bulgarian, a Serb, a Swiss, a Greek, a Singaporean, an Italian, a Norwegian, a Libyan, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist and an African went to a night club. The bouncer said, "Sorry, I can’t let you in without a Thai."

 

 

 

NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL

The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping

 

Speaking the Unspeakable: Taboos That Have Been Outstripped

The French have a word for it, and the word is toilet. And since French is an elegant language, we can scarcely object to comic strip jokes in which the porcelain appliance makes an appearance. Not that I would object: a joke’s a joke. But it seems I can’t escape toilet jokes these days. Toilets and the bodily functions that they imply. Having flushed the subject (so to speak—with a tip of the topper to Dan Piraro, whose Bizarro, in a minute, partakes of the same verboten verbiage), let me remind you that once upon a time not too long ago, cartoonists in newspapers could not allude by word or picture to toilets or to the alimentary functions. But here we have Greg Evans in Luann alluding all over the place.click to enlarge

            I can’t remember ever seeing anything like the first panel in any comic strip. Daring. Unprecedented. But natural. Supremely so. The situation is profoundly real: two women friends conversing from adjoining stalls in the women’s lavatory. It is so real and so authentic that it takes only a second to realize what is happening in the first panel—and then, to remember how emphatic the prohibition once was against depicting such a scene. And then the women leave their separate stalls and wash their hands in adjoining basins. Very natural, very real—just the sort of thing Evans is so adept at.

            But can we help but think, as we contemplate the first panel, of poop and pee? That, of course, is exactly why depicting toilets has been so long forbidden. Moreover, for the longest time, toilets couldn’t even be mentioned. The word toilet didn’t exist in comic strip country.

            The taboo, however, has disappeared. Luann’s unprecedented achievement was, within a month, out-unprecedented in J.P. Toomey’s strip, Sherman’s Lagoon, where we find an overt depiction of the bathroom contrivance, familiar in everyone’s home but not in syndicated comic strips.  Toomey spent every strip this week in the loo. Or, rather, Hawthorne the hermit crab did. We’ve come a long way, baby, from the days when a cartoonist couldn’t even mention this part of the bathroom: now, thanks to Hawthorne, we’re inside the biffy—a women’s lavatory, in fact!—discussing “taking care of business.” And what business might that be, tovarich? Pooping and peeing, naturally.

            Yes, it gets worse, Megan: writing on the walls! Right below where I left my phone number. Keith Knight carries on in this new tradition in The Knight Life, as we see here. And Wiley Miller in his Non Sequitur immediately below Keef’s strip takes the next leap, from toilet to its frequent content. Here the repulsiveness of the topic acquires added revulsion because it involves dogs, who are well known in some parts for a particularly nauseating dietary preference.

            In somewhat the same vein, we find Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse, now recycling the strips of yesteryear.click to enlarge You need only a second’s thought before you realize what

   

John is doing in the bushes. Then we have Wiley again, dwelling on the subject he raised the merest nonce ago. And then, in Chad Carpenter’s Tundra and again in Tony Carrillo’s F-Minus, more and more of the same canine custom. It’s getting so we cannot escape images of doggy doo-doo stations.

            And before we take our leave of this exhibit, back to the john: Darby Conley may have achieved an Enviable First in Get Fuzzy for February 26—a picture of a human comic strip character actually sitting on the toilet! Not that I mind, y’unnerstan. If it’s funny—and this one is—any amount of porcelain can be tolerated, even welcomed.

            Our next exhibit takes up another aspect of the same alimentary program—flatulence. And after two instances of gaseousness (in B.C. and in Baby Blues), we return to peeing (or, at least, what might, and in some cases must, be allusions to urination) in Mike Peters’ Mother Goose and Grimm, Jim Davis’ Garfield, and Brian Crane’s Pickles.

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. On the next page, we continue to peruse kindred subjects—toilets and the functions they abet, ending with another Grimm strip in which Peters has caused Grimm’s adrift speech balloon to point to an attractive somewhat realistically rendered woman who, thanks to Grimm’s utterance, can be visualized doing a dramatically unladylike thing. Wonderful. The image lurks and haunts.

 

 

 

CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST

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

WOMEN’S BODIES are not, apparently, what the TeaBaggers talk about when they champion “freedom from government interference,” saith Michelle Goldbert in TheDailyBeast.com. The war against abortion, which has been somewhat silent lately, is back among us.

            Kathleen Parker, back at her keyboard after a brief stint sharing a tv talk show with the bimbo-infected former governor of New York, took a slightly different tack about women and society, saying that “women, and by extension children, are what too many have come to accept as ‘collateral damage’ in theaters of war” like those raging in Muslim countries of late. Despite some drumbeating on behalf of women’s rights by such vocal luminaries as Hillary Clinton, the issue is still just warming on the back-burners of national politics. Parker, however, makes a persuasive case that advancing the cause of women is “the most reliable route to our own security. ... Without exception, every nation that oppresses women is a failed and, therefore, dangerous nation.”

 

A “ROGUE PASTOR” named Rob Bell has upset the legions of organized religion by questioning in his new book a basic tenet of Christianity, namely that salvation is possible only for those who believe in Christ and accept him as the Son of God. In Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell begins with a “reality check”: Mohandas Gandhi, the great Indian advocate of non-violent resistance, is in hell. “Really?” Bell recalls thinking. “Gandhi’s in hell? He is? We have confirmation of this? Without a doubt?”

            By the most basic tenet of Christianity, Gandhi must, perforce, be in hell. Makes you wonder, and that’s what Bell’s been doing that so upsets the moguls of his faith—wondering.

 

PAUL TAMBURELLO, A DEVELOPER HEREABOUTS, was asked in a Denver Post interview if he was religious. He said: “I am aware of an energy and spirit that have dwelt in my life. I have tried to name it, and I have come to the conclusion that naming it is not as important as just being aware of it and being grateful for it. Catholicism is my home, it will always be my home, but I have definitely journeyed outside of it. Truth about God is symphonic.”

 

 

 

BOOK MARQUEE

Reviews and Proclamations of Coming Attractions

This department works like a visit to the bookstore. When you browse in a bookstore, you don’t critique books. You don’t even read books: you pick up one, riffle its pages, and stop here and there to look at whatever has momentarily attracted your eye. You may read the first page or glance through the table of contents. All of that is what we do here, starting with—:

 

 

SERGIO ARAGONES isn’t giving up Groo, but he’s got another comic book series, Sergio Aragones Funnies, the first issue of which is due out in July, just in time for a debut at the Sandy Eggo ComiCon. Interviewed by Bill Morrison in the current issue of Previews, Aragones said the new series will give him a place to put plots and stories that keep occurring to him but that he has no place for publishing. “I have tons and tons of stories, and this is the perfect vehicle for them,” he said. It’ll be a monthly comic, and in order to do it (and Mad and Groo), Aragones said he’d have to stop doing something—“my gardening and building models and sleeping,” he supposes.

            His plan is to do “an extra page a day, which I can comfortably add” to his production schedule. “If I do a little every day,” he said, “—for instance, if the telephone rings, I pick up the page and start drawing little horses and people to fill up the page.”

            Sergio does this as a matter of routine. I interviewed him by phone once several years ago (see Harv’s Hindsight for July 2008), and he was drawing mob scenes in Groo as he talked tome.

            Making a distinction between stories and single-panel jokes, Aragones said the stories in Funnies will be in color, but the jokes will be in black-and-white. “Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing it for so many years in black-and-white, and all the collections I have of cartoons from The New Yorker to Ha Ha Magazine to all the freelance magazines, they’re always in black and white,” he explained.

            He said he’d miss on the new project working with Mark Evanier, who scripts Groo—“because he’s such a clever writer and sometimes he saves the story with his clever humor—but in this case, the stories that I want to tell are the way that I see things. It will be more personal.”

            The only recurring character, he said, will be himself. But there will be “historical stories, science fiction, westerns; a little of everything that doesn’t fit into a regular comic.”

            We shall rejoice at the prospect of an irregular comic book.

 

 

Peanuts Guide to Life

By Charles M. Schulz with a Foreword by Bill Cosby with Gordon Berry

128 6x6-inch pages, b/w; Running Press hardcover (a Gift Book from Hallmark), $12.95

ONLY A PEANUTS COMPLETIST needs this book. Instead of reprinting whole strips, the unnamed editors have compiled an assortment of “wise sayings” culled from the strip—“Life is like an ice cream cone: you have to learn to lick it.”—Charlie Brown; “Keep looking up: that’s the secret of life.”—Snoopy; “When you go someplace nice, you should always shine your feet.”—Snoopy again; “I’ve got to stop this business of talking without thinking.”—Linus; “I guess babysitters are like used cars: you never really know what you’re getting.”—Schroeder. Each saying appears alone on a page in Schulz’s distinctive lettering style, and facing that page, is a picture of the person being quoted. Altogether, about 59 wise sayings—enough, surely, for a lifetime.

 

 

Men of Mystery Comics, No. 84: Spotlight on the Black Terror

By Various; reprints from AC Comics

228 6x10-inch pages, b/w; $29.95

click to enlargeSNOOKERED INTO BUYING THIS REPRINT VOLUME by the cover picture published in Previews, I was vastly disappointed to discover within only two Black Terror stories drawn by Golden Age great Mort Meskin—solo, editor/publisher Bill Black assures us, not with Jerry Robinson, with whom he often teamed on Black Terror tales. (Robinson tells m+s/hGln$ bB4¤65*9e4TQf@ ` Ikb,;J ^{ P0Js=Q3&Fb x$oI)hO gYN%9p%UyF"21kja&y5G"k7,./yc;tVAp%gֺs bQ*ggB,H0%j GX}Й%1,qS*>Ƽ&k*Q7eQƙ^mVལ5hSmnn"yϹ&Ego6*Qʲ2?e9k xN gpcyOiruEzqvpw7TYr^Zp\m99C{lBnN?VtɅPԁ$Yo,z*./j#CY5g1gTaWc` 9H6}sX2w QFOhcA5ta?jP@oyNOe6@?<%PqlnS8A?Ƶ/Jg|n8CdrE/UKU+7J1m5|^J~K줶t5hhvѮ$Y #tYpzԭF͢Ʈ\D:áT")"XvhGo3uٻP@nized books, but it’s the only way we are getting to see the vintage material that AC regularly produces, thereby earning our everlasting gratitude.

            The spotlight here is actually on Nedor Comics, one of the names under which Ned Pine deployed his comic books, and Pine used art from several stellar performers, some of whom are represented herein: Bob Lubbers on Captain Wings, Al Bryant on Doll Man, Ogden Whitney on Captain Crossbones, swashbuckler; Shelly Moldoff on Princess Pantha, Jack Binder on Doc Strange, Steve Ditko on Mysterious Traveler, Basil Wolverton on Spacehawk, a strangely inept Mac Raboy on Dr. Voodoo (from Whiz Comics, a Fawcett title, not Nedor), and, likewise unaccountably, Kurt Schaffenberger on Captain Marvel Jr., another Fawcett character. And others; I mention here only those artists whose work I recognize and enjoy.

 

 

The Addams Family: An Evilution

By Charles Addams

224 8x10-inch pages, b/w and color; Pomegranate hardcover, $39.95

THIS ELEGANT VOLUME, edited and with modest text by H. Kevin Miserocchi, Director of the Tee and Charles Addams Foundation, relies upon the Foundation’s archive of original Addams art for cartoons, roughs, and miscellaneous drawings to offer a “history” of The New Yorker’s Addams Family, arranged by character rather than chronology. Although the entire Addams Family canon is not presented, most of the famous cartoons are here—the first appearance of Chas Addams grotesques, Morticia, ditto Lurch the family butler, and the famed Christmas scene with the family perched atop their mansion’s tower, poised to pour a vat of boiling oil on the carolers below. For details of the family’s history and Chas Addams’ career, as well as reproductions of the aforementioned cartoons (and several more), visit, again, Harv’s Hindsight for April, posted just a few weeks ago.

            The Addams Family members had acquired their names before the celebrated tv series began: a set of cloth dolls in production in the spring of 1963 needed names. Addams named them all except the gaunt six-toed daughter, who was christened Wednesday (for the child of woe) by the doll manufacturer. Consulting the phone book under “morticians,” Addams named his heroine. He offered two names for her spouse, Repelli or Gomez (an old family friend), and let the actor playing the part in the tv show make the final choice. Gomez. Lurch was suggested by the Boris Karloff Frankenstein monster’s halting gait; Uncle Fester—“I just thought that up as befitting a rotten guy.” The homicidal son, Pugsley would have been called Pubert if Addams had achieved his wish; but the doll people thought it sounded dirty.

            Addams wrote character analyses of his creations for television producer David Levy, who wanted a guide for the actors. The descriptions introduce each of this book’s sections. Miserocchi notes that the cartoonist “relied primarily on his drawings” for his descriptions “although in a few instances he suggests intimate psychological and emotional qualities perhaps not portrayed in the actual works but evidently brewing in the creator’s imagination.”

            Morticia, for instance, “the real head of the family,” is “the critical and moving force behind it. Low-voiced, incisive, and subtle, smiles are rare. This ruined beauty has a romantic side, too, and is given to low-keyed rhapsodies about her garden of deadly nightshade, henbane and dwarf’s hair.” Addams often mentioned, Miserocchi says, that “there was a bit of Gloria Swanson, the alluring film star of both the silent and silver screens, in his design of Morticia,” but Morticia is not a voluptuous vampire wife like Yvonne Decarlo’s Lily Munster (in “The Addams Family’s” rival tv series, “The Munsters”) but “a weathered, even withered, beauty with no interest in ghoulish practices. She may have loved bats, but that did not make her one.”

            Uncle Fester bears another delicious name. He is, Addams attested, “incorrigible and, except for the good nature of the family and the ignorance of the police, would ordinarily be under lock and key.  His complexion, like that of Morticia, is dead white, the eyes are pig-like and deeply imbedded, circled unhealthily in black.” “Fester” seems perfect for such a man—suggesting an open wound, slowly decaying.

 

 

 

BOOK REVIEW

Critiques & Crotchets

 

When Do They Serve the Wine? The Folly, Flexibility, and Fun of Being a Woman

By Liza Donnelly with an Introduction by Roz Chast

160 6x8-inch pages, color; Chronicle Books, hardcover, $19.95

IN THIS SLENDER TOME, New Yorker cartooner Liza Donnelly has produced as insightful a comedic celebration of and commiseration with American womanhood as the hitherto incomparable Maitena did for her sisters in Argentina and everywhere in her three even slenderer 2004 volumes (which we extolled with laughter and tears in Opus 152). Even the drawing styles are similar.

            Six chapters in Donnelly’s book examine distaff life from “Growing Up” through 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and 60s “and beyond.” It would be a mistake, however, to think of this as a book of single panel cartoons of the sort Donnelly produces regularly for The New Yorker. Herein, each page may feature a single cartoon, but more likely it isolates a topic and then dissects it humorously in word and picture. The flyleaf of the dust jacket previews the content: “What do women want? Eternal happiness and eternal youth would be nice. Failing that, what about a good laugh? ... [Donnelly] explores the evolution of women through their lives and crises (physical, emotional, sartorial): the awkward teen years; the crisis of becoming a quarter-lifer; the unmistakable realization that if you’re wearing a certain outfit in your forties, you might be a cougar.”

            Among the drawings are pie-charts and bar graphs employed to analyze female feelings about sex, kissing, aging, the evolution of body parts and the like. click to enlarge

            “Sure it’s non-scientific,” writes Paula Ann Mitchell who interviewed Donnelly at DailyFreeman.com, “but Donnelly uses humor to broach much larger topics in the book.”

            Said Donnelly: “I wanted to write a book that made fun of what women have to deal with. Things like how we should behave and how we should dress, or the stupid things we do and the roles we have to play, and this goes on for generations. Each decade of your life, you have a new set of rules you have to adapt to. It was a combination of wanting to explore what we do as women and making fun of it. It brings us together as women.”

            One of her drawings of young female life shows all the girl babies in the hospital nursery dressed in pink; all the boys wear blue.

            “My mother did not invest a lot of money in pink,” Donnelly writes. “As loving as she was, we did not do girly things like shopping or painting nails. The only other girl in the house—except for our dog, Sassy—was my rebellious sister, whose tactics incited fear and anger. I quickly learned to be the good girl.”

            But because her father had wanted a son, he took her to baseball games and taught her to play golf. At about that time, Mitchell says, Donnelly became interested in drawing.

            Interviewed at WackyShortsCreations.com, Donnelly said: “I’m told that I was drawing at a very young age, but I don’t remember when that started and what age it was. I do remember I was home sick from school. I think I was probably in 1st or 2nd grade and my mother, to keep me happy and busy, gave me some paper and a book of cartoons by James Thurber. So I started tracing those cartoons. I had already been drawing, I guess, for years, but this was something new—to trace, and I just fell in love with his drawing. I didn’t understand the cartoons, of course, but his drawings are so accessible to people, to children, because they are so simple. I just remember drawing, and I think that is where my cartoon career began—tracing his; and I also traced Charles Schulz cartoons, so tracing was a big part. Even though I do my own drawings, this is how I sort of opened the door to cartooning. And eventually, soon thereafter, I started doing my own characters, and I got my mother to laugh. That’s my first memory.

            “When I was younger,” she continued, “a lot more of the day was spent drawing. When I was first starting out my cartoons would usually develop through sketching, and I was always doodling and drawing. Now it’s less so. Now it’s more like drawing is the tool I use to get the idea out. It also depends on the day, because some days I don’t draw at all. I do a lot of writing and I do illustration for people. I guess for a cartoon day, for cartoon-generating time maybe 1/3 is actual drawing and the rest is thinking and writing words down, and reading and thinking, and other ‘stuff’ that goes into making a cartoon.”

            Donnelly went on to study art at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, and at the age of 20 found herself trying to sell cartoons to The New Yorker.

SHE DOESN’T MORALIZE in her book, she says. “I’m not trying to tell people what to do, although I’m trying to get people to think a little bit, and my cartoons are like that. There’s often a tone of seriousness underlying them, but I try to get people to laugh and go, ‘Oh, yeah.’”

            If you’re a woman reading this book, Mitchell says, “you’ve undoubtedly shared the experiences Donnelly illustrates so well. There’s the first period, the first date, the first kiss, the first job, the marriage and the first child. If you’re older, it’s worrying about your biological clock or menopause or losing your sex appeal.”

            Donnelly adds: “I think humor has a great ability to sneak into people’s consciousness and get at issues … in a way … that it might not have if you had read an article about it.”

            She hopes other women will find something meaningful in her book: “I wish women could see what’s going on more clearly sometimes and recognize that the culture is requiring things of us that we don’t want to do. The larger, overarching issue is that I wish we could stay truer to ourselves more than we do.”

            That holds true when it comes to the simple things like the color pink, adds Mitchell. “Donnelly still can’t bring herself to wear it, preferring instead the classic black and white.”

            “I still wrestle with the feminine side of myself,” Donnelly said. “We all feminize ourselves, but we don’t necessarily feel comfortable doing that.”

            In short: a great little book, full of humor and humanity, whether you’re a woman or not.

            Donnelly is married to another New Yorker cartoonist, Michael Maslin, who, she affirms in her Acknowledgements, is a feminist, “sounding board and best friend.” More of Donnelly’s work can be seen at lizadonnelly.com.

 

 

 

BADINAGE AND BAGATELLES

            “I drink too much. Last time I gave a urine sample, there was an olive in it.”—Rodney Dangerfield

            “Reality is a crutch for people who can’t cope with drugs.” —Lil Tomlin

            “I envy people who drink. At least, they know what to blame everything on.” —Oscar Levant

            “So who’s in a hurry?”—Robert Benchley, in response to a warning that drinking is “slow poison.”

 

 

 

FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE

Four-color Frolics

By all accounts, 2011's FreeComicBookDay (FCBD), May 7, was another success in a line of ten such successes. The kick-off, the movie incarnating Marvel’s Norse god, “Thor,” led the weekend’s box office, raking in $65.7 million at 3,955 theaters, third highest (after Spider-Man and Iron Man—or was it “X-Men Origins”?) opening weekend among the Marvel comic book superheroes on the big screen. “Thor” also won the next weekend, beating “Bridesmaids.”

            The director of “Thor” attracted some notice on his own: Kenneth Branagh, known mostly for his acting in Shakespearean plays, seemed an unlikely choice to helm a movie about a super-powered comic book hammer-thrower. Until it was revealed by thedailybeast.com that Branagh, growing up in 1960s Belfast, was “captivated” by Marvel’s Thor comic book. “It was the comic book’s intersection with his personal interest in classical literature” that “compelled” Branagh to take the assignment, which involved working “closely” for two years with screenwriters. The Branagh venture “reflects Hollywood’s go-to strategy for moneymaking comic-book genre.” Lately, studios have hired “art-house auteurs to adapt superhero fare in a bid to conjoin impressionistic filmmaking with mass appeal.”

            The “Thor” movie, Branagh said, “is an archetypal and mythic ideal: the great walking amongst the common. There’s a coming-of-age story, a prodigal-son story, the journey from arrogance to humility. That classical structure for me means a timeless and invisible connection between the contemporary and the traditional.” But, he went on, “this is not meant to be pompous, portentous museum entertainment. To work in Hollywood, to work on this kind of scale? Nothing blase in my attitude. The desire is to entertain, to be absolutely of now and in the moment, and to find balance and originality in that.”

 

ALL WELL AND GOOD, but back to our ostensible subject: after nine years, FCBD is probably a strong enough marketing ploy in itself that it achieves its goals without a blockbuster comic book superhero movie as a stepping stone.

            At Las Vegas’ Alternate Reality Comics, owner Ralph Mathieu told comicsbulletin.com’s Morgan Davis that the ratio of new customers to old in his store on FCBD was about 70% to 30%, which means, for Mathieu, FCBD is achieving its purpose—attracting new customers to the medium. Mathieu estimated that FCBD has grown by 10% a year, but this year he thinks was 20% better than last year.

            I visited two comic book shops in Denver—I Want More Comics (IWMC) and one of the three Mile High Comics stores. At the first, where I shop regularly, the place was bustling: the crowd was big enough that I had to thread my way through the aisles, nearly clogged with a veritable throng. And some of the customers were kids with parents in tow (or vice versa). A couple of costumed characters lurked, and at the back of the shop, several local artists were performing. At Mile High, customers hadn’t reached throng dimension: the store wasn’t as packed as IWMC, but it was clearly busier than it usually was when I visited in previous months. Mile High had a well-attended gaming room at the back.

            At IWMC, all the comic books produced for FCBD were on display; only three per customer, but you could pick the three you wanted. At Mile High, only 3-4 titles were available to pick up at any one time; the shop also distributed a bounce-back coupon, good for half-off on any discounted title on a future visit. IWMC offered special FCBD discounts on many other comic books and on graphic novels, 20% to 50% (the latter for books in the back issue bins). At IWMC, FCBD was clearly an Event with a noisy crowd milling around and lining up to buy books; at Mile High, FCBD was much more subdued. But at both, operators said they were pleased with the turn-out and were sure FCBD would generate more comic book fans.

 

click to enlarge click to enlarge click to enlarge click to enlarge

 

ALTOGETHER, I PICKED UP FIVE Free Comic Books at the two outlets. Mostly, as has become usual with FCBD titles, the books touted future issues. Civil War Adventure, for example, hyped History Graphic Press’s line of graphic novels about the Civil War. Chuck Dixon’s introduction to the FCBD edition claims that “this multi-volume project serves as an introduction to this chapter in our history for readers who have little or no prior knowledge of the era,” suggesting that the stories in the series will be fact-based and will illuminate our understanding of the nation’s bloodiest war. Judging from the content of the FCBD issue, however, the emphasis of the HGP series is on entertainment rather than education.

            One of the two stories, “Gator Bait,” is an EC-twist horror tale that supposedly tells us about “daring blockade runners ... who raced through the gauntlet of Union gunboats to bring desperately needed supplies for the Confederacy into Charleston harbor.” But this story is about a snarling rum-runner who kills the skipper of his boat with an axe and throws the body to the alligators and then gets his comeuppance when, later, the skipper’s corpse rises from the swamp, axe still in his head and throws his murderer’s body overboard to the waiting gator.

            The second story, “I Rode with the Devil,” introduces us to “Bloody Bill” Anderson, one of William Quantrill’s 1863 Bushwhackers who slaughtered fifteen men and burned the Kansas town of Lawrence to the ground in retaliation for Kansas voting to be a free state in 1861. The story, however, doesn’t seem to be about an actual event: instead, it introduces us to a young man who Bloody Bill forces to kill the family of his girlfriend. Or so it implies: the story is continued in Civil War Adventures No. 3.

            A two-page text-and-picture feature explains why so many of the wounded had limbs amputated (the Minie ball ammunition of the time was made of soft metal that shattered bone when it hit) and how amputation was accomplished (grisly pictures). The latter is clearly all fact, but the two stories are pure fictions, springing, admittedly, from facts but scarcely illuminating history: although the events depicted are plausible, they probably didn’t happen. Both stories are well-drawn in black-and-white with gray tones, “The Devil” by Gary Kwapisz; the other’s artist is not named.

 

WALT DISNEY’S MICKEY MOUSE by Floyd Gottfredson is the most satisfying of the titles I picked up: it provides a complete story, reprinting the newspaper comic strip from 1935, by way of introducing Fantagraphics’ new reprint series that will collect all of Gottfredson’s mouse tales. The first volume, a 260-page 8.5x10.5-inch hardcover in b/w and color, presents the 1930-1931 strips; due in June. The FCBD edition’s story is a good introduction to Gottfredson’s lively adventure storytelling manner. The book concludes with an essay by Floyd Norman, a Disney animator, who tells about meeting Gottfredson during his orientation tour of the Studio in 1959. In the 1980s, Norman wrote the Mickey Mouse strip, which, by then, was a gag-a-day affair. Norman successfully persuaded the syndicate (King Features) to let him tell adventure stories like those of Gottfredson’s that he had grown up reading.

            “I was fortunate,” Norman writes, “to have editors who never restricted what I could write as long as my stories stayed within the bounds of Disney propriety. It may sound odd, but I never had a moment of difficulty writing Mickey Mouse. Thanks to Floyd Gottfredson’s wonderful portrayals, I knew the characters so well that my stories almost seemed to write themselves.”

            Alas, the strip suddenly went into reruns, and Norman had to stop right in the middle of a continuity. His essay is accompanied by two strips: a rough pencil for one of the strips in this interrupted story and another, a final, published version, both drawn by Rick Hover in approximately 1995.

            In sum, the Mickey Mouse book was a nifty, self-contained enterprise, valuable in its own right—and also a quality come-on to buy the approaching hardcover volumes.

 

 

LOCKE & KEY from IDW is a solid introductory effort. The inside front cover offers a text explanation of the title’s rationale and a brief introduction to the principal characters. Then comes a complete episode during which we meet them all again as the oldest of the “children,” Tyler Locke, springs to giant size to battle the evil beasties set loose in Keyhouse. The storytelling by writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez is superlative, exploiting the verbal-visual blend of the medium to dramatic effect. On many pages, the storytelling is purely visual, and Rodriguez’s clean art with its solid outlines and minimal feathering carrying the narrative. We know this tale is a piece of a larger puzzle, but there’s enough here to sell the product.

            From Dark Horse, we have a flip book: one side devoted to Baltimore; the flip side, to Criminal Macabre. The first by Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden introduces us to an early 20th century vampire fighter with art by Ben Stenbeck sufficiently Mignola-like to remind us of how all this stuff began with Hellboy et al. Nicely done. In the other feature by Steve Niles, we meet Cal McDonald, at once an occult detective and a pill-popping alcoholic reprobate—star, already, of half-a-dozen graphic novels—as he meets the Frankenstein monster, who, weary of being pursued by the villagers, wants a life of his own, freedom, in other words, from the control of descendants of his manufacturer. Cal achieves this objective (as we can see in our exhibit) and then wonders if the monster will give himself a name—“Wilhelm? Pete? Todd? Doug? Franklin? Hank? Boris? Kurt? Poindexter?” “Perhaps not,” says the monster. Christopher Mitten, making his debut on a Niles story, is a pleasure to watch with his gnarly line modeling figures and features, shaped, often, with chips of solid black. I’d like to see more.

            I shared a place on a panel which featured Niles and other writers at the ComicFest in Denver in April. Describing his writing method, Niles said he sometimes gives an artist a panel-by-panel description of the page’s action, and sometimes, he simply indicates the general content—a fight ensues, for instance—and lets the artist take over. In both cases, however, Niles is concerned, often, that the last panel on the page be exactly the picture he imagines, so he specifies its content fairly precisely. On our example, you can easily see why: the last panel ends the confrontation scene with a mild joke, the comedy of which would be undercut if it appeared anywhere other than the end of the sequence.

 

THE LAST OF THE FREE BOOKS I picked up is The Amazing Spider-Man with a Dan Slott story by entitled “The Way of the Spider.” In it, Spider-Man, who has lost his spider-sense that warns him of impending danger, is fighting the physically superior Spider-Woman who is thoroughly versed in the martial arts. Without his tingler, Spidey is losing. Using brains instead of brawn, he lures her into a nearby store where, at the perfume counter, she suddenly reforms under the influence of a fragrance which clears her head of the influence of Mandrill who has the ability to cloud women’s minds, thereby achieving complete control over them. Mandrill’s influence is what has made Spider-Woman assault Spider-Man with murder as her purpose. Herself again, Spider-Woman joins Spidey in clobbering Mandrill. The arachnid pair part friends, and Spidey decides to learn kung fu, which he hopes will help him in future encounters where he must battle bad guys without spider-sense.

            Humberto Ramos pencilled this issue and very nicely, too. Inked with bold and oft-undulating lines by Carlos Cuevas and Victor Olazaba, the pictures radiate a quirky blend of manganese and urban styles—sometimes almost realistic; sometimes, cartoony in foreshortening and other anatomical aberrations. But pleasing to the eye nonetheless. Among the other highlights of this book, as we see in our exhibit, when asked who’ll pay for all the damage the tangling spiders have inflicted on the neighborhood, Spidey tells the aggrieved store owner to send a bill to Tony Stark.

            Maybe I’ve grown feeble-memoried in my dotage, but I can’t remember the early Stan-Lee-Age Spider-Man being so dependent upon spider-sense. No matter: the current storyline apparently requires that we re-invent the past to suit the demands of the present, which, in this case, is a preparation for the Next Big Event, the Spider Island mini-series. Dunno if this setup is integral to the Spidey-Isle romp—if so, I suppose the FCBD book’s episode will be repeated in one of the regular title’s numbers. But the last page of this issue tells us that “Spider Island” begins in No. 666 of Amazing Spider-Man. (Wait—“666.” Isn’t that the sign of the fearsome Beast, Satan’s false messiah—in short, the anti-Christ? So what, really, will transpire in this  ominously numbered issue? Stay ’tooned, kimo sabe.)

 

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

IN THE FIRST ISSUE OF THE RETURN SERIES of Mark Waid’s Ruse, we meet again the Victorian sleuth named Simon Archard and his partner (whom he labels his “assistant”) the toothsome Emma Bishop. The opening sequence is the issue’s complete episode: in it, Simon solves the mystery of the death of Archduke Ehrlich, whose body lies in the mansion’s library, decapitated and oozing blood through numerous knife wounds. But it was suicide, Simon says: he was killed by poison before his body was punctuated by knife. It was the Archduke’s valet, anxious to preserve the veneration of the Archduke’s reputation, who obscured the signs of suicide by chopping up the body, making it appear to be a particularly bloody murder.

            But Simon isn’t content with solving the immediate mystery. He also wants to know why the Archduke killed himself. He and Emma follow clues that take them to the site of a brutal sport, rat-baiting, in which trained dogs fight mobs of rats and gamblers bet on how many a dog can kill. Evidence suggests that the Archduke was financially strapped because of gambling debts. Just at the moment this realization dawns on us, Simon and Emma fall through a trapdoor into a dungeon filled with ravenous rats, who attack. Whereupon, the first issue ends.

            Ruse is not so much about mysteries and their solutions as it is about the relationship between Simon and Emma. Emma is an attractive young woman who Simon assigns to do all the dirty work—some figuratively dirty, some actually dirty (so Emma’s clothing and hair-do are entirely mussed). Their banter is nearly constant and some of it is witty—even funny—but it cannot conceal an annoying fact: Simon is a snotty, self-important know-it-all patterned, I suspect, upon S.S. Van Dine’s Philo Vance, one of the most unattractive of the detectives of the 1930s. Not hard-boiled at all; more like poached until impenetrable.

            Emma does all the physical work of the duo; Simon, the thinking. But he seems not very appreciative of her contribution to the pair’s successes: he always takes the spotlight and keeps her in the background. Simon’s callous treatment of Emma fuels her resentment, but she respects him too much to leave: instead, she merely snaps waspishly at him, and he responds to her in exactly the way you’d expect a self-absorbed genius to respond—with nitpicking disdain. Still, he appears to like her. He refrains from telling her that he has received a letter threatening her life until they’re trapped in the rat-hole, and then he responds to her remark— “Somebody’s trying to kill us!”—but saying, “Not us, Emma—somebody is trying to kill you.”

            And that’s the moment this issue ends, with Emma watching in open-mouthed horror as the surging tangle of rats approaches. As horrifying a cliffhanger as any ever devised.

            A particularly amusing sequence takes two pages as Emma drags up the stairs to Simon’s exercise room a heavy andiron so she can use it to knock on his door loudly enough to disrupt his meditation—as she has been instructed to do. All the strenuous way up, she ponders and describes their relationship.

            Another incident is highly unlikely. The valet attempts an escape, commandeering a London taxicab to do so. Simon and Emma pursue on foot. How she, wearing a voluminous Victorian gown, manages to keep up with him is not revealed; but she does. Equally mystifying (and compounding the mystery of how to run in that dress) is their catching up with the cab, jumping into and onto it and subduing the valet. The cab is horse-drawn, and the valet must’ve whipped up the steed to run fast. So Simon and his “partner” in an ankle-length dress catch up to it? Not possible.

            But Mirco Pierfederici’s pristine drawings almost persuade us that it is possible after all. He draws with aclean, bold unfeathered line, embellished only by color, which, I assume, Pierfederici applies. Clean and convincing. And his visual clarity makes wordless sequences effective. Worth looking in again for No. 2.

click to enlarge

 

PERSIFLAGE & FURBELOWS

            “America’s corporate, political, media, academic and other leaders aren’t. ... We’ve got too many 5-watt bulbs sitting in 100-watt sockets.”—Jim Hightower

            “The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.”—Eric Hoffer

            “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”—Martin Luther King, Jr.

            “What is admirable is that man keeps fighting and creating beauty in the midst of a barbaric, hostile world.”—Enesto Sabato

 

 

 

WE’RE ALL BROTHERS, AND WE’RE ONLY PASSIN’ THROUGH

Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

But I’m so glad I ran into you---

We’re all brothers, and we’re only passin’ through.

 

Bill Gallo, 1922 - 2011

 

Bill Gallo was the last of his breed: when he died at the age of 88 in White Plains, New York, on May 10, the sports cartoonist as a full-time daily newspaper staffer went extinct. His death, said Michael Cavna at the Washington Post, marks “the stark and resonant end of an era”—the era of the sports cartoonist.

            More than that. The resonance includes all of newspaper cartooning: it was on the sports pages of daily newspapers that many cartoonists began their careers. Rube Goldberg, Doug Marlette, Don Wright, Hugh Haynie, Bill Sanders, Bill Crawford, the great L.D. Warren, Gene Bassett, Lou Grant—all started in the sports section and eventually became editorial cartoonists.

Bud Fisher, whose Mutt and Jeff established the horizontal daily strip mode for comic strips in 1907, began as a sports cartoonist: Mutt, you’ll remember, was a sports fan—a compulsive plunger, a race-track tout who bet all he had on the horses. Other comic strippers who started in sports: Jimmy Hatlo (They’ll Do It Every Time), Harry Hershfield (Dauntless Durham, Abie the Agent), Billy DeBeck (Barney Google), Gus Edson (The Gumps and others), Robert “Believe It Or Not” Ripley, even columnists Westbrook Pegler and Bugs Baer. In Gallo’s passing, we hear echoes of other cartooning passages, past and, perhaps, future.

            Gallo was the last of another breed: he spent his entire career, all of his adult life, at one newspaper, the New York Daily News. Born in Manhattan on December 28, 1922, Gallo grew up in Astoria, Queens, where, reported William Grimes in the New York Times, “he rooted for the St. Louis Cardinals and the Homestead Grays, a Negro League team from Pennsylvania he saw when they played locally. His parents were immigrants from Spain. His father, an editor and reporter for La Prensa, a newspaper read by the Spanish colony in New York, died of pneumonia when Bill was 11, leaving the family in dire straits.”

            “We moved to a different neighborhood,” Gallo wrote, “and that was the beginning of my growing up. I took a variety of Depression era jobs, from working at a grocery for bundles of food to scavenging for lumps of coal in the Long Island City train yards.”

            After graduating from high school in 1941, Gallo looked for work in newspapering and finally found it October 8, 1941 at the Daily News. He had two offers, one from the New York Post and one from the News. “I had to choose,” he said. “As I got off the train that day, it was raining, and the News was closer. So I picked the News.”

            It was an entry-level job as a “picture clerk,” or copyboy, the best place to learn journalism from the bottom up, Gallo said. But when the U.S. went to war, he joined the Marines with the conviction that the Corps’ training would give him the best chance at survival. Trained as a demolitions technician, he saw combat with the Fourth Marine Division in the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian and fatal Iwo Jima. Fatherless since the age of 11, he once confessed that the Marine Corps was like a father to him.

            After World War II, in December 1945, he returned to the Daily News, Grimes continued, “where he worked as a caption writer, layout artist and reporter while taking night courses at the Cartoonists and Illustrators School (now the School of Visual Arts) and Columbia University” on the GI Bill.

            At the Daily News, he began doing spot illustrations to break up the text of sports stories. “His first full-scale drawing,” Grimes reported, “depicted a middleweight bout between the now-forgotten George Johnson and Moses Ward; it appeared in April 1954.”

            This was the year, Gallo testified, that “the Daily News’ great Leo O’Mealia [who signed his cartoons with a diminutive lion] took me under his wing, and eventually I became his protégé and day-off sports cartoonist.

            “Leo stressed an important lesson to me,” Gallo said, “—sacrifice the drawing for the idea. It was a principle that had been imparted to him by Thomas Aloysius Dorgan, also known as TAD, the renowned cartoonist of the New York Evening Journal. Leo died May 7, 1960,” Gallo continued, “and I was named sports cartoonist of the News.”

            But he did not exactly ascend to the throne: he was directed to emulate O’Mealia’s tight draftsmanship. Gallo’s natural drawing style was more relaxed, and, chafing at the O’Mealia dictum, he announced that he was going to quit. “But his parting shot,” Grimes reported, “—a whimsical boxing cartoon with multiple outlandish images—convinced the managing editor that his looser, more humorous style could succeed,” and he was thereafter permitted to follow his own natural bent.

            “Bill Gallo showed his strengths almost from the beginning,” wrote another iconic New York newspaperman, Pete Hamill, in an introduction to a 2000 retrospective collection of Gallo’s cartoons, Drawing a Crowd. “He was, before everything else, a cartoonist who understood the absolute necessity of an idea. He wasn’t doping imitation photographs, or simple caricatures; such work could be only a luxury on a tabloid newspaper. Gallo seemed to believe that it was wonderful to be a fine and elegant draftsman, but such refinements of style would not matter at all if the cartoon was not driven by an idea. His work was not there to be admired, like an opera singer’s splendid voice; it was intended to be felt. Like all good tabloid journalism.”

            Gallo, Grimes wrote, was “a one-man franchise at the newspaper, which devoted its entire front and back pages on Wednesday, May 11, to the news of his death.” During his long illness, Gallo kept working, dictating from his sick bed his sports column to other staff members.

 

AMONG THE 15,000 CARTOONS he drew for the Daily News were scores that featured a gaggle of popular stock characters, first among them, evoking memories of Willard Mullin’s Brooklyn Bum for the Dodgers, was a similarly disheveled Basement Bertha, a frumpy washerwoman and die-hard fan of the cellar-dwelling Mets. “A kind of pixie,” Gallo said, someone for Mets coach Casey Stengel, who had been starring solo in Gallo’s Mets cartoons, to talk to. “I thought of Yogi Berra, just for the face,” Gallo said. “I thought of Pearl Bailey for the personality.”

            Part of the character’s name came easily. “The Mets’re in the last berth,” Gallo said, “so we’ve got Bertha. We’ll call her Last Place Bertha” And that’s how she debuted on June 9, 1965. Gallo’s editor, Robert Shand, didn’t like “Last Place” and conjured up “Basement,” with which Bertha was adorned in another appearance a couple of weeks later.

            “She appeared in Gallo’s last cartoon, on April 19, window-shopping for a dress in case she was invited to the royal wedding in London,” said Grimes (see Gallo’s Gallery below).

            “Other regular characters were Yuchie (YOO-chee), a sports-loving everykid [based on a childhood pal of Gallo’s who later was killed in World War II], and General Von Steingrabber, a strutting martinet with a spiked Prussian helmet who closely resembled a certain owner of the Yankees. ‘Ooff, I’m such a schmarty, I kiss mine own hand!’ the exuberant general exclaimed in one cartoon.”

            The success of Basement Bertha inspired Gallo to populate his cartoons with a number of minor recurring characters: Bernie the Bulgarian (an oddsmaker somewhat more picturesque than Jimmy the Greek), Sunshine Sam and Gloomy Gus, Penthouse Polly (Bertha’s older sister who’s struck it rich), Professor Bigschmartz (who showed up when there was serious calculating to do) and his schoolroom protégé the Brain, and Johnny Unda (friend of the underdog)—to name a few.

            Describing Gallo’s output, Grimes said: “Gallo could be caustic, in a humorous or deadly serious vein. He drew an out-of-shape Muhammad Ali pushing his stomach before him in a wheelbarrow [when he was] training for the Larry Holmes fight in 1980.”

            Gallo’s book Drawing a Crowd records Ali’s reaction to his cartoon: “'You know, Gallo, you did me a favor drawing that cartoon showing me with that fat belly resting in a wheelbarrow,' Ali told Gallo. 'That cartoon was hung in my training camp in Deer Lake (Pennsylvania) and I looked at it every day and it supplied the inspiration for me to trim down.' Ali lost to Holmes but always greeted Gallo by making a semicircular motion in front of his stomach.”

            Grimes continued: “He took dead aim at racially exclusionary country clubs and the malign role of money and drugs in professional sports.” Gallo wandered from the sports arena every so often to comment on social issues. He exalted the city’s “melting pot,” said Christopher O’Brien in a special to the News. And on Saturday, May 7, just three days before his death, Gallo was honored with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. The award, given by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, "pays homage to the immigrant experience," and is given to those "remarkable Americans who exemplify outstanding qualities in both their personal and professional lives."

            Gallo was unable to attend the event at the Great Hall on Ellis Island, but he spoke movingly about what the award meant to him, calling America mankind's greatest invention: "The idea of opening the gates and building, bit by bit, from countries all over the world, to develop a melting pot, which is what we are, is the greatest goddam idea in the world ... I love the expression 'melting pot.' Because there's where the strength is. Right there lies the essence," Gallo said.

            New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was one of some 500 people who attended Gallo’s funeral mass in St. Patrick Cathedral on Friday, May 13. He didn't know Gallo very well on a personal level, but he knew Gallo in print: “"He's irreplaceable. He was simply a landmark, a true legend and he will be irreplaceable. He carved out a niche that you cannot replace. People really looked forward to seeing how he would capture something in the New York area of sports. And it was an honor to have him capture your image.”

            “If you grew up in New York over the past 40 years or so, he was just a part of New York life," said former New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who was also in attendance. "You woke up in the morning, opened the Daily News sports page, and at some point in time you would go to Bill Gallo. From [his caricature of diehard Mets fan Basement] Bertha to Casey Stengel to Muhammad Ali, he's a part of New York. We lost a part of New York."

            Gallo served as president of the National Cartoonists Society for two terms, 1973-77, and was awarded the Society’s Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998. He won the Reuben division award for sports cartooning ten times, two times more than the genre’s legendary pace-setter, Willard Mullin, who had collected the award every year but one between 1957, when it was inaugurated, and 1965. The two doubtless dominated the category because, beginning in the mid-1950s, there were so few sports cartoonists working full time at the craft.

 

IN ADDITION TO HIS CARTOON AND COLUMN, Gallo did a radio show for a time, but it is his naked prose that moves me, and you can find a persuasive plentitude of it in the 2000 collection of his cartoons, Drawing a Crowd: Bill Gallo’s Greatest Sports Moments (384 9x11-inch landscape pages, b/w; Jonathan David Publishers, hardcover, $35; copies available at Amazon and AddALL). The book opens with introductions by Pete Hamill and Gallo’s co-author, Phil Cornell, and an autobiographical essay by Gallo. Then it’s pictures and reminiscing annotations the rest of the way.

            I know of only one other book devoted exclusively to sports cartoons—a 1958 compilation of Mullin’s masterful cartoons, A Hand In Sport. Mullin set the fashion for sports cartoonists and he is, as Gallo proclaimed in unabashed admiration, “the man—nobody ever did it better.” Mullin’s book gives us better pictures, but Gallo has it all over Mullin in annotating his own work.

            As a writer, Gallo was master of a plain-spoken, unadorned style—the kind of writing that depends upon content for effect rather than acrobatic verbiage. He was the Ernie Pyle of sports writing. And the book brims with memorable passages.

            Once, hunched over his drawingboard, Gallo felt a presence and looked up and saw Joe Louis. “How’re you doing?” Louis asked in his easy way. Gallo went on: “I asked Joe to sit at the next desk and pose for a sketch. He did, and when it was finished, I asked him to autograph it. The champ took the India-inked pen I used and signed it at the bottom of the drawing. Whenever I hear that tired old phrase ‘White Hope,’ I have to smile and think of Joe Louis. When Louis was champion, all the white guys I knew rooted for him, and he fought mainly white fighters. This was a tribute to the man, for he was boxing in those days.

            “He never bragged, though; he was such a modest, noble man. A brash young Muhammad Ali once said to Louis: ‘All you did was fight the Bum of the Month.’ Joe just replied, ‘You know, you would have been on the list.’”

            Gallo knew and grew to like Ali. And he knew Jack Dempsey and Sugar Ray Robinson, “the greatest boxer of them all,” the cartoonist said. “Among newspapermen watching him, it was almost unanimous that he was the greatest. That was a very easy call. It was like somebody watching Fred Astaire in action and saying, ‘Can he dance?’”

            In addition to Robinson, Gallo named four other athletes who he deemed were the greatest in their sports: Jim Brown in pro football; Joe DiMaggio in baseball; Wayne Gretzky in hockey; and Michael Jordan in basketball. Jordan, Gallo said, was the Number One athlete, “the greatest of all athletes I’ve ever seen.” The other four were tied for second place, he added.

            Drawing a Crowd is full of stories. Some bring a tear to the eye and a lump to the throat—like his story about the last time he saw Roger Maris, who had bested Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961.

            Gallo sat next to Maris at the Yankees’ homecoming dinner in 1985 at which the retired Maris would receive the Pride of the Yankees Award. “It was good to see him,” Gallo wrote, “but what he told me nearly knocked me off my chair. We were seated next to each other, and while in conversation, he calmly informed me: ‘I won’t be making this dinner next year because I’m dying of cancer.’ He stated it like ‘tomorrow’s Tuesday.’”

            Sometimes, when provoked, Gallo wandered off his beat. He wrote movingly about his WWII service in the Marines, particularly on Iwo Jima, “that ugly, almost treeless lump of black volcanic ash” that “our country desperately needed.” He wrote about the deaths of some of his comrades among 9,098 casualties—nearly half of his division of 19,000. How desperate was our need for that speck of misbegotten land in the Pacific?

            During the Vietnam debacle, Gallo spent 28 days visiting hospitals all over the Far East, sketching and talking to the wounded. “I found that those kids in Vietnam were in such limbo. They didn’t know who they were fighting. I realized that this was a bastard war, one without rhyme or reason, and our boys did not belong there. ... I saw then that Muhammad Ali was right in his opposition to the war; it was the government that was wrong.”

            You might be predisposed to think of a sports cartoonist as if he were a sort of pug fighter with a pen, all specialized talent with no particular intellect or cultural appreciation. But Gallo will persuade you otherwise. He seasoned his cartoons with snatches of poetry and pertinent fragments lifted from Walt Whitman and Robert Browning, Cervantes and A.E. Housman and Antoine de Saint Exupery.

            Gallo was a better artist than cartoonist, better at realism than caricature. He was no slouch at cartooning, but his juicy brush strokes sometimes wobbled and his anatomy was occasionally askew. But when he took up the pen for serious portraits of admired persons, the result was superlative: cross-hatched or squiggled, the pictures were scrumptious, as you’ll see when we get to the Gallo Gallery at the end of this remembrance.

            Gallo said he liked to use “the pen-and-ink sketch style when I want to emphasize the subject rather than the idea. I feel my way through such drawings with the goal being a more realistic portrait.”

            Often asked how long it took him to complete a cartoon, Gallo liked to say, “Two hours and 45 years.” Classic and classy.

 

GALLO’S DEATH FLUSHED A FLIGHT of reminiscences from friends, colleagues, and admirers. Fellow News staffer Phil Cornell, who collaborated with Gallo on the text for the book, remembered the cartoonist as “a larger- than-life presence, a personal and professional force.” Gallo, Cornell said, loved sports for the game, not for the mountain ranges of accumulating statistics: “He remembered that most of us come to sports as kids, when the joys and defeats are keener. In the face of steroids and strikes, he was adamant that the adult world not rob the kids of sports' innocent fun. Hence the character of Yuchie.”

            Cornell would visit Gallo’s cluttered office while culling the cartoonist’s memories for text in the book. And sometimes Gallo would consult the pile of papers on his desk and dig up letters from fans, “who were moved, felt that for a moment he had brought back their youth, hugely grateful for someone recognizing a part of them that had been shunted away and denied. Businessmen, company presidents, veterans—they would write him letters that often included the phrase ‘there were tears in my eyes’ as they read his column or saw his cartoon. ‘Nobody I know gets mail like this, Bill,’ I would tell him.”

            Marty Noble, MLB.com columnist, remembered "Gallo's Humor." Could there have been a better name, Noble wonders. “Newspapers, when they began to take themselves too seriously in ways that hardly mattered, turned their backs on sports cartoons and cartoonists. I worked at the Record in Hackensack, N.J., when the paper undercut the great Charlie McGill, whose likenesses jumped off the pages and whose humor was enjoyable. A mistake in my book and in my newspaper. The News understood its readership and stood by Gallo while other papers shed their cartoonists. And all that happened as a result is that Gallo became a New York institution. Cartoons didn't work, huh? Tell that to the folks who have stood in line to have Gallo sign—or better yet—print his name.”

            Daily News sports writer Frank Isola remembered Gallo’s office: “The history of the paper and of sports for the last 70 years all seemed to be packed into the room. There were photos of Gallo with DiMaggio, Steinbrenner, Ali, Jack Dempsey and just about every boxer that mattered over the last half century. The office was a living, breathing museum and every time I visited, Bill would welcome me into his world. We'd talk sports, family and newspapers. His door was always open, his pen always creating a new cartoon. I loved hearing the tales of his close relationship with Joe DiMaggio. We'd talk about the Knicks and he'd ask about the Italian kid they called Gallo. For obvious reasons, Danilo (Gallo) Gallinari became Gallo's favorite player.”

            Editorial cartoonist and syndicate mogul Daryl Cagle, like Gallo, a past president of NCS, remembered Gallo introducing the Society’s members to famed sports figures, taking the cartoonists to sporting event parties and big boxing matches. “Gallo's passing leaves a hole in the profession of sports cartooning,” Cagle said: “Other than a few freelancers, and some staff political cartoonists who occasionally draw a sports cartoon or two, most newspapers no longer print any sports cartoons.”

            Cagle quoted Drew Litton, who, until Denver’s Rocky Mountain News collapsed in 2009, was the only other sports cartoonist working full time at a daily newspaper: “Bill Gallo owned New York. At least the heart of it. He was a legend in the once vibrant field of sports cartooning. He left his lasting mark on a sports hungry city in thousands of cartoons, done thousands of different ways about thousands of elite athletes, coaches, franchises and fans. To say he will be missed is an understatement. He closes a chapter in history. He was the last daily sports cartoonist publishing in an American newspaper. Yes, we still have Tank McNamara and In the Bleachers (thankfully), but the era of the full-time staff sports cartoonist is over.

            “I had the pleasure of meeting Bill Gallo at an NCS convention in the early 1990s,” Litton continued. “I was up for the award for best sports cartoonist that year along with Gallo and Eddie Germano, I think. I had, of course, a snowball's chance in hell of actually winning the category because Gallo's name had been permanently etched on the thing for like 20 years running. He told me I would win it. I looked at him as if he had lost his mind. He smiled and said kindly ‘just not this year.’ He was right. Gallo took home the award again that night. [Actually, it was Germano; but Litton’s memory makes a better story.—RCH] But the following year, 1993, Gallo's prediction came true. ... The NCS discontinued the sports cartoon division award the following year; I took it as a sign that I had killed the entire genre of sports cartooning previously kept very much alive by the humble but happy and enormously talented Bill Gallo.”

            Litton concluded: “I will always consider meeting Bill Gallo one of the greatest highlights and honors of my career. He was a genuine American hero, dining with Mantle and Maris and Namath and all of the sports icons of the day. And he stood tall is stature, above them all.”

 

AT HIS COMICRIFF blog at the Washington Post, Michael Cavna remembered that Gallo gave readers of the Daily News “the best ringside seat” at any sporting event. He was “the Herblock of sports artistry ... the living connection to a time when the power of ink hadn't been gradually eclipsed by the power of the pixel. By the time I became a newspaper sports cartoonist in the 1990s, it felt like joining a creative colony of Shakers. We took pride in craftsmanship. We valued the old ways. And mostly, it felt like gaining membership into a rapidly vanishing breed. Yet even from Southern California at the time, I could always look to the stalwart Gallo for inspiration. As I cast my gaze eastward, Bill Gallo was my true-North.”

            Fittingly, Cavna said, he met “a professional heavyweight like Gallo” in “Jersey” when the NCS held its annual convention there last year.

            Cavna continued: “A couple of weeks after meeting Gallo, I spotted a sports-themed cartoon at Nationals Park; the century-old artwork referenced the presidential run of Teddy Roosevelt. After talking to Ken Burns (aka America's documentarian)—who threw out the first pitch at that game—I wrote him an open letter encouraging that he make a film about one American institution he hasn't yet touched: newspaper cartooning. The letter said in part:

            “‘There are some longtime cartoon legends who still walk, and talk, colorfully among us. ... Sports cartoonist Bill Gallo, whose historic tenure at the New York Daily News stretches back to World War II; George Booth, a longtime cartooning icon at The New Yorker; and Mort Walker, whose strip Beetle Bailey is the last newspaper comic approved personally some 60 years ago by publisher William Randolph Hearst. All three cartoonists had so much boyish glee in their eyes [when I met them recently], who knows—they might outlive both Ken Burns and myself. But the larger reality is, they represent a generation of near-nonagenarians (one that includes Family Circus's Bil Keane, and the 80something Mell Lazarus, among numerous others) who have great stories to share now. I've had the pleasure of talking with another near-nonagenarian legend, Stan Lee, numerous times in the past year, and every time, I wish I could turn on a camera and capture his great and marvelous stories for future generations to appreciate on film. Bill Gallo—who was born on the same day and year and island as fellow cartooning legend Stan Lee—died of pneumonia Tuesday night at White Plains Hospital. ... How do you mourn the end of a cartooning era? Well, you share memories with the few fellow Shakers who still practice your shared profession. You pine some for a time when sports cartooning was celebrated.”

            Cavna added later that ESPN had just posted several audio clips of Gallo discussing how he got his job; his inspiration for General Von Steingrabber; and of drawing poignantly about the sudden death of Yankees catcher Thurman Munson.

 

THE SPORTS CARTOONIST has been dying for decades. Murray Olderman drew three sports cartoons and wrote four sports columns a week for 25 years as sports editor and cartoonist for the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA). Writing in Jud Hurd’s Cartoonist PROfiles in 1972, Olderman said: “The full-time sports cartoonist is almost a vanishing species.”

            Sports cartoons were in full flower until photographs could be reproduced in newspapers by the halftone process, Olderman said. “As halftones came in, the large number of sports cartoonists seemed to decrease.”

            In another Cartoonist PROfiles article, this one in 1993, twenty years later, Olderman waxed historical: “Sociologically, sports cartooning sprouted in this country, and not the rest of the world, because we’re a restless, inventive nation which created games such as baseball, basketball and American football and re-introduced boxing as a gentlemanly endeavor. They epitomized the type of action that led to cartoon interpretation.”

            Willard Mullin set the style for sports cartooning. Said Olderman: “Traditional sports cartoons consisted of a nice [realistic almost photographic] rendition of a sports figure surrounded by a few ‘goomies’ or little action figures depicting some of the events in his career. Mullin carried this much further and began to make the sports cartoon a meaningful thing, an expression of himself. Spurred by Mullin, the sports cartoon became an editorial vehicle more than just a graphic display to make the sports page look nicer. He developed the idea of telling a story in a cartoon.”

            Mullin’s storytelling began in 1937 when he did a multi-panel cartoon about the great Red Sox slugger Jimmy Foxx at bat, waiting for the pitch—and waiting and waiting some more. But the cartoon wasn’t about waiting: it was about speed—the speed with which Foxx could analyze and act on the pitched ball. In the cartoon, the pitcher had already pitched, and the ball was in the air but seemingly going so slowly that the imperturbable Foxx could leave the batter’s box and get a drink of water and gab with the umpire before finally shouldering his bat and slamming the ball out of the park.

             Said Olderman: “Mullin was a hard-drinking, hard-thinking sports cartoonist [at the New York World-Telegram] who dominated the field from the 1930s through the 1960s and left his imprint on every aspiring young cartoonist who wanted to concentrate on sports. He was the most imitated man of his time. ... He created the Brooklyn Bum to epitomize the beloved Dodgers of Flatbush before they went Hollywood. [The Bum was created in a cab Mullin took home after a Dodgers game;] the cabbie turned around and asked, ‘How’d our Bums do?’ And the proverbial light bulb lit up in Willard’s skull. Henceforth, the Dodgers became the Bums, and his cartoon character became part of a legend.”

            As the champion sports cartoonist of the age, Olderman observed, “Mullin had one tremendous asset in his job at the World-Telegram—virtually unlimited space. His cartoons roamed all over the sports section’s front page. ... His drawings weren’t confined to tight rectangles. If a leg [projected energetic action by sticking out beyond a panel border], they morticed type around it.” It was a joy to behold. (For the whole history of Willard Mullin, visit Harv’s Hindsight for September 2004.)

            In his September 1993 PROfiles piece, Olderman confronted the obvious: “Let’s face it: sport cartooning in the daily newspaper is not a dying art. It is, for all practical purposes, dead.”

            Puzzled and dismayed, Olderman attributed the demise to two reasons: (1) the blindness of editors in recognizing the sports cartoon as an enlivening visual asset to their sports sections. ... (2) lack of talent (a lot of fellows can draw but don’t know sports; and a lot know sports but can’t draw. “Very few people can do both,” Olderman finished).

            Another factor Olderman mentions: evening papers, which offered more feature material and hence more sports coverage, began changing to morning publication in order to be first with the hard news of the previous day; and the sports editors joined the parade with hard sports news, elbowing pictures—and sports cartoons—off the page. As the 21st century dawned, only Bill Gallo and Drew Litton were full-time sports cartoonists at daily newspapers. And now, there are none.

 

THE FATE OF THE SPORTS CARTOONIST puts the blinding myopia of newspaper publishers and editors on stark display. While these media managers realize the important role played by visual content in attracting readers—a realization forced upon them by the astonishing success of USA Today’s graphically varied presentation of the news, beginning with the paper’s launch in 1982 —they willfully ignore the contribution that cartooning makes in this effort. Not only are cartoons (comic strips, and editorial and sports cartoons, not to mention spot illustrations) assets to newspapers seeking to enhance their visual appeal, cartoons are peculiarly, almost uniquely, print-anchored. The sorts of things that cartoons in all their newspaper manifestations do cannot be done as effectively in other media. Static cartoon renderings can be displayed on cable tv, but in a medium that dotes on moving images, cartoons, unless animated, scarcely help attract viewers. Although the Internet also offers static images to surfers, movement is increasingly seen as vital on the Web. As a venue for static cartoons, the Web is rapidly distancing itself from the medium. That leaves newspapers—the once and future home for cartoons and comics.

            In addition to other attributes a propos the static imagery of comics, newspapers are the only mass medium that supplies artifacts that can be stuck on the refrigerator door for all to see.

            The blindness of cartoon-challenged newspaper moguls is all the more astounding in the sports department. Political events with their controversy and partisanship, and news generally—but particularly disaster news with its gory and spectacular imagery—find ample airtime on cable-tv news. But except for sports channels, sports are less extensively covered. (Denver, my home town, lost at least eight on-air sports positions in a single year recently.) And that creates an opportunity for the print medium that, alas, is not being adequately exploited.

            Not being a sports enthusiast (I’ve always questioned the attraction of any competition the culminating event of which is people showering together), I don’t know how sports fare on the Net. But I’m persuaded that among sports fans, a numerous population, there is an insatiable appetite for information—accounts of personal achievements of athletes and analysis of an endless stream of statistics to be pondered and savored at leisure—and my guess is that there’s still much to be relayed to fans even after a Web treatment, and newspapers—with sports cartoons—could be appealing to a reader interest that is left wholly unsated by whatever the Web offers. The extinction of the sports cartoonist that Bill Gallo’s death signals makes vividly apparent the failure of newspaper journalism to take advantage of those of its elements that are uniquely theirs in the on-going struggle to compete with cable-tv and the Web.

            In the Gallos Gallery below, we’ve posted some Gallo’s humor, including a few of his classic characters, plus a taste of Willard Mullin and samples from a couple of others of the breed that highlight historical or biographical moments. JEREMY: INSERT Gallo0001 through Gallo0006 AND THEN Sport0001 through Sport0004 HERE; THEN DELETE THESE CAPITAL LETTERS.

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ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY

The Thing of It Is ...

AFTER THE INITIAL FUROR and jubilation about the U.S. finally having wiped Osama bin Laden off the map came speculation about what effect, if any, his demise might have on American troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Hard to say, said everyone. But a much more interesting speculation might have focused on Muammar Khadafy. Various messengers from various concerned countries have been finagling with the Death Dealer of Lybia to convince him to take his millions and his household into some other venue, where he might be assured a measure of safety and tranquility in which to spend his twilight years. Might that prospect look more attractive now?—now that he realizes, as he must, that U.S. military and intelligence technology might be able to come and get him, just as they cooperated to end the career of bin Laden? My bet is that he’s thinking about retiring all more seriously now than he was in April.

 

ABOVE THE PHOTOGRAPH of Prince William and his new bride on Newsweek’s May 9 cover was the headline: Is Sarah Palin over? If you have to ask the question, the answer is: Yes.

            She was undoubtedly done in by one of the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank who vowed in February not to mention Sarah the Palin the entire month. He didn’t; and she expired for want of publicity.

 

 

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