goComics
 

MAD FOR THE COAST?

MAD Trump AN coverOn Wednesday, March 22, Mad caricaturist Tom Richmond pondered the fate of the magazine:

A week or so ago Bleeding Cool broke the news that Mad was apparently following the rest of DC Comics out to Burbank “soon.” Back in 2013 when DC announced they were moving out of NYC and to Burbank, I wrote this post speculating on what would happen with Mad. The short version offers four possible scenarios:

  1. Enough current Mad editors and art staff make the move that Mad remains the Mad we know and love.
  2. DC bankrolls a small, separate Mad office in NYC, and Mad remains the Mad we know and love.
  3. DC forms a new editorial and art staff to continue Mad out west, and we have no idea if Mad remains the Mad we know and love.
  4. DC cancels Mad magazine.

Turned out that No.2 was what happened. Now it seems we will see one of the other options take place. Several people have written to ask me if I will still continue to draw for Mad, if the editorial staff will make Tom-richmond-1the move, or what in general will happen. I have no answers.

My general sense is that, of the three remaining possibilities above, No.3 is the most likely. I do not foresee many or any of the current staff pulling up stakes from the city most have lived in their whole lives and moving to the world of bean sprouts, infused water, and suntans, but as far as I know, no one on the current staff has made any official decisions. Mad is a valuable brand for DC Entertainment and that brand is much more viable with a magazine in production, so I do not think No.4 is likely.

As for what kind of changes will take place if scenario No.3 is indeed what takes place, your guess is as good as mine. I think we will see some big changes, though. Mad has always had a distinct New York flavor to its voice, from the Yiddish slang it’s always incorporated to just a general NYC sensibility, I do not see that flavor continuing on. A new staff will bring new voices and new directions. My work may or may not have a place there. Lots of unknowns. Time will tell.

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

THOMAS NAST AWARD GETS SACK

Sack TrumpOn Tuesday, the Overseas Press Club announced that the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Steve Sack is this year’s recipient of its Thomas Nast Award for editorial cartooning. Sack, whose work won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize, says he is “immensely honored” to be recognized by the OPC, even as he emphasizes the role of the press in 2017.

“Technology may be shrinking our world, but without the work of professional journalists to sort out what’s truly of value, we’d be left with nothing but gibberish, commercial pablum and government spin,” Sack tells Michael Cavna at the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “The press is my window to the world. To have my cartoons recognized by those whose efforts I depend on every day,” he adds, “is most gratifying.”

The OPC judges said that “Sack successfully harnessed all the cartoonist’s tools — caricature, composition, biting wit and solid journalism — in his impressive portfolio.”

Said Cavna: “Sack draws a rather uncanny Vladimir Putin, complete with heavily hooded eyes perched above long cheekbones — as if even the Russian leader’s very face is simultaneously distancing itself while remaining ever watchful.”

The OPC also awarded a finalist (runner-up) citation to Adam Zyglis of the Buffalo News.

“I was extremely happy to see Steve Sack win the top prize,” says Zyglis, who won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. “He is a true master of the craft, and is at the top of his game right now. To be a finalist behind someone of his caliber is humbling.”

SackZyglis

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

RUBEN BOLLING WINS HERBLOCK PRIZE

The Herblock Foundation's press release:

Ruben Bolling, pen name for Ken Fisher, has been named the winner of the 2017 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning for his weekly page-size comic-strip format cartoon Tom the Dancing Bug, a free-format cartoon that uses varying types of humor, artistic styles and formats. It’s an unusual strip in that in any given week, it could feature a spoof, a multi-panel sketch, political or absurdist humor, recurring characters or caricatures of real people. But during 2016, political subject matter was at its heart, as it mostly dealt with the election and the rise to power of Donald Trump.TomBug

In any year, it would be an unusual — that is, unconventional — choice for an award typically given to the time-honored editorial page single-panel commentary cartoon.

Judges for this year’s contest were Mark Fiore, editorial cartoonist in animation and winner of the 2016 Herblock Prize; Matt Wuerker, editorial cartoonist for Politico and 2010 Herblock Prize winner; and Martha Kennedy, curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art at the Library of Congress.

Fiore said: “Ruben Bolling’s cartoons are consistently sharp, funny and incredibly original. His use of recurring characters, like Hollingsworth Hound and Lucky Ducky, add a wonderfully inventive richness to his masterful satire. Bolling’s deft skewering operates under the cover of silly cartoon fun.”

Said Wuerker: “Ruben Bolling created his own unique style of political cartoon, one that’s full of sly allusions and clever twists. Tom the Dancing Bug pushed the form into new territory with imaginative tropes, deft imagery and provocative allegory. He makes his political points with a humor and writing style that’s fresh and singularly his own.”

In his strip, Bolling repeatedly demonstrates his concern about the power of large corporations, saith St. Wikipedia, and satirizes the way government has been corrupted by money. Particularly since 9/11, Bolling's work often concerns war. Many of his strips admit no political interpretation, instead featuring absurdist humor or parodying comic strip conventions. Bolling's lampoons of celebrity culture, such as in the parodic series of comic strips labeled "Funny, Funny, Celebs," can be scathing.

It was while attending Harvard in the mid-1980s that Fisher came up with the idea for Tom the Dancing Bug and his pseudonym, Ruben Bolling (which is a melding of the names of two favorite old-time baseball players, Ruben Amaro and Frank Bolling). The strip originally ran in the Harvard Law School Record. More about Bolling and the history of the strip can be found in the usual place, RCHarvey.com.

You can see more examples of the Bug that Dances by Googling “Tom the Dancing Bug.” Happy hunting.

This year’s Finalist (runner-up) is Marty Two Bulls Sr., a freelance Oglala Dakota cartoonist who has drawn editorial cartoons for the Indian Country Today Media Network since 2001. He will receive a $5,000 after-tax cash prize. Fiore commented: “The cartoons of Marty Two Bulls, Sr. take a hard-hitting look at issues impacting native peoples. His bold style screams with powerful messages that have been overlooked by much of society. Two Bulls’ strong work exemplifies a courage and ferocity that is the lifeblood of a good political cartoon.”

TwoBulls

The Herblock Prize is awarded annually by the Herb Block Foundation for “distinguished examples of editorial cartooning that exemplify the courageous independent standard set by Herblock.” The winner receives a $15,000 after-tax cash prize and a sterling silver Tiffany trophy. Bolling will receive the Prize on March 29th in a ceremony held at the Library of Congress. Representative John Lewis, the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, will deliver the annual Herblock Lecture at the awards ceremony.

Donald and John

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

REUBEN NOMINEES

NCS logoNational Cartoonists Society members have nominated the top five finalists for the 2016 NCS Reuben Award for Cartoonist of the Year. Ballots are now being cast by all voting NCS members, and the results will be announced when the Reuben is presented to the winner at the 71st Annual Reuben Awards Banquet on May 27th in Portland, Oregon.

This year’s line-up of nominees is historic in at least two ways. First, it includes more than one woman cartoonist. In fact, there are more women nominees than men. In addition, two of the five are not syndicated newspaper comic strip cartoonists. Wonders never cease.

Cynics among us will frown, saying three women on the ballot will split the “woman vote” and necessarily result in one of the two men winning. So much for cynicism.

The nominees and their credits are detailed (as follows) at the NCS website:

Lynda Barry is a cartoonist and writer. She’s authored 21 books and received numerous awards and honors including an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from University of the Arts, Philadelphia, two Will Eisner Awards, the American Library Association’s Alex Award, the Washington State Governor’s Award, the Wisconsin Library Associations RR Donnelly Award, the Wisconsin Visual Art Lifetime Achievement Award, and was inducted into the Will Eisner Hall of Fame in 2016. Her book, One! Hundred! Demons! was required reading for all incoming freshmen at Stanford University in 2008. She’s currently Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Creativity and Director of the Image Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison were she teaches writing and picture-making. Lynda was nominated for Cartoonist of the Year for 2016 and will be the recipient of the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s meeting in Portland Oregon. You can follow Lynda on Twitter at @NearSightedMonkey.

Stephan Pastis is the creator of the daily comic strip Pearls Before Swine, syndicated by Universal Uclick. Stephan practiced law in the San Fransisco Bay area before following his love of cartooning and eventually seeing syndication with Pearls, which was launched in newspapers beginning December 31, 2001. NCS awarded Pearls Before Swine the Best Newspaper Comic Strip in 2003 and in 2006. Stephan is also the author of the children’s book series Timmy Failure. Stephan lives in northern California with his wife Staci and their two children. This is his ninth nomination for Cartoonist of the Year. Visit Stephan’s blog and the Pearls Before Swine website.

Hilary Price is the creator of Rhymes With Orange, a daily newspaper comic strip syndicated by King Features. Created in 1995, Rhymes has won the NCS Best Newspaper Panel Division four times (2007, 2009, 2012 and 2014). Her work has also appeared in Parade Magazine, The Funny Times, People and Glamour. When she began drawing Rhymes, she was the youngest woman to ever have a syndicated strip. Hilary draws the strip in an old toothbrush factory that has since been converted to studio space for artists. She lives in western Massachusetts. This is Hilary’s fourth nomination for the Cartoonist of the Year. You can visit Rhymes With Orange online.

Mark Tatulli is a syndicated cartoonist who produces two daily newspaper comic strips, Heart of the City and Lio, which appear in 400 newspapers all over the world. He currently has written three books in a children’s illustrated novel series entitled Desmond Pucket, which has been optioned for television by Radical Sheep. He also has two planned children’s picture books coming from Roaring Book Press, an imprint of McMillian Publishing. Lio (a sample of which appears below) has been nominated three times for the NCS Best Comic Strip, winning in 2009. Lio was also nominated for Germany’s Max and Moritz Award in 2010. This is Mark’s third nomination for Cartoonist of the Year. You can follow Mark on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/mtatulli/ and find his Lio strips here http://www.gocomics.com/lio.

Ann Telnaes creates editorial cartoons in various mediums— animation, visual essays, live sketches, and traditional print— for the Washington Post. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 2001 for her print cartoons. Telnaes’ print work was shown in a solo exhibition at the Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress in 2004. Her first book, Humor’s Edge, was published by Pomegranate Press and the Library of Congress in 2004. A collection of Vice President Cheney cartoons, Dick, was self-published by Telnaes and Sara Thaves in 2006. Other awards include: the NCS Reuben Division Award for Editorial Cartoons (2016), the National Press Foundation’s Berryman Award (2006), the Maggie Award, Planned Parenthood (2002), the 15th Annual International Dutch Cartoon Festival (2007), the National Headliner Award (1997), the Population Institute XVII Global Media Awards (1996), and the Sixth Annual Environmental Media Awards (1996).   

Telnaes worked for several years as a designer for Walt Disney Imagineering. She has also animated and designed for various studios in Los Angeles, New York, London, and Taiwan.

Telnaes is the current president of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists (AAEC). This is Ann’s first Cartoonist of the Year nomination.You can visit Ann’s website, http://www.anntelnaes.com, and follow her on twitter at @AnnTelnaes.

 

ReubenNominees2016

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

POSTCARDS AND OLD MAGS: Part Two

Postcards and An Old Pamphlet

At the postcard show, I also pawed through a couple files of postcards and picked up those displayed here. The first three cards are all promotions for a postcard dealer named Allan Gottlieb. These cards were scattered all over the venue — Gottlieb’s promotions. I stared at them for a while because I recognized the drawing style. Then I caught the cartoonist’s signature in the corner — Rick Geary.

Postcard15

 

Postcard16

 

Postcard17

The other cards are what you usually find in the “comics” sections of postcard files — lame sexist jokes, mostly. (Well, those are the ones I buy.) I try not to spend more than $3/postcard, so my harvest at these affairs is fairly modest. The cartoonists don’t often sign them, but three of these bear signatures, two of which can be read — Faber and Walt Munson.

I also found a little booklet, Foolish Questions: Yellowstone’s Best, assembled by Jack Chaney and enlarged by J.E. Haynes in 1924. I like the antique cartoons within, but the cartoonist isn’t given formal credit anywhere I can find. He signs “Oz” with a flourish on the “Z,” and in one drawing, he’s added “Black,” presumably his last name.

YellowStone1

 

YellowStone2

The foolishness of the questions is not quite of the caliber of Rube Goldberg or Al Jaffee, but it’s good fun anyhow. Here are some: Are these springs natural or were they just put here? Is the elevation here too high to toast marshmallows? Why doesn’t the government pen the bears up? Ranger, will you please tell me on which side of the river the bridge is on? Is that Sponge Geyser made of real petrified moss? Do the beavers come down to the beaver dam to drink? What does Old Faithful do in the wintertime? Are we going up or down?

 

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

POSTCARDS AND OLD MAGS: Part One

An Old Mag

Delineator  June 1928  cover
Went to a postcard and paper show last summer. This one, across town at the Jefferson County Fair Grounds, comes around every 4-5 months, but I don’t go to them all. I’m not really into postcards. Some of the dealers have old magazines, though — and books. So I go for that reason, hoping to find a book or magazine that a postcard dealer doesn’t know is a treasure. That almost never happens. But this time, I found a hardcover collection of Ted Key’s Hazel cartoons from the Saturday Evening Post. The book is copyrighted 1946 and includes cartoons as far back as 1943, so it may be the first Hazel collection. Dunno, but I like it.

Found a couple old magazines, too — The Delineator, a woman’s mag of short romantic stories and women’s clothing fashions that started in the mid-1860s; the one I bought, June 1928, has a page of Rose O’Neill’s Kewpies and an article by Ida Tarbell who explains why she’s losing faith in Prohibition.

Tarbell, with Lincoln Steffens, was one of the most famous muckrakers in the early years of the 20th century. In 1902-04, she produced a nine-part series on Standard Oil, exposing the often illegal monopolistic practices of the company, resulting, in 1911, in the Supreme Court ordered dissolution of the monopoly.

I like magazines of this vintage (from, say, 1915 through the early 1950s) because of the illustrations — the ones accompanying short stories, chiefly, but not exclusively. Before the dominance of photography, advertisements were illuminated by illustrators. And in many of the magazines from the last 20 years of the period single-panel cartoons littered the back pages to which long articles and stories were continued: the cartoons broke up the columns of gray type.

As a rule, The Delineator apparently didn’t publish cartoons although I found one by Helen Hokinson, who would soon find fame with her cartoons of mannerly matrons in The New Yorker. I’ve posted her cartoon and some representative illustrations nearby.

Kewpies1

 

Kewpies2

 

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

THE BOOK OF HOPE

By Tommi Musturi; translated by Pauliina Haasjoki
220 7x9-inch landscape pages, color
2015 Fantagraphics hardcover
$34.99

Book of Hope coverThe best short description of this volume is on the book’s back cover: “Tommi Mustukri’s graphic novel depicts the melancholic retirement of a couple in rural Finland. As the days veer between the existential monotony and quotidian beauty of routine, everyday life, bigger dreams and ideas take shape. The Book of Hope eloquently and humanely lives up to its title while also serving as a showcase for the medium of comics itself.”

In Hope, Musturi ponders old age. The protagonist, a squat old bald man with a luxuriant moustache, is leading a quiet life at a country farm, and we watch him perform various activities, often musing philosophically as he does.

Walking through a forest, he says: “The sigh of a forest puts everything in scale.” “The eye of the night is lit for the one who has no one to talk to. It watches over you as you lie down to rest in the wonderful night.”

The narrative is divided into five parts. In Part 1, we see a lake and a house, and we meet the old man. We see him dozing, building a bird house, fishing in a boat, eating dinner, walking through the forest. At the end of the day, it rains. When he talks, occasionally someone off-camera responds. Probably, as we learn by the end of the book, his wife, the old lady.

The narrative is accomplished with 2-page spreads. Each incident takes place on facing pages; then we move on. There’s seldom (if ever) continuity from one spread to the next. Each page is a grid of 8 identically sized panels. Neither the number nor the size ever changes. The clockwork-like regularly gives the narrative a leisurely, thoughtful pace, contributing considerably to the over-all sense of an unhurried mundane life, exactly the life the old couple is living.

Part 2 seems to focus on the woods; Part 3, the desert; Part 4, a burnt-out forest; Part 5, the beach.

In Part 4, we finally meet his wife. Part 5 begins with the courtship of the couple and continues into their young marriage—housekeeping, hunting, fishing. The chapter contrasts their young married life and their life now, in old age. The old man makes a kite and flies it. The final 2-page spread shows the couple dancing when young. The next—the last—page depicts their farm house in the blue dusk with lights in the windows. We’ve seen the farm house before, at the beginning of almost every chapter. But this last picture of it is the only one with lights in the windows.

The implication is that life goes on. The implied hope is that it will continue to go on—with all its little pleasures, duties, and imaginings. Just as it has so far throughout this book.

But the attraction of the book—apart from the restful reassurance of the narrative—is the art. Musturi draws with a simple, bold line and colors with complimentary hues. Altogether, an exemplary graphic novel. Here are a few of the spreads, pictures and philosophies.

  Hope1

 

Hope2

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

ALEX RAYMOND: AN ARTISTIC JOURNEY

Alex Raymond: An Artistic Journey—Adventure, Intrigue, and Romance
By Ron Goulart; Introduction by Daniel Herman
242 19x13-inch pages, b/w and some color
2015 Hermes Press hardcover
$75

Alex Raymond cover
This is an art book of the very first order. The pictures are all reproduced from original art — Flash Gordon and Jungle Jim (both January 7, 1934-April 30, 1944), Secret Agent X-9 (January 22, 1935-November 16, 1935), and the later Rip Kirby (March 4, 1946- September 29, 1956), all of Raymond’s masterpieces of illustrative art. Organized chronologically, a third of the book is devoted to Flash; another third to Rip Kirby; the remaining third, to a miscellaney — X-9, Jungle Jim, and book and magazine illustration.

The generous sampling of the strips also appears in chronological order within each section, but a lot of strips are missing: this is, after all, not a reprint volume of the totality of any of the titles. Each strip is meticulously dated. Some pages reproduce at enlarged dimension (perhaps original art size) individual panels from a strip on the facing page — “details,” in curator lingo — which better reveal the intricacies of Raymond’s artwork. A few strips are reproduced in color from their newspaper appearances, but the book is fundamentally a black-and-white showcase.

Despite the gigantic page measurement, the strip reproduction is small. Sunday Flash measures 7.5x11 inches at most, usually smaller; and the daily Rip Kirby is 2.5x8 inches, about the size it appeared when initially published.

Goulart’s text traces Raymond’s career and, for each of the strip titles, offers summaries of a few of the stories and a brief critique of the artist’s developing drawing style. Goulart is always a good read and a fund of information. Here, he adds to the Raymond canon, noting, for instance, the several Big Little Book incarnations of Flash Gordon. But for the full career rundown and biography, you need Tom Roberts’ superior production, Alex Raymond: His Life and Art, which we reviewed in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com) in Harv’s Hindsight for May 2009.

The only disappointing aspect of the book is, oddly, in the very reproduction of the artworks the volume exists to showcase. In all of Raymond’s syndicated work, he resorted to a fine line for feathering and many details; a fine line typically outlined faces and other forms. Unhappily, many of the fine lines disappear or are broken rather than continuous in some of the reproductions. This shortcoming is particularly noticeable in the Rip Kirby strips in which Raymond deployed fine lines masterfully in sharp contrast to solid blacks.

This unhappy situation in an art book with this one’s ambition is unfortunate, but the book itself, while suffering somewhat, is scarcely devastated. Many more of the strips are accurately reproduced than are flawed in their fine lines. And the maneuver of reproducing some panels as enlarged “details” compensates for the shortfall in some of the strips. Any fan of Alex Raymond’s oeuvre should have this handsome volume in his library.

GoulartRaymond1

 

GoulartRaymond2

 

GoulartRaymond3

 

 

 

 

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

FRANK MILLER'S DAREDEVIL AND THE ENDS OF HEROISM


By Paul Young
248 7x10-inch pages (est.)
mostly text with illustrations
Rutgers Comics Culture series
paperback, $27.95
2016

Publisher's Blurb (and I have no reason to doubt it; after all, it’s Rutgers):

Frank Miller's Daredevil… coverIn the late 1970s and early 1980s, writer-artist Frank Miller turned Daredevil from a tepid-selling comic into an industry-wide success story, doubling its sales within three years. Lawyer by day and costumed vigilante by night, the character of Daredevil was the perfect vehicle for the explorations of heroic ideals and violence that would come to define Miller’s work. Young’s book is both a rigorous study of Miller’s artistic influences and innovations and a reflection on how his visionary work on Daredevil impacted generations of comics publishers, creators, and fans.

Young explores the accomplishments of Miller the writer, who fused hardboiled crime stories with superhero comics, while reimagining Kingpin (a classic Spider-Man nemesis), recuperating the half-baked villain Bullseye, and inventing a completely new kind of Daredevil villain in Elektra. Yet, he also offers a vivid appreciation of the indelible panels drawn by Miller the artist, taking a fresh look at his distinctive page layouts and lines.

A childhood fan of Miller’s Daredevil, Young takes readers on a personal journey as he seeks to reconcile his love for the comic with his distaste for the fascistic overtones of Miller’s controversial later work. What he finds will resonate not only with Daredevil fans, but with anyone who has contemplated what it means to be a hero in a heartless world.

***

RCH: Yes, all true. I watched Miller’s stint on Daredevil as assiduously as Young apparently did. Miller was not only revamping the character: he was revamping the way comic books told stories.

Other titles in the Comics Culture series include Twelve-Cent Archie, Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism in the Marston/Peter Comics, 1941-1948, and Considering Watchmen: Poetics, Property, Politics.

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

BILL GRIFFITH'S INVISIBLE INK

Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love Affair with a Famous Cartoonist
By Bill Griffith
200 7x10-inch pages, b/w
2015 Fantagraphics hardcover
$29.99

Invisible Ink coverOn the cover, Griffith calls the book “a graphic memoir,” and he’s right: it is more meandering memoir than sordid sensation. Despite the focus of the subtitle, the book wanders at length through family history (Griffith’s great grandfather is William Henry Jackson, famed photographer of the Old West) and dwells on tangential connections (his next door neighbor in Levittown, Ed Emshwiller, celebrated illustrator of sf and mystery paperbacks) before chronicling the adulterous relationship his mother had for sixteen years with “a famous cartoonist,” who, today, is probably nearly unknown. In recognition of this shortcoming, Griffith spends many pages on the biography and career of Lawrence Lariar.

If Lariar is remembered at all these days, it is for compiling and editing a series of “Best Cartoons of the Year” anthologies for almost thirty years, from 1942 to 1971. But he did much more, and Griffith details it all: he also wrote lurid crime novels (using pen names Michael Stark, Adam Knight, Michael Lawrence) and “how to” books about cartooning, and he tried, sometimes successfully, to get his comic strips syndicated. He wrote them; someone else drew them. Lariar also contributed to early comic books, including New Fun, in which his Barry O”Neill appeared briefly.

Griffith’s parents’ marriage was not a happy one, and his mother, after finding part-time work as secretary for Lariar, who was also married, fell into an affair with him. Griffith’s father died in a bicycle accident in 1972, when the affair was fifteen years along. By this time, Griffith’s mother was deeply in love with Lariar. She revealed her love to him, hoping he’d divorce his wife and marry her.

Bill Griffith photo
Lariar, however, was not interested in marrying Griffith’s mother; he broke off the affair.

Griffith pieces together this long tale by rummaging through boxes of old letters, photographs, and other memorabilia, including his mother’s diary, and an unpublished novel his mother wrote, a thinly disguised autobiography.

Given the nature of the tale he’s telling, much of Griffith’s storytelling is what I call “decorated captions”: the narrative is carried by the captions, the pictures contributing very little to the story. But there are long sequences in which Griffith depicts characters conversing, and often in such sequences, the pictures add information to the narrative.

Griffith’s extensively hachured pen drawings are often stunning: street scenes and other locales rendered realistically in copious detail. This will come as no surprise to anyone who’s been reading Zippy lately: Griffith spends more time on settings than on the people who occupy them.

The tale is methodically told, and its detail begins to absorb you. It is, after all, a mystery, and mysteries live in their details. Throughout, Griffith is slowly, event by event, episode by episode, one discovery after another, solving the mystery.

Systematically, Griffith answers the questions, exercising admirable composure and emotional distance, and we go along with him to learn the answers.

InvisibleGriff1

 

InvisibleGriff2

 

InvisibleGriff3

The book held my attention to an obscure and insignificant event with slices of life that demonstrate our common humanity.

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

FIRST STICK KNIFE GUN: A Personal History of Violence

By Geoffrey Canada, as drawn by Jamar Nicholas
128 6x9-inch pages, b/w
2010 Beacon Press
paperback, $14

 

Fist Stick Knife Gun coverWith this book, Canada and Nicholas join an ever-lengthening line of failures at the medium. An African-American, Canada started with a prose treatment of his growing up in the South Bronx; then Nicholas adapted the prose to what they both believe is a graphic novel. But, alas, it isn’t: captions carry the narrative; the pictures contribute nothing. So it’s not a graphic novel: it’s decorated prose. And the book also fails as a polemic, which Canada obviously intends.

Young Geof, like all youth everywhere — not just in the South Bronx — wants to belong, and in his tough neighborhood, belonging means living by the code of the block. He must establish a reputation and then work to maintain it. He begins with his fists, fighting to prove he is tough. Then as he grows older, he takes up other weapons — a stick, a knife, and, finally, a gun. So far, Canada’s tale is insightful and logical. But in the story’s resolution, he fails.

Carrying a gun, Geof realizes that, sooner or later, he would have to point the gun at someone and pull the trigger. “In the end,” he says, “my Christian upbringing proved to be stronger than my fear of the gang or my need for a sense of control over my environment. ... In the end, I realized that I didn’t want to kill anyone.” And so he throws the gun away. And the book ends.

His motive at this turning point in his life is wholly absent from the narrative. His “Christian upbringing” is never mentioned anywhere else in the book. What is there about his Christian upbringing that overwhelms the ethos of the gang that he has so carefully obeyed throughout the book? Canada clearly intends the book as a cautionary tale: don’t do this or you’ll wind up badly; but you can save yourself. He achieves the first part admirably (albeit sometimes tediously); but he fails at the second part. His book doesn’t show how a young kind growing up in a tough neighborhood can save himself.

Geoffrey Canada photo
Canada, who is president and CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a nonprofit community-based organization aimed at helping kids, is a passionate advocate for educational reform, and he provides an epilogue that discusses some of his understandings and purposes:

“Schools in America are especially dangerous places. Intimidation, threats and outright fights go on in the classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, and schoolyards. ... When it comes to violence, school is too often the child’s learning ground about the impotence of adult authority. ... The problem cannot be solved from afar. The only way we are going to make a difference is by placing well-trained and caring adults in the middle of what can only be called a free-fire zone in our poorest communities. ... Adults standing side by side with children in the war zones of America is the only way to turn this thing around. ... While nationally we have foolishly invested our precious resources in a criminal justice approach to solving our crime problem — including hiring more police and locking up more people for longer periods of time — we have nothing to show for it except poorer schools, poorer services for youth, and more people on the streets, unemployable because they have a criminal record.”

He concludes: “If we were fighting an outside enemy that was killing thousands of our children every year, we would spare no expense in mounting the effort to subdue that enemy. What happens when the enemy is us? ... Do we still have the will to invest the time and resources in saving their lives? The answer must be yes.”

But that’s Canada’s hope. It’s not his assessment of actuality.

He wrote this book — first in prose, then with accompanying pictures — trying to address the problem. He describes the problem thoroughly. But his solution is deux ex machina, a mechanism that descends into the narrative and magically rescues the protagonist. To be effective, the solution should arise from the narrative, not be imposed upon it from without.

And who does Canada see as the audience for this book? Young people? Presumably, Canada chose the graphic novel form as a way to reach youthful readers, readers caught in the trap he escaped from. But he doesn’t show them how to escape.

Nicholas’ pictures are excellent—boldly outlined, deftly toned in gray. But they add nothing to the narrative carried in captions.

Fists

 

 

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

READ AND RELISH

Inscribed on a baseball cap:

"I am your leader. Which way did they go?"

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

FIRST ISSUE: MYCROFT HOLMES

I was surprised when I saw the byline over a column in Time magazine some months back — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, all-time leading scorer of the National Basketball Association. In the magazine, he writes, usually, about some racial issue, and he always makes good sense. But I was surprised again when I saw his byline on a comic book — specifically, Mycroft Holmes and the Apocalypse Handbook, debuting last fall. From straight expository prose to fanciful fiction.

Mycroft Holmes coverAnd then I was again astonished — even more so this time — to learn that Abdul-Jabbar is a New York Times bestselling author, having written twelve books, including three childen’s stories (one of which won the NAACP Award for Best Children’s Book), two autobiographies, several historical novels, and the prose novel about Sherlock Holmes’ older brother, Mycroft Holmes, his first work of fiction, which he wrote with Anna Waterhouse, a professional screenwriter and script consultant.

That’s a lot of writing credit for the seven-foot two-inch Basketball Hall of Famer (since 1995).

And now, a comic book.

Comic books require a wholly different writing sensibility than prose fiction. More like script-writing for movies or television. Again, Abdul-Jabbar had help: Raymond Obstfeld and Joshua Cassara. Roles are not specified, but my guess is that Obstfeld helped with the story and Cassar did the drawing. And they do all right.

Abdul-Jabbar, an English and history graduate of UCLA, became addicted to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories early in his basketball career and claims to have adapted Holmes’ powers of observation to the game in order to gain an edge over his opponents.

“I read the Conan Doyle stories during my rookie year in the NBA,” Abdul-Jabbar says in the comic’s closing pages, “and was fascinated by Holmes’ ability to see clues where others saw nothing. I was intrigued by his ‘older, smarter brother’ [Sherlock’s characterization] who was involved with government at the highest levels.”

So high are the governmental levels at which Mycroft works that Sherlock once says the government could not function without him.

The debut issue of the comic book begins with a five-page episode in which a man in a derby hat wearing a scarf destroys a museum and, presumably, kills several people who happened to be within. None of which has any apparent connection to the tale that follows.

The narrative begins in Cambridge in a philosophy class. It is there we meet Mycroft Holmes, the older brother of the more famous Sherlock.

Mycroft is mentioned in only a few of the canonical Sherlock Holmes stories, and he appears in only two. In both, he is described as “strapping,” and Sidney Paget’s picture of him show him to be somewhat stout. Admittedly, the Conan Doyle tales take place some years after this comic book adventure, which is dated 1874. At that time, Mycroft was, to judge from Cassar’s portrait, a normally proportioned even somewhat muscular youth.

In the only self-contained complete episode in the book, Mycroft engages in an intellectual debate with his professor — and wins. For which impudence, he is almost tossed out of Cambridge.

He displays wit and towering snobbery. He’s self-satisfied, has a high opinion of himself, and he’s snooty. In these traits, he’s much like the effete know-it-all snob Philo Vance in the detective stories by S.S. Van Dine (aka Willard Huntington Wright). Not an admirable personality even if gifted. Mycroft’s younger brother, who shows up later on, is a much more likeable character.

As if to demonstrate Mycroft’s masculinity, we see him next, naked in bed with a young woman, equally naked. They are interrupted by the arrival of a somewhat peevish Sherlock, who explains that Mycroft’s invitation to visit was arranged deliberately so that Sherlock would see a naked woman. “Lord knows,” Mycroft says, “with his personality, this will be his only opportunity [to see a naked woman].”

While Mycroft and Sherlock exchange witticisms, the apartment is invaded by three men wearing masks. After a couple pages of scuffling, they kidnap Mycroft; we next seem him suspended upside down from a ceiling.

Kareen Abdul-Jabbar photoIn his exchange with his captors, Mycroft proves himself a gifted observer—not unlike his brother Sherlock— determining by keen observation that his chief captor is the “dean” of the Cambridge school who managed to get him reinstated after his go-round with the philosophy professor.

This is something of a mis-characterization: Conan Doyle’s Mycroft was noted for his superior memory, not his powers of observation; for those, he, Mycroft, relied upon his younger brother on those rare occasions when Mycroft ventured outside the halls of government.

Sherlock describes his brother this way: “He has the tidiest and most orderly brain, with the greatest capacity for storing facts of any man living. In that great brain of his everything is pigeon-holed and can be handed out in an instant.”

And the departments of government rely upon Mycroft’s memory to sort out the issues upon which decisions are required.

But in demonstrating his ability to discern not otherwise evident facts by observing tangential evidence — Sherlock’s speciality — Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft reveals, also, his courage — his imperturbability — in the face of a very threatening situation.

It was probably Mycroft’s being denominated Sherlock’s “smarter brother” that attracted Abdul-Jabbar; everything done here makes that point. In contrast, young Sherlock seems somewhat (and merely) ill-tempered. Abdul-Jabbar doesn’t explore Mycroft’s fabulous memory at all.

As Mycroft is explaining what observations led him to his conclusion about his captor, a door bursts open and a woman wearing a tiara storms into the room, demanding to know “if this is the young man who is willing to sacrifice his own life to save the world — and more importantly, the British Empire.”

There, the issue ends.

Who is she woman? Probably Queen Victoria. She’d be 55 at the time of this story, and Cassar’s visual fits.

Abdul-Jabbar’s story presents a not quite acceptable (to Sherlockians) interpretation of Mycroft Holmes. Although it deviates noticeably from the Conan Doyle version, we can accept Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft as a younger, not stout at all, Mycroft — still in college, long before his plumper self became, due to his memory for bureaucratic and other details, indispensable to the British government. His snooty demeanor, however, clashes violently with Conan Doyle’s Mycroft, who was polite and at least as verbose as Sherlock but not annoying. And he was even deferential to Sherlock’s superior talents for detection, that not being Mycroft’s forte.

Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft, we must note, is young. And Abdul-Jabbar’s previous version of the character, in the novel, was somewhat older — 23; and he, while still too self-absorbed, was not the snob he appears in this comic book.

Cassar’s artistry — his storytelling, breakdowns, panel compositions and page layouts — are expertly bent to relate and enhance the drama in the narrative tasks before him. We can ask for no better.

Mycroft

I’ll probably return for the second issue. Not because Abdul-Jabbar’s Mycroft is Conan Doyle’s but just to see what Abdul-Jabbar does with his version of the character. So far, he shows a mastery of the comics form.

 

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

FEATURED SERVICES:
MOBILE SERVICES:
GAMES & PUZZLES:






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