There Oughta Be a Law Against Copycats, or Else They’ll Do It Every Time!

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. »

Strip from sometime in August, 1931 (exact date unknown).
Strip from May 31st, 1939. 
Strip from January 27th, 1943. The character of Little Iodine, born in the pages of They’ll Do It Every Time, « the embodiment of all brats I knew… naughty as hell — and still likable », according to Hatlo, spun off into her own strip, which ran from 1943 to 1983. La petite Iodine, a French translation, first appeared in Saturday editions of Québécois weekly La Patrie in 1945 and 1946, and also made it into some other Québec newspapers later on, where co-admin RG eventually came across it in his youth.
Strip from March 8th, 1943.
Presumed November 30th, 1945.
Strip from August 7th, 1961. 

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 ComicsSuper 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?

All of the below strips are circa the 1950s.

I had to include this one, as I am appalled somebody could be unfamiliar with borscht. No, I’m not going to provide a link, look it up yourselves.

~ ds

Plastic Dog in a Plastic Age*

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.

Henning Wagenbreth, born in 1962 in East Germany (which is perhaps what partially gave him a lifelong anti-totalitarian stance), is an illustrator/graphic designer who actually excels in a number of techniques. Lambiek Comiclopedia touts him as ‘German pioneer in comics created with the computer‘; I don’t know enough about the development of electronically-drawn comics specifically in that part of the world to state that with certainty, although this is as good a time as any to mention that Peter B. Gillis and Mike Saenz‘ wonderful Shatter (1985-1988) is usually credited as the first significant comic book created on computer. Topic for another day, no doubt.

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.

Dead Wood. Plastic Dog calls the police to report a stolen wooden cabinet, to find that it’s been removed by the Tree Liberation Army, who bury their ‘felled, deported, dismembered and abused’ friend in the tree cemetery.
The Killer Cars. Plastic Dog goes out to search for his missing child, to find the latter in pieces after being attacked by driverless cars gone rogue. In the final panel, PD says ‘tomorrow, we’ll buy you a nice new body’.
Nothing Ever Happens. ‘A grey day, pure boredom’, bemoans Plastic Dog, ‘I am always in the wrong place at the wrong time, and everything is so predictable…’
In his never-ending search for new experiences, Plastic Dog stumbles upon a device that proffers guidelines to achieve maximum happiness. Its instructions are not devoid of poetry: ‘give all your money to be eaten by zoo animals’, ‘do 15 squats on top of a chemical factory’, ‘make three loafs of bread laugh in the middle of the night’, ‘plant wind instruments in the garden’. The final piece of advice (‘withdraw into solitude and practice patience’) is what seems to defeat PD’s enthusiasm (seems like in his world, getting lost in the desert is the only way to solitude…)

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 😉

A family visit to the zoo! Touted as the last surviving specimens by the guide, these animals may not quite be what they seem. The flamingo complains, ’12 hours standing on the same leg!’, but Plastic Dog argues that having to constantly hang upside down is much worse.

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:

~ ds

* « Every day my metal friend
Shakes my bed at 6am
Then the shiny serving clones
Run in with my telephones »

Desclozeaux, Vintner of Dreams

« 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.

A sample of his early poster work. In this case, the client was an antique dealers’ fair.

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 one, from 1982, is entitled Songe d’une nuit d’été, which happens to be the standard translation of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”… but with more bikes.
A pair of watercolours from his book Entre chiens et chats (1983).
He also created scores of theatre posters, such as this one for Paris’ Le Caveau de la République, circa 1986. The play’s title, which translates to “Hands off my vote”, was a riff on French anti-racism organisation SOS Racisme‘s slogan, namely Touche pas à mon pote (Hands off my pal).
This caricature festival’s most appropriate host city has been renowned for its images d’Épinal (“Epinal Prints“) since the late 18th century.
A piece entitled À la pointe du rat, a homophonic calembour on Pointe du raz, a spectacular promontory in France. “Raz” translates as “strait”.
This piece appeared on the cover of Télérama (France’s TV Guide equivalent, but inevitably a bit smarter) for its Jan. 30, 1991 issue. The headline asks “Has Television Changed Our Unconscious?
And here’s our cheeky bon vivant. Desclozeaux, whose beard was described by his friend Ronald Searle as “an enchanted space and a hideout for secrets and legends“.
A 2006 wine ad… as you can plainly see. This sort of irreverence seems largely lacking in North American advertising.

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!*

-RG

*approximately meaning ‘bottoms up!‘ or ‘down the hatch!’ — here are some hilarious mispronunciations of ‘faire cul sec’.

Brian Bolland’s Indomitable Animal Animus

« 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.

Created by writer Dave Wood and illustrator Carmine Infantino, Animal Man was introduced, sans costume at first, presumably as he was intended as a one-off, in DC’s long-running SF anthology Strange Adventures no. 180 (Sept. 1965). First known as A-Man, he gained his superhero togs in his third appearance, Strange Adventures no. 190 (July 1966). After a mere five appearances in SA, he virtually vanished… until the second ‘British Invasion‘.

This is Animal Man no. 5 (Winter 1988, DC); logo by Todd Klein. In this celebrated issue, Grant Morrison mashes up the Bernie Krigstein segments of Harvey Kurtzman‘s Bringing Back Father! (Mad no. 17, Nov. 1954, EC) and Alan Moore and Don Simpson‘s In Pictopia! (Anything Goes! no. 6, Dec. 1986, Fantagraphics) then anoints the ointment onto a Wile E. Coyote/Jesus avatar.
This is Animal Man no. 7 (Jan. 1989, DC). Bolland’s tonal versatility is a tremendous boon, his superpower, if you will. He brings to this cover a deft comic touch intended, but sadly lacking from the inside story.
This is Animal Man no. 18 (Dec. 1989, DC), a clever reverse-emphasis homage to one of the great covers of the 1960s, Carmine Infantino (designer) and Neal Adams (penciller-inker)’s Strange Adventures no. 207 (Dec. 1967, DC), winner of the 1967 Alley Award for best cover of the year.
This is Animal Man no. 24 (June 1990, DC). Bolland has a ball redrawing classic Silver Age covers… including issues of Brother Power the Geek, The Inferior Five and Swing With Scooter! The central figure is an old Justice Society foe, the Psycho-Pirate (Mark II in this case), created in 1965 by Gardner Fox and Murphy Anderson. The GCD notes: « Cover prominently features several of the key comics that established the concept of the multiverse (The Flash no. 123, Green Lantern no. 40, Justice League of America no. 21). » Oh, you thought *Marvel* had come up with the ‘Multiverse‘? It’s high time you met Hugh Everett. And while we’re on the subject, here’s a touching song his son wrote about him.
This is Animal Man no. 25 (July 1990, DC), a sharp illustration of that old favourite, the Infinite monkey theorem.
First writer switch! Morrison out, Milligan in. This is Animal Man no. 28 (Oct. 1990, DC). Back to front: the Notional Man (with the forceps), the Front Page, Animal Man, and Nowhere Man (as in…)
A bold change of pace, this is Animal Man no. 36 (June 1991, DC). Milligan out, Veitch in.
This is Animal Man no. 41 (Nov. 1991, DC).
This is Animal Man no. 48 (June 1992, DC). At the centre of the gloopy pink monster hovers snappy dresser and fellow animal-powered justicer B’wana Beast.
This is Animal Man no. 49 (July 1992, DC).
Veitch out, Delano in, and a layout change to boot. This is Animal Man no. 51 (Sept. 1992, DC). By now, it’s pretty much a straight horror title.
This is Animal Man no. 54 (Dec. 1992, DC), a striking homage to Henry Fuseli‘s immortal painting, The Nightmare.

-RG

*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.

Meet Peyo’s Perspicacious Poussy

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.

The first Poussy album I found at the local library (1977, Dupuis).

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:

‘Poussy is ambitious’, printed in Le Soir no. 175 (July 1949).

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.

Gag no. 11, published in Spirou no. 1552 (January 1968).
Gag no. 24, published in Spirou no. 1514 (April, 1967).
Gag no. 85, published in Spirou no. 1523 (June 1967). One can argue about the originality (or lack thereof) of Peyo’s style ’til one is blue in the face, but Poussy’s spot-on expression and body language in the last panel are unarguably perfectly executed.
Gag no. 105, published in Spirou no. 1528 (July 1967). This must have been a rare ‘be kind to mice’ day.
Gag no. 124, published in Spirou no. 1450 (January 1966). ‘I’m done, and it smells wonderful! What hard work! But it doesn’t matter, I am thrilled with the results! You see that one can easily create an expensive perfume at home!
Gag no. 138, published in Spirou no. 1636 (August 1969). The final panel advertises milk-based soap.

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.

~ ds