When I looked up Czech painter-caricaturist Josef Lada (1887-1957), I was surprised to find him called ‘one of the best-loved Czech painters of all time‘. There’s no question that Lada’s work remains immensely popular among Czechs, but I suppose the question for context would be « how many painters from that corner of the world are well known outside of outside of the Czech Republic and ex-USSR countries » (probably not many). Lada doubtlessly deserves his lasting fame, at any rate.
My familiarity with his style comes from his illustrations for Jaroslav Hašek‘s sardonically hilarious novel The Good Soldier Švejk, a favourite family book from which we can all quote at length, and which I own in several Russian editions (thanks to inheriting my grandfather’s copy). There have been many adaptations of Švejk, but I can only imagine him the way Lada depicted him. Visit BibliOdyssey for a glimpse of the good soldier.
While his renown is assured thanks to his work on Hašek’s magnum opus, the entirely self-taught Lada is also fondly remembered for his illustrations to children’s books (which he occasionally wrote himself), as well as paintings of pastoral life, probably inspired by his childhood in the small village of Hrusice. For a fuller biography, head over to The Genius of Josef Lada, the most complete source of information that I could find online in English.
Here’s an assortment of images from various books – among others, Ezopské bajky (The Fables of Aesop) from 1931; Kocour Mikeš (Tomcat Mikeš), written and illustrated by Lada between 1934 and 1936, and being a sort of a take on Puss in Boots; Nezbedné Pohádky (Naughty Fairy Tales) from 1946 – as well as some postcards and aforementioned village illustrations.
« In the first year of his life, [Lada] had a life-altering accident – he fell on his father’s knife and the injuries sustained permanently blinded his right eye. Some art historians later attributed the artist’s flat-perspective painting style to this incident.»
Underground comix artist Kim Deitch probably doesn’t need much of an introduction, other than perhaps to mention that he’s the son of amazing illustrator/animator Gene Deitch, about whom we have talked before (see Back When ‘Hipster’ Wasn’t a Dirty Word: Gene Deitch’s The Cat). For the most part, I respect more than enjoy K. Deitch’s work, appreciating his style and attention to detail, but unable to maintain more than a passing interest in the dream logic of his tales. The story we are sharing today charmed me, as it combines his typical soaring and detail-driven landscapes with a really fun ‘what if?’ plot and a clear appreciation for cats, always an advantage for an artist, in my book.
These Cats Today! comes from the pages of Big Fat Little Lit (2006, Puffin), which collects most material from the three volumes of Little Lit, Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly’s anthology that featured comics created for children by a varied roster of artists (a lot of whom have collaborated with Spiegelman on RAW), as well as some Golden Age additions by the likes of by Walt Kelly, Crockett Johnson, and Basil Wolverton. School Library Journal described it as ‘a sensational introduction to traditional literature for a visually sophisticated generation‘. If by ‘traditional literature’ they mean ‘traditional folk tales’ (before they got bowdlerized*), then sure. The stories of Big Fat Little Lit are cynical and pleasantly warped; people get beheaded, eaten, and transformed, and often find that what they thought would bring them happiness just engenders its own problems.
Actually, it was quite difficult to select which story to run, as this anthology is packed with wicked goodies, but this whimsical tale won out (my other favourites are by Kaz, Maurice Sendak, Richard Sala and Joost Swarte, and may yet pop up in another post). Note that if you look beyond the surface of These Cats Today!, you’ll find plenty of cruelty in this fun narrative – dogs enslaved to power up the majestic and glittering Katropolis, force-fed stuffed mice**, these details are briefly mentioned, yet in plain view for those perceptive enough to notice. Truly, for its seeming gentleness, this story belongs into the Little Lit line-up.
« 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?
« I love the scents of winter! For me, it’s all about the feeling you get when you smell pumpkin spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, gingerbread and spruce. » — Taylor Swift
It occurred to me, just the other day that I’d failed to feature, over the course of five and three-quarters countdowns, anything by Gene Colan. And this despite the fact that I’ve always enjoyed his work and his undeniable adroitness within the horror genre.
Still, I decided to sidestep the obvious touchstone, his monumental run on The Tomb of Dracula, and opted instead for another of his big series at Marvel: Howard the Duck.
I was a fervent fan of the series as a kid, but I honestly haven’t returned to it in decades. Which is not to say that I’ve forgotten it. There’s no doubt that I should give it a fresh look — I’d probably get more of Steve Gerber‘s jokes than I did as a twelve-year-old — but in the interim, let’s focus on a couple of pertinent issues.
I won’t leave you in suspense! On to the following issue…
And that’s it! Steve Gerber had a refreshing knack for subverting and upending the Marvel formula: instead of some drawn-out, epic standoff, Howard disposes of the threat — a threat worth two cover features! — in a couple of panels, then the story moves on… to another range of targets.
In the spirit of celebrating the spirit of Hallowe’en even from places it’s not traditionally celebrated, it’s now my turn — and my pleasure — to draw from the wondrous inkwell of Massimo Mattioli (1943-2019) and his finest creation, M Le Magicien, which ran, largely unappreciated, in the pages of France’s Pif Gadget from 1968 to 1973. My co-admin ds devoted, back in January, a post to the artist and his creation: Massimo Mattioli Mania: M le magicien, but I’d been reserving the rare but excellent ‘spookier’ M strips for this occasion. Mattioli would delve much, much further into the macabre, in the early 1980s, with his frankly excessive Squeak the Mouse. Ahem.
« Why does a silly bird go on saying “chiff-chaff” all day long? Is it happiness or hiccups? » — A. A. Milne
Greetings! I am very temporarily standing in for co-admin RG, who can probably use a break from his harrowing post-a-day schedule. Either that, or I muscled my way in after chaining him to the bathtub, your pick.
We have never talked about the adorable cartoonist Jack Kent (1920-1985) on WOT?. While he has illustrated some 40 children’s books, no humble achievement, his momentous oeuvre is surely the endearing King Aroo (from that intriguing class of literary creations ‘adored by the intelligentsia, but [that] bomb in popularity polls’*). Often our most cherished comics are considerably harder to discuss than something one holds less dear, and this is a prime example of that. Among worries of ‘would I able to do it justice? Would I be able to explain its charm?’, I have been postponing the conversation about King Aroo, Monarch of pocket-sized kingdom Myopia, to an indefinite, much later date.
In the meantime, and since it is very much of the season, let us concentrate on the short, but no less lovable for its length, Cindy Lou and the Witch’s Dog, a children’s book (well, nearly more of a booklet) from 1978. Aside from the presence of a witch in the tale (as announced by the title), it also features hiccupping as a main plot point, a state of things close to my heart as I am quite prone to this affliction, though I fortunately do not undergo metamorphosis with each involuntary contraction of the diagram. Here’s a factoid of the day: the medical name for hiccup is singultus, from the Latin singult which means ‘to catch one’s breath while sobbing’. My grandmother always thought there was something profoundly wrong with me with all these hiccups… but then she was also convinced I’d grow up to be an alcoholic from sharing an occasional beer with my dad, so perhaps her forebodings can be dismissed.
Enjoy the following few pages (probably about a third of the story, so definitely more than just a sample).
Regretfully, we do not get to see what party the witch goes to.
Of course Prince’s collar magically adjusts to his neck, whether it’s the neck of a giraffe or that of a mouse.
Skipping a few pages to share this tree’o’cats, which neither RG nor myself could resist including:
« 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).
« 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.
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.