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!