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John Tenniel cartoon
Take a look at this editorial cartoon by John Tenniel from 1871. Because it's not a very hi-res image, I'll inform you that the two swords read "Radicalism" and "Toryism". Now, what is it about?

Well, it will only make sense if you know several things. First, you need to know what radicalism and toryism are. I suspect most folks could guess at radicalism, and assume toryism would be the opposite of that, but that still might be a stretch. Next, you'd need to know what that the subject of the cartoon is performing a Scottish sword dance and, more significantly, you'd need to have seen such an act performed to really understand what's involved in it. Third, you'd need to know that the illustration is of William Gladstone and that, fourth, he was Prime Minister of England at the time the cartoon was drawn. And even then, it would still help to know what platforms he stood upon and what speechs he had given in the latter half of that year.

The cartoon, by itself, for most people simply doesn't make much sense today. It's a just a Scottish guy stepping over a couple of swords. Even after several setences of explanation (see above), it's still doesn't carry much context, despite the incredible execution of the final product and the probably-super-poignent topicalness that it would've had in 1871. But the base of reference is too far removed at this point, and the cartoon doesn't make much sense, let alone seem funny.

Six Chix comic
I bring this up in light of the Six Chix comic I posted about last week. I ended that post by saying, "If you don't get it? If you misread it as being against mask-wearing during a pandemic? Odds are that you're deliberately not getting it. And you can fuck off because you're part of the problem!"

I had a related discussion on Twitter where someone was saying that if you assumed the cartoon was by an anti-mask wearing, right-wing cartoonist, he could see how someone might mistake the intent. My argument, though, is that you're still deliberately mis-reading the cartoon if you take that approach. The science behind mask-wearing is over-whelming. For a character to be so flippant about it, the reader can only take this one of three ways:
  1. You can read the cartoon as intended
  2. Cynically, you can read the cartoon as intended, but actively choose the wrong interpretation for the sake of trashing the cartoonist
  3. You can be willfully dimissive of the science; the extension of which is that you will be willfully dismissive of the cartoon
In the Tenniel cartoon above, you don't have much, if any, context because we're well over a century away from when that happened. But Bianca Xunise's cartoon is current; it's about what is going on right now. Today. That is context that you are unable to get away from. The only way to not understand the context is to be willful about it. Whether that's by only getting your news from Fox, or believing anything Trump says, or whatever, you can't not be deliberate and willful in your thinking about it. You can't feign ignorance here.

Context is every bit as imporant in a cartoon as the content itself. If you misread Xunise's cartoon, you're doing it deliberately. Either by willfully misunderstanding the context, or by willfully misunderstanding the content. And, once again, either way, you can fuck off because you're part of the problem!
I was originally going to dash off a kind of quick, snarky piece today about how the mascots for Comic-Con International and WMMS radio out of Cleveland could be brothers...

WMMS Buzzard
I figured I should include a little background since the Buzzard probably isn't all that familiar outside northeast Ohio. What I found struck me as pretty interesting in its own right.

First, the Toucan, though. Rick Geary moved to San Diego in 1975. He began working on comics and was a regular contributor to National Lampoon, and later had work published in Heavy Metal. Not surprisingly, he became somewhat involved with Comic-Con and, in 1984, came up with a toucan character to be used on letterheads and other stationery. Geary has noted, “At the time, I was big into animals in human clothing, so I drew this generic big-beaked bird, never intending it to be a toucan. Also, I understood at the time that this was just to be used for a few things. I had no notion of it becoming Comic-Con's permanent logo.” But it got to be used more and more, the illustration getting streamlined in the process and, though, in 1995 CCI adopted the "eye" logo they still use today, the toucan (whose name, as far as I can tell, is "Toucan") has continued to show up in various ways.

Although, a radio station in Cleveland using the 100.7 MHz frequency dates back to 1946, the station changed identities several times over the years before landing on a progressive rock format branded as WMMS in 1968. At the time, their logo prominently featured mushrooms and a smoking fairy-like creature. In 1974, listener David Helton sent in a complaint letter in the form of a cartoon. It featured a buzzard perched atop a mushroom, suggesting that the station was dying as evidenced by some format changes he thought they'd recently introduced. (In fact, the change he was complaining about -- that the National Lampoon Radio Hour was cut from an hour to a half-hour -- was a joke by the show itself. "Ha ha! We have a show with 'hour' in the title but it's only 30 minutes long!") In any event, the new program manager John Gorman liked the buzzard character; he thought it tied in with the general sentiment at the time that Cleveland itself was a dying city. They hired Helton to work the buzzard up into the advertising, and he debuted as the station's official mascot in April 1974 in an alternative weekly paper called Zeppelin. The character (who's only ever been called "The Buzzard") has likewise been streamlined over the years, and become more mainstream like the station itself.
Now, here's where it gets interesting. Helton explained his art style from the mid-1970s: “The Buzzard is an oddly drawn fellow — some of my peers say he's hard to draw for them — but of course it came gradually as well. As I grew as an artist and cartoonist and being young I had many influences. The Buzzard started out looking like an 'underground comix' character because I was highly influenced by [Robert] Crumb, [Jay] Lynch and other underground comix artists.”

While Geary, by contrast, cites the likes of Winsor McCay, Franklin Booth, and W. Heath Robinson as influences, that he was living just up the coast a bit from Crumb during the height of the underground comix movement, it's hard to believe there wasn't some influence on his work as well. While Toucan and The Buzzard may not exactly have been brothers, I think there's actually a pretty strong argument that they're cousins.
The Salaryman cover
Partially due to one of these links basically becoming useless in a couple days, I'm going to start this week off with some links...
  • First, and most egotistically, Matt Kuhns has provided the first actual review of my book Webcomics. Until now, I've only heard a handful of comments, but this is the first full-on review I've seen so far. The short version is that he liked, even though he doesn't really like webcomics. Thanks, Matt!
  • Danica Davidson interviewed author Michael Howard about his book, The Salaryman. The original book is about his experiences as an American working in Japan, and a new manga edition with art by Rena Saiya was released last month.
  • On Wednesday, August 5, The New York Adventure Club is presenting a webinar about comic legend Carmine Infantino. It will be presented by Arlen Schumer and tickets cost $10, with the ability to watch the presentation afterwards if you're not able to attend live. They also have similar webinars for Steve Ditko (on August 12) and Joe Kubert (on August 20), both also $10 and presented by Schumer.
  • Uncivilized Books' Tom Kaczynski examines Omniverse: The Journal of Fictional Reality, a fanzine that Mark Gruenwald started in 1977. "The entire magazine is devoted to explicating, explaining, and justifying the connections between the various inconsistent realities of the Marvel & DC universes." Some of the ideas that originated here, Gruenwald would later bring into the Marvel Universe when he became a writer and editor for that publisher.
  • Ben Towle pointed me to this documentary about another comics legend, Alex Toth, is available for free on YouTube.
Here are this week's links to what I've had published recently...

Kleefeld on Comics: Death of the Funny Pages!

Kleefeld on Comics: Death of the Funny Pages IRL

Patreon: Webcomics Book Wrap-Up

Kleefeld on Comics: Jim Davis Circa 1979

Kleefeld on Comics: The Porch Redux

Kleefeld on Comics: People Misreading Six Chix?

I caught this Six Chix comic on Tuesday and thought, "I swear -- fuckin' Karens!"

Six Chix comic

And then I moved on. I kind of glossed over it because it's not really a joke. I mean, this actually happens. There are people out there who are just so dismissive of issues that Black people face -- that are so dismissive of the aims behind the Black Lives Matter movement -- that they feel free to make jokes at their expense. The "I can't breathe" message came from the last words of Eric Garner as he was being strangled to death by a New York City cop. It seemed like a perfect metaphor for people protesting the murder, as it was endemic of the systemic killings of Black people at the hands of police, as well as symbolizing how no one was listening to them. Garner repeated, "I can't breathe" over and over but Daniel Pantaleo ignored his words and continued to choke him to death. And do you know what the New York Police Department said in response to the protests? "We hear you." Literally, they said, "We hear you" in response to a case about cop who absolutely did not want to hear what Garner said with his dying breath.

So when I saw Bianca Xunise's comic, it didn't strike me as amazingly clever or witty or anything, as it's pretty damn close to what people say to Black people. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn if this literally happened to her exactly as she depicted it.

It turns out, though, that the comic caused a bit of a stir. Apparently, some significant number of readers felt it was trying to say that masks are stupid and useless, and people who do wear them should be mocked. This includes several newspaper editors who have since dropped Six Chix.
Newspaper apology from running the comic

Look, the comic isn't that hard to figure out. You can debate about the quality of the illustration, or the originality of the joke, or the nature of the composition, or any of the other technical aspects of the comic. And you can find it funny or unfunny. But if you don't get it? If you misread it as being against mask-wearing during a pandemic? Odds are that you're deliberately not getting it. And you can fuck off because you're part of the problem!
I originally posted this back in 2011, but seeing as I've unintentionally stumbled onto a newspaper strip theme for the week, I thought this might be an interesting piece to revisit.

Several years ago, Derik Badman posted this comic he did as part of a "30 Days of Comics" project...

Now, Badman's comics don't always follow a linear narrative, so this might not be some people's cup of tea. But I want to focus a bit on the art. Specifically, panels 3 and 4. Is there anyone reading this that doesn't recognize that porch? Anyone who didn't immediately recognize that porch?

Think about that for a second. It's an excessively simple backdrop. Almost too simple to recognize for what it is, since it's always depicted with absolutely zero perspective. And it's still instantly recognizable, not only as a porch (or stoop or whatever you want to call it) but as a specific porch. It's the porch.

You know how Ernie Bushmiller used to always draw his three rocks? One was just a single rock. Two was a pair of rocks. But three was "some rocks." Any more than three was unnecessary because you'd already conveyed the idea of "some rocks." Well, this porch beats that hands-down! As Badman suggests, it's drawn a little differently each time, but the design elements are so simple and elegant that you almost can't NOT make it look like the same every-porch, without making drastic changes to it. But you don't need to draw any of the characters in, or match the specific line variations, or provide any additional context. That porch comes from exactly one place and successfully represents every porch in America.

Charles Schulz was a genius.
Yesterday was Jim Davis's 75th birthday and Tom Heintjes shared this photo of him...
Jim Davis
What I find interesting is how much we can glean from him by other elements in the shot.

Farrah Fawcett poster
First, in the upper right, you can see the bottom of the famous Farrah Fawcett poster, allegedly the single best-selling poster in history. The poster was actually the idea of Pro Arts Inc. who hired Bruce McBroom to shoot Fawcett, who did her own hair and makeup for the shoot as she was still mostly known for small, bit-parts on television at the time. The poster came out in early 1976 and was so popular that it led to her getting a starring role in Charlie's Angels later that year. The poster sold even better after the show's popularity took off. I mention the history a bit here because there's an implication that he kept that poster up for several years, as we'll see in a minute.

Kliban cat calendar
The next item of interest is the calendar. Although the date is a little fuzzy, the image helps to confirm it's March 1979. The image is a relatively identifiable Kliban cat cartoon. Bernard Kliban's cat comics first became quite popular in 1975 with his first book, and the first Kliban cat calendar came out in 1977. The first calendar was the best-selling calendar of that year, and Kliban calendars continued to be the best-seller every year through 1981. Although not visible in the black and white photo above, that cat above the March 5-6 boxes is colored orange like Garfield.

1979 Peanuts strip
Next, there's a comic section from the newspaper visible on Davis's desk. I'm guessing it's The Chronicle-Tribune based out of Marion, IN. Davis, I believe, was actually living in nearby Muncie at the time but the Muncie newspaper is The Star Press, and there seem to be too many letters in the masthead for that. Regardless, plainly visible before the fold are the top two panels of a Peanuts Sunday strip. I believe that's the March 4, 1979 strip; there are only two Sunday strips between 1976 and 1980 that feature Charlie Brown by himself in the first panel, and him with Lucy in the second. (It's possible that it's an even longer timeframe there; that's just as far as I went in either direction.)

So the photo is at the earliest from March 4, 1979, although possibly a little later. Davis would have been a little shy of 34th birthday and likely had that Fawcett poster hanging up for at least a few years by that point.

Garfield strip
The Garfield strip Davis seems to be work on, though? We can actually see the whole thing pretty clearly. It actually ran in newspapers on October 29, 1978, about four months prior to the earliest date this could've been photographed.

My guess is that he wanted to use a Sunday strip since those are just bigger and would take up more of his art board, and four months seems that it would be about the right amount of time for a syndicate to get his original art back to him after he sent it in for production. (Recall this is 1979 and you couldn't send files electronically yet.) So I can see it being possible that this was actually the latest Sunday strip he had original art for, but had already been published. I can also see him not wanting to use an as-yet-unpublished strip as that might give away the joke before readers saw the actual strip itself in their newspaper. But I could be over-thinking it, and he just simply liked that strip for whatever reason.

What I find interesting is the three non-Garfield elements we can use to date this photo are three of the most popular pop culture items of their respective genres. The most popular comic, the most popular calendar, the most popular poster. You could say they were the most broadly appealing items of their day. I find it interesting that Davis gravitates towards that so strongly, even in his personal life. Davis was always clear that he tried to write Garfield to be as broadly appealing as possible. In a 1982 interview, he stated, "It's a conscious effort to include everyone as readers. If you were to mention the football strike, you're going to be excluding everyone else in the world that doesn't watch pro football... I don't use rhyming gags, plays on words, colloquialisms, in an effort to make Garfield apply to virtually any society where he may appear. In an effort to keep the gags broad, the humor general and applicable to everyone, I deal mainly with eating and sleeping. That applies to everyone, anywhere."

So that he himself is so strongly influenced by and seeks out the most popular is interesting. What I don't know is that because he just liked stuff that everybody else seemed to like, or was he actually studying those items to determine what made them popular? In that same interview, he also said, "I'd like to say it was some sort of a divine inspiration that created the strip. In fact, it wasn't so much that as a conscious effort to come up with a good, marketable character. I've been trying to get syndicated for eight years. That's a lot of time to try to figure out what makes some strips go and others fail... It's essentially a formula. I notice dog strips are doing well, and I knew an animal strip would be strong. People aren't threatened by an animal. They have a lot of latitude. Do a lot of things that humans can't. By virtue of being a cat, Garfield's not black, white, male or female, young, or old or a particular nationality. He's not going to step on anyone's feet if these thoughts are coming from an animal."

So did he get that Kliban calendar because he actually likes Kliban cats (I've never heard him mention Kliban as an influence) or was he just doing research for how to make Garfield more marketable? The cynic in me says the latter, particularly in light of multiple times Davis has claimed that he chose to make Garfield a cat because he "noticed that nobody had yet created a popular comic about a cat." It seems hard to claim that when he had a Kliban cat calendar on his wall only a few months after he created the character. I can't find Davis mentioning Kliban at all until 2015, although he clearly had at least an awareness of him early on.

I've kind of felt this way for a while, but I feel it kind of makes Davis seem more and more like Bob Kane, and I'm left thinking he's better at crafting a story about himself than he is about crafting one for the comics pages.