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PAT BAGLEY AND THE TRUE STORY OF THE MORMON CRICKETS

The Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial cartoonist, Pat Bagley (Mormon Emeritus, as he calls himself), is hosting the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists June 27-29. In addition to drawing editorial cartoons, Bagley has taken lately to writing a blog. Here’s a sample of the sort of thing he commits in writing (just the sort of thing the visiting editoonists need by way of orientation to the host city):

My favorite Mormon pioneer story is the one where dinosaurs arrive just in time to eat the grasshoppers that are threatening the pioneers’ crops. The Saints are saved and, in gratitude, erect a monument to the dinosaurs. It is still there to this day, just as you enter the South Gate of Temple Square.

"Hang on one Mormon moment!" you say. You’ve heard this story since you were knee high, and in all those hundreds of tellings you’ve never heard anything so preposterous. It was Mormon crickets the dinosaurs ate, not grasshoppers. Everybody knows that!

We all hate it when cherished preconceptions are thrown down and trampled by know-it-alls with no regard for custom or sensibility. It’s annoying, like those people who point out that buffalo are actually bison.

However, given the current state of scientific understanding, my version of the crickets and gulls story above is accurate. The "Mormon Cricket" is actually a grasshopper, though I tip my hat to the poetry in a Mormon settler who first described it as "a cross between a spider and a buffalo." (I’m sure he meant bison.)

As for the dinosaur part of the story, you can probably see one right now just by looking out the window.

That sparrow on the sill is a close cousin to the velociraptors portrayed in the movie Jurassic Park. Over the last decade it has been established that birds are a surviving strain of dinosaur. You can definitely see the kinship in the nasty disposition of the local magpies, who seem to channel something big and mean that once strode the earth unchallenged.

There. That proves Bagley can write as well as draw, and that his inventive antic comedic spirit lives both verbally and visually—a proof that surfaces just in time for the AAEC conventlion.

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

THE SHADOW

The Shadow. I don’t know that there’s ever been a successful revival of the Shadow, who old-timey radio expert John Dunning calls “radio’s most famous fictitious crimefighter.” The Shadow began his fictional life as the voice of the announcing narrator of “Detective Story Hour” in July 1930. He was popular enough to graduate and star in his own magazine adventures in Street and Smith’s The Shadow Magazine, beginning April 1, 1931, then on the radio with the debut of “The Shadow” radio show September 26, 1937.

In his Encyclopedia of Old-Time Radio, Dunning calls this show “the epitome of radio crime drama. Today it remains one of the three or four shows cited by people as a synonym for ‘oldtime radio’ ... routinely defined [by] ‘The Shadow,’ ‘Fibber McGee,’ and ‘The Lone Ranger.’” Other radio show titles are occasionally plugged into the list, but “The Shadow is a given. It makes everybody’s list. The character combined the strongest elements of rank melodrama and delivered them as truth.” Shadow0001

It was undoubtedly the introductory utterances of the radio show that earned the character an iconic niche in American popular culture: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”After which, a maniacal laugh fades into an introduction of Lamont Cranston, who learned how to “cloud men’s minds” and become invisible, and his “friend and companion” Margo Lane.

Listening to this celebrated introduction on Sunday afternoons in the late 1940s, I was too young to pick up on the sexual implications of Margo’s being Cranston’s “friend and companion.”

The current transumtation of the Shadow began in 2011, when Dynamite Entertainment licensed the Shadow from Conte Nast. The first issue appeared last spring, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Aaron Campbell. Not content with one Shadow title, DE produced The Shadow: Year One, written by Matt Wagner and drawn by Wilfredo Torres. Year One appears to deploy many of the elements of Gibson’s pulp Shadow — multiple identities, f’instance. The Ennis incarnation, however, seems focused, like the long-running radio show, on Lamont Cranston. Cranston’s “friend and companion” (as the old radio show used to put it, coming as close to slanderous innuendo as the times permitted), Margo Lane, as if to satisfy an adolescent wet dream, appears in both titles in a sexual role: in Wagner, as a call girl; in Ennis, as Cranston’s mistress.

Both DE Shadows are set in the 1930s. Campbell’s visuals are thoroughly realistic and evoke the period nicely; Torres’ realism deploys a somewhat simpler style, much more linear, with some facial tics that are distracting; and much less shadowing, which is too bad, because a noir character like the Shadow needs darkness.

When depicting the Shadow, both artists resort to the standard that was established in the pulps, according to Wikipedia: the Shadow wore a black slouch hat and a black, crimson-lined cloak with an upturned collar over a standard black business suit; a crimson scarf covering his mouth and chin. Almost all depictions of the Shadow since give him a larger-than-life-size nose — but only when garbed as the Shadow; on Cranston, the nose is of a nearly normal dimension. How this trick is effected, I don’t know; but it seems part of the ritual.

I don’t know whether I’m up to a Shadow saga, but if I were, I’d probably go for the Ennis-Campbell version because it reminds me of those Sunday afternoons I spent learning that “the weed of crime bears bitter fruit — crime does not pay. The Shadow knows!”

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

THE BLACK BEETLE

The Black Beetle. This title’s eponymous hero is a noir creature of the night, and Francesco Francavilla, who writes and draws these adventures, drenches the pages of his comic book in black. Black and lurid red and not much else, as you can see from the spread posted hereabouts. BlackBeetle0001 

In this picture, Black Beetle is hovering over a crime lord meeting place, Spencer’s; seeking to join the proceedings to disrupt them, BB shoots a fusillade of darts to disable the crooks’ guards so he can enter at will. Before this plan can be carried out, however, an explosion destroys Spencer’s and the proximate neighborhood.

            The spread is typical of Francavilla’s imaginative page layouts throughout the book: every spread explodes visually. The artwork is stunning. And the storytelling, if you allow for BB’s narrative drone in the captions, is well done and persuasive. Visually, Francavilla often focuses on just the narrative element of a picture, although he varies close-ups and long shots with aplomb. The storyline itself (and sometimes the language of the captions) is sometimes a little lame: simplistic, not nuanced at all—perhaps a conscious attempt to evoke the bygone noir spirit of the 1930s.

Through No.2, BB is dogged in his pursuit of the bad guys, but his target shifts. Since a mysterious bomber has destroyed the gangland families whose meeting BB wanted to disrupt, he now is trying to find out who did the bombing. And then, when the bomber foils him in the No.2, BB is bent on catching him. The leap-frogging storyline is intriguing despite its meandering a little.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the first three issues (there was a No.0 before No.1) is that Francavilla declines to show us BB in his civilian aspect. His beetle-browed mask (the red opaque lenses, an obvious imitation of Lobster Johnson’s head gear) keeps his face hidden, and it isn’t until the last two pages of No.2 that he’s out of uniform. And even then, his fedora’s wide brim hides most of his face. And no biographical background to explain BB’s crusade against crime. I hope Francavilla keeps it that way. In any event, I’ll come back if only to see how tellingly Francavilla manipulates his blacks and reds.

 

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

HAWKEYE

Hawkeye. In No.7, Clint Barton (Hawkeye on his days off) and Kate Bishop (the distaff Hawkeye) get caught in Hurricane Sandy and rescue people. Ostensibly, Clint goes to Far Rockaway with a neighbor, “Grills” (aka Gilbert), to help Grills’ cranky mean old father face the incoming storm. They arrive before Sandy does, but before they can extract Grills’ mom’s memorabilia from the basement of the father’s house, the storm hits, and the basement is flooded. And as we see in our visual aid, Grills is unable to get out of there what he went to get and blames his father’s depression-induced lethargy for the loss. HawkStorm0001 

Hawkeye rows them all to temporary safety, and soon thereafter, Kate arrives, and the rest of the issue is devoted to depicting her successful attempt to protect a local store from being looted by the thugs who always show up during disasters to loot stores. Interesting stories, but not nearly as interesting as the story of how this issue came to be.

Hawkeye’s writer Matt Fracton, who lives in Portland, Oregon but is a former New York resident, wanted to do something in his funnybook to show the world the effects of the storm. As editor Stephen Wacker explains, Fracton’s idea required postponing publication of stories already in the production pipeline to create a window where the Sandy story could be slipped in. And there wasn’t much time, and the regular artist on this title, David Aja, was otherwise occupied. Luckily, Fracton’s notion involved knitting together two stories for the issue — one for Clint and one for Kate, as we’ve just seen — so Fracton recruited a different artist for each one, thereby reducing precious production time enough that the whole enterprise could be finished and published on time.

The artists, Steve Lieber and Jesse Hamm, are studio mates at Periscope Studios in Portland, and nowhere do I find anything to indicate which artist drew which story. But both turned in impressive work, the Clint segment more akin to Aja than the somewhat more energetic visuals of the Kate segment. Earlier in commenting on issues of Hawkeye, I had supposed that the page layouts and narrative breakdown were the inspired work of Aja, but this issue gave me pause to wonder.

Take another look at our visual aid. The left-hand page culminates in a silent panel, two tiers tall; mostly silhouette, it captures an emotional moment that represents the sense of loss that Grills feels about his mother’s stuff being flooded to kingdom come. And it includes Grills’ supposedly cranky father’s grief, too.

On the next page, father and son experience a moment of reconciliation or companionship that they haven’t, apparently, experienced much lately since Grills’ mother’s death. All neatly staged in cadanced panels. But the page ends with an odd visual—that single panel occupying the otherwise blank tier. The emptiness of that tier forces our attention to the only panel it carries—and, hence, to Clint, whose cheerful announcement takes us, in a single bound, away from the sadness of the preceding panels. The effect of isolating that panel is to emphasize Clint’s mood-changing demeanor. Nicely done.

Given that the artist here is not Fracton’s regular collaborator, I can’t attribute the unconventional layout to Aja. But since this sort of deviation has appeared in previous issues of Hawkeye, I conclude that Fracton may be the responsible party, not the artist. “Collaboration” implies that both are working together, of course; but it now appears to me that Fracton may be a more active participant in the visual aspects than I, in my naive ignorance, otherwise supposed.

To complete the unconventions associated with No.7, Fracton donated a portion of his pay for this issue to the Red Cross. Said Fracton: "I love New York and come from hurricane country in North Carolina. I wanted to do something."

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

PRINT AIN'T DEAD YET. OR IS IT?

Everyone is expecting the print media to collapse within our lifetime, taking newspaper comics with it; but maybe not. “In North America, where the recession bit deepest, more new magazines were launched than closed in 2011 for a second year in a row,” saith The Economist, quoting the Association of Magazine Media which reports “that magazine audiences are growing faster than those for tv or newspapers, especially among the young.” The reason? “Unlike newspapers, most magazines didn’t have large classified-ad sections to lose to the Internet, and their material has a longer shelf-life.” Magazines do a good job of inspiring your dreams,” said David Carey, boss at the Hearst works.

Magazines also specialize, aiming at niche readership. And that helps.

Bill Heasty, by Ashely ReimersBut try telling Bill Heasty, who started a chain of magazine, newspaper, and book stores in Denver 40 years ago and will close the last of his 5 stores at the end of April because there’s no longer enough money in it.

His stores once carried everything — from obscure trade magazines on cult tv, marijuana and Mormon living to survivalist guides and auto repair manuals. At the peak of his chain’s operation 20 years ago, Heasty sold 4,000 publications and 150 Sunday newspapers from around the world, including at least one from every U.S. state; now, he sells just a handful of local papers and a few from the East Coast.

In its best years, his stores employed 35 people, turned $5 million in annual revenues and saw 1,500 paying customers every day. Now Heasty employs just two part-timers, made just $396,000 in revenue last year, and sees only about 36 customers a day.

He closed is first store in 2000 and kept postponing decisions to close the others, but he had to give them up, one after the other. And now, at the end of April, the last of them will be shuttered.

Ironically, reported Kristen Leigh Painter at the Denver Post, “just this week, a city of Westminster representative walked into the store and handed Heasty a trophy to celebrate 25 years of being in business in the city.”

Said Heasty: “I don’t think I’ll make it to 26.”

 

Photo by Ashley Reimers.

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

TRIBUNE GIVES SHOE THE BOOT

Shoe ProfThe Chicago Tribune has dropped Shoe, the Reuben-winning comic strip created in 1977 by the late Trib editorial cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, who wrote and drew the strip until his death in 2000. Geoff Brown, the paper’s entertainment editor, was, as is usual in such cases, stand-offish about why. Jim Romenesko says he asked Brown to explain the decision to drop its legendary ex-cartoonist's creation, and Brown e-mailed back: "The Chicago Tribune continuously aims to enhance the reader experience by making improvements to content offerings. In an effort to provide fresh humor and interactivity, we're adding a crossword puzzle, trivia game and new cartoon."

Romenesko asked how Shoe did in reader surveys. Said Brown: "Our customer reader research is proprietary, so I can't share the data with you."

In other words, the usual horseshit. The Trib became famous here at Rancid Raves for its temporizing tactic in responding to reader complaints when a strip is dropped. The policy was to say that the strip in question was only temporarily being dropped as an experiment but would probably return in a few weeks. The reader was placated and hung up the phone, leaving the editor alone; but the paper never intended to reinstate the strip and never did.

Since MacNelly’s death, the strip has been continued by Gary Brookins and Chris Cassett (until his death a few months ago) and MacNelly’s widow, Susie.

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

MICKEY HOUSE RIDES AGAIN

ModernMickey0001All of 19 new 2D Mickey Mouse cartoon shorts will premiere June 28 on Disney Channel, online, and in Disney apps, reported icv2.com. Each episode takes Mickey to a different locale — Santa Monica, New York, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, Venice and the Alps; in each, he faces "a silly situation, a quick complication, and an escalation of physical and visual gags." Other classic Disney characters such as Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy and Pluto will also appear, with an "occasional homage to other icons from the storied Disney heritage." You can witness one of these new ones, “Croissant de Triomphe,” here. Mickey has been revived only sporadically over the years, but this time, the revival is in a thoroughly modern visual mode — and the action is as manic as a Tex Avery cartoon. On the right, the new Mickey, whose limbs are now as rubbery as they were at his birth over 80 years ago.
For more Rants & Raves with its comics news and reviews, gossip and cartooning lore, visit www.RCHarvey.com

MORE WIMPS

Jeff Kinney and Wimpy Kid photoThe eighth title in Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series will be published by Abrams's Amulet Books imprint in the U.S. in November, with near-simultaneous publication in seven additional countries: the U.K., Australia, Germany, Greece, Japan, Korea, and Norway. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think that Greg Heffley's stories would be enjoyed by this many kids around the world," said Kinney in a statement. More than 85 million Diary of a Wimpy Kid books are in print in more than 44 territories; the three Wimpy Kid movies, based on the first three books in Kinney's series, have grossed more than $250 million worldwide.

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

BROUHAHA

Last month, DC Comics found itself smack in the middle of a brouhaha possible only in free-speech loving America. The publisher planned to issue a digital comic entitled Adventures of Superman and follow the ethereal publication with a print version. But when the writer of one of the Adventures stories was announced, the ether turned lethal

Orson Scott Card photoThe writer, Orson Scott Card, author of the sf End Game series, is a noted homophobe, (“sorry—‘gay marriage opponent’ as wire.com put it), and when his presence on the project was announced, the social media panicked in all directions at once. Within days, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender activist website AllOut.org collected more than 11,000 signatures on an online petition asking DC to drop Card from the project.

"By hiring Orson Scott Card despite his anti-gay efforts, you are giving him a new platform and supporting his hate," the petition reads. "We need to let DC Comics know they can't support Orson Scott Card or his work to keep LGBT people as second-class citizens."

Card, who is on the board of directors of the National Organization for Marriage, has written many essays on the subject, including a particularly nasty one in 2004 that likened marriage equality to the end of civilization, wrote Brian Truitt at USA Today.

At first, DC reacted to all the excitement with a statement: "As content creators we steadfastly support freedom of expression, however the personal views of individuals associated with DC Comics are just that — personal views — and not those of the company itself."

Card has written comics before, and others in the industry expressed the available range of opinions.

"Petitioning to have writer Orson Scott Card fired for his social views is as fascistic as politicians condemning a sexual preference," tweeted Mark Millar, a writer for Ultimate Fantastic Four, Kick-Ass and Wanted.

Comic-writer Jim McCann, who is openly gay, says, "A company has the right to hire whomever they choose ... and Mr. Card has the right under the First Amendment to freely speak his beliefs, no matter how hateful and archaic they may be. In turn, however, the fans have the same right to express their disappointment and outrage against his hiring.''

So far, I agree with both. But Millar is on the side of the angels. Those who support gay rights (among whom I count myself) do so, I assume, at least partly because they believe we’re all equal and are therefore entitled to the same rights. They are, ipso facto, against any effort to deprive anyone of rights enjoyed by others. To march against Card in this case is to enlist in the ranks of their opposition, those seeking to deny equal rights. A delicious but terrible conundrum.

But the irrationality of the fussing didn’t stop it. Comic-shop retailers jumped into the fray, according to Truitt, some announcing that they would not carry the book version of the digital comic.

And then, the artist who was to draw Card’s story, Chris Sprouse, announced that he was withdrawing from the project. Graeme McMillan at Wired.com took up the story:

“It took a lot of thought to come to this conclusion,” Sprouse explained. “The media [attention] surrounding this story reached the point where it took away from the actual work, and that’s something I wasn’t comfortable with. My relationship with DC Comics remains as strong as ever and I look forward to my next project with them.”

Advocate Superman coverOf this action, DC said: “We fully support, understand, and respect Chris’s decision to step back from his Adventures of Superman assignment. Chris is a hugely talented artist, and we’re excited to work with him on his next DC Comics project. In the meantime, we will re-solicit the story at a later date when a new artist is hired.”

And the story appears to be on permanent hold, reported McMillan: it “will not appear in either the digital or print editions of Adventures of Superman.”

A statement from DC Entertainment on the issue specifically mentioned that the publisher “will re-solicit the story at a later date when a new artist is hired.” Of course, finding an artist willing to work on the story after it has provoked online petitions and outcry against Card’s hiring in the first place may be easier said than done.

The now non-homophobic Adventures of Superman No.1 was launched digitally on April 29, with the print edition following on May 29. It’s unknown whether the stores that were planning to boycott the issue or donate their proceeds to LGBT charities will continue to do so in light of this development.

So who won? Is this a victory for gay rights or for fascist suppression of dissenting views? Or for the whimsies of the marketplace? I say the latter — and the marketplace has always been fascistic in the realm of the almighty dollar.

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

A NEVERENDING STORY

The heirs of Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel seem determined to spend the rest of their lives in court. Kevin Melrose at robot6.comicbookresources.com reported that a federal judge confirmed March 20 that the heirs relinquished any claims to the character in a 2001 agreement with DC Comics when they accepted an offer that permits the publisher to retain all rights to Superman (as well as Superboy and The Spectre) in exchange for $3 million in cash and contingent compensation worth tens of millions.

But the Siegel attorney Marc Toberoff is unwilling to give up and introduced a new strategy, arguing not only that a previous ruling didn’t settle all of the outstanding issues but that if there was a contract, then DC failed to perform: “DC anticipatorily breached by instead demanding unacceptable new and revised terms as a condition to its performance; accordingly, the Siegels rescinded the agreement, and DC abandoned the agreement.”

Jerry Siegel photoDespite an obvious eagerness to conclude “this chapter of the continuing Superman saga,” the judge noted there remain “lingering issues” regarding Superboy and early promotional ads for Action Comics No.1. Wright ordered that DC and the Siegel family file briefs by March 28 addressing how the previous ruling affects their respective rights to those works.

To which Allan Gardner at DailyCartoonist.com responded in the only way sober, responsible people can: “I completely understand DC’s position of wanting to keep ownership of the cash cow and the Siegel heir’s desire own a piece of that cash cow, but I have Superman litigation fatigue.” Ditto.

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

PERSEPOLIS PULLED

Chicago’s public school administration looked as embarrassed at the end of March as it looked at mid-month when it was reported that Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, her award-winning memoir about growing up during the Iranian Revolution, had been removed from both district libraries and classrooms. Widespread criticism and protest ensued. The American Library Association said the removal of the books from students' hands "represents a heavy-handed denial of students' rights to access information, and smacks of censorship.”

Satrapi0001Chicago Public Schools (CPS) soon backtracked, saying that the memoir was to be removed from only seventh grade classrooms and not from libraries, because "it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use in the seventh grade curriculum.”

Accompanying the reinstatement was a clarification from CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett: “Let me be clear — we are not banning this book from our schools," Byrd-Bennett said in her memo to principals. "It was brought to our attention that it contains graphic language and images that are not appropriate for general use in the seventh grade curriculum…Due to the powerful images of torture in the book, I have asked our Office of Teaching & Learning to develop professional development guidelines, so that teachers can be trained to present this strong, but important content."

Chicago Teachers Union spokesperson Stephanie Gadlin dismissed the backtracking as "Orwellian doublespeak", pointing out that "unfortunately 160 elementary schools don't have libraries –- and they know that." CTU's financial secretary Kristine Mayle added that "the only place we've heard of this book being banned is in Iran. We understand why the district would be afraid of a book like this –- at a time when they are closing schools –- because it's about questioning authority, class structures, racism and gender issues," Mayle continued: "There's even a part in the book where they are talking about blocking access to education. So we can see why the school district would be alarmed about students learning about these principles." Satrapi0002

Satrapi herself, speaking from her studio in Paris to the Chicago Tribune, said the restriction was "shameful" and dismissed the CPS's concerns about what it had described as "powerful images of torture":

Said Satrapi: "These are not photos of torture … seventh graders have brains and they see all kinds of things on cinema and the internet. It's a black-and-white drawing and I'm not showing something extremely horrible. That's a false argument. They have to give a better explanation," said Satrapi. 

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

ISRAEL JAILS ARAB CARTOONIST

Mohammed Saba'aneh photoA Palestinian editorial cartoonist, Mohammad Sabaaneh, was arrested by Israeli police on February 16 as he was crossing the border from Jordan to the West Bank. Denied access to an attorney, he is being held without charge, and his detention was then extended to give Israeli authorities time to decide what to charge him with. He cartoons for Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, and it seems probable, as Daryl Cagle at Cagle Cartoons in the U.S. says, that Sabaaneh is being held “to chill his cartoons that are critical of Israel.”

Saba'anah Dreaming of FreedomCagle, who met Sabaaneh three years ago when the Palestinian was a guest at the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, allows that Arab cartoonists “often draw ugly, racist offensive cartoons about Israel, but Sabaaneh’s work is not among those; his work, although critical, is more balanced and artful.”

In early April, farsnews.com announced that Sabaaneh was sentenced to five months in jail and ordered to pay a 10,000 shekel fine. He was charged with contacting “enemy entities.” Sabaaneh's family said the verdict was a relief as it would end the pressure of interrogation. They added that the cartoonist is not affiliated to any political party.

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