Opus 304 (January 17, 2013). It is with sadness and acrimony that we note the death of the Comics Buyer’s Guide: after 42 years of banding fandom together, it falls victim to the machinations of yet another private equity firm. By way of commemorating CBG’s considerable accomplishments, we review its history, warts and all, starting with ruthless Alan Light, the founder, and carrying on through the professional years of Don and Maggie Thompson. We also ponder another death, the peculiar expiration of Spider-Man, and we offer a fool-proof solution to the gun violence epidemic in the U.S., after glimpsing editoons on the subject (and on the perils of the fiscal cliff). And we do short reviews of Black Kiss II, Hawkeye, Comeback, Foster, Black Beetle and All-New X-Men. Here’s what’s here, by department, in order—:
NOUS R US
Comics Buyer’s Guide Ends*
(Sales Boosting Dodges)
Stan Is 90
Name Dropping & Tale Bearing
Graphic Novels in Schools
Shel Dorf in Unmarked Grave
Skippy and Spam
* HISTORY OF TBG/CBG
Alan Light and the Thompsons
Guns and the Cliff
Editorial: The Happy Harv’s All-Time Solution
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL
Tarzan’s 100 and a New Tarzan Book
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
Short Reviews of—
Black Kiss II
UNDER THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
Congressional Retirement Pay Exposed
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—:
NOUS R US
Some of All the News That Gives Us Fits
Comics Buyer’s Guide Falls Off the Edge
Can’t say we didn’t see the scrawl on the wall for this. The shrinking page count over the last couple years was ample indication of the venerable fanzine’s growing financial embarrassment. And last summer, CBG, for the first time in my memory, didn’t have a booth at the San Diego Comic-Con. It was, I thought, only a matter of time. Then on January 9, CBG editor Brent Frankenhoff posted the bad news for Krause Publications, the magazine’s publisher: after 42 years, CBG will cease with the March 2013 issue. It’s No.1699. When CBG reached No. 600 in May 1985, Don and Maggie Thompson, the editors at the time, took note: “In the comic-book field, there isn’t another publication that has made it to 600 issues.” Too bad, now, that Krause (or the private equity firm that owns CBG and Krause; no, not Bain) couldn’t have held off just one more issue to establish the publication’s record in a nicely rounded number, 1700.
But the decision to kill the longest-running magazine in comics fandom was made after No.1699 had gone to press. It was kaput, and that was that. No more discussion. It’s done.
The last issue is thus denied the possibility of dying with dignity. The issue contains no sentimental farewells by staff members, no round-ups of achievement to marvel at. Nothing.
Cause of death? In the realm of print, it’s the same old story: diminishing advertising revenues coupled to the competition of free content on the Web made CBG increasingly irrelevant and financially unrewarding for the publisher. Said David Blansfield, president of the parent company: “We continuously evaluate our portfolio and analyze our content strategy to determine how well we are meeting consumer and Company goals. We take into consideration the marketplace we serve and the opportunities available for each of our magazine titles. After much analysis and deliberation, we have determined to cease publication of Comics Buyer’s Guide.”
Translation: “We’re not making the kind of money we used to make, and we want to make even more money than we used to.” That’s how you keep a private equity firm at bay: make more money.
Current subscribers to the magazine will receive a one-for-one conversion to CBG sister publication Antique Trader: a biweekly that has served the antiques and collectibles community since 1957. Right: we’re all going to give up collecting comics and start collecting antiques. The www.CBGXtra.com site and its Facebook page will exist as an archived resource administered by Antique Trader.
At his website, newsfromme.com, Mark Evanier expressed the feelings of many who had grown up and into comics fandom with CBG: “I go way back with the publication, back to when it started as The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom, published by Alan Light in February, 1971. My then-partner Steve Sherman and I were, I believe, its first columnists. We did one in the fourth issue but never followed-up on it. I then became a columnist for them 23 years later. ... When Alan ran it, the newspaper was a fine place to read ads and a few good articles but not much more than that. Still, at that price — free for the first years of its existence, darned cheap thereafter — it was a must-get for most of us in and around comics.
“In 1983, he sold it to Krause Publications, a firm which specialized in hobby-oriented material. Don and Maggie Thompson were hired to run it and the publication was quickly revamped into the central nervous system of the comic book field with timely news, opinions, articles on comic book history—and lots of ads. The ads never interested me much but I found other things to enjoy—and in every issue.
“Since the Internet flourished,” Evanier went on, “we’ve watched CBG shrink like Ray Palmer after a gastric bypass. I hardly know what to say about its termination except that this does not come as a surprise. I’ll miss it—but then I’ve missed it the last few years as each issue arrives with fewer pages than the one before. It was a great thing in its day and I’m sorry that day is over.”
But these few cryptic paragraphs scarcely tell the story.
Writing to celebrate 40 years of CBG’s publication in June 2011 with No.1678, columnist Michelle Nolan comes close by remembering that when TBG/CBG began, “there was no Internet, no eBay, and no Heritage auctions. There was only CBG if you wanted to read about comics, to write about comics, and to buy inexpensive issues. And that was true for many years.”
Cartoonist and life-long comics fan Jim Engel comes even closer, when he begins his Facebook reaction to the announcement of the end of CBG by saying: “TBG/CBG was for me (as I'm sure it was for many of you) a true institution in my life, for a long time. I think my subscription began with the 5th or 6th issue, and it was a much-anticipated highlight of my week every week.”
I quote all of Jim’s remarks later, down the scroll, on the other side of the $ubscribers Wall, where we have room to mark the passing of this landmark fanzine properly.
ANOTHER SUPERHERO, ANOTHER DEATH
Spider-Man is celebrating his 50th anniversary this year by dying. Some party. At wired.com, Laura Hudson reports, somewhat bitterly, that “five years after the webslinging superhero was forced to retroactively erase his marriage to Mary Jane in a desperate deal with the devil (true story), things are about to get even worse for Peter Parker in Amazing Spider-Man No. 700, a issue so controversial that it inspired numerous death threats against the book's long-time writer Dan Slott. So what could happen to Spidey that would make his satanic retroactive divorce look tame in comparison?”
Easy: he dies. Humberto Ramos draws the death issue.
Says Hudson: “Supervillain Doctor Octopus secretly takes over Spidey’s body to become the new Spider-Man. After a climactic confrontation where Peter Parker forcibly transfers his memories — and apparently, his morality — into the mind of his body-stealing enemy to make him a better man, the physical form of Doctor Octopus expires, taking Peter with it. Reborn as a hero, but still somehow a pompous jerk, Doc Ock declares that he will become a superior Spider-Man, a turn of phrase that segues neatly into the January launch of the comic book Superior Spider-Man, starring Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man.”
Readers, naturally, were outraged. Foaming at the mouth outraged. And the Internet gives them a worldwide, cosmos-spanning place to air their fury. “In Slott's case,” Hudson writes, “this meant a long series of Twitter death threats where readers actually tagged the writer in their tweets.
"Did I know fans were gonna be passionate about this? Sure," Slott told Hudson. "When we started dropping hints about what was coming up in Amazing Spider-Man No. 700, I was the first to make the jokes that when the issue came out I was going to have to pull a ‘Salman Rushdie.' But let's be honest about this. Comic fans have always been this passionate. They just haven't always had a place to put their knee-jerk reactions that was as instantaneous as the Internet."
Slott says the story has been in the works for 100 issues, eight years, and it represents a concept that is startling: “At their core, Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus are not truly that different.”
Said Slott: "[Doctor Octopus] is the bespectacled nerd caught in an radioactive mishap that made him an analog of an eight-legged creature. Sound familiar?" asked Slott. "When we first met Otto Octavius, he was just like Peter Parker at the start of [his debut in] Amazing Fantasy No.15. The difference is, [Octavius] was older, set in his ways, he never had someone like Uncle Ben in his life and he [never] learned the lesson of ‘great power and responsibility.' Now that Peter Parker has set him on the right path, this is his second chance."
The new title presents “a reversal of expectations that fundamentally changes the relationship between the reader and the hero,” Hudson said. “In the traditional Spider-Man stories, Spidey was forever on the run from policemen and angry, mustachioed journalists who thought he was a menace, while readers cheered him from the sidelines because they knew he was actually a hero.”
"Now all of that is flipped," said Slott. "The people, police, and Avengers see him as a hero. They think they know the whole story. And the readers think he's an undeserving menace. The readers are now J. Jonah Jameson! That makes this Spider-Man the most meta Spider-Man of them all! If he can win over the audience by becoming a hero in their eyes, that will truly be an astounding feat!"
Well, sure. But Slott’s world-altering rant notwithstanding, superheroes die every other month or so, but their deaths are never permanent. Captain America died, Superman died, Batman died, the Human Torch died—but all these deaths were subsequently reversed. So we can expect Spider-Man to reclaim his body from Doc Ock someday. That’s because superhero worlds are worlds of myth, Hudson points out:
“They're worlds of enduring myths that are often elastic enough to stretch into temporary new configurations, but always seem to contract back into their original shapes. The point of stories where prominent characters die isn't that they die (they don't), but the potential for innovation that those temporary absences offer, and whatever the writers and artists manage to do with it.”
DEATH! SEX! The Comic Book Sales Bump. At businessweek.com, Eric Spitznagel focused on the business implications of Spider-Man’s demise: “In comic book publishing, the decision to kill off a long-running and beloved character may seem, at first glance, like a terribly unwise business move. But when Marvel Comics released its latest issue of Amazing Spider-Man—No.700, which ends with Peter Parker, the webbed crusader's alter ego, getting murdered—the issue began flying off the shelves.”
And Spitznagel goes on to quote Axel Alonso, the editor in chief at Marvel Comics: "The sales are phenomenal. Amazing Spider-Man No.700 has sold nearly 250,000 copies in print alone; final digital orders aren't in yet. This is the best-selling comic book at this price-point of the last decade, at least."
But Marvel is scarcely plowing new ground with the ploy, Spitznagle says. Killing off major characters—usually title characters—has become “a common practice,” he notes, “which gained attention in the 1970s but reached new heights in the early 1990s, when DC Comics destroyed its most famous character, Superman, in a publishing event that fueled sales across the world.”
He goes on to list four of “the most surefire, lucrative, and reliably controversial methods that comic book creators use to gain readership and boost the bottom line.”
Embrace alternative lifestyles: funnybooks’ casts more and more include gay characters like Marvel’s X-Man Northstar, DC’s Batwoman, and Archie’s Kevin Kelly.
Court ethnicity: African American mostly, but also Latino, Italian and Jewish. When, in August 2011, another new Spider-Man showed up in spider-duds, it was Miles Morales, half African American, half Latino, a development that inspired one of the nation’s most visible bigots to utter another of his transparently racist comments: Glen Beck discussed the bi-racial Spider-Man on his radio show, saying: "The new Spider-Man looks just like president Obama. I think a lot of this stuff is being done intentionally." No, Glen: it’s an accident.
Sex it up: Spitznagle thinks superheroes/heroines wear tight NSFW costumes in order to advertise their sexuality (but it’s really because, originally, the artists liked figure-drawing), but lately the characters are slipping out of uniform for coital exploits, he goes on to say, pointing to Catwoman’s “violent sex” with Batman in the New 52's first issue of her title. At Dark Horse, sex led to pregnancy and abortion. More sales boosting excitement.
Kill your icons: since Peter Parker’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy died in the early 1970s, comic book characters have been dropping like fruit flies, their demises “usually followed by a tsunami-size media response and a comic-buying frenzy,” Spitznagle says, quoting Brandon Zuern, store manager of Austin Books & Comics in Austin, Texas: “As far as what kind of controversy equates to biggest sales, it's always been and always will be the death of a major character. I think death in comics is way overused, but people keep buying them." The best part of killing an iconic character is that the fans do most of the work for you.
And then comes the fun of resurrecting the dead guy/gal, which is almost always accomplished with as outrageously improbable a plot clank as possible. One can weary of it—as did three editorial cartoonists when Superman died.
STAN IS 90
Stan Lee passed his milestone ninetieth birthday on December 28, and Michael Cavna at Washington Post’s ComicRiffs blog asked the living legend how it feels to be a nonagenarian. To which Stan reposited: "One bit of philosophy I made up some time ago—it’s a bit of a paradox: everyone wants to live to a ripe old age — but no one wants to be old!"
Lee had pacemaker surgery last fall, but, said Cavna, “Lee defies a sense of seeming ‘old,’ forever moving like a human torch of kinetic energy.” When he came back from the hospital, Lee wrote: “In an effort to be more like my fellow Avenger, Tony Stark, I have had an electronic pace-maker placed near my heart to insure that I'll be able to lead thee for another 90 years!"
In a more reflective moment, Lee remembers the 1961 debut of the Fantastic Four, calling it "the turning point of my life."
NAME DROPPING & TALE BEARING
In a Chicago highschool honors class, sophomores are analyzing Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood by contrasting it to the graphic novel, Capote in Kansas, by Ande Parks and Chris Samnee. The Chicago Tribune’s Diane Rado says educators’ acceptance of the graphic novel “illustrates how far the controversial comic-strip novels have come. ... Once aimed at helping struggling readers, English language learners and disabled students, [comic books—] graphic novels—are moving into honors and college-level Advanced Placement classrooms and attracting students at all levels. There's no data on precisely how many schools nationwide use graphic novels. But no one disputes that in other markets the popularity of the comic-style books — adapted to classic literature, biographies, science, math and other subjects — is on the rise.”
Jacques Tardi, one of France's most famous cartoonists, has turned down the country's highest civilian honor. On January 1, he was named among other recipients of the Legion d’honneur, but he refused it. Quoted at bbc.co.uk, Tardi explained: "Being fiercely attached to my freedom of thought and creativity, I do not want to receive anything, neither from this government or from any other political power whatsoever. I am therefore refusing this medal with the greatest determination." Tardi, who created the Adele Blanc-Sec series and graphic novels about the horrors of World Wars I and II (inspired by the experiences of his grandfather and father), said he had always ridiculed institutions.
From Rich Johnston at bleedingcool.com: Shel Dorf basically founded the San Diego Comic-Con, now a massive media event, bringing in billions of dollars. Dying in 2009, he is buried in an unmarked grave in Home of Peace Cemetery. During the Detroit Fanfare convention, which hosts the Shel Dorf Awards, one group began raising money for a gravestone to commemorate the life of the man. They are looking to raise $2,200 for a stone the size of his parents’ gravestones, next to whom he is buried. It’s very possible that a reader of this website [bleedingcool.com] might be able to fund the whole thing. Or maybe just help with a few dollars. You can contact Jill Smethers for more at email@example.com
Although I like peanut butter (the crunchier, the better), I haven’t bought Skippy peanut butter for years. I’m boycotting it because the original brewer of the spread stole the name from Percy Crosby’s famous comic strip about an energetic 7-8 year old boy named (right) Skippy. Crosby’s Skippy was enormously popular, so the peanut people thought it would help sell their confection. They even stole the wood board fence that served as a logo in Crosby’s strip and slapped it on the peanut butter jar for a label. Crosby never gave them permission to use the name; nor did they ever compensate him for it. His daughter, Joan, has been waging a battle against the Giant Nut Corp for decades. (For chapter and verse on this heist, visit Harv’s Hindsight for April 2004 where the whole sordid history is painfully reviewed.)
Today, bad news arrived here at the Rancid Raves compound, brought by the venerable Associated Press. I’ve been an enthusiastic user of Spam, the tinned meat concoction, for generations. For years, it was my daily sandwich. (The flavor was just nondescript enough that it never disappointed.) Now—tragic!—I read that the maker of Spam, Hormel, has bought Skippy. The idea is to “increase Hormel’s presence” in supermarkets and in China. Skippy is the leading peanut butter brand in China, where Hormel is trying to build up its Spam biz for years. Skippy will no doubt help.
In this country, Skippy is offered in 11 varieties and has about 17 percent of the market. The market leader is Smucker’s Jif (which I buy) with 37 percent.
So now that Hormel is an accomplice in the Skippy theft, must I give up Spam?
Below (or somewhere hereabouts) is the first Skippy cartoon. He started as a single-page feature in the old Life humor magazine, and the page reproduced here is “Skippy, No.1,” which appeared in the issue for March 22, 1923. Click on the image, then if you can’t read it, click on Page, then Zoom, then 150%.
Fascinating Footnit. For even more comics news, consult these four other sites: Mark Evanier’s povonline.com, Alan Gardner’s DailyCartoonist.com, Tom Spurgeon’s comicsreporter.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.
WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR IDEAS?
Quoted in The Lost Art of Zim, famed cartoonist W.A. Rogers responded to the question of where he got his ideas: “They might as well ask of a farmer, ‘Where did you get all that corn?’ The farmer could tell you that he planted it and broke his back hoeing it; otherwise, the crop would fail. The cartoonist plants his garden with carefully selected facts. No matter how dry these little seeds may seem, he knows that with proper cultivation they will produce a crop later on. There lies the whole secret of a cartoonist’s bag of tricks laid bare.”
In the same vein in the same book, here’s another early twentieth century cartooner, Saturday Evening Post’s Herbert Johnson: “Cartoon ideas come to me as the result of deliberate cerebrations and constructions. When I am absolutely up against it, the editor sometimes gives me an article to illustrate, an editorial to read, or suggests something which helps. This is rare, however, A cartoonist is expected to hit ’em out. The editor may tell him when to bunt, but doesn’t bat for him.”
Finally, there’s me: Where do I get my ideas? Schnectedy. (Dunno where I heard that, but I’ve always liked it as an idea whose time has come.)
BIDDING TBG/CBG A FOND ADIEU
I SAW MY FIRST copy of The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom in about 1972. I must’ve sent off for a sample copy. I’d run across a few issues of the Menomonee Falls Gazette, the memorable weekly newspaper reprinting adventure comic strips published by Mike Tiefenbacher and Jerry Sinkovec, in a bookstore in the scruffier section of Hennipen Avenue in Minneapolis in the spring of 1972, and MFG led me, as I recall (however shakily), to TBG, “The Buyer’s Guide,” as the publication’s title was abbreviated and then abstracted in the common parlance of the day, incorporating into the initialized acronym even the definite article (“The”) that was part of the title. An awkward but rigidly followed practice in fandom.
TBG had been functioning for only little more than a year. It had been launched by a 17-year-old kid in East Moline, Illinois. Alan Light was producing fanzines, Comic Cavalier and All-Dynamic, but wanted to do a newspaper for comics fans. When Mark Hanerfeld had been unable to continue The Comic Reader, which listed forthcoming funnybooks and their content—which was about all the “news” comics fans wanted at the time—Light hoped to take it on, says Bill Schelly in his Golden Age of Comic Fandom, but “Paul Levitz was publishing Et Cetera, very much in the TCR mold, and Light could not get access to news of the pros. ... A rebuffed Light decided to publish an adzine called The Buyer’s Guide for Comic Fandom,” mimicking the title of a local free shopper called The Big River Buyer’s Guide. “For Comic Fandom” was printed in much smaller type. The publication’s name on its cover was the only thing set in type.
Like almost all fan publications of the day, TBG was typewritten, not typeset. But it was printed not mimeographed. Almost by necessity, economic necessity—in time as well as money. Light solicited ads, which arrived on 8.5x11-inch sheets of paper; old and new comic books were listed for sale, the lists handwritten or typed. Light took these sheets as he got them and pasted four together to form pages measuring 17x22 inches. These, he took to a printer, who reduced Light’s paste-ups to fit an 11x17-inch page, then printed them two-up on sheets of 22x17-inch newsprint. The result, an unholy hodge-podge of cramped handwritten and typo-laden typewriter type “quarter page” ads, was sometimes painfully difficult to read. One advertiser as late as the spring of 1976 headlined his ad: “Squint and Save!”
Whatever its faults, TBG became the most successful fan publication of the era.
The interior was a mess, visually speaking, but handsome cover artwork was supplied by accomplished fan artists, even pros. The 22x17-inch publication was folded twice: first, to make a tabloid-size paper; then again for a convenient mailing-size, with the cover printed on one of the two visible outside pages.
Light recruited his whole family—mother, father, sister and grandmother—to help him wet and stick mailing labels on the first issue, 3,000 copies, which were mailed out February 1, 1971. Light had bought a two-page ad in G.B. Love’s Rocket’s Blast-Comic Collector, then fandom’s premiere publication; the TBG ad appeared in No.76, December 1970. Light wasn’t sure when he sent the ad off if Love would accept and publish it: RBCC ran ads as well as articles, and TBG was an obvious competitor that, if successful, would take business away from Love.
And it did. Three years later, in 1974, Love found himself with a dwindling income and sold RBCC to his assistant, Jim Van Hise. Van Hise took over with No.113 and published the magazine every six weeks or so until he moved to California whereupon the publication schedule flagged; the last issue, No.151 limping into the mail in October 1980.
Light’s TBG was initially distributed fee to anyone who asked to be put on the mailing list, and its ad rates, Light claimed, were the lowest in comics fandom. In the ad in RBCC, Light even audaciously compared his $16 full-page rate to RBCC’s $15, emphasizing that TBG would more readers than RBCC—5,000 vs. 2,000. But most of Light’s 5,000 were fictitious as his first print run indicated.
Light had started TBG in an auspicious year. In 1971, the comic book industry was having growing pains. The reviled Comics Code was modified for the first time since its adoption in 1954 to reflect changing mores and fashions; more daring stories (and pictures) resulted, attracting and holding older readers. Marvel and DC had raised cover prices from 12 cents to 15 cents in 1969, then jumped to 25 cents in 1971, dropping back to 20 cents almost at once—but increasing page counts. More comic for your money. Jack Kirby left Marvel for DC in 1970, but it wasn’t until 1971 that his New Gods and Forever People titles started, creating an entirely new kind of fiction for comics. Marvel began publishing black-and-white “magazine” comic books in May. DC changed publishers in 1971, installing an artist in the job—Carmine Infantino, whose influence brought new talent into the company and inaugurated much experimentation.
Fandom was in full swing. Shel Dorf and a cadre of young friends launched the San Diego Comic-Con in 1971: first with a trial balloon, one-day event on March 21; then the first three-day Con, August 1-3, at the U.S. Grant Hotel downtown. And Robert Overstreet published the first of his Comic Book Price Guide in 1971, and that codified pricing—and selling.
TBG, the new adzine on the block, walked right into an enormously lucrative opportunity—a burgeoning marketplace for selling old and new funnybooks. TBG circulation passed 4,000 in early 1972, and that summer, Light went from monthly to bi-weekly with No.18, August 1, 1972. Three years later, TBG started weekly publication with No.87, July 18, 1975. Circulation would hit 10,000 in 1977.
IN 1972 WITH NO.26 (December 1), Light started charging a subscription fee ($2 for 23 issues), disregarding his initial pitch, “free for life”; and he added editorial content to TBG to satisfy the Postal Service’s requirement that in order to enjoying cheap second class postal rates, only 75% of the publication’s content could be advertising. Light’s assistant Murray Bishoff started his column, Now What, joining Don and Maggie Thompson as content providers. Their Beautiful Balloons had started with No.19 (August 15), the second issue of the bi-weekly TBG. Cat Yronwode took over Bishoff’s column with No.329 (March 7, 1980), renaming it Fit to Print and turning Bishoff’s breathless gossipy enterprise it into a lively, informative newsy feature.
Bishoff’s seat-of-the-pants journalism once resulted in DC instructing its staff not to talk to him “except in the case of emergency.” His column was full of noisome unenlightened opinion, frantic “stop the presses” rumor, and labored self-justification. And news. Some news made it through the fog of balderdash and bluster. Here are some samples of Bishoff’s journalistic panache:
“With both Roy Thomas and Jack Kirby in California now, much of the comic industry’s nerve center has shafted from the East coast.”
“Here I am, a little late this month because we had a death in the family, and I was forced to leave town for a week at a most inopportune time for this column. However, I shall make it up to you here and in the next issues.” Clearly, a death in the family was not as important to Bishoff as his monthly column of trivia and insignifica.
“The big news this month,” he trumpets, “—Charlton has not folded! ... I have printed these rumors to give you all the information, right or wrong, as it has surfaced.”
But he could get serious. He could get angry. F’instance—:
“As you know, once a month I sit down at my desk, take the conversations, articles, and notes I have gathered and assemble them into this column. In this sense, I fancy myself as a journalist. I know more than most fanzine writers that journalism demands certain responsibilities, which brings us to the case of the Hollywood Star. [The Star was a screaming supermarket tabloid, and Murray was taking issue with its front page story that Walt Disney was homosexual, to which he objected as a matter of bad taste and bad journalism.] Written by the man to ‘whom it happened,’ the editor of the paper, and certified by a sworn notarized statement. ... The subject of homosexuality raises a lot of furor nowadays. No type of prejudice in our society surpasses the antagonism felt toward homosexuals. ... I have no use for such slander, nor for a person who would brandish such a label on a headline for cheap sensationalism in hopes of making another dollar. Sometimes, I am glad organizations like Walt Disney Productions have an army of lawyers.”
In the same spirit of outraged sensibility, Murray pondered that celebrated sequence in Doonesbury wherein Joanie goes to bed with Rick. Sez Murray:
“The problem of artistic freedom comes down to a series of basic questions. Why does Doonesbury exist? To entertain? Whom does it entertain, and at what cost? Is it worth offending some readers to reach others or to challenge tradition in the name of innovation and irreverence? In some cases, yes. Mr. Trudeau’s use of homosexuals, simply to show that people are still human beings despite their sexual outlook, deserves great praise. [As for Joanie’s romp with Rick,] does Mr. Trudeau have the freedom to do this in the name of realism, or should he restrain himself because pre- or extra-marital sex tears at the fiber of our society’s value structure? ... I feel the newspapers should not censor Doonesbury, for [that would] keep us from knowing the facts. If Mr. Trudeau wants to shock me, let him. If he wants to risk offending me, he can suffer the consequences if I decide not to read him anymore.”
But Murray “Weird Hat” Bishoff comes down in the right side of the issue: if an editor is offended, he should say so—or drop the strip. But if the editor continues to subscribe to the strip, he should let it run as Trudeau has intended. (Bishoff was often pictured in photographs that decorated the heading of his column, and in many of them, he wore a funny hat.)
Light’s TBG was a grand pulsating parade, firing off in every direction exploding fireworks of news, pseudo-news, and speculation and opinion. And it made the drum major a wealthy mogul.
By 1976, Light was reportedly operating a business earning a quarter million a year and pulling a salary of $1,000 a week. And then he ran into a little speed bump.
GARY GROTH ACQUIRED AN ADZINE called The Nostalgia Journal, and in his first issue, No.27 (August 1976), he discussed Light’s ruthless operating practices, designed to force all competition out of business, making TBG a ruling monopoly in the adzine business.
“Light has brought to comics fandom the essence of what is wrong in the world of high finance and corporate America,” Groth began. “American business is, in some ways, akin to a pool of piranha, devouring anyone or anything that gets in its way. If expansion and profit maximization mean stomping whatever gets in the way or rolling over opponents like a juggernaut, then that is perfectly all right. Corporate abuses are many and varied, in and out of the consumer spectrum: stock raids, swindles, manipulations, unfair influence, intimidation, falsification. It’s a world coming closer and closer to merging with our own microcosm of comics fandom.”
To illustrate, Groth detailed several of Light’s past efforts to crush competition, including Light’s refusal to accept advertising from fanzines that rivaled TBG. One such was Groth’s. (Light had clearly learned from Love’s RBCC experience.) Light also cancelled without refund subscriptions of people he regarded as “annoyances.” One such was Groth’s.
Groth quoted from Light’s letters to the former owners of TNJ. To eliminate the competition, Light offered to buy TNJ, but his offers were usually cloaked in threatening language: if you don’t agree to my terms, I’ll force you out of business.
Then Groth described a series of mysterious postcards sent to TNJ advertisers, telling them that the zine was going out of business. These missives, ostensibly from Gordon Bailey, TNJ’s editor, advised advertisers: “Please do not send us any future advertising. We will refund on your account soon if necessary.”
But it wasn’t Bailey who sent the cards. And TNJ was not going out of business. Groth strenuously implied that Light sent the postcards and cited a letter that Light wrote to Bailey, apologizing for his strong-arm tactics in trying to buy the zine and for “anything and everything I’ve done.” Light also promised to reform.
Groth didn’t believe Light, interpreting his mea culpa letter as an attempt to persuade Groth not to run the revelatory article that Groth subsequently published. Groth eventually morphed TNJ out of the adzine mold and into the frankly journalistic Comics Journal, a magazine of news and reviews and interviews.
(Remember, by the way—although probably not at all incidentally—that I have written for Groth’s Comics Journal for over 30 years, and Fantagraphics published my definitive biography of Milton Caniff, Meanwhile. And my feelings about Light are not pure and unvarnished: he doctored the only drawing I ever submitted for the cover. He published it, but he’d changed it—subtly, as you can see in Harv’s Hindsight for August 2011, “Zero Hero”; but change is change. So I’m scarcely an unbiased observer here, but Groth’s revelations about Light are fully documented. And he was never sued for liable or slander.)
Groth concluded his expose by pointing out that Light’s business practices ill-served fandom. TBG was fandom’s most widely read publication, and by shutting out the competition, Light kept his readership ignorant of other news and opinions. “Keeping an audience ignorant and in the dark is, to my mind, a supremely irresponsible and downright harmful technique of manipulation. Widespread ignorance of issues and alternatives have helped political hacks gain public office in this country for years, and consumer ignorance is just as large a problem.”
BUT GROTH’S REPORTAGE was only a speed bump for Light; and like any speed bump, it barely slowed him down. A little, maybe. The expose attracted attention to TNJ, making it visible enough to survive. But Light continued to operate TBG, although perhaps a little less high-handedly, and TBG continued to dominate the adzine field in comics fandom.
Then in 1983, Light sold TBG to Krause Publications of Iola, Wisconsin for enough money, doubtless, to commence living a life of ease ever after. In his final issue, No.481 (February 4), he thanked his parents, Lavon and Jerome, who “never questioned my sanity when I told the I wanted to quit college and publish a paper about comic books of all things.”
Light banked his bundle and took off for Hollywood, where, as far as I know, he has lived ever since, working once a year as a “seat filler” during the Academy Award ceremonies. (He and numerous others of the same persuasion occupy the seats of actors, directors and the like when these dignitaries leave their seats to collect awards or go to the bar or to the bathroom. Seat fillers enable tv cameras to sweep the audience, showing an auditorium full, nary an empty seat in sight, so as far as the tv audience is concerned, seating for the ceremony is at capacity.)
Krause, which specialized in publishing hobby-oriented periodicals, hired the Thompsons to edit TBG with No.482 (February 11, 1983), and, taking advantage of Don’s experience as a reporter and editor on the Cleveland Press, the erstwhile adzine became a true newspaper, tabloid format: instead of a cover, it had a front page that published newsstories, not fan art. All the text throughout the paper was set in type, even the ads—which inspired criticism from one reader, who complained that he could no longer tell which sellers were idiots by the appearance of their ads.
As a hobby- and collector-conscious publisher, Krause changed slightly the name of Light’s publication to emphasize its purpose, adding “Comics” to the title, and so The Buyer’s Guide became The Comics Buyer’s Guide, and TBG morphed into CBG. In devising the publication’s new logo, the words of its title were superimposed upon a speech balloon. Beautiful.
And so we entered what I think of as the heyday of CBG. With a professional journalist at the helm and typography throughout, CBG looked and behaved like a grown-up newspaper. New columnists showed up—Tony Isabella, Heidi MacDonald, Bob Ingersoll, Peter David, Mark Evanier. The paper reported industry news, including censorship cases and similarly alarming events. And Don reviewed comic books with a flair for the turned phrase and an eye for idiocy as well as excellence.
CBG was undeniably better journalism, but it was not as much fun as TBG. Light’s TBG was not unalloyed terrible. Apart from its nightmare appearance, it was full of news and comment and fan art of stunningly varied degrees of incompetence. TBG jammed its 25% news hole with clippings culled from newspapers and magazines, mostly, pasted onto pages, interspersed with typewritten items and articles supplied by off-again-on-again correspondents.
Columnists came and went. David Scroggy did a regular report, West Coast News and Reviews. Martin Greim, also a fan artist of modest distinction, produced Crusader Comments. In Media Reports, David McDonnell reviewed tv, movies and comics. Shel Dorf interviewed famous cartoonists. For a brief time, Don Rosa opened an “annex” to his Information Center, which was, still, at that time, a regular feature at RBCC; but loyalty to Love and Van Hise presumably prevailed, and Rosa soon closed the annex.
The big news and information department was the Thompson’s Beautiful Balloons. The column logo was different every time: the column often ran for several pages, and a new fan-drawn logo appeared at the top of each page. The BB pages frothed with newspaper and magazine clippings as well as typewritten lists and reviews. And letters. BB had its own letters department.
THANKS TO ITS ENTHUSIASTIC COLUMNISTS and contributors, TBG was a flowing fountain of information about cartooning, a constantly bubbling watering hole for all of fandom, a hitching post where we all tied up once a week. The pages and pages of ads selling old comic books and new attracted some, but others of us read the columnists.
In Crusader Comments, Greim interviewed Lee Falk, creator and scripter for Mandrake and The Phantom. Among the things he learned: Falk designed the Phantom’s costume, but did not specify color. He thought that if he had made the decision, he would have colored it green to blend with the jungle foliage and provide camouflage.
Falk always wanted to have Mandrake and the Phantom meet, if only to shake hands; but the syndicate nixed it: in some cities, the strips appear in rival papers.
On another occasion, Greim’s Crusader Comments column was devoted to Bob Cosgrove’s report on a meeting with Frank Thorne, who had just started drawing Roy Thomas’ Red Sonja. Asked why he left DC, Thorne said that much as he respected Joe Kubert and enjoyed working for him, he got tired of hearing how much his style looked like Kurbert’s. Said Thorne: “Neither Joe nor I can see the resemblance.”
Funny. I once placed Thorne in the “Sickels/Caniff school” of cartoon art, but when I asked Thorne about it, he said he worshiped at the alter of Alex Raymond.
More from Cosgrove:
“Frank expressed pleasure at working for Marvel, and admiration for writer Roy Thomas. He added that Red Sonja has brought him an upsurge in fan mail, from several letters a year to several letters a week; though he reads all his mail, this also means further demands on Frank’s time. Interestingly, when Frank first drew Sonja, he was given only the Howie Chaykin version as a guide, and that explains the large lips on the first Frank Thorne Sonja effort.”
Light also published letters in TBG Mailbag. Here’s a memorable one from Joe Kubert:
“Dear Alan: A personal ‘thank you’ for your great columns describing the formation of my school. The school’s successful opening is a direct result of the fans who read The Buyer’s Guide. For years, I’ve known they were ‘out there’ —but not until now did I realize the heavy numbers, or the tremendous warmth that’s generated by them. I hope you feel some personal satisfaction for being implemental in the schools creation. You should.”
And here’s a sampling of the art that festooned TBG’s pages. In no particular order, just as TBG itself was assembled.
BACK AT KRAUSE, for the next dozen years, CBG’s evolution all but ceased. Until 1992. In 1991, a formidable competitor appeared: Wizard was published on glossy paper and focused on comic books and movies and interviews; it was monthly, but every issue included a price guide. CBG modified its appearance in 1992, converting its front page to a color cover. Every issue was jammed with news and reviews. To ease the workload on Don, Brent Frankenhoff was hired as his assistant in September 1992. But in 1993, the comics industry was on the cusp of a disastrous collapse. And so was Don Thompson.
I started contributing a column, called Rants & Raves (surprise), with No.1067 (end of March 1994). But the big change in CBG came on Monday, May 23, 1994 with the unexpected death of Don Thompson at age 58. His widow, the remarkably resilient Maggie, took the reins with No.1074 (June 17), which was in production at the time and almost ready to go to press. At the last minute, Maggie added an obituary for her husband.
They had just returned from a weekend in Madison where they’d gone for the graduation of their son Stephen from the University of Wisconsin. It was, Maggie wrote, “one of the most wonderful weekends of our lives. ... We were all feeling great, and there was a lot of hugging and kissing and sharing and relaxed family time. We were exuberant for the entire weekend, and Don and I laughed and talked happily all the way on the drive back home to Iola from Madison.”
They spent Sunday evening watching favorite tv shows. The next morning, they followed their usual routine: Don arose first, took his medications, and went back to bed for a few more winks while Maggie got her breakfast and showered. When she went to awaken Don, he wasn’t breathing. She tried CPR, then phoned the ambulance service, then resumed CPR. Don never regained consciousness. Cause of death was presumed to be congestive heart failure.
Don had already written his Comics Guide column for No.1074, doing several reviews of new comics. While criticizing one of the books for its cavalier attitude about spelling, Don went off into a witty apostrophe about how no one seemed to care about grammar or spelling anymore. Don, a whose profession was words, cared. And he was disgusted that even the latest Merriam-Webster dictionary didn’t care; it contends, Don said, “that any word spelled and used any way by anyone, anywhere, is okay.”
He ends the column right after that, saying: “We have seen the future, and it is determinedly stupid.”
Don began his columns each week with some sort of quotation. This column’s quotation was terribly ironic. He quoted Herbert Spencer: “Time: that which man is always trying to kill; but which ends in killing him.”
MAGGIE WOULD CONTINUE as the solo editor of CBG for several years until John Jackson Miller took it on; and then, Frankenhoff. In both instances, however, Maggie continued as senior editor, a sort of super-advisory role.
Soon after Maggie took over, the evolution of CBG resumed, but now, more and more, in a flailing about mode, as if desperately in search of a new niche because the Web was siphoning off advertising of vintage comics. CBG experimented with coverage of manga and then games and toys. Meanwhile, the comics industry itself seemed about to limp into oblivion. With No.1162 (February 23, 1996), the tall rectangular tabloid shape was abandoned for a smaller square configuration to conserve paper. (The square meant the pages were somewhat smaller than previously, using less of the expensive newsprint paper.)
The industry seemed to revive after the turn of the century, and news displaced cover art on CBG’s front page with No.1482 (November 23, 2001), but three years later, with No.1595 (August 2004), CBG gave up being a weekly newspaper and became a monthly magazine with a slick full-color cover. In an effort to displace Wizard and stimulate newsstand sales, CBG also began running a price guide for current comics in every issue.
In his recitation of the history of TBG/CBG at ComiChron.com, John Jackson Miller, who graduated through the ranks of CBG from writer to contributing editor to managing editor to editorial director (first of Krause’s comics division then of the company), departing finally in 2007, noted that it became apparent that “nostalgia was the unifying factor in CBG’s readership,” and the magazine added columnists who focused on the fond past: Craig “Mister Silver Age” Shutt and Andrew “Captain Comics” Smith. They fit right in to the new editorial concept—features.
I don’t think attempts to enhance newsstand sales paid off. Years ago, I traveled around a good bit, and wherever I dropped into a comics store, I’d look for CBG in vain. Surprised, I asked about it, and invariably was told that none of their customers wanted it. In the comments postings after Miller’s history, Daniel Veltre, who operated a comics store for 20 years, said the same.
My column ceased with CBG’s conversion to magazine format. I submitted some, but none were published. No one explained why, so I was left to dope it out for myself. I was too long-winded, I suppose, for the condensed magazine version of what had once been a voluminous newspaper.
As a monthly magazine, CBG had to forego coverage of hard news because so much of it would no longer be timely when an issue was published (as long after going to bed as two months). It was assumed, I suspect, that the industry’s news would be available to everyone as it broke on the Web; I’m not sure that ever really happened. (Name the website where you can find what CBG once offered in news coverage.)
Converting CBG from news to features was, I think, a signal mistake: no other publication in comics fandom came out as often as the weekly incarnation of CBG. As a news vehicle, CBG was ahead of the competition. In 2005, the magazine launched a website, CBGxtra.com, that promised to cover breaking news, but it seemed to me never to offer much news; instead, it announced the features in forthcoming issues and flogged special CBG publications. It was, in effect, the magazine’s promotional arm; eventually, it would serve as a sort of storage shed.
Another mistake, I think, was in assuming that the audience for CBG was increasingly people who collected comics as investments rather than simple fans of the medium. Pandering to the investors, the magazine stepped up coverage of auctions and evolving prices (“Amazing Fantasy No. 15, the first appearance of Spider-Man, sold for $1.1 million March 7") and produced the Standard Catalog of Comic Books, a monster price guide. (It was also a detailed listing of comic books by number and date of issue, and it included other incidental information of value to historians of the medium.)
Alas, investors found their prey on eBay, not in the pages of a monthly print magazine. They deserted CBG, but there probably weren’t many of them to begin with. By appealing to them, CBG had become a niche publication for the tiniest of niches.
CBG had given up the thing that had made it unique in fandom at the time—news coverage—in order to court a small audience that would soon abandon it. No wonder it died.
And then there’s the pernicious effect of private equity operations under which Krause had been working since acquired by a private equity firm in 2002. We learned during the recent presidential election that private equity firms are not at all hesitant to shut down businesses if the profits aren’t there. And with CBG, the profits had been shrinking for several years. Advertising had all but disappeared and, as Miller points out, “since ad pages determine the number of editorial content pages, subscribers saw less of CBG in their mailboxes.”
Deterioration set in steadily. “Color pages became black and white, glossy paper became newsprint.”
It was sad to witness. In assembling the information for this report, I wandered through a few old files (as you can tell from the illustrations we posted a few paragraphs ago), and I was reminded of how important and vital TBG/CBG had once been. As with my friend Jim Engel, the weekly arrival of TBG was a highlight of my week. Not in my fondest dreams had I ever imagined getting so regular a fix in my addiction to comics. Engel captures a lot of that feeling; to wit—:
BUYERS GUIDE is coming to an end after 40 years,” he wrote. “TBG/CBG was
for me (as I'm sure it was for many of you) a true institution in my life, for
a long time. I think my subscription began with the 5th or 6th issue, and it
was a much-anticipated highlight of my week every week. Alan Light published a
good amount of my stuff (weirdly, but perhaps most significantly, those little
"IT'S HERE!" cartoons that ran in the address box), including the
DRAWN version of "FANDOM CONFIDENTIAL"... He published TONS of my
friend Alan Jim Hanley's work (and we were all richer for it), as well as work
by my friend Russ Maheras...great columns (Don & Maggie Thompson, Cat
Yronwode, Shel Dorf), great strips by a wide variety of excellent cartoonist
(Fred Hembeck, Terry Beatty, R.C. Harvey, Eddie Eddings, George Erling... I
apologize for the tons of guys I'm forgetting)... Chuck Fiala, Russ Maheras,
Roy Kinnard & I once took a road trip to Alan Light's house in East Moline,
and saw the whole TBG set-up (Alan barely tolerated my smart-assedness)... when
Alan got rich selling it, the CBG era began under the most qualified people
there could be—Don & Maggie. I enjoyed their friendship via the paper
(where they too printed my stuff, and supported Chuck & I and our friends
Jerry Sinkovec & Mike Tiefenbacher (of THE COMIC READER) in our various
endeavors (most notably, when Mike, Chuck & I had our great moment—the publication
of the FUNNY STUFF STOCKING STUFFER, intended to kick off our revival of the DC
Funny Animals in a new line of kids books) ruined by DC & Dick Giordano
jacking us around and re-writing all our dialogue at the 11th hour. I sent
D&M a xerox of OUR version, and they reviewed the book explaining our
plight, and praising our intended work over the published one. We felt somewhat
vindicated, and I will be forever grateful for THAT)... I enjoyed their company
(and a GREAT, eclectic collection of other comic industry folks) at several of
the CBG PICNICS they graciously held in Iola... this truly DOES end an era... a
bridge from my teenage to middle-aged years... sure, I can still have great
conversations with Maggie when I run into her at cons, but it'll be a bit weird
to think there's no CBG anymore... Alan, Don, Maggie— THANK YOU!"
AT THE END OF MILLER’S history of the magazine at ComiChron.com, one of those who comments is Alan Light, who says:
“Thanks, John, for this good retrospective. It seems like another lifetime ago, another person actually, who founded and published TBG. Months go by went I don't even think about it, but today is a sad day for me. But everything ends. What a great run it had.”
NOT EVERYONE HAS UNADULTERATED HAPPY MEMORIES. From James Van Hise, who navigated RBCC into its grave and is therefore somewhat experienced at magazine deaths and hence oughta know better than most what kills publications, came this comment:
“Well this is no surprise. Page counts in CBG during the last 2 years have averaged less than 60 pages. I even told them 2 years ago that it was obvious the magazine would fold because at 60 pages it wasn't very appealing to subscribers any more, nor to comic book stores to carry. Its problems obviously began years ago when they started slashing the magazine's budget. ...
“In the 1990s, after Don Thompson died, CBG stopped reporting on any comics news which might make the comic book industry look bad. Marvel's bankruptcy problems were covered by printing Marvel press releases. CBG stopped reporting on publishers that owed money to writers and artists. The letters column, which used to be a clearing house for professionals to air their opinions on the industry, became just another fanzine lettercol with nothing of significance. When a major independent publisher in Florida was months behind paying contributors and was clearly in deep trouble, CBG reported nothing. Even when that company folded after months of public acrimony, CBG just published a squib saying that the company had folded, with no recounting of what led up to it. CBG had made itself inconsequential years ago.
“Twenty years ago The Comics Journal had regularly criticized CBG as being an uncritical cheerleader for the comic book industry. While I didn't believe it was true then, that is exactly what CBG became in the last 15 years. CBG had become so meaningless that there was nothing left to miss. I feel like CBG really ended years ago. In the 1980s when it was weekly, each issue was eagerly awaited to see what the latest important industry news was. That had stopped even before the Internet supplanted it. CBG chose its own path to oblivion. I miss the CBG of 20 years ago, not what it was in recent years when it was a pale shadow of what was.”
After posting this in the Comments section, Miller chimed in and disagreed with some of Van Hise’s assertions. Much of what fouled the air for Van Hise happened on Miller’s watch, after all—so what do we expect? Miller says most of the business news was covered in Comics Retailer, another Krause publication. And he claims better “footwork journalism” developed when the budget expanded. But Don Thompson managed pretty decent reportage on a shoestring, so money isn’t everything. (Helps, though.) Journalistic will and expertise counts for more. Miller admits that some of what Van Hise complains about was brought about by decisions in “the front office”—“and I regret just about everything about it.”
Mostly, from my observations of CBG over the years, I agree with Van Hise. Except that even before Don’s death, they’d shied away from reporting bad news about the industry. When Jim Shooter was fired at Marvel in May 1987, for instance, CBG could find nothing to report about why he’d been fired. Don always refused to print rumors, and for the first couple weeks after the firing, rumor was about all their was. But eventually—somewhere—someone had to know facts about it. If so, we never read about them in CBG.
In No.704, the week after announcing Shooter’s firing, CBG published an editorial that attempted to counter all the nasty rumors about Shooter’s conduct as Marvel’s editor-in-chief by pointing out the good things he’d achieved. Balance, at least, if not all the facts. Still, I wrote in high dudgeon to accuse Don and Maggie of conducting cover-up.
BUT WHAT OF MAGGIE? She and Roy Thomas are the last of the pioneers in comics fandom who are still active in it. She and Don met in 1957 at a picnic of sf fans. Maggie, age 14, was with her mother, another sf fan; Don was 21, a journalism student at Penn State where he had been president of the sf society, and on the basis of their sf interests, the two young people found they also liked comics.
“We hit it off right away,” Maggie remembered in her obit for Don. “Don and I spent the day talking. We talked about science fiction. We talked about fantasy. We talked about our favorite sf artists. We even talked about comic books. Amazingly, our tastes were virtually identical. ... He was great.”
She then shifted to a wholly unrelated but revealing topic: “When he first encountered Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, he thought he’d never be able to afford to buy a copy, but he was so impressed by the play that he copied it out in longhand. He joked in later years by admitting that he’d bogged down before finishing the task. That he would start such a project was the sort of thing that drew me to him.”
“We started corresponding,” Don recalled in a 1992 interview quoted in Schelly’s history of fandom, “and I visited her a few times. Our relationship grew out of that.”
They married in June 1962 after a two-year engagement. She was an English major at Oberlin College, and after they were engaged, Don took a bus to see her every weekend. Maggie graduated in 1954 and worked as an assistant children’s librarian in the Cleveland Public School until she quit to have children (Valerie and Stephen). Don had started his 22 ½ year career at the Cleveland Press.
A mild disagreement hovers over which of two fanzines was the first in comics fandom. The Thompsons published Comic Art No.1 in March or April 1961; Jerry Bails, a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, published the first issue of Alter-ego in March that year, most of it written by Bails and a twenty-year old English and history major at Southeast Missouri State College, Roy Thomas.
“Jerry didn’t get his copy of our Comic Art until April,” Don said, explaining the dispute about which was first; “so he figured that Alter Ego had come out ahead of us.”
Thomas is still at it: after a long career writing and editing at Marvel and then freelance writing (including helping Stan Lee on the Spider-Man newspaper strip), Thomas revived Alter Ego (with a capital E) in the summer of 1999, and remains at the helm.
Comic Art came out irregularly. “We never printed a publishing schedule,” Maggie once said. “So no issue was ever late.”
They published a number of excellent historical articles. Comic Art printed the first articles on Carl Barks by Malcolm Willits and Mike Barrier. Willits had sent Barks a letter requesting an interview, and the Duck publisher forwarded the letter to the Duck artist.
“Carl thought it was a joke from the guys in the office,” Don said, “because he had never receive any fan mail before.”
“We got letters of comment from people like Harvey Kurtzman and Crockett Johnson,” Maggie added.
Comic Art ran up seven issues until expiring in 1968. By then, the Thompsons were having more fun producing another fanzine, Newfangles, which they started in March 1967 to focus on fans and their activities rather then the comics industry. Maggie explained the zine’s name: combine “New Fan Angles” and “newfangled.” Great name.
But not all the news in Newfangles was about fans. Newfangles No.10 (March 1968), Maggie recently recalled, reported winners (including Will Eisner) of the National Cartoonists Society awards; deaths of cartoonist Rudolph Dirks (91) and mystery writer and sf editor Anthony Boucher (56); variant pricing of 15 cents of Gold Key comics in New York City and on the West Coast; publication of Zap Comics ("We blithely admit we didn't understand it, but we dig it. Crumb, says [Bill] Spicer, draws like a retarded Basil Wolverton. True." Sigh. Showing our age and non PC-ness, even then.)
Newfangles hit its 54th issue in December 1971, and when Don and Maggie announced they were ending the publication, that kid from East Moline offered to continue publishing it if they’d provide the content. They said no thanks, and he started TBG. Soon, as we’ve seen, Don and Maggie were doing Beautiful Balloons in TBG.
Miller refers to Don and Maggie as “the George and Martha Washington of comics fandom,” a deserved honorific. I like to think of Maggie as the den mother of fandom, a title someone else conferred years ago.
So what, now, of the comics and sf fan who made a life’s work out of her hobbies and amusements?
Maggie soldiers on, putting a smiley face on the otherwise dim prospect of the end of much of what she’d worked at all her adult life. At her blog, maggiethompson.com, she writes (quoted here in italics) about her forced departure at the demise of a publication she’s devoted years to fostering:
It's been a delight to have had the opportunity for the last three decades—plus a prior decade with the magazine's creator, Alan Light—to communicate so wonderfully with comics collectors, comics fans, and comics professionals. Over the years, we were able to reach out in a variety of ways, including coming up with the term "Done in One" (to identify stories told completely in one issue, announced in CBG for April 5, 1996). We also helped create a trade journal that was the inciting force behind the Free Comic Book Day outreach project that Diamond Comic Distributors implemented and that continues every May. Don and I were excited by Krause Publications' challenge of revamping an advertising newspaper into a full-fledged information resource. It has been an energizing challenge to adapt to the changes of the field, as it grew from a niche interest to something popular enough to command the covers of national pop-culture magazines.
How about me? Hey, the same week that Krause Publications announced the end of CBG saw the first installment of my contribution to a new outlet for me: a monthly post on Comic-Con International San Diego's "Toucan" blog. Hope you enjoy it!
AS A PARTING from an enterprise she’s spent so much time, energy and love on, these two short paragraphs seem a little flat, almost perfunctory. Maybe she was still in shock; we don’t know if she and the rest of the CBG staff knew about the falling curtain much before it actually fell, ending, as it descended, the magazine’s last act. If these are the first words off her keyboard after getting the news—well, yes, shock may be the word to use.
But there’s also a kind of weariness in her words. As CBG began to fail over the last months, Krause management probably did a lot of hand-wringing around the office. Witnessing that sort of thing’ll wear a person out. But she seems determined to keep on keeping on, sending us all off to her new endeavor.
At “Maggie’s World,” the aforementioned blog within a blog, Maggie posted her first effusion: all about “Why I Love Comics,” it included an excerpt from a fanzine published by her mother and father (Betsy and Ed Curtis, a college professor) in 1949. Written by Maggie’s mother (a big Pogo and Walt Kelly fan, a trait her daughter inherited), it was inspired by the growing furor about comics—whether they were bad for young readers (maybe they even encouraged criminal or other kinds of deviant behavior). It’s a little dated perhaps, but everlastingly cogent, too; here it is (in italics):
So many friends have asked me in grim or pathetic tones, “Do you approve of comic books?” that I feel I must make some public statement which I can hand out to such gals and run for cover while they are reading it. The question, of course, makes about as much sense as “Do you approve of books?” but it is hard to say this without being thought impertinent or irrelevant by the questioners.
Comic books are naturally appealing. Pictures, like stage drama, are more interesting than mere print. The rapid action of most of the plots and the excitement of adventure hold a child’s attention in comics as they do in western movies. Passages of slow moving description are not necessary when the action is presented in pictures.
Many objections to comic books have to do with their subject matter. It is certainly not surprising that the children of avid whodunit readers should like detective comics and that children who are offered few fairy tales should satisfy their craving for fantasy with Superman and the Green Lantern (whose doings are in their way more moral than “Big Claus and Little Claus” and most of the contents of the Red, Violet, and Blue Fairy Books). And comics are cheaper than “good” fantasy—the Oz books are still retailing at $2. I wish I could afford to supply Judy [my nickname in 1949—Maggie] with books which she would enjoy more (and there are plenty) than comics.
Some mothers object that their children bury themselves in comics and no longer spend time in active “fantasy play” with their friends. Cops and robbers are supposed to have given way to afternoons in the corners of the sofa with piles of comics. Comics are also supposed to have replaced “real literature” in the lives of our young. I can see no reason why there should not be a “real literature” in comic form. It is slow in taking shape, but the work of such artists as [Morris] Gollub, [Dan] Noonan, and Kelly give promise that comics can be good reading for children. Certainly these stories have been acted out by children—I’ve seen and heard it.
Comic art is a young art. When better comics are printed, kids will read them. I have considerable faith in the taste of children: they like good fiction better than bad. But as long as they are offered only mediocre, bad, and worse, in a form that is more appealing and cheaper than good stories, they will continue to read mediocre, etc.
I don’t know how to get good comics on the market any more than I know how to encourage the writing and publishing of other good books for children—but I am hopeful that artists and publishers will come across in time for our grandchildren to have lots of fun at a very moderate cost.
The largest number of periodicals in our household seems, in spite of culture and refinement, to be made up of comic books. Most of our collection are really intended to be comic—that is, funny. Most of them are published by the Dell Publishing Company and portray the doings of urban children (Little Lulu, Henry) or urban animal child-substitutes (Walter Lantz, Merrie Melodies, Walt Disney, Tom and Jerry, etc.). The cream of the crop were, in the recent past, Our Gang, Raggedy Ann, and Fairy Tale Parade (still Dell) with the excellent drawing, interesting stories and amusing dialogue of Walt Kelly, Dan Noonan, and Morris Gollub; but these three gentlemen seem to be deserting the comic book business and two of the publications are no longer in existence.
The least painful comics still on the market other than the ones I have just mentioned seem to be the Disney ones. I should recommend a recent special, still on the stands in Canton—“Donald Duck in the Treasure of the Andes” [Dell Four Color No.223, actually “Lost in the Andes” by the then-anonymous Carl Barks]—as the best of the recent dime publications for the four- to eight-year-old. We do seem to have accumulated a number of Superboy, Wonder Woman, and Bat Man opera, but these do not hold the attention of our six-year-old for more than five or six readings. Even Raggedy Ann can beat that.
AND ON THIS EMINENTLY REASONABLE NOTE, we bid adieu without further ado to the Comics Buyer’s Guide, the 42-year-old veteran of comics fandom, once vital, lately a fossil; and we wish Maggie, the eminently reasonable den mother of fandom, the best in whatever she may choose to do. Whatever it is, I hope it brings her to places where I can run into her and exchange lies about our grandchildren.
Afflicting the Comfortable and Comforting the Afflicted
TWO ISSUES HAVE ENGAGED the hot sweat attention of the so-called “news” media over the past month—the mass murders at Newtown, Connecticut, and the Fiscal Cliff over which we were destined to tumble (and still are). Both engaged the imaginations and anger of editorial cartoonists.
Our first visual aid reflects the initial horrified reactions at the news of the deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, less than two weeks before Christmas. Chip Bok starts us off at the upper left: it’s the Christmas season, season of joy and of giving—the season of children—and he captures the agonizing irony of inflicting this season with this horror in his picture of Santa Claus grieving. In poignance, Bok’s picture is unrivaled; and its message is emphasized by the focus on the innocent children who have died. Next in clockwise order is Clay Bennett whose mute tableau dramatically poses the rival factions whose feelings are aroused by the tragedy. The echoing imagery makes a telling contrast.
I can’t make out the signature on the next cartoon (sorry), but its haunting imagery silently characterizes the society as a gun culture whose grief, while real, is deeply equivocal. Finally, another cartoonist whose signature I can’t read suggest that our usual responses—just shortening the barrel of the gun—do not attack the real problem, the gun itself.
Gun supporters take some deserved lambasting in the next batches posted here.
At the upper left of our first exhibit, Jimmy Margulies provides an accurate picture of the reaction of the National Rifle Association, crying crocodile tears. In the ancient proverb, a crocodile moans and sobs like a person in great distress in order to lure a man into its reach, and then, after devouring him, sheds bitter tears over the dire fate of its victim. Hence, “crocodile tears” indicate gross hypocritical grief, make-believe sorrow. Probably, that characterization is a trifle unfair; but editorial cartoons best accomplish their purpose by being one-sided.
Mike Luckovich, on the other hand—next on the clock—isn’t being unfair by pointing out the ludicrousness of gun owners having assault weapons for hunting. But I purely love Pat Bagley’s politically barbed comment at the lower right. A deliciously perverted interpretation of a gun enthusiast’s caution about weapon handling applied to cunningly reveal the nature of the NRA’s political power—its, er, “hold” on the machinery of government. Finally, Randall Enos furnishes a suitably ironic comment on NRA executive Wayne LaPierre’s absurd contention that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Enos’ message is not as dependent upon blending word and picture as are the other cartoons we’ve looked at so far, but it’s a fine ironic reminder of the gun tragedy of last winter.
In the next quartet of toons, Rick McKee leads off on the next phase of the gun dilemma: how to legislate gun violence out of existence. Part of the problem is simply cultural: our entertainments—Hollywood movies, tv, video games—all champion gun violence. And against those models, what effect can the sober instructional posture of NBA have? The excitement in our entertainments trumps sobriety every time. In the next cartoon, Nate Beeler wonders whether it’s even possible to have a rational discussion about gun laws, his heroically exaggerated portraits of the debaters emphasizing their irreconcilable positions. And Jim Morin, just below Beeler, deploys the much over-used “cliff” metaphor of the past month, producing an image that suggests that the our attitude about guns has us teetering on another kind of cliff over which we will inevitably fall unless, somehow, we act.
Finally, Ted Rall, ever ready to carry sarcasm angrily to the ludicrous extreme that reveals the inherent absurdity of any inherently absurd proposition, provides a sequence of conversations among gun proponents that gets progressively more idiotic—but also, as NRA’s LaPierre demonstrated, a near approximation of the actualities we face in trying to control violence and guns in the face of vehement opposition by criminally misguided gun proponents.
Some of the latter fervently believe that they must have arsenals of assault weapons in the closets of their homes in the event that the government sends armed marines to deprive them of liberty and life. As one wag observed, if that were to happen, our way of life will have deteriorated so badly that gun ownership will be the very least of our concerns.
But before we pursue more cliff notes, let me pause to cogitate about guns and violence.
Yes, I know: all of this entire online magazine is an editorial, but what follows herewith eventually reaches a remote connection to cartooning. So there.
I have long maintained, first, that the Second Amendment permits private citizens to own guns and is not likely ever to be amended to compromise that right; second, that we are not likely ever to adopt gun control laws that preclude mass murders; third, that patient rights will forever prevent enactment of aggressive enough mental health laws to adequately restrain mentally ill persons likely to commit acts of violence; and fourth, that not even the advances in computer technology are sophisticated enough to close all the loopholes in gun marketing and in the treatment of the psychotic through which violence seeps into our communities. In short, enactment of workable laws seems unlikely; and enforcement of such laws seems impossible. Hence, despite all of the post-Newtown blather about reviving the national assault weapon ban and other laws about the dangerous mentally ill, I have not changed my opinion about any of the potentially crucial venues of action. None of them will work.
And therein lies the mistake in our thinking. We want laws that will “work”—that will effectively reduce if not eliminate gun violence.
Lately, I have changed my opinion about what the objective of relevant legislation ought to be. We should not be focused on what “works.” The objective should not be narrowly focused on simple gun control for the sake of control nor on detection and restraint of the mentally ill with potential for violence. Instead, the objective should be to effect a slow but steady alteration in our attitudes about violence and guns.
Over and over, I’ve heard that ours is a violent culture, a gun culture. That’s why we endure so many acts of violence. Until we can change the culture, no law will have much discernable effect on reducing violent actions. In fact, in such a culture, the passage of any effective gun control or mental health laws is remote to the point of unlikely.
Cultural change cannot be effected quickly—or by the passage of a few laws. A few laws, though, can impinge upon cultural attitudes, and, over time, may ameliorate the attitudes that foster violence. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) has had some effect on our cultural attitudes about drinking and then driving; steady pinging on the dangers of smoking has had an effect on smoking. Both results were achieved, at first, without much formal legislation. Maybe we can affect our attitudes about violence in similar fashion.
The Sandy Hook School massacre is the most likely turning point we’ll ever have. Those who were slaughtered were mostly young children. “Our babies” were killed, mercilessly, senselessly. Nothing arouses the American will to action like a perceived danger threatening “our babies.” This time, even the National Rifle Association was initially making prudent gestures by not speaking out. In such a cultural climate—the aftermath of a brutal, senseless killing spree—perhaps some gun control laws will be adopted. Perhaps assault weapons will be banned again—and detachable ammunition magazines holding more than a half-dozen rounds.
Wayne La Pierre, the crazed NRA exec (a little spittle drooling from the corner of his mouth), came on the air at last, proclaiming (no surprise) that “the only way” to achieve safety for our children at schools is to furnish all buildings with armed guards. More guns. The remedy for gun violence is more guns. His idea of the neighborhood schoolhouse is a fortress.
More importantly for the life and welfare of NRA, this “plan,” if implemented, would keep gun manufacturers, the principal beneficiary of NRA activity (and, doubtless, its chief underwriter), humming along for several more decades.
New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a highly vocal opponent of gun culture, ridiculed NRA: “Instead of offering solutions to a problem they have helped create, they offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe.”
It would seem that the dystopian world the NRA envisions is a world that has abandoned the social compact that creates civilization. It is Thomas Hobbes’ state of nature with “no arts, no letters, no society, and, which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” We were there once. Must we return to a state of nature?
As for laws controlling weapons, LaPierre recalled the previous assault weapons ban (1994-2004), saying it didn’t work because Columbine happened during that decade. Once again—and forever with NRA—the focus is on something that “works.”
Okay, the last gun band didn’t prevent Columbine. But what other catastrophes were averted because of the ban? He didn’t say. And neither did his interlocutor, NBC’s David Gregory on “Meet the Press.”
LaPierre also cited Israel’s experience with violence in schools: “Israel had a whole lot of school shootings until they did one thing: they said, ‘We’re going to stop it,’ and they put armed security in every school, and they have not had a problem since.”
But he didn’t quite have his facts in order. Israeli officials said that country never had “a whole lot of school shootings.” Authorities can remember only two in the last forty years, according to Amy Teibel of the Associated Press. Moreover, the armed guards at the entrances to Israeli schools are there to protect against terrorist attacks, not psychotic marauders.
Finally, if Israel is being held up as a model, then we should know, as Teibel writes, that Israel is not a heavily armed populace “where ordinary people have their own arsenals to repel attackers. Israel allows its people to acquire firearms only if they can prove their professions or placers of residence put them in danger. Otherwise, the country relies on its security services, not armed citizens, to prevent terror attacks.”
Besides, the NRA “solution” addresses only gun violence in schools. But apart from Columbine and Sandy Hook, most of the most publicized massacres of recent times have taken place in places other than schools. A movie theater in Aurora, a parking lot in Tuscon, a Muslim church, an Air Force base. “The common theme [in many recent killings],” saith the Denver Post, “is not unsafe schools, but mentally unstable individuals with access to weapons designed to kill many people in short order. That is the national conversation that we are having, and it’s unfortunate that the NRA seems unwilling to participate.”
Still, I doubt that whatever laws are enacted will prevent violence. Critics of the laws will say what they’ve always said: these laws won’t stop the violence. And the Newtown massacre is an object lesson in support of that contention. Connecticut has an assault weapons ban. The Sandy Hook School was locked down for the day, secured; when the shooter arrived, he just blasted his way into the place. And the weapons he had he did not purchase: they were purchased by his mother. Whatever data base he might have been on because of his unstable mental condition didn’t prevent his getting guns. In short, many of the circumstances that legislation usually aims to promote were in effect in Newtown. Yet 27 people were murdered, 20 of them “our babies.”
But our dilemma does not arise simply from guns. Our entertainments also foster violent attitudes, cultural approval of guns and violence. Writing in the Denver Post, guest columnist Meredith Carroll said: “If we don’t think that violent video games, shoot ’em-up films, toy weapons and imaginary wars being fought by our young boys contribute in some small way to the more than 33,000 annual gun deaths, we need to think again.”
Such entertainments champion violence and desensitize children. Among those entertainments are motion picture versions of comic book superheroes, rife with murderous explosions and muscular smack downs. And if superhero films will attract a second look post-Sandy Hook, superhero comic books can’t be far behind. Maybe it wouldn’t undermine comic books’ general ambiance of breath-taking danger in executing deeds of derring-do if those doing the derring weren’t always grimacing with a spasm of uncontrollable anger in the most frightening way, gritting their teeth mercilessly and frowning from brow to lower lip.
Eerily, something of this sort of re-examination happened to Tim McKay in Denver.
McKay, who has a doctorate in clinical psychology and a masters in theology, had stacks of old comic books that he’d saved since childhood, and he began to think about what his comic book heroes represented to young readers. Journalist Ray Mark Rinaldi, writing in the Denver Post, reprised the questions McKay was asking: “In the colorful stories of caped crusaders and heroes with special powers, was a certain pressure for a kid to be all that he can be and then some. Is Superman a role model? Who could live up to that?”
The over-all values were fine, Rinaldi continued, “—bravery, enterpreneurship, social responsibility—but jumbled together with advertisements selling muscle-building progams, it might seem like a lot of demands for any ordinary 11-year-old. You could see how a boy might get a little screwed up.”
McKay, who is in the business of counseling young boys, started clipping images from the pages of his stacks of comic books, pasting them into collages that he intended as explorations of youthful manliness.
And then one memorably horrible night, a young man walked into the midnight showing of a Batman movie in Aurora and blasted away with guns at the audience, killing 12 and wounding over 60 others.
Suddenly, for McKay, the images he was pasting together of “cartoon violence” got mixed up with the very real violence that surrounds us. “Scores of images are crammed together” in McKay’s collages; “they’re a challenge if your goal is to connnect the dots between our real and imagined worlds,” said Rinaldi.
McKay isn’t offering any solutions or explanations. “He just wants to offer his art as a place where we might all center our thinking, start coming up with a strategy, reflect.”
Our vicarious entertainments, exploding with violence, may not have made Newtown, but condoning children playing violent games contributes to the cultural attitudes that are part of the problem. Ditto, perhaps, reading superhero comic books.
Whatever new laws we adopt may not themselves achieve specifically their narrow intended purpose. But in broad terms, they will constitute a step towards changing our gun culture. Cultural change, not gun control per se, should be envisioned as our new objective.
More Editoons. The negotiations to avoid the fiscal cliff were laughable in themselves, and editoonists delighted in joining in the fun, as we see here, just out of the corner of your eye.
Tom Toles at the upper left has the perfect metaphor for the posturing of John Boehner (pronounced Beaner). Charles Schulz was never very happy that his characters and their personalities were employed occasionally by editorial cartoonists—he didn’t want his creations used in support of ideas he didn’t endorse—but Lucy and Charlie Brown’s annual football charade supplies the perfect metaphor for Boehner’s repeated offers to work with the Prez on budget. Yeh, like Lucy.
Christopher Weyant gives us another vivid metaphor for the negotiations: the parties may be moving, but they’re not, actually, getting any closer. And right below Weyant is a cartoon by (I think) Ken Catalino, who vividly presents the predicament: the danger in playing chicken over the fiscal cliff is not that the vehicles will run into each other; it’s that they’ll both fall off the edge. And then Nate Beeler gives us an image that expresses the general exasperation of the American public, while at the same time putting the onus on those who created the cliff in the first place. The best way to fix the fiscal cliff is to shove all those unconscionable scoundrels over the edge.
In our next exhibit, Ted Rall starts it off at the upper left with a portrait of David Petraeus relaxing at home and suddenly realizing that all his troubles were caused by the FBI reading his e-mails—which, perhaps, they ought not to be able to do without a warrant. No metaphor here; just an image of a perplexed victim. A warrant is required to read your snail mail and to tap your phone, but no warrant is required to look at your e-mail, text, or your Internet searches because those sources of information are held by a third party—neither you nor the snoop. The Fourth Amendment’s guarantee that people should be secure in their persons, houses and papers against unreasonable searches and seizures does not, apparently, apply. And when Senator Rand Paul introduced a bill that would require the government to get your permission or a search warrant before it could access your personal information from a third party, the bill was defeated. In fact, only 12 senators voted for it.
The rest of this posting’s editoonery concerns the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm’s frustration after Bronco Bama’s victory, which shocked the GOP. The old stalwart GOP members are beginning to believe that, perhaps, the Party needs to re-evaluate what, exactly, it stands for. At the upper right is the cover of a recent issue of the Santa Cruz Comic News (a monthly compilation of progressive editoons, now called just Comic News, only $29/month; visit the comicnews.com website); it features a cartoon by Nick Anderson that rather bluntly characterizes the GOP position during the recently concluded election.
Next is Clay Bennett with a hilarious assessment of the trouble the GOP is having reflecting on its meaning. If it’s a vampire, sucking the life’s blood from the middle class—as all the 1% is clearly doing—then it can hardly arrive at a clear picture of itself. Because vampires’ images are not reflected in mirrors. (You knew that, eh?)
In our final cartoon, R.J. Matson gives us another way of looking at the issue that has dominated the news media lately, revealing how ridiculous the terms of the argument are when applied to everyday life, a telling point, seems to me. Matson may be referring to other aspects of our budgetary crisis, but by talking about paying one’s tab, he’s more likely referring to the so-called “debt ceiling” that Congress must, sooner or later, raise. What they must approve is raising the limit on how much the U.S. can borrow in order to pay the bills we’ve already incurred. Or to pay back the loans we’ve already taken out—and spent. It is patently ridiculous to suppose that Congress, which authorized the expenditures the bills for which continually fall due, now contemplates reneging on payment. Matson deploys no visual metaphors here; but by setting the scene in the neighborhood bar, he dramatizes the craziness of the GOP position.
PERSIFLAGE AND FURBELOWS
“Vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan addressed the subject of his defeat in characteristic style: he told supporters that he had won.”—Andy Borowitz
About George McManus’ Bringing Up Father, in the 1930s reputed to have the widest distribution of all comic strips throughout five continents, J.V. Connolly, King Features’ editor and general manager, said: “It is so valuable an element for building up circulation that newspapers buy from us the exclusive rights to this feature in territories seventy-five to one hundred miles adjacent to their cities.”
THE FROTH ESTATE
THE PRINT NEWSWEEK is no more. It’s all on the Web now, kimo sabe. I’m filing the last issue for sentimental reasons. I was always a Time devotee, but I enjoyed Newsweek, too. The last issue had a number of nostalgic articles reviewing some of the high points in the magazine’s history. And here, by way of affording you a last glimpse is the last page of the last issue of the print edition.
NEWSPAPER COMICS PAGE VIGIL
The Bump and Grind of Daily Stripping
IN BALDO THE LAST WEEK of December, Hector Cantu and Carlos Castellanos took on the Kennedy Honors, as we see here. Pretty straight-forward satiric commentary. With an edge, an accurate edge. I asked Cantu what the response had been, and he wrote back: “We've had a few e-mails, mostly from people asking that we leave 'politics' out of Baldo. But I think people who read us regularly know that we once in a while comment on the news. It's certainly something no other strip is talking about! And I can live with that.”
Indeed—no other strip is talking about this particularly breed of inequality. And a couple of weeks later, Baldo was back at it when Baldo’s Papi, the guy on the phone to the Kennedy Center in the previous sequence, was talking to Baldo’s little sister, saying: “Even though the Hispanic population of this state is 35 percent, only 10 percent of the state legislature is Hispanic.”
“You know what this means,” says Baldo’s sister.
“It means Hispanics are under-represented in state politics?” says Papi.
“No,” she says, “—it means I may have to run for office a lot sooner than I planned.”
She’s just a trifle precocious, as you can tell.
Meanwhile, at the Caller-Times in Corpus Christi, Texas, Baldo will be joining the paper’s effort to spotlight the Coastal Bend's diabetes epidemic. Cantu and Castellanos are providing Baldo characters and archived content to help illustrate the paper’s series, which started January 6. The archived strips come from a 2009 storyline in which Baldo's father is diagnosed with diabetes; it was an effort to raise awareness about a disease that disproportionately affects Hispanics.
Diabetes long has been in a problem in the Coastal Bend, said Rhiannon Meyers of the Caller-Times: nearly one in six people have the disease. Hundreds have died and the amputation rates are among the highest in the state and nation.
Said Cantu: "As a writer, you're always trying to make your characters relatable, and we wanted to make our characters a little bit more relatable and give them these very human problems.”
Cantu’s interest is more than philanthropic: his mother has diabetes and the disease was a contributing factor in his father-in-law's death, he said.
"Luckily I have not dealt with it myself but it makes you certainly keep an eye on eating right and getting exercise," he said.
When Baldo first introduced the diabetes storyline in 2009, readers were grateful, and Cantu and Castellanos hope the strip can continue to raise awareness about the disease.
there's anything we can do in the strip to make people think about it, that's
what we're trying to do: Keep the issue in front of people in our own little
way," Cantu said.
DOWN THE PAGE in our exhibit, you’ll see some of the recent sequence in Funky Winkerbean, wherein a neighborhood comics store is a recurrent character. Another character, Crazy, the guy in the beard, is working at the store, and he’s very happy in this, his new job. Tom Batiuk seizes the opportunity in the first strip here to suggest the sort of “salesmanship” that a good comics shop operator should practice.
The next day or so, when Crazy chances upon a tome reprinting Alex Raymond’s Flash Gordon, he’s transported and says he feels a happy dance coming on.
For the next week, we are treated to the rest of the Komics Korner staff anticipating the havoc Crazy’s happy dance will wreak on the environs. Suspense builds. What is this “dance” that Crazy will do? And how is it so destructive? Or is it?
It’s an old cartooning trick. Milton Caniff put it most memorably when he spoke of the difference between an illustrator and a cartoonist. Imagine, he said, your hero and his squeeze on a hillside in Africa. As they look off into the distance, they see an advancing horde of menacing Zulus.
An illustrator, Caniff went on, would draw the man and his paramour in one panel, and then the illustrator would draw 10,000 Zulus in the next panel.
The cartoonist would draw the first panel much the same, but in the second panel, he’d do a close-up of the hero and his girlfriend, and they would be looking directly out at us, the hero saying in alarm: “My gawd—we’re being attacked by 10,000 Zulus.”
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE EXHIBIT is a Sunday Beetle Bailey, one of those delicious self-indulgent extravagances in which the cartoonist and his characters are vaguely conscious of being in a comic strip. I love these things. And here, Mort Walker has produced a passing fair caricature of Tom Richmond, the current prez of the National Cartoonist Society and Mad’s reigning caricaturist.
CIVILIZATION’S LAST OUTPOST
One of a kind beats everything. —Dennis Miller adv.
On New Year’s Eve, 86-year-old Hugh Hefner married the “runaway bride,” 26-year-old Crystal Harris, the “girlfriend” who left him at the altar 18 months ago. Harris had returned to the Hef hutch a few months after scarpering, so whatever was so odious about the impending nuptials couldn’t have been all that bad. Rumor had it that she broke off their engagement because she didn’t want her new hubby to continue engaging in group sex with the other girls. Perhaps after her return, she’s gotten used to this ensemble practice, the very one, after all, in which she was a willing participant, enabling her to know Hef in the first place.
The Palestinian statistics bureau estimates that the Arabs will outnumber Jews in the Holy Land by 2020. From this report, I can’t tell if “Holy Land” means “Israel”; probably not. But Israel itself will eventually face a demographic nightmare: its Arab citizens are reproducing at a higher rate than its Jewish citizens, which prudently have limited themselves to only a couple children per marriage. Some not too distant day, Israel will hold elections in which its Arab citizens will outnumber its Jewish citizens unless ... unless something is done. What? Deport all the Arabs, I suppose. Watch for it.
AFTER THE PEOPLE’S CHOICE AWARDS ceremony last week and the dress Taylor Swift almost wore (the top part was much too parted), she’ll never be able to sustain any longer that treasured saccharin image of herself as a sweet, innocent country girl just out of her teens. That neckline—or, rather, its near absence—was a calculation designed, no doubt, to let Taylor grow up.
Elsewhere, throughout the audience at the ceremony, the panning camera revealed a preponderance of the performers and their entourages as enthusiastic gum chewers. Their jaws never stopped working no matter how awe-inspiring the speeches by the recipients of the awards.
Previews and Proclamations of Coming Attractions
Andrew A. Smith at Scripps Howard News Service reports that “the legendary Ape-Man first saw print 100 years ago in the pulp magazine The All-Story, and Titan Books is celebrating with a gorgeous hardback, Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration ($39.95). Written by Scott Tracy Griffin, one of the foremost Edgar Rice Burroughs experts extant, Centennial covers aspects of the fabled adventure hero from print to movies and everything in between.”
Smith continues: “Griffin gives a chapter to each to the novels, along with sidebars on various aspects of Burroughs and his Ape-Man, from how Burroughs pronounced his hero's name (TAR-zn), to ‘How to Speak Ape,’ to the history of the legends of dinosaurs in Africa that informed the lost land of Pal-ul-don in Tarzan the Terrible. Roughly the second half of the book is individual chapters on Tarzan in comic strips, comic books, radio, TV, movies, collectibles, conventions and the many other facets of the Ape-Man and his creator. All of this info is lavishly illustrated.”
FUNNYBOOK FAN FARE
WHAT I’M READIN’ LATELY
With No. 5 of a 6-issue series, Howard Chaykin’s Black Kiss 2 continues to be the nastiest comic book around. Not routine, ordinary everyday nasty—but monstrous stinking repulsive nasty, populated by buxom wimmin with cocks between their legs and between their lips. Sucking and fucking on every page, accompanied by the filthiest language you can image. Not even Henry Miller on his best day can match Howie’s disgusting vocabulary. With every page devoted to a detailed visualization of some sexual performance, it’s still impossible to know where Chaykin thinks he’s going with this. Or is it all just an excuse for him to indulge the most depraved imagination on record? And he’s not even doing it well—in storytelling terms. Every page ends with a punchline closeup of one of the characters in that page’s action, making some provocative pronouncement. Closeups are Chaykin’s punctuation marks: they signal the end of a page and a scene. Next page, we start with a long shot at the top and work down to a vivid copulation, then another punctuating close-up. Dull routine. Even raw sex gets dull after five issues of this merde.
THE SIXTH ISSUE of Matt Fraction/David Aja’s Hawkeye is a visual treat. I’ve raved before about the pristine clarity of Aja’s art, and he continues herein, but in illuminating Fraction’s “Six Nights in the Life of Hawkeye,” Aja resorts to a startling storytelling device: his page layouts offer different arrays of tiny panels, mostly head shots but a few from various distances, plus close-ups of equipage and a clock, ticking away the calendar. Exquisite work in miniature. Fun to read and engaging to contemplate.
I’m not sure what to make of Fraction’s story, which unfolds by day and date, and the timeline jumps back and forth but to what purpose I dunno. It takes place from December 13 through December 19, and part of the time Clint Barton (Hawkeye when he’s not on duty) is decorating a Christmas tree with Tony Stark and trying to figure out how his tv and DVD player work.
The central event, however, occurs when a bunch of bat-wielding thugs show up and beat and threaten Clint. It seems that the apartment building he lives in (and owns) was once theirs, and they’d like him to leave. If he doesn’t, they threaten to kill everyone in it. They beat Clint up pretty thoroughly to demonstrate that they aren’t kidding.
So Clint is packing up to leave in order to save his tenants’ lives when Kate Bishop (the other Hawkeye) shows up and accuses him of “running.” She’s disgusted and leaves in a huff. That’s on Saturday the 165h. The next day, we see Clint outside his building holding his bow, with an arrow slotted. But that’s not the last scene in the book.
Earlier in the story—just after Clint gets beat up—one of the tenants, a black woman with a couple kids, comes to Clint’s room to complain that her tv isn’t working and since he’s the landlord, he should fix it. He agrees.
Then, in the order of the action of the book, Clint faces the bat-men outside his building in that memorably defiant pose, holding his bow and arrow. We don’t see the ensuing action.
After we see him outside his building, armed and dangerous, the next event is Clint asking the woman and her two kids to come to his place to watch tv and eat popcorn. And he says he’s not leaving, a remark in response to her comment but addressed, really, to disgusted Kate, who is nowhere around.
So the upshot is, first, that he apparently stands up to the bat-men although we never see that happen. Second thing, he’s not leaving. Third thing, he fixes his tv but not his tenant’s tv.
Stringing it all out in snippets that are not in chronological order serves no story purpose that I can tell. The story’s theme—don’t buckle under to bad guys—gets across in straight chronological narrative. The only reason to shuffle the chronology around is to make the whole thing a puzzle. And all the tiny panels are the pieces in the puzzle.
Or maybe it’s just to divvy up Clint’s emotions. Each slice of time is devoted to one or another of them.
Interesting, but a gimmick still. An engaging one but gimmick nonetheless.
THE STUNNING CLARITY and clean simple lines of artists like Aja and Chris Samnee (in Daredevil) and Tonci Zonjic (Lobster Johnson) may have inspired a trend. In Ed Brisson’s Comeback, Michael Walsh attempts a similar simplicity but falls a trifle short in clarity, perhaps because he’s deploying a juicier brush. The story, which confronts the inevitable difficulties to be encountered in time travel, is provocative but not easy for a literal-minded non-sf geezer like me to follow.
Noel Tuazon also seems an off-shoot of the “new simplicity” style in Brian Buccellato’s Foster. Tuazon’s brush is even juicier than Walsh’s: blacks splash across the drawings, and shadows, rather than defining shapes, seem to distort them. He varies the splashing with thin-line touches (I think he draws first with thin lines, then adds brushwork just as Noel Sickles taught Milton Caniff to do in their celebrated chiaroscuro technique), and while the linear contrast adds visual interest, the over-all effect is undercut with his deliberately sloppy shadowing.
Buccellato’s protagonist, Foster, is a down-and-out alcoholic in a dystopian world through which lurk “dwellers,” man-eating monsters from the sewers below. Buccellato says he’s exploring fatherhood in the relationship between father and son when he has Foster “adopt” Ben, the 8-year-old offspring of a prostitute living down the hall. But in the second issue, we learn that Ben is a hybrid, half-dweller himself, and what that will do to the father-son relationship is anyone’s guess.
Buccellato, who is also writing DC’s New 52 Flash, could use an editor for this Dog Year Entertainment title. He says the story takes place in “a nameless metropolis” called “Vintage City.” If it’s called Vintage City, it ain’t exactly nameless, is it?
Then again, to reconsider my recommendation, it was probably an editor (if not Buccellato) who captioned a photo of the writer by calling Buccellato “a former High School of Art and Design dropout.” If he’s a “former dropout,” what is he now? Has he enrolled again?
THE FIRST ISSUE of Black Beetle (No.0) is colored unconventionally and attractively: a limited palette adds only one color on many pages—red (and pinks). Some pages have a second color, blue. Otherwise, Francesco Francavilla’s chiaroscuro black drenches the pages. All very effective. I suspect Francavilla’s use of blank-eyed goggles for both the hero and the villains owes something to Lobster Johnson, as does the headlong dash of the Black Beetle’s mode of righting wrongs. But the story itself seems oddly antique, the sort of corny dialogue and overblown action that we used to see, ages ago, in serial movies on Saturday afternoons. Too bad.
LONG AGO, I gave up trying to keep track of the X-Men. I was a devoted follower of their adventures until Phoenix had to die after killing off the whole population of a planet. Then the X-World seemed to multiply and go generally looney. But I picked up the first two issues of All-New X-Men because I saw Stuart Immonen’s name on the cover. Inside, he doesn’t disappoint. Clean linework, expert rendering of anatomy and—in particular—faces. Skillful storytelling—pacing, layouts, visual variety. What a pleasure. The story? Oh, sorry: I’m enjoying Immonen too much to actually soak up the story.
ONWARD, THE SPREADING PUNDITRY
The Thing of It Is ...
Alan Simpson, the Republican former Senator from Wyoming and co-chair of President Bronco Bama’s deficit commission, called senior citizens the "Greediest Generation" as he compared Social Security to a milk cow with 310 million teats. That got a Montana school teacher named Patty Myers into an uproar, which you can doubtless tell from her letter to Simpson; herewith—:
Hey Alan, let's get a few things straight!!!!!
As a career politician, you have been on the public dole (tit) for FIFTY YEARS. I have been paying Social Security taxes for 48 YEARS (since I was 15 years old; I am now 63). My Social Security payments, and those of millions of other Americans, were safely tucked away in an interest bearing account for decades until you political pukes decided to raid the account and give OUR money to a bunch of zero losers in return for votes, thus bankrupting the system and turning Social Security into a “Ponzi scheme" that would make Bernie Madoff proud.
Recently, just like Lucy & Charlie Brown, you and "your ilk" pulled the proverbial football away from millions of American seniors nearing retirement and moved the goalposts for full retirement from age 65 to age 67. NOW, you and your "shill commission" are proposing to move the goalposts YET AGAIN.
I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying into Medicare from Day One, and now "you morons" propose to change the rules of the game. Why? Because "you idiots" mismanaged other parts of the economy to such an extent that you need to steal our money from Medicare to pay the bills.
I, and millions of other Americans, have been paying income taxes our entire lives, and now you propose to increase our taxes yet again. Why? Because you "incompetent bastards" spent our money so profligately that you just kept on spending even after you ran out of money. Now, you come to the American taxpayers and say we need more to pay off YOUR debt.
To add insult to injury, you label us "greedy" for calling "bullshit" to your incompetence. Well, Captain Bullshit, I have a few questions for YOU:
How much money have you earned from the American taxpayers during your pathetic 50-year political career?
At what age did you retire from your pathetic political career, and how much are you receiving in annual retirement benefits from the American taxpayers?
How much do you pay for YOUR government provided health insurance?
What cuts in YOUR retirement and healthcare benefits are you proposing in your disgusting deficit reduction proposal, or as usual, have you exempted yourself and your political cronies?
It is you, Captain Bullshit, and your political co-conspirators called Congress who are the "greedy" ones. It is you and your fellow nutcase thieves who have bankrupted America and stolen the American dream from millions of loyal, patriotic taxpayers. And for what? Votes and your job and retirement security at our expense, you lunk-headed leech.
That's right, sir. You and yours have bankrupted America for the sole purpose of advancing your pathetic, political careers. You know it, we know it, and you know that we know it.
And you can take that to the bank, you miserable son-of-a-bitch. NO, I did not stutter.
P.S. And stop calling Social Security benefits "entitlements" WHAT AN INSULT!!!!
I have been paying in to the SS system for 45 years. It's my money; give it back to me the way the system was designed and stop patting yourself on the back like you are being generous to be dolling out these monthly checks.
LIKE THE IRRATE WRITER of the foregoing epistle, I, too, used to think that retired members of Congress were grossly overpaid, perhaps drawing still their full salary as a retirement perk. Not so. As of October 1, 2011, 495 retired Members of Congress were receiving federal pensions based fully or in part on their congressional service. Of this number, 280 had retired under CSRS and were receiving an average annual pension of $70,620. A total of 215 Members had retired with service under FERS and were receiving an average annual pension of $39,576 in 2011. To be eligible to draw retirement pay under either of these pension plans, a person must have served at least five years.
So it isn’t as if they are drawing full pay once they retire. (Full pay averages somewhere around $174,000, as I understand it. Pay is raised automatically by law unless Congress votes to forego raises in a given year—as it did in 2009, 2010 and, as I gather, this year.)
What’s more, after 1983, members of Congress are required to pay Social Security tax just like everyone else; their retirement plan is FERS. When they retire, they get Social Security benefits. Before 1983, they could not participate in Social Security; nor did they pay Social Security taxes. Their pension plan was CSRS. In both categories, members of Congress pay into the appropriate fund a percentage of their salaries just as they do to Social Security.
Other wrinkles complicate the situation, but the short of it is that members of Congress (and all other federal employees) get no special or excessive retirement pay.
Of course, the retired scoundrels and crooks also have access to health care without having to pay. Or so I’ve heard. Not true.
Members of Congress pay health insurance premiums just like everyone else; and they pay into Medicare, too.
For more details, visit military.com and look up benefits; or search for columns by Tom Philpott, who discusses these matters pretty thoroughly in his posting for August 20, 2010.
Oh—another financial benefit not discussed by any of the places I consulted: all members of Congress, whether retired or not, are probably getting dividend checks from the corporations whose operations were aided and abetted by laws that Congress passed.
COMES THE REFORMATION
A friend sent me the specifics set forth below for revamping Congress. The recommended steps seem to me to tackle and remove most of the present impediments to decent government in this heppy heppy land.
Capitalism is probably the best way to organize human society: capitalism works well because it depends upon a fundamental aspect of human nature, greed. A capitalistic society like ours is inevitably a plutocracy in which government is conducted by or for the wealthy. But a plutocracy need not also be an oligarchy, government by the few. Over the years, we have participated in the charade of the oligarches, who have cleverly convinced us that our form of government is a democracy. It is time to reject this figment, destroy the oligarchy, and reclaim some semblance of the democracy we all think we’re living in. And we can do it with a simple series of laws, that we call here—:
CONGRESSIONAL REFORM ACT OF 2011
With actions like the following, we can revitalize our moribund government.
1. Term Limits
12 years only, one of the possible options below:
a. Two Six-year Senate terms
b. Six Two-year House terms
c. One Six-year Senate term and three Two-Year House terms
2. No Tenure / No Pension
A Congressman/woman collects a salary while in office and receives no pay when out of office. Serving in Congress is an honor, not a career. The Founding Fathers envisioned citizen legislators, so ours should serve their term(s), then go home and get back to work at some useful occupation.
3. Congress (past, present & future) participates in Social Security
All monies in the Congressional retirement fund move to the Social Security system immediately. All future funds intended for this purpose flow into the Social Security system, and Congressmen/women participate in the system just as the rest of the population does.
4. Congresspersons can purchase their own supplemental retirement plan, just as all Americans do
5. Congresspersons will no longer vote themselves a pay raise
Congressional pay will increase by the lower of CPI or 3%.
6. Congresspersons lose their current health care system and participate in the same health care system as the American people
7. Congresspersons must equally abide by all laws they impose on the American people
And we’ll be re-running this Excellent Plan here until it is actually adopted. See you (and it) next time.
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