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PERSIFLAGE AND FURBELOWS

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.

KoolKustomers

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QUIPS AND QUOTES

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

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
paperback
$25

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.

 

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

WALT KELLY: THE LIFE AND ART

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
$49.99

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).

PogoHermes1

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.

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POGO: THE COMPLETE DELL COMICS

Walt Kelly’s Pogo: The Complete Dell Comics
Volume One

By Walt Kelly
Introduction by Thomas Andrae
Afterword by Mark Burstein

304 7.5x10-inch pages
color
2014 Hermes Press hardcover
$50

POGO The Complete Dell Comics Volume 1 coverThe first of Hermes Press' two-volume reprinting of all the funnybook Pogo presents all 27 appearances of everyone’s favorite possum in Animal Comics, Nos.1-30 (December 1941-January 1942 through December 1947), except Nos.4, 6 and 7 which were Pogo-less. Volume Two will reprint the Dell Four Color Pogo (Nos. 105 and 148) and other stray appearances of Pogo, plus all of the Pogo comic book. In addition to the Pogo Animal Comics stories, Volume One includes all the comic book’s covers (even those not by Kelly) and several pages reproducing original art — some from Pogo comic strips, plus the art for the first Pogo paperback in 1951.

Long an admirer of Kelly, Andrae sees the folkloric trickster tales—in which the weaker character overcomes the stronger by outwitting him, guile triumphing over power— as underlying Kelly’s swampland stories.

Animal Comics coverTo appreciate Andrae’s point, it’s helpful to remember that Albert, an alligator, is the title character in the inaugural comic book stories, not Pogo. In Joel Chandler Harrisian terms, Albert plays the roles Uncle Remus gives to Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear; Pogo and Bumbazine, the black boy who plays with the animals in the swamp (and is the sensible center of the first stories), are the tricksters. And they deliver Albert’s comeuppance for the first five stories (until Animal Comics No.8); after that, the plots no longer turn on trickster motifs.

Instead, general confusion reigns — all originating with the alligator’s seemingly insatiable carnivorous appetite for anything he deems edible (including, usually by mistake, bee hives and hornets’ nests, which proliferate as instruments of punishment) and perpetuated by misapprehending the meaning of puns and other locutions.

In addition to traces of the trickster, Andrae finds evidence of American minstrelsy (in which the fool’s behavior masks the social criticism) in the Animal Pogo. And he also discusses Bugs Bunny and racism and Kelly’s opposition to it and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin and environmental and ecological concerns — in short, the entire American liberal agenda, which, Andrae is able to demonstrate successfully, infects even the earliest Pogo.

With No.15, Pogo joins Albert in the story’s logo, and he remains there through the remainder of the Animal Comics incarnation. From the start, “Pogo” was in larger type than “Albert,” signaling Kelly’s shifting allegiance. Bumbazine had disappeared after No.12.

Andrae helpfully points out that bombazine is “the name of a shiny black fabric that Kelly recalled from his youthful days working at a ladies’ underwear factory.” Kelly quipped that the black kid, “being human,” wasn’t as believable as the animals and therefore didn’t fit into the world he was creating. But I and almost everyone encountering Bumbazine’s brief strut on Kelly’s stage suspect that the cartoonist abandoned the black boy because of the difficulty in drawing him in a way that didn’t perpetuate the racist visual stereotypes of the time.

Whatever the cause, Pogo soon emerged as the stabilizing character in the flux of eccentricities that constitute the population of the swamp.

This Pogo volume, and presumably the next and final one, is useful as well as entertaining and engaging in its own right. The early Pogo offers insight into Kelly’s growth and maturation as a cartoonist and satirist. Kelly’s comic book work does more than prefigure the comic strip. Many of the gags and antics of these stories are recycled in the Pogo newspaper strip, and it’s instructive to watch how Kelly refined and improved his initial concepts.

           

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POGO COMPLETE

Pogo: Evidence to the Contrary
The Complete Syndicated Comic Strips, Volume 3

By Walt Kelly; Foreword by Mike Peters
“Swamp Talk and Historical Data” by R.C. Harvey
Biography by Mark Evanier

356 9x11-inch landscape pages
b/w and Sundays in color
2014 Fantagraphics hardcover
$45

POGO Evidence to the Contrary Vol 3 coverThis is the grand high pooh-bah of reprint projects. Not only is the comic strip the work of cartooning genius, but the book design and reproduction are superlative — with several toothsome extras like occasional reprints of original art, with Kelly’s bluelines showing. The period embraced by this volume, January 1, 1953 to December 31, 1954, includes what many (me among them) regard as the most famous of Kelly’s satires, that of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, wherein his allegorical self in the strip winds up getting tarred with the tar he intended for others, which proves, I suppose, that when you go about smearing others, you’re likely to get some of the smear on yourself.

In my section of the book, I annotate the many topical allusions Kelly made while joyfully lambasting the hypocritical and the self-important — my effort, it is hoped, making the cartoonist’s satire understandable. Peters conducts a page-long appreciation of Pogo, and Evanier supplies boilerplate biographical overview for those who somehow missed Volumes 1 and 2.

The daily strips appear three to a page, which permits reproduction at a size nowadays not only never seen but never even heard of. The Sundays, which offered a different continuity (albeit nothing vast that requires detailed study and note-taking), show up at one per page at the end of the book; there was a lot of clowning around on Sundays and very little of the heavy-duty satire that cropped up in the dailies. All the strips, dailies and Sundays, are dated (month, day, and year) in running heads on each page, a helpful tactic for scholars and historians and those of us with such bad eyesight that we can’t read the lettered dates in the corners of the strips.

P.S. In the interest of advertising an endearing trait of conscious candor, I must admit what is doubtless widely known: I have worked for Fantagraphics’ Comics Journal for nearly 40 years, an association that has always been pleasant and mildly remunerative. This relationship may make me biased in favor of Fantagraphics’ products. But then again, many of the products of other publishers that I review here have been created by friends. By way of explaining myself, I say only that I became friends with most of them because I liked their work. Admiration fostered friendship, not the other way around. That, however, is, ultimately, neither here nor there. Instead, you must presume that I am always biased in my reviews.

 

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NUTS AND PEANUTS

NUTS logoGahan Wilson did a comic strip for National Lampoon. The strip was entitled Nuts. The title is inspired by Charles Schulz’s iconic strip. In his book I Only Read It For the Cartoons about some New Yorker cartoonists, Richard Gehr says: “Wilson admires and appreciates Schulz’s work, but he considers Peanuts a deceptively anodyne depiction of childhood.” Gehr goes on to quote Wilson:

“I always respected what Charles Schulz did — which was religious teaching. He was doing a kind of medieval religious pageant. His strips were little moral fables. It’s fine and dandy, but it has nothing to do with children, and that’s all there is to that. But he did exactly what he set out to do, and it’s quite extraordinary stuff. It did piss me off that he was pretending it was about children and it wasn’t.

“Childhood,” Wilson went on, “is a terrifying world. The little critters are so alive and so perceptive. They’re all scared to death but so delighted when something works out. Children are intensely alive and complicated. The thing that made me angry at Schulz is that he sentimentalizes the idea of childhood, which has really done a lot of harm.”

In his Nuts, Wilson drew everything “down” to scale. “It’s like the kid is being crushed and confined in this box. The frame is kid-sized, and you only see parts of the huge people and world that surround him. That’s all a kid apprehends: giant projections in his immediate vicinity and everything else far away. Doors are big, difficult to open, and so on. But they struggle through; they’re amazing.

“So Nuts was saying, ‘This is the nitty-gritty, folks. This is what it’s like being a little kid.’”

To devise adventures for his kid, Wilson just “racked” his brain to remember things that happened to him as a kid that were so awful. “The Kid is trying to figure it out. The Kid never had any name at all, also very much on purpose. I didn’t want to nail him down.”

Wilson’s Kid was every kid, terrified of the looming world around him. Here are a couple of his adventures.

Nuts

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THE PC OF ZOMBIES

ZombieZombies and the rest of the undead are at today’s terminus of a trend toward political correctitude that began before any of us were born. Comics — of the newspaper ilk — had been criticized by Concerned Citizens almost from the beginning. And the criticism lurked, sometimes shouting and sometimes merely growling, ever since. With the advent in 1954 of the Comics Code, we learned specifically what the Concerned Multitudes were so concerned about. It was a long list.

Prohibited were: glamorized crooks, detailed plans for crimes, the words “horror” (and “crime”) on comic book covers, gruesome pictures, vampires, walking dead, cannibalism, profanity, smut, obscenity, attacks on religion, nudity, divorce, sex perversions, unperverted sex, liquor and tobacco and fireworks advertising, scenes of violence — and more, much more, but all in the same Victorian vein.

Mainly, Concerned Citizens objected to any affront to a nineteenth century sense of decorum. They didn’t like sex or ghoulishness or violence. Particularly, they didn’t like people killing people.

The publishers and creators of comic books reacted accordingly. They skirted sex, avoided ghoulishness, and took all the weapons away from heroic characters. Batman couldn’t have a pistol. And even if he got one by disarming a foe, he couldn’t use the pistol against his opponent. No killing.

In Westerns where wholesale gunfire is common, no one is ever killed. Gunfighters shot the guns out of the hands of the bad guys. No one died.

Meanwhile, back at the superhero shops, the good guys in tights acquired new offensive armament. Force fields. Lighting bolts from the finger tips. These vibrations could render enemies unconscious or harmless. But nothing fatal or disfiguring. And no blood was shed.

Simultaneously, the bad guys were no longer members of the human (sic) sapien species. They were alien beings — with force fields under their fingernails. So the superheroes were, at last, evenly matched. Their foes were not just crooks of the same species. They were superpowered aliens. So the superheroic good guys couldn’t be accused of bullying (which, in his inaugural appearance, Superman certainly could be), of beating up on ordinary, unpowered humanoids. Perforce, it was okay to pound non-human aliens — to dismember them, to blow them full of wholes.

Admittedly, the stories told under these restraints quickly became dull. The trend reached its apotheosis in the movie “Man of Steel” wherein Superman and his similarly superpowered opponent, neither of whom, regrettably, has fingertip force fields, must resort to pure, unadulterated power: they run at each other and crash headon like a couple freight trains. After a couple of these, boredom sets in pretty quick.

And the same kind of thing was transpiring in comic books.

Then, to the rescue, we have the walking dead.

At last, our heroes have opponents they can dismember and dispose of without killing them. Because they’re already dead. Hence, the ultimate in politically correct violence — superheroes battling and bloodily disintegrating zombies and similarly no-longer-alive beings. No one, apparently, objects to desecrating animated corpses.

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ART TO EAT BY: THE PALM

When the new Palm Restaurant in Los Angeles opened November 7 in Beverly Hills, its walls were bare. Still are. Mostly. They’re awaiting a fresh influx of caricatures of the Hollywood mighty. The Palm has its origins in New York on Second Avenue, where Pio Bozzi and his partner John Ganzi opened a restaurant in 1926 that became a speakeasy. Close to midtown syndicate and newspaper offices, the place became a hangout for journalists and cartoonists, and the latter started drawing their characters on the walls. Most of those pictures are still there: whenever the place needs a coat of paint, the management hires portrait painters who carefully outline and paint around the antique comic characters.

The PalmThe Palm became famous enough that a second edition opened across the street — Palm Two. Then in 1972, another Palm opened in Washington, D.C. After that, they sprouted up everywhere. And in every one, caricatures adorn the walls. (The Palm in San Diego applied copies of the original Palm pictures to its walls, using some ultra-modern method of duplication.)

In Washington, the caricatures are of politicians. In West Hollywood where the first L.A. Palm opened, the caricatures are of actors, actresses and movie moguls. But the new Palm has bare walls. “Glaringly portrait-free slates that have caused a ripple of anxiety in moviedom over revoked statuses and set up a subtle new immortalization competition,” saith Brooks Barnes at nytimes.com.

“The hand-wringing over the caricatures has taken years off my life,” said Bruce B. Bozzi Jr., great grandson of the co-founder and the executive vice president of the Palm Restaurant Group, which has 26 locations. “Do we move the old ones? That wasn’t possible. There were 2,300 of them. Do we pick 100 to move? The most powerful? No, I would be a dead man.”

So he decided to start over, even though he knew some traditionalists would be unhappy. Only one image, to his knowledge, had ever been removed from the West Hollywood location: O.J. Simpson. (The restaurant covered him up after somebody — following his 1995 murder trial — stuck a steak knife in his portrait forehead.)

Bozzi noted that none of the old West Hollywood caricatures were thrown in the trash. Instead, each picture was sawed off the wall and offered as a gift to the person who inspired it. Steven Spielberg and Brad Grey, Paramount’s current chairman, were among those who requested the images, Bozzi said.

In the end, he did move a few of the old caricatures to the new restaurant. Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, for instance, occupy a spot next to the front door. Farrah Fawcett and Lee Majors, painted as a pair, also made the cut.

“I wanted to pay homage to the ’70s, when we first put down roots,” Bozzi said.

So far, Bozzi has authorized five new power portraits: Amy Pascal, a co-chairwoman of Sony Pictures Entertainment; Sue Mengers, a talent agent who died in 2011; Sherry Lansing, the former chief executive of Paramount; Steven Tyler of Aerosmith; and the Bravo television personality Andy Cohen.

Why them? “Because they’re fabulous,” Mr. Bozzi said, flashing a smile. (And at least a couple are his friends, added Barnes.)

But none of them are characters from the comics. Beginning with Palm Two, that tradition was slowly eroded until, by Washington’s Palm, it was gone.

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PERSIFLAGE AND BADINAGE

Texas Guinan, a sometime movie actress who gained fame during Prohibition by greeting patrons at her speakeasy with a resounding, “Hello, suckers!” was married, the first time, to a cartoonist, John J. Moynahan, who, when they met and courted in the first years of the twentieth century, was cartooning for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where Guinan, then merely Mary Louise Guinan, was appearing in amateur stage productions in an attempt to make a acting career for herself. She’d been born in 1884 in Waco, Texas — hence, her moniker.Tex Guinan poster

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ANOTHER ICON CHANGETH

Jack Davis MAD coverAccording to Wired, Jack Davis, the legendary EC artist, Mad cartoonist, magazine illustrator and movie poster artist, is finally hanging up his pencils. It’s not that the iconic 90-year-old cartoonist can’t draw anymore — he just can’t meet his own standards.

“I’m not satisfied with the work,” Davis says by phone from his rural Georgia home. “I can still draw, but I just can’t draw like I used to.”

Davis has probably spent more time in America’s living rooms than anyone. Mad was a million-seller when Davis was on the mag, and when he was doing TV Guide covers in the 1970s, the publication boasted a circulation of over 20 million. Yet, Davis is largely unaware of his massive cultural significance. “I never really thought about that, but I guess I’m very blessed,” he says. “I’ve been very lucky.”

But his luck paled in comparison to his skill. Davis started his career in 1936, when he was only 12; he won $1 as part of a national art contest and saw his work published in Tip Top Comics No.9. While still a teen, his cartoons were published in The Yellow Jacket, a humor magazine at Georgia Tech University, where his uncle was a professor. After a stint in the military, Davis caught on with EC Comics in 1950, where he was part of the artistic wave that revolutionized comics with titles like Tales from the Crypt, Two-Fisted Tales, and Mad.

The Art of Jack Davis cover

Whereas Norman Rockwell’s images represented Americana of the 1940s and ’50s with his Boy Scouts and pigtailed girls, Davis’ work epitomized the sixties and seventies — the smirking, sardonic face of the emerging counterculture. By the time the Beats and the Hippies (who came of age reading Davis cartoons) took over, he was doing movie posters for Woody Allen’s Bananas, The Long Goodbye, American Graffiti, and others.

“Jack Davis is probably the most versatile artist ever to work the worlds of comic books, illustration, or movie poster art,” Scott Dunbier, a former art dealer and current director of special projects at comic book publisher IDW. “He can work in a humorous style or deadly serious style, historical or modern, anything. His work transcends that of almost any other cartoonist.”

But Davis is done producing new work. “I’m just gonna sit on the porch and watch the river go by,” Davis says. “And maybe go fishing once in a while.”

 

 

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SPORTS TOONS

Eddie Campbell says he’s working on a book about San Francisco sports cartoonists, who, like Bud Fisher and Rube Goldberg, littered the landscape of the City by the Bay in the early years of the 20th century; he says he’s finished the first draft at 70,000. “I’m currently restoring old pictures,” he told Chris Arrant at robot6.comicbookresources.com. “It’s full of drama and odd twists and turns. There are race riots and somebody being shot in the head. This is no dusty academic tome.”

MUTT AND JEFF panel

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CARTOONING AT THE WHITE HOUSE

Altie cartoonist Jen Sorensen at fusion.net reports that “Washington, DC-based cartoonist Carolyn Belefski recently scored a new gig with a major client: the White House. As part of the Obama administration’s effort to reduce the number of uninsured Americans, Belefski [whose portfolio includes comic book covers and webcomics as well as the comic strip Curls] was commissioned to create a series of comics raising awareness of Healthcare.gov. The comics, all of which can be seen on the White House website, began rolling out on social media the last week in January, in advance of the February 15 enrollment deadline.” Nearby is a sample.

Belefski1

Belefski said it was the White House that initiated the relationship, approaching her via e-mail. The agreed-upon approach to this visual storytelling was through the use of character types — individual comics that whimsically spotlight a bearded hipster, say, or an athlete or a daredevil.

Sorensen wanted to know if Belefski was given a script or did she have some latitude to produce the material herself.

Said Belefski: “I was given the personas (caregiver, hipster, daredevil, etc.) and developed sketches of the character designs for approval. At this time I provided three layout options on how best to show the stories on social media.

Belefski4

We went with the character head in the center and the text around the middle so it would not get cut off on certain sites in preview. The White House provided me with the dimensions, and I pitched how to show the panels and text. They provided me with a script and did allow me to contribute to the story. It was a complete collaboration with a minimal edit, but no art edits. I actually revised two panels on my own before it was right to send to them.”

Belefski had no complaints: “There is the approval process [with freelance work], which depending on the client, can sit on someone’s desk for months, or there is a ‘too many cooks in the kitchen,’ design-by-committee situation. Working with the White House had a great flow and no hold-ups.

“It is amazing to have creative people at the White House,” she continued, “and I am happy that I was on their radar to contribute to their project. They have been doing some really cool interactive work too, including the recent State of the Union. It’s always nice to have clients everyone can recognize because of familiarity. In addition, as a artist, it feels good to use my talents for America — as a cartoonist for America. I appreciate and thank the White House for showcasing art to get their message out. My hope is that the cartoons appeal to people who might not be aware of the issues or react to visual information.”

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NCS TO HONOR MORT DRUCKER

Poster art for NCS’s 2015 Reuben Awards weekend, May 22-24 in Washington, D.C., identifies guests and honorees (clockwise from top left): Mort Drucker (Mad) and Jeff Keane (Family Circus), as well as the weekend event’s newly announced speakers: Brian Crane (Pickles) and Nick Galifianakis; the Washington Post’s animating editoonist, Ann Telnaes; D.C.-based illustrator/author Juana Medina; Andertoons.com’s Mark Anderson; and comic-book artist Doug Mahnke.

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NCS President Tom Richmond did the caricatures, as he has for several years lately, but this year, there’s a difference: Richmond inherited the legendary Drucker’s caricaturing gig at Mad, and now he’s rendering his take on a one-man institution. At Michael Cavna’s ComicRiffs, he was asked: What’s it like? Said Richmond: “Let’s see — I’m drawing a caricature of one of the greatest caricature artists in the history of illustration who is also a personal hero, a picture that is going to be mailed to the members of an organization made up of the greatest cartoonists in the world. Nope — no pressure.”

At the Reuben Awards Banquet, Drucker will receive the newest NCS award, the NCS Medal of Honor, created last fall to honor lifetime achievement by persons who aren’t eligible for the Society’s already extant lifetime achievement award, the Milton Caniff Award. Yes, that’s right: the NCS now has two lifetime achievement awards.

In 1987, Drucker won the NCS’s Reuben Award, which recognizes the “cartoonist of the year.” Until now, the group’s only lifetime achievement honor was the Milton Caniff Award, but in an odd quirk of the Society’s rules, a Reuben recipient cannot subsequently be awarded the Caniff honor. The Medal of Honor was created to enable the erstwhile verboten to be boten.

Oddly, it’s okay the other way around: a Caniff recipient can subsequently receive the Reuben, as Jack Davis did in 2000 (having received the Caniff Award in 1996).

Said Richmond in announcing the inaugural winner of the Medal of Honor: “Drucker was chosen as the first recipient by unanimous vote.”

Drucker, 85, began as a comic-book assistant shortly after World War II, and became an iconic staple of Mad, drawing decades of film and TV parodies when the magazine was at its pop-culture zenith in Boomer-generation popularity, reaching millions of readers.

Drucker is undeniably deserving of the lifetime achievement award, but I think he should have been given the Caniff Award, which, named after one of the founding members of the Society (who personally kept it functioning during some lean years), seems to me a more prestigious award than one made up expressly to circumvent a silly rule. If the NCS board could invent a new award, surely it could have just as easily revised the rules.

On the other hand, for Drucker, this makes the Medal of Honor an even more prestigious award: he is held in such esteem by his colleagues that they invented an award just for him.

Congratulations, Mort.

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

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