Today marks the return of R.C. Harvey, who in his latest column takes a long look at George McManus’s classic Bringing Up Father. A sample:
In the strip, McManus never explained how Jiggs gained his wealth. In most histories and newspaper accounts over the years, it was said that Jiggs, who had worked as a simple laborer, got rich by winning the Irish Sweepstakes. But not according to McManus, who, in 1920, related Jiggs’ “autobiography” to a newspaper reporter, to wit: Jiggs was born in Ireland. He came to this country expecting to find gold on the streets of New York, but found bricks and cobblestones instead. He became a hod-carrier. Romance came into his life when he met Maggie, a waitress at a small café, who put heaping dishes of corned beef and cabbage before him. They were married, and Jiggs became thrifty. Instead of carrying bricks, he bought and sold them on commission. Then he manufactured them. Street brawls in the old days in New York provided a great market for Jiggs’ bricks, which were harder than ordinary bricks. He grew rich. (In another telling, Jiggs grew rich selling bricks to Ignatz in George Herriman’s strip, Krazy Kat.) At this point in his career Maggie and their daughter Nora acquire social aspirations. And that’s when the trouble began.
Zeke Zekley, McManus’ assistant since the mid-1930s, regaled me with yet another origin of Jiggs’ wealth. McManus told him the story, tongue-in-cheek no doubt. It went like this: When Jiggs was working as a hod-carrier, his employer was another Irishman named Ryan. Ryan liked Jiggs. He liked him so much that he gave Jiggs a dime every time he, Ryan, made a thousand dollars. Ryan got very very rich. And so did Jiggs.
Good morning, folks. Today we’ve got the latest installment of the indefatigable Rob Clough’s High-Low column, in which today he reviews six new cartoonists you’ve probably never heard of before. Here’s a bit:
[Matt] Rebholz is new to the world of comics after spending years as a print-maker and fine artist, as well as an art professor at the University of Texas. For fans of alt-comics who enjoy work with a fantasy or genre bent, these comics will be a revelation. Rebholz is an astounding draftsman who who is also a skilled and fluid storyteller. Fans of Brandon Graham, Kaz Strzepek, Brian Ralph, etc. will want to give these books a long look, because Rebholz not only is capable of delivering a tense and fast-paced action comic, he’s able to do it with a sense of humor and quirkiness. The Floating Head Bounty Killers is as descriptive a title as you’ll ever see, as one MODOK-like floating head is hunting a criminal in a bizarre landscape that mixes what seems to be Aztec or Mayan statues and images with weird trenches and creepy swarms of maggot-like creatures. After the heroic floating head completes his mission and is rewarded, Rebholz pulls the rug out from under the reader with a hilarious twist that leads into the second issue of this series of self-contained but connected stories.
GEHR: The New Yorker used to really depict the city through its cartoons. It taught people how to look at New York in a very specific way. It constructed a New York just as much as movies did.
KOREN: Well, it did that when New York figured more in the drawings, which it doesn’t now. There’s this great Ralph Barton drawing from the thirties, with garbage men throwing garbage cans around in a giant courtyard. It was a beautiful drawing. And that was New York. That was exactly what New York would be like. He had a way of characterizing the almost primal and demonic noise made by the garbagemen. It was fascinating. He got a lot the city’s abrasiveness as well. There were so many drawing like that. Alan Dunn was a consummate draftsman of the city. Charles Addams got a lot of the city with that Halloween cover [October 31, 1983], with the wonderful contrast and great point of view looking down on the taxi and the doorman. There was a lot of that. Now, I’m not so sure.
GEHR: Are you conscious of doing social journalism as a cartoonist?
KOREN: In a way I’m always conscious of that, because that’s what I’m really interested in. I hearken back to those nineteenth-century French caricaturists and, in particular, my mentor Monsieur Daumier. I just love his feel for subjects, his sense of the moment of their lives, and how he reads character in relation to their social situations, what they’re doing, and where they are on the social ladder. I draw a lot of inspiration from that. I’m not a sort of person who mixes that easily. I always sit on the sidelines looking, taking it in. I’ve learned a lot from artists like John Sloan, Thomas Hart Benton, Reginald Marsh, and the Ashcan artists, who were really out there looking at New York in social terms. That fascinated me.
Today’s Tuesday, which means that Joe McCulloch has your Week in Comics ready for you, along with a long bonus essay on Jay Disbrow:
Needless to say, the Jay Disbrow comic most pertinent to this column is 1979’s The Flames of Gyro, a historic work not for its content but due to its positioning: it was the first all-original, full-length comic book published by the nascent Fantagraphics Press, until then notable mainly for its acquisition and recalibration of The Nostalgia Journal, a fanzine soon to undergo a title change.
Disbrow too was marginal. As with not a few artists, his career had been wiped out by the adoption of the Comics Code late in 1954; in fact, save for a small handful of romance stories with the Farrell Comic Group and an obscure two-color religious magazine in ’57 (Zondervan Publishing’s The Centurion of Ancient Rome), he had not published any sequential art since. However, as he told Zone, “[w]hen Gary Groth… offered me complete editorial freedom on the comic, I decided to go ahead with it.”
And because Joe is all about cramming all kinds of incongruous things into tiny spaces, he’s also hidden a short piece about the Walking Dead video game somewhere in there…
—First off, as all the vote-grubbers out there have already been telling you over the past few days, you only have a short time left to vote on the Eisner Awards.
—I hope you enjoyed last week’s Blood & Thunder archive featuring the J. Kochalka “Craft is the Enemy” debate. If there are any other classic letters-column debates or interviews from the Comics Journal past you’d like to see again, please let us know. Sifting through more than three decades’ worth of argument means we’re bound to miss out on some of the good stuff.
—Would you people like it if I posted book trailers when I come across them, or is that too weird?
—I don’t care what you guys want, I promise to never ever link to anything called a Google Doodle.
This is something else I wanted to talk about, your whole generation of cartoonists—you know, the brothers Hernandez, Clowes, all those guys— the amazing thing to me is that the climate for comics was so different back then. In the lost interview we talked about what possible models you could have had for thinking I’m going to try my damnedest to make a living off of this, because there were virtually zero models for this outside superhero or genre stuff. And then for you it actually worked. I mean we talked about the fact that you found some old undergrounds, and you found a Crumb comic– and those were…
Well, to back up a bit, I fancied the idea of being a cartoonist since I was a kid. I mainly liked daily newspaper strips, all the funny stuff, and later MAD. But after a while, those two seemed less and less a realistic option for me. I saw the daily strips getting worse all the time. By the time I got out of high school I didn’t see anything in the daily papers that inspired me, or made me think, “This is a good direction for me.” The opposite was happening. And MAD was very much a closed shop, and locked into a tight formula, and I didn’t like MAD‘s competition much. So while I still fancied the idea of being a cartoonist, I didn’t know what to do with it.
Then, while I was in art school, I went into a record store that had a rack full of underground comics, and it was the solo comics by Robert Crumb, in particular, that floored me. What I loved about Robert Crumb’s solo comics was how he treated the traditional comic book format as a blank canvas, and just did whatever he wanted from cover to cover. It was all him: one guy inked it, one guy lettered it, and there were no ads for Twinkles or BB guns. It was just all him. And then there was what he did with it. I loved the way he drew, and I loved his sense of humor just as much as that I loved what he did format-wise. So as soon as I saw that, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. And while Crumb was my favorite, I liked many of the other underground cartoonists, too: Gilbert Shelton and Bill Griffith, and a lot of others. Kim Deitch, Robert Armstrong, and Aline Crumb. Sadly, I also assumed that since their comics were so fantastic, they must all be millionaires.
Shaenon Garrity returns with another batch of reviews of webcomics sent in for analysis. Here’s a bit of what she finds:
The characters in Cat Prentis communicate in sassy Buffy the Vampire Slayer-style dialogue, and the comic shows a big Buffy influence in general, from the premise of a super-powered teenage girl fighting demons to the bad guys’ habit of posing as human and then suddenly revealing evil crinkle-faces. Between that and the Shakespeare material, suggestive of Neil Gaiman’s take in Sandman, I can guess that the creators were teenagers at just about exactly the same time I was. Cat Prentis updates things with plot twists involving possessed classroom computers and iPhones, but this is still a very ’90s monster-fighting comic. And there ain’t nothing wrong with that.
—Criticism. David Ulin at the Los Angeles Times reviews Joe Ollmann’s Science Fiction. Sarah Horrocks reviews Suehiro Maruo’s Laughing Vampire. I keep meaning to link to the latest episode of Comic Books Are Burning in Hell, on Cynthia Copeland’s Good Riddance, which I think after a slightly shaky start turns into probably their best episode ever. I think partly because having a single topic allows them to approach it from many angles, and partly because the book lies a bit outside their usual hunting grounds, and leads them to fresher insights (though I did want to rap them all on the head at one time or another–gently and affectionately, of course. Come to think of it, an urge to rap heads is probably a good thing on a debate show.). Anyway, really great stuff.
—And Mike Lynch draws attention to a short Charles Addams documentary on YouTube: