Purr for Paul Murry!

As co-admin RG recently pointed out, we are in the middle of a move, which is not terribly conducive to long, contemplative posts, so I suppose this one could be called a bit of filler. I (for one) am always happy to look at some pretty pin-ups, and no labyrinth of boxes is going to stand in my way.

If you’re at all interested in Dell or Gold Key comics, you’re likely already familiar with the work of Paul Murry (1911-1989), whose Disney characters regularly appeared in their pages between 1946 and 1984. His life followed an interesting path – a farmer in his native Missouri, he started working for the animation department of Disney Studios in the late 1930s, then branched out into Disney’s comic department in 1943, working on newspaper strips (Uncle Remus and His Tales of Brer Rabbit in the mid-40s, the fun Buck O’Rue in the early 50s) and the aforementioned Dell/Gold Key Disney imprints.

Murry also drew girlie cartoons, and quite good ones, too. Working in animation yields handsome artistic dividends, but one might also say that Murry, with his discerning eye for dynamic anatomy, was made for it. Here’s a batch of them from the 40s and 50s.

… with the exception of this one, which is from the 30s, and ‘attributed’ to Murry – good enough for me.
Smiles no. 25 (spring 1948) – ‘Posner Murry’ is one of his aliases.

You can peruse more images at the Sekvenskonst blog (including a sequence of Murry Monday posts!)

Random fact of the day: in Russian, cats make a ‘murr’ sound (pronounced like ‘moo-rrr’, with a rolled R at the end), and that explains the title of this post.

~ ds

Nothing Much Happens to Mr. Mamoulian

« Somebody said that drawing a page of comics ought to be as easy as writing a letter to a friend. So I did just that. I took a bit of paper and drew in ink whatever came into my head. I tried to surprise myself. If I made a mistake it would just have to stay there. » — Brian Bolland

Brian Bolland‘s habitual style is easy to recognize, and co-admin RG and I are both fond of it. But there was a time when the normally meticulous Bolland decided to do something different, something much more sketchy and spontaneous. The result was the vaguely Armenian-sounding Mr. Mamoulian, who doesn’t look much like one of Brian Bolland’s ankle-biters (unless one is the proud owner of a perceptive eye)… until he encounters some pretty women, which are a dead giveaway.

Mr. Mamoulian, a pervy sort of ‘older’ (40-ish?) guy prone to bouts of nihilism and crippled by self-doubt, engages in the sort of things listless people do, when they are not quite sure how to occupy their time*: sit on park benches while others are at work, shuffle stuff around their apartment from point A to point B (and back again), enjoy a cuppa, and stare at the ceiling after waking up in the middle of the night. He is obsessed with feminine beauty, but uneasy with the ramifications of being obsessed with it. Rattled by the passage of time, irked by life’s idiosyncrasies, trapped in and by his body, he’s nevertheless a silly and rather comforting presence as we follow him on one of his aimless traipses around the rainy countryside, witness one of his exchanges with his imaginary naked lady friend (Bubbles Bourbasch), or coo at his surprisingly congenial friendship with punkette Evelin Shit-Face.

* These days, of course, one just stares into a cellphone/binge-watches a show on whatever streaming service, which is prompted by the same impulse, but it somewhat less romantic.

The proverbial beautiful English weather.
The early days of the fragile friendship between Mamoulian and Evie (who, for all her punky pretensions, is a rather well-mannered, thoughtful young woman).
Mamoulian is silent – does he condone Mr. Carstairs’ patter? Disapprove of it? Probably a bit of both. In the end, it’s his behaviour that matters – Evie is a person to him. As for Mr. Carstairs, he’s a spot-on portrayal of a first-class hypocrite.
Here Mamoulian’s reflections are reminiscent of the philosophical musings of Marc Hempel’s Genital Ben.

Mr. Mamoulian is arguably a peephole right into Bolland’s id, but it’s not at all an uncomfortable experience (unlike, say, peeking into the mind of Chester Brown, who creeps me out in a big way), even when the strip goes creepily dreamlike, or addresses uncomfortable topics (for some, the couple of bondage-related pages – not included here to avoid ruffling feathers – would be it; apparently ‘Bolland is noted by some for his use of bondage imagery‘, though I honestly think that’s a bit of an overstatement). In the end, Mamoulian’s character is casually tapping into many sources of frustration and confusion that rattle around most human heads. He is relatable.

Bolland calls Mr. Mamoulian ‘not very good’, but I obviously disagree with this assessment, as you’ve probably noticed by now. I love the sketchiness of the art, its surreal energy. The strip is, by turns, hilarious, depressing and always very, very British (and not just because of the continuous tea-drinking). I believe we can all relate to Mamoulian’s struggles with being alive, and the notions of freedom and art. We also get tantalizing glimpses of punk and metal scene through Evie and Steve’s interludes.

Mr. Mamoulian’s first encounter with Bubbles (off screen), who is later to visit him at night as her imaginary nude self. Interestingly, it seems to be her name, not her looks, that stuns his imagination.
One of American Suzy’s many conceptual experiments.

In terms of style, both in terms of art and storytelling, I suppose this strip fits comfortably into a set of British semi-autobiographical strips from the mid to late 80s – Eddie Cambpell’s Alec and Glenn Dakin’s Abraham Rat, for example, both of them also gloriously funny and contemplative and excellent. As a matter of fact, Mr. Mamoulian was first published in Paul Gravett‘s Escape Magazine* (read a lovely article about it here**), home of Cambell and Dakin’s strips as well…

* Mr. Mamoulian first appeared in Escape no. 11 (1987).

** To quote from the aforementioned article, Glenn Dakin in The Comics Journal no. 238, October 2001, explained that Escape “provided a focal point for people. People would meet up and discuss their dreams and ideas and get together as friends or have arguments and fall out and sometimes even if somebody annoys you or if somebody didn’t seem to have respect for your work, that would be enough to fill you with enough anger to go out there and try to prove them wrong.” Recently, John Bagnall told me, “To some readers at the time, Escape Artists were sometimes generalized as the school of strips “where nothing happened”, but their approaches were actually much more disparate. As for the social scene, there was a loose sense of unity when we would meet up in London, though naturally not everyone got on well or were even huge fans of certain people’s work.

~ ds

Still Henpecked After All These Years: Harry Hanan’s Louie

I’ve talked about Harry Hanan‘s Louie before (see Louie Reads Some Ghastly Comics), but as this post dates from the early-ish days of WOT, it included only one image. My opinion of it has also changed. I called it an ‘endearing’ strip, but I’ve come to feel that the overall effect of watching this schlemiel fail at absolutely everything, day after day, is rather bleak. On the other hand, this daily drudgery makes his rare moments of joy stand out in stark contrast.

‘Hen-pecked’ husbands are a favourite topic of all manner of comedians, so in that regard Louie is not an interesting character; as a matter of fact, his insignificance and inability to stand up for himself reek of desperation, and he evokes a mixture of condescension and pity from the attentive reader. I like him best when he’s out alone, observing something weird happening à la Mr. Mum, getting the short end of the stick from inanimate objects – anything is better than being scolded and shoved around by his wife, really.

The series ran from 1947 until 1976. At the very beginning, Louie was an unlucky criminal; when the strip garnered some popularity and English-born Hanan moved to the United States, his character became an honest man, though he seemed to hold a number of different jobs, from the classic door-to-door salesman to soda jerk. He was considerably sprightlier and full of mischief, and instead of his ever-present wife towering over him, he had a shifting cast of females staring with incomprehension at his antics.

Daily from August 2, 1952, seventy years ago and change!
Three daily strips from 1954.
Sunday strip from December 15, 1957.

By the 70s, Louie is more of a tired shambling shell, constantly getting yelled at by his wife, his boss, or just about anybody, really. Still, some fun moments occur —

Strip from January 1, 1970. This is the one that made me think of its contemporary (and infinitely superior, sorry) strip Mr. Mum.
Strip from May 3, 1972. Attempts to discipline others as payback for the moments when you are the one being ordered around always backfire…
Strip from January 10, 1972. Once Louie abandoned his omnium gatherum of jobs, he settled down as a typical office worker with an equally typical tyrannical boss.
Strip from 1972 (exact date unknown). The wife looks downright vindictive, which is interesting since quilters I know tend to have the facial expressions of any person engaged in a beloved craft – enthusiastic, peaceful, or concentrated…
Strip from November 14, 1972. An office worker, and one of British origin at that, surely would have an umbrella in his possession?
 Sunday strip from July 20, 1975, in which Louie gets (meekly) combative.

The line between domestic comedy and domestic tragedy is a thin one – one of my grandfathers, though not a loser, distinctly marched in the direction indicated by his wife (my grandmother), so I have developed an allergy to that kind of relationship early on. Your mileage with Louie may vary!

~ ds

Diggin’ Up the Bone Orchard: Beasts of Burden

Our heatwave is nowhere as bad as the one afflicting Europe right now, but it’s a heatwave nevertheless, and to cool off I felt like traipsing down the icy corridors of horror. Evan Dorkin‘s series Beasts of Burden, the tale of a (predominantly) canine crew who fight the supernatural to keep their small town community safe, fits the bill: though including elements of adventure, mystery, and humour, it’s genuinely tense in places (and features enough blood and grue to keep the average gorehound satisfied). One expects a comic in which all protagonists are animals to evoke baby-talk sounds of endearment, not send chills down the spine of the more sensitive reader, and yet…

Beasts of Burden no. 1 (September 2009), cover by Jill Thompson.

However, I’ll warn you that a fondness for animals is a prerequisite for enjoying this comic, lest you miss the emotional punch to the gut of moments like a dog searching for her lost puppies, or animals mourning the loss of their friend. Despite the paranormal threats these pooches (and cat!) have to deal with, I would say that it’s that emotional horror that makes these stories memorable, especially to a modern reader well-versed in zombies, werewolves, and witchcraft (yawn, how cliché…) I am quite allergic to animals getting hurt in stories, but Beasts of Burden never feels manipulative in that regard: shit definitely happens, but is overcome through teamwork and courage.

This comic also features loving watercolours by Jill Thompson (according to the DC Comics website, ‘most well-known female comic book artist‘… not sure how they measured that), who’s not only great at evocative woodsy landscapes in all seasons, but also a deft hand at convincing portraits of animals. I have seen too many comic artists who cannot draw a convincing cat or dog (let alone a horse, a true test of artistry…) to take that for granted. This post only spotlights material from the collection Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites (2010, Dark Horse), as Thompson was later on replaced by Benjamin Dewey, whose art I suppose I could bear… if only the standard desaturated colouring job wasn’t the final nail in that coffin. It’s a bitter pill to swallow after Thompson’s bright, organic art.

All stories featured in this post are written by Evan Dorkin and illustrated by Jill Thompson.

A page from Stray, published in Dark Horse Book of Hauntings (August, 2003). This was the first Beasts of Burden story to be published; the characters got more fleshed out, both in writing and in art, later on.
Page from The Unfamiliar, published in The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft (July 2004). My favourite season is fall, so I couldn’t resist featuring a page of autumnal-blaze trees and black cats.
Another page from The Unfamiliar, published in The Dark Horse Book of Witchcraft (July 2004). The normally orange Orphan (who needs a better name, but at least he gets called ‘Orph’ a lot later on) gets dyed black as a subterfuge. This story is pretty goofy (two witches come to town to summon Sekhmet), and my least favourite of the early batch, but at least it has a lot of black cats.
Pages from Let Sleeping Dogs Lie, published in The Dark Horse Book of the Dead (June, 2005), in which Daphne (the black witch cat, who later becomes a part of the regular cast) returns with revenge on her mind.
Page from A Dog and His Boy, published in The Dark Horse Book of Monsters (December 2006).
Page from The Gathering Storm, published in Beasts of Burden no. 1 (September 2009), the moment at which this became an official series, as opposed to a series of one-shot stories. The whole ‘plague of frogs’ thing is of course instantly reminiscent of B.P.R.D., a Dark Horse series that originally appeared in Hellboy.
Another page from The Gathering Storm, published in Beasts of Burden no. 1 (September 2009); the moment when the gang officially becomes watchdogs. Most of the dogs have collars, but can dash around with ease, barely ever running into humans.
Art for the cover of Beasts of Burden no. 2 (October 2009).
Pages from Lost, published in Beasts of Burden no. 2 (October 2009), a genuinely shocking moment – hurting a human goes against these dogs’ normal code.
Pages from Something Whiskered This Way Comes, published in Beasts of Burden no. 3 (November 2009). This story highlights the somewhat tense relationship between Orphan and his romantic interest/enemy Daphne, the black magic cat from an earlier story.
Page from Grave Happenings, published in Beasts of Burden no. 4 (December 2009).

Beasts of Burden is still ongoing, with the latest installment, Occupied Territory (illustrated by Benjamin Dewey, alas), published in July 2021.

~ ds

Making the Rounds With Willie Lumpkin

Willie Lumpkin was created by Dan DeCarlo and Stan Lee when Harold Anderson, the head of Publishers Syndicate (which merged into Hall Syndicate, which was eventually purchased by Hearst and is now part of King Features…) wanted a ‘bucolic’ newspaper strip set in some small town. The ‘friendly mailman’ idea is supposed to be Anderson’s, the family name Lee’s.

I cannot say that it’s a very funny strip (well, it was written by Lee, need we say more?), but it has a certain charm, and DeCarlo’s art is highly enjoyable, even though one occasionally feels like one has stumbled into an Archie story. DeCarlo liked drawing cheesecake, and we enjoy looking at it (for the heavy guns, visit RG’s Dan DeCarlo at Humorama (1956-63)), but in this case it is the other characters I am interested in, the kids with dirty behind their ears, spinster aunties in funny glasses, and of course the adorably bookish Lumpkin, the glue that holds the denizens of this small town together.

The strip ran from December 1959 to May 1961. Here are a few pickings —

I stayed mostly away from the aforementioned cheesecake, but here is an example of it:

If the name Lumpkin rings some sort of different bell for you, it might be because he got incorporated into the Marvel universe in 1963 – a much older Lumpkin became the Fantastic Four‘s mail carrier with issue no. 11 (February 1963):

Pencilled by Jack Kirby and inked by Dick Ayers.

Over his Marvel years, his back story expanded and expanded, reminding me of the Russian expression ‘a stopper for every barrel’. He seemed to have been shoved into every plot that needed some secondary character to do something, delivering letters left and right, getting wounded multiple times during various epic battles, and accidentally ending up immortal (as of 2019). Same old, same old. I bet he preferred his quieter days among courting teenagers and middle-class families.

For more Sunday strips (in colour!) gathered by Ger Apeldoorn, head over to his wonderful The Fabulous Fifties blog, or peruse Apeldoorn’s collection of black and white dailies.

~ ds

Treasured Stories: “Jonnie Love and the Go-Go Girls” (1969)

People have quite a range of definitions as to what constitutes romance. For some it’s novels of werewolf romance, others prefer completely mind-boggling Fabiosa stories (‘Unborn triplets crashed my husband’s love‘), and some ship (I learned this term from a younger colleague) characters from whatever TV show happens to be in vogue.

If you were a teenager in the ’50s, 60s, or 70s, you probably would have read romance comics, immensely popular at the time. Charlton Comics published a whole bevy of them, and co-admin RG has amassed a respectable collection. For weeks now I’ve been reading issues of Teen-Age Love during my lunch hour, specifically for their Jonnie Love stories. Introduced in Teen-Age Love no. 61 (November 1968) as the ‘new teen swinger’ – ‘he has a way with a guitar and a way with girls!’, Jonnie lingered within its pages for quite a while, having all kinds of adventures, hanging out with new conquests and lost souls in every issue. As advertised, he was indeed good with a guitar. Joe Gill, who was scripting the stories, wrote him as a kind of chevalier errant, wandering from town to town (with the ultimate goal of going back to his hometown, which he never achieves), offering a helpful hand to damsels in distress who are running away from predatory men, disciplinarian fathers, or just the solitude of a small town.

Jonnie Love stories appeared in 31 issues overall, but I’m most intrigued by those published in Teen-Age Love issues numbers 61-74, as they were created by the same tip-top team: scripted by Joe Gill, pencilled by Bill Fraccio and inked by Tony Tallarico (see RG’s (Fondly) Remembering Tony Tallarico).

It was actually rather difficult which tale to feature, for they’re all pretty good, and I had to decide on some sort of optimal concomitance of a good plot and how the story was told visually. The final decision was Jonnie Love and the Go-Go Girls, published in Teen-Age Love no. 63 (April 1969), which I think strikes a good balance between plotting and interesting art, and is a fairly typical example of Jonnie’s behaviour in general.

Cover illustrated by the Bill Fraccio and Tony Tallarico combo. Dig the classy tattoo on the girl’s leg, courtesy of the previous owner of this comic (where are you now, Mamie?) The kissing couple in the top left corner is a preview of another story drawn by Vince Colletta. The protagonist is a brunette, whereas Jonnie often consorts with blondes (perhaps a sort of a short-hand for an attractive woman).

This story has several things going for it – an entertainingly evil manager, a grotty dance club, the go-go-dancers, and of course the protagonist, a farmer’s daughter who ran away from her parents to make it big in showbiz (the lines dreaming of glory/twitching like a finger on a trigger of a gun‘ come to mind). ‘Cute‘, notes Jonnie, ‘but there are tens of thousands with as much talent‘. Some romance stories set out to stun their readers with ritzy places, glamorous dates, and finding a rich prince charming; others feature women who give up a life of success for simpler living – a small town, a farm, a cabin in the woods. The latter moral always feels a bit stilted, even aside from me feeling bad for women who have to give up a career they worked so hard to achieve (mostly because such plots are retrograde, and it’s all-too-seldom considered that a woman can marry and continue working).

In Jonnie Love yarns, there is a strong undercurrent of returning ~Home~, home from which one foolishly ran away and which beckons lonesome wanderers back to its comforting womb. The plots are imbued with bittersweet longing for this homecoming, and that is what lingers most in one’s mind after finishing the stories. Yet the people depicted in them are outcasts; Jonnie himself was outed as a weirdo in both dress and thoughts by the people in his home town, which is why he left it in the first place. Returning is hardly the panacea it’s supposed to be (unless one is willing, this time around, to ‘fit in’ properly), and while some of these nomads do manage to make it back, our main character is doomed to forever roam strange towns, sleep in fields, and share sweet kisses with girls he knows he’ll never see again. Rather a tragic figure, really.

~ ds

Several Shades of M. K. Brown

« Women: what do they want? They might want to float into the sky while hosting a brunch party. They might want a couple of handsome cops to come over and get rid of a snake problem. They might seek a doctor’s treatment for ‘wise-ass disease‘ or fantasize about revenge and forgiveness at the dentist’s office. And what about men? Mr. Science just wants to carry out his pointless experiments. Earl D. Porker, Social Worker, converses with household items and forgets the cat food. One fellow’s head is a basket of laundry. »

Not much is known about the personal life of the mysterious M. K. Brown*. From her official website, we know that she grew up in Connecticut and New Brunswick, but that’s pretty much it. On the other hand, details from her long and prolific career abound**: she was a mainstay at the National Lampoon Magazine between 1972 and 1981 (including the regular series Aunt Mary’s Kitchen); a frequent contributor to various magazines, most notably Playboy, The New Yorker, and Mother Jones; creator of the animated series Dr. N!Godatu, which ran in the Tracey Ullman Show in 1987 for a mere 6 episodes (two more remain unaired) until it was supplanted by the Simpsons; illustrator of children’s books… and so it goes.

A button featuring Aunt Mary, who probably would get on like a house on fire with Sylvia (see Nicole Hollander’s Sylvia: Wit, Wisdom and Cats).

In more recent years, Brown has been hanging out at The American Bystander, which I discovered by accident when co-admin RG (whose intuition for quality is fairly unfailing) picked up an issue of this magazine. A delightful surprise.

Despite the scope of her oeuvre and her very recognizable style, she’s not nearly as well known as she deserves to be. Fantagraphics, coming, as usual, to the rescue, published a sort of best-of in 2014, titled Stranger Than Life: Cartoons and Comics 1970-2013. Interestingly, this collection did little to dispel the clearly purposefully cultivated mystique. Whereas usually one expects an introduction with the author’s birth date and a quick summary of their childhood and proclivities, in this case M.K. Brown remained firmly ensconced within her initials*** and shrouded in pleasant mystery.

* I will mention straight away that she was married to equally eccentric cartoonist B. Kliban (another WOT favourite), not because a woman’s worth is in being a wife to her husband, but because ‘M.K. Brown married to B. Kliban’ has a harmonious ring to it.

** From the category of things not entirely related to her career, she is also an enthusiastic horse owner and rider [source].

*** Her name is Mary Kathleen, which I first found on the Wiki page for B. Kliban, later confirmed through a podcast she was featured on (more about this later).

The first episode of Dr. N!Godatu. Janice’s voice (for those on a first-name basis!) is provided by Julie Payne.

Brown is clearly a female cartoonist, in the sense of never eschewing topics that a doltish reader would expect a woman to talk about just because it’s a ‘female’ leitmotif. She can start with something mundane like a hostess organizing a party, put a surreal spin on it, pepper it with playful language, and end up with a concoction that’s devilishly acerbic, quite strange, and very funny. Bill Griffith put it well – she ‘makes the personal universal, makes the universal personal‘. The result seems quite polarising; it’s the sort of thing you instantly click with, or something so foreign that it’s unappealing. Is any of it dated, as I’ve seen some people suggest? Not in the slightest. Human relationships haven’t changed much over the years, though we like to pat ourselves on the back for being so much more evolved. Focusing on the fact that someone is wearing a suit with shoulder pads (which are, by the way, coming back into fashion) to decide it’s no longer relevant to modern life is daft.

Here are some examples scanned from Stranger than Life of different vintages, lightly colourized by co-admin RG.

This one features Brown’s alter-ego, ‘White Girl’. « She can’t dance or sing the blues, but cluelessly does both anyway. It’s fun to speak through this character. I’m very fond of her. »

Here are three pages from more recent years, which also showcase Brown’s watercolours:

Published in The American Bystander no. 1 (Fall, 2015).
Published in The American Bystander no. 2 (Spring, 2016).
Published in The American Bystander no. 5 (Summer, 2017).

The American Bystander conducted a fun, hour-long podcast with Brown in 2016. I am a visually oriented person, and have immense trouble sitting through a podcast, so I had to tell myself I had to listen for the sake of this blog post – I hope you appreciate this sacrifice. It was a pleasure to listen to Brown, who sounds exactly like I pictured it, though I was somewhat underwhelmed by some of the softball questions she was asked – questions interviewer (in this case, Gil Roth) usually asks of a cartoonist, ‘what were your art influences?’, ‘what explains your sense of humour?’ I believe this has more to do with me than with the actual interview – I by far prefer to glean some understanding of a person through their work, as opposed to discussions about their work (which is a slightly strange stance for a blog writer). There is, however, a fun anecdote about how she used to put up her paintings on the walls to work on them, and had to cover her sleeping nocturnal husband and the bed he was on with plastic not to splatter him with paint. Brown also mentions that she has a stash of drawings which she could never get published because they’re too risqué – oh, how we would all love to see those! Click here if you’d care to listen to it!

~ ds

Don Madden’s Luxuriant Oasis of Dames and Dogs

So little is known about cartoonist-illustrator Don Madden (especially given the existence of John Madden, American football coach, who tends to smother all other search results), that I can’t really say much. Born on October 14, 1927, he has drawn a number of cartoons for Playboy, and illustrated and/or written a number of children’s books. Apparently he lives in Ballston Spa, New York… or at least he did in 1993, as claims the blurb to one of his books.

On the (absolutely highly recommended) blog My Retro Reads, I found this, likely taken from the back cover of Oxygen Keeps You Alive (illustrated by Madden and written by Franklyn M. Branley, 1971):

« Don Madden attended the Philadelphia Museum College of Art on a full scholarship. Following graduation, he became a member of the faculty as an instructor in experimental drawing and design. The recipient of gold and silver medals at the Philadelphia Art Director’s Club exhibitions, Madden’s work was selected for reproduction in the New York Art Director’s Annual, in the international advertising art publication, Graphis, and in the Society of Illustrators Annual. In addition to being the author of The Wartville Wizard and Lemonade Serenade: Or the Thing in the Garden, Madden is a well-known children’s book illustrator who has worked on a variety of projects, including Incognito Mosquito, and many books in the HarperCollins Let’s Read and Find Out series. »

The first part of this quick biography is dreadfully boring (I have a short attention span!), but at least it provides us with some context. Interestingly, this makes no mention whatsoever of his Playboy cartoons, probably having decided that children’s books and Playboy do not go hand-in-hand. Madden’s style is easy to recognize, so I have no doubt that all these Maddens are the same person (excepting the football coach, of course). Well, hey, there’s always Shel Silverstein to explore these kinds of dichotomies; see Shel Silverstein: Without Borders and Take Ten With Shel Silverstein, although we’ve never specifically talked about his contribution to children’s literature.

We can assume that Madden has written two books (the aforementioned Lemonade Serenade, Or, the thing in the Garden, 1966 and The Wartville Wizard, 1986) and illustrated a myriad of others. In the latter category, I will make a special note of Harold S. Longman’ The Castle of a Thousand Cats (1972), which I would love to get my hands on someday.

Here is a selection of Don Madden’s Playboy 60s and 70s cartoons (he joined the magazine’s stable at the dawn of the 1960s), as always graciously scanned by co-admin RG from a score of anthologies in our collection.

I see no antagonism between Madden’s girly cartoons and his illustrations of boys hanging out with dogs or cats living in castles; his florid style lends itself equally well to voluptuous women or magical ships, and he clearly has a real affinity for drawing animals replete with personality and charm.

~ ds

Subnormality: Walls of Text, not Concise Little Quips

I’ve been interested in comics for as long as I can remember, but didn’t really have easy access to them in my teenage years (meaning, I was far too shy to actually walk into a comic book store). So I turned to webcomics, keeping bookmarks organized by days of updates, faithfully opening 20+ tabs every time I turned on my computer to read a new instalment of the dailies. I’ve drifted away from all this over the years – partially because I’m a big girl now, but mostly because most webcomics really aren’t very good, the gems scattered in a murky swamp of badly drawn slice-of-life peppered with Star Wars jokes… not to mention the mind-numbingly boring takes on fantasy/science-fiction/elves-with-big-boobs. A few I’ve retained an affection for, a few have my respect and gratitude (and live rent-free in my head*).

*I’ve only encountered this idiom in a positive context (somebody cooing over a picture of a cute capybara, for example), but I just discovered that it’s supposed to be an insult. Apparently it can be used as either; I associate ‘rent-free’ not with loafers on welfare, but, say, our cats’ lifestyle.

One of the leftovers of that era is Subnormality, created in 2007, priding itself in being a ‘comix with too many words‘. While it can certainly be accused of being quite heavy-handed at times, not to mention self-consciously ponderous, it can also be genuinely touching, portraying society’s outcasts (and supposed bimbos, and successful businessmen…) with unflagging empathy and understanding. Its author is Winston Rowntree, who I believe lives in Toronto, Canada, and is very evasive on the subject of himself.

Subnormality not only has a lot of words, it also has sprawling expanses of panels, so that sometimes reading a comic feels like playing a board game. For that reason, as much as I would love to have a printed version of the stuff, I realize that it would be impossible to fit all that inside physical pages, lest somebody springs for an edition where each page folds out to a poster. It was quite difficult to choose which strips to feature, but below are a few examples that are on the smaller and less wordy side (for an example of the aforementioned mushrooming sequence of panels or prolixity, have a look at no. 244, Subnormality Tells the Truth, or no. 98, 7 Dichotomies in a Bar).

Rowntree also occasionally writes for CRACKED, has two published books (Finding Jesus, 2014, in which you have to locate Jesus in a crowd à la Waldo, and the graphic novel Watching, 2016) and recently-ish (2017 is recent, right?) started an animated web series, People Watching, that’s now in its second season.

No. 42, Sphynx III. An early appearance of the Sphynx, shown in company of other monsters, whereas in latter strips she is usually hanging out with (or devouring) humans.
No. 79, In Defense of Weird
No. 63, Mrs Smith Is a Nasty Piece of Work
No. 104, There Are Two Kinds of PeopleUs and them/ and after all, we’re only ordinary men
No. 97, The Further Adventures of the Sphynx. She may be a man-eater, but she’s a very personable one, and one of many recurring characters who’s considerably fleshed out (heh, heh) as the series goes on.
No. 198, Mini-Golf Hell. The green demon lady (sitting on top of Oblivion) is also a recurring character.
One of my favourites, no. 199 (titled ‘…’), in which two friends hang out and watch the world go by. Read the full thing here.

New strips do come out, though not often (which is understandable, given all the other projects Rowntree is engaged in, not to mention the sheer size of latter-day instalments) – follow Subnormality’s Facebook page, or keep abreast of recent developments on his Twitter.

~ ds

Combing My Hair With a Can-Opener and Other Oddities: Rube Goldberg in His Pre-Machine Days

« — Pickin’ flowers, Lucy? — No, you simple-minded piece of cream cheese – I’m filling the coal scuttle with apple sauce. »

My first exposure to a Rube Goldberg machine was through The Incredible Machine, a DOS game from 1993. I didn’t know at the time who Goldberg was, but I really liked the idea of setting up a chain of events triggering one another in the most convoluted-yet-satisfying of ways.

The machine was of course named after Rube Goldberg (Reuben Garrett Goldberg, 1883-1970), cartoonist, inventor, sculptor, et j’en passe. Given his lasting contribution to culture, it is interesting to consider that in the early days of his career, when he was a struggling cartoonist, Goldberg almost changed his family name to hide his Jewish roots – ultimately deciding that he couldn’t live with himself, had he followed his colleagues’ counsel. ‘Then I realized it was idiotic to even consider such a thing; that I would be ashamed of it all the remainder of my life; and that, if a man’s achievements are no bigger than the sound of his name, it doesn’t much matter what his name may be‘, he later wrote.

While Goldberg had a degree in engineering and worked for a short while for the San Francisco’s Water and Sewers Department (which perhaps honed his sense of the absurd, if anecdotes about a city’s treatment of sewage are anything to go by), his ambitions lay in the direction of cartooning from a very early age. His first comic, after a couple of years of being a sports cartoonist, was The Look-A-Like Boys, published at the beginning of the century (1907-1908) by the World Color Syndicate. In parallel, he was also working for the New York Evening Mail, for which he created the short-lived Reincarnation, a goofy, modern-day take on historical characters. His next attempt at a series is what initially made him famous (after which he went on to even greater fame): he produced around 450 Foolish Questions between 1908 and 1910; the very first one, published on October 23, 1908 was prosaically titled ‘Foolish Question No. 1’. Questions remained as witless as ever, but the answers got kookier and more surreal over the years!

Comic Monthly no. 10 (1922). Other issues of Comic Monthly offered reprints of contemporary strips, like Polly & Her Pals, S’Matter Pop?, Little Jimmy, etc.

FQ continued all the way into 1939 with plenty of enthusiasm from readers (who started sending in their own daft questions). It even inspired a song by Billy Murray. Here are some postcards:

In 1909, Goldberg expanded the FQ world into a Sunday strip, Don’t Some People Ask the Biggest Fool Questions?, which collected previously published strips by grouping them into tiers (and occasionally padding this format out with new artwork). In 1912, he went on to unleash the madcap inventions he’s remembered for today upon the world in the shape of The Inventions of Professor Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, A.K., then shifted to political cartooning (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948) in 1938, and then recycled himself as a sculptor in the 1960s. Truly a life filled to the brim with adventure!

The examples below have been scanned from Foolish Questions & Other Odd Observations (Early Comics 1909-1919), published by the wonderful Sunday Press in 2017. I highly recommend it; abounding in bonus materials, it also has two introductions for the price of one, namely one by Goldberg’s granddaughter Jennifer George, and another written by comics historian Paul C. Tumey (author of the equally magnificent tome, SCREWBALL! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny – read a review of it by Eddie Campbell* here). Goldberg’s sense of the absurd is truly a delight, and I dare you to not giggle while perusing these.

~ ds

* Another WOT favourite that we never really got around to talking about. I will, however, refer you to this interesting discussion about comprehending/perusing comics, in which Cambpell conjures an entertaining mental image, relating to his appearance on TV to talk about why ‘some people just can’t read comics’: « My blather would have been mercifully cut because I launched into an insane mimicry of a theoretical middle-aged woman in tears from not being able to interpret the TV guide. »