« All my life I’ve been torn between frivolity and despair, between the desire to amuse and the desire to annoy, between dread-filled insomnia and a sense of my own goofiness. Just like you, I worry about love and sex and work and suffering and injustice and death, but I also dig drawing bulgy-eyed rabbits with tragic overbites. » — Matt Groening
Unlike most of my peers, I didn’t grow up absorbing The Simpsons, probably because I only watched cartoons on videocassettes instead of actual TV. I also somehow managed to skip Futurama (catching up with it years and years later, with great enjoyment). So the work of Matt Groening* (who probably needs no introduction, but you can get one here) was not really familiar to me at all when co-admin RG introduced me to The Big Book of Hell, though of course I was aware of the Simpsons aesthetic, as one would truly have to live under a rock not to be acquainted with it to at least some degree.
*Here’s how to pronounce ‘Grœning’ correctly and impress all your friends.
Life in Hell crept into the world in 1977 as a self-published book that Groening, freshly moved to Los Angeles from Portland to pursue his ambition of becoming a writer, would give out to friends. He also sold it for two bucks a pop in Licorice Pizza, one of a chain of record stores operated by James Greenwood. As is often the case, Groening’s cartoonist/writer/producer/animator career kicked off by way of serendipity: in 1978, an editor from the charming WET: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing liked Life in Hell enough to print a few of its strips. From then on, the strip’s popularity snowballed slowly but steadily (from its first regular weekly appearance in the Los Angeles Reader in 1980, to the huge success of a compilation of LIH’s love-centric cartoons, titled Love Is Hell, in 1984, to the strip’s presence in over 250 newspapers by 1986), which eventually led to The Simpsons. Speaking of the latter, I am now shamelessly going to plug a previous post, namely Tentacle Tuesday: Treehouse of Tentacular Horror.
Here’s a selection from several out-of-print anthologies co-admin RG had handy, namely from Love Is Hell (1984), Work Is Hell (1986), School Is Hell (1987), Childhood Is Hell (1988), and How to Get to Hell (1991).
« To many people in the mid-19th century, Canuck was merely a casual synonym for French-Canadian — and like the nicknames for people of various other ethnicities or nationalities, it came with unpleasant overtones. The word is“used vulgarly and rather contemptuously” »
A friendly birthday how-do-you-do to mighty Manitoban George Freeman (born May 27, 1951 — that’s seventy-one years ago — in Selkirk, MB). Some of you will remember him for his Jack of Hearts mini-series at Marvel or his collaboration with Michael T. Gilbert on Elric for First; the more adventurous will recall his fine and, ahem, too-brief work on DC’s Wasteland.
To demonstrate, here’s the opening sequence from that issue. Freeman and St. Aubin were evidently pushing hard against the conventions and constraints of the era’s crappy printing standards.
Oddly enough, while Freeman was my favourite among the stable of artists chosen to illustrate John Ostrander and Del Close‘s scripts on Wasteland (Don Simpson and David Lloyd got the best), I feel he was assigned the least interesting ones to work on, with the exception of the excellent Del Close autobiographical two-parter, On the Road (issues 6 and 7). Beyond that, he drew one cover and split, unwittingly triggering the debacle that was the second half of the series’ run.
An elephant pink crawled outta the sink and snuggled up in my bed A purple mole’s in the goldfish bowl, he’s trying to steal a drink*
Today’s post was originally planned as a panegyric to Larry Marder’s Beanworld, but I quickly realized that attempting to write about it was a bit like trying to dissect a joke. Here I am, then, doing a 180 degree turn to talk about a Soviet cartoonist.
Evgeniy Milutka (Евгений Милутка, b. 1946) was a teacher of Russian literature by profession, but his proclivities clearly lay elsewhere. After teaching in middle school for a few years, he officially switched to the career of a cartoonist in the early 1970s, and quickly rose to the ranks of the best known caricaturists in the USSR, in part thanks to his long-lasting (from mid seventies to mid eighties) collaboration with satirical magazine Krokodil(see Krokodil Smiles: Cartoons in the USSR).
I am most interested, however, in the new, kid-oriented direction his work took in the 1980s, namely the cartoons/comics published within the pages of Веселые Картинки (something like ‘funny pictures’ in translation), a literature-bent humour magazine for kids. Founded in 1956, it was still sort-of around (with some financial issues) when I was a child, and my grandfather, who was always very preoccupied with making sure I grew up knowledgeable and smart (sorry, grandpa?), was kind enough to buy me a subscription.
The first thing that jumps out is that Milutka’s strips are really weird. Green elephants, watermelon men, mosquitoes capable of lifting a person, bats in a cavern made out of teeth, a giant spider wearing running shoes… a lot of it is most delirious delirium tremens. Milutka could aptly handle a variety of styles, but his basic, more recognizable modus operandi is extremely Slavic. The other interesting thing about his work, though you have to take my word for this, is how he squeezed in some distinctly unchildlike content into his strips. He was, after all, a caricaturist, with a keen eye honed by the sometimes subversive Krokodil.
Here is a selection from within the pages of Веселые Картинки from 1991 to 1996, which is pretty much the period I was able to follow in person.
I hope you enjoyed these despite the language barrier! I’ll wrap this up with two fun illustrations from the early 90s:
« I’ve always wanted to be a giant space crab. » — Gabe Newell
We have quite a treat for you this week. One of our very favourite creators, Mr. Glenn Dakin, has genially agreed to shed light on the inception of one of his lesser-known (but nonetheless striking) creations, Mr. Crusht Acean, aka ‘The Man From Cancer’. Take it away, Mr. Dakin!
Glenn Dakin:The phrase The Man From Cancer came to me when I was writing a song, referring to myself as a typical Cancerian.
It gave me the idea for a detective organisation where all its members were Cancerian. Of course it had thatMan From U.N.C.L.E.association. As I was discussing this idea with my brother down the pub, I said – as a joke – that in order to get a magazine interested in the idea the character would have to actually BE a crab. As soon as I said this, I knew it could work…
Phil was the obvious choice to draw it, as the superb consistency of his style and great visual imagination would make readers accept the bizarre idea as a reality. Also we worked a lot together.
When I told Phil about it, he said ‘how did you know I was Cancer?‘ (much to my surprise). So it was clearly in the stars!
Marvel UK were just launching STRIP, in which creators could keep the rights to their work, so it was a natural place to send. Dan Abnett was the editor and he really got what we were trying to do with the absurd humour. After the first two-parter, he offered us a regular one-page slot.
Who’s Out There?: Judging from the supplementary materials (Strip no. 11), you seem to have quite fully worked out Mr. Crush Tacean’s universe. Did you have lofty plans for the series?
GD:Not so much lofty plans, but whenever Dan Abnett gave us a chance to expand it, we enjoyed enlarging the madness of the world. These supplementary materials were created for STRIP to remind readers of the story half way through, and get new readers on board, after we had been dropped for a couple of issues.
I remember that as my confidence on it grew, and we had the story where we took the force of gravity to court, I started to think of it as a kind of visual Goon Show, following its own absurd logic.
WOT?: Could you shed some light on the series’ publication history? Were the instalments that didn’t appear in ‘Strip’ published elsewhere before they were collected in ‘The Rockpool Files’? (by Slave Labor in Sept. 2009)
GD:You will have to ask Phil that, they might have appeared somewhere, but I don’t think so. We did have a two-pager in a Channel Tunnel magazine!
WOT?: What brought about the change of title? I was quite fond of ‘The Man From Cancer’, I must say.
GD:We were asked to change the name as ‘Cancer’ – we were told – was not exactly a fun buzzword.
I think that was the suggestion of Slave Labor, the publisher. The Rockpool Files was the first thing that came into my head, and Phil liked it. The Rockford Files had just been on TV, of course!
WOT?: What’s the story behind these huge gaps between appearances (issues 2 to 9, then 11 to 16)?
GD:As far as I remember, the second half of the Diukalakadu story appeared the next issue in STRIP [no.2 — RG]. Then Dan asked Phil and I to keep it going as a regular feature. We agreed, but as they were working many issues ahead, it took us a little while to launch the new stories.
The only problem was, as it was an anthology comic with multiple contributors, the page count was hard to level out every issue. As the only one-pager, Man From Cancer was the easiest to drop. I think getting asked to create the supplementary materials mentioned above, was a bit of an apology for us being so bumped around. Also the text story ‘Wallow’ in the Rockpool Files book, was originally created in 24 hours by special request of Dan, to solve a pagination crisis when a strip didn’t turn up in time. But then STRIP was canned before it could appear.
WOT?: You’ve collaborated quite a bit with other cartoonists. I presume that the division of labour varies from project to project. In this case, was there a clear line between the job titles? Did you serve strictly as the writer, or did you provide storyboards, layouts or conceptual sketches? And vice versa on Phil’s part?
GD:I never typed up a script for Phil, I just drew a rough of the strip. In this I visualised a lot of the characters, but it was up to Phil if he followed my suggestions. Sometimes he would create an amazing surprise like a giant octopus answering the phones at Cancer HQ. Phil didn’t write anything but he did loads of visual world-creation as we went along.
And since I hinted at the existence of ‘supplementary materials’, it would be callous of me to leave them unseen.
I hope you enjoyed our chat with Mr. Dakin, whom I cannot thank enough for his generosity and charming manner. In the event that your interest has been piqued, take a gander at our earlier post entitled Glenn Dakin’s Alter Ego, Abraham Rat.
In the beginning of time… or rather the end of the 1930s, which may feel like a similar thing to some… there was Jimmy (James) Hatlo‘s They’ll Do It Every Time, a popular King Features newspaper cartoon with an impressively long run (1929 all the way until 2008, although no longer under Hatlo’s direction since 1963 due to Hatlo’s fairly early demise at 66). Hatlo, a sports cartoonist working for The San Francisco Call-Bulletin, stumbled upon the greatest success of his career by accident – scrambling to fill a void left by a shipped-yet-misplaced package of cartoons that for some reason didn’t make it to the office in time*, he drew the first couple of strips as a bouche-trou, only to find himself with an instant hit. The old problem of running out of ideas was creatively solved – Hatlo asked his readers for suggestions, and the readers, « brimming with seemingly small observations about mundane yet captivating matters, but lacking a way to tell anyone outside their own circles of friends about it » (as Bob Green described it in his Wall Street Journal epitaph A Tip of the Hat to Social Media’s Granddad), were happy to oblige. Hatlo acknowledged every submission with a ‘tip of the Hatlo hat’ – the thrilled reader would get his or her name and hometown displayed prominently in the bottom right corner of the strip.
* Jimmy Hatlo—Man of Many Hats, a detailed article by Ed Black I wholeheartedly recommend, offers another version of this story: « His managing editor, Edgar T. ‘Scoop’ Gleason, was frantic: He had a hole to fill in his comics page when Hearst abruptly ordered him to pull Billy DeBeck’s Bughouse Fables so it could run in the Examiner. Gleason prevailed upon Hatlo to produce something, pronto. »
Some twenty years later, in 1948, a ‘blatant’ knock-off – There Oughta Be a Law! – was launched by the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, disturbingly similar in look and tone to the strip it was imitating. It was created by writer Harry Shorten and artist Al Fagaly. Whereas Hatlo’s strip brought him fame, There Oughta… didn’t do much for its creators – though Fagaly (creator of Archie Comics‘ Super Duck) needed no padding on his already impressive (with more to come) résumé. Just like with They’ll Do It Every Time, Fagaly died in 1963 (it was a bad year for cartoonists, it seems), and Warren Whipple took over the illustration duties. Interestingly, Whipple is supposed to have also worked on TDIET at some point (according to this source, and Wikipedia, which copy-pasted it), though I can’t find more information about it.
After a respectable run of 36 years (it ended in 1984), There Oughta Be a Law sank into relative obscurity. One could argue that Hatlo could have sued, had he sufficiently resented the copycat strip – maybe he was too cool a cat for such austerity, maybe imitation is flattery, or They’ll Do It Every Time was sufficiently well-established and popular enough not to have to worry about competition. Hatlo certainly set it up for success, evidence of which is how it ran like a well-oiled machine long after his death. Upon reflection, I prefer the art of TDIET – crisper and more dynamic, it immediately grabs the eye, making these strips enjoyable not only for their humorous observations, but also for their style. I will, however, note that Fagaly had a really fun signature. What do you think, reader?
Given that I grew up in the days when PC games were just starting to be a thing (what a pleasure it is to reminisce about Secret Agent, Crystal Caves, or Jill of the Jungle…), anything pixelated immediately gives me a warm rush and a sense of pleasant nostalgia, be it the quiet appeal of Toyoi Yuuta‘s art or modern ‘pixel art’ games that go for that retro feel (the dark glory of Blasphemous, the cozy feel of Stardew Valley!). As for comics, I suspect most are drawn on a computer these days, but few of them use pixel art per se. One look at Plastic Dog, and it was puppy love, especially given its acerbic sense of humour.
Be as it may, Wagenbroth did something interesting: he designed the strip Plastic Dog in 2000 specifically for perusal on early pocket computers (such as Pocket PC or Palm OS), which had a black and white screen of 160×160 pixels. In 2004, colourized versions migrated to weekly newspaper Die Zeit, printed within its pages, but also available as downloads on their website.
The French publisher L’Association released a 26-page collection of Plastic Dog strips, translated into French from German by Eugénie Pascal. As far as I know, no official English translation exists, aside from maybe one or two random strips (probably translated by Wagenbreth himself). The following pages are scans from this French edition.
The following is the last PD strip, and readers are thanked at the bottom for their many emails and downloads. There’s also something about a free TV as a reward, but I wouldn’t bank on it 😉
Wagenbreth recently had an exhibition at Montréal’s UQAM university, which to my regret I completely missed… due to finding out about it far too late (i.e. now). Here is the poster for it:
* « Every day my metal friend Shakes my bed at 6am Then the shiny serving clones Run in with my telephones »
« Juggler of eccentric ideas, more poetic than truly macabre, Desclozeaux is served by an admirable technique that aligns him with the clan of Folon and Flora, which is to say designers for whom white space holds as much– if not more — importance than the line, the arabesque or the scroll. » — Jacques Sternberg and Michel Caen (1968)
Since the world seems to be crashing down around our ears, I figure it would be reasonable to focus on an artist who’s well-adjusted, happy, prolific, casually brilliant and, to top it off, still alive at a ripe old age. Meet, then, if haven’t already, French national treasure Jean-Pierre Desclozeaux, who will, if I’m not jinxing it for him, turn 84 this coming 5th of June.
Jean-Pierre began his career as a watercolourist and poster designer, studying under the legendary Paul Colin.
In 1965, he branched out into press illustration and cartoons. Here are a few early samples of this endeavour:
If Wikipedia will forgive me, I’ve cribbed and translated this bit for our English-only readers: « In 1968, he began his collaboration with Le Nouvel Observateur, where he published at least one drawing each week. From that point on, Desclozeaux devoted himself almost exclusively to the press and publishing areas : satirical drawings, book and magazine illustration, posters for exhibitions and shows, postcards, book jackets. »
This post’s title hails from the term of endearment and respect bestowed upon Desclozeaux by no less a personage than his affichiste confrere, Raymond Savignac (1907-2002). This reference to wine-making presumably alludes to his long-standing graphic contributions to sundry gastronomic columns. In 2002, Albin Michel even issued a heady cuvée of his wine-imbibed cartoons, Cul-Sec!*
*approximately meaning ‘bottoms up!‘ or ‘down the hatch!’ — here are some hilarious mispronunciations of ‘faire cul sec’.
« Even as a youngster reading 2000 AD from its first issue in 1977, it was clear that Brian’s artwork was special. It was the perfect mixture of American-inspired dynamism, a British sense of the absurd, and avant-garde European SF imagery, rendered in meticulous, almost inhumanly perfect linework. It was a deeply seductive style… » — David Roach
As far as I can tell, everyone loves Brian Bolland‘s (b. 1951) work. It’s sophisticated in design yet direct, highly detailed yet clean as a whistle *and* neat as a pin, technically adept, varied but unfailingly his. As a sequential cartoonist, he can be a bit stiff, but as a cover artist, he’s pretty untouchable. For about a second and a half, I was tempted to spotlight his work in our Hot Streak! category, but that would have been absurd, such is Bolland’s high level of consistency and volume of work. So I’ll “merely” feature an even dozen of his Animal Man covers (out of a total of 64, 1988-1993).
After Alan Moore made an unexpected splash with his work on Swamp Thing, the folks at DC scrambled, in ‘have you got a sister?‘ fashion, to strip-mine the UK’s writerly talent pool. In came Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Pete Milligan, Jamie Delano, Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, and so on…
For the cockiest of these writers, the typical bravura move was to prove their commercial acumen by revamping the most obscure existing character they could think of* (typically, characters DC’s then-editors had never heard of); in Gaiman’s case, it was Sheldon Mayer’s Black Orchid**, and in Morrison’s, Animal Man. As minor characters (a lesson learned from Alan Moore’s Watchmen), these heroes could be subjected to numberless and unceasing torments and humiliations at the writer’s whim.
*To be fair, their first eighty-five choices likely had proved unavailable.
**Mayer had asked that his 1970s creation, The Black Orchid, never be given an origin or have her mystery dispelled. Gaiman just aped what Mr. Moore had done (but brilliantly) with Swamp Thing… and made her a literal plant. Bah.
Mention Belgian artist Peyo(real name Pierre Culliford, 1928 -1992) and the first thing that comes to mind is his hugely popular Les Schtroumpfs, introduced within the pages of his strip Johan et Pirlouit. Les Schtroumpfs, of course, are Smurfs, those blue humanoid creatures living in mushroom-houses in the forest. When I was just starting tentative forays into comics during my shy youth, it’s the local library’s Smurf albums that first attracted my attention, alongside Uderzo and Goscinny’s Astérix le Gaulois and Roba and Rosy’s Boule et Bill.
Another strip I really liked, unaware that it was created by the artist responsible for the Smurfs, is Poussy. Despite competing with all the other cat adventures one can think of (although there are far more today than there were twenty years ago), it was its old-fashioned charm that drew me in. This was a world where rambunctious (but always well-meaning) boys roasted chestnuts in a fire, mothers in high heels burned their Sunday roast, and families always went to the beach for their vacation. I wasn’t interested in these (human) characters, but they made a perfect backdrop to cat antics, comforting like watching cartoons on a rainy day.
21-year old Peyo drew 26 black-and-white gags of Poussy for the humble youth section of Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir between 1949 and 1951. Here’s an example of one of these early manifestations of Poussy, a playful black-and-white cat, up to very normal cat mischief:
When Le Soir decided to revamp its youth section into a more ambitious version titled Le Soir Jeunesse, Peyo, who had been concentrating on his Johan series (later to become Johan et Pirlouit, or Johan and Peewit in English) for Journal de Spirou, revived Poussy, and this frisky kitten frolicked once again between Le Soir‘s pages from 1955 to 1960. Set aside again to make room for more ambitious endeavours (namely, Peyo’s Benoît Brisefer series) at the behest of publisher Charles Dupuis, for whom Peyo was working concurrently, Poussy tiptoed back into life in 1965, this time in Journal de Spirou, in colourised re-runs of previous Le Soir material, published quite out of any chronological order.
Here are a few favourites from these re-runs — I mostly chose mute strips, both because Poussy’s expressive meowing needs no translation, and because I by far prefer jokes centered on his behaviour without too much human interference.
It was only in 1969 that Peyo resumed the production of new strips, starting with gag no. 222… and by no. 233, he had a collaborator, Lucien De Gieter, who soon took over entirely as Peyo had far too many other series on his hands to be able to continue Poussy. De Gieter continued the strip until 1974.
There have been three albums collecting Poussy material, published in 1976 and 1977 – and last year, Dupuis published a very handsome and very complete collection of all Poussy strips (a painstaking and impeccable chronological presentation, accompanied by exhaustive publishing information) which I purchased at the excellent comic-and-book store Débédé in Montréal, Québec. One doesn’t always feel like revisiting books from one’s childhood (for instance, I have little desire to ever reread Boule et Bill), but in this case I spent a few warm moments smiling at the strips I remembered surprisingly well.