« March 2014 | Main | May 2014 »


By Peyo
6.5 x 9
65 pages

On the heels of its success with Peyo’s blue-skinned woodland dwarfs (15 Smurf titles out at present), NBM Publishing’s Papercutz imprint is delving into the rest of the Peyo canon with this title, the first of his Benny Breakiron stories. In his native European climes, Benny is known as Benoit Brisefer, translated loosely as “Benedict Ironbreaker.” (Or maybe not. Brise means “broken” in French; and briser means “to break”, hence, probably “Benny Breaker”). In England, he’s Tommy Tuff; elsewhere, Steven Strong.

Benny1By any of these names, however, the character is the same — a “weedy” little boy, perhaps 10-11 years old, who habitually wears a black beret and a blue scarf around his neck and is as strong as Superman — a kinship emphasized on the cover of the book retailing his first adventure, which shows the kid picking up a car just like the Man of Steel did on the cover of his debut in 1938. Inside the book, Benny uncovers a conspiracy masquerading as a cab company with gleaming red cabs, to which the kid is led by the disappearance of his elderly friend, the owner of a rival cab company with but a single cab.

Benny was concocted in 1960 while Peyo was beginning to enjoy the immense popularity of the Smurfs, which he had invented in 1958 in an adventure of his chief creations, Johan and Pirlouit (see Rants & Raves, Opus 270 at the Usual Place for a fulsome exploration of the Smuf creation). Benny was (it sez here) ostensibly Peyo’s response to the superhero rejuvenation taking place in American comic books. That was barely underway in 1960 (not much more than DC’s new Flash, launched in 1956, was out there then), so the contention is suspect. I agree that Peyo had superheroes on his mind, but I think his stimulus wasn’t all that contemporary. Showing Benny lifting a car on the cover of this first book wasn’t mere coincidence.

Like the spandex set, Benny has herculean strength; he can run faster than a speeding sports car and leap whole neighborhoods with a few bounds. But Peyo went beyond imitation:

“What I didn’t like about Superman was the absence of surprise,” Peyo said (quoted in Peyo: The Life and Work of a Marvelous Storyteller): “He hid in a telephone booth, he changed into his costume, and, voila, he became stronger and nothing could stop him. You knew he was going to win because he was Superman! When I came up with Benoit, I soon decided to give him an achilles heel: when he gets a cold, he loses all his strength. So the reader is always hoping he doesn’t get a cold. And one strange thing was that in polls by Spirou [the magazine in which Benny and Peyo’s other creations appeared], we found that Benoit’s readership was much more female than male. I asked myself why, and I think that this small, solitary boy, whose strength sometimes turns against him, must have been bringing out peoples’ maternal instincts  — while Johan and Pirlouit are just kids who enjoy adventure.”

The Benny Breakiron books are charming for their visuals alone, but the stories have great appeal themselves. Benny’s propensity to catch a cold at just the wrong moment imparts a unique suspense to his adventures, but another aspect of the character — his youth — gives the tales additional complexity and appeal: Benny is seldom seen by his adversaries (or anyone else in the adult world) as a threat, so we delight in seeing their surprise as he takes them down, as he does hereabouts with the boss of the Red Taxies.Benny7

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


Triple Helix coverI'm going to have to give up on superhero comics. Either that, or I must convince myself that John Byrne is kidding. His latest return to comics is entitled Triple Helix, with the last letter of the second word large enough that we might mistake this book for another of the interminable X-Men titles. Inside, it’s all a continuous fight sequence in the best vintage Marvel tradition. But it’s not just one guy or one team battling one bad guy or a set of bad guys. The fighting goes on page after page, but the battleground shifts every other page, and the combatants are never the same. It’s a-bustle with action but we can barely identify the principals.

The cast comes at us higgledy piggledy, talking to each other as they bash their foes and dropping names like pathfinder crumbs in the forest — Cataclysm, Javelin, Apex, Dart, Pylon, Changling, Grannie (a mechanical matriarch). When I got to the skull-headed bad guy named Golgotha, I began to suspect Byrne isn’t altogether serious. He’s a skilled storyteller and a superb draftsman and I’ve always admired his work, but I think with this book, he’s toying with us. And then came “the Trio,” a threesome named (in a burst of creativity) One, Two, and Three.  But that’s just what they call each other in ordinary colloquy; to their foes, their names are Rock, Paper, and Scissors.

And with that last, I knew Byrne is having us on.

Even if he isn’t, I don’t think I can take another issue of this title with its sprawling fight scenes, all fists, gritted teeth, and flying bodies. It’s been done, Byrne. And you were among the better doers of it — back in the day when such pyroantics were standard fare at Marvel. And they still are. But the rest of the funnybook field has moved on. Now we’re into sf and zombies and mystery and other such ordinary human dilemmas. The spandex crowd is less and less with us.

And it’s a good thing, too: I don’t think I can take much more of this. If at all.

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


Those who predict the end of both newspapers and their comic strips have been seduced into that belief by the seemingly sensible conviction that change is inevitable and that change implies the destruction of whatever it takes the place of. These disciples of change are ignoring an overriding principle in a capitalist society: money rules, and the profit motive decides everything.

My take on the present predicament is that the shareholders who are demanding greater and greater profits from newspapers that suffer dropping revenues will eventually lose patience and bail out, selling their shares at a loss if need be just to escape a situation that is no longer making bales of money for them. And eventually, newspaper ownership will fall once again into the hands of private persons, billionaires with nothing to do with their money but have fun. And running a newspaper for fun and profit is the traditional name of the game. Individual owners will revert to the purposes individual newspaper owners have always espoused: they’ll opt for journalism again, not investment and profit, and they’ll practice journalism for all the good and noble reasons it has always been practiced — to inform the public and to foster power (political and financial) for the newspaper owner.

This sea change is already setting in. Two large metropolitan dailies — the Washington Post and the Boston Globe — have been acquired by individual billionaire owners.

In seeking to regain lost power, newspaper owners will probably continue digital editions, but they’ll also refurbish print edition tactics. If I were one of those owners, I’d go after the older demographic that constitutes most of the present readership of newspapers. That population has more discretionary income than the younger (and supposedly wealthier) demographic. The older generation no longer has the cost of raising and educating children. They want to go on trips and buy expensive automobiles. Newspapers ought to be appealing to those interests. Forget about the young folks: they’ll grow into older readers soon enough, and if a newspaper plays its cards right, it’ll get those erstwhile young and carefree persons when they’re ripe.

Finally, in appealing to an older readership, newspapers will start publishing comic strips large enough for old guys like me to be able to read the words in the speech balloons.

And so comic strips aren’t doomed at all: they seem poised on the cusp of another Golden Age. The newspapers that provide their platform are not dying after all; and the comics — one of the two or three most popular things people find in newspapers — will surely go on as long as those newspapers continue to publish, which, I stubbornly contend and hope to have demonstrated, will be for some time yet.       

They’ll go on for as long as grocery stores are operating — for the sake of the coupons.


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


Comics are being dragged along by the big city newspaper financial crisis (see Part One of this disquisition, above). Some newspapers have a considerable roster of comic strips in their online editions. Those are less expensive in the ether than in print. In the print edition, some papers have cut back on the number of strips they run, compensating with the online roster. The Denver Post dropped both Classic Peanuts and Doonesbury last year (I can’t think of two strips that seemed more immune to such cost-cutting moves, but there you are) but both are offered in the online edition for which the Post pays fees that are minuscule compared to the fees for publishing strips in print.

And last fall, the Post “streamlined” its Sunday funnies: they managed to eliminate two pages of the comics section without dropping any of the strips themselves. The paper reduced the section to four pages by shrinking the size of most strips and by deleting the “splash panels” that carry the strips’ titles. In announcing this move, the editor of the Post tried to make his readers feel better by saying that “some newspapers” have discontinued their comics altogether. So we should feel good that we have any at all, even if they’re smaller than before.

Phooey, I said. And I wrote back: “I’m gratified to know that you still think comics are important enough to your readers to tell us what caused you to shrink (another word for ‘streamline’) the Sunday funnies. But when you say ‘some’ newspapers have discontinued their comics altogether, I think someone’s been blowing smoke your way. Still, to give you the benefit of the doubt, can you name, say, three metropolitan newspapers of the Post’s size or larger that have discontinued their comics? I say ‘three’ but that’s really on the short side of ‘some’ if we assume that a ‘few’ is three or four and ‘some’ is more than a ‘few.’ So — name three. Heck, name two.”

The editor has yet to reply. Because his statement was not accurate. Not only that, it wasn’t true. I’ve checked with three of the major feature syndicates distributing comics. None of them report any metropolitan newspapers that have discontinued the comics altogether.

I don’t mean to say that newspapers are not in financial straits. They are. But they’re not in as much trouble as they’d have us believe. They’ve lost that abundant 30% profit margin, and they are understandably weeping and wailing over the loss, but I’m pretty sure they’re still making a profit. Not 30% anymore, but a profit nonetheless. If they weren’t making a profit, they’d be out of business. So they’re getting used to smaller profits even if they don’t like it much and complain about it endlessly.

The Denver Post is not as poor as it wants us to believe it is. A few years ago, it renegotiated the largest of its debts by making those to whom it owed the most money partners in the business. Other metropolitan newspapers have survived by similar maneuvers. About four years ago, Time magazine predicted the deaths of ten major newspapers in the country; all ten are still publishing. They’ve found a way — as all capitalists do.

Still, it’s true, irrefutable actually, that newspapers are in financial trouble (largely of their own making, as I said) and comic strips (and staff editorial cartoonists) are in trouble as a direct consequence. Dave Kellett’s documentary film on the subject lists 166 newspapers that have died since 2008. Catastrophic, no question. Until we examine the statistic he pulls from. The figure 166 actually includes papers that have given up their print editions as well as those that have ceased publication altogether; but digital newspapers are not, technically, dead.

The date cited is significant: 2008 is when the country’s economy started tanking. Lots of businesses went under. Newspapers were not alone, and the death of so many says more about the economy generally than it does about the newspaper business particularly. Moreover, the number of papers expiring peaked at the onset of the Great Recession, and the annual total of dying papers has been growing less and less as the years unravel. The newspaper dilemma is still serious, but it’s not quite as dire as Kellett and big city newspapers want us to believe.

Meanwhile, there are about 1,400 newspapers still publishing, many in small towns and apparently thriving because they didn’t invest their profits extravagantly in the halcyon days of the last century when everyone in the newspaper business was going to the bank pretty often. We, the general public, like disaster stories, and so we have fastened on the death of newspapers as a particularly juicy one. But perhaps we ought to be more circumspect about our entertainments: some of them are fiction.

Next, visions of a happier future for newspapers and comic strips.

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


I’ve written briefly on this topic before, but every time I am confronted anew by yet another chorus of “comic strips are a dying artform,” I’m compelled to rush to the barricades again. To begin with, I don’t think comic strips are a dying artform; nor do I think newspapers are dying — the proposition upon which the death of comic strips is predicated. Why my stubborn failure to subscribe to a notion the rest of the world seems to endorse?

To start near the root of the matter, it is the plight of metropolitan newspapers that has precipitated visions of the death of comic strips. Newspapers are in financial trouble, and because they are the platform for comic strips, comic strips must also be in trouble. And there’s some evidence to support both contentions. Some but not enough.

First, consider the source of the stories about the death of newspapers. That news is lofted mostly by large, metropolitan newspapers. Small city newspapers (dailies and weeklies) aren’t complaining. Why not? Because they’re not in the kind of trouble big city papers are in. They still get sufficient revenue from advertising: local businesses have no place else to advertise. In big cities with hordes of national chain stores (rather than small town Mom ‘n’ Pop establishments), businesses advertise nationally via television. Newspapers lose out. And classified advertising has all but disappeared. Newspapers lose out big time.

Finally, to drive the nail in the coffin, readership is evaporating. The most populous newspaper reading demographic is the 55-to-75-year-old category. And newspapers appear too busy wringing their hands at the loss of the 18-35 age group to find ways to exploit the other demographic. I’ll come back to this in Part Three. But before I leave small city newspapers, their apparent fiscal health is small comfort to us: few of them run comic strips, and those that do, don’t run many. The continued existence of small town papers serves simply to make my point: the newspapers that are in trouble financially in this country are big city papers.

Still considering the source of all the dire information: until classified advertising disappeared into the Internet, newspapers generally — and particularly those in big cities — had profit margins of roughly 30%. No other American business had profits so bountiful. And in the flush years before, say, 1999, newspapers did two things that proved disastrous. First, they modernized their printing plants and built new offices and expanded their circulation areas — all things underwritten by that robust 30% profit. When the profit margin dropped (due to loss of advertising and subscribers to the Internet), the papers were left with the huge debts (or expensive circulation obligations) they’d rung up during their financial heydays. And their revenue was no longer great enough to service their debts handily. So they started complaining.

The second disaster that newspapers made for themselves is that they went public: they became corporations with shareholders whose avaricious appetite for more and more income was virtually insatiable.

Newspapers, then — mostly the big city papers — were caught in a contradictory conundrum: dwindling income could not satisfy the shareholders’ growing demand for greater and greater profit.

The first reaction was to reduce expenses — cut staff, shrink the circulation area. A secondary response was to shift content to the Internet, creating digital editions to attract the young readers who don’t buy print papers anymore. This maneuver seems doomed since the revenue from Internet subscribers is never likely to make up for the loss of print subscribers and advertising revenue. But papers are doing it anyhow.

How this affects the funnies is the subject of Part Three.


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


As far as we know, the reclusive Bill Watterson, in hiding since abandoning his insanely popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes 18 years ago, hasn’t drawn a cartoon since. WattersonSpeech1Until just this month, when he drew a cartoon for the poster about “Stripped.” We’ve posted the drawing on the other side of the $ubscribers Wall.

The documentary, which is now available on iTunes and will be offered in DVD form starting April 2, contains interviews with a score or more of cartoonists, including the creators of Garfield, Cathy and Beetle Bailey, who talk about their craft and how it is changing as newspapers have begun to go away. Watterson is also interviewed in the film, but not on camera. As a disembodied voice, he says: "In the right hands, a comic strip attains a beauty and an elegance that really I would put against any other art.”

Kellett, his chutzpah amped by this success with Watterson, was emboldened enough to ask if Watterson would draw a picture for the film. Apparently, said Kellett’s co-director Fred Schroeder to the New York Times, “Watterson really wanted to express some thoughts about comics and cartooning.”

Said Watterson to the Washington Post: “Aside from supplying a few sentences to the documentary, I’m not involved with the film, so Dave’s request to draw the poster came completely out of the blue. It sounded like fun, and maybe something people wouldn’t expect, so I decided to give it a try.”

He explained the cartoon’s genesis: "Given the movie's title and the fact that there are few things funnier than human nudity, the idea popped into my head largely intact," he said. "The film is a big valentine to comics, so I tried to do something really cartoon-y. I had thought of having it colored with off-registered printing dots like newspaper comics, but Dave asked if I'd paint it instead, and I think he made the right call."


At the New York Times, he continued: “It’s a silly picture that sums up my reaction to the current publishing upheaval, so I had a good time, and I hope it brings the film some attention.”

Next, in Part Two of The Crisis in the Newspaper Comic Strip Kingdom, we abandon “Stripped” but prolong the discussion.

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



“Stripped” is the name of cartoonist Dave Kellett’s documentary about the newspaper comic strip industry. Started five years ago and now nearing a final stage with the help of filmmaker Fred Schroeder, the made-for-television program assesses of the current state of the newspaper comic strip and its future. Kellett, who is a webcomics enthusiast and practitioner, admits that he began the project expecting to record the demise of newspaper comics; but as he assembled interviews with cartoonists, he changed his mind: the film now ends on a somewhat more optimistic note — adapt or die, with history showing that adaptation has been part of the medium’s history.

At the New York Times artsbeat.blog, George Gene Gustines describes the film as “a musing on comic strips by many of their creators, how the medium has evolved and the migration to the Internet, some of it forced as the number of newspaper outlets for strips has shrunk and some of it voluntary by a new generation of cartoonists.”

The film itself is fast-moving — quick images of comic characters and strips, a sort of collage in motion, followed by short sentence excerpts from more than 70 interviewed cartoonists on screen, then more collage. Although divided into “chapters” (“The Golden Age,” “The Creative Process,” and “The Crisis”), some of the chapters don’t go very far — “The Golden Age,” for instance, scarcely covers the ground. “The Creative Process” is much better: it offers the most lengthy excerpts from cartoonist interviews.

I’m quoted twice on camera. Once I say only a single word, and I wasn’t quick enough when watching a screening to catch what it was. On the other occasion, I utter this profundity: “I don’t think web comics are the answer” (“comics historian” lettered beneath my picture). And that cryptic comment reveals the film’s most serious flaw. Why don’t I believe that web comics are the answer? What is the answer? Is there one? What’s the question?

Throughout, the film is much the same: there’s little depth. Some of the interviews about the creative process are nicely insightful, but there’s too little thought displayed in assessing the fate of the newspaper comic strip. It’s a subject that deserves — demands —i n-depth examination and discussion. And Kellett provides very little of either.

In short, the film is more dazzle than deliberation. It conveys an impression rather than offering an analysis. But the film is skillfully done, and that is its redeeming feature. Discussing a static artform, printed comic strips, Kellett and Schroeder compensate for the inherent lack of movement with quick cutting and flashing imagery. The flashing images go by quickly — here and then gone. The film is copious rather than thoughtful.

But that ain’t necessarily bad. In presenting and assessing the state of the comic strip universe, the film is friendly and understanding about an artform seldom examined in a motion picture medium. That is a great plus in itself.


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


The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum is undeniably the largest facility of its kind. “We have the largest collection of cartoon and comic art in the world,” said Jenny Robb, the present curator of the Museum (and a former student and assistant of the founding curator, Lucy Caswell). “In our old space we were hidden underground and didn’t have proper exhibition space to show the artworks. So the goal here is to be more visible and provide more accessibility to our collections.”

The collections are impressive: something in the neighborhood of 300,000 pieces of original art, 45,000 books on cartoonists and cartooning, 67,000 serial and comic book titles, and 2.5 million comic strip clippings and newspaper pages.

“We want to be the center of the comics universe,” said Robb.

At the center of that universe, Sullivant Hall stands like a cathedral of the cartooning arts. And I am reminded of another cathedral — namely, St. Paul’s, in London. In Sullivant Hall, I find an echo from St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s was the architectural masterpiece of Christopher Wren, who, as Surveyor of Works for Charles II, supervised the design and building of more than 50 of London’s churches after the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed two-thirds of the city. Wren-designed churches set one of modern architecture’s distinctive styles. Among his more spectacular achievements was St. Paul’s.

Wren is buried in the crypt of St. Paul’s, and on his tomb, in Latin, are these words: If you seek his monument, look around you.

We might say the same of Lucy Shelton Caswell and the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.




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


Ohio State University's Cartoon Library bore many names over the years, most of them laughably cumbersome as the University sought to attach to the facility a name that described its holdings without trivializing the dignity of the institution by attaching it to “comics.” Until 2009, the collection included a hodge-podge of visual materials, beginning at the time of Caniff’s donation with paintings, photographs, tear sheets, and book and magazine articles tracing the career of another OSU alumnus, famed magazine illustrator Jon Whitcomb. Thereafter, the collection attracted other materials of a kindred sort, prompting the name Library for Communication and Graphic Arts — a name that avoided the word cartoon as if the University regarded it as a vaguely suspicious pretender to the intellectual and artistic status of collegiate life.

When the collection was moved to the Wexner Center, the moguls of the Ivory Tower finally surrendered, calling it the Cartoon, Graphic and Photographic Arts Research Library — shortened, in 1997, to the mercifully accurate Cartoon Research Library. In 2009, all the non-cartoon holdings were transferred to other special collections in the University’s library departments. The Milton Caniff Research Room was long ago retired as a name for the operation although the bronze plaque bearing that inscription exists somewhere on the premises. That Caniff should be subsumed by Ireland is a somehow serendipitous outcome.

Ireland was a beloved cartoonist on the staff of the Columbus Dispatch for nearly 40 years until his death in 1935. During his long career, he poked fun at politicians and advocated environmental causes and ridiculed the Ku Klux Klan while also commenting on the fads and foibles of Columbus in his weekly summary of news and views, The Passing Show, the logo of which changed picturesquely to suit the seasons and other stray topics that wandered across Ireland’s drawingboard.

Ireland usually depicted himself as the “janitor” of the feature, but whether he appeared or not, his signature dingbat was an Irish shamrock, and it was always in evidence. 


(Incidentally, Lucy Caswell has produced two biographies of Ireland (in 1980 and, lavishly revised in color, in 2007); both are printed in dimensions that present the cartoonist’s work at a generous enough size to represent his elegant artistry, especially on his Sunday Passing Show pages, which appear in the second edition in color.)

Ireland was already a local institution known nationally when Caniff came to the city to enroll at OSU in 1925. Caniff needed a job in order to pay his way, and he applied to Ireland, who gave him a try-out assignment, saying if the youth could produce something that would “make me jump,” he’d have a job. Caniff drew the accompanying comic strip — and got the job.


I’ve lobbied to have a bronze version of this historic comic strip made and placed somewhere in Sullivant Hall to commemorate the connection between the cartoonist whose papers started the collection and the one whose estate built the collection’s new home. But so far, no one is listening to me.

The BICL&M move to Sullivant Hall is commemorated in photographs here, if you’d like to see what a grand facility now houses the world’s most extensive collection of comics art — all shepherded into being by the first and founding curator, Lucy S. Caswell, after whom the reading room of the new Library is named.


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


Sullivant Hall on the eastern edge of the Ohio State University campus in Columbus, Ohio, could have been named after T.S. Sullivant. But it isn’t. Sullivant was the pioneering cartoonist whose pictorial hilarities depicting Biblical characters and cave men and anthropomorphic jungle animals imbued the old humor magazines Life and Judge with comical distinction from the 1890s to the 1920s. 

Sullivant1 So it would be a fitting tribute to his cartooning genius if the building that now houses the world’s largest archive of comics art and cartooning history bore his name. Alas, whoever Sullivant Hall is named for, it is not the cartoonist. Rather, it bears the name of some other long forgotten but no doubt deservedly neglected local dignitary. Sullivant Hall, whatever the accomplishments of its namesake, came to life over the weekend of November 15-17, 2013,  for the Grand Opening of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum.

The formal ribbon-cutting ceremony transpired at Sullivant Hall on Friday, November 15, at 6:30 p.m. The evening continued with a “conversation” between two OSU graduates now professional cartoonists, Jeff Smith and Paul Pope, in nearby Mershon Auditorium. The opening event was bookended by the Festival of Cartoon Art, featuring talks by cartoonists on their work and on cartooning generally on Saturday and Sunday and, on Thursday and Friday, the “academic con,” offering two dozen 15-minute paper readings by scholars of the medium.

The BICL&M began as a special collection of the OSU Library in 1977 when Milton Caniff donated to his alma mater his papers, files and much of the original art of Terry and the Pirates and Steve Canyon. At first called the Milton Caniff Research Room, the collection was housed in two small rooms of the old Journalism building: a reading room and an adjoining archival (storage) room, operated under the watchful eye of a journalism professor named Lucy S. Caswell, who would wind up devoting the rest of her career to the project. A third converted classroom was added later.

In 1984, Will Eisner donated materials documenting his career in comic books, instructional comics, and graphic novels. Caswell once recalled how the Eisner collection found its way to the Cartoon Library: she picked up the phone and a voice at the other end said, “Will Eisner is moving to Florida and thinking of throwing away a lot of stuff. Would you like to have it instead?”

The same year, Toni Mendez, a licensing agent who represented cartoonists (notably among them, Caniff and B. Kliban), donated her papers. And in 1986, Walt Kelly’s widow donated Pogo papers and other materials related to Kelly’s tenure as president of the National Cartoonists Society. NCS has established its archives in the Cartoon Library, as has the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists.

As more cartoonists donated their papers, the collection grew and soon needed more space. The first move was in 1990 to the Wexner Center for the Arts, a modern building at the High Street boundary of the campus, where the comics stuff was consigned to a basement cavern. While languishing there, the collection was increased in 1998 when comics historian Bill Blackbeard donated the holdings of his San Francisco Academy of Comic Art; at 75 tons, it’s the largest heap of newspaper comics strip tear sheets and clippings in the world. In 2000, Mort Walker donated the 200,000 original cartoons of his sadly defunct International Museum of Cartoon Art, which he had founded and nurtured and funded since 1974.

The next move was the last — from 6,800 square feet to 30,000, from the Wexner Center to Sullivant Hall, a decaying facility that was gutted and extensively re-modeled to hold the BICL&M. The remodeling was funded to a great extent by two lavish donations. The largest was $7 million, donated in 2009 by the Elizabeth Ireland Graves Foundation in honor of Billy Ireland (hence, the present name of the Library & Museum); next came $3.5 million from the Charles M. Schulz Estate, $2.5 million of which matched donations from individuals and institutions all across the country and around the world.

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


Shaolin Cowboy 2 coverGeof Darrow's Shaolin Cowboy is back in a four-issue mini-series, and it may be the strangest comic yet foisted off on us — and not just because the story, such as it is, unfolds without much verbiage. In the first issue — right after we see a frog atop a mound of dirt or rock — the Cowboy emerges with a black eye from earth in the middle of a desert. He finds a pair of chain saws fastened at opposite ends of a long pole, and right about then, he encounters a flock of zombies, all naked. Suddenly, four wise-ass male delinquents drive by in a car and are stopped and threatened by the zombies; the Cowboy attacks the zombies and the delinquents drive off, shouting insults. Then the crew of an N.S.A. satellite watch the Cowboy as he fires up the chain saws and wades into the zombie flock, swinging the chain-saw pole in a circle, cutting zombies in two with each swath. That’s the first issue.

The completed episode within this issue — the Cowboy rescuing the hooligan assholes — reveals him, in contrast to their assholery, to be an admirable if entirely too silent a personality (even stoic, if we can use that term for a Buddhist). This revelation is scarcely essential in this first issue: we’ve seen him before (in the earlier Shaolin Cowboy series) so we don’t need as much of what first issues are supposed to supply — a more-or-less thorough orientation to his character. And the story, though cryptic in the extreme, is provocative and suspenseful: it’s enough to bring us back for another issue to see what happens as he confronts the zombies and what will happen as a result.

Alas, the confrontation with the undead goes almost nowhere.

The next issue is devoted entirely to double-spread after double-spread showing zombies being cut in two by the swinging chain saws. After a couple pages of this, ennui sets in pretty strongly with me. In the third issue, the red-shirted Cowboy gives up his chain saws and starts jumping from zombie head to zombie head, squashing each skull like an over-ripe pumpkin as he leaps, and leaving behind a trail of splattering blood. A sample of that is posted here, too. The whole issue is like this.



It’s Darrow’s art and story, and while most artists prefer drawing over writing, I can’t imagine Darrow sustaining much interest in the seemingly endless parade of similar blood-spurting scenes. And the walking undead are scarcely fascinating as candidates for individual portraits: a partially decayed corpse looks pretty much like all partially decayed corpses. The general idea underlying the act of storytelling is to go someplace with a sequence of events; to repeat the same episode over and over is dull work and dull watching.

At the end of the third issue, the Cowboy shakes hands with another cowboy (maybe John Wayne), who says: “Cowboy, nobody wants to die, but if you have to die— die last.” And our Shaolin hero turns bare-handed to face the incoming tide of zombies.

In the fourth and last issue, the Cowboy proceeds to attack the horde of zombies with his bare hands and feet. Darrow has by now drawn several hundred pictures of blood-spurting naked rotting humanoids. Sometimes the Cowboy uses the heel of his hand when assaulting a zombie. Sometimes a foot. Fists and feet, over and over again. Just as I thought the pictorial possibilities had been exhausted, Darrow draws the Cowboy snatching the face off one of the undead.

It goes on and on and relentlessly on in increasingly smaller panels.


Finally, they’re all dead. The Cowboy is exhausted. His hands drip blood. Sweat runs down his face in rivulets. He looks around. He sees a puff of smoke emanating from the top of a butte in the distance. Next, we see blood spurting from a few of the zombie corpses near the Cowboy — and, horrors! — from the Cowboy! He falls over. He’s dead.

Cowboy4This sequence is beautifully handled and staged in a single page. After seeing what I’ve just described, we then hear the “kraak” of a gunshot. The gun fired from the top of the distant butte is so far away from the Cowboy and the zombie corpses that the sound of gunfire takes this whole page to travel from its source.

The camera switches to the top of that distant butte, and we see the four hooligan assholes from the first issue, laughing and gassing, one of them holding a smoking rifle. “Yea, we really fucked up his shit, Bro,” says one of the assholes, “ — awesome!”

Cowboy5The last page is devoted to picturing the arrival of a frog. It may be the same frog that peered at us on the opening page of the first issue. Dunno.

What I do know, is that the Cowboy’s endless and seemingly meaningless (except for sheer survival) battle with the zombies has come to naught. Seemingly.

But — wait! The N.S.A. satellite in the first issue is named Cheney666; and the action is taking place six miles from Palinsbush, a reference, I suspect, to the crotch of Sarah the Palin. This may be political satire and all those zombies, members of Congress. Works for me.

But — wait! When the Cowboy emerged from the earth in the first issue, his hands were bloody — just as they are at the end of his battle in the fourth issue. And then, there’s the reappearing frog, fat and squat like a buddha. Is this tale circular? Are we, when we reach the end, back at the beginning? Is all of it going to repeat itself, around and around and around again?

Is this a metaphor for life? Life is a struggle against corpses, the “remains” — the customs, moralities, and governments and philosophies left behind by those who’ve gone before? A struggle gainst history? And then, at last, we join our predecessors in death?

Or is Darrow’s story just a huge joke? A joke the construction of which is hilariously labor intensive for him. And not just a little boring to look at, page after page.

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


The Mouse House has a reputation as a controlling institution. It is aggressive in protecting its wholesome image and its copyrights —quickly taking to court anyone caught using the symbolic Mickey or, even, Donald without permission. So Brooks Barnes at the New York Times was surprised at what he saw in the coming movie “Saving Mr. Banks,” a comedic drama about the turbulent making of Mary Poppins in the 1960s. In the movie, “Walt Disney acts in a very un-Disney way. He slugs back Scotch. He uses a mild curse word. He wheezes because he smokes too much. The real shocker?” Barnes goes on — “Walt Disney Studios made the film.”

For Saving Mr. Banks, the director, John Lee Hancock, said, “I was a bit afraid because we wanted to be honest about Walt. I imagined the moment when Disney would say, ‘Sorry, we like him better as a god than a human.’ To their credit, they were smart enough and brave enough to realize that a human Walt was not only a better character, but was easier to love.”

And the portrait of Walt Disney that emerges may be close to the truth. He was a demanding boss and had a keen sense of what was funny and appropriate in a film and how to achieve it, particularly when animation was in its infancy. Animator Jack Kinney, who began working for Disney in 1931 and stayed for 20 years, running the Goofy unit and winning five Academy Award nominations and an Oscar for Der Fuhrer’s Face, revealed the sometimes cantankerous side of his employer in his 1988 book about the early years at the studio. I’ve posted the cover picture here because it so aptly illustrates the personality of the Disney Kinney knew.  WaltDisney1

Kinney wrote: “Walt went to great lengths to portray himself as a shy person, ‘Uncle Walt,’ a kindly, self-effacing farmboy from the Midwest who prided himself on the fact that he never owned a tuxedo. He was a great admirer of Will Rogers, and copied his mannerisms in public, which added to the image. He was certainly Midwestern — waspish, down to earth — but he could swear like a trooper, and he had a terrific ego.”

About the picture on the cover, Kinney elucidates: “Walt roamed his domain with a hard-heeled stride that, along with his distinctive [cigarette] cough, warned us of his arrival. He’d crash through the door, stride to a chair, sit down, and tap his fingers on the arm until one of the guys grabbed a pointer and proceeded to tell the story [of the animated cartoon the storyboards of which were pinned on the wall]. Walt’d usually allow the guy to finish, then all the boys would hold their breath until he started talking. We studied him the way he studied the storyboards. If he coughed, you knew you’d lost his attention. A slow tap meant he was just thinking, but a fast tap meant he was losing his cool.”

“It was bandied about by the boys in the back room that Walt stopped in the studio basement on his way in to change into his mood costume for the day. These moods were known as ‘the Seven Faces of Walt,’” Kinney said. And then he illustrated them:


When a few Disney staffers were once asked by a reporter to describe Disney’s sense of humor, a pause ensued; after a short wait, one came up with a single telling word — rural. Said Kinney: “The sorts of things that tickled Walt were outhouse gags, goosing gags, bedpans and johnny pots, thinly disguised farts, and cows’ udders.”

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


SexCriminalsVia CBLDF's website: Image’s Sex Criminals No.2 has been banned from iOS comic apps, but not from iBooks, according to the publisher and the book’s creators, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky. The Apple explanation was cryptic: "We found that one or more of your In-App Purchases contains content that many audiences would find objectionable, which is not in compliance with the App Store Review Guidelines."

Image Publisher Eric Stephenson, in a joint interview with Fraction, Zdarsky, and the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, explained that the book was first delayed for an extended review by Apple, then banned completely.

Zdarsky noted that since no indication of what content Apple found objectionable was provided, there was no way to change the book to make it acceptable. "Heck, if they were specific about the problem, we’d at least have a chance to put a black bar over something if inclined," Zdarsky told the CBLDF. "But then it looks like censorship, whereas a full banning somehow evades those kinds of optics. My mind reels."

Not only was there inconsistency between different Apple stores. Stephenson noted the inconsistencies in Apple’s decision:

"I mean, first off—there’s not a lot of difference between the content in issue One and issue Two, but the one thing comiXology mentioned was that it may be—and they were just guessing here—because of the floating semen in issue Two," he said. "But then, if that’s the tipping point... Isn’t ‘Something About Mary’ available on the iTunes store? Because I’m pretty sure that has a fairly memorable scene involving Cameron Diaz running a handful of semen through her hair thinking it’s hair gel. And there’s an episode of Girls where a guy ejaculates on Lena Dunham’s chest and you can get that on there as well, so... It’s tame content by comparison, and on top of that, the notorious Saga No.12—that’s still available on both the iBookstore and through the comiXology app. There’s no real standard, and it’s just kind of inconsistent and hypocritical."

As if to confirm Stephenson’s opinion, Apple banned No.3 of the title for undisclosed violations of decorum, I suppose; and then, just to round it all off and achieve a consistency not evident yet, Apple retroactively banned No.1, too. All aboard now.

RCH fitnut: I picked up all three copies of the title, seduced—inexplicably, you probably think—by the title and by the cover art. As a society, we’ve known “sex sells” since just shortly before Adam and Eve got booted out of Eden, and comic books, particularly superhero comics with superwimmin cavorting around in skin-tight skivvies, have always been subliminally trafficking in sex, but it all went rambunctiously overt with the launch last year of a funnybook with the title Sex. Just that. Sex. Sex Criminals followed tout suite, beginning with what is doubtless the most spectacular cover exploitation of the topic imaginable. 

The “crime” involved herein seems related to the teenage heroine’s discovery of sex and its attendant pleasures and problems. Hardly scandalous in this day and age. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the series in use in schools in sex education classes.

Incidentally, I don’t think the floating seman in No.2 is all that obvious. I thought it was a printing error.

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


Rise Above cover
In Svetlana Shkolnikova’s report in the Fort Lee Suburbanite about Archie Comics co-CEO Nancy Silberkleit’s visit to a school last October 15, you wouldn’t know Silberkleit is embroiled in several nasty legal struggles at the Riverdale HQ. The article was all about Silberkleit’s efforts to promote anti-bullying. Silberkleit, a former art teacher, surrounded herself at the school with artwork from various stages of comic book production as she discussed career options and her anti-bullying comic Rise Above. Silberkleit has shared her message with countless classrooms around the world over the past two years, either in person or through Erica Walters, the bullied heroine of Rise Above.

In the comic, Erica begins her first day at a new middle school and learns to deal with a bully who harasses her with taunts of "braceface," dumps a soda on her, and posts the resulting photo on social media. Silberkleit said she can still identify with the embarrassed, pained expression on Erica's face as a group of students jeered at her, and she decided to pour her experiences into a comic book.

Says Shkoljnikova: “She began leading talks about bullying after reading about several bullying victims who had ended their lives. She dedicated Rise Above to Mitchell Wilson, an 11-year-old Canadian who committed suicide in 2011 because his muscular dystrophy made him a regular target of attacks.

“Her success at Archie Comics and the work of her foundation Rise Above Social Issues led to her inclusion in the Commerce and Industry Association of New Jersey's Women of Influence event this year.”

Well, it’s about time Silberkleit got some decent publicity.

Rise Above page

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