Of Sneetches and Robots, Orange and Blue

« “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. »

Naturally, since this sorry episode made its way around the world and rightly gave rise to quite the furore, the school district has since thrown its patsy under the bus.

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):

Originally published in Weird Fantasy no. 18 (Mar.-Apr. 1953, EC). Beautifully understated, it’s easy to understand why its creators considered it a high point of their respective careers.

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.

« Here’s Sergio Aragones‘ version of one of the many outings Joe Orlando and his publisher/pal Bill Gaines made to the best restaurants in Paris. While on one of the now famous MAD trips, Joe and Bill would eat 4 or 5 times a day! They went from restaurant to restaurant, always ordering the specialty of the house — with appropriate wines, of course! Yep — they’ve been on a very strict diet since (… but it hasn’t helped!) » Originally published in The ‘Special Joe Orlando Issue‘ of Amazing World of DC Comics (no. 6, May-June 1975, DC).

-RG

Oh, the Places He’s Been: Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

« Theodor Geisel spent his workdays ensconced in his private studio, the walls lined with sketches and drawings, in a bell-tower outside his La Jolla, California, house. Geisel was a much more quiet man than his jocular rhymes suggest. He rarely ventured out in public to meet his young readership, fretting that kids would expect a merry, outspoken, Cat in the Hat-like figure, and would be disappointed with his reserved personality. » — Susan Cain

Today, we honour Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991), born one hundred and eighteen years ago and better known under his nom de plume of Dr. Seuss (one of several, such as Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, Dr. Theodophilus Seuss, Theo LeSieg, L. Pasteur, D.G. Rossetti, and Rosetta Stone. The man loved a good pseudonym.) And no, he wasn’t actually a doctor, though he contributed to more people’s well-being than most physicians could dream of. His alma mater, Dartmouth College, did bestow upon him an honorary doctorate, in 1956. Furthermore, it renamed, in 2012, its medical school (fourth oldest in the United States, founded in 1797) Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in recognition of the good man’s financial contributions over the years. Cool, uh?

Moreover, « Geisel’s birthday, March 2, has been adopted as the annual date for National Read Across America day, an initiative on reading created by the National Education Association. »

It certainly did in my case — when I wanted to learn English as a kid, his books were the ones I reached for. Results!
Geisel’s cover for Judge‘s March, 1933 issue.
A sample of his 1930’s magazine work. Dang — now I can’t get that song out of my head.
And another. Teetotallers may not know (or they may know too well, hence the abstinence) that DT stands for the latin delirium tremens, or alcohol withdrawal-induced delirium. As for these beasts, you’ll have cause to worry if you should See Them Everywhere, and not merely aboard Goah’s Ark.
« Long before his success as Dr. Seuss, Theodore Geisel (Dartmouth Class of 1925), designed advertisements for Flit, Standard Oil Company’s wildly popular spray-pump insecticide which later contained DDT. Over the course of 17 years, Geisel’s humorous advertisements helped make Flit a household name throughout the 1930s and 1940s. At the time, liberal spraying of pesticides around people, animals, and crops was highly encouraged with little regard to potential environmental impacts. » [ source ]. This particular ad hails from 1930.
Given the scope of Geisel’s genius and the length of the ad campaign, there are many, many highlights.
More like ‘Bug Game Hunter’!
Over the years, these ads came in every format.
A 1941 poster for Flit. The casual, harum-scarum use of dangerous chemicals may seem quaint to our jaded modern eye, but it goes on, all right. Personally, I cringe when I encounter ads for Procter and Gamble’s Febreze, for instance. Seems a tad irresponsible to me, given the risks.
This is the opening installment of Hejji, Geisel’s very short-lived (April 7 to June 23, 1935, twelve episodes in all — read them all here) Sunday comic strip, the man’s sole entry into the syndicated comic strip arena, preceding by a couple of years the publication of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937). Hejji was oh-so-briefly published by William Randolph Hearst’s King Features Syndicate. Fickle, fickle!

« In these pages Dr. Seuss was already introducing us to his wonderful talent for creating unusual and delightful creatures. Hejji and his master “The Mighty One” would meet many an odd creature like Bearded Bees, Wombats, and the great Pitzu bird. All of these would be encountered in the attempt to impress the object of “Mighty One’s love, “The Fair One”. Unfortunately, as the legend goes, Seuss was let go during great depression job cuts by William Randolph Hearst. Of course Seuss would later go on to create his extraordinary children’s books including Cat in the Hat, and The Grinch that stole Christmas. Hejji pages are some of the rarest and most sought-after on the comic-strip market. Printed exclusively as Tabs and only carried in a few newspapers, their rarity is as great as the popularity of their creator. As a result, each and every page carries the highest premium. » [ source ]

In 1982, Darmouth College commissioned none other than Everett Raymond Kinstler to paint this portrait (oil on canvas) of his esteemed colleague.

-RG

Tentacle Tuesday: Leaps and Bounds

Today’s Tentacle Tuesday doesn’t have an over-arching theme, other than featuring some bits and bobs I’ve accumulated – from something drawn in 1942 to a cartoon created by computer in 2020. In a sense, this way of proceeding is much closer to the way my brain works, jumping from theme to theme and adding brackets within brackets. This is somewhat off topic, but incidentally, if that’s the way your brain works, too, I highly recommend David Foster Wallace‘s non-fiction material (read 27 of his articles and essays here!) and The Good Soldier Švejk and His Fortunes in the World War by Jaroslav Hašek for a deliciously rambling approach to story telling and arguments.

If you’re not already following WOT’s favourite cartoonist Roger Langridge on Instagram, I highly recommend doing so: his daily slice-of-life strips provide an interesting glimpse into the author’s family life, inner dialogue, and artistic endeavours. You can also support him on Patreon (he has a measly 54 supporters right now – compare that to the thousands of subscribers boasted by some considerably less talented comics artists, who shall remain nameless). The following daily from December, 2020 features the aforementioned introspection, a glimpse at the artistic process, Garfield and tentacles.

Speaking of Garfield, I recommend Garfield Minus Garfield, if you haven’t come across it already.

Texan cartoonist Sam Hurt is the creator of Eyebeam, and I say that with a similar reverence that one would employ in talking about some deity that has concocted a self-governing universe. It is a strange, a bitter-sweet, topsy-turvy place with its own impeccable logic, to which our world remains criminally indifferent. Tackling the problem of talking about Eyebeam, which is both the name of the protagonist and the title of the comic strip, is something we haven’t yet had the courage of doing on this blog. Still, co-admin RG bravely dipped his toe in these waters and talked about a connected comic series – read his All Hail Peaches, Queen of the Universe! and admire his courage. I will also add that Sam Hurt is a great painter, and that I am lucky to have one of this paintings hanging on my office wall (best Christmas gift, ever).

A blushing octopus in a hat? Won’t somebody introduce us, please?

From its humble beginnings around 1978, Eyebeam has grown and survived (with some interruptions) to this day! Strips from 1996 until now are available on GoComics. Someday, fortified with some Dutch courage, we will do a proper post about it, we promise.

I’ve never actually read Usagi Yojimbo, the eminently popular rōnin comic book epic by Stan Sakai. Rolling Stones’ slapdash list of best graphic novels, insultingly titled The 50 Best Non-Superhero Graphic Novels (which immediately makes one feel that they consider non-superhero comics somehow inferior), places it at 43. I will doubtlessly get around to at least reading one volume or two at some point – Sakai is definitely a talented artist, and I have nothing against anthropomorphic animals when they’re well-drawn. However, a dedication to reading the whole series is not for the faint-hearted: there are 35 books in total, which have been collected into nine omnibus volumes in more recent years, a considerable time commitment.

‘Usagi Yojimbo’ literally means something like ‘rabbit bodyguard’, which is what the main character, Miyamoto Usagi, is. Here he is fighting an octopus or two!

Usagi Yojimbo no. 27 (March 1991, Fantagraphics). Cover by Stan Sakai, with colours by Tom Luth.
Panel from My Lord’s Daughter, published in Usagi Yojimbo no. 27 (March 1991, Fantagraphics).
This was drawn by Sakai during the Lucca Comics and Games Convention (2015) for a fan.

Theodor Seuss Geisel, far better known under the pen name of Dr. Seuss, was not only the author of famous books for children, but also a perceptive political cartoonist. Between 1941 and 1943, he was working for PM, a New York daily newspaper, and this is when he produced a series of satirical cartoons about the Policy of Appeasement, the British policy makers’ attempt at avoiding a war with Germany by conceding to some of Hitler’s demands.

I hope you enjoyed this somewhat random stroll through years and styles! For dessert, I would suggest The Cooking Cartoonist: Guilt-Free Ways to Prepare Octopus by Farley Katz. A bite-sized preview:

~ ds