Opus 280 (July 5, 2011). Continuing our celebration of the Year of the Rabbit (to which we are all plugged in), we re-visit a portion of the NCS Reubens Weekend this time: as the roastee, we respond to Tom Gammill’s hilariously vicious satirical video. Among the big stories herein: Bud Plant is selling his mail-order business, satyrical cartoonist Hefner gets left at the altar, New York Times drops weekly cartoon round-up but installs an altie cartoonist, disgruntled comic book artists set up a separate show across the street from the San Diego Comicon, DC Comics start over with Number Ones all over the place this fall, Weiner’s fate prompts us to post a bevy of our antique barenekkidwimmin cartoons, windows with curtains flapping symbolize—what?, Maxine’s maker; plus reviews of Jerry Robinson’s revised and up-dated history, The Comics; The Horror! The Horror! (horror comics in the 1950s), Flashpoint: Batman the Knight of Vengeance, Reed Gunther, Drums, 50 Girls 50 and Kevin Keller. 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
Bud Plant to Sell Mail Order Biz
Frank Miller’s Revamped Post 9/11 Batman—the Fixer
Zits Won’t Be a TV Show. Yet.
Wimpy Kid Snowed In
Comic Book Artists Set Up Separate Show at San Diego
DC Comics to Start Over at Number One
Denver Post Drops Peanuts and Doonesbury; Are Comics Fizzling Out?
How Newspaper Editors Think about Comics
Denver Comicon En Route
New York Times Drops Weekly Cartoon Round-up, Adds Altie
ICv2's Conference on the Future of Comics
Comic Book Collection at Virginia Commonwealth University
Hefner Gets Left at the Altar. Almost.
My Cartoon Like One of His
THE REST OF THE ROAST
The Roastee Responds to Gammill’s Video at the Reubens
Rounding Up a Few of the Recent Best
Donkeys and Elephants Forever
THE FROTH ESTATE
And Weiners Galore
Including Some of the Happy Harv’s Girlie Cartoon Art
RANCID RAVES GALLERY
Marc Hempel’s Graphic Genius Sampled
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL
Windows and Flapping Curtains Symbolize—What?
A Short History of the Crabby Lady
Jerry Robinson’s Revised Tome, The Comics
The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You to Read
LONG FORM PAGINATED CARTOON STRIPS
The Attack on Osama bin Laden
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Bluewater’s Biographical Series
Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance
50 Girls 50
WE’RE ALL BROTHERS AND WE’RE ONLY PASSIN’ THROUGH
Lew Sayre Schwartz
One of Kahlil Gibran’s most notable lines of poetry is from "Sand and Foam" (1926), which reads: "Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it so that the other half may reach you." Could be our slogan here at Rancid Raves, but we like our motto, too:
Our Motto: It takes all kinds. Live and let live. Wear glasses if you need ’em.
And our customary reminder: when you get to the $ubscriber/Associate Section (perusal of which is restricted to paid subscribers), 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
Bud Plant, a reliable fixture in retail sales of comics and comix for over 40 years—mostly by mail order—is poised to leave the ratrace part of retail sales. As reported by Brent Frankenhoff at the Comics Buyer’s Guide, Plant sent a letter to everyone he knows in the comic book industry and book world offering Bud Plant Comic Art for sale. By making the offer industry wide, Plant said, “I think I’ll find the right buyer to take over. I’m hopeful the synergy between my long-established business, and another retailer or publisher, will be evident to the right person.”
Plant started his business in his bedroom at his parents’ home in 1970. Eighteen years later, he sold “what had become the nation’s third largest new comics distribution company to Diamond Comic Distributors.” At the same time he also sold the single largest chain of (seven) comic stores in the U.S., Comics & Comix, the first of which opened in 1972. After that, he said, “I concentrated on rebuilding and growing my catalog/mail-order business, which had taken a back seat to those other operations. Now 23 years later, Bud Plant Comic Art is the premiere source for mail-order specialty books in both the comics industry and in the book world.”
During those years, Plant’s own interests, he says, have evolved. “Several years ago my partner Jim Vadeboncoueur and I started Bud Plant Illustrated Books. We specialized in used and rare illustrated books, as well as out of print comics, fantasy and art books. Today that business continues with my current partner Anne Hutchison, enabling me to do what I enjoy most, exhibiting at antiquarian book shows, comic books shows and in a local co-operative bookstore. I also sell on the internet as Bud Plant & Hutchison Books.”
His staff at Bud Plant Comic Art is experienced, some having been with Plant for more than ten years—“several more than 20 years,” he said—and their experience has allowed him to step back from day-to-day operations. Said he: “Today I spend just a few hours each week at the warehouse. Lately, I’m more often found setting up and running our annual booths at the San Diego Comic-Con and at San Francisco’s Wonder Con. But it’s time for me to take that last step and move the business on to the right person or company.”
Interested parties can contact Plant at email@example.com
Meanwhile, we asked our friend Bob Beerbohm, who was with Plant when the Grand Adventure began, to reminisce a bit about it. And he did:
I have known the man for over 40 years now. We were house mates back in 1972 through early 1974 as we co-created with the late John Barrett the formerly seminal comic book chain store operation Comics & Comix. I thought up the corporate name which first sported a Bobby London logo; later they "upgraded" (in their minds) to a great Frank Cirocco rendition. I always thought they should keep both -:)
I read Bud’s announcement carefully when I first spied it on his Facebook page, then got it printed in the mail a few days later. He is selling the mail order business he started in his bedroom in his parent's house on Holly Drive, then I helped him expand a bit at 458 Harmony Lane in San Jose per the printed blurb in his first real catalog which states I was going to be answering phone orders as well as helping wrap up packages to send out. This in addition to working long hours at that first Berkeley store at 2512 Telegraph Ave before we embarked on expanding into the second comic book store at 720 Columbus Ave in May 1973, and a couple months later expanding yet again into locations in San Jose and Sacramento.
Back in the summer of 1972, Bud and I caravaned to something like nine comicons over the course of two months, ending at the first El Cortez San Diego Comicon, in a sort of real "circuit" that was semi-organized by comicon promoters that year so no overlap in dates occurred and they could each share in dealer table money to help make their respective shows a success.
Bud drove his van, and I then had a ’65 Chevy Impala with U-Haul attachments to haul my stuff. The late John C. Wilson from Atlanta, Georgia was also part of said caravan. There were other early comics dealers who dropped in and out of this circuit; we were the three main guys who traversed the entire loop of it that summer.
Will Eisner was the main guest at his second comicon ever—at Multicon, June 1972 in Oklahoma City. I was fortunate to luck into a one-on-one meeting with him early Sunday morning around 7am when I was headed to be an early bird at the hotel café and beat the crowd. Under my were around 40 of the very scarce tabloid size Spirit sections I was going to read at breakfast. Never got there.
Will and I talked at first about his Spirit work; then our conversation evolved into concepts of how to "save" the American comic book. Code comics had just recently gone to 20 cent cover prices, and circulations were plummeting. Will suggested that the teenage comics readers of the 1960s were entering college and universities right about then, so some sort of enterprising entrepreneurs should contemplate opening up comic book stores as near to college campuses as possible in an effort to retain said readers.
Long story short for right now: after San Diego in mid-August, Bud talked me into going up to San Jose to sit out a couple weeks, then head done to the ’72 World Science Fiction Convention. During those two weeks, the late John Barrett, Bud and I talked about what Eisner and I had been discussing. Then we opened up that first Berkeley Comic Art Shoppe, which within a year became our flag ship location as we spread out into four counties, ringing the Bay Area.
Comic book stores at top of university campuses like Million Year Picnic near Harvard (opened originally by Chuck Wooley and Jerry Weist) followed our lead. Another that comes to mind—Bart Bush and friends opened one near the University of Oklahoma at Norman. We counted up the number of stores which could be considered comic book stores of any sort in August 1972 and figured out we were twenty-third.
Almost 40 years later, now the marketing of paper in a digital age is transforming how business is conducted. I wish all the good fortune in the world to whomever chooses to purchase the good will and solid business Bud has run. His work ethic was always something I aspired to emulate. I always considered the factors Bud would put into making business decisions as "Spock Logic.”
Knowing Bud for as long as I have, he is not about to retire per se; he’s merely heading his ship in new directions as we enter those Golden Years of keeping happy in what is done in life.
Footnit: Bob is still in the business of selling comic books (when he isn’t being a historian of the medium and the business). You can find him at many comicons, and always at the Sandy Eggo fete. Or at BLBcomics.com, Bob Beerbohm Comic Art, where good old books and new are sold.
Kate Smith. A large woman with a voice to go with the physique. The information wafting over the Rancid Raves transome from the Web tells me that it is Kate Smith who is referred to in that antique axiom, “It’s not over till the fat lady sings.” She was the fat lady; and—boy!—could se sing. The occasion for remembering all this is the Fourth of July, the pertinence of which you’ll see in a trice.
Kate Smith was born and grew up in Columbia, Missouri. In early 1940, Kate Smith, a fiercely patriotic American, and the biggest star on radio, was deeply worried about her country.
She asked famed song writer Irving Berlin if he could give her a song that would re-ignite the spirit of American patriotism and faith. He said he had a song that he had written in 1917, but never used it. She could have it, he said. She sat at the piano and played it and realized how good it was. She called Berlin and told him that she couldn’t take this from him for nothing, but neither of them wanted to cash in on patriotism.
So, they agreed that any money that would be made off the song would be donated to the Boy Scouts of America. Thanks to Kate Smith and Irving Berlin, the Scouts have received millions of dollars in royalties. Frank Sinatra said that when Kate Smith, whom he considered the greatest singer of his age, first sang this song on the radio, a million guys got ‘dust’ in their eyes and had to wipe the tears the ‘dust’ caused.
The song was “God Bless America.”
From ICv2.com: Ten years after the September 11th attacks, the Frank Miller revenge saga inspired by 9/11 will be published by Legendary Comics as a $29.95 hardcover graphic novel. Originally the project was Batman: Holy Terror, and it was the Dark Knight who exacted a singular revenge on the terrorists. But the departure of Bob Schreck from DC Comics in 2008 due to some controversial dialogue in All Star Batman and Robin No. 10 meant the end of Miller’s Batman: Holy Terror project at DC. However, as BleedingCool.com puts it, “when you hire Bob Schreck, you get Frank Miller.” Well at least if you are Legendary Comics, an off-shoot of Legendary Pictures (Batman, The Hangover) and you make Bob Schreck your EIC, you get a revised version of Holy Terror now set in "Empire City" with a protagonist known as The Fixer leading a one-man crusade against an army of murderous zealots.
And even more from ICv2.com, which quoted Diamond Comic Book Distributors’ Leslie Jackson about the DCBD Free Comic Book Day Survey: “In reviewing the survey data, I think we can comfortably say that over one million customers visited a comic book shop on Free Comic Book Day.” Over 2.4 million comics were given to new and returning customers. Retailers ordered a record 2.7 million comics for the event.
Keith Knight has a new book out: Too Small To Fail, an anthology of his th(ink) cartoons, the somewhat more overtly opinionated of his oeuvre.
NewsChannel15 in Nashville reported that an anonymous donor dropped off at a Goodwill store 12,626 comic books, all in pristine condition—valued at $42,000. “The donor said he had been collecting them since he was very young, and the collection came together over the last 30 years. The comic books are being sold through Goodwill's auction site with more than a dozen lots up for sale. To date, the highest price paid for one of the comic books was $161 for the Amazing Spiderman, Vulture's Prey No. 64, published by Marvel Comics Group in 1968.”
Squelching rumors that Zits will find life on television in a live-action interpretation, Jim Borgman, who draws the strip over Jerry Scott’s jokes, told jkiesewetter at cincinnati.com/blogs that CBS had turned down a pilot script. “Borgman says everyone at CBS liked the pilot script except for Les Moonves, CBS Corp. president and CEO. And that killed their chances at CBS. A TV version of Zits is not totally dead, but Borgman isn't counting on it ever seeing it. ‘It’s off my radar screen,’ Borgman said.” In 2000, another round of rumors said that Borgman and Scott had a deal for a Zits movie, but that faded, too.
Every time I have mentioned Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy Kid works, I usually opined that they weren’t, really, specimens of cartooning because the pictures merely illustrated the text and didn’t add any new narrative information. And that’s what comics generally do: the pictures add new information to the verbiage, and together, words and pictures create a meaning neither conveys alone without the other. But I’ve finally read more than a page or two of one of the Wimpys, and I must revise my estimate: Kinney’s pictures often add to the meaning of the words, sometimes by satirically contradicting them. For the newest manifestation of the Wimpy phenomenon, Abrams is printing six million copies. Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever is due out on November 15th. The last three volumes of the Wimpy Kid series, according to ICv2.com, have all topped overall bestseller lists, and the six million first printing of Cabin Fever is the largest announced so far for 2011. According to USA Today, the events in Cabin Fever were inspired by a snowstorm in Massachusetts last winter that trapped Kinney in his home without power or heat.
Alan Gardner at DailyCartoonist reports that “Creating Frank Cho’s World” won a Emmy Award (National Capital Chesapeake Bay Chapter) in the Arts/Entertainment - News Story Category. The documentary, by Alexandra Garcia and Benedict de la Cruz of the Post, covered the creation of Cho’s Washington Post Magazine cover. You can see a video of the process at washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/artsandliving/frank-chos-world ; there’s also a short interview with Cho, who, while still drawing for comic books, is also moving into the World of Fine Art.
Cable network USA and DC Comics debuted Chapter 1 of its "Burn Notice" interactive graphic novel, A New Day, alongside the show's Season 5 premiere on Thursday, June 23. In the first day, reported Jethro Nededog at Hollywood Reporter, A New Day scored more than 100,000 page views, according to the network. Written by the creative team behind the series, 11 more chapters will be released weekly during the season featuring illustrations from DC Comics, original video, interactive features, and gaming content. The interactive graphic novel series is available at usanetwork.com, Facebook, on compatible Apple devices, and as an Android App on select devices. Said USA's vp of Digital Jesse Redniss: "We are pushing the technology boundaries to enhance the user experience beyond the one-hour telecast and expanding the story arc into new arenas."
REVOLT OF THE COMIC BOOK ARTISTS
A bunch of comic book artists, fed up somewhat with being exploited by the Sandy Eggo Con, are setting up an alternative site during the forthcoming geekfest. Dubbed “Tr!ckster” and inspired by Pixar story artists/independent cartoonists Scott Morse and Ted Mathot, the altie “will feature a combination retail shop/art gallery/event space in the San Diego Wine and Culinary Center that will run for six days, from July 19-24, coinciding with the Con,” according to herocomplex.latimes.com.
Tr!ckster, it sez here, will draw big-name and emerging comics creators who will participate to different degrees, among them: Mike Mignola (Hellboy), Dave Gibbons (Watchmen), Jim Mahfood (Marijuana Man), Mike Allred (Madman), Jill Thompson (Scary Godmother), painter Jason Shawn Alexander and illustrator Bernie Wrightson. "They'll have artwork in the gallery or their books will be available or they'll be speaking at a symposium or their band will be playing or they may just be there having a cocktail talking to fans," Morse said. "Many of them will also be showing at booths at the Comic-Con."
Mahfood, who illustrated the upcoming graphic novel Tank Girl, says he's attended Comic-Con since 1992, first as a fan and later as a professional. Said he: "The size of Artists Alley [at Comic-Con] has shrunk over the years and moved to literally one end of the building. Logistically, we're harder to find. The heart of the show now is the movie studios. Artists are off in the corner. Tr!ckster is a chance for us to shine on our own again. It's a refreshing thing."
The retail shop will feature rare items like handcrafted and limited edition books, original framed paintings, fine and pop-art inspired T-shirts and small run, limited-edition toys such as Mahfood's new Beat Bee. Morse will debut a 32-page hardcover version of his new book, A Glimpse of Crime and Terror, which he created with writer Steve Niles (30 Days of Night). The showpiece item for sale will be a limited edition coffee table book of original art by Tr!ckster participants, featuring blank pages in the back for new drawings.
The store, I assume, is open to all comers, but people who want to attend the symposia will pay $35/event, or $350 for all eight events, plus a piece of art and a book.
DC STARTS ALL OVER WITH 52 NUMBER ONES
You Can’t Be Serious
DC Comics says it’s going to “revamp” its stellar lineup, outfitting Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and others for life in the 21st century. Their costumes and their personalities will be tinkered with, and the whole enterprise will reach the newsstands in a flood of Number Ones in the fall. USA Today reported that the publisher will “renumber its entire DC Universe of titles.” Geoff Johns, who is writing the Justice League title, the first new Number One (out August 31), says he’ll focus on the “interpersonal relationships” within DC’s trademark superteam: “What’s the human aspect behind all these customers? That’s what I want to explore,” he said.
In September, saith USA Today, an additional 51 first issues will make their debut, introducing stories that are grounded in each character's specific legend but also reflect today's real-world themes and events. Artist Jim Lee spearheaded the costumes' redesign to make characters more identifiable and accessible to comic fans new and old.
"We really want to inject new life in our characters and line," Dan DiDio, co-publisher of DC with Lee, told Brian Truitt at USA Today. "This was a chance to start, not at the beginning, but at a point where our characters are younger and the stories are being told for today's audience."
Frankly, I doubt any of the presumed alterations introduced in all these Number Ones will last much longer than a story arc: fans may like new stuff, but they also revere the old spangled spandex. And collectors are going batshit bananas: which Superman No. 1 is the expensive one? Surely the moguls at DC know all this. So the entire enterprise looks suspiciously like just another hype to me.
But one aspect of the plan is likely to endure: “In an even more important move in the competitive comics industry, DC is making all of the re-numbered titles available digitally via apps and a DC website the same day they arrive in comic shops. It marks the first time that a major comics publisher has done so with its popular superhero titles.”
ARE COMIC STRIPS FIZZLING OUT?
On June 27, the Denver Post dropped 13 of the 46 comics in its line-up, saying that the cutback was "based upon reader feedback." I don't remember there being any recent reader survey on the subject, and, indeed, I finally learned that the "feedback" consisted of the results the paper garnered with a comics poll in the fall of 2009 (which may account for Dustin’s being dropped: the comic strip hadn’t appeared by the fall of 2009).
The doomed baker’s dozen includes Peanuts and Doonesbury, two strips that you’d think would be sacrosanct these days: the first because it is universally beloved; the second, because it appeals, one supposes, to the very demographic newspapers are desperate to attract and retain—younger readers (those, say, 35 or younger). The others are Bizarro, Brevity, Dustin, F-Minus, Frazz, Heart of the City, The Knight Life, Non Sequitur, Overboard, Rhymes with Orange, and Scary Gary. The remaining 33 strips include such stalwarts as Blondie, Garfield, For Better or For Worse, Fred Basset, Beetle Bailey, and Baby Blues. The paper clearly knows its subscribers skew older: it’s keeping the strips that the doddering newspaper readers are likely to favor. Oddly perhaps (but thankfully), the Post is keeping some newer, fresher, strips: Zits, Tundra, Freshly Squeezed, Pickles, Pearls Before Swine, Mutts, and Get Fuzzy—and those that editors imagine appeal to minority demographics, Baldo (Hispanic), for example, and Jump Start (African American).
The history of the comics at the Post has been fairly spectacular in the last couple years. When the rival Rocky Mountain News (called "Rocky") ceased publication in March 2009, the Post took over all Rocky's comics and announced to former Rocky readers that “all their favorite comics” would henceforth be in the Post. And the Post took out a couple of full-page ads to make that pitch. Clearly, comics were important to the Post—important enough to use them to seduce former Rocky readers to join the Post.
But when the Post added the Rocky's comics, it was suddenly running 67 strips and panels. Even if you assume each of these cost only $15/week (plus another $15 for Sunday), the Post's bill from syndicates must've been staggering. And many strips cost more than $15/week; some as much as $50 or $100. I predicted at once that the Post comics line-up would change before long.
Actually, it lasted longer than I expected. The Post did a reader survey in the fall of 2009, then in March 2010 (last year), it cut back to 46 strips and panels. So it swallowed its gargantuan expense for a year before whittling it down.
With the cutback this month, the Post is down to 33 strips and panels, which is about what it ran before Rocky’s demise (perhaps even fewer, astonishingly enough). So how many of the current line-up are the “favorite strips” from the Rocky that we subscribed to the Post to continue following? Not many. Talk about diminished credibility.
The Post artfully advised readers that they can find all dropped strips online at the paper’s website. Sure. But the mechanics of the site require that I click on each comic strip I want to read, then wait for it to pop up; then, if I want to read more, I gotta go back to a listing and start over. Phooey. If I want to read comics online, I'll go to GoComics, the great Uclick site, where I can get all my favorites in a single vertical scroll, no clicking back and forth. My question to the Post: Do you really want to send your readers to a website, even your own? How will that help circulation?
Reader outrage at this highhandedness is, apparently, nil or next to it. WestWord, a local weekly newspaper, divulged the ugly truth: “Once upon a time, a newspaper cut comic strips knowing it could be unleashing the hounds by way of calls and letters from readers angered by a disruption of cherished routines. But so far, the Post hasn't been deluged after cutting a baker's dozen of strips, including iconic favorites like Doonesbury and Peanuts, while keeping dead wood like Beetle Bailey and Blondie. Is it an indication that most comics fans get their fix online these days?”
"Not necessarily," says Jeanette Chavez, the Post's managing editor for administration. But she doesn’t sound at all cowed to me. And when WestWord asked the Post’s editor, Greg Moore, about the kind of response he’s encountered, he said: “Zip.”
The WestWord’s report appeared at that paper’s website on the first day the strips were dropped at the Post, so it’s tempting to think more outrage will surge forth. Tempting but not likely: used to be that when a strip was dropped, fans stormed the paper immediately. Not, it seems, this time.
The cutback was part of an over-all 4 percent budget cut and shrinkage of the feature section where the comics appear. The sports section is also being trimmed (another instance of newspaper myopia: sports fans are avid for an endless stream of information about their sports, and newspapers have, until lately, been the most prominent fount of such data).
Apparently, there wasn’t much outcry in March 2010 either, when the Post trimmed its comics section by 21 strips and panels. Times they are, evidently, a-changin’. So far, Chavez says she’s heard only one complaint about Doonesbury's disappearance (if so, it was mine), but she doesn't reject the possibility that it will be reinstated.
"We will assess the reaction over the next few days and see what people say," she told WestWord. "We've tried to do this based on information we have about what's most popular, but sometimes you run into one where it reaches a certain level, and you need to figure out how to do something about it."
“Should the protests be negligible,” finished WestWord, “the lack of response will speak loudly about the changing ways people access newspapers.”
It will mean that comics are no longer one of the two or three things people take newspapers to enjoy. At a single stroke, comics will be revealed as a paper tiger. Dropping them will no longer be the third rail of newspapering. And we may then see newspapers all over dropping whole comics sections. Why not? If people don’t care enough about them to protest dropping a few favorites, they obviously don’t care about comics enough to justify the expense newspapers incur to publish them.
If all this comes to pass, it will be a sad end to a long and pervasive newspaper tradition. For over a century, the comics have been the one of the engines driving circulation up and up. No more. It’ll all end with a whimper of indifference, not a bang of defiance.
WHILE WE’RE CONSIDERING the ways newspapers decide what comics to publish, here’s Mike Peterson writing at his blog, weeklystorybook.com last fall (October 22); still seems worth repeating here:
Comics polls are a major source of irritation and frustration for syndicated cartoonists, who hate having their fate determined by something that is lazy, invalid and basically stupid. Which seems like a reasonable way to feel about it.
To begin with, comics polls aren't "polls." There is no attempt to reach out to readers, or non-readers, in order to get a scientific sampling. [Preaching to the choir] they simply ask readers to tell them what strips they like and don't like, and are guided by the people who bother to respond, which method starts by not being representative and then skews into reflecting the opinions of people who are retired and have time for this sort of thing. Which is why so many cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s remain on your page. Still, while newspaper editors are not a cartoonist's best friends, they don't actually hate the medium. Start here:
1. They don't understand comics. In the 19th century, editors were intellectual jacks-of-all-trades. At very small papers, the editor was often the publisher and perhaps also the sales manager and the circulation director. Times have changed and growth has increased the emphasis on specialization and efficiency. Publishers are mostly drawn from the business side these days and don't understand news writing, while, in large part because of that, editors rise based on productivity and capacity for organization, not because of genius and imagination. The copy editor who can spot a dangling participle and turn out pages in time for the early press run ends up in the Big Chair. That type of editor understands rules of grammar, not comic metaphors, and, while they can be very sarcastic, they are not often very funny. They do not have mobile minds or active imaginations and they honestly just don't get it.
2. They don't deal with the comics page. Even before the heyday of "doing more with less," the comics page was laid out in the back shop. Look at the comics page in your local paper: 99 times out of 100, the format is locked in. Each strip has its assigned spot, and the rest of the page is syndicated features: An advice column, a puzzle, a medical column. If anyone in the newsroom even sees it, it would be the newest hire, the greenest graduate, the lowest peon of all. With computers, much of it is automated and you can even outsource the layout of your comics page overseas.
3. They hate being yelled at. Don't we all? Editors accept angry phone calls over their local news and features. They see it as inevitable, and, as long as negative reader response doesn't bring the publisher into their office, it's even a badge of honor, since they see it as reflecting their "hard-hitting coverage," even if the hard hit was delivered below the belt. But this doesn't mean they enjoy the abuse, and they certainly don't want to be yelled at over a poop joke in some comic strip that was laid out by the backshop or in the Philippines. (Which is why, if the syndicate sends out a heads-up that an upcoming strip may offend a few readers, many editors will reflexively ask for a safe replacement. Why take flak over something you don't have anything to do with?)
It's also important to realize that, as much as today's editor is a stickler for proper grammar and follows rules in a way that would make the most tightly-buttoned librarian look like Oscar Madison, journalism majors don't study a lot of math. Since they don't understand the polls that other organizations run, they certainly can't devise or interpret a valid poll of their own. And, since they aren't good with numbers and don't feel the need to fuss with comics, the last thing they want to do is get hung up in a lot of numbers having to do with comics.
Remember, too, that "monkey see, monkey do" is standard operating procedure in a lot of businesses, not just this one. Innovation is great when it works and will get you fired when it doesn't, but, if you do something everyone does and it doesn't work, you can shrug your shoulders. It should have worked. I followed the rules. It's the economy. It's the Internet. It's not my fault. Hence the standard "comics poll," which isn't a poll at all but which has precedents that you can cite.
There are better ways of doing it.
Nearly a decade ago, I was asked to help re-do the comics page at the paper where I was working. I knew the standard practice was not only a joke but inevitably ended with a mountain of angry phone calls and letters. So, instead, I took the 21 strips we were running (we ran 22, but one was by a local artist and was not on the block), and divided them into three groups of seven strips, roughly by theme: Family strips, old favorites and social commentary. Then we asked readers to tell us which strip in each group they would most like to keep, and which they would least miss. In other words, they were invited to choose three strips to keep and three strips to drop, but they couldn't all be from the same category.
As expected, the vast majority of our responses were from readers 65 and over, but that was okay, because I was looking at the responses in each of a number of demographic groups. The 18-and-under group was under-represented, the 65-and-over was over-represented, and we had a decent if not spectacular response from those in between, but they weren't lumped in together.
If a strip did poorly in one demographic group but well in another, I considered that. There were some easy choices, strips that did well across the board, and ones that didn't. And it was easier to see results because people were only indicating the strips they really felt strongly about—I tossed the inevitable responses that tried to pick all the strips in one category and dump all the strips in another.
And here's what else we didn't do: Not only did we use the numbers only to assist, not dictate, our judgment, but we didn't release them. Why would you release numbers that aren't statistically valid? It only inflames readers and reveals the shortcomings of your methodology. (The answer is "for the same reason you let those numbers dictate your decisions." You would do it because you don't know how spectacularly innumerate you are. See above.)
In the end, we replaced about a third of our strips. We had fewer than a dozen calls objecting to the decisions, and most of those were along the line of "I'm sorry to lose X, but I'll give Y a chance," which is hardly the kind of response editors fear. Our experience got a mention in Editor & Publisher and another industry newsletter, and I heard from one or two editors about it. I think one other paper followed our lead. The rest have continued to do it the traditional way. And, as cartoonist Bill Hinds once noted, it would be funny if they made their other content decisions in the same way, but, of course, they would never do that. They may be stupid, but they're not ... well ...
Well, never mind. Fact is, some day, we may look back on this strip and say, "At the time, the idea really was just a joke."
RCH again: Milton Caniff used to belabor newspaper editors for running what he called “the men’s room poll,” in which the editor responsible for the content of the comics page would turn to whoever happened to be standing next to him at a row of urinals and ask which strip the guy liked. That was it. I’m not sure matters have improved much, as Peterson notes.
Several years ago, I interviewed a features editor at the Detroit Free Press, John Smyntek, who took his responsibilities very seriously. He even ran a readership poll according to scientific polling methods, hiring a polling firm to do the job. More power to him. But he’s the only one I know of who did it that way.
DENVER COMIC-CON EN ROUTE
To prolong news of the region in which I now reside, Denver seems destined in 2012 to join the ranks of cities hosting comic conventions: the first annual Denver Comic Con and Literary Conference (DCC/LC) will take place June 15-17 at the Colorado Convention Center and, saith the website, will be the largest convention of its kind in the Rocky Mountain region. The three-day event has already penciled in the Eisner and Harvey-nominated writer of Scalped and Wolverine, Jason Aaron, as well as Rebekah Isaacs, who is currently working on Angel & Faith for Dark Horse Comics with Christos Gage and Executive Producer Joss Whedon.
Set to take place during Father’s Day weekend, Denver Comic Con is also the first convention of its kind developed to directly benefit children’s literacy, with event proceeds assisting Denver’s own Comic Book Classroom (CBC). CBC is a nonprofit after-school program that promotes literacy and arts education through the use of comics.
“We will have the largest venue for a fan event in Denver,” says Charlie LaGreca, Vice President and Art Director for CBC. “There will be comic creators from all levels of the industry, from big names at Marvel, DC, and Image Comics, to the many wonderful local creators Colorado has to offer, as well as small press publishers from around the country. Rising star and local Denverite, Noah Van Sciver, most recently picked to be in The Best of American Comics and mainstay of WestWord, has also agreed to appear.” Plus guests from film and tv.
LaGreca has worked closely with all the facets of the comics industry as an artist for DC Comics, Nickelodeon, Disney, and many others. He also hosts Indie Spinner Rack, a long-running, online podcast show dedicated to the world of independent comics.
From the website: DCC/LC is unique in that it will be simultaneously hosting a full-scale literary conference (LC) and education program for students and professionals in a variety of academic fields, who will present scholarly work in the subject of comics and graphic novels, as well as teaching, from K-12 to the college classroom, and beyond. Christina Angel of Arapahoe Community College and Metropolitan State College of Denver will head up this exciting program, in conjunction with other local university and college professors.
For the latest news and information, visit denvercomiccon.com
DCC/LC is being organized by Comic Book Classroom, a nonprofit organization that educates through alternative approaches to literacy, learning, and character development. CBC creates programs for underserved students, schools, and communities via comic books, graphic novels, and related media. CBC’s Executive Director, Illya Kowalchuk, M.Ed., will run the educational programming for the convention. CBC is the organizer for the DCC/LC.
THE TIMES GETS SERIOUS ABOUT GETTING FUNNY
Burdened by its reputation for absolute seriousness, the New York Times hasn’t ever run syndicated comic strips. And it hasn’t employed its own editorial cartoonist since 50 or 60 years ago—long enough that we can’t remember when. Or who. But in a lame attempt to compensate for this colossal oversight, the Times has published a round-up of syndicated editoons on Sundays. Now, it’s even abandoning that shabby compensation.
But the sad news masks the good news : the paper has redesigned its Week in Review section, and the new design, under a new title, Sunday Review, includes an editorial cartoon concocted expressly for the Times. “Amid the doom-and-gloom news of more cutbacks,” said Rob Tornoe at Editor & Publisher, “one newspaper is doubling-down on the notion that part of the future of journalism lies in the unique visual commentary that only a cartoonist can provide. The New York Times has decided to make a shift away from reprinting the work of editorial cartoonists from other publications to commissioning a cartoonist to provide exclusive content for the Times every Sunday.”
The first of the newly anointed is altie cartooner Brian McFadden, whose first offering, a strip not a single-panel cartoon, published on June 26, can be seen here: http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2011/06/26/opinion/sunday/20110626_CARTOON-1.html
McFadden, creator of the weekly strip Big Fat Whale, hopes his subsequent weekly strips will “make a point or two while also being funny.” Said he: "The strip will cover something topical, but it can be anything from the week's big story to something that slipped through the news cycle's cracks. As long as I have something unique and funny to say about it, I can make a comic about it."
McFadden’s gig with the Times will last a few months while the paper assesses reader reaction; then other cartoonists will be rotated in to fill the slot. The Times’ Op-Ed page art director Aviva Michaelov said: “There are more terrific cartoonists out there now than ever before. I hope this feature can be a stage to exhibit their talents.”
"I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to succeed," McFadden said, "so when it comes time to pick the next person for the gig, another alt-weekly cartoonist will be at the top of the pile, instead of the bottom, with the escort ads."
"We wanted to keep the spirit of our current cartoon roundup, but wanted to do something original and different," said Michaelov. But like most political cartoons, the intention is to attack a subject with humor and satire. "Especially on Sunday,” she went on, “—when readers read and relax, I think you need some comic relief in the newspaper. Humor is important in dealing with current events, and satire is quite prevalent in news and on television.”
The news, Tornoe observed, is bittersweet for many cartoonists, especially syndicated editoonists who saw the Times’ Sunday cartoon round up as a popular perch upon which to get noticed. Tornoe quotes Steve Kelley, the staff cartoonist for the Times-Picayune (syndicated by Creators) and president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC), who feels the decision to eliminate the selection of political cartoons is disappointing.
"It is difficult to imagine that eliminating such visible, incisive, and amusing commentary will go unnoticed by Times readers, especially as the 2012 political storm gathers," Kelley said. "While we look forward to the Week in Review's promised longer-format cartoon feature, we hope the editors will consider restoring the editorial cartoon selection."
"I'm glad they're engaging someone to do something fresh," said Jack Ohman, staff cartoonist for The Oregonian (syndicated by Tribune Media Services). "I just wish they could preserve the space we have and augment it with the new form."
"I don't feel offended by the New York Times decision—I thought the weekly cartoon round-up was inconsistent in quality," said Nick Anderson, the staff cartoonist for The Houston Chronicle (syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group), who also said he doesn't understand the ire many cartoonists feel about the decision. “I think it’s a good thing that they’re going to pay a cartoonist for original content, like they do their columnists," he said. "I fail to see that as a sign of disrespect."
"I think it's a positive development," said Matt Bors, syndicated cartoonist (Universal Uclick) and an editor of The Cartoon Movement, an online international showcase of cartoonists. "The future of the industry isn't in four-day-old reprints," he said. "The New York Times sets the tone, and hiring a cartoonist to create original work sends a big message. The Chicago Tribune hired Scott Stantis, the Los Angeles Times hired Ted Rall to provide local cartoons. I hope other papers and websites follow suit.”
On the day after the first revamped Week in Review appeared with MacFadden’s cartoon, comments gushed into the Times’ website. From the standpoint of syndicated editoonists, most were encouraging, pleading for a return of the weekly cartoon round-up. Here’s a sample: “When the Times announced the forthcoming change in the Week in Review, my family members anxiously exchanged emails in anticipation of the changes. The one thing we all agreed upon was that the editorial cartoons and recap of humor were the one part we all hoped wouldn't change. Please bring it back!”
There were only 20 comments on the first day, Monday. But the Times announced the next day that it was no longer accepting comments. (And when I tried to return to the site to double-check these facts, I was told that “an error had occurred” and the place I wanted to go wasn’t there anymore.) Not a good sign for any who are stumping for a return of the weekly round-up of cartoons.
By the end of the week, the paper’s public editor, who bears the name of a newspaper legend, Arthur Brisbane, had been emptying his mail box all week and reported that unhappy readers were writing in abundance. The new Sunday Review is different than its predecessor in that it emphasizes opinion rather than news summary. But, Brisbane discovered, readers were not much upset by the increase in opinion. (They are not, after all, journalists who worry about the “wall” between news reporting and opinion mongering, vowing that the twain shall always be kept asunder.) Readers seemed to like being bombarded with more opinion. What upset Times readers, Brisbane was surprised to learn, was the disappearance of the cartoon round-up.
“Overwhelmingly,” he wrote, “they cried: Give us back our political cartoons.”
Of course: political cartoons are opinion running rampant, why wouldn’t people who enjoy reading opinions also enjoy cartoons expressing opinion.
Because Times honchos regard the new section as “a work in progress” that will evolve, Brisbane ended his report by suggesting two “evolutionary steps,” one of which speaks directly to our concerns:
“To accompany the new color cartoon strip by Brian McFadden, add back the single-panel political cartoons (which fist appeared on January 27, 1935, when ‘The News of the Week in Review’ made its debut). Arguably, these offer the sharpest opinions available in American journalism, not to mention a bit of levity to cut the gravity of it all.”
At this writing (July 4, Happy Independence Day), no final verdict has surfaced in the hallowed halls of the Times. The fate of the paper’s weekly cartoon round-up is still unknown. But we’ll keep an eye out. Maybe this episode will turn out to be a boon for editooning. After all, if the nation’s most serious newspaper steps back and reinstates cartoons, the action could have a ripple effect throughout American journalism.
Maybe Doonesbury will be restored to the Denver Post.
And then when the Tooth Fairy shows up ....
CONFERENCE ON THE FUTURE OF FUNNYBOOKS
An ICv2 Release. The ICv2 Comics, Media, and Digital Conference, held in conjunction with the forthcoming Comic-Con International in San Diego, will bring together leaders from the comics, media, and digital worlds to discuss how the two most powerful trends in comics are shaping the future. Speakers and panelists at the Conference will look at the state of comics now, how comics are being used in other media, how digital comics are interacting with the transmedia uses of comic properties, and in a panel discussion on “Comics at Comic-Con 2013,” digital, retailing, distribution, and creator panelists will look ahead two years to answer key questions about the future of comics.
“Comics are changing more rapidly and in more profound ways than at any time since the mid-80s,” ICv2 CEO Milton Griepp said. “This Conference can help us understand and profit from the powerful forces that are transforming the industry.”
The Conference will be held at the Marriott next to the San Diego Convention Center on Wednesday afternoon, July 20th. All four sessions of the Conference have now been announced:
The ICv2 White Paper: a comprehensive look at the comics market and the trends in comics, their media uses, and digital distribution. Selling Comics in Hollywood—State of the Market: among comic properties in film, TV, and videogames, what types of projects are getting made, and why. Digital Comics and Transmedia Properties: how awareness from other media is creating unique opportunities to sell digital comics to new customers, and how digital comics are being used to enhance interest and revenues in other media. Comics at Comic-Con 2013: Question about comics two years from now: What is a comic? How do consumers buy them? How are comics tied to other media? And who were the winners and losers in the previous 24 months?
Visit ICv2.com for more information: once on the homepage, search for “The Future of Comics.” The article concludes with a link to the registration option; cost, $99 to $199, depending upon your status.
A BIG PILE OF COMICS
With a collection of more than 150,000 comic books and related items, the James Branch Cabell Library at Virginia Commonwealth University is one of the five largest public repositories of comics in the country. The collection began in the 1970s, reported Rich Griset at styleweekly.com, when the Library saved the private collection of famed cartoonist Billy DeBeck “from the dumpster. DeBeck, the creator of Jazz Age and Depression-era characters such as Barney Google and Snuffy Smith, left the funnies [and his extensive files] to his secretary when he died in 1942.” But in the seventies, she was about to move and no longer wanting to lug around her former boss’ personal effects, so she contacted VCU.
“Back then you’d say yes to anything they’d give you,” says M. Thomas Inge, a pioneering comics scholar and professor of English and humanities at Randolph-Macon College. With a professorial career of almost 50 years behind him, Inge recalls the dark ages of comic scholarship. He did some of the first academic work on comics, publishing papers in English literature journals because, he says, “There were no scholarly places to publish about comic books then.”
Inge taught at VCU for 11 years and became the chairman of the English department. When he left in 1980, he donated a large portion of his comic collection to the university. “My kicking it off had a great effect on people donating,” he says. To this day the collection is made up almost entirely of donated books and memorabilia, Griset reported.
One of the more picturesque contributors is referred to only as the “Alaska donor.” He has given more than seven tons of comic books to VCU. Said Griset: “Because of the massive size of the collection, the Alaska donor ships his comics by freight. The first shipment weighed two tons and consisted of 29,500 pieces.” Once the latest shipment has been processed, the Alaska donor’s contribution will total 94,518 comics, and another donation is expected later this year.
“The collection is known not only for its size,” Griest said, “but also for many rare works. Items include 500 issues of Mad (including issue No. 1), 250 issues of Heavy Metal (including No. 1), and a comic book from the 1940 World’s Fair that features the first cover shared by Superman, Batman and Robin. Captain Marvel No. 1 and X-Men No. 4 are in the collection, as well as a Little Orphan Annie decoder pin, and a door decorated by DeBeck that features Barney Google and Spark Plug.
Cabell also holds the entire run of Will Eisner’s the rare PS, The Preventative Maintenance Monthly, 162 issues in their original print state and an additional 92 digitized.
HEARTBREAK AT THE PLAYBOY MANSION
A Satyr’s Comeuppance
At very nearly the last minute, Crystal Harris, 25-year-old blonde bombshell, called off her wedding to the 85-year-old viagra-fueled Hugh Hefner, sybarite founder of Playboy. Hef was completely blindsided: “I didn’t see any of this coming,” he said, “but I’m glad things went wrong before the marriage instead of after. Live and learn,” he said in another tweet.
Some reports of the break-up claimed the engagement ended in a ferocious fight, but that, apparently, was not the case. “It was mutual between us,” Harris told US magazine. “There was no fight. We sat down and we talked about it.”
Nor was she seeing someone else or scheming to ditch her beau at the altar for a reality tv show and a half-million-dollar exclusive interview, “Why I Ditched Hef at the Altar,” as the New York Post trumpeted.
The couple had been dating since January 2009—which means, I assume, that Harris had become one of Hef’s live-in girlfriends and bedmates— and they got engaged last December with a wedding planned for Saturday, June 18.
But Harris struggled with second thoughts for months. “I haven’t been at peace with myself lately,” she said in the US magazine interview. She told “Entertainment Tonight” that she was growing uneasy about Hefner’s regimented lifestyle—an unvarying weekly schedule of daily activities, including Thursday nights out that concluded with a romp in the sack with several beauteous partners—and she was stressed out over the prenuptial contract and other such issues, including the realization that she would not be the only barenekid damsel in Hef’s private life.
“I just sat back and thought about it all,” she said to Ryan Seacrest. “Is this what I wanted? And it wasn’t.”
At US magazine, she’s quoted: “We both agreed that it wasn’t the best idea to get married. He was doing it for me because he thought it was what I wanted.”
Hef understood completely, she added. “He’s doing great. Hef’s lifestyle isn’t the most normal lifestyle,” she went on. “And it’s not the lifestyle for me, multiple girls all around.”
At her website, she issued a formal statement: “After much deep reflection and thought, I have decided to end my engagement with Hef. I have the utmost respect for Hef and wish him the best going forward. I hope the media will give each of us the privacy we deserve during this time.”
An odd privacy: Harris (“Mrs. Crystal Hefner”) is on the cover of the July issue of Playboy wearing only a frilly black bra—and inside, wearing nothing.
Hefner, meanwhile, is scarcely devastated. Seeing some humor in the situation, he ordered that a special sticker be affixed to the cover of the July issue—a huge disk of red bearing the words: “Runaway Bride in This Issue.” It covers the nearly naked Harris’s legs. The sticker—alas for compulsive collectors—appears only on the covers of some newsstand copies of Playboy; subscribers, like me, got Harris undefaced.
On what would have been the wedding day of his third marriage, Hef watched romantic comedies, “Sleepless in Seattle,” “50 First Dates” and “Runaway Bride” with a coterie of Playmates. Old friends and former girlfriends, including his second wife, Playmate Kimberley Conrad, came to the Playboy Mansion to offer condolences. Hef’s first wife was his highschool sweetheart, Mildred Williams, to whom he was married for the first several years of his Playboy lifestyle.
“Life is full of surprises,” Hef said on Twitter. “After all is said and done, staying single is probably for the best.”
Probably. Almost immediately, the Shannon Twins moved back into the Mansion, taking their clothes off as they scampered through the halls.
HEFNER, AS EVERYONE READING this doubtless knows, is a frustrated (albeit not repressed at all) cartoonist. “Cartoons have been an essential part of Playboy magazine from the very first issue,” he has often said (which accounts for my interest in the magazine, right?). Writing the Foreword to a new book of Playboy cartoons, The Art of Doug Sneyd, Hef finishes the thought: “It’s impossible for me to conceive of a Playboy magazine that didn’t have the finest possible cartoons.” Except for some of the first issues, in which the finest possible cartoons were occasionally accompanied by one of Hef’s shambling efforts.
By way of demonstrating our cartoonist-affinities, here’s one of Hef’s early Playboy cartoons (published in the first issue, December 1953)—and, at the upper right, one of mine, published in a fall 1955 issue of The Flatiron, the campus humor magazine at the University of Colorado.Hef’s cartoon, “The Art Institute,” is a recycling of an identical effort that he did while cartooning for Shaft, the off-campus humor magazine at the University of Illinois while he was matriculating there. (Or, perhaps, for a booklet of Chicago cartoons he self-published a little later but before starting Playboy; note the Art Institute reference.)
Unhappily, the joke in the reprint is not entirely evident: the inscription under the abstract painting, “Nude,” is missing, rendering the comment of the panting art lover more than a little obscure. The lettering of the inscription in my cartoon is almost too small to read, but the cartoon was printed at quarter-page size, so in its original manifestation, the inscription was discernible.
Despite the similarity and the timing (my cartoon appeared only a year or so after Hef’s), mine was not, as far as I can remember, inspired by his: I was not a regular reader of Playboy at the time his cartoon was published. Besides, my guy’s reaction to the abstract nude is entirely the opposite of Hef’s witless worshippers of the female form in any shape. Still, I prefer to think that the cartoon kinship reveals that our minds run in similar ruts. (There was a time in my shameless youth when I wished we rutted in similar runs, but those halcyon days of rampant envy are happily gone.)
Art on museum walls commonly evokes cartoonist commentary—as another of my 1955 cartoons, “The Art Critic,” suggests (lower right). And this one appeared on the same page as the “Braack!”cartoon: I suppose I’d been spending a lot of time that month in art galleries.
You can find Hef’s history as “Playboy’s First Cartoonist” under that heading in Harv’s Hindsight for September 2008, if you are so moved. If not, plunge determinedly ahead.
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.
GOSSIP & GARRULITIES
Name-Dropping & Tale-Bearing
Uncle Tom is back among us. Doubtless in keeping with the 150th celebration of the commencement of the Civil War that is presently infecting our national life—and, perhaps, to remind us that the war was fought about slavery, not about states’ rights—Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is being re-created online in its original serialized form. Weekly installments identical to those that first appeared in the abolitionist National Era newspaper in 1851 started on June 5 at harrietbeecherstowecenter.org/utc
RAN INTO JEF MALLETT at the Reubens. He produces the comic strip Frazz. This confluence of facts yields a wholly uninteresting factoid: in “Jef Mallett” and “Frazz,” of the consonants that you suspect might be doubled, all of them are (z, l, and t) except the one that is usually doubled (f), which isn’t. The factoid helps me remember how to spell his name and that of his strip, which is about life in an elementary school: Frazz, who is a successful songwriter in the moonlight, is the school janitor during daylight hours. But almost none of the gags have to do with his songwriting career. The jokes that don’t involve school kids and their purely logical interpretations of school life involve instead Frazz’s various athletic hobbies, including jogging and bicycle riding.
Mallett is also a devotee of the two-wheeled vehicle; he enters various bike competitions, such as races and/or marathons. When I ran into him in Boston, I noticed that he’d shaved his head. (You couldn’t help noticing: it shines.) I asked him if shaving his head had reduced wind resistance when racing bikes thereby enabling him to go faster. He said that’s not why he shaved his head, but it couldn’t hurt.
TALKED TO MARK TATULLI, who earns a living by drawing two syndicated comic strips, dailies and Sundays: Lio, about a little kid imbued with an other-worldly fascination with weird supernatural beings and happenings, and Heart of the City, which features the happy antic adventures of a little grade school girl and her buddies and single mother. Tatulli once said that while he was a kid, all he wanted to do was draw comic strips; and now, as an adult, all he is doing is drawing comic strips. Two of them, day in, day out—all the time.
The strips are different visually as well as thematically, and Tatulli probably achieves the variation in appearance by using different drawing implements: Lio looks like its drawn with a pen; Heart, with a juicy brush.
I asked Tatulli how he approached work on his two different strips. Did he spend one week on Lio, the next on Heart? Or did he alternate days?
Neither, as it turns out. It depends entirely on how he feels when he gets up in the morning, he told me. If he feels gloomy or senses foreboding lurking in some corner of his head, he works on Lio; if he’s cheerful and feels outgoing, he does Heart.
Works for me. It’s all what’s in your head.
THE REST OF THE ROAST
Tom Gammill’s vicious fun-packed video, “The Whole-Hearted Humiliation of the Happy Harv,” that was screened last month during the Reubens Weekend of the National Cartoonists Society, is now available for viewing all over the world at www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_fBTJaWfrc —or at The Comics Journal website (tcj.com) at Tim Hodler’s “From Page to Screen” blog of June 17—or at my own online Journal column, “Hare Tonic” (look for it under “columns”). Because it is a wicked advertisement for my biography of Milton Caniff in its unabashed elongated splendor, I encourage you to avail yourself of this unparalleled opportunity to watch ridicule on a colossal scale. Before you do, however, you need slightly more background than Hodler provides.
The video was part of the entertainment that festooned the last throes of the Reubens Banquet during which numerous awards for skillful cartooning are bestowed on various of the inky-fingered fraternity. Presiding over the festivities was the aforementioned Tom Gammill, whose day job is as a writer for such tv shows as “Saturday Night Live,” “Letterman,” “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld.” The conferring of awards and the ensuing parade of winners across the stage was punctuated by deliberately bad Gammill comedy—bits of so-called funny business in which he often enlisted the aid of the award presenters—and by videos, would-be motion pictures, usually written by Gammill in his usual parodic lame manner. The first of these was “Godfather, Part II,” in which NCS prez Jeff Keane played the Marlon Brando role, his cheeks stuffed with wads of cotton. Of the three other videos, two featured Gammill, playing his usual role—that of a well-meaning but clueless and inept would-be cartoonist.
In the last video of the evening, I was the butt of the joke, the victim of cruel mockery—as I had been the previous year, when (as I probably told you) Stephan Pastis appeared before the NCS Godfather (again played by Keane, and superbly, too) seeking retribution for my having denigrated his drawing style in Pearls Before Swine by saying his stick figures looked like hors d’oeuvres on toothpicks.
With the foregoing as preamble, you can now visit Holder (or link to YouTube) and enjoy the video in an enviable state of perfect comprehension. Which you should do now, before plunging any further along.
Did that? Okay, now read on.
Although I witnessed in person the premiere of the video at this year’s Reubens Banquet, I didn’t hear much of it because I’m half-deaf; ergo, at best, I heard only half of it, so I missed all the punchlines. I was told at the time that it was hilarious; but, as I say, I couldn’t, right then, testify to the height of its humor. As soon as it was on the Web, however, I could play it for my wife, who repeated the dialogue clearly enough in my ear that I could, at last, get the jokes. Having now succumbed to them, I also realize the true hysterical import of the video.
Gammill’s film poses as a dazzlingly executed parody of a Ken Burns documentary—groaning violins and stark-staring still black-and-white photos and all the rest of the usual painfully somber accouterments—but once your eyes become accustomed to the glare of its brilliance, the masquerade is revealed as a sort of “roast” of your Faithful Chronicler. “Sort of” but not quite: actual roasts provide the roastee with a chance to lash back at his tormentors by giving him a turn at the microphone at the end of the pie-throwing procession. Alas, the NCS Cartel provided me with no such opportunity, so I’m making one for myself—herewith.
To accomplish its nefarious purpose, the video invokes hazy memories of the notorious Donner Party, the group of 19th century American pioneers who set out for California in 1846 but, due to various mishaps, had to spend the winter of 1846-47 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Nearly half of the group died of sickness and starvation; among those who finished the trek were many who survived by eating others of the party who had died. (Cannibalism is also an unintended aspect of Gammill’s video, as you’ll see anon.)
The video argues that Meanwhile: A Biography of Milton Caniff, Creator of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon is too long, much like the book’s title. To accuse me of prolixity is a little like saying the sun gets up too early in the morning—as any regular reader of this picayune prose can readily attest. No matter: Gammill’s confection here behaves as if it has uncovered a secret plot of suicidal Islamist hooligans.
Veteran cartoonist and past NCS prez Mell Lazarus begins the assault by complaining early in the film that the Caniff book is over 900 pages in duration. This simple bibliographic fact is too much for any bunch of cartoonists: they are accustomed to vast quantities of pictures but easily go all aghast when confronted by verbiage, of which, in 900-plus pages, there is, admittedly, a plentitude. So naturally, being nearly illiterate, they are daunted when confronted by so many words. Their fear and loathing of long books and long sentences (and even long words), is easy to understand: most of them, particularly those who produce comic strips in the cramped space newspapers allot to them, live in worlds restricted to 25-word dialogues. In short, the book is too long for cartoonists to contemplate reading; the sentences, too long for them to comprehend.
The makers of the video happily contrive to ridicule their own illiteracy by making their encounter with the word “chiaroscuro” cause for an outbreak of internecine hostility, ending in the deaths of two fictional personages in the film. Unlike the historic Donner Party, half of whom survived, everyone in Gammill’s film dies while trying unsuccessfully to read the book—which, as I’ve admitted, is long and intimidating. I’m intimidated: I haven’t read it either.
While a goodly number of the individual gags in the video are as hilarious as its concept is convoluted and expertly realized, the film is essentially a one-joke comedy, and repeating the same joke, taking it from one extreme to another with each reiteration, drags the production out much too long. The repetition and the length together undermine the comedy: it becomes tedious, and with that, its length makes the video seem mean-spirited rather than humorous. (Did I say “too long”? Too long! Oh, sweet irony! Oh, delicious cannibalism! Self-devouring satire like this comes along only once or twice in a lifetime, kimo sabe. And I’m deeply grateful that it happened to me on exactly this occasion.)
Because several people after the screening asked me if I was offended, it’s clear that those people anyhow thought the video mean enough that it might offend its target. I, however, am far from being offended: I am honored, flattered. Yes, it is flattering to think that the Ruling Cabal at NCS thinks I’m important enough to ridicule. Me—a mere pipsqueak on the posterior of the profession, a virtual nobody when considered in the company of such cartooning eminences as Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Mort Walker, Walt Kelly, Charles Schulz, Garry Trudeau, Alex Raymond, Hal Foster, Chester Gould (to name a few of the sort that once made up NCS membership). By the agency of the video’s attention, however, I have become large and important. (There: that ought to head off any future vendetta in my direction.)
Now, collapsing in a mixed metaphor, I lay aside the brickbats and custard pies: the roast is done.
P.S. The elegant lady who appears in the video using my book to smash peanuts is Jeannie Schulz, widow of Charles Schulz, the creator of the famed strip, Peanuts. Should we make anything of her obvious delight in successfully shelling a peanut? Okay: they’re walnuts, but walnuts aren’t as satirical in this instance as peanuts.
P.P.S. Any who wish to see the context of the video in the Entire Reubens Weekend might find their way back to my Report, which was spewed out last time at Opus 278.
BUT BEFORE WE DEPART, here’s another gaggle of Reuben Weekend photos, all taken by Tom Stemmle or his wife, Marie.
On the first of these two exhibits, that’s me (right) and John Read, publisher/editor/founder of Stay Tooned, the magazine about cartooning and cartoonists. Below that, an instance of how I look when I’m not mugging brightly for the camera. And on the right, me in the “black tie” garb required at the Reuben Banquet. Nobody noticed that my “black tie” wasn’t of the regulation sort because they were mostly blinded by the glare off my head. On the next page, left to right, Stan Goldberg and his wife Pauline, then Tom Stemmle and me.
No big news here, aristotle, but Tom sent the photos and they just arrived here (albeit too late to include in Opus 278's exhaustive report), so, having no other worthy purpose for these happy souvenirs, I’m posting them here. Enjoy.
Just below that group photo is a gaggle of drawings of a little kid and his pup dog. They have nothing to do with Stan or Pauline or Tom; nothing to do with the Reubens festivities either. I made these pictures back in the last century and haven’t seen them since. Can’t remember what I did them for. It was a commission job. I just ran across them in a seldom-visited corner of the Rancid Raves Vaults and discovered that I rather like them. Nice sketchy penline; nice little kid exuberance at the uncontrollable affection of his dog. So—having no earthly use for the drawings, I decided to use them to fill up the page that was otherwise vacant and therefore begging for content.
Incidentally, if you want more of “the glitz! The glamour! The chilling sight of alcohol-based life forms poured into tuxedos!” as the Hogan’s Alley maestros have it, you can find a few of the photographs David Folkman took at cagle.com/hogan/reubens/reubens2011/main.asp . Real photo reportage. Don’t miss it if you can.
TICS & TROPES
We are a T-shirt nation—everyone, it seems, wears one most of the time; and much of the time, the T-shirts on display are emblazoned with corporate logos or brand names (as befits a capitalist state). But sometimes, the T-shirts are inscribed with the wisdom of witticism; herewith—
Just another poo-flingin’ day in the jungle
If things get any worse, I’ll have to ask you to stop helping
Don’t harsh my mellow
The only paper trail I ever left was stuck to my shoe
Who says nothing is impossible? I’ve been doing nothing for years.
Computers do not damage your thinker thingy
Please raise your hand to speak to me
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
TROLLING THE NATION’S EDITORIAL PAGES and various Internet repositories, we landed on more than a few excellent examples of the nefarious arts of editooning. And here at your elbow are a half-dozen or so exemplars.
On the first page, beginning at the upper left and winding clockwise, we have Pat Bagley’s comment on the Debt Ceiling Dilemma. It’s a perfect metaphorical construction. We can’t pass the Debt Ceiling because our vehicle is overloaded with Bush Tax Cuts, but the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm’s solution to the problem is not to remove the too-large load of freight but to make a trench deep enough to lower the truck so it can get by. While it may solve the problem of the moment, it leaves us with a hole in the ground.
Bagley reminds me of an ancient joke, purporting to illustrate the ignorance of Yorkshiremen in England. (Once upon a medieval time, the King of England expressed a desire to move the court to Yorkshire, but the natives of that vicinity didn’t like the idea, so to discourage His Majesty, they circulated the rumor that Yorkshiremen were uncommonly stupid, creating all sorts of what today we’d call “Polish jokes.” This is one of them.) Picture a barge being towed along a Yorkshire canal by a mule that performs its function by walking along a pathway next to the canal, harnessed to the barge. When this procession reaches a low bridge, the mule bumps his head on the underside of the bridge and, forthwith, stops. The bargeman, a Yorkshireman, gets out, surveys the situation, takes a sledgehammer from the barge and begins to attack the bridge. A passerby, another Yorkshireman, witnessing this desecration, yells out:
“Hey, you idiot. Why don’t you use a shovel instead and just dig up the pathway under the bridge, lowering it enough for the mule to get by?”
“Now who’s the idiot,” says the bargeman. “The mule bumped his head, he didn’t stub his toe.”
Just so. The Debt Ceiling obstacle is giving us a bump on the head, not a stubbed toe.
What the shrilly shouting GOP hopes we don’t remember is that it isn’t just O’Bama’s alleged spending that has created the need to raise the Debt Ceiling: O’Bama’s Great Recession antidote spending is piled on top of GeeDubya’s deficit spending, his failure (and that of the GOP-controlled Congress of those years) to finance two expensive wars by raising taxes. Had the GOP given up tax breaks for the wealthy in those years, we might not be in as deep a hole as we now find ourselves.
In our next example, John Sherffius provides an apt image for the not-very-widely-circulated news that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been lax in enforcing safety rules for atomic power plants. A bandaid indeed.
Mike Luckovich doesn’t give us a memorable image for Newt’s idiocies, but the idea his Newt is giving voice to turns the latest Newt News (the nearly wholesale resignation of most of his senior campaign staff) to satiric advantage. Newt has been a target beloved by Luckovich ever since he drew a cartoon of Newt visiting his cancer-stricken wife in the hospital, two Washington bimbos in tow, to announce that he was divorcing her. Subsequently, Newt barred reporters from Luckovich’s paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, from his press conferences, which action an editoonist can only interpret as a resounding victory.
Our fourth cartoon, and the last in this page’s parade, is one of Mike Keefe’s Pulitzer-winning portfolio. Keefe told Editor & Publisher’s Rob Tornoe that when this cartoon was initially published, “lots of people challenged the math.” So Keefe, who was a math instructor at the University of Missouri - Kansas City where he was completing course work toward a doctorate in math, wrote an informal mathematical proof that demonstrated the logic. He even included the proof in his Pulitzer portfolio. “And now with the cartoon easily viewable online again,” he said, “I’m having to e-mail out copies of the proof to another batch of angry readers.” Here’s the proof (in italics):
If one assumes that 10% of the American population is gay (a commonly accepted figure), then the chances that a single individual is NOT gay are 9 in 10. (that is, 90% or .90.) The chances that two people, chosen randomly, are NOT gay are .90 x .90 = .81. Thus the chances that at least one of the two IS gay are 1.00 - .81 = .19 or 19%.
Similarly, the odds that three people are NOT gay are .90 x .90 x .90 = .729.
In general, to find the chances that in a random group of (n) people, NOT one is gay is given by (.90) raised to the nth power.
There are 6 marines raising the flag on the Iwo Jima memorial. Therefore, the chances that none are gay are (.90) raised to the sixth power. That is: .90 x .90 x .90 x .90 x .90 x .90 = .531 or a bit over 50%.
It follows that the odds that at least one of the six IS gay is about 47%, a bit under 50%. (If there were seven marines depicted, the odds that at least one is gay are a bit over 52%.)
Another way of saying this is "Statistically speaking, there is an even chance (roughly) that one of these (six) heroes was gay."
(Besides assuming the 10% figure to be accurate, I am also assuming that figure holds historically as well, i.e. true in the mid-1940s.)
IN OUR NEXT EXHIBIT, we begin with a stunning effort from Joe Heller, to which I was immediately attracted by both the idea and the copious amount of drawing Heller had to do to create his visual metaphor with Al-Zawahiri as the bullseye at the center of a target. I don’t know how many tiny turbans Heller drew—and maybe they’re all exactly alike; but it’s an impressive performance, and the result is a memorable image.
John Cole’s cartoon, next in rotation, is at least a year old; I found it whilst rummaging through a tattered file. But his re-interpretation of “checks and balances,” which is meaningless without the expository picture, is as accurate today as it was when he first drew it.
At the lower right is R.J. Matson’s characterization of the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm’s ideology as body armor (“impervious to reason”), another convincing image. Wearing that armor, the hapless GOP hasn’t even a snowball’s chance of unseating Baracko Bama in the impending election. In the first place, the GOP hasn’t a candidate of sufficient popularity or visibility to attract the independent voters and pull them away from Obama. Utah’s Huntsman is impressive but nearly unknown; Newt is known and scorned; Bachmann is an intellectual lightweight—she can overwhelm her listeners with what sounds like policy argot, but it’s all the usual politician’s balderdash; and Romney has visibility but no one really warms to him. In the second place—getting back to the body armor—the GOP has no platform, no idea about how to govern. And, in fact, probably no desire to govern.
I have become increasingly distressed by the rigidity of the Republican posturing in Congress. They have no plan, no program, except, as the colorless Mitch McConnell has so memorably put it, to see that Obama is a one-term President. That’s it. That’s their whole idea, the sum and substance of it. And to achieve this not entirely inappropriate goal—after all, all politicians want to defeat their opponents—the Republicans committed themselves to a thoroughly inappropriate method: their “governing” policy is to prevent Obama from accomplishing anything, to shut down his government, to render it wholly inoperative. And that’s the government that the Republicans are also a part of; and its our government. And all they want to do is to prevent it from working?
Now, I ask you: Is that any kind of a worthy objective for any bunch of persons with ambitions to run a government? Why would anyone vote for people whose only manifest interest in governing for the past several years has been to shut government down?
Used to be when a politician ran for office, the subtext of his campaign was that, if elected, he would undertake to work with others of all political persuasions in order to craft laws that would, albeit sometimes only approximately, achieve the goals he committed himself to when he was running. You ran to become a part of government in order to help govern. Not the GOP apparently. Their apparent purpose is to fail to govern.
I realize, by the way, that individual GOP members of Congress are legislating on all those matters that either placate their constituencies enough to gain their votes next year or serve the interests of donors whose largesse will finance the member’s re-election campaign. In other words, there is some law-making going on despite the impression conveyed by the public prints to the contrary.
The impression is persuasive: the GOP has successfully portrayed itself as an obstructionist faction. They have no other conspicuous record of accomplishment in the government of the last couple years. Is that any way for grown-up political leaders to behave? Their behavior makes a mockery of their core belief. They are acting to prevent government from acting, which is exactly what the GOP and its Tea Baggers say they want: less government. But shutting down government is even less government than less government. It’s no government. Tea Baggers may say that’s what they actually want, but they still conjure up laws and vote on them—as if they were governing.
It doesn’t make much sense to me—to get elected to government and then say their whole function is to render government inoperative. Well, that’s how bloodless revolutions are accomplished, I suppose. But it looks like comic opera from here. And what thinking independent voter (and they’re all rational citizens, all thinking all the time: that’s what makes them independent) will vote for a comic opera?
FINALLY, IN OUR LAST EXHIBIT, we have a cartoon from Phil Hands, editoonist at the Wisconsin State Journal, who is making fun of the alarmists who think Governor Scott Walker’s fascistic program to destroy union influence, if successful (and it seems on the cusp of that direction), will bring about the end of the world. The cartoon’s purpose is to ridicule that notion out of existence. And the comically squawking, bug-eyed chicken goes a long way to achieving that purpose. But I’ve included this cartoon here less for Hinds’ hilarious portrait of alarmism gone bananas than for his comments in his blog about the donkeys alluded to by the Walker caricature.
Among a vociferous contingent of altie editoonists (most voluble among them, Ted Rall), the contention is that using donkeys and elephants in cartoons to symbolize Democrats and Republicans is an out-moded mannerism in the medium. Ditto labels of all sorts. Any cartoonist with aspirations to reaching and impacting a modern audience must eschew such antique devices and resort, as Rall does, to sequences of verbose panels in a comic strip. Here’s what Hinds wrote about all this (in italics):
The gag of this cartoon is a bit of an inside joke amongst cartoonists, but I think the generally public will still enjoy the message.
Despite my relative youth (I'm 30), I'm mostly a traditional old school editorial cartoonist. I draw elephants and donkeys, I use lots of visual metaphors and simple one panel cartoons that make simple and direct points. I'm not an alternative or altie cartoonist, like many of the political cartoonists of my generation. Those cartoons almost always have multiple panels and lots of lengthy dialogue, often full of wonderful sarcasm.
There is a bit of debate amongst us cartoonists over the future of our industry (some might compare that to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic). Many of the altie cartoonist complain that a new generation of media consumers don't like or even understand the kind of cartoons I draw. They argue that people my age and younger don't understand what the elephant and the donkey represent and don't like one panel cartoons. They argue that even with our diminished attention spans we would all prefer to read dozens of snide remarks over several panels.
I'm not sure I buy the argument, (or I would probably stop drawing the cartoons I do). Granted many of my readers are older, but that's mostly because most newspaper readers are older. But I've gone to speak to elementary school students and all of them know about elephants and donkeys and often understand even some of the more hyper localized cartoons I draw even about obscure policy. (Of course, I don't know how well their teachers have coached them in preparation of my visit).
But I will continue to draw elephants and donkeys. I'm proud of them. They are symbols that were developed by editorial cartoonists, and then co-opted by the political parties. Both parties use elephants and donkeys on their party logos. It's one of the lasting impressions that editorial cartoonists have left on our society, and I'm going to take pride in that heritage.
IF I WERE ACTIVELY EDITOONING, I’d use elephants and donkeys, too. The kind of editorial cartoon that Rall and his ilk extol depends almost entirely on verbal content, heavily laden with sarcasm. Sarcasm is a slippery rhetorical device. While such concoctions are funny, they are funny only to the choir the cartoonist is preaching to. Because these cartoons depend upon sarcasm, they are easily misinterpreted by anyone who is not already holding the same view as the cartoonist. And no one not holding that view is likely to be induced to change his mind by witnessing a sarcastic cartoon he can’t understand. Give me donkeys and elephants any time.
And here, right in the corner of your eye, is a drawing of mine using a donkey and an elephant. It’s not an editorial cartoon. It is, rather, an illustration for a column about word and phrase origins, and the phrase this picture embroiders is “smoke-filled room,” a semi-secret redoubt resorted to by the Real Powers in a political party when they want to decide the fate of their constituents. Using a donkey and an elephant, I was able to indicate that both political parties participated in the smoke-filled room tradition. How else to make that bipartisanship readily, instantly, apparent?
With underwhelming immodesty, I must confess that I admire the drawing. I uncovered this gem in one of my infrequent tours of creaking filing cabinets in the Book Grotto of Rancid Raves Intergalactic HQ. It was done over 25 years ago, far enough in the distant past that I had forgotten all about it, and so when I chanced upon it, it was as if I was encountering a piece of art done by someone else, a complete stranger. I am perforce entirely free to admire it because, in effect, it is no longer something I did. I admire the little touches—the way the donkey has his “arms” crossed, revealing the horse-shoe underside of his left front hoof (a wholly unnecessary embellishment but a detail that’s comfortably homey, lending a kind of verisimilitude to the scene); the elephant smoking his stogie through his trunk. Nicely, humorously, done, I think, even if I do say so myself, a complete stranger to the achievement.
Below it is another illustration from the same source. Dunno what word origin it purports to illustrate, but it could be an editorial cartoon about the medical profession. The dollar sign (one of those “labels” alties wish to abandon?) suggests what the doctor is actually thinking about when he examines a patient. But what I admire in this drawing (by some stranger, remember) is the line quality—the waxing thick to thin and back—and such details as the way the doctor’s fingers are all akimbo as he plants his stethoscope on his patient’s chest; the self-satisfied expression on the doctor’s face and the quizzical expression on the patient’s—and the whole relaxed, casual appearance of the drawing itself. It looks hastily dashed off, and I like the informal feeling that engenders.
Man!—I could really draw in those distant days of yesteryear! I could draw stuff I actually admire. Would that I still could. Ah, but I have memories—and souvenirs tucked away in trunks gathering dust in the Book Grotto.
OH—FASCISTIC? I just called Wisconsin’s governor a fascist. And so he appears to be if we let the dictionary be our guide. Here’s what that worthy tome has to say about fascism: “a philosophy or system of government that advocates or exercises a dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership.” Sounds like Scott Walker’s government to me.
MOTS & QUOTES
Continuing our list of T-shirt incantations:
I’m sorry; I don’t speak moron
I’ll quit drinking when you quit being ugly
Everyone should believe in something: I believe I’ll have another beer
Eat, drink and be merry ... tomorrow, you’ll be fat, hungover and depressed
In dog beers, I’ve only had one
I used to drink before dinner; and then I realized—who needs dinner?
I laughed to hard the tears ran down my leg
THE FROTH ESTATE
The Alleged News Institution
A propos all the weiner-snickering -schnitzeling going on lately, I ran across an obscure historical factoid about another penis that was, in its time, almost as famous as that of the Democratic Congressman from New York—Napoleon’s. “Napoleon’s appendage first attracted public fascination in France during his early years with Josephine, when their dysfunctional marriage became a national scandal,” writes Tony Perrottet in Napoleon’s Privates, a handy guide to historic sleaze, sex and fame. Josephine, six years older than her husband and the mother of two by an earlier marriage, had decided to live for the moment, which she did every time Napoleon left town—which, in the early days of his career, he did often. She was, alas, not discrete, and Napoleon’s cuckoldry became widely known by almost everyone except Napoleon.
When, at last—in 1798, after two years of marriage—he learned of her infidelity, he wrote about his rage and disappointment in a letter to his brother, who never received it: the British intercepted it and published it all over the place, making Napoleon a multi-national laughing stock. “Josephine’s early adultery was a gold mine for British propagandists, who focused on the size and strength of Napoleon’s baionette,” says Perrottet, reporting that Josephine nicknamed her hubby bon-pour-rien, “good for nothing.” After their divorce in 1810, Napoleon married again, and a British cartoon showed him in the sack with his 19-year-old “Austrian bimbo,” Marie-Louise, who is remarking in horror: “My dear Nap, your bed accommodations are very indifferent! Too short by a yard. I wonder how Josephine put up with such things even as long as she did!”
But Napoleon forgave Josephine, and she, strangely, became a model of the faithful wife. Napoleon, however, took a parade of lovers, fueling the British propaganda machine.
When the ex-emperor died, a prisoner on the British island of St. Helena on May 5, 1821, an autopsy was conducted to learn, if possible, the cause of death. (It was later determined to be stomach cancer.) In those days, it was a common practice to salvage parts of famous persons’ bodies to sell as souvenirs—so common that several officials were in attendance at the post-mortem to prevent Napoleon’s body from being “souvenired.” They were, alas, not diligent. Stories soon circulated about the presence in various personal collections of locks of Napoleon’s hair, molars, nail clippings, slices of his bowels, pieces of his ribs. And his famous penis.
In 1916, it showed up in a collection that was auctioned off. It had been stored in formaldehyde not all that carefully: exposed occasionally to the open air, it had dried and shriveled. It was sold again in 1924 to the American bibliophile, A.S.W. Rosenbach, who used to show it off at dinner parties to friends. It was sometimes displayed in museums. A reporter for Time magazine wrote that it “looked like a maltreated strip of buckskin shoelace or a shriveled eel.” It was eventually auctioned off again and wound up in the possession of an American urologist with a passion for collecting odd things (Abraham Lincoln’s blood-stained collar, for instance), who kept it in a suitcase under his bed. He didn’t show it off much, apparently, and after his death in 2007, only one person outside the family has seen it—Perrottet, who reports: “The organ is certainly small, shrunken to the size of a baby’s finger, with white shriveled skin and disiccated beige flesh.”
In his phallic fascination, the hapless Anthony Weiner has unwittingly joined a long line of people enthralled by their genitals, as we can tell from the adjacent illustration and its accompanying poem, both taken from another obscure tome, The Gentleman’s Alphabet Book, published in 1972 by Dutton. The pictures, rendered in homage, no doubt, to Edward Gorey’s painstaking pen-style by Harvey Kornberg, illustrate limericks by Donald Hall. Arranged in order, they go from A, “Aphrodisiac,” to V, “Voyeur,” and Z, “Zoopilia,” which last goes: “On Sundays at noon, Cousin Bea / Suspended herself from a tree, / An admirably formed / Stallion performed / The unspeakable act until three.” Kornberg’s picture is admirably even more discrete than Hall’s rhyme despite picturing Cousin Bea hanging upside down, naked, from a tree limb.
Years ago, when in the grip of a short career as a freelancing magazine cartoonist, I dramatized the highly amusing male preoccupation with the size and wonderfulness of the male organ in what I hope is a hilarious rendering, posted just at your elbow. When I first heard about Weiner’s adventure, I remembered this drawing, which, I think, perfectly captures his state of so-called mind. This drawing was perpetrated on commission for the an article in a digest-size magazine called Pillow Talk (“The Monthly Journal of Sexual Fulfillment”). The article was about all sorts of “sexual records”—the largest breasts, the most frequent sexual position, the most famous fellatio, etc. Bet you can’t tell which “record” my drawing illustrates..
I did several drawings for the article, all wash-enhanced, and they were reproduced in duotone, a nice touch and one that pleased my inner art critic. Here’s how the four-page article looks.
Over a couple of years, I illustrated several articles in Pillow Talk, but this one was the most fun to do because I could indulge myself with greatly exaggerated pictures of a comical persuasion. Here are a few more, including better reproductions of a couple of those you just saw on those duotone pages.
I admire these, too. They’re 30 years old, so the cartoonist is a total stranger to me. I admire the joie de vivre, the giddy comicality, the gleeful exaggeration beyond all reason. They make me smile, and in the expectation that they’ll have a similar effect on you, I’ve posted them here.
THE MALE EGO has a terrible time accommodating itself to the Latin term for the gender’s proudest possession: penis, which means “tail,” is such a puny term for such a magnificent achievement that men have concocted (pardon the expression) dozens of more heroic alternatives: pipe organ, pile driver, pump, tool, ramrod, sausage, bayonet, sword, lance, cutlass, dick, peter, cock, prick, pecker, dork, putz, schlong, wang and so on (although a couple, lollipop and flute, seem more playful than powerful). “Phallus” might be better than “penis”: lacking all slangy connotations, phallus is suitably clinical without any suggestion of daintiness.
A preoccupation with size has always resulted in a major anxiety among the male population. And this fixation has yielded a goodly amount of phallic lore. Take, f’instance, the popular superstition that smallish men have largish equipment. By repute, Frank Sinatra was among the lightweights who are heavily endowed, “although only his several wives and many dozen lovers know for sure,” saith Charles Panati, author of Sexy Origins and Intimate Things. “Sinatra’s second wife,” Panati goes on, “the voluptuous actress Ava Gardner, was asked by the press why she married the ‘one-hundred-twenty-pound runt.’
“‘Well,’ she smiled, ‘there may be only twenty pounds of Frank, but there are one hundred pounds of cock.’”
Anthony Weiner had to endure quite another form of ridicule: the similarity his name bears to one of the many slang terms for the apparatus he is so proud of. “Weenie,” from the English verb “ween” (with origins in the Middle English wene, “to desire”), as an adjective means “tiny ... as the shrunken, retracted penis can be, especially when cold.” “Weenie” also refers to a frankfurter.
So which, Panati asks, of the derivations applies? “Is ‘weenie’ an expression of ‘desire’? A description of something small and shriveled? A reference to a tubular piece of meat?” Or all of the above.
Men, Panati continues, do not like the diminutive sound of “weenie” or, worse, “wee-wee.” As the joke goes: a husband, on his wedding night, pulls down his pants and proudly asks his new bride, “What do you think of that?”
“It’s a wee-wee,” she says.
He smiles and patiently explains, “No, honey—that’s a cock.”
“No, honey,” she responds, “—I’ve seen lots of cocks, and that’s a wee-wee.”
AND SO WHY IS THIS ENLIGHTENING DISCUSSION taking place under the Froth Estate heading? Well, because Weiner’s fame (or infamy) derives entirely from the treatment he and his accouterment received in the news media.
Weiner resigned because his penis had become a distraction, as the organ is wont to be for most men. Various of the Democratic leadership agreed: amid all the excitement over his putz, the GOP introduced a bill to privatize Social Security. This is a serious matter, Weiner agreed—privatizing Social Security; and his schlong was distracting attention that could otherwise be more usefully focused on serious debate on the Social Security question. Now if the people responsible for perpetuating a “newsstory” until it became a distraction—the press—were to resign, we’d have accomplished what poor Weiner hoped to achieve by resigning.
READ AND RELISH
“If slavery was America’s original sin, Puritanism was its original curse.”—Ted Rall
THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: We have homeless people with homeless hungry children. And the GOP is focused on trying to make Obama a one-term prez? What’s become of this country, as Jim Ivey blurted out with a sob. Or maybe it was me, blurting and sobbing.
RANCID RAVES GALLERY
Pictures Without Too Many Words
THE FIRST of our current crop of Nifty Pix came drifting in to Rancid Raves Intergalactic HQ over the Web. Intended as an invocation of national pride, it certainly needs no amplifying verbiage from me: everything about it sings patriotism.
Below our heartfelt (pardon the expression) portrait of flag worshippers, we have a brief effusion of Jim Ivey’s anagrams. They have absolutely nothing to do with the patriots: I’ve put them here just to make use of the space left on the page below the patriots. Jim’s a nut for making anagrams, and all of them I’ve seen (which is a lot) are excellent: the word or phrase manufactured from another word or phrase making a comment on its first manifestation. “License to epic” indeed.
Our second instance, however, requires just a smidgeon of explanation. At the upper left, we have an example of the comic strip work of 7-year-old Dominick Johnson of Brandon, South Dakota, who draws a comic strip every day just like the grown-ups do, and every Sunday, he asks his mother if his comic is going to be in the paper that day. “And then he runs out to get the paper,” his mother told the Argus (S.D.) Leader. The significance of this reportage is that it appears (accompanying the strip we’re posting here) in the June issue of Editor & Publisher, indicating, we assume, that newspaper editors and publishers everywhere regard such scrawled juvenilia as authentic publication-worthy art. “After all,” they seem to be saying, “it’s only a comic strip.”
The rest of this page presents several cartoons by Marc Hempel, who is a sheer genius at cartooning with a designer’s keening. These manifestations, he tells us, were rejected by The New Yorker. I’m sure he’s kidding. (Well, maybe not: The New Yorker, although routinely celebrated as the nation’s premier outlet for single-panel gag cartooning, is no longer renowned for the artistic quality of its cartoons.) Hempel’s Tug and Buster comic book, a too short series dozens of years ago, was a joy to behold. And you (and I) can see more of Hempel by going to FaceBook or Googling Marc Hempel Naked Brain. Wonderful stuff. Google and enjoy.
Below Hempel’s high art I’ve posted a culling from low art. Parade magazine, the Sunday newspaper supplement, almost always publishes cartoons under the heading “Cartoon Parade.” In olden times, there were always three or four cartoons, taking up maybe a quarter of the page. A “parade” to be proud of. Lately, however, Parade has been stingy with space. When it manages to publish a cartoon or two, there are scarcely enough of them to constitute a “parade.” And none of the occasional crop is reproduced at a respectable size. You’ve doubtless encountered the expression “postage-stamp sized cartoon.” Here’s a vivid example of exactly that shameful albeit ludicrous reduction in size. Yes, that’s a real postage stamp, and it, and the cartoon it accompanies, are posted here at their original dimensions.
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL
The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping
THE FAMILIAR INCANDESCENT LIGHT BULB, blinking on in a balloon over a character’s head, has long served cartoonists to symbolize the brilliant idea that has just occurred to the character. “Eureka!” is the verbal equivalent. Comics quietly brim with other visual devices that betoken states of mind and being. A heart means love; daggers mean dislike (hate, even); dark cloud overhead means gloom. And a swarm of typography—@#&%—stands for the unspeakable in comics—profanity! (All of these pictorial phenomena are described in Mort Walker’s notoriously helpful opus entitled The Lexicon of Comicana. He also supplies a name for these images—emanata. Emanata preceded emoticons by several generations, but if the Internet is your thing to the near exclusion of all other life forms, emoticons will help you understand emanata.)
And we are now at a historic juncture. A new symbol is just emerging in the comic strips of the nation: whenever a cartoonist draws an open window with curtains flapping in a gentle breeze, he/she is indicating that coitus is occurring within. Behold in the first of our nearby visual aids several recent instances of this discrete symbology. And how did an open window with flapping curtains come to signal that people inside were boffing away? Our second illustration reveals the inventor of this refined albeit suitably cryptic iconography: Garry Trudeau in that memorable November 1976 three-day sequence during which Joanie Caucus contrived a roll in the hay with Rick.
Editors were stunned at the sight, Trudeau reported in Flashback: Twenty-five Years of Doonesbury: “Over 30 newspapers dropped the strip” even though both Rick and Joanie were single at the time and fully capable of consensual sex. “The Bangor News,” Trudeau continued, “blocked out the last frame, replacing it with the weather forecast (‘Fair, cold, highs in the 30s’).”
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
In California, as we learned long before Arnold Schwarzenegger, they do everything in extremes. The yearbook of Big Bear High School in Los Angeles is being recalled because it contains an instance of child pornography. In the background of one candid photo it is possible to see a young male student with his hand underneath the clothing of a young female student. Groping, we assume, in a typical adolescent manner. But officialdom has determined that the picture is child pornography, which federal law defines as any depiction of a minor “engaging in sexually explicit conduct.” Groping has always been sexual, so I guess the photo qualifies. Reported Kate Mather at the L.A. Times: anyone who still has the photo (or the yearbook) could face criminal charge of possession of child pornography.
AND NOT EVEN THE SMURFS have escaped the barking fanaticism that infects modern life. In Paris, according to one of our frenzied tabloid newspapers, a teacher at the prestigious Sciences Po institute charged that the li’l blue critters represent “an archetype of totalitarian society imbued with Stalinism and Nazism” (Papa Smurf’s red cap is a homage to Stalin) and Gargamel, the Smurfs’ nemesis, is modeled after the classic anti-Jewish stereotype—“ugly, dirty, with a hooked nose, fascinated by gold.” Clearly, anti-Semitic.
IN YET ANOTHER indicator of Our Times, BusinessInsider.com reports that while most casual restaurant chains are hurting financially, not “breastaurants”: Hooters, Twin Peaks, and Tilted Kilt still pack in customers, mostly male. Hooters just passed $1 billion in annual sales. If we had more women in Congress and they went to work topless every once in a while, who knows what fiscal solutions could be devised?
Maxine, that ubiquitous crabby old lady, has been around for about 25 years, contaminating the greeting card displays nationwide and, even, appearing for a time in newspapers as a syndicated single-panel cartoon from Universal Press. Here’s how Susanna McLeod describes Maxine: “With her drooping, grayish exterior and sour spirit to match, she seems to peer through dark glasses directly at readers, scrutinizing and examining. Then the scrawny old woman utters a humdinger of a crabby comment from, of all places, the inside of a greeting card. That's Maxine, speaking out for the older generation and making a lot of smiles in the process.”
McLeod goes on to introduce Maxine’s creator: “As an artist with Hallmark since 1970, John Wagner created Maxine in 1986 as a new character line for the Shoebox Greetings division. He created a brazen older woman with a stooped back, a mop of curly gray hair and abrasive personality.”
At another website (the name of which, drat, I lost track of long ago), Wagner’s history with Maxine is detailed; herewith (in italics):
Wagner says Maxine was inspired by his mother, his maiden aunts and his grandmother, the woman who bought him art lessons when “fill in the pumpkins” was about the extent of his art classes at St. John's Catholic School in Leonia, NJ. John remembers doodling as a preschooler and says both his grandmother and his mother encouraged his artistic interests. He eventually attended the Vesper George School of Art in Boston and landed at Hallmark as part of a new artists group. But it was the birth of the humorous Shoebox Greetings (a tiny little division of Hallmark) in 1986 that added a new dimension to John's professional life. The Shoebox way of seeing the world unleashed his talents and he created Maxine.
“Cartoonists are sensitive to the insanities of the world; we just try to humanize them,” John says. “'If Maxine can get a laugh out of someone who feels lonely or someone who is getting older and hates the thought of another birthday, or if she can make someone chuckle about stressful interpersonal relationships, then I'm happy. Putting a smile on someone's face is what it's all about.”
Those smiles have led to Maxine's becoming a bit of a celebrity. She (and John) have been the subject of media stories, including People, USA Today, “Good Morning America ,” the Wall Street Journal, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, and Las Vegas Journal-Review, and they have been included in a major Associated Press story. Collector and trade publications have reported fans nationwide are collecting Maxine items. Letters from consumers and fans to John and Maxine reveal a very personal connection to Maxine. Many people say they are just like her.
Why the name Maxine? “People at Shoebox started referring to the character as 'John Wagner's old lady,' and I knew that would get me into trouble with my wife,” John says. The Shoebox team had a contest among themselves to name the character and three of the approximately 30 entries suggested Maxine. John says the name is perfect.
John, who says he's humbled by such acceptance of Maxine, admits he's proud of her. [Terminus italics]
McLeod continues by saying that “the petulant character was so popular with card-buying customers and recipients that Maxine bounded from greeting cards into comics syndication in the 1990s through Universal Press Syndicate, a first in cartooning. It's usually the other way around, the comic first and then the greeting card. Entitled Crabby Road, the feature was published in over 100 newspapers across the United States. It was withdrawn sometime in 2002 and is no longer under syndication, but fans can still chuckle at the character's acerbic wit: five books of cartoons are available through Hallmark stores.”
The Maxine card line is still a big seller, McLeod reports: “Since the 1986 debut, over 220 million Maxine cards have been purchased. ... Along with the cards, Maxine appears on all sorts of licensed merchandise—sleepshirts and aprons, cookie jars, calendars, book ends, clocks, picture frames, fridge magnets and much more. There are several versions of figurines and talking dolls plus items that include Floyd, Maxine's high-spirited dog.” A pit bull, or I miss my guess.
Funny stuff but not much cartooning artistry. The comedy arises from Maxine’s words; the pictures add almost nothing that might be essential to the joke. In fact, Wagner could have made just one Maxine mug shot in 1986 and used it for the entire run of the feature, as newspaper cartoon and as greeting card.
Previews 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—:
The Comics: An Illustrated History of Comic Strip Art 1895-2010
By Jerry Robinson
394 9x12-inch pages, many in color; Dark Horse hardcover, $39.99
WITH THIS TOME, Jerry Robinson revisits the subject of his historic 1974 volume. A preliminary leafing through these pages reveals that the revision is a stunning improvement on the initial 256-page version, which, for its time, was a landmark publication: only two other books of that time even pretended to cover the history of the medium: Coulton Waugh’s venerable The Comics (1947; reprinted by University Press of Mississippi in paperback with an introduction by M. Thomas Inge) and Stephen Becker’s Comic Art in America (1959).
The new edition of Robinson’s book replaces many of the black-and-white illos in its predecessor with new, often different, color pictures, adds a healthy helping of entirely new pictures in color, and prints them all on glistening slick paper not the dull matte-finish of yore, making the whole production much more lavish. And the new book adds 65 pages of text and pictures, extending the history from 1970 to 2010. The text of the preceding pages is pretty much the same as in the 1974 edition although there have been some new paragraphs added here and there, and the text itself has acquired subheadings that make it easier to quickly scan its pages in search of a desired strip. .
A distinguishing feature of the book is a series of one-page essays by various watershed cartoonists—Milton Caniff, V.T. Hamlin, Charles Schulz, Mort Walker, Chic Young, Hal Foster and Walt Kelly among them; each cartoonist rehearses the history of his strip and offers insights into his working methods or philosophy of storytelling. In the new edition, Robinson has added essays by Lynn Johnston and Patrick McDonnell.
Robinson repeats a portion of the earlier volume’s epilogue: “A New York Times art critic once described an exhibition of graphic humor as ‘a trenchant rebuttal to the long cherished notion that if it makes you laugh, it isn’t art.’ With the comic strip now displayed in museums for its aesthetics, studied in universities as literature, and researched, catalogued, and defined by historians, will the comic strip become too pretentious and lose its essential naivete? I suspect not. Despite its detractors, imitators, exploiters, and even its ardent disciples, it will go on performing the function for which it was originally intended, and which it has been doing with such elan for over 115 years—to tell a story.”
To which, he has added: “The cartoonist is an artist with an acute sense of the ridiculous, a peculiar controlled lunacy that destroys social pretensions, sacred cows, and illusions; an artist who is more sensitive to stupidity than most, with an instinctive feeling for universal human values and the ability to translate them into exciting narrative, humor, and fantasy, with unique characters, both loving and exasperating; and, most of all, an artist who has an overwhelming compulsion to set it all down in pen and ink.”
And we can’t ask for better than truth.
MOTS & QUOTES
“God created man with a penis and a brain, but only gave him enough blood to run one at a time.”—Stephen Ambrose, historian
“When Congress makes a joke, it’s a law; and when they make a law, it’s a joke.”—Will Rogers
“The man who can smile when things go wrong has thought of someone else he can blame it on.”—Robert Bloch, author
“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.” —Gore Vidal
“In every well-governed state, wealth is a sacred thing; in democracies, it is the only sacred thing.”—Anatole France
Critiques & Crotchets
The Horror! The Horror! Comic Books the Government Didn’t Want You To Read!
By Jim Trombetta
306 8x11-inch pages, color; Abrams paperback, $29.95
DURING THE FIRST OF MY TEENAGE YEARS, the horror comics from EC were beginning to appear in the racks at the corner drugstore at 25th and Sheridan. I wasn’t much into horror (I’m still not), but I bought a fair share of the titles because I liked the drawings of Jack Davis and Wally Wood. I was not, however, enamored enough of the genre to pick up any of the slew of horror titles that slurried across the land in rank imitation of EC. Trombetta’s book shows what I missed. And I missed quite a lot. Trombetta chooses not to showcase EC comics: a few covers and pages appear herein, but mostly, this book is about the horror comics that weren’t EC. And there were scores of them. Trombetta quotes a statistic that only 3% of the horror titles on the market were published by EC.
In the rest, the remaining 97%, the quality of the art was, as we see herein, surprisingly high. “Surprising” because we have long accepted the notion that EC comics were better drawn than any other, but if we are to judge from the work on display here, we’ve been persuaded in the absence of any evidence to the contrary. And here we have a full-fledged bevy of it. Not always EC caliber maybe, but much much better than we’ve always supposed.
The pictorial content is mostly covers, but a half-dozen or more complete short stories are also published in this volume. The content is divided into chapters by atrocity or aberration—chapters on decapitation, werewolves, war, gorgon (injury to the eye motifs), skeletons, “death and the maiden” (i.e., sex in the form of Freud’s primal scene), vampires, zombies; and each chapter is introduced by a 2-3 page essay on the topic at hand. Most of Trombetta’s prose simply rehearses the plots of some notable stories in the chapter, but he sometimes arrives at wonderfully startling assertions, as in his chapter on Death and the Maiden:
“At the far edge of sexual hostility, the women who are targets of male skeletons, ghouls, vampires or your average strolling psychopath are marked by the red dresses they wear. They may, of course, be regarded as scarlet women of easy virtue (or lower-case avatars of the coming Apocalypse), but the red is even more sinister than that: dressed in the color of blood, a woman is an appointed, permitted human sacrifice. In retaliation, as it were, a dominatrix may bury rich men alive in erotically exciting mud, or, in perhaps the worst case, a man will be reduced to helplessness in the vast sticky web of a woman turned into a huge spider.”
This is delicious theorizing.
In another chapter, Trombetta looks at Jack Davis’ famed “Foul Play” story in which baseball players play ball with body parts—possibly, Trombetta says, a representation of ritual sacrificial myth. And if we take that one step further, we see baseball, the “great American sport,” as a re-enactment of ancient religious ceremonies. Delicious, as I said.
Reproduction throughout is just fine. Visuals appear to be shot from the covers and pages of the comic books in which they first appeared, and the pages of complete stories have the off-white, yellow-brown cast that often pervades cheap newsprint. The result enhances the nostalgic effect: you feel you’re reading the stories in their original state.
All the art is sourced: the publisher, comic book title and story title cited. And the names of the writer and artist, where known, are also given. I ran across dozens of names I’d never heard of: Ed Goldbarb and Bob Baer, Joe Doolin, George Wilhelms, John D’Agostino, Hy Fleishman, A.C. Hollingsworth, Seymour Moskowitz. Also some more familiar names: Lee Elias, Bob Powell, Howard Nostrand, Don Heck, Steve Ditko (a complete story), Mike Roy, Basil Wolverton (two complete stories), and L.B. Cole, to whom Trombetta devotes an entire chapter.
The chapter essays trace the history of horror comics through their demise at the hands of the Comics Code. Accurate mostly, but Trombetta stumbles a couple of times. He says more than once that the government censored horror comics out of existence even though he knows that’s not the case: when he gets to the notorious hearings of 1954, he says the government might have censored comics if the publishers had not undertaken to do it themselves. And in another place, another kind of error: he claims Senator Joseph McCarthy came along, setting the country aflame with Red Scare talk, after Estes Kefauver and the hearings, but McCarthy made his loud debute on the national stage in 1950; by the spring of 1954 when the comic book hearings were taking place, McCarthy had been largely discredited (partly by Edward R. Murrow in a widely celebrated tv show, “See It Now,” broadcast on March 9, a month before the comic book hearings), and in December that year, the Senate censured McCarthy, effectively shutting him up.
Mistakes, yes, but the number of brilliantly executed horror comic book covers and their stellar reproduction herein make up for the occasional lapse of factual accuracy. The bonus in the book—an authentic time-capsule treasure—is a DVD of a 35-minute tv program that aired October 9, 1955, in which journalist Paul Coates (a poor imitation of Mike Wallace) devotes one of his “Confidential Files” broadcasts to frightening the country all over again about the evils of comic books. By that time, the Comics Code was in full force, aggressively removing anything objectionable from comic books, so in the absence of any real boogiemen, Coates effectively manufactures factoids for his show, which he presents stone-faced in the best emotionless Joe Friday manner.
Coates interviews a former comic book artist, who helpfully points out the exaggerated female anatomy in one of the stories he drew. And he also interviews Kefauver, who says, flat out, that he is not in favor of censorship of comic books. Apart from demonstrating vividly the extent of adult paranoia about comic books, the DVD is entertaining for capturing on film the sedate and humorless demeanor of Coates, who, as he interviews his subjects, is seen taking notes. Clearly a dedicated journalist.
Now here are four of my favorite covers from the book.
LONG FORM PAGINATED CARTOON STRIPS
Called Graphic Novels for the Sake of Status
In September, “just a few days before the 10th anniversary of 9/11,” the press release announces with a melodramatic flourish, IDW will publish Code Word: Geronimo, an 88-page full color graphic novel about the raid by Seal Team 6 on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Written by Dale Dye and his wife, Julia Dewey Dye, who has a Ph.D in military history and anthropology, the book will be illustrated by Gerry Kissell and Amin Amat, who, according to Matt Moore at the Associated Press, will be non-political and will refrain from gratuitous violence or gore. Moore quotes the artists: “This is a story about an historic mission, not a blood fest with blood and guts everywhere. What we draw will be realistic, but no more than one would expect from a true life combat story.”
Dye is a retired U.S. Marine Corps Captain who has served as military adviser on films such as "Born on the Fourth of July," "Saving Private Ryan," and "Platoon." He has also written military-themed novels and screenplays, and has acted in various roles: he can be seen in this season's television series, "Falling Skies," and in the upcoming film, "Larry Crowne."
The members of Seal Team 6 are not identified by name, and though much of the equipment depicted is what was actually used, Dye admits he exercised “some creative license due to entirely appropriate security concerns. I know some things that I can’t say. You don’t want to tell the other guys what your secrets for hitting homers are.”
Discussing his sources with Barbara Chai at wsj.com/speakeasy, Dye said: “Let me just say I talked to some people in the special operations community and I got some insights, some of which I included where I thought they weren't harmful. Others I cannot talk about for obvious and sensible security reasons.”
Julia chimed in: “There’s two sides to research that gathers information from a variety of sources. It is discernment of what pieces of that information are most useful for storytelling. And it is also being sensitive to security issues. The names are not accurate because those people don't need to be publicly mentioned. We want to be true emotionally to the story but there is license taken for security purposes.”
Said her husband: “I like to call it Scientific Wildass Guesses. It's based on what I know and my own experience and background. I can extrapolate and say these things quite probably did happen, without actually knowing them. I think that works fine. Let's see if I can give you an example. We know one of the problems with one of the helos going in; he got himself into a high-hot situation, and that's a function of weather, engine power, everybody knows that. But I chose to make an issue of weight. And I speculated that weight was crucial and critical, and so I made an issue of that. Was it actually done to the degree that I indicate in the script? I don't know. But I certainly think weight aboard the assault helos was a critical factor.”
IDW will be donating a portion of the proceeds from the book to the American Veterans Center.
BADINAGE AND BAGATELLES
From Harper’s Index:
Confirmed number of terrorist plots against the United State perpetrated by Muslims in 2010: 10
By non-Muslims: 25
Minimum number of people killed by CIA drone attacks in Pakistan last year: 607
Number of those who appeared on a U.S. list of mot-wanted terrorists: 2
Amount of federal subsidies given to the family farm of Michele Bachmann since 2001: $154,755
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
BLUEWATER PRODUCTIONS is running amok with its line of biographical comics. The latest issue of Previews lists the following as subjects of the publisher’s numerous themed titles: Madonna (the theme is “Female Force”), Lucille Ball, Conan O’Brien (“Fame”), Michael Jackson, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Colin Powell, Prince Harry, Steve Jobs. It threatens to go on forever.
President and Editor-in-Chief of Bluewater, Darren Davis, started the company about four years ago. He’d been bouncing around from tv to comic book publishing without, apparently, finding anything that suited both entrepreneurial and creative instincts, so he started his own company. While at Image comics, he had created 10th Muse, the sixth highest selling comic in November 2001. Other titles Davis created include Legend of Isis, Orion the Hunter, Judo Girl, The Blackbeard Legacy and Victoria's Secret Service—with Isis, Victoria's Secret Service, and 10th Muse being optioned for films. But it wasn’t until the election year of 2008 that Davis found a niche that other publishers had overlooked—biographical comics.
“We noticed that Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton were being treated unfairly in the press,” Davis told Nicholas Yanes at scifipulse.net. “People were more concerned about what they were wearing rather than what they represented. So we took a female empowerment angle to it. Even if you do not like either of these women, we showcased them by their accomplishments. The series got national attention and sold really well—so the series was born.
“We started to see our numbers slip in the fiction world,” Davis went on, “so we started doing more and more non-fiction which has gotten us national sales in Walmart and huge book chains. As much as I love the non-fiction comics, I would love to be doing (and writing) more 10th Muse and books like Nanny and Hank.”
Regardless of Davis’ inclinations, pretty soon celebrity comics were Bluewater’s. “I learned the power of celebrity early when I worked at E!,” Davis continued. “Celebrities are like our royalty. So picking someone like Justin Bieber was an easy one. ... As for Glenn Beck, he has a voice and popular voice at that. When it comes to anyone in politics, we make sure to be even-handed with them. We never want to put anyone’s agendas into these. We also do both sides, so when we do a Glenn Beck we will also do a Jon Stewart.”
Davis went on: “For me the best part of working with these icons is really getting to work with them. We form a partnership and interact. ... I have done some licenses in the past and they are not a lot of fun, but to get notes from William Shatner is really cool. Ray Harryhausen was one of my favorite people of all time, and getting to sit next to him during a signing was an amazing geek moment for me. I am very open to learning and these people are amazing teachers. ... I know that working with these people shows in the final product. I read a blog post (which I normally never do) and they said that Adam West had nothing to do with the book we are doing with him, said we just tossed in his name. So not true: we had meetings with Adam to talk about where he wanted the character to go. At the end of the conversation, I made him call me ‘chum.’”
Bluewater exploits its biographical focus by working with schools and libraries to expose their titles to larger audiences outside the usual comics fan crowd. But this fall Bluewater Productions will launch new titles featuring original superheroes—Artemis, Orion, Heracles, and Trident: The Power of Poseidon. And the publisher is suddenly news again.
Davis is a little baffled. “Six out of the ten books we do a month are fiction and most are superhero titles,” he pointed out. “The press sort of took this as if we are jumping into a new thing that we have never done before. We have gotten a lot of press for the biography comics we have done which seem to have overshadowed our classic heroes.”
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.
IF YOU HAD NEVER READ OR HEARD OF BATMAN, you could pick up the first issue of Flashpoint: Batman Knight of Vengeance and enjoy a nicely spooky first chapter in a three-issue story, written in his best 100 Bullets mode by Brian Azzarello and drawn by his 100 Bullets collaborator, Eduardo Risso. Risso’s masterful treatment of the comic book page and his deft steeping of visuals in deep shadow is always a treat to watch, and in this issue, we get a stunning closing sequence with Batman in the sewer, drenched in solid blacks and reeking of subterranean atmospherics.
The story pits Batman against the Joker: the Clown Prince of Crime has kidnapped Harvey Dent’s twin children, and Batman sets out to find them and rescue them. No one seems to know where the Joker is, so Batman goes into the sewer to find him. I’m not sure why this should make sense, but Azzarello and Risso are pretty persuasive, so I go along. In the issue’s completed episode, Batman overpowers the sewer monster. The focus then shifts to the Joker in his lair, who prattles vague threats, implying that he’s kidnapped the Dent twins merely to set a trap for—Batman? Dent? And the issue ends.
That’s the story you get if you’d never read or heard of Batman. But if you have been living in 21st century American, chances are you know that Batman is the crime-fighting guise assumed by Bruce Wayne, who has turned vigilante because, when he was a mere callow youth, his parents were killed by a marauding mugger. Bruce Wayne isn’t in this Batman story. The Batman in this story is Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s ostensibly deceased father, who is the Donald Trump of Gotham in this series: he owns hotels and a casino, and in the opening sequence, he’s being examined by a psychiatrist who has been assigned to determine if he is insurable so he can get insurance so he can operate his hotels and casino.
Jim Gordon is on hand, and so is Harvey Dent, who is a judge, not the District Attorney. Gordon and Wayne have been instrumental in privatizing the Gotham police force, but that hasn’t, apparently, halted the Joker in his march of insane criminality.
The Bruce Wayne we all know shows up briefly in a cryptic mental flashback that the Thomas Wayne Batman experiences while battling the sewer monster. In that flashback, it appears that Bruce’s father attacks the mugger and—and since he’s now Batman, he must’ve foiled the mugger’s attack and lived.
Dunno about you, but I’m baffled by all these unfamiliar trappings, but, being a Risso fan, I’ll be back for more.
I ORDERED THE FIRST ISSUE of Reed Gunther because the cover art reproduced in Previews suggested that Reed Gunther would be a sort of Pecos Bill tall tale folk hero, and after reading the first issue, I still think that was the intention of writer Shane Houghton and his collaborating artist Chris Houghton (probably related). But the story hasn’t quite the pizzaz we’ve come to expect in Paul Bunyan-ish folk heroes.
Reed and his sidekick, a pet bear named Sterling, come upon an attractive lady rancher named Starla who wants them off her land because she’s in a hot swivet to protect her cows. Reed has to tie her up to calm her down. Just then, a giant rattle snake looms, threatening cows all over the place. Sterling frees Starla, and they join Reed in frustrating the serpent. Then an evening interlude relaxing around a homey campfire ensues. The next morning, the giant rattler is back, and when our heroes once again defeat the creature, killing it, an army of small rattlesnakes emerges from the big fella’s belly, and Reed and his cohorts scare them off by firing pistols into the air. Starla kisses Reed to express her gratitude, and Reed and Sterling ride off into the sunset.
This is fun stuff, but not a hilarious lot of fun. It rolls right up to the edge of being hilarious but doesn’t quite get there. Dunno why, exactly. The entire issue is composed of completed episodes strung together into one giant episode, but that’s not enough to make this a good first issue. The storytelling is competent but not remarkable. Reed Gunther is something of a blowhard, but not enough to qualify as epic heroic, the kind of over-the-top grandiosity that a Pecos Bill style tale needs. Chris’s artwork is of the clean uncluttered bold-line sort but not as embellished as the picture on the cover. Altogether, it’s a promising effort that doesn’t quite deliver on the promise. Maybe it’s all those snakes: snakes never make good subjects for visuals.
The cover proclaims the book is for “all ages,” and perhaps that intention is realized in the relatively tame story we have here. “All ages” really means suitable for young readers, and Reed Gunther is that. But even Disney’s Pecos Bill, aiming at the same universality, generates good laughs and comedic suspense at a better rate than the Houghtons do here.
The Houghtons plan to re-issue in color at Image the four issues they have previously self-published in black-and-white and then go on with another six, “all new, totally thrilling and wild issues.” I wish them well, but I won’t be back.
ZOMBIES AND VAMPIRES have glutted the market, so it’s undoubtedly a canny move take the concept to the next level and produce a voodoo comic book. And that, I think, is what Drums is. But I can’t be sure. FBI agent Martin Irons is assigned to investigate the sudden inexplicable simultaneous deaths of 66 persons, all found in a foul heap in a single room. When Irons loiters in the morgue after some of the autopsies have been completed, he is attacked by the naked corpse of a woman who kisses him on the lips and promises that he will “witness wonders.” Then she falls down dead again. After Irons recovers, he is visited by a cultural anthropologist, Michelle Hernandez, who tells him the deaths are somehow connected to a religion that has united the three main religions of the Yoruba tradition, and then she takes him to visit an old woman, who delivers a long lecture on the obscurities of the religions seemingly involved. When Irons and Hernandez leave, the old woman is confronted by what I suspect is her undead husband, who promises a reward. Voodoo, however, hasn’t been mentioned. Yet. But if you google “Yoruba,” you’ll eventually run into voodoo, described in Wikipedia as a “related faith.”
Spooky stuff, and Abe Hernando and Kwaichang Kraneo have handily conveyed the spookiness with their chiaroscuro manner of rendering the tale. The drawings are sometimes stiff, but extensive shadowing and feathering improve the appearance. And the storytelling is competent without achieving anything particularly notable. Irons’ being attacked and then surviving is the completed episode in this venture, but whatever suspense might be engendered by the over-all spookiness is largely dissipated by all the expository sequences writer El Torres has concocted. Explanation is dull no matter how attractive the art, although spectacular technique (like Eduardo Risso’s, f’instance) can rescue such boring passages. But Hernando and Kraneo don’t manage it. El Torres could have helped things along a little by creating a few romantic sparks between Hernandez and Irons, but if that’s just over the horizon, there is not enough of it in this issue to revive an otherwise flaccid sequence with the old woman.
Over-all, the book suffers from bad coloring. The colors are too dark: they plunge visuals that ought to clarify into pitch darkness that can be read and interpreted only with considerable effort. My guess is that the coloring was done on a computer, and computers, because they light the pictures and colors “from behind” (so to speak), convince an inexperienced colorist that the hues are brighter than they will be when printed. Too bad.
THE PROPOSITION being exploited in 50 Girls 50 is that the earth is running out of space and resources, so the planet is forced to consider other sources in the universe. The problem is that it takes too long for space craft to reach distant destinations—until wormhole travel was discovered. Wormholes can transport vehicles to other galaxies instantaneously. The trouble with wormhole travel, however, is that it tends to kill anyone who tries it. Anyone, that is, except women with 3 ‘x’ chromosomes: they can travel safely. So the authorities scour the earth and find 50 women each with 3 ‘x’ chromosomes and send them off into space. Hence, the title of this work by Doug Murray and Frank Cho.
The tale takes up as the spaceship is returning to earth via the wormhole. Inexplicably, it doesn’t arrive at earth. Instead, another planet looms. Two of the crew, Oksana Bakula and Janelle Ramnarain (blonde and black-haired respectively), leave the mother ship to explore the new planet. Pretty soon, it dawns on them that the planet’s atmosphere attacks all plastics: their shuttle falls apart because some of its parts are plastic, and the women’s suits disintegrate because the fabric contains plastic. The women are progressively more and more naked, looking increasingly like fugitives from a cave woman comic book; by the end of their adventure, they are utterly naked. Cho must’ve enjoyed this aspect of the book’s plot, but he didn’t do the drawing.
Because Cho was too busy with other assignments, he and Murray ran a contest to select someone to draw the book: 130 artists entered, submitting final artwork for a six-page sequence Murray wrote. “The art was spectacular,” Murray writes in the issue’s back matter, “—and it was tough to find a winner.” Finally, after a run-off, they settled on Axel Medellin, who has produced a thoroughly respectable job. Murray claims Medellin has successfully differentiated between each of the girls in the story (about four all told, including Oksana and Janelle, who are the principal actors this time)—“no two of Axel’s women look the same,” Murray says—but I’m not convinced.
The conventions of portraying the faces of pretty women are fairly well-defined in American popular art. The only variations are likely to be minuscule—the shape of a nose, the slant of the eyes, the fullness of the lips. And these subtle differences are apparent only if you line up all the faces for the express purpose of comparing them to see the differences. That doesn’t happen in a storytelling book. Instead, we have women seen from different angles and assuming different facial expressions. Under those circumstances, whatever subtle differences Medellin aims for are generally lost in the visual excitement. Even obvious differences—Janelle is supposed to be slenderer than Oksana—tend to disappear, as we can see in the page reproduced at the beginning of this section, fourth in line.
The girls get back to the mother ship: they hollow out a giant beetle and make a hot-air balloon out of it, and the balloon floats them back, thus ending the issue—which is, itself, the complete episode I always look for in an inaugural issue. But the last scene in the book introduces a suspenseful aspect: Oksana is sitting on the floor of the shower, emotionally fraught and saying only that she can’t take it any more and wants to go home. In the corner of the picture, a scarlet tentacle gropes its way toward her.
An excellent first issue by the measure of the criteria I usually invoke, but I won’t be back for the second. Medellin’s art, while superb in its own way, is not to my taste: it’s a little too finicky, every line carefully etched, none given more emphasis than others. But if I were into sf, I’d return.
IN THE FIRST ISSUE of Kevin Keller (which is actually Veronica No. 207), we get some of Kevin’s biography. He grew up as an army brat, his father a colonel in the service. We meet a younger Kevin, his teeth in braces, his face blooming with zits, and his closest friends (a girl and a guy) in junior high. At least half the issue is devoted to their pre-adolescent would-be romantic shenanigans: the complete episode concludes with the girl’s discovery that Kevin is gay. Back in the present, we meet Kevin’s father, who is proud of his son’s intention to go into the military via West Point. (This story was probably written after the end the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy was announced.) Both mother and father know their son is gay and accept it.
All very cheery and upbeat, typical of the story that Dan Parent scripts and Archie publishes. Parent also drew the pictures, which are simpler than the traditional Dan DeCarlo style: bolder lines and fewer of them.
But I’m just visiting this title. I’m not an Archie fan: too much happy-go-luck adolescence in these books for me. That’s the brand’s mission, I realize; but it’s not my cup of tea.
WE’RE ALL BROTHERS, AND WE’RE ONLY PASSIN’ THROUGH
Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,
But I’m so glad I ran into you---
Tell the people that you saw me, passin’ through
Lew Sayre Schwartz: 1926 - 2011
From Scoop: Lew Sayre Schwartz, 84, of Peterborough, NH passed away Saturday, June 18, after complications from a recent injury. Schwartz was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts and after graduating from New Bedford High School, he moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League. Schwartz served in the Navy as an aerial gunner, radar operator and PR journalist during World War II and the Korean conflict. In 1947, Lew went to work for Bob Kane, creator of Batman, becoming Kane’s personal ghost artist until mid 1953, while also working on staff for King Features Syndicate. In 1955, he joined the J. Walter Thompson agency in New York City, launching a career as a writer, producer and director for film and television that would last for more than forty years.
An admirer, cartoonist Eddie Campbell, said: “Lew was my rainbow-bridge connection to the great age of American cartoonists, a world full of larger than life characters, who all seem much further away now that Lew has gone.”
Gene Colan: 1926 - 2011
From the Los Angeles Times: Gene Colan, the comic-book artist best known for The Tomb of Dracula, considered one of the medium’s classic horror series, and for his work with characters such as Daredevil, Batman, Iron Man and Steve Gerber’s cult-hit satiric creation, Howard the Duck, died Thursday, June 23, in New York after battling liver disease and cancer.
The work of the Bronx, N.Y., native spanned 67 years and crossed multiple comics universes, with credits at Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, Eclipse and even Archie. His moody, atmospheric style stood in stark contrast to, say, the cosmic bombast of Jack Kirby or the kinetic realism of Neal Adams. Colan will be remembered for an era-defining achievement in 1970s horror comics—he drew 70 issues of The Tomb of Dracula, written by Marv Wolfman, creating the vampire-hunter character Blade that would lead to the first Marvel film franchise—and for giving life to Gerber’s acerbic duck, “trapped in a world he never made.”
"Gene Colan was like no other artist of his generation," said Jim Lee, comic-book artist and co-publisher of DC Comics. "His ability to create dramatic, multi-valued tonal illustrations using straight India ink and board was unparalleled. The comics industry has lost one of its true visionaries."
A post on Colan's website said the artist was "a fighter to the end, making plans on leaving the hospice" and pricing a VW Beetle.
Writer Clifford Meth wrote about his friend Colan's death on his blog: “He was a gentle and deeply spiritual man, a bright light in every context, and those who knew him at any level were enriched by his warmth and generous nature. He was exactly the type of man who should be drawing superheroes for young people to marvel at. Exactly and precisely."
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
The Thing of It Is ...
Rod Blagojevich, the defrocked governor of Illinois (he was impeached without a single dissenting vote), was found guilty of 17 of the 20 charges that brought him before the Federal bench earlier this month. The convictions carry a combined maximum prison sentence of around 300 years, but legal experts say a federal judge is likely to send him away for around a decade, give or take a few years.
Blago is the fourth Illinois governor in the last 38 years to wind up in prison. As a former citizen of the state, I must say again, as I’ve said many times before, Illinois is the second most corrupt state in the union. It is so corrupt that citizens of the state have grown accustomed to having former governors in prison. In fact, you could say that a term in the klink is virtually an extension of the governorship in Illinois. Here’s the run-down, courtesy HuffPost:
Otto Kerner, a Democrat who was governor from 1961 to 1968, served less than a year of a three-year sentence after his 1973 conviction on bribery, tax evasion and other counts. He was convicted of arranging favorable horse racing dates as governor in return for getting horse racing association stock at reduced prices. Kerner died in 1976.
Dan Walker, a Democrat who was governor from 1973 to 1977, served 1½ years of a seven-year sentence after pleading guilty in 1987 to bank fraud, misapplication of funds and perjury. The charges were not related to his service as governor.
George Ryan, a Republican who was governor from 1999 to 2003, was convicted of corruption in 2006 for steering state contracts and leases to political insiders and helping cover up bribes paid in return for truck drivers licenses while he was secretary of state and then governor. He is serving a 6 ½-year prison term.
No other state has so many ex-governors who are also cons or ex-cons.
In addition, William Stratton, Illinois governor from 1953-1961, was later indicted but was acquitted on charges of income tax evasion.
Finally, in one of the most stunning instances of corruption in the state, we had Paul Powell, who seemed to be secretary of state for life. He went on forever, but when he died, authorities found several million dollars in cash in his apartment, stored in shoe boxes, stacked up in the closets. I always thought it was odd that when I paid for my license plates and driver’s license, I was directed to make the check out to “Paul Powell.” Not “Paul Powell, Secretary of State”; not “Secretary of State.” Just “Paul Powell.”
Oh—if Illinois is the second most corrupt state in the Union, which is the first? Why, Massachusetts, of course. But they can’t match Illinois for convict governors.
I’M SURE I’M MISSING SOME CLUE that has been left stranded along the way, but it is increasingly a knotty matter nearly impossible of unraveling to understand how the U.S. can reconcile its involvement in Lybia with its failure to initiate or join some sort of anti-Assad action in Syria. On the face of it, the circumstances in both countries are virtually identical: both countries are run by dictators; in both countries, citizens are protesting the repressive policies of their governments, creating, in effect, active insurgencies. The U.N. formed a coalition to prevent Moammar Khadafy from killing his people, which he said he was prepared to do in order to suppress dissent; we don’t have many reports about how many of his people Khadafy has killed. We have only early reports of his threatening to kill civilians—mostly, those who are part of the insurgency. But he has, indeed, killed insurgents, not, however—as I understand it—as many as Assad has killed of the insurgency in Syria that is protesting his government—1,400 insurgents, I see here in the paper for June 24. The insurgents in Lybia are armed; they constitute a military force (however badly they are being led). The insurgents in Syria are, apparently, not armed. I don’t get it. We jump in to protect the Lybians but not the Syrians.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Congress debates about whether to shut-down the operation in Lybia because O’Bama didn’t follow the provisions of the War Powers Act. No other reason is given for the debate. They’re not debating whether or not we should intervene in Lybia. Just whether or not the Lybian expedition should be the means by which Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm can discipline the Prez. I can imagine the effect of this news on Khadafy who doubtless fails to discern the finer points of difference I’ve just mentioned. Khadafy may have teetered in the direction of leaving the country when he realized that the U.S., having discovered and killed Osama bin Laden, could perform a similar action in Lybia. But then, hearing that the U.S. Congress seems to be debating whether or not to withdrawn support for the U.N. campaign in Lybia, he might very well say to himself: “Wait. If I hold out for another week or so, the U.S. might be gone, and I’ll be safe right here at home again. Me give up? Not bloody likely.”
I don’t get it.
And then there’s the Debt Ceiling that needs raising. For weeks now we’ve heard how dire the consequences will be if we don’t raise the debt limit. The end of the known world hovers just off-camera a smidgeon. And yet, faced with the Apocalypse, Congress seriously contemplated taking a week-and-a-half vacation—er, recess. And it would have if Obama hadn’t shamed Our Leaders into behaving like adults.
I don’t get it.
Obviously, the consequences of failing to raise the Debt Ceiling are not so dire as we’ve been hearing. No serious person would postpone remedial action if the Apocalypse really were pending.
So either the Apocalypse isn’t pending. Or Congress is not made up of serious people.
Maybe we should take a leaf from California’s budgetary bungling. State comptroller John Chiang ruled that lawmakers there would forfeit their salaries for failing to balance the state’s books on time. Legislators will be docked about $400/day until they can make a deal that reduces California’s $9.6 billion deficit.
Or maybe, instead, we should just pass the amendments outlined below.
COMES THE REFORMATION
A friend sent me the specifics set forth below for revamping Congress. The recommended steps seem to me to tackle and remove most of the present impediments to decent government in this heppy heppy land.
Capitalism is probably the best way to organize human society: capitalism works well because it depends upon a fundamental aspect of human nature, greed. A capitalistic society like ours is inevitably a plutocracy in which government is conducted by or for the wealthy. But a plutocracy need not also be an oligarchy, government by the few. Over the years, we have participated in the charade of the oligarches, who have cleverly convinced us that our form of government is a democracy. It is time to reject this figment, destroy the oligarchy, and reclaim some semblance of the democracy we all think we’re living in. And we can do it with a simple series of laws, that we call here—:
CONGRESSIONAL REFORM ACT OF 2011
With actions like the following, we can revitalize our moribund government.
1. Term Limits
12 years only, one of the possible options below:
a. Two Six-year Senate terms
b. Six Two-year House terms
c. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms
2. No Tenure / No Pension
A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when out of office. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and get back to work at some useful occupation.
3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security
All monies in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds intended for this purpose flow into the Social Security system, and Congressmen/women participate in the system just as the rest of the population does.
4. Congresspersons can purchase their own supplemental retirement plan, just as all Americans do
5. Congresspersons will no longer vote themselves a pay raise
Congressional pay will increase by the lower of CPI or 3%.
6. Congresspersons lose their current health care system and participate in the same health care system as the American people
7. Congresspersons must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people
And we’ll be re-running this Excellent Plan here until it is actually adopted. See you (and it) next time.
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