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!)


Treasured Stories: “American Squalor” (1988)

« People think the show gave Letterman an opportunity, but they don’t see the table with 10 guys in shorts wearing baseball caps pitching jokes for things for him to say. They don’t see the index cards that say: ‘Ask this first.’ It’s all spelled out for him, and everything is pre-interviews. He’s basically had to be this hand puppet, with everybody’s hands up his butt to tell him what to say and do. » — Joyce Brabner on David Letterman

We already snuck a peek at the darker side of DC Comics’ short-lived ’80 mirage Wasteland (18 issues, 1987-89), but the title’s modus operandi was variety… within a set format. Here’s another highlight from one of the earliest and strongest issues, before its co-authors The Second City comedy legend Del Close and Grimjack co-creator John Ostrander lost the plot, interest, or both. This is American Squalor (Wasteland no. 3, Feb. 1988, DC Comics). The underrated Don Simpson, the Wasteland bullpen’s utility player, its most versatile and loyal member, gets to strut his stuff, albeit in a lovely Crumb ersatz, down to the lettering.

« Our next guest works as a file clerk at a Cleveland hospital… »


What I find so impressive about this story is the scope of its ambition, fulfilled on several unlikely levels: it achieves success as a parody, a pastiche, a tribute, and as its own, standalone bit of workaday folk philosophy. Clearly, calling upon the trappings and rhythms of Crumb and Pekar’s American Splendor was just the starting point.

I’d love to track down (Close’s old Second City colleague) the Severn Darden monologue Close claims to have used as a springboard, but not everything was dutifully recorded for “posterity” in those days…

« I loved Harvey. He was a wonderful guest. The kind you don’t see anymore. The only real problem with Harvey was my immaturity. » — David Letterman


Tentacle Tuesday: a Day at the Beach

I am on vacation! (Or I will be, by the time this post is published.) I have no idea what sort of beaches I will have the pleasure to encounter, but I doubt it’s the kind that’s depicted below.

And now, everyone to the beach! Orrore sulla spiaggia!

Page from Rich Larson‘s Haunted House of Lingerie, Vol. 2 (July 1999). I’m pleased to see that the octopus seems to have undressed the man as well.

This is the original art for the cover of Sukia no. 89. Art by Emanuele Taglietti, whose specialty was sex and horror! Sukia, already part of one T.T. roster (see Tentacle Tuesday: Euro Tentacles Unto Horror), was an erotic Italian comic that ran from 1978 to 1986, published, as is often the case for such things, by Edifumetto. Sukia’s alluring form is based on that of actress Ornella Muti, though it’s probably somewhat less obvious from this cover.

I’m getting carried away here with sun-tanning and babe-centric pastures and whatnot. People also go fishing on vacation, right?

Cartoon by Charles Addams.

Or just walking along the beach…

A panel from “Lord Octopus Went to the Christmas Fair”, a poem by Stella Mead. Art by Walt Kelly; published in Santa Claus Funnies n° 2, 1943. Slightly unseasonal, sorry.

Or just flingin’ an octopus about… The local authorities might object, however.

Whiz Comics n° 115 (November 1949), art by Kurt Schaffenberger.

A little knitting, perhaps? Don’t mind if I do!

Festival Tartine n° 54 (November 1971). Grand-mother Nonna Abelarda, created in 1953 by Italian Giulio Chierchini, came to France in 1956 and was renamed Tartine Mariol. This intrepid granny appeared in Presto and in Arc en Ciel until her popularity prompted the publishers to give her her own series in 1957.

~ ds

P.S. A little bonus, though only involving an off-screen sighting of an octopus:

Cartoon by Robert Crumb, as if you needed to be told, featuring Aline Kominsky-Crumb.

R. Crumb’s “Trash – What Do We Throw Away?” (1982)

« Maybe we could find some way to send barges of trash to the sun and incinerate it all. Hey, it’s an idea. It’s an idea! » — Adam West

Lately, I’ve noticed that crusty ol’ Bob Crumb is being pilloried… well, more than he usually is. It appears that some members of the, er, younger cartooning generation are taking offense, in the most tone-deaf,  irony-deprived and contextually-clueless way imaginable, to a half-a-century old, utterly static, wafer-thin and inaccurate idea of his work. « …old white cartoonists of the most explicitly homophobic, anti-feminist, racist, and controversial comics of 70s/80s ». Funny, I’d say that comment itself is more than slightly racist (not to mention ageist). Guess it’s open season on some targets.

Ah, but it’s a waste of time, saliva and ink trying to convince zealots of any stripe of anything. I don’t enjoy all of Crumb’s work myself, but when a particular piece doesn’t grab me, I just move along. But the medium would be much the poorer without his (in no particular order and just off the top of my head): A Short History of America, Introducing Kafka, Heroes of the Blues / Early Jazz Greats / Pioneers of Country Music card sets, his collaborations with Harvey Pekar in American Splendor, most of his Weirdo pieces, his album covers, « Ode to Harvey Kurtzman », Stoned Agin, his American Greetings cards, and… I’ll be here all night if I keep this up.

I was going  to feature what’s possibly my all-time favourite Crumb story, « The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick » (Weirdo no. 17, Summer 1986), but lo and behold, it’s already available in full on the site… but as there’s no dearth of first-rate picks, here’s another comics essay from the pages of Weirdo (no. 6, Summer 1982). Please note how fair-minded and even-handed Crumb is here: I’m certainly guilty myself of a couple of the attitudes and behaviours depicted, but since the author’s challenge is so unflinchingly honest, his criticism becomes food for thought. He’s not interested in flattering the comfortable, including, most of the time, himself.


I’ll leave you with some sage words from Alan Moore, who describes the circumstances of his love affair with Angelfood McSpade: « Firstly, and more obviously in the case of this particular image, there was the open sexuality. Not having led a terribly sheltered life, I was familiar with the images of sex to be found in the neighbourhood magazine racks, ranging from Playboy to the Fry-the-Krauts-on-Passion-Bridge ‘Men’s Sweat’ periodicals of the day, to the soft-core titillation of homegrown products like Parade. Judging from the drawings and photographs that graced these magazines’ covers, sex was something that was deadly serious, not to say faintly miserable, smothered as it was in commercial gloss and the self-conscious poutings of the ex-stenographers staked out across the centre spread.

Angelfood was different. She was wearing, in addition to the grass skirt, a big, pleased-with-herself smile rather than the slightly-concussed ‘Just Raped’ look that her cover girl contemporaries were starting to adopt. It was my first taste of the sexual openness of the psychedelic movement, and though it bears little relevance to my overall impression of Crumb’s work, it requires mention in these terms for the personal impact that it had upon me. This is not to say that its effect in other areas was not equally as marked. Sexuality aside, this drawing was subversive.

For one thing, it was subversive in the way it commented upon race. Many cartoonists since Crumb have referred back, ironically, to the stereotyped image of black people that dominated the cartoons of the past, but this was the first time I’d seen it done: the first time I’d seen a cartoon depiction of a Negro so exaggerated that it called attention to the racialism inherent in all such depictions. » (excerpted from “Comments on Crumb”, Blab no. 3, Fall 1988, Kitchen Sink.)

Keep on Truckin’ and the copyright law rabbit hole

– RG

p.s. This was our 200th post… thanks for your interest and support!

From off the streets of Cleveland comes…

« What kind of people are these?
Where do they come from,
what do they do? What’s in a name? »

Coming out of nowhere (well, “From off the streets of Cleveland“, as it happens) in 1976, Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor was one of comics’ truest and most bracing alternatives. It wasn’t part of the Underground Comix movement, despite the participation of Pekar’s old friend and fellow record collector Robert Crumb, and it wasn’t like anything pushed out by the mainstream comics industry.

This is The Comics Journal no. 97 (April, 1985). Cover by Crumb and Pekar.

Crumb’s introduction to Doubleday/Dolphin’s 1986 anthology of early AS strips describes Pekar’s appeal better than anyone else is likely to:

« Yeah, Harvey is an ego-maniac; a classic case… a driven, compulsive, mad Jew… it’s something to see. But how else could he have gotten all those comics published, with almost no money; in total isolation from any comic-publishing ‘scene’ such as exists here in California, or in New York; constantly brow-beating artists to illustrate his stories; handling the distribution himself… only an ego-maniac would persist in the face of such odds. »

« The subject matter of these stories is so staggeringly mundane, it verges on the exotic! It is very disorienting at first, but after awhile you get with it. Myself, I love it… Pekar has proven once and for all that even the most seemingly dreary and monotonous of lives is filled with poignancy and heroic struggle. All it takes is someone with an eye to see, an ear to hear, and a demented, desperate Jewish mind to get it down on paper… there is drama in the most ordinary and routine of days, but it’s a subtle thing that gets lost in the shuffle… our personal struggles seem dull and drab compared with the thrilling, suspense-filled, action-packed lives of the characters who are pushed on us all the time in movies, tv shows, adventure novels and… those *other* comicbooks.

What Pekar does is certainly new to the comicbook medium. There’s never been anything even approaching this kind of stark realism. It’s hard enough to find it in literature, impossible in the movies and tv. It takes chutspah to tell it exactly the way it happened, with no adornment, no great wrap-up, no bizarre twist, nothing. Pekar’s genius is that he pulls this off, and does it with humor, pathos, all the drama you could ever want… and in a comic book yet! »

And here’s an atypical example of Mr. Pekar’s storytelling art, a rare but eloquent pantomime vignette. It originally saw print in DC Comics’ run of American Splendor comic books (no. 1, Nov. 2006, published under the Vertigo imprint and edited by Jonathan Vankin.) The symbiosis at play here between writer and artist makes ‘Delicacy’ my very favourite story by Hilary Barta, who somehow never gets matched with a script worthy of his tremendous talent, even when he’s working with Alan Moore (Moore can be very funny, but superhero parodies, even his, seldom are… and Splash Brannigan wasn’t exactly side-splitting). This is a wonderful oddity, one of two times that Barta and Pekar collaborated. Bon appétit!


Draw Me… you know you want to!

« The desire to draw is important! »

A couple of days ago, I came upon a recent piece by the one-and-only Robert Crumb, one that’s currently up for (well-heeled) grabs through the auspices of Heritage Auctions.

Quoting Heritage’s description: « Robert Crumb and Others – ‘Spike and Mike’ Jam Mural on Canvas (2015-16). An approximately 80″ x 60″ sheet of canvas, with sketches on both sides. Chief among them is a “Draw Me” ad parody by Robert Crumb. Getting Mr. Crumb’s involvement was not easy; it took a friend lugging this oversized piece of canvas around Europe to track down the elusive artist, but the results were worthwhile. Crumb’s art measures 8″ x 11″, and is on the “unfinished” (cream-colored) side of the canvas, with several other sketches. »

It brought to mind the rich, if often sordid, history of art lessons offered in comic book ad spaces. Here’s a sampling.

The face that launched a thousand backroom businesses, and the object of Crumb’s homage/parody (1952). Note the sharp bit of self-serving credibility-boosting: « Amateurs Only! Our students not eligible. » The implication being that, naturally, their students are now all successful, seasoned pros… but you still need to tell them to butt out of the contest. The beautifully-drawn girl anticipates Jaime Hernandez‘s stripped-down style, if you ask me.

Apparently a dry run (1954) for the great Joe Kubert’s School of Cartoon and Graphic Art (established in 1976, and still around); its (early) graduates include Stephen Bissette, Rick Veitch and Timothy Truman. Joe’s then-partner Norman Maurer, aside from being a fine cartoonist himself, was the son-in-law of Stooge Moe Howard, for which Maurer produced many 3 Stooges cartoons and comic books. Maurer and Kubert were also co-originators (with Leonard Maurer) of 3D Comics in 1953.

Well, if you can’t draw… there’s always tracing; though even there, talent is an asset (1963.) According to Kirk Demarais‘ excellent book, Mail-Order Mysteries, this was « a rip-off. »

This little ad was quite ubiquitous in 1970s comics. Was the product offered worth a damn? The mystery endures; well, that and the newly-wealthy cartoonist’s memorably frazzled expression.

Roy Wilson’s book can still be found with a little digging. It certainly boasts a great cover. I’d mark this one as an honest enterprise (1973.)

According to Kirk Demarais, You received «  A thirty-two page booklet that teaches you, not only to draw monsters, but how to draw, period. Art history and artists’ tools and techniques are covered, along with a gruesome collection of creeps. It’s all presented with a healthy dose of encouragement for young pencil bearers. » Monsterman (aka Harry Borgman) earned himself a thumbs-up verdict from Mr. Demarais: « In a sea of shysters, Borgman is the real deal. » (1975)

Mail Sack, Inc.? Still, a quarter doesn’t seem like too much of a gamble… (1971)

Corner-cutting maestro and Marvel yes-man Big John B.’s art class gave the world such enduring talents as… er, Bob Hall. (1976)

For some reason, this one leaves me… somewhat skeptical (1978.) Nice perspective, chump.

And of  course, we can’t leave out the cream of the crop (1982.)

Mr. Crumb is right, of course: the bottom line is that « You need to knuckle down and really learn how to draw! »

– RG