I’ve just heard of the recent, untimely passing of cartoonist Michael Dougan (1958-2023). Well, perhaps former cartoonist would be more accurate, but if so — he said his piece, made his mark, and moved on — and that’s cool. But can cartooning truly ever be left behind?
And here are a few excerpts from its pages:
In 2017, some twenty years after his last cartoon (that I’m aware of… Double Booked?, in Fantagraphics’ Zero Zero no.17, June, 1997) Michael and his wife moved to Japan and opened a café-restaurant. Read Michael’s own account of the saga.
Creative types often get restless, and Michael found himself a little niche answering people’s mostly, and sometimes incredibly, inane questions on Quora, with a potent mixture of withering sarcasm with a side of snide, all the while providing helpful information — whenever possible. Check out his feed, but let me caution you: it’s a bit of a frazzling rabbit hole (or warren, more accurately).
I’m hoping that, once news of Michael’s passing trickles over to his native land, that The Comics Journal will provide a detailed obituary of this notable artist. Farewell, Mr. Dougan.
Update: I see that TCJ has not let me down. Here’s their first piece in tribute to Michael.
«“Good grief!” yelled the ones that had stars at the first. “We’re still the best Sneetches and they are the worst. But, now, how in the world will we know,” they all frowned, “if which kind is what, or the other way round?” » — Dr. Seuss‘ The Sneetches (1961)
A few days ago, this news item piqued my interest: « The assistant director of communications for Olentangy Local School District abruptly stopped the reading of the Dr. Seuss book “The Sneetches” to a third-grade classroom during an NPR podcast after students asked about race. »
This mention of Dr. Seuss’ timeless classic The Sneetches made me think of another slightly earlier parable of systemic racism, Bill Gaines, Al Feldstein and Joe Orlando‘s Judgment Day (1953), and the similarly telling reaction would-be guardians of bluenose morality had to it.
Initially, I thought posting such an already eminent story as ‘Judgment Day’ was a trifle too obvious. But then again, how famous can a standalone comic book story published seventy years ago be, in the true scale of things? Really, it can never be famous enough.
In the course of an excellent article, CBR.com’s Brian Cronin summed up the skirmish (spoiler alert! you may want to read the story first if you haven’t already):
« The last traditional comic book produced by EC Comics was 1955’s Incredible Science Fiction (a series that had just begun a few months earlier, taking over the numbering from Weird-Science Fantasy) #33.
The last story in the issue, “Eye for an Eye,” had to be pulled at the last minute due to objections by the Comics Code Authority.
So Gaines and editor Al Feldstein decided to reprint “Judgment Day” in its place.
However, Gaines and Feldstein were then told that this replacement story ALSO violated the Comics Code.
Judge Charles Murphy (administrator of the Code) said that they would have to change the astronaut from black to white if they wanted it to be included. This was not part of the Code at the time. Feldstein and Gaines felt that Murphy was just deliberately messing with them.
After being told that, clearly, the color of the astronaut’s skin was practically the whole point of the story, Murphy backed down a bit, but said that they would at least have to get rid of the perspiration on his skin. It could possibly be that Murphy felt that it was exploitative. I do not know, and neither did Feldstein nor Gaines, who only had their suspicions that they were being screwed with.
Feldstein and Gaines both refused to comply (I believe the terms they used included at least one use of the word “fuck“), and Gaines threatened a lawsuit and/or a press conference to shine a light on why exactly the story was objected to.
The story ran as is. »
And so here it is (boasting superior reproduction, thank you, technology):
As is generally the case with such anecdotes, there are other accounts and explanations:
« At least three versions of the story about Gaines’ dispute with the CMAA exist. In an interview, Gaines said a story showing a black astronaut with sweat on his face was rejected because the code forbid ridicule of any religion or race. When he threatened to sue, the code administrator backed down. A second version of the story suggests that Gaines was not able to get approval for the comic, but printed it with the seal anyway. A third account, told by Gaines’ business manager, said the EC story was rejected because it featured robots, which challenged Code Administrator Charles Murphy’s religious beliefs that only man was granted the ability to think. »
I like that, no matter which angle or reality we consider, Judge Murphy never fails to, er… rise to the occasion.
In closing, here’s a scrumptious cartoon anecdote about Messrs. Orlando and Gaines.
« A shaggy mane, odd, steel-rimmed little glasses, a get-up owing rather more to personal fancy than to the edicts of fashion, a candid gaze, the smile of a malicious dunce, that’s Le Grand Duduche… and it’s also Cabu. » — René Goscinny
On this significant day, I will spotlight Jean Cabut (b. 1938, d. 2015) alias Cabu, and his wondrous Le Grand Duduche series, begun in 1963 and concluded in 1982, published in Pilote, Hara-Kiri, Charlie Hebdo and Pilote Mensuel. An absurdly massive collection of the entire series (672 glossy pages!) was published by Vents d’Ouest in 2008. Even as a hardcover volume, the thing’s so big and heavy it can barely bear its bulk, and is therefore virtually unreadable. It should really have been three books in a slipcase. But hey, the reproduction is first-rate… for what it’s worth.
Duduche is a gangly lycéen (high school student, sort of) wending his way through classes and student life, doing as little work as possible but expanding a maximum of ingenuity. It’s most certainly not about the plot.
The strip displays a fantastic level of graphic bravura and formal experimentation, while retaining 20/20 narrative clarity. I felt it was a fool’s errand to try singling out a “typical” example, since every page is unique — so here’s a sampler. Amazing, and yes, highly recommended, even if you can’t read the (marvellous and abundant) text.
Coming back around to what makes this a ‘significant day’… Eight years ago to the day, Cabu was among those viciously murdered during the terrorist assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices. Honestly, I can’t bear to talk about it, but it’s crucial that this horrible event not be forgotten, and not merely because one of my artistic heroes was slaughtered that day.
« When she visits the gravesite of her late husband in Châlons-en-Champagne, Véronique Cabut-Brachet can witness just how much the French have not forgotten him: locals and fans come regularly to reflect (“It’s Cabu’s grave that people are looking for, and some people come just for it: nearly one a day, yes!” and for the past five years, according to the caretaker of the Cimetière de l’Ouest, interviewed by France Bleu). The artist’s gravestone is copiously covered in flowers but, especially, pencils in jars, a touching homage and the most beautiful of symbols. » [ source ]
Today, let’s bask in some purely visual glory. Let’s take a gander at a small corner of the mind-boggling œuvre of Averardo Ciriello (1918 – 2016). As you can see from these dates, he was a long-lived fellow, and I’m delighted to report that he was healthy, hearty and active well into his nineties.
He was one of those illustrators who truly delighted in their craft, and so produced an enormous body of work that bore every sign of inspiration and enthusiasm. Since my plan is to focus on a specific period of his career, I’ll skip most of his early work — though it’s well worth returning to — and give you a couple of famous pieces to give you as sense of his success and importance in his field.
Now for the heart of it: I frankly marvel at Ciriello’s willingness to provide hundreds of cover paintings for cheap, mass market erotica fumetti. The way I see it, it’s evidence that he greatly enjoyed the assignment, and that the money was but a secondary concern at best. We’ve briefly touched upon the Maghella series (in our all-time most popular post, as it happens), but here’s some more.
« We never knew his name; we only knew him as “the good artist”. But his style spoke for him. He was instantly recognizable despite his anonymity — at once different from the other funny animal artists and better. » — Dwight R. Decker
The great Duck Man, Carl Barks, despite having little interest in the holiday, drew over two dozen Christmas-themed stories featuring Donald and his relatives (and wrote the bulk of them). Now, so very much has been written and said about Barks that I won’t bother to add much here. I’ll just let his work speak for itself and breathe. I opted for a lesser-known ten-pager, not coincidentally one of my favourites. “The Code of Duckburg” originally saw print in Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories no. 208 (Jan. 1958, Dell), but I’m using a more contemporary issue boasting better printing and a commendably tasteful colouring job, from Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge no. 317 (Jan. 1999, Gladstone). It must be said that the folks at Gladstone did right by the ducks — it was more of a labour of love than a strictly commercial venture.
And as a bonus (there has to be a bonus!), here’s a look at a Barks model sheet. « The Barks sense of whimsy extended even to the model sheets he drew for other artists to follow. » I made it a larger image so that all the small details remain discernible. Happy Holidays, everyone!
« I’m not saying I’m cool. That’s your job. » — Happy Bunny
When it comes to Jim Benton‘s work, it seems I got in on the ground floor, thanks to a friend’s shrewdly chosen gift of the man’s first cartoon collection, ‘Dealing With the Idiots in Your Life‘, twenty-nine years ago this Christmas. Yikes!
In a way, Benton’s nearly too obvious a subject for a post: his work is everywhere you turn, but such a large audience seems to have been reached at the cost of relative anonymity. In other words, people know his work, but they may not know his name. I’m sure his name does, however, enjoy some currency with a couple of generations of younger readers familiar with his Dear Dumb Diary (nearly 10 million sold!) and Franny K. Stein (over five million sold) series.
Given his intimidatingly formidable output, I’ll stick to material from his first collection, which I like best anyhow… which is not to say, echoing what all and sundry tell Sandy Bates in Stardust Memories, that I strictly prefer “the early, funny ones“. Mr. Benton is possibly even funnier — or at least more sophisticated — today than he was at the dawn of his career, but these early cartoons are less ubiquitous than this century’s crop.
In closing, a bonus one from quite recent days. While I’m less fond of the digital tablet aesthetic of his latest work, his writing has acquired some even sharper edges. Sadly, this strip will likely be relevant only to medieval citizens of the German town of Hamelin, right?
« Crosses and gallows – that deadly historic juxtaposition. » — Howard Zinn
Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs…
All right, time for me to tackle (though a bit sideways, I’ll explain) another of my daunting heroes. This time out, it’s Frédéric Othon Théodore Aristidès (1931-2013), better — and more simply — known as ‘Fred’.
A compulsive and constant scribbler, he attended no institute of artistic learning but his own (and didn’t bother to complete his secondary education), and made inroads into the field by the dawn of the 1950s, landing in Ici Paris, France-Dimanche, Le Rire, Paris-Presse, France-Soir, Punch, and even as a gagman (uncredited!) for The New Yorker (others, among them Otto Soglow, would illustrate the gags for publication).
Mid-decade, he began his long and fruitful association with Pilote, launching, with the magazine’s 300th issue (July 22, 1965, Dargaud) his undeniable masterpiece, Philémon. And this is where my ‘sideways’ loophole comes in: I’m truly not ready to tackle the overflowing poetic cornucopia that is Philémon. By way of introduction, I’ll stick to the margins and showcase instead some of Fred’s ‘brutish and nasty’ (a rough translation of Hara-Kiri’s motto) panel cartoons and short pieces. There’s a lot to this guy.
Which reminds me of a time, a couple of decades ago, when Montreal’s FIFA (Festival international des films sur l’art/International Festival of Films on Art) presented a series of TV shows showcasing individual cartoonists, among them Chris Ware, Art Spiegelman… and Fred. I recall that Messrs Ware and Spiegelman were just as miserable and neurotic as expected, there was also this Manga master that felt trapped as a cog in an assembly line. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast to the existential angst, Fred was brimming with evident delight and joie de vivre at his good fortune to be a working cartoonist*, grinning and scribbling in his sun-dappled studio, leisurely strolling through his village, charming the ladies, enjoying a glass of wine and a wedge of fine aged cheese… I concluded that here was an eloquent encapsulation of the respective cartooning cultures of a few nations. Regrettably, I haven’t been able to track down this documentary series, not even in the FIFA archives. Nevertheless, here’s a short visit with the dear man, by then living in Paris.
*this is serious, though: when Fred stopped drawing comics in the late 1980s, he fell into a deep depression and wound up in a psychiatric hospital. The cure? A return to creating comics. Surely there’s a lesson in this.
« Gamma rays are the sort of radiation you should avoid. Want proof? Just remember how the comic strip character “The Hulk” became big, green, and ugly. » — Neil deGrasse Tyson
It may seem a counterintuitive notion, but some artistic virtuosi, while draftsmen supreme, may be sorely lacking in pure design chops, while some otherwise unremarkable craftsmen design splendidly. The same general principle applies to a colour sense, or handwriting. As the cliché goes, the most skilled brain surgeon’s penmanship may just yield sloppy gibberish, what’s wittily described as chicken scratch writing.
My point in this case is that, while Herb Trimpe (1939-2015) has never ranked among the comics industry’s glory boys, I consider him one of its finest cover artists. It’s a special skill and quite a scarce one…
And that’s where this streak ends, as far as I see it: the following few issues feature decent covers, but nothing outstanding. But there were scores of excellent Trimpe Hulk covers to come. The blocky dynamism of his visuals, so easy to underrate, made his covers a reliable breath of fresh air in the mire of formulaic and overwritten Marvel 1970s covers (et tu, Gil Kane?)
I was all set to write about a certain topic… but one hurdle stopped me cold: having recently moved, we are (mostly me, I confess) still somewhat living in boxes. So… where’s that other book? In any one of a hundred or more boxes. Fortunately, I try to always have a backup plan.
This isn’t the first time I draw attention to an offering from DC’s ambitious but ill-fated Wasteland (1987-88) under the Treasured Stories rubric. See also Foo Goo and American Squalor for more details and to (beware!) suffer a case of thematic whiplash. Whatever warts and blemishes Del Close and John Ostrander‘s Wasteland creations may have borne, they weren’t interchangeable.
Today’s yarn is a spot-on homage to author Philip K. Dick (1928-82), down to the name and occupation. The ‘real’ PKD may have been fond of meat loaf as well, for all I know.
PKD had been on my mind lately. Last fall, while rambling around town, I came upon a Little Library housing one of his books, a French-language edition of 1964’s The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. I’d read the original paperback edition in 1992, but wasn’t sure I quite grasped its dénouement, and had no-one to compare notes with.
Somewhere, eons ago, I’d read that Dick’s manuscripts for his 1960s paperback originals were abridged (i.e. gutted) to fit the publishers’ format and predetermined page count. But this might be apocryphal. As it stands, I can find no trace of such a claim. The story went on to say that publishers in Belgium and France, where the author was more of a draw than in North America, based their renditions upon Dick’s unexpurgated manuscripts, leading to, unusually for translations, results hewing closer to the writer’s intent. It helps that Dick, not given to extravagant stylistic flourishes, is relatively easy to translate.
I’m currently halfway through, and so far all is clear; I may have to confer with my younger self to explain the plot to him, poor thing.
While Autumn is easily my favourite season, much of its magic and colours are gone by the purgatory that is the month of November, and I find myself longing for snow to brighten the relentlessly longer and gloomier evenings.
Well, then! This post consists of a(nother) gallery of Warren Kremer‘s delightful Harvey covers, this time with a snowy theme. Never truly ‘ha ha’ funny, they get along on charm and crafty, limpid conception and execution.