Thursday, April 07, 2005

Moving On

Blogger has foiled me too often. If you'd like to follow me to my new location, where I continue to talk about my strip, cartoons in general, and the odds and ends that catch my fancy, here it is.

If you've stumbled here courtesy of the Blogger Next button, you're reading the semi-discarded shell of my blog. Until I manage to transfer the old posts to the new site, I'll treat this as an archive.

Before The Fall



Here's a clip from the May 22 Sunday. Spot and I don't share the same appetites, but in this case we share the same menu. Ice cream is simply the perfect food. But perfection rarely fits in the real world. I would eat ice cream on the hour, only stopping when the mortuary shut tight my coffin. That's how good ice cream is. And how bad it is.

The classic definition of tragedy, I think, is when a person's greatest virtue is also his greatest flaw.

Ice cream, the most tragic of foods.

Before The Fall



Here's a clip from the May 22 Sunday. Spot and I don't share the same appetites, but in this case we share the same menu. Ice cream is simply the perfect food. But perfection rarely fits in the real world. I would eat ice cream on the hour, only stopping when the mortuary shut tight my coffin. That's how good ice cream is. And how bad it is.

The classic definition of tragedy, I think, is when a person's greatest virtue is also his greatest flaw.

Ice cream, the most tragic of foods.

Lobsters And Cartoonists

Says Browen:

There are comic strip artists in Maine? :D And here I grew up thinking it was just lobsters and moose. The things you learn! :D

If you ever choose to take a tour of the stars' homes, Maine also offers: Big Nate artist Lincoln Peirce; Bud Blake, who drew Tiger for so many years (the strip isn't retired, but I think Blake is); and most recently Wiley Miller, who draws Non Sequitur, has moved there.

Monday, April 04, 2005

New Hampshire Time



In the paper this Sunday, Spot and Buddy passed the time with snowballs. This jarred me a bit since there's grass on the ground and rain water in the basement.

There's a reason for this. The strip was originally intended for March 27, which, in New Hampshire Time, is still winter, despite the Vernal Equinox.

But I wasn't alone in heaping snow on the comics section. If you're a cartoonist who lives in Maine, the only alternative to throwing snowballs was to grab a shovel.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Sometimes Bald Is Better

Kitsune points out:

Somehow, I like Buddy with his hat better than without. It kinda looks like a woodsman's hat to me. Since Buddy is a frog of the wild and all... I've gotten used to the hat this winter so now, without it, he looks sort of, well, bald.

There's no reason why a frog couldn't have hair in the strip. It wouldn't be the first liberty I've taken with a frog's biology. But there are those who look better without hair (that's my private hope.) And in Buddy's case, there are legal concerns. I'd hate to get a call from a Troll Doll lawyer.

Wildlife And Romance


Brad Fitzpatrick keeps a blog of sketches and this one caught my eye and tugged at my heart. Not so much for the moose -- which I saw occasionally when I lived up north -- but for the insects keeping it company, which I saw more often (except for the no-see-ums, of course.) There are bugs in Rhode Island, but I've never noticed the ubiquitous (though apparently not so ubiquitous) black fly. And even mosquitoes seem more retiring if you avoid the woods.

I don't miss the flies.

But, strangely, I do. A breeze is never more loved than when it blows away a cloud of flies.

Moved by nostalgia, I googled no-see-ums -- aka midges -- and learned:

The biting midges belong to the genus Culicoides of the family Ceratopogonidae; they are the smallest of the bloodsucking insects and are common pests in the NE United States, where they are called punkies, sand flies, and no-see-ums. The adults have mouthparts that pierce and suck and inflict irritating bites on humans; some species ride the wings of dragonflies and lacewings, sucking the blood of their hosts.

There's something daring and romantic about a midge riding the wings of a dragonfly.

By the way, note the dandy drawing of a frog at the top of the page. It's only flaw is the strange symmetry in size between the eyes.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Stampede



Excitement in Wheaton (from the April 17 Sunday.)

Though it hasn't been mentioned in the strip and perhaps never will be, Spot and Karl live in the town of Wheaton, NH. As far as I know, there isn't a Wheaton, NH. But there is an Eaton, NH, where I lived in a cabin on a lake for a summer and a fall, where the frogs would croak and I'd play my trumpet. A keen listener could tell the difference.

Cold-Blooded Contemplation



From April 12: Spot and Buddy contemplate the state of their affairs.

Comic As Storyboard

From filmrot.com:

We all know by now that Frank Miller's cult-comic series Sin City is hitting the big screen this Friday, and that it's directed by both Robert Rodriquez and Miller. Legend has it Miller thought Sin City was un-make-able until Rodriquez invited him to his Texas castle movie studio and shot, edited, FX'ed and scored an entire scene from The Babe Wore Red in one day. The results impressed the author so much, he decided to trust Rodriquez with his baby, but only if he co-directed, of course. It's been obvious throughout the project that the two were visually sticking close to the books.




Setting aside my qualms about movies that mime comics, there's some eerie deja vu going on. (via Drawn!)

Nomenclature

From an article in the Rocky Mountain News:

Even the late Will Eisner, who often received credit for coining the genre's moniker, preferred to characterize the marriage of text and images in book form as "sequential art." He invented the term "graphic novel" out of desperation, in an attempt to sell his first book - a series of illustrated short stories - to a publisher who didn't dabble in comics. The publisher passed, but Eisner's work eventually found a home. A Contract with God was published in 1978, marking the birth of a new genre.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Comic City



I saw Jessica Alba in an interview for Sin City. She referred to the movie's inspiration as a graphic novel, and then, seemingly uncomfortable with the phrase, called it a comic book. I wonder what prompted the clarification/reduction? It's certainly graphic. It's certainly novel.

I've been calling comic books graphic novels since Miller's Batman. But when Alba said comic book, it surprised me that she clearly thought graphic novel was obscure and exotic. I'm not sure what that means, beyond the idea that comic books have been wearing adult sizes for a good while, but others still see them in short pants.

In another interview I saw the director Rodriguez explain that a graphic novel is cinematic storytelling. Translating Sin City to the screen was straightforward, he said (and since Miller is the co-director, that view is a chorus of two.) But a movie is always in motion, propelled by the director. A graphic novel -- and any non-animated cartoon -- can linger. That seems to be a clear difference, one that invites a different relationship with the reader. Moving forward by staying still.

Movies suggest reality by cutting time into pieces and splicing the bits back together for a race through the projector. You see what you see for as long as the editor leaves the door open. Graphic novels suggest reality by freezing time; the same bits as a movie, but always on display. The door never closes.

Sin City may look like a graphic novel, but until it's available on DVD and I'm stabbing the pause button on the remote with every scene, it's a graphic movie.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Finding Laughs

Mike Lynch is hosting Mark Anderson's blog this week. He begins with a nice bit of arcana -- though for all I know every cartoonist uses one on the sly -- and shows us the Laugh Finder. If you're the sort who chuckles at the implied punchlines in a grocery list, you need this device.

The Seduction of Wertham

I have a connection with Fredric Wertham.



In his The Seduction of the Innocent (1954), he uses an illustration to drive home the point that crime comics are violent and contagious. It shows a woman with a knife held to her eye. The knife point is a gasp away from the pupil. The woman's name is Mary Kennedy.

And since I'm engaged to Mary Kennedy, his point is well made.

His other points are less sharp. Here are a few excerpts:

Our researches have proved that there is a significant correlation between crime-comics reading and the more serious forma of juvenile delinquency. Many children read only few comics, read them for only a short time, read the better type (to the extent that there is a better type) and do not become imbued with the whole crime-comics atmosphere. Those children, on the other hand, who commit the more serious types of delinquency nowadays, read a lot of comic books, go in for the worst type of crime comics, read them for a long time and live in thought in the crime-comics world...

Many comic books describe how to set fires, by methods too various to enumerate. In some stories fire-setting is related just as a detail; in other stories such as "The Arson Racket" the lesson is more systematic. There are other sidelights, like how to break windows so you cannot be found out; all this highlighted by the philosophy of the character who says: "From now on I'm making dough the easy way -- with a gun! Only SAPS work!" That lesson, incidentally, is true of crime comics as a whole: glamour for crime, contempt for work...

Another comic book shows how a youngster can murder for profit. He gets a job as a caddy, loses the ball, then kills the player when he goes searching for it...

A fifteen-year-old boy was accused of having shot and killed a boy of fourteen (the authorities chose to consider this accidental), of having thrown a cat from a roof, of having thrown a knife through a boy's foot, of sadistic acts with younger children, of having shot at a younger girl with a B.B. gun. After a full study of the psychological and social background, we came to the conclusion that the fact that he was an inveterate reader| of comic books was an important contributing factor. His favorite comic book, read over and over, contained no less thank eighty-one violent acts, including nineteen murders...

I should point out that I have read many violent things in my 45 years, and so far have resisted the temptation to throw my cat off the roof.

Don Simpson has a good piece on the continuing villification of Werthram. And Dwight Decker reveals Wertham in his final years as someone who discovered -- with the publication of his final book, The World of Fanzines -- that those who read comics aren't as brutish as he'd imagined:

The World of Fanzines is a masterpiece of scholarship gone off the track. It's the only book you'll find about its subject in most libraries even though the author never quite understood what he was writing about. He never said as much - he couldn't admit it for the sake of professional pride, perhaps - but The World of Fanzines contradicts everything Dr. Wertham wrote about comic books and their readers in his previous books.
In the end, he decided, we'd turned out pretty much all right.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

How Many Fireman Does It Take To Free A Frog From A Watering Can?

The answer.

Medical Breakthrough: Mice Made Allergic To Cats

Mary is allergic to cats. Or, more precisely, the one cat we live with.



Scientists at UCLA are working towards a solution:
The treatment comprises a molecule that loosely links a feline and a human protein together. The feline end is a protein called Fel d1 found in cat dander and saliva that causes so much misery in allergy sufferers. On the other end sits a piece of human antibody that docks to a cell receptor that can be recruited to stop allergic reactions.

The investigators named the molecule GFD, or Gamma Feline Domesticus, for its human and feline parts, according to lead scientist Andrew Saxon of UCLA. The cat allergen end of GFD binds to antibodies on the surface of the cell. The human end of GFD links to a different cell surface protein that interrupts the allergic response.

Saxon's team first tested GFD in blood donated by people allergic to cats. Scientists cultured blood cells with either GFD or with a purified human antibody as a control. Then they added the cat protein that triggers allergic reactions to all the blood cell cultures.

"We measured more than 90 percent less histamine in the cultures with GFD," they wrote in the paper, "those results suggested that GFD successfully prevented the immune cells from reacting to cat allergen. The next step was to test GFD in mice that we had made allergic to the allergenic protein found in cat saliva and dander.

I've always assumed that mice, in the big scheme of things, were already allergic to cats -- in the same way that I'm allergic to mad dogs. But what a boon for mice. Why depend on scent and sound to spot cats when watery eyes can do the job better?

The Drug Of Choice

Dorothy Parker had to wrestle with many demons in her life. Depression and alcoholism were just two of them. From an article in the Toronto Star, we hear this confession:

"For a bulky segment of a century, I have been an avid follower of comic strips — all comic strips," Parker wrote. "This is a statement made with approximately the same amount of pride with which one would say, `I've been shooting cocaine into my arm for the past 25 years.'"


The article reveals that she wasn't alone in her guilty -- perhaps criminal -- affection for comics. "Writing in The New Republic in 1948, Marya Mannes referred to the form as 'intellectual marijuana.'

'Every hour spent in reading comics," she asserted, "is an hour in which all inner growth has stopped.'"

What I find interesting is the similarity between the knee-jerk loathing of comics and the reflex others feel when condeming drugs. Comics, alcohol, marijuana -- they all have their benefits, and they all can be abused (for some of us, comics are the most potent drug, consuming us whole.) But none can be dismissed with a single thought or witticism.

The article goes on to show that many who first despised the comic form, be it strip or book or animated cartoon -- Marshall McLuhan "suggested that Superman was a potential dictator" -- came to respect and savor the cartoon on closer inspection, just as beer can be an agreeable diversion when you're not cracking Prohibition-era kegs like bad eggs and flooding the gutters with ale.

The writers Jeet Heer and Kent Worcester are the editors of Arguing Comics: Literary Masters on a Popular Medium.

I Want To Kill Cathy

Those aren't my words. I'm not a Cathy fan, but when I take the time to read a daily, I always find it well-crafted. I'm amazed by Guisewite's ability to juggle so many words without dropping the ball -- every strip has a punchline, and every word leads you to it. If you stand back a few paces and consider the wall of words in a Cathy strip, it's easy to presume overwriting; a brick layer who loves bricks too much. But try to remove a single brick and the edifice is somehow less.

The "I Want To Kill Cathy" confession is the lead of an editorial where Julie Doll wrestles in public with a potentially impending execution.

I don't know if Spot is being considered, but if you live in the readership area, it never hurts to make the suggestion.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Thirteen Laughs



Which is to say, thirteen HAs. If you love comics, you'll love this magazine. It's embarrassing to admit that I can't remember most of what I've read in the previous twelve issues. It's not the magazine's fault. My brainpan is a collander -- the details and specifics of things tend to sift out. And HA is very specific and inspired with its scholarship. But as long as the words are in front of me, I feel brighter about the business I'm in and the art I enjoy. It's a good feeling. It's a shame I can't conduct more of my day while reading HA.

Hogan's Alley sends out an email press release every once in a bit. The recipient is encouraged to pass it on to those who might enjoy it, so I'll save on some email postage and post it here.

We've put out interview with Dan "Bizarro" Piraro on the website at http://www.cagle.com/hogan/interviews/piraro/piraro.asp. It's one of our favorite interviews, as Dan is fearless, funny and very candid about the industry, the challenges involved in being creatively innovative and the challenges of being funny every day, even when your life is not so amusing. If you didn't read it when we published it, here's your chance!

In recent HA newsletters, we've dropped coy hints about the subject of one of the story's features. We've said the feature focuses on an artist who worked on a famous comic-strip character whom he did not create, and that he died after receiving a beating in a barroom brawl (that he most likely instigated). After having seen the cover of the issue, you might surmise, correctly, that the cat is out of the bag: The cartoonist profiled is George Luks, whom Joseph Pulitzer hired to write and draw the Yellow Kid at the New York "World" after creator R.F. Outcault jumped ship for W.R. Hearst's New York "Journal." Our article was meticulously researched and written by renowned Yellow Kid scholar Richard Olson, and it's one of the finest pieces we've published, featuring lots of little-seen artwork, some of it never reprinted since its original publication! Luks was a fascinating, complex man who was actually far more famous for his fine art than for his cartooning. If you're interested in the comic strip's formative years and key creators, you'll want to read this article.

Longtime comics historian Bill Blackbeard also makes his debut in the Alley this issue, writing about Harry Tuthill and his woefully underappreciated strip The Bungle Family. Bill's essay is a lively, informative introduction to the reprint sequence we also present. If you've never read The Bungle Family, or if you've only seen isolated samples in various cartooning histories, these never-reprinted strips from the late 1930s are your chance to introduce yourself to a longtime critic's darling.

ODDS AND ENDS: Congratulations to Jim Meddick, creators of one of our favorite strips, "Monty." Meddick's strip--which, as longtime HA readers know, was born as "Robotman"--recently celebrated 20 years on the comics pages, a very impressive feat in an industry where most new strips fail within five years. Here's to 20 more, Jim! You can see what Jim's been doing recently at http://www.comics.com/comics/monty/index.html
. . . Speaking of five years, we want to give a hearty shout-out to Rick Stromoski, whose acerbic, demented and very funny "Soup to Nutz" celebrated its five-year birthday. Longtime readers will remember that we sang the praises of this quirky strip in issue #10. Read it at http://www.comics.com/comics/soup2nutz/ . . . Correspondent James Wall asks us what new strips we're enjoying. A quick and thoroughly unscientific poll of the office finds Tim Rickard's "Brewster Rockit" has a lot of fans. Rickard's strip is a funny homage to science fiction movies and TV shows. Check it out at http://www.ucomics.com/brewsterrockit/. We also thoroughly enjoy "La Cucaracha," Lalo Alcaraz's strip that combines sociopolitical commentary with humorous observations about everyday life. Try it at http://www.ucomics.com/lacucaracha/. And Hollis Brown and Wes Hargis have hooked us with Franklin Fibbs, a strip about a relentlessly imaginative prevaricator. The character might lie, but the strip doesn't: http://www.kingfeatures.com/features/comics/fibbs/about.htm . . . Correspondent Tim Schmidt e-mails us to ask what, in our humble opinion, is the "best bad strip." If you mean which strip is our biggest guilty pleasure, the discussion begins and ends with Apple Mary herself, "Mary Worth." While it's not a "bad" strip, it's entertaining in ways we suspect are not intentional: It features people who rarely act sensibly, plots predicated on characters making self-defeating, befuddling personal choices and dialogue whose earnestness is matched only by its awkwardness. Having said all this, we never miss it!

We'll spill the beans: In Hogan's Alley #13, we have a positive review of About Comics' "It's Only A Game," the book that collects all of Charles Schulz's comic panel about various sports and games. It's an interesting look at a hitherto little-known aspect of Schulz's career (the strip was produced from 1957 to 1959 and was contemporaneous with "Peanuts"), and while it's obviously not groundbreaking cartooning, it's enjoyable. But Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post found less to enjoy in his review at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A17917-2005Mar8.html

Usually, we agree with Mr. Weingarten's informed musings about comics, and while we thought his review was a bit harsh, we hope that his readers were encouraged to seek the book out for themselves. Even lesser Schulz is still worth reading.

We at Hogan's Alley like to support the teaching of comics as a discipline that should be studied and taught properly, so we're pleased that our friends at the Center for Cartoon Studies are going to offer a five-day workshop on comics and self-publishing from June 27 through July 1. The "Create Comics" seminar will take participants from generating ideas to designing the final product. The faculty includes professional James Sturm, Steve Bissette and James Kochalka. The tuition is $650, and space is limited to 20 students. The CCS is in White River Junction, Vermont, and believe us: There are worse places to be in the dead of summer than Vermont! Find out if this is for you at http://cartoonstudies.org/summer.

The recently released Incredibles DVD reminded us of what a deeply satisfying movie it was. Longtime comics fans like us recognized the liberal borrowing of elements from the Fantastic Four, but it was handled in such an original and innovative manner that it didn't seem derivative. We only wish we felt as optimistic about the Fantastic Four movie, which opens in July. We bow to no one in our respect for the Jack Kirby-Stan Lee creation. (Roughly from issues 40 through 80, it was quite possibly the best superhero comic book ever, mixing the cosmic and the quotidian as no title has done before or since.) Special effects technology has evolved to where the quartet's adventures could be shown convincingly, but the FF was always about more than eye candy. It was about remaining together despite difficult relationships (which is, after all, the essence of a family) and the mutual reliance that success requires. We realize that it's difficult to convey these subtler qualities in a brief theatrical trailer, but the one we've seen (it's viewable all over the Internet) doesn't fill us with optimism, though we're never opposed to seeing Jessica Alba in a bodysuit. The decision to have Dr. Doom acquire his abilities through stowing away with the FF on their space flight is a major break with established and venerable continuity (not to mention being frightfully close to Dr. Smith's stunt on "Lost in Space") that the producers will have to REALLY sell to make acceptable to purists. We're keeping open minds, but we still remember the train wreck that was the "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen," which also had very fine source material. Oh well…we hear that Joss ("Buffy") Whedon is in talks to helm a Wonder Woman movie, so we'll have that to look forward to. (Lynda Carter was always one of our favorite special effects.)

SPREADING THE GOSPEL DEPT.: As part of Emory University's "Evening at Emory" curriculum, Hogan's Alley editor Tom Heintjes will deliver a lecture and slideshow on the history and development of the comic strip on Wednesday, April 27, from 6:30-9:30 p.m. If you live in the Atlanta area and wish to attend, here's a link to the course's description and registration:

http://www.peopleware.net/index.cfm?siteCode=1523&eventDisp=2ART&subeventDisp=COMIC_HX_B&CFID=2632504&CFTOKEN=28633810

You can also register by phone by calling (404) 727-6000 from 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. weekdays. If past seminars are any indication, it will be an enjoyable evening; seminar participants will look at comic art, vintage Sunday sections and key pieces of early animation as Tom leads attendees through the evolution of the comic art form. No one will leave empty-handed as Tom and his lovely young assistant (also known as his wife, Kathy) will send attendees on their way with copies of Hogan's Alley and assorted cartoon book collections. Seating is limited, so if you live in the Atlanta area or plan to be in Atlanta on April 27, please consider attending. The cost is $55, and seniors or Emory students and employees receive a discounted rate of $46.75.

SUBSCRIBE TO HOGAN, WIN ORIGINAL ART! Well, to be honest, subscribers have a CHANCE to win original art. We have obtained 18 sketches by the great Bud Blake, who recently retired after a legendary 40-year run at the helm of TIGER and who is the subject of a career-spanning interview, conducted shortly after his retirement, in Hogan's Alley #13. We'll be randomly inserting these original drawings into subscriber copies, and the lucky recipients will have their own Blake. Subscribe now to receive issue #13 delivered to your home and to have an opportunity to receive the bonus artwork--even without a piece of original art tucked inside, it's going to be a great issue! Here's a link to our subscription page:

http://www.cagle.com/hogan/subscribe.asp

If you want to subscribe but don't wish to pay online, you can send a check for $22.95 to Hogan's Alley, P.O. Box 47684, Atlanta, GA 30362. And if you want to use your subscription to get a back issue or two (a savings off the single-issue price of $7), just include a note and we'll get it right out to you!

The Comics Reported

If my words here aren't enough, you can find more at The Comics Reporter. I discuss blogging, and in the course of the discussion, realize something new -- which is why I blog. Practical metaphysics.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

A Face For A Cameo



A new face makes a cameo in the Mother's Day Sunday.

The ORIGINAL Illustrated Catalog Of ACME Products

Mark Anderson directs us to the Original Illustrated Catalog of ACME Products (where we learn that the first ACME purchase was flypaper, in "Buddy's Bug Hunt," 1935.)

And though these items aren't available for sale -- unlike the ACME products -- you can still enjoy the level-headed mania that inspired them at the Gallery of Obscure Patents. My favorite is the motorized ice cream cone:



It reminds me of another device -- one that made the leap from obscurity in a patent office to obscurity in a discount store: a battery-powered rod that spins while toasting marshmallows.



I picked this up as a stocking stuffer for Mary last year. We love marshmallows, and have mastered the backwoods art of toasting them in the kitchen over the gas stove. But like the Coyote, I discovered that the picture on the box was the blissful ideal -- of a happy world where marshmallows spun on their own. In practice, the rod is a jumble of bad physics and noise. It wobbles while rotating, burning one side while barely tanning the other. And if I close my eyes (not a good idea while cooking), it produces the metallic whine of fishing gear cranking in a marlin.

I'm waiting for the spinning ear plugs.

The Twinkies Revelation



I was never a fan of Twinkies -- I had my second taste this year, which should hold me for a while -- but I love epiphanies. I had one recently while reading a short commentary in Smithsonian Magazine about Twinkies, and the cause for their success: unlike frosted cakes, Twinkies carried their frosting -- or a pudding reminiscent of frosting -- on the inside. They could survive crushing stints in pants pockets or crowded lunch boxes.

A Twinkie was a cake turned inside-out.

And I'd never thought of it that way.

I didn't say it was a great epiphany. But then again, it's not a great cake.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Kitten Hospital Coughs Up Its Last Hairball

Here's an interesting post from the commentary section, courtesy of the provocatively named G.D. Frogsdong:

"I posted an article on a frog hospital in Australia that is closing because of lack of funding. It is the only hospital of it's kind. Maybe we frog bloggers could spread the word."

And this from his blog:
...let me make a point or two. I've seen a lot of reports about money given to charity that never reaches its intended beneficiaries. Food rots in warehouses or the charity has administrative costs that eat up 80% or more of the donations and so on. This is one instance where you can be certain that a donation goes directly to the benefit of those it is intended to help. Maybe they are just frogs, but we are in danger of losing this link in the food chain, and that will cause the extinction of other links; every link that disappears brings all of us that much closer to losing our little link in the big chain.

I'd seen brief news stories about this, all capped with the inevitable headline of Frog Hospital Croaks. If the hospital had specialized in kittens, or pandas, I doubt headline writers would have been so glib.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, I've never been fanatic over frogs. I like them -- what's a pond without them? and nothing puts a tree in better perspective than spying a tiny frog clinging to the bark and contemplating the long road of wood ahead of it; and when you're a kid spotting a baby toad by the back steps, so perfectly tiny in its baggy suit, you know the magic of becoming a giant in an instant -- but all that aside, I was never compelled to keep one as a pet, or to decorate my shelves with frog statuary. I was drawn to frogs because they're anthropomorphic, and rubbery, with expressive eyes. Depending on my mood, those eyes could look startled, as if the idea of being a frog had just hit them, and it was probably best to sit still and think about it. Other times they looked blank, as if stunned from seeing too much of the world: rainy night road crossings that came to bad ends, kids with Fourth of July firecrackers, gas-slick waters.

If this isn't just fancy on my part, and frogs really are weary of what they've seen, who can blame them?

Frogs see and feel things we don't because they live on the cusp of the wild and the civilized (and by civilized I mean industry, pollution, run-off -- toxicity capering behind its many masks.) And they spend their days in permeable suits that allow poisons and other chemical diversions to trickle through.

Frogs make many sounds, but the most telling is the alarm they sound with their disappearance.

I'm not sure what sound a frog hospital makes when it expires, but it can't be a good one.

You Don't Want A Black Hole To Move Into The Neighborhood

A black hole is usually to be avoided. But if it's small enough, and evanescent enough, it won't be sucking the earth into its insatiable maw, according to Horatiu Nastase of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. To quote the news article:

However, even if the ball of plasma is a black hole, it is not thought to pose a threat. At these energies and distances, gravity is not the dominant force in a black hole.


For further proof that a black hole can be a third wheel, check out Jonathan Lethem's As She Climbed Across The Table.

Pets That Resemble The Cartoonists Who Drawn Them

I was working on a strip this morning when Mary called, "There's a frog on the Today Show!"

Always alert to my competition, I ran to the TV and saw a frog sitting on a tiny jet ski. A moment later the same frog was tucked into a tiny rowboat, wearing a Gilligan-style hat and holding -- well, sitting beside -- a fishing pole. The frog never moved, and I was tempted to think it was a toy. But as I stared I saw the frog breathe and quietly smack its lips.

Apparently the Today Show is having a pet contest. I don't know if it's restricted to anthropomorphic species and wardrobes.

Very odd to look at. Especially the shot of the frog in the boat. I could easily picture Spot doing the same thing -- just with more animation. With its sullen pout and stoic slouch, the frog looked more like me than the frog I draw.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Dangerous Visions

Here's a nice interview with one of the two writers who inspired me most as a kid (the other was Isaac Asimov.) Ellison still inspires me. He's 70 years old, and his fire has never banked.

Super Dad

What better way to spend a Sunday than to read someone's recollection of Saturday. I couldn't link to this particular post -- it's from 2004, and perhaps the anchor has drifted -- so I'll paste Shane Nickerson's words whole:

It's a Saturday morning in 1981.

I'm ten, but I consider myself a pretty old kid. I am, after all, the big brother. Todd and Corey are both up too. Todd is eating a bowl of Rice Krispies with sugar poured all over it. Corey is eating English Muffins, or as my dad calls them, "Ishals" with butter and honey. I'm happy with two slices of "Grammy bread" with butter. "Grammy Bread" is what Todd and Corey and I call the pumpernickel/rye loaf that my grandmother always seems to have at her house. We call it "Grammy bread" because we don't know the real name. Plus, only Grammy seems to know where to get it.

I've been watching the crappy cartoons and shows that come on before 8:00am. Stuff like "Captain Bob's Drawing Show," and "The Barbapapas." Todd and Corey came down a few minutes ago. It's almost 8. Todd yells, "TURN IT."

"I KNOW, TODD!"

I'm well aware that it's time to turn it to ABC. The first "real" cartoon is on at 8am. Superfriends is the beginning of the three hour block of Saturday Morning Cartoons. I turn the dial on our impossibly huge, wooden, console television to channel 5. ABC.

My dad walks into the family room. For my dad, Saturday morning means an early trip to Dunkin' Donuts, loading wood onto the porch and reading the "Union Leader" in the living room with my mom. As he enters, he sings one of his crazy songs. This one is called "Humpty Hadey." I interrupt his singing.

"Dad, did you watch cartoons when you were a kid?"

"Oh sure."

"What did you watch? Superfriends?"

"No, I don't think we had that back then. I used to love the old Ganubs Ganubby!"

Todd and Corey and I laugh. My dad always renames things with his own crazy language and makes up songs about everything. We recognize "Ganubs Ganubby" as dadspeak for Bugs Bunny.

"Want to watch Superfriends with us? You'll like it."

Todd excitedly exclaims, "Yeah!" Corey too is excited about the prospect of dad watching cartoons with us. She begs him, "Daddy please?" He thinks about it for a second. Wasting no time, we pounce on him with our common tactic of chanting in unison until he surrenders.

"watch cartoons. Watch Cartoons. Watch CarTOONS! WATCH CARTOONS!"

"OK. I'll watch for a little while."

We all cheer. And he watches. He laughs with us at the dumb jokes and makes up a song about the Wonder Twins' monkey "Gleek." For a little while, he lives with us in our Saturday morning kids' world, and it's really fun.

Saturday mornings were special to me. The cartoons were great, but that's not why I loved them. Saturday morning was the day that our family was almost always together. The three kids happily watched Saturday Morning TV while my parents popped in and out as they got coffee, started lunch and did yard work.

My parents are amazing.

My dad is my idol. He is 3,000 miles away, but he is always with me when I'm making decisions. When my brother and sister were young, we put a message in the paper for him on Father's Day. It read:

"For the best father in the world who always has time."

It's as true today as it was then. Because even when he doesn't know I'm looking to him for answers, his lifetime of being there has filled me with an invaluable reference which I can always turn to. He's been a living example of how to live, how to be honest and how to be a father for my whole life.

It's 1981.

My dad gets up at the commercial to head back to his paper.

"You're right, this is good!" he tells us as he walks out.

Todd and Corey and I smile at him and at each other. It occurs to me that when I grow up, I'm going to watch cartoons with my kids.

(via Willwheaton.net)

Spring In Black And White

Spring brings about many changes: some are grey, some are color, others bloom in black and white. You'll find all of these palettes at the refurbished site for the National Cartoonists Society. Very snazzy.

Decor aside, you'll find a hyperlinked chart of NSC members, past and present, along with current news: those who are nominated for Reubens this year, and a Steve McGarry portrait of the incoming President, the many-talented Rick Stromoski, who writes and draws the mischievous strip Soup To Nutz. McGarry, by the way, is the outgoing two-term President of the NCS, and co-creator of the late and missed strip, Mullets.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

The Final Note

And, finally, I note that Mark Anderson majored in jazz trombone in college, which is our last tenuous coincidence: I went to college, but I wasn't there long enough to declare a major, and I would have majored in English if I had stayed, not trombone.

But I do play the trumpet, and when I do it's jazz.

And as long as Mark's middle name isn't Winslow, I think that's it.

Friday, March 18, 2005

On Noses And Other Things Missing

Mark Anderson had a post at his blog this morning about noses and coincidence. He was on the verge of publishing an essay on the early absence of noses on his characters when a St. Patrick's Day theme diverted him.

At the same time, I was posting about Cathy and her lack of a nose.

But there's another coincidence:

Years ago, when The Artist Magazine asked me to write a column on cartooning markets, I asked the editor an obvious question: why? I was -- and continue to be -- one of the less-successful magazine cartoonists. I had my sales, but they were threadbare compared to the fine garments that other cartoonists enjoyed. But I was selling every month to TAM -- cartoons and essays -- so the editor knew my name and chatty notes, and for all I know I was the thirteenth cartoonist he'd approached. But he said he liked my writing and drawing style.

"Drawing style?" I asked, hungry for compliments, hoping he'd gush over the warmth of my line, the brilliance of my wit.

"Yeah," he said. "That thing you do with the foreheads."

"What's that?"

"You don't draw them."


I'd been drawing cartoons for years and I'd never noticed that the space between the nose and the hairline was vacant.




So here's the coincidence: Mark Anderson, from what I can tell, omits the forehead as well.

It's been awhile since I've drawn a single-panel cartoon (the last was in the February Reader's Digest.) I'm not a multi-tasker. I'm barely a tasker. I take one task at a time and hope for the best. So the magazine cartoons have been supplanted by Spot. And I've left something else behind; if it's possible to leave behind something that wasn't there in the first place. The lack of forehead.

You wouldn't notice the missing brow with the color sundays, but the black and white dailies would give Karl a B-movie demeanor -- the look of a comestible extra in Night of the Living Dead. Which is why Karl has a full complement of head, if not hair.

I Ribbet

From Newkerala.com, a story of arranged marriage, frogs, and an impending drought. To inspire a wedding gift from the Hindu rain god Indra, a dozen weddings like this were conducted in the state of Assam:

The residents split into two groups - one pretending to be from the bridegroom's side and the other from the bride's family. Accompanied by beats of drums and cymbals, a Hindu priest performed the marriage rituals with turmeric pastes and vermilion splashed on the frog 'couple'.

And amid the chanting of religious hymns - and some croaking of the frogs - the two were declared 'man' and 'wife'.

The frogs were released to enjoy their honeymoon.

I'd be surprised if the nuptials influenced the weather, but I'd also be surprised if it didn't rain eventually.

Life is often about playing the odds. Millions of Americans buy lottery tickets in hopes of another sort of downpour.

They'd be better off tossing rice at frogs.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Stalking


From the May 1 Sunday; A stalk in the grass.

No Nose Is Good News


Here's an interesting bit from the Shrewsbury Chronicle. A reader wanted to know why Cathy lacked a nose. Staff writer Deborah Gauthier sent Cathy Guisewite a letter, and got this reply:

"My first drawings -- in 1976 -- were scribbled self-portraits. I had no art training and when I drew my face, which -- at the time -- included big glasses, I didn't have room for a nose. The drawings were so cryptic the people at Universal Press Syndicated mistook my rendition of glasses as giant eyeballs, and only wondered why I had drawn lines sticking out on either side of them (they were supposed to be the sides of glasses). They thought the giant eyes, while unusual, were "expressive." So I got rid of the lines, but never got back to figuring out the nose.


Though Cathy lacks a nose, I wonder how many people notice? Cartoon faces can be very spare, but they'll almost always need two things: eyes and a mouth. (I say almost because the Henry strip did well for a good long while, without speaking a word, or cracking a smile... and as you'll see from the link -- and to my surprise when I Googled for Henry -- it continues to do well, if longevity is any measure.) As long as the reader has eyes to connect with, and a mouth to study for emotional cues, the character is as real as a mirror-image.

I'm not dismissing the nose, of course. After all, I wear glasses.