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BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN ONE

BEFORE WATCHMEN: MINUTEMEN

An admirable first issue must, above all else, contain such matter as will compel a reader to buy the second issue. At the same time, while provoking curiosity through mysteriousness, a good first issue must avoid being so mysterious as to be cryptic or incomprehensible. And, thirdly, it should introduce the title’s principals, preferably in a way that makes us care about them. Fourth, a first issue should include a complete “episode”—that is, something should happen, a crisis of some kind, which is resolved by the end of the issue, without, at the same time, detracting from the cliffhanger aspect of the effort that will compel us to buy the next issue.

Volume 1

Minutemen 1 coverThe first of DC's controversial Before Watchmen books was Minutemen, expertly conceived and superbly written and drawn by Darwyn Cooke. The frame story is a commonplace (enriched immeasurably by Cooke’s storytelling skills). Hollis Mason, aka Nite Owl, has written his autobiography, a “tell all” opus entitled Under the Hood, and when Larry Schexnayder, an agent for Sally Jupiter, aka Minuteman Silk Spectre, sees a draft of it, he blows his stack. In the opening sequence, Larry wants to meet with Hollis to talk him out of getting the book published. And there Cooke lets that part of the story dangle off the cliff. Hollis, meanwhile, is in the throes of a nostalgic trip: prompted by his own book, he recalls for us how each of the Minutemen specialized in crime-fighting action — by which simple but canny device, we are introduced to the Minutemen: Hooded Justice, Nite Owl, Silk Spectre, Mothman, the Comedian, Dollar Bill, the Silhouette, and, the last to be introduced, Captain Metropolis, who, luxuriating in his bubble bath, prepares for his evening patrol as Hollis, the narrator, ends his remembrance, for the nonce, by alluding to vague penalties that the Minutemen would pay for the benefits their banding together fostered — a second cliffhanger.

Each character’s introduction is a complete episode, and in each, Cooke expertly blends word and picture to tell the tales as only the comics medium can. Hollis’ expository narrative unfolds, page after page of verbal drone, but each of the Minutemen’s introductions accompanies the dull murmuring with the exciting action depicted in the pictures, rescuing the narrative from its otherwise boring verbal excess. The pictures sometimes seem to contradict the words and usually extend their meaning. The book is comics as skillfully done as ever we’ll see. And the strategy of introducing this series with a summary title like Minutemen is both cogent and canny. With an inauguration like this, the series promises to be gangbusters all the way.

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

BEFORE WATCHMEN

DC Comics’ announcement last winter that it would publish a series of prequel comics set in the world of Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons' famed Watchmen was followed immediately by earthquake and eruption. Fandom was enflamed: some were wildly excited; others, bitterly condemnatory, went promptly into a swivet, claiming, rightly, that the original series was a single unified artistic creation. It was complete in itself, whole. Each issue of the comic book was a “perfectly constructed chapter,” said Jerry Ordway. As an organic whole, it can scarcely be added to. In fact, it begs to be let alone. Those who object to the prequel see it as messing with the original. Moreover, to tinker with the masterwork is insulting to Moore and Gibbons and belittling to the creative impulse itself.

At ComicRiffs, Michael Cavna summarized the view of the opposition: “To many devotees, Watchmen is a sacred text and testament to comics' highest literary powers. To these worshipers, DC has just become a defiler of the crypt, if not the script.”

Moore, whose artistic impulse set him in vehement opposition to film adaptations of Watchmen and his earlier V for Vendetta, had two words as preface to his reaction to DC’s intentions: “Completely shameless.”

But that wasn’t all Moore said; he went on: "I tend to take this latest development as a kind of eager confirmation that they are still apparently dependent on ideas that I had 25 years ago. ... I don't want money. What I want is for this not to happen. As far as I know, there weren't that many prequels or sequels to Moby Dick."           

Some, however, pointed out that Moore has lately been producing a vast quantity of stories about characters created by other writers — including Alice (from Wonderland), Dorothy (from Oz), Wendy (from Peter Pan), as well as Captain Nemo, the Invisible Man, Jekyll and Hyde and Professor Moriarty.

As J. Michael Stracaynski put it: “I think one loses a little of the moral high ground to say, ‘I can write characters created by Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle and Frank Baum, but it's wrong for anyone else to write my characters.'"

In any event, once set in motion, DC’s project went bowling along, and in the next few postings here, we’ll take a look at the opening issues of the seven miniseries, each featuring one of the original Watchmen cast — Rorschach, the Minutemen, the Comedian, Nite Owl, Ozymandias, Silk Spectre and Dr. Manhattan.

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

THE ART OF AMANDA CONNER

THE ART OF AMANDA CONNER
248.5x11-inch pages, color
IDW
hardcover, $29.99

This happy tome is not quite a book of pin-ups, but it’s close: although she can draw men, the “art” herein is mostly (thankfully) women of the shapeliest sort, doing what Conner can do better than most — mugging their way through the pages. I don’t think any of the art was produced expressly for the book: it’s all spot illustrations, covers, some pencil sketches, a few pages from comic books she drew. Conner and her husband, Jimmy Palmiotti, and numerous of her friends and admirers supply biographical notes and comments, accompanied by photographs.

Conner0001

A few pages are devoted to Conner’s very early work, some of which she did as a student at the Joe Kubert school. “Joe told me one of the smartest things I ever heard,” Conner writes; “He said ‘make it so the reader knows exactly what’s going on as if there weren’t any words or text to go along with the art.’” It’s advice she obviously took to heart.

Very few pages to show her surpassing storytelling skills; for that, we’ll soon have DC’s The Sequential Art of Amanda Conner. But in the volume at hand, we have testimony from Darwyn Cooke: “Conner’s work is bursting with contemporary appeal and virtuoso technique but for me, that is the least of it. Underpinning all the gorgeous pictures is the storytelling. When I look at Conner’s pages, it makes me wonder where, exactly, she found this ability she has. Here characters live and breathe in a way most artists must be jealous of. They act and react and inhabit their bodies and the world around them in very natural ways. Each character has their own posture, mannerisms and individuality, all of it underscoring and adding layers to the writer’s characterization. Even the little guys on the sidewalk in the background are distinctive and it is Conner’s genius that she can tell us a story about even these bit players simply by the way they’re posed.”

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

The table of contents outlines the book’s content: student work, early work, Vampirella, indy comics, superheroes, naughty bits, commercial art, Power Girl. In the naughty bits chapter, we get a healthy helping of the most outrageous superheroine ever created — bad-taste genius Garth Ennis’ the Pro, “an anti-glamorous, low-rent hooker whose world is irrevocably altered when she gains superpowers.” Simply — toweringly — outrageous.

Conner says she had great fun doing the Pro, partly because the character required that Conner draw a range of emotions. But also because anyone “who had illusions of me being ‘just a Barbie artist’ was permanently shut up. Another reason was that I know exactly what spandex does to a body, all the riding up and popping out, something I’ve personally experienced and witnessed countless times at conventions, so I got to put all of that into play in that story.”

Conner0002

Another of Conner’s favorite drawing subjects was Power Girl. “Let’s talk about her boobs,” Conner writes. “It’s funny because the boob thing is always a heated topics. People often come up to me and say, ‘We thought you were going to make her boobs smaller,’ but Power Girl is the superhero intentionally known for having big boobs, thanks in no small part to Wally Wood’s input.”

So Conner made Power Girl’s boobs big.

In addition to being one of the most accomplished artists in comics, Conner is a beautiful specimen of the curvaceous gender herself, so her response to Steve Bunche when he asked how she could draw gorgeous women is not unexpected (but it is surprisingly candid): “Every day when I get up, I see a female in the mirror. I have the anatomy and understand how it all works and looks, including how gravity works for or against it. Let’s face it, like any other woman, I’m very familiar with the geography.”

And this book is one of the best geography books around.

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

WONDERFUL

Justice League No

 

 

 When DC Comics rebooted its universe last fall with the New 52, it annulled the marriage of Superman/Clark Kent and Lois Lane so that the Man of Steel could have a relationship with the Woman of Wonder, aka Diana Prince. This new arrangement commenced in Justice League No. 12, on sale August 29. And this happy-ever-aftering, writer Geoff Johns told Entertainment Weekly, is “the new status quo,” and it will, presumably, lay (pardon the expression) to rest the age-old speculation about how a mortal, everyday woman like Lois could survive a sexual onslaught, however loving, from the Member of Steel. Which, in turn, will give rise to a new speculation and then, immediately, lay it to rest: coping with an aroused Superman is, probably, one of the wonders of which she is capable.

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

FATALE

Fatale NoWith No. 6 of Fatale, Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips begin Book Two of their current saga. Herein present-day Nick Lash, the protagonist who was crippled in Book One, is still preoccupied by his infatuation with Josephine, the mysterious time-traveling femme fatale of the title, and tries to find evidence of her in the life of his godfather, the writer Dominic Raines. His chapter concludes with the deaths of a pair of shadowy characters who’ve been lurking around him and a mystery: why is Raines’ safety deposit box empty when it ought to contain something of his legacy for Nick?

The next chapter, taking place in 1978, introduces a wannabe actor named Miles who goes looking for a fix that he hopes to obtain from his friend Suzy, whom he finds, smeared with the blood of the corpse next to her but alive, at a meeting of the Method Church, a congregation of perverts. Escaping with her, he wanders into the clutches of Josephine, who has made herself a recluse but now, with Miles’ arrival, seems ready to rejoin the world, perverse though it and she are.

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

OCCUPYING ARCHIE

In Archie No. 635, the Occupy Movement reached Riverdale, threatening to present our lovable redhead with a problem unique to the romantic triangle that animates his every waking hour. Veronica, who’s very rich, is in the despised One Percent and opposes what the Occupiers are doing; but Betty, whose family is the nextdoor sort, is sympathetic to the Occupiers.

Archie_635 coverSurprisingly, having established a romantic complication for our hero, writer Alex Segura then nearly ignores it: as Archie struggles to figure out what “this protest is all about” (how dim can he be?), free speech emerges as the issue to confront, not the flawed economic system that has produced financial inequality of stupendous dimensions. Freedom of speech is something everyone can be in favor of so it trumps the Occupy issues — handily side-stepping the economic controversy while still airing the grievances on both sides. In short, the story deftly steers down the accustomed middle-of-the-road route that Archie Comics always drives.

Segura skillfully weaves through the tale most of the familiar Riverdale threads. Romance enters the story only briefly: Veronica thinks the leader of the protest, Andy Martinez, is just too cute for words and eventually finagles a date out of him, leaving Archie to (almost grudgingly) agree to a date with Betty. It’s Andy’s mother who defuses the situation: she’s the mayor of Riverdale, and when Hiram Lodge, Veronica’s bigbucks father, shows up to demand that the police break up the protest, Mrs. Martinez soon realizes that the Occupiers have a right to speak their piece.

While this outcome leans in favor of the Occupiers, Hiram Lodge, as a representative of the reviled One Percent, is defended when his daughter reminds him that he “was young once” and built his fortune by “bucking the system.” News to me; but that snippet gives the One Percent a leg to stand on, all that’s necessary while navigating a middle course.

Kevin the Gay gets to make the summarizing speech. Asked what it is about Riverdale (i.e., America) that brings people together, he says: “Riverdale’s always been about more than the One Percent or the 99 Percent — it’s about the 100 percent. It’s a safe place where everyone is welcome.” Whereupon, Lodge apologizes for trying to shut down the protest. And then Mister Weatherbee, Riverdale High School principal, shows up to give everyone a detention for missing class.

The story’s tidily happy resolution of the controversy that headlines it is an adroitly engineered dodge because it sidelines the issue, the economic injustice that the Occupiers strive to remedy. But in avoiding the basic problem, the story also champions an American value, free speech, and by shifting the focus away from the economic issue, we get to publisher Jon Goldwater’s America: Riverdale is his America, and his America is not so much what America actually is these days as it is what Goldwater hopes it will be.

A politically and philosophically sound posture however nebulous his position on the economic issue.

Considering all the pitfalls that dot the landscape for an Archie comicbook trying to walk a thin line between the issues represented herein, this is a remarkably successful effort.

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

DAREDEVIL

Marvel's Daredevil was one of the first comics that I picked up when I started reading funnybooks again in 1973 (the other was Iron Man), so I’ve had a soft spot in my head for the title ever since. DD’s affair with the Black Widow kept me engaged for a while; then I cheered on Frank Miller as he rescued the book from oblivion by showing how comics should be done.

But no one on DD after Miller sustained my interest, so I haven’t kept up with Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson and their sundry doings lately. Someone recommended the title last spring, and I picked it up and began reading with No.9. The drawings by Pablo Rivera and Joe Rivera are stunning, particularly their mastery of shadow, drenching the pictures in black, but DD’s battle with the sewer dwarfies and the Mole Man for possession of his father’s coffin and remains didn’t much grip me. I returned, however, with No.12, and that hooked me again.

Daredevil0001Mark Waid’s story has DD facing off with Megacrime organizations, using the Omega Drive data, but that wasn’t what got me going. What grabbed me is Chris Samnee’s art. Samnee deploys a simple bold line, unfeathered but richly enhanced with chiaroscuro. And Waid’s story — Matt becoming involved with ADA Kirsten McDuffie — sealed the deal: Waid has revived Daredevil’s human dimension. But in No.13, all that was on temporary hold while DD sojourns in Latveria, where he winds up after being abducted by Dr. Victor Von Doom’s “humble servant,” Chancellor Exchequer Beltane, who wants to find out how DD’s radar sense works. Then comes the scary part, Waid’s startlingly original notion to deprive Daredevil of all his senses, radar and the rest.

In No.14, Beltane subjects DD to a few squirts of a seemingly disabling gas; then stops. DD, happy to be alive, doesn’t realize it until he escapes, but the gas he’s inhaled is slowly destroying each of his senses — hearing, smell, touch, taste as well as radar. He first notices when he can’t smell some flowers; then he realizes that he can’t “taste” the air. The book concludes with a haunting development: DD, now senseless, imagines that he has escaped, but we see what he cannot, any longer, know without any of his senses — he’s been captured and bound by Beltane’s men.

Daredevil0002No.15 is devoted to Beltane’s experiments on DD’s body in search of the secret of the radar sense. Daredevil, although robbed of all of the hypersenses that have made it possible for him to function, realizes that his nervous system, which had created the hypersenses as compensation for his loss of sight, is once again attempting to “compensate” — this time, by recreating all those senses. Although barely functional, DD breaks away from his keepers and flees into the rainy night.

He’s re-captured and Beltane’s about to kill him when Iron Man shows up to save him; DD had sent a message to the Avengers to rescue him while he was on the loose the last time. At Avenger HQ in No.16, Dr. Strange and Tony Stark send Antman Hank Pym into Matt’s brain to retrofit it, and by the end of this issue, DD is fully functional again. But Waid has taken us on a wild ride, and Samnee has collaborated to give it a vivid reality.

Waid’s ingenuity is admirable on its own — devising a horror story about what might happen if a man with hypersenses is deprived of all of them; and Samnee supplies a perfect visual accompaniment. Although solid black panels sometimes successfully suggest DD’s sense-deprived state, Samnee adds other imagery as Daredevil’s senses return, or flicker on and off — vaguely scorching shapes and eerie patterns. Seldom do pictures and words blend successfully for such terrifying results.

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

RESIDENT ALIEN

Resident Alien 3 coverDark Horse's Resident Alien has reached the end of its inaugural 3-issue story arc with the capture of the serial killer who has been stalking the town in which the alien is posing as a medical doctor. There’s a shoot-out with the doctor alien’s female assistant inadvertently wounding the doctor. Later, while treating him, she reveals that she knows he’s an alien — “not like us,” she says, with a gentle smile. The alien’s ability to mask his appearance works on most humans but not on all, and she is seemingly one of those it doesn’t work on. As readers, we see his alien face — pointy ears, black eye slits, green pupils; characters in the story see a normal human, but the assistant sees only a vague blur instead of a face. So she knows something’s askew.

At the point of the girl’s revelation, the narrative shifts to a flashback, reporting the alien’s arrival on this planet. And when it returns to the alien’s bedside where he lies recovering from having a bullet removed from his leg by his female assistant, he seems asleep. The next page shows that he is dreaming, admiring earth’s natural beauties and thinking, perhaps, that he feels at home there. And he’s smiling. The assistant’s doing again?

This is a different sort of superheroing comic book. Peter Hogan and his artist collaborator Steve Parkhouse have produced a thoughtful story for mature readers. Nicely done.

 

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

BLONDIE

It’s nice to see Dagwood (in the upper strip below) being victimized by the recently-omnipresent Olympics while having his hair cut. This is one of those rare occasions when his head plumes have been brutalized. A couple of years ago (as we see in the lower strip below) his barber even cut them off. Momentous. Comic strip history being made before our very eyes.

Blondie0012

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

SWEET PICKLES

Brian Crane’s daily Pickles for August 25 had me goin’. I was sure he had the lyrics wrong.

Pickles 8-25-12

When I was a kid, all of us sang “Mairzy Doats,” not “Mares eat oats.” Then I checked Wikipedia. Aha. New information. The song is, indeed, “Mairzy Doats,” but that’s not the end of the story. Written in 1943, it made the pop charts several times, and overseas, it was a hit with American servicemen. Here’s the rest of the WikiEntry:

At first glance the song's refrain, as written on the sheet music, seems meaningless:

        Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey

        A kiddley divey too, wouldn't you?

However, the lyrics of the bridge provide a clue:

        If the words sound queer and funny to your ear, a little bit jumbled and jivey,

        Sing "Mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy."


With this insight, the refrain is quite easily comprehended, and the ear will detect the hidden message of the final line: "A kid'll eat ivy too, wouldn't you?"

Learn somethin’ every day, eh? I like Pickles a lot, particularly for the words of wisdom often exuded by Earl, as in the last panel of the daily strip above and the Sunday strip below:

 

Pickles 8-12-12

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

SUPERMAN'S SECRET

Superman- Secret of the Suit Revealed

 

 

The cover of the New 52's Superman No.11 sucked me in: “Secret of the Suit Revealed,” it exclaimed.

The secret, apparently, is how Clark Kent dons the Superduds. Judging from the revelatory interior of this issue, he gets dressed for battle by magic. We’ve known that since childhood, of course. But now we get specifics.

Clark tears off his Clark suit, down to a t-shirt emblazoned with the Superman emblem, and then “the Kryptonia biotech does its thing.” And, presto — he’s fully garbed in his blue tights.

Magic, like I said. Some secret.

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

CHICKEN WITH PLUMS

Chicken With Plums posterIran-born graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi has a new movie out. It, like her previous film, is based upon one of her graphic novels — in this case, Chicken with Plums; unlike the previous film, this one is live action, not animated cartoons. In its August 31 issue, Entertainment Weekly reviewed “Plums,” giving it a B+ but including it as Number 10 on its Top Ten Things We Love This Week, saying: “Eye-popping memories of lost love haunt a brilliant, brooding musician in the melancholic yet dazzling live-action debut.” Interviewed by Scott Simon at npr.com, Satrapi agreed that the film is “an indictment of arranged marriages, as opposed to romantic love,” which leads Satrapi to pronouncements about marriage and love.

Arranged marriages produce the sort of melodrama she has in her book and movie. “The real love story,” she said, “has to finish bad.” Romeo and Juliet? “If she marries him then there is no more love story anymore. They marry and they had a lot of children. Imagine Romeo and Juliet and they have, like, 12 kids. Who would care about their story, you know? Do you think Shakespeare would write something about them?”

Satrapi also believes that a certain amount of suffering is essential to the artistic enterprise. “Sometimes it happens to me that I wake up in the morning, I look at myself in the mirror, and I think that I'm very beautiful. The sun is shining. I'm very, very happy. This day it is impossible that I go to my studio and I draw or I write something. This day I go out, I buy myself a dress, I call my friends, I have some pina colada. I never create. If we are very happy, we would be like cats. We would lick ourselves and then sleep and eat and probably we would be much happier. But we would be cats.”

She is disappointed with politics. “The cynicism that is in the politics, it is not for my soul. It makes me an extremely bitter, cynical person that I hate to see in the mirror, really. And when I make a film like that, I will say to myself, people, they will watch it and they will [think of this country, Iran,] only by beard and veil and nuclear weapon.”

But she has hope for her “Chicken with Plums,” which is available as a DVD through the Iranian black market. Says she: “In this same country, a man dies because of the love of a woman. And if they understand that, I have done my duty. I cannot do more than that. That's it.

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

MORE MOVIE NEWS

Richard Corliss at Time says the “all-time top-earning movie not directed by James Cameron” was this summer’s The Avengers with $1.49 billion, followed by another comicbook-based film, The Dark Knight Rises with $941 million. Two of the other top-grossing films worldwide were also derived from four-color fantasies — The Amazing Spider-Man, $697 million, and Men in Black 3, $622 million. The last of the summer’s top five blockbusters was not a comicbook but a cartoon, Ice Age: Continental Drift with $815 million.

The Avengers still

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

BIG NEWS AT THE BOX OFFICE

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Dog Days posterThe third Wimpy Kid movie opened August 3, with a respectable box office take of $14.7 million domestically. Not so much compared to the weekend’s big score, $103.4 million for The Dark Knight Rises but enough to rank at an un-wimpy third place behind Total Recall at second. Based upon the Wimpy Kid books by Jeff Kinney, the celluloid version’s success caps the equally successful sales record of the books (75 million), which establishes beyond dispute the creator and his creation as a genuine popular culture phenomenon. As Michael Cavna at the Washington Post’s ComicRiffs reported, when in 2010, Kinney “got to show off his considerable gifts at writing for the big screen ... the modestly budgeted Diary of a Wimpy Kid debuted at No.2 at the box office, and went on to gross more than $75-million worldwide. And the next year’s follow-up, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules, opened at No.1 and achieved nearly equal success ($72.4-million).

As executive producer of the films, Kinney finds the most challenging aspect of “is the time it takes to work on the films. I have a lot going on, but when the films are shooting, it can be all-consuming. I don’t have to be on set, but I like to be. It feels strange to have a movie filming that’s based on your books when you’re not there!”

Cavna asked about Kinney’s current book production. “It’s tough,” said Kinney. “Right now I have to draw for 12 hours a day just to keep up. I’m working on the second draft of the seventh book at the moment.”

At Time magazine’s back page for August 13, Belinda Luscombe queried Kinney, asking if he intended Wimpy Kid as a kid’s book. Said Kinney: “I labored for eight years thinking I was writing a book for adults that was a nostalgic look back on childhood. Then my publisher informed me I’d written a children’s book. It took me a few minutes to get over the shock, but my sensibilities are G-rated anyway.”

Kinney has said he might have undiagnosed ADD: “If I were put into a college lecture hall right now and told to pay attention for 45 minutes,” he said, “it would be physically impossible for me to do. I’m one of those people who believe that ADD is a gift. It’s tough to manage, but if you can harness it, you can do great things with it.”

Straying afield somewhat, Luscombe asked Kinney, who is a Cub Scoutmaster, what he thought about the Boy Scouts’ policy of banning gay scoutmasters and members. “I think the policy has no place in scouting, which values inclusiveness. The policy needs to change, and I’d like to be a part of bringing that about.”

When he goes to parties where he’s likely to meet authors who’ve sold only 25,000 books (compared to his 75 million), what do these less successful authors say? “When I go to a comics convention,” Kinney said, “I feel like a fraud because I never broke into newspapers, and when I go to a book convention, I feel like a fraud because I don’t feel like I’m a real author, so I think I’m in this strange middle category. I don’t think other authors think of me as a peer.”

Said Luscombe: “You live in Plainville, Massachusetts. Do you think you may be taking this ‘ordinary-guy’ shtick a little too far?” To which Kinney reposited: “Oh, I actually was the guy behind the [town’s] legal name change. It used to be Fancyville.”

See? G-rated. But funny.

 

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RIGHT WING-NUTS

Bill Day has created the perfect image for the GOP’s Right Wing Nuts. He’s deployed this image before on occasion, but here, the Wingnut stands alone, devoid of all meaning except that of his very own self.

WingNut0001.jpg

Which, now that I ponder it, seems a perfect metaphor for the Grandstanding Obstructionist Pachyderm. Okay: that’s it. I promise I won’t ever appear to be taking sides in the political contest again. (Well, not here; but in Rants & Raves, available at the Usual Place, I fulminate all over the place.

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

ANOTHER YELLOW KID

Funny Papers cover hcIn about 1985, Tom DeHaven published a novel, Funny Papers, about an 1890s New York newspaper cartoonist named George Reckage, who signs his work "Wreckage" ornamented with the cartoon dingbat of a tiny smoldering ruin of a city (the "wreckage," see?). In the book, Reckage starts out simply enough as a newspaper sketch artist who is sent out to draw pictures of news events; his pictures illustrate the reports of these events in the way that photographs would later. Reckage suddenly becomes famous after he draws a murder scene that includes an odd-looking bald-headed derby-wearing urchin in a nightshirt. The kid and his dog ("that used to talk") make a hit with newspaper readers, so Reckage does more drawings of them.

Pretty soon the real child upon whom the drawings are based disappears into the cartoon kid; and the cartoon kid takes over Reckage's life — much as another, "real," cartoon kid, the Yellow Kid, took over the life of its creator, Richard F. Outcault, who first drew the Yellow Kid for the New York World in about 1895. The similarity is not coincidental: DeHaven's novel was inspired by the Yellow Kid. When I reviewed the novel for The Comics Journal, I produced the drawing below as an illustration for the review. It depicts “DeHaven's Yellow Kid" as described in the novel — and his dog, which DeHaven's Kid hauled around in a wagon because (if I remember) the dog couldn't walk anymore. My first (and, to-date, only) attempt at illustrating prose fiction.

Wreckage0001

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

ZZZZZZZ

While loitering around the San Diego Comic-Con last summer, I was invited to make remarks about Rudolph Dirks and why he should be in the Eisner Hall of Fame. I eventually decided that Dirks deserved to be in the Hall of Fame for three reasons. First, his Katzenjammer Kids is the longest running newspaper comic strip: it’ll be 115 years old next December.

Katzenjammer Kids panelSecond, the Katzies’ pranks (together with the Yellow Kid’s slumming) aroused parental concern about the possible impact of such juvenile vulgarities on children, prompting newspaper editors and cartoonists to remember that the comics were for the whole family, including children; and in keeping children in mind, they effectively established the erroneous notion that comics were for children — just children, not the whole family (as was the actual case — chiefly adults but incidentally children). As a culture, we’ve never quite recovered from this last development: newspaper comics are still being drawn for adult readership but vast quantities of personages believe they are for children.

For the third reason, I am indebted to straightdope.com whereat it has recently been established that it was Dirks who first used ZZZZ to indicate sleeping. Now, that’s a innovation worthy of Hall of Famery if anything is.

At straightdope.com on July 26, Ethan Reber asked why the letter Z is associated with sleeping, and the website proprietor, Cecil Adams, said that Z wasn’t indicative of sleeping so much as it is with snoring. “Z as shorthand for snoring is a relatively recent invention,” Adams continued. “It came into common use with the advent of comics.”

And he and his assistant, whose name is Fierra (possibly also Una), scoured the universe to find where Z first appeared to indicate snoring. The Oxford English Dictionary cited Z as snoring with a reference to a 1924 publication from the American Dialect Society, “implying it was in popular use some time before.”

Adams continues: “Searching for the letter Z in the world's databases turned up a considerable number of false positives, but by-and-by Una found an instance of Z = snoring in the humor section of the January 1919 Boy's Life, the Boy Scout magazine. Pushing on, she found the Krazy Kat comic strip of May 28, 1916, in which a sleeping bear emitting Z's is awakened when Ignatz the mouse playfully chucks a rock at its head. It soon became clear comics were the principal Z vector. In The Katzenjammer Kids strip of February 16, 1913, the sleeping Captain is generating b-z-z-z's and z-z-z's prior to having his rocking chair pulled over backwards by the disrespectful Kids opening the door.”

Rudolph Dirks photoUltimately, Adams goes on, “the ur-instance of Z, or at least the earliest that's come to light, was turned up by Sam Clemens of the Straight Dope Science Advisory Board. It was again from The Katzenjammer Kids, and again featured the snoring Captain, this time suspended in a hammock, unaware he's inventing an enduring comic strip trope. The unimpressed Kids trim his beard with a push mower, then end further Z-ifying by cutting the hammock's ropes. Date of these epochal events: August 2, 1903.

“Wanting to be certain there'd been no prior usage, and, more important, hoping to outdo Sam, Una spent several weekends searching through thousands of turn-of-the-century comics, many available only on microfilm of old newspapers. Immersing herself in far more 1890s pop ephemera than was probably safe, and getting briefly distracted by the implied lesbianism of the 1905 strip Lucy and Sophie Say Good Bye, she discovered other representations of snoring such as "ur-r-r-awk," musical notes, and stars. But she was obliged to conclude that Katzenjammer Kids creator Rudolph Dirks, who drew the comic, was the first to depict snoring with Z's.”

A worthy Hall of Fame claim, I’d say.

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