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:


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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.


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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?

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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


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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

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“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

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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).


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.


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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.”

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In 53 theatrical animated cartoons in the 1950s, near-sighted (well, almost blind) Mister Magoo bumbled into vast acreages of trouble because of his poor eyesight, and now he’s back: voiced in a cheerful adenoidal mumble by Jim Backus, you can find him in a 4-DVD box, “Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection (1949-59).”

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Veronica Archive Betty lift artAfter the death of Archie (which happened in July but only in one of the company’s comic titles), what more can happen? Plenty, as it turns out. Michael Uslan, who has already wreaked havoc in the Archie Universe by getting the Riverdale redhead to marry both Betty and Veronica, says in Comic Shop News No.1407 that he’s about to do it again: “I’m doing Farewell Betty & Veronica, which is going to change the dynamics of those comic books and Riverdale itself.”

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Just in time to join in the general rush to promote the San Diego Comic-Con, Tom Batiuk devoted a two-week continuity in his Funky Winkerbean strip to comic books as treasures. Running the two weeks before the Con, the story regales us with a search for a long-lost comic book.

“It started,” said Batiuk, “with the fact that in the strip, Funky's stepson Cory is in Afghanistan. I had done some stories with him over there and I wanted to continue that but I also wanted to do a homefront story about what it was like for the parents. I was casting about for ways to get into this story when I thought of what if Holly — Cory's mother — discovered that he had a comic book collection and there were some comics missing. As a way of staying in touch with him and feeling like she was doing something, she would go out and collect the missing comics for him.”

Funky Winkerbean 7-7-14

The comic book in question concerns the adventures of Starbuck Jones, a space-traveling hero that Batiuk invented when he was in the fifth grade. One thing led to another, and Batiuk realized that the erstwhile fictional comic book had to appear in the strips. So he contacted several cartoonists, beginning with Joe Staton, to see if they’d draw a suitably spectacular Starbuck Jones cover. And they did — Bob Layton (his cover is pictured near here), Neil Vokes, Michael Gilbert, Mike Golden, Norm Breyfogle, and Terry Austin (whose cover joins Layton’s in our exhibit; the other covers can be found somewhere at web.mail.comcast.net).

Batiuk gave them complete freedom — “draw what you want” — with the unexpected consequence that Austin’s Starbuck Jones is a monkey.


In the course of her quest, Cory goes to the Sandy Eggo Con and rummages through bins of old comics looking for the one issue of Starbuck Jones that will complete Cory’s collection. But, alas, she doesn’t find it. Not there. She finds it back home when she goes to Tony Isabella’s Garage Con, where Isabella (a real person, columnist for the defunct Comics Buyer’s Guide in case you’ve just joined us) finds the illusive No.115.

Although he spilled this many beans to Alex Dueben at web.mail.comcast, Batiuk also promised that there’s more to come. Turns out that he invented a lot more characters while in the fifth grade — among them, The Amazing Mr. Sponge. Stay ’tooned.


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


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