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.
« 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!
« You better watch out, you better not cry, better not pout, I’m telling you why —Santa Claus is coming to town. » — Haven Gillespie
Taking stock, I can’t help feeling that the singular Rick Geary (b. 1946) is a creative force that’s taken for granted. He’s been consistently chugging along at a dizzyingly high level of erudite inspiration and craft since the mid-70s. His work has been recompensed and saluted several times (an Inkpot from the San Diego Comic-Con in 1980; a Magazine and Book Illustration Award in 1994 and a Graphic Novel award in 2017, both from the prestigious National Cartoonists Society…) yet he’s remained kind of a well-kept secret, a cartoonist’s cartoonist. Even as he turned up in countless anthologies, in most cases, it felt as if he didn’t quite belong, didn’t exactly jibe with the respective audiences of, say, Dark Horse Presents or Pulse (on the other hand, High Times wasn’t a bad fit!).
Still, it’s fair to say that his following is one quite discrete from the comics mainstream. The Geary devotee must ever remain vigilant, for one never can anticipate his next move.
Which brings me to The American Bystander, which Newsweek deemed « The last great humor magazine », and to which Geary has been contributing since its second issue… and for once, it feels like home.
The Bystander, according to Wikipedia…
… features contributions from many notable comedy writers, illustrators and cartoonists. The Bystander is designed to provide a classic print humor magazine experience similar to that delivered by National Lampoon, SPY, Harold Hayes-era Esquire and many others in the pre-internet era. Yet according to The New York Times, The American Bystander “does not just belong to the tradition of defunct magazines like The National Lampoon and Spy. Its nostalgic, lightly witty style evokes influences that have been dead even longer, like the raconteur Jean Shepherd and the sophisticated stylist Robert Benchley.”
The Bystander‘s editor-publisher, Michael Gerber, exults: « In addition to his civilian fans, Rick Geary is one of those illustrators that other illustrators love, and I am with them all 100%. This drawing, entitled ‘New Mexico Christmas’, appeared in my inbox mere moments after I’d given Rick the assignment — which is why editors love him, too! »
While this ever-industrious auteur has produced graphic novels galore in the glorious Geary fashion, I remain fondest of his short-form pieces. Here’s a choice handful plucked from Bystander issues.
And while ’tis the Season, I would be remiss in neglecting to mention that TAB’s latest issue no. 18, is hot off the presses. More details here. And should you crave to sample the goods… gratis — that option’s on the table as well!
That said, Happy Holidays, everyone. Be merry but above all be safe!
« There’s nothing like eavesdropping to show you that the world outside your head is different from the world inside your head. » — Thornton Wilder
I’ve always been drawn to the more observational areas of cartooning, and Stan Mack (b. May 13, 1936) surely counts among the preeminent practitioners of the form, thanks to his long-running strip (in the pages of The Village Voice for a couple of decades!), Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies.
Therein was to be found the cartoonist’s bold pledge: « Guarantee: All Dialogue Reported Verbatim ». Oh, it might seem easy, but I’m quite convinced it was anything but.
In point of fact, here’s some insight on Mr. Mack’s modus operandi, from the horse’s mouth:
« Carry a little pad and pencil. Dress to blend in quietly. Get to the destination with enough time to case the joint. It helps to be not too tall, not too short, not too dark, not too handsome, not too ugly, not too old and not too young.
When I arrive, if I find that everybody knows each other, I make a quick exit and forget it. Otherwise, the system continues: smile and keep your ears open. Find the men’s room (always good for a line), find coffee and food, which is very helpful unless you are trying to take notes. Look for a few convenient corners in which to hide. Learn to walk backwards in order to get closer to groups. Learn to stand in the middle of a mob and like it. And, finally, learn to change direction suddenly in order to follow a good line floating by.
Appear preoccupied. If you are engaged in conversation, pay no attention to what you are saying. Say anything. Fake it. You can’t listen and think at the same time. Float through the event. Each has its own particular current. Professional wrestlers and East Side gallery-hoppers move at different speeds.
When I start to draw a strip, I sit with my deadline approaching and a pad full of quotes and doodles. I try to draw the kind of people who actually said the lines.
I don’t know why some comments seem important and others dull, but I know that it isn’t until I begin to edit that material that the story emerges. It’s often a surprise.
It’s the unexpected that makes it work. Therefore it helps to approach everything with an open mind and no preconceptions, whether it involves policemen or transsexuals or frisbee addicts. »
« I hear words I couldn’t make up. I think, ”that’s something I would never have thought of. I’ll just write it down.” I work out of other people’s heads. »
Astute Mack-o-philes (and I’ve every reason to believe that they are astute) might point out that I neglected to bring up the artist’s splendidly surreal early ’70s National Lampoon feature, Mule’s Diner; fear not, its time in the limelight will soon(ish) be at hand, so stay tuned.