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THE ULTIMATE VALIDATION OF COMIC BOOKS

Enertainment Weekly 12-2-16Now that the movie business has established the cultural worth of comic books for everyone except the National Book Awards, Entertainment Weekly has begun to pay attention to more than just the summer extravaganza in San Diego. In the December 2nd issue (with a cover story about the next Star Wars movie), a new funnybook by “two of the most exciting comic-book creators, Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire” is fulsomely plugged. A.D., “a compelling mix of comics, art and storytelling,” is a “beautiful new series that explores a world in which death has been eliminated.” Another title in a lengthening roster of good comics—well drawn and well told in a blend of words and pictures — on mature (i.e., thoughtful) themes.

And comics even intruded in EW’s year-end “Best of 2016" issue, December 16/23. “Entertainer of the Year” is Ryan Reynolds — for his portrayal of smart-ass potty-mouth Deadpool, no less. And Benedict Cumberbatch is among the other top twelve “entertainers of the year” for his Dr. Strange as well as Sherlock Holmes.

Among the year’s best movies, “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice” is listed because of the way breakout actress Gal Gadot plays Wonder Woman. And “Captain America: Civil War” is tenth in the top ten movies of 2016.

This commemorating issue even lists the Best Comic Book series of the year — Black Panther (Best New Series), Bitch Planet (Best Returning) DC Comics Rebirth series (Best Reboot), Monstress (Best Ongoing), and Goldie Vance (Best All-Ages). But there’s no “best graphic novel”category.

Entertainment Weekly Best of 2016 coverFinally, in reporting the reading recommended by various entertainment dignitaries (Emma Watson, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King and Kerry Washington among others), the magazine cites Sarah Jessica Parker, who recommends Tintin in Tibet by Herge.

But I don’t want to give up on EW’s best of the year without pausing to note that the magazine recorded the “most bizarre auction item” — Truman Capote’s cremains, which, “ensconced in a wooden Japanese box, sold for $43,750.” Ewww.

Further evidence of EW’s allegiance with the comic book world, subscription renewal forms that arrived last month offered a bonus for subscribing by December 3rd — superhero t-shirts featuring (your choice) the Flash, Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman or Super Friends. Talk about uptown: we’re there!

Stick that in your pipe, National Book Awarders.

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

ANOTHER TRY AT FEMALE EMPOWERMENT FAILS

Wonder-Woman-UN-AmbassadorWonder Woman's less than two-month reign as a United Nations honorary ambassador ended December 16. According to Sebastien Malo at news.trust.org, plans had called for use of the character in an empowerment campaign for women and girls to fight for gender equality, especially to appeal to young people. But the plan “sparked heavy criticism that the choice sent the wrong messages.”

Dozens of U.N. employees protested on the day of the appointment. And nearly 45,000 people signed an online petition asking U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to reconsider selection of the buxom character.

"Although the original creators may have intended Wonder Woman to represent a strong and independent 'warrior' woman with a feminist message, the reality is that the character's current iteration is that of a large breasted, white woman of impossible proportions, scantily clad in a shimmery, thigh-baring body suit," the petition read.

Release next year of a special-edition Wonder Woman comic book on the empowerment of women and girls, announced in October, is still planned, said DC Entertainment spokesperson Courtney Simmons.

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

JOHN LEWIS' MARCH WINS : Part Two

Part Two: Lewis Interviewed

Two days later, back in Nashville, Tennessee, which Lewis calls the first city he ever lived in, the Congressman was interviewed by Margaret Renkl on behalf of the Nashville Public Library Literary Award, which Lewis was on hand to receive the next day.

Margaret Renkl: Back in your student days, when you were being arrested repeatedly for working to integrate restaurants and movie theaters and the rest of daily life here, what would you have said if someone had told you that one day you’d be back in Nashville to accept a prestigious award for your work as an author?

John Lewis: I would have said, “You’re crazy. You’re out of your mind. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” I feel more than lucky — I feel blessed to come back here. I’m honored, I’m gratified, I’m pleased.

Asked about how he thinks the Black Lives Matter organizers feel about his generation of leaders, Lewis said: “I think the Black Lives Matters generation tends to admire and embrace what we did. I have had the opportunity to sit down and meet in Atlanta — and also in Washington — with many of the young people, and I tell them all the time, ‘Read the literature, read the papers and books and speeches from that period. You could learn something.’ And I tell them that we never became bitter. We never became hostile. We believed in the way of peace, the way of love—we believed in the philosophy and the discipline of nonviolence. I say, ‘You can learn something from the 1960s.’ And that’s what I tell them each and every time I meet with some of them.”

Does he have any advice for American children?

“Yes. I would say, ‘Children, read. Read everything. Learn as much as you can learn. Study. Be kind. Be bold. Be courageous. And just go for it.’ As I write in the book, my mother and father and grandparents and others said, ‘Don’t get in trouble. Don’t get in the way.’ I was inspired to get in trouble, and I got in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. People like Rosa Parks and Dr. King and Jim Lawson and others — and being in Nashville — helped mold and shape me, and I have not looked back since.”

Margaret Renkl: In the March trilogy, the story of your history is framed and punctuated throughout with scenes from your experiences on January 20, 2009 — the day of Barack Obama’s first inauguration — and it includes a note signed by President Obama: “Because of you, John.” What are you thinking as you watch his presidency come to an end after eight years?

John Lewis: It’s difficult to see it come to a close because I think President Barack Obama has injected something rare and meaningful into America, and it’s going to be missed. I see him from time to time; I listen to him by way of radio, TV; I read about him and each time he seems to be hopeful and optimistic. And that’s what we need more than ever before. I think he’s been good for America. He’s been good for the world community. On one occasion, when he was running for reelection, I said, ‘Mr. President, if you were running for reelection in Europe, you wouldn’t have to campaign. You’d win by a landslide.’ I’ve traveled to different parts [of Europe], and the people there love him.”

Reported by Rocco Staino at slj.com

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

JOHN LEWIS' MARCH WINS : Part One

Part One: The Win

March, Book Three cover“This is unreal!” shouted Congressman John Lewis as he and his co-creators writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell accepted the 2016 National Book Award (NBA) for Young People’s Literature for March: Book Three (Top Shelf, 2016). The title is the third in a graphic memoir that chronicles the civil rights movement from the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, on September 15, 1963, to the passing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965.

But — an award for Young People’s Literature? Why Young People?

Is it because graphic novels are glorified comic books, and comic books are for young people? Probably. But I don’t think the March trilogy was written expressly for young people. I think it was written for everyone, regardless of age.

I know: a carping criticism. Don’t look gift horseflesh in the maw. Accept your fate.

But Lewis didn’t. He didn’t accept his fate.

“There were very few books in our home,” Lewis recalled in accepting the award. He also told of going to his public library to get a library card, only to be told that libraries were “for whites.” Despite this, Lewis was still encouraged by his elders to “Read my child, read,” he said.

Aydin, digital director and policy adviser for the Congressman, as well the March trilogy’s co-author, reminded the audience that the “story of the movement must be told.” Lewis, who as a young man was directly involved with the Freedom Vote in 1963 in Mississippi, was convinced to tell his story in a graphic format by Aydin. A big fan of comic books, Aydin proclaimed at the close of his acceptance, “Prejudice against comic books must be buried once and for all.”

Hear, hear.

 

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

THE UNTOLD HISTORY OF BLACK COMIC BOOKS

Out, presumably, in time to help celebrate Black History Month, Bill Foster’s history is something of a landmark accomplishment (hardcover $39.99). Foster has been advocating for black comics for years, and now he’s put some of his knowledge down on paper (with the able assistance of Craig Yoe). The volume traces the changing image of African-Americans in comic books from the 1940s up to the present day. It includes nearly 200-pages of rarely seen classic and mainstream comics, many in full-color.

Untold History of Black Comic Books cover

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

PLAYBOY EXPLAINS

Playboy Cover 3-16As numerous of us gradually became aware, Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine (“Entertainment for Men”) stopped publishing photographs of absolutely barenekkidwimmin with the March 2016 issue. The reason: interested parties can find all sorts of barenekkidness on the Web, so why bother with print? Besides, Playboy has been losing money steadily in recent years. The brand makes money; but the magazine does not. Advertisers won’t buy ads in Playboy because they don’t want to be associated with nudity. Ergo, cancel the nudity and, awash in pristine purity, advertising will come flooding in. Maybe so.

Besides, Playboy wanted to go after a younger generation of readers/buyers. And the younger generation, which spends all its time on the Internet, searching for pictures of naked ladies, didn’t need Playboy for nude women. So Playboy, going after this demographic, changed its content. Appealing to a generation with short attention spans, the magazine is now loaded with short articles; no fiction anymore.

Since the change, newsstand sales of the magazine have increased; by a corresponding percentage, subscriptions have decreased. The plan may be working but it doesn’t look like a net gain yet. Still, the absence of naked ladies isn’t what got my wattles in an uproar.

What pissed me off was that Playboy has also given up publishing cartoons. Playboy was one of the last bastions of magazine cartooning (the other is The New Yorker); and now half that bastion is blasted.

Playboy Lorenz-June-69Playboy’s lame explanation for dropping cartoons is that the magazine wanted to eliminate “jump stories” — articles that started in the front of the magazine and are then continued in the back pages. The pages of jumped text created random spaces into which cartoons could be inserted. Eliminating jumped text had the effect of emphasizing the content of the feature articles in the front of the magazine, theoretically helping Playboy change its ambiance for the younger audience it hopes to attract.

That’s the short of it. However canny the maneuver may be, it left Playboy’s cartoonists high and dry. Susan Karlin at fastcocreate.com talked to several of them and to the magazine’s management for a full explanation, and the rest of this entry quotes her article verbatim (with snide comments from me in italics):

Okay, so no more nudity. But no more cartoons? Playboy, say it isn’t so!

When longtime Playboy cartoonist Dean Yeagle posted on Facebook about the magazine no longer accepting cartoon submissions, artists and fans responded with heartbreak, nostalgia, and confusion — especially considering the publication's longtime love affair with cartoons and illustrated pin-ups, and the rise in popularity of comics, animation, and [comic] conventions.

CahootsPlayboy1

 

"It’s strange to all of us," says Yeagle. "Hugh Hefner was always such a supporter of cartoons. All we got was this letter."

The letter, from Playboy cartoon editor Amanda Warren, states: "As I’m sure you’re aware, we’ve been undergoing a major redesign of the magazine and the updated Playboy will launch with its March 2016 issue," Yeagle read to Karlin. "It pains me to say this, while I can’t speak to the specifics of this revision just yet, I do want to let you know that we are presently not accepting new cartoon submissions."

Playboy’s redesign — unveiled with the March issue, which most famously eschews overt nudity — has a simplified look that targets younger readers. The cover featuring bikinied Instagram star Sara McDaniel with the lone word "heyyy ;)" across her torso, is a visual reference to Snapchat. The subtitle, “Entertainment for Men,” has disappeared altogether.

Inside, the publication sports a new Artist in Residence section that will profile a different illustrator each month, and a new permanent illustrator for The Advisor section. But gone are sprinklings of single panel and strip cartoons from multiple contributors that echoed Playboy’s edgy editorial stance, exposed artists to new followings, and inspired new generations of young illustrators.

Playboy Sneyd 2008"I think it’s a stupid move," said Pulitzer Prize and Oscar-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer, who drew for Playboy in the late 1950s to early 1960s. "If it’s simply a matter of rebranding, why not just change the type of cartoons they run? There are more and better cartoonists today writing in alternative media and graphic novels. It’s a whole new golden age for cartoonists."

"It was a surprise," added Doug Sneyd, who has contributed nearly 500 cartoons to the magazine since 1964. "I knew they were doing something new with the magazine, but I was surprised to hear they were eliminating the cartoons, which Hef always said were such a major part of the magazine. I felt that they could continue with cartoons in keeping with their new editorial policy. The New Yorker continues to have a lot of success with its cartoons."

Turns out, it was pretty painful on Playboy’s end, too. [Oh, sure. —RCH]

"The decision to eliminate the cartoons was like cutting off a limb" says Playboy editorial director Jason Buhrmester. "But it was never a decision of 'Let’s not run cartoons anymore.' It was, in order to be more contemporary and do the things we want to do with the magazine, we need to get rid of jump copy, and it changed a lot of things: our word counts, the revenue stream of fractional ads, and the home for cartoons. So it was a big, hard decision to make."

[So Playboy is going for shorter articles and bigger ads. With no nudes and no cartoons? Dunno how that’ll work. Besides, full-page cartoons have no connection to the jump copy dilemma — despite what Buhrmester says down the scroll a bit. —RCH]

Playboy Kliban Out of the WayPlayboy’s overhaul was an attempt to contemporize the magazine and lower its reader demographic from an average age of 40 to an 18 to 34 target. The biggest change was eliminating the jump copy (continuing an article on non-consecutive pages) and sidebars in order to de-clutter the layout and slow down the pacing of the magazine. But the rejiggering created a domino effect. Cartoons, longer articles, and smaller ads were among the collateral damage from the restructuring.

The amount of jump copy in back was squeezing the presentation of the front end feature articles. "That’s inverse the way a magazine should work," says Buhrmester. "It should be that the stories have some room to breathe. We were losing pages in the front of the book in order to generate enough jump copy to accommodate back ads and cartoons."

[Er, no. The jump copy wasn’t created to make spaces for ads and cartoons: it was created as a maneuver that enabled magazines to put all its headline stories as close to the front as possible. Grab a reader’s attention early on, then, once he’s engaged, continue the story later in the magazine. And the more stories you can start in the front of the magazine, the better. If you ran complete stories up front, that would take up all the space there, delaying some headline stories to run only later in the book. That cartoons filled in empty spots in the jumped copy in the back of the book was an incidental outcome, not the raison d’etre for the jumped copy. —RCH]

Buhrmester adds: "Getting rid of the jump copy eliminated the available spots for half and quarter page ads and cartoons."

Playboy Dedini full-pageOften, full-page cartoons in the feature section were used as spacers to accommodate ads in the back of the magazine or enable it to end on a left-hand page.

"So aside from being part of Playboy’s heritage, they were also used as strategic pacing devices." [And what about that heritage? —RCH]

To supplement the loss of cartoons, a new section, Artist in Residence, will feature a different cartoonist or animator each month. The March issue features animator Jay Howell, who created Fox’s Bob’s Burgers. [This maneuver will scarcely make up for the absence of cartoons. Howell is no cartoonist: he’s some sort of designer, a term that covers many otherwise incomprehensible vocations. —RCH]

Award-winning Brooklyn artist Mike Perry who created the opening animation sequence for Comedy Central’s Broad City, has been hired as the permanent illustrator for The Advisor.

Buhrmester plans to continue with occasional graphic novelets, which graced two issues last year — an original eight-page prequel for “The Hateful Eight” by Quentin Tarantino and artist Zach Meyer, in December and a six-page sequential by Stray Bullets comic creator David Lapham last summer. [These excursions into the realm of graphic novels were so badly done that they reveal Buhrmester’s complete inability to understand the medium. Again, such clumsy endeavors are hardly a substitute for single-panel gag cartoons, a genre all its own. —RCH]

"I’ve even been looking through some old issues from the '60s and '70s, which had full-page cartoons of, say, [someone’s] sketchbook and there would be a funny doodle about him going to the dentist or a Mohammed Ali fight," says Buhrmester. "We may try to accommodate stuff like that in the magazine. For now we’re open to doing that through the Artist in Residence feature."

Playboy Kliban 1965When it launched in 1953, Playboy was the rebellious upstart, questioning the era’s social mores, and its cartoons were complicit in that subversion. The magazine gave underground comic talent a mainstream outlet, struggling illustrators a career boost, and established artists a new platform. Luminaries like Gahan Wilson, Jack Cole, Shel Silverstein, *Vaughn Shoemaker (the Pulitzer winner who coined "John Q. Public"), Harvey Kurtzman (who helped create Mad), *Will Elder, *Frank Frazetta, *Russ Heath, Alan "Yossarian" Shenkar, Erich Sokol, Arnold Roth, pin-up artist Alberto Vargas, not to mention black cartoonists Robert "Buck" Brown and Elmer Simms Campbell, and female illustrators like Olivia De Berardinis.

[* I doubt that editoonist Vaugh Shoemaker was ever in the magazine regularly; maybe once, but not much more than that. And the other asterisked names were all associated with Little Annie Fanny, the sexy version of Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie. None of the names are those of underground cartoonists, who, apart from Bobby London, were never regulars in the magazine. So much of the logic of the preceding paragraph falls to pieces. —RCH]

"Hef chose cutting-edge, *bohemian artists of all genres for his magazine, many who could not be printed anywhere else because they were so controversial," says Olivia De Berardinis, who contributed roughly 150 pin-up paintings to its pages, with Hefner writing the captions, since 1999. She’s also illustrated the Playboy Mansion party invitations since 1986.

[*Another handy myth, conjured up for no reason I can see. “Cutting-edge bohemian artists”? Name one. Whatever controversy might be said to exist in Playboy’s cartoons of the early years was wholly sexual: cartoons about sex had not been published in mainstream magazines until Playboy became mainstream. —RCH]

Playboy Lynch b&w"He pushed boundaries and helped usher in the sexual revolution," says De Berardinis. "Hef’s always been amazing about change. I saw the new Playboy and they’re moving into what this generation is doing."

She surmises that comics, which rely on boundary pushing and political incorrectness, might need to wait until this generation better defines its style of humor. [Maybe Playboy should have kept cartoons, opting for some new kind of humor in order to define this generation’s style of humor. It would have continued the magazine’s pioneering effort. —RCH]

Feiffer credits his relationship-focused Playboy cartoons with codifying ideas that lead to the book and screenplay of “Carnal Knowledge,” the 1971 film starring Jack Nicholson. At 87, Feiffer has lately ventured into graphic novels.

"Hefner’s earliest dream was to be a cartoonist," says Feiffer. "When I was working for the magazine, he was my editor. I’d send him roughs, and he would go over each cartoon in detail. He was so thorough, but didn’t try to convert what I was doing into a Playboy story, but critiqued what I was trying to do. It [giving up cartoons] must be shattering to him, because he loved cartoons."

Playboy Cover 8-61Despite pre-Playboy editorial illustration success, Sneyd’s long association with the magazine cemented his brand to where, at 84, he’s still in demand at comic conventions and with publishers, such as Dark Horse, which is publishing a book of his favorite unpublished cartoons and Playboy cartoon rough rejects.

Yeagle was crafting commercial animation (remember the Honey Nut Cheerios bee?) when he started freelancing for Playboy 15 years ago.

"Playboy was always great to work for," says Yeagle. "They paid quickly and there were no hassles with them. They gave me a whole new career in an area I had no business being in. I’d been in animation, but now I do books, originals, and gallery showings on the strength of having drawn for Playboy."

"The cartoonists were like recurring characters, which is another reason why the decision was so tough," says Buhrmester. "I’m trying to build a modern version of those guys. I want to give guys like Jay Howell an opportunity to be in Playboy, because they have a reverence for our history with illustrators and comic artists. I see this redesign as a way to open the door to people to reach out to Playboy. And I hope the next Shel Silverstein does walk through my door.

[Not a chance. No cartoonist is likely to walk through the magazine’s new door: every cartoonist can tell at a glance that Playboy is no home for cartooning. Gone are the luxuriously painted cartoons of Eldon Dedini, Doug Sneyd, Dean Yeagle, Erich Sokol, Buck Brown, Jack Cole, John Dempsey, Phil Interlandi, Edmund Kiraz, Ray Raymonde and the rest of the stable of regulars that Hefner so laboriously assembled over the years. —RCH]

Suffering from rationales like the foregoing, Playboy joins the ranks of the rest of America’s great magazines — Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Look, and others — who gave up publishing cartoons because the layouts of the magazines’ pages couldn’t accommodate the irregular textures of black-and-white cartoons (even if they were in color). Layout editors wanted nice uniform columns of gray typography and generous white space, into which they could spot the occasional illustrative matter (that, by contrast, emphasized the generosity of the white space, a curious outcome for publications that appeal because of content not white space, the conspicious lack of content) — but not those weirdly concocted visual oddities, cartoons. Once again, layout editors and designers have condemned cartoons to oblivion.

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

SNOWDEN

By Ted Rall
224 5x7-inch pages, color
2015 Seven Stories Press
paperback
$16.95

Snowden by Ted Rall coverNot so much a biography of Edward Snowden, the nation’s most wanted whistle-blower, as it is a polemic on the subject of government spying on American citizens, this volume is a good example of bad graphic novel technique. Every page has a picture on it, accompanied by captions, but the pictures add no information to that which is rehearsed in the verbal text. Rall — journalist, cartoonist and columnist — has seized upon Snowden’s notorious escapade, revealing that the government was listening to every phone call U.S. citizens made and reading every e-mail, to second the motion: Rall is clearly a supporter of Snowden’s actions, so much so that we wonder about some of the narrative he gives us.


Rall seeks to explain Snowden’s action but can find nothing conclusive. He notes that Snowden was a Boy Scout and doubtless subscribed to an idealism about how to behave. His parents divorced when he was about 18, and Rall speculates that, unconsciously, this traumatic experience may have convinced Snowden that he could trust no one.

Snowden panel
Moreover, Snowden was a gamer: “Video games and fantasy-based card gaming are centered around ideal worlds governed by straight-forward rules. Life in these realities is simple: you have to follow the rules. If you don’t, you lose. Cheating doesn’t work. You must play fair.”

A young idealist who has learned that no one can be trusted but that one must obey the rules, Snowden, when he learned that NSA was breaking the rules, decided that NSA could not be trusted — and so he told the world what the secret agency was doing.

Armchair psychology being what it is, the refuge of unbridled speculation, we must take Rall’s analysis with a few lumps of the very best salt. When Rall gets beyond his subject’s childhood, he begins to beat the drum for Snowden’s pardon. And at this point, Rall’s opinions begin to infest his narrative, tilting it in Snowden’s favor.

Snowden, who tried to protest through official channels, finally took action on his own because he learned that official channels went nowhere. Justifying Snowden’s action, Rall writes:

“How can anyone feel safe knowing that government — any government, even a relatively benevolent government (for now) — knows everything about them? History shows that, sooner rather than later, officials and institutions that know everything about their citizens use that knowledge to control them.”

Snowden panel 2I beg your pardon? History shows that? What history? Where in history has there been a government that knows everything about its citizens?

Only in literary history — namely, in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Rall evokes Orwell’s book both at the beginning of Snowden and at the end. But however neatly that bookends Snowden’s ordeal, Orwell’s novel is fiction, not fact — not history.

Snowden’s case is morally complex, and Rall’s treatment respects the complications and the morality.

I enjoyed the book because it tells me things about Snowden that I didn’t know. And I’m glad he blew the whistle, but I felt that way before reading Rall’s treatise. And while reading it, I could not shake the impression — which grew stronger as I read on — that Rall was ignoring some facts that might interfere with his thesis and that he might be manufacturing “history” that didn’t exist in quite the way he recounts it.   

Besides, his drawing, that familiar block-head style, is uniquely repulsive to look at, and it adds nothing except its gracelessness to the narrative Rall is presenting to us.

Rall’s next graphic novel was about Bernie Sanders, the 74-year-old presidential contender, and Rall has an axe of similar hone to grind. I’ve read it and enjoyed it. And I found out things about Bernie that I didn’t know. And I have Rall’s Trump book at hand; I can’t wait to read it either — particularly since whatever liberal insight Rall injects into it is likely to agree with my own opinions.

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

BAZOOKA JOE AND HIS GANG

Bazooka Joe and His Gang
By the Topps Company
With an Introduction by Nancy Morse and Kirk Taylor
Essays by Len Brown, R. Sikoryak, Rhob Stewart and Jay Lynch
225 5½ x 7-inch landscape pages, color
2013 Abrams ComicArts hardcover
$19.95

Bazooka Joe coverIf what you're really after is Wesley Morse’s Bazooka Joe, this volume is for you. (I own it but only because of its cultural status.) More than 50 pages reprint the wrap-around comic strip, mostly in color. For Bazooka Joe fans, the jokes are as tiresome and lame as ever; they were manufactured, Brown tells us, from the verbal jokes printed in Boys’ Life, which he was responsible for re-casting in verbal-visual comic strip form. And various of the Bazooka Joe products and ephemera are pictured (including, in a special packet attached to the inside back cover, “bonus cards” that reprint the first four Bazooka Joe strips).

Nancy Morse and Kirk Taylor tell the Wesley Morse story in just about the same way they tell it in Wesley Morse (except I think they benefit from a better copy editor in this volume) but without any examples of his Tijuana Bible efforts. The best part of the book is Stewart’s history of Bazooka, company and comic (a version of which first appeared in Blab! No.3 in 1988, where I found it and used it extensively to celebrate Bazooka Joe’s 50th in the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 127, November 2003). The worst part of the book is the typography of the prose: the type is so small that you need a magnifying glass to read it. (And apart from the Bazooka Joe strips, the pictures are pretty puny, too—even some of the BJ strips.)

The book also includes sketches of Bazooka Joe by Howard Cruse and Jay Lynch, both of whom have short histories with the character.

This is a fun book, jammed with Bazooka Joe trivia. But I wish the pictures and the typography were larger.

Bazooka Joe interior

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

THE LIFE AND ART OF WESLEY MORSE

The Life and Art of Wesley Morse
By Nancy Morse and Kirk Taylor
270 8x10-inch pages
some color illos, mostly text
2015 CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
paperback
$50

With the arrival in bookstores of this book adorned with a cover picturing a naked woman, absolutely unadorned and unencumbered, we can chalk up another advance for civilization.

WesleyMorse1

And the interior pages are similarly decorated.

Wesley Morse, you may recall, is famous for drawing the Bazooka Joe comic strips that were wrapped about wads of pink bubble gum. He is also famous (or, perhaps, infamous) for doing several of the Tijuana Bibles back in the late 1930s. Like all of those who drew these feverishly pornographic comic strip adventures, Morse was anonymous. But his drawings — and the tales they illustrated — were several cuts above the others. His women were pert and pretty, and their sexual appetites comically insatiable, but most of all, his drawings deployed a lithe and lively line, almost sketchy sometimes, and his ribald sense of sexual comedy was playful and joyful. Among all of the eight-pagers, his were the ones that were fun to read (as well as erotic).

The thing Morse is not known for is his career as an illustrator for exotic night clubs in New York — night clubs where show girls were the featured attraction, the Latin Quarter, the Copacabana, El Morocco — and, before that, the Ziegfeld Follies. The book that just arrived is full of his paintings and sketches of scantily clad show girls that he did as a nightclub artist. He also did some single-panel gag cartoons with toothsome damsels mostly undressed. And some of these are in the book, too.

Also included in the volume are some comic strips he did in the 1920s, all about pretty girls — Kitty of the Chorus, Switchboard Sally, Frolicky Fables, May and June. Everyone in these features is respectably dressed. In about 1933, he did another of the breed, Beau Gus, whose protagonist is an admirer of pretty girls, great quantities of which wander through the strip’s panels. Sadly — criminally — as reproduced in this book, the strips are too small to read — almost too small to see. And that’s too bad because the drawing is exquisite.

Below is a scan of an original Beau Gus that I own. (Probably worth thousands now that a Morse book is out; but I bought it for pittance years ago.) 

 

BeauGus1

 

BeauGus2

In the scan, notice that the pencil lines not yet fully erased — and notice, too, the fastidiously fine lines with which Morse delineates his willowy young women. Alas, the fine lines are all but lost in the reproductions in the book at hand.

The book offers a biography of the man, but the pages devoted to that are few. And, mercifully, only a few about Bazooka Joe. The authors are not particularly facile with language: their prose is adequate but uninspired, and they seem never to have met a cliche they didn’t like (like that one). But that doesn’t really matter.

What matters is the pictures, and we get plenty of pretty sexy girls by Morse, page after frolicking page of them. Herewith, are a couple of the pages.

 

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FOUR FLAWED NEW YORKER CARTOONS

Ever since Elaine on “Seinfeld” confessed that there was a cartoon in the magazine that she couldn’t understand, it’s been safe to admit that The New Yorker sense of humor is sometimes obtuse to the point of nonexistent. And an issue last winter, dated January 11 — the one with Marcellus Hall’s “The Great Thaw” cover depicting Rockefeller Center’s winter ice rink as you’ll never see it, a recognition of an unusually warm winter week — has several dubious cartoons in it.

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Starting clockwise from the upper left, we have Will McPhail, who reminds us of founder Harold Ross’s dictum that we should always be able to tell at a glance who’s speaking. Seems to me both characters in this cartoon have their mouths open. Who’s speaking? Finally, after long examination and ditto brain-wracking, I decided that the barista is the speaker: he’s writing on the cup, after all, so what the caption says makes better sense if we attach it to him. But at first glance, one could assume that the monster is speaking, alluding to an autobiographical novel he’s just written in the third person. And that’s not funny at all.

Next around the clock is Benjamin Schwartz’s cartoon. There are no cats in the picture — unless we assume that people who wear dark glasses are “cats” in the antique usage of their being hip. Still, what’s “reservoir” have to do with it? The puzzled guy sitting on the chair seems to be some sort of city official, so the joke probably refers to something peculiarly New York. Like Hall’s cover.

Or so I thought, deploying only my own admittedly impoverished analytical abilities. But Jeff McLaughlin did much better. On my Facebook page, where I first posted this specimen, McLaughlin responded to my bafflement, explaining the “reservoir cats” cartoon by saying it was an allusion to the Quentin Tarantino movie “Reservoir Dogs,” promotional illustrations for which feature men walking along in dark suits and shades. So here we have a kindred “reservoir cats,” men still, wearing dark suits and shades but, like cats everywhere — and in contrast to dogs everywhere — can most likely be found napping (even in odd positions) rather than walking mysteriously.

You had to have seen the movie. Or the promotional posters.

Below that, Barbara Smaller’s cartoon is amusing without the picture. The picture, in fact, adds no information to the caption, which, in common with a lot of New Yorker cartoon captions, is itself, all alone, the joke. If the joke doesn’t need a picture, then it’s not a cartoon.

Finally, comes Tom Cheney. What’s the joke here? Is this is the way gangsters treat clowns that they don’t find amusing? Is that the joke? Or does it have something to do with the size of the concrete block? Ahhh — that’s it. Clowns wear big-foot shoes, so the concrete block must be larger than normal.

Getting the jokes of three of these cartoons requires more than the usual amount of work by the reader/viewer. Admittedly, the first and the last of the four are funny once I figured them out. Maybe funnier than the “normal” that can be understood at a glance. But the second and third cartoons on our round — not good cartoons.

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A NEW BARBIE FOR THE AGES

Barbie Time coverJust as the March issue of Playboy hit the stands last year, re-defining the magazine as a no-nudes (and — sob! — no cartoons) periodical, Barbie, the other definer of the feminine form, made the cover of Time with her make-over. The Barbie folk have decided that their iconic figure is no longer good for little girls. The classic Barbie doll is still available, but so are three new “body types” that are intended to make little girls feel okay about their bodies. The classic, it has been long established, makes girls aspire to impossibly thin and busty bodies. The new body types have been artfully labeled — petite, tall, and curvy.

The words were chosen with great care — not to offend anyone nor to suggest to any little girl that whatever her body type, it is somehow wrong. But if you look at their silhouettes, you can easily tell that “curvy” is a euphemism for chubby, or plump. Thick through the hips, slightly protruding belly, and with a booty of distinction, the “curvy Barbie” is undoubtedly modeled on today’s teenager, who is veering off, continually, in the direction of obesity. So rather than curb girls’ appetites to help them achieve a healthier life style, Barbie simply enables the current trend. Sigh.Barbie's Got a New body

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NEW LOGO FOR NBM

For the past forty years, NBM Publishing, America's first publisher of graphic novels, pioneered the translation and release of such foreign works as those by Enki Bilal and Hugo Pratt, and was the first to collect classic comic strips such as Terry and The Pirates in hardcover volumes. To celebrate its 40th anniversary last year, NBM unveiled a new logo, and branding, as NBM Graphic Novels. In addition, a new website has launched, improving on functionality and navigation. Also, the ComicsLit imprint has been dissolved, folding into the NBM brand. The adult graphic novel imprint, Eurotica, will remain independent and separate.

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CHARLIE AFTER A YEAR

Hebdo Anniversary CoverFor the first anniversary of the murders at its offices on January 7, 2015, the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo issued a special commemorative issue. On the cover, another of the scabrous sort of cartoon for which Charlie is famous: a crazy-eyed, bloodied god-figure with a Kalashnikov strapped to his back. The headline reads: “One year on: the assassin is still on the run.”

The message: it was, after all, the Islamic hooligans’ religious convictions (against depicting Muhammad) that caused the massacre — hence, God is, by extension, the assassin. The unmistakable insinuation doubtless caused the usual cascade of strenuous disapproval from religious enthusiasts, regardless of their persuasion. But they can scarcely deny that religious zealotry pulled the triggers.

The issue includes drawings by the murdered cartoonists and various contributions from noted personalities. The main editorial is by the magazine’s current editorial director, the cartoonist Laurent Sourisseau, Riss, who, wounded in the shoulder, survived the slaughter. He writes:

“In 2006, when Charlie published caricatures of Muhammad, nobody seriously thought that this one day would end in violence. We saw France as a secular island, where it was possible to joke around, to draw, to laugh, without worrying about dogmas. The truth is that since then, many hoped that one day someone would come put us in our place. Yes, many hoped we would get killed. KILLED. Among them, fanatics stunted by the Quran, but also many holy rollers from other religions. ... The convictions of the laity and of atheists can move more mountains that the faith of believers.”

 

 

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