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The last Calvin & Hobbes strip ran on December 31, 1995. We're over twenty years past that now. Which means that, for anyone under the age of, say, twenty-five, they have never read Calvin & Hobbes as a newspaper strip. For them, it has only been available in collected editions.

(Yes, I understand there were/are a handful of newspapers who continue to print re-runs of the strip, but those are becoming increasingly rare.)

Beetle Bailey
, Garfield, even Barney Google can still be found in newspapers. But Calvin & Hobbes (or, for that matter, any strip that ended before 1995) is only known through collections now. I've never read Pogo as Walt Kelly intended; I'm only familiar with the strip through books.

Why is this significant? Don't the books do a better job of reproducing the strips, generally speaking?

They do, but the difference in presentation can drastically change a reader's perception. Most notably, the strips in a book format show up one after another and can be read in a fairly short time-frame. With the newspaper, though, you usually had to wait a full 24 hours before you could read the next installment. Which means that creators frequently provided a recap of the previous day, and would sometimes reuse gags. This is unobtrusive in a daily venue, but it stands out like a sore thumb in a collection.

Furthermore, book readers are inherently missing any context. Since the books come out significantly later, anything that may be a commentary on or reaction to some contemporary aspect of culture will be more removed. In the newspaper, you were not only reading the most current iteration of the strip, but you could flip a page or two of the paper to find all sorts of contextual clues in the paper itself if you were somehow removed from any other context! It's a newspaper; it has the day's news.

I talked about this with regards to comic books a couple years ago, but I think it can be more important in comic strips. And while you might think that a "timeless" gag strip like Calvin & Hobbes can exist perfectly fine without cultural context, how about some of these examples...
Kmart hasn't regularly used "blue light specials" since 1991 (before the strip ended). They've been revived a handful of times, but never for very long.

When was the last time you used an encyclopedia, much less a Britannica?

VCRs? They're old enough that there's a Kids React video about them.

Not to mention the old tube televisions, corded phones, etc. As good as Calvin & Hobbes still is, it will always be a product of its time, and it's being read and experienced now in a manner very different than how you may have first read it.

Let me leave you with one final strip...
Black Panther famously debuted in Fantastic Four #52 in 1966. He preceded the Black Panther party by a few months. As far as I've been able to determine, that the Black Panthers used that name had no relation to the Marvel character in any capacity; it was just a bit of circumstance.

The Black Panther character (whom I'll refer to as T'Challa to avoid confusion) became something of a surprising regular in Marvel comics. After a year of sporadic appearances in Fantastic Four, he pops up with Captain America over in Tales of Suspense throughout 1968 before becoming a regular in Avengers through 1975.

Meanwhile, the Black Panther party gained a lot of media attention. Although it was initially founded to monitor police activity after a spate of police brutality against Blacks, they soon established themselves as a movement to uplift Blacks as a whole, instituting a variety of social programs in predominantly Black neighborhoods. Free breakfast programs, health clinics, and the like. However, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took exception to them and launched a no-holds-barred campaign to dissolve the group. Many of Hoover's directions were flatly illegal, and even included assassinations of some top leaders. But because he had the backing of the government, much of what he did was given a pass and the media blindly bought into his claim that they were "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country."

Investigations on Hoover's claims were non-existent until well after the party's demise, thus the public was fed a great deal of misinformation throughout the 1970s, giving the Panthers a decidedly negative public image. So in that light, it's somewhat surprising that Marvel -- a company of white men catering primarily to white boys and men -- not only kept T'Challa around, but used him fairly regularly. Even if they were making an active choice to be a progressive comic book company by featuring a primary Black character, the name had some poor connotations, thanks to the media.

What isn't surprising, then, is that in Fantastic Four #119 from 1972, T'Challa announces he's changing his name to Black Leopard, specifically to avoid any "political connotations."
Presumably, because of not-exactly-pinpoint publishing scheduling, writer Roy Thomas -- who happened to be writing both Fantastic Four and Avengers at the time -- largely avoids either name over in Avengers, simply referring to the character as T'Challa for several issues.

Now, whether Thomas opted to make the change on his own, or if it was a directive from someone else at Marvel, I can't say. My guess (based only what what I know of Thomas and not on any actual evidence) is that it was a passing comment made by Stan Lee, and Thomas squeezed it into whichever book he was working on at the time. While not exactly corroborating evidence, it is worth mentioning that "Black Leopard" is never used outside that one Fantastic Four story, and T'Challa returns to "Black Panther" without comment a few months later back in Avengers. That hardly seems like something that would happen if Thomas himself wanted to make the change based on whatever political and/or creative ideas he himself had.

I think "Black Leopard" was a bad idea. Although "Black Panther" had some negative connotations in some circles, the more progressive readers Marvel was trying to cater to held a more favorable (or at least, not as negative) view, plus it was a great draw for Black readers, since DC had no Black superheroes at the time. (Green Lantern John Stewart didn't debut until the same time that FF #119 came out.) Not only could Black readers see a character that looked like them in a Marvel comic, but his name evoked a lot of power and pride in his skin color. The character of T'Challa is an impressive one as it is, especially considering the time and socio-politico climate when he debuted, but deliberately referencing another group of powerful real-world heroes (to the Black community) made him all the more impressive. It would seem that Thomas appeared to recognize that, fortunately, and "Black Leopard" remains a very minor footnote in T'Challa's long history.
Larry Gonick is, of course, best known for his The Cartoon History of the Universe books which he began as pamphlet comics in 1978, migrating to a collected book format in 1990. Gonick has also done The Cartoon Guide to U.S. History and two volumes of The Cartoon History of the Modern World. And in between all that, he's also managed to create Cartoon Guide books for genetics, physics, statistics, chemistry, algebra, calculus, sex, the environment, communication, and computers.

I recall Gonick getting a fair amount of press back in the 1980s for his books. Part of the wave of independent comics that were getting attention at the time. The books were smart, witty, and conveyed often complex ideas in a fairly easy-to-digest manner. Although Gonick was by no means the first person to create educational comics, a lot of people seemed to treat him as if he did.

But at some point, he seemed to fall out of favor. Not that I've ever heard anyone disparage him, but I can't recall the last time I saw his name come up. At all.

And it's not like he retired or stopped making comics or anything. He had his own webcomic from 2009-2011. He was the staff cartoonist at Muse until 2015. His The Cartoon Guide to Algebra came out last year. He's still producing solid works, and yet I've heard zero press about him. At all.

So what's the deal? Why is being ignored by the comics press? I mean, I get that they tend to focus on Marvel and DC stuff, sure, but nothing at all? Really?
On Friday, bookstore giant Barnes & Noble announced that their sales for the fiscal year ending on April 30 were down 3.1% from the previous year, and yearly profits were down by more than half. Despite as much positive spin as they tried to put on things, the numbers weren't great (which, incidentally, was why they made the announcement on a Friday -- that's when stories tend to fall under the radar more often).

More directly interesting to comic fans, though, was a comment from Chief Merchandising Officer Mary Amicucci in which she stated that they planned to continue to put attention on the graphic novel category "through increases in assortment choices and compelling promotions." The company last year doubled the amount of space devoted to graphic novels and manga, and it would seem Amicucci, who was only promoted into her position in January, has intentions of drawing more comics readers (and potential comics readers) to that area.

Which makes Marvel's announcements from last Monday regarding their upcoming new Mosaic series more interesting.

Although not entirely lost in the various statements, one element that hasn't seemed to garner much attention is that the initial ten-age origin/preview story will be available in August only through Barnes & Noble stores. What attention I have seen given to that has come from comic retailers who've basically said, "What the hell, Marvel? We won't be able to get in on this?"

My guess is that B&N essentially had this commissioned, not unlike a giveaway from Taco Bell or Craftsman. The difference here is that this just happens to be commissioned by a bookstore.

As far as I can tell, this Mosiac preview is intended to be in-continuity, unlike many of the other comic promotions publishers have done. But it also suggests that Barnes & Noble is committed to enlarging their comic reading audience, possibly using that continuity to draw customers away from local comic shops. I don't know how successful that will be, but it's a strangely specific tactic.
Scott Adams debuted on the newspaper page with Dilbert in 1989. With years of experience in cubicle farms himself, Adams was able to tap into many of the patently absurd situations that people who work in offices regularly find themselves, and Dilbert became pretty popular. Adams won a pair of Reubens for Dilbert within a decade.

Clearly, Adams is a cartoonist whose work a lot of people identify with and respond to. His understanding of corporate culture informs his comics, and he's been hired by any number of companies to give lectures on management and corporate governance. Between the two, he's developed quite an audience who listens to much of what he has to say.

The problem with this, however, is that not everything he has to say makes sense.

Yesterday, for example, he posted a piece on his blog entitled, "The Humiliation of the American Male in 2016." (I'm not going to dignify that with a link.) He then goes on to write this rambling, barely coherent diatribe about how... well, I think his point is supposed to be that men in America have been emasculated, and that's ensconced in the media. His evidence is a detergent commercial in which a man wears a V-neck sweater.


I mean, in the spirit of fairness, I think he's intending the commercial to just be indicative of the emasculation "issue" and not really incontrovertible evidence, but there's still a million flaws in his reasoning. Which I'll spare you from enumerating here. But his post on the whole is incredibly sexist (even though he claims he's immune from the charge because he's going to vote for Hillary Clinton -- !?!) and wrong-headed on so many levels.

Which leads me to my titular question: what are we going to do about Scott Adams?

He's legally allowed to say everything he does, of course. He's welcome to use his forum to spout any nonsense he likes. But is there anything we can do to quiet his influence? He pops up in the news about once a month these days with some "crazy uncle" style comments about intellectual property, Donald Trump, V-neck sweaters, or whatever. And people not only continue giving him a platform, but listen to him! Can we just not? Can we just pat him on the head, tell him "that's nice" and send him back to his drawing board to stick to drawing comics about silly office shenanigans? Why do people still give him their attention beyond the funny pages?

I was talking about Al Capp last week. He was a cartoonist who did much the same thing, parlaying the popularity of his strip into some level of personal fame. He was on talk shows and interviewed in magazines, even landing on the cover of Time Magazine. But as he grew older, and his views became more out of touch with the American people, he began losing credibility and relevance. Can we do that with Adams now?
I reviewed Congressman John Lewis' March, Book 2 early last year shortly after it came out. Given what's going on in the House of Representatives right now, it seemed like a good time to re-run the review to remind people of Lewis' history of activism...

Last year, Congressman John Lewis' graphic novel March came out to much critical acclaim. It was the first part of his biography that only covered the first twenty years of his life. Book Two was released yesterday, picking up where the first book left off, but covering only the next three years.

Of course, 1960-1963 were very turbulent years for the civil rights movement. Sit-ins in restaurants and stand-ins at theaters were still ongoing, the Freedom Rides took place in 1961, and the march on Washington which culminated in Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s famous "I Have a Dream" speech happened in 1963. And Lewis was very directly a part of all of that. Consequently, all of that is covered in Book Two with the Freedom Rides themselves taking up over half the pages.

What was striking to me was the excellent use of the comic medium here. Lewis' story is indeed a powerful one in and of itself, but artist Nate Powell does an excellent job illustrating key moments that really bring the story home emotionally. The imagery that simply was not possible to capture at the time -- notably many of the beatings and phsyical confrontations both in and out of prison walls -- is on display to hammer home the truely graphic nature of what Lewis and his peers endured. The book is not gory by any means, but Powell doesn't hesitate to show just how horribly Blacks were being treated. The non-violent methods the Freedom Riders used compared to the incredibly violent methods used by the racists they encountered is very much on display throughout the book. You may have seen some photos of the burning bus, or various Riders with bandages covering their wounds, but seeing the actual moments of impact -- perhaps one of the strongest elements of comic art -- makes the story that much more powerful than had it been prose or film.

The historical story is couched against the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Snippets of that event are peppered throughout the book, as an ongoing reminder that the civil rights movement was worth fighting for. Included here is Aretha Franklin's singing of "My Country 'Tis of Thee." In the book, Franklin is depicted exactly once. In her hat. It's an absolutely inconsequential part of the overall story, but I bring it up because Franklin's hat -- possibly one of the most visual remembrances people have of that particular inauguration -- is incredibly understated in Powell's illustration. Which suggests (to me, at least) that all the horrific things I alluded to in the previous paragraph were also understated. The most powerful graphic elements of the story -- the parts that really hit emotionally in ways that no documentary I've seen have ever been able to do -- those graphic elements don't even begin to describe the horrors that Lewis faced.

Regardless of how much you've seen/read about the civil rights era, and especially if that isn't very much, March, Book Two should absolutely be on your must-read list. Everyone knew this was going to be a powerful story going into it, but they delivered in spades and took good advantage of the comic medium.