Reubens2015The National Cartoonists Society meets this weekend, May 22-24, in Washington, D.C., where the winners of the “division awards” (now termed “Silver Reubens”) will be announced.

Nominees for the Granddaddy Award, the Reuben (no metallic adjective) are: Roz Chast, whose graphic memoir about her parents’ last years, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant, has resulted in a deluge of honors and recognitions (Kirkus Prize, National Book Critics Circle rcognition); Hilary Price (Rhymes With Orange comic strip) and Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine comic strip). This is Pastis’ seventh nomination and Price’s second; for Chast, it’s the first.

With two women cartoonists up, we might encounter a historic moment when this year’s Reuben is finally conferred. Only two women (Lynn Johnston, For Better or For Worse, and Cathy Guisewite, Cathy) have collected a Reuben statuette in the Society’s nearly 70-year history.

On the other (not so nice) hand, if this were a political election in which supporters of women are pitted against supporters of men, two women candidates divide the women’s vote, assuring the election of the man. Pastis’ seventh nomination might turn out to be his luckiest.

But then, this isn’t a political election.

The winners of the Reuben and the Silver Reubens will all be announced during the annual NCS Reuben Awards dinner on May 23rd.

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Tuki coverJeff Smith is off on another adventure, this time into the distant, prehistoric past, where his character, an African with the eponymous name Tuki, will become the first “hominid” to leave the parched and dying continent and “save the humans.” Smith confesses to a passion for paleontology that led him to do extensive research for this title, and he sprinkles helpful explanatory footnotes along the way.

In the first issue, Tuki forages for food and meets other humanoid creatures, and Smith exercises his admirable cartooning sense of visual play by devoting several panels hither and yon to depicting Tuki encountering new (and to him wonderful, full of wonder) experiences. To which he reacts with surprise and, often, comical suspicion. (Primitive man encounters flush toilet sort of thing; although Smith constructs much more realistic humorous situations.)

The interior pages of the book are printed sideways because Tuki’s first exploits took place online at the Boneville website, where the format is horizontal.

This’ll be a fun series because Smith knows how to use the medium to have fun himself with it—and that’ll keep us entertained, too.

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The new superheroine at Marvel, Ms. Marvel, the Muslim New Jersey teenager written by another female Muslim with the wafting name G. Willow Wilson and delicately rendered by Adrian Alphona — another singing name — is now up to her fourth issue. So far, she seems entirely preoccupied with figuring out what her superpowers are and how to use them. She wanders around, baffled by it all, a storytelling decision that enables Wilson to develop her character’s personality but unless you’re into teenage girl problems, you’re likely to get left behind. I am.







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Starlight coverMark Millar and Goran Parlov's Starlight, compared to, say, The Wake, ends grandly with the extended page count of the sixth issue. Duke McQueen, over-the-hill hero who has returned to the planet Tantalus in its time of need, hoping to re-enact the salvation he effected once before, emerges victorious in a splendid display of relentless heroism and stubborn deering-do, triumphing over vast numbers of the nasty bad guys. Duke returns to Earth, his home planet, where his distant achievements are erstwhile unknown (or regarded as so much delusional fantasy), and this time, his Tantalus buddy makes sure Duke’s fellow earthlings know of his stupendous greatness. And so, therefore, do his kids, of whom Duke is inordinately fond, considering that they think he’s something of a blow-hard. But he isn’t. He’s a genuine hero. And now they all know it.

Starlight panels

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The Wake coverWith the tenth issue, a long time in coming, The Wake finally ended. Another disappointment. According to writer Scott Snyder, he and artist Sean Murphy, both highly talented creators, produced this limited series by constantly challenging each other to do the impossible. They have presumably satisfied each other that they achieved this goal, but along the way, they lost me.

The story takes place in some future dystopia where life as we know it has ceased to exist. Instead, whatever is left of the human (sic) sapiens battle giant undersea monsters. In attempting their goals of impossibility, Snyder and Murphy resort much too often to pages depicting monstrous machinery for which I have no sympathy whatsoever. And the human actors in the drama, whom I’m tempted at last to like, don’t show up, if memory serves (the series has taken so long that I can barely remember the early issues), until about a third of the way through. By then, we’ve lost hope that there’ll be any heroes to fight the villains.

And, in fact, the fight ends, finally, in a cop-out: Murphy’s prickly heroine speeds off in a boat, proclaiming that the meaning of life can be found in assuming the attitude that “it’s all an adventure.”

That’s a fine thematic conclusion for an adventure story, but the narrative energy of the tale has long since drained off, leaving us only mildly interested in the outcome.

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DeadpoolThe character Deadpool intrigued me enough that I’ve been buying copies of the comic book, stashing them against the day that I take time to read them. I somehow managed to persuade myself that Deadpool is a mock superhero character — like DC’s Lobo — and since I like the idea of fooling around with the superhero concept, I thought I’d like the books. And I’ve been telling myself that I should sit down and read several to see what the fascination is. I finally did it. And what a disappointment.

I read three or four of them. That’s all I can take at one sitting. The books have very little plot or story. They seem to be nothing more than an excuse for this reckless, feckless masked man to careen around, creating havoc and mayhem on every page. That’s it. What’s amusing about that? Once or twice, maybe—but always?

Other superheroes show up, but Deadpool soon sucks them into the wholesale chaos.

Here’s a snatch of so-called dialogue between Deadpool and a superheroine:

Dead: “If the Hulk makes a stinky as the Hulk, is it bigger?”

She: “Are you twelve?”

Dead: “Nope.”

Unadulterated nonsense passing for wit. Every page is littered with this kind of meaningless smart-ass talk.

The Hawkeye vs. Deadpool books are occasionally interesting — when Gerry Duggan parodies the Hawkeye issue in which Hawkeye, momentarily deaf, talks in sign language or the issue all of which is seen from the dog’s perspective. But the parodies are surrounded by the usual unfunny claptrap. Mad’s parodies at least had some satiric point. Not this thing. Too bad.

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Secret History of Wonder Woman coverJill Lapore has written a book with the seductive title The Secret History of Wonder Woman. And hers isn’t the only secret in the book. William Moulton Marston, the creator of WW, had a secret life that he never revealed to the public.

Wonder Woman, Lapore asserts in a condensation of her book in The New Yorker’s September 22 issue, has a backstory that “is taken from feminist utopian fiction,” and she was inspired by Margaret Sanger, a crusading feminist and birth control advocate who opened the first birth control clinic in 1916 and who, “hidden from the world, was a member of Marston’s family.”

Marston married Elizabeth Holloway in 1915 and, while teaching at Tufts in 1925, met and fell in love with a student, Olive Byrne, daughter of Ethel Byrne who, coincidentally, was Sanger’s sister (and another feminist). Marston, Holloway and Byrne began attending an avant garde sexual “clinic” at the Boston apartment of Marston’s aunt, where they learned about “Love Units” formed by a Love Leader, a Mistress, and a Love Girl.

In 1926, Byrne, then 22, moved in with Marston and Holloway, and they lived as a threesome, “with love making for all” as Holloway put it. Four children were born of this array, two by Holloway and two by Byrne.

For Holloway, Lapore writes, the arrangement showed how women could combine marriage with careers. “Here’s how,” Lapore continues: “Marston would have two wives. Holloway could have her career. Byrne would raise the children. No one else need ever know.” The three assiduously kept their domestic arrangement a secret.

The two women were apparently not only friends but colleagues in feminist enterprises. After Marston’s death in 1947, “they lived together for the rest of their lives. In the fifties and sixties, they often stayed in Tucson, taking care of Sanger. Byrne worked as Sanger’s secretary.”

In 1937, the year the American Medical Association finally endorsed contraception, Marston, who was mostly unemployed through the decade (and even when employed, it was never for very long at any of the universities he taught at), held a press conference, Lapore reports, at which “he predicted that women would one day rule the world.” His prediction made headlines all across the country.

In 1940, M.C. Gaines, whose DC comics published Superman, Batman and a host of other colorfully costumed superheroes, read an article by Olive Byrne in Family Circle magazine, wherein Byrne reported that, contrary to some popular criticism of the day, Marston found comic book superheroes “pure wish fulfillment” of the most beneficial sort. Gaines soon hired Marston  as a consultant, and Marston convinced him of the need for a female superhero. Enter Wonder Woman.

Marston considered women to be mentally stronger than men but insisted that they’re happiest when they’re submissive. (There’s the reason Wonder Woman always gets tied up: Marston had a thing for bondage.) His comics showed her calling for her mortal sisters to fight off their male oppressors, but in his more scholarly publications, he may have taken credit for research conducted by his wife.

“Drawn by an artist named Harry G. Peter, who, in the nineteen-tens, had drawn suffrage cartoons, Wonder Woman looked like a pinup girl,” Lapore says. “She’s Eleanor Roosevelt; she’s Betty Grable. Mostly, she’s Margaret Sanger.”

And, possibly, Olive Byrne.

Saith Lapore: “In 1974, when a Ph.D student asked Holloway about Wonder Woman’s bracelets, Holloway replied: ‘A student of Dr. Marston’s wore on each wrist heavy, broad silver bracelets, one African and the other Mexican. They attracted his attention as symbols of love binding so that he adopted them for Wonder Woman.’ The bracelets were Olive Byrne’s. Olive Byrne had at that point been living with Holloway for 48 years.”

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Ripley’s Believe It or Not: Daily Cartoons 1929-1930

By Robert L. Ripley
Introduction by Bruce Canwell

276 7.5x11-inch landscape pages
b/w except for reproduction of a few antique newspaper clippings that are sort of yellowed with age
IDW Library of American Comics

Believe It Or Not! 1929-30 coverIn a time when cartoonists were celebrities, Ripley was undoubtedly the most celebrated of the legions. He was “a shy, goofy, portly, bucktoothed stutterer who became a world traveler, a multimedia pioneer, and a rich and famous ladies’ man” (saith Neal Thompson in his A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It Or Not” Ripley). A 1936 poll determined that he was the most popular man in America. But his beginnings were humble.

He started as a sports cartoonist at the San Francisco Chronicle in 1909, moved to New York and the creaky old Globe and Commercial Advertiser in 1912, and began to escape the sports pages on December 19, 1918, when he drew a cartoon that displayed odd facts about sporting events and athletes entitled “Champs and Chumps.” 


Then ten months later on October 16, he did another similar compilation and called it Believe It Or Not. By this time, Ripley was already a world traveler: he covered major sports events in Europe (including aspects of World War I). In 1929, on July 9, BION (as Ripley dubbed it) was picked up for syndication by King Features, and Ripley was soon an international figure.

For the next twenty years, he was in the news frequently as his travels in search of oddities were reported hither and yon. And he lived large. Although his “home” for many years was a tiny cramped room at the New York Athletic Club, he spent much of his time when in the city at night clubs, where he drank the nights away.

In addition to his cartoon (daily and Sunday), he had a radio show and several museums (“Odditoriums”) which were stocked with the strange artifacts he collected in globe-spanning trips, and then he did movies; when television arrived, he was soon on the small screen—albeit, only briefly, from March 1 until May 27, 1949, when he died.

Canwell’s short Introduction (enriched by the vintage visuals of newspaper clippings) suggests the dimensions of Ripley’s fame.

The book offers ample evidence of Ripley’s skill as an artist, reprinting all of his daily cartoons from his first for King Features through 1930. He began as a cartoonist, but by the time BION appeared, he was more of an out-and-out black-and-white illustrator whose high-caliber work went beyond the limitations of ordinary cartooning.


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What Fools These Mortals Be:
The Story of Puck, America’s First and Most Influential Magazine of Color Political Cartoons
By Michael Alexander Kahn and Richard Samuel West
Foreword by Bill Watterson

328 11x12-inch pages
IDW Library of American Comics

What Fools These Mortals Be coverThe title of this book is virtually an annotation, but it does not sufficiently emphasize the volume’s big attraction — that it publishes in glorious color a vast selection of Puck’s political cartoons from the weekly magazine’s first English language issue on March 14, 1877 through December 2, 1916, just 22 months before its official demise in September 1918. The cartoons are arrayed through thematic chapters — politics and government, business and labor, foreign relations, race and religion, social issues, personalities — but the longest chapter, 100 pages, is on presidential politics. Each chapter is introduced with a short essay, and a 5-page history of the magazine sets the scene at the beginning.

The cartoons appear one to a page, a generous allocation of space that, at last, gives the spectacular art suitable display. Each cartoon is titled, dated, and succinctly annotated to orient the modern reader to the antique issue the cartoon addressed. And the quality of reproduction is, simply, superb.

Most of the cartoons are by the magazine’s founder, Joseph Keppler, but these pages resonate with the work and names of some of the nation’s greatest 19th century cartoonists — Bernard Gillam and Louis Dalrymple and James A. Wales chief among them, but also Frederick Opper, Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman, C.J. Taylor, J.S. Pughe, Harrison Fisher, Rose O’Neill (surprisingly), F.M. Howarth, and Will Crawford, among other minor lights.

Puck was not revolutionary, West says, “but it was different. ... Puck looked unlike anything else on the newsstand. It was the first magazine in America to publish chromolithograph plates on a weekly basis. It led the way in an explosion of color in American printing during the last quarter of the 19th century, inspiring newspapers to follow its lead, which led to, of course, the advent of the comic strip.”

As a political commentator, Puck’s high-water mark was the 1884 Presidential campaign. With a circulation of 125,000, it was influential as no other magazine has been since.


The Tattooed Man cartoon series held Republican candidate James G. Blaine up to scorn by covering his body with words and phrases that reminded viewers of the politician’s misdeeds over the years. Said West: “Since Blaine lost New York State by only a few thousand votes and hence the election, many attributed the loss to Bernard Gillam’s cartoon.”


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Garry Trudeau on the difference between spending days alone drawing his Doonesbury comic strip and being executive producer responsible for cast and crew of a hundred and twenty people for his tv show “Alpha House”:

“I’ve never had a single full-time employee in my entire career,” he told Mark Singer at The New Yorker. “That was very disorienting in the first season. I was so clueless, I had to be told I was the showrunner. I got a call from the line producer, Antoine Douaihy. We shoot all the interiors at Kaukfman Astoria Studios. He said, ‘When are you coming in?’ I said, ‘Oh, is there a place for me to work?’ He said, ‘Are you kidding? You’ve got the corner office on the third floor. You’re running the joint.’”

GBT and AH cast

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The following is excerpted from excerpts of the oral history section of The Complete Zap, to be released by Fantagraphics this month. A longer version of excerpts can be found at tcj.com/zap-censorship-and-suppression/

            MOSCOSO: Crumb and Wilson were using [Will] Eisner’s technique. The story had a beginning, middle, and an end. Griffin and Moscoso weren’t doing that. Our stories had no beginnings, no middles, and no ends: a non-linear story. That’s interesting. And not only is it interesting, it’s more lifelike. When you get up in the morning, and you go out in the street, you don’t have a linear day. You don’t know who you’re going to run into; you don’t know what they’re going to say; you don’t know how it’s going to end up. What is life? Life is a sequence of one event after another, and Rick and I were much closer to reality in our absurd, non-linear use of the comics form than Wilson and Crumb, who were definitely and obviously lifelike, since they were drawing like life. But really, it’s all marks on paper.

            WILSON: My idea is not to entertain them but to enlighten them. Or to make them sick. One or the other. Sometimes it happens simultaneously.


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Lalo self-portrait


Lalo Alcaraz, creator of La Cucuracha, a strip that does for Latinos what Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks did for African Americans:  “I am not really trying to convert anybody. I’m not trying to make friends, you know. I’m punching back. If I use humor to insult an idiot that, you know, believes that racism is a proper wav to behave, then all the better. It makes them feel bad. That makes me feel good. "

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We Go Pogo: Walt Kelly, Politics and American Satire
By Kerry D. Soper

248 6x9-inch pages
some b/w illos
2012 University Press of Mississippi

We Go Pogo coverBeginning with a short biography of Kelly and an overview of Pogo’s history, Soper goes on to examine all aspects of the cartoonist’s career — his high school drawings; his work on such animated Disney movies as “Dumbo,” “Pinocchio,” and “Fantasia”; his comic book work, and his stint as art director for the short-lived New York Star. Soper taps into Kelly's extensive personal and professional correspondence and interviews with family members, friends, and cartoonists to create a portrait of one of the art form's true masters.

The book is organized by theme rather than chronology, with chapters entitled Comedy and Satire in Pogo, Walt Kelly Pragmatic Auteur, Race and African American Folk Forms, the Aesthetics of Pogo, and Walt Kelly Mid-Century Poplorist.

While Soper is a genial guide through the Kelly oeuvre, he also seems a left-leaning crusader at times bent, strangely, on knocking Kelly off his pedestal. He values Kelly’s anti-authoritarian posture and criticizes the cartoonist if he doesn’t live up to his reputation in that regard, expecting his hero to be greater than his times. He finds Kelly to be blind to sexism, for instance — although Soper acknowledges that “when it came to gender issues, Kelly was a product of his time and profession, and made little effort to see beyond those low horizons.”

In such forays, Soper reveals a lack of understanding about the essential strategy of a newspaper comic strip cartoonist: stay in touch with popular opinion—i.e., don’t get out in front of your readers’ biases too far.

Soper’s grasp of other kindred matters is at times similarly feeble. He thinks Mad magazine replaced Pogo in cultural prominence in the early 1960s, but the two satirical vehicles aimed at entirely different readership. Mad could scarcely replace Pogo.

And Soper often descends into the typical pullulating academic lexicon, a vocabulary gorged with nuance no doubt but more baffling than illuminating because the lingo’s meanings are unfamiliar enough that a dictionary must be consulted in order to sort out Soper’s intent. In one place, for example, he says: “The relentless wordplay and dynamic aesthetics have carnivalesque and deconstructive qualities that both reinforce Kellys’ topical attacks as well as articulate a larger cosmic critique of dogmatism, hierarchies, and scapegoating.”

Puzzles abound in this sentence. What is a “dynamic aesthetic”? “Deconstructive qualilties”—what are those? Are we awash, suddenly, in Derrida’s definition of meaning by contrasting opposites? “Cosmic critique”? I suspect Soper is suddenly in the grip of alliterative rather than actual meaning. Every one of these terms requires clarification (if not definition); and without that, confusion reigns.

Realizing how impenetrable this sentence is, Soper attempts an interpretation in the next: “The comedy and satire of Kelly’s work, in other words, are inextricably intertwined....”          

Admittedly, the second sentence, while easier to understand, hasn’t the meaning-packed nuances of the first, which is why so much academic writing is surfeited with multi-syllabic syntax. But if Soper realizes the need for “other words,” why not deploy them throughout and eschew the unreadable?

The book is infected with minor errors. Charles Schulz was not “forced” to adopt the minimalist manner in rendering Peanuts. That’s the way he drew. Al Capp wrote an article attacking Ham Fisher for Atlantic; he was not interviewed.

These are trifling matters, admittedly. But when coupled to Soper’s misapprehensions about how the medium functions and its place in the cultural milieu of the times, trifles add up, making Soper a sometimes unreliable witness.

Walt Kelly with Pogo drawingSoper’s flights of scholarly research and analysis sometimes unearth insightful information that has been buried until now. Before Kelly’s first ten-year contract with Post-Hall syndicate was up, he negotiated a better contract, giving himself ownership of the strip and other kindred benefits. Soper compares the two contracts, word-by-word in places, showing how Kelly asserted his creator’s rights.

So Soper is not all stumbling around in thickets of multi-syllabic syntax or ponderous posturing by any means. Despite the author’s quirky interpretation of cartooning and its function in the popular culture of the times, his misapprehensions, errors, and pretentious academic verbal gyrations, the book is, as the back cover proclaims, “the first comprehensive study of Kelly’s cartoon art and his larger career in the comics business.”

Most of the book is accurate or at least an acceptable appreciation of Kelly’s career as cartoonist and satirist. Often, Soper’s eccentric reading of the facts before him sheds light on aspects of the cartoonist’s achievement that we might otherwise have overlooked. But to avoid the pitfalls Soper has created, the reader must already be familiar with much of the background against which Soper plays out his theories and pronouncements. And if the reader is versed in such matters, the book is an entertaining—and often informative—read.

By the way, the publisher of this book, the University Press of Mississippi, is also the publisher of my latest book, Insider Histories of Cartooning: Rediscovering Forgotten Famous Comics and Their Creators. But to learn more about this sterling tome, you must hie thee to the Usual Place.


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Walt Kelly: The Life and Art of the Creator of Pogo
By Thomas Andrae and Carsten Laqua

240 8.5x11-inch pages
b/w and color
2012 Hermes Press hardcover

Walt Kelly bio coverAndrae has produced in this volume what is perhaps his magnum opus on Walt Kelly, a long look at the career of the medium’s most authentic genius. Kelly began his career while still in high school and after a short stint working in a women’s underwear factory and then at the local newspaper, the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Post, he ventured off to New York where he intended to find work as an illustrator and wound up, instead, drawing for comic books, graduating in 1936 to Walt Disney's animation studio in California.

He left Disney during the notorious labor dispute in the early 1940s and about 1942 became a mainstay at Dell Comics, creating Fairy Tale Parade, considered by many the finest fantasy comic book of the Golden Age. He also did the covers for Walt Disney's Comics and Stories while Carl Barks was drawing the Duck stories inside. Then came Animal Comics and the first adventures of Albert and Pogo, still in the 1940s and several years before Pogo debuted as a newspaper strip in 1948 in the short-lived New York Star.

The Kelly saga is related in a series of essays by Andrae, Kelly-collectors Mark Burstein and Carsten Laqua (whose Kelly trove provides much of the visual material in the book), and Scott Daley, son of Kelly’s third wife, Selby, who reports his observations of the working methods of Kelly. Together, they rehearse numerous anecdotes from Ward Kimball and others Kelly worked with.

While the texts offer many nuggets not mined elsewhere, the best part of the book is its pictures — many reproduced from original art (including a couple of un-inked Pogo dailies) and many color covers and other extracurricular Kelly art. Among the latter, 8 Sundays (in color) from the renowned Prehysterical Pogo sequence in the mid-1960s in which Pogo, Albert and Churchy are transported to Pandemonia (Australia), plus one or two of Kelly’s PanAm advertisements, some color sketches for the two animated Pogos, and many Pogo dailies (in which the blue-pencil under-drawing is visible).


Andrae discusses “Pogo’s Politics” (mostly in the 1950s) and offers a detailed parsing of the famous Pandemonia sequence, explaining the satire and politics of it. Regrettably, Kelly’s political cartoons for the New York Star are represented with only three specimens. Some day, they’ll get a book of their own; this volume, as it says in the title, veers off decidedly in the Pogo direction of Kelly’s oeuvre. Such minor quibbles, however, are easy to overlook in an otherwise superlative effort in an elegantly superior package from Hermes.

BY THE WAY (although not at all incidentally), I’ve done some writing for Hermes Press, and I was paid for the writing. I don’t think, since I have generally applauded the publisher’s product — both before and after being paid — that makes me a biased analyst, but what I think in this instance is less important than what you think. And now you know.

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