« Dreams surround our desires with ugliness and dread. » — Mason Cooley
As everyone knows, the early fifties were a more innocent and wholesome era, when the average bobbysoxer would swoon away the nights with fantasies of dishy teen idol Rondo Hatton. I mean, just look at her blissful expression!
Surprisingly, the cover scene does, for once, occur within!
« The whole planet reeks of mysticism without revelation. » — Dan Simmons
Last May, when I showcased Joe Maneely‘s Atlas cover art (see Joe Maneely, Atlas of Versatility), I intentionally left out his pieces for the horror titles, knowing them worthy of some attention of their own, an ideal topic for the Hallowe’en countdown. Besides, it took some pressure out of the selection process if I could save one whole genre for a rainy day — and today’s most certainly that day!
“Mystic” is evidently one of Marvel’s pet titles: the title was first used by Timely in 1940-42, then again in 1944-45; once more, most successfully in this Atlas horror series, for 61 issues from 1951-57. And lately in 2009 and 2011. I’ll bet that tradition’s not yet done with, but why on earth?
« Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. » — The Black Cat (1845)
What can I tell you about the legendary English cartoonist and bon vivantHunt Emerson — born in 1952 in Newcastle and still devilishly active these days — that he can’t tell you in his own words?
In 1973, he gave us Birds of Israel (included at the end of this post); farther along, he (with his frequent collaborator, Montréal-born writer Sean Kelly) gave us a look at The Birds of Summer, (2007, The New York Times). And in 2016, these ardent but irreverent crypto-ornithologists were at it again with Odd Birds, which added in excess of one hundred and fifty fascinating new species to the tally. However, Meyerowitz only illustrated a handful (but such a handful!), which I present to you here. Still, how I would love to behold his depictions of, for instance: The Three-Day Lark; the Venomous Spite; the Oblivious Walking Jay; the Perpetual Jackhammer; the Yellow-Bellied Stool Pigeon; the Groveling Wince; the Hoodwinked Bagholder; the Celibate Tot-Fondler; Zimmerman’s Cryptic Drone; the Barecheeked Thongbird; the Bald-Faced Lyre; the Fact-Spinning Mockingbird; the Screaming Scarlet Manager; the Gulf Coast Petrel Dumper; Oscar’s Pink-Bottomed Boychick; the Crapulous Binge; the Free-Screech Owl… or the Swaggering Gut-Sucker! Man, this project needs to go the full book route.
I was startled to discover that after several years of WOT blogging, we still have no post dedicated to Sergio Aragonés. Perhaps this is in part because his art is ubiquitous – throughout his long career, he has contributed manifold pages to various DC publications, created an enduring barbarian parody, scripted and drawn (mostly solo but also in collaboration) an impressive number of mini-series published by Fantagraphics, Dark Horse and Bongo Comics, produced various comic-con paraphernalia, etc. And this is not to mention his lasting contributions to Mad Magazine (which I did discuss, though not at length, in A MAD dash… inside) – something in the magnitude of twelve thousand gags spread over 57 years and 491 issues of Mad.
He’s also a charming, universally-liked man whose bigger-than-life persona has ensured that his participation in anything is always surrounded by fun anecdotes. It is my great pleasure to share this abridged compendium of Aragonés tentacles, of which there are many, as he enthusiastically added them into doodles and margins with great glee (and, as we know, « he has quite literally drawn more cartoons on napkins in restaurants than most cartoonists draw in their entire careers *», so just imagine how many tentacles are scattered throughout his work).
Incredibly, we still haven’t written a post dedicated to the great Plop! (this post is starting to sound like a to-do-in-the-nearest-future list), though Hallowe’en Countdown III, Day 30 did include a story from number 1. Plop!, “The New Magazine of Weird Humor!“, certainly included a lot of cephalopods in its 24 issues and I will doubtlessly get around them one of these days. In the meantime, here’s a very appropriate page from Plop! no. 16:
Galloping forward through some twenty years, we briefly land at Marvel, namely these two pages from Groo the Wanderer no. 98 (February 1993, Marvel), co-plotted and scripted by Mark Evanier.
Sergio Aragonés Funnies, published between 2011 and 2014 by Bongo Comics, boast 12 issues of really enjoyable, remarkably varied material. For those who may think that Aragonés is one-trick pony who can only do ‘silly’ humour, this series offers many auto-biographical stories, some of them surprisingly poignant and heart-felt. Not to say that it’s not devoid of humour – the more serious stuff (including social criticism in the form of animal parables) is nestled among pages of slap-stick humour and imaginative goofiness, from one-pagers to longer stories that take most of an issue to develop. Aragonés also shares some background on his approach to stories, allowing us to peek into his imagination and possibly answer that hackneyed question that plagues all manner of writers, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’ If an anthology of Funnies is ever published, I’ll happily purchase it.
Excerpts from Kira and the Beauty Contest, published in Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 2 (August 2011, Bongo Comics):
Panels from Sergio’s Inferno, published in Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 3 (September 2011, Bongo Comics):
Finally, a panel from the back cover of Sergio Aragonés Funnies no. 10 (October 2013, Bongo Comics). Nevermind what the joke is, I just really like that octopus (as well as his other sea friends).
I mentioned materials related to Comic-Cons, so I would be amiss to not include at least one image of something vaguely related!
I’ll end this post with a classic Aragonés anecdote, as told by Mark Evanier. This happened while these two were participating in filming The Half-Hour Comedy Hour television show for NBC in 1983, on which the model Jayne Kennedy was a guest. [source]
« This was one of the most beautiful women in the world. And she wore this dress that was very revealing, so much so the censors wouldn’t let us put her on the air in it without adding some material. So we’re all talking to her, the writers and whoever, just in awe of this woman. And Sergio comes walking in looking like a homeless person, carrying his portfolio. And Jayne sees him and she shouts, ‘Sergio!’ and she runs over and starts kissing him passionately.
They’d worked together before, it turned out. But Johnny Carson comes walking out into the hallway and he thinks Jayne Kennedy is being sexually assaulted by a homeless person in the NBC hallways. He came over to make sure she was okay. She said it was fine, that she knew him, and I said, ‘It’s okay, he’s a cartoonist.’
So Johnny gives that classic look and he says, ‘I knew I should have taken up drawing.’ »
« Hey, Look! is essential reading for any cartoonist. » — the late and much-missed Patrick Dean, who truly knew what he was talking about.
Sometimes I think of a post topic and dismiss it with a ‘nah, too obvious’… but on some of my brighter days, I run the idea past my wife, who provides a welcome reality check: ‘Obvious to whom?‘, she asks. Well, there’s been a collected edition… which has been out of print for most of the nearly thirty years since it hit the stands. Fair enough.
As I’ve been lately foraging through the crumbling back pages of Golden Age humour comics (see my previous post), it would be negligently immoral for me to pass over one of the crown jewels of the genre, the era and the medium.
One* of the redeeming features of Marvel’s overwhelmingly crass Dynamite (magazine) rip-off, Pizzazz, was its reprinting of a handful of Harvey Kurtzman‘s majestic Hey Look! strips. Of course, it made perfect economic sense: grab some already (and barely)-paid-for, all-but-forgotten ‘filler’ from the 1940s, slap some new colour on ‘em, and wham! One less egg to fry.
« Night after night, Shepherd forged the inchoate thoughts and feelings of a whole generation of fans into an axiom that went something like: ‘The language of our culture no longer describes real life and, pretty soon, something’s gonna blow.‘. » — Donald Fagen
Today’s a very august occasion, for it marks the birth centennial of that sublime storyteller, Jean Shepherd (July 26, 1921 – October 16, 1999), so we’ll celebrate it… in comics!
Let’s close in highfalutin fashion with a most pertinent bit of Longfellow (1807–1882):
The shades of night were falling fast, As through an Alpine village passed A youth, who bore, ‘mid snow and ice, A banner with the strange device, Excelsior!
His brow was sad; his eye beneath, Flashed like a falchion from its sheath, And like a silver clarion rung The accents of that unknown tongue, Excelsior!
In happy homes he saw the light Of household fires gleam warm and bright; Above, the spectral glaciers shone, And from his lips escaped a groan, Excelsior!
“Try not the Pass!” the old man said; “Dark lowers the tempest overhead, The roaring torrent is deep and wide!” And loud that clarion voice replied, Excelsior!
“Oh stay,” the maiden said, “and rest Thy weary head upon this breast! “ A tear stood in his bright blue eye, But still he answered, with a sigh, Excelsior!
“Beware the pine-tree’s withered branch! Beware the awful avalanche!” This was the peasant’s last Good-night, A voice replied, far up the height, Excelsior!
At break of day, as heavenward The pious monks of Saint Bernard Uttered the oft-repeated prayer, A voice cried through the startled air, Excelsior!
A traveller, by the faithful hound, Half-buried in the snow was found, Still grasping in his hand of ice That banner with the strange device, Excelsior!
There in the twilight cold and gray, Lifeless, but beautiful, he lay, And from the sky, serene and far, A voice fell like a falling star, Excelsior!
I’d like to talk about Danish Herluf Bidstrup (1912 – 1988), yet another talented artist of some renown during his lifespan, but who soon sank into the oblivion of time. His wild popularity in the Soviet Union at the height of his artistic prowess not only resulted in honourable mentions in various works of Russian literature, but also in the printing of a bevy of collections both old and new. He has also received numerous awards from the USSR (most notably, the Lenin Peace Prize – a bit of a contradiction in terms – and the Order of the Red Banner of Labour). Now he’s forgotten by most everyone… except by Russians, who still carry a torch for his cartoons, and publish new collections of his work to this day. He produced around five thousand cartoons during his lifetime, so there’s certainly plenty of material to collect!
The openly anti-fascist Bidstrup had been contributing humorous drawings to various publications since 1935, but he truly found his voice in the underground (and illegal) newspaper, Land og folk, the offshoot of Denmark’s (also illegal) Communist party, which Bidstrup joined in 1943. While his work was also appreciated and published in East Germany, his obvious political stance significantly limited the scope of what could be printed. It even affected his career in his home country, as Denmark was economically dependent on then-Fascist Germany. Bidstrup himself considered that he was most accurately represented in the Soviet press, not only before and during WWII, but also after the war. In 1953, in a letter to his friend Soviet journalist Mikhail Kosov, translator of his work and main enthusiast, he wrote that « all Soviet anthologies which we have prepared together are a hundred times better than collections published in other countries… in the German version, I become more and more of a harmless humourist, and a completely toothless satirist. »
In a sense, Bidstrup can be compared to his contemporary, French artist Jean Effel (also a favourite of Soviet citizens): both were openly communists whose work confronted social injustice and inequality. But at the end of the day, artists aren’t much remembered for their ‘social conscience’: it’s their keen eye for everyday detail and sense of humour that allows cartoons to pass unscathed through decades, to touch and amuse us some seventy years on. In that sense, Bidstrup’s cartoons are arguably more ‘dated’, more tied to his politics than Effel’s, which perhaps explains why one encounters mentions of the latter a little more often. Still, there’s plenty there to admire and chuckle at.
The following images have been selected from the collection seen above and kindly scanned and framed by co-admin RG.
Finally, here is a charming cartoon that Soviet animation director Lev Atamanov produced in collaboration with Bidstrup during one of his many visits to the USSR.
I hope your enjoyed this walk down history’s lane. And if you’d like to see more, while Herluf Bidstrup may be relatively obscure, you can still see a nice collection of his cartoons here and here.
A couple of eternities ago, in Shel Silverstein: Without Borders, we profiled you-know-who and showcased the travel cartoons he produced for Hugh Hefner and Playboy Magazine. Now, we reach back even earlier, to his first stirrings as a professional cartoonist… and a lifelong rover. As it would turn out, Shel truly was a free spirit.
Lisa Rogak writes, in her A Boy Named Shel (2007, St. Martin’s Press):
Once he arrived in Tokyo, Shel was assigned to the Pacific Stars and Stripes to past up stories and photo features for the paper. When his work was done — which he performed as quickly as possible — he turned his attention to drawing cartoons using the material that was right in front of him: the military. Shel roamed the streets of Shinbashi, a neighborhood that GIs frequented that once served as the end of the line of Japan’s first railroad. He spent hours each day wandering the streets taking note of the activities of his fellow soldiers, which would invariably end up in one of his cartoons.
He initially did it for his own amusement, through within a few weeks, the paper began to print his work. After spending six months juggling newspaper paste-up with cartooning, he convinced his editors to take him off layout duties and allow him to wander the Far East and send back reports in the form of one-panel cartoons. They agreed.
Evidently, Mrs. Silverstein’s boy was a most charming and persuasive fellow. He would soon pull the same stunt on Hugh Hefner… but none can claim, in either case, that he failed to deliver on his lofty promises!
Even with his freedom, Shel had a hard time dealing with the restraints of army protocol. Corky Alexander, the late editor of the English language Tokyo Weekender, first met Shel at Stars and Stripes. “He was an army corporal and was perhaps the worst soldier in the history of armed might, down through the ages,” he said.
“His technique followed a simple pattern. First he thought of an object — say, his first sergeant. He’d concentrate until he would come up with 20 or 30 gags on the one subject. Out of it came situations peopled by his long-nosed characters, his little men, his giants, the animals and the strange creatures for which he has a special affection.“
His favorite overall targets were the officers. “They even made zebras off-limits to me because they had stripes,” Shel said.
In his foreword to Take Ten, Shel’s good buddy and PS&S colleague Bob Sweeney recounts:
In a letter to the home office, Bob Brown of the S&S Seoul Bureau wrote: “He stays up all night chewing pencils, drawing cartoons and writing ideas on little scraps of paper he never finds again. In the first twenty minutes he was here he had our little office more cluttered than the convention hall in his native Chicago.”
“But,” added Brown, “he knows the people he draws. He’s lived through the same experiences and heard the same lines.“
Here then are the simplicities as well as the subtleties — the obvious and the obtuse — the wonderful conglomerate of a man who loves to write, to draw, to create — and best of all — who loves to laugh.