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 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
. . . 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 . . . 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 We also thoroughly enjoy "La Cucaracha," Lalo Alcaraz's strip that combines sociopolitical commentary with humorous observations about everyday life. Try it at 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: . . . 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

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

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:

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:

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'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.


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.