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THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING PLAYBOY

Playboy June cover Hugh Hefner, we learn in March 27's Entertainment Weekly, is selling the mansion next door to the Playboy mansion, about which EW scribe Scott Brown quips: “It’s expected to be purchased immediately by an international consortium of 14-year-old boys.” The National Cartoonists Society held its annual awards dinner in Hollywood over Memorial Day weekend. I had hoped that the Society would be able to arrange again, as it once did for a previous Reubens celebration in Lala Land, a soiree at the Playboy Mansion. I hoped in vain: some wag said NCS has fallen Hefner’s esteem. Hef, a lifetime frustrated cartoonist, apparently misses the “old” NCS, the one that’s members included such giants as Milton Caniff, Rube Goldberg, Chester Gould, Chic Young, and so on. Hef is also poorer now than he’s been for a while: Playboy apparently feels the crunching economy too — declining circulation and advertising; all this time, I thought sex and barenekkidwimmin never went out of style no matter what economists say. In any case, Hef probably doesn’t think he can afford new girlfriends and a evening of heavily imbibing cartoonists. Well, if you had to choose, what would you pick?

And there are other signs of quiet desperation at the rabbit hutch. The last three issues of Playboy, beginning with April’s, have run 122, 116 and 126 pages, compared to the monster issues of yore when 180-240 pages was the norm. The number of cartoons in each issue is also diminishing: respectively, 5, 6, and 4 full-page color cartoons in the last three issues; 7, 6, and 8 smaller cartoons in the back of the book, plus, usually Bobby London’s Dirty Duck and that full-page stylish triumph of a strip by Juan Alvarez and Jorge G.— both of which were missing from the May issue. On average, that’s one full-page cartoon for every 24 pages in the April issue; 1:19 in May, and 1:32 in June, which means, as a purely mathematical proposition, you’d go 32 pages in June before seeing a full-page cartoon; then another 32 before encountering another. In the bygone glory days of the 1990s, the ratio was 1:23-26; last year, it was about the same, due to the diminishing total number of pages. In short, while the ratio of full-page color cartoons to the page count remains more-or-less constant, the total number of cartoons is dropping, keeping cadence with the decrease in the number of pages in each issue.

But I was right about barenekkidwimmin: Playboy’s page count may be dropping, but the number of pages devoted to the unadorned curvaceous epidermis remains about the same. Sadly, however, the magazine’s layout, once unique and distinctive, is indiscernible from any of the laddie mags on the stands. They all look alike inside.

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

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