Behold… the Great Shnozzola!

« That’s the conditions that prevail! » — Jimmy Durante

Today, we salute noted vaudevillian, piano player, comedian, singer, film and radio star, raconteur and unlikely comics legend James Francis “Jimmy” Durante, born on this day, February 10, in 1893 (as it was a Friday, the family presumably fasted or had fish for dinner). He truly was a master of all media, as you’ll witness.

This early bit of biography appeared in Juke Box Comics no. 4 (Sept. 1948, Eastern Color); it was illustrated by Ed Moore. Hear Cantor and Durante reminisce about their early days on this 1947 episode of The Jimmy Durante Show.
A passing mention of old Jimmy, from Nyoka the Jungle Girl no. 24 (Oct. 1948, Fawcett). Writer and artist unknown.
An early cover by Dick Ayers (1924-2014), this is Jimmy Durante Comics no. 1 (Oct. 1948, Magazine Enterprises).
The second and final issue of Jimmy Durante Comics (Winter 1948-49, Magazine Enterprises).
Mr. Durante rates a smashing musical appearance in this Rube Goldberg Device daily strip (Apr. 14, 1951, King Features Syndicate)… by Rube Goldberg, naturally.
And here’s the Shnozzola in the midst of a carnal melée of his fellow Old Hollywood legends (can you name them all, cinephiles?) This is Bill Griffith‘s cover for The Tiajuana Bible Revival Volume Two: Under the Stars in Hollywood (1977, Hooker, California: Paramounds Prod.). This was « An anthology reprinting 1930’s Tijuana Bibles, some of which were obscene parodies of popular newspaper comic strips of the day. Others made use of characters based on popular movie stars and sports stars of the day, such as Mae West and Joe Louis, sometimes with names thinly changed. Before the war, almost all the stories were humorous and frequently were cartoon versions of well-known dirty jokes that had been making the rounds for decades. » [ source ]
Pointillist-satirist Drew Friedman‘s immortal Jimmy Durante Boffs Young Starlets first saw print in National Lampoon vol. 2 no. 78 (Jan. 1985).
Durante briefly pops up (with the Checkered Demon!) in the second half of a truly all-star underground comix jam involving R. Crumb, Steve Clay Wilson (1941-2021… he left us just three days ago, aged 79… RIP), Victor Moscoso, Spain Rodriguez, Rick Griffin, Robert Williams and Gilbert Shelton. It appeared in Zap Comix no. 12 (1989, Last Gasp). Cartoonists are generally fond of the Schnozzola, but Underground cartoonists are just mad about him.
And finally, on a gentler note… here’s a clearly affectionate caricature (a preliminary sketch) of the esteemed Signor Durante (aw, he’s blushing!) by the amazing Sam Berman (crayon on onionskin paper, 1947). Berman (1907-1995) was, deservedly, quite a big deal in his day; as the erudite Drew Friedman told Print Magazine in his quality of co-curator of the 12 Legendary Caricaturists You’ve (probably) Never Heard Of exhibition at NYC’s Society of Illustrators, Berman « was indeed famous and celebrated in his day. Beginning his career in the late 1930s, he created iconic sculpted caricature covers for Esquire featuring their new mascot “Esky” (created by Berman) for an entire year. He created the sculpted caricatures of the leading actors (Fredric March, Carole Lombard, etc.) for the opening titles of the 1937 classic screwball comedy Nothing Sacred, did huge amounts of work for all the top magazines and newspapers of the day, including for Mark Hellinger’s popular column, created close to 60 amazing full-color portraits for the 1947 booklet The NBC Parade of Stars, drew children’s books, and arguably his most famous creation, the opening caricature of Jackie Gleason rising over Brooklyn for “The Honeymooners,” although he was never credited on the show for drawing that image, nor in any books. He then inexplicably went into map-making and faded quietly into obscurity. »

To wrap things up, here’s Jimmy D. and Frankie S. duetting in Russian. And why not? Happy birthday, Jimmy, wherever you are (and do say hello to Mrs. Calabash!)

-RG

Deep in the Soup With Rick Griffin

« If you’re having a bad day, catch a wave. » — Frosty Hesson

How do you cool down in a heatwave? In this household, when the temperature soars and drags the humidity along, we reach for a soothing surfing movie, preferably one by peerless surf auteur Bruce Brown* (1937-2017). Last week, it was his 1959 opus, Surf Crazy, in which a group of SoCal surfers venture down to unsurfed Mexico, which in turn called to mind “Mexico“, an early ’70s underground two-pager recounting a similar sojourn.

Which, this nominally being a comics blog, leads us to the one and only artiste embodying and straddling both the underground cartoonist’s and surfer’s ethos, Rick Griffin!

SurferToonsA
An early Griffin collection, Surfer Toons (1964, John Severson), featuring his early creation, Murphy, likely inspiration for notorious jewel thief Murph the Surf‘s sobriquet.

GriffinBioA
A bio of  the young surfer-cartoonist from The Surfer vol. 3 no.3 (Aug.-Sept. 1962). The photo confirms that his Murphy strip was autobiographical.

GriffinFilmTruckA
« In 1964, a serious car accident left Rick unable to work for several months. Later that year, Surfer started a new series titled The Adventures of Griffin and Stoner. They were make-believe surf trips that Ron Stoner, a famous surf photographer, and Griffin were supposed to have taken around the world. » Stoner’s real-life adventures, however, were not so happy.

GriffinLaPlayaA
In this mid-to-late-60s illustration, we witness early signs of Griffin’s mature, more assured line. A simplified version of this piece would appear in The Surfer‘s March, 1972 issue.

MysticEyes01A

MysticEyes02A
Griffin’s tour-de-force adaptation of Them’s Mystic Eyes appeared in an issue of The Surfer in 1970. Witness how Griffin’s depiction of Murphy has evolved over the decade. The fancy helmet is a Hopi Indian ceremonial mask, a frequent artifact and motif in the artist’s subsequent œuvre. Weedy song, imho — and yet, meaning is where you find it.

PacificVibrationsA
Also from 1970: Griffin created this piece for his patron John Severson‘s surf documentary Pacific Vibrations, (in which he also appeared!) and it provides a fine example of Griffin’s matchless lettering**. And there’s that Hopi mask again. Though it was quite a popular poster in the 1970s, If you ask me, though, accomplished as it is, it utterly fails to evoke surfing.

TalesTubeWhiteBorderA
Tales From the Tube, as it originally appeared in 1972, inserted into an issue of Surfer Magazine (Vol. 12 no. 6); some copies exist separately, however. Also to be found within its pages: Roberts Crumb and Williams, Steve Clay Wilson, Bill Odgen, Glen Chase and Jim Evans.

GriffinTFTT_A
TFTT was later reissued (now with a price) in the regular comix format by The Print Mint. As you can see, Griffin reimagined and re-separated his colours. Which version do *you* prefer?

Mexico01A

Mexico02A
Visual splendour, not coherence, was always Griffin’s stock-in-trade. And why not? This travelogue premiered in Tales From the Tube.

5SummerStoriesA
More poster (and soundtrack) artwork for surfing documentaries, this time 1972’s Five Summer Stories and its 1976 sequel, Five Summer Stories Plus Four, directed by Greg MacGillivray, a prolific, award-winning director and cinematographer to this day.

TFTTPosterA
… another Tales From the Tube, another Surf doc affiche from ’76. « This film and the other surf films for which Griffin has done posters are not usually shown on the regular movie circuits. Their soundtracks are usually composed of rock music of various forms – soft to hard – with a few breaks for narration. The surfing scene throughout the world has grown large enough to support the production of many films each year. »

CowabungaStickerA
As you can see, Murphy abides. A 1993 sticker, with instructions.

-RG

*I’ll go even further: for me, it pretty much has to be Bruce Brown. His easy charm and wit, not to mention his untrained-yet-superb set of filmmaking skills leave other surfing cinéastes floundering in his wake. From what I’ve seen over the years, their work either seems too dry (ha!) or overdone and overeager. I’m still keeping an eye on the horizon, nevertheless. The relative unavailability of quality prints for most of these films is a hefty obstacle, while their soundtracks are far, far easier to find (e.g. Gone With the Wave, The Fantastic Plastic Machine…) 

**At this stage [1969], Griffin’s lettering almost ceased to be functional as legible typography. In fact, in even earlier work, he jokingly incorporated meaningless calligraphy into his posters. Rick pioneered and carried to an extreme in the 1960’s this disregard for the legibility of lettering, creating totally abstract forms the resemble letters. His particular style influenced and encouraged artists locally and throughout the world to reconsider all previous limitations that they were placing on stylized lettering and the ways that it could be used with other graphic forms.” From Gordon McLelland‘s monograph, Rick Griffin (1980, Perigee).

Celebrity Car Crash Corner!

« You gave me so many problems
You made me crash in my car
I’ll have a martini cocktail
And then we’ll see where we are… » — OMD, Bloc Bloc Bloc

In the year 1995, crafty budget movie maven Roger Corman somehow wound up with a comics line bearing his name, Roger Corman’s Cosmic Comics. Around 20 issues of various titles saw print, consisting of graphic adaptations of current (Caged Heat 3000, Bram Stoker’s Burial of the Rats) or classic (Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Little Shop of Horrors) Corman-directed-or-produced films… and one sequel (Death Race 2020, after Death Race 2000), which is the one that concerns us today, after a fashion.

Death Race 2020 managed to be a pretty good series… for three issues (read ’em here!) The original creative combo was aces, three veterans from Brit SF institution 2000 AD, namely Pat Mills and Tony Skinner hatching the plots and Kevin O’Neill conveying them to visual glory. O’Neill scampered off after three issues (returning only to craft the series’ final cover), and things just weren’t the same without his sordid, madcap touch. It takes a special talent to depict compellingly *and* with a finely-tuned, subversive tone, this level of carnage and mayhem. Such talent, obviously, is ever in short, and possibly dwindling, supply.

But… we’re not here for the main feature. Buried in the back pages amidst the ads (mostly touting the alt-rock of the day) was a regular one-page hi-concept feature crafted by a succession of young (or young-ish) artistic iconoclasts. I suspect it was the fevered brainchild of former The Comics Journal managing editor Robert Boyd (1989-1990), also the editor of Death Race 2020. If this were Facebook, I’d show you my favourite example and move on to the next pretty shiny bauble. But through the pixie magic of blogging, I can afford to be utterly profligate and fling the whole delirious jumble your way. And so…

CelebCarCrash01A
Story and art by Dave Cooper, from Death Race 2020 no. 1 (April, 1995).

CelebCarCrash02A
Story and art by Pat Moriarty, from Death Race 2020 no. 2 (May, 1995).

CelebCarCrash03A
Story and art by Bob Fingerman, from Death Race 2020 no. 3 (June, 1995).

CelebCarCrash04A
Story and art by Shane Oakley, from Death Race 2020 no. 4 (July, 1995). As everyone… used to know, the Girl Can’t Help It.

CelebCarCrash05A
Story and art by Jay Stephens, from Death Race 2020 no. 5 (August, 1995).

CelebCarCrash06A
Story and art by Fábio Zimbres, from Death Race 2020 no. 6 (September, 1995). In these troubled days, I imagine many a Brazilian pines for the halcyon days of JK, faced with the reality of JB.

CelebCarCrash07A
Story and art by Jaca Weiss and Robert Weiss, from Death Race 2020 no. 7 (October, 1995). For a look at some actual Rick Griffin art, look no further than here.

CelebCarCrash08A
Story and art by Matthew Guest, from Death Race 2020 no. 8 (November, 1995).

VIPWomanDriverA
To wit… a prime example of the aforementioned. By now, I’d like to think that most people have come to realize that the gendered driver question is a complex and fraught one. Here are some relevant statistics, if that’s your thing. You guessed it, things aren’t fair.

Drive safe, folks, and keep your eyes and mind on the road. The rest of us will appreciate it.

« Technology is constantly improving our lives. Look at the cellular telephone. Just ten years ago, virtually nobody was able to get into a car crash caused by trying to steer and dial at the same time; today, people do this all the time. » — Dave Barry

-RG

All Men Are Equal Before Fish: Rick Griffin & Man vs Mad Magazine

« Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish. » — Steven Wright

In 1974, prodigious underground cartoonist Rick Griffin was commissioned to design a cover for Welsh rockers Man’s ninth opus… and this is what he came up with.

ManGriffinA
The original version of Griffin’s proposal, cheekily titled « The Baptism of Alfred E. Neuman. »

While the image of the grinning fool popularly known as Alfred E. Neuman was, and remains in the public domain, Griffin was really pushing his luck, even without MAD Magazine’s distinctive typeface on bold display. Let’s just say William M. Gaines’ lawyers had far more than a leg to stand on.

Understandably reluctant to let such a lovely *and* provocative work of prime Griffin altogether go to waste, Man (and their legal counsel, presumably), engineered a clever and elegant design solution, shown below, which graces the band’s Slow Motion album, issued in late 1974, and still thumbs its nose at MAD Magazine, exceptionally cast in the thankless rôle of the fuddy-duddy villain.

ManSlowMotionA

As a born-again Christian (circa 1970) *and* surfer, it follows that fish were, topic-wise, a natural fit for Griffin.

GriffinJohn21A.jpg

A painting from Griffin’s foremost undertaking of the 1970s, « The Gospel of John » (available to this day!); this one illustrates John 21:6, « And he said unto them, cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They case therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. »

For the record, I prefer my fish alive and swimming free.

– RG