Chew on This: Howard Cruse’s Bazooka Joe

« So to this my life has come: there’s meaning in a piece of gum » — Parthenon Huxley, Bazooka Joe

We recently lost another fine cartoonist in Howard Cruse (May 2, 1944 – Nov. 26, 2019), and while he’s most frequently celebrated for his pioneering work in Queer comix and his graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby, I’m much fonder of his comparatively ‘lightweight’ humorous work. In other words, I’ll take the wacky short stories over the Ponderous Magnum Opus, thank you.

And things don’t get any lighter than Bazooka Joe, now do they?

In 1983, Howard Cruse was engaged by Topps to redesign Bazooka Joe and illustrate a new set of strips, the series’ first true update since co-creator* Wesley Morse‘s passing in 1963. Topps, figuring on more-or-less total turnover of its kiddie audience, had been rotating batches of strips every seven years, drawing on the vast hoard of unpublished strips left by Morse, and now and then hiring freelancers to pad out the lot.

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An unpublished Howard Cruse instructional comic, mid-1980s. Cruse recalled: « I always liked  this strip because it’s practically the only time I was invited to draw the character at a size large enough to allow some stylistic personality. » I added the colouring, just because.
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Howard Cruse Bazooka Joe model sheet, prepared for 1983 revamp.
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Cruse’s model sheet for the rest of the 1983-vintage cast.
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Chameleonic cartoonist R. Sikoryak, who contributed gags to the second Cruise series, posits that « One of the pleasures of the traditional comic strip is the conciseness of words and pictures, and the Bazooka format takes this compression about as far as humanly possible. As with haiku, there is a great power in the constraints that must be respected in obeying a format. »
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Samples of the 1983-84 vintage.
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Jay Lynch explains: « Despite the brand managers and marketing companies responsible for the various revamps of Bazooka Joe over the years, and their valiant attempts to make the characters and the gags more ‘hip‘, I’ve always thought that the primary appeal of these tiny comics was their overall lameness. Back when I wrote Bazooka Joe, I’d usually start by going through turn-of-the-century joke books and rewriting the ancient quips to turn the 1908 ragtime aficionados into 1990’s heavy-metal enthusiasts… »
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Some thoughtful suggestions from Cruse for the 1988 crop.
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From my personal collection, original artwork supposedly from the 1983-84 batch… but something doesn’t add up. Incidentally, actual size is 3 x 3 5/8 inches.
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The accompanying certificate of authenticity raises more questions than it answers. To wit, as Mr. Cruse elucidates: « When I was asked… to reconceive Bazooka Joe as a teenager and provide him with a new ‘gang‘, the only holdover from the earlier tykes… was Mort, the weird sidekick who wore a turtleneck pulled up to his eyes. Len [Brown] and Art Spiegelman… thought the ultra-lengthy turtleneck was a bit – in fact, was literally – over the top, though. So for my first series of strips the sweater’s collar was brought down below Mort’s chin… Apparently this change disturbed some nameless traditionalists at Topps, so when I was hired to draw a second batch of strips in 1988, the turtleneck was restored to its original position… » In that case, if my original is from the ’83-’84 series, why is Mort’s turtleneck in its traditional, and proper place?
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Another certificate, this one appearing on the back of Bazooka Jerk (Garbage Pail Kids Giant Series Stickers no. 1, from 1986). Illustrated by Howard Cruse.

Then, in 1990, when the time came for another series, Topps opted to subcontract the work to a marketing company that dismissed Cruise’s work as « too goofy », according to Jay Lynch. Then Lynch, Pete Poplaski and Grass Green took up the gauntlet, which is a fascinating tale in itself… but one for another day.

If such lowly cartoon ephemera hold even the slightest sway over you, you’ll likely be very interested in Topps’ Bazooka Joe and His Gang (2013, Abrams ComicArts, edited by Charles Kochman), which proved an invaluable resource in cobbling together this post.

« Bazooka Joe has become the personification of the lowest form of humor. And this is why he’s one of the most widely known comics characters on the planet. Sure, the jokes were cornball. But that’s their appeal. » — Jay Lynch

-RG

*with Topps executive (and Golden Age comic book artist) Woody Gelman.

Social Perils and Pitfalls: Abner Dean’s ‘Come As You Are’ (1952)

« What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day. » — Phyllis Diller

Between the poles of Abner Dean’s more normal magazine work and his often quite abstract, therapy-inspired books, lies his neglected Come As You Are, his most accessible single-theme work.

In few words but with devastating visual lucidity, Dean turns a probing spotlight on party dynamics, laying bare the casual cruelty, manipulations and seductions, feints and blindsides, alliances and betrayals, thrusts and parries. The results are often hilarious… but laden with uneasy recognition; despite the distance of nearly three-quarters of a century, little appears to have changed in the fundamentals… which really should come as no surprise to anyone.

Witness the following excerpts…

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The front cover. The book is tellingly dedicated « To all those wonderful people who I hope will still ask me back. »

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According to our resident mycologist, these are pretty much all toxic. The game is rigged!

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From the back end of the book: « This is Abner Dean’s fourth adventure with the cross-eyed muse in that area of unexpected turning and hilarious insights that is particularly his own.

The first, in 1945, was It’s a Long Way to Heaven. People began seeing themselves and their friends as Dean saw them. They were startled and fascinated by the view. With What Am I Doing Here? in 1947 they winced and laughed again. Psychiatrists started using certain of his drawings for discussion with their patients. People began playing games of identification with individual pictures.

In 1949 came And on the Eight Day to make more Dean converts. And now here’s a fourth book about people to smoke out any unbelievers who may be lurking in corners at parties.

For those who like their incidental intelligence in an unbalanced phrase — Abner Dean was born in 1910, attended the National Academy in 1927, was graduated from Dartmouth in 1931, and hasn’t been away from a drawing board for more than a few days since then. He is happily married and lives in New York. »

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This is our third look at Mr. Dean’s œuvre. If you’re left longing for more, read on:

Abner Dean’s Universe: Before… 
followed of course by Abner Dean’s Universe: … After.

-RG

Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 30

« If it wasn’t for baseball, I’d be in either the penitentiary or the cemetery. » — Babe Ruth

Since the (so-called) World Series is still going on, this seems all the more appropriate.

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It was with this piece that I first began to grasp just how gifted and versatile Filipino giant Alfredo P. Alcala (1925-2000) was. He’s inarguably a grandmaster of eerie moods, but hardly bereft of a fun side. This brief piece, a dream collaboration between Sheldon Mayer and Alcala, was published in Plop! no. 1 (Sept-Oct 1973, DC). And what an issue that was, gathering such talents as Basil Wolverton, Sergio Aragonés, Mayer and Alcala, Frank Robbins, George Evans, John Albano, Stephen Skeates and Berni Wrightson… yikes! (read it here!)

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As a bonus, here’s the *back* cover of Plop! no. 1, featuring Wolverton’s cover boy “Arms” Armstrong. Which provides me with the opportunity to inform you that this very week has seen the long-delayed publication of Greg Sadowsky’s Brain Bats of Venus: The Life and Comics of Basil Wolverton Vol. 2 (1942–1952), his definitive biography of that singular and fascinating man. Read all about it here!

– RG

Nikita Mandryka’s Ailleurs

« If you don’t want to be idolized by the masses, you don’t become an author, you become a plumber-welder! » — Entretien avec Mandryka, Les cahiers de la bande dessinées no. 28 (1975), conducted by Numa Sadoul

Nikita Mandryka was born October 1940 in Bizerte, Tunisia, to Russian émigré parents. His grandfather had fled the Russian Revolution in 1921 aboard a warship he was commanding. Nikita’s first professional strip appeared late in 1964 in Vaillant (Boff, in Vaillant no. 1024, Dec. 27, 1964), soon renamed Vaillant, le journal de Pif , then Pif Gadget in 1969. While he’s best known for his loquacious, dominoed cucurbit, Le Concombre Masqué, today we’re going to harvest the riches of his somewhat less familiar, but equally absurdist creation, the free-form strip Ailleurs (“Elsewhere”). The feature debuted with the inaugural issue of Pif Gadget and made its bow with issue 35, a few months down the line.

Mandryka left Pif Gadget on good terms (and returned over the years), and with a solid reason: while Pif’s editorial team rightly adored his work, its left-field humour left the majority of Pif’s young readership quite baffled, and sometimes infuriated. Mandryka’s place in the magazine may have been secure, but he yearned for an audience that actually understood him. This he would find at Pilote, with its teenage readership, and all the more so with L’Écho des Savanes (which he cofounded, in 1972, with Claire Bretécher and Marcel Gotlib).

Pif’s was an unusual case: its most singular, daring, arguably most valuable strips were those least appreciated by the kids. And that slice of the readership, you’ll have guessed it, tends to express its opinions more freely and vehemently than their elders, who did love (but more quietly) the somewhat abstract, second degré (offbeat, ironic) features, such as Marcel Gotlib and Henri Dufranne‘s Gai-Luron**, the recently-departed Massimo Mattioli‘s M. Le Magicien or Henri Crespi‘s Nestor. Still, the savvy editorial team, who after all had made the magazine a massive hit, keenly grasped the import of editorial balance and trusted its collective taste and instinct over the “wisdom” of the accountants and marketers… who, at the height of the magazine’s popularity, pulled a mutiny and… sank the ship. So, in hindsight, Mandryka was right to leave.

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Ailleursdébut, from the inaugural issue of Pif gadget / Vaillant no. 1239 (March 1st, 1969); If it goes “zgunk”, it’s not a zgonk, it’s a zgunk.

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As an english equivalent to « Sacré vingieu! », I propose « Dagnabit! »
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Ends with a sarcastic « Glory to the ten millionth discoverer of our planet! »
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« An original solution to the parking problem. »
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From Pif gadget no. 23 / Vaillant no. 1261 (July 1969); now you know what the legendarily stoic members of The Queen’s Guard do whilst at leisure.
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From Pif gadget no. 33 / Vaillant no. 1271 (Oct. 1969); idea provided by Tabary (Jean or his brother/ghost Jacques? We may never know).
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The final Ailleurs strip, from Pif gadget no. 35 / Vaillant no. 1273 (Oct. 1969). This would have made a great skit for Jacques Tati‘s peerless Mr. Hulot.
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Nikita’s just heard a really good one during this photoshoot for a L’Écho des Savanes advert.

To my knowledge, Ailleurs has never been collected or comprehensively reprinted, save for nine of the strips turning up in Claude Moliterni‘s** excellent scholarly Phenix, revue internationale de la bande dessinée (nos. 31-31-32) in 1973.

-RG

*I’d even argue that Dufranne does a better Gotlib than Gotlib ever did.

**Among many notable achievements, he was co-founder of the Festival international de la bande dessinée d’Angoulême (Angoulême International Comics Festival).

Hoppel Poppel Comix

« I speak ten languages– all of them in Yiddish. » — Charles Rappaport

Like many a non-New-Yorker comics-loving goyim, my earliest encounters with Yiddish parlance came through Mad Magazine (furshlugginer, potzrebie, farshimmelt…), a practice initiated by its creator, Harvey Kurtzman, and carried on by his disciples and successors; unlike most of my ilk, however, my interest didn’t flag there, so I followed up Mad with Leo Rosten’s masterful The Joys of Yiddish.

As Art Spiegelman reminded us recently, in his controversial essay about the early American comic book industry, « the pioneers behind this embryonic medium based in New York were predominantly Jewish and from ethnic minority backgrounds. » Much like Mr. Spiegelman, I largely eschewed superheroes, unless nothing else was around. Of course, the trick to a varied diet is to stay alert to every possibility. Newspapers, naturally (it helps to live in or near a large metropolitan centre, though), random magazines, second-hand book stores, public and private libraries. Fluency in more than one language is a great asset, of course.

With the new possibilities opened up by the internet, I’ve grown quite fond of investigating obscure publications advertised or reviewed in old magazines. Case in point: a few years ago, I was flipping through The New Yorker‘s annual Cartoon Issue (another tip o’ the hat to Mr. Spieg) of 2001, and came upon this tiny, intriguing advertisement in its back pages.

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Drek (rhymes with wreck): Dirt, shit, or inferior merchandise; Ferbissoner (fur-biss’-n-er): Someone who clenches their teeth all the time; a hard-ass; Bissel (biss-l): a little bit; Schmutzik (shmoot’ [as in book] – tzik): dirty; Tokkeh (tock’-eh): actually, or really.
Obviously, I looked up Hoppel Poppel Comix online, found a copy, ordered it, loved it… and here we are. My pick, The Medical Journal of B.M. Derschlog, turns out to have been the first story produced, and the impetus for the rest of the collection.

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« Ken Eichenbaum’s comic book for adults began as cancer therapy. In 1999, Eichenbaum was diagnosed with colon cancer. While undergoing treatment, he began to come up with a 16-page thank-you card for those who had helped him through the ordeal. He was so encouraged by the response to that story, ‘The Medical Journal of B.M. Derschlog‘ — which lampoons his experience with the medical establishment — that he decided to write more illustrated tales. ‘I would lie in bed and there would be this shadow of illness. And I would come up with things that would make me chuckle to myself,’ says Eichenbaum, 70, who’s hesitant to talk about his cancer for fear of being seen as looking for sympathy. The result is a ‘graphic novel‘ — as these booklong comics are called — filled with sometimes funny, sometimes bawdy tales. Eichenbaum considers cartoonists Art Spiegelman and Ben Katchor to be two of his models, but ‘Hoppel Poppel‘ is less heart-wrenching than Spiegelman’s ‘Maus‘ and more slapstick than Katchor’s elliptical humor. » [source]

Mr. Eichenbaum was also clearly at ease with short-form gag strip (of these, the author coyly states: «… single-strip episodes, some of which may have previously appeared in Jewish community newspapers around the U.S. »). Some evidence:

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Cheese for juices : Jews for Jesus. Mitzvah (mitz’-Vah): A good deed, a commandment; Vayzmeer (vayz’-meer): A little prayer, like ‘help me’; Kishka (kish’-keh): Stuffed intestine, regarded by many as a delicacy; Shikker (shik’-ker): an inebriated person; the state of being drunk; Emmis (em’-miss; rhymes with tennis): truth!; Fekokteh (feh-kok’-teh): shitty; Shul (shul): a temple, as school; Tuchus (tuch’-es; rhymes with ruckus): buttocks– offensive; Shaygitz (shay’-gitz): a non-Jewish male.
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… and the back.

Well, it looks like a lovely day out there, so I’m off to pick up some potato knishes (like Mr. Kotter, I simply can’t kick that particular addiction)!

-RG

Sweepin’ the clouds away: Jack Davis’ Sesame Street

« Until now Mr. Cookie Monster refused to talk about the matter because his mouth was full, and it’s not polite to talk with your mouth full. » — Guest Star Robert McNeil

With the venerable MAD Magazine (1952-2019) bowing out after sixty-seven years, and kid’s educational show Sesame Street (singalong time!) about to hit the half-century mark, it seems à propos to salute one of the geniuses their respective histories share, Jack Davis (1924 – 2016)… rather than mire ourselves in the inevitable stack of lachrymose paeans to Harvey Kurtzman’s long-lost progeny.

So, are you in need of a bit of cheering up after a down-in-the-dumps day? Take a stroll down friendly Sesame Street with sweet Mr. Davis! Now isn’t this a place where you’d care to linger a spell?

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A lovely excerpt from the Sesame Street Annual (1972, Dell); according to the table of contents, it teaches ‘Planning’. Don’t worry, I won’t leave you in the lurch: the answers are at the end of this post. You’re welcome!
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It’s a sunny day indeed when genial Jack Davis’ long legs come striding down Sesame Street! The series was called Sherlock Hemlock’s Hidden Answer Jigsaw Puzzles, and this is number one, The Puzzle of the Hidden C’s. Well, don’t just stand there gaping, how many can *you* spot, wise guy?
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Spaghetti and chaos are on the menu in this scene that Davis was commissioned to create in 1971, early in the rise of the Muppet empire. This is number 2, The Puzzle of the Hidden S’s.
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This is number 3, The Puzzle of the Hidden Numbers. Each puzzle was packaged with a blue transparency “looking glass”, which could be used to discover hidden shapes in the picture. I’m afraid I don’t have one to spare, so you’ll have to procure your own.
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And here’s number four of the puzzle illustrations Mr. Davis created for Educational Toys’ Sherlock Hemlock’s Hidden Answer Puzzle series. This is número 4, The Puzzle of the Hidden Shapes… you know what to do next!

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Here’s the aforementioned [Yves Klein] blue looking glass you’ll need.
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Another Davis-illustrated exercise in fun from the 1972 Sesame Street Annual, which also features some gorgeous contributions from Mel Crawford and Davis’ fellow Usual Gang of Idiots member, Al Jaffee. This one teaches, again according to the “Parents’ Guide to Contents”, “Pre-reading skills”.
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As one of America’s most distinctive and deservedly successful illustrators, Davis created scores of splendid TV Guide covers, and he was uniquely well suited for this one. This is the July 10, 1971 issue. I never would have figured the mag’s logo to be edible, but then the Cookie Monster’s idea what’s fit to eat is pretty liberal.
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A very early Davis Sesame Street illustration initially used in The Sesame Street Learning Kit (Children’s Television Workshop, 1969); the show made its début on November 10, 1969, on the about-to-expire National Educational Television network. A merger soon turned the NET into the Public Broadcasting Service, which Sesame Street, now in its 49th season, calls home to this day.
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And here’s your answer. Thanks for playing along!

In case one of you experts is wondering, I did leave out, deliberately, Davis’ single meatiest contribution to the show’s canon: The 1972 Sesame Street Calendar (which I look forward to reusing in 2028), twenty-five pages of pure Davis, including thirteen particularly lush watercolours. In order to do it justice, it’ll require at least one post of its own.

And as we’re on the topic of Sesame Street’s seemingly boundless creativity, I can’t recommend enough this recent profile of the enduring friendship of a pair of the show’s most pivotal songwriters.

« Never refer to me as an item. I’m a bird. » — Big Bird

– RG

A Garrulous Dilettante and Her Pals: Tom Hachtman’s Gertrude’s Follies

« Everybody thinks that this civilization has lasted a very long time but it really does take very few grandfathers’ granddaughters to take us back to the dark ages. » — Gertrude Stein

Several years ago, while browsing in the comics section of a rather lousy bookstore (by which I mean a book shop in which none of the employees know a thing about books, let alone are actual readers… I suspect that this is becoming more common, with predictable results), I stumbled upon an oddball item, a faded-looking, obscure comic strip collection lost amidst the monotonous stacks of DC ‘n’ Marvel superhero fare and the perennial dusty Garfield and Doonesbury paperbacks.

This was Fun City (1985), the second recueil of Tom Hachtman‘s newspaper strip Gertrude’s Follies, which at the peak of its circulation appeared in… well, one paper, but a good one, at least. That was the SoHo Weekly News (1973-82). After the weekly’s demise, a handful of episodes appeared in the fast-fading National Lampoon. Much, much later (which is to say currently) the strip lives on within the pages of American Bystander, an astonishingly well-staffed humour magazine. I smell doom.

Anyway, here’s Hachtman’s recollection of the strip’s genesis, from a 1980 interview conducted by Maxine Fisher for Funnyworld no. 22 (”The world of Animated Films and Comic Art”):

MF: What was your inspiration for a strip about Gertrude Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas?

TH: I knew of them, but I didn’t know much about them. And then I saw a photograph of them [by none other than Man Ray] sitting in a room at the home on the rue de Fleurus in Paris. I looked at this famous lesbian couple sitting across from one another — so far apart– and I thought: ”Look at that! One of them is fat, and the other one’s skinny. That’s funny. They’re just like a comedy routine. I wonder if they had any fun.” It didn’t look like they were having any fun in that picture; they just looked like they were posing for a picture. But I thought: ”maybe they ran around and had lots of fun.” So I started drawing pictures of them, and drawing pictures of their friend Pabs, and looking at pictures of them, and looking at pictures of Picasso.

Anyway, I started drawing Gertrude and Alice and Pabs and Hemingway and putting them into situations in my sketchbook.

Basically, I was doing Abbott and Costello or I Love Lucy starring Gertrude, Alice, and their friends.

I knew if would make a nice comic strip in a newspaper. And that narrowed it down. Here was a comic strip about a lesbian couple and all their artist friends. There weren’t too many newspapers that were going to publish this. In fact, I thought, there’s only one. And I started to watch the SoHo News, wondering where it would fit. Where would they put this thing? Would they give me a whole page to do a comic strip?

More juicy details from another interview, this one conducted in 2018 by Martin Kozlowski:

MK: One of the unique features of the strip is the blending of Jazz Age Paris and Punk Rock New York. Was that a deliberate strategy or did it naturally evolve?

TH: I was living in NYC in the 1970s. I only know Paris from movies and books. That’s right; I have never been to Paris. So, when I draw a mailbox I am too lazy to research what a mailbox looks like in Jazz Age Paris. I just draw a mailbox as I know it. I have been told that my readers in Paris find this very amusing. So, the blending happens — naturally.

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However, something that Stephen King does mind

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Oh, I’ll bet dear old Dr. Pretorius would be right chuffed with this Alice Bride. « To a new world of gods and monsters! », as the good doc famously exclaimed.
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Our heroines in a more (or less) realistic vein. In the usual order: Gertrude, Bucket, Alice.
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Despite, or perhaps because of the liberties he takes with these semi-sacred historical figures, Hachtman’s Gertrude appears to be rather beloved of the keepers of Gert and Alice’s mad flame. For example: « I look at the cover of the soon-to-be-reborn Follies several times a day and have a laugh each time. Too funny, Hemingway’s teeth, silly Picasso avec crayon, Basket’s slobbering excitement and Alice’s cigarette charm!! And Gert, yes sir, she is fierce!!! Rose flying like arrow ready to hit Alice’s nose. This can’t get any better! I hear the brooch ringing… Bravo! » –– Stein scholar Renate Stendahl
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The auteur, circa the late 70s. Say, what’s that he’s sporting?
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Un mini-parasol, une ombrelle. For shade, not protection from the rain. Hachtman was fond of road-testing some of the props employed by his players. Gives the strip that je ne sais quoi of authenticity, don’t you know.

If  you like what you see, you may rejoice in the fact that Gertrude’s Follies has lately become more widely available (whilst retaining its elusive cachet) thanks to the efforts of Now What Media. Amble over to their website, where they provide a generous sampling of strips and biographical information, not to mention the possibility of acquiring the collections.

Oh, and do check out Alice’s unusual, lasting contribution to popular culture.

« I love you, Alice B. Toklas, and so does Gertrude Stein… »

-RG

“Just a feminine hygiene version of Pee-Wee’s Playhouse”: Russo & Wong’s ‘Rancid Plotte’ (1993)

« We’re not very accepting of people who act strangely. » — Chester Brown

Scott Russo’s Jizz, published by Fantagraphics in 1991-93 (10 issues in all), was a fearless, often downright incendiary and frequently fascinating repository of vitriol from the heart and soul of Mr. Russo. As his own drawing style was pretty rudimentary (but clean and distinctive), the auteur drew upon collage, détournement and plain old text pieces for variety. Russo may have been embittered and misanthropic, but the entertainment he proffered was quite deliberate; a fine, dexterous trick to pull off.

Here, from Scott Russo’s Jizz no. 10 (March 1993, Fantagraphics), is his merciless but spot-on takedown of publisher Drawn & Quarterly‘s stable of neurotics: Julie Doucet, Joe Matt, Chester Brown and Seth, rendered in a breathtakingly accurate facsimile blend of their respective styles and schticks. Script by Russo, art by his trusted confederate ‘Master’ Jeff Wong. Not particularly ‘safe for work‘, I should say.

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From Scott Russo’s Jizz no. 7 (Sept. 1991, Fantagraphics). I’ll always be grateful to Mr. Russo for this scathing exposé of the Olive Oil industry. My girlfriend at the time was taking a chemistry class at McGill University, during which they subjected various brands of olive oil to chemical analysis and essentially confirmed Russo’s claims. Now I merely snicker and shrug when I see someone shell out big bucks for the stuff… sometimes there’s no sense in trying to convince anyone.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Satirical Cephalopods

« Knock it off, squiddo! You couldn’t make a class-B horror picture on earth — you’re not even good for a milk shudder! Better skeddadle, or I’ll tie your tentacles into a bow! »

Tentacles are no cause for levity, you say? Ha! Their place in all manner of spoofs and parodies (and other silliness) is ensured. Peppered with a barrage of puns (never undersell puns, please!), whimsical tentacular entanglements abound in literature… err, comic literature, at any rate, and that’s good enough for me.

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I meant “entanglements” very literally. Story published in Not Brand Echh no. 11 (December 1968, Marvel); script by Arnold Drake, art by Marie Severin.
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Say, did I hear some barely restrained giggling over “20 000 leaks under the sea?” (This story, written and drawn by Jay Disbrow, was reprinted in 2000 by Fantagraphics in a collection called The Sincerest Form of Parody: The Best 1950s MAD-Inspired Satirical Comics.) Unsane no. 15 (June 1954, Star Publications), cover by L.B. Cole.

Even some 100 years ago (well, a little less), some unfortunate octopus could easily become a Figure of Fun if he wasn’t careful.

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The story doesn’t say what happened to the freaking octopus, though. This edition of Pussyfoot the Redskin was printed in Comic Cuts no. 1735 (August 1923). Visit BLIMEY! The Blog of British Comics for more Comic Cuts.

I can’t mention équivoques and wordplay without mentioning Pogo, Walt Kelly‘s keenly intelligent comic strip. Sadly, this was the only appearance of Octopots, as far as I know (and I long to be corrected).

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From Figmentality, from The Pogo Sunday Parade (1958). Art by Walt Kelly, of course!

In the competitive world of jokes in bad taste, the man from SRAM probably takes the cake. It’s lucky that he has no qualms about hitting females, or the world would be doomed… although his mirthless monologue would probably kill the creature with sheer ennui.

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Madhouse in Hollywood (Man from SRAM), scripted by Otto Binder and drawn by Carl Pfeufer, published in Jigsaw no. 2 (December 1966, Harvey).

On the other hand, Superman‘s creative insults can easily shame a thin-skinned Tentacled Terror (was his spaghetti-and-meatball crack some sort of early Flying Spaghetti Monster reference, even though the latter was only officially created in 2005?)

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Superman no. 184 (February 1966). The story is The Demon Under the Red Sun!, scripted by Otto Binder (again; he clearly has some unhealthy attraction to tentacles, like the best of us) and drawn by Al Plastino. Figure out what’s going on in this story (or not, for there’s not a lot of logic to be found, anyway) at Mark’s Super Blog.

~ ds

Al Jaffee: Snappy Answer to Many a Stupid Question

« Whose birthday is it today, does anyone know? »

This year, spring officially begins on March 20th, so it’s still a few days away… but the vernal bevy of birthdays has already started. Al Jaffee is still our first Spring Birthday Boy – he was always precocious, you know! Born in 1921 on March 13th, he turns 98 today, and that’s a truly impressive age, even for the oldest working cartoonist. Break out the bubbly!

Take my hand as we gallop through Jaffee’s career at a fast clip. In chronological order, then…

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Original art for “Pain Relief Speed Test On Actual People In Actual Pain“, published in Humbug no. 7 (February 1958).

The New York Herald Tribune Syndicate published Tall Tales from 1957 to 1963. Al Jaffee came up with the idea of this strip’s format (one vertical panel for dailies, and a series of vertical panels for Sundays) when he was in financial straits – its unorthodox configuration ensured that newspaper editors would be able to squeeze it in *somehow*.

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Sunday Tall Tales strip from 1960.

Visit The Fabulous Fifties blog for more – the amazing Ger Apeldoorn has scanned tons of Tall Tales from old newspapers, a monumental (and much appreciated) endeavour.

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Sunday Tall Tales strip from 1961.

« The world is full of bloviators. And this kind of stuff, when there’s someone on the public scene who’s really going beyond his duties as a politician or a religious leader or a sportsman, he’s fair game. The main thing is to keep your eyes and ears open and when you hear something that’s clearly baloney, such as “eight out of 10 doctors smoke Chesterfield cigarettes” – these are ads that actually ran! One of the tobacco companies had the nerve to claim that doctors prefer their cigarettes. So it’s easy to shoot down that kind of bull. But you do it with a gentle hand, you don’t preach and say “tobacco kills! How can these doctors do that?!” No, you just go them one step further and say, “In addition to eight out of 10 doctors smoking this brand of cigarette, in their time off, they each drink a gallon of bourbon, which also has health benefits. » |source|

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« Thanks a lot for ignoring my recent request for a house call, Doc! You saved me ten bucks!! It went toward the funeral!!! » Now, isn’t this a happy vernal scene? (Look at the pretty flowers!) Al Jaffee painted this “Get Mad” picture postcard for publication in The Worst From Mad no. 12 (1969).
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First edition of Mad’s Al Jaffee Spews Out More Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, (Signet, February 1972).

« I’m not an educator or a preacher. I think the important thing, in my line of work anyway, is that you’re helping the reader to think for himself. It’s not just about getting a chuckle from them. When you expose hypocrisy or nonsense or plain ol’ stupidity, you want to do it in a way that makes the reader connect the dots. Don’t tell the joke, just hint at the joke. If you over-explain it, it’s no good. » /source/

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This painting (layout by Harvey Kurtzman, art by Al Jaffee) was designed to accompany an Esquire article from April 1972 about Elaine’s, a hip restaurant in NYC that was known for attracting writers, actors, and other prominent New Yorkers. Incidentally, Elaine Kaufman, the owner of this establishment, was a barrel of laughs (I’m not saying that sarcastically, either). « Kaufman was known for not mincing her words, for booting less-favored customers to seat new arrivals and for forbidding hamburgers to be served in her restaurant. She was once arrested after a physical altercation with a visiting Texan. Elaine also once had a fist fight with the actress Tara Tyson, and also chased away the notorious paparazzo Ron Galella by hurling two garbage can lids at him and exclaiming, “Beat it, creep… you’re bothering my customers”. » Ah, the people you knew at Elaine’s
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The back cover of Mad no. 170 (October 1974), “A Mad Look at a TV Commercial“.

You might be wondering if Mr. Jaffee’s art and wit were any good much later in his career, say in the 90s. Stupid question, bub. Of course they were!

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Original art from Mad’s Restaurant Survival Guide (Mad no. 300, January 1991).
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Art from a 1998 issue of Mad Special illustrating yet another round of Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. When I said ’round’, I meant it: these are stupid questions asked at a wrestling programme. This one was probably “does this pink boa make me look fat?”

Have you ever wondered what Al Jaffee is like in person? Here’s your chance to find out:

“But you haven’t even mentioned MAD fold-ins!”, you might exclaim in dismay. Hey, I’m not gonna repeat myself… visit A MAD Dash… Inside for that and more Jaffee silliness.

Oh, fine, you guys. Just one, though, ’cause otherwise we’ll be here for another couple of hours, and frankly I’ve got hungry cats to feed.

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What new way are people falling head over heels these days?, published in Mad no. 216 (July 1980).

You say you’re having trouble folding your screen? Geez, do we have to do *all* the work around here?

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Many happy returns, Mr. Jaffee! <3<3<3

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Mr. Jaffee and his wife Joyce in 2016, when he was but 95 years old. When he once quipped «Serious people my age are dead», he meant it as gospel. 😉

~ ds