By the time I was reading MAD Magazine as a kid, Antonio Prohías had already finished his run of the iconic Spy vs. Spy feature that ran every month, passing it along to a new artist in 1987 after illustrating 241 strips. I only recently learned that Prohías was already an established political cartoonist and satirist in Cuba by the time he immigrated to the U.S. in 1961, himself an accused spy after fleeing Castro’s clampdown on the free press:
In 1946, Prohías was given the Juan Gualberto Gómez award, recognizing him as the foremost cartoonist in Cuba. By the late 1940s, Prohías had begun working at El Mundo, the most important newspaper in Cuba at the time. In January 1959, Prohías was the president of the Cuban Cartoonists Association; after Fidel Castro seized power, he personally honored the cartoonist for his anti-Batista political cartoons. But Prohías soon soured on Castro’s actions of muzzling the press. When he drew cartoons to this effect, he was accused of working for the CIA by Fidel Castro’s government. Consequently, he resigned from the newspaper in February 1959.
With his professional career in limbo, Prohías left Cuba for New York on May 1, 1960, working in a garment factory by day and building a cartoon portfolio for Mad by night. Ten weeks later, he walked into Mad’s offices unannounced. He spoke no English, but his daughter Marta acted as an interpreter for him. Before he’d left, he had an $800 check and had sold his first three Spy vs. Spy cartoons to Mad. […] During an interview with the Miami Herald in 1983, Prohías gloated, “The sweetest revenge has been to turn Fidel’s accusation of me as a spy into a moneymaking venture.”
The rest of the magazine’s humor hasn’t entirely aged as well, but I’m still sad to think about a world without MAD.
I never knew that some of the main characters from Thimble Theatre, the 1920s newspaper comic that birthed Popeye, were based on real people that E. C. Segar knew from his hometown! What the what! Above, photos of the real-life Popeye (Frank “Rocky” Fiegel), Olive Oyl (Dora Paskel), and J. Wellington Wimpy (J. William Schuchert). No sign of Bluto or Eugene the Magical Jeep.
If it ever gets too bleak, just remember that Al Jaffee is still making the world a better place through his incredible (and bitingly funny) illustrations for Mad at age 96 (!!!).
I was making fun of the fold-outs you’d see in Playboy or National Geographic or Life Magazine. They had these big, fancy, full-color fold-outs. Well, at Mad we didn’t have that kind of budget. So I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to do the exact opposite? We’d do a cheap black-and-white fold in.
I love that the Fold-In started as another subversive bit of meta-humor about how “cheap” Mad magazine is.
Maria Popova posts a wonderful selection of cartoons from Charles Addam’s lesser-known book of Mother Goose rhymes from 1967. Such good stuff, and fun to imagine the crossovers between the classic grim nursery rhymes and his own macabre sense of humor, juxtaposed with his mid-century New York City skylines and deadpan-faced characters.
Comics give to the artist a very interesting field of exploration and research. Everything is possible. You can be very small or very big or very modest or very ambitious. You can stay in a regular style like everybody, or you can escape and be completely unusual and incredible. You can give more to the world, more to the drawing. Everything.
Life is a circus, Zippy! It can be a circus of pain or a circus of delight!
As the Bil Keane RIP notices started flooding across the net yesterday, my friend Julien reminded me of the bizarre phenomenon of Zippy the Pinhead making a crossover appearance in Family Circus back in 1994 (go look at it, it’s weird!). It wasn’t a single-panel affair: that out-of-context Family Circus strip was a followup to a week in which Bil Keane literally drew his characters into the surreal world of Zippy as a sort of exchange project. From a speech by Zippy artist Bill Griffith:
Here’s an example of something that kind of blew my mind, and a number of readers. I did a number of comic strips in 1994 in which the idea was that Zippy and Griffy were going to, at least Zippy, enter, literally, the world of The Family Circus, a single panel comic. Into the strip a few days I thought, “What the hell, I’ll call Bill Keene. I’ll get his phone number, and I’ll see if he wants to literally jam this strip with me.” I figured the chances were zero, but why not? I called him up; he was incredibly friendly. He lives in Phoenix, where Zippy is published in the local paper. Loves the strip; reads it every day. Y’know, at the end of the phone call I thought, “He’s my blood brother. We’re like the two surreal comic strip artists.”
Behind the sticky-sweet facade of everyone’s favorite round newspaper comic, it’s good to know there was an artist of subversive humor and warmth for his fellow cartoonists, appreciative of both parody and collaboration.
Do you enjoy newspaper comics? Want to learn more about their history and place in the world through interviews with a laundry list of comic artists? Then you might be interested in helping these guys in Kickstarter finish out their documentary: STRIPPED: The Comics Documentary
Animation and comics are false siblings. They resemble one another but they’re two completely different things. The relationship a reader has with a comic is nothing like the one a viewer has with a film. When you read a comic, you’re always active, because you have to imagine all the movements that happen between the frames. In a film, you are passive: all the information is there. And when you make a comic it never happens that you have 500 or 1,000 people reading it in the same place at the same time, all reacting.
The principal factor in my success has been an absolute desire to draw constantly. I never decided to be an artist. Simply, I could not stop myself from drawing. I drew for my own pleasure. I never wanted to know whether or not someone liked my drawings. I drew on walls, the school blackboard, old bits of paper, the walls of barns. Today I’m still as fond of drawing as when I was a kid — and that’s a long time ago…
In 1963, the Disney Studio learned just how wide and faithful a readership [Carl] Barks had. A letter arrived from Joseph B. Lambert of the California Institute of Technology, pointing out a curious reference in “The Spin States of Carbenes,” a technical article soon to be published by P.P. Gaspar and G.S. Hammond (in Carbene Chemistry, edited by Wolfgang Kirmse, New York: Academic Press, 1964). “Despite the recent extensive interest in methylene chemistry,” read the article’s last paragraph, “much additional study is required…. Among experiments which have not, to our knowledge, been carried out as yet is one of a most intriguing nature suggested in the literature of no less than 19 years ago (91).” Footnote 91, in turn, directed readers to issue 44 of Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. … A year later, the Studio received a letter from Richard Greenwald, a scientist at Harvard. “Recent developments in chemistry have focused much attention to species of this sort,” Greenwald commented. “Without getting technical let me say that carbenes can be made but not isolated; i.e. they cannot be put into a jar and kept on a shell. They can, however, be made to react with other substances. Donald was using carbene in just such a manner, many years before ‘real chemists’ thought to do so.”
An art world / comics story I hadn’t heard before: in November of 1978, a Peanuts strip ran in which Snoopy expresses his love for Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s ephemeral environmental installations. 25 years later the artists responded by presenting the Charles Schulz Museum with an actual reconstruction of Wrapped Snoopy House.
(Image above from Landfall Press, where you can buy a litho of the artists’ working collage for this piece)
UPDATE: there’s a nearly identical post over at Dinosaurs and Robots, dated almost exactly 24 hours before this post. I’d honestly not seen that when I posted this, so there must be something freaky going on in the collective unconscious…
The medium serves as a guide to what was going on in society at the time, he said: “Comics are very much a reflection of pop culture.” The law has long been a part of that, whether it’s Perry Mason grilling a witness or Denny Crane blustering.
In the exhibition, many of the images have the power to delight, especially for those who collected comics in their youth. If your day job happens to be anything like mine — I’m the national legal correspondent for this newspaper — you will certainly notice that the comic book creators’ knowledge of law had a few gaps. For starters, the little girl in that Superman cover would have been seated in the witness chair, if in fact taking sworn testimony from a minor in open court was allowed in the Metropolis jurisdiction, and Superman would have been elsewhere in the courtroom. But you probably won’t mind that the creators sacrificed a bit of reality for drama, which is also why, you know, the main character can fly.
Mike Widener, the rare book librarian mentioned in the article, formerly oversaw the Law in Popular Culture collection at our own Tarlton Law Library here in Austin, which houses a great array of movies and books with lawyerly angles.
A paper in the academic journal Palliative and Supportive Care analyzing perceptions of death and dying through the lens of New Yorker cartoons. Science!
“Personification of Death” (n = 38) included a subtheme of “Bargaining with Death.” The main theme included representations of death with human attributes, such as the Grim Reaper. Examples are the Grim Reaper sitting in a bar talking to another man; the caption reads, “Sometimes I give myself the creeps” (from 2005; Mankoff, 2006. p. 28). The subtheme involved people negotiating for more time to live. Many of the cartoons in this theme show the Grim Reaper standing at someone’s door as he or she tries to negotiate his or her way out of dying. For example, one such caption read, “Couldn’t I do a couple of hundred hours of community service instead?” (from 1990; Mankoff, 2006. p. 46). This can be seen as the legacy of death (Elgee, 2003), that we are all its slaves.
From a recently declassified history (PDF) detailing the NSA’s computing equipment up to 1964, comes a description of their house-sized computer ABNER’s mercury-powered memory banks:
A succession of pulses (signal or no-signal) travels through an acoustic medium, say mercury, from one end to the other of a “delay line.” […] At the input end of the line is a crystal that converts an electrical pulse to a mechanical wave which travels through the mercury to the other end, where another crystal reconverts it to an electrical signal. The series of electrical signals is recirculated back to input, after passing through detector, amplifier, and driver circuits to restore the shape and strength of the pulses. Also, in the part of the cycle external to the delay line are input and output circuits and “clock” pulses for synchronization. In mercury, the pulses travel at the speed of sound, which is much slower than the speed of electrical signals, and thus the delay in going from one end of the line to the other constitutes a form of storage. […] In ABNER, the mercury tank was a glass tube about two feet long; the delay time was 384 microseconds, or eight words of 48 bits at one-megacycle-per-second rate. Thus the 1,024 words were contained in two cabinets holding 64 mercury delay lines each.
Yeah, it’s great. A lot of that is the fans that have kept it alive. When people discovered it, they would be such rabid fans of it they would feel like they were the ones that got it. It was a little too obscure for their friends, maybe, but they were the ones that were getting it. A thing about the old comics I always heard was that people would lend them to their friends and never get them back. It was always this process where you’d be trying to turn someone onto it, which I thought was great. So there was a long stretch where I didn’t do anything with Sam & Max and there were fan sites that were keeping them active, so I attribute that [to the fact] they’re still around.
The Onion A.V. Club catches up with and gets a good interview from my favorite cartoonist Steve Purcell to ask him about Monkey Island, Sinistar, and the new season of Telltale’s adaptation of his creation.
Fun fact: one of the first websites I created way back in 1994 was a Sam & Max fan site with a handful of scans from the comics and related ephemera, so I guess I was one of those fans!
The New York Times has up a nice review of the new Charles Addams exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York:
The city street is dark and deserted. The buildings are empty. There are no witnesses. A lone man carrying a briefcase, after a long day at the office perhaps, approaches a subway staircase. Out of the subterranean gloom, a giant human hand protrudes, its index finger beckoning the office worker, inviting him into the depths. His eyes are wide with astonishment, his face showing the hint of a grin, as if the bizarre, illicit invitation were not entirely unwelcome. […]
Above is my personal favorite Addams cartoon, perhaps one of my favorite cartoons of all time. His drawings are often cited as finding their humor and inspiration in the macabre — I think their lasting appeal comes more from his ability to find joy in laughing at and rejecting the bleakness of modern life.
Winsor McCay’s 1911 animation of his Little Nemo comic strip (embedded above) was selected this year by the U.S. Library of Congress to be entered as a culturally significant work in the National Film Registry (along with Michael Jackson’s Thriller, The Muppet Movie, and others). Knowing that McCay did this all himself, by hand, cranking out tens of thousands of hand-colored drawings (keep in mind he was also pioneering the field of animation, inventing techniques as he worked) in addition to his incredibly intricate newspaper work leads me to suspect he was living in an alternate stream of time than the rest of us. Incredible stuff.
Some kind guy named Thom Buchanan has created a blog where he’s posting high-res scans of the daily and Sunday strips of Walt Kelly’s Pogo from the 1966 “Pogo in Pandemonia” storyline (one of the lesser-known and stranger bits from the comic, it’s set in a Lost World type locale instead of the usual Okefenokee swamp). Excellent. Now where’s that Fantagraphics set?
For possibly the first time in 80 years this Krazy Kat cartoon, Ratskin, has been reunited with its original soundtrack recording, discovered on a rare Vitaphone disc in Australia. Found via Cartoon Brew, who has a good writeup of the discovery.
Even though the fogged photograph is not in itself pure absence, but rather the eclipsing of an image, we know that what we are seeing is a representation that has been spoilt, a calamity that no technology can ever repair. The image is there, but hidden, ‘fogged’, conceled for ever by a curtain of shadow, which no one is capable of raising.