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SALTY ADVENTURES INTO CARTOONING HISTORY

Sauntering, sweltering, through the streets of Salt Lake City during the recent convention there of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, I came upon a restaurant named The New Yorker. And the restaurant’s sign even preserved the typography of the famed magazine. I was momentarily astonished until I remembered that the founder of the magazine in 1925, Harold Ross, had a Salt Lake City history. In fact, as I cogitated further, I recollected that Salt Lake City was a training  ground for two people whose subsequent careers substantially affected cartooning.

Ross was born in Aspen, Colorado, in 1892. Aspen was on the cusp, then, of dying off. It had started as a mining camp in 1879 during the silver boom, but the boom fizzled in about 1893 when the government stopped buying silver. The Ross family moved out of Aspen when Harold was approximately eight; Aspen declined rapidly until the mid-20th century when it started skiing.

The first ski run in Aspen — in Colorado — was mapped out in 1936 by speed racer Andre Roch. The first chair lift didn’t use chairs, exactly. The townspeople made a ten-passenger boat tow powered by an old mine hoist and a truck engine. But enough about the slopes.

The Ross family moved around to some small Colorado towns, and then to Salt Lake City, where Harold attended high school but never graduated; he quit school after his sophomore year and went into newspapers. In high school, he’d worked on the school paper, The Red and Black.

There, he met the other Salt Laker who would influence cartooning in America — a teenage artist three years older than he, John Held, Jr., who was born and raised in Salt Lake City.

They became friends and both were stringers for the Salt Lake Tribune while in school, and they were sometimes sent to the Stockade, the old redlight district, to interview such stellar attractions as Ada Wilson, Belle London, and Helen Blazes. 

Ross was on his best, most circumspect behavior when interviewing Blazes, one of the more flamboyant madams. Not wishing to give offense, he couched his queries in the most delicate euphemisms, overusing, perhaps, the most common of them, “fallen women.” His politesse finally exasperated the plain-spoken Blazes.

“Jesus Christ, kid,” she blurted out, “cut out the honey. If I had a railroad tie for every trick I’ve turned, I could build a railroad from here to San Francisco.”

The teenagers grew into an unlikely pair of adults (as we see in the accompanying drawing). Ross had a reputation for hair that stood straight up into the air and, strange for the founder of a sophisticated big city magazine, for a rumpled wardrobe. Ross and Held seldom worked together post-Salt Lake (although Held drew uncharacteristic antique-looking woodcut-style cartoons about 19th century life for Ross’s magazine), but separately, they shaped hunks of the cartoon medium. RossHeld0002

Ross had worked for at least seven papers around the country by the time he was 25, when he went into the American Expeditionary Force attacking the Hun in Europe. In Ross’s case, the attack was launched at editorial desks of the Stars and Stripes, where he was managing editor. Being an editor evidently got him to thinking: soon after he got back home, he started planning a magazine of his own.

Meanwhile, Held had long left Salt Lake City for the glitter of the Jazz Age. His cartoons of round-headed sheiks in “Oxford bags” (bell-bottom trousers) and shebas in short skirts established the look of Youth in the roaring 1920s. When JHeldJr0001Ross’s magazine got going, it effectively re-defined the single-panel magazine cartoon by blending the captions and the pictures so thoroughly that neither made any comedic sense alone without the other.

We don’t know if these epoch-shaping events are the result of growing up in Salt Lake City — or leaving it. So you can draw your own conclusion.

More about the AAEC Convention is dispensed at Rants & Raves Op. 313 at the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com

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

THE FIGHTING 1099ers

Maybe it’s because everyone gets a little stoked at the annual conventions of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, but we’d scarcely got back home, when a new drumbeat began. Someone remarked about the steady decline in full-time staff editorial cartoonist gigs that “the real bloodletting” began when family-owned newspapers disappeared: “the corporate takeover of newspapers with Wall Street applying its ‘maximizing shareholder value’ formula to the reportorial enterprise” effectively ended daily print journalism as a calling. It became, perforce, an industry that had to perform as all businesses do: it had to make ever-greater profits for its shareholders.

Some of us began casting a woeful eye, again, at the list — only a miserable 51 full-time staffers left of the 101 that were on the list in May 2008. That prompted a question about who, exactly, constitutes a “staff” editoonist. The answer is right out of IRS. If you receive a W-2 form from an employer for drawing cartoons, if you get sick days, vacation time, and possibly health care from that employer, you’re probably a staff cartoonist (assuming that cartooning is your primary duty). If you’re paid per drawing and you’re filing 1099 forms in April, you’re probably a freelancer (no matter how frequent your work is published).

Then came the rallying cry from “Kal” Kallaugher (that's him, down below): “Let’s make an alternative list of those who are making a living as a freelance editorial cartoonist (henceforth called the ‘Fighting 1099ers’). This may be the new norm. But don’t despair. There’s some exciting stuff being created out there in Freelanceville. Our profession is far from dead yet!” he finished, effectively becoming the first of the Fighting 1099ers.

Kal KallagherThen he started the alternative list by naming a dozen editorial cartoonists who make a living freelancing — starting with Pat Oliphant, who hasn’t qualified as a full-time staff cartoonist since 1981 (“but his employment status has hardly tarnished his standing in the profession”).

Others joined in, and in less than an hour, the list numbered close to 80. Add those to the full-time staffers and we get 130 still punchin’ and stompin’ editoonists.

Not a huge number, but editorial cartooning has never been a populous profession. And tripling the number of practitioners, putting freelancers together with staffers, gives us a roster resplendent with achievement and potential.

Right, Kal: we ain’t dead yet.

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

THE POWER OF POLITICAL CARTOONS

In one session at the June convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists, Victor S. Navasky, the author of The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power and the former editor of The Nation, began by explaining what got him started on the book project. It was the now infamous David Levine cartoon that showed Henry Kissinger, an ecstatic expression on his face, in flagrante delicto with a woman whose head is the globe of Earth — ergo, Kissinger is screwing the World.

When Navasky insisted on publishing the cartoon in The Nation, his staff rebelled. We react more quickly (and more emotionally) to caricatures than to photographs, he said. But Navasky, although permitting a long staff discussion of the cartoon (including an encore with Levine present), published it anyhow.

He decided, upon reflection, that what most enraged the cartoon’s critics was that it was a cartoon, a drawing intended to be funny. Making fun of something was offensive, apparently. And Navasky concluded that a similar sentiment inspired worldwide Muslim protest against the notorious Danish Dozen, cartoons of Muhammad published in 2005 in a Danish newspaper, ostensibly to demonstrate freedom of speech and the press.

AAECsalt0002He showed several cartoons that were famous for getting their cartoonists in trouble: among them, Art Young’s wanted poster for Christ; Robert Minor’s “Perfect Soldier”(which is also a perfect cartoon blend of word and picture, neither making much sense without the other); David Low’s Hitler cartoons (which inspired Hitler to demand that Low be fired); Jews depicted as vermin in Nazi magazines; Zapiro’s celebrated picture showing South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, about to rape Justice.

Navasky explained the basis of powerful person’s annoyance at being cartooned: Hitler, he said, simply didn’t want to be portrayed as an ass.

Navasky concluded with some questions that he didn’t answer:

In a medium deploying stereotypes, how does one deal with racial stereotypes?

Where do editors draw the line about what to print and what not to print?f

How does one reconcile the situation in which, typically, pictures can be more powerful than words?

More about the AAEC Convention is served up in Rants & Raves Op. 313 at the Usual Place, RCHarvey.com

 

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

AAEC IN THE DESERT

There was a hot time in the old town the whole time the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists was meeting in Salt Lake City, June 27-29, Thursday through Saturday. Temperatures soared into triple digits, breaking records nearly every day in the city Brigham Young and 148 of his Mormon followers (arriving in 72 wagons) founded in 1847, making it officially an “old town.”

AAEC 2013The outside temperature was matched, briefly, on Saturday with occasionally heated rhetoric as the subject of plagiarism became the focus of the program and the ensuing business meeting. Otherwise, session topics ranged peacefully from crowdfunding to the incendiary nature of political cartoons, from Thomas Nast to the opportunities of Internet cartooning, from Muhammad to Mormon underwear. The profession’s most revered practitioner, Pat Oliphant, was on hand at a reception held in his honor, and another legendary editoonist, Herblock, starred in a 90-minute screening of a new documentary on his legacy.

Evening entertainments included a salty edition of Todd Zuniga’s “Cartoonist Death March” and the Cartoons and Cocktails Gala Benefit at which original cartoons were auctioned off with the revenues earmarked for AAEC coffers. Afternoons were free of programming to allow for sight-seeing and other carryings-on.

Host and program deviser, the Salt Lake Tribune’s Pat Bagley (aided and abetted by Prez Matt Wuerker), also arranged for a bus tour of the city and for art workshops conducted by AAEC members for young aspiring artist/cartoonists. In the continuing effort to make the profession more visible to the world outside the inky-fingered fraternity, many sessions were open to the public for a small admission fee. And the convention venue roved around the neighborhood of the headquarters hotel, the Little America, to the Leonardo art museum and activity center to the auditorium at the city’s main library.

Early estimates peg registered attendance at about 75, of which 45 or so were fully-paying cartoonists; the rest, speakers, spouses, guests, donors, and volunteers. Local residents also attended the sessions open to them, turning out in notably large number for Saturday morning’s “Satire and the Sacred: From Muhammad to Mormon Underwear” and the auction that evening.

The goodie bag issued to registrants as they checked in contained, in addition to the usual heap of helpful items (sketchpad and program booklet and list of preregistered personages), several items designed to acquaint them quickly with this year’s convention city: a map (comically rendered by Bagley, highlighting sites and establishments of the elbow-bending sort), a stick-on bee (Utah is the Bee State), a bottle of Polygamy Porter (motto: “Why have just one!”), and a shot glass bearing the emblem of Five Wives Vodka.

Five Wives, introduced into the Utah market in December 2011, created a stir a year later when its makers, Ogden’s Own Distillery, sought to fill orders from Idaho, the governmental apparatus of which had determined that Five Wives would not be allowed through the state’s liquor system. Apparently, quipped Ogden’s, “Idaho didn’t like the quirky label.” Banning Five Wives created a “media firestorm” in USA Today, Time, CNN and Fox. Faced with a law suit, Idaho reversed its decision.

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

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

EW cover Comic-Con 2013Entertainment Weekly staged its annual San Diego Con preview issue with a cover displaying Spider-Man and Electro in a stare-down. Inside are 24 pages of alleged “preview coverage,” but only two of those pages are devoted to comics — one to Marvel’s Inhumanity title; the other, to DC’s Wonder Woman: Earth One. Sad but true: comics have become movies. The remaining 22 pages — all movies and tv, beginning with eight pages on “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”

The magazine’s post-con coverage was of the same ilk: a generous 14 pages but all about movies, mostly photographs of the stars who showed up for the Con. EW also plugged its own “all star” panels at which “discussions were often funny and always frank.”

In a disarming opening paragraph of its coverage, EW announced “a superpowered miracle — the news out of Comic-Con 2013 was about actual comic-book characters.” News indeed. But not quite accurately put: the news for EW was about movies about comic-book characters. Cute.

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

SUPER FACTS

Superman, by Larry Tye, coverAARP, the bi-monthly magazine for gaffers like moi, turned its attention, briefly, in the June/July issue to Superman, who, at 75, has been officially a candidate for membership in the Association for American Retired Persons for twenty years, but nobody noticed until now, the prompt being his 75th birthday. AARP listed “five things you never knew about Superman” (supplied by Larry Tye, author of Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero), among which unknowns are: his middle name, Joseph; and his Social Security number, 092-09-6616. “The number actually belonged to a flesh-and-blood New Yorker, Giobatta Baiocchi, who had died a year earlier [before the 1966 issue of Action Comics that revealed the number] and whose relatives have no idea why his number was picked.” Neither do I, kimo sabe.

And speaking of the Man of Steel, in the June 27 issue of City Weekly, columnist Bryan Young, reviewing the new movie (which he doesn’t like much), quotes the titular character in Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” on the Man from Krypton: “Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He’s weak. He’s unsure of himself. He’s a coward. Clark Kent is Superman’s critique on the whole human race.”

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

EGYPTIAN CARTOONISTS FOR REFORM

Cartoons are back on the frontlines in Egypt, according to Jonathan Guyer at newyorker.com, who writes (in italic): From the day that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi took office, on June 30, 2012, opposition cartoonists have been brazen in their attacks on him. Most newspaper editors refrained from mockery of Morsi's predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, during his thirty-year reign, but in the new Egypt, things are different. A law against "insulting" the President remains in the penal code, but illustrators unabashedly lampoon Morsi on a daily basis.

Morsi is drawn as a cowboy, as Godzilla attacking Cairo's skyline, and, of course, as a pharaoh. He is a cleric in Muslim Brotherhood regalia. He sends a Tweet from his cell phone to the Egyptian people, as he sits on the toilet, pants dropped. He orders carryout: "I'd like the revolutionary platter…and hold the opposition." And those are just a few of the gems from dissenting newspapers.

There is something distinctly Egyptian about cartoons; one researcher has even traced the art form to ancient hieroglyphs, which featured gags mocking the pharaohs. They were an important part of the 2011 revolution against Mubarak, and as cartoonists entered Tahrir Square, many saw their illustrations on placards. Some broadsheets publish as many as eight editorial cartoons on a given day.

"Drawings reach people faster, are more direct, and reach a broader spectrum of people," said cartoonist Doaa El Adl. "Events happen very quickly, and the artist isn't supposed to explain events but is supposed to have a vision — and sometimes predict what might happen."

"Before the revolution, we felt depressed, that things would never change, that we would die and the President will be the same," El-Adl told Guyer. "When the revolution happened we were a little surprised when we saw people in the street holding our cartoons. ...  That's a big change."

El-Adl is the most prominent woman cartoonist in Egypt, and she often addresses issues that most illustrators are afraid to touch, like the widespread practice of female genital mutilation.

On display at newyorker.co is a selection of eight cartoons by six artist, chosen because of their audacity, their simplicity, and their punch lines. Said Guyer: “They capture the sentiments of a citizenry angered by a leader who has bounced from crisis to crisis without an inclusive and unifying vision for Egypt. (The same cartoonists, by the way, have drawn highly critical cartoons of opposition leaders, too). Thanks to the seemingly endless economic crisis and political conflict in the country right now, cartoonists might have more material than any time in Egyptian history. As eighty-seven-year-old cartoonist Ahmed Toughan — who drew under Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak — told me, Morsi ‘is not lucky.’”

Here's one of the eight:Egypt0001

In January 2013, El-Adl drew Morsi at a podium alongside a blank speech bubble that dwarfed him in size, suggesting that his verbiage was nothing but hot air. In early July, El-Adl repurposed the same cartoon — with the speech bubble packed with firearms and a grenade — and called it “The Final Speech.” In a national address on July 2nd, Morsi claimed that he would hold onto power even “if the price of upholding this legitimacy is my own blood.” Cartoonists like El-Adl — and much of the nation— interpreted this as the Muslim Brotherhood’s call to war.

Until lately, cartoonists at independent newspapers were not shy in depicting the excesses of the military; Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood appeared as bumblers. In recsent weeks, though, they have been supporting the military, which has arrested dozens of Islamists, with images of Brotherhood cadres armed to the teeth, defying military authority and inciting violence.

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

CLIPS & QUIPS

Marble Season coverGilbert Hernandez’s graphic novel Marble Season, “a winsome and quietly comic story of three Mexican-American brothers growing up in the U.S. in the sixties, may well be the most surprising thing its creator has done to date,” writes Tim Martin at telegraph.co.uk. “Not because it’s good (it is) ... but because it’s about the last thing you would have expected coming from this cartoonist.” So what’s next, Martin wanted to know.

“After this,” said Hernandez, “I’m going to do a collection called Children of Palomar, which is going to put me back in the ‘Gilbert Hernandez is doing what he’s supposed to be doing’ thing. But what I’m working on now is the next Fritz book, where I get to push myself over the top with gangsters and all that stuff.” He laughs with relish. “I’m going to ruin my reputation as being a serious cartoonist again.”

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