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AT LAST, FICTION FROM McCLOUD

SculptorCoverCartoonist/theorist Scott McCloud who made comics history with his analytical tome Understanding Comics and its numerous sequels, will return to fiction with his next opus, a graphic novel, The Sculptor, that will be published in February 2015. Interviewed by George Gene Gustines at the New York Times’ artsbeat.blog, McCloud previewed the book.

The Sculptor is about an artist in his 20s who has hit rock bottom creatively. Making things worse is his name. He’s David Smith, but not the artist (1906-1965) known for his abstract and geometrical sculptures. When McCloud’s David encounters Death (in the form of his deceased uncle), he makes a deal for a special ability dreamed up during childhood:

“It’s the power to sculpt anything with his bare hands,” McCloud wrote in an email, an ability David came up with as a 9-year-old, during Hanukkah or Christmas (he can’t remember which), when he imagined his entire family with super powers.

But with great power also comes a great deadline: his deal with the grim reaper gives him 200 days to leave his mark on the world. Despite the fantastical premise, the story is still very much ground in reality, and also a romance, McCloud said.

And the cover of the book communicates three essential things about the tome: the supernatural way David shapes the world around him, the love story that forms the book’s emotional center, and their surroundings in New York City. McCloud told USA Today: “By having David’s lover, Meg, emerge from the brick itself, we were able to combine the second and third elements into one hopefully unforgettable image.”

Whatever else the picture may be, in its treatment of Meg as part of the brickwork, it is an outstanding example of McCloud’s command of his medium. Dang: the man is good, better than ever. And he was no slouch to begin with.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE COMPLETE PEANUTS: 1991-1992

The Complete Peanuts 1991-1992 coverTHE COMPLETE PEANUTS: 1991-1992
By Charles M. Schulz
Introduction by Tom Tomorrow
328 pages
7 x 8.5, landscape
b/w
hardcover
2014 Fantagraphics
$29.99

This is the 21st volume in Fantagraphics’ complete reprinting project, which will culminate two years hence with the 25th compilation, having taken 12 years (at the rate of two volumes a year), a long time in the erstwhile fly-by-night comics fandom publishing realm. Few publishers have had the financial stamina to carry to completion so ambitiously long-term an enterprise. Even I, long-time Fantagraphics fan and freelance contributor, felt a twinge of doubt when I first heard of the Peanuts project: will they actually get to the last volume? Now, it seems they will. And the doubts of yesteryear seem silly.

Tom Tomorrow (aka Herblock Prize winner Dan Perkins) seems an unlikely fan of Peanuts, judging from the traced-from-photographs technique he employs in his politically satirical comic strip, This Modern World, but he has been a passionate devotee since he was a kid in the 1960s. In his introductory musings, he recounts his 1992 meeting and lunching with Schulz at the latter’s skating rink in Santa Rosa. Schulz ate lunch there every day at the same table; and to this day, Perkins tells us, “you will still find a ‘Reserved’ sign” on the table.

The book, handsomely designed by Seth, includes a short boilerplate biography of Schulz in the back (repeated in every volume in the series) and, astonishingly, an Index that enables you to find the strips about the Beagle Scouts (pp. 288, 293) and the ones mentioning Beethoven (p. 304) and Charles Dickens (p. 175). Charlie Brown, unsurprisingly, is featured in more strips than any other character; then Snoopy and, surprisingly, Sally Brown, Charlie’s little sister. Next in frequency, Linus and Lucy (about equal), then Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel shows up only four times in this book; its heyday was another year.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE MAD WORLD OF VIRGIL PARTCH

The Mad World of Virgil Partch
By Jonathan Barli
Introduction by Peter Bagge
210 pages
10x12-inch landscape
b/w and color
hardcover
Fantagraphics 2013
$49.99

The world cannot have enough of the notorious “Vipper” of True magazine celebrity, but in the years since his untimely death in 1984 in an auto accident, we’ve had an over much of too little. This book attempts, with resounding success, to make up for the erstwhile deficiency. Barli, who edited and designed this volume, supplies also the cartoonist’s biography, liberally laced with Vip’s own madcap comments and observations — plus numerous photographs of the Vipper (who loved having himself photographed at odd moments and in odd costumes and/or poses) and scores of cartoons, sketches and miscellaneous art produced as book and magazine and advertising illustration from the beginning of Vip’s career at Disney Studios to the end, in chronological order. Many of the cartoons are reproduced directly from original art and appear herein at gigantic full-page size, a visual treat.

Although Vip cartoons appeared in most general interest magazines during the heyday of that kind of publication, his home was True, whose editors were as maniac as their “Vipper” and who therefore commissioned several articles from him, which he wrote and lavishly illustrated on various topics — his army career, a cross-country trip from his home in California to New York, booze, vacation, and more. Some of them are published again in this tome.

At True, Vip gained famed as the cartoon chronicler of booze and broads, bottles and bimbos, and in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, his cartoons were published in several collections, which are represented herein.

Vip produced a lot of wordless cartoons that display a wonderfully bizarre sense of humor, but his “traditional,” captioned, cartoons are worth study as well as admiration. The pictures make sense (of the Vipper sort) only when seen as an extension or completion of the caption; the pictures are puzzles, and the captions “explain” the puzzles. In short, Vip is the absolute master of the art of blending the visual and the verbal for laughs that neither the pictures nor the words inspire alone without the other.

Vip2

Vip7

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

WEISS ON HEARST

Morris Weiss wrote and drew Mickey Finn in its final years (1970-77) and also wrote Joe Palooka in its last years (ending 1984). I interviewed him several years before he died last May (an article based upon the interview appeared in an issue of Cartoonist Profiles and in Opus 325 of Rants & Raves at the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com), and among the things he said was the following about William Randolph Hearst:

The most benevolent man ever to head a syndicate or magazines was William Randolph Hearst. There wasn't a more generous and more appreciative publisher than was William Randolph Hearst. I'll tell you a story about Hearst that was told to me by Harry Hershfield.

I was sitting in Hershfield's office on the top floor of the Channing Building on 42nd Street. He had sued the Hearst Syndicate for the rights to Abie the Agent, the character Abe Kabbibble that he had created. And the case had dragged out in the courts for about a year or two. The ruling eventually went against him because — I think the ruling was that if he was that concerned about the ownership of the character, it was William Randolph Hearst photobehoven (that was the legal term, I think) upon him to have it registered before he signed it away to the syndicate.  So he lost the case. 

And Harry Hershfield is telling me this story, and he's pointing to this antique French phone on his desk, and he said, "So now it was over, and I didn't have any money. I'm broke. I haven't had any income." 

This was before he did the radio show, "Can You Top This."  And he said, "I haven't earned a dime now in this year-and-a-half or two years, and now I'm looking at all the bills: I have to pay court costs and lawyer's fees." And he said, "I didn't know where the money was coming from." 

And then he pointed to the phone, and he said, "So this phone rang, and I picked it up, and a voice said, ‘Mr. Hershfield?’  And I said, ‘Yes.’  And he said, ‘This is Mr. Hearst's attorney, and he wants you to send him all the bills for court costs and lawyer's fees:  he wants to pay them for you.’" 

Now, that's a story about Hearst; it's never been published. And it's a story that Harry Hershfield told me when I met him, I would say, around 1934 or 1935. 

Hearst respected the talent he bought. And he made stars of his talent. He promoted them. He promoted his writers and his columnists and his artists, and the illustrators.

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE REAL G.I. JOE COMICS

I’ve been trying to learn who drew this feature, the Golden Age G.I. Joe. And I finally know: it was Henry Sharp, ID’d by Saun Clancy at the Comics History Exchange on Facebook. Henry Enoch Sharp is listed in the Jerry Bails and Hames Ware Who’s Who in American Comic Books, which says he worked in the early 1950s. He was apparently connected to the “Wild Wild West” TV show as producer/director/script editor. He did sf stuff for DC in 1952 and 1955; his only work for Ziff-Davis was on G.I. Joe (1951-53), which he drew in a distinctive realistic manner with a comedic flair, as you can see:

GIjoe1

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

COLLECTOR'S CORNICHE

Here's a rare item for your scrapbook — a magazine gag cartoon by the fabulous Jack “Plastic Man” Cole, published long before Plastic Man started in Police Comics in August 1941 — in Collier’s magazine for September 2, 1939. Cole had arrived in New York in 1936, hoping to freelance gag cartoons to magazines. After a year’s abysmal luck, he went to work for Harry “A” Chesler in a comic art shop, drawing and sometimes writing comic book stories, and he probably continued freelancing cartoons to magazines. Cartoons like the one at hand. In late 1939 — perhaps about the time this cartoon was published — Cole was hired to edit comic books for the Lev Gleason line, beginning with Silver Streak Comics. Cole’s first work for Gleason appeared in Silver Streak No.4 (cover dated May 1940 but produced, probably, a couple months before), a re-design of the title character’s costume.

JackColeColliers

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

IT'S ALL IN HOW YOU LOOK AT IT

Cap'n Crunch

A study by Cornell University reveals that the cartoon mascots that appear on cereal boxes, such as Cap’n Crunch and the Trix rabbit, are insidiously designed so that their eyes tilt down by 9.6 degrees — the perfect angle to make eye contact with a child standing in the supermarket aisle. Well, maybe. Does it depend upon which shelf the cereal box is on? Does it work if the box is on the top shelf? The bottom shelf?

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

READ AND RELISH

Thoughts by the late New Yorker cartoonist Charley Barsotti:

            Someday I’m going to write a “How to Be a Cartoonist” book. It won’t have anything to say about drawing but will tell you how to dress casually without being picked up as a bum.

            I will reveal the true history of cartooning from the earliest times when cartoonists drew on air. This was known as the Golden Age because no one could prove the drawings weren’t as funny as the artists claimed they were.

            Eventually, of course, editors came along and messed things up by passing gas through the air cartoons. Since then, things haven’t changed that much.

            I will also include a few of the hard truths I’ve learned about the business over the years. For example: Talent is okay, but denial is critical.

            It’s been written that creative work is the hardest work of all. It goes without saying that this was written by artists, not ditchdiggers.

 

Charles Barsotti at drawing table

           

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

THE STEPHAN PASTIS MACHINE

Timmy Failure - Mistakes Were Made cover Stephan Pastis photoStrip cartoonist Stephan Pastis seems a glutton for work. Not only does he do a daily comic strip — traditionally a recipe for destroying one’s spare time — and collaborate with the profession’s most reclusive retiree, he also writes books. Inspired, no doubt, by Jeff Kinney’s Wimpy books, Pastis has published three hardcover books about Timmy Failure, “a comically clueless boy who runs the Total Failure detective agency with a 1,500-pound polar bear named Total,” reports Sally Lodge at publishersweekly.com. The first book in the series, the 2012 debut title Mistakes Were Made, “ spent more than 20 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and has 350,000 copies in print in North America.”

In addition to producing the strip Pearls Before Swine and its reprint tomes and the Timmy Failure books, Pastis spends hunks of time traveling around the country doing signings and otherwise promoting his products. Lodge reveals how Pastis balances his workload: the secret is rooted in his carefully structured creative regimen. “Each week, Pastis creates 10 Pearls Before Swine comic strips between Monday and Thursday, thereby producing three extra strips per week, or more than 150 a year. ‘That’s buying me five months when I can do all the other things -- write the novels, do the tours and other promotion for the books and strip, and have a life,’ he explained.”

Lodge continues:

Timmy Failure - We Meet AgainPastis’s success at switching mindsets between Pearls and Timmy Failure depends on just that: for him, it’s a total switch. The endeavors are so different from each other, the author said, that he “totally separates them out,” writing his novels full-time in six or seven weeks.

“I write the books in one run and then return totally to Pearls,” he said. “When you do anything creative, you really have to live entirely in that world. I think my ability to do that is what makes me such a bad dinner guest. I’m always looking over someone’s shoulder, taking in stuff around the room, immersed in the world of whatever I’m writing about, and keeping the characters completely in my head.”

Does Pastis agree that he’s firmly on Team Kid? “Oh man, I totally am!” he said. “I’m 12 years old in my head. With the Timmy Failure books, I write what makes me laugh, and as it turns out, what I find funny, 12-year-olds find funny. And the other thing is, though I didn’t set out to do it, when I step back and look at my books, I realize that in many ways Timmy is really me as a kid. I didn’t do that on purpose. When I began the first book I just sat down and wrote, and decided I’d figure it out later.”

Pastis remains committed to both Timmy Failure and Pearls. “I feel that they are in my blood, and I’d do both even if nobody paid me,” he said. “I never feel burdened or overwhelmed by my work. People tell you to find something you love for a career, and I have. That makes me feel very lucky.”

 

Timmy Failure lift art

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

QUOTES AND MOTS DEPARTMENT

“Be wise because the world needs more wisdom. And if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.”
                                                                                                    —Sandman’s Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman at desk

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

TALES FROM THE CON

Tales from the Con, a comic book from Image, is written by Brad Guigar and drawn by Chris Giarrusso, who offer single-panel comic-con gags sandwiched between comic strips of three or four panels, all taking fun potshots at the peculiarities and proclivities of the comic-con culture. Probably a better glimpse of the comic-con milieu and experience than any of the numerous post-comic-con reports, including my own (in the Usual Place, Rants & Raves Opus 328).

ConTales1

I haven’t run across Giarrusso’s work before, but he’s been drawing comic books since about 1999, when he created the Mini Marvels at Marvel, writing and drawing dozens of crisply rendered comic strips and short stories for the company. Displaying a deft and sure hand at cartoon comedy, he created a brand new character for the Marvel Universe, Elephant Steve. These days, Giarrusso is perhaps best known (everywhere, apparently, except here at Rancid Raves, where we remain resolutely ignorant of many of the day’s most persistent fads) for writing and drawing G-Man, an all-ages series featuring a young superhero who gains the powers of super strength, super endurance, and flight when he wears a magic cape; now available in two graphic novel volumes.

In Harley Quinn Invades Comic-Con International San Diego, storytellers Amanda Conner and her husband Jimmy Palmiotti, plus a dozen different artists, don’t do as good a job depicting the madness of Sandy Eggo as Guigar and Giarrusso do. Harley goes to the Con, hoping to show her artwork to some comic book publisher and thereby get a career.  But mostly, she blunders around in vast quantities of people. That’s why all the artists were essential to this book: each one is cramming scores of Con attendees in weird attire into every panel.

 

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

COMIC-CONNED

Wash Tubbs
We are rapidly approaching — and perhaps are already deeply into — an era in which every major American city has a comic-con, but the term “comic-con” seems applicable only to the Comic-Con International in San Diego. And that application of the term has become itself nearly meaningless. In a celebration of recommended summer activities, USA Weekend’s cover for June 20-22 gave the biggest type to “Comic-Con.” But the article within — after dispensing with movies, cocktails, and concert tours — in attempting to give the “10 best reasons to go to Comic-Con” did not include comic books or comic strips or cartoonists among those reasons. And the word “superhero” was mentioned only in connection with dressing up in the costume of your favorite. Others of the “10 reasons” include celebrity spotting, family-friendly events, retro toy retailers, free nightly parties and “nearly every pop-culture passion.” Oh, and “Artists Alley” — “where many folks are happy to draw whatever your heart desires.”

But no cartoonists, comic strips or comic books. Just “pop culture passions.”

The themes adopted for the Sandy Eggo Con this year commemorate various anniversaries — Batman’s 75th, Daredevil’s 50th, Marvel Comics’ 75th, Usagi Yojimbo’s 30th, and Hellboy’s 20th. All comics milestones. But 2014 is also an anniversary year for many of the most historic, precedent-setting newspaper comic strips, some of which set the pace for comic book adventuring. With 80th anniversaries are Terry and the Pirates, Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, Secret Agent X-9, Mandrake the Magician, and Li’l Abner; 90th anniversaries — Wash Tubbs (and Captain Easy, a model for Superman, who came along in 1929, 85 years ago) and Little Orphan Annie. And other 85th anniversaries are those of Buck Rogers and Tarzan — and Popeye in Thimble Theatre.

Segar's PopeyeBut none of the program sessions in San Diego recognized the signal contributions these comic strips made in the field that the Comic-Con is supposedly celebrating.

Heidi MacDonald, comics editor at the Internet news site The Beat, estimates that there are 600-700 popular culture conventions being held around the world each year. Newspaper reports on comic-cons usually emphasize the colorful costumes on parade at these events but seldom mention comic books or comic strips. Or cartoonists. But the news articles are awash in the names of movie stars and other pop culture notables.

At nytimes.com, George Gene Gustines observes the change: “Its name may emphasize comic books, but New York Comic-Con [scheduled for October] at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center also celebrates film, television and video games. ReedPop, which organizes the show, is making that appreciation of all things pop culture more official by declaring October 3-12 ‘New York Super Week,’ a citywide festival that will include gaming events, lectures, concerts, comedy shows and more.”

Most of the new crop of comic-cons report record-breaking attendance year after successive year. The Denver Comic-Con, which I’ve attended since its inaugural three years ago, jumped from about 27,700 the first year to 61,000 the second and, this year, to 86,500. Comic-cons are apparently growing in popularity, but they’re also growing further and further away from the comics that inspired them.

Still, at the San Diego Comic-Con, officials can point to lots of comics stuff. Said Jim McLauchlin in his wrap-up at newsarama.com: “A few years ago, when the fanboys lit their torches and sharpened their pitchforks screaming ‘You sold out!’ the Con trumpeted that they still had more hours dedicated to straight comics programming, more hardcore comics events, and more comic book vendors than any other damn show in the country. And they were absolutely right. In this, San Diego sits in position of paradox: They have more comics than anyone, yet comics are somehow subsumed, pushed to the side.”

For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

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For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com