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CARTOONING AS AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?

Editorial cartooning has been in trouble for years. In May 2008, 101 editoonists worked full-time on the staffs of American daily newspapers. That number is now 50. No one has anything like an exact count of the number of editoonists when the profession was at its peak. But it was undoubtedly more than 100; maybe as many as 200, but probably about 150-175.

The erosion of this profession has been attributed to the plight of the newspaper itself. Newspapers aren’t making as much money for their stockholders as they once did — and the possibility of expanding paid circulation in the age of the free Internet is remote, foreclosing the option of increasing revenue. The remaining balance sheet choice is to reduce expenses, which means, mostly, cutting staff, and editoonists are the supposed luxury and therefore go first.

But some attribute the slow death of editooning to other causes. Timidity. Ted Rall calls it “corporate slacktivism,” an aversion to rocking the boat with satire. Editoonist Clay Jones, quoted (like Rall) by Jaime Lopez at news.co.cr, agrees: “I do feel that newspapers are afraid. To be honest, most editors don’t know a good cartoon when they see it. They love obituary cartoons. They love the most obvious. Dean Haspiel photoThe laziest cartoonists draw the same old cliches of sinking ships, candidates as Pinocchios, people going over the edge and so on. And those cartoons get a lot of reprints. Check out USA Today every Friday. Most newspapers reprint cartoons and don’t have a staff cartoonist.”

Freelance cartoonist Dean Haspiel, not an editoonist but still looking to sell cartoons for publication, gave the keynote at the Harvey Awards ceremony at the Baltimore Comicon. Speaking about the once vibrant New York City scene for freelancers, he remembered basement “night clubs” and second floor venues where people went for entertainment. No more. “Who goes anywhere anymore when everyone is glued to their smart phone and tablet?” And for the freelance cartoonist looking for publication outlets, “it’s hard to compete for an audience that can’t extricate themselves from the Internet for a couple hours to experience something live and direct with carbon dioxide. Our surveillance society has created attention-deficit-disorder zombies. The ‘scene’ got taken hostage by the screen.”

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

LUCKY LUKE'S ORAL FIXATION

Below, you’ll see a familiar picture that appears without variation on the back of all the English versions of Belgian’s Lucky Luke books — the comically dramatic portrait of a Western gunslinger so fast that he beats his own shadow to the draw.

LuckyLuke
 If you look carefully at Lucky Luke, you’ll see the two pictures are not, actually, identical. And if you look just below the pair of color pictures, you’ll see another pair of just Luke’s face in profile. There the difference between the two pictures at the top becomes blatantly evident: Luke is smoking a cigarette in the picture(s) on the left but is sucking on a straw in the picture(s) on the right.

Yup: political correctness has finally invaded the wide open ranges across which Lucky Luke saunters from one stirring adventure to the next. A cigarette dangling from his lips is as much an authentic portrait of Lucky Luke as his wide-brimmed hat. But that’s gone, deleted from his legendary persona forever. Now if only he’ll give up shooting people, we’ll all be better off. (Seriously? No.)

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

THE GRIST OF HELLBOY

Visitor coverPaul Grist is drawing Mike Mignola’s latest Hellboy 5-issue epic, The Visitor: How and Why He Stayed; and his style, similar to Mignola’s, is perfect for the task. The series is as much about Hellboy as it is about the Visitor. Assisted by Chris Roberson, Mignola tells the story of Hellboy’s early years, beginning with his arrival December 23, 1944, when he pops into view in front of some soldiers in World War II Europe, one of whom is actually an alien visitor who possesses the mysterious Prism, a card-like iphone-looking object that he almost deploys against the infant Hellboy. But he stops just as “Archie” shows up to plead for Hellboy’s life.

The soldiers put their guns down, and the alien wanders off into the forest where he communicates with his commander aboard a space ship hovering somewhere in the upper atmosphere. The alien explains that he decided not to kill “the destroyer” (i.e., Hellboy) because he was “just a child.”

“He is his mother’s son as well as his father’s, after all. The future is still in motion. There is still hope for him. Hope for redemption. He is an innocent. He cannot be blamed for the circumstances of his birth.”

The alien decides to remain on Earth and monitor the child’s progress. His commander’s space ship scoots off into space, leaving the alien behind.

For the rest of the book, we have glimpses of Hellboy as he is growing up—in 1947, 1948, 1950 (by which time, he’s broken off most of his horns), 1953 (by which time he’s joined the paranormal investigative agency), and 1954, when he goes into the woods and kills a dragon. The panels of these pages are laid out against black solids which accent an increasing number of drops of blood, falling across the scenes.

All this time, a trenchcoated figure lurks in the background, watching. It’s the alien. And as he watches lilies growing out of the dragon’s blood, he marvels: “It never occurred to me until this moment that the child might grow into a force for good in his own right. ... I shall watch how he progresses.”

And we’ll watch with him for the next 4 issues of this 5-issue run.

Mignola’s story is the usual constipated narrative, pregnant (to mix a metaphor) with lurking unknowns and half-explained knowns, exactly the sort of mysteriousness-clogged tale that could annoy more than it entertains. But completed episodes reveal the storytellers’ competence—the opening gambit, the vignettes of Hellboy’s life through the years, and the final triumphant encounter with the dragon—and the tale moves forward, promising some sort of resolution ultimately. And for that, we’ll return.

Grist’s pictures, like those of Mignola, are drenched in solid blacks and are often mute, their silence — their noncommittal presence — underscoring the unexplained by not explaining, lending to the entire enterprise a haunting atmosphere, the sort of thing at which Mignola is so expert.

Visitor1

 

Visitor2

We’ll be back. Wouldn’t miss it. Especially since it promises to tell us more about Hellboy.

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

THE INKED WONDER

The December issue of the Previews catalog contained a picture of the new Wonder Woman statuette, “Gotham City Garage,” showing the star spangled Amazon leaning up against her ride, a glitzy hog. Now look closely at the accompanying illustration: does she have tattoos on her forearms?

WonderCycle

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

LYNDA CARTER DEFENDS WONDER WOMAN

Wonder WomenAfter just two months with the UN last fall, Wonder Woman lost her gig at the United Nations as a symbol of self-empowerment for girls and women. Too many observers thought she was more pin-up than feminist icon and therefore not a suitable symbol at the U.N. Alex Williams reported at nytimes.com that “a United Nations spokesman said the campaign had merely run its course, and that the end had nothing to do with the uproar” that ensued when Wonder Woman was first announced as an ambassador for women and girls and for gender equality.

But “one loyalist was not going to sit by as her cape was dragged through the mud: Lynda Carter, the actress who starred in the 1970s television show “Wonder Woman,” came to the Amazon’s defense.

Now 65, Carter took time from acting (including a role as the U.S. President on “Supergirl” and a governor in the coming film “Super Troopers 2”) and career as a singer (she just competed a four-city tour and is recording her third studio album) to discuss the complex legacy of her Amazon princess alter ego. In an edited and condensed interview with Williams, Carter recognized at the onset the disagreement about what a feminist icon should look like:

“What I find interesting is that they didn’t look at the larger picture. I agree that the issue of gender equality is much larger than any character is, and I understand that a comic book character should not be representative of something that is that important. I agree with that. What I disagree with is this [mistaken] idea about Wonder Woman. She’s an iconic defender. She’s archetypal. It’s the ultimate sexist thing to say that’s all you can see, when you think about Wonder Woman, all you can think about is a sex object.”

About Wonder Woman’s skimpy costume, Carter was a little belligerent:

“Yeah, so?” she said. “Superman had a skintight outfit that showed every little ripple, didn’t he? Doesn’t he have a great big bulge in his crotch? Hello! So why don’t they complain about that? And who says Wonder Woman is ‘white’? I’m half-Mexican. Gal Gadot is Israeli. The character is an Amazonian princess, not ‘American.’ They’re trying to put her in a box, and she’s not in a box.”

(Er, I don’t see the super bulge that Carter sees at Superman’s crotch. Could she be imagining things? Things she wishes for?)

Lynda Carter photoAbout her own stint in the star-spangled scanties: “If you think of the ’70s, that was miniskirts and bikinis. I never really thought of Wonder Woman as a super-racy character. She wasn’t out there being predatory. She was saying: ‘You have a problem with a strong woman? I am who I am, get over it.’ I never played her as mousy. I played her being for women, not against men. For fair play and fair pay.”

Why did “Wonder Woman” on TV “strike a chord with girls watching the show”?

“There was this idea that inside every woman is a secret self. It’s much less about the color of your skin, much less about your height or weight or beauty, but it’s the attitude, the strength of character, the fight for rights — the beauty within, the wisdom within.”

Carter attributes her post-Wonder Woman struggles with alcohol to her bad marriage not post-fame blues. Drinking brought solace at the time, she said, “but now it’s coming up on 20 years since I’ve been sober.”

Asked about her inspiration for the presidential role she assumed in “Supergirl,” Carter said: “It was Hillary. I’ve known Hillary Clinton for 35 years. She is the kindest, most wonderful human being. She has an infectious personality and smile and warmth and personality and true nature. She grew up in a time where you had a be a certain way to be taken seriously. Now you can be whoever you want. You don’t have to be serious. You can be feminine and powerful at the same time.”

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

REBIRTH

Watchman Rebirth imageRiesman mentions DC’s recently launched Rebirth in which “creators were told to tweak the venerable mainstream-superhero pantheon so the characters could be their best selves.” It’s possible, I suppose, that “the” Watchmen could serve as a thematic foil, contrasting failed or flawed superheroism with successful “best selves” superheroism in the Rebirthed DC universe. Such a maneuver would give the Watchmen a serious (if not satirical) function. It would also perpetuate Moore’s theme.

That, however, is not likely to happen. DC is almost certainly simply using the fame of Moore’s Watchmen to hype sales of its titles, a sad but capitalistically sound tradition.

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