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LEE SALEM

The National Cartoonists Society doesn’t confer the Silver T-Square every year, and some years, more than one individual is recognized for “outstanding service or contributions to the Society or the profession.” LeeSalem0001The first recipient was Britain’s David Low in 1948. Since then the Silver T-Square has been awarded more than 80 times. Not all the Squares (to play fast and loose with the honorific) have been cartoonists. Most are, but Harry Truman is among the number, as is Dwight Eisenhower, both recognized, if memory serves, while hosting at the White House a breakfast with cartoonists. And Lee Salem, who was awarded the honor this past weekend at the NCS gathering in Pittsburgh, is not the first syndicate official to receive a Silver T-Square: John McMeel, a founder of Universal Press syndicate, Salem’s home base, and Joseph D’Angelo at King Features have both been recognized in recent years (McMeel in 2004; D’Angelo in 2002). 

Salem, long-time Universal editor and, lately, Universal Uclick President, is one of the most influential editors in comics, setting an industry example for supporting his syndicate’s cartoonists and their freedom to express themselves. He also has discovered and cultivated some of the most iconic comics in newspapers including: Garry Trudeau’s Doonesbury, Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, Cathy Guisewite’s Cathy, Gary Larson’s The Far Side, Lynn Johnston’s For Better or For Worse, Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks, Richard Thompson’s Cul de Sac, and Mark Tatulli’s Lio.

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

THE NCS IN PITTSBURGH

Reuben20130001The National Cartoonists Society committed history again on Memorial Day weekend, this time, in Pittsburgh at the confluence (as natives are addicted to saying) of the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers (both of which disappear immediately to form the Ohio). Not only did NCS name the “cartoonist of the year” last Saturday, but it did it twice: voting for the coveted Reuben trophy winner produced a tie this year, for only the second time in 67 years. Brian Crane, who does the comic strip Pickles (mostly about Earl and Opal, doting grandparents and cranky co-existers) and Rick Kirkman, who draws Jerry Scott’s gags in Baby Blues (a strip about a family with three kids, a mother and a too-large-nosed father), went home each with a heavy metal statuette named after NCS’s first prez, Rube Goldberg. The third nominee was Stephan Pastis, who casts Pearls Before Swine. The only other time a tie vote produced two “cartoonists of the year” was in 1968 when editorial cartoonist Pat Oliphant tied Johnny Hart (B.C. and Wizard of Id).

This was Crane’s third nomination; first for Kirkman. Pastis has now been the bridesmaid for five consecutive times. He should not, however, be discouraged: Dan Piraro (Bizarro) won in 2009 on his eighth nomination; ditto, Pat Brady (Rose Is Rose) in 2004. And we all lost count of the number of times Garry Trudeau was nominated for Doonesbury before he won in 1995.

The festive Awards Banquet was further enlivened by Master of Ceremonies Jason Chatfield, the Australian who inherited a national monument when he took over the comic strip Ginger Meggs in 2007 at the death of James Kemsley who had done the strip for 23 years. (Ginge first appeared on November 13, 1921, in Us Fellers, a strip by the legendary Jimmy Bancks; the red-headed pre-pubescent mischief-maker soon elbowed the others off the masthead, and Bancks continued the kid’s capers for the next 32 years; the strip persists in 120 newspapers in 34 countries). In addition to being a cartoonist and prez of the Australian equivalent of NCS, Chatfield is a deft song-and-dance man and an accomplished stand-up comedian, who performed through the evening with panache and flourish.

The announcement of this year’s Reuben winner(s) is the climactic event of the evening: it is preceded by the presentation of other awards, including the Division Awards in 15 areas of cartooning endeavor. Before those were presented, NCS conferred the Milton Caniff Lifetime Achievement Award on Brad Anderson, who has been producing Marmaduke since June 1954 (now assisted by his son Paul), and the Silver T-Square for service to the profession on Universal Press/Uclick’s Lee Salem (see Opus 307), whose leadership, canny talent discoveries and stalwart support of cartoonists has set an industry standard for syndicates.

A complete listing of the Division Award winners and finalists as well as other juicy tidbits about the weekend frolic can be found (in a day or so hence) in the Usual Place (Rants & Raves at RCHarvey.com; the list without frolics can be found almost immediately at Reuben.org). Before we leave the premises, here’s a photograph of your intrepid reporter with the soulmate he found in Pittsburgh.

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

KURTZMAN ON DISPLAY

Harvey Kurtzman photo“The Art of Harvey Kurtzman” will be on display at the Museum of American Illustration at the Society of Illustrators clubhouse in midtown Manhattan, opening on March 6 and continuing through May 11, 2013. The diverse exhibition will showcase over 120 works in the museum’s two-floor gallery.

As the creator of Mad, Harvey Kurtzman may be the most influential American cartoonist since Walt Disney: Disney’s vision of America as a small town brimming with good neighbors and obedient children was sharply contradicted by Kurtzman’s satiric portrait of an urban society Harvey Kurtzman Melvinswarming with grasping politicians and greedy promoters and sexist bosses. Both visions persist but not simultaneously. 

The nation’s youth outgrow Disney as soon as they are old enough to begin reading Mad, which infects them with a certain cynicism about the icons of American culture as well as the functioning of its institutions. Most of the underground cartoonists of the late 1960s were inspired by Mad.

More about the exhibition from the website of the National Cartoonists Society:

Co-curators Monte Beauchamp (founder, editor, and designer of the comic art/illustration anthologies Blab! and Blab World), and publisher/cartoonist Denis Kitchen (co-author of “The Art of Harvey Kurtzman” and representative of the estate) Frontline Combat coverhave assembled the most comprehensive assemblage of Kurtzman art to date, culled from select private and family collections. Highlights include: Kurtzman life drawings from 1941; rarely-seen late 1940s strips done for the New York Herald-Tribune as well as for Marvel’s Stan Lee; key covers, strips and full stories Kurtzman created for Mad, Frontline Combat, Two-Fisted Tales, Humbug and Help!, sometimes in collaboration with fellow comics geniuses Will Elder and Jack Davis. In addition, “Kurtzmania,” numerous rare artifacts and ancillary publications seldom seen by the public, will be on display.

The Society of Illustrators, founded in 1901, is the oldest nonprofit organization solely dedicated to the art and appreciation of illustration in America. Prominent Society members have been Maxfield Parrish, N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell, among others. The Museum of American Illustration was established by the Society in 1981 and is located in the Society’s vintage 1875 carriage house building in mid-town Manhattan.

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

PRIVACY AND INDIVIDUAL LIBERTY

CBLDF logoFrom the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (February 2013): In Missouri, Christjan Bee, 36, was sentenced recently to three years in federal prison without parole, followed by five years of supervised release because authorities found on his computer comics that the government characterized as “pornographic”—i.e., depicting “children engaging in sexual behavior.” Prosecutors assert the material “is categorized as obscene and therefore illegal,” despite the fact that the material was not tried in court under the Miller obscenity test.

CBLDF was not involved in the case but its Executive Director Charles Brownstein was nonetheless concerned, saying: “At this time, little is known about the material Bee pleaded guilty to possessing. Based on the government’s characterization of the material, I remain unpersuaded that it is legally obscene under the Supreme Court’s Miller obscenity test. It is also distressing that Bee is being sent to prison for mere possession of obscene material, where there is precedent that the court’s power ‘does not extend to mere possession by the individual in the privacy of his own home.’ Even absent full Despair coverspecifics on the material Bee pleaded guilty to possessing, this is, on many levels, a distressing case.”

It is, in fact, a grotesque perversion of justice.

The Justice Department states that a forensic examination of Bee’s computer produced “a collection of electronic comics, entitled ‘incest comics.’” The comics are described to contain “multiple images of minors engaging in graphic sexual intercourse with adults and other minors.” The DOJ asserts that the comics lacked serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value — areas that would have been tried if Bee’s case went before a jury.

Brownstein said the government’s description “may be enough to make the work distasteful, but that’s not enough to deem a work obscene. The government’s description can easily describe a variety of comics that possess artistic and literary merit, including Robert Crumb’s ‘Joe Blow,’ a story I frequently lecture about because it was the subject of a badly reasoned obscenity conviction in the 1970 case People v. Kirkpatrick. It could also apply to any number of meritorious works of comic art, including the works of Alan Moore, Ariel Schrag, Phoebe Gloeckner, and others. Distasteful or disturbing subject matter does not make work obscene.”

Noting his disappointment that Bee did not reach out to CBLDF, Brownstein concludes: “We’re alarmed that the government continues to prosecute readers of comics at the cost of taxpayer dollars that would be better spent going after criminals who prey on and abuse real children. The key lesson here is that when a First Amendment emergency strikes, make CBLDF your very first call.”

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

WHAT I'M READING: BLACK BEETLE AND X-MEN

The first issue of Black Beetle (No.0) is colored unconventionally and attractively: a limited palette adds only one color on many pages — red (and pinks). Some pages have a second color, blue. Otherwise, Francesco Francavilla’s chiaroscuro black drenches the pages. All very effective. I suspect Francavilla’s use of blank-eyed goggles for both the hero and the villains owes something to Lobster Johnson, as does the headlong dash of the Black Beetle’s mode of righting wrongs. But the story itself seems oddly antique, the sort of corny dialogue and overblown action that we used to see, ages ago, in serial movies on Saturday afternoons. Too bad — unless old-timey noir is your cup of tea. BeetleXmen0001

Long ago, I gave up trying to keep track of the X-Men. I was a devoted follower of their adventures until Phoenix had to die after killing off the whole population of a planet. Then the X-World seemed to multiply all over the place and in all directions at once and go generally looney. But I picked up the first two issues of All-New X-Men because I saw Stuart Immonen’s name on the cover. Inside, he doesn’t disappoint. Clean linework, expert rendering of anatomy and — in particular — faces. Skillful storytelling — pacing, layouts, visual variety. What a pleasure. The story? Oh, sorry: I’m enjoying Immonen too much to actually soak up the story.

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

WHAT I'M READING: COMEBACK AND FOSTER

Comeback coverThe stunning clarity and clean simple lines of artists like Aja and Chris Samnee (in Daredevil) and Tonci Zonjic (Lobster Johnson) may have inspired a trend. In Ed Brisson’s Comeback, Michael Walsh attempts a similar simplicity but falls a trifle short in clarity, perhaps because he’s deploying a juicier brush. The story, which confronts the inevitable difficulties to be encountered in time travel, is provocative but not easy for a literal-minded non-sf geezer like me to follow. And because in Walsh’s hands, facial distinctions fade into simplicity, it’s sometimes hard to tell which character is which—a complication that time travel (when are we anyhow?) compounds, alas.

Foster coverNoel Tuazon also seems an off-shoot of the “new simplicity” style in Brian Buccellato’s Foster. Tuazon’s brush is even juicier than Walsh’s: blacks splash across the drawings, and shadows, rather than defining shapes, seem to distort them. He varies the splashing with thin-line touches (I think he draws first with thin lines, then adds brushwork just as Noel Sickles taught Milton Caniff to do in their celebrated chiaroscuro technique), and while the linear contrast adds visual interest, the over-all effect is undercut with his deliberately sloppy shadowing.

Buccellato’s protagonist, Foster, is a down-and-out alcoholic in a dystopian world through which lurk “dwellers,” man-eating monsters from the sewers below. Buccellato says he’s exploring fatherhood in the relationship between father and son when he has Foster “adopt” Ben, the 8-year-old offspring of a prostitute living down the hall. But in the second issue, we learn that Ben is a hybrid, half-dweller himself, and what that will do to the father-son relationship is anyone’s guess.

Buccellato, who is also writing DC’s New 52 Flash, could use an editor for this Dog Year Entertainment title. He says the story takes place in “a nameless metropolis” called “Vintage City.” If it’s called Vintage City, it ain’t exactly nameless, is it?

Then again, to reconsider my recommendation, it was probably an editor (if not Buccellato) who captioned a photo of the writer by calling Buccellato “a former High School of Art and Design dropout.” If he’s a “former dropout,” what is he now? Has he enrolled again? FosterComeback0001

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

WHAT I'M READING: HAWKEYE

Hawkeye coverThe Sixth Issue of Matt Fraction/David Aja’s Hawkeye is a visual treat. I’ve raved before about the pristine clarity of Aja’s art, and he continues herein, but in illuminating Fraction’s “Six Nights in the Life of Hawkeye,” Aja resorts to a startling storytelling device: his page layouts offer different arrays of tiny panels, mostly head shots but a few from various distances, plus close-ups of equipage and a clock, ticking away the calendar. Exquisite work in miniature. Fun to read and engaging to contemplate.

I’m not sure what to make of Fraction’s story, which unfolds by day and date, and the timeline jumps back and forth but to what purpose I dunno. It takes place from December 13 through December 19, and part of the time Clint Barton (Hawkeye when he’s not on duty with the Avengers) is decorating a Christmas tree with Tony Stark and trying to figure out how his tv and DVD player work.

The central event, however, occurs when a bunch of baseball bat-wielding thugs show up and beat and threaten Clint. It seems that the apartment building he lives in (and owns) was once theirs, and they’d like him to leave. If he doesn’t, they threaten to kill everyone in it. They beat Clint up pretty thoroughly to demonstrate that they aren’t kidding.

So Clint is packing up to leave in order to save his tenants’ lives when Kate Bishop (the other Hawkeye) shows up and accuses him of “running.” She’s disgusted and leaves in a huff. That’s on Saturday the 165h. The next day, we see Clint outside his building holding his bow, with an arrow slotted. But that’s not the last scene in the book.

Earlier in the story — just after Clint gets beat up—one of the tenants, a black woman with a couple kids, comes to Clint’s room to complain that her tv isn’t working and since he’s the landlord, he should fix it. He agrees.

Then, in the order of the action of the book, Clint faces the bat-men outside his building in that memorably defiant pose, holding his bow and arrow. We don’t see the ensuing action.

After we see him outside his building, armed and dangerous, the next event is Clint asking the woman and her two kids to come to his place to watch tv and eat popcorn. And he says he’s not leaving, a remark in response to her comment but addressed, really, to disgusted Kate, who is nowhere around.

So the upshot is, first, that he apparently stands up to the bat-men although we never see that happen. Second thing, he’s not leaving. Third thing, he fixes his tv but not his tenant’s tv.

Stringing it all out in snippets that are not in chronological order serves no story purpose that I can tell. The story’s theme — don’t buckle under to bad guys — gets across in straight chronological narrative. The only reason to shuffle the chronology around is to make the whole thing a puzzle. And all the tiny panels are the pieces in the puzzle.

Or maybe it’s just to divvy up Clint’s emotions. Each slice of time is devoted to one or another of them.

Interesting, but a gimmick still. An engaging one but gimmick nonetheless.

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