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PERSIFLAGE AND BADINAGE: MARTIN LANDAU

Martin Landau at drawing board

The late Martin Landau (1928-2017) was born in Brooklyn and began in the world of work when he joined the New York Daily News as a cartoonist while still in high school, said the Washington Post in the actor’s obit.

“A precociously gifted artist,” he turned down a promotion at the paper at age 22 to try his hand at acting, applying for classes at the prestigious Actors Studio in Manhattan.

Of 2,000 applicants in 1955, only he and Steve McQueen were accepted. It was there that he befriended James Dean and briefly dated Marilyn Monroe.

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

TICS & TROPES

Derf by Derf

 

 

Derf Backderf (The City, Trashed and My Friend Dahmer) says his work as a storyteller is built on the journalism instruction he received at Ohio State University years ago. “That’s the way I learned how to tell stories,” he told Joel Oliphint at columbusalive.com. “You go out and research it, gather the facts, and then you tell the story. It’s the one thing that stuck with me from college.”

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

PERSIFLAGE AND FURBELOWS

Happy Hooligan

Old Timey cartoonist Frederick Burr Opper on the birth of Happy Hooligan:

"It happened that they wanted a new series of comics, and I set about inventing one. I thought of a tramp. Tramps were not so very new; there had been all kinds of tramps, so I decided to make him a little different by putting a can on his head. What gave me the idea was that at that time all the saloons put their empty kegs in the streets for the breweries to pick up and refill. The tramps would hang empty tomato cans around their necks, go to these kegs and tip the remains of the beer from the empty barrel into their cans."

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

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

One of the most-frequently asked questions of cartoonists is: Where do you get your ideas? Whenever I’m asked (which, these days, isn’t often), I say, “Schenectady” (stealing this response from some antique wag). Dan Piraro of Bizarro fame once told a roomful of fans that he didn’t worry about getting ideas. When his Bizarro was accepted for syndication, he explained, he immediately sat down and wrote out ideas for the next 25 years.

I recently attended a lecture by a former correspondent, Disney Legendary animator, Floyd Norman, and when he was asked the question he said that he got ideas by listening to the characters he was drawing. As he drew them, they began to talk and cavort around in his imagination, and he listened to them, and eventually, sure enough, he’d get an idea for a cartoon.

Charles Schulz, when I asked him, said basically the same thing. He started doodling characters, and they started “talking” to him.

I remember having the same experiences when I was sketching character designs for my numerous unsuccessful comic strips. As I sketched, the characters took shape in my imagination and often took off running in directions they opted for themselves, without any prompting from me.

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So I know that ideas occur to me when I’m drawing, too. Not just when I’m drawing: I have ideas at other times, too. But when I’m drawing, they pop up. And here’s an example:

A few weeks ago, I was asked to illustrate a promotional flyer for a project that was not only a “win-win” project but a “win-win-win” project. I chose the “wins” as the basis for the illustration, and drew three giant-lettered “wins,” stacked across the page as you see near here.

WinWinWin

Then I thought I should do something to make it cartoony. I should give the letters some kind of personality. I gave the ‘W’ in the first “win” legs and eyes and a smiley mouth. A happy ‘W.’ Then I moved on to the second “win,” deciding, en route, that I’d embellish the ‘I’ rather than the second ‘W.’

At first, I thought I’d do the same thing as I’d already done. Then in doing it, I varied it, giving this letter squinty, happy eyes. And I reversed the legs, letting him put his left leg forward.

Next, the ‘N’ in the last “win.” Legs again reversed from the previous drawing. But how to vary the rest? Ha — open his laughing mouth and give him a wide-eyed expression. And add arms: he throws up his arms in a rapture of exuberance.

As a progression, the “wins” get happier and happier. Good thing for “win-win-win.”

The point is: each stage in the development of the drawing proceeded from the previous stage, each fostering the next variation. Ideas from drawing.

In the final, finished version, I added some shading to the letters to set them apart a little from the all-white plain background. Then to finish it off, I drew the little guy in the corner, hugging his legs and grinning — no loser he.

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

THE MUSE HAS A NEW HOME

SF Cartoon Art MuseumThe Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco, which lost its lease a couple years ago, has a new home. It’s signed a 10-year lease in a historic building at 781 Beach Street overlooking San Francisco Bay, a short walk from Fisherman’s Wharf. A block or so in one direction is Ghirardelli Square; about the same distance in the other direction — at the corner of Beach and Hyde streets, where the Powell Street cable car turnaround is situated — is the BeeVee, the Buena Vista, where, according to vintage rumor, Irish coffee was invented and is still being purveyed. One of the things I never miss doing when in town is taking the cable car up Powell and Hyde to the BV, where I always have a few Irish coffees. More than I should.

The new digs boasts a state-of-the-art gallery with movable walls, a screening area, classrooms, an education center and library, storage facilities for its permanent collection of 7,000 original pieces of art, and the Museum bookstore with storefront visibility and interior access from the museum lobby as well as offices for the Museum’s staff.

Cartoon Art Museum logoFounded in 1984, the Museum is now the oldest cartoon museum in the country. Having raised $950,000 of the $1,100,000 needed for its new home, the Museum re-opened a few weeks ago; the fund-raising campaign is now open to the public. For more about how to donate, visit the Museum website, cartoonart.org. In case you’re wondering why I’m devoting all this energy and visibility to this facility and this campaign, you should know that I’m on the Advisory Board. But they don’t pay me, and my personal fortune is not at all affected by the fund-raising.

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

NO COMICS IN THE NEW ESTABLISHMENT

Jeff bezos caricatureIn Vanity Fair’s New Establishment ranking for 2017, the only comics-related name is that of Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios, who ranks 21st, ahead of Walmart’s Marc Lore (who is 34th) and Dwayne Johnson (37th) but behind Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live’s political impersonators (19th) and Jeff Bezos, who’s first in the list of 100 innovators, media-age moguls, technologists and rebellious entrepreneurs.

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

ILLUSTRATED TWEETS

Sh*t My President Says:
The Illustrated Tweets of Donald J. Trump

By Shannon Wheeler
120 5x6-inch pages, b/w
Top Shelf Productions hardcover
$14.99

Sh*t My President Says  coverPulitzer-winning editoonist Jack Ohman says about this tome: "Shannon Wheeler drew a book I wish I had thought of; that's the ultimate compliment I can offer in 140 characters!”

At the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs, Michael Cavna says Wheeler spent much of the last year sifting through over 30,000 “verified account’s tweets” (since 2009) before settling on about 1,000, “satiric clay to work with by identifying the president’s most repeated themes and compulsive narratives — from crowd size to ratings to identifying people he perceives as enemies. Beyond caricature and parody, Wheeler writes, ‘I want to show how he contradicts himself, and lead[s] the reader to question reality.’”

After all the research (stultifying in its monotony, no doubt), Wheeler sees the twitterpated commander-in-chief as playing with his base, “using his 140-character missives as trial balloons.” Said Wheeler: “He thinks: ‘How is my audience going to respond to this?’ Tweeting is like a thermometer for him.”

In the book’s introduction, Wheeler adds: “His implicit message isn’t about himself, it’s about his reader. He encourages his fans to be themselves — not with aspiration, but indulgence. Be sexist. Be racist. Be fearful. Be selfish. Hate and fear the world.”

Wheeler’s caricature of Trump evolved.

            “He’s a bully,” Wheeler says of his caricature. “He’s like the fifth-grader who got held back one grade and he’s now a little bit bigger than you are and he’s still a kid, but you’re a little bit scared of him.”

            Said Cavna: “Wheeler’s Trump is a rotund scamp with a mischievously fiendish spirit.” Then he quotesWheeler again:

            “I was trying to draw him ‘ugly’ and it was not working, and then I was starting to feel: ‘What is inside of him?’ It is the impish child. You think: ‘This is the [playground] kid who would be made fun of if he weren’t making fun of other people.’

            “When I started drawing him as a monster — like an ogre, a mean person — another insight I had from his tweets is that he thinks of himself as a protagonist,” Wheeler says. “Once I realized that and started drawing him that way, it clicked into focus.”

            Not all of Wheeler’s colleagues were pleased with that depiction, though. “Three political cartoonists implored me to draw him villainous,” Wheeler said. “I was like: ‘It doesn’t feel right for me to draw him in that way. It doesn’t give me any insight to [visually] vilify him in that way.’”

            But the last challenge with the book was turning it over to the publisher in June, says Cavna, “with a fresh Trump news cycle heating up.”

            “As soon as we closed the book, there was a new slew of Russia stuff — it broke my heart,” the cartoonist says. “It was so juicy and funny.”

            Herewith, a few telling tweets from our twitterpated Prez.

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

ANOTHER CARTOONIST BEHIND BARS OVERSEAS

Ebale photoEquatorial Guinean authorities arrested a political cartoonist and activist on September 16, 2017, according to Human Rights Watch and Equatorial Guinean Justice. He has been held in detention since then and authorities may be preparing to file criminal defamation charges against him. The Watch report follows:

The arrest of the cartoonist, Ramón Nsé Esono Ebalé, is the latest episode of government retaliation against artists who have used their work to criticize the government. Human Rights Watch urges EG authorities to repeal the country’s colonial-era defamation statute, which allows for the criminal prosecution of people who criticize the president and top government officials. They should abandon any plans to charge Ebalé under that law and, if he is accused of no other crime, release him immediately and without charge.

“The Equatorial Guinea government has again demonstrated its hostility to any form of critical expression that escapes its heavy-handed censorship,” said Tutu Alicante, executive director of EG Justice, which monitors human rights violations in Equatorial Guinea.

Three state security officers detained Ebalé outside a restaurant in the capital, Malabo, at about 7 p.m. on September 16, along with two Spanish nationals who were with him. All three men were taken to the Office Against Terrorism and Dangerous Activities in the Central Police Station. The Spanish nationals were interrogated about their connection to Ebalé and freed after several hours.

Authorities continue to hold Ebalé without charge, exceeding the 72-hour period allowed under Equatoguinean law. Interrogators reportedly questioned him about his political cartoons, which often lewdly caricature President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and other government officials, and repeatedly told him that people may only participate in politics if they are associated with an official party.

Free Ebale!Ebalé has lived outside of Equatorial Guinea for several years and had returned to the country to renew his passport. He has not been taken before a judge, which Equatoguinean law requires within 24 hours. Family members were allowed to see him on September 18 and 19, though prison guards refused to allow his sisters to visit on September 17 or to confirm he was being held there.

Based on the interrogators’ apparent questions, EG Justice and Human Rights Watch are concerned that Ebalé may be charged with violating Equatorial Guinea’s criminal defamation statute. In Human Rights Watch’s view, such laws are incompatible with the right to free expression and Equatorial Guinea’s statute should be repealed.

The arts have traditionally served as a safe space for independent voices to provoke public debate on social issues in Equatorial Guinea, a country with little tolerance for political dissent. But EG Justice and Human Rights Watch have documented an increasing number of incidents over the past two years in which the government has retaliated against artists and cultural groups.

“Prosecuting a cartoonist for unflattering satirical drawings is incompatible with free speech and only highlights the power of the pen,” said Sarah Saadoun, researcher at Human Rights Watch.

 

For reports of other cartoonists internationally who have been threatened and/or jailed, see Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s website.

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

STAN LEE ON RACE AND HATE

Stan Lee photo explosionAt the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs, Michael Cavna remembered what Stan Lee had told him last fall about Marvel characters and allegorical response to the protests and violence and racial hate he saw playing out on America’s streets.

“I always felt the X-Men, in a subtle way, often touched upon the subject of racism and inequality, and I believe that subject has come up in other titles, too,” Lee said, referring to his ’60s-born superheroes who feel like outsiders, “but we would never pound hard on the subject, which must be handled with care and intelligence.”

In the wake of the violence in Charlottesville, Lee tweeted the anti-bigotry message of a vintage “Stan’s Soapbox” (in italics below), which Lee called “as true today as it was in 1968,” when he penned it.

Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed supervillains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them — to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater — one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen — people he’s never known — with equal intensity — with equal venom.

Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race — to despise an entire nation — to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is every to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God — a God who calls us ALL his children.

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

PEPE FIGHTS BACK

image from https://s3.amazonaws.com/feather-client-files-aviary-prod-us-east-1/2017-11-21/f7686cfb-1669-40af-bcb5-2b77e3509f26.pngThe creator of Pepe the Frog is making good on his threat to aggressively claim his intellectual property. Matt Furie’s lawyers have taken legal action against the alt-right, reports Matthew Gault at motherboard.vice.com, serving cease and desist orders to several alt-right personalities and websites including Richard Spencer, Mike Cernovich, and the r/the_Donald subreddit. In addition, they have issued Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown requests to Reddit and Amazon, notifying them that use of Pepe by the alt-right on their platforms is copyright infringement.

Several entities that have received notices from the Furie phalanx have said they’ll fight back. But the message to the alt-right is clear—stop using Pepe the Frog or prepare for legal consequences.

To that end, one of Furie’s intellectual property lawyers, Louis Tompros, and his team have taken the first steps towards dismantling the alt-right's stranglehold on Pepe, beginning with their letter to Richard Spencer's Altright.com, noting the specific places where Spencer and his team have used Pepe in violation of Furie's copyright. Pepe is all over Spencer's site and is the mascot for his podcast, Alt-Right Politics.

"We've asked them to take them down," Tompros said. "That hasn't happened yet, but they're very much on notice. We plan to take action if they don't. If necessary, we expect to bring a lawsuit for copyright infringement," Tompros went on.

"I want to make sure that people have enough time to comply. The goal here is not to initiate lawsuits. The goal is to get the misuse of Pepe to stop. I'd rather do that through people complying with the cease and desist notices. But we're certainly ready, willing, and able to bring suits to follow up for the folks who do not comply."

Matt Furie photoFurie originally created Pepe as a non-political character for his Boy's Club comic, but Pepe later became an internet meme, and during the 2016 presidential election, the alt-right movement appropriated the frog in various grotesque and hateful memes. At the end of August, Furie's lawyers reached a settlement with Eric Hauser — the former assistant principal in Texas who appropriated Pepe's image for use in an Islamophobic children's book. Furie's lawyers forced Hauser to stop selling the book and made him donate his profits to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In the past, the alt-right has attacked its enemies with vicious doxing and online abuse campaigns. Tompros and his team understand that's a risk, but it's one they're willing to take.

"We're doing what we think is the right thing," he said. "We understand that we're dealing with serious folks here, and we want to make clear to them that we're serious too. We're not going to stand for this."

Furie has continued to avoid speaking with the media about Pepe, but Tompros told Gault that the win against Hauser lifted his spirits.

"That's been powerful for him," the lawyer said. "He's ready and wants to keep up the fight and wants to take down anyone who's using his character. He's also received words of support from fans and others. He's taking comfort in that. We're going to keep on fighting," Tompros said. "I hope we're doing what others would do when it's there to turn to stand up for the good guys."

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

THE NEW YORKER'S "WHAT IF" COVER

The image on the left is the cover that The New Yorker planned to run if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 election. On the right is the cover the magazine actually ran, a somewhat (no — roaringly) ambiguous statement.

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The “what if” cover was used in the September 25 issue of The New Yorker to accompany editor David Remnick’s sitdown interview with Hillary upon the release of her book, What Happened.

The image, Michael Cavna tells us, is by French artist Malika Favre and is titled “The First.” It depicts a historic President Hillary Clinton gazing at the moonlight from the would-be viewpoint of the Oval Office. Running with Remnick’s article, the image takes on an entirely different tone — “not of history, but of the poignancy of the hypothetical,” Cavna observes.

“That image brings everything back to me in a flash,” New Yorker art editor Françoise Mouly told Cavna at the Washington Post’s Comic Riffs. “The night of the election, I was at the office late, hard at work with final retouching on [Favre’s] image. I was focused on the technical details, getting the face just right, and on the layout...

“I was trying not to tune in the results coming in. I had not prepared anything else [for the post-Election issue],” continues Mouly, who last winter launched the Resist! cartoon newspaper in response to President Trump’s victory (see Opus 361). “The sense of dread that crept among the few colleagues still in the office eventually overwhelmed me, and I left.”

Favre’s experience on that historic day was somewhat different: “I remember going to bed with a feeling of relief, pride and excitement and waking up the next day to intense disappointment. It was frustrating on all counts.”

The artist notes that the artwork can be read on multiple levels. “There is that moment of glory of seeing her standing in the Oval Office at night,” the artist says of the Clinton figure, “but also that feeling of anticipation and almost loneliness that I wanted to convey. A little bit like a ‘What now…?’ moment.”

Mouly salutes the lasting power of Favre’s image, even when cast in a different historic light.

“The pent-up hope, the sense of accomplishment, the turn toward the future that we embraced up to that day is still in the image. It’s a testimony to the skill of a great artist that she can bring us back to that time of hope,” says Mouly, who has spoken often about her opposition of Trump. “And with her permanent record of that feeling, we’ll find the strength to build a future we can believe in.”

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

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BEETLE

Beetle and MortMort Walker’s comic strip about a lazy private turned 67 years old on September 4th. When Walker devised the strip in 1950, the title character was in college; he was based upon a character Walker used in magazine gag cartoons, whose name was Spider. When King Features bought the strip, they dropped the name because another of the syndicate’s features was using it, and instead called Walker’s college kid Beetle. Good choice: as everyone knows, spiders are icky but beetles are intriguing. Walker gave his new creation a last name that gestured gratitude to John Bailey, the cartoon editor at the Saturday Evening Post who had advised the young cartoonist that if he wanted to do a comic strip he should do it about something he knew well — in Walker’s case, college life.

However deep Walker’s insight into higher educational shenanigans, the strip didn’t sell. King was thinking of dropping it. Then inspiration struck. The Korean War was going on at the time, and since men of Beetle’s age were being called up left and right, it seemed logical to take the kid out of college and put him in uniform. So Walker did just that: on March 13, 1951, with the strip barely six months old, Beetle enlisted. Due to the interest in the military during the war, a hundred papers promptly picked up the strip. Thanks to his own military experience at the end of World War II (particularly being in charge of a German POW camp in Italy), Walker knew army life as well as he knew college life.

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Walker still draws the strip (he pencils; son Greg inks), making him an uncontested record-holder: he’s drawn the same comic strip longer than anyone else on the planet has drawn the same comic strip. When the strip started, Beetle was probably around 20 years old, which would make him 87 now. Walker's birthday is September 3rd -- a day before Beetle's -- and he this year he turned 94. And I’m a mere broth of a boy at 80.

Happy birthday, Mort. Ditto Beetle. Onward.

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

HEFNER DIED. IN HIS BED, OF COURSE

Hugh Hefner died on Wednesday, September 27. He was 91. Celebrated as the founder of Playboy magazine, which, with fold-out photos of barenekkidwimmin, revved a cultural revolution that freed the sex lives of Americans from their Puritan bondage, Hefner was a wannabe cartoonist whose magazine showcased and advanced the art of the single-panel magazine cartoon, publishing full-page cartoons in sumptuous color. His departure from this vale of tears was, gratifyingly, heralded by many cartoonists (albeit of the political ilk), once potential colleagues.

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

PEANUTS MUSEUM ESCAPES WILDFIRE...

...But Charles Schulz Home Is Burned To The Ground

Schulz MuseumWhen Santa Rosa was hit by wildfire, its famed Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center was spared. The Museum was closed briefly due to lack of power caused by the fires, but soon re-opened.

Unhappily, the home of Peanuts creator Schulz burned to the ground. His widow, however, escaped, her stepson told the Associated Press. Jean Schulz, 78, fled her home at about 2 a.m. Monday, October 9, and is now staying with family, said Monte Schulz.

"It's the house my dad died in,” he went on, “ — all of their memorabilia and everything is all gone. Stuff from my dad and their life together, all gone. That time of our lives is now completely erased.

“She is very resilient,” he about his stepmother. “She is energetic and pragmatic and very tough.”

His father had long-standing ties to Santa Rosa and to Sonoma County. He and his first wife, Joyce, built a home in the city of Sebastopol in 1958. The airport in Santa Rosa Airport is officially titled the Charles M. Schulz - Sonoma County Airport and features bronze sculptures of the Peanuts characters. Its logo is Snoopy flying on top of his doghouse.

Note: You can read Jean Schulz's Blog here.

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

WOMAN CARTOON EDITOR AT THE NEW YORKER

Emma Allen caricatureBob Mankoff, the cartoon editor at the fabled magazine, left last spring after 20 years on the job. He immediately accepted a job as “Humor and Cartoon Editor” at Esquire. Mankoff’s replacement is, surprise, a woman, a young woman — 29-year-old Emma Allen.

She’s been on staff at The New Yorker since 2012, merely five years. Some cartoonists submitted cartoons to the magazine for longer than that before being published there.

Allen has done some editing and whatnot for a New Yorker online feature called Daily Shouts — plus a little Talk of the Town and Shouts and Murmurs. She says she’s an avid fan of cartooning and points to a misspent youth cutting out and filing (in a lime-green folder) all the cartoons in The New Yorker. It’s a dubious credential, and it scarcely matches Mankoff’s decades of experience as a cartoonist and cartoon editor.

Allen’s job is to sift through a thousand or so submissions every week and cull out 50 or so to show to the editor, David Remnick, who makes the final selection. Allen has an assistant who helps.

Offhand, based upon Allen’s age and inexperience, it doesn’t seem likely that she will be able to find and nurture new talent for the magazine, which was one of Mankoff’s signal achievements as cartoon editor. I doubt she has the experience to tell newcomers how to tinker with and improve their cartooning enough to qualify for publication in The New Yorker, something Mankoff was always doing (or so he has told us). But then, I’m just a grumpy old man.

As for the actual cartoon content of the magazine going forward, we’ll wait and see. In interviews, Allen says she likes weird and surreal humor and hopes to have more full-page comic-strip-style cartoons. Even before she officially took office, we saw more whimsy and absurdity in the cartoons, a notable drift away from its traditional snide social commentary directed at the phoney urban snob of the Big Apple and his/her contemporary often trivial preoccupations. The change has already set in.

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

PERSIFLAGE AND BADINAGE

Here's one for the history books. During Walt Kelly's sojourn at the Disney Studios in the 1930s, he and others on staff used to circulate among themselves sketches and caricatures, poking fun at each other. Some of these spontaneous generations were a little off-color, but Ward Kimball (one of Disney’s “nine old men”) says Kelly avoided such forays into comedic pornography: “He stuck with very innocent, basic humor” (quoted in Hermes Press’ Walt Kelly: The Life and Art of the Creator of Pogo). But Kelly did allude in print to an old shady story at least once that I know of.

The daily strip for September 26, 1952 (the middle one in the array posted near here), echoes an ancient slightly racist joke about an old raggedy black man who fell asleep under a tree in the woods.

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 While he slept, a black snake crawled up under his tattered trouser leg. The snake kept on crawling up the pants leg, and when it got to a hole near the man's crotch, it emerged and raised up in front of the sleeping man's face, whereupon the man awoke. Staring sleepily at the snake weaving in front of him, he muttered: "My sakes! I knowed yo' was black, and I knowed yo' was long, but where did yo' get those baby blue eyes!"

Kelly was reputed to be squeamish about rude jokes of this kind, but it would appear that he repeated almost exactly this one’s punchline, rude or not. And he may have done such jokes more than once, but this is the only instance I know of. In this case, I suspect that what Kelly found amusing was the black man’s language, not anything else in the situation.

Hotshot CharlieAssuming that Kelly deliberately evoked memories of this old chestnut, we must also realize that he was not unique among his cartooning colleagues. Cartoonists were widely regarded by syndicate and newspaper editors as adolescent pranksters constantly finding ways to insert scatological references or sexual innuendoes into their strips, sneaking them by their editors' scrupulous eyes into the unsuspecting world of newspaper readers beyond. There, certain readers would recognize the signs and symbols and potents; and they would laugh uproariously in appreciation of the cartoonist's daring and cleverness. So I've heard. (Milton Caniff told me; his Hotshot Charlie in Terry and the Pirates was an instance of this nefarious practice although Caniff never finished the allusion by quoting the punchline.)

Al Capp became notorious for such practices in his Li’l Abner, and then Joe Palooka's Ham Fisher blew the whistle on him. You can find the whole story in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com), in Harv’s Hindsight for January 2013, “Hubris and Chutzpah.”

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

NEW IRON MAN

Marvel is bringing on a new Iron Man. A woman. A black woman. They’re still working on the armored avenger’s new name, Eliana Dockterman reported at Time.com — Iron Man clearly won’t work anymore. This is another of Marvel’s many steps lately at creating racial and gender diversity in its line-up. Thor, you’ll remember, is a woman now. Then we have Jessica Jones, Miles Morales and Maria Hill. So why not Iron Man?

The new Golden Avenger, Riri Williams, is a science genius who enrolls in MIT at the age of 15 and builds her own Iron Man suit in her dorm. All I’ve seen is the picture of Riri in an afro, and I don’t think this’ll work: how will she fit her hair into the Iron “Man” helmet? And she won’t be nearly as cute when she’s covered up with the red and yellow clank suit. (Ooops: sorry: sexist remark.)

Riri Williams Iron Man

 

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

OBAMA SENDS PUBLISHER PAGES FOR PRESIDENTIAL GRAPHIC NOVEL

ccording to former President Barack Obama, only the graphic novel format had the expressive palette capable of truly capturing his eight years in office.

Obama at Oval Office deskWASHINGTON—Saying the finished work would become the “definitive take” on his time in the White House, Barack Obama reportedly submitted a collection of pages from his presidential graphic novel, Barack Obama: Renegade, to publisher Image Comics on Thursday, June 8.

The 16-page packet of artwork and sample issues, which Obama confirmed he has also mailed to Fantagraphics Books, Dark Horse Comics, and DC’s Vertigo imprint, is said to serve as a proof of concept for what he envisions as a sprawling eight-volume memoir of his presidency. According to Obama, creating an authentic representation of his two terms in office has required him to use every tool of the comics medium, from dramatic splash pages in which he appears silhouetted behind the Resolute desk, to an extended dream sequence set on the eve of his 2012 reelection, which he said takes “definite cues” from the casual surrealism of graphic novelist Chris Ware in order to fully realize the emotional truth of the moment.

“I’ve poured everything into Renegade’s panels, and when it’s complete, it will depict these eight years of my life precisely as I experienced them,” said the 44th former president of the United States, who told reporters that he planned to pencil, ink, and hand-letter each page of the series himself.

That last is the first irrefutable clue that this is “fake news.”

“Generations from now,” said Obama, “I want Americans to be able to read these pages and be confident they’re getting an unalloyed picture of my presidency. Renegade will cover mature, difficult subjects, and some of it may require multiple readings to understand, but this graphic novel is the only way to accurately convey my experiences. I realize, of course, it may be a bit too much for more sensitive readers to handle.”

Fitnoot. You guessed it: this whole thing is from The Onion, the original “fake news” publication.—RCH

 

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FEIFFER HITS THE STAGE WITH A MUSICAL

Man in the Ceiling cover“The Man in the Ceiling” is a new musical based upon Jules Feiffer’s 1995 somewhat autobiographical young adult novel about a boy named Jimmy Jibbett who aspires to be a cartoonist. Feiffer has written plays but this is his first shot at a musical. Premiering May 30 - June 25, the reviews were mixed although the ones I have seen were mostly favorable.

In Variety, Frank Rizzo said: “Though the script is by Feiffer, the musical lacks the original material’s sly humor, off-beat charm and gentle heart."

In the New York Times, Neil Genzlinger: “Like many musicals, ‘The Man in the Ceiling’ was a long time in gestation, and it deserves more development. As of now, this is a show that will teach theatrically inclined youngsters what a relatively sophisticated musical number sounds like. To be truly transporting, it needs more of what makes a Feiffer drawing work: wit, understatement and clarity.

Hamptons.com, T.J. Clemente: “The Saturday evening premiere of the musical ‘The Man in the Ceiling’ received thunderous applause and a standing ovation at the Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Saturday June 3. The collaborations of Jules Feiffer (author of the book The Man in the Ceiling) along with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa (‘Rent’), and director Jeffrey Seller (who produced ‘Hamilton’) bring an innovative and retro dynamic to this bold musical production. The stage design and lighting along with a live orchestra adds a unique panache to this show.

Man in the Ceiling stillSag Harbor Express, Annette Hinkle: “With a team like that, it's hard to go wrong, and rest assured, this is a polished piece of theater with solid acting, a terrific score and tons of creativity, thanks to an enthusiastic and talented cast and crew..... Ultimately what's missing here is the real gravitas necessary to make the adults in the play become fully realized characters. The lack of complexity in their development leaves the supporting roles nearly as one dimensional as Jimmy Jibbett's cartoons.”

27East, Lorraine Dusky: “Joie de vivre spills off the stage in the world premiere of ‘The Man in the Ceiling’ currently at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor. Based on Jules Feiffer's young adult novel of the same title, this collaboration between writer Feiffer and composer Andrew Lippa bounces along with high-voltage energy to its exuberant end.”

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WORLDWIDE, CARTOONISTS' FREE SPEECH IS BEING THREATENED

CBLDF Statue of Liberty logoIt’s been more than two years since the attack on Charlie Hebdo staff in Paris, and although the world’s free expression focus has largely shifted away from cartoonists, “that certainly does not mean the danger has disappeared,” says Maren Williams at Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). “A recent 30-page report from the French nonprofit Cartooning for Peace/Dessins Pour la Paix brings together profiles of cartoonists under threat and background information on the free speech situation in the countries where they work — or from which they’ve been forced to flee.”

The report pays tribute to the unique role that satirical cartoonists fulfill in many countries (particularly those in which largely illiterate populations are more than usually susceptible to the messages in pictures), and their defiance in the face of censorship, intimidation, and violence (in italics):

CBLDF Raising a Reader!Whether their cartoons concern politics, the economy, sports or religion, cartoonists are confronted with the same threats as newspaper, radio and television journalists who cover sensitive subjects. Censorship, legal proceedings, attacks, imprisonment, exile, disappearances and, in the worst of cases, murder — many different acts of violence proving that cartoonists are always on the frontline.

Unique witnesses of current events and veritable barometers of the freedom of expression, they defy threats in order to inform us on the state of democracy during periods of insecurity and trouble. In a context where violations against the freedom of expression have worsened, it seems indispensable to give the floor to those who take up the pencil, in order to pay tribute to their backgrounds and struggles.

CBLDF logo eagleThe full report can be found at the CBLDF website (cbldf.org), which also provides an index to CBLDF reports about many of the cartoonists, grouped by country: in Ecuador, Xavier Bonilla (known as Bonil) and Vilma Vargas; in Venezuela, Rayma Suprani; in India, Aseem Trivedi; in Egypt, Islam Gawish. Previously, we’ve posted reports about the threats against Zunar in Malaysia, Muksa Kart in Turkey, Ali Ferzat, exiled from his native Syria; and Eaten Fish in Manus Island detention center of Australia. CBLDF’s index rehearses their stories as well as those of the others we’ve just named.

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

COMIC BOOKS NO LONGER A SECURITY THREAT

TSA logoThe Transportation Security Administration has ended tests of a new requirement for passengers to remove books and other paper items (including comic books) from their carry-on luggage during security screening, reported Maren Williams at Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF). Rules demanding this sort of search may be instituted at a later date, but, said an agency spokeswoman, “at this time, [we] are no longer testing or instituting these procedures.”

In the meantime, comics fans returning from comic cons won’t have to unpack in order to get on a plane.

The TSA says that the pilot test simply ran its course, but the announcement came shortly after alarm bells started ringing among intellectual freedom and privacy advocates —particularly at the San Diego International Airport to which thousands of comics fans were flocking with their bags loaded with comic books purchased during the San Diego Comic-Con.

Turns out to have been a misreading of some obscure directive somewhere.

Separately in a public-facing blog post, the agency said that pilot tests had been conducted and subsequently ended at only two airports. Said Williams: “It then made some curious attempts at humor in dismissing privacy concerns”:

[O]ur adversaries seem to know every trick in the book when it comes to concealing dangerous items, and books have been used in the past to conceal prohibited items. We weren’t judging your books by their covers, just making sure nothing dangerous was inside.

In any case, the TSA says that as of today there is no systematic requirement for books to be scanned separately in any U.S. airport, nor does it currently have plans to implement any such procedure.

And where’s the funny part? I guess you had to be there.

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ODDS & ADDENDA

Pooh and TiggerThe August 4th issue of Entertainment Weakly carried its post San Diego Comic-Con report: nine (9, count ’em) pages about movie stars, but nowhere in this so-called “coverage” were “cartoonist” or “comics” mentioned, except the latter in the singular form of “Comic-Con.” ... Images of Winnie the Pooh have been blocked on social media sites in China because bloggers are jokingly comparing the plump bear to China’s president. ... The Society of Illustrators clubhouse at 128 East 63rd Street in New York mounted the first ever exhibition of original Spider-Man artwork by John Romita and other significant artists including Steve Ditko, Todd McFarlane, John Buscema, Ross Andru, Gil Kane, Ron Frenz, Keith Pollard, John Romita Jr. and others. The exhibit ran from June 6th through August 26th, 2017.

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

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.”

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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

MORE WATCHMEN TO WATCH?

WATCHMEN castDC Comics just can’t let well enough alone. After one mediocre attempt to expand the Watchmen universe by producing a “prequel” series about what Alan Moore’s superheroes did before the publication of the initial Watchmen, DC is apparently poised to try another approach to milking Moore’s sea-changing creation for all it’s worth. Apparently, saith Abraham Riesman at vulture.com, in this new incarnation, the Watchmen will cross-over to meet the superheroes of DC’s universe — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al.

It’s a project that could go very, very wrong, Riesman said. “Notice the lack of a ‘the’ in Moore’s title as it’s the key to understanding the potential disaster the story might turn out to be.”

At first glance, Riesman goes on, we may suppose that Moore’s book is about a team of superheroes called “the Watchmen.” But that team never shows up.

“There is no group by that name,” Riesman says. “The noun, as it turns out, is referring to Juvenal’s immortal question, ‘Quis custodiet ipsos custodes,’ one translation of which is, ‘Who watches the watchmen?’

“It’s a clever and disarming misdirect: instead of denoting the costumed crusaders in the novel, the title is critiquing them for their narcissistic decision to act as humanity’s unaccountable guardians — and critiquing us for our dreams about letting them do so. That’s sorta the whole point of Watchmen. Three decades after it debuted, it remains the gold standard for deconstructionist superhero stories, subverting the perverted power fantasies and harmful delusions of grandeur that we indulge in when we create or consume superhero fiction.”

DC is likely to miss that point, Riesman speculates, “treating the pointedly pathetic protagonists of Watchmen as just another super-team. In fact, it seems almost inevitable.”

And it will undercut and destroy the whole idea of Moore’s Watchmen, Riesman continues: “Moore ... [made] an epic that was free of the moralism and heroism of the mainstream DC universe. In the ecosystem of conventional superhero stories, the good guys always win, the bad guys always lose, and the moral gray areas are never that gray. That kind of approach is antithetical to the themes of Watchmen, in which the good guys are fuck-ups, sadists, and/or sociopaths whose personal failings wind up making them the bad guys. What’s more, their world mostly follows the laws and logic of our own, with only one character possessing actual superpowers — a fact that makes him horrifyingly pivotal in the fate of humanity.”

So what will happen when the “earnest do-gooders” of the DC universe meet “the tragic idiots? There are only two possibilities that I can imagine,” Riesman writes. “One is an extremely metatextual satire that finds humor in the eye-rolling notion of such an encounter. But that’s about as likely as Batman adding a tutu to his costume. Much more probable is a story that crassly capitalizes on 30 years of enthusiasm for and familiarity with Watchmen’s characters by throwing them into a serious, high-octane adventure alongside the kinds of figures they were designed to mock. The idea is perverse in its misguided, more-is-more shallowness.”

Riesman says he “struggles” to imagine “what anyone could do to make a worthwhile and respectful Watchmen tie-in. We should withhold critical judgment until the pudding is made, but I’m not holding out a lot of hope.”

Riesman 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

HAS CHARLIE GONE SOFT ON ISLAMIC HOOLIGANISM?

Charlie Hebdo cover 2015

One of Charlie Hebdo’s most outspoken journalists quit the satirical magazine at the end of 2016 because, she says, it has gone soft on Islamist extremism. AFP reports that “Zineb El Rhazoui accused the weekly of bowing to Islamist extremists and no longer daring to draw the Prophet Muhammad.” Said she in a damning interview with AFP: “Charlie Hebdo died on January 7” 2015, the day the gunmen attacked the magazine’s office, killing 12 people.

She said she felt Charlie Hebdo now follows the editorial line the extremists had demanded “before the attack — that Muhammad is no longer depicted.”

El Rhazoui, 35, who is followed everywhere by police bodyguards and is known as the most protected woman in France, also questioned the magazine’s “capacity to carry the torch of irreverence and absolute liberty.”

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

COMICS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS DO WELL IN 2016

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl coverLast year, reports Michael Cavna, the only area within adult fiction that increased in sales over 2015 was graphic novels. He quotes Publishers Weekly, which, citing Nielsen BookScan numbers, asserts: “The lone bright spot in fiction was comics and graphic novels, which had a 12% increase on the year.”

Fiction overall was nearly flat last year, dipping by 1 percent. There were “no breakout bestsellers” in adult fiction, PW reports, and almost “all fiction subcategories closed out the year lower than in 2015.” Yet amid this nearly across-the-board decline on the fiction side, comics were too popular to be denied.

At mid-year (last summer), Heidi MacDonald at publishersweekly.com reported that after a year of slipping sales and smaller lines in 2015, the comics industry was in a more upbeat mood at the 2016 Diamond Retailer Summit, held August 31-September2 in Baltimore by Diamond Comic Distributors, the main distributor for periodical comics and traditional comics publishers. ...

While sales have yet to fully recover from a shaky start in 2016— overall sales are down 2.2%— graphic novels are up 2.4%. Additionally, Diamond’s customer count is up 3.6%.

Periodical comics are down 2.6%, and merchandise down 1.6%. However, at a breakfast presentation, Diamond reps announced that sales had picked up over the summer, and by year's end they expect sales to stabilize.

The growth in graphic novels was remarked on by nearly every publisher. Mainstream authors Chuck Palahniuk and Margaret Atwood have had success at Dark Horse, said editor in chief Dave Marshall, at a state-of-the-industry panel. “More and more of our readers are preferring the collected [book] format.” ...

Much of this summer’s surge in sales is due to DC’s Rebirth event, a moderate revamp of its superhero comics line, which launched in April and has shipped over 12 million returnable units since then. The sales velocity of Rebirth has been even bigger than 2011’s New 52 (an earlier DC superhero revamp), with Rebirth showing a 76% rise in sales compared to New 52’s 47% rise.

DC hopes to continue the upswing with a Justice League vs Suicide Squad event — DC’s iconic superhero team battles DC’s bad-guys turned good-guys team—early in 2017, announced by co-publishers Dan DiDio and Jim Lee.

At Marvel, retail channels outside the direct market (local comic book stores) have had an impact, including Scholastic Book Fairs, where lighthearted Marvel characters such as Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur and The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl are sold. Marvel senior v-p of marketing and sales David Gabriel said Marvel is having its best year since he started at the company 14 years ago. The new Black Panther series by Ta-Nehisi Coates has also expanded the diversity of Marvel’s line, as well.

Other publishers saw a similarly rosy horizon.

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GRAPHIC NOVELS OFF THE NYT LISTS

GHOSTS  coverStarting February 5, the esteemed New York Times dropped graphic novels from its bestseller lists—i.e., Hardcover Graphic Books, Paperback Graphic Books and Manga. Among graphic novel publishers, this maneuver is seen as a serious blow to the future of graphic novel publication.

“In recent years, we introduced a number of new lists as an experiment, many of which are being discontinued,” New York Times VP-Communications Danielle Rhoades Ha said in an email to ICv2's Milton Griepp. “The discontinued lists did not reach or resonate with many readers.”

The graphic novel bestseller charts date to 2009, with George Gene Gustines of the Times marking the significance of the launch in the Arts Beat blog with the pronouncement that “Comics have finally joined the mainstream,” a cultural milestone for the comics medium.

“We read the ‘did not reach or resonate’ comment as ‘didn’t get enough clicks,’” wrote Griepp, “but note that publishers and comic creators have used the ‘New York Times bestseller’ moniker frequently as a way to provide a widely accepted measure of a title’s popularity. So even if direct traffic was less than the Times wants for the amount of labor it took to produce the lists, they certainly spread the brand and credibility of the Times to a broader audience.

“We see this as a retreat,” Griepp continued, “— by the most important publication in the U.S. from one of the fastest-growing and most influential parts of pop culture, even though [as promised] the Times may increase other forms of [graphic novel] coverage.”

According to Ha, “The change allows us to expand our coverage of these books in ways that we think will better serve readers and attract new audiences to the genres.”

But, saith Griepp, “The lack of understanding that comics are a medium, not a genre, is not reassuring. And even if there are more reviews and other coverage, there is no way that the number of titles affected by such reviews can ever come anywhere near the number of titles to which publishers were able to append ‘New York Times bestseller’ for the past eight years.

It’s an unfortunate event for the comics business, which has been growing (particularly in the graphic novel format, which, coupled to comics sales, topped $1 billion in sales in a recent report), and one sign of the seemingly inexorable forces that are pummeling the newspaper business at the Times and elsewhere.

“Regardless of the reasons for the move,” Griepp went on, “the impact on comics will be negative, particularly on the front lines of the medium’s battle for legitimacy, such as schools and libraries. And we find it hard to believe that it will ultimately be good for the New York Times.”

The decision apparently came directly from the Times book review editor Pamela Paul, who took to Twitter to defend her decision:

“Quick note to fellow comics/graphic novel fans: the Times is not cutting back on coverage of these genres/formats but rather expanding on coverage in ways that reach more readers than the lists did. To wit: new graphic reviews by comic artists, more reviews and more news and features about the genre and its creators. We are big fans, and want to recognize growing readership. Stay tuned.”

For an industry that has spent decades working its way into the mainstream, said Michael Cavna at Comic Riffs, “the death of the graphic-books lists feels like an odd setback that runs counter to recent trends. Just this month, Publishers Weekly reported that according to Nielsen BookScan numbers, all types of adult fiction books decreased in sales in 2016 — except for graphic novels, which increased 12 percent over 2015.”

Although all the comics publishers were troubled by the decision to cut the lists, said Calvin Reid at publishersweeky.com, “some publishers criticized their accuracy and were not especially worried that their elimination would hurt the category.

“Ted Jones, CEO of IDW Publishing, one of the largest independent comics and graphic novel publishers in the country, said he was disappointed to see the list go, but: ‘We liked being able to say something was a NYT best-seller but I don't know that it ever really impacted sales.’

The issue is discussed at even greater (not to say tedious) length in the Usual Place (RCHarvey.com, Rants & Raves, Opus 363).

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

KOMINSKY-CRUMB & CRUMB SHOW

A new show displays the work Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Robert Crumb have made over the decades of their partnership. At newrepublic.com, Josphine Livingstone begins her report: ‘As a woman with a big ass, I’ve always liked Robert Crumb. Those who are familiar with Crumb’s art only in passing will know him for the big, sturdy, sexualized women he drools over in his comics. ‘Nice big legs!’ one drawing reads, next to an arrow pointing to some nice, big legs. Crumb draws himself as a paltry little nerd, sometimes clinging to the legs of an enormous woman, his eyes hidden completely behind bottle-bottom glasses. Flecks of saliva tend to fly across the paradigmatic Crumb page.”

Although he is the better known of the two, Livingstone continues, “Crumb has been married for 40 years to the equally talented comics artist Aline Kominsky-Crumb. A new exhibition at David Zwirner gallery in New York City (previously on view at the Cartoonmuseum Basel) displays the work they have made together and separately over the decades of their partnership.”

Sorry: I beg to differ. Aline Kominsky-Crumb is not anywhere near as talented a cartoonist as her husband. She has an underground cartoonist’s sensibility, but she can’t draw worth a toot, as we can plainly see in the picture at the lower right, of the cover of their Drawn Together that shows both cartoonists seated on a couch, self-portraits of each. And next to that, at the left, another Kominsky-Crumb self-portrait. Above these two is a more illuminating visual — a photograph of the happy couple.

CrumbCrumb

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GARFIELD IS A BOY

Wikipedia’s editors have apparently be arguing about the orange cat’s sex. The controversy, saith the Associated Press, began a couple years ago after Garfield’s creator Jim Davis told a viral content site Mental Floss that as a cat, Garfield is “not really male or female.” By which he meant, I think, that as a cartoon character, Garfield, like all cartoon characters, “is not perceived as being any particular gender, race, age or ethnicity ... so the humor can be enjoyed by a broader demographic.” But that was enough to send fans off into the outer reaches.

Davis has now set the record straight, telling the Washington Post that Garfield is male and has a girlfriend named Arlene.

Garfield in repose

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BELL WINS BERRYMAN -- AND MORE

Darrin Bell of the Washington Post News Service and Syndicate is the winner of the 2016 Clifford K. and James T. Berryman Award for Editorial Cartoons. He went to Washington to receive the award and reported on a memorable experience there, visiting the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture.

DarrinBell

He began by admitting that he was nervous about his pending speech before thousands of journalists. He and his wife and daughter planned to visit the Lincoln Memorial before the presentation ceremony, but en route, they stopped at the Smithsonian’s African American Museum.

Darrin Bell self-portrait“I won’t describe what we witnessed in that museum,” Bell said. “I’m sure you can find descriptions elsewhere, but I think it’s something that’s so powerful, and so personal, that it shouldn’t be spoiled. There is something in there that’s going to stop you in mid-step and make you feel more than you thought you would. And that something is different for everyone. ... But I will say this: there comes a point, after you’ve literally risen through the centuries of struggle, persecution, and contributions of slaves and their descendants, where there’s a reflection room. You sit by a fountain that rains down from the high ceiling and come to terms with everything you’ve just seen. … Or you try to.

“I’m the great great great grandson of slaves whose contributions to America were ignored and lost to history. And here I was in the nation’s capital, about to accept an award for my contribution to the national conversation. One of the least important realizations I experienced in that reflection room was that compared to everything I’d just seen, standing up before thousands of people and saying a few words was nothing at all.”

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

PREZ

Prez coverMark Russell’s satirical comic book Prez, about the first woman teenage president of the U.S., was supposed to return last October with six more issues that would complete the 12-issue series. But those issues were cancelled, ICv2 reported last summer. Instead, a 12-page winding-up Prez Election Special was supposed to arrive in November.

No official reason was offered for the change, and perhaps poor sales had some influence, but Steve Bennett (Confessions of a Comic Book Guy) speculates that “given the nearly hysterical political mood of the country as we move ever closer to this year’s presidential election, you can’t discount the possibility that Time Warner just didn’t want to seem to take any sort of political stance (especially with so many people busy online comparing one of the current candidates to former President Lex Luthor).”

Prez finally showed up as a backup story in Catwoman Election Night No.1 in November, and there, it fizzled out sadly but brilliantly, the last appearance of this happy frolic of a political satire funnybook.

Herein, Russell takes on gun control (or, in this case, lack of it) and women’s reproductive rights, linking them for one of the niftiest wrap-ups you can imagine.

The opening gun segment ends with the deaths of several open-carry advocates when the police can’t tell who the rogue shooter is. So much for the advisability of arming everyone: everyone armed is everyone a target — and everyone a shooter.

Later, Prez Beth is defeated in an attempt to control gun violence by limiting access to ammunition. “The Second Amendment,” she points out, “guarantees the right to bear arms, but it doesn’t say anything about ammunition. I mean, as long as we’re interpreting it exactly as it was written...,” she concludes satirically.

But Russell gets in one final jab: birth control pills, which Beth’s Congress wants to outlaw, are finally permitted when they are shaped like bullets that can actually be fired from a gun rather than taken orally.

Too bad there won’t be more of this caliber comedy in the future. Apparently at DC Comics, George S. Kaufman’s famous saying “Satire closes on Saturday night” is as accurate ever.

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

NEW YORKER'S BLISS GOES RECLUSE

Henry Bliss photo

The former New Hampshire home of the famously reclusive author J.D. Salinger was bought recently by Harry Bliss, a New Yorker cartoonist and former board member at the Centre for Cartoon Studies. The house is adjoined by a studio apartment (reached through a tunnel from the main property that enabled Salinger to go back and forth without being seen) which Bliss thought might be a good space to have young artists come and use whilst studying at the Centre, presumably. “The idea of nurturing a graphic novelist -- I’m so into it,” Bliss said, “ — this idea that you could go somewhere and be away from everything and have that intimacy with your work.”

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BLACK LIGHTNING ON THE TUBE

Black Lightning has found a home at the CW after a brief dalliance with Fox, which opted not to proceed with a pilot. The TV series is being produced by Greg Berlanti, who has also has a hand in Supergirl, Arrow, The Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, and Riverdale. The series is being written by the husband-and-wife duo of Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil. One of DC’s first African American superheroes, Black Lightning was created by Tony Isabella and Trevor Von Eden. The television show would also mark the first major Black superhero for the CW’s lineup. No release date was revealed.

Black Lightning - The CW

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BARENEKIDWIMMIN RETURN TO PLAYBOY

After a year of comparative decorum — proclaiming its issues free of total female nudity (a borderline serious misrepresentation) — Playboy has brought naked ladies back to the magazine. But it has not restored the other feature that it discontinued with the March 2016 issue. Cartoons. It’s a tragic shame. Playboy did more than any other magazine to elevate the art of single-panel magazine cartooning with its full-page color cartoons. And now the magazine has seemingly abandoned its legacy, and magazine cartoonists have only one other prestigious outlet — The New Yorker, which, alas, no longer publishes full-page single-panel cartoons.

 

NYer Cartoon Issue cover 12-15-97

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PRINCE VAL IS 80

By Brian M. Kane

Hal Foster photoBefore television, when most films were still black and white, the Sunday comics were an oasis of color in a Depression-era gray world. Highly popular comic strips drove newspaper sales in the early 20th century, so it is little wonder that their creators were regarded as celebrities. The epic Prince Valiant in the Days of King Arthur by Harold Rudolf “Hal” Foster premiered in the color comics section on February 13, 1937.

Prior to Prince Valiant, Foster originated the adult-protagonist adventure strip genre by adapting Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan as a black and white daily strip in 1928, which was followed by the Tarzan color Sunday feature from 1931-1937.

Yeates photoFaced with imposing financial and creative constraints as a work-for-hire artist, Foster focused his considerable skills as an illustrator toward producing his own strip. The extraordinary effort resulted in international prominence for both Prince Valiant and Foster. Today, after 80 years, “Val” remains one of the few adventure strip characters still in print, now being expertly drawn by Tom Yeates.

Fitnoot: For all of Kane’s commemorative article, plus brilliantly colored illustrations from the strip, visit kingfeatures.com/2017/02/prince-valiant-turns-80/

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THE SPIRIT JOINED TRACY TO FIGHT CRIME

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, WILL EISNER!

Dick Tracy logo panelMike Curtis (writer) and Joe Staton (artist) keep bringing into their Dick Tracy more and more walk-ons by characters from other strips. The most recent completed adventure, which has Will Eisner’s the Spirit partnering with Tracy, also saw the arrival of Daddy Warbucks and Mr. Am from Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie, and Hotshot Charlie and the Dragon Lady from Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates. There were so many guest appearances that the plot often wanders off into a weedy vacant lot next door, a typical outcome when a parade of cameo actors goes by because each requires some background explanation or a few minutes in the spotlight alone.

Curtis reached out to Denis Kitchen to arrange for The Spirit’s appearance to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Eisner’s birth; as Kitchen & Hansen Agency, Kitchen represents Will Eisner Studios, the family-owned entity that controls Eisner’s intellectual property. Acting for the estate of Al Capp, Kitchen had earlier brokered the Fearless Fosdick/Dick Tracy crossover.

With the end of the Spirit story, Staton is taking off for a few weeks to complete another project that he committed to before picking up the Tracy gig — an encore appearance of E-Man, a comic book superhero that he and Nick Cuti created years ago. In his absence, Tracy will be drawn by Shelly Pleger, who is the regular inker and letterer on the strip. Pleger’s continuity has something to do with cosplaying at comic cons, and at the beginning some other antique Tribune Syndicate characters show up — Harold Teen and his buddy Shadow from Carl Ed’s Harold Teen.

TracySpirit

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PEANUTS FOR SALE?

Peanuts Group 3-DReuters reports that the U.S. brand management company Iconix Brand Group Inc is exploring a sale of its majority stake in Peanuts Worldwide LLC, which owns the rights to cartoon strip characters Snoopy and Charlie Brown, according to people familiar with the matter.

Created by Charles Schulz and licensed in over 100 countries, the characters generate about $30 million in 12-month earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, the source added. They declined to comment on the expected deal valuation — and they cautioned that there was no certainty that any deal at all would occur. So why report this?

Because if true, it means big bucks for someone.

In 2015, Twenty-First Century Fox Inc released “The Peanuts Movie,” which was nominated for a Golden Globe award and grossed $246 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo (quoted by Reuters), a website that tracks the revenue that movies generate. Iconix logoPeanuts' largest international market is Japan, where a new Snoopy museum opened last year.

Iconix, which also owns clothing brand Joe Boxer and outdoor wear brand London Fog, purchased an 80 percent stake in Peanuts in 2010 from U.S. media company E.W. Scripps Co in a deal valued at $175 million. The remaining 20 percent is owned by Charles M. Schulz Creative Associates, which is controlled by the Schulz family.

But if “sources” aren’t prepared to vouch for the veracity of their own rumors, we can safely disregard this whole blurb.           

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

UPWARD TO ENHANCED MAINSTREAM STATUS

EW Defenders coverNow it’s official: comics are a legitimate part of mainstream popular culture. Entertainment Weekly is our guide. The Defenders (Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, Daredevil and Iron Fist) were on the cover of the January 20 issue; and the next week, TV’s “Supergirl” and funnybooks’ Patsy Walker: AKA Hellcat were numbers 4 and 5 of the week’s Must List—“the things we love this week.” Then a few weeks later, the movie about Marvel’s Thor was a cover feature. And so it goes. Validation.

Then the February 6 issue of Time magazine did a two-page serious review of “Riverdale,” the “dark” TV version of the Archie Universe. How dark? Archie is getting over an affair with his music teacher; and a murder is afoot. Time is a supposedly serious newsmagazine; EW is cake and cool whip. After Time coverage of Archie, we need look no further for the ultimate validation.

But it goes on. The following week, Time took up the matter of National Book Award winner Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writing comic books — specifically, Black Panther. And when Coates produced a story Black Panther & The Crew with Black Lives Matter symbolism, Coates responded to a question: “This is in the air. It’s not like I looked at a Black Lives Matter protest and said, ‘Hey, I want to write a comic book about that.’ But you’re confronted with it every EW Thor coverday. So when I sat down to think about what is this story with four black protagonists about, that rose up. The events of the day are with me.

“These issues are all over comic books,” he continued, “— and particularly throughout the history of Marvel. What weighs on me is reading X-Men as a child. They were charged. They dealt with discrimination. They dealt with being an outsider. They dealt with the things that I was feeling. The comics I’ve always read have always had a philosophical thread. The Black Panther books are not just a story about a king trying to rule. I’m trying to answer other questions, philosophical questions, social questions.”

Time accompanied the interview with sidebars about “comics we can’t wait for” — Motor Crush, Steven Universe, Batwoman (“perhaps the highest-profile queer superhero”), Extremity, and America (“queer Latina superhero America Chavez gets her own comic”), all illustrating the premise that “comic books have become ground zero for new kinds of heroes.”

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

STAN LEE'S OKAY

Stan Lee got fans all in a swivet over the past few weeks. He has cancelled appearances at a few conventions, including Big Apple Comic Con and Salt Lake Comic Con FanX, due to health issues. But, at 95, he’s bound to have some off-days. In any event, he has taken to Facebook to let fans know his health is improving: “Been feeling almost back up to snuff,” he posted. “So time to send out the battle cry: Excelsior!”

Stan Lee Excelsior! photo

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RUBEN BOLLING WINS HERBLOCK PRIZE

The Herblock Foundation's press release:

Ruben Bolling, pen name for Ken Fisher, has been named the winner of the 2017 Herblock Prize for editorial cartooning for his weekly page-size comic-strip format cartoon Tom the Dancing Bug, a free-format cartoon that uses varying types of humor, artistic styles and formats. It’s an unusual strip in that in any given week, it could feature a spoof, a multi-panel sketch, political or absurdist humor, recurring characters or caricatures of real people. But during 2016, political subject matter was at its heart, as it mostly dealt with the election and the rise to power of Donald Trump.TomBug

In any year, it would be an unusual — that is, unconventional — choice for an award typically given to the time-honored editorial page single-panel commentary cartoon.

Judges for this year’s contest were Mark Fiore, editorial cartoonist in animation and winner of the 2016 Herblock Prize; Matt Wuerker, editorial cartoonist for Politico and 2010 Herblock Prize winner; and Martha Kennedy, curator of Popular and Applied Graphic Art at the Library of Congress.

Fiore said: “Ruben Bolling’s cartoons are consistently sharp, funny and incredibly original. His use of recurring characters, like Hollingsworth Hound and Lucky Ducky, add a wonderfully inventive richness to his masterful satire. Bolling’s deft skewering operates under the cover of silly cartoon fun.”

Said Wuerker: “Ruben Bolling created his own unique style of political cartoon, one that’s full of sly allusions and clever twists. Tom the Dancing Bug pushed the form into new territory with imaginative tropes, deft imagery and provocative allegory. He makes his political points with a humor and writing style that’s fresh and singularly his own.”

In his strip, Bolling repeatedly demonstrates his concern about the power of large corporations, saith St. Wikipedia, and satirizes the way government has been corrupted by money. Particularly since 9/11, Bolling's work often concerns war. Many of his strips admit no political interpretation, instead featuring absurdist humor or parodying comic strip conventions. Bolling's lampoons of celebrity culture, such as in the parodic series of comic strips labeled "Funny, Funny, Celebs," can be scathing.

It was while attending Harvard in the mid-1980s that Fisher came up with the idea for Tom the Dancing Bug and his pseudonym, Ruben Bolling (which is a melding of the names of two favorite old-time baseball players, Ruben Amaro and Frank Bolling). The strip originally ran in the Harvard Law School Record. More about Bolling and the history of the strip can be found in the usual place, RCHarvey.com.

You can see more examples of the Bug that Dances by Googling “Tom the Dancing Bug.” Happy hunting.

This year’s Finalist (runner-up) is Marty Two Bulls Sr., a freelance Oglala Dakota cartoonist who has drawn editorial cartoons for the Indian Country Today Media Network since 2001. He will receive a $5,000 after-tax cash prize. Fiore commented: “The cartoons of Marty Two Bulls, Sr. take a hard-hitting look at issues impacting native peoples. His bold style screams with powerful messages that have been overlooked by much of society. Two Bulls’ strong work exemplifies a courage and ferocity that is the lifeblood of a good political cartoon.”

TwoBulls

The Herblock Prize is awarded annually by the Herb Block Foundation for “distinguished examples of editorial cartooning that exemplify the courageous independent standard set by Herblock.” The winner receives a $15,000 after-tax cash prize and a sterling silver Tiffany trophy. Bolling will receive the Prize on March 29th in a ceremony held at the Library of Congress. Representative John Lewis, the U.S. Representative for Georgia's 5th congressional district, will deliver the annual Herblock Lecture at the awards ceremony.

Donald and John

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READ AND RELISH

Inscribed on a baseball cap:

"I am your leader. Which way did they go?"

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NEW CREDIT FOR WONDER WOMAN?

Secret History of Wonder Woman coverEllie Collins is mustering the feminist and otherwise caring troops to add a name or two to the credit line identifying the creator of star-spangled Amazon. Now that Jill Lepore’s Secret History of Wonder Woman has told the whole world about William Moulton Marston and his two live-in lovers, his wife Elizabeth Holloway and his one-time student Olive Byrne — all members of a “sex cult” that practiced free love and advocated the superiority of women — it’s time to admit, as Lepore apparently does, that Holloway had a role in developing a comic book superheroine. Ditto Byrne.

So Collins would like the credit line to read: Wonder Woman created by William Moulton Marston and Elizabeth Holloway Marston — maybe even adding on the end, “with Olive Byrne.” I assume that this proposal is timed to get the credit on the big screen when the Wonder Woman movie debuts. So where’s H.G. Peter, the guy who created WW’s look? I mean, if you wanna be inclusive in portioning out credit, let’s be all-inclusive and not overlook the most visible aspects of a visual artform.

Secret History of Wonder Woman image

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THE NIB : ONLINE WITH DECIDEDLY IRREVERENT EDITOONS

Matt Bors photoFirst Look Media has partnered with award-winning cartoonist Matt Bors on his irreverent online comics publication, The Nib. Formerly part of the online platform Medium, reported Alan Gardner at DailyCartoonist.com, The Nib re-launched last summer through First Look Media as an independent daily publication and online newsletter.

Created and edited by Pulitzer Prize finalist and Herblock Prize for Excellence in Cartooning winner Bors, The Nib (it sez here) “delivers engaging and provocative social commentary in the form of political cartoons, comics journalism, and non-fiction writing from a diverse team of contributors. As part of the First Look family of media properties, The Nib will continue its distinctive approach to storytelling with enhanced distribution platforms to bring its irreverent content to more people in more ways. The partnership is part of First Look Media’s mission to support independent voices and to help them reach and expand their audiences.”

The Nib logo

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NEW SCHOLARLY ASSOCIATION FORMING

INKS Vol 1 Number 1 coverThe Comics Studies Society, a new professional association for comics researchers and teachers to promote the critical study and teaching of comics both within and without the academy, started recruiting members last spring.

A learned society open to scholars across the disciplines and from diverse backgrounds, CSS is the first U.S.-based comics studies organization to be supported by members’ dues while advocating for professional development, teaching, and the expansion of resources for comics research. Founding memberships are now available at various levels: students, comics professionals, independent scholars, contingent faculty, tenure-line faculty, librarians, curators, and academic administrators. Dues vary: $25 for students; $30 for independent scholars or contingent faculty; $50 cartoonists/comics professionals; $100 for tenure-line faculty, administrators, librarians, or curators. Visit http://www.comicssociety.org/members

A journal will be launched in 2017. Until then, members will receive The Best of Inks Series 1 collection, featuring a selection of the best essays from the pioneering comics studies journal of the early 1990s, edited by Lucy Shelton Caswell and with an all-star cast of collaborators (including yrs trly, your faithful reporter).

The CSS is open to anyone with a serious interest in comics studies, which it defines liberally to include the study and critical analysis of comic strips; comic books, papers, and magazines; graphic novels, albums, and other graphic books; webcomics and other electronic formats; single-panel cartoons, including editorial and gag cartoons; caricature; animation; and other related forms and traditions. All types of sequential art, graphic narrative, and cartooning are relevant to the Society’s mission.

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IRAN'S BETE NOIR IS BACK AT THE DRAWING BOARD

You’d think that Atena Farghadani, after spending 18 humiliating and brutalizing months in prison for caricaturing the Iranian Parliament, would, upon her release last summer, retire quietly to the comforts of her home. But she didn’t. Instead, she went on Facebook with a new cartoon taking aim at the state-run women’s university that expelled her after she was arrested. Maren Williams at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund filed the ensuing report:

The president of Alzahra University, where Farghadani was studying art, is Ensieh Khazali — the daughter of a hardline ayatollah who died last year. In the new caricature, Farghadani depicts Khazali as a Yoda-like gremlin with bird feet chained to a throne bearing her father’s likeness, suggesting that the university is constrained by the most repressive elements of Iran’s theocracy.

Farghadani was first arrested in August 2014 for her cartoon mocking members of Parliament as they debated a bill to ban voluntary sterilization procedures, such as vasectomies and tubal ligations, in an effort to reverse Iran’s falling birthrate. But even before her arrest, she was already well-known to the government for her fearless advocacy on behalf of political prisoners, Baha’i minorities, and the families of protesters killed after the country’s presidential election in 2009.

When at the end of 2014, Farghadani was released on bail while awaiting trial, she promptly uploaded a video to YouTube detailing abuses she suffered in prison including beatings, strip searches, and non-stop interrogations. She was rearrested in January 2015 and finally received the draconian sentence of 12 years and 9 months after a perfunctory jury-less trial in late May 2015. Last year, she was honored with the 2015 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from CRNI.

She was finally released last spring after some charges were dismissed on appeal and the rest of her sentence was reduced to 18 months, which she had already served.

Also last year, Farghadani was additionally charged with “non-adultery illegitimate relations” for shaking the hand of her lawyer Mohammad Moghimi while he was visiting her in prison. Contact between unrelated members of the opposite sex is technically illegal in Iran, but rarely prosecuted. Moghimi was also charged, and both parties could have received sentences of up to 99 lashes if convicted.

Both were acquitted in January 2016, but in the course of the investigation Farghadani was involuntarily subjected to virginity and pregnancy tests. The specious virginity test is carried out by physically checking for the presence of a hymen, and is recognized by the World Health Organization as a form of sexual violence.

Mere minutes after her release last summer, Farghadani sent a short video to the activist Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom,” where Iranian women post pictures of themselves without hijab. Here (in italics) is her brief but powerful message, according to the English subtitles on the video:

Some people think that art is not important, but the responsibility of an artist is to challenge authority and to be challenged. Sometimes the price for an artist is imprisonment, but do not forget that artists have responsibilities.

Farghadani’s fearless advocacy for human rights and freedom of expression is a continuing source of inspiration!

AtenaFreed

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COMICS AGAINST VIOLENCE

From the press release:

Nancy SilberkleitNancy Silberkleit, co-CEO and co-Publisher of Archie Comics, is using the power of comics to open a dialogue on gun violence. Published last spring, See Something, Say Something is an eight-page comic book that tells the story of a teen who is new at a school and is shunned and bullied by a group of students. He struggles with the turmoil and cannot find inner peace, which causes him to bring disharmony to the school. He tells another student of his plan to get even, which involves violence to others.

“I began working on this project at the beginning of this year,” said Silberkleit, whose Rise Above Social Issues Foundation has published comics on bullying and self-esteem. “After the horrific shooting in a church in South Carolina, United States last winter, I put the project on fast-track. Never could I have thought I would be suggesting that our educators present the unthinkable issue of ‘gun violence’ for classroom instruction. The story underscores the need to take action to bring about change, in this case to educate young people about dealing with anger and the need to say something if you see or hear something that could portend a problem.”

See Something, Say Something was scripted by noted U.S. educational consultant and scriptwriter Peter Gutierrez, with pencil illustrations by Loyiso Mkize from Cape Town, South Africa. The story has a five page teaching guide, free for teachers who purchase the digital comic.

Silberkleit, a former teacher, said the new book is designed to provide teachers with a platform to spark discussion among young people on the issue of keeping their educational environment safe.

“Like all of us, teens are looking for ways to explain and understand episodes of mass violence that too often capture the headlines,” she said. “The text and rich graphics of the comic create a stage for students to think creatively, internalize feelings and share them through open discussions in a classroom setting.”

Copies of See Something, Say Something are available digitally for $1.99. To order contact Nancy Silberkleit at riseabovesocialissues@gmail.com or call (+1) 914 450 9880.

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STAN ON PARADE

“His name is the first name you think of when you think of Marvel” — an undeniable truth, no doubt. But for all his fame, Stan Lee hasn’t, until lately, been on the cover of Parade, the newspaper supplement that blankets the world on Sunday mornings.

StanParade

The cover story offers several insights into The Man, so we’re culling the best of them here—:

“Every day is a new adventure,” Lee says, and he’s never gone dry. “You can’t run out of ideas. You look at anything, you get an idea. I look at that telephone. If I look at it long enough, I’ll think of a story.”

But Lee doesn’t live in the past, and while he doesn’t mind talking about his many creations, he’s much more interested in what’s coming next.

For instance, when asked about what superpower he would most like to possess, he says “luck,” and immediately launches into talk about the show airing on British television called Stan Lee’s Lucky Man, which he says will be adapted for American TV sometime soon. ...

Last summer, Lee unveiled Nitron, a new comic-book character franchise targeted at feature films, TV and digital platforms, and launched Stan Lee’s Cosmic Crusaders, an animated online series in partnership with the Hollywood Reporter and Genius Brands International, in which a version of himself makes regular appearances.

When asked which three of his superheroes he would like to have dinner with, he takes a moment to think the question through. “I’d probably enjoy talking to Iron Man,” he says. “I’d like to talk to Doctor Strange. I like the Silver Surfer. Iron Man is sort of a classier Donald Trump, if you can imagine that sort of thing. The Silver Surfer is always philosophical; he comments about the world and man’s position in the universe, why we don’t enjoy living on this wonderful planet and why we don’t help each other.”

To Lee, his characters are real, and that’s the way he wrote them, with human foibles and frailties. He learned how from his youthful passion for reading. In his working-class upbringing in New York City, reading offered him both escape and something to reach for. Charles Dickens was a particular favorite, as were tales of adventure and derring-do.

“I wanted to be like the Scarlet Pimpernel,” he says. “I wanted to be like Tarzan.”

He remembers the personal connection he felt when he read the Jerry Todd and Poppy Ott books, precursors to the Hardy Boys series, featuring young detectives and a message from the author on each closing page.

“I loved that,” he says, and he remembered that feeling when he became a comic-book editor years later. “I wanted the readers to feel as if we’re friends. I did the Stan’s Soap Box column, just so the readers would get to know me.

“A lot of people that I meet now, older people, have said to me, ‘We love the fact that when we read the comics as a kid, they weren’t written for children only.’” ...

No wonder he can still keep those ideas coming and keep his superpowers focused on the next superproject.

Fitnoot: I’ve never heard of Nitron, and I suspect that many of Lee’s newest ideas for comic books and superheroes are so rooted in the past and the cultural milieu of the 1960s and 1970s that they’ll never be taken to the hearts of 2016 fans. —RCH, the old wet blanket his ownself

 

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WHITHER THE SIMPSONS?

David-silvermanOn a Sunday last fall, October 16, “The Simpsons celebrated its 600th episode, just 35 airings shy of the record for the most episodes of an American scripted prime-time show held by “Gunsmoke.” And this achievement prompted Michael Cavna at ComicRiffs.com to wonder: so when is the show finally going to ride off into the Springfield sunset?

“Never!” replies a laughing David Silverman, the longtime “Simpsons” producer who has been there since the very beginning, animating the interstitial shorts when the Simpsons debuted in 1987 on “The Tracey Ullman Show.”

“We don’t want it to end,” he says. ‘Keep it going!’ 600? I say: ‘1,000! Do I hear 2,000!'”

For the sake of comparison, as well as inspiration, Silverman cites the run of Looney Tunes, the classic animated comedy shorts from Warner Bros that spanned 1930 to 1969.

David Silverman drawing“It wasn’t that they were running out of ideas, per se,” says Silverman, citing Tex Avery’s Oscar-nominated “A Wild Hare” (1940) as the pinnacle of Looney Tunes animation. “They just ran out of a delivery system."

The Warner Bros. Cartoons studio closed as the ’70s dawned, marking the end of the “golden age” of animation.

“For ‘The Simpsons,’ so far, we haven’t run out of the delivery system,” notes Silverman, whose show holds the record for most seasons (27) of an American scripted prime-time show, with the renewal already announced for season 28.“I don’t know what’s going to happen to the future of home entertainment,” he continues, “but I think there’s always going to be some aspect of the big TV screen.”

“I don’t know why you’d stop it,” says Silverman of “The Simpsons,” which was co-created by Matt Groening, James L. Brooks and the late Sam Simon. “We’re having a great time.”

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

TRUMP AND TRUDEAU

In 1987, when Garry Trudeau first began ridiculing Donalt Rump, his presidential ambitions, and his soaring ego, said Michael Cavna at Comic Riffs, the real estate mogul was  flattered at Doonesbury’s attention. Later, maybe not so much, as Trudeau ridiculed him over his treatment of wives and other women, employees and other underlings — and, in general, most anyone (everyone?) he deemed beneath him.

Said Trump on one occasion in late 1988 when it was beginning, finally — after more than a year — to get to him: “There are 210 million people in this country. Why’s he have to keep putting me in his strip month after month?”

“Actually,” Trump said as Trudeau’s persecution of him continued, “I don’t read his stuff. You know, I did pretty well in school, but for the life of me, I still can’t understand what Doonesbury is all about.           

“They say Trudeau is somewhat clever,” the Trumpet continued, “but I’d venture to say that most people are like me: they don’t comprehend what Trudeau’s trying to achieve with Doonesbury either.”

“He’s always been impossible to ignore,” Trudeau told Cavna in an interview posted on last summer (July 5, when Chris Christie was still a viable possibility). “It’s like having a big, clanking cowbell installed in your head. I’ve just written four Sundays in a row about Trump, which is insane.

“I figured he’d eventually run,” Trudeau went on, "especially after he got a taste of double-digit poll numbers with his birther campaign. But I also assumed he’d quickly drop out after he’d maximized the promotional value.”

Said Cavna: “It’s easy to forget that many of the headlines surrounding Donald Trump’s current campaign were strikingly foreshadowed. But a stroll down the past three decades of Doonesbury can read like a road map to the billionaire’s 2016 candidacy.”

Then he lists the checkpoints:

A Trump run for president? Check. Doonesbury first had that covered nearly 30 years ago.

Campaign references to Trump as sexual being? Double-check. The comic strip was dishing that satire back in the last millennium.

Trump University shenanigans? You betcha. Cartoonist Trudeau was on the case more than a decade ago.

And Trudeau’s new book, Yuge! 30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump shows the degree to which The Donald himself has been telling us for decades what was on his long horizon. Herewith, we cull excerpts from Cavna’s interview with Trudeau.

“By 1987,” Trudeau said to Cavna, “he’d already made himself a risible figure in New York. But he was completely harmless, fodder for Spy magazine. The ads were the first ‘uh-oh’ moment and my response was a kind of reflexive, prophylactic slap-down. The grandiosity was so over-the-top that it would have been comedy malpractice to ignore it. Of course, now we know he was playing the long game. I’m sorry I missed that.”

Cavna: You call Trump an “a–hole.” Are a–holes any easier to satirize — kind of like how good actors are drawn to playing villains?

Trudeau: Absolutely. “A–hole” has a very particular meaning, one that is universally understood. The a–hole is a demeaning, abrasive bully who takes all the credit and assigns all the blame to others. In my lifetime, we’ve had several presidents who’ve disappointed us; we’ve had a crook, a warmonger, some philanderers, but we’ve never actually had a president who’s a total a–hole. This is where I fundamentally got it wrong; I assumed that the body politic would reject such a toxic personality. It’s also why I thought Chris Christie would fail to get traction. Now we face the distinct possibility of having not just one, but two a–holes on the same ticket. That’s how I much I know about politics.

Cavna: Has anything about Trump’s rise as a candidate changed your sense of much of the electorate?

Trudeau: Yes. I never imagined they could be so easily conned. Here’s what the people who love Trump don’t understand: he doesn’t love them back. I figured they’d be on to him by now. These are folks who feel anxious and left behind by the new economy. Many are struggling. Trump has a word for such people: losers. And he’s never had time for losers. He doesn’t have time to sit in their kitchens and go to their barbecues and listen to their problems. True, losers in the aggregate — say 12,000 at a time — get him to where he wants to be. But he’s always one squirt of Purell away from getting back on his plane so he can sleep in his penthouse. Never has an electorate been held in more contempt by its putative champion.

Cavna: What is your single favorite aspect about Trump for cartoon skewering?

Trudeau: Probably his use of language. An analysis by USA Today concluded that he uses a fourth-grade vocabulary in his speeches, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t inventive. Who else uses phrases like “nasty with lies” or “win with the military” or “that I can tell you”? I don’t do much to tweak his speech mannerisms — I’m more of a stenographer — but there is some art to reconfiguring it for satiric purposes...

Drawing Trump is a journey, not a destination. I’ve been trying to reverse-engineer his hair ever since it was brown, well before he set it on fire to run for president. All cartoonists draw Trump differently because we each have a different understanding of how he achieves his effects, especially now that he’s of a certain age. He’s been melting for some time now, so we’re now down to hulking, gilded bloat and it ain’t pretty. But someone has to draw it.

Cavna: Among the many political candidates you’ve covered and mocked over 46 years, where does Trump rank in that illustrious field?

Trudeau: I can’t really compare Trump to other political figures because they’re all relatively normal human beings. Trump, on the other hand, is an actual toon, and I’ve always treated him as such. He’s just another character in my strip, and the rest of the cast regard him as a peer. I didn’t have to change a thing.

Dbury 7-10-16

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