Showing posts with label comic strips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label comic strips. Show all posts

Friday, November 23, 2018

Exhibit review: Superheroes at the National Museum of American History

by Mike Rhode

Superheroes. Washington, DC: National Museum of American History. November 20, 2018 to September 2, 2019.
The Smithsonian museum has mounted a small, but choice, exhibit made up of some extremely surprising pieces. The terse description on their website only hints at it:
This showcase presents artifacts from the museum's collections that relate to Superheroes, including comic books, original comic art, movie and television costumes and props, and memorabilia. The display includes George Reeves's Superman costume from the Adventures of Superman TV program, which ran from 1951-1958, as well as Halle Berry's Storm costume from the 2014 film X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Of the five exhibit cases, two concentrate on comic books and original art, while the other three contain props from movies and pop culture ephemera. Surprisingly, the Black Panther costume from the Marvel movies which the African-American History museum collected this summer is not included, but as noted above they have displayed George Reeve's Superman costume (since it is in color rather than grey shades, it came from the later seasons of the television show), Halle Berry's Storm uniform, along with Captain America's shield, Wolverine's claws and Batman's cowl and a batarang. Those three cases are rounded out with the first issue of Ms. Magazine which had a Wonder Woman cover, two lunchboxes (Wonder Woman and Marvel heroes), and a Superman telephone.

courtesy of Grand Comics Database
 Surprisingly, the two cases of comic books and original art include a very wide variety of comic books including some that just recently came out such as America (Marvel) along with older issues such as Leading Comics from 1943 which featured Green Arrow among other heroes such as the Crimson Avenger and the Star-Spangled Kid. The existence of an apparently extensive comic book collection in the Smithsonian comes as a surprise to this reviewer and will need to be researched more in depth. Even more of a surprise were the four pieces of original art on display – the cover of Sensation Comics 18 (1943) with Wonder Woman drawn by H.G. Peter, a Superman comic strip (1943) signed by Siegel and Shuster, a Captain Midnight cover that the curators did not bother to track the source of (it appears to be an unused version of #7 from April 1943), and a April 27, 1945 Batman comic strip. Actually, none of the creators of any of the works are credited, although the donors are.
The small exhibit lines two sides of a hallway off the busy Constitution Avenue entrance of the Museum, but the location has the advantage of being around the corner from a Batmobile from the 1989 Batman movie that was installed earlier this year. The car may be tied into the nearby installation and branding of a Warner Bros. theater showing the latest Harry Potter spin-off movie which seems like a true waste of space in the perennially over-crowded and under –exhibited (i.e. they have literally hundreds of thousands of items worthy of display in storage), but one assumes that besides the Batmobile, the theater came with a cash donation or promise of shared revenues.

Notwithstanding that cynicism, the Batmobile and the superheroes exhibit are fun to see, although most people quickly passed them by during this reviewer's visit. Also of interest may be a bound volume of Wonder Woman comics and a reproduction of an unused idea for her original costume, around the other corner from the Batmobile in the Smithsonian Libraries exhibit gallery. The museum has recently acquired some Marston family papers.

Bruce Guthrie has an extensive series of photographs including the individual comic books at


(This review was written for the International Journal of Comic Art 20:2, but this version appears on both the IJOCA and ComicsDC websites on November 23, 2018, while the exhibit is still open for viewing.)

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

A Long Talk with Jim Toomey of Sherman's Lagoon

Jim Toomey at American University
by Mike Rhode

Jim Toomey was in Washington recently to speak to the students of American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking. Toomey is the cartoonist behind Sherman’s Lagoon, a fanciful look at sharks and undersea life which appears locally in the Washington Post. He’s also done animated cartoon shorts on ocean conservation. His evening talk was open to the public, and afterwards Jim agreed to do an interview. We spoke by telephone a few days later on September 29th.

MR: How long have you been drawing Sherman’s Lagoon?

JT: Over twenty-five years. Well, let’s see… 1991. So twenty-six years now.

MR: How did you come up with the idea?

JT: I had always loved the ocean and was a big fan of Jacques Cousteau. I got my diver’s license by lying about my age to get my scuba certificate when I was eleven. I was a real fanatic about the ocean and all things ocean-related. I was also a big fan of comic strips. I was a paperboy, so I got into the newspaper business pretty young. I particularly liked the strip “Peanuts.” I read other strips as well, but “Peanuts” was really my favorite. I loved to draw, but I didn’t have the discipline to become a very practiced artist. I didn’t do figure sketching or still lives. I didn’t have that kind of discipline. I loved a combination of things: I enjoy telling stories and making people laugh, I love the ocean, and I love to draw in a loose not-so-serious way. Some of those things pointed towards being a cartoonist. The theme of the ocean came along mostly because I was looking for something different. I wanted to get syndicated and I looked in the comics pages and saw a lot of the same thing over and over again. I wanted to try to create something that was totally different. And that’s why I came up with the undersea stuff. My lead character Sherman is a character I’ve had in mind my whole life. I’ve always been fascinated with sharks. I’ve always been drawing sharks.

MR: You were born in Alexandria, VA. Did you grow up there as well?

JT: Yes, I was there until I went away to college at eighteen.

MR: So were you boating on the Potomac River as a kid, or visit the Atlantic shore?

JT: I didn’t do a lot of boating on the Potomac. My family was not a boat family. We did go to the beach quite a bit, off to Rehoboth Beach. I think one of the formative moments of my life was being at Rehoboth, or Dewey, or wherever it was, and seeing the lifeguards shooting at sharks. They had sharks out there and they actually got out a high-power rifle. I remember the image of them shooting at sharks vividly. I was a little shocked by that, I guess; what good would it do? I also saw a fisherman land a good-sized shark – not a dogfish, it was probably four feet long laying on the pier there. I got to look at it and touch it and I was just amazed.

MR: You’re living in Annapolis, MD now, so still not on the ocean?

JT: [laughs] No, but it’s on the water… we spent the last two years on a sailboat on the ocean so I’ve definitely gotten my fill of the ocean. I think the allure of the ocean as a boy was the same drivers that come with being fascinated by outer space, or dinosaurs... it’s just that unknown that I loved. All the crazy creatures that I saw in Jacques Cousteau documentaries, and in National Geographic, and science books, really made my imagination soar.

Most of us see only the blue surface, and some of us can strap on scuba tanks and swim around down there, but the reality is that we’ve know more about the moon than we know about the ocean, the deep ocean especially. It’s a still a very unexplored place. It’s mind-boggling to me that we’ve got Google Earth that’s photographed every square inch of dry land, but there’s still over 70% of the planet that we haven’t looked at very closely.

MR: Pushing back in time a little, the other night I was introduced to you by Mike Jenkins who was an editorial cartoonist with you at the Journal newspapers. I was wondering how you got into editorial cartooning, presumably after college?

JT: During college, I started drawing political cartoons, maybe my second year of college. I was at Duke University so I drew for the Duke Chronicle. I really enjoyed it. Back then, I was a little bit more of an … I guess nihilist is the best word… I was a little bit more political, a little bit more cynical and I wanted to disrupt with my cartoons. I cared less about making a living and having a steady job at it. I enjoyed the rabble-rousing role that a political cartoonist plays. I wrote and drew a political cartoon twice a week for the college paper through most of my college career.

MR: And the Journal was a small chain around the Washington area, with one for each county?

Page down to see more of Toomey's editorial cartoons, courtesy of Mike Jenkins
JT: Correct. I actually jumped over to the Journal. The first paper I cartooned for was the Alexandria Gazette because they boasted about being the oldest daily newspaper in America. While I was there, it went out of business. Not a very auspicious start to my cartooning career, but I just took my portfolio over to the Journal. They already had Mike there as a full-time guy drawing political cartoons, but I said, “Hey, I’ll do it for twenty-five bucks,” so they found room for me. I think I did them twice a week for the Journal as well.

MR: Did they just run twice as many cartoons then?

JT: I don’t know if Mike was doing one every day. He might have been doing it less than every day and I filled in when he wasn’t doing it.

MR: Presumably you had another job at the time, because you weren’t going to live on $50 a week?

JT: Right. I graduated from college with a pretty marketable degree. I was a mechanical engineer. I had a cubicle job. I was a project manager and I hated it, but I wasn’t in danger of starving.
First Sunday strip
MR: Was Sherman’s Lagoon the first idea you pitched to the syndicate?

JT: No, it was the second or third. The first one was when I got involved with the estate of Percy Crosby and they wanted to resurrect “Skippy.” I was talking to them, but the syndicates or the family didn’t like it. That was my first attempt. The second attempt was something called “Ivory Towers;” I tried doing a comic strip that was based in college. I was right out of college, and I thought maybe it would run in college newspapers. It was probably immature. Then I did another comic strip that I think was about a boy and a dog, but I forget the name of that one. I tried a panel strip… so Sherman’s Lagoon was the fourth or fifth attempt. “Sherman’s” was my first syndicated success.

MR: So was King Features your first choice for a syndicate? How did you sell it? Did you send it to each of the syndicates and King Features bought it?

First week of the strips
JT: No, I self-syndicated actually. When they rejected it, I just kept going. This is when the Apple computer first came out, so I bought myself a computer and Lotus Notes and then I bought a database of newspapers called “Working Press of the Nation.” I transcribed the names and addresses of the top 200 hundred newspapers and I created my own syndicate called Pacific Press Features. I made my cartoon self-syndicated, but I made it look like it was coming from a real small syndicate in California. I sent a cover letter to those newspapers with a sample of the comic strip, and after about six months, I had about fifteen clients including the Denver Post and the Dallas Morning News. Ultimately, the syndicates came to me. Creators Syndicate came to me. They lost a sale to me and that got their attention. They called me and I signed a contract with them.

MR: I notice that your books are published by Andrews McMeel, although you’re syndicated by King. It’s a little weird how the industry has collapsed in on itself.

JT: Yeah, there really aren’t many places you can go to publish a cartoon book. Andrews McMeel is probably the only one, but in the past there was Little, Brown and a couple of others. Nobody does them anymore. I moved to King Features after my first Creators contract was up. I think it was a seven year contract.

MR: Since you were a mechanical engineer, were you generally self-taught as a cartoonist?

JT: Yeah. I was a big fan of comic strips so I was familiar with the art form. What I wasn’t familiar with was storytelling and the actual mechanics of writing. I wasn’t very good at writing dialogue and writing it well, and fundamental stuff like grammar and punctuation. So I had to get good at that, but the drawing part came easily enough.

MR: Most cartoonists I’ve ever talked to have been drawing their entire life.

JT: Yeah, the drawing is certainly a more natural exercise for me than writing. I’m not one of these people who can just sit in a cafĂ© and write for fun. For me it’s always been hard work.

MR: You mentioned being influenced by “Peanuts” and Charles Schulz – is there anyone else you’d care to mention?

JT: Gary Larson. I loved “Bloom County” – it was very different. The strip that heavily influenced “Bloom County” was “Doonesbury” and I liked what Trudeau did with his strip. All the usual suspects… of course, “Calvin & Hobbes” – it was a great mix of art and writing; not a new idea, but doing an old idea in a very brilliant way. I think television influenced my sense of humor and writing as much as the comic strips. I was a child of “Get Smart,” “Hogan’s Heroes,” “Gilligan’s Island,” and all those stupid sitcoms that developed my sense of humor.

MR: Is there anything in your career, you would do over or change?

JT: I probably wouldn’t have signed that syndicate contract so quickly. I probably would have taken more chances with characters. I think now the strip is so in a groove that it’s hard to do that. I probably would have changed up my formula and been a little more experimental. I should have had a lot more courage with the strip.

MR: Well, on your fourth or fifth try when you finally get syndicated, it’s hard to suddenly say, “I should throw in a murder mystery or a manta ray…”

JT: Yes, when you get syndicated, or at least back then, you feel like you have good thing going and you don’t want to disrupt it, so you tend to get staid. That’s probably my one big regret.

MR: What’s the maximum numbers of papers you hit?

JT: I was probably in 250-300. The industry likes to count Sundays separately. If you don’t do that and just count individual newspapers, I’m still in about 200.

MR: You were drawing the strip digitally when I saw you recently, but you showed a photograph of yourself drawing with pen and ink. I assume originally you did it on paper, but now you do it digitally. Why did you decide to change, and how was the learning curve?

JT: I moved overseas. I married a French woman and we moved to Europe. I didn’t want to go through the expense of FedExing original comic strips every week to New York from Paris. That was going to get expensive, so I was compelled to experiment with a digital tablet. At first actually I got a scanner and I drew the strip and I scanned it and email it. I was probably one of the first cartoonists to email a strip in. Then I embraced the Wacom tablet, because I liked the way you could draw with it, enlarge the drawing, experiment with it, draw something and hit the undo button, resize, reshape, edit… it just gave me a lot more flexibility. I experimented with it for a little while and I think I made the jump in 1999 or 2000, and if you look at my last pen and ink strip and my first digital strip, it’s hard to tell the difference. I really obsessed with maintaining the look.

MR: Since you switched not even a decade into your career, I imagine you didn’t have a significant income stream from selling the pen and ink cartoons then?

JT: No, I didn’t.

MR: Can you give us an overview of your conservation work and how you got started in it?

JT: I was contacted by NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, to help them with an outreach piece. I was living in California, but I happened to be travelling in Washington that month, so I went to a meeting with them. When I showed up at the meeting, there were like a dozen people there and they were really excited about the power of this comic strip. I really had no idea. I just thought I was meeting with one guy that was going to last fifteen minutes and be done with it. I think it was in that meeting that I realized having a couple of million readers in a couple of hundred papers actually was kind of powerful. I helped them with their outreach piece, and then I reached out to a couple of non-profits to help them. Then I started putting some messages into the comic strip – simple ocean conservation stuff like Fillmore the turtle picks up a piece of trash, takes it up to the beach and throws it in a trash can, trash can gets picked up and dumped in a barge, and the barge dumps the entire load of trash right on Fillmore… that giant circle. I enjoyed it. I was back to my political cartooning days. I enjoyed the purpose that the cartoon had – rather than little more than a chuckle a day, I was trying to change the world a little bit. I enjoy that. I wasn’t really doing it, but in my head I was trying. That’s what made me become more and more addicted to putting ocean conservation themes into the strip. I started doing public talks, got asked to be on boards, and it grew into a kind of a fun side… I was going to say side job, but it wasn’t a job. I didn’t get a penny for it. It was a fun sidelight hobby of mine.

(See the other strips in this story line at

MR: You taught yourself a type of animation then to make animated shorts then?

JT: I did animation for the United Nations. I did a series of videos for them that are a combination of me hosting and some animation. I’ve also worked with Pew Environment Group and World Resources Group, and a few other folks. I’ve been doing a fair amount of screen-based education for these outreach groups. If you go to there’s a bunch of those videos there.

MR: After getting involved in ocean conservation, at some point your family decided to go live on a sailboat for about a year and a half?

JT: Probably closer to two years. For me, it was 22 months, but they went over a little earlier. We started in the summer of 2015 and just ended this summer.

MR: What was the genesis of that?

First King Features' Sunday
JT: We always wanted to do this. My wife is a big sailor as well. We missed our chance before having kids. There’s really a sweet spot in time with kids that you can do this sort of thing, and it’s when the kids are old enough to appreciate it, but not so old that you can’t pull them out of their social fabric (which is starting around 14 or 15). Once they hit high school, they get a little unpredictable. I think the education and socialization in a high school full of people is more important than in a crew.

MR: Was it just the four of you?

JT: Yes, it was just the four of us and we hit that sweet spot in time. The kids were ten and twelve, so we went until they were twelve and fourteen during the cruise. Now the girl is a freshman in high school, and we couldn’t do it any longer.

MR: You started in Europe and went around the Mediterranean?

JT: We started on the Atlantic coast of France, and we went around through Gibraltar, so we did the Atlantic coast of Europe. We started at La Rochelle, France, went south to Spain and Portugal, through the strait of Gibraltar, and then we went to the European side of the Mediterranean. We didn’t touch much of Africa; the insurance company wouldn’t let us do it. We did take a ferry to Morocco for about a week and that was one of the highlights of the trip, but we left the boat in Gibraltar for that one.

MR: Did you buy a boat, or do they rent them?

JT: We bought the boat. It was brand-new. It took about nine months to build. We flew to France and picked it up at the factory and commissioned it. It took about three weeks to trick it out with all the ocean-going stuff. We sailed a new boat. I didn’t want to be constantly repairing a used boat; I wanted this cruise to go smoothly.

MR: When you say it’s a factory-made boat, is that a modern plastic hull then?

JT: Yes, it was a 45-foot catamaran with a fiberglass hull. The boat was called “Sacre Bleu” which is French for “gosh-darnit.” It was a tribute to two things: one is my propensity to use foul language when I’m on boats. This is a curse that you can use in front of grand-children. It’s also a tribute to our love of the ocean; if you translate it, it means Sacred Blue. It was a double-meaning for us.

MR: Does your wife come from a boating family?

JT: No, she didn’t. She just likes it. She’s fearless and just really liked being on the boat. More so than me; I was ready to quit after a year, and she wanted to go two.

MR: And you would draw the strip digitally, and just upload it to the Internet for the syndicate?

JT: Right, exactly.

MR: Did you use some of the locales?

JT: I sent them to the Med a couple of times, but a lot of my cartooning inspiration really comes from people-to-people contact. Being in that intimate family situation was more inspiration for the comic strip than the travel was. It was a little more family-oriented, a little more spouse-oriented than usual. You don’t really disconnect anymore; we read all the same headlines on the same pages that we read when we were home. The news is the same. It’s not like it was decades ago when you jumped in a schooner and disappeared off the face of the earth. It felt more like camping.

MR: Back to basic questions – what do you do when you’re in a rut, or have writer’s block? Do your characters talk you out of it, or do you have to gout out and get a cup of coffee and talk to other human beings? Or something else?

JT: I have a variety of techniques. Oftentimes I will just get up and take a walk and come back. Sometimes, I’ll sit down and read the headlines and see if there’s something in there. Sometimes I’ll take on something else because I’m not a strict deadline so I’ll work on animation until my state of mind passes. It always happens. Oftentimes I just pound my head on my desk, until I give birth to something. It’s especially true with the Sunday strips because they’re longer format and they’re standalone. I think the burden of having a standalone funny Sunday strip is a lot heavier. It’s easier in a daily to start with an established storyline and advance it a few inches, and get a chuckle out of it while you’re doing that.

An ongoing animation project that Toomey showed at American University

MR: And you do it all yourself?

JT: Yes, I do it all myself. Advancing a story line in a daily strip is relatively easy. The Sundays have a bigger audience and for me, they’re the showpiece of the strip, so I can’t spend all day trying to write a Sunday and not succeed. In the end, if I have something I don’t like… I have a couple of rules: if it’s not a great joke, keep it simple. The worst joke in the world is a complicated bad joke. I have a little matrix: the best joke is a simple funny joke; the second best joke is a tie between a complicated funny joke and a simple not-so-funny joke; the absolute worst is a complicated, not-funny joke. So if I get in a rut, I just revert to a simple not-so-funny joke and then move on.

MR: How far in advance do you have the strip done?

JT: About five or six weeks.

MR: So here’s the standard “what do you think will be the future of newspaper comics?” question…

JT: Hah. The question really is, “what’s the future of newspapers?” and I think newspapers are probably going to continue to provide news in a digital form, probably shedding a lot of the things we associate with them, like the features I draw, the advice columns, the crossword puzzle, obituaries, real-estate ads, are all going to dedicated websites. Newspapers are just going to provide local news. Comics will probably either just go to long-form books like we’re doing with Andrews McMeel or shorter subscriptions where you pay a fixed amount. But I think our association with newspapers is limited.

MR: You mentioned Andrews McMeel – a few of your colleagues have had stunning success with chapter books like Stephan Pastis and Lincoln Pierce. Have you considered moving your characters into that type of work?

JT: No, I haven’t. I don’t really take the books very seriously. Books have always just been a product of the comic strip and I don’t pay much attention to book publishing.

MR: The last question – while you were overseas, did you follow any foreign comics, or did your wife get you hooked on any French comics?

JT: I saw a lot that I liked. I think my comment on European approach to cartoons is that the spectrum of topic and character is a lot broader than it is here in the US. Here you have the syndicated newspaper comic strips which all follow a formula, you have the DC/Marvel comic book, you have the “New Yorker” gag cartoon, but the variety in Europe is much broader with serious comics for political cartoons, manga, historic comics like “Asterix” – tons of those historical comic books, works like “Tintin” by Herge… so the Europeans have a much wider net in terms of inspiration and artistic style that I really envy. I think it’s a much broader market and a much bigger community, and not just syndicated cartoonists.

MR: I was listening to a French cartoonist the other day, Penelope Bagieu, who says while she’s famous as a French cartoonist, there’s not really much to that. I think it’s a broad, but shallow market, from her point of view. She’s also done an ocean campaign opposed to the bottom trawler nets the French use. Did you ever run across her work?

JT: No, but I’ll look it up.

MR: Do you go to any conventions or book festivals?

JT: No, I used to go to the National Cartoonists Society gatherings, but I’m not a member any more. I don’t really make time for it any more. With kids in school, and drawing the strip and doing the video work and animation, which takes a lot of my time, means that I don’t make time to network within the cartooning industry. If I’m invited to speak, I’ll go, but when I had the cubicle job I went to plenty of conventions so I don’t need to go to many more. I’ve never been to Comic-Con. When I get invited to a fun one, like over in Europe, I’ll go. I’ve probably been to more in Europe than the U.S.

MR: Do you have a favorite thing about Washington, having grown up around here?

JT: When I was kid I would always go to the museums since they were free. As a kid growing up, having access to that and not having to fork over my allowance money was great. As an adult – it’s an easy city to live in. It’s a family-friendly city. A lot of smart people live here, obviously politically active, but with that political activity comes activity in areas that I’m interested in like the environment and non-profits. There’s a very strong media presence of course. There’s only a very few cities I would be welcome to live in and Washington is one of them.

Here's a gallery of Toomey's editorial cartoons from the Journal newspapers, provided by Mike Jenkins:

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

The Art of Richard Thompson book excerpt: Thompson and Bill Watterson talk comics

Not a hoax. Not a joke. Not an April Fool's day trick. Here's an excerpt of the conversation of Richard Thompson and Bill Watterson from The Art of Richard Thompson, which you can buy right now from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, or order and wait for a copy signed by Richard from One More Page.

BILL WATTERSON: When I was a kid, I loved Peanuts, so I wanted to be the next Charles Schulz. I didn’t understand what that meant of course, but it seemed like a plan. You came to your comic strip from a different path,

RICHARD THOMPSON: Yeah. Off in my own little world of being a pretend cartoonist. Without a plan.

BW: So how did you envision cartooning? What was your experience of it as a kid?

RT: Well, Schulz pretty much defined “cartoonist.” But I remember in fifth grade, a friend’s older sister had some Pogo books and we spent the day poring over them. That was the first time I understood some of the jokes. It was pretty intimidating and dense for a kid.

RT: Yeah, mostly strips. Comic books were hard to find. And a strip is a one-person deal. Not like animation, where you’ve got to work with other people.

BW: As a kid, animation just seemed out of the question to me. I wouldn’t even know how to go about doing it.

RT: It was interesting. But even when I was old enough to maybe try it, I always hated the idea of working with others.

BW: Plus, you needed film equipment and all that.

RT: Yeah. Really, though, I did cartoons without any clear thought of having a future in it.

BW: Any other strips or cartoons that had any impact as a kid?

RT: Some strange ones. There was a panel called Mr. Tweedy about a hapless little guy. I don't remember who drew it. And there was Freddy by a guy who signed as Rupe. I think he was local.

BW: I don't know either one.

RT: I think it was probably in one paper. Also, Wizard of Id... BC... And Mad Magazine of course. I discovered that when I was probably ten.

BW: I remember there was some shock value in bringing Mad home.

RT: Right. (laughs) I remember the first time I picked it up in the grocery store and said I wanted to buy this. My parents looked at it and went ickkk. But my dad finally read it and started giggling. He had a good sense of humor, thankfully.

BW: My next-door neighbor bought it regularly, and he'd bring it over and I'd pore over the drawings. Eventually I worked up the nerve to ask my mom if I could get it. There were a number of years when I really thought Mad was the cat's pajamas, although now I think it was pretty formulaic. But even as a kid, it seemed out of the mainstream of cartooning. It was off in its own world.

RT: It seemed to open up this whole subculture.

BW: Could you imagine yourself doing something in that direction?

RT: Kinda vaguely.

BW: I could never see a way in. I couldn't imagine myself drawing movie and TV satires. I guess Don Martin did the closest thing to a regular cartoon, but in that grotesque style. Or Dave Berg's whatever....

RT: The Lighter Side Of (laughs). I'd often read it first. It was always so square!

BW: Right! So what did you respond to in Mad? What aspect?

RT: Oh, the art. The Aragones drawings in the margins and stuff like that. There was no one thing. Spy vs Spy, which was kind of exotic. And of course the parodies, where you discover caricature.

BW: I marveled at Mort Drucker, but I didn't see any road between here and there. At that age, my drawing skills were pretty much limited to drawing things in side-view outlines.

RT: I would try, but... I do remember seeing David Levine drawings of Nixon in like, sixth grade, in my classroom. My teacher was an anti-Nixonite. These beautiful, elegant drawings of Nixon--I remember being fascinated by it. He was using ink like paint, almost.

BW: What, the hatching?

RT: Yeah. So elegant.

BW: I never really responded to Levine. The likenesses were strong, but sort of like stone sculpture, or something- -not warm. I dunno. I remember Oliphant's caricatures really impressed me--so wild and cartoony, compared to Drucker. But getting a likeness is really hard. What made you want to do that?

RT: Caricature was something that'd always interested me. Later, as a freelancer, I thought the more arrows in my quiver the better. When I showed the art director at the Post, Mike Keegan, some pages of caricature sketches, he was delighted. I was suddenly taken more seriously too. I remember the British show Spitting Image had just premiered, and it gave me the kick I needed.

BW: Hm, I'm trying to think what else was in the air back then...

RT: I remember we had a bunch of New Yorker cartoon books in the classroom. This is like fifth or sixth grade. The teacher would bring them from home or something.

BW: OK, you moved in more sophisticated circles than I did!

RT: I didn't quite understand them. There's a Roz Chast drawing about her as a child finding Charles Addams cartoons, and I remember finding those too, and how gruesome they were. And the painting in them was soft and..

BW: The grays?

RT: Yeah, like no one else.

BW: I was probably a bit older when I saw New Yorkers. You know, if it was a cartoon, I'd jump to read it, but I don't remember them making much impact. Well, actually, I still like George Booth a lot. He's one of the few New Yorker cartoonists whose drawings are funny.

RT: I remember being impressed with New Yorker cartoons, but I probably didn't understand much.

BW: How about comic books? Nothing?

RT: Some. They were hard to find. I'd find them occasionally, and then I'd probably whine 'til I got them. If they were Batmans.

BW: Really, they were hard to find? My town had three drugstores that used to carry them, and I'd get them sometimes, but superhero comics didn't do a lot for me.

RT: Archie and whatnot... I had a few of those but I was never really into them.

BW: One summer my neighbor gave me this huge box of Archie comic books, and I read them in the car on some family vacation. I have no idea where he got them, but there were a zillion of the things, so my brother and I sat in the back seat reading one after another until it nearly killed us. We read ten thousand Archie comic books and they were all exactly the same.

RT: And the drawings are so clean.

BW: Yeah, very slick. Even then I thought they were dumb and outdated. It's a bizarre memory. How about underground comix? Did they have any impact on you?

RT: Some. I came late to undergrounds. I had friends who collected them (Henry Allen has Zap #0) but my main exposure was all in histories and anthologies. I liked, revered Crumb, though he is overwhelming, and thought Wonder Warthog was freaking hilarious.

BW: I saw some in college and I liked Wonder Warthog too, but on the whole, the undergrounds didn't make much connection. I preferred sillier, more cartoony stuff, I suppose.

What non-cartoon things made an impression on you as a kid?

RT: My folks liked doing things and making me a part of it. I remember when the Mona Lisa came to town. I was about six. We stood in line for a long time. Red draperies and guards every few feet, and then  ventually, there it is. My mom liked it a lot. The whole way, she was telling me what an important painting it was and the story of it. She had a great appreciation for culture. She didn’t have any great understanding of it so much as just liked it, I guess.

BW: Wow, I guess you’re one of the few people who’s ever seen it without a foot of bulletproof glass in front of it.

RT: I think so. You couldn’t get right up to it--there were velvet ropes. But you could breathe the same air. (BW laughs)

BW: I don’t remember much exposure to fine art--just the popular culture of the day. I think of my childhood as the Batman TV show, the Beatles, and the moon landings. Although I do remember in middle school there were a few years when I read all the Doctor Dolittle books. I loved those--the idea of talking to animals. A PETA sensibility ahead of its time. It probably had some subliminal influence on my strip. What aspects of pop culture did you participate in?

RT: Well yes, the moon landings and take-offs. You knew it was important when the teacher pushed the TV into the classroom.

Jump over to Richard's Cul de Sac blog for more discussion on comic strips.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A flea market miscellany

Here's some of the oddball stuff I picked up last weekend:

Bull 195303 blotter

Bull of the Woods by J.R. Williams cartoon desk blotter / calendar from Vogt Roller Co, Chicago, IL in March 1953.

Bill Clinton Inauguration '93 superhero button

Bill Clinton superhero caricature on an Inauguration '93 button.

 Bart Simpson JHUHP button
A counterfeit Bart Simpson saying "I belong to The Johns Hopkins Health Plan. Why In The Hell Don't You!" on an advertising button.

Nutty Awards 4 postcard by Jack Davis

Nutty Awards #4 postcard by Jack Davis.  Topps produced 30 of these in 1965.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

'ComicBacks' Yahoo group is local now

A couple of years ago, Ray Bottorff Jr moved here from Detroit, and brought his project to produce a bibliography / price guide to paperback books related to comics with him. Ray's got a ComicBacks Yahoo group which he describes as:

"...a list designed to appeal to both fans of Comic Books and Paperbacks. ComicBacks is a term copyrighted by Ray Bottorff Jr to refer to mostly mass-market sized paperbacks that are comic-related. Comic-related means that the paperback has its origins in Comic Books, Comic Strips, Animation, Hero Pulps or other related Sister Arts. I have no problem including paperbacks in this list which may not have originated in comics, but are of a Super-Hero theme. The list can cover both comic reprinted work and prose material from comics or comic characters.
And if you wish to talk about Big Little Books, Oversize Paperbacks, Oblong Paperbacks or Trade Paperbacks of this "genre" feel free to do so.
Also feel free to post your buy/sell/trade lists!"

He's recently posted a link to a 700-page illustrated e-version of his list of ComicBacks. You can join the group through the above link.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Brave New Comic Strips panel at SPX audio is online

I had a good time doing this, and I think everyone was happy with it, so here's my recording for those who couldn't make it.

Brave New Comic Strips (September 12, 2010)

Small Press Expo panel from September 12, 2010.

The newspaper industry, long the home of American comics first popular dedicated format, faces an existential crisis presented by the emergence and proliferation of digital media. Against all odds, artists interested in the daily strip format continue to produce work with an eye for print. Mike Rhode will discuss the present and the future of the newspaper comic strip with Marguerite Dabaie, Keith Knight, and Richard Thompson.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Washington Blade returns while Times fades

The Washington Blade, the gay paper, returned to the stands last week after a several months absence. The paper's name and assets were bought by its former staffers who had been publishing as the DC Agenda. None of the political cartoons or comic strips the Blade had previously published have returned as of the first issue.

Meanwhile, the Washington Times has confirmed that it is for sale. The Times dropped all of its comics months ago.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chatalogical Humor on Weingarten's new comic strip

Today's Chatalogical Humor is on Gene Weingarten's new comic strip "Barney & Clyde" as well as the quality of early Dennis the Menace.

Updating this a little, Barney and Clyde is a comic about a billionaire and a pauper. It's got a Facebook page now, and will be appearing in the Post when it launches.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dougintology, on the webcomics he reads

A buddy of mine who lives in DC has been listing the webcomics he reads on his blog. He's up to 8 pages of lists. Obviously, he's more plugged in than I am.

Comic strips - part 1

Comic strips - part 2

Comic strips - part 3

Comic strips - part 4 - he wanders into the syndicated strips he reads here.

Comic strips - part 5

Comic strips - part 6

Comic strips - part 7

Comic strips - part 8

and he took in Short Animation Oscar nominees just for good measure.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Shooting ones' self in the foot? Or, 'Go to our website for comics'

A few months ago, we took the Express to task for dropping 2/3 of its comics page. One of the editors responded with the rationale that you could read them on their website. Here's an ad from the March 4th edition, conveying the same thing, but before I clipped it, it originally was sandwiched between two paid ads -- which they ain't getting on their website, or if they are, they won't make the same amount of money. And the rationale of going to their site is still weak, since you can go directly to the syndicates or some larger papers and read dozens of strips.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Denver Post claims people are happy losing 22 comics

Cavna continues to practice real journalism - Denver Post cuts 22 comics: 'It appears we didn't totally screw up' By Michael Cavna, Washington Post Comic Riffs blog March 2, 2010 - although I don't think he got real answers. "[Editor] Chavez notes that the first response she received to the polling... was: "You have too many comics.""


Monday, March 01, 2010

Denver Post drops Cul de Sac; local IQ immediately drops

Alan Gardner is reporting that the Denver Post dropped 21 comic strips and added... 1. But hey, Pluggers is going to be in color now, so who cares?

Seriously, they dropped some of the best new strips in favor of this tired old lineup, and then adding insult to injury, had the nerve to headline it "We're serious about your comics and puzzles." Perhaps, but if you're going to assume your readers are that stupid, maybe you should have a subheading "But we're more concerned with lining our pockets than putting out a decent paper." Which they might as well be, actually, because they're not going to be in business once the generation voting for Family Circus and Classic Peanuts kicks off.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Post shoehorns Sudoku puzzle into Sunday comics section

Note to Comics readers: Post debuts Sudoku Monster puzzles by David Bodycombe
Washington Post Sunday, January 3, 2010

Make of it what you will - And while all your favorites are still in the section, you'll notice some have swapped places for greater readability. Among others, "Mutts," with its Zenlike simplicity, cedes its front-page space to the wordier "Sherman's Lagoon."

Monday, December 21, 2009

Washington Times scraps Sunday Comics too, says Daily Cartoonist

Alan Gardner found a notice on the Washington Times website saying they weren't producing a Sunday comics section anymore. For a long time, they actually produced a Saturday color comics section - it only moved to Sunday about five years ago, I think. It's actually easier to find information about that than it is about the current state of their paper.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Washington Times laying off 40% of staff - and 100% of comics?

I'm betting the comics aren't coming back, even though they're not mentioned in this article.

This has not been a good year for comic strips and editorial cartoons in the nation's capital. Perhaps I'll do a year-in-review post like everyone else does in December.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

SHOC: Odd 'Change comic panel

In 1966, the Detroit Free Press published some classic comics (Little Orphan Annie, Gasoline Alley, Gil Thorp, Terry and the Pirates, Nancy, Grin and Bear It, On Stage, Brother Juniper, Peanuts, Brenda Starr, Mutt & Jeff, Dick Tracy, BC, Mr. Mum, Peanuts, Judge Parker) and some not-so-classic ones (The Neighborhood, Smidgens, Fan Fare, The Ryatts, Ferdinand), but they also published a comics panel that appears to have been done by their staff artists.

Odd 'Change is a very small panel that appeared in the middle of the stock tables. Here's three examples:

May 6, 1966

March 25, 1966

March 3, 1966

I haven't been able to find any information on this panel, with an admittedly quick search of OSU and MSU's databases. It's not in Allan Holtz's excellent resource The Stripper's Guide either, although this post points out that the Free Press did do its own comic strips. The original clippings are being sent to MSU's Comic Art Collection. Join us again for another entry in... The Secret History of Comics!