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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.”

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


My Friend Dahmer cover

John “Derf” Backderf, whose Trashed I reviewed earlier this week (see below) is more widely known for his previous graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, which is about the real-life rapist, murderer, and cannibal who attracted national renown in 1978-9 -- and who happened to have been a classmate of Derf's.

A major motion picture of the same name, based on Derf's book, is scheduled for release on September 29th.




Here is a trailer for the film:

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Trashed coverA Graphic Novel
by John “Derf” Backderf
256 6x9-inch pages
b/w with blue tint
2015 Abrams ComicArts
hardcover, $24.95

Cartoonist Backderf (The City) once worked as a garbage collector, and this book, although fiction, is based upon his experiences and those of his co-workers; or, as the dust-jacket flap says: “Trashed follows the raucous escapades of three twentysomething friends as they clean the streets of pile after pile of stinking garbage, while battling annoying small-town bureaucrats, bizarre townsfolk, sweltering summer heat and frigid winter storms. ... Interspersed with this comedic epic of reeking garbage cans and exploding trash bags are nonfiction pages that detail what our garbage is and where it goes. The reality will stun you. ... Trashed is a hilarious, stomach-churning tale that will leave you laughing—and wincing—in disbelief.”

Derf’s graphic style can be described as painfully, copiously detailed under normal conditions, but when deployed to render trash in all its multifaceted variety, his attention to detail (mostly of the repulsive sort) is astonishing. Every day’s pick-ups involve new assorted details — trash bags that break when lifted, spewing their contents all over one’s shoes; rotten jack-o-lanterns, dead pets (and other animals), liquid trash, decaying food full of maggots, condoms, plastic bags and bottles. And flies. On heavy trash days, the garbage guys pick up and grind into their truck’s interior cast-off appliances — stoves, refrigerators — a piano, an old phone booth, and various auto parts. In winter, they must dig trash out from snow banks.

At various intervals, Derf tells us the facts about trash. Americans generate at least 254 million tons of trash a year. (A conservative estimate, Derf says; 384 million tons might be closer to actuality.) Almost 30% of it consists of the containers and packages that what we buy comes in. And 20.3% is what the EPA calls “nondurable goods” — much of which is disposable diapers. “The average child will go through up to 8,000 diapers before being potty-trained. That totals 18 billion (that’s billion) poopy diapers heading to U.S. landfill each and every year.”

Each of us generates 5.06 pounds of garbage a day; that’s 35 pounds a week, 150 pounds a month, and 1,847 pounds in a year. One person’s product. Tin cans take 50 years to break down in a landfill; plastic bottles, 450 years; styrofoam — styrofoam never breaks down. Never.

But this sort of statistical analysis is a sideshow. The main event is the lives of Derf’s characters and the accidents they encounter and the pranks they play upon each other—and upon residents whose thoughtlessness grates upon the garbage guys nerves and muscles. The comedy is often gross rather than risible, but comedy it is.





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


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


The Unquotable Trump comic book, due for November publication, was briefly displayed at the San Diego Comic-Con in July by its creator, Robert Sikoryak, who has made a reputation for himself doing comic book mockeries of famous literary and/or actual personages.

“He’ll take a famous novel, such as Crime and Punishment, and draw it in the style of Batman artist Bob Kane,” reported Peter Larson at ocregister.com. “The resulting mash-up was Dostoyevsky Comics.”

Now he’s given Trump the treatment in a comic book of comic book covers. For it, Sikoryak pulled actual quotes from Prez Trump on the campaign trail and in office, using them to create parodies done in the style of vintage comic book covers.


On one — the cover of which looks like a Wonder Woman comic book — below the Nasty Woman logo, Wonder Woman is shown knocking Trump off the top of a wall, and as he tumbles head over heels, he utters his famous utterance about nasty woman, his cell phone flying.

The Trump quotes are sourced at the back of the book.

“I usually work with found text,” said Sikoryak, “ — and I’d been confounded and outraged by everything he’d said during the campaign. I used only things he said out loud. None of his tweets.”

Has he considered send a copy to the White House? asked Larson.

Said Sikoryak: “I guess we should send one to Sean Hannity — that way Trump might see it.”

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


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.

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


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


Wallace Wood Presents ShattuckBy Wallace Wood
Afterword by J. David Spurlock
72 8z12-inch landscape pages, b/w
2016 Fantagraphics hardcover

In his afterword, Spurlock calls Shattuck “the rarest strip” in the world. Undoubtedly. I’m something of a Wood enthusiast, and I’d never heard of it until I saw this book advertised. Shattuck was produced, like Wood’s Sally Forth and Cannon, for the Overseas Weekly, a tabloid newspaper published for American servicemen—with an emphasis on “men” because all of Wood’s strips for the paper featured a goodly assortment of barenekkidwimmin. Shattuck is no exception.

“Presents” is the operative word in the book’s title because Wood only “supervised the strip’s production,” Spurlock tells us in his brief but informative essay, “ — instructed his staff, plotted/wrote/co-wrote, produced rough layouts, inked some strips, and occasionally touched up the art” by others: Dave Cockrum, Nick Cuti, Jack Abel at one time or another, and, sometimes, Howard Chaykin and Syd Shores. It was for Shores, whose Golden Age work Wood admired, that Wood created Shattuck, Cuti said, “because he knew Syd liked working on Westerns.”

The strip’s protagonist, Merle Shattuck, is a cowboy gunfighter who frequents brothels and has an appreciative clientele at every one of them, and they are usually advertising with an ample display of product. Lots of shooting and sex. A Western for a mature (or developmentally arrested) male audience.

Apart from being the only reprinting of Shattuck ever, this book is remarkable because all the strips therein are shot from original art; you can see white-out and scratch marks. Originally published in Sunday tabloid newspaper page format, the strip’s installments appear on two facing pages, the top two-tier strip facing the bottom tiers across the gutter.

Towards the end of the strip’s run, Shattuck falls in love with a “respectable” young woman, Karen, who returns his regard but without showing so much as a well-turned ankle.

Since the object of the strip was to get the girls out of their clothes as quickly as possible (according to Cockrum), Shattuck’s change of heart effectively telegraphs the end of the strip.

Only 29 of these strips were produced in 1972. Wood’s assistants were moving on to other work, and his marriage with his second wife was deteriorating, so he moved back to New York City, leaving his Long Island studio, and he dropped Shattuck from his repertoire at that time.

Oddly, the strip seems unintentionally cognizant of its pending demise: in the final tier of the last strip, included below, Shattuck seems to have “skipped out.”




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Murder at the Hollywood Hotel coverGraphic Novel by Rick Geary
54 8x10-inch pages, b/w
2014 Home Town Press hardcover

A violent departure from Geary’s usual genre, this book purports to be the “reminiscence” of an unnamed Kansan’s 1915 attempt to get into the infant motion picture business by moving to Hollywood and taking a room in the Hollywood Hotel, all related by the protagonist in first person. Most of the rest of Geary’s ouevre are “treasuries” of historic murders. Athough the Hollywood Hotel is a real site in Hollywood and still exists, the narrator of this story is, like the story, fiction.

The other departure the volume represents is in its format. It is not in comic strip or comic book form: instead, each page is a single illustration with typeset prose beneath it—somewhat in the manner of a children’s book. No speech balloons.


Geary fills the pages with highly detailed drawings, most embellished with all kinds of decorative hachuring and shading doodles.

The narrator who wants to be in the movies is not particularly successful in breaking into field: he gets a one-day gig as an extra, and that’s about it. Before he can move on from this achievement, an aspiring young and beautiful movie actress who lives in the room next to his is found murdered one morning, stabbed between the shoulder blades. It’s a classic locked-room crime. Because the narrator’s room was next to the murder victim’s, he is thoroughly investigated by the police. Not liking the experience at all, he returns to Kansas, where he lives the rest of his live, unmarried but “decent and useful.”

About a year later, he tells us in the closing pages of the book, the murderer confessed, describing how he killed his victim by using a blowgun that he fired at her through the transom. His motive: a lady of her rarefied nature was “too fine and pure to exist on this corrupt planet.”

The fascination of most of the Geary oeuvre is in the mystery of the murder of the title, which Geary explores in detail, examining every clue and aspect of the crime. The crime in this book — and its solution — consume relatively few pages. The attraction of the book is Geary’s pictures, which, as always, delight.

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Graphic Classics H.GEdited by Publisher Tom Pomplun
144 7x10-inch pages
third edition of 2014 Eureka Productions paperback

This volume is one of more than two dozen titles from Pomplun’s Eureka imprint. The scheme in each of them is wonderfully simple, beautifully executed: Pomplun commissions writers and artists to adapt to the comics medium various literary works by noted authors. Here, five of Wells’ stories are illustrated as follows: “The Time Machine” by Craig Wilson; “The Island of Dr. Moreau” by Reno Maniquis; “The Inexperienced Ghost” by Rich Tommaso; “The Star” by Brad Teare; and “The Invisible Man” by Simon Gane. Gane, a favorite of mine, gets the longest story in the book—40 pages.




The drawing styles vary wildly from Gane’s quirky, cartoony mannerism to Tommaso’s stark simplicity, from Maniquis’s realism to Teare’s woodcut simplicity in rendering “The Star” wordlessly.

Gane is British, by the way; lives in Bath and has illustrated several of the stories in various Graphic Classics books. Maniquis is in the Philippines.

Other authors in the Graphic Classics series include Edgar Allen Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack London, Ambrose Bierce, Bram Stoker, Mark Twain, O. Henry, Oscar Wilde and so on. Some of the latest productions are not collections of a single author’s works but stories on a common theme — horror, fantasy, gothic, westerns, etc. You can find the whole enterprise at graphicclassics.com, where the prices are lower than cover prices ($10 and $15 instead of $12.95 and $15.95/17.95 for the titles in color).

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


Fred Harman photoAnother story about Fred Harman has to do with the syndication of his strip, Red Ryder. Through the mid-1930s, Harman had been self-syndicating a cowboy strip entitled Bronc Peeler, a lanky dude with a Native American kid as sidekick. Named Little Beaver, the Indian kid was a thoroughly stereotypical pidgin-speaking character, but in the thirties and forties, our culture was tolerant of such ethnic abuses. Self-syndication wasn’t working out all that well (to make a longer story shorter; for the longer version, visit the Usual Place for Harv’s Hindsight for August 2004, where the whole history of Harman and his cartooning is unveiled), and Harman abandoned his creation in 1938 after a five-year run.

Harman's break came that year shortly after he had illustrated a Big Little Book, Cowboy Lingo, for Whitman Publishing Company. Sam Lowe, Whitman's president, liked Harman's work and recommended an agent in New York, Stephen Slesinger. Slesinger had an assignment for Harman, illustrating a book about cowboys and Indians, and Harman promptly moved to New York and joined Slesinger's art staff, leaving Bronc Peeler turning slowly in the desert wind.

While on staff, Harman may have tried out to draw King of the Royal Mounted, a comic strip produced by Slesinger. But he soon found his metier elsewhere. That summer, as Harman tells it, "Fred Ferguson, president of Scripps Howard's NEA newspaper syndicate, came into the office inquiring about a Fred Harman he had heard about who drew a Little Beaver cartoon. When I stuck out my eager paw and said, 'Howdy — I'm Fred Harman,' he dang near lost his voice in surprise."

At Ferguson's instigation, Harman created a sample Sunday comic strip in which Bronc Peeler was transformed into Red Ryder, and Slesinger negotiated a ten-year contract with NEA. Red Ryder debuted on Sunday, November 6, 1938, its raw-boned redheaded hero in his signature red shirt, white wide-brimmed low-crown hat, and chaps; a daily strip started March 27, 1939.


But this success story has an unhappy underpinning: in arranging the deal with NEA, Slesinger negotiated a 51% ownership of the strip for himself. Harman and the syndicate would split the remaining 49% of revenue. And in that unusual circumstance, Red Ryder was doomed.

The strip was popular enough to provide Harman with a good living, but he aspired to be a painter of the West not a cartoonist. He did Red Ryder for a dozen years or so before his other aspiration got the better of him. In order to pursue his fond dream, he began hiring various artists to draw the strip. He continued to write it for a time, but when he finally wanted to abandon all involvement with the strip except for collecting his 24.5%, he was unable to find anyone who would take it over for that pittance that the Slesinger Deal left for the people who actually produced the strip. So Harman let the strip die in the midst of a still-healthy circulation. And he took up painting in earnest, becoming one of the founding members of the Cowboy Artists of America.

When Slesinger died, the cartoonist’s son told me, his father was present as Slesinger’s staff, including his wife Shirley, went through his papers. They found therein a letter signed by Slesinger, in which he gives back to Harman his, Slesinger’s, 51%.

As Harman contemplated this happy outcome, Shirley said, “Well, good. Let’s go to lunch.”

When they returned from their repast, the letter had disappeared.

Slesinger’s heirs, mostly Shirley, still owned 51% of Red Ryder.

Meanwhile, Harman was active in the Cowboy Artists of America. And he could have been the association’s first president, his son told me. He won the election, but another of the founders, his friend George Phippen, had been a candidate and came in second. Phippen had cancer and everyone knew he hadn’t long to live. Harman declined the presidency in order that Phippen could be the first prez and have that legacy when he passed on.

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


Cartoonist Fred Harman, who produced Red Ryder, the nation’s only long-lasting cowboy comic strip in newspapers, was an authentic cowboy: he grew up on his father’s ranch near Pagosa Springs, Colorado.


His erstwhile home and studio is now the Harman Museum, and I visited it a couple years ago and met the cartoonist’s son, another Fred Harman (the Third, the cartoonist’s father being the First). One of the family stories is about our Red Ryder Harman’s mother.

Once she and her husband were driving home and got stuck in the muddy road. Harman stayed at the wheel of the auto and his wife (the cartoonist’s mother) got out and pushed the car. After they’d extricated themselves from the mudhole, a couple of Native Americans showed up. They’d observed the Harmans’ predicament and their escape from it. Admiring the behavior of Mrs. Harman, one of the Indians offered Harman five blankets and a horse “for the woman.”

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