Opus 291 (March 27, 2012). Big stories this time, the latest Doonesbury affront and an essay on plagiarism (whether or not to). We also drop in on Archie and the realism sprouting in Riverdale and say farewell to Jan Berenstain and Shelly Moldoff. Here’s what’s here, in order:                                             


Realism in Riverdale

Sales Figures for Archie and DC and the Rest


Copycatting and Your Lyin’ Eyes


Reviews of Thief of Thieves, Peter Panzerfaust & Steel and Mrs. Peel

Passin’ Through: Jan Berenstain and Shelly Moldoff



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

But it’s hard to live by this axiom in the Age of Tea Baggers,

so we’ve added another motto:.


Seven days without comics makes one weak.

(You can’t have too many mottos.)



And our customary reminder: don’t forget to activate the “Bathroom Button” by clicking on the “print friendly version” so you can print off a copy of just this installment for reading later, at your leisure while enthroned. Without further adieu, then, here we go—




Archie Comics is in the midst of a tsunami of self-generated publicity. In addition to co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit stalking the halls satirically yelling “penis” at any male she encounters, the comics themselves are fraught, lately, with events mirroring hot-button real life issues. Kevin Keller, the gay guy, went to war, got wounded, and married his physical therapist, another gay guy. Then Occupy Riverdale attracts the attention of the Archie gang. Next, in July’s Life with Archie No. 21, breast cancer gets a treatment.

            We’re tempted to think that all of this socio-political excitement is merely expanding on the publisher’s earlier success in exploiting sensation when, in a special “other universe” series I 2009, Archie married both Veronica and Betty, thereby leaving for all of the foreseeable future the question of his preference forever unresolved. The series was so roaringly popular that Archie Comics decided to prolong the fun by issuing the new title, Life with Archie, which would continue with stories about Archie’s married life (lives) with Veronica and Betty; the title is now up to No. 17, with Kevin’s wedding, another aspect of the fictional “future” of the title, taking place in No. 16.

            Archie Comics followed the sensation of Archie’s marrying both his high school girlfriends with even more sensation—the arrival of Kevin Keller. And when, continuing in the same feverish vein, the Occupy Movement invaded the streets of Riverdale, bloggers were provoked enough to rant about whether or not Archie Comics has a “liberal agenda.”

            But the publisher maintains that infusing the comics with such issues is simply an attempt to bring the books into modern life by reflecting the real world that today’s teenagers live in.

            "Jon Goldwater, our CEO, has made a concentrated effort to have Riverdale and the world surrounding Archie and his friends reflect reality," writer Alex Segura told Vaneta Rogers at Newsarma. "The comics remain true to their roots and are all-ages and funny, but having the stories reflect today makes them that much more relatable. The financial crisis, how people have responded to it and the Occupy Movement specifically are big parts of everyone's lives—it's all over the news. It'd be kind of silly to think no one in Riverdale is affected. ... [Archie execs] really want Riverdale to reflect the world today, and make Archie and his friends feel more of the moment, so you can expect to see more along the lines of Kevin's wedding, Occupy Riverdale and so on.”

            Keller’s wedding prompted protest from the usual gang of bigots. One group objected to the cover that showed two men in front of a “Just Married” sign: too bold, they said, for a comic book sold in drug stores and toy stores. One Million Moms, a project of the American Family Association, asked that retailer Toys R Us not display the book near checkout counters in order to avoid “a trip to the toy store [that] turns into a premature discussion on sexual orientation [that is] completely uncalled for.”

            In curious instance of reverse bigotry, none of the newsstories I read about Keller’s marriage noted that his wedded partner was African American. Maybe professional journalists thought that was simply too much exploitation of modern American social issues. (Similarly, in another grab at sensation lately, in another of Archie’s strolls down Memory Lane—where he found marriage first with Veronica, then Betty—the redhead marries Valerie, the African American member of Josie’s Pussycats [Nos. 631-633 of Archie]; no buzz about that.)

            Goldwater maintained, in response to questions about the gay marriage comic, that the stories may be less of a reflection of current reality and more of a "hope" for what reality can become. "It's an idealized version of America that will hopefully become reality someday," he said, adding: "Riverdale is a safe, welcoming place that does not judge anyone. Maybe someday, the rest of America will follow the town’s idealized example.”

            But even Riverdale is disrupted by the Occupy issue, Segura told Rogers. Betty and Veronica — two characters whose most heated battles in the past involved wanting the same boyfriend — will turn their differences toward economic issues.

            "Archie and Jughead run into the protest on their way to school," Segura said. "They discover that new kid Andy Martinez is one of the more vocal members of Occupy Riverdale. Word spreads quickly at Riverdale High, and the gang take sides while Archie is left to decide where he stands.”

            Segura continued: "It's not surprising that Veronica—who's one of the richest girls in town—is siding with her father against Occupy. On the flipside, Betty sees a lot of her own family's financial struggles being voiced by the Occupy protesters, so she eventually gravitates toward them."

            Yet Segura emphasized that there's still plenty of humor, even among the anger associated with the Occupy movement: "I think Archie—while being a humor strip— can still reflect a wide range of emotions and reactions. The story does begin with anger. The protesters are mad. The people who don't agree with the protest are angry. But there's still plenty of room for humor and levity, and the story progresses toward a funny and—I think— down-to-earth resolution."

            Segura said the genesis of the "Occupy Riverdale" was actually spawned by a comment in response to the gay marriage issue of Life with Archie: "Someone mentioned it in response to the Kevin Keller wedding, kind of in a 'Huh, what will you do next? Occupy Riverdale?' And it stuck!" he said. "You see Archie serve as the viewpoint character, and we see him grapple with both sides of the issue and come to a conclusion of his own."

            The Occupy issue will be drawn by newcomer Gisele Legace, who also produces an adult (sex-obsessed, but highly amusing) webcomic, Menage a 3, deploying a lively Dan DeCarlo style slightly infected with manganese. She joins a mostly new roster of Archie artists, who have eased away from the traditional DeCarlo manner into the bolder, more angular style displayed by Dan Parent, who seems, these days, to be setting the visual fashion at Archie Comics. Here, at the corner of your eye, is a collage of the new style as deployed by Fernando Ruiz, and Pat and Tim Kennedy in Life with Archie No. 17, sometimes with a profusion of realistic wrinkles on faces as well as clothing, plus a sample of Parent’s manner from Veronica Presents Kevin Keller No. 4 and Kevin Keller No.1.

click to enlarge click to enlarge

            As we see in the last of the visual aids, the breast cancer story involves Cheryl Blossom, the redheaded bombshell who squared up the Archie-Veronica-Betty triangle some years ago. In the alternate universe occupied by Archie’s two marriages, Cheryl goes to Hollywood to pursue an acting career but returns to the familiar environment of Riverdale and her friends to battle breast cancer. But she feels guilty, Archie’s editor-in-chief Victor Gorelick told Matt Moore at the Associated Press:

            “One of the things that comes out if that she feels she’s very fortunate that she can have all the treatment because she has medical insurance, the money, to be able to do it,” Gorelick said. The story “opens the door that there are a lot of people who cannot afford this kind of treatment and we have to see where that’s going to head.”

            That’ll be in July.




Johanna Draper Carlson at comicsworthreading.com posted sales figures for Archie titles on March 9, 2012, gleaning the numbers from the Statements of Ownership, Management, and Circulation that appeared in issues published between January 18 and February 15, 2012; the data was filed with the government on October 11, 2001. You’d think, given all the ballyhoo about Kevin and who all else, that sales figures would be up on the roof by now. Not quite.

            The numbers cited here follow the usual formula: the first number is the Average Number of Copies Each Issue During Preceding 12 Months; the second is Number of Copies of Single Issue Published Nearest to Filing Date. Life with Archie: 37,165 / 27,314; Archie: 15,466 / 13,440; Betty & Veronica: 10,918 / 11,511; Kevin Keller: 9,731 / 12,327; Jughead: 7,869 / 6,965.

            Carlson added that Betty & Veronica is no longer published; Veronica became Kevin Keller, so the figures for this title probably use Veronica’s sales history; the last few issues of that title ran as a Kevin Keller miniseries.

             “Compared to last year’s figures, those numbers are better than I expected,” Carlson said. “Then, most of the periodicals sold a bit over 8,000; now, they’ve culled the low sellers, except for Jughead, to get the books over 10,000. Either Jughead will disappear soon; be revamped; or he’s someone in power’s favorite character.”

            Half the titles show a decline from the average to the most recent issue, indicating eroding circulation. The same thing happened last year, but last year, Life with Archie was enjoying great popularity; the numbers were 155,000 / 109,000. Archie, the flagship title, logged 41,000 / 39,000.

            Unless I’m misreading these statistics, they reveal that all the excitement at modernizing the line has not yielded huge increases in circulation; in fact, from last year to this, circulation has dropped for all titles.

            Meanwhile—by way of comparison—over at DC, the New 52s were selling in the hundreds of thousands, as we can see in the ensuing report.




In February, ICv2.com reported that for the second month in a row, DC Comics swept all ten top spots on the chart tracking sales of periodical comics via Diamond Comic Distributors. But Marvel logged 13 of the top 25. Only two comic titles posted circulation numbers over 100,000 in February down from three in January and four in December as the top DC titles, which reached their sixth issues since the launch of the New 52, continue to shed some sales as the series continues.

            While the sales of the top tier titles continued to slowly erode in February, overall comic sales were up sharply especially when compared with February of 2011, when the top comic sold just over 71,000 copies. Six titles posted far larger totals than that last month, and although there were 17 comics that sold over 50K in February of 2011, there were 27 in February of 2012.

            So far 2012 is looking like a banner year for comics and graphic novels according to sell-in data released today by Diamond. ICv2.com reports that sales of periodical comics were up 22.26% versus sales in February of 2011, and graphic novels gained 15.6% versus sales during the same time frame a year ago. Year-over-year combined sales of comics and graphic novels were up a solid 20.11% in February.

            “Of course it’s all ‘compared to what’ and there is no denying that Q1 of 2011 was a down period for comic sales (especially for top-tier titles—the bestselling book in February of 2011, Green Lantern #62, sold just 71,517 copies last month), but there is also no denying that the market is considerably more robust now than it was a year ago, a boost attributed in large measure to DC’s launch of the New 52 last fall.”

            Most of the New 52 first issues are still available and selling, and many have been reprinted several times. Even those titles the No. 1's of which are no longer available were reprinted several times: Animal Man No. 1, four printings; and Batwing No.1, Green Arrow No.1, Justice League International No.1, and Stormwatch No.1, two printings each. Justice League No. 1 is now in its seventh reprinting according to Newsarama, which, during an interview with DC’s Bob Wayne and John Rood, reports that this title’s No.1 has sold, including digital sales, over 400,000; three other titles hit 200,000. There are now 20 million New 52 books in print. (Archie?)

            Wayne and Rood say they are “proud that we made the retailers more liquid so they could order at levels they probably should have ordered back in September.” And they also claim, with some justification, credit for improved sales by other companies. They’re not losing sleep “because one of our competitors has something that looks like it’s going to have a level of success ... because this market needs to have more than one publisher running on all creative engines and doing things for it to be successful.”





It was simply too much. Two states, Virginia and Texas—with others poised to emulate them—have passed ludicrously depraved legislation requiring that women seeking abortions must submit first to an insultingly invasive procedure designed to persuade them to forego aborting their fetuses. Garry Trudeau felt that to ignore the Texas law in particular "would be comedy malpractice." He could not resist holding it up to the ridicule it so deservedly needs.

            The new Texas law requires a woman seeking an abortion to undergo a sonogram and be given a description of her fetus and, unless she signs a waiver, be shown the image and listen to any fetal heartbeat. But the standard ultrasound procedure that most mothers are familiar with—where technicians smear jelly on the belly and run a camera over it—doesn't work during the first trimester: it doesn’t pick up the detailed images required by some of this legislation. Only a special camera, inserted in the vagina, can do that.

            Trudeau devoted the entire week of March 12 to the satire. Since none of the regular Doonesbury ensemble is pregnant, Trudeau simply drafted a personable young woman, who remained unnamed throughout the humiliation. She arrives at an abortion clinic and is chastised by a male legislator who calls her a "slut," and a doctor rebukes her by reading a scripted greeting from Texas Governor Rick Perry in advance of her "compulsory transvaginal exam." While awaiting the exam, the woman is placed in a "shaming room."

            By Thursday’s strip, the woman is prone on an examining table, her feet in stirrups. She protests, saying she doesn’t want a transvaginal sonogram, but the attending physician says: “The male Republicans who run Texas require that all such abortion-seekers be examined with a 10-inch shaming wand.” In the last panel—which shows the woman on her back, grimacing, but doesn’t show the doctor, who is at work off-camera, as he says, “By the authority vested in me by the GOP base, I thee rape.”

            Here’s a sampling of the week’s strips. click to enlarge You can find the whole week at Doonesbury.com or at GoComics.com

            Typically, newspapers get the entire week’s worth of Doonesbury at the same time, a week or so before publication date. Trudeau’s syndicate, Universal Uclick, offered alternate strips that timorous newspapers could run instead of the sonogram sequence if they deemed it too outspoken for publication. As soon as the sonogram sequence arrived at some papers, the content of the strips and the option of publishing replacements was announced throughout the known world.

            Predictably, some newspapers objected, especially to the strips with the words rape and slut in them.

            Karen Noland of California’s Vacaville Reporter wrote about “the most egregious” of the strips, the one referring to the transvaginal sonogramming as rape: “I get the political point he is trying to make,” Noland said, “but really? Rape? Does this mean we're going to start prosecuting OB/GYN's for administering our annual pap tests? Or what about abortion providers themselves? It's not like they pull the fetus out through the belly button. This kind of inflammatory talk also does a huge disservice to actual rape victims, who might be the first to scoff at the notion of a medical procedure being equated with the assault they've endured.

            “Frankly, I agree with Trudeau's point,” she concludes, “—that lawmakers have no business enacting these rules. It's practicing medicine without a license. Plus, ordering unnecessary medical tests while complaining about runaway health-care costs, caused in large part because of unnecessary medical tests, is hypocritical.”

            But the Vacaville Reporter didn’t run the strips; Nolan explains: “The Reporter considers itself to be a family-friendly newspaper, something that can be left lying around in front of children. I'm comfortable discussing the subject at hand in a column, because children aren't likely to be reading it. Cartoons, however, have a way of catching kids' attention if a page happens to be left open. We chose the replacement strips because we don't believe the Reporter is the appropriate place to publish a comic that takes place inside an abortion clinic exam room, stirrups and all.

            “Personally,” she says, “I didn't want to have to explain Monica Lewinsky to my children 14 years ago, and I doubt mothers today want to explain ‘transvaginal ultrasounds’ to theirs. And in California, why should they have to? No one in our Legislature is even proposing the ridiculous laws passed by politicians in Texas, Virginia and elsewhere.”

            Another paper published the strips, saying: “The Star-Ledger will run Doonesbury this week, and here's why: Trudeau is working in the great tradition of satire, from Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain to Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart and Tina Fey. Comedic liberties are taken to make a point. It's to Trudeau's great credit that he retains his edge, fearlessly taking on issues du jour. And that's also why the Star-Ledger publishes the strip on the opinion page, not in the comics section next to the warm and fuzzy Family Circus and Dilbert. There's nothing cuddly about Doonesbury.”

            At the Tulsa World, editorial page editor David Averill explains the paper’s policy on Trudeau’s strip: “We run Doonesbury on our op-ed page, and this series is an example of why. Many of our readers will disagree with the political stance the series takes, and some will be offended by the clinical language. I believe, however, that this series of strips is appropriate to the abortion debate and appropriate to our op-ed pages."

            My hometown paper, the Denver Post, danced around its choice. Publishing the report from the Associated Press, the Post insinuated a sentence, saying that the Post “doesn’t print Doonesbury.” Right. Doesn’t print the strip; but it runs it online at the Post’s website. What vehemence among a declining readership inspires so craven a posture of equivocation?

            The Press & Sun-Bulletin in Endicott, New York printed the substitute strips—but then thought better of it and ran the whole week’s strips at once on March 17 “to let readers decide for themselves.” Overwhelmingly (judging from the letters published), the readers applauded the paper’s second decision.

            At the Salt Lake Tribune, editoonist Pat Bagley, whose wicked wit routinely skewers hypocrisy and other brands of political sniveling, found an ingenious way to subvert the paper’s decision. He explained:

            “The March 15 strip was something of an orphan at the Tribune until I decided to adopt it,” he said to the DailyCartoonist Alan Gardner, who had joined him at Bagley’s weekly online chat. “An editor determined at the last moment that the ‘I thee rape’ strip was too radioactive for the funny pages—which it probably was. Still, the strip should have been published somewhere in the Tribune. As an artist, I understand the artist’s side in these things, and deleting a strip from the series is like lopping off the arms of the Venus de Milo. Even without the arms, Venus is still pretty cool, but who wouldn’t want to see Venus fully armed? It’s all of a piece and deserves to be seen as originally intended.”

            So Bagley devoted his space on the paper’s editorial page to running the offending March 15 Doonesbury, coupling it to a strip of his own (with “apologies to Garry Trudeau”), which he introduced with a caption in the first panel: “Due to the sensitive nature of today’s Doonesbury, we are offering a PG-rated alternative by Bagley.” His strip, entitled DoonesBagley, alluded to a state legislator’s recent peccadillo sharing a hot-tub with an underage female. click to enlarge

            Gardner applauded Bagley’s maneuver: “Localizing it with reference to some of the absurdities of Utah politicians was a deft move. It makes the editorial cartoon work on several levels. Was there any push back from your editor?”

            Said Bagley: “The editors seem happy with the solution, even a little relieved. There was nothing nefarious about the decision to pull the strip from the comics page, but it was too late to find it another home in the news or opinion pages. Believe me, if the editors were four-square against the strip, it wouldn’t have been allowed in my cartoon!”

            Not content with calling the solution “clever and well executed,” Gardner finished by encouraging Bagley to explore an alternative career as a comic strip cartoonist: “You have a knack for the cadence of writing a comic strip,” he said. “Ever thought of starting one up? I hear there is absolutely tons of no money in it—unless you’re Garry Trudeau and papers can’t drop you even if you use the words ‘I thee rape.’”

            To which Bagley responded: “The tons of no money sounds awfully enticing. I’ll have to sleep on it.”

            Gardner said by his count nearly 100 newspaper pulled the week’s Doonesbury, refused to run portions of it, or moved it off the funny pages to opinion pages or to the paper’s website. (He listed 50-60 of them at DailyCartoonist.) According to a spokesperson from Universal Uclick, no papers cancelled the strip permanently. Since Doonesbury appears in more than 1,400 newspapers, less than 7 percent copped out. Doonesbury’s subscribing papers know, after all, that Trudeau might cross invisible lines now and then; and they subscribe nonetheless. Said the Cleveland Plain Dealer, which ran the strips: "Garry Trudeau's metier is political satire; if we choose to carry Doonesbury, we can't yank the strip every time it deals with a highly charged issue."



IN THE WEEK RUNNING UP to the week of sonogrammic satire, Trudeau was interviewed several times about the series. We’re posting herewith a culling from those interviews.

            Asked by Alexandra Cheney at blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy what he might say to critics who argue that a cartoon strip isn't the proper forum to address such a sensitive topic, Trudeau said: “I think the marketplace ruled on that question long ago. Editors who don't want topical material on their comics pages shape them accordingly. But most newspapers have several strips that connect with readers' lives in a direct way. As far as I'm concerned, there is no subject that's off the table. As far back as the mid-70s, I did a week of strips about a mock rape trial, without incident. It's not the subject per se, it's how you deal with it. For instance, I've been writing about the horrors of war for almost a decade. War should be an extremely sensitive subject, but because of the American genius for denial, it isn't. So my goal there has been to sensitize, to encourage readers to think about the wrenching sacrifices being made by the military in our name.

            “There's always been some concern that adult subject matter should be quarantined from a page that attracts children. Unlike late at night, when South Park and Colbert are on, impressionable minds are wide awake when the newspaper arrives. But as editors well know, the vast majority of comics readers are adult. More to the point, children don't read Doonesbury. They never have. They think it's stupid and boring, a view shared by some of their parents. My older son ignored it his entire childhood, until one day when he was around 11, something clicked, and he sat down and read 25 years of work in two weeks. I'm not sure he's looked at it since.”

            Asked if it it more difficult to address social subjects in today's political atmosphere than in decades past, Trudeau said:

            “No. Our current love for real-time satire on tv has taken the pressure off. I used to have these dust-ups almost monthly, but by now newspapers know what they're getting. I've been pretty consistent in my tone and approach through the years. For the most part, editors no longer view Doonesbury as a rolling provocation, which is fine by me. It makes no sense to intentionally antagonize the very people on whose support you most depend. I appreciate their forbearance on the edgier material, and have never characterized the strip's removal as censorship. It's simple editing. I'm not always happy about it, but there's no reason I should be immune from the process.”

And what was his aim in satirizing abortion policy?

            “I usually weasel out of that question,” Trudeau said, “because if my intention isn't clear from the strip, I've failed. It's never the readers' fault if they're confused. The strips this week are a pretty straightforward commentary on mandatory sonograms, a subject that's been in the news since the debate in Virginia. We anticipated that we might run into a community standards issue with one or two clients, but nothing like the 47 papers that we know about. I don't want to sound disingenuous here — controversy is obviously good for business, especially if your business is satire. And it does amplify the discussion — in my view, a good thing. We need a robust debate on these shocking rollbacks of reproductive rights. But I didn't set out to gin up some kind of furor. It just followed me home this week.”

            As for calling the procedure rape, Trudeau said of the Texas law: "The bill says that in order for a woman to obtain a perfectly legal medical procedure, she is first compelled by law to endure a vaginal probe with a hard, plastic 10-inch wand. The World Health Organization defines rape as 'physically forced or otherwise coerced penetration — even if slight — of the vulva or anus, using a penis, other body parts or an object.' You tell me the difference."
            Interviewed at Slate, Trudeau said he didn’t believe that the Right has overreached with the sonogram legislation: “I don't think we can assume they've overreached. These bills are not being passed in the dead of night. They're being enacted by elected state officials all over the country, and in some states like Texas, signed into law with great public fanfare. The systematic dismantling of reproductive rights, much like the takedown of collective bargaining, has been taking place in full view. All I'm trying to do is cut through a little of the complacency and lay out in some detail what's at stake.”

            Trudeau said he keeps himself aware of what’s happening on the edgier tv shows: “I was already well into the writing this sequence when I heard that both ‘Saturday Night Live’ and ‘The Daily Show’ had done bits on [on the transvaginal probe]. So I checked them out just to satisfy myself that I was doing something a little different. Back in the day, I didn't have competition like this. Except for a few tame jokes on late night talk shows, there was nothing like the rapid-response satire that's so ubiquitous now. I love it all, especially Colbert and Borowitz, but I have had to adjust, trying to avoid ground that is likely to have been well-trod by the time I get into print. The strip has never been quite as timely as I've been given credit for, but now I have to be even more circumspect in my choices or the strip will feel stale.

            “The one advantage I do have over the other guys,” he continued, “is the slow, unfurling nature of comic strip storytelling. The reveals take place over a week or two, which can be more impactful than the one-offs of late-night comedy. It's even more engrossing if I'm using characters readers care about. When B.D. lost his leg during the Battle of Fallujah, the reaction was pretty intense. Longtime readers were more invested than I realized. This week is a little different, as all the characters are stock, last-minute creations. The challenge was to make people sympathize with this nameless young woman. The comment that pleased me the most this week came in an email from my daughter: ‘You're a good friend to the ladies, Dad.’ I used to self-identify as a feminist, simply as a matter of principle. But now I'm also a father and a husband. This is about the health and rights of people I love.”

            Social media have enhanced Trudeau’s impact—or, at least, his notoriety: “I've been getting pulled from newspapers for my entire career. But up until a few years ago, the only way people knew about these dust-ups was if their local paper carried a story the next day. There was little sense of any controversy outside their own community. I think the most eventful year was 1985—there were over a dozen various pulled-strip stories carried on the wires—but even if you combined all the coverage from that year, it wouldn't come close to the stir that this single week has created, gratis social media.

            “It's not necessarily a good thing,” he went on, “—especially if you're trying to protect the release date of an embargoed feature. One paper thought it would be a good idea to post the entire week of strips on Tuesday, days before they were scheduled to appear in hundreds of sister newspapers. Gawker pounced on it, and by the time we got both sites to pull the material down, it was too late. All six strips had entered the Twitterstream and were available for everyone to see. That outcome probably hasn't hurt the strip much, but our clients, who pay for the strip, have every right to be annoyed.”
            In the mail he gets, Trudeau sees a subtle difference between men and women: “No difference in content, I'm happy to report. In tone, decidedly. If the gender gap widens even further this year, the GOP will have only itself to blame.”

            Trudeau’s numerous experiences with overly cautious editors and/or outraged readers proves that newspaper comic strips are still being read—by some of the population anyhow. But the future doesn’t look bright.

            “Everyone knows where print is headed,” he said, “and most Web comics are struggling. With adroit merchandising, a couple of them have been profitable, but they don't connect with readers in the same visceral way that traditional comics once did. Comics used to be central to popular culture, enormously influential. They were a daily habit we all had in common. A comic strip is a modest undertaking. The creator tells his story and makes his points in tiny, incremental steps. It fit nicely in a simpler world of commonly shared morning routines. But we're now living in a Pixar/YouTube world. Children find their amusements elsewhere, and they are unlikely to turn to newspapers in adulthood.”

            The Slate interviewer noted that the Republican candidates have approached the recent controversies over abortion and birth control in a couple of different ways. Mitt Romney seems to be trying to tiptoe around a minefield. Rick Santorum, on the other hand, is happy to talk all day long about sex and why no one should have it. “Do you have any advice for the GOP candidates about this topic?”

            Said Trudeau: “Keep it up.”

            GOP supplies fodder for the satirist.

            But not much hope for reaching the White House. The Republicon Party’s hopes for winning the Presidency were doomed before this episode. In a general election, neither the robotic Ken-doll Mitt nor the holier-than-thou Sanctorum can win. Mitt won’t set fire in the bellies of the GOP’s religious right, and without them—even if he can attract moderates and independents, a dubious possibility—he cannot be elected; and Sanctorum, while setting the requisite fire among Republicon extremists, cannot attract moderates or independents, whose votes are essential for election.

            Meanwhile, a new rumor has been bandied about lately. The “Republicon Establishment,” that cabal of cigar-smoking power brokers lurking evermore in the backrooms of GOP politics, may have resigned itself to losing in November. If the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm takes a sound drubbing at the polls, it may open the way to reconstituting the party, shedding its right-wing extremities and re-positioning itself closer to the center for future elections. And the “Old Guard,” as it contemplates Mitt and Sanctorum, must desperately want something akin to its traditional stance. They surely don’t want to alienate the female half of the electorate, which seems to be the objective of the anti-abortion anti-contraception impetus.



AS MICHAEL CAVNA POINTED OUT in his ComicRiffs interview with Trudeau, “Only once in the long history of Doonesbury has Trudeau's syndicate ever intensely objected to one of his story arcs. It was 1985, a documentary purporting to show the reactions of a fetus had been released, and Trudeau satirized the film ‘Silent Scream’ with his own ‘prequel’ strips featuring ‘little Timmy,’ a 12-minute-old embryo.” Those strips never saw wide release in newspapers, but Universal Uclick and Trudeau have posted the series online; and we pick them up herewith. click to enlarge

            "At that time,” said Lee Salem at Universal Uclick, “we thought the merits of the week would get lost in the larger discussion of abortion.” Trudeau and Universal agreed to pull the strips.
So Cavna asked: “What's different now? Obviously the angle and execution and point of satiric attack vary some, but what's changed that spurred you to create an abortion narrative in this climate?”

            Said Trudeau: “In my 42 years with Universal, the ‘Silent Scream’ week was the only series that the syndicate ever strongly objected to. Lee felt that it would be deeply harmful to the feature, and that we would lose clients permanently. They had supported me through so much for so long, I felt obliged to go with their call. Such was not the case this week. There was no dispute over contents, just some discussion over whether to prepare a substitute week for editors who requested one.

            “I chose the topic of compulsory sonograms because it was in the news and because of its relevance to the broader battle over women's health currently being waged in several states. For some reason, the GOP has chosen 2012 to re-litigate reproductive freedom, an issue that was resolved decades ago. Why [Rick] Santorum, [Rush] Limbaugh et al thought this would be a good time to declare war on half the electorate, I cannot say. But to ignore it would have been comedy malpractice.

            “Oddly,” he continued, “for such a sensitive topic, I found it easy to write. The story is very straightforward — it's not high-concept like Little Timmy in ‘Silent Scream’ — and the only creative problem I had to work through was the physician's perspective. I settled on resigned outrage.”

            Trudeau’s Slate interviewer, after talking to several abortion providers, said that “sounded about right.” And Trudeau responded: “I didn't talk to any providers personally, but from news accounts I saw, they sounded very distressed—and insulted as professionals. Medical decisions have been politicized. What doctor wants a state legislator in his consulting room?”

            Apart from whatever implications the “Silent Scream” sequence had for abortion, Trudeau has not tackled abortion directly before.

            “Roe v. Wade was decided while I was still in school,” he said. “Planned Parenthood was embraced by both parties. Contraception was on its way to being used by 99-percent of American women. I thought reproductive rights was a settled issue. Who knew we had turned into a nation of sluts?”

            Asked about his attitude toward newspaper editors, Trudeau said: “I view them all as wise, loyal and good-looking.”

            Have they loosened up over the past 40 years regarding comics—or have they grown more reluctant or skittish — or, even worse, dispassionate?

            “It’s a mix,” Trudeau said, “but in general, I spend much less time playing defense, presumably because of the ubiquity of topical satire these days. ‘South Park’ and ‘The Daily Show’ have stretched the envelope so much, most editors no longer see Doonesbury as the rolling provocation they once did. Plus,” he added, “I think I get a bit of a pass simply because I've been around so long. After all this time, editors know pretty much what they're going to get with the strip.”




We tend to think, without actually thinking very much, that abortion is generally available to women seeking it except in a few benighted states. Well, yes and no. Forty (40) states prohibit abortions generally (except when necessary to protect the woman’s life or health) after a specified point in pregnancy, usually fetal viability; 26 states require a woman seeking an abortion to wait a specified period of time, usually 24 hours, between when she received counseling (which, presumably, is required) and when the procedure is performed; 9 of these states have laws that effectively require the woman make two separate trips to the clinic to obtain the procedure; 46 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion and 43 allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions, 16 of which limit refusal to private or religious institutions.




Fascinating Footnit. Much of the news retailed in the foregoing segment and in what follows under the guise of “news” 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.





You’d think they’d know better. If you’re a professional cartoonist drawing for publication, you know lots of people will see your pictures. How dumb is it, then, to copy someone else’s drawing, sign it as if it’s your own work, and then let it get published? Wouldn’t you expect that someone, somewhere, would see it and recognize it as the work of someone else? And then you’d be caught. Plagiarist, they’d say.

            Plagiarism in the visual arts is notoriously easy to detect. The evidence is all right there, out in plain sight. And yet last fall two editorial cartoonists produced cartoons for publication that they’d copied from other cartoonists. David Simpson and Jeff Stahler. Shame shame.

            In his copying, Simpson betrays an obsession with the work of Jeff MacNelly. When Alan Gardner at the DailyCartoonist.com compared one of the latest of these specimens, he made an overlay of one and placed it over the other: it was obvious that Simpson had traced MacNelly, nearly line-for-line in his cartoon for the Urban Tulsa Weekly. Here are several Simpson-MacNelly “collaborations,” beginning with the one Gardner did the overlay for. We scarcely need that exact a comparison: even a casual glance at most of these reveals the meticulousness of Simpson’s copying. He wasn’t copying: he was light-boxing, tracing his cartoons from MacNelly’s.

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            Stahler’s sinning at the Columbus Dispatch was a little less apparent. He didn’t copy another cartoonist’s drawing: he recycled the idea. Here are the instances assembled by Gardner with input from attentive readers.

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            Stahler said it was just a coincidence that several of his cartoons had captions that repeated the captions of New Yorker cartoons of recent years. Said Gardner: “As a general rule, as long as the cartoonist isn’t light-boxing, I try to give them the benefit of the doubt. Even the ones reproduced here can be excused when looked at individually. (The ‘nationalized’ cartoons are easy word gags based on the topic of the day.) Collectively, however, the matter gets harder to explain away. Only Jeff knows for sure.”

            But the explanation may lie in the way cartoonists concoct their cartoons. One of the traditional ways some cartoonists conjure up ideas is to browse through collections of cartoon reprints, whereupon they often discover a funny cartoon that can be re-tooled for a new cartoon. The comedy writer’s term for this is “switching.” It’s one of the recommended methods of inventing cartoon ideas. Jack Markow, a veteran of magazine cartooning back when magazine cartooning was still a career, published Cartoonists and Gag Writers Handbook (1967) in which one chapter is devoted to “switching.”

            This procedure involves somewhat drastically revising the caption or doing a completely different picture or taking the situation depicted and putting it in a different era or locale. Said Markow: “Substitute a dog for a man in the original cartoon, transfer an inside scene outdoors a thousand miles away, convert an airplane scene to a train scene.” If you’re looking at a cartoon about the cramped space in a submarine, maybe the same caption, or a slight variation, can apply to the kitchen in a small apartment. Continual practice—deploying “a free-wheeling mind to produce substitution and transference of objects and people”—can yield a crop of cartoons entirely different from their source.

            I think Stahler, like many of his confreres, resorted to anthologies of published cartoons for inspiration. And I think the reprint compilations he browsed were New Yorker collections, the most available of these kinds of books. He may have used captions he remembered from cartoons he saw in those books without even realizing that he’d seen those captions and situations somewhere other than on his own drawingboard.

            Another cartoonist may commit the same sin more consciously because his/her source is so far removed from the cartoonist’s current venue. Since the inspirational cartoon appeared in a different place—perhaps even a different time—the chances of their audience seeing the “original” of the cartoon are remote.

            Stahler’s explanation, merely a “coincidence,” may seem slightly bald-faced, but he probably couldn’t expect that his bosses would understand how a cartoonist sometimes arrives at the inspiration for a cartoon—how switching works, for instance, without being plagiarism. He was, after all, just following in the footsteps of legions of his inky-fingered brethren. But Stahler has evidently been following so close that he’s trod on the heels of his guides.

            Last March, Stahler was accused of lifting an idea from the prose comedy of Andy  Borowitz, who composed this fake headline: “New Study Finds iPad is Cure for Adultery; Owners Stop Noticing Other People Altogether.” The caption of the Stahler cartoon read: “New study: Smart phone users are less likely to commit adultery, since they’ve stopped noticing others around them.”

            Stahler’s bosses at first accepted his explanation that it was a coincidence—and with good reason: his cartoon, they said, had been concocted on a Wednesday and was published the next day, which was the same day the Borowitz headline appeared. So Stahler couldn’t have seen the headline before he did the cartoon. Unless he was surfing the Net, perhaps.

            In any event, after the latest episode, involving the medium-sized pile, Stahler was suspended; then he resigned. And that’s too bad. Stahler has done some brilliant work—for example, the cartoon hereabouts that he did the day after 9/11, which we display in our previous exhibit.

            Simpson, however, is another matter. He is apparently widely known in the editooning profession for plagiarism. “There are stories on Simpson going back decades,” said alt-cartoonist Matt Bors, “—everyone knows he is a hack,” who for decades has been committing “light-box larceny” (in Michael Cavna’s happy phrase).

            “I’m sure you could sit down with a six-pack and a stack of MacNelly books and make an evening out of matching them up with Simpson’s entire body of work,” Bors continued. “By now, we know Simpson is a serial plagiarist with an irrepressible fetish for MacNelly’s line.”

            All too true, based upon the evidence. (But you’d have a hard time finding a stack of books reprinting MacNelly editorial cartoons: he permitted only a couple, both early in his career, 1972 and 1984.) Simpson, however, has been appropriating MacNelly long enough that he has an established track record.

            Following a 20 year stint at the Tulsa Tribune, Simpson worked at the Tulsa World from 1992 to 2005, when he was fired for plagiarizing a cartoon by the Hartford Courant’s Bob Englehart, from whom he had apparently stolen with some frequency. In the late 1970s, Englehard remembered, Simpson lost his slot at a syndicate but not his newspaper job when he was caught lifting MacNelly. Englehart was baffled, saying Simpson draws well enough that he doesn’t need to copy others.

            Calling Simpson a “cartoon kleptomaniac,” Mike Peters remembers that when he was with United Syndicate, “someone sent me a bunch of Simpson’s cartoons traced from large parts of my cartoons with just the caption changed. I was mad but was not going to do anything about it until I realized that we were syndicated by the same syndicate. That meant Simpson was picking up papers using my cartoons with different captions on them”—potentially supplanting Peters with client papers. So Peters sent United a selection of his cartoons with Simpson copies, “and he got fired the next day.”

            Writhing over getting caught in his most recent MacNelly heist, Simpson wrote an astonishing letter of apology and confession to Susie MacNelly, the cartoonist’s widow who now manages the MacNelly legacy: “I’m very sorry that I stole Jeff’s [Jimmy] Carter cartoon from the seventies,” Simpson said. “I accidentally stole the cartoon 25 years ago when I worked at the now defunct Tulsa Tribune, not three weeks ago for the Urban Tulsa Weekly,” he confessed. I honestly didn’t know that I had swiped it 25 years earlier. But that’s no excuse. I’m completely to blame. The people at Urban Tulsa didn’t know anything about this.”

            He goes on to explain that he has “thousands of old drawings from 40 years of cartooning” in his garage. Apparently, he mines them for inspiration in the time-honored manner of cartoonists everywhere—except that he doesn’t switch: he steals.

            “The hard truth underlying this story is that swiping MacNelly cartoons was done with wild abandon before the Internet came out,” Bors told ComicRiffs. “Simpson may have been on the extreme end of the spectrum with his slavish reproductions, but cartoonists far more notable than him have stolen from MacNelly while enjoying successful careers and none of the scorn that is now heaped upon Simpson.”



MANY IN THE PROFESSION and observing from the sidelines veer off into excusing and forgiving. New Yorker Cartoon Editor Robert Mankoff told ComicRiffs that he always gives the cartoonist the benefit of the doubt:

            “My guess is Stahler came up with the idea completely independently. I see things like this every week with different cartoonists submitting almost identical cartoons. Sometimes we’ve been on the other end of this being accused of plagiarism, when I know the cartoonist would never do that. It’s also possible that Stahler saw the Sipress cartoon and forgot completely about it and then came up with the idea thinking it was his. That also has happened. Usually when it does, a little bell goes off warning you something is wrong — but not always.”

            Another blogpost commentator said of Stahler: “So he stole a punch line. Tell that to Henny Youngman. All comedians/comics do it. It’s whether the delivery—the art—is original. That’s what should matter.”

            Oddly, as I was flaying around on this topic, The New Yorker arrived in the guise of its anniversary (double) issue with an engrossing lead article about a new first novel, Assassin of Secrets, by Quentin Rowen, who gives his name on the book as Q.R. Markham (Q and R standing for his actual name; Markham being another phoney name, the pseudonym adopted by Kingsley Amis for his 1968 Bond novel). The novel, a spy thriller, turns out to be composed almost entirely of sentences lifted intact from a host of other works. Rowen’s act of creation was to find sentences and paragraphs he likes and then knit them into a cohesive narrative. By the end of the article, several otherwise respectable literary types come very close to declaring the product of Rowen’s plagiarism a form of art itself—an “art gesture,” a specimen of “the aesthetics of intertextuality and borrowing in art”—claiming that “all art exists on a continuum of borrowing.” Intertextuality!? Balderdash.

            In the course of the article, its author, Lizzie Widdicombe, reminds us that plagiarism is not a crime; it may be unethical and odious, but it ain’t illegal. Nice to be reminded, but legal or not, plagiarism is still morally reprehensible: plagiarism is lying. Moreover, plagiarism is a violation of an artist’s supposed commitment to his art. Hence the alarm when it is discovered.

            As the news of the Simpson/Stahler offense circulated, everyone was appropriately appalled. Copycats on the loose. But how bad is that? Copying in the visual arts is a practice sanctified by the history of the medium. Apprentice artists in the medieval studios of the Grand Old Masters learned their craft by copying the masters. The more exact the copy, the better the artist was deemed to be. (In literary endeavors, too, perhaps. Widdicome points out that Joan Didion learned to write by typing Hemingway’s fiction; Hunter S. Thompson did the same with The Great Gatsby.)

            The modern notion that originality in artwork is superior to copying—and that copying is somehow immoral—didn’t surface until halfway through the 1700s. And later that century, saith Wikipedia, civilization adopted “the Romantic myth of artistic inspiration, which believes in the ‘individualized, inimitable act of creation ... the ideology of the creation from nothingness ... of an autonomous object produced by an individual genius.’” The notion acquired impetus as the individual and his/her personal fulfillment became the ideal of liberal and democratic societies.

            But the ancient idea of apprenticeship persisted nonetheless. The practice continues through modern times. Even today. Every cartoonist I know spent his youthful apprentice years copying the drawings of cartoonists he/she admired. It’s how we learned. Eventually, after aping the works of several cartoonists, an individual style of drawing emerged among the counterfeits. As we developed confidence at drawing, we abandoned our models, and we stopped copying. Mostly.



GENERIC COPYING—as distinct from copying the work of a particular artist—continues  in every cartoonist’s career. Every cartoonist is encouraged to keep a morgue—a file of pictures of things he might someday need to draw, things he doubtless could not draw from memory. Airplanes, locomotives, sports cars, famous buildings, the beach at Cannes, exotic animals, farm animals, costumes from bygone eras. If you need to draw a picture of a bucking bronco and if you have a good morgue, you can find a picture of it there. And then you copy the picture.

            Milton Caniff continued building his morgue all his cartooning life. He hired his elderly father to clip and file pictures from National Geographic. Caniff kept only photographs in his morgue because he knew if he filed drawings, he’d be copying someone else’s drawing when he used his morgue. Canny of him. He knew the slippery sloppiness that copying can encourage. And yet, he knew he’d have to copy images often enough that he maintained a morgue.

            And Caniff wasn’t above occasionally swiping.  At least, early in his career. “Swiping” is a high-tech cartooning term of ancient vintage: “swiping” means to appropriate (copy) some aspect of a picture made by someone else—concept or composition or (even) technique—and use it in your own drawing. Swiping is usually the byproduct of maintaining a morgue of drawings rather than photographs. For Christmas 1944 in Terry and the Pirates, Caniff produced the spectacular mountain vista in the panoramic strip just at your elbow. click to enlargePraised about the image, Caniff candidly responded: “I stole it from Roy Crane.”

            Well, not quite. He swiped the technique of rendering a range of snow-encrusted mountains. He invented his own mountain range.

            Even I, grand high seer and eminent pooh-bah, may have swiped by switching. Using the age-old axiom that recommends taking someone else’s cartoon and giving it a new twist, I produced the cartoon about “political correctness” in academia that appears just below Caniff’s mountains in the exhibit at hand. My inspiration may have been the cartoon next to it, one of Thomas Nast’s. But I’m pretty sure the phrase coupled to the picture—“rule of thumb”—came from another antique artifact, a cartoon I’d seen in the old Life humor magazine. “Pretty sure” but not “absolutely sure.”

            And what do we make of editorial cartoons that deliberately use familiar popular images taken from advertising or the funnies page. How many times have we seen an image of Charlie Brown used to make some point that might be exemplified by his perennial attempt to kick the football Lucy holds for him—and then snatches out of his reach? Is it enough to note, in the lower corner of the cartoon, “apologies to Charles Schulz” by way of acknowledging an indebtedness? Why? No one is likely to assume such images are “original” with the editoonist. Complicating the sin in this case is Schulz’s documented objection to editorial cartoonists using his characters in their cartoons—especially when advocating a point of view Schulz himself did not hold.

            My point with all this waltzing around is that copying—what the lay public calls plagiarism—is deeply embedded in the accepted practices of cartooning. Switching and swiping. Most of the time, it’s probably okay. Charlie Brown. Caniff’s mountain range. Even my swipe—it includes a drawing that’s distinctly my own and the application of the phrase and image to a idea different from my source. As much a switch as a swipe.

            And if I can excuse myself, I must excuse Stahler. Naturally—given the ego’s impulse to preserve self-respect—I don’t think I went as far as he did. Still, his sin here is so closely akin to custom and occurrence in cartooning that condemning him seems extreme. The “nationalized band” cartoon, with the addition of the sign “Coming Soon,” is almost a classic instance of switching. The other two, maybe not so much.

            Simpson, on the other hand, is clearly not just switching or, even, swiping. He’s stolen both artwork and idea in several of his cartoons. He deserves excommunication.



THE INTEGRITY OF EDITORIAL CARTOONING is not threatened so much by outright swipes as it is by the nature of the craft. Editoonists traffic in contemporary events, and, as AAEC prez John Cole (Scranton Times-Tribune) explained to Rob Tornoe at Editor & Publisher: with 70 or so cartoonists drawing five cartoons a week and depending upon the same headlines for inspiration, “there’s bound to be some overlap.”

            Cole recalled working on a cartoon about the recent sex abuse scandal at Penn State. “Since the alleged sexual abuse took place in the showers, Cole settled on an idea of drawing a shower with [legendary Joe] Paterno’s reputation running down the drain. Then he happened to notice that his peer, Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle had drawn that exact idea. ‘Well, there went that idea,’ Cole said.” And he crumbled up his drawing and started cogitating up another one.

            What with the nature of the circumstance—just a few score editoonists, all working from the same news sources and always limited in time by a deadline—it’s surprising duplication doesn’t occur more often. Just below at the corner of your eye, I’ve posted two cartoons about the scandalously inattentive air traffic controller in the news a few months ago. The cartoons, by Cole and Nate Beeler, are similar but obviously not plagiarized: the drawings deploy the same over-all image, but the pictures are different, and so are the punchlines. It happens.click to enlarge 

            Obituary cartoons are particularly susceptible of this sort of redundancy. Only so many symbols are readily associated with individual celebrities, and when a well-known person dies, those symbols multiply in editoons. When Steve Jobs died, the nation’s editorial pages looked like the aftermath of an apple harvest. When Whitney Houston died a week or so ago, many of the obit cartoons featured allusions to her drug abuse. Australia’s Peter Broelman did two. On the left, his first try; but then he must’ve thought the sentiment a bit too saccharin, so he did another (on the right), which (as someone said, “Yikes!) went in the opposite direction just about as far.

            Politico editoonist and AAEC President-elect Matt Wuerker sees the accidental echoes we’ve just been discussing as a diversion from the issues surrounding plagiarism, telling Cavna: “There’s a different question that gets mixed into this whole mess that’s about ideas that are similar because they’re so obvious that a number of cartoonists do them. That’s very different than plagiarism.”

            To which Cavna added: “This is also not to suggest that bands of political cartoonists are committing plagiarism with reckless abandon and feckless frequency,” going on to quote the rest of Wuerker’s observation: “You’d think the way some people are taking these recent incidents that political cartoonists are a bunch of pickpockets and counterfeits,” Wuerker said. “We’re not that bad a bunch — really. I’ve been at this for 30-plus years and have only heard of a half-dozen cases of naked plagiarism.”

            Despite a momentary surge of interest among editoonists to respond to the Simpson-Stahler situation with a flotilla of ethics policies, Wuerker thinks such efforts are not needed: ”I think this falls clearly in the category of common sense. It’s not complicated. Most of us learned this in the first grade. I learned it from Mrs. Johnson in elementary school. When my eyes drifted over to Wade Reynolds’s desk, she rapped me on the back of my head and pointed two fingers at her stern eyeballs and said: ‘Stick to your own work!’ Copying the work of others is a no-no.”

            Whatever the inherent hazards prompting copycatting cartoons—regardless of history’s apprenticeships—the impulse should be to avoid copying others’ work, an impulse fostered by all those things that made a person a cartoonist to begin with.

            Mark Fiore, who collected a Pulitzer a couple years ago as the first editoonist whose work was entirely in animation, thinks editorial cartoonists have a gift as well as an obligation to produce original, creative work. The gift is the passion that drives their work. Said he: “It seems that plagiarists get caught up in the ‘job’ aspect of cartooning, and forget the magic of drawing an infinite variation of lines to create anything! Plagiarizing is the opposite of passion.”





Four-color Frolics

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.



THIEF OF THIEVES No. 1 by Robert Kirkman (story) and his scripter, Nick Spencer, drawn by Shawn Martinbrough, is a brisk, stylish caper title that meets all the criteria for an admirable first issue. And then some. It has two complete episodes and two cliffhangers. The first episode opens as Redmond is caught trying to steal something in the hold of a ship. A beauteous passenger, a countess, is awakened and alerted to the supposed robbery of something of hers. She tells the captain she suspects Redmon has stolen “the pearl.” They go to visit the ship’s safes to check her safety deposit box, and apparently the pearl is missing. When she sics her security guard on Redmond to beat the pearl’s location out of him, the captain intervenes, saying he can’t permit torture. So she says she’ll take Redmond away with her by helicopter to her country, where “things are simpler.” Once they’re aboard the chopper, we learn that the person we thought was a countess is actually Redmond’s “apprentice,” Celia, and that she successfully lifted what they came after while being given a guided tour of the ship’s safes by the obsequious captain.

            This episode does what such maneuvers are supposed to do in a first issue: it acquaints us with the principals and persuades us that they are either admirable or interesting enough to keep us coming back. This episode shows us how successfully the duo work together to execute a clever, complicated theft. Despite their success, the boorish Redmond will not acknowledge Celia’s skill and usefulness. The episode establishes the personalities of the characters and the tension in their relationship. She’s more appealing than he, but we still want to know more about them both. Despite being an oaf, Redmond’s sheer competence makes him admirable.

            In the next episode, we flashback to see how Redmond acquired his “apprentice,” who he first encountered as she was trying to steal a car. He showed her how to do it better. And she was so impressed, she begged him to let her come along as an assistant to learn on the job. He reluctantly agreed because she said she had a child.

            In the last pages of the book, they go to meet Arno, some sort of crime mogul who has financed Redmond’s setup to execute a colossal caper in Venice. Arno toasts Redmond’s expertise and the promise of a successful caper, and Redmond responds by saying, “I quit.” End of book.

            The other cliffhanger begins and ends of the first page with Redmond staring at a wall and getting a cellphone call from “unknown.” What’s he doing there? Is this Venice? Who’s calling him?

            Martinbrough’s pictures are drenched in black, cloaking the enterprise with a suitable mysteriousness. But more than that, he’s a thoroughly competent artist, skilled at rendering human faces and forms as well as all the subsidiary visuals that locales and settings require. Impressive. And since vast tracts of this tale are devoted to dialogue with little action, Martinbrough’s skills rescue a talky tale, into which, despite laden speech balloons, Spencer injects wit and humor.

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PETER PANZERFAUST  No. 1 is much less a success although it satisfies, nominally, the criteria for a good first issue. The title character plays Peter Pan to some French orphans whose World War II village is being invaded by the marauding Germans: Peter leads a bunch of the boys in escaping. In the book’s central episode, they all follow him as he leaps a twenty-foot gap between one rooftop to another. Apart from achieving this feat (which he does, seemingly, by doffing his cloak-like aviator’s duster), his only other attribute appears to be a sense of humor that prompts him to laugh defiantly whenever confronted by German uniforms. On the book’s last page, a British soldier is killed by the Germans, who find a packet on the body, and just then, Peter shows up, howling to the skies. Thus, two cliffhangers: what’s the deal with the packet, and what’s so special about Peter?

            Peter’s charisma is more touted than evident, and that’s the weakness in this book. His adventures and those of his juvenile followers are being related by one of them, who we meet on the first page, being interviewed as an old man. He obviously worships Peter, and on the basis of his testimony—and little else that’s apparent herein—we are expected to join the devotions. Co-creators Kurtis Wiebe (words) and Tyler Jenkins (pictures) clearly know something about Peter and his inherent magnetism that they’re not letting us see. And that’s the problem: the book lacks the wit to bring its intended ambiance to life.

            Jenkins’ drawing style (see exhibit above) in rendering people is quirky and pointy but otherwise wholly adequate, and his visual storytelling skill is sufficient to the task; a couple pages transpire without words at all. The sharp edges in his drawings are softened somewhat by Alex Sollazzo’s colors, sepia mostly, but Jenkins cannot rescue a script that lacks the charisma it’s extolling.



I DIDN’T WATCH the British tv import, “The Avengers,” when it was running 1961-69 (I was afloat much of that time, and we didn’t get television aboard ship), so I must take William Kulesa’s word for it in the Jersey Journal’s review when he says that the new Boom! Studios book, Steed and Mrs. Peel, reincarnates the show “perfectly,” that reading it “is like taking a strip back in time and space.” Kulesa may be right, but in treating the book like a period piece, he’s overlooked its flaws as the first issue in a comic book series.

            The story opens with mini-skirted knee-high-booted Tara King (one of John Steed’s operatives after Diana Rigg’s iconic Mrs. Peel left the show) waiting for someone in a saloon or gambling den, and when he shows up, an old seadog named “Foggy” Fanshawe, we learn that she hopes he can help her find out who’s leaking information from his government department. But before that strand of story unravels very far, Foggy is found tied to an anchor at the bottom of the harbor.

            Then we meet Steed, who we follow as he silently goes into a men’s room, enters a stall, sits on the toilet (without pulling his pants down), pulls a chain on the water tank, and is lowered, elevator-like, into the cavernous lair of his wheelchair-bound handler, “Mother,” who sets him off to find out what happened to Fanshawe and why. Steed, upon arriving at his digs, phones Mrs. Peel—“We’re needed,” he says—and they meet at the cemetery during Fanshawe’s funeral. When they leave to look for clues at Fanshawe’s home, we watch the silhouette of a grave-digger for two inexplicable panels.

            The entrance to Fanshawe’s house looks like the bow of a 18th century ship, and the inside is similarly eccentric in content, including a caretaker or former valet with an eye-patch and a persistent burp. Touring the premises, Steed and Mrs. Peel find a note from Fanshawe to Doris Storm, the “agony aunt” (lovelorn counselor) of a magazine. Mrs. Peel goes to visit Storm, who is giving blood at the time. The attendant who is supposed to take blood from her instead injects her with a mysterious ingredient, and Storm dies in Mrs. Peel’s arms, but not before Mrs. Peel runs after and tackles the murderous attendant. And there we are left, dangling on the traditional Whodunnit Cliff.

            The first issue introduces us to Steed and Mrs. Peel, and in their bantering conversation, we sense their close, although not at all romantic (Steed asks about her husband), relationship, and we like them both. The completed episode is the visit to old Fanshawe’s house where they find a productive clue. But we are left with too many mysteries, dangling away like this week’s wash on the line. We expect one or two mysteries: they create the cliffhanger that’ll bring us back. But here we have too much of a puzzle: who killed Fanshawe and why, where is Tara King, what is the import of Fanshawe’s note to Dora Storm, who is responsible for Storm’s death (and why did she have to die?), and why is a single dice (die) found next to Fanshawe’s body in the bay?

            All of this will eventually be connected in what I suppose is the usual manner of “The Avengers,” but the tv show was complete in one sitting, and with the comic book series, we are contemplating several serial issues to solve seven mini-mysteries, only vaguely related. Admittedly, the principal puzzle is the death of Fanshawe, but the bafflers surrounding this event multiply beyond our capacity to tolerate. And other distractions don’t help.

            The eye-patched and burping valet is comic relief, no question, but he gets two pages, a bit much in a 24-page book. Drawing Grant Morrison’s story, Ian Gibson shows Steed ambling through two silent sequences (when he goes to “Mother’s” and when he enters his own apartment), but the first of them is badly flawed: we can’t tell from the visuals that the toilet stall  is an elevator until after it has reached its destination. And when the story goes from the Tara King-Fanshawe conversation to the water-logged body of the old seadog in the bottom of the harbor, the transition is achieved with a visual slight of hand that is misleading: Fanshawe appears to be throwing a die into the water, and the next thing we see is him tied to an anchor in the depths.

            In employing Patrick Macnee, the actor who played Steed, as his model, Gibson lets himself get bogged down in shadowing Steed’s face much more than is necessary. That would be all right if Gibson were good at shadowing, but he isn’t, so he succeeds only in creating unattractive lumpy-looking pictures. Moreover, his treatment of the female characters is more cartoony than his treatment of the males, a mixture that is a bit off-putting. And the women almost never open their mouths: Gibson seems stuck at a single facial expression for them all. Finally, whenever he puts in backgrounds, he does it with a ruler, imparting a sterile lifelessness to the scenes.

            But Gibson gives us a lively sequence of Mrs. Peel in action (she was the action-figure of the tv show) and page layouts that are inventive, lively and light-weight (the latter, alas, not a particularly telling atmospheric).

            Some of the story flaws may be attributed to the way in which this series has arrived on our shores. Kulesa tells us that Morrison’s 1990 book was originally a three-part prestige format series, but in reviving it now, 22 years later, Boom has reformatted the tale for a six-part mini-series. That may have resulted in more chopping up than is good for the story. And Gibson’s cartoony style and angular mannerisms may have been a product of the visual fashions of the early 1990s, no longer apt these days.





Sometimes happy, sometimes blue,

But I’m so glad I ran into you---

Tell the people that you saw me, passin’ through



Jan Berenstain, 1923-2012

ONE OF THE PERVERSE IRONIES of our age is that Jan Berenstain, a talented and roaringly successful female cartoonist in a post-WWII milieu in which distaff cartooners were so rare they are, today, commented on copiously, is known only as the co-creator, with her husband Stan, of the children’s books about the Berenstain Bears. She gets no attention from the feminist comics historians in their various tomes—probably because she was partnered with a man and drew so much like him that not even they could tell who drew what. Jan once said that she drew all the girls and Stan drew all the boys. Sounds a little too pat to me. Besides, who drew the adults then?

            But maybe the oversight is mere myopia: most histories of women in comics don’t delve at all into magazine cartooning, which is where the Berenstains labored first.

            The obits written to accompany her death on February 24 glide quickly by her cartooning career, which lasted from 1947 when she and Stan sold their first gag cartoons to The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s until at least 1972 when the last of their non-Bear cartoon collections, C Is for Clown, was published. In 1962 the first of the ursine volumes, The Big Honey Hunt, appeared and over the next few years, the Bears slowly displaced the Berenstain cottage industry of cartoon books about the trials and tribulations of family life with such titles as Marital Blitz, Baby Makes Four, Bedside Lover Boy, and Call Me Mrs among numerous others. Starting April 6, 1953, the Register Tribune Syndicate distributed a daily comic strip, Sister, that the Berenstains did, based upon a series of magazine cartoons produced for Collier’s; it lasted through 1955. Another of their magazine cartoon series, It’s All in the Family, started in McCall’s in 1956 (well before the tv series of the same name with Carroll O’Conner in a lead role) and moved to Good Housekeeping in 1970, appearing bimonthly therein until 1990.

            The New York Times, displaying a stunning myopia, doesn’t even mention the cartooning aspect of the Berenstain biography. Not surprising, perhaps. Cartooning hasn’t the cache of children’s books, as the Berenstains found out when they first tried to venture into kiddie lit.

            Fascinated by the Dr. Seuss books their son Leo introduced them to, they “scratched an old itch” in the early 1960s and approached the editor of the children’s book division at their publishers, Macmillan.

            “I’ve seen your work,” said the auspicious personage. “I am informed that you wish to explore the idea of doing books for children. And I understand that you have achieved some success with your magazine and other work.” The Berenstains nodded. “But,” the woman went on, “—and I don’t know how to say this except to speak plainly—as nearly as I can tell,” she said accusatorily, “you are cartoonists; your drawings are cartoons.”

            “Er, well, yes,” Stan said. “You see, we’ve noticed that young children enjoy cartoons, so it was our thought—“

            ”Yes. But, Mr. Berenstain,” she interrupted, “as I’m sure you and Mrs. Berenstain know, children like many things that aren’t good for them ...”

            The Berenstains left the august presence but persisted in their pursuit of a publisher willing to work with them on a children’s book, landing almost at once at Random House, which had just started its famed Beginner Books division, headed by Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss. Before too many years, the Berenstain Bears effectively destroyed the cartooning careers of their creators.

            Apparently, although cartooning is more respected these days—thanks to Charles Schulz, Garry Trudeau and graphic novelists everywhere—cartooning is still a bad word in the children’s book racket and not worth a mention in the obituaries of children’s book authors. Here’s an otherwise exemplary obit for Jan Berenstain from Emily Langer at the Washington Post (enriched, here and there, by lifts from other obits, as noted):



JAN BERENSTAIN, THE CHILDREN’S AUTHOR who with her husband created the Berenstain Bears, whose winsome antics filled more than 300 picture books and helped guide millions of young readers through the vicissitudes of childhood, died February 24 at a hospital near her home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She was 88. She had suffered a severe stroke the day before and never regained consciousness, said her son Michael Berenstain. Her husband, Stan Berenstain, died in 2005 at 82. [The Rants & Raves obit for him appears at Opus 174.]

            Few American youngsters finish elementary school without taking a walk “down a sunny dirt road deep in Bear Country” and getting to know the Berenstain’s treehouse-dwelling ursine family — hapless Papa in his overalls, wise Mama in her polka-dot dress and kerchief, and their three archetypal children. Since the release in 1962 of the first Berenstain Bears book, the series has sold about 260 million books. Those books have been translated into almost two dozen languages and have inspired television shows, amusement park rides, McDonald’s Happy Meal collectibles and animal crackers made in the bears’ images.

            Over the years, the Berenstains drew criticism for promoting long-outmoded gender roles and overly simple life lessons. But readers who love Bear Country consider it a place not unlike Mister Rogers’s neighborhood, where a fixed storytelling routine and familiar characters bring comfort to children as they seek to navigate a world that becomes ever more complicated as they grow up. In their books, the Berenstains seldom allowed the bear cubs to face more than one hurdle or affliction at a time. Over the years, they encountered a new baby, the first day of school, a trip to the dentist, bullies, stage fright, fear of the dark and jealousy — just a few episodes in the history of the Berenstain Bears family. The books reinforced the sorts of lessons most parents try to impart on their children: Dentists aren’t as scary as they may seem, bullies aren’t as strong as they look, stage fright can be surmounted.

            Bear Country morality was based largely on the Golden Rule rather than on religion. (Mrs. Berenstain was Episcopalian; her husband was Jewish.) Young readers close Berenstain Bears books having learned that life is better when you are nice to others, and also when you keep a tidy bedroom.

            Much of the wisdom contained in the Berenstain Bears books come from Mama Bear. Her relationship with Papa Bear, a sort of blundering foil, was occasionally attacked by critics. In a 1989 column in the Washington Post, columnist Charles Krauthammer called Papa Bear “the Alan Alda of Grizzlies, a wimp so passive and fumbling he makes Dagwood Bumstead look like Batman.”

            The Berenstains often said that the Berenstain Bears parents were based on themselves. When Stan Berenstain died, Mrs. Berenstain told the New York Times that her husband had no qualms about Papa Bear. “Nobody likes making a mother the fall guy,” she said. “Papa Bear has broad shoulders.”

            Janice Marian Grant was born July 26, 1923, in Philadelphia, where she met Stanley Berenstain on their first day taking an art course at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art in 1941. During their classes, they often went to the zoo and drew, among other animals, bears.

            During World War II, Stanley worked stateside as a military medical artist; Janice did drafting work for the Army Corps of Engineers and worked as a riveter on Navy seaplanes. She made their wedding rings from airplane aluminum, and the couple was married in 1946. One of their first purchases for their new home was a drawing table.

            From the beginning of their marriage, their working relationship was deeply collaborative. In the post-war years, the Berenstains became successful and prolific cartoonists. Their work regularly appeared in magazines including the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s. They began a cartoon series, All in the Family, that ran for more than three decades in magazines such as McCall’s and Good Housekeeping. In that series, as with the Berenstain Bears, they took turns writing and illustrating. (Years later, Mrs. Berenstain would complain about the tedium of drawing the “billions” of polka-dots on Mama Bear’s dresses.)

            The innocent humor of the Berenstain Bears is found in other books from the early years of their career, including How to Teach Your Children About Sex Without Making a Complete Fool of Yourself and Have a Baby, My Wife Just Had a Cigar! The creation of the bears series came in part thanks to the Berenstains’ children, who were early fans of Theodor Geisel, the author of The Cat in the Hat. The Berenstains decided that they, too, would try their hand at a children’s book based on an animal, and submitted Freddy Bear’s Spanking to the Random House publishing company. (They chose to write about bears not because their last name offered a convenient alliteration, but because bears were easy to draw. They had considered, briefly, penguins, but decided that bears were more like hmans.)

            Geisel, then a children’s editor at the publishing house, liked the concept. He edited 17 books in the Berenstain Bears series, including the first published one, The Big Honey Hunt. He also shortened the Berenstains’ names to Stan and Jan for a rhyme on the cover. Nearly everyone, including the Berenstains, was pleasantly surprised by the book’s quick success. The television shows and other spinoffs only deepened the series’ cultural penetration. (Once, CBS refused to air a television episode based on the book “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV”; PBS later produced it.)

            Survivors include two sons, Michael Berenstain, an illustrator and writer, and Leo Berenstain, a businessman, both of Bucks County and both of whom have worked on the family’s multimillion-dollar corporation Berenstain Enterprises; and four grandchildren.

            The Associated Press reported that Michael said his mother worked daily at her home studio in an idyllic part of Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, which served as inspiration for the books’ setting.

            “Every day, she was very productive,” he said. “She was working on two books and had been doing illustrations until the day before she passed away.”

            He collaborated with his mother on recent books and said he will continue writing and illustrating future Berenstain books.

            Over the years, detractors took aim at the bears’ almost impossible wholesomeness, their attire that never changed with the times, and the tepid games the children played (they included hopscotch and jacks). A Random House editor once told the Berenstains that “it’s just not that way in the real world,” the Post reported.

            “But it’s that way in Bear Country,” the Berenstains said.

            “They say jokes don’t travel well, but family humor does,” Jan Berenstain told the Associated Press in 2011. “Family values is what we’re all about.”

            At the New York Times, Paul Vitello reported that more contemporary and quasi-political issues had infiltrated the books in recent years, including bullying, the dangers of online dating, and children bringing guns to school. And in a 1994 book, New Neighbors, the Berenstain Bears confronted racism in their very midst: Papa Bear, acting standoffishly toward the new neighbors, the Asian-looking Panda family, admitted to feelings of prejudice and learned the error of his ways.

            But by most accounts the books owed their popularity to their light humor and rock-solid simplicity. “Taking care of teeth is what bears want to do,” says Sister Bear in a typical Berenstain book finale. “They brush them and floss them, and visit the dentist, too.”

            The Berenstains credited Geisel, their first editor at Random House, with helping them achieve their trademark simplicity in language and illustrations. That style made their books popular as reading primers, by helping toddlers see connections between stories and words on a page.

            “He wanted very simple, schematic illustrations with nothing in the background,” Stan Berenstain once told the Chicago Tribune. “Because the purpose of the books was to help kids tie the pictures in with the words.”

            Other nuances of the Berenstains careers are noted in the Rants & Raves review of their autobiography, Down a Sunny Dirt Road, at Ops. 106 and 107.



Sheldon Moldoff, 1920 - 2012

YOU KNEW SHELLY MOLDOFF had known Will Eisner almost all his life because he called Eisner “Bill.” Eisner’s oldest friends from his youth did that. On the second morning of the Motor City Comic-Con in 1998, May 16 (two days after Frank Sinatra died), Moldoff came up to the table in the hotel restaurant where Eisner was having breakfast, greeted him (“Hello, Bill”), and said he had a Bob Kane story to tell him. Moldoff had entered the comic book drawing business by depicting the antics of Kane’s Batman, and both he and Eisner had known Kane as long as they’d know each other.

            Kane, it seems, was a notorious cheap skate. One of his favorite tricks was to avoid paying whenever he was out double-dating with friends. When the check came, Kane would claim he’d left his money at home or didn’t bring enough with him or some similar excuse, and whoever was with him would therefore get stuck with the bill. Kane never reimbursed his victims. And both Eisner and Moldoff had been maneuvered into picking up the tab more than once when out with Kane. Moldoff began his story by reminding Eisner of Kane’s tight-fistedness and then said he’d beat him at it once. He’d dropped by Kane’s place to commiserate with him when Kane’s mother died (or maybe it was another relative), and Kane, at loose ends, suggested they have lunch together. Moldoff acquiesced, and they met soon thereafter at a nearby restaurant.

            When the check came, Kane pulled his usual dodge: saying he had no money with him, he asked if Moldoff would pay, then Kane would pay him back later. Moldoff hastily agreed, but then, patting his back pocket, he exclaimed:

            “Oh, gee—Bob, I’ve left my wallet in the car.” He got up, saying: “I’ll go get it. I’ll be right back.”

            “But I never came back,” Moldoff said, leaning conspiratorially forward to Eisner as he finished the story. They both laughed, and so did your Dutiful Reporter, whom Eisner had invited to join him for breakfast that day.



SHELDON DOUGLAS MOLDOFF, born on April 14, 1920, in Manhattan, was selling and being published in comics when he was just 17—one- and half-page fillers for Vincent Sullivan, an editor at National Periodicals (which would evolve into DC Comics). One of his one-pagers, on sports, was published as the inside back cover of Action Comics No. 1, the Superman debut comic book. “He was the last surviving person who worked on that historic comic book,” noted Mark Evanier in his Moldoff obit at newsfromme.com. Moldoff was soon hired as Bob Kane’s assistant to draw Batman, but he left almost at once to take other assignments at DC, drawing Green Lantern, the Flash, Hawkman and his own recurring character, Jon Valor, the Black Pirate. He was followed into the Kane lair by Jerry Robinson.

            “Soon,” says Kiel Phegley at comicbookresources.com, “Moldoff became one of the go-to cover artists in DC's earliest days as well as an inker and production artist that saw him riding the line between freelancer and staffer in a way that drew more work with less credit than many of his contemporaries may have had. He drew the covers to both Flash Comics No.1 and All-American Comics No.16, which featured the debuts of the Flash and Green Lantern respectively. Soon after, All American Comics publisher Max Gaines tapped Moldoff to take over the Hawkman strip wherein the artist introduced Hawkgirl to the mix—one of the first of many characters whose look he would originate or whom he'd create whole cloth.” (Evanier lists a host of “firsts” attributed to Moldoff.)

            In 1944, Moldoff was drafted into the Army where he made animated films for the Signal Corps “alongside such notables as famed New Yorker cartoonist Charles Addams and Warner animation director Charles McKimson,” said Steven Ringgenberg in his Moldoff obit at the Comics Journal website, tcj.com, one of the three best overviews of Moldoff’s career. Evanier and Tom Spurgeon at ComicsReporter.com did the other two.

            “After defining a lush, illustrative style indebted to newspaper great Alex Raymond for many years on DC's early books as both a penciler and inker,” Phelgey continues, “Moldoff went on to create his own pre-code horror comics including This Magazine Is Haunted and Strange Suspense Stories for Fawcett Comics before rejoining Batman creator Bob Kane's shop in 1953. While Kane had employed ghost artists for years to complete Batman pages for DC, Shelly swore that his former employers were often unaware of how much work he did for them on their star through the fifties and early sixties.”

            Moldoff described his relationship with Kane in an interview conducted in the late 90s at the Ashbury Park Press: "He would get the script [written by Bill Finger or any of a number of other ghost writers], give it to me, and I would lay it out, pencil it up, finish it, and give it back to him. Now, being a ghost, you don’t say anythingt to anybody. You just work for your boss and that’s it. So Bob took all the credit. It was not in his personality to give credit to anybody. And it didn't bother me as much as it bothered (Batman writer) Bill (Finger) because I accepted it, and I went into it with an open mind. He said just don't say anything, and ... all we had in those fifteen years was a handshake, that's all."

            However, Moldoff felt vindicated in 1991 when longtime D.C. editor Julius Schwartz praised Moldoff's work on Batman, saying: "All those years I was buying artwork from Bob Kane, I was buying it from Shelly Moldoff."

            “During his tenure signing Kane's name to his work,” Phegley continued, “the artist co-created a number of characters and concepts including Bat-Girl, Poison Ivy, Mister Freeze and Ace the Bathound as well as pencilling memorably zany stories involving things like Zebra Batman and the Mermaid Batman.”

            Phegley concludes: “By 1967, Moldoff was pushed out of DC as the style popularized by Kane's shop was set aside in favor of a more modern feel. The artist continued to work with the Batman creator on animation projects including ‘Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse’ on top of other animation and commercial art work. He also continued to do some limited comics work, drawing giveaway promotional comics for the likes of Big Boy and Red Lobster restaurants before being rediscovered by the fan community at comic conventions in the 1970s where he remained a presence for the rest of his life,” producing recreations of his DC cover art and selling the originals and signing autographs.

            “Even though he caught a number of bad breaks throughout his career,” Ringgenberg said, referring to post-WWII pick-up jobs and his loss of the Batman gig, “Moldoff liked to say that he never went a day without work, even at times when other cartoonists were literally starving.By all accounts, Moldoff's retirement was a happy one. He sold a considerable number of his superhero watercolors and basked in the adulation of Golden Age comics fans.”

             "When they treat you with respect,” he said, quoted by Ethan Minovitz at bddb.com, “there is a certain amount of satisfaction. I've done something that I have dedicated my whole life to, and it was appreciated by a lot of people."
            Ringgenberg concluded: “In 2000, he did his last work for his old publisher, DC Comics, in the World's Funniest one-shot. He continued making convention appearances throughout the 2000s even though he was on dialysis and confined to a wheelchair. The indomitable Moldoff had been scheduled to appear at Mega-Con in Florida, but he was paralyzed by a stroke in December of 2011 and his health continued to decline until his death on February 29.”




The Thing of It Is ...

NOW FIRMLY IN THE GRIP of the Presidential Campaign and all its mounting nastiness, it’s a good time to share remarks made lately by Colorado College professor Tom Cronin, who said: “This is America’s 57th presidential election. That’s remarkable. No nation has that record. We’ve never postponed one. We’ve never delayed it. We’ve peacefully transferred power 21 times from one party or another. We need as a country to occasionally celebrate the fact that we’re able to pull of these elections. ... It’s a remarkable success.” Hear hear.



The Denver Post on Sunday March 25 ran an editorial about the dearth of conservatives among the professoriat at the University of Colorado and throughout American higher education, but the editorial writer missed the joke in his own profundities. In order to get the joke, we need to connect the dots. If, as the 2005 study indicated, liberal professors outnumber conservatives, it can mean only, simply, that highly educated people tend to be liberal. Knowledge = liberality. Now for the punchline: Rick Santorum opposes universal college education because he knows colleges will graduate people who have acquired sufficient knowledge to become liberal thereby increasing the number of liberals (knowledgeable, thinking persons) until they vastly outnumber knee-jerk, unthinking conservatives, whom Santorum evidently prefers to keep as unknowlegeable (not to say “ignorant”) (well, why not? —ignorant) as possible.



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