Saturday, September 25, 2010

Doonesbury at 40

Like ice cream flavors, superstar newspaper comics strips have their day. Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Dilbert, Garfield — they all highlighted refrigerator doors and office cubicles. Doonesbury was like that.

At one Cartoon Festival at Ohio State University in the early 1980s, a professional cartoonist in the audience asked a panelist who represented G.B. Trudeau’s syndicate why the Doonesbury artist was allowed to have a shorter lead time. He must, the questioner insisted despite repeated denials — how else could he be so timely?

And while it might be the political jibes many longtime readers recall, the human touches were what made the strip not only better than most, but a story we looked for each day.

You can’t deny what got you wasn’t as much seeing D.B.’s missing limb, lost in the Iraq war, but the character, for the first time, without a helmet.
Or when Lacey died, just fading out of the frame.

Moreover, when he wasn’t telling truth to power, Trudeau was very, very funny. Often, he still is.

Now comes 40: A Doonesbury Retrospective. In the tradition of those enormous Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes anthologies, the very funny Doonesbury has its day again.

Release date will be Oct. 26. The book will weigh in with 1,800 strips and 18 essays by Trudeau.

You can read an excerpt in The Atlantic here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates

Mark Twain once said — at least I recall it was Mark Twain, rather than Ben Franklin, Oscar Wilde, Dorothy Parker or Groucho Marx — most writers really would prefer you read what they wrote instead of reading biographies about them.

Finding out how artists came by their inspirations and how they developed their crafts sometimes can be as fascinating as their actual work. Certainly Robert C. Harvey’s Meanwhile …., his book on Milton Caniff, is extensive and well worth the effort, with a good many samples of the cartoonist’s drawings. (You can read my posts on the biography here, here and here.)

But keep in mind IDW has been publishing handsome editions of the Ohioan’s masterwork, Terry and the Pirates. In black-and-white and color from 1934 on, you follow the adventures of Terry Lee, Pat Ryan and Connie — the “three modern musketeers,” Caniff called them — and their assorted friends — Burma, Normandie Drake, Big Stoop — and enemies — Judas, the Dragon Lady, bandits, Chinese pirates and, eventually, the whole of the Axis military.

Terry may not have been the original adventure newspaper comic strip, but certainly the most sustained and sophisticated.

Hotsy doodle.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Milton Caniff, Part 3

While I’ve noted Robert C. Harvey’s 952-page tribute to cartoonist Milton Caniff is far too hefty for casual reading — trying holding it upright while lying in bed at night — I don’t want to suggest it’s not worthy.

Meanwhile … is exhaustive, and that’s part of its virtue, too. Points in the text are aptly supported with examples from Caniff’s work, as well as from contemporaries and pals Al Capp, Noel “Bud” Sickles and others. And it boasts a good number of photos, including even a couple shots of the walls of the Palm, the 1930s speakeasy where New York City-based cartoonists hung out and drank, when not scribbling their work on the vertical surfaces.

Yes, Harvey and Fantagraphics could have broken this into two volumes or, gee, maybe left out a few details. (While waxing about Caniff’s first arrival in Manhattan to work for Associated Press, Harvey names all the theaters Caniff could have spied while standing at 42nd Street and Broadway … and the names of what shows were playing there and who was starring in them.)

But if you want to know just about everything about how the oft-called Rembrandt of the Comics rose and rose even more in his chosen profession — from early days in Ohio to chatting with U.S. presidents — this is the golden source. Nary a negative word is said about its subject, but I can’t imagine finding a more thorough and entertaining trove of information.

Read my earlier posts on this book here and here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

‘9 Chickweed Lane’ saga still going

My second guess was correct. Brooke McEldowney’s nine-month-long newspaper-strip tale of parted WWII lovers didn’t end this past month but took yet another lap as Juliette and her daughter, Edda, discover Peter Kiesl — recently revealed to be Juliette’s biological father — alive in Vienna.

Kiesl follows them back to New Hampshire to show up at Edna’s (Juliette’s mother and his lover in New York City) front yard.

Will he stay? Will he go? The story, it seems, continues ….

Read my earlier post on this here.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Milton Caniff, Part 2

In a post way back in April, on In the Studio: Visits With Contemporary Cartoonists, I noted Chris Ware’s comment about how comics could have evolved using single-scene tableaus, rather than imitating motion picture camera techniques.

“This is the course comics should’ve taken before they got sidetracked and transformed by the language of cinema in the 1930s,” Ware said, speaking appreciatively of the work of Japanese cartoonist Suiho Tagawa.

If anyone is to blame — if blame is the right word — for comics’ path of movie-like perspectives, that would be Milton Caniff. His Terry and the Pirates — as with his pal Noel Sickles’s Scorchy Smith — for the first time employed close-ups, overhead angles and other dramatic viewpoints not seen before in the newspaper strips of the 1930s.

In Meanwhile …: A Biography of Milton Caniff, Robert C. Harvey tells how Caniff developed this camera-lens eye. As a child in California, where he spent part of youth when not in Ohio, he hung around the fledgling movie industry, out in the dusty California desert. Often he was picked as an extra in the seat-of-their-pants productions.

That's what first gave him a taste for the cinematic.

You can read my first post on this book here.